“I’m in love.” I tilt my head, stepping closer to him, the foreign word surprising. “She’s amazing, D. She’s amazing and beautiful, and I’ve screwed it all up.”
I keep my mouth shut, sucking on the end of the cigarette.
“I was too busy. Working—you know my schedule. She wouldn’t give me an exclusive relationship, not when I could only see her once a week or so.”
I arch my brow and glance over at his handsome profile, a sliver of grudging respect wedging its way into my “I hate this woman” campaign. “She shouldn’t have. You don’t have time for a house plant, much less a woman.”
He thumbs the cigarette before placing it between his lips. “I know. So I told her to see someone else. I told her I’d share her. Told her to date him and me at the same time.”
I almost say Paul’s name. Almost blow my cover. I swallow the words and aim for a casual tone. “Share her? With who?”
He shrugged. “I didn’t know. Didn’t care. I just told her to find someone who made her happy. Someone who understood that I wasn’t going anywhere.”
“And you thought that would work out?” I toss my cig to the side and step on it, crossing in front of Stewart and planting my feet, staring up into eyes that I haven’t seen in far too long. “You thought what? She’d date both of you? Forever?”
He meets my stare solidly. “It was that or lose her. What was I supposed to do?”
I scoff, an expression that trips and somehow becomes an unladylike snort. “Work a normal schedule. Cut back to eighty hours a week. Enjoy life. Have an actual relationship with someone. Not timeshare her out!”
His face hardens, lines forming where there once were none. “I regret it now. I know that I f**ked up. But at the time—I didn’t love her then. I had just met her. I didn’t know where it would go.”
I look into his eyes. “You love her.” I test the words on my tongue, knowing, as I stare into his eyes, that he means it. That my big, strong, only-cares-about-work brother has fallen in love. Then I remember where we are standing and my blood runs cold. “Why are we here, Stewart? What happened?”
His face crumbles for a moment, a flash of weakness before he busies himself with a puff of smoke. “There was an accident,” he says softly, the last word swelling in his mouth. “A surfing accident. They don’t think she’s gonna make it.”
A surfing accident. This situation suddenly has taken a nosedive into hell. I don’t need to ask if Paul was there. I don’t need to know the many parallels that must exist that tie this incident to the one ten years ago. I swallow hard, and my heart aches for my boys.
He wipes at his face, pressing both hands over his face, the cigarette burning down, close to his skin, my desire to keep him from being hurt overridden by my understanding that I should give him space. “Paul.” He chokes out. “Paul was who she found. God’s twisted f**karound in our lives. And when I found out... God Dana – the things I said to him.” He drops his hands, drops the burning cigarette to the ground and falls back against the column, his eyes staring out, red and filled with tears. “How did this all happen?”
I go to him, wrapping my arms around his waist and hugging him tightly as my mind sorts through all that he has just said. I had the entire situation wrong, had never dreamed that they were willingly sharing her with an unknown stranger. “Does he love her?” I pulled back and look up at Stewart. “Paul. Does he love her, too?”
I understand instantly what he means. Paul is a lover. He loves freely and easily; his love accepts faults and is unconditional in its strength. He wouldn’t be with her if he didn’t love her.
“Will you go talk to him?”
“I think you should.” I say gently. “I think you are about ten years overdue.”
His jaw tightens. “He shouldn’t have let her go with them. You know that.”
I glare at him. “He was f**king nineteen! And Jennifer’s not coming back, whether the relationship between you two is intact or ruined. But you know what she would have wanted.” I pull at his arm, make him look me in the eye. “She would have wanted you to be close. To be what you used to be.”
He meets my stare, his shoulders dropping slightly. “I can’t do it, Dana. I can’t go back in there after the things I said. Just go find out what he’s thinking. I called you here because I need you. We need you.”
I can’t deny that request. Not when it is the first time one of my brothers have reached out to me in years. I give him one final hug and then step back inside, anxious to see Paul. It has been so long.
I rest my head on her stomach, feel the rise and fall of her chest, and wonder how long they will let me stay. Wonder if it is a doctor or my brother who will make me leave. I am caught off guard when a soft female hand touches my arm. Pulls it. I close my eyes and take a final breath of Madd’s scent before I rise to follow the nurse.
But it isn’t a nurse. I am so confused at her face—Dana—a face I haven’t seen in years. After Jennifer, after Stewart’s accusations and the guilt of her death—I couldn’t be around the family. Couldn’t be reminded of the decision I made that killed her. And now she is here. A damn family reunion in the middle of Madd’s hospital room. I feel a flash of anger at the intrusion, mixed with the confusing joy at seeing her. Dana was our glue, our strength. She held us together until the point when everything fell apart. And in this moment of breakage, I want nothing more than to wrap my arms around her. “What are you doing here, Dana?”
She walks over to Madison. Glances at the monitors. “Stewart called me. He explained... the situation.”
I step backward, until I feel the edge of the chair, and sink into it. “He blames it on me. Again.”
She shakes her head, turning to look at me, her profile aged since I saw her last. A few shots of gray through her hair, crow’s feet around her eyes. “No he doesn’t. That’s his emotions talking. Just like it was with Jennifer. He’s mad at the situation. You’re just the closest thing for him to take it rage out on. Brush it off.”
“I don’t want to brush it off. It’s bullshit. Bullshit that I—and Madison—don’t need.”
She tilts her head at me. “You can’t speak for her. You want to speak up for yourself—fine. I think you should. I think you should tell Stewart every thing that you’ve pent up over the last decade. I think you should tell him exactly how you feel about her, and exactly how you want this to end. He deserves you to verbally kick his ass and he deserves to know how you feel about her. But it’s a two-way street. And you need to be prepared to hear what he says, too.”