The idea of him with someone else makes me want to throw up and punch something at the same time. My eyes water as I think about it again. God, I don’t know if I can do this. I know I have to get it together. I can’t be a mess in front of Alice. I’m the strong one, the one who calms everyone, but I’m not sure if I can do my fake smile anymore.
What he was saying to me when he got interrupted doesn’t make sense. It isn’t adding up. He made it sound like he’d been mildly stalking me. Well, maybe not mildly, but still. I think knowing that now could make it worse. If he had feelings for me and still dated other women… That would be so messed up. A tear escapes, and I quickly wipe it away, not wanting anyone to see.
When I get outside, I spot Eli’s truck. He’s staring right at me, and I know he saw the tear slip free. I want to run, but he must see it in my eyes. Before I know what’s happening, his giant body unfolds from the truck and he’s standing in front of me. His eyes never stray from mine.
How can he say my name so softly but still imbue it with a warning? If I run, he’ll chase me. I see it written all over his face. It reminds me of the times we’d practice self-defense and how it would turn playful and fun. God, I miss that. I miss him so much, but I’m starting to think maybe he hasn’t missed me the same way. It was easy for him to find a substitute for me.
Shaking the thoughts from my head, I move around Eli and walk to the passenger side of the truck. But he’s there just as fast, opening the door for me. I climb in, and he closes the door behind me. I buckle my seatbelt as he comes around—I don’t want what happened this morning to happen again. I can’t stand for him to be that close to me.
He jumps in, starts the truck, and pulls out.
“I didn’t know that woman’s name before this morning when she told me,” he fires out like he’s been dying to tell me the words.
“Oh, so you don’t even bother with their names first?” I throw back. I’m suddenly so angry I yell at him.
“I guess you could say that. Maybe because I don’t give a shit about other women. There have been no other women. There’s only you!” he yells back.
I stare at him, and the tears I was holding back fall.
“Sunshine, don’t cry. I’m sorry, baby, I didn’t mean to yell. I just can’t handle you thinking I’ve been with someone else, that I’ve betrayed you like that.”
His words don’t stop my tears. They only make them flow more.
“Shit. I’m making it worse.” He pulls the truck off to the side of the road, and it’s then I notice where we are headed. To the lake. Where we shared our first kiss. I’d thought so many times about that night. I was never able to bring myself to come back here, though.
He parks in the same spot and then turns off the truck.
“If you’ve been with someone, I don’t care, sunshine,” he growls. “Okay, I care. I fucking care a lot, but I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at myself. I should’ve done more than just leave that note, but I was scared if I talked to you in person I wouldn’t do the right thing.”
“I didn’t read the note,” I admit.
His mouth opens a little and quickly clamps shut. He looks like he’s trying to get himself together, but then I hear a string of curses leave his lips.
“No wonder you fucking hate me. You thought I walked out without a glance back. That…that night was the best thing that ever happened to me. Knowing you had been feeling the same things I had been. I wanted you to be my life. I want you to be my life but I knew I had to step away for a little. Let you grow up a little more, then I could have you.”
“I don’t hate you.” My words come out breathy, and it’s like a weight is being lifted off my heart. Eli unclips my seatbelt and pulls me into his arms.
“Oh God, sunshine. You must have thought I was an asshole,” he says softly as my face burrows into his neck.
“What did the note say?” I mumble against his warm skin.
“I love you and I’ll be back.”
I pull away, wanting to look into his eyes. I know my face is still blotchy from the crying earlier, and I’m sure I look a freaking mess, but I don’t care. I’m smiling so big it almost hurts my face.
“There you are. That’s the sunshine I’ve been missing.”
“You love me?” she asks, running her finger along my jaw.
“With everything in my heart. I love you so much, Maggie. That’s what’s been eating away at me. You and Major had become my family, but you were too young for me to have those feelings for you. When they started to change and I knew I couldn’t have you, it was tearing me up.” I tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. “Then that kiss…”
“That kiss,” she repeats, leaning her body into mine.
I can’t stand it anymore and I put one hand on her neck, bringing her mouth closer to mine. “I think I need to see if it’s as good as I remember.”
My lips connect with hers, and every memory I had of that first kiss is nothing compared to now. The image I had doesn’t hold a candle to the way she feels in my arms, the softness of her lips, or the warm heat of her tongue. The kiss is consuming, and her arms go around my neck as I hold her close and enjoy the feel of her. The first time we kissed it was like throwing gasoline on fire. This time it’s like hard woods that have turned to simmering coals, where the heat could melt glass. Everything about this kiss is different, yet it’s like I’ve come home.