FOUR MONTHS LATER…
I watch from across the room as Finnley chats to a group of people, smiling to myself as her hand comes up and tugs on her earlobe.
Quickly making my way over to her side, I wrap my hand around hers and bring it down between us.
“Calm down, you have no reason to be nervous,” I whisper in her ear.
She excuses herself from the group and tugs me a few feet away until we’re out of earshot of other people. “How in the hell did you know I was nervous?”
I smirk down at her and shake my head. “Baby, you always tug on your ear when you’re nervous. You did it right before the first time I kissed you at the end of tenth grade, when I stuck my hand down your pants three months later, five seconds before you gave me my first blow job and-”
“Alright, smartass, you made your point,” she tells me with a laugh, cutting me off. “What’s the deal with D.J. and Phina?”
Glancing in the direction where she’s looking, I see the two of them on the far side of the room, quietly arguing. Phina starts gesturing wildly with her hands and then D.J. points at her and says something that makes her face fall. I hold my breath, assuming he said something really stupid and she’s probably going to smack him across the face, but it never happens. She says one more thing to him and then turns and walks away. D.J. grits his teeth, shoves his hands in his pockets angrily and then storms off in the opposite direction.
I have no idea what the hell that was all about. D.J. hasn’t mentioned one word about Phina since that night at Slammers when he drunkenly made out with her at the table in front of everyone. I hope to God she doesn’t have some sort of misplaced infatuation with the guy. D.J. will never settle down, no matter how hot the girl is.
“Shit, I better go see what that was about,” Finnley states quietly, pulling away from me.
Grabbing her hand, I bring her back towards me. “Leave it alone for now, babe. This is your night and I don’t want anything ruining it. We’ll deal with those two later.”
She sighs, looking off in the direction Phina went for a few seconds before turning to face me. “Have you seen all the people who showed up tonight? This is insane.”
Her hand starts to move back up to her ear as she glances around the room but she quickly drops it when she realizes I’m watching her with a huge grin on my face.
“Can you be serious for one minute? Someone from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is here tonight. The GUGGENHEIM, Collin, the f**king Guggenheim in New York City! I think I’m going to throw up,” Finnley complains, pressing her hand to her stomach.
Wrapping my arms around her, I pull her close and kiss the top of her head. It’s almost hard to believe how much has happened since I first saw her again at Slammers all those months ago. After Finnley was released from the hospital a week after the fire, she moved into my house since there was nothing left of her own. While her burns healed, my broken leg mended and she dealt with the bullshit of filing the claims for her homeowner’s insurance, she poured herself into her art. She worked night and day on new pieces and, when I wasn’t helping her light them up in the backyard, she was curled up next to me on my couch coming up with new ideas in sketch pads.
I kept a close eye on her and swore to myself I wouldn’t let it get to me if she ever showed even an inkling of sadness about Jordan dying in the fire. Regardless of what he’d done and how close he came to bringing us both down with him, I would never fault her for her grief. Seventeen years is a long time to spend with someone and, even though it didn’t end well, I know she had many good years with him and a lot of memories that wouldn’t just disappear over night.
Every time she woke up screaming in the middle of the night, I’d kiss away her tears and hold her close. Each time she got quiet and stared off in the distance at nothing, I’d kiss the top of her head, reminding her how much I loved her and that I was right here if she needed me.
I didn’t agree with her decision not go to Jordan’s funeral, but it was hers to make and I didn’t pressure her. It’s not that I expected her to go and cry over his casket, I just didn’t want her to have any regrets. Even though she’s angry and hurt by what he’s done, I don’t want her to look back ten, fifteen, twenty years down the road and wish she’d said good-bye to him.
I hovered over her that entire day until she finally threw her sketchpad on the table and glared at me.
“If you don’t find something to do, I’m going to kick your ass. I’m fine, Collin. I have no regrets about not going to his funeral, I swear to you. I don’t need to go to that f**king cemetery and pretend that I’m sad just because people say it will give me closure. I got my closure the day I filed for separation. I’m not going to waste one minute of my life mourning someone who tried to take you away from me.”
Seeing her attitude and fiery spirit come back to life was proof enough that she was going to be okay.
The shock came a month after the fire when I brought in the mail that included Finnley’s, since she had everything forwarded to my address. When I handed her an envelope with Jordan’s parent’s return address in the upper left hand corner, she opened it quickly and with confusion. When she pulled out the letter inside and read through it, she let out a small sob and her hand flew up to her mouth.
That was the one and only time she ever cried over Jordan Castillo and his family after he died. Even though he made her life hell off and on for seventeen years and came close to ending it with one swipe of a match and his mother did her best to make Finnley feel guilty for all of their problems, at least they did one thing right.