She definitely looks more like a twenty-eight-year-old than an eighteen-year-old, but in the best of ways. Like she grew into her features. She still has a crown of pale blonde hair and her deep-set eyes are still the same shade of amber-green framed with long lashes.
“You should go,” she says.
This isn’t exactly the long-awaited reunion I’d conjured up in my mind, but I didn’t come all this way just to turn around and leave.
“Can we talk first?” I ask.
“No,” she says. “We can’t. You have to go. Please.”
“Lila. I don’t understand. You just left …” my voice trails. “I flew three thousand miles to find you, and I’m not leaving without an explanation.”
If she had any idea how much this mystery has haunted and plagued my life for the last decade, she might relent. But she doesn’t know. And now I’m beginning to think she doesn’t care.
And maybe she never did.
Maybe I had her all wrong all those years ago.
Maybe I projected something onto her that was never there, convinced myself she was someone she wasn’t.
The woman I thought she was would’ve never left like that. And the woman I thought she was wouldn’t turn me away from her door ten years later.
Her gaze flicks all around me, not lingering in any one place for too long. I don’t know if she’s nervous or scared, but I hate seeing her like this.
“Come in,” she says as she gets the door. “And hurry.”
Thayer’s standing in my small foyer, looking at me like it’s the first time all over again. This isn’t ideal—having him here, inside my house—but I know how persistent he is, and I think he would’ve stayed on my doorstep all day until he got what he wanted, so I had to bring him in.
“You really can’t be here,” I tell him. “Does anyone know you’re here?”
My stomach free falls.
If Bertram were to find out, we would be completely cut off, we’d be forced to leave the only home MJ has ever known, and I don’t want to even think about how I’d pay the exorbitant fees at the assisted living center.
“Who?” I ask.
“The private investigator I hired to find you.”
I glance away, smirking. Of course he did that.
“Ten years,” he says. “For ten years, I’ve looked for you. Wondered about you. Missed you. Worried about you. Finding you was the only thing that mattered.”
“Come on, Thayer,” I say. “You can’t expect me to believe you never moved on and that you’ve literally spent ten years looking for me.”
He says nothing.
“That sounds sweet and all, but you’ve always been gifted in the art of telling people exactly what they want to hear,” I say. “I find it extremely hard to believe that someone like yourself would waste the best years of your life looking for someone like me.”
My coldness is intentional.
I hate speaking to him this way.
I’d love nothing more than to tell him everything, to introduce him to his daughter, and to make up for all the years we’ve lost … but that isn’t an option for me. Not at this point in time.
“I don’t understand,” he says. “You’re acting like you’re angry with me, but you’re the one who left.”
He has a point.
And I don’t have a good response for him right now.
My cell phone rings from the kitchen.
“Wait here,” I tell him before leaving to answer it. The caller ID reads SUMMERTON ELEMENTARY. “Hello?”
“Delilah Hill?” a woman asks.
“This is she.”
“This is Jacqueline,” she says. “I’m the school nurse at Summerton Elementary. I’ve got MJ here, and she’s complaining of a headache and she says her ears hurt. I took her temp and it’s 101.3 right now, so unfortunately we do require that you pick her up within the hour. Sooner if possible.”
“Of course. I’ll be right there.” I end the call and return to the foyer where Thayer stands waiting for me.
He’s dressed in navy slacks and a white button down cuffed at his elbows, and I can’t help but notice the sleeve of tattoos that covers his left arm—completely unexpected.
As if he wasn’t already a Greek Adonis at nineteen, he had to grow up and become an even hotter version at twenty-nine, all filled-out and equal parts edgy and clean cut.
“I have to pick up my daughter from school,” I say, swallowing the lump that forms in my throat when I realize I’d do anything to kiss him this very moment.
“Will you be around later?” he asks.
I shouldn’t see him again.
This is risky. Entirely too dangerous. But I’m not ready to watch him go yet.
“Let me get my daughter to bed tonight and you can stop by for a little bit. Maybe eight or so,” I say. “But after tonight, you have to leave Summerton. And you can’t come back.”
I grab my purse and keys from a nearby console table and usher us out the door, locking up behind me.