He didn’t look as happy as she’d expected. In fact, he frowned.
“I’ve changed my mind,” he said.
* * *
Sage’s dejected expression told TJ he was botching things all over again.
“I mean,” he corrected himself, glancing around for a quiet spot, “we need to talk about our plans.”
She opened her mouth.
“Please don’t say anything.” He gestured to a brick pathway across the drive that he knew led to a garden. “Let’s walk instead.”
“I don’t want to walk,” she said, a wobble in her voice. “I don’t want to talk. You’ve changed your mind, and that’s fine.”
“Please?” he asked.
She hesitated. But then she squared her shoulders, pursed her lips and started for the path.
He gave a silent thank-you as he followed.
“Thing is,” he said, formulating his words as they made their way past a carpet of tulips and daffodils, “I’m thinking about what’s in Eli’s best interest.”
Her tone was flat. “Is this your way of telling me you’re taking me to court?”
“No. I’m not taking you to court. I mean, I hope we’re not going to court.” He struggled to get it right. “I have no desire to get lawyers involved.”
“I don’t have a lawyer.”
“I have four.” He stopped himself. “I’m sorry. That was supposed to be funny.”
He knew he had to get on with it. He was making things worse by the second.
They’d come to a white gazebo overlooking the ocean.
“Can we sit?” he asked, gesturing to the benches inside the octagonal shelter.
She seemed resigned as she took the three stairs up. She perched on the edge of the bench.
“I’m going to start over,” he said, sitting next to her, angling himself so he could see her expression. “If you could hear me out, it would be really great.”
She stayed silent, giving him hope.
“I want what’s best for Eli. I know you do too.”
She seemed to struggle to stay silent at that.
“I think Whiskey Bay is best for Eli. I know you can’t see the problems with your basement suite. And maybe it’s a better neighborhood than I’m giving it credit for. And while it’s true I could move to Seattle, I don’t want to move. My home is here. Lauren and I designed and built that house, and I’m not ready to give it up. My best friends Caleb and Matt live on either side. I’m not trying to make it a contest. And I really don’t want to sound like I’m bragging. I’m not.” He took a breath, but she didn’t interrupt him.
“I want Eli with me. And I know you want him with you. But I don’t want you to be a boarder in my house. I don’t want you to feel like a guest. I don’t want you to be a guest. I want Eli to have a family.”
Confusion grew on her face.
“You said there was no one in your life.” He swallowed his emotion. “Well, I’ve already lost the love of my life. I’ve spent the past year trying, and I know I’m never going to meet anyone who’ll hold a candle to Lauren. But I want Eli to have a family. I want him to have his mother and his father both and with him every day, not separate, not shuttling back and forth between us. Maybe one day he feels like tossing a ball around. Maybe he needs some manly advice. Maybe he needs a hug from his mom, a little softness in his world, the security of knowing you’re right there, that the person who nurtured him since he was born is right there. Whatever it is he needs, I want him to have it.”
The color had gone out of her cheeks. “TJ, we can’t—”
“That’s the thing. We can. We can try. If it all fell apart, if you met somebody in the future, well, if you had to leave me someday, we’d cross that bridge. But in the meantime, I want to go all in, a ring, a ceremony, a joint checking account.” He took her hands in his. “I can’t ask you to give up your current life without offering you a new one.”
She opened her mouth. Then she closed it again.
He forced himself to wait. He’d said enough.
The seconds dragged before she spoke. “A marriage of convenience.”
“A very radical solution to a very ordinary problem.”
“There’s nothing ordinary about it. And even if there is, it’s unique to us. Our circumstances are unique. Why shouldn’t our solution be unique?”
She seemed to be searching for counterarguments. “What would we tell people?”
“The truth. We knew each other in high school. We have a son. And we reunited and got married. That’s all they need to know.”