“I’m not lying to her.” Had TJ’s friends not been listening? “I’ve been excruciatingly honest. From minute one, I’ve held up my end of the deal.”
“You mean the money,” Matt said.
“Sure, I mean the money. Not that I can get her to spend much of it. Well, except on other people. I got her to buy a car and a few clothes. Melissa had to twist her arm to get her to buy furniture.”
“It’s only money,” Caleb said.
“That’s what I keep telling her.”
“I mean, she doesn’t only need money.”
“She definitely needed money.”
“You’re more than generous with your money,” Matt said.
TJ would have liked to take credit for that. He needed some points in this conversation. But money was easy. It was easy to make, and it was easy to give up.
Caleb leaned forward in his chair. “Eli needed more than your money. All the money in the world wouldn’t have saved him without you. And Sage needs more than just your money.”
“Sage isn’t sick.”
Caleb winced. “She needs your love.”
A pain shot through TJ’s head. It was as if his friends had never even met him. “I love Lauren.”
“Lauren is gone,” Matt said.
“Just because she’s gone doesn’t mean I’ve stopped loving her.”
“Maybe not,” Caleb conceded. “But it also doesn’t mean you can’t love Sage.”
“I don’t love Sage.” TJ stopped himself. That sounded harsh. “I mean, I’m not in love with Sage. I love her. In a way. I guess.” He suddenly felt disloyal to Lauren. “I’ll never love anyone the way I loved Lauren.”
Matt’s tone went low, sympathetic, understanding. “Nobody is suggesting you forget Lauren. But Sage is here. She’s real, and she’s in your life. You can go forward, or you can go backward. But you can’t do both.”
“Do you want to lose Sage?” Caleb asked.
“No.” TJ’s answer was instantaneous.
“Do you want to hurt her?”
“No.” TJ didn’t want to hurt Sage.
He’d been trying his utmost not to hurt her since they’d reconnected. He owed her. What was more, he liked and respected her. He was attracted to her. He loved her.
He suddenly pictured the hurt in her eyes as she stared at his wedding picture, his wedding rings, his world with Lauren. He felt a brick hit him in the side of the head.
He’d let Lauren hurt Sage.
How could he have done that?
Lauren was forever his past. But Sage… Sage… Sage was here, and she was his future. She was warm and loving and…
He raised his chin to look at his friends, regret washing through him. “Oh, no.”
“He’s got it,” Caleb said.
“I think he’s got it,” Matt echoed.
“I’m in love with Sage,” TJ said. “I have to apologize.”
“Not with words,” Caleb said.
“Not with money,” Matt said.
TJ understood. He rose. “I have to show her that there’s room in my life for her.”
“He’s not as stupid as he looks,” Matt said with a chuckle.
“Thank goodness for that,” Caleb deadpanned.
TJ gave them a crooked smile, grateful as always for their blunt honesty—no matter how painful it sometimes felt.
He left the marina, striding up the pathway to his house. Sage was still gone, but he’d expected that. He was even glad. He had some work to do before they talked.
It was a good bet that she’d be back when the kids got home from school, which gave him a couple of hours. He pulled some packing boxes out of the basement and took them to his room.
He started with the easy stuff, Lauren’s soap and perfume, and the clothes that were in the dresser drawers. As the items piled up, his chest grew lighter. There were hundreds of happy memories in her possessions. But that was all they were now, happy memories.
By the time he removed the last picture from the dresser, the daylight was fading through the windows. He checked his watch. Sage hadn’t come home, and neither had the children.
A block of fear settled into his stomach. Where were they? Had she taken them? What if he was already too late?
Sage had been halfway to Seattle, her phone switched off and the kids buckled into the back seat when she’d realized she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t run off without a word to TJ. It was a cowardly thing to do, and it was just plain wrong to yank the kids out of school.
Sure, she was hurt. She was humiliated. But TJ was the one sticking to the terms of their agreement. She was the one who’d decided she wanted more. He was right when he said he’d been honest with her all along. He had.