“I don’t know, Elena,” I say truthfully. “Every instinct says run, but I don’t know if I can let you go. Regardless, all of it is a testament to how much I’ve come to care for you. I wish I didn’t. It would make things so much easier if I could just go back to loving to fuck you rather than just lo—”

I stop before I admit the “L” word out loud.

“I feel like I should say something to sway you my way,” she says. “Get mad. Goad you or something. But I can’t force you to make me important enough to risk the pain, and that’s really what it boils down to.”

I take her other hand, hold both tightly. “You’re important, Elena. So fucking important. Too important. And I’m not trying to compare you to April because you’re both so different and wonderful in your own rights. I mean, neither of you could ever measure up to the other because you’re both so unique, yet… I find myself comparing the pain I felt to the potential pain I could bear with you, and Elena… I think if I lost you, it would destroy me.”

She shakes her head, a sad smile on her face. “No, you would be fine eventually. You would survive and move on, and I know that because I believe in you.”

And then she stands, pulling her hands from mine. “Goodbye, Benjamin.”

I’m stunned, and I scramble to stand as well, grabbing my cane and punching it onto the brick walkway. “That’s it? You’re leaving? You’re not even going to try to tell me I’m wrong?”

She tilts her head, giving me an admonishing smile. “I just did. Told you that you’re wrong. You’d survive because you’re strong. I personally think you have the fortitude to move past these fears, and I’m hoping you’ll prove me right. You know where to find me if that’s the case.”

She then moves past me, her arm brushing against my chest. My hand snakes out, fingers intertwining with hers for just a moment. Neither of us looks at one another, but we linger in that touch until she pulls her hand free and walks away from me.

CHAPTER 30

Elena

I don’t agree with some of the Catholic church’s doctrines, but I don’t think that matters. I think it’s good to question and make decisions for myself. Even though I don’t see eye to eye with my church on all things, I find immense comfort within these brick walls.

The smell of incense, the stained-glass windows representing the Stations of the Cross, the ceremony of Communion. All of it gives me comfort, starting my week off right.

My entire family attends each week, although one of us might skip for a good reason here and there—and yes, I realize spending the day in bed with a man is not a good enough reason. After church, we’ll often go out to an early lunch together, a favorite being Olive Garden.

Today, everyone is in attendance, which in addition to my parents includes five brothers, three sisters-in-law, two nephews, and four nieces, although the newest little niece, Emily, is in the cry room with her mom this morning. We take up two pews, the Costieri family, but such is the Catholic way of life. It feels good to be out and about, especially after I hugged my parents’ couch most of yesterday.

I had been slightly annoyed at the way my mom had hovered over me all morning, but by the time Jorie had brought me back from my breakup with Benjamin, all I’d wanted was my mom to baby me.

I mean… I think we broke up. I try to replay our last words, and I’m not sure. We’d left it sort of vague. Benjamin said he feared the pain of losing me, I’d said he was stronger than he gave himself credit for, and then… I walked away. That part felt right for sure. I’d said all I could.

Communion has just concluded, the last few rows of parishioners filing back into place. Our priest is making some announcements, and I’ve tuned out. I slip my phone out of my purse, which was put on vibrate the minute I walked in after an incredibly embarrassing moment about two years ago when “Hell’s Bells” rang out loudly one time when my boyfriend called me.

I shoot off a quick text to Jorie. Let’s go shopping for baby clothes today.

Ever at the ready to have my back. Sure you wouldn’t rather go to a bar and just get drunk?

You’re pregnant. You can’t drink.

But I can listen, she wrote back. And be your DD.

My mother leans over to hiss in my ear. “You put that phone away right now, young lady. We are in God’s house.”

Smirking, I duck my head and shoot Jorie a quick text. Call you in a few minutes once I get out of church.

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