Jason dancing with Birdie under a spotlight.
Those reminders that…yes, I do have the ability to make decisions and think for myself, to make a difference, send me up the steps to knock on the door. I’m braced to see the man I left at the altar. My apology is rehearsed and ready on my tongue. No one answers on the first knock, but when I lift my hand to knock again, the door flies open.
Whoa. This tall, suited gentleman is my ex-fiancé, but he’s not the poised and polished Elijah of my recollection. His dark hair is in disarray, his tie knot pulled to one side. He’s a man who never misses a step or looks anything but confident. Not right now, though. He’s very clearly upset. Almost…haunted. What is going on?
“Elijah. Hello.” I cling to my purse strap for comfort, waiting for the customary gentleman’s greeting. A kiss on the cheek, a smile, a compliment. He says nothing back, though, simply staring at me like…he doesn’t even know me. As if we’ve never met at all. I say his name again and he visibly shakes himself, fear moving into his expression. “Are you all right?”
“No.” His hand slaps down on the doorframe, his knuckles turning white from gripping it so hard. “Naomi, I don’t want to be rude, but this isn’t the best time.”
“Oh, of course, I—” Wait, what? He’s the one who invited me here, isn’t he? I search through my purse for the envelope. “I wouldn’t have come, only you sent me the note.”
He stares at me like I’m speaking in pig Latin. “Note?”
“It was in my mailbox this afternoon.” The murk clears and reveals what should have been obvious the moment he opened the door, regarding me as one does a stranger. My chest expands with my first full breath of the day. With creeping, cautious relief. “I’m guessing you didn’t write it,” I breathe, handing him the unfolded piece of paper.
His eyes move one side to the other, reading—and the contents bring a sound out of his mouth. It’s a tortured denial. If he didn’t write the note, who did? Right now, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that he very obviously does not love me or want me back.
I hold up a hand with a boldness I didn’t always have. But I do now. “You don’t have to explain.” A bittersweet laugh puffs past my lips. “Engaged to be married and I didn’t even know your handwriting. If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is,” I say, desperately trying to remember the words to my apology as more and more relief floods in. “Even so, I’m sorry about what happened, Elijah. How I handled it, especially. Driving like a bat out of hell to Florida until I couldn’t go any farther. Honestly, I barely recognized myself—”
The memory of Jason opening the door to his house for the first time, his big shoulders spanning the frame, almost strangles me, so I rush to distract myself, rambling, needing to go. Away from this house that represents the past. Past Naomi. Get the rest out. “Gosh, I’ve been going around apologizing to just about everyone. My mother, the wedding planner. Something about us just never felt right.” I shake my head. “Maybe I don’t know what right is even supposed to feel like with another person. Maybe…that’s what I learned in Florida. I’m not sure. I’m just sorry about the trouble I caused you.”
“I’m sorry, too,” he says, sincerity in his tone. “Someday, when all of this is long behind us, Addison and I would love to have you over for dinner. We’ll laugh about it.”
Happiness positively floods me at that confirmation that something good for Elijah and Addison came out of me fleeing the church. “I wondered if it was true. You and my cousin.” I heave a final sigh for the past. The one Elijah and I built with the best intentions, trying to please everyone but ourselves. “Everyone thinks I’m crazy, and seeing you in this house where we were meant to live…I think they must be right,” I say, trying to ease the distress radiating from him. “Hopefully Addison is smarter than me.”
“I’m hoping for the opposite. The smarter she is, the harder it’s going to be to convince her to forgive me.” I laugh, but he doesn’t join me, his gaze distant. “Naomi, I really have to go.”
“I understand. But there’s just one more quick thing.” My revelation is unplanned, but it needs to be said. This secret has been kept far too long and as of this moment, I’m done letting my parents deal the cards of their choosing and still having the gall to dictate how they’re played. “I overheard my parents arguing. A very long time ago.” All of those tense meals trying to mediate arguments about my father’s affair rush back to me, but one in particular stands out. One I wasn’t meant to witness. “Addison…she’s not just my cousin, she’s my half-sister. She deserves to know that. Will you tell her, please?”