I shake my head. “I don’t think we should.”
He winces. “I’m sorry.”
“For what? For being angry that I lied about who I was?” I fold my arms and fight back a shiver. “I’m pretty sure I deserved that.”
“No, for pushing you away before you had the chance to explain. I panicked, Nic. I was hurt and scared and I panicked, but I want you to come home.”
Home. The word makes my eyes prick with tears, but I swallow them back. “Maybe you were doing the right thing then and you’re panicking now.” I shake my head. “Maybe we’re both afraid to be alone.”
“I’ve never been afraid to be alone before.”
“Really? Is that why you’ve kept your dead wife in your house for three years?” When he winces, I want to touch him, but I don’t let myself. “Your wife has a book on her bedside table. I opened it my first day there and saw a note scribbled in the margins that said that love born of lies is the wrong kind of love. She was right.”
“Don’t say that.”
I stare over his shoulder. It hurts too much to look him in the eye. He sent me away two days ago. I’ve had two days to dwell on my heartache and think about everything that went wrong. I’ve had two days to realize that I’m less afraid to be alone now than I’ve ever been in my life. Jackson Harbor gave me that. Ethan gave me that.
“Your name has nothing to do with how we feel about each other,” he says.
“But it had a lot to do with how I felt about myself. If I was Veronica, I had her education, her confidence. Nicole would never have told you off about calling her an easy screw, but Veronica wouldn’t have hesitated. I’ve been in relationship after relationship where I’m not quite myself. I’m pretending to be someone better. Someone who has more to offer. I don’t even know who I am, and I came here looking and fell into another lie.”
“You don’t need to find yourself. I can see exactly who you are.”
“I’m not sure that’s true.”
“Nic?” When I shift my gaze to meet his, he steps forward and brushes his lips over mine. I want to throw myself into his arms, to make the kiss longer, but I don’t allow myself. “The preschool letters . . .” He swallows and draws in a ragged breath. “Are you leaving? Did you find a job?”
“I haven’t accepted anything.”
“You don’t have to leave. Tell me what you need from me.”
I shrug and shake my head. “Space. Time. And then I don’t know.”
“Okay.” He closes his eyes and leans his forehead against mine. “It’s yours.”
Then he pulls away and leaves. I have to bite back a sob at the gnawing ache of him taking my heart with him. Like I told Kathleen on the phone when I begged her to come home, when love is real, it hurts to lose.
I stumble back to the couch and collapse into a heap of tears.
“What the hell was that?” Veronica asks from the hallway.
I tense and swipe at my cheeks. The sound of my sister’s voice still makes me angry. We’re both staying at Teagan’s, but I haven’t managed a civil conversation with her. “What was what?”
She sinks onto the couch beside me and rubs my back. “What was that bullshit about you wanting space? You’re in love with him.”
I grab a tissue off the end table and wipe away my tears. “You’re the last person I want to talk to about my love life, V.”
“Because I slept with Marcus?”
“I’m the one you should listen to. You already hate me, so I don’t have anything to lose.”
I turn to her but I can’t make out her features in the darkness. “I don’t hate you.”
“Well, you should. What I did was loathsome. I had excuses. So many I made myself sick with them. But none of them matter. They’re all bullshit. I’m so sorry.”
I close my eyes. I’m so tired of everything. “I’m glad I didn’t marry Marcus. It wasn’t about losing him. It was about losing you.”
“You didn’t lose me,” she whispers. “You can’t. I love you too much. Nicky and Ronnie against the world, remember?”
“But you gave me up for him.” The words don’t even sound pained. Just flat and matter-of-fact.
“I was an idiot. Marcus . . . he told me I made him believe in miracles. He told me I filled a hole he never thought could be filled.”
I sigh. Marcus used those lines on me too. I could tell Veronica that, but it would only add to her embarrassment. I don’t want to be cruel, and I’m too tired for more drama.
“You know what’s ridiculous?” When she speaks again, her voice is quieter. “He told me he only went through with the wedding because I didn’t want you to be hurt. He really made me believe he was marrying you for me.”