Brinley sighs. “It wasn’t meant to be, but don’t blame that on Julian. I feel bad enough without him being unfairly maligned.”
Roman throws up his hands. “I won’t say another word.”
“Thank you,” Brinley says. “Was Cami able to work on her history project on the drive at all?”
He nods. “Almost done. She said she wanted to color the cover sheet here, but the rest looks good to me.”
“Good. One less thing to get done before Monday.” She smiles.
“It’s no problem.” He tucks his hands into his pockets. “You can trust me with more of that stuff, you know. It doesn’t have to be all fun and games when she visits Dad.”
I look back and forth between them, gauging the dynamic. For all Roman’s faults in high school, he does seem to take co-parenting seriously and have a solid relationship with Cami.
Brinley wrinkles her nose. “I’m working on it. Trying to cut the apron strings a little at a time.”
Roman chuckles. “I’ll be patient.” He shifts awkwardly. “Brin, you think you could give Marston and me a minute alone?”
She turns her wide eyes on me. “Um, I . . .”
“I was on my way out.” I give Brinley’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “I’ll walk with you.”
Roman’s shoulders fall. “That’d be great. Bye, Brin.”
She looks back and forth between us—her husband and the father of her child. “Please don’t kill each other.”
“I think we’ve grown out of that,” Roman says. He winks and heads to the driveway.
Roman doesn’t scare me, but for his sake, I sure as fuck hope he’s not planning to give me a “don’t hurt her” speech. While I might appreciate it from anyone else, it wouldn’t sit right from the guy who left Brinley to raise a baby alone while she worked her way through college.
“I owe you an apology.” He huffs out a laugh. “Fuck, I owe you much more than that, but I figure we can start with an apology.”
“I . . .” I shake my head and let out a hoarse laugh of my own. “I did not expect that.”
Roman rubs the back of his neck. “I was such a punk kid. For so many reasons, but there’s really no excuse for the hell I put you through. I was jealous and thought I was entitled to whatever I wanted. I saw the way she looked at you and knew she liked you more than me, and . . .” He shrugs. “Like I said, a bunch of excuses but nothing to justify what an ass I was.”
“I forgive you.” I’m surprised how easily the words roll off my tongue, but they’re true. “It takes a big man to apologize for what he did when he was young. I appreciate it, and I’m sorry for slashing your tires on prom night.”
Roman chuckles as we stop by his car. “I knew that was you, but I couldn’t prove it.” He clears his throat. “I figure you and Brinley are gonna end up together, and since Brin is a big part of my life because of Cami, I want to do whatever I need to for things to be cool between us.”
“It’s history, man. Don’t sweat it.”
His face tenses as he looks back toward the house. “I wasn’t there for her, and I really regret it. I found out she was pregnant and made myself scarce just in case the kid was mine. I didn’t know for sure until Cami was two and a half. I regret missing those early years.” He shakes his head. “I regret it so much.”
“Judging by what Brinley says, you’re more than making up for it now.”
His gaze is distant. “Her parents sure didn’t make it easy on her. I’ve tried to help, but Brinley’s proud. She’s always been willing to let me buy clothes and shoes and whatever for Cami, but it took me years to get her to take child support, and I know damn well she’s squirreling most of it away for Cami’s college fund.” He smacks me on the back. “I’m glad she’s got you to help out, but word of warning? Don’t expect her to ask for help when she needs it. That’s just not how Brinley works.”
I nod. I picked that up the moment I came back to town. “Thanks. And . . . thanks for the apology, too. I’m glad as fuck those years are over.”
Roman laughs. “Man, me too. Me too.” He opens the door and climbs into his car. “See you around, Marston.”
“Mrs. Wright,” I say, pulling my office door wide for the owner of The Orchid. “It’s good to see you. Come on in.”
I’ve been preparing for this meeting since Mrs. Wright’s housekeeper called me this morning and asked to set up a private meeting with me. I already know I’ve lost my chance to buy the spa, and as a result we may all lose our jobs, but part of me is grateful that things have moved so quickly. Too much of my life has been stuck in limbo lately, and knowing what’s to come on the professional front will be . . . well, it’s one less thing to think about, at least.