I shake my head. This can’t be happening. “I’ll give you space, and we’ll talk about this later.”

“No.” Her chest shakes with her sob. “Every time I look at you, I see my sister in that casket. I should’ve been there, and I was so lost in you that I failed her.”

I take a step back, but the blow still lands. “I know you’re hurting, but don’t push me away for good. I love you.”

She nods, tears rolling down her cheeks. “If you really love me, you won’t make me hurt like this. You need to go, and you need to stay gone.”

Chapter Thirty-Two


Present day

“More ice cream?” Savvy asks. She hoists the carton in the air from the spot next to me on Kace’s couch, where I’ve spent most of my day, and where she joined me after she finished with her classes and clients at the spa.

I lick my spoon and shake my head. I have a stomachache from too much sugar, a headache from too much crying, and a heartache from too much damn pride. More ice cream can’t fix that.

“You could call him,” she says gently.

I pull my knees more tightly to my chest and shake my head. “He’s right,” I say in a whisper. “I want to believe I’m so independent now, but I’ve never been able to do it on my own.”

Savvy carefully sets down the carton of ice cream and straightens in a way that tells me a Savvy lecture is incoming. She folds her arms and huffs out a breath.

“Say it,” I mutter.

“Do you think I’m a failure as an adult? A loser who doesn’t have her shit together?”

I pull back like she’s slapped me. “Of course not. I’d never—”

“But I need you. I rely on you for so much. You cover my ass at work when shit goes down, you’re there for me when I need someone to talk to, and you’ve been personally responsible for keeping my lights on more than once.”

I bite back the obvious objection—that’s what friends do—because it’s a trap. I know where she’s going with this.

“Abbi and Stella are the same. They need you, and you do so much for them. But they’re still inde-fucking-pendent women. And so are you.” She takes my hand in both of hers and squeezes it. “No one does it alone. Not even Marston.”

I study our fingers as she laces them together. All my strings are busted, but my sister by choice is holding me together the way she has so many times. “You don’t know that.”

She laughs. “Yes, I do. Alec isn’t just Marston’s business partner; he’s his best friend. He bails Marston out all the time—maybe not financially, but still. Marston’s been on the phone with him like crazy since he came back to town.”

I frown. “You keep in touch with Alec?”

“Don’t change the subject.” She pats my hand. “Then there’s Marston’s Aunt Lori, who’s like a mom to him to this day. She still makes him cookies at Christmas, and she’s the one who took care of him when he broke his ankle in college.”

I tilt my head to the side and gape. “Where did you get all this information? Have you been holding out on me?”

She gently smacks my hand this time. “Focus. She takes care of him, and he takes care of her in return. Because that’s what family does—whether it’s the family we were given at birth or the one we put together ourselves.” She sighs heavily. “Think back to the time in your life when you needed someone the most.”

I close my eyes, but not before a tear rolls down my cheek. I needed someone so badly after my sister died, and my parents were too emotionally crippled to give me anything more than money. They still are. “When Brittany died,” I whisper.

“Your world fell apart, and you’ve told me how that felt, but think how it must’ve been for Marston. You were falling apart, and instead of letting him help, you pushed him away.”

I swallow hard, and more hot tears spill onto my cheeks. “I thought I was doing the right thing.”

She squeezes my hand again. “I know, baby girl, and no one blames you for the mistakes you made as a grieving sister, but you’ve gotta be bigger than that now. Marston wasn’t calling you out for never doing anything on your own. His issue isn’t that you rely on other people. It’s that you won’t rely on him.”

Sniffling, I open my eyes and see that Savvy’s crying too, and my heart is buoyed by the reminder of the family I’ve found despite everything. “I haven’t told my parents about the wedding or even that I’m seeing him. I thought I was saving him from drama, but . . . he thinks I’m ashamed of him.”

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