And she was right. I had walked away from him because I was too afraid to admit what I was feeling. What was I feeling for him? Did I love him? If I couldn’t even voice it in my own head, surely he didn’t deserve to be strung along, and I escaped down the hall before I could mess anything up further.
Despite my lack of sleep and ragged condition after leaving the hospital, I drove straight through to my mother’s house in Iowa. Though I hadn’t been there more than twice in the past five years, I easily navigated I-90, avoiding the toll roads like I’d been doing it all the time.
During the first few hours of the drive, I argued with myself nonstop and nearly turned around half a dozen times, at one point even pulling into a rest stop to contemplate the decision. I refused to let Denise drive me away. More than anything, I wanted to be there for Cohen. But as the hours wore on, I came to believe that the right thing to do was to leave him be. He deserved more than what I had to offer. And once I explained it to myself that way—that I wasn’t staying away because Denise had the power to push me around, but instead, because it was the best thing for Cohen—I instantly felt a little bit better and continued along to my Mom’s house, knowing I would need to escape to the solace of home. Returning to my own home would bring too many reminders of Cohen.
I arrived at her home without even an overnight bag and was in her arms, crying like a baby, before I even stepped inside the house.
The visit with my mother was exactly what I needed. I’d never grieved Paul’s death properly, and I spent the week in Iowa doing just that. I slept in each day like I’d been sleep deprived for years. I visited his grave for the first time and placed flowers on it. I overindulged on my mother’s cooking and talked to her—actually opening up—about losing my fiancé, and my ability to have children. It was hard, but by the end of the week I felt stronger. And not just as the invented Liz I’d once used to cope, I was stronger as Eliza. Me. And it felt good.
I also realized that I missed Cohen. I missed eating our meals together, sleeping in his bed, even playing those damn video games I was so bad at. Cohen always saw through my act. He’d called me by my full name from the beginning, even when I kept insisting he call me Liz. It was like he’d somehow known the true me was inside the entire time.
When I rolled to a stop on the street in front of my townhouse, I thought I’d have more time to prepare before facing Cohen, to figure the right words to say, but there he stood with Bob on the sidewalk, his arm secured to his side in a sling, watching me get out of the car.
I gathered up the overnight bag of random stuff I’d accumulated when at my mom’s. I’d left with nothing but the clothes on my back, and of course she’d taken me shopping, for some new clothes, shoes and makeup. Cohen watched my every move as I wrestled the large bag from the passenger seat.
Bob sat at Cohen’s heels, but when I got near he charged forward, yanking the leash free from Cohen’s grasp and charging straight for me.
I steered clear of Bob’s path, grabbing his leash and returning it to Cohen’s outstretched hand. “How’s your shoulder?” I nodded toward his arm, held immobile by the sling.
“Fine, as long as I don’t move it. It should heal up nicely. But I can’t respond to calls for the next eight weeks.”
I nodded. “I’m glad to see you up and around.”
He squinted, looking unsure.
“It’s just the last time I saw you, you were still unconscious after surgery,” I explained.
“You came to the hospital?” He eyed me warily.
“Of course. A couple of times. And I stayed with Grace so your mom could come that first night, and I took care of Bob too.”
The look on his face told me he was either mentally solving a long equation, or this information was entirely new to him.
Of course his mother didn’t tell him. I took a step closer to him. “I was there, Cohen. I wanted to see you, and your mom thought it was best… I mean, it probably was for the best that I just let you be.”
“Why would you say that? My mother doesn’t know shit about what I want or need. I would have wanted to see you. That night with you was the best night of my life, and then after…when you took off…” He stopped abruptly, and looked down, his eyes burning with intensity.
“I’m sorry,” I managed in barely a whisper. I knew it wasn’t the apology he deserved, but words seemed to be escaping me. I looked down at the sidewalk, all of my courage dissolving at the sight of him.
“You were scared,” he said.
I looked up and met his gaze. He was the same confident, beautiful man I’d fallen for, if not a bit more banged up and wary of me. It broke my heart to see him like this, knowing I was the cause of it.
He rubbed a hand across his stubble-roughened jaw then adjusted the strap on his sling. “Come inside. We’re not talking about this out on the street.”
I swallowed and nodded my consent.
We didn’t even bother stopping at my place to drop off my bag, but instead I followed him and Bob up the stairs. I was sure my cats would be okay without me for a little while longer, Ashlyn always took good care of them when I was away. As we made our way up the stairs, I couldn’t help but notice even Bob was acting different, like he could sense the tension between us, and his normally happy-go-lucky mood was replaced by one of calm.
When we reached his apartment Cohen freed Bob from the leash and then shrugged out of his sling, rolling his neck to shake off the aches and pains.
“Aren’t you supposed to keep that on?” I looked at the discarded sling.
He nodded. “Probably. It’s uncomfortable though.”
Men could be such babies. I picked up the sling from the couch and folded it before setting it aside on the trunk in front of the sofa.
“Sit down. Do you want something? Water? Sorry, I don’t have much else. Haven’t been to the store in a while.”
The way he said it made me wonder if he’d been eating, and I imagined it’d be difficult to prepare meals one-handed.
“No, I’m fine.” I sat down on the opposite side of the sofa, keeping some distance between us.
Cohen tucked his arm against his side, so as not to jostle it, and sat down. “So, I, um, talked to Ashlyn. I didn’t know where you were staying, and she told me…some things about your past.”
A lump rose in my throat and I clenched my hands into fists. Damn it, Ashlyn.
“She didn’t tell me much, said it was your story to tell, but just that I didn’t know what you’d been though and not to judge you too harshly.”
I released the breath I’d been holding. “Is that all she told you?”
He shook his head. “She also said you’re not as tough as you try to seem.”
I smiled wryly. Well, after the way I’d broken down this past week, I supposed that much was true.
He shifted closer to me on the sofa, closing some of the distance between us. “So…” he prompted.
I chewed on my lip, deciding if I could tell him. This wasn’t how I pictured it. I’d imagined I’d have time to prepare what I wanted to say, be dressed in something cute—hell, at least be showered—and maybe tell him over drinks to soften the blow. But I summoned my courage. It was either explain myself now, or lose Cohen forever. I cleared my throat and began. “You deserve to know, I know that. And I want you to know that what you gave me, what we shared, it meant a lot to me too.”
He smiled and took my hand. “Just say it. What could possibly be so bad, Easy E?”
I shifted away from him, uncomfortably. I couldn’t allow myself to get my hopes up for him to just reject me in the end. It was the entire reason I’d tried to keep him at arm’s length, and then pushed him away. I wrung my hands in my lap. “I was engaged.” My eyes flicked to his, and they were concerned and curious, but not angry. Yet.
I took a fortifying breath, and told him the rest of the story, not once stopping or breezing by a single detail. Cohen stayed silent, holding my hand, waiting for me to get all the words out. He rubbed slow circles on the back of my hand with his thumb, not interrupting or asking any questions, just listening attentively. I was in tears by the time it was over.
I didn’t realize quite when it happened, but Cohen had moved closer to comfort me and soothe away my tears, slowly stroking my back, quietly whispering that everything was going to be okay.
When I realized that Cohen hadn’t pushed me away, repulsed or angry, or worst of all—emotionless over the fact I couldn’t have children, indicating he couldn’t see a future with me, all the tension of holding my secret in for so long finally melted away and I was left physically and emotionally drained. I curled against his warm body and snuggled into his neck, letting the tears come. Tears for Paul, for the baby we lost, for future little blonde-haired, blue-eyed babies with Cohen, for all of it. And when I was finally done, cried out and limp, Cohen picked me up from the sofa and carried me to bed, tucking me in and murmuring lovingly before turning off the lights and leaving me to rest.
One Year Later
I stretched back in my beach chair, a bottle of beer dangling from one hand, watching Eliza splash in the frigid Lake Michigan waves with Bob. He was wagging his tail, biting at the water, but even his antics weren’t enough to keep me from watching her every movement. Her soft curves filled out that little bikini in ways that should be illegal. The only reason I was okay with her wearing it in public was because technically we were on a private beach and Aiden and Ashlyn weren’t bound to notice anything but each other at the moment anyways.
We’d all come up to the same lake house as last summer, only this year to mark my college graduation, and to celebrate with Ashlyn and Aiden who’d just returned from their two-week-long honeymoon in Fiji. Their wedding was simple, yet elegant and Eliza made a beautiful bridesmaid. I stood in as the best man, not because Aiden didn’t have other friends—he did—it was just that his memories had never returned and he felt closer to those he’d met since developing amnesia.
I pulled back a swig of my beer as Bob shoved his snout in between her legs and she toppled over, falling with a splash onto her ass in the shallow water. I let out a chuckle and watched her face go from surprise to irritation to a fit of laughter. She wiped her hair from her face and scolded Bob, though she was still smiling, so I knew she wasn’t really mad. He’d really grown on her over the last year. Well, that and she’d really changed over the past year, becoming more loving, more spirited, and more at peace. It had been amazing to see.
Once she stood and brushed the sand from her bikini bottoms, she jogged toward me, her tits bouncing in the most hypnotic way. I knew I’d never get tired of her body, and something stirred inside of me once again at just the sight of her.
“Did you see what that oversized mutt did to me?” She sand onto my lap, dripping with freezing water.
The ice-cold water soaking my swim trunks took care of any desire I felt stirring. I lifted her off me and wrapped her in a towel before folding her onto my lap again. She smiled at the warmth of the sun-warmed towel and nuzzled into my chest. It was times like this I felt proud of her, of the way she battled and overcame her fear to allow herself to fall in love again.
“I’m going to shower,” she whispered in my ear. “Want to join me?”
I pressed a kiss to her neck and nodded. “Go start it, I’ll be right up.”
She hopped onto her feet and dashed up the sandy beach toward the house.
I don’t know why I was so damn nervous about this. I wiped my palms on my shorts, and paced in the loft. The shower had been running for ten minutes already, and though she liked long showers, I knew she was waiting for me to get in there.
Shower sex had become one of my favorite things. Then again, I had a lot of new favorite things where Eliza was concerned. We’d experimented with just about every position known to man and even a few I think we made up. Not to mention doing it in every room in both her place and mine. After waiting so long for the right girl, now that I had her, I couldn’t get enough. And luckily, she felt the same way.
I took one last glance around the room, making sure everything was perfect, when I heard the water shut off. She was going to be ticked at me for not joining her, but hopefully she would understand why.
I could hear her slamming drawers and moving aggressively about the bathroom. Yep, she was pissed.
A few seconds later the door opened and Liz came out, hair brushed but wet, and wrapped up in a towel. I’d lit candles all around the room, so it was softly glowing in the fading afternoon light and I was sitting on the bottom bunk. These bunk beds were sort of nostalgic for us and I thought about how far we’d come together in a year.
My chest was bare, the way she liked me, and I was stripped down to just a pair of white boxer briefs that she bought for me, claiming they were sexy. I didn’t know about that, all I knew was I felt like I was offering myself to her, and I guessed that was pretty much the truth.
The scowl on her face faded away and was replaced by confusion as she took in the room. “Cohen?”
“Come here, baby.” I held out one hand and she walked toward me. I loved that despite everything in her past she trusted me completely with her whole heart.
A few months into us dating, she’d gotten too drunk out with Ashlyn one night and when she got home late, she’d come to my apartment and in her drunken state sort of admitted that she loved me. She kept patting the top of my head and calling me ‘Coh Coh’ and telling me I could never leave her. I knew what she was really saying—that she’d fallen in love with me, and couldn’t go through losing another man she loved.
After that night, knowing she was mine, it took our relationship to a whole new level. We hadn’t spent anymore nights apart, and though Eliza’s cats weren’t happy about the arrangement at first, the more she began bringing them upstairs with her, the more Bob grew on them. We’d worked through all her fears and insecurities, the biggest of which surprised me – her inability to carry a child. After that breakthrough, we’d spent hours together researching international adoption online and viewing pictures of the infants and children who desperately needed a loving home. Showing her I was very much open to the idea of adoption seemed to erase the last burden she’d been carrying around. We’d daydreamed about our future, traveling to Brazil, China, Russia, building a family our own way.