“Are you done? I know you hate me, and you blame me. I know all that. What I don’t know is how you are, really. Do you need my help, can I do something to make this less awful for you?”

I felt my face go red with anger. “You do not get to show up and comfort me. How dare you think I’d fall into your arms!” I said. I took a precautionary step back just in case I got overwhelmed by my damnable yearning to do just that. I turned so I could watch the kids at the carpet. It also had the benefit of partly turning my back on him.

“Tell me if you’re okay.”

“How could I be okay? Look at what happened! I have never been the kind of woman who wanted to be saved. But then the one time a guy comes along who could save me and a lot of other people I love, he chose not to. Jesus, Jeremiah, you broke my heart.” I said it, and I wasn’t sorry.

I let my guard down for just one minute, told the truth. That he had left me brokenhearted. I quit putting on the brave front for just an instant and let him see how deeply hurt I was, how I was biting my lip to keep the tears that were standing in my eyes from falling. I looked up at the ceiling and blinked them away as fast as I could. Then I met his eyes.

He reached for me then. My throat was tight with wanting him to hold me, wanting to be folded up against his chest and held by him, by the man I was stupid enough to fall for. I shook my head and backed away.

I couldn’t let him touch me. If he did, I knew where that would lead. I couldn’t risk it.

“Please go,” I said, my voice steadier than I felt.

The brush of his hand on my sleeve as he left, the click of the door shutting behind him. That’s all I was left with. It was what I said I wanted. It’s what I asked him to do. So why did I want to howl and weep? Why did I want to turn and run after him? I hated myself for falling for him, for offering him my heart when I had known what he was here to do in the first place.

22

Jeremiah

“Some things can’t be forgiven, bro. Sorry to break it to you,” Tyler said when I called him.

“That’s not the most supportive thing you could have said,” I pointed out.

“I’m just saying. I don’t think it’s unforgivable, but I’m not her. Everybody’s different. Me, I think forgiving yourself is the hardest. That’s a fucking mountain climb right there. So maybe ask yourself if she’s that hurt by you, or if she just can’t forgive herself.”

“You’re deep. It’s all that therapy talking, right?” I joked.

“Yeah, I’m a regular Dalai Lama. Put in your quarter and out pops the wisdom,” he said.

“I’m not sure she’s going to open up about her feelings toward me or herself. She’s hurt and mad and a hundred percent not okay,” I said.

“Well, what’d you expect?”

“Her parents won’t rent me a room. It’s like I’m blacklisted. I had to go get a hotel room in the next town over. And that’s worse because not only do I have to stay in another town, it’s right across from the restaurant where I took her for dinner.”

“The one where you were making out on the sidewalk and they literally asked you to come inside and get a room? That was epic,” he said with a laugh.

“They actually gave us a room, a private dining room. To eat in.”

“Come on. Don’t tell me you didn’t have sex there.”

“We didn’t have sex there. I was tempted, beyond anything you can imagine, but I wasn’t going to do that there. Not in a public place, not when it was our first time together.”

“If you didn’t want me to give you any shit, why’d you even call me in the first place? You want tough love, call Mom. You want some ball-busting, call me.”

“Yeah, I must’ve forgotten. Listen,” I said. “This whole mess got me thinking. I want to make some changes. I haven’t been happy with my job for a while. It’s altered my career trajectory and—”

“Sorry, nodded off there. When you talk about your career and your business degree and shit, I get bored.”

“I’m serious, I have some decisions to make.”

“So go make them,” Tyler said.

For the one of us who’d been through therapy, he sure didn’t have much patience for talking things out. He was more a man of action.

“It was good talking to you,” I said, and I meant it. In a lot of ways, Tyler understood me better than anyone.


Tags: Natasha L. Black Romance
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