“One more thing that I’m proud of you for,” I reply and kiss her knuckles again. “Keep going,” I say.
“Well, that’s pretty much it. The CliffsNotes version, anyway.”
“Will you go on tour again?” I hold my breath, waiting for her answer. Please say no.
“No,” she shakes her head. “That time of my life is done. We have been asked to choreograph Starla’s routine for the VMA’s next month, so we’ll be in LA for a few days for that, but things like that will be hit and miss. Our business is here.”
“Why does Jax call you all of the crazy nicknames?” I ask.
“Oh.” She swallows and cringes. “Well, eating disorders are pretty common in the dance world. That’s no secret.”
My hands fist in spite of myself and my whole body stills as I think of her hurting herself that way.
“Don’t worry, I didn’t get caught in that trap. Well,” she cringes again and bites her lip. “There was one director who was just a hard ass. More so than anyone else. He told me I was too big in the boob area.” She rolls her eyes. “I can’t help that I have boobs. But I thought that if I went on a diet, I might loose some weight. Jax caught on and gave me a verbal tongue lashing.”
“Good for him,” I murmur, pissed that anyone would even think that Meredith is fat. If anything, she’s always been too slender.
“That director made snide comments about my chest almost every day. It was hell. But I was determined that he wasn’t going to make me quit. I worked my ass off on that job. Years later, he called and asked me to audition for another role, and I turned him down.”
“I bet that felt good.” God, she’s so fucking amazing. She’s turned into such a strong, confident woman.
“It was awesome to tell him to kiss my fat ass.” She giggles and leans her head on my shoulder. “So, ever since then, Jax calls me things like twinkie and cheesecake. It’s just a joke.”
“He seems like a funny guy.”
“One of the reasons we’re friends,” she says with a grin. “He makes me laugh. And he puts up with my moody shit. And there’s no chance in hell he’ll ever hit on me.”
“And for that, he’s my new best friend as well.”
She laughs and then grows quiet. The boats have slowed down and the crickets and frogs around us are talking. It’s late in the evening now, but I have no intention to leave any time soon.
“And you? What are you doing with that impressive science degree of yours?”
“How did you know I got a science degree?”
“We still know a lot of the same people, you know.”
I take a deep breath and nod. “I’m not doing a damn thing with it. I worked on fishing boats in Alaska for a while, and now I’m working construction.”
“Okay, that’s the extreme CliffsNotes version. Expand, please.”
I sigh and push my hand through my messy hair. Fuck, I need a haircut. I always need a haircut.
“My degree was in aerospace engineering.”
“Holy shit,” she replies with wide eyes. “You’re a fucking rocket scientist?”
“No, I’m not. Haven’t you been listening?”
“That’s just semantics. You could be a rocket scientist. How did you manage to do that so quickly?”
I shrug and watch an owl fly over the lake. “After you left, all I did was study. I worked my ass off to get through college as quickly as possible. I was consumed with formulas and algorithms and if I was exhausted from school and work, I couldn’t concentrate on missing you.”
I cringe and look over to see her eyes fill with tears again. “It’s okay, M,” she whispers. “It’s the truth. I did the same with dance.”
“So, I got my undergrad and master’s in five years and then decided I didn’t want to live in a lab. I went to Alaska with a buddy of mine from college one summer. He worked the boats to put himself through college. I liked the solitude of it. I made good money.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?” Her eyes are wide as she watches me.
“It can be.” I’m not about to tell her about the times that I was so scared my bowels wanted to give out on me. No need to burden her with that.
“What brought you back to Seattle?” She lies on her side, her head supported on her elbow and watches me silently.
“My brother got married to Natalie and it just seemed like there was a lot going on with my family that I’d be missing.”
“Luke has a beautiful family,” she replies, that wistful tone back in her voice.
“They’re amazing,” I reply softly and let my eyes travel over her beautiful face. “The Montgomerys have become part of our family too. So, I decided I’d been away from home long enough and came back a couple years ago, around the time Jules and Nate married. Jules’ oldest brother owns a construction company and I run one of his crews.”
My eyes find hers as I cock an eyebrow. “Why?”
“You loved science.”
“I loved you more,” I reply without thinking and then wish I could pull the words back and throw them in the water.
Real smooth, Williams.
She clenches her eyes closed and then sits up and gazes over at me. “Do you know, whenever I got nervous, whether it was in an audition, or right before a show… whatever, it was your voice I heard? Breathe with me, M. I clung to that more times than I can tell you. You were with me, every day. Even when I tried to forget you.”
“Were there other men?” I ask with a steel in my voice I can’t hide.
“It’s been ten years. Are you going to tell me you never slept with anyone in ten years?”
I blink at her and then look out at the water myself. “No, I can’t tell you that.”
“I’m not going to give you a play by play, M, because I don’t want that from you either. It would fucking kill me.” Her voice is strong and sure when I turn my gaze back to hers. “But I’ll say this: you will never know how much I wished for you. Even though I knew it was selfish and wrong, I just wanted you.”
I open my blanket and pull her against me, rest my lips on her forehead and relish how it feels to have her in my arms. She buries her face in my neck, the way she always did, and takes in a long, deep breath.
“Do you still want me?” I ask, not sure if I really want to hear the answer.