“I’m sure you’ve got a few dozen women lined up who’d love the same invitation.”
I smirk and nod, but the truth is, I don’t have as many women on the line as they’d all like to think.
And I’m about to come face to face with the one woman who can bring me to my knees for the first time in ten years.
“I’m so sorry to hear about Adelaide Summers, Mark.” Nat kisses my cheek and rubs my arm soothingly. “She was a good woman.”
“She was.” I nod as the pain pierces my heart all over again. Meredith’s mom lost her fight with breast cancer just a week ago, and I’m going to her funeral today. “She sure was good to me.”
“I would go with you guys, but I’m on baby duty today.”
I grin down at her and kiss Livie’s cheek again. “It’s fine. Luke, you don’t have to go either. It’s no big deal.”
“Yeah, it is,” he says and frowns at me. He can read me too well. “I want to come. I liked Addie.”
I nod, secretly relieved that I won’t be going alone and set Olivia on her feet as Luke leads me to the front door. Halfway there he quickly turns back and pulls his wife in for a long, deep kiss.
Dear Jesus, you’d think they were still dating.
“You’re going to see her in a couple hours, Romeo.”
“Bite me,” he says with a grin. “You’re just jealous.”
“I’m nauseated,” I reply and lead him to my Jeep.
“How are you really?” Luke asks quietly as I pull out of the driveway of his new home toward Bellevue, where the funeral will be held.
“I don’t know, man. I knew she was sick, so it’s not exactly out of the blue.”
“I mean about Meredith, Mark. Jesus, you’re stubborn.”
I shrug my shoulder and rub my hand over my face. I’ve had ten years to get used to the idea of seeing her again, and now I’m nervous as hell.
“She’s probably married,” I reply.
“We both know that isn’t true,” he says calmly.
“Look, it’s been a long time. I’m just going to pay my respects to a woman who I loved. Seeing Mer is part of that.” I swallow hard and Luke catches it.
“But?” he asks.
“But it feels like I’m finally saying goodbye to Mer for good too. Like it’s closure on the whole fucking thing.”
Luke sighs and slips his sunglasses on. “I’m sorry, man.”
I shrug one shoulder and concentrate on the freeway. “It is what it is.”
The funeral home isn’t far from our childhood home. There are several cars parked in the parking lot and some people standing outside, talking. Others are coming in and out of the wide red doors of the funeral home.
“Here goes nothing,” I whisper. Jesus, I haven’t been this nervous in years. Luke and I both slam our doors and walk toward the entrance. Luke looks like the millionaire celebrity in a custom designer suit. I’m also in a dark suit with a purple tie. Purple was Addie’s favorite color.
We walk through the front door and nod hello to a few people we know. Mom and Dad are quietly talking with another couple they know and wave at us when they see us then turn back to their conversation.
As we’re walking into the chapel area, I hear her voice.
I stop in my tracks and stare at her, standing up near the closed casket that’s covered in all of Addie’s favorite flowers, talking with the pastor. She’s dabbing at her eyes with a tissue and nodding. She hasn’t seen me yet, so I take a moment and drink in the sight of her.
She’s no longer the young woman I once knew so intimately. I knew every inch of her. I knew what turned her on and what made her squirm. What made her smile. What made her sigh in pleasure.
But better than that, I knew what made her laugh. What made her sad. How to cheer her up and even what she was going to say before she said it.
I knew everything.
She was my world, and even though I know I was too young, nothing will ever erase the way it felt to stand on her front porch and have her tell me she didn’t want me any more. I’ve fought with that particular demon for years.
She turns and sees me, her bright blue gaze locks on mine, and she’s suddenly coming toward me, walking quickly on those tall black heels. Her face crumples and to my utter shock, she launches herself into my arms and holds on with all her strength.
“I can’t believe she’s gone, M,” she whispers and buries her face in my neck, the way she always used to, as if no time has passed at all and my heart feels like someone is stabbing it over and over with an ice pick.
“I’m so sorry,” I whisper back and wrap my arms around her, holding her against me. “I’m so sorry about Addie, M.”
“At least I got to spend Christmas with her,” she says and sniffles. “She wanted to make it through Christmas and she did.”
I nod and give in to the moment and kiss her head. Fuck me, she smells the same.
How is that possible?
“I don’t know what else to say, sweetheart,” I murmur and rub her back softly. She’s still so slender. So small. Her hips and breasts seem to have filled out more with womanhood, but she feels just like she always did in my arms.
Like she was born to be here.
Stop it, asshole!
She seems to come to her senses and pulls herself out of my embrace, wiping her eyes. She smiles at Luke.
“Nice to see you, Meredith.” He kisses her cheek and leans in to whisper in her ear. She smiles softly and nods up at him when he pulls away.
A man I don’t recognize sidles up next to Mer and wraps his arm around her. “Are you okay, cupcake?”
Luke and I glance at each other quickly, but a whole chapter of dialogue just passed between us.
Cupcake? Who the fuck calls his girl cupcake? How can she stand that?
And who the fuck is this asshole?
Meredith smiles at him and gestures to us.
“I’m fine, Jax. This is Mark and Luke Williams. They’re both old friends of mine.”
Right. Old friends. I spent the better part of a year inside you, sweetheart.
“This is Jax,” she continues.
Luke and I both nod and suddenly, music starts and the service is about to begin.
We find seats in the middle near our parents while Mer and Jax walk to the front of the room. I watch her walk away, my eyes glaring holes through the arm still wrapped around her shoulders.