Page 84

It amazed me that I knew her favorite candy.

I’d never let anyone close enough to learn their favorite things.

I hoped the distractions would help get Grace’s mind off the interaction with the two people who’d hurt her the most.

After I set everything up on the coffee table, I went to grab the cola from the fridge, and I stopped when I saw Grace glancing at the tattoo in the mirror. There was a small smile that looked more like a frown upon her lips.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m fine. It’s just…” She turned to me and lightly shrugged. “Today’s my anniversary.”

“Oh, I didn’t know…” A knot formed in my gut at the thought. I’d been pretty stupid lately—letting my feelings for her grow. There was no real point, really. She was still a married woman, and she could go back to her husband at any moment when she got sick of doing whatever it was she and I were doing. Plus, it wouldn’t be long before our summer fling came to an end, and she went back to her reality in Atlanta.

We’d made a deal, and it was perfectly clear that come the end of August, she’d go her way and I’d go mine.

She owed me nothing.

Still…I wanted all of her.

“Seeing Finn in town with Autumn must’ve been hard for you,” I remarked.

“No, Jackson.” She shook her head, placing her hand on my forearm. “Not that anniversary. It’s the anniversary of my first miscarriage.”

“Oh, God. I’m so sorry.”

I felt like such a dumbass.

“No, it’s fine. I mean, it’s not, but it is, you know? That’s why I wanted to get the tattoos today, to honor them. I’m not gonna lie, though—running into Autumn and seeing her pregnant today of all days really hit me hard.”

“I cannot believe that happened,” I whispered, combing her hair behind her ear. “I cannot understand how the two of them could’ve ever done that to you.”

“She gave him the one thing I couldn’t,” she replied. “That’s all I ever wanted to be for him, ya know? For me. All I ever wanted was to have a family, to be a mother, and for some reason, I couldn’t do the thing women are supposed to be able to do. I couldn’t…” She took a sharp inhale and closed her eyes. “All I wanted was to give him a family, and instead, he went out and created one for himself.”

“I’m so sorry, Grace.”

She gave me the saddest tight smile and shrugged. “Sometimes life is so unfair, but I guess that’s the way it is. I guess I’m just an almost girl.”

“An almost girl?”

“You know…” She released a hard exhale. “The girl who almost gets the dream. I almost had a forever love, I almost had a forever marriage, and I was almost a mother, but after seven losses, I finally realized it wasn’t in the cards for me. The doctors said if we kept trying, my body wouldn’t be able to take it, but truthfully, I was more worried about my mind. I felt like I was losing it with each day that passed. I hadn’t even had a chance to come to terms with that fact before Finn walked out on me. My mind was too broken. My heart was too sore. I’m just tired of being an almost person, that’s all.”

“That’s not a thing,” I told her, taking her hand in mine. “Being an almost mother isn’t a thing. You have seven children, whether they made it here or not doesn’t take away from the fact they existed. They were yours, and they were loved fully if only for those small moments. You are a mother, Grace. I am so, so sorry you were never able to hold your babies, but you are, and always will be, a mother.”

Her body began to tremble, and I pulled her in closer, trying my best to let it be known that she wasn’t alone that night.

“I sometimes pretend I knew their genders, and I gave them all names,” she confessed.

“What are their names?”

“Emerson, Jamie, Karla, Michael, Jaxon, Phillip, and Steven,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Those are beautiful names.”

It came in waves, her pain. For a few moments, she was fine, but then it was like the truth overtook her once more, the truth of all the losses she’d faced over the years.

No words I could say to bring her comfort.

Nothing I did would make her pain go away, so, I did the only thing I could for the remainder of the night—I held her. I let her fall apart in my arms, and let her not be okay.

I held her so tight for so long and when it came time for her eyes to rest, she faded to sleep against my chest. It broke my heart that in her dreams, the tears still fell.