“I don’t want him,” I whisper.
“No?” He cocks his head to the side.
“Then move with me.”
“Please don’t ask me to do that.”
“Ask you to do what? Marry me? Have a family with me? Move away with me?” His words gain a sharper edge as his hold on my face tightens. “Be faithful to me?”
I swallow around the jagged boulder in my throat. Griffin’s nostrils flare as he lets go of me with one hand and reaches around to his back pocket.
“Carry a picture of me in your pocket?” He holds up the photo of Nate.
I don’t have to ask where he got it. I’m wearing leggings today. Griffin does our laundry, and I just got sloppy and forgot the photo was in the pocket of the jeans I left on the floor of our closet.
How could I be so careless to leave it there? How could I be so stupid to have it in the first place?
He wads up the photo and releases it to the ground while his other hand palms the back of my neck, pressing our foreheads together.
“Swayz …” My name bleeds from his chest as heavy breaths fall between us.
I blink and the dam releases all the heartache that I can no longer ignore.
He draws in a shaky breath. “You’re. Breaking. My. Fucking. Heart.”
I try to speak, but painful sobs smother my words.
His lips press to my cheek. Even now, when he has every right to be angry, all I feel is his love—his pain. I’ve hurt my grocery store guy. And I don’t know how to make it right.
“If you don’t walk away from this…” he ghosts his mouth over my face, erasing my tears with his lips “…I won’t be able to hold on.”
My fingers curl into his shirt.
Don’t let go.
“Griff …” I bury my face into his chest. “I love you.”
His hands fall limp to his sides, leaving a chilling ghost of his touch along my face. After I make a wrinkled wet mess of his shirt, he takes a step back, tearing us apart.
No… I’m the one who’s tearing us apart because I’m so messed up in the head. It’s a morbid thought, but at this moment I wonder if a brain tumor would be less painful for both of us.
“I know you love me.” Griffin saying that to me, while his gaze remains affixed to the photo of Nate on the ground, is a self-inflicted dagger to my heart.
This is so much worse than Apple sitting on my bucket. This is Griffin taking a trip to California with her. No … this is worse. There’s no way a night locked in our bedroom, under the sheets, will fix this.
When his red-rimmed eyes find me again, I don’t look away no matter how much it hurts. And dear God does the anguish and disappointment ever hurt. So I confess, hoping there’s something to “the truth will set you free.” I don’t think it will, but Griffin deserves honesty from me.
“This other life wants to consume me, and I don’t know if I can stop it. I want to let it go, but it’s stronger than any drug. It’s bigger than me. It’s larger than life. So I can fight it for the rest of my life, or I can submit to it.”
“It or him?”
Of course he thinks this is about Nate, there’s a photo on the ground that flashes Nate’s name in neon lights. But it’s not about him.
“Her. It’s about Morgan Daisy Gallagher. I can’t let this go until I know who I’m letting go of.”
Griffin turns, grinding the wadded photo under his boot. “Me,” he murmurs, walking away. “You’re letting go of me.” He raises the garage door, slips on his jacket and helmet, and rides off without another glance in my direction.
I found the photo when I ran home over the lunch hour. Maybe there’s a reason I wasn’t looking for love the day I met Swayze. Love like this is a fucking miserable emotion.
The photo of Professor Hunt isn’t from their childhood. It’s a photo of a shirtless, virile Nate in his twenties, close to my age, I’d guess.
Did he give it to her? Or did she take it?
I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I’m losing her and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Love like this is a fucking miserable emotion.
“Hey.” My mom looks up from wiping the kitchen counter. She gives me a sad smile.
I shrug off my jacket and return the same solemn expression. “Hey.”
“You’re back. Does this mean it didn’t go well?”
After I found the photo, I debated tracking down Professor Hunt and beating him until his last breath. Instead, I came here. My parents have a way of diffusing my anger.
“Something like that.”
“Where’s Swayze?” Mom asks just as my dad comes down the stairs.
He gives me the same look, easing into the kitchen chair next to me.
I glance back at my mom as she tosses the rag in the sink and leans her back against the counter. “I assume she’s at home. After I confronted her, I just left. I didn’t know what else to say.”
“I called Krista after you left earlier. Come to find out, she and Swayze had a heart-to-heart about this. Krista knows about the photo too. I could tell her heart’s really breaking for Swayze.”
I blow a quick breath out my nose, shaking my head. “Jesus! My heart’s breaking for her too. But I can’t save her if she doesn’t want to be saved. I can’t make her want a future with me if she doesn’t even know who she is. There’s no way I can compete with this. She said it herself. This is bigger than all of us. But I wasn’t part of that life. He was. I don’t have answers for her. He does.”
Resting my elbow on the table, I close my eyes and massage the tension from my brow.
Mom hugs me from behind. “She loves you. Krista said it. I’m saying it. We all see it.”
I grunt a laugh. “I know she loves me. If I didn’t believe it, I’d just leave. But I’m not. I’m making my case, but I can’t leave things how they are and wait for them to get worse. If she does this hypnosis and things get worse, it’s not going to be my shoulder that she wants to cry on. The emotions will be Daisy’s. And we know I’m not the love of Daisy’s life.”
With a kiss to my ear, my mom releases me and sits opposite of my dad. “We love Swayze like a daughter. But you are our son. You come first. Don’t give more than you have to give. If she’s going to fall, and you can’t save her, then get out of the way before she takes you down with her.”
“I hate this,” I whisper, keeping my eyes closed to keep the emotions in check.
It’s cold as fuck as I ride around for another hour on my bike. I welcome the numbness—if it would only hurry up and wrap around that miserable blood-pumping organ in my chest. Swayze hasn’t tried to call or text me. Maybe I should be thankful that she’s giving me space, but part of me wonders if she’s too far gone to save what we have left.
The back door and wood floor both creak to announce my arrival. Everything in this house creaks when the temperatures fall.
“Hey.” Swayze whips her ponytail around and tugs out her earbuds, eyeing me over her shoulder from her hands and knees on the kitchen floor. “Slip your boots off on the rug. I’m just about done scrubbing the floor.”
She doesn’t scrub floors.
I bend over and untie the laces to my boots while she goes to town on the last corner of the floor by the lazy Susan.
“Why are you scrubbing the floor?” It’s as though I’m watching a video of her in fast forward.
She stands, wipes the sweat from her brow, and sighs. “It gets dirty quickly this time of year.”
“Yes. But why are you scrubbing the floor?” I slip off my boots.
Tossing her phone and headphones onto the counter, she washes the sponge. “I’m just trying to stay busy.”
“It’s nearly ten o’clock.”
She grabs a wad of paper towels and dries her hands, lifting her shoulders. “My mind won’t shut off yet, so I find listening to music I hate mixed with chores I hate to be both physically and mentally taxing. Do you need to use the bathroom? I’m cleaning it next. Maybe that will be the tipping point for my exhaustion.”
“When did you start having trouble sleeping?”
“Since I decided to do whatever it takes to keep my fiancé from leaving me.”
I rub the back of my neck. “Swayz, I don’t want to leave you. I want to take you.”
“This makes no sense!” She balls her fists. “We’re planning a wedding and you want to up and move? How’s that going to work? Are we sneaking back in town to tie the knot? Is our family going to come to us instead? Are-are-are—”
With my hands planted on my hips, I lean forward. “I found a picture of a half-naked guy in the pocket of your jeans.”
She bites her lips together. Even from this distance, I know it’s to keep her emotions in check. It doesn’t hide the slight quiver of her chin. “That’s just it. I forgot your birthday and you locked me out of your house. You found a photo of Nate in my pocket … but I’m still here. I don’t understand.”