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She lets out a slow breath. “We’re not talking about catching a thief, Swayze. If the pieces of what you remember are true, he’s a serial killer.” Squeezing my hand again, she leans into me. “If he murdered Daisy and her soul resides in you, then you’re asking Dr. Albright to bring back memories of someone murdering you. My dear child, do you get that? People commit suicide because they have memories of abuse, rape, war, and torture stuck in their heads.”

“Then she hypnotizes me and takes away the memories after Doug is in prison.”

Mom frowns. “Griffin said Dr. Albright can’t guarantee that will work.”

“It worked for her.”

She sighs. “Please. I’m begging you. Let Griffin take you away from all of this. Let him keep you safe.”

I pull my hand from hers and lean back in the chair, hugging my arms to my body. “This isn’t a switch that can be flipped. This isn’t a bad experience in school. This isn’t a missed opportunity. This isn’t anything you, or Sherri, or Griffin, or anyone can even begin to understand!”

Her forehead wrinkles. “Swayze, calm down. I wasn’t—”

“I can’t calm down! Don’t you see? I am a grade-A fucking mess.”

“Swayze …”

“I can’t run. I can’t just decide to let go of something that is gnawing at my very existence. I can’t shut it off. And I can’t go with Griffin.”

“Please … you’re going to lose every—”

“I’VE ALREADY LOST HIM!” I drop my head in my hands, shaking with grief.

Mom rests her hands on my legs.

“Nate … kissed me.” My voice shatters into small sobs.

“Oh, honey …”

“And …” The shame. It’s a heavy weight bearing down on my chest. A knife digging into my gut. A cancer in my brain. “I kissed him back.” I lift my head. “It felt like I’d done it a million times. It was wrong, but in the moment it didn’t feel wrong.”

Tears fill my mom’s eyes. “It’s going to crush Griffin.”

I blink big crocodile tears.

“Swayze …” She shakes her head slowly as her gaze inches to my chest. I let her pull my arm away from my body. Her fingers ghost over my naked left ring finger. “What did you do?” she whispers.

I swallow back a thick lump in my throat, blinking my swollen eyes. “I need answers. And it doesn’t feel like a choice. It’s like I’m telling my lungs to stop breathing. No matter how hard I try, I can’t stop whatever this is. And …” I draw in a shaky breath. “I had to tell him because I love him.”

“He’s going to leave. With or without you. That’s what Sherri said. You’re going to lose him for—”

“Ever,” I whisper.

Her head eases to the side. The pity on her face compounds my self-loathing. “It’s not a break. He’s not taking a vacation. This is forever. Tell me you really comprehend this. Tell me you know that some girl is going to pick up all the pieces to his heart and mend them.”

“I know.” I don’t feel anything right now. Everything is numb.

If I could change the cards in my hand, I would. But I can’t. So I’m going to play them and pray that I live to tell about it.

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

Griffin’s working in the garage when I get home.

Home.

I’m not sure where my home is anymore. It used to be simple—Griffin was my home. When my soul can’t decide on a life, how am I supposed to find a home, a husband, or any sort of normal existence?

This doesn’t even feel like a breakup. It feels like a tragedy. A brain tumor. Terminal cancer. A soldier going into battle. Cupid with a busted arrow and a tear in his eye.

At twenty-two my dreams have been stripped of hope. Unicorns, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and happily ever afters don’t exist.

I stop halfway to the back door and turn. Eyeing the door to the garage, my feet take me there. He’s leaving. I know.

We’re dying. I know.

But he’s not gone yet. And my heart still gallops in his proximity, so … we’re not dead.

He could hate me. But what if he doesn’t?

Doug Mann could run my vehicle off the road tomorrow and Griffin leaving me wouldn’t matter. My mom never planned on living alone in her forties.

I ease open the door.

Fuck. My heart …

Griffin doesn’t acknowledge me. He’s boxing up his tools.

He’s leaving me. Oh … my … heart …

I close the door behind me. It’s warm in here. The heater in the corner kicks on.

I drop my bag by the door and look around the garage. My bucket isn’t in its usual spot. Did he hide it? Throw it away? Pack it?

The workbench is clear, so I hop up on it, fold my hands in my lap, and watch Griffin. I wonder if twenty years from now I’ll remember how much I loved just watching him. I hope so. I hope, if he finds love again, she knows how amazing it is just to be with him.

I hope she has exciting days to share with him. And I hope she knows how incredibly rare it is to find a man who genuinely gives a shit about her day.

Maybe I shouldn’t be out here. Maybe it’s a slap in his face. Maybe it’s salt on the wound. My brain—my conscience—knows this. But my heart doesn’t understand.

I wonder if my heart will ever understand.

Does he wonder why I won’t leave, like I wonder why he won’t stay? Or do we both know the answers. But … yeah … the heart doesn’t think. That’s not its job.

My head knows I should be inside packing up my stuff, at least an overnight bag to take to my mom’s house. But my heart keeps my ass planted to this workbench, my eyes tracking his every move.

Seconds give way to minutes. I spend them thinking of every memory we’ve marked in time. Memories eat up almost two hours—two hours that I don’t feel Daisy.

Two hours of the girl who met the guy in the grocery store. I like her. I like them.

I glance up from somewhere in the past when the lights go off. Griffin stands at the door, holding it open. My lips turn upward. A tiny smile he can’t see.

Our gazes meet for the first time tonight when I brush past him, stepping out into the chilly night. After several steps, I turn, remembering my bag on the floor.

But it’s not in the garage. Griffin has it clutched in his hand.

Our gazes meet again. It’s not like earlier today. It’s … peaceful. Maybe it’s acceptance. So I turn and let him carry my purse. I let him follow me into the house.

Yeah, I’ll flashback to Griffin Calloway for the rest of my life.

He sets my bag on the kitchen table and washes his hands. I make my way to the bedroom, grab a bag from the closet, set it on the bed, and start to put some clothes into it. I told my mom I’d be back to stay with her. She’s probably worried about me.

I walk back into the kitchen to grab my phone from my bag. Griffin has two plates on the counter, and he’s making sandwiches.

My lips find that tiny smile again as I tip my chin toward my phone, shooting off a text to my mom.

Me: Sorry, I’m running a little late. Packing my bag now and grabbing a sandwich. Be there soon.

Mom: OK. Text me when you leave so I can keep an eye out for you.

Me: Will do.

Griffin sets the two plates on the table, but he doesn’t look at me. He sits down and starts eating. I miss him already. Taking a seat next to him, we eat in silence. It’s sad, but comforting. And with no spoken words, we say so many things.

I’m sorry. Life’s not fair. This hurts. I’ll never forget you.

And when we’re both done, he finally looks at me. And it’s clear that the only words left are the ones that change nothing, but mean everything.

I love you.

When he takes our plates to the sink, I go back to the bedroom and finish stuffing a few things into my bag. I zip the bag and draw in a long breath, releasing it a little at a time along with the weight of the world while glancing around the room.

If I stayed, if I rented the house from Sherri and Scott, I’d have these memories. Some days they’d give me comfort, other days they’d suffocate me with grief. I guess that’s life, a steady pendulum. Balance is nothing more than a breath in the middle. Maybe at night, I could pretend that he’s next to me in bed; maybe then I could find balance and take a breath.

I think I can do this—I can survive on one good breath a day.

Griffin startles me when he sneaks up behind me, reaching around to grab my bag. His chest brushing my back. Of course he’s going to be the gentleman, the protector, and walk me to the car.

Thunk.

He drops my bag on the floor.

I turn. Our eyes meet. He grabs my face and kisses me. It’s hard and demanding. It’s impossible to breathe. That’s okay … I only need one good breath. I’ll catch it later.

He erases every trace that another man held me—kissed me. It’s not right and it’s not wrong. It simply is.

It’s Griffin and Swayze.

And maybe this is futile, a team down by twenty points with ten seconds left in the game. But who doesn’t love watching the losing team play hard until the clock runs out?

Griffin pulls back, breathless and beautifully haunted as he gazes upon me. Is he making sure all he sees is his Swayz?

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