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“Everything.”

Tipping his chin down, he scratches the back of his neck. “What are you talking about?” His voice is thick.

“I can take it. I’m stronger than you think I am.”

He turns back to the boxes, shaking his head. “I’m going to carry these boxes out to the garage. Will you hold open the door?”

“Say it.”

He ignores me, stacking two boxes on top of each other and picking them up. I back up to the door, pressing my back against it.

“Open the door.”

“Say it.”

“Swayze, open the damn door.”

“Say. It.”

“You don’t know what you’re—”

“Say it!”

“I HATE THAT YOU’RE STAYING!”

Clunk.

The boxes hit the floor.

“I hate that this life isn’t good enough for you. I hate that you’re choosing a life you know nothing about over a life with me. I hate that this small part of me actually believes that you were her. I hate the way you look at him. I hate that you had that stupid picture of him. I hate that you let him lay one fucking finger on you. And I …” He blinks and a tear slides down his cheek. “I want so desperately to hate you, but I don’t. I love you…” he swallows hard, nostrils flaring as he tries to control his emotions “…and loving you right now is incredibly fucking miserable.”

Maybe … just maybe dying and trying on a new life wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Maybe I would get a life without Doug Mann. A life without memories of the one before. Maybe I’d get a normal life. A normal childhood. A normal name. And I would find normal love. Maybe a boring job and a doting husband. Two kids and a dog. Simple and average would feel extraordinary.

I would have stellar self-esteem. No pity parties. No drama. Just … beautifully boring.

I’m sorry won’t cut it. I’m not even sure where the apology would start. Lord knows there would never be an end to it. I think the “excuse me for living” catchall is no longer accepted.

“I’ll leave,” I say with total defeat.

Griffin steps over the boxes and presses his hands to the door above my head, caging me with his body but not touching me. His angry breath brushes my forehead. “No. I will tear myself away. I’ll let you go.” His raspy words take several layers off my already raw heart. “But not yet.”

My gaze meets his and now I let him kiss me like he hates loving me. I let him strip me like he hates my clothes. I let him possess my body even if I feel his hatred for wanting it so badly.

And then my mind goes numb. I react to the physical and let go of all the hatred and all the things in this moment that don’t serve any purpose.

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

We finish our shopping.

We celebrate Christmas with family like our relationship isn’t dead.

Griffin gives me a tutorial on all the important things I need to know about the house, like where the breaker box is located.

Then …

It’s moving day.

I wake up to the aroma of hazelnut and an empty spot next to me in bed. After a long goodbye last night, I thought he’d at least let me wake up one last time in his arms. Instead, I settle for one last walk down the hallway to his good morning smile and outstretched hand with my mug of coffee.

It’s always the little things.

“Add waking up to hazelnut to the list of things I’m going to miss.” I stop in the kitchen, looking around. There’s a pot of coffee with the warmer turned on and an empty mug next to it. “Griff?” I peek back down the hallway. The bathroom door is open, light off.

I stand in the middle of the living room and look around. His coat is not on the hook by the door. None of his shoes or boots are by the door.

My heart slows.

No.

I try to swallow the lump forming in my throat.

No.

My feet take cautious steps back to the bedroom. His pillow is gone, pillowcase folded in its absence. The two suitcases that were at the end of the bed last night are gone.

No …

I. Can’t. Breathe.

Running to the back door, I rip my coat off the hook and shove my feet into my boots while threading my arms into the sleeves, only having it halfway on as I run out the door into the frigid air.

“Griffin!” My cries form evaporating clouds of desperation. His truck is gone. The side door to the garage is locked, I look through the window. For the first time ever, my car is parked in the garage. Everything else is gone.

The motorcycle.

The boxes.

The few pieces of furniture he decided to claim as his to take.

All gone.

My grocery store guy is gone.

There are some things you can never prepare for, like loss. It’s this debilitating emotion that life serves up without an instructional manual.

We didn’t talk about this day, not how we’d handle that final goodbye. I knew there would be tears, but I didn’t know I’d cry them alone.

How can something so unfinished be so final?

I collapse to my knees on the snow-covered sidewalk and I cry.

*

It takes me three days to shower. My mom respects my need to be alone. She needed time to grieve my dad. And now I need time to grieve Griffin. Nate knows nothing yet because he’s on holiday break, which means I’m on holiday break.

By day five, the intervention starts. I wonder if Griffin left my mom and his family a guide to Swayze.

Give her five days then please step in and offer her a hand and a hug.

“Hey, sweetie. Happy New Year.” My mom smiles, walking in the back door with Sherri behind her.

They’re just now coming in the house, but I’ve seen my mom’s car and the Calloway’s vehicles pulling in and out of the driveway for days. I’m pretty sure they peek in the windows at night just to make sure I haven’t slit my wrists. That chance at a new life, albeit appealing, isn’t what I want quite yet. I’m hell-bent on finishing one good life.

Unfortunately, the good part left me five days ago with no real goodbye, but I forgive him.

I blink several times. Today I make it to the sofa, but all I can do is stare at the wall where the TV used to be. He offered to leave it, but I don’t watch it, so it would have been a silly thing to leave behind.

“I have soup. Today you should eat.”

I nod once, my head still heavy from days of grieving, pulse palpable in my swollen eyes.

“Coffee, the good kind.” Sherri hands me a cup of coffee and sits next to me.

It’s not hazelnut. Doesn’t matter. I’m thinking about giving up coffee and all other parts of my life that remind me of Griffin. Agreeing to stay in this house was a stupid idea. The memories only serve as painful reminders.

“He wanted me to tell you he made it safely to his destination.” Sherri rests her hand on my knee as I continue to watch the blank wall.

His destination. The place I’m not allowed to know about. A clean break. There’s nothing clean about this break. It’s so fucking messy I can’t see past the cluttered images in my head. It’s a maze with a hundred marbles crashing into each other and no way out.

“Tell him I’m good,” I say in a monotone voice.

Mom hands me the soup and a spoon. Sherri takes the coffee from me.

“Are you?” Sherri asks.

I nod several times, stirring the wild rice soup. “I will be.”

I don’t know that at all. There’s a lot on my docket: forgetting Griffin, resurrecting the dead, and catching a killer. No big deal. At least Scott’s been shoveling the driveway. If he could arrest Doug, that would be awesome too. Something tells me that’s not what a CPA does.

A shame.

“I’m going to grab groceries later. I’ll pick some staples up for you too,” my mom says from the kitchen.

I’m guessing she’s inspecting the fridge. It’s pretty pathetic. Yesterday I decided to give my stomach something to digest besides itself and a shitload of grief, but the best I could find was that crappy sprouted grain bread. I doused it in butter. It worked.

“I’ll go to the store.”

She peeks her head around the corner. “You will?”

I don’t know why she looks so surprised. Well, maybe I do. The death-warmed-over look might lead outsiders to believe that I’m struggling a bit.

It hurts to look at Sherri without feeling shame. What must she really think of me? Even if she wants to believe that I am Daisy reincarnated, she can’t know for sure. At least part of her has to think “maybe she’s just crazy.”

A tiny part of me thought that too, until Dr. Albright hypnotized me. And now I know without a shadow of doubt, I was Daisy.

“It wasn’t fair to go with him … and it wasn’t fair to ask him to stay.” After a pregnant pause, I look at Sherri.

She gets a little teary-eyed. “I know. But at least he left with things good between the two of you. No hard feelings.”

My lips attempt a small smile. By the time Griffin left, I’m certain the only feelings between us were hard, raw, and painful. It simply hurt more to be apart than it did to be together.

“So …” Sherri slaps her hands on her legs. “The girls are on break for two more days. Let’s all go get manicures and pedicures. My treat.”

***

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