I love her. I love all of Griffin’s family. I love the way they’ve not only welcomed me, but they’ve formed a special bond with my mom. Do I have to break up with them too? What will happen when Griffin comes home to visit them? Will I be given notice to stay away?
I set my soup on the coffee table. “I’ll be right back.” Without actually running, I retreat to the bedroom and shut the door, leaning back against it. My heart feels so laid bare. Vulnerable to every thought, every memory. Eventually, it won’t feel this hard to breathe when I think of never seeing Griffin again. But I’m not there yet. Not even close.
Fisting both hands to my heart, I dig deep to find that elusive next breath. Then I dive back down and find another one.
One day at a time.
“Swayze?” My mom knocks at the door.
I open the door and she slips in, shutting it behind her.
She tucks my hair behind my ear and rests her hand on my cheek.
“It gets easier, right?” I choke on the pain.
“Yeah.” She offers a sympathetic smile.
“I was Daisy, Mom. I wish you could have seen the memories I saw. It was a good life, even if a short one … it was good. For the first time, I feel her.”
“I …” She shakes her head. “I don’t know what to say. It’s hard to think of you as anyone but my child.”
“It’s weird.” I step back and run my hands through my hair. “What if I piece it all together and it’s still not enough because …” My voice starts to stumble and crack from all the feelings. “Because I don’t have my grocery store guy?”
“Maybe you weren’t meant to be with Griffin. What if some people are meant to pass through our lives instead of walking along beside us?”
I gaze out the window like I’m waiting for a black truck to pull in the driveway. “Was Dad meant to pass through your life?”
“I didn’t think so because we seemed to walk beside each other so well. But I was wrong.”
“Dad’s dead. Griffin is alive. You don’t have to imagine someone else living life with your greatest love.”
She hugs me from behind, resting her chin on my shoulder. “You’re twenty-two, my dear girl. There’s a great big world out there. I think you will find another great love. And the timing will be perfect. You’ll know who you are. You’ll be ready to give of yourself completely.”
If I live that long.
I laugh through the threatening tears. “How will I know?”
Her arms squeeze me tighter. “Oh, you’ll know.”
“Thank you for seeing me.”
Professor Albright motions to her love seat. “Of course. You said it couldn’t wait until after winter break. Naturally, I’m intrigued. Can I get you something to drink?”
“I’m good. But thank you.”
“My parents are watching her.”
“Ah. I bet they love that.”
“Yeah.” I rub my forehead.
“Nathaniel, you look positively tortured. What’s going on?”
“I need a favor.”
I grunt a laugh. “Don’t agree before I tell you what the favor is.”
“Oh dear …”
Oh dear is right. I hate that I’m here asking for this favor. But I have no choice.
“I need you to do something unethical.”
Her eyebrows slide up her forehead as she drums her fingers on the arm of the chair.
“I know you hypnotized Swayze. I know it worked.”
“And by unethical you’re asking me to disclose what happened in my session with Swayze?”
“No? Well, now I’m confused.”
Leaning forward, I rest my arms on my knees and fold my hands. “If a memory is too painful, too dangerous, the unconscious mind won’t let it pass into consciousness. Correct?”
“Usually. But there are exceptions. I was one.”
I nod. “I need you to make sure Swayze doesn’t remember all the details of Daisy’s death.”
“It’s unlikely that she will anyway if she’s not ready.”
“I get that. But …”
Biting my lips together, I draw in a slow breath. “I need you to make sure there is a zero percent chance of her remembering it. Ever.”
“You want me to talk her out of it?”
“No. She’s not heeding any sound advice at the moment. I want you to hypnotize her. I want you to not go there. The death. Doug Mann. I don’t know …”
I shake my head. “Try to repress every single memory of that life that you can repress, especially Doug Mann.”
“If she’s right about Doug Mann, there’s a murderer on the loose. That’s a big part of her motivation. She has a valid moral obligation to make sure he doesn’t kill again. And every day we wait is another day that he has to stalk his next victim. What if that’s Swayze?”
“How do you know?”
“I just do.”
“Nathaniel. You can’t ask me to do something unethical and not give me all the reasons why I should risk my career, my license.”
We have a stare down.
I risk it all to save her.
After calling my parents to check on Morgan, I drive to Swayze’s house. It reminds me of the house I lived in on Gable Street, only hers is in better shape.
After ringing the doorbell several times and knocking, I assume she’s not home. I stop just before getting back in my vehicle. There’s music. It sounds like it’s coming from the single-car garage, so I follow it.
I ease open the door. Swayze looks up from her spot near a workbench. She’s sitting on an overturned five-gallon bucket. The most depressing alternative music plays on her phone that’s clenched in her hand.
“Hi,” I say.
She fails at her attempted smile.
“Did you get locked out of your house?”
I step inside. It’s not a happy place.
“Want to talk about it?”
Swayze stares at her phone. “No.”
“Do you want me to suggest songs for a better playlist?” That makes her smile a little more believable.
She turns off the music and stands. “Where’s Morgan? If you left her in the car, I’m going to have to report you.” Brushing past me, she walks outside, scuffing her boots like a lazy child.
I follow her. “My parents are watching her while I run a few errands.”
“I’m an errand?” Banging the snow off her boots, she opens the back door to the house.
“Yes. You’re my last errand.” I slip off my shoes after stepping inside and shutting the door.
“You want to know about the hypnosis. Am I right?” Plopping on the sofa, she snatches the blanket off the back of it and wraps it around herself.
“No. I’m just checking on you. That’s all.”
“Oh, well, here’s the update: I’m still relatively stable. You don’t have to worry about my mental state. Morgan will be safe with me.”
“I trust you implicitly with Morgan. I’m only here as your friend. Even mentally stable people need friends sometimes.”
Her lips twist, eyes narrowed a fraction. “Fine. I like the kind of friends who braid each other’s hair. Do you know how to braid hair, Professor Hunt?”
“I can’t tie a tie. Do you really think a French braid is in my repertoire?” I sit next to her on the sofa.
“You have a daughter. You need to learn how to braid. I won’t be around forever to do things for you.”
“No? Where are you going? I hope somewhere warm.”
She nudges my leg with her foot. “Are you trying to get rid of me?”
Her smile keeps slipping. I want to catch it and glue it in place. She has the brightest smile. It’s crushing to see her without it.
“The hypnosis. Mostly my parents and my eleventh birthday party.” Her gaze finds mine.
I just listen.
“I got a new bike. And my mom—Daisy’s mom—was my friend. I’m friends with my mom now, but when I was younger, she was more concerned about my potential than things like helping me find the right dress for homecoming or braiding my hair.” She grins a little more. “Daisy’s mom braided her hair. See how girls remember that? You need to learn how to braid hair, Nate.”
“You know, that life is gone. Is it worth giving up everything just to remember it?”
“You mean Griffin?”
“Limbo is a miserable place. I’m a miserable person feeling stuck in the middle. I need to know everything or nothing. It’s like walking barefoot on the beach is no big deal, but having a few specks of sand in your shoe is unnerving. Griffin deserves to be with someone who isn’t stuck in the middle. And Doug Mann needs to be in prison. It’s that simple.”
“Swayze, you deserve happiness. It’s that simple.”
She shrugs. “I’ll find happiness when the time is right. Our timing just wasn’t right.” Looking away, she swallows hard, negating everything she just said.