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“Corabelle, when I was at your apartment,” he paused, trying to find the words.

My brain raced. What might he have found? I didn’t keep a journal. I never left any clues about what I did.

“I took out your trash.”

I knew where this was going. “You found the bags.”

“With holes in them.”

I pictured my moment in the dorm, the sack on my head, throwing up into the plastic. “It’s a quirk I have.”

“Why do you do it?”

“It’s hard to explain.”

“Try.”

“I had a rough time, a year ago, after the professor.” I stopped, squeezing my eyes shut.

He reached for my hand. “You can tell me anything.”

No secrets. We’d agreed. “I had been doing this thing when I got distressed, where I hyperventilate until I sort of…black out.”

“Like pass out? All the way? Unconscious?”

I nodded.

He expelled his breath in a rush. “Okay.”

“And one night, that night, I guess I thought I would take it a step further, with the bag.”

“Corabelle…”

I turned to him, seeing the distress all over his face. “It was okay. My body saved itself. But since then, I just didn’t want the temptation. The risk.”

He brought my fingers to his lips, warm against the chill of my skin. “I’m going to be here from now on.”

“I know. I’ll be fine.”

“When was the last time you did it?”

“The bags? Not since that one time.”

“The blacking out.”

My chest hurt so much more with his question. To lie? Or tell the truth? “Friday.”

“Here? In the hospital?”

“Yes.”

He held my hand in both of his now, his head bowed as if he couldn’t bear to look at me.

“I’m sorry if I seem too crazy. I get it if it’s too much for you.”

His grip on me was so tight, like he was hanging on to the last rope before being cast out to sea. “You’re not too crazy. Whatever there is about you, I accept it. We’ll work it out. We’ll figure it out.”

My belly heaved with the release of all the emotion I’d held so tightly inside. “I love you, Gavin. I don’t know how I got through those years without you. I should have looked for you. I should have known where you’d be.”

“You did find me.” He lowered our hands and pressed them to his chest so he could look at me again. His eyes were so blue against the slate walls, bright below the dark mop of hair. I could picture him in every stage of his life, from little boy, to lanky adolescent, to the man I’d surrendered to so many times since we rediscovered each other. “You came right to my door.”

Another knock surely meant my parents were arriving. Gavin took his last private moment with me to lean across the bed and kiss me lightly on the lips. “I’ll love you all your life,” he whispered.

Then the room overflowed with people and flowers and chatter, and once more, life moved forward.

19: Gavin

After Corabelle suggested I head on to class to alleviate the tension in the hospital room with all of us filling the little space, I decided to go ahead and put in a shift at work. And I didn’t care how much grease I had on me, if she called or texted, I was going to answer.

I felt like we’d gotten past some horrible part of our lives, not as awful as with Finn, but just as hard. The past couldn’t get to us anymore. Corabelle would get well and continue class and figure out where she wanted to go to grad school. I’d pluck away at a few more credit hours and transfer to wherever she got in.

The urge to whistle as I stepped off the bike and headed into the garage was surprising and a relief. I hadn’t felt so light, like things were going my way, since high school.

Bud looked up from his desk as I entered the front office. “How is she?”

“Out of ICU. Not great, but better.”

“That’s a relief.”

I sensed he had something else to say, so I hung back a moment, waiting for a mother and her little girl to pass by and head out the door. No one else was in the waiting area.

Bud leaned back in his oversized office chair, which tilted perilously under his ponderous weight. He wasn’t wearing overalls today, but a beige snap shirt and khakis. He must not have intended to pitch in with the grunt work today.

He rubbed his chin, bristly with a five o’clock shadow that seemed to spring up by ten a.m., a source of jokes among the crew. “So, how long did you say you’ve known this girl?”

“We grew up together.”

“Ah. Makes sense. But when did you find her again?”

I dropped my backpack off my shoulder and let it slide to the floor. “A few weeks ago.”

“She the one who’s got you all distracted and out of sorts?”

“Probably.”

“Well, she’s the one then. You know it when you feel it.” He pushed away from the desk. “Rob turned in his notice.”

“Really?” Rob had been the lead mechanic for over a decade.

“His wife’s a nurse and she got a chance to move up at a hospital in LA.”

“Rob in LA.” Rob was a redneck from his John Deere cap to his cowboy boots.

“Yeah, hard to picture.” Bud chuckled. “But that means I’m doing some shuffling. Cade is moving up. So is Mario. I’ve had you doing mechanical already, so I’m officially putting you on the team. Pay goes up three dollars an hour, but you might end up here later than usual if a job goes long.” He reached into a drawer by his knee and tugged out a couple shirts wrapped in plastic. They were navy shirts the mechanics wore, and these had “Gavin” stitched on a patch on the pocket. The maintenance schmoes like I had been didn’t have personalized uniforms, only the crew.

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