“That I’m glad to be married to you.”
The last thing she remembered hearing before succumbing to exhaustion was Kyle murmuring, “Same goes, kitten.”
Two days later they’d just finished lunch when they heard a vehicle barreling up the driveway. Celia peeked out the blinds as Abe’s truck pulled up.
“You ready for this?”
No. “I guess.”
Kyle kissed the back of her head. “I’ll let them say their piece, Cele, but I won’t put up with disrespect from either of them.”
Ridiculous how fast her heart raced when she answered the door and saw her brothers standing side by side.
“Hey, sis. Me’n Abe would like to talk to you.”
“We understand if you don’t wanna invite us in,” Abe said.
She spoke over her shoulder to Kyle. “You gonna throw any punches? ’Cause I’d rather not have bloodstains on our new carpet.”
“Maybe we’d best do this in the barn. Just in case the conversation goes south.”
Abe nodded and Hank wore a hangdog look she’d never seen from either of them.
“We’ll meet you in a few.” Then Kyle shut the door in their faces. “Let’s pick up the lunch dishes. It’ll give you a little time to sort out what you wanna say to them.”
Such a sweet, thoughtful man.
Ten minutes later the barn door creaked, announcing their arrival. The barn was fairly dark this time of day. She glanced at Abe, leaning against the workbench, watching Hank pace.
No one said a word.
The pause didn’t last long. Hank marched right up to her. “Lemme just say this up front. I’m sorry. I’m so goddamn sorry for the bullshit that spewed outta my mouth that day. I don’t…There’s no excuse for the way I hurt you. None. And I’m so ashamed of what I said to you, that it’s taken me this long to find the balls to face you.”
She bit her cheek.
“And it was a hard pill to swallow, realizing how dismissive I’ve been toward you. When we had that family talk a while back I figured you were just bein’ childish about not liking the changes around the homeplace. You asked me where you fit in the future of the ranch and I never responded. I shoved your concerns—and you—aside to focus on my family. Then you stopped coming home, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know how I forgot that you were my family too, Cele. But I did.” His voice wavered and he cleared his throat. “I don’t know if you need more time before we can mend what I broke. I just wanted you to know how sorry I am and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to fix it.”
Abe ambled over. “I ain’t gonna make excuses either for bein’ a first-class prick. I hurt you. I hafta live with that the rest of my life. I also hafta live with the fact I was so wrapped up in my life and school that I hadn’t noticed you were avoiding coming home. Even before Janie and I got remarried. We’re all awful good at pretending everything is fine when it ain’t.” Abe’s eyes roamed over her face. “I look at you and see you’re a grown woman. But I also look at you, even now, and see that pigtailed little girl who relied on me for so many years. I let you down, Cele. I hurt you with my careless words. I’m hoping you can forgive me for that. I’m hoping we can wipe the slate clean. Not go back to the way it was, but be better than we were before. Have a real adult relationship and not keep sliding back into those older/younger sibling roles we’re used to.”
Celia didn’t doubt her brothers’ sincerity. Their distress was painful to see. This wouldn’t be an overnight fix, because it’d taken a few years to reach the breaking point, but it was a step in the right direction.
She started toward Hank and his arms were open before she reached him. He picked her up off the ground and squeezed her. “God, I’m sorry. I love you, sis.”
“I know you do. I love you too. That’s why it hurt so bad.”
Then she was being passed to Abe, who hugged her just as tightly. “We’re idiots. But we can be taught, to hear our wives tell it. I’m so sorry. I love you.”
She wiped her eyes and watched as her brothers tried to discreetly wipe theirs. She looked at Kyle and knew the apologies were only half done. She held her hand out to him.
His arm circled her waist as they faced Hank and Abe.
“Christ, Kyle.” Hank rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know what the hell to say to you.”
“Sorry, I’m a self-righteous dick who deserves to get my face knocked into the dirt would be a good place to start.”
Hank didn’t crack a smile. “Not even that seems like enough. Not only did we treat you worse than some no-account loser, we…” He hung his head as if he couldn’t look Kyle in the face.
Abe clapped Hank on the back in a show of support. “You’ve been a great friend to both of us. Been part of our lives for a long damn time. It just shocked us both that you up and married Celia without warning. Not that you needed our permission or that we’re offering an excuse, but we had no idea there was anything going on between you two besides nasty words and dirty looks. It’s been that way for years. For it to change overnight?” He shook his head.
“Well, it hasn’t exactly been overnight,” Kyle said. “But I haven’t been lusting after Celia since she was a six-year-old girl, that’s for damn sure.”