But mostly, I wanted to let Elizabeth know that I loved her. Every second. Every minute. Every hour. Every day.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
When I found the strength to leave the shed many hours later, I opened the door to find a shivering Elizabeth on the ground, wrapped in her winter coat. “You should’ve gone home,” I said, my voice low.
I bent down and lifted her into my arms. She wrapped her arms around me and clung to my body.
“What did he say to you?” she whispered against my chest.
“It doesn’t matter.”
She held me tighter as I carried her into her house. “It does matter. It matters a lot.”
I placed her in bed and turned to leave her room. She asked me to stay with her, but I knew I couldn’t. My mind wasn’t in a good place. Before I left her house, I stopped in her bathroom to clean the blood from my hands. As the water ran hot, I scrubbed my hands together aggressively, trying to get all the blood off. I couldn’t stop. I kept scrubbing, adding more soap, even after all of the blood was gone.
“Tristan,” Elizabeth said, breaking me from the trance I was in. She turned off the faucet, took a towel, and wrapped my fingers in the cloth. “What did he say to you?”
I leaned forward, placing my forehead against hers. I breathed in her scent, trying my best to not fall apart. She was the only thing still holding me together. “He said I killed them. He said it was my fault that Jamie and Charlie were dead, and he said I would end up doing the same to you.” My voice cracked. “He was right. I killed them. I should’ve been there…I should’ve been able to save them.”
“No,” she said in a commanding tone. “Tristan. You didn’t. What happened, whatever happened to Jamie and Charlie was an accident. It wasn’t your fault.”
I nodded. “It was. It was my fault. I blamed my mom, but she…she loved them. It wasn’t her. It was me. It’s always been me…” Each word was harder to get out than the one before it. Breathing was becoming a chore. “I have to go.” I stepped away from her, but she blocked the exit. “Elizabeth, move.”
“When I fell apart, when I hit rock bottom, you held me. When I lost it, you stayed. So take my hand and come to bed.”
She led me to her bedroom, and for the first time, she unmade the right side of her bed for me to get under the sheets. I wrapped my arms around her as her head lay against my chest. “I ruined your birthday,” I said softly as sleep grew heavy on my eyelids.
“It’s not your fault,” she replied. Over and over again, she said those words. “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.” As my heartbeats slowed to a normal pace, as my fingers caressed her skin, as I began to fall asleep, a part of me started to believe her.
For a few hours that night, I remembered what it felt like to not be alone. For a few hours, I stopped blaming myself.
I tiptoed to the kitchen around six in the morning, leaving Tristan resting. The whole house was silent, but I could smell the scent of freshly brewed coffee filling the rooms.
“You’re a morning person too?” Mike asked, smiling my way with a mug of coffee in his hand. He seemed like such a friendly guy, and just seeing his smiling face made me feel awful for how I’d treated him and Mama the night before.
He pulled out another mug and poured a cup of coffee for me. “Sugar? Cream?”
“Black,” I replied, taking the mug from him.
“Ah, something we have in common. I like to say your mom drinks her sugar and cream with a dash of coffee, but for me the darker the better.” He sat down on the stool at the island and I sat beside him.
“I owe you an apology, Mike. Yesterday was terrible.”
He shrugged. “Sometimes life is weird. You just have to deal with the weirdness and hope that you find some weirdos who will move forward with you.”
“Is my mom your weirdo?”
He smiled wide.
His fingers wrapped around his mug, and he stared into the dark coffee. “Richard was an awful person, Elizabeth, and he did some terrible things to Hannah. When they came into my office that day, I watched him put his hands on her in the worst way. I sent him out of my office, where he left her crying. I cancelled all of my appointments that day and allowed her to just sit in my office for as long as she needed. I understand you thinking that this thing between her and me is fake. I know all about her history with men, her history of hurt, and I want you to know that I love her. I love her so much and will spend the rest of my days protecting her from any more hurt.”
The mug shook in my hands. “He hurt her? He hurt her, and I said those terrible things to her last night…”
“You didn’t know.”
“That doesn’t matter, though. I should’ve never said those things. If I were her, I wouldn’t forgive me.”
“She already forgave you.”
“I almost forgot that both of you are early birds.” Mama yawned, walking into the kitchen. She raised an eyebrow my way. “What’s wrong?” I stood up and rushed over to her, wrapping her in my arms. “Liz, what are you doing?”
“Congratulating you on your engagement.”
Her face lit up. “You’ll come to the wedding?”
She hugged me back tighter. “I’m so glad, because the wedding is in three weeks for the New Year.”