“What?” she asked with her back leaning against the counter.
I walked closer to her, boxing her in as my hands rested against the countertop. “You stayed with Jamie.”
Her breathing pattern became uneven, and she stared at my lips as I stared at hers. “Tristan, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The day of the accident, my mom was in the waiting room by herself because Dad and I were still flying back from Detroit. You saw her, and you held her.”
“That was your mom?” she asked, her eyes narrowed.
I nodded. “And she said when Jamie and Charlie were out of surgery, you sat with Jamie. You held her hand.” My lips hovered over hers, and I could feel the small exhales leaving her mouth. “What happened when you went into that room with Jamie?”
Her voice shook, and she blinked a few times before tilting her head back slightly to meet my stare. “I sat down beside her bed, held her hand, and told her she wasn’t alone.” My fingers rubbed against my forehead, taking in her words. “She wasn’t in pain, Tristan. When she passed away, the doctors said there wasn’t any pain.”
“Thank you,” I said. I needed to know that.
My left hand moved to her lower back, and I pulled her closer to me. “Tristan, don’t.”
“Tell me not to kiss you,” I begged. “Tell me not to do it.”
She didn’t say a word, but her body shook in mine. My lips brushed against hers and I kissed her hard and deep, apologizing for everything I’d done, every mistake I’d made. When our mouths pulled away, she kept shaking against my hold.
“I love you,” I said.
“No. You don’t.”
“You left me!” she cried, yanking herself away from me. She crossed the room, ran her hands against her lips, and stood strong. “You left me without giving me a chance to explain.”
“I didn’t know how to handle everything that was happening. Jesus, Lizzie. Everything in the past months happened so fast.”
“Don’t you think I know that? I was living the same nightmares as you, but I wanted to explain to you what happened. I wanted to make it work.”
“I still want to make it work.”
She snickered with sarcasm. “Is that why you kept leaving the Post-It notes? Was that your sign of wanting to make it work? Because it only confused me more. It only hurt me more.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The Post-It notes. The ones you left every week on my bedroom window for the past five months with your initials. The same notes we used to write to each other.”
My eyes narrowed. “Lizzie, I didn’t leave you any messages.”
“Stop with the mind games.”
“No, seriously. I haven’t been back to town until today.”
She looked at me as if she hadn’t a clue who I was. I stepped near her, and she moved back. “Stop. Just—I don’t want to play anymore, Tristan. I don’t want to play your games anymore. Maybe if you had shown up two months ago, I would’ve forgiven you. Or maybe one month ago, but not today. Stop with the notes, and stop playing with my heart, with my daughter’s heart.” She turned and left the store, leaving me extremely confused. When I stepped outside, she was already walking back into the café across the street.
My stomach was in knots as I walked back into Needful Things. When the bell above the door rang, my body whipped around, hoping to see Elizabeth staring my way. Instead, I turned and saw Tanner standing in my doorway. “What are you doing back here?” he asked, urgency in his voice.
“Not now, Tanner. I’m really not in the mood.”
“No, no, no. You can’t be here. You can’t be back here.” He started pacing back and forth, rubbing his hands against the back of his neck. “You’re going to ruin everything. She was coming back to me. She was warming up to me again.”
“What?” The look on his face made my stomach turn. “What did you do?”
He huffed. “It’s really kind of ridiculous. I mean, you storm off, leaving her for months and months, and the second you come back, she’s already falling all over you. Kissing you as if you’re her fucking Prince Charming. Well, hell, congratulations.” He rolled his eyes and turned to leave. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” he muttered to himself as I followed him out of the store and across the street to his auto shop.
“Have you been leaving notes at Elizabeth’s house?”
“What, I’m sorry, were you the only one allowed to do that?”
“You signed my initials.”
“Come on, Sherlock. You can’t really think that you are the only one with T and C as their initials.” He went to one of the cars, opened the hood, and started tinkering with things.
“But you knew she would think they were from me. How did you even know that we gave each other notes?”
“Take it easy. It’s not like I had little cameras spying on the two of you.” He looked up toward me with an unsettling grin.
I charged toward him, gripping his shirt and slamming him against the car. “Are you fucking psycho? What the hell is wrong with you?!”
“What’s wrong with me?!” he shouted. “What’s wrong with me?! I won the coin toss!” he hissed. “And he took her from me! I called heads, he called tails, and the coin said heads! But he thought he could just take her and make her love him. He messed up our lives. She was mine. And he mocked me over and over again about it for years. Asking me to be his best man. Begging for me to be the godfather to their kid. Years and years of throwing it in my face when Elizabeth should’ve been mine. So I handled it.”