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“Anyway, I’m going to go grab all my stuff now, make it easier. It’s only one drawer so…” My voice breaks. He gave me a drawer and now he’s taking it away. It feels like someone took a rusty blade and stabbed it into my heart a hundred times.

In Jake’s bedroom, I quickly empty the contents of the drawer and dump everything in my suitcase. Then I duck into the hall bathroom and sweep up my toiletries. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, but if Jake contacts me about it later, I’m going to tell him to throw it out. Even though I’m alone, I force myself not to reveal a sliver of emotion. One slip-up and I’ll be crying. And I’m not allowed to shed a single tear inside this apartment.

Rolling my suitcase behind me, I return to the living room. I saunter over to Jake, squeezing his arm. Touching him makes me want to die.

He stiffens for beat, and then he raises his hand and touches my cheek. His thumb brushes lightly over my bottom lip. It comes away with a faint crimson smudge.

“Rocking the red lips this early in the day, eh?” he says roughly.

“It’s my trademark.” It’s my armor, I think silently.

Right now that armor is the only thing keeping me from breaking down in tears at his feet.

36

Brenna

Jake dumped me.

Those three miserable words run through my mind during the train and bus rides to Hastings. I still haven’t cried. I thought I would, but I guess when I buried my emotions during the goodbye with Jake, I did too good of a job. Now I feel nothing. Nothing at all. I’m numb. My eyes are dry and my heart is stone.

Dad’s Jeep is in the driveway when I walk up to the front door dragging my carry-on behind me. I hope he doesn’t kick me out again. On the bright side, if he does tell me I can’t stay, I’ll only need to find a place to crash for one night. Wendy called when I was on the train, giving me the news that I can move back in tomorrow morning. She and Mark are even going to IKEA this evening to pick up some basic pieces of furniture. I told them they didn’t have to do that, but apparently the insurance claim still hasn’t gone through, so they’re insisting on at least getting me a bed.

I find Dad in the kitchen unloading the dishwasher. He’s turned away from me, and for a moment I’m startled. He’s tall and broad, built like a hockey player, and from the back he almost resembles Jake, only Dad’s dark hair is shorter. Strength radiates from him, and it reminds me that I need to be strong, too. I always have to be strong in front of my father.

I take a breath. “Hey.”

He turns, offering a brisk “hey” in response.

There’s a brief silence. Our gazes lock. Suddenly I feel so very tired. I already dealt with one emotional confrontation today, and it’s only one p.m. I wonder how many more devastating exchanges are in store for me.

“Can we go sit in the living room?” I suggest.

He nods.

When we’re seated on opposite ends of the couch, I inhale slowly, then release my breath in a long, measured puff. “I know you appreciate it when people get right down to the point, so that’s what I’m going to do.” I clasp both hands in my lap. “I’m sorry.”

Dad gives a slight smile. “You’ll have to be more specific. There are a few things you could be apologizing for.”

I don’t smile back, because I resent the jab. “No, actually, there aren’t. I’m not going to apologize for dating Jake, or having friends, or partying every now and then. I’m not going to apologize for any of that, because I’ve been doing it all responsibly.” I exhale in a rush. “I’m apologizing for getting pregnant.”

There’s a sharp intake of breath. “What?”

It’s rare to catch my father off-guard, but he looks beyond stunned. I play with the beads on my wrist and—Crap, Jake’s bracelet. I’m still wearing it. That means I’ll need to find a way to get it back to him before his game on Saturday.

Right now, however, it’s fueling me in a strange sort of way. I don’t know if it’s bringing me luck exactly, but it’s definitely giving me courage, which I usually lack around my dad.

“I’m sorry I got pregnant,” I repeat. “And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. For what it’s worth, it really was an accident. Eric and I were always careful, always.” I shake my head bitterly. “And then one fluke time a stupid condom breaks, and now my father hates me.”

His eyes widen. He opens his mouth to speak, but I cut him off.

“I know I disappointed you, and I also know that I—what’s that phrase they use in old-timey movies? I brought shame upon our house?”

Dad barks out a laugh. “Jesus, Brenna—”

I interrupt again. “I know you’re ashamed of me. Trust me, I’m ashamed of myself for the way I behaved. I should’ve told you I was pregnant and I absolutely should’ve told you I was bleeding that day. Instead, I was so scared of how you would react and I let Eric convince me that it wasn’t a big deal. I was a stupid kid, but I’m not stupid anymore. I promise.”

My throat closes up, which is probably a good thing because a sob was about to fly out. I blink repeatedly, desperately trying to keep the tears at bay. I know that when they finally come, it’s going to be epic waterworks.

“I’m asking you to give me another chance,” I tell him.

“Brenna—”

“Please,” I beg. “I know I’m always disappointing you, but I want to try to fix that. So please just tell me how”—to make you love me again—“to fix this. I can’t live with you being ashamed of me anymore, so I need you to tell me how I can make it better and how to—”

My father starts to cry.

Shock slams into me. My mouth is still open, but I’m no longer talking. For a moment I think I’m imagining his tears. I’ve never seen my father cry, so this is a completely foreign sight to me. But…those are tears, all right.

“Dad?” I say uncertainly.

He drags his knuckles over his face to try to scrub the moisture away. “Is that what you think?” Shame glimmers through his tears, only it’s not directed at me. I think he’s ashamed of himself. “Is that really what I’ve led you to believe? That I hate you? I’m ashamed of you?”

I bite hard on my bottom lip. If he keeps crying, I’ll cry too, and one of us needs to maintain a level head right now. “You’re not?”

“Christ, of course not.” His voice is beyond hoarse. “And I never once blamed you for getting pregnant, Peaches.”

There is absolutely no stopping the tears this time. They flood out and spill down my cheeks, the salty flavor touching my lips.

“I was young once,” Dad mutters. “I know the stupid things we do when hormones are involved and I know that accidents happen. I wasn’t thrilled it happened, but I didn’t blame you for it.” He rubs his eyes again.

“You wouldn’t even look at me afterward.”

“Because every time I looked at you I remembered finding you on the bathroom floor in a puddle of blood.” His breathing goes shallow. “Jesus, I’ve never seen so much blood in my life. And you were white as a ghost. Your lips were blue. I thought you were dead. I walked in and actually thought you were dead.” He drops his face in his hands, his broad shoulders trembling.

A part of me wants to move closer and wrap my arms around him, but our relationship has been so strained for so long. Hugging has been missing from it for a long time, and I feel awkward doing it now. So I sit there and watch my father cry, while tears stream down my own cheeks.

“I thought you were dead.” He lifts his head, revealing a ravaged expression. “It was like your mother all over again. When I got the phone call about the accident and had to go identify her body in the morgue.”

A gasp cuts off my airways. This is the first time I’m hearing of this.

I knew my mother died when her car hit a patch of ice and skidded off the road.

I didn’t know my father had to identify her body.

“You know how your aunt Sheryl is always saying you look exactly like your mother? Well, you do. You’re the spitting image of her.” He groans. “And when I found you in the bathroom, you were the spitting image of her corpse.”

I’m so nauseous I’m afraid I might vomit. I can’t even imagine how he must have felt in that moment.

“I couldn’t look at you after because I was scared. I almost lost you, and you’re the only thing I have in the world that I give a damn about.”

“What about hockey?” I joke weakly.

“Hockey is a game. You’re my life.”

Hoo-boy. The waterworks start up again. I have a feeling I’m ugly-crying like crazy, but I can’t keep my eyes from watering or my nose from running. Dad doesn’t pull me in for a hug, either. We’re not there yet. This is brand-new territory for us…or rather, it’s old ground that needs to be replanted.

“I almost lost you, and I didn’t know how to make things better for you,” he admits gruffly. “If your mom had been there, she would’ve known exactly what to do. When you were crying in the hospital, and then all those months that you were at home. I was out of my element. I didn’t know how to deal with it, and every time I looked at you, I pictured you bleeding on the floor.” He shudders. “I’ll never forget that image. I’ll remember it until my dying day.”

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