My gaze moves up his face. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize.” He jerks his head toward the sliding doors to my balcony as I grab our drinks.
We ease back into the two red-padded chairs separated by a round table. The side street below and old park across from it is a five-dollar view at best, but it faces east so we can enjoy dinner without the blinding sun.
“Tell me about your day or that perpetual frown you’ve been brushing off as nothing.”
“Stop. Apologizing.” He grins while shaking his head as he twirls the pasta around his fork. “I’m not mad. I just don’t understand. Have I done something wrong?”
“No.” I poke at my food, but I’m not feeling hungry. “I have something to tell you, that’s all.”
Griffin coughs, and coughs, and grabs his water, gulping the whole thing down. My nose wrinkles as I make a guess as to what has him so choked up. Tapping his fist to his chest, he clears his throat. I take a tentative bite of my pasta.
“Ew … yuck!” I spit it back into my bowl. “I love ginger too, but this is nasty and not an adventure.”
Griffin laughs while digging his phone out of the pocket of his jeans. “I’ll order pizza.”
I take our bowls to the kitchen and return with the pitcher of ice tea to refill our glasses. Griffin loves blueberry rooibos ice tea. I love that this amazing man beside me doesn’t need a constant buzz to enjoy life—to enjoy me.
“Forty minutes.” He slides his phone onto the round table and holds out his hand.
I take it, letting him pull me onto his lap. Griffin nuzzles the back of my neck under my ponytail.
“Are you dumping me?” he mumbles as his arms hug my back to his chest, fingertips slipping under the hem of my blue tank top to tease my skin. “Is that what you need to tell me?”
I giggle because his touch tickles and his words are ridiculous. “No, I’m not dumping you. I’m never dumping you. And if you try to dump me I will hunt you down, tie you up, and take away your bike until you come to your senses.”
Laughter rumbles from his chest. “What if I cheat on you?”
“I’ll cut off your dick, but you’re still mine.”
“Oh … that’s wrong, baby.” His body stiffens beneath me like he’s trying to protect said dick from my evil threat. “You’d miss my dick.”
I cover his hands with mine and interlace our fingers to keep him from tickling me. “I would, but you’d still have your tongue.” Propping my legs up onto the railing, I let go of a long sigh. “I called the school and told them I had to regretfully withdraw my acceptance for the temporary teaching position this fall.”
“What? Why did you do that?”
“Nate asked me to watch Morgan full time.”
“And you said no because you have your very first teaching job. Right?”
I shake my head. “It was just for maternity leave.”
“It’s a job, Swayze.” Griffin’s voice escalates.
“So is watching Morgan. Nate pays me.”
“So it’s Nate now? I thought he liked to be called Nathaniel.”
My feet drop to the ground, and I scoot sideways on his lap to look at him, but before I am turned I already know there’s a hard scowl affixed to his face. I can tell from the sharpness of his words and the way his hands grip mine harder when I say Nate’s name. “He’s Nate to me.”
“What does that mean?”
“You know what that means.”
Griffin shakes his head with caution. “No. I don’t think I do.”
“Stop acting like we didn’t have this conversation even though you haven’t said a word since then. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. I know because I’ve tried.”
He scratches the back of his head. On instinct my eyes go straight to the flex of his bicep and the tightening of his inked skin covering it. But now is not the time to get distracted.
“The mind reading thing?”
My head falls to the side. “That’s what we’re calling it?”
He grunts a laugh, holding his hands out, palms up, before letting them flop back down to the arms of the chair. “Do you have a better explanation for it yet?”
My eyes narrow while my insides knot into a hundred little angry fists ready to fight, ready to defend. “You think I’m crazy.” I stand and distance us until my back touches the railing. “I knew it. Why didn’t you just say it? Why pretend to be supportive? Did you really think it was nothing more than wacky hormones or lack of sleep?”
“You know damn well I never said that. But I did say you should look for another job, not accept a full-time position in the very environment that brings about these episodes.”
“Episodes?” My head juts forward as I grab the rail. “I’m not having seizures or breakdowns or feelings of dizziness. This doesn’t go away. I know what I know and it’s real, not some illusion or dream.”
“Okay, calm down.” He reaches for me.
I let him grab my wrist, but I don’t submit to his pull. Hugging me, nuzzling my neck, and touching my skin may turn me on, but it won’t change what’s in my mind. He scoots to the edge of his seat when I resist his silent command to surrender to him.
“You can read the professor’s mind … or see into his past. Whatever it is … I’m just saying nothing good can come from immersing yourself in the very environment that’s causing you this stress. The answer isn’t spending more time with him and Morgan. You have a life, a degree waiting to be used, and a boyfriend who wants to spend the rest of his life with you.”
Tears sting my eyes. I don’t like having my future—my dreams—laid before me like all I have to do is grab it. I can’t grab it. Whatever is going on in my head feels bigger, like I’d be living a lie if I didn’t figure it out before letting it go.
“Are you asking me to marry you?” I rub the tears from my eyes before they escape.
Griffin leans back, interlacing his hands behind his head, eyeing me with the intensity of the sun. “It wasn’t a proposal. I may be a jerk sometimes, but I’m not the guy who uses a marriage proposal as a distraction or to win an argument. I just meant that I love you more than any man will ever love you. And your happiness means everything to me. But you don’t seem happy right now. When you accepted the teaching job you were happy. Before you met the professor you were happy.”
That’s my dream. As much as I want to be a modern, practical woman who sees how ridiculous it is to spend thousands of dollars on a white gown, expensive floral arrangements, and a sit-down dinner for two hundred people, I’m still the twenty-one-year-old girl who hears love songs on the radio and imagines waltzing around a dance floor in a wedding dress as Mrs. Griffin Calloway.
“I am happy. But I’m also scared. It’s not just Nate. I told you, before I saw him at Dr. Greyson’s office, there were times that I’d see people at the store or a movie or wherever and I knew them. But it was always a brief thing that I shook from my mind like crazy déjà vu moments.”
He shrugs. “That’s normal. I see people who look familiar to me and it drives me crazy because I know I know them, but I can’t remember their name or how I know them.”
I laugh, shaking off his efforts to empathize. “You see someone familiar and it drives you crazy because you can’t remember anything about them, but they look familiar and that’s the only connection your brain makes. I see certain people and I know their name is Craig Hall, homecoming king, ACL injury in the season-opening football game. He vaguely looks familiar because my memory of him is of a time before his black hair peppered to gray and his waist was a thirty not a thirty-four.”
Griffin looks at me with an unreadable expression. I’ve been avoiding a psychiatrist who has years of education and experience. He’s probably heard everything, yet I expect my twenty-three-year-old boyfriend to grasp something beyond comprehension like a great Renaissance philosopher might do? I don’t think Griffin’s soul is quite that old.
This is impossible to explain, but I try anyway. “If you told me you saw the ghost of your great grandma Annabelle and her poodle Corky, I would think you’re crazy. If you told me you levitated six feet off the ground while listening to Slipknot after an intense workout, I wouldn’t believe you.”
Griffin takes several large gulps of his tea and watches it as he circles the glass, rattling the ice. “You’re giving me permission to not believe you?”
“So if I say I think you’re losing it, will you be mad at me?”
His head snaps up, brow drawn tight. “But you just said—”
“I know. I’m asking you to lie to me if the truth hurts. I’m asking you to love me even when you don’t understand me. It’s selfish and immature. I’m selfish and immature. But I’m also alone and scared and going through something that has derailed my life. So maybe you think I’m crazy now, but if I don’t figure this out I will most certainly go crazy beyond anything I am right now.”