Six Months Later
"We'll be here," I assured him. "Of course, I wouldn't miss it."
Dad smiled. Yes, not Rhett, Dad. He hugged me to him, snuggling me under his chin, and then leaned back. "Thanks, baby. To be honest, your old man is a little nervous."
"Why, Dad?" I chuckled and put my arm around his waist as we moved around the pool in the back yard. "You're the CEO and you've been that for a long time. There's nothing wrong with stepping down and letting someone else take over for a while."
He laughed. "That's a nice way of putting early retirement."
I looked him over. "I'm really glad that you're doing this. You and Mom could use some time to yourself. You've been through a lot."
"Coming from you," he said wryly and kissed my forehead and whispered, "that's just ridiculous."
"Coming from you," he said wryly and kissed my forehead and whispered, "that's just ridiculous."
"Your going away party is going to be great, Dad. And surprising Mom with a trip to Mexico... She's going to flip!"
"I hope so. And I also thought I might surprise her by renewing our vows while we're there."
"Aw, Dad." I smiled, but felt my eyes cloud over. "You're going to make me cry." We approached the driveway and I hugged him around his neck. "That's the sweetest thing ever."
He took a deep, deep, deep breath. I started to wonder about it, but he pulled back and his smile was small, but happy. "Oh, I think I've heard sweeter things."
He patted my cheek, and the little familiar ache to wish to remember him doing that before assaulted me. I still had days when all I wanted was to remember, but then I remember who I used to be and how Mason and I wouldn't be together. But sometimes...I wish I could remember what it was like to be this man's little Daddy's girl and look up to him as he bent down to be at my level. To know exactly how to tug on his strings to do anything that I wanted... But I loved my life now and I wouldn't change anything.
"I'll see you tomorrow afternoon then," I told him and kissed his cheek before walking toward the driveway. "Tell Mom I'll come and help!"
"Mason's coming, too, right?" he yelled across the yard. "I could use some extra muscle with the tables and chairs!"
I smiled. He was hiring a company to handle all of that for him. He was just trying to show me that they understood that Mason was my other half.
"Of course!" I yelled back before climbing in my Mini Cooper.
I'd only been driving for a couple of months now. Learning to drive was interesting. My dad took me to a Driver's Ed class, but that didn't teach me how to drive, it just taught me the rules. So Mason took me to an old grocery store parking lot and turned me loose. He guided me along and told me what to do, but let me learn for myself. After a week or so, I was driving myself, but only back and forth from the house to Mason's mostly. Now, I'm good and feel confident in driving anywhere...mostly. Mason took me to the city a couple times. Once in the daytime to go to an art festival. He asked me if I wanted to drive back home. I refused. Never, ever, ever would I drive in this road-rage infested place.
The Jason Reeves CD blared through my car and out the windows. It felt so good to be independent and making my own decisions now. Able to stand, literally, on my own two feet knowing that my fate was my own.
The bridge came into view just as he sang I know I'm lost in crazy, but you are the one that saves me...
Andy's face, haunted, comes smashing into my mind. Leaning my elbow on the open window, I rested my head on my palm. I hated to admit that Andy's face still flashed through my mind at the oddest times. It wasn't really guilt because I knew that it wasn't my fault. I'd toyed with going back and forth over the guilt factor, but in the end, it was just facts. Andy ran me over. Then he left me there in the road, his girlfriend of years, and pretended he knew nothing about it. He let my parents go through all the toil and pain of pleading for someone, anyone, who knew something to come forward. He did all that just to save himself from trouble. Then when I woke, he dumped his new girl without a second's thought for what that would do to her. And he did all this for himself. Everything he has ever done was for him, and his suicide was for him, too.
My new therapist told me to imagine what Andy had gone through and understand why he felt the need to kill himself. I understood completely. He was eaten alive with guilt, he told me so himself, and he knew there was no way out of it but to confess and take responsibility. I couldn't imagine living with the guilt for six months of knowing that I'd not only ran some over, therefore putting them in a coma, but that I'd left them there to die. The weight of that must have been awful. But the difference between us was that I would never have left someone to die in the first place.
When I started to feel guilty, that's what brought me back. Andy made his choices and they were bad ones. You can't take responsibility for someone's else choices.
Andy's mother came to see me one day right after graduation. She said she wanted to tell me that they had lied to the police before. Andy had called and left a message on their answering machine at home, telling them the entire thing, everything that happened, and then told them he was going to end it. He said that he felt like his insides were boiling and it was getting worse every day. When she closed her eyes in agony, I wanted to burst. But then she said it was her fault. Hers and her husband's because they spent so much time telling him that he needed to be perfect and make them proud that Andy never felt like he could come to them. They failed him, she said.
She said they'd gone to the police and given them the tape of Andy, though it didn't change anything. The investigation was open and close, but she wanted to make sure everyone knew that it didn't matter what Andy had said in the buckling of his grief, it wasn't my fault. She told me they had sold their house and were moving. They knew what the town thought of me, but really, most of that had died down to nothing. People didn't want to dwell on things and I was more than willing to let it all go.
After pulling into Mason's drive, I knocked but pushed my way inside without waiting. "Hey," I said to the nurse. "Everything good today?"
"Same old, same old," she muttered and shrugged, smiling.
I nodded and went through the hall to Mason's room. He was lying on the bed with bare feet, his arms behind his head with his eyes closed. When I pushed the door to, his eyes popped open, almost comically. He smiled, but that changed to a smirk when I peeled off my jacket and threw it across the chair.
"You look happy to see me," I whispered and kicked one shoe off.
"I am happy to see you." His grin widened as he sat up on his elbows to watch me.
I kicked off my other shoe. "I'm happy that you're happy."
I heard his laugh as I flicked the light switch, settling us in darkness. I moved across the room to him. I let my hand guide me, running it up his leg, across his stomach and chest to his neck. I let my weight fall on him and loved how his hands gripped my hips to pull me against him. I settled my lips over his and he wasted no time in sucking my tongue into his mouth. I shivered, much to his delight. I felt his grin against my cheek before he put one hand in my hair and pulled me to him again, harder, my breath exploding from me as his lips slid and coaxed me to melt.
Soon, the tables turned and I was under him, mind, body, and soul.
The sounds of his breaths as they moved across my skin were the only sound in his room. And it was the only sound I needed or wanted. His hands held mine hostage to his bed above my head. Being completely out of control was something that was only fun with Mason. And it was fun.
He tortured me in ways I never knew I even wanted to be tortured. I knew I wasn't a virgin, but as Mason said, if I couldn't remember, my slate was clean and it was as if it never happened. So all these experiences, all the things Mason did for me and my normal list, all the little things he did to me to make my breath catch...they were all new, all sensual, all swoon-worthy.
"Mason," I groaned, begging him to find my lips again.
We still hung out in the shop a lot, but had started migrating to his bedroom, too. It was more convenient since it was becoming pretty close to impossible to keep our hands off each other. Mason, my ever-protective good guy, remained the sweet, gentle, amazing man that I fell for. If not more so.
My parents had gotten over their aversion for him for the most part.
I tried to get an apartment between the local college and home. No one wanted me to live by myself even though I was perfectly capable and healed in every way. Even Mason seemed to not like the idea. I planned to start living on my own -of course that meant spending all my time here with Mason, I knew- and then I'd start college next year. Community college. And I planned to be a counselor. With all my knowledge of both sides of the high school coin, I thought it was fitting that I try to make sure that school kids understood that tragedy is inevitable. It will happen to you one day, in some form or fashion. Does that mean that we lock up our hearts and look over our shoulder every minute? Does it mean that we keep the seat belt extra tight and never deviate from the plan? Does it mean we always do what everyone says is right and don't do what we know we should because it's in our bones and speaks to us like nothing else? Does it mean we never skip class or take a gamble? Does it mean that we answer our phone every time it rings for fear of something epic being on the other end of that receiver?
We let the freaking phone ring. We skip Geometry every once in a while. We try a new hairstyle and don't give a rat's behind if it's picture day. We tell our parents that we need a year off of school, but we plan to go next year, and we mean it with all our heart. We kiss the butler on the cheek out the door to our boyfriend's. We open our arms to the one who can make our heart melt and our chest sigh because love is about not just a feeling, but our reaction. It's a mixture of souls, sighs, needs, wants, and got to have. It's a balance of sweet and sexy. It's something that's out there for everyone.
And I wanted the kids who came through the school halls after me to know that. So, I'd start my classes soon, after some much needed time off.
But now, as he nudged my face up with his to reach the space under my chin, I wasn't thinking about any of that. I pulled him back to my lips, tasting my own lipgloss on him. He pulled back just a bit, and when he licked his lips, his tongue touched my lip. "What flavor is that?" He tongued his lip again in investigation. "It's new."
I smiled at his perceptiveness. "It's peach."
He grinned. Even though the room was dark, I could feel the tilt of his lips in the dark. "Peaches," he growled. "You taste amazing, Em."
He covered my mouth with his again, pressing me to his mattress as he hovered over me on his elbows. Our bare feet tangled and rubbed together at the foot of the bed. His bare feet with his jeans on were sexy and that's how we usually hung out in his house.
His palm hooked under my thigh and pulled it up to press me against him. His phone rang on the dresser and he ignored it. I bit into his bottom lip to thank him for that. He groaned into my mouth before kissing me harder. His phone rang again. He leaned back with a sigh.
"Daggum it," he growled before reaching over and yanking it off the bedside table. He sighed again. "It's Rob, which only means one thing since he called me and didn't text."
I knew. "Milo."
"I'm so sorry about-" he began.
"Hey," I stopped him, putting my fingers over his lips. "I knew what I was getting into with you."
He made a growly noise in his throat. "But that little jerk has ruined too many nights for us, especially lately. It's getting to be once a week I have to go find his sorry behind. I wish I could I just..." he shook his head, his nose rubbing mine, "let him go, but I can't."
"I'm with you, and I'm not going anywhere," I reminded him. He needed reminding even after all this time. He still fought his own self-loathing. He still fought his guilt. He had grown by leaps and bounds these past few months, but every now and then, a peek at the old Mason who hated himself would shine back through.
His sigh this time wasn't in annoyance but relief. His entire body sighed. "Gah...I love you, Emma."
"I know," I whispered and pulled him to me, wrapping my legs around him and my arms latched around his neck. I kissed his lips once, twice, before pulling his forehead to mine. "But Mason, you have to stop thinking that you're a burden for me. That you're holding me back or making me unhappy. You're not. Milo and your mom are a part of your life, each in their own way, just like my family is a part of mine. I want every piece of you, Mason. If it takes ten more years of chasing Milo and he finally decides that he wants to come home for good, wasn't it worth it?"
"Of course it was," he said softly. "I just hate that you're carrying the burden with me."
"Love isn't a burden, Mason."
His breath was deep and I could tell it was the last one he needed. "Baby, I love you," he said against my lips.
"I love you."
I barely got the words out before his tongue slipped past my lips. I pulled him tighter to me when his phone rang once more. He pulled back and kissed my nose. "You ok here? You can come with. The nurse is here."
"I'll just stay with your mom. I'll make some fettuccine for her while you're gone."
He smiled and rubbed his nose against mine again. "Thanks, Em." He scooted to the edge of the bed and started to slip his boots back on. He looked over his shoulder and chuckled before saying sternly, "Gah, don't lay there looking all sexy like that."
I laughed and sat up, putting my chest to his back and my arms around his neck. I put my lips to his ear. "I'll try to tone it down, Mr. Wright."
He groaned and reached up to cup my cheek. I felt it all the way to my toes. But then he pulled me around to his lap before I could say anything. He let his fingers caress and move against my cheek. His eyes, though it was almost dark in the room, held mine and I knew there was something he wanted to say. More than that, it was something that was going to change things. His lips parted to speak, but he held on to his thoughtful silence for a few seconds longer. Then he said, "Baby, I love you. And I love how you love me. How you love my mom. And...I want to take you somewhere this weekend." His eyebrows rose in question. "Would that be all right?"
"Of course," I said like he was silly. "I'll go anywhere with you."
"Of course," I said like he was silly. "I'll go anywhere with you."
His eyes closed and he smiled before opening them again and holding me still while kissing my mouth just once, achingly slow. "You make me happier than I thought was possible."
I grinned and combed through his hair. "Then we can check number nine off my list now."
He chuckled happily. "See, this is what I'm talking-"
His phone rang. He groaned while I smiled wryly. "I'll be right here. Go."
"Bye, you." He kissed my top lip before standing me up.
"Bye, you. Be careful."
He nodded, turning to look at me once more on his bed. His smile held something different. I couldn't wait for him to explain it. I assumed he had something to tell me and he'd tell me this weekend. I knew he was going to ask me to move in. I practically lived there anyway since I was there all the time. I knew that was what was on his mind. He put his head down on his way out, his smile still shining.
I stood and combed my hair out with my fingers as I made my way out. I forgot my phone and turned to get it, bumping it off the bedside table in my bumbling in the dark. I pulled the string to turn the lamp on and reached down to get it. That was when I saw it. On the shelf under the end table, beside our stack of useless fact books, was a little red box.
A ring box.
My fingers snapped out to grab it before I could stop them. My fingers gripped the lid and I shook my head at myself, scolding, "Emma, what are you doing?"
I put the ring box back on the shelf and stared at the closed lid. The more I stared with my knees to my chest, the more my vision waved and blurred. My lips went so wide that my grin actually hurt as the tears fell from my chin.
He was going to ask me to marry him this weekend.
It was then that I realized I didn't care where we were going, all I could think about was how I was going to compose myself with him until then. Because just thinking about Mason on his knees before me, accepting me for who and what and everything I was, asking me to be his for the rest of our lives, taking me into not only his life but his mother and brother's as well, wanting me to be his one and only girl, as he'd said to me once more, was more than I ever thought I was going to have.
I wiped my face and grinned as I stood. I couldn't wait for this weekend.
When he asked me if I'd be Mrs. Mason Wright, there was no question what I was going to say.
Do turtles breath through their butts?!
A. Million. Times. Yes!
Stay tuned for Wide Open, Milo's story and see how all these pieces finally get put back together again.
Expected Publication : Winter 2013