“Did I cross your mind at all? While you were busy being wanted ?” I shoot out.
And she fires back, “Have I crossed your mind? While you’re busy fuckin’ your way across the capital?”
“It’s not like that.”
“Of course it’s like that—because you think time stands still when you’re not here. You’ve got me tucked away, raisin’ our daughter, just waitin’ on you to come back.”
“First of fuckin’ all, you’re not raisin’ our daughter alone, so don’t act like that’s the case. Second, this is the deal we made. Do what we want when we’re apart, but this”—I motion between us—“this was ours. No one else touches it—no one else comes close. If it wasn’t workin’ for you anymore, you should have told me!”
And she’s on her feet. “I’m telling you now! I’m twenty-eight years old, Stanton, and I still live with my parents.”
“Is that what this is about? Jenny, if you want a house, I’ll buy you a house.”
We’ve never had a formal child support order, because I send her money every month without one. Anything she needs beyond that—anything—all she has to do is ask.
“JD wants to make a home with me—a family, a marriage—all the things you never did.”
I clench my fists, the muscles in my forearms bulging. And I can’t decide if it’s better to kiss her or shake the shit out of her. “You and Presley are my family. And I would’ve married you ten years ago. I told you that, right here—in this goddamn spot!”
“Wanting and would have are two different things.”
“You told me to go! ” I yell, pointing at her. “You told me to leave! For us—our future, our family.”
And then there are tears. Rising in her eyes, glistening on her lashes, making them shine like sunlight on the water. “If you love something let it go, if it comes back to you it’s yours.” She shakes her head. “You never came back.”
“Bullshit! I came back every chance I could—”
“Not after Columbia. You changed, then. You started to like it—the work, the women, the city . . .”
“I was killing myself, Jenny! It was law school, for Christ’s sake—work, classes, internships, you have no fuckin’ idea.”
The yellow pad flashes in my head like a neon sign. Fighting isn’t fixing. Talk to her, not at her.
I take a few breaths, calming down. Then I step toward Jenny, catching her eyes.
And I see her—my sweet girl, my best friend. The love of my life. “My head was there, it had to be, but my heart has always been here with you. It never left.”
She sniffs, but still the tears don’t fall. “Didn’t you ever wonder why it was so easy?”
“Lovin’ someone’s supposed to be easy.”
“I don’t mean bein’ together. I mean bein’ apart.” She turns her back on me, staring at the water, watching it run, lapping at the shore. “All that time, all these years . . . bein’ apart was easier than it should’ve been.” She crosses her arms, and a smile seeps into her voice. “After JD gets off work, he comes to the house and he runs up the path—because he can’t wait a second longer to see me. He burns for me. Can’t bear the thought of bein’ away, leavin’ me, for even a day. Have you ever felt that way, Stanton?”
There’s a terrible, malevolent voice in the back of my mind whispering that I have felt that way—once. But it wasn’t for her.
I block it out and step around so Jenny’s facing me. “I love you.”
“You love a seventeen-year-old girl who doesn’t exist anymore.”
“That’s not true. She’s right in front of me.”
Jenny tilts her head and gives the littlest of smiles. “I’m not nearly as fun as I used to be.”
I step forward and take her face in my hands, stroking her skin. “I look at you and I see a thousand summer days. The best moments of my life.”
Emotion chokes me, making it hard to speak. Feelings for this woman crush me, making it hard to breathe. “I have loved you since I was twelve years old, and I will love you until the day I die.”
Her face crumbles and the tears fall. She presses my hand to her face, soaking it with her cries, then she kisses my palm. “And I love you, Stanton—I do. What I feel for you, who you are, is so precious to me. I don’t want to lose you.”