We Were Once - Page 54

“Barely, but he’s a ghost that hangs around, haunting my life. I’m told by my friends and other people that I should be grateful, but I’m not. I’m bitter even though he’s financing my future.”

“I had no idea.”

“He’s nothing more than a stockbroker keeping track of his investment.” I shrug. “There’s no emotional attachment or anything. According to him, I need to be fixed. I’m a problem left unsolved.”

“I don’t understand, Joshua.” She sits up again, pressing her hand to my leg to still it. I didn’t even fucking know it was bouncing. Even tics that usually stay buried can make appearances without permission when triggered. My father is that trigger. “Fuck. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“No, I’m glad you did,” she replies, lying back down next to me. Our bodies aren’t touching, and I don’t like the distance. “It’s weird how pain stays with you, almost tricking you into believing you’re still living life as normal.”

I take her hand from resting on her stomach and hold it. We don’t have to touch for sex, but in the time that exposes us, it’s nice to feel her heat. “You say that as if you’ve experienced firsthand.”

“Admitting the pain sometimes helps to keep me grounded in reality.” She looks at me. The love we spoke about earlier still shines in her eyes. “I never thought I’d meet someone who makes me want to share my secrets either.”

Either.

It’s a small slip that encapsulates the sentiment.

We’ve been in this relationship, inside a perfect bubble and untouchable by the problems of our pasts. Maybe that was a mistake. Seeing each other with flaws, scars invisible to the eye but have shaped our lives, will only deepen what we already share.

“Fear and pain feel the same these days,” she says, “I used to fear upsetting my dad. Now I fear losing you.”

I have that same fear. I told her she is my world, but how do I fit into her world back home? It’s not wrong for her dad to want the best for his daughter, and I’m not the best. He’ll see through me the minute we meet.

That won’t deter me from loving her. I’ll love her until the day I die. “Don’t live in fear. Live in love.” Her right cheek kicks into a grin. Taking her hand, I hold it between us, and say, “If it makes you feel better, I’m in just as deep.”

“That might be bad for you, but it’s good to hear.” She finds comfort, resting her head on the pillow next to me. “What contact do you have with your dad?”

“Not much beyond the usual birthday card, Christmas money. I went to visit him once.” I glance over to see her eyes locked on me in full attention. I return my gaze to the ceiling. “He lives in the Hamptons most of the time, but keeps an $8 million dollar apartment in Manhattan for when he has ‘work obligations’ at the office.” I can’t help but shake my head every time I think of that. “The man is loaded. Hence, paying for my school, but even I know it’s only because I bear his last name. He probably loses sleep over the thought of me tarnishing it.”

“Do you know this or—”

“I went to visit one summer when I was thirteen. I was told to keep my shoes outside the front door and my clothes packed. I was supposed to be there for a month to get to know him.”

Her arm drapes over me protectively as if she can keep the pain away. “It didn’t go well?”

She’s right—I’m carrying these hard feelings around like I owe them money. They may have kept me grounded, but they’re not good to hang onto. “No. I overheard him tell his wife that my mom was a gold-digger. He just wished he had listened to his parents back then. He wouldn’t be in this mess if he had.”

Her soft sigh is followed by a kiss to my shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. The truth only motivates me.”

“What did you do?”

I chuckle. “Hitched my way back to Connecticut. My mom was worried sick, but I had a good three-hour head start before my dad even noticed I was missing.”

Sitting up abruptly, she covers her mouth, a look of horror working through her expression. “Oh my God! Are you crazy?”

I roll on top of her. “Crazy for you.”

“And horny. Always so horny.”

“Says the horniest girl I know.” I’m pushed away and left laughing. She adds, “And strong.”

“Dang straight.”

“I kind of adore your version of swearing.” I continue chuckling. Her own laughter lightens, and I watch as the sympathy enters her pupils and spreads. That’s the last thing I want from her. I roll to my back. “Don’t do that. We were having fun. It’s fine. Don’t feel sorry for me.”

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