My heart stutters to a halt and my eyes snap to his. He knows. He’s figured out the truth after all this time.
Not needing my reply, he continues. “I’m sure as hell not a stupid man. I can do simple math. You wouldn’t have run away for the hell of it. Even if your entire life went to shit, you still had me.”
“I’ve got to go. I’m sorry.” Screw the coffee. If I stand here another second, I’m going to break down.
Even as my feet carry me to the door, my heart aches to pull me back toward him.
“Just tell me who!” His voice is the crack of a whip. The hurt in his tone is malevolent as it slithers into me, tucking itself into the ancient cracks in my soul.
My spine straightens almost painfully, the realization that he doesn’t know hits me like a semi-truck. “Who, what?” I whisper, too cowardly to face him again.
“Who knocked you up?” He growls this from beside me, right adjacent my ear. The closest I’ve been to Law in fourteen years. It hurts like a physical ache to have his body so near, but emotionally, he’s never been further away.
My head tips forward, too heavy to support with the weight of guilt engulfing me like the unforgiving sea “It doesn’t matter.”
“Matters to me. Matters whose dick was so important you’d throw everything we shared away. Dammit, you dropped out of school and left town without so much as a note in my mailbox where you went. Do you know what that did to me?”
He tries to conceal it, but it burns through his words and his tone like a hot iron, branding us both. It scores itself onto my heart next to all the other marks from leaving him in the first place.
He leans in. “Lawrence,” he spits.
“L-Lawrence.” The tremble in my voice vibrates the surrounding air. His name feels foreign on my tongue, having not spoken it aloud in a decade and a half. “I’m sorry for what I did. But I have to go.”
As I push through the door, I long for him to chase after me. He just stands there, the love of my past, glaring at me as if he wishes I was dead.
I feel withered and decayed inside.
So much so, even the rain slapping against my scalp when I forget to open my umbrella does nothing to pull me out of my trance. I’m halfway down the next block before I realize I’m soaked from the rain and finally open the stupid thing.
“Hey, where’s my coffee?” Kiersten asks as I trudge into the office building where the meeting takes place.
I lift my empty hands to my face, staring unseeing beyond their wrinkled texture, and drop them limp at my sides.
“Oh, shit, what happened?”
I clear my throat before I’m able to force the words to squeeze passed. Even then, they sound hoarse. “I need you to drive me home. I’d walk, but I’m freezing. I can’t go to this meeting.”
Kiersten tilts her head, concern etched into her features. “You shouldn’t miss it. They might not give you a second chance to present the info again, and you’ve worked so hard on this.”
“They’ll eat me alive!” I screech, and Kiersten retreats a step. “Not like this, I can’t. I don’t have a chance. You’re the only person I have that can take me home. If you won’t do it, I’ll walk, but it’s still pouring.” I rub a wet hand across my forehead as more tears clog my throat. “I’d like to have some time alone because come four o’clock, my girl will be home from school, and I can’t let her see her momma like this.”
She gathers her coat and nabs her keys from her top drawer. “Okay.” She presses the keys into my palm and curls my limp fingers around them. “Go start the car, and I’ll call Mr. Ross to tell him you’re sick. You owe me. This means I have to miss my lunch break.”
“Thank you.” My voice trembles.
A fogginess settles over me as the stronger emotions wane, and I plod to the parking lot, unlock the car, and crank the ignition. Hot air blasts my numb skin. Detachment steals over me like a curse.
Kiersten contains her invasive questions on the ride back to my house. I mumble my thanks and walk myself inside by rote. After a long hot shower, the numbness thaws and the torrent of tears shatter through the barrier.
When I left home all those years ago, I didn’t allow myself to
break. There wasn’t room to feel sorry for myself when I had to provide for a baby and the decision to leave was mine. Money provided an incentive, and I refused to face Law with the magnitude of my mistakes. When he found out the truth, I’d lose him anyway, and that solidified my decision. I snuck away, knowing it me a coward.
Seeing him returns all the feelings to the surface, and I’m forced to confront them.