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Authors: Shae Scott

Tags: #Romance

The Rise of Emery James (9 page)

BOOK: The Rise of Emery James
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Cole

 

 

I NEVER SHOULD HAVE
left things like that with Emery. It was such a big conversation to have before I up and left town for two days. I keep thinking about her, worrying that I did some kind of damage to our evolving relationship. Sometimes I forget that we've been apart for so long. It can be too easy to take certain liberties with her without thinking of how they will affect her.

Last night my worry and curiosity got the best of me and the questions just started tumbling out of my mouth before I could think better of it. I think I'd feel better if I could be there to check on her tonight. It's one of the first times that I haven't been there to check on her and I can't help but feel like I'm letting her down in some way. I can't help but want to take care of her.

I miss her.

I send her a text asking her how her day has been and I make lame conversation, just so I can keep it going. But I can tell she’s distracted so I say goodnight and promise to see her tomorrow.

I just need to see her face.

I need to see that we’re okay.

 

 

I SKIP OUT EARLY
the next day and head over to Emery's. Yes, I might be a little out of control. But ask me if I care.

There are quite a few branches down in the yard from last night's storm. I'll have to pick those up for her, but it will have to wait until I see her. I still need to settle this uneasy thrumming in my heart.

She opens the door and gives me a quiet smile. She's beautiful. She doesn't even have to try. Her hair is up in a messy bun and she's wearing those yoga pants that she loves, but she's still stunning. The nervous thrumming turns to a deep thump as I stare at her. It takes me a minute to notice that she's holding a tiny orange kitten.

"Who is your friend?" I ask as she pushes the screen door open so I can come in.

She smiles down at the bright eyed ball of fur and it's the first smile that I've seen her give that lights up her entire face. "He showed up last night during the storm. I think I'm going to keep him." I reach out and pet the little guy on the head. He's cute and completely content there in her arms. I don't think he'd go anywhere even if she tried to get rid of him.

"I like him," I say.

"Me too. How was the trip?" she asks as I follow her into the living room. I smile at the addition of a cat bed and the scattering of toys on the floor. Apparently she didn't waste any time in getting that little guy all set up in his new home.

"It was good. Long. But I think we'll get the green light and it will be a big project. Henry is really excited about it." I take a seat on the couch as Emery folds herself cross-legged in the corner, the kitten instantly snuggling into her lap with a big yawn. Yeah, he has it made.

"That's good. I talked to Dad earlier and he seemed pretty happy. Sounds like a lot of work though."

I nod, "We're ready for it."

She seems more relaxed around me today. I'm glad. It eases the guilt I had for pushing her so hard and then leaving her all alone. Maybe it's the cat.

"So does this cat have a name?" I ask curiously.

She gives me a shy smile, almost like she doesn't want to tell me. "I've been calling him Journey," she admits.

Journey. Hell, that's kind of perfect.

"I like it."

"It fits him," she agrees.

“Better than any name I’d come up with. I found a stray cat in college once…I called him Tequila,” I wink at her. She laughs and the sound fills the air with instant happiness. It makes my heart full to hear it.

“That’s amazing,” she says, still laughing. I can’t help but stare at her, her eyes shining in a way I haven’t seen nearly enough.

"You care if I hang out for a bit?" I ask.

Instead of answering me, she hands me the remote.

 

 

EASY DOES IT.
Baby steps. This has become my new motto. Sometimes it's really hard not to push her to get the answers I want. But I'm learning to practice patience. It's not that I handle her with kid gloves. She's not nearly as fragile as she thinks she is. But I still want her to trust me. I promised myself I would help her find her way back and I meant it. I'm not going anywhere. There is no way that I'm walking away from her. She needs a friend? Well, she has me. I'll be her friend until she's strong enough to look at me with new eyes.

I should feel guilty about that thought. I should be, but I’m not. The fact is, the more time I spend with Emery, the more I remember just how good we are together. I still have real feelings for this girl. It doesn’t matter that she’s not the same Emery I knew before. My heart still knows hers. I can’t deny that, even if I have to keep it to myself for now.

I try to push it back and ignore it. I try hard to be patient. But it’s hard to ignore the part of me that wants Emery so badly that I've grown a case of blue balls worse than anything I've had since I was a teenager.

Funny, she caused it then too.

But I try my best to bury that asshole when I'm around her. The last thing she needs is me lusting after her under the guise of friendship.

So we navigate through house repairs and TV marathons and even a few beers on the back deck. I see improvement every day that I come to see her. She no longer sits in the quiet while I work. She chatters about plans for decorating one of the spare rooms as an office and about the disaster that was giving Journey a bath. I listen and I laugh and I hang on to each tiny step forward. I still worry that she spends most of her time in this house, but I think it's less hiding and more about steadying herself in a places where she feels safe. The fact that I get to be a part of it makes me feel like a superhero.

 

 

Emery

 

COLE'S WORDS FROM
the other night have been bouncing around in my brain for days. When I see him it's all I can think about. When he's not here I replay our conversation over and over.

I'm not him. You don't have to be perfect.

I'm not even sure what I’m supposed to do with words like that. There are moments when I’m positive he sees right through me. It’s like he knows my make-up and every piece that makes me. . .me. Then, he challenges me to accept it.

It cuts with the jagged reminder of how much I've changed. But then, it heals with the flicker of hope that nearly convinces me that it's okay that I have, that maybe it’s okay that I’m not the same person I was before, that maybe one day I could even be better.

It's a tug of war.

Then vs now.

Expectations vs freedom.

I’m not him. You don’t have to be perfect.

He probably has no idea how powerful those words are.

He has no idea how they echo deep within me, bouncing off the hollow corners of my heart, threatening to stick. Threatening to take up resident right there in the emptiness of my chest.

He's right, he's the opposite of Gabe. And the way they make me feel is the difference between a caged bird and a soaring one.

Until he pointed it out, I had no idea just how jumpy and unsure I'd become of my actions or how much I questioned them. I didn’t realize how much I’d based my validity on other people's approval.

I never realized how much I had conformed to Gabe's expectations. I was always all too willing to bend. I wanted to fit the mold of his perfect wife. His perfect partner. Especially as things had started to fall apart and the distance between us had grown. I just wanted to fix it. I did everything that I could think of to try and get us back where we had started. I just wanted to get back to the place where things were easy and we were in love. When I was his partner instead of an asset to be claimed.

For him I had to be perfect.

I worked my ass off to be perfect.

In the end it was never enough.

Having Cole bring it all to light has left me feeling bruised. It stirs up the anxiety and the anger I've been trying to stomp down deep into the corners where I don't have to deal with it. But it's getting harder to ignore.

When he comes over after work that night I'm feeling grumpy. I can’t help it. The chaos of my mind has taken over. For once, I don’t follow him outside to watch while he works. I just don’t know how to face him in the mood that I’m in. I know it’s not fair to take out my confusion on him. But it’s hard to diffuse the energy that has been coursing through me all day.

When he shuffles inside, looking tired and sweaty, I hate myself when I snap at him for tracking mud into the kitchen. I feel bad when he gives me a quizzical look while slowly kicking off his boots. He watches as I fuss with a towel, wetting it to mop up the dirt, hoping he can't see that my hands are shaking. I feel like he can see right through me and it's unnerving.

"Sorry about that. I wasn't thinking. I'd be happy to clean it up," he says. He reaches for the towel and holds my gaze as I try to keep him from taking it.

"I can get it," I say.

"I know you can. But I made the mess. Let me clean it."

He's challenging me. He remembers how stubborn I can be and as much as I want to take a stand, I don't want him to think he knows me so well. I don't want him to be right. He'll think he's right about everything else too.

"Fine." I turn and go back to the sink, grabbing a rag and wiping down the already clean counter.

From the corner of my eye I can see him squatting down to clean up the small amount of dirt he tracked in. I can't help but notice that one of his socks is now stretched out and the toe is flopping around as he moves.

It's highly adorable and the fact that
this
is what is going through my mind just frustrates me again. I scrub the counter a little harder and ignore him until he walks over, bringing the towel.

"I'll just put this in the laundry room," he says. He brushes past me, but I don't look up.

When he comes back he leans back against the counter and crosses his hard arms across his chest and studies me. Like he's dissecting me. "Did you have a bad day?" he asks.

"It was fine," I mutter. I'm going to rub the
design clear off the counter if I don't stop scrubbing this spot in my best Macbeth impression.

"What did that counter ever do to you?" he asks quietly.

I toss the dishrag aside and turn to face him, crossing my arms across my chest to match his.

"You want to talk about it?" he asks when I don't say anything.

"Not really."

“I missed talking to you tonight,” he offers.

“I had stuff to do.” I hear my clipped tone and wish I could calm myself enough that I could go back to our easy banter.

He goes back to staring at me. Studying me. I can practically feel him peeling away the layers of my protective shell. I shudder involuntarily.

"Okay. Well, if you decide you want to talk the offer stands.”

"I can handle it," I say, moving to stand up straighter. There is something about the way he's looking at me that makes me want to look stronger than I feel. I don't want him to see the broken pieces. Still, at the same time, every time that he does - each time he sees through me and sees the broken girl, I feel a little less lonely. I'd forgotten what it was like to have someone take the time to see me. To care about it at all. It's confusing and part of the reason this push and pull has left me so rattled today.

We stand in the kitchen in our silent stand off for a full minute before he speaks again. He levels his gaze at me, and I'm starting to love and hate that look all at the same time.

"What happened to you up there? What did he do to you to make you lose yourself?" he asks quietly. I feel the words rip through me, the question buzzing in my ears.

"People change, Cole. I grew up," I say quietly. He nods, giving me a pass. He doesn't believe me anymore than I do.

"Maybe you're right,” he concedes thoughtfully. I swallow hard, feeling the tension in my entire body. He’s not finished and his next words hit me even harder.

“I miss seeing that fire in your eyes," he admits.

The truth of his words begs me to shut down. To shut him out.

To hide.

"I'm not the same person I was back then," I say. I feel vulnerable and raw and it's uncomfortable. I want to scrape at my skin in an effort to dull the sensitivity.

BOOK: The Rise of Emery James
11.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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