Authors: Dori Lavelle
Table of Contents
To Breathe Again
Learning to Live Again 3
by Dori Lavelle
To Breathe Again
Copyright © 2015 by Dori Lavelle
All Rights Reserved.
Cover Art: CT Creations
Editors: Leah Wohl-Pollack and Samantha Gordon
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
The plane rose into the baby blue sky above Madison, and Kelsey took a deep breath. Most of their journey from Ireland had been long and uneventful, but now reality was hitting her.
Their next stop was their final destination: Serendipity, the town Shaun had been running from for nine years. He was finally going back to where it had all started. He was ready to reclaim his life, or so he told her. Only, the closer they got to his hometown, the tenser he got. She exhaled slowly.
It will be fine. He will get through this. We will get through this together.
They had endured a lot already in less than a year of dating. They had overcome his fear of relationships, and made it through her illness. She still couldn’t believe that he had given her his kidney. Maybe it was weird, but she found it damn romantic. And he had been wonderful to her during her four months of recovery, despite being buried in work.
Two months after the successful transplant surgery, his agent had called to say his novel was being optioned for a movie. Since then, he’d spent a few weeks here and there in Hollywood, but had always returned to be with her, to make sure she was recovering well. And she did, with no complications whatsoever. It was just as he had said: They were a perfect match.
Now, they were taking on what might be their biggest challenge yet. And there was no going back.
Kelsey leaned against Shaun, and he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. “I can’t wait to see where you grew up,” she said.
Shaun didn’t respond, but his heart thumped hard. He was afraid. Serendipity held bittersweet memories for him. It was the place he called home, but it was also the stage for the most painful episodes of his life.
She intertwined her fingers with his. “It will be fine, baby. We can do this.”
His chest rose and fell with a sigh. “I know.” His words were flat, his voice
distant. “But it will be hard to face them.”
Kelsey blinked and ran a thumb along the top of his strong hand. “Your family?”
He smoothed back her hair. “No, hers. I haven’t seen them since I went to prison. I don’t think they ever forgave me. I don’t blame them.”
“Do you have to see them?”
“I think I owe it to them to apologize…again. I can’t move on without doing that. I need to look them in the eye, to make them understand why I did what I did.”
Kelsey swallowed hard. “Okay.” Her stomach knotted at the thought of him coming face-to-face with the people he’d hurt. What if they rejected him? What if they tore open the wounds again and rubbed salt into them?
She’d be there to comfort him when she could. Hopefully his pain wouldn’t blind him to her. Or their future.
The cab pulled up in front of a brick family home surrounded by manicured gardens. Behind the house flowed a river, and three oak trees shaded the yard.
Shaun paid the cab driver but remained in the backseat of the car. For a moment he gazed out the window, concentrating on his breathing. The air was thick and suffocating. He squinted at the house. Through one of the windows, he saw his mother sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper. Her back was to him. He hadn’t told her, or any of his three brothers, that he was coming. Just in case he changed his mind and didn’t make it.
Finally, he inhaled sharply and pushed the door open. Kelsey followed his lead. Together they stepped out into the late morning sunshine. The golden rays on his face gave him some kind of comfort, as if the sun were welcoming him home.
“Ready?” He winked at Kelsey, but the question was meant for him not her.
Kelsey smiled and closed the door of the cab behind her while Shaun removed their luggage from the boot.
Perhaps hearing the car doors close, his mother twisted around in her seat. Then, as if in slow motion, she stood and walked toward the window. Even from a distance, Shaun saw her eyes widen and her mouth fall open. Then she ran from the window and disappeared from the kitchen. Moments later, the front door flew open and she stood on the stoop, clutching a kitchen towel to her face and sobbing.
Shaun’s eyes burned. How many years had it been? He’d been terrified to see the pain in her eyes—the pain he had caused. He’d been ashamed of what he’d put his family through. It had been easier to run, and so he’d run hard and fast.
It was finally time to stop and face his nightmares.
The cab pulled away. Kelsey placed a hand on the small of his back, urging him to go on. As if that was all he had needed, he dropped the bags at his feet, then he ran to his mother and gathered her into his arms, crying with her now. She gathered his hair in one of her fists, and his shirt in the other, clinging to him as though he might disappear from her life again at any moment. For a long while they didn’t move, didn’t speak, didn’t let go.
Eventually, his mother stopped trembling and pulled back, still holding on to his shoulders. She shook her head. “Shaun, oh, Shaun, you’re back.” She hugged him again, squeezing him tight, then stepped back, holding his face between her hands. “I can’t believe you’re home, honey. You’re here!”
Shaun smiled, and his heart broke at the sight of her. She had faint wrinkles around her eyes and mouth, her ash-blond hair was streaked with grey, and the softness in her eyes that had comforted him so many times as a child was shadowed. She had suffered just as much as he had. But she was still the most beautiful woman he had ever known.
He was an ass for putting her through hell.
Drawing her into his arms again, he buried his face in her hair. “I’m so sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be, darling,” she said in a soft, tear-stained voice. “You’re here now. That’s all that matters. You’re fine.”
“You must be the lovely Kelsey.” Shaun’s mother finally looked away from her son and gave Kelsey a hug. “Thank you.”
Kelsey wasn’t sure what the woman was thanking her for, but she hugged her back, absorbing the love being handed to her. “You’re welcome.”
“I’m Rachel.” She released Kelsey and smiled brightly. “I’m so happy to meet you.”
“Thank you, I feel the same way.”
Rachel dabbed her eyes with the cloth and laughed, laying a hand on her chest. “You two almost gave me a heart attack, showing up here out of the blue. But I would have died happy.” She paused. “Come in, children. You had a long journey.” Rachel took Kelsey’s hand and pulled her inside, while Shaun went to fetch their luggage from where he’d dropped it on the sidewalk.
Love and warmth embraced Kelsey as soon as she entered Shaun’s childhood home. This house was more of a home than the mansion she’d grown up in. On a soft yellow accent wall in the living room hung photos of babies, toddlers, and grown men. Shaun and his brothers with their parents. Rachel had been a gorgeous woman with shiny blond hair and a bright smile, a beauty that hadn’t diminished with age. She looked so happy holding her children. Kelsey’s heart squeezed when her eyes landed on the handsome man in some of the photos. He looked like an older version of Shaun, with the same dark hair and grey eyes. Shame she would never get to know him.
As though she had read Kelsey’s mind, Rachel said, “My husband died when Shaun was only twelve.” She came to stand next to Kelsey, and gazed up at the photos as well. “But Shaun got so many great qualities from him.”
“Including his looks,” Kelsey said, smiling.
“Including those, yes.”
Kelsey ran her eyes over the faces of Shaun’s three brothers. They all looked like movie stars, with the same strong jaw, thick hair, and intense eyes. Rachel must have had a hard time chasing off girls while they were growing up.
“Come on.” Rachel laid a hand on Kelsey’s shoulder. “I’ll show you to your room. Later I’ll show you some embarrassing photos of Shaun as a baby.”
She led them to Shaun’s childhood bedroom. She had initially wanted them to take the guest room, but both Shaun and Kelsey declined. It wouldn’t be as comfortable.
Sitting down on the Superman bedspread, Kelsey smiled up at Shaun. “So you were a fan, huh? This room is a shrine to Superman.”
Shaun sat down next to her and kissed her on the neck. “Don’t you think I’m Superman?”
Kelsey giggled. “I do.”
They embraced and lay back together on the small bed. Here, she was close to his world, to his heart. Here they would be safe. Here they could laugh, before they stepped out into a world that might not be so kind.
Two hours after Kelsey and Shaun’s arrival, his brothers, Cole and Garrett, showed up for supper. Garrett, the eldest, was the spitting image of Shaun. They even sounded the same. The only difference was that Garrett had Rachel’s blond hair. Cole, on the other hand, looked nothing like his siblings. He had reddish hair and pale blue eyes, and wasn’t as muscular. But he was just as handsome.
Their other brother, Dustin, whom Kelsey had talked to on the phone a few times, was out of town and couldn’t make it, but planned to see them in two or three days when he returned.
They all sat around an oval table in the dining room, surrounded by family photos and memorabilia. Kelsey felt as if she were already part of their family.
“Thought you’d never come back,” Cole said, reaching for the green salad. “I wouldn’t have blamed you.”
Shaun reached under the table for Kelsey’s hand and squeezed it. “I thought the same. If it weren’t for Kelsey giving me the strength, I probably wouldn’t be back home.”
Garrett laughed and looked at Kelsey. “You managed to do in a few months what we all failed to do in years. Well done.”
“Kelsey is such a lovely girl,” Rachel said to Shaun as she poured him a glass of water. “Much as I’d have liked for you to come home sooner, I’m glad you didn’t. You gave us a chance to meet her.” She smiled warmly at Kelsey.
Cole and Garrett nodded, and Kelsey’s cheeks burned. “I’m so glad to meet you all as well,” she said.
“So, tell us how you met.” Cole lifted a bite of salad to his mouth. “Was it love at first sight?”
“I don’t know.” Shaun turned to Kelsey, frowning. “Was it?”
Kelsey laughed and dropped her gaze to her plate, giggling.
“Mom, cover your ears.” Shaun leaned toward Cole. “For me, it was something else at first sight. Know what I mean?”
Rachel feigned disapproval. “I wish I had covered my ears.” She sighed. “It doesn’t matter how you met, though. Only that you did.”
“You’re right there, Mom,” Shaun said, and launched into the whole story, making sure to filter out anything too naughty. When he finished, Rachel, Cole, and Garrett all stared at Kelsey in horror.
“He gave you his kidney?” Garrett asked. He turned to Shaun. “You’re a man of secrets. Why didn’t you say anything?”
Kelsey shrank in her chair as the boys’ mother studied her. What was going through Rachel’s mind? Every kind of surgery had risks, after all.
“Everything happened really fast,” Shaun said. “Sorry I didn’t tell you guys. I didn’t want you to worry. Best decision of my life, though. Look how healthy she is.” He put his arm around Kelsey’s shoulders.