“I’m not sure,” he says, sinking back into his seat. “I started running when I was thirteen. It started out as a way to get away from Les and her annoying friends. Sometimes I would just need out of the house. The squealing and cackling of thirteen-year-old girls can be extremely painful. I liked the silence that came with running. If you haven’t noticed, I’m sort of a thinker, so it helps me to clear my head.”

I laugh. “I’ve noticed,” I say. “Have you always been like that?”

He grins and shakes his head. “That’s two questions. My turn.” He takes the chip out of my hand that I was about to eat and he pops it into his mouth, then takes a drink of his soda. “Why didn’t you ever show up for track tryouts?”

I cock my eyebrow and laugh. “That’s an odd question to ask now. That was two months ago.”

He shakes his head and points a chip at me. “No judging when it comes to my choice in questions.”

“Fine,” I laugh. “I don’t know, really. School just wasn’t what I thought it would be. I didn’t expect the other girls to be so mean. None of them even spoke to me unless it was to inform me of what a slut I was. Breckin was the only person in that whole school who made any effort.”

“That’s not true,” Holder says. “You’re forgetting about Shayla.”

I laugh. “You mean Shayna?”

“Whatever,” he says, shaking his head. “Your go.” He quickly shoves another chip in his mouth and grins at me.

“Why did your parents divorce?”

He gives me a tight-lipped smile and drums his fingers lightly on the table, then shrugs his shoulders. “I guess it was time for them to,” he says, indifferently.

“It was time?” I ask, confused by his vague answer. “Is there an expiration date on marriages nowadays?”

He shrugs. “For some people, yes.”

I’m interested in his thought process now. I’m hoping he doesn’t move on to his turn now that my question has been asked, because I really want to know his views on this. Not that I’m planning on getting married anytime soon. But he is the guy I’m in love with, so it wouldn’t hurt to know his stance so I’m not as shocked years down the road.

“Why do you think their marriage had a time limit?” I ask.

“All marriages have a time limit if you enter them for the wrong reasons. Marriage doesn’t get easier…it only gets harder. If you marry someone hoping it will improve things, you might as well set your timer the second you say, ‘I do.’”

“What wrong reasons did they have to get married?”

“Me and Les,” he says emphatically. “They knew each other less than a month when my mother got pregnant. My dad married her, thinking it was the right thing to do, when maybe the right thing to do was to never knock her up in the first place.”

“Accidents happen,” I say.

“I know. Which is why they’re now divorced.”

I shake my head, sad that he’s so casual about his parent’s lack of love for each other. I guess it’s been eight years, though. The ten-year-old Holder may not have been so casual about the divorce as it was actually occurring. “But you don’t think divorce is inevitable for every marriage?”

He folds his arms across the table and leans forward, narrowing his eyes. “Sky, if you’re wondering if I have commitment issues, the answer is no. Someday in the far, far, far away future…like post-college future…when I propose to you…which I will be doing one day because you aren’t getting rid of me…I won’t be marrying you with the hope that our marriage will work out. When you become mine, it’ll be a forever thing. I’ve told you before that the only thing that matters to me with you are the forevers, and I mean that.”

I smile at him, somehow a little bit more in love with him than I was thirty seconds ago. “Wow. You didn’t need much time to think those words out.”

He shakes his head. “That’s because I’ve been thinking about forever with you since the second I saw you in the grocery store.”

Our food couldn’t have arrived at a more perfect time, because I have no idea how to respond to that. I pick up my fork to take a bite but he reaches across the table and snatches it out of my hand.

“No cheating,” he says. “We’re not finished and I’m about to get really personal with my question.” He takes a bite of his food and chews it slowly as I wait for him to ask me his “really personal” question. After he takes a drink, he takes another bite of food and grins at me, purposefully dragging out his turn so he can eat.

“Ask me a damn question,” I say with feigned irritation.

He laughs and wipes his mouth with his napkin, then leans forward. “Are you on birth control?” he asks in a hushed voice.

His question makes me laugh; because it really isn’t all that personal when you’re asking the girl you’re having sex with. “No, I’m not,” I admit. “I never really had a reason to be on it before you came barging into my life.”

“Well, I want you on it,” he says decisively. “Make an appointment this week.”

I balk at his rudeness. “You could ask me a little more politely, you know.”

He arches an eyebrow as he takes a sip of his drink, then places it calmly back down on the table in front of him. “My bad.” He smiles and flashes his dimples at me. “Let me rephrase my words, then,” he says, lowering his voice to a husky whisper. “I plan on making love to you, Sky. A lot. Pretty much any chance we get, because I rather enjoyed you this weekend, despite the circumstances surrounding it all. So in order for me to continue to make love to you, I would very much appreciate it if you would make alternative contraceptive arrangements so that we don’t find ourselves in a pregnancy-induced marriage with an expiration date on it. Do you think you could do that for me? So that we can continue to have lots and lots and lots of sex?”

I keep my eyes locked on his as I slide my empty glass to the waitress who is now staring at Holder with her jaw wide open. I keep a straight face when I reply.

“That’s much better,” I say. “And yes. I believe I can arrange that.”

He nods once, then slides his glass next to mine, glancing up at the waitress. She finally snaps out of her trance and quickly refills our glasses, then walks away. As soon as she’s gone, I glare at Holder and shake my head. “You’re evil, Dean Holder,” I laugh.

“What?” he says innocently.

“It should be illegal for the words ‘make love’ and ‘sex’ to flow past your lips when in the presence of any female besides the one who actually gets to experience you. I don’t think you realize what you do to women.”

He shakes his head and attempts to brush off my comment.

“I’m serious, Holder. Without trying to explode your ego, you should know that you’re incredibly appealing to pretty much any female with a pulse. I mean, think about it. I can’t even count the number of guys I’ve met in my life, yet somehow you’re the only one I’ve ever been attracted to? Explain that one.”

He laughs. “That’s an easy one, babe.”

“How so?”

“Because,” he says, looking at me pointedly. “You already loved me before you saw me in the grocery store that day. Just because you blocked the memory of me out of your mind doesn’t mean you blocked the memory of me out of your heart.” He brings a forkful of food to his mouth, but pauses before he takes a bite. “Maybe you’re right, though. It could have just been the fact that you wanted to lick my dimples,” he says, shoving the forkful into his mouth.

“It was definitely the dimples,” I say, smiling. I can’t count the number of times he’s made me smile in the half hour that we’ve been here, and I’ve somehow eaten half of the food on my plate. His presence alone works wonders for a wounded soul.

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 7:20 p.m.

We’re a block from Karen’s house when I ask him to pull over. The anticipation during the drive over here was torture enough, but actually arriving is absolutely terrifying. I have no idea what to say to her or how I’m supposed to react when I walk through the front door.

Holder pulls over to the side of the road and puts the car in park. He looks over at me with concern in his eyes. “You need a chapter break?” he asks.

I nod, inhaling a deep breath. He reaches across the seat and grabs my hand. “What is it that scares you the most about seeing her?”

I shift in my seat to face him. “I’m scared that no matter what she says to me today, I’ll never be able to forgive her. I know that my life turned out better with her than it would have if I had stayed with my father, but she had no way of knowing that when she stole me from him. The fact that I know what she’s capable of makes it impossible for me to forgive her. If I couldn’t forgive my father for what he did to me…then I feel like I shouldn’t forgive her, either.”

He brushes his thumb across the top of my hand. “Maybe you’ll never forgive her for what she did, but you can appreciate the life she gave you after she did it. She’s been a good mom to you, Sky. Remember that when you talk to her today, okay?”

I expel a nervous breath. “That’s the part I can’t get over,” I say. “The fact that she has been a good mom and I love her for it. I love her so much and I’m scared to death that after today, I won’t have her anymore.”

Holder pulls me to him and hugs me. “I’m scared for you too, baby,” he says, unwilling to pretend everything will be okay when it can’t. It’s the fear of the unknown that we’re both wrapped up in. Neither of us has any idea which path my life will take after I walk through that front door, and if it’s a path we’ll even be able to take together.

I pull apart from him and place my hands on my knees, working up courage to get this over with. “I’m ready,” I say. He nods, then pulls his car back onto the road and rounds the corner, coming to a stop in my driveway. Seeing my home causes my hands to tremble even more than they were before. Holder opens the driver’s side door when Jack walks outside and he turns to face me.

“Stay here,” he says. “I want to talk to Jack first.” Holder gets out of the car and shuts the door behind him. I stay put like he asked me to because I’m honestly in no hurry to get out of this car. I watch as Holder and Jack speak for several minutes. The fact that Jack is here, still supporting her, makes me wonder if Karen actually told him the truth about what she did. I doubt he would be here if he knew the truth.

Holder walks back to the car, this time to the passenger door where I’m seated. He opens the door and kneels down next to me. He brushes his hand across my cheek and strokes my face with the back of his fingertips. “Are you ready?” he asks.

I feel my head nodding, but I don’t feel in control of the movement. I see my feet stepping out of the car and my hand reaching into Holder’s, but I don’t know how I’m moving when I’m consciously trying to keep myself seated in the car. I’m not ready to go in, but I’m walking away from the car in Holder’s arms toward the house, anyway. When I reach Jack, he reaches out to hug me. As soon as his familiar arms wrap around me, I catch back up to myself and take a deep breath.

Tags: Colleen Hoover Hopeless Romance
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