I rub at my throat and turn in a circle, eyeing the front door.
I can’t do this. It’s too much too soon.
Ryan was right, I’m freaking out. He knew I would. I should go into the bedroom, wake him up and let him calm me down, but do I want that? Do I want to be talked out of the cold logic I’ve always leaned on?
The car keys catch my eye on the kitchen table where Ryan left them—and the temptation to embrace the fear and run proves too much.
I snatch the keys up and jog for the door.
The longer I’ve been away from Ryan, the emptier I feel.
When I got into the rental car, I had convinced myself running was the right thing to do, but now, a few hours later, I couldn’t feel more wrong. I wish I could go back in time and crawl into bed beside his strong body and kiss him awake.
Instead, I drove straight to our apartment, changed my clothes, and went to his closet, my mind on one track. Finish what I started that morning and retrieve the money my mother needs. Never mind that I couldn’t stop crying as took the money out of the shoeboxes. Or that I found dozens of pictures of me taped to the wall of Ryan’s closet.
Me smiling, working, jogging, buying coffee. He really has been stalking me.
But there was something so warm about the shots he captured. They weren’t clinical or creepy, they were packed full of yearning. Yearning I understand now, because my chest is full of it for Ryan. But I’ve chosen to squander the future he offered me in favor of living in the past, didn’t I?
It’s nighttime on Valentine’s Day now and I’m sitting outside of the motel room where my mother is staying, a grocery bag filled with money on the passenger seat beside me. If I had my cell phone with me, I know Ryan would be calling me non-stop. Oh man, I would give anything to hear his voice right now. That deep, steady drawl.
Feeling as if my feet are caked in cement, I drag the money off the seat and climb out of the car, knocking on my mother’s door a moment later. She answers immediately, a cigarette perched in the corner of her lips. She only spares me a quick glance before her gaze searches out the money. When she spies it in my hand, only then does she grow welcoming.
“Well, now. Come on in, sweetheart.” She steps back and beckons me to join her in the motel room. “I missed you. I thought you’d forgotten about me.”
“No.” I smile weakly. “I didn’t.”
Normally, I would want to linger with my mother and remind myself why I keep to myself, emotionally and physically. Right now, however, all I can think about is getting out of there. I should let Ryan know I’m okay, at the very least. I should make sure he found a way home from the cabin, since I took the only vehicle. God, I’m the worst best friend in history.
What if this is the final straw and he gives up on me?
“Um…” My voice cracks as I hand my mother the bag. “This should be enough to cover your prescriptions for the next year.”
Her crack of delighted laughter makes me jump. She grabs the bag and peers inside, setting it on the bed beside…what looks like a designer purse and a plane ticket. “Thanks, Jessie. I know I can always count on you.”
I point at the ticket. “Where are you going?” I ask through numb lips.
“Vegas for a while.” She waves her hands like it’s no big deal. “I have some friends out there I haven’t seen in a while.”
“Really,” I say in a hollow tone. “You told me you couldn’t even afford medication. But you can afford a trip to Vegas? Helping you out would have made me late on rent this month…” Which is why I tried to knock over a convenience store. “At least until I found out…until I came into some cash—”
“You came into some cash?” My mother perks up. “How much?” She pokes at the grocery bag. “Is this all you can spare?”
No, it’s not. There were four shoeboxes full of money and I only brought the contents of one. And I start to feel guilty over that fact until Ryan’s words come back to me, filling my ear as if he’s standing beside me.
I think your weaknesses are actually what make you strong. Compassion. Loyalty. Bravery. You just have to know when to say enough. That’s it, princess.
“Enough,” I say firmly, surprised by the sound of my own voice. But it grows stronger. “I’ve given you enough, mother. Thank you for protecting me when I was a child, but…if you come back here and ask me for another dime, the answer will be no.” I point at the bag. “This is the last time.”