"Yeah, so, that doesn't actually make it less weird."
I breathed out a laugh and after a minute, Calder did, too, turning his face up to the ceiling and laughing at himself. "All right. It's just this thing I have—"
"Yeah, we're both well aware of all your 'things'," Xander said, unable to suppress another grin. I laughed and so did Calder, looking at me over Xander's chest.
"Okay, you two, seriously, time to shower." Xander laughed.
Calder and I sat up, Calder swinging his legs off the bed. "Okay, but first let's go get some food. Eden and I haven't eaten properly in almost a week."
Xander and I got out of the bed and Xander nodded, running his hand through his hair. "All right, let's go. Eden, you okay here for half an hour or so?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." I smiled at Calder. I really was. Calder smiled back at me, looking a little unsure. I walked over to him and wrapped my arms around his waist and pulled him close. He squeezed me back and kissed the top of my head, and then he and Xander left the room, closing the door behind them.
Fifteen minutes later, I was showered and feeling like a new person. I had washed my hair twice, and shaved everywhere. I was standing in front of the mirror with a towel wrapped around me, brushing the snarls out of my hair, since Calder didn't have any conditioner in his shower. I guessed boys didn't use that kind of stuff.
I heard a loud knock on the door and pulled the towel tighter around me. Had Calder forgotten his key? Or maybe they just had too many take-out bags in their hands to reach for it.
I hurried out of the room and down the hall. "Hold on," I called. I swung the door open and Madison was standing there. My smile faded and my cheeks heated as I realized I was just in a towel.
Madison looked me over, her face blanching as she sucked in a breath. "Oh," she said.
I backed up slightly and pulled the towel more tightly around me. "Sorry," I muttered, "I thought you were Calder."
She raised her eyebrows. "So he's not here?"
I shook my head. "He and Xander went out to get food."
She stood staring at me and I shifted from one foot to the other, still holding my towel in place with one hand and the door with the other. "Um, do you want to come in?" I asked. "He should be home any minute."
Madison frowned slightly, but walked in past me and I shut the door behind her. I turned toward her and she was looking me up and down again, a look of hurt all over her face. Well, this was awful. I knew better than anyone how difficult it was not to love Calder. I could understand how hard this must be for her. After all, I had felt that same devastation when I'd realized he had a girlfriend at the gallery.
"Um . . ."
Madison laughed softly. "I know, this is weird, right?" She shook her head. "I won't make it weirder. I just came over to drop off the few things Calder had at my house and to ask him what I should do about the money he earned from his show. He doesn't have a checking account. You probably know that. I planned to pay him in cash, but that was before he sold every painting in one night."
I nodded, biting my lip. Of course he didn't have a checking account. He didn't have any ID. I didn't either. Yet. But I could get some. I knew my name.
"You could write the check out to me," I said softly.
Madison seemed to consider that and then shrugged her shoulders. She really was very, very pretty. She had expressive green eyes and dark, silky hair that hung straight to her shoulders. She was wearing a tight red skirt with a crisp white blouse and her makeup was perfect. I pulled my towel tightly against me again, feeling small and plain, my wet hair sticking to the sides of my face. "I guess I could do that," she finally said.
I nodded as she set her purse down on Calder's kitchen counter and began rummaging through it.
"My last name is Everson," I said quietly.
Madison glanced over at me, tapping the pen she'd just taken out against her chin. "Eden Everson? Seriously? You were the missing girl all over the news when I was just a kid. There were posters of you everywhere around town. It was the first time I learned what a 'missing kid' was."
I nodded, my brow furrowing. "Yes, that was me. That is me."
She stared at me. "Wow," she finally said. "Why hasn't it been on the news that you're back?"
I shook my head. "We haven't told the police yet," I said. "If you could keep it quiet until we do—"
Madison waved the pen in front of her, shaking her head. "I won't say anything. I haven't said anything about Calder getting out of Acadia. That's yours to do with what you will. I mean, it's your life."
I nodded. "Thank you," I said quietly.
She looked down at the checkbook she'd removed, put it on the counter, and silently wrote the check out as I waited. When she was done, she pushed the check aside and put the checkbook and pen back in her purse, swinging it over her shoulder and turning to me. "Well, that's that. There's a business card under the check. It's a gallery downtown that's interested in him. Clearly, us doing business together isn't a great idea," her eyes cast downward, "for me at least."
"I'm sorry," I said lamely. "I'm really so grateful to you for being his friend." She furrowed her brows, her lips twitching into a frown as if barely containing her pain, and I immediately regretted the choice of the word friend.
"And for teaching him a few new bedroom tricks?" She laughed coldly. I grimaced, pain lancing through my heart. Madison grimaced, too, and looked down for a second and then back up at me. "I'm sorry. I said that to be a bitch."
I shook my head. "I know this is a really terrible situation for you. I'm so sorry."
"Jesus, you're sweet, too," she said. "Of course you would be." She took a deep breath, seeming to consider her next words. "Eden, here's the thing, I hoped for more with Calder. I won't lie. This hurts—a lot." She paused. "But, I guess if I look back, I can see I pushed him into a relationship with me. We should have been just friends. That's what I should have offered him. But, Calder . . . well, you know who Calder is and, Jesus, what he looks like." She shrugged. "I wanted him. I thought about myself, not him. And I hope I don't hurt you by saying this, but I should have known when he got up to go paint after every time we were . . . together, that it was because he felt guilty and needed to be with you in some way because of it. I see that now. And it sucks. He wasn't ready to move on. I wish I had realized that at the time. I really do."
I shook my head. "It had been three years. Everyone thought I was dead for God's sake. Encouraging him to move on wasn't the wrong thing to do."
She considered me for a second. "It was though. With Calder, it was. I have a feeling he could have lived to be ninety-nine and still not have gotten over you. Treasure that."
I turned my head as she walked past me, some delicate-smelling, flowery perfume wafting by.
When she got to the door, she turned her body halfway toward me, but didn't look at me. "You should go look in his studio. I haven't seen what's in there, but I think you should." Then the door closed quietly behind her.
I stood there for a few minutes, just staring at the closed door. Then I turned to walk down the hall, stopping in front of the only door I hadn't been through in his apartment. It must be his studio. I took a deep breath and opened it.
Xander and I pushed the door open and walked inside the apartment, slamming it behind us and setting all the take-out bags down on the counter.
I immediately noticed the check sitting there with Madison's name on it, written out to Eden. My breath caught not only with the knowledge that Madison had been here while I was gone, but also at the number written on the check. Could that be right? Holy shit.
"Eden," I called. I paused, being greeted with silence. I frowned and started walking toward the bedroom. I wondered where she was, but that same terror that had gripped me in the bowling alley when she was out of my sight for three minutes didn't grip me now. Well, that was a good sign.
However, I was just slightly worried Madison had said something that would have upset her. Madison wasn't a mean person, but I'd also never seen her in a situation like this one.
I turned down the hallway that led to the two bedrooms and immediately saw that the door to the one I used for my studio was open. My heart started beating more rapidly. Oh no, Eden. I let out a shaky breath as I turned into the doorway. Eden was standing stock still in the middle of the room, wrapped in a white towel, her head moving slowly in every direction, taking in the paintings surrounding her, some sitting propped against the walls, some hung on the walls, some resting on easels. There were hundreds of them. And they were all of her . . . and the small beginning of a new life I had imagined to be our daughter, the girl next to her on the canvas with the dark hair and blue eyes, the one that had been stolen right from the safety of Eden's body. As it turned out, the only one she'd ever carry. My heart filled with fear over what she must be thinking, what she felt about what she was looking at.
"She'd be about two and a half now," I said very quietly. She must have heard us come in and wasn't surprised to hear my voice behind her.
I felt tense, wary as I watched her. Eden's shoulders slumped very slightly. "She?" she asked.
I nodded. "I always imagined it was a girl. I don't know why. I just did. I do."
She nodded her head, a tear slipping down her cheek, but she smiled softly and wiped it away. "Me, too, actually," she said quietly. "I imagined you knew about her because you were with her. I pictured you together—it soothed me."
She continued to look around, not just at the pictures of her and who I imagined would have been our daughter, but Eden as a young girl, and through the years. The one of her playing Kick the Can, a look of fierce joy on her face as she slid to a halt, reaching one foot toward the can of safety, a bigger kid fast on her heels. The one of her sitting at the front of the temple, one long strand of hair between her fingers as her eyes gazed upward, a small, dreamy smile on her face. The one of her eyes meeting mine, a flush on her cheeks, a morning glory clutched in her hand, the one she'd just picked up from beneath her chair.
"I was going to show you . . ." I trailed off. Eden didn't move.
I tentatively walked closer to her and she moved away, going over to a painting of her hands as I remembered them. My greatest fear had been that I would begin to forget the details of her. And so I painted them, not just the moments we'd shared, but her. Each part of her, like snapshots from my mind. Creating pictures of Eden brought me the only real serenity I'd experienced since I lost her.
"I wondered why my face wasn't in any of the paintings hung up in the gallery," she said softly.
I shook my head, looking down at the hardwood floor. "I couldn't share all of you," I said. "I wasn't ready."
She walked over to a painting of her face, turned to the sun, the beginning of a smile just starting to blossom. She ran her finger down her own cheek, down lower to the small swell of her pregnant belly as it might have looked had she continued to carry our child. Her finger stalled and she took it away, a look of sorrow obvious to me even in her profile.
"I just . . . I didn't have any photographs. I felt like the world might just . . . forget you," I said, my voice extra gravelly. "It was my way of keeping you alive, keeping her alive," I finished. "Please say something, Eden."
She turned toward me, tears shimmering in her eyes and clinging to her lashes. She shook her head slowly, her lips parting and then closing again. She walked slowly to me and looked up into my face, twin tears slowly rolling down her cheeks. "Thank you," she said simply, wrapping her arms around me and pulling me close.
I squeezed her back. "For what?" I asked.
"For loving me so much. For keeping me alive when I wasn't."
I released a loud breath. "You don't ever have to thank me for that. It's just what I was made to do."
She made a half laugh, half sniffle sound against my shirt and then looked up at me, a beautifully peaceful smile on her face. "Me, too," she said.
"Morning Glory." I smiled and brought my hands up, running them through her still-damp hair.
"Do you think your mom would want a few of these . . . from when you were younger? Or do you think they'd make her sad for what she missed?"
She gazed up at me. "I think she'd like them," she said softly. "I think she'd treasure them."
I nodded. "Okay, then, I'll give her a few. We'll need to go and get your things anyway. Do you think she'll be all right with you moving in here?"
She let out a soft breath. "Probably not, no. But I'll be right across town. We'll work it out. She wants me to be happy."
I nodded. "Yes."
I heard Xander's footsteps behind us and turned around to find him standing in the doorway. "You guys ready to eat?" he asked.
I looked back at Eden and she nodded.
"I see you came across his Eden shrine," Xander said. "I told him this was strange and scary." But the expression on his face was gentle.
"Shut up, Xander," I said.
Eden laughed softly. "It's the most amazing thing I'll ever see in my entire life."
I let go of Eden and walked to the back of the room and retrieved a small canvas. I brought it to Xander and handed it to him, watching his face carefully. "For the next 'Throw Back Thursday'," I said quietly.