He presses his lips tightly together for a moment, and then he nods and grabs his keys.
• • •
Neither of us speaks the entire drive to my apartment. He doesn’t drop me off. He pulls into the parking lot and gets out of his car. “I’d feel better if you let me walk you up,” he says.
I nod and we wade through even more silence as we ride the elevator up to the seventh floor. He follows me all the way to my apartment. I fish around in my purse for the keys and don’t even realize my hands are shaking until my third failed attempt to open the door. Atlas calmly takes the keys from me and I step aside as he opens the door for me.
“Do you want me to make sure no one’s here?” he asks.
I nod. I know Ryle isn’t here because he’s on his way to England, but I’m honestly still a little scared to walk into the apartment by myself.
Atlas walks in before me and flips on the lights. He continues walking through the apartment, flipping on all the lights and walking into each of the rooms. When he makes it back to the living room, he slides his hands in his jacket pockets. He takes a deep breath and then says, “I don’t know what happens next, Lily.”
He does. He knows. He just doesn’t want it to happen, because we both know how much it hurts to say goodbye to each other.
I look away from him because seeing the look on his face right now cuts straight to my heart. I fold my arms over my chest and stare at the floor. “I have a lot to work through, Atlas. A lot. And I’m scared I won’t be able to do it with you in my life.” I lift my eyes back to his. “I hope you don’t take offense to that, because if anything, it’s a compliment.”
He regards me silently for a moment, not at all surprised by what I’m saying. But I can see there’s so much he wants to say. There’s a lot I wish I could say to him, too, but we both know discussing the two of us isn’t appropriate at this point. I’m married. I’m pregnant with another man’s baby. And he’s standing in the living room of an apartment that another man bought for me. I’d say these aren’t very good conditions in which to bring up all the things we should have said to each other a long time ago.
He looks at the door momentarily as if he’s trying to decide to leave or speak. I can see the twitch in his jaw right before he locks eyes with me. “If you ever need me, I want you to call me,” he says. “But only if it’s an emergency. I’m not capable of being casual with you, Lily.”
I’m taken aback by his words, but only momentarily. As much as I wasn’t expecting him to admit it, he’s absolutely right. Since the day we met, there has been nothing casual about our relationship. It’s either all in or not in at all. That’s why he separated ties when he left for the military. He knew that a casual friendship would never work between us. It would have been too painful.
Apparently, that hasn’t changed.
Saying those words again tears me up almost as much as the first time I had to say them. He winces and then turns and walks to the door like he can’t leave fast enough. When the door closes behind him, I walk over and lock it, then press my head against it.
Two days ago I was asking myself how my life could possibly get any better. Today I’m asking myself how it could possibly get any worse.
I jump back with the sudden knock at the door. It’s only been ten seconds since he walked out, so I know it’s Atlas. I unlock it and open it and I’m suddenly pressed against something soft. Atlas’s arms wrap tightly around me, desperately, and his lips are pressed against the side of my head.
I squeeze my eyes shut and finally let the tears fall. I’ve cried so many tears for Ryle over the past two days, I have no idea how I still have any left for Atlas. But I do, because they’re falling down my cheeks like rain.
“Lily,” he whispers, still holding me tightly. “I know this is the last thing you need to hear right now. But I have to say it because I’ve walked away from you too many times without saying what I really want to say.”
He pulls back to look down at me and when he sees my tears, he brings his hands up to my cheeks. “In the future . . . if by some miracle you ever find yourself in the position to fall in love again . . . fall in love with me.” He presses his lips against my forehead. “You’re still my favorite person, Lily. Always will be.”
He releases me and walks away, not even needing a response.
When I close the door again, I slide to the floor. My heart feels like it wants to give up. I don’t blame it. It’s suffered through two separate heartaches in the course of two days.
And I have a feeling it’s going to be a long time before either of those heartaches can even begin to heal.
Allysa drops onto the couch beside me and Rylee. “I miss you so much, Lily,” she says. “I’m thinking about coming back to work a day or two a week.”
I laugh, a little shocked by her comment. “I live downstairs and I visit almost every day. How can you possibly miss me?”
She pouts as she pulls her legs up beneath her. “Fine, it’s not you I miss. I miss work. And sometimes I just want out of this house.”
It’s been six weeks since she had Rylee, so I’m sure she would be cleared to come back to work. But I honestly didn’t think she’d even want to come back now that she has Rylee. I bend forward and give Rylee a kiss on her nose. “Would you bring Rylee with you?”