He begins to shake his head in confusion. I can see the betrayal all over his face when he barely forces out my name. “Lily?”
I stand frozen, one hand on my stomach in protection, the other hand still flat against my chest. I’m too scared to move or say anything. I don’t want to react until I know exactly how he’s going to react.
When he sees the fear in my eyes and the small gasps of breath I’m barely inhaling, he holds up a reassuring palm.
“I’m not going to hurt you, Lily. I’m just here to talk to you.” He swings the door open wider and points into the living room. “Look.” He steps aside and my eyes fall to someone standing behind him.
Now I’m the one who feels betrayed.
Marshall immediately holds up his hands in defense. “I had no idea he was coming home early, Lily. Ryle texted and asked for my help. He specifically told me not to say anything to you or Issa. Please don’t let her divorce me, I’m simply an innocent bystander.”
I shake my head, trying to understand what I’m seeing.
“I asked him to meet me here so you’d feel more comfortable talking to me,” Ryle says. “He’s here for you, he’s not here for me.”
I glance back at Marshall and he nods. It gives me enough reassurance to enter the apartment. Ryle is still somewhat in shock, which is understandable. His eyes keep meeting my stomach and then flicking away like it hurts to look at me. He runs two hands through his hair and then points down the hallway while looking at Marshall.
“We’ll be in the bedroom. If you hear me get . . . if I start to yell . . .”
Marshall knows what Ryle is asking him. “I’m not going anywhere.”
As I follow Ryle into my bedroom, I wonder what that must be like. To have no idea what might set you off or how bad your reaction will be. To have absolutely no control over your own emotions.
For a brief moment, I feel a minuscule amount of sorrow for him. But when my eyes fall to our bed and I remember that night, my sorrow diminishes completely.
Ryle pushes the door shut, but doesn’t close it all the way. He looks like he’s aged an entire year in the two months it’s been since I’ve seen him. The bags under his eyes, the furrowed brow, the sunken posture. If regret took human form, it would look identical to Ryle.
His eyes fall to my stomach again and he takes a slow step forward. Then another. He’s cautious, as he should be. He reaches out a timid hand, asking for permission to touch me. I nod softly.
He takes one more step forward and then places a steady palm against my stomach.
I can feel the warmth of his hand through my shirt, and my eyes snap shut. Despite the resentment I’ve built up in my heart toward him, it doesn’t mean the emotions aren’t still there. Just because someone hurts you doesn’t mean you can simply stop loving them. It’s not a person’s actions that hurt the most. It’s the love. If there was no love attached to the action, the pain would be a little easier to bear.
He moves his hand over my stomach and I open my eyes again. He’s shaking his head, like he can’t process what’s happening right now. I watch as he slowly sinks to his knees in front of me.
His arms snake around my waist and he presses his lips against my stomach. He clasps his hands around my lower back and presses his forehead against me.
It’s hard to describe what I feel for him in this moment. Like any mother would want for her child, it’s a beautiful thing to see the love he already has. It’s been hard not sharing this with anyone. It’s hard not being able to share this with him, no matter how much resentment I hold toward him. My hands go to his hair while he holds me against him. Part of me wants to scream at him and call the police like I should have done that night. Part of me feels for that little boy who held his brother in his arms and watched him die. Part of me wishes I would have never met him. Part of me wishes I could forgive him.
He unwraps his arms from around my waist and presses a hand into the mattress next to us. He pulls himself up and then sits on the bed. His elbows rest on his knees and his hands are drawn up to his mouth.
I sit next to him, knowing we have to have this conversation, but not wanting to. “Naked truths?”
I don’t know which one of us is supposed to go first. I don’t really have much to say to him at this point, so I wait for him to speak first.
“I don’t even know where to start, Lily.” He rubs his hands down his face.
“How about you start with, ‘I’m sorry I attacked you.’ ”
His eyes meet mine, wide with certainty. “Lily, you have no idea. I am so sorry. You have no idea what I’ve been through these past two months knowing what I’ve done to you.”
I clench my teeth together. I can feel my fingers as they fist around the blanket beside me.
I have no idea what he’s been through?
I shake my head, slowly. “You have no idea, Ryle.”
I stand up, the anger and hatred spilling out of me. I spin, pointing at him. “You have no idea! You have no idea what it’s like to go through what you’ve put me through! To fear for your life at the hands of the man you love? To get physically sick just thinking about what he’s done to you? You have no idea, Ryle! None! Fuck you! Fuck you for doing this to me!”
I suck in a huge breath, shocked at myself. The anger just came like a wave. I swipe at my tears and spin around, unable to look at him.