Danny looked psycho. I pointed at him, “You stay here. You get it under control. I’m your sister first, and this is the best you there has ever been. So you stay and make it work with him. You make it work.”

He looked sick. I looked at Mike, “Get him drunk and don’t let him go to Judith’s. Don’t let him fight with Loch.”

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I walked with Gerry back to Lochlan’s, “How did you know?”

He gave me a sideways look, “I could see it on him. He was shutting you out. I’ve played those cards before.”

We got close. I stopped, “I’ll wait here.”

He nodded weakly.

It was Alex who came in his BMW. I shook my head, “You need to be with your family.”

He laughed, “I’m going to strangle my fucking idiot of a brother, if I stay there another minute. So get in and stop being a pain in the ass.”

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I relented when I saw Lochlan running towards us and climbed in. I ignored his screams and his face, as we drove past him.

“I called and booked your flight for you. I imagine this has cost you a lot of money.”

I gave him a disgusted look, “I don’t want anything from you.”

He looked hurt, “I may look like him but I’m not him.” His jaw trembled. “He’s doing this, pushing you away, because…” I put a hand out, “Stop. He’s a big boy, he’s made his choice. He has to live with it. I am done with him.”

He snorted, “You’re both so selfish, it’s insane. You can’t see that he’s trying to spare you.”

I looked at him with daggers, “Spare me from what? Being part of his life? Dealing with the awful things that happen to people? Fuck that. He asked me to marry him, that would mean good times and bad. You know how close I was to saying yes? Had he asked a second time, it would have been a yes. I am against marriage and giving up your life for another person; it was bred into me. But for him, I would give it all up. I already had my email written to school, telling them I wouldn’t be returning, because Judith needed me and so he could go on the road. Don’t you dare call me selfish. Fuck you. You should have quit dental school and helped take care of her and Lissie too. She should have stayed a substitute but she didn’t. Your poor father worked himself to death, trying to keep her comfortable and alive. Only Loch stayed and took care of her, you two took care of yourselves. Don’t call us selfish.”

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He nodded, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I just thought this was you running away again.”

I bit my lip, “You expect me to beg him to let me stay? I have just a smidge more pride than that, I’m sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry.”

I looked out the window, “It doesn’t matter anyway. He isn’t ever going to be able to juggle Judith, his career, and a relationship.”

He looked like he was going to say something but he didn’t.

I hugged him when we got to the airport, “I’m sorry I said that about you and Lissie. I don’t believe that. I think you did exactly, what Al would have wanted you to do. He was so proud of all three of you.”

He nodded, “Thank you. I’m sorry I called you selfish.”

I shook my head, “I am. If I write her letters, will you help her read them?”

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He started to cry and nodded.

I didn’t cry. I kissed his cheek and left dry-eyed. I was done crying for all of them. Well, except Judith. I would visit her on spring break. I would just make sure he was gone on a concert or something.

I took a deep breath and prepared for my flight, another one alone and scared. That would be fun to add to my broken heart.

Chapter Twenty

When we were young

“Erin, I really think you should consider coming to our firm for the summer practicum. I’m recommending you.” His smug face made me angry. He was so full of himself. I used to think rock stars were the egotistical men of the world… Matthew Price was the example of how wrong I was to assume they owned the franchise. He was suave, handsome, and a complete, fucking tool.

A tool I smiled at, with all my heart. I had been for two months. He was a partner in a successful, corporate law firm. I had once wanted to put away bad guys. That dream ended, along with a few others.

I nodded, “Thank you, Mr. Price. I was thinking of it. Dean has told me all about it.” Dean gave me a look and twitched his head no. I smiled at him, “He speaks very highly of you.”

Dean laughed and patted Mr. Price on the back, “Yes, well… we are old friends.”

Matthew scoffed, “Speak for yourself—I am in my prime.” He crossed his arms and gave Dean a serious look, “You will ensure she ends up in my hands, won’t you?”

Dean swallowed, “Well, we have some excellent placements for students. I’m sure she will pick your office, but you never know.”

I smiled, “Of course, I will. If you’ll have me.” I regretted the words as I said them. I watched Matthew’s face change to that of a wolf and Dean’s eyes darkened with a furrow. I stammered, “I-I-I mean, I’m sure there are plenty of great candidates, but your firm interests me the most.”

He nodded, “Excellent. We will be in touch at the end of May.” He smiled at Dean, “We need to meet up for some racquet ball.”

Dean nodded, “Yes, that would be lovely.”

Matthew took my hand in his, “Until we meet again.” He delicately stroked his fingers along mine and walked away.

I gave Dean a look as the classroom emptied, “He’s so creepy but I want that job.”

He shook his head, “I forbid it.”

I laughed and handed in my paper with a smug look. Dean shook his head, “I liked you better when you were struggling.” I laughed, “I liked you better, when I still had a faint hope that you were straight, and possibly going to hit on me.”

He whacked me on the head with a paper and pointed, “Go, smart ass. I’ll see you in an hour for coffee?”

I nodded.

Dean was the only old piece left of the old me, him and the apartment. I wasn’t leaving the apartment though. It was chance to finally make it mine. I boxed up the asshole’s shit and burned his sheets and mailed the ashes of the sheets along with the boxes, to Nashville... C.O.D. Then I went out and I bought new sheets and made the room pretty.

January and February in Boston were cold, but March was worse. My heart was colder as the time went on too. I was quickly becoming the stone fox I needed to be. Thanks to the boy I never named, my womanly wiles were found. I used them to manipulate like a boss. The apartment looked the way I had always wanted it to. It was clean, white, and shiny, like my straight hair. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see myself in my eyes. I saw a girl who scared me, but that was good for the job I wanted to have.

Was the job ever going to be enough? I didn’t know that for sure. It would never be enough to make me forget being with him. There was never going to be anything that was enough to fill the void. Nothing could compare to him. It was a pity I never fully realized it, until after he’d pushed me away. I regretted the time I’d spent running from him. It could have been so much better spent.

I sat in the chair at Starbucks and sipped my coffee.

He came in smiling, “How are you, since I last saw you fawning over Mr. Price?”

I grinned, “Good. “I’m taking that summer term if I get it. Anyway, enough of that. I got a letter from Judith today, well Gerry translated it for her. He said we had to read it together.” I pulled it from my purse and laid it down. Dean lifted it and smelled it. He smiled, “Still wearing Dirty English.”

I laughed, “It probably reminds him of you.”

He stuck his tongue out. His accent was so faded, no one ever really noticed it. I certainly hadn’t, until we got drunk on New Year’s. Gerry had sent him over to rescue me, after I spent Christmas alone. I had been ready to board my flight home, when I discovered Danny wasn’t going home alone. I’d had a bad feeling Danny might bring the one person I couldn’t see… and he had. When I cancelled, Danny ratted me out to Gerry for not going to North Dakota. Gerry had to be with his family in Seattle and hadn’t been able to come to my rescue, so he sent the next best thing. Dean took me to a gay and lesbian bar, and I could truly say I’d had a blast.

Dean gave me an odd look, “Where were you just now?”

I shook my head, “Just lost for a second.”

He smiled, “Want me to read it?”

I nodded and sipped my caramel macchiato.

He opened it, smelling it once more, and began to read.

“Dearest, we miss you more than anything. The boys miss you. All of them.” He stopped and smiled knowingly. I remained stoic. He took the hint and continued, “When I was young and in love, I wanted to be a flight attendant. I even went to school for it. I met Al at the airport the day we were given our assignments. I got New York. I had done well. Al asked me out and I agreed. I never expected to love him immediately. He was charming and slightly crazy, all controllers were. He begged me to stay with him and see where we could go with our relationship. I turned him down, chasing my dreams. He showed up in New York a few weeks later, begging me to come home. I saw the look in those eyes; they got so intense and frightened when faced with the possibility of losing me. I switched with a girl in Nashville and took the lesser posting. I have never regretted that decision. He knew from the minute he met me. It took me longer to see, but he always knew. I am writing you from my new home. Gerry and Alex helped me move here. Lissie is convincing Lochlan it is a good idea. You see I never cared about being home after the stroke, I only cared about being where Al was. He was my home.” Dean stopped reading and fanned his damp eyes with the letter, “Oh wow.”

I held my stiff upper lip until I saw the tear slip from his eye. We dabbed our eyes. Dean’s voice broke as he read, “I am happy to be in a home, so my children can live their lives and find love and happiness for themselves. No parent wants to be a burden. My children are brilliant and beautiful, and it’s just like you said, they love each love in their own special way. I am glad that Lochlan found you, and I hope to God, that he will earn his way back into your heart one day. Thank you for seeing him and being his shelter.” Dean stopped, “I can’t fucking do this here.”

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