I sit on the edge of the bed and that’s when I see it – an envelope bearing my name perched on her pillow. I immediately have flashbacks to last night when Bass showed me the envelope he received from the girl who left him.
She left me.
I open the envelope and read the words I know will slay me.
I’ve known for a while that leaving is the right thing to do. I just didn’t have the guts to do it. But a lot of things have happened lately to push me in the right direction. So I’m going back home where I belong. Where my family is. Denver needs me. He needs me now more than ever.
You don’t have to pay me the final payment. I didn’t fulfill my part of the deal. And I hope you’ll allow me to get out of the contract peacefully since there’s so little time left in it anyway.
You did what you set out to accomplish. People look at you differently now. They see what I see. They see the guy I met that very first night. They see the man you’ve become these past months. I hope you got everything you wanted. I hope you have a long career with the Hawks.
I wish only the best for you. You’re a good man, Sawyer. You have one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know – you proved that to me the day I met Danny. I hope you open that heart to someone someday. Because you deserve a life full of love.
Not a day will go by that I won’t think of you.
p.s. – I hope you don’t mind, I took a butterfly.
I drop the letter on the bed. Then I scoot across the mattress and lie down on the pillow, hoping it still smells like her. It does. I close my eyes and think back to the one time we made love on this bed. That night was one of the best of my life. In fact, these past five months have been the best I’ve ever known.
She thinks I didn’t open my heart to her. But I did. She fucking owns my heart. She owns me.
I bolt out of bed and run from her bedroom to my office across the hall. Then I tear it apart – I look through every drawer, every file folder, every notebook – until I find what I’m looking for.
“I’m a fraud, Pen,” my brother says into the phone, looking at me through the thick glass separating us.
“You are not a fraud,” I tell him.
He shakes his head. “You’re the only person on the planet who thinks so.”
“What happened, Denver? Nobody would tell me anything.”
“I was stupid. Again. And they’re right. Everyone’s right.”
“The guys at the bar.”
I furrow my brow. “I’m going to need more than that,” I say. “I have a meeting with a lawyer as soon as I leave here.”
“I went to Joe’s Bar after work. You remember the place over on Twenty-third?”
I nod. “It was Dad’s favorite place.”
“Yeah. It’s why I go there sometimes.”
I wish I could reach out and touch him. It makes me incredibly sad knowing my brother lives in a city where he has no one. He’s an outcast here. And the only friends he has are an old bartender named Joe and the ghost of our father.
“Anyway, the TV was on and there was a story on ESPN about you and Sawyer, something about your engagement. Some of the guys started ragging on me, asking why I couldn’t be more like my sister. Saying I was the bad twin. Telling me what a fraud I am. And Joe heard it all. He put a couple of shots on the bar. ‘Your dad’s favorite,’ he said, feeling sorry for me as I sat alone.
“I drank one of the shots and then left shortly after. But on the way home, I got a flat tire. I swerved out of my lane a bit when the tire popped, and then I pulled off the road.” He shakes his head in frustration. “That’s when I saw the red and blue lights behind me. And as luck would have it, Hank Marron’s kid, Kenny, walks up to my window. You remember who Hank is?”
I nod. How could I forget? Hank was one of the veteran cops who ruined my brother’s life. He was one of the assholes who took my money, his money, and the money of a dozen other people. The money Denver has to pay back in restitution.
“When Kenny saw it was me, he couldn’t wipe the smirk off his face. I told him I had a flat tire. I even got out of the car to point it out to him, but he threw me against it and frisked me. Then he made me take a breathalyzer test. I failed.”
“You were drunk?” I ask.
“Just,” he says. “I tested right at the legal limit, so he cuffed me, put me in the back of his vehicle, and impounded my car.”
“But the only reason you swerved was because of the flat tire.”
“I told him that, but it doesn’t matter,” he says. “I failed the breathalyzer.”
“Did he even have a right to test you?”
“If any other cop had been behind me, I’m sure I wouldn’t have been tested. In fact, anyone else would have helped me fix the flat. I wasn’t slurring my words. I was fine. The legal limit is so low now you’ll practically fail the test if you’re on cough medicine. But none of that mattered. Because Kenny’s a cop and I’m a convicted criminal. They’re going to put me in prison, Aspen.” He closes his eyes. “Maybe that’s where I belong. Maybe they’re right. I am a fraud.”
I shake my head. “If anyone is a fraud, it’s me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not Sawyer’s fiancée. I’m not even his girlfriend.” I look around to make sure nobody can hear me. “He hired me to play the part, Den. He needed to legitimize his personal life to save his job. And I needed the money.”
I watch my brother process the news. His jaw opens and closes. Then he sighs into the phone as his eyes become angry and then glassy. “You did it for me,” he says. “I should have known something was up. The baseball star. The money. The way you’ve been acting these past months. It’s all so unlike you.”
“I’m sorry I lied. But I’d do anything for you,” I say. “You’d have done the same for me and you know it.”
“You slept with the guy for money?” he shouts quietly into the phone.
“No. Of course not. It’s … it’s more complicated than that. We became close over the past few months. Closer than he would like. But it’s over now. I’m done. I can’t do it anymore. When you called me on Saturday, I knew it was time to leave. I’m back for good now. I’m moving home.”
“Let me get this straight,” he says, anger consuming his handsome features. “He hired my sister to be his girlfriend, fucking her while he paid off her delinquent brother’s debts, and you went and fell for the asshole?”
I blow out a deep breath, knowing everything he’s said is true. “He fell in love with me, too,” I say, a tear finally spilling from the corner of my eye.
He studies me through the glass wall. He’s good at reading me. He always has been. I can tell he’s conflicted. He wants to play the protective brother, but he also wants me to be happy. He gauges the sincerity of my words. He sees the truth in my eyes.
“Then what the hell are you doing here? Why did you leave him?”
“You’re my brother, Den. My family. Something he can never be. He’s incapable of having a real relationship.”
“You mean unwilling,” he says, angrily.
“Either way, it’s over, and I’m back where I belong.”
I spend the next few minutes telling Denver everything I’ve wanted to tell him for the past five months. Then a guard tells us our time is up.
“I’m going to get you out of here,” I say before I hang up. “We’ll get through this.”
He puts the phone in the cradle on the wall and then holds his hand up to the glass window. I place my hand opposite his and mouth the words, ‘Twin promise.’
~ ~ ~
On the drive back to Denver’s place, it dawns on me that it’s been four days since I’ve heard from Sawyer. Four days since I’ve heard from anyone. It’s like when I left New York, I fell off the face of the earth. I was sure Murphy or Rylee would try to contact me. But I guess when they said I was their friend, they meant only if Sawyer and I stayed together.
I’m still giving Bass some space. And apparently, he’s letting me since I’ve not heard a word from him either.
And with Denver still in jail, waiting on his court date, I realize I’ve never felt more alone.
I need to look up some of my old friends from high school. See if they are still around. I just haven’t had the chance. I spent my entire first day back contacting lawyers, and then I had to get Denver’s car from the impound and start searching for a place to live. Not to mention visiting the university to see if they’d let me start my master’s program in January.
I’ve been busy. But not so busy that I don’t miss him.
Because I do. I miss him. I miss him every second of every day.
I think about him every waking minute and dream about him when I sleep.
I wonder what he’s doing. Is he thinking about me? Regretting pushing me away? Moving on and sleeping with some groupie?
The thought of him moving on makes my stomach turn. And I realize I may have to avoid all television and social media so I don’t hear about anything that will break my heart more than it’s already been broken.
I pull up to Denver’s apartment building, sure that I’m seeing things. Because even though my eyes think I see Sawyer sitting on the bench out front, my mind knows better. It knows that Sawyer wouldn’t come after me. And that even if by some miracle he wanted to, he couldn’t. Because today is Wednesday. He’s supposed to be in Minnesota. I know his schedule as well as he does. Maybe even better. Because that is what obsessed, love-sick women do.
I park the car and blink my eyes over and over, but he doesn’t disappear like I expect him to. And when I look more closely, I see two large suitcases on the sidewalk next to him.