Transcend

Chapter 15

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Morgan fusses.

“I’m going to take her back to the car and give her a bottle. Take your time.” Swayze turns and takes several steps.

“Have you ever had your heart broken?”

She glances over her shoulder, blond hair whipping across her face. “No.”

“I hope you never do.”

Her lips turn down ever so slightly as she nods. “Me too.”

CHAPTER TEN

Nate fell in love with a girl who died. To this day, he still feels like they were soulmates. I don’t know how to deal with that because of all the things I do know.

I know the tree house he talked about. He fell from it and broke his arm, but he told his parents it happened on his bike so he didn’t get in trouble for trespassing.

I know his cast was covered in signatures and pictures from his friends, including a hockey stick drawn along the entire length of it.

I know he wanted to shave his head when his uncle lost his hair from chemotherapy.

Every day I seem to know more about him than the day before. But … I don’t know a thing about Morgan Daisy Gallagher except what he tells me.

“Look, Professor, she has a new roll. I’m certain it wasn’t there last week.” I glance at the camera in the nursery while running my finger along the tiny new roll on Morgan’s back as I pull her onesie over her head. I don’t know if he’s watching right now, but acknowledging the cameras in the house makes me feel more comfortable than trying to ignore them.

Morgan is two and a half months now. In just six weeks she has stolen my heart, and I wonder if I’ll be able to love my own children as much as I love her. It’s like she’s a little duckling who imprinted on me. I don’t know why she seems to choose me over Rachael or Nate. But I feel like she needs me.

“And…” I continue talking as I snap her pajamas “…I have a job interview tomorrow. It’s not a permanent position. It’s for a maternity leave. But with school just around the corner, I think all of the permanent positions have been filled. This is a good place to start. Something to add to my résumé.”

“I think you’re right.”

“Oh, jeepers creepers!” I jump at the sound of his voice.

He grins, standing at the door. “Sorry.”

I pick up Morgan and hug her to me like she’s the one who just had the crap scared out of her. But she’s fine. It’s my heart that’s still in my throat. “You’re home early.”

“Yeah.” He grips the back of his neck. “Fighting a headache. Has she been fed?”

I nod.

“Good.” Nate takes her from me with his strong hands. I swear I could draw every line of them from memory.

“Maybe my little girl will go down easily for me so I can get some sleep and get rid of this headache.” He sits in the rocking chair by her crib.

She fusses.

“You’re off an hour early. Go do something fun. Make me envy your youth.” Exhaustion wraps around his words as he attempts to smile, but it, too, is weak.

Morgan squirms and her lungs start to stretch releasing a shrill cry.

“Not tonight, pumpkin. Please.” He kisses her head as she continues to thrash and wail.

My lips twist to the side. “Take off your shirt.”

“Huh?”

“Let her feel your skin, hear your heart, smell your scent. Here …” I take her from him.

He regards me with hesitation for a few seconds before unbuttoning his shirt.

One button.

Two buttons.

Three buttons.

Without warning, my eyes fill with tears. “Nate …” I whisper.

Unbuttoning the last button, he glances up, concern pulling his eyebrows together. “What’s wrong?”

I close my eyes, but I still see his hands working the buttons to his shirt, a white shirt, not green like the one he has on now. And he’s not in a nursery, he’s in his bedroom on Gable Street. Something like water drips onto his hand. He pauses and then continues with shaky hands.

“Nothing,” I say while blinking open my eyes.

“Doesn’t seem like nothing.”

I sway back and forth, soothing Morgan, but my eyes don’t leave his shirt. “Promise not to fire me?”

“Swayze—”

“Just say it.”

A slow breath leaves his chest. “I won’t fire you.”

“Two …” My voice cracks as I start to speak, so I swallow past the thickness in my throat and start again. “Two inches above and to the left of your belly button there is a mark. It’s like a birthmark, but there is no pigment. It’s most visible during the summer when the rest of your skin has more color.”

The only thing more painful than memories that have no place in my life is seeing the confusion on his face. He has to be trying to recall a time that I’ve seen him without a shirt on or photos on the mantel—of which none are of him without a shirt.

“It’s a heart shape.”

“Give her to me,” he says with cold words.

My gaze moves up his unbuttoned shirt that he’s not removing any further. Our eyes meet with a clash of emotions—my sympathy and confusion, his anger and pain. I hand Morgan to him.

“Go home,” he says, no longer looking at me.

A million feelings race between my head and my heart, but I can’t bring a single one to life with words. Words are definable and they can be arranged to make sense. Nothing about the images and memories I have of Nate are definable or make sense. So … I leave.

*

I’ve cancelled my last three sessions with Dr. Greyson. Avoidance may be the coward’s way out, but it feels like I’m asking him to solve the unsolvable. I’m so tired of being a mystery.

Griffin has a bike he needs to finish working on for a friend. I told him earlier that I have a design I need to finish so we should hang out tomorrow. Yet, I can’t think about my project, and I can’t wait until tomorrow to see him. My car navigates to his house without any other reason than I need to see him.

The second I step out of my car, I inhale the earthy scent of Griffin’s neighborhood. It’s black dirt and fresh-cut grass. The lawns are dotted with dandelions and patches of clover instead of carpets of perfect grass and pungent chemicals that keep them so perfect. Clothes hang from clotheslines instead of perfume-laced air flowing from dryer vents.

It reminds me of the neighborhood where Nate grew up.

“Hey.” I smile at the unexpected gathering in Griffin’s garage.

His parents, Sophie, and Chloe greet me with the usual Calloway enthusiasm that I love.

Griff looks up from his stool where he’s working on his friend’s motorcycle, black bandana soaked in sweat, grease smudges covering his face, hands, and arms. His gaze makes a head-to-toe assessment of me—it’s endearing, possessive, and erotic. The muggy ninety-degree temperature doesn’t begin to compare to how he’s looking at me.

“Swayz.” A naughty grin, that I hope his family can’t see, pulls at his mouth. “Didn’t expect to see you here tonight.”

I gather my hair off my neck and hold it into a ponytail for a few seconds. It’s so hot. No breeze. Just sticky heat. “Am I crashing the party?”

Sherri laughs. “No party. We made the mistake of thinking it was a good night for a bike ride. It was a short one.” She fans herself. “Chloe wanted to stop and see Griffin on our way home.”

Typical Griffin. His family stops by, but he continues to work. I admire and hate his focus, but it’s fun to be his distraction when he lets me.

Sophie stands in the path of the fan. “It’s so hot.” She holds out her arms.

I grab a water from the small refrigerator below one of his workbenches and twist off the cap. “No Hayley?”

“She has a date.” Scott rolls his eyes. “I don’t approve.”

“Stop.” Sherri shakes her head. “Simon is a nice young man.”

“He’s nineteen.” Chloe’s eyes widen like it’s a crime.

“He’s in a fraternity,” Scott grumbles.

Griffin flips over the five-gallon bucket near him and slaps the top. “Sit.” He glances up at me and winks.

I take my usual spot.

“So, what’s up?” He returns his focus to the bike, but I know he’s engaged in me. My grocery store guy is the king of multi-tasking.

I shrug, looking around at his family as they wipe sweat from their brows, suckle from their water bottles, and inspect Griffin’s perfectly-organized garage like they haven’t seen it a million times before. “Just … I don’t know.”

His hands pause while he brings his focus back to me. I’m dying to say something, and he knows it. Griff reads me like he wrote the book on Swayze Samuels.

“Thanks for stopping by,” he says, giving a particular look to his parents.

I cringe. He’s clearly dismissing them for me.

“You’re kicking us out?” Sherri says, but the glimmer in her eyes negates her attempt to sound offended.

“Unless you’re going to get your hands dirty helping me, then yes, you’re dismissed.”

“You don’t have to leave.” I love his family. The last thing I ever want is for them to think I don’t want to be with them.


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