Authors: Colleen Hoover
It’s funny how life works out. I should be waking up in an oceanfront resort next to my brand-new wife, celebrating our honeymoon right now.
Instead, I’m waking up on an inflatable mattress in a barren apartment, next to a woman I’ve spent so many years angry at. If someone would have showed me this moment in a crystal ball last year, I would have wondered what could possibly have happened that would cause me to make a string of horrible decisions.
But now that I’m in this moment, I realize I’m here because I finally have clarity. I’ve never felt more certain about the choices I’ve made in my life than I do today.
I don’t want Kenna to wake up yet. She looks peaceful, and I need a moment to formulate a plan for today. I want to confront this sooner rather than later.
I’m scared of what the outcome will be, so a huge part of me wants to wait a couple of weeks so Kenna and I can live in secret bliss, full of hope that things are going to go her way.
But the longer we wait, the sloppier we’re going to get. The last thing I want is for Patrick and Grace to find out I’ve been lying to them before I can calmly confront them with my thoughts.
Kenna moves her arm to cover her eyes and then rolls onto her side. She tucks herself against me and moans. “It’s so bright in here.” Her voice is raspy and sexy.
I run my hand down her waist, over her hip, and then grip her thigh, pulling her leg over me. I kiss her cheek. “Sleep well?”
She laughs against my neck. “
well? We had sex three times and then had to share a full-size inflatable mattress. I think I slept an hour, tops.”
“It’s after nine. You slept more than an hour.”
Kenna sits up. “What? I thought the sun just came up.” She tosses the covers aside. “I was supposed to be at work by nine.”
“Oh, shit. I’ll give you a ride.” I search for my clothes. I find my shirt, but Kenna’s kitten is curled up asleep inside of it. I lift her and set her on the couch and then start to pull on my jeans. Kenna is in the bathroom brushing her teeth. The door is open, and she’s completely naked, so I freeze in the middle of getting dressed because she’s got a perfect ass.
She sees me staring in the mirror and laughs, then kicks the bathroom door shut with her foot. “Get dressed!”
I finish getting dressed, but then I join her in the bathroom because I want some of her toothpaste. She scoots aside as she’s rinsing, and I start to squeeze some toothpaste on my finger, but she opens a drawer and pulls out a package that has a toothbrush in it.
“I bought a double pack.” She hands me the extra toothbrush and then leaves the bathroom.
We eventually meet at the front door. “What time do you get off work?” I pull her to me. She smells like fresh mint.
“Five.” We kiss. “Unless I get fired.” We kiss some more. “Ledger, I have to go,” she mutters against my mouth. But we kiss again.
We make it to the grocery store by a quarter to ten. She’s forty-five minutes late, but by the time we stop saying goodbye, she’s fifty minutes late.
“I’ll be here at five,” I say as she goes to close her door.
She smiles. “Just because I put out now doesn’t mean you have to be my chauffeur.”
“I was your chauffeur
you put out.”
She closes the door but then comes around to my side of the truck. I already have my window down, and she leans in and gives me one final kiss. When she pulls back, she pauses for a moment. It looks like she wants to say something, but she doesn’t. She just stares silently for a few seconds, like something is on the tip of her tongue, but then she backs away and runs into the store.
I’m a mile from my house when I realize I’ve had a ridiculous smile on my face during the whole drive. I wipe it away, but it’s the kind of smile that reappears with every thought I have about her. And all my thoughts this morning have been about her.
My parents’ RV is occupying the entire driveway, so I park in front of the house.
Grace and Patrick are back already. He’s out front watering his yard, and Diem is sitting in their driveway with a bucket of chalk.
I force the smile off my face. Not that a simple smile would give away everything that’s happened in the last twenty-four hours, but Patrick knows me well enough that he might think my behavior is due to a girl. Then he’ll ask questions. Then I’ll have to lie to him even more than I have been.
Diem turns around when I close my truck door. “Ledger!” she looks both ways before meeting me in the middle of the street. I scoop her up and give her a big hug.
“Did you have fun at Grandma NoNo’s house?”
“Yeah, we found a turtle, and NoNo let me keep it. It’s in my room in a glass thing.”
“I want to see.” I put her back down, and she grabs my hand, but before we even reach the grass, Patrick and I make eye contact.
My heart immediately sinks.
His face is hard. There’s no hello. It’s the most resigned I’ve ever seen him.
His eyes fall to Diem, and he says, “You can show him your turtle in a minute. I need to talk to Ledger.”
Diem can’t feel the tension radiating from him, which is why she skips into the house while I’m frozen at the edge of the grass Patrick has been mindlessly watering. When the front door closes, he doesn’t say anything. He just continues to water the grass, like he’s waiting for me to admit my fuckup.
I’m worried for more reasons than one. His demeanor is making it obvious something is wrong, but if I say something first, I could be off the mark. Anything could be wrong. Maybe his mother is ill, or they received bad news he doesn’t want Diem to hear.
The way he’s acting could be completely unrelated to Kenna, so I wait for him to say whatever it is that seems so hard for him to say.
He releases the nozzle and drops the water hose. He walks closer to me, and each of his deliberate steps is aligned with the pounding of my heartbeat. He stops walking about three feet from me, but my heartbeats just keep pounding. I don’t like how silent it is between us. I can tell he’s about to confront me, and Patrick is not a confrontational person. The fact that he’s not circling around what he wants to say with a
has me more than concerned.
Something is bothering him, and it’s serious. I attempt to alleviate the tension by casually saying, “When did you guys get back?”
“This morning,” he says. “Where were you?” He asks it like he’s my father and he’s pissed I snuck out in the middle of the night.
I don’t even know what to say. I’m searching for whatever lie would fit this moment the best, but none of them seem to fit. I can’t say I was
parked in my garage, because my parents’ RV is in the way. I can’t say I was home, because obviously my truck hasn’t been here.
Patrick shakes his head. His face is filled with galaxy-size disappointment.
“He was your
I try to hide my inhale. I shove my hands in my pockets and look at my feet. Why is he saying this? I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what he knows. I don’t know
“We saw your truck at her apartment this morning.” His voice is low, and he’s not looking at me. It’s like he can’t stand the person standing across from him. “I was certain it was a coincidence. That someone who has a truck just like yours lived in the building, but when I pulled up next to it to get a better look, I saw Diem’s car seat.”
“Are you sleeping with her?” His voice is monotone and flat in an unnerving way.
I reach an arm over my chest and squeeze my shoulder. My chest is so tight it feels like my lungs are in a vise grip. “I think the three of us need to sit down and talk about this.”
with her?” he repeats, much louder this time.
I run a hand down my face, frustrated that this is how it’s coming to a head. I just needed a few hours and I was going to talk to them about it. It would have been so much better that way. “We’ve all been wrong about her.” I say it unconvincingly, because I know nothing I could say right now is going to be absorbed by him. Not when he’s this angry.
He releases a half-hearted laugh, but then his face just falls into the saddest frown, and his eyebrows draw apart. “Have we? We’ve been wrong?” He takes a step closer to me, finally looking me in the eyes. His expression is full of betrayal. “Did she not leave my son to die? Did your best friend not spend his last hours on this earth alone on a deserted road barely breathing because of her?” A tear escapes, and he
angrily wipes it away. He’s so angry he has to blow out a steady breath to keep from screaming at me.
“It was an accident, Patrick.” My voice is almost a whisper. “She loved Scotty. She panicked and made the wrong choice, but she paid for that choice. At what point can we stop blaming her?”
He chooses to answer that question with his fist. He punches me hard in the mouth.
I do nothing, because I feel so guilty that they found out this way I’d let him punch me a million more times, and I still wouldn’t defend myself.
“Hey!” My father is running out of my house, heading toward us. Patrick hits me again, right when Grace runs out her front door. My father pushes himself between us before Patrick can get in a third punch.
“What the hell, Pat?” my dad yells.
Patrick doesn’t look at him. He’s looking at me without even an ounce of regret. I take a step forward to plead with him because I don’t want this conversation to end now that it’s finally out there, but Diem runs outside. Patrick doesn’t see her before he tries to lunge at me again.
“For Christ’s sake!” my dad yells, pushing him back. “Stop it!”
Diem starts crying when she takes in the commotion. Grace reaches for her and starts to take Diem in the house, but Diem wants me. She’s reaching for me, and I don’t know what to do.
“I want to go with Ledger,” Diem pleads.
Grace half turns and looks at me. I can tell by the look of betrayal on her face that she might even be hurting more than Patrick is right now.
“Grace, please. Just hear me out.”
She turns her back to me and disappears with Diem inside her house. I can hear Diem cry, even after the door closes, and I feel like she just ripped open my chest.
“Don’t you dare try to put your choices on us,” Patrick says. “You can choose that woman, or you can choose Diem, but don’t you
try to make us feel guilty for a choice we came to peace with five years ago. You did this to
, Ledger.” Patrick turns and walks back inside.
My father releases my arm. He moves so that he’s in front of me, and I’m sure he’s going to try to calm me down, but I don’t give him the opportunity. I walk to my truck and I leave.
I go to the bar, but instead of going inside, I beat on the door to Roman’s stairwell. I beat constantly until he opens it. He looks confused, but then he sees my busted lip, and he says, “Ah, hell.” He steps aside and then follows me up the stairs to his apartment.
I go to the kitchen and wet some paper towels to wipe the blood from my mouth.
“I spent the night with Kenna. The Landrys found out.”
Roman’s eyes narrow. “You didn’t hit him back, did you? He’s like sixty years old.”
“Of course not, but not because of his age. He’s as strong as I am. I didn’t hit him back because I deserved this.” I pull the paper towel from my mouth, and the whole thing is covered with blood. I walk to the bathroom and inspect my face. My eye looks okay. It’ll probably be a little bruised, but my lip is sliced up on the inside. I think he hit me so hard my tooth cut through my lip. “Fuck.” Blood is pouring out of my mouth. “I think I need stitches.”
Roman looks at my mouth and then winces. “Shit, man.” He grabs a washcloth and wets it, then hands it to me and says, “Come on, I’ll drive you to the ER.”
There’s a little more bounce in my step as soon as I walk out of the store and spot Ledger’s truck across the parking lot.
He sees me exit the store, so he drives across the lot to pick me up. I climb inside the truck and scoot across the seat to give him a kiss. He doesn’t turn to face me, so my lips land on his cheek.
I would sit in the middle, but his console is down, and he’s got a drink in the cup holder, so I sit in the passenger seat and pull on my seat belt.
He’s wearing shades and hasn’t looked at me since I got into the truck. I begin to grow concerned, but then he reaches across his console to hold my hand, and it puts me at ease. I was starting to worry that he spent the day regretting last night, but I can feel in the way he squeezes my hand that he’s happy to see me. Paranoia is annoying. “Guess what?”
“I got a promotion. Cashier. It pays two dollars more an hour.”
“That’s great, Kenna.” He still doesn’t look at me, though. He releases my hand and leans an elbow on his door, resting his head
against his left hand while he drives with his right. I stare at him for a little bit, wondering why he seems different. Quieter.
My mouth is starting to run dry, so I say, “Can I have a sip of your drink?”
Ledger takes it out of the cup holder and hands it to me. “It’s sweet tea. A couple of hours old.”
I take a drink and stare at him the whole time. I put the cup back in the holder. “What’s wrong?”
He shakes his head. “Nothing.”
“Did you talk to them? Did something happen?”
“It’s nothing,” he says, his voice thick with the lie. I think he recognizes how unconvincing he sounds, because after a pause, he adds, “Let’s just get to your place first.”
I sink into my seat when he says that. Anxiety rolls through me like a wave.
I don’t push him to tell me now because I’m scared to know what has him so stiff. I stare out my window the whole way to my apartment with a gut feeling that this will be the last time Ledger Ward gives me a ride home.
He pulls into the parking spot and kills his engine. I unbuckle and exit the truck, but after I close my door, I realize he’s still sitting there. He taps his steering wheel with his thumb, looking lost in thought. After several seconds, he finally opens his door and gets out.
I walk around to meet him and get a better read on him, but I pause as soon as I’m face to face with him.
“Oh, my God.” His lip is swollen. I rush up to him, just as he slides the sunglasses on top of his head. That’s when I see the black eye. I’m scared to ask, so my voice is timid when I say, “What happened?”
He closes the gap between us and wraps an arm around my shoulders, pulling me against him so that his chin is resting on top of my head. He just tucks me to him for a beat and then gives me a chaste
kiss on the side of my head. “Let’s go inside.” He slips his hand through mine and leads me up the stairs.
Once we’re inside my apartment, I barely have the door shut before I ask him again. “What happened, Ledger?”
He leans against the counter and grabs my hand. He pulls me to him and smooths my hair back, looking down at me. “They saw my truck here this morning.”
Any morsel of hope I left with this morning immediately dissipates. “He
Ledger nods, and I have to back away and compose myself because I feel nauseous. I want to cry, because how mad would Patrick have to be to hit someone? The way Scotty and Ledger have talked about him, he doesn’t seem like the type to lose his temper easily. Which means . . . they hate me. They hate me so much the thought of Ledger and me together made a generally kind, calm man lose his mind on him.
I was right. They’re making him choose.
The panic begins spreading from my chest to all the other parts of my body. I take a sip of water, and then I pick up Ivy, who has been meowing at my feet. I pet her. I try to find comfort in her presence. She’s my only constant now, because this story is ending exactly how I predicted it. No plot twists at all.
I came here with one goal, and that was to try to forge a relationship with the Landrys and with my daughter. But they’ve made it very clear that it’s not something they want. Maybe it’s just not something they can emotionally handle.
I put Ivy back on the floor and then fold my arms across my chest. I can’t even look at Ledger when I ask him this question. “Did they ask you to stop seeing me?”
He exhales, and his sigh is everything I need to know. I try to hold it together, but I just want him to leave. Or maybe
need to leave.
This apartment, this town, this state. I want as far away from my daughter as I can get, because the closer I am to her without being able
to see her, the more tempting it becomes to just go to their house and take her. I’m desperate enough that if I stay here too much longer, I might do something stupid.
“I need money.”
Ledger looks at me like he didn’t understand the question, or he can’t process why I need money.
“I need to move, Ledger. I can pay you back, but I need to leave, and I don’t have enough money to get a new place. I can’t stay here.”
“Wait,” he says, stepping toward me. “You’re leaving? You’re giving up?”
His choice of words makes me angry. “I’d say I tried pretty damn hard. They have a restraining order against me—I wouldn’t call that giving up.”
“What about us? You’re just going to walk away?”
“Don’t be an asshole. This is harder for me than it is for you. At least you still get Diem in the end.”
He grips my shoulders, but I look away from him, so he moves his hands to the sides of my head. He tilts my face and directs my focus back to his. “Kenna, don’t.
Wait a few weeks. Let’s just see what happens.”
“We know what happens. We’ll keep seeing each other in secret, and we’ll fall in love, but they won’t change their minds and I’ll
have to leave, but it’ll hurt a hell of a lot worse in a few weeks than if I were to just leave right now.” I walk to the closet and grab my suitcase. I open it and toss it on the inflatable mattress and start throwing my shit in it. I can take a bus to the next town and then stay in a hotel until I figure out where to go. “I need money,” I say again. “I’ll pay you back every cent, Ledger. I promise.”
Ledger stomps over to me and shuts my suitcase. “Stop it.” He makes me turn and face him by pulling me in and wrapping me up in his arms. “Stop.
We’re too late. It already hurts so bad.
I press my hands against his shirt and grip it in my fists. I start to cry. I can’t bear the thought of not being around him, not seeing his smile, not feeling his support. I already miss him even though I’m still standing right here in his arms. But as much as the idea of leaving him hurts, I think my tears are for my daughter. They’re always for her.
“Ledger.” I say his name quietly, and then I lift my head from his chest and look up at him. “The only thing you can do at this point is go over there and apologize to them. Diem needs you. As much as it hurts, if they can’t move past what I did to them, it isn’t your job to repair or mend what’s broken inside of them. It’s your job to support them, and you can’t do that with me in your life.”
His jaw is clenched. It looks like he’s trying not to cry. But it also looks like he knows I’m right. He takes a step away from me and then opens his wallet. “You want my credit card?” he asks, pulling it out. He removes several twenty-dollar bills too. He seems so upset and mad and defeated as he angrily yanks stuff out of his wallet. He tosses his credit card and the cash on the counter, and then he steps toward me, kisses me on the forehead, and leaves.
He slams the door as he goes.
I lean forward and press my elbows into the counter, and I hold my head in my hands and I cry even harder, because I’m angry I allowed myself to get my hopes up. It’s been well over five years since it happened. If they were ever going to forgive me, they’d have done it by now. They’re just not the forgiving type.
There are people who find peace in forgiveness, and then there are others who look at forgiveness as a betrayal. To them, forgiving me would feel like betraying their own son. I can only hope they change their minds someday, but until then, this is my life. This is where it’s led me.
This is where I start over.
And I’m going to have to do it without Ledger or his encouragement or his belief in me. I’m sobbing now, but I’m still able to hear the front door when it swings back open.
I lift my head as he slams the door shut and strides across the room. He lifts me, setting me down on the counter so that we’re eye to eye, and then he kisses me with a sad desperation, as if it’s the last kiss he’ll ever give me.
After breaking our kiss, he looks at me with determination when he says, “I am going to be the best person I can be for your daughter. I promise. I’m going to give her the best life, and when she asks about her mother, I’m going to tell her what a wonderful person you are. I’ll make sure she grows up knowing how much you love her.”
I’m a fucking mess now, because I’m going to miss him so, so much.
He presses his swollen mouth to mine, and I kiss him gently because I don’t want to hurt him. Then our foreheads meet. It looks like he’s struggling to keep his composure. “I’m sorry I couldn’t do more for you.” He starts to back away, pulling apart from me, and it hurts too much to watch him go, so I stare at the floor.
There’s something beneath my feet. It looks like a business card, so I slide off the counter and pick it up. It’s Ledger’s snow cone punch card. It must have fallen out of his wallet when he took everything out of it.
“Ledger, wait.” I meet him at the door and hand him his card. “You need this,” I say, sniffling back tears. “You’re so close to a free snow cone.”
He laughs through his pain, taking the card from me. But then he winces and drops his forehead to mine. “I’m so angry at them, Kenna. This isn’t fair.”
It isn’t. But it isn’t up to us. I kiss him one last time, and then I squeeze his hand and look at him pleadingly. “Don’t hate them. Okay? They’re giving my little girl a good life. Please don’t hate them.”
He barely nods, but it’s a nod. When he lets go of my hand, I don’t want to watch him leave, so I go to my bathroom and close the door.
A few seconds later, I hear my apartment door shut.
I slide to the floor and fall apart.