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Authors: Colleen Hoover

Reminders of Him (27 page)

BOOK: Reminders of Him
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I don’t even go into my house when I get back home. I walk straight to Patrick and Grace’s front door and I knock.

It was never a choice. Diem will always be the most important girl in my life, no matter what or who or when. But that doesn’t mean I’m not torn the fuck up right now.

It’s Patrick who opens the door, but Grace quickly joins him. I think she’s afraid there might be another fight. They both look a little surprised to see the state of my injuries, but Patrick offers up no apologies. I don’t expect him to.

I look them both in the eye. “Diem wanted to show me her turtle.”

The sentence is so simple, but I’m saying so much. That sentence translates to,
“I chose Diem. Let’s go back to how things were before.”

Patrick eyes me for a moment, but then Grace steps aside and says, “She’s in her bedroom.”

It’s forgiveness and acceptance, but it’s not the forgiveness I really want from them. But I take it.

Diem is on her floor when I get to her doorway. The turtle is a foot away from her, and she’s trying to coax it toward her with a green LEGO.

“So, this is your turtle, huh?”

Diem sits up and beams a smile. “Yep.” She picks him up, and we meet at her bed. I sit down and lean against the headboard. She crawls to the middle of the bed and hands me the turtle, then curls up at my side. I place him on my leg, and he starts to crawl toward my knee.

“Why did NoNo hit you?” She’s looking at my lip when she asks this.

“Sometimes adults make bad decisions, D. I said something that hurt his feelings, and he got upset. It’s not his fault. It was my fault.”

“Are you mad at him?”


“Is NoNo still mad?”

More than likely.
“No.” I want to change the subject. “What’s your turtle’s name?”

Diem picks him up and lays him on her lap. “Ledger.”

I laugh. “You’re naming the turtle after me?”

“Yes. Because I love you.” She says that in the sweetest voice, and it makes my heart clench. I wish Kenna could be the recipient of Diem’s words right now.

I kiss her on top of the head. “I love you, too, D.”

I put her turtle in its aquarium and then I crawl back onto her bed and stay with her until she nods off. And then I stay a little while longer just to be certain she’s asleep.

I know Patrick and Grace love her, and I know they love me, so the last thing they would ever do is separate the two of us. They can be angry, but they also know how much Diem loves me, so even if the three of us can’t work our shit out, I know I’ll always be a huge part of
Diem’s life. And as long as I’m a part of Diem’s life, I’m going to fight for what’s best for her.

I should have been doing it all along.

And what’s best for Diem is having her mother in her life.

It’s why I did what I did before I left Kenna’s apartment.

As soon as Kenna closed her bathroom door, I closed her apartment door and pretended to leave. Instead, I grabbed her phone. The password was an easy guess—Diem’s birthday. I opened her Google Docs and found the file with all the letters she’s written to Scotty, and I forwarded the file to my email address before sneaking out.

I stay in Diem’s bedroom and pull up Patrick and Grace’s printer network on my phone. I open my email and find the letter Kenna read to me, and I skip over all the rest of the letters she’s written Scotty. I’ve already violated her privacy enough by using her phone and forwarding these to myself. I don’t plan to read any of the others unless she tells me I can someday.

Tonight, I just need one of the letters.

I hit print, and I close my eyes and listen for the sound of the printer to activate in Patrick’s office across the hall.

I wait until it finishes printing, and then I sneak out of Diem’s bed and wait a moment in her room to make sure I didn’t wake her up. She’s sound asleep, so I slip out of her room and into Patrick’s office. I grab the letter off the printer and make sure all of it printed.

“Wish me luck, Scotty,” I whisper.

When I emerge from the hallway, they’re both in the kitchen. Grace is looking at her phone, and Patrick is emptying the dishwasher. They both look up at the same time.

“I have something I need to say, and I really don’t want to yell, but I will if I have to, so I think we should go outside because I don’t want to wake up Diem.”

Patrick closes the dishwasher. “We don’t really want to hear what you have to say, Ledger.” He motions toward the door. “You should go.”

I have a lot of empathy for them, but I’m afraid I’ve just met my limit. A wave of heat climbs up my neck, and I try to push down my anger, but it’s so hard when I’ve given them so much. I recall the words Kenna said to me right before I left her.
Please don’t hate them.

“I’ve given my life to that little girl,” I say. “You owe this to me. I’m not leaving your property until we talk about this.” I walk out the front door and wait in their yard. A minute passes. Maybe two. I take a seat on their front patio. They’re either going to call the police or they’re going to come outside or they’re going to go to bed and ignore me. I’ll wait here until one of those three things happens.

It’s several minutes before I hear the door open behind me. I stand up and spin around. Patrick walks out of the house just far enough to give Grace space in the doorway. Neither of them looks open to what I’m about to say, but I have to say it anyway. There will never be a good time for this conversation. There will never be a good time to take the side of the girl who ruined their lives.

I feel like the words I’m about to say are the most important words that will ever come from me. I wish I were more prepared. Kenna deserves better than to have me and my plea be the only hope left between her and Diem.

I blow out an unsteady breath. “Every decision I make is for Diem. I ended my engagement with a woman I loved because I wasn’t sure she would be good enough for that little girl. That should tell you that I would never put my own happiness before Diem’s. I know you both know that, and I also know you’re just trying to protect yourselves from the pain Kenna’s actions caused. But you’re taking the worst moment of Kenna’s life and you’re making that moment who she is. That isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to Kenna. It isn’t fair to Diem. I’m starting to wonder if it’s even fair to Scotty.”

I hold up the pages in my hand.

“She writes letters to him. To Scotty. She’s been doing it for five years. This is the only one I’ve read, but it was enough to change my
entire opinion of her.” I pause, and then backtrack on my words. “Actually, that’s not true. I forgave Kenna before I even knew the contents of the letter. But the second she read this out loud to me, I realized she’s been hurting just as much as all of us have. And we’re slowly killing her by continuing to drag out her pain.” I squeeze my forehead and put even more emphasis on the words I’m about to speak. “We are keeping a
from her
. That’s not okay. Scotty would be so mad at us.”

It grows quiet when I stop speaking. Too quiet. It’s like they aren’t even breathing. I hand Grace the letter. “It’ll be hard to read. But I’m not asking you to read it because I’m in love with Kenna. I’m asking you to read it because your
was in love with her.”

Grace starts to cry. Patrick still won’t look me in the eye, but he reaches for his wife and pulls her to him.

“I’ve given the last five years of my life to you guys. All I’m asking for in return is twenty minutes. It probably won’t even take you that long to read the letter. After you read it, and take time to process it, we’ll talk. And I’ll respect whatever decisions the two of you make. I swear I will. But please,
give me the next twenty minutes. You owe Diem the opportunity to have another person in her life who will love her as much as Scotty would have loved her.”

I don’t give them an opening to argue or hand the letter back to me. I immediately turn and walk to my house and disappear inside it. I don’t even look out the window to see if they’ve gone inside, or if they’re reading the letter.

I’m so nervous I’m shaking.

I look for my parents and find them in the backyard. My father has items from the RV spread out across the grass, and he’s using the water hose to clean them. My mother is sitting in the patio love seat reading a book.

I take a seat next to her. She looks up from her book and smiles, but when she sees the look on my face, she closes the paperback.

I drop my head in my hands and I start to cry. I can’t help it. I feel like the lives of everyone I love are hanging on this moment, and it’s fucking overwhelming.

“Ledger,” my mother says. “Oh, honey.” She wraps her arm around me and hugs me.



I woke up with a migraine due to how much I cried last night.

I expected Ledger to text me or call me, but he never did. Not that I want him to. A clean break is better than a messy one.

I hate that my choices from that one night years ago have somehow created another casualty all these years later. How long will the aftershocks from that night continue? Will I feel the ramifications forever?

Sometimes I wonder if we’re all born with equal amounts of good and evil. What if no one person is more or less malevolent than another, and that we all just release our bad at different times, in different ways?

Maybe some of us expel most of our bad behavior as toddlers, while some of us are absolute horrors during the teenage years. And then maybe there are those who expend very little malice until they’re adults, and even then, it just seeps out slowly. A little bit every day until we die.

But then that would mean there are people like me. Those who release their bad all at once—in one horrific night.

When you get all your evil out at once, the impact is much bigger than when it seeps out slowly. The destruction you leave behind covers a much bigger circumference on the map and takes up a much larger space in people’s memories.

I don’t want to believe that there are good people and bad people, and no in-between people. I don’t want to believe I’m worse than anyone else, as if there’s a bucket full of evil somewhere within me that continues to refill every time it runs empty. I don’t want to believe I’m capable of repeating behavior I’ve displayed in the past, but even after all these years, people are still suffering because of me.

Despite the devastation I’ve left in my wake, I am not a bad person.
I am not a bad person.

It took five years of weekly therapy sessions to help me realize this. I only recently learned how to say it out loud. “I am not a bad person.”

I’ve been listening to the playlist Ledger made me all morning. It really is just a bunch of songs that have nothing to do with anything sad. I don’t know how he managed to find this many songs. It had to take him forever.

I slide Mary Anne’s headphones over my ears, and I put the playlist on shuffle and start to clean my apartment. I want my security deposit back when I figure out where I’m moving to, so I don’t need a reason for Ruth not to refund it to me. I’ll leave the apartment ten times cleaner than I found it.

I clean for about ten minutes when I start to hear a beat in the song that doesn’t belong. It takes me way too long to realize the beat is actually not in the song.

It’s a knock.

I slip off my headphones and hear it even louder this time. Someone is definitely knocking at my front door. My heart rate speeds up because I don’t want it to be Ledger, but I need it to be Ledger. One more kiss wouldn’t break me. Maybe.

I tiptoe toward the door and look through the peephole.

It’s Ledger.

I press my forehead to the door and try to make the right decision. He’s having a weak moment, but I shouldn’t do this. His weak moments
will be my downfall if I cater to them. We’ll just go back and forth until we’re both completely broken.

I open my texts to him on my phone and type out,
I’m not opening the door.

I watch him read it through the peephole, but his expression is unwavering. He looks right into the peephole and points down to the doorknob.

Why did he have to point?
I unlock the dead bolt and open the door just two inches. “Don’t kiss me or touch me or say anything sweet.”

Ledger smiles. “I’ll do my best.”

I open the door cautiously, but he doesn’t even try to come inside once I have the door open. He stands up straight and says, “Do you have a minute?”

I nod. “Yeah. Come in.”

He shakes his head. “Not for me.” His attention moves away from me, and he points inside my apartment, but then he steps away from the door.

Grace walks into my line of sight.

I immediately slap my hand over my mouth, because I wasn’t expecting her and I haven’t been face to face with her since before Scotty died and I had no idea it would knock the breath out of me.

I don’t know what it means. I refuse to let myself think this means anything at all, but there’s too much hope inside me to keep buried in her presence.

I back into my apartment, but tears are spilling from my eyes. There’s so much I want to say to her. So many apologies. So many promises.

Grace steps inside my apartment, and Ledger stays outside but closes the door to give us privacy. I grab a paper towel and wipe at my eyes. It’s pointless. I don’t think I’ve cried like this since I gave birth to Diem and watched them take her away from me.

“I’m not here to upset you,” Grace says. Her voice is gentle. So is her expression.

I shake my head. “It’s not . . . I’m sorry. I need a minute before I can . . . talk.”

Grace motions toward the sofa. “Can we sit?”

I nod, and we both take a seat on the couch. Grace watches me for a moment, probably judging my tears, wondering if they’re real or forced.

She reaches into her pocket and pulls something out. At first I think it’s a handkerchief, but upon closer inspection, I realize it’s a small black velvet bag. Grace hands me the bag, and I have no idea why.

I pull the strings to loosen the opening to the velvet bag, and then I dump the contents into my palm.

I gasp. “What?
” I’m holding the ring I fell in love with all those years ago when Scotty took me to the antique store. The four-thousand-dollar gold ring with the pink stone that he couldn’t afford. I’ve never told anyone that story, so I’m extremely confused as to how Grace is in possession of this ring. “How do you even have this?”

“Scotty called me the day you two saw the ring. He said he wasn’t ready to propose to you, but that he already knew what ring he was going to propose with when the time came. He couldn’t afford it, but he was afraid someone else was going to buy it before he got the chance. We let him borrow the money. He gave me the ring and made me promise to keep it in a safe place until he could pay us back.”

My hands are shaking as I put the ring on my finger.
I can’t believe Scotty did that.

Grace releases a quick rush of air. “I’ll be honest, Kenna. I didn’t want that ring after he died. And I didn’t want you to have it because I was so mad at you. But when we found out Diem was a girl, I decided to hold on to it. Just in case I wanted to pass it on to her someday. But after giving it some thought . . . that’s really not my decision to make. I want you to have it. Scotty bought it for you.”

There’s too much coursing through me to process this, so it takes me a moment to recover. I shake my head. I’m too scared to believe her. I don’t even allow the words to sink in. “Thank you.”

Grace reaches over and squeezes my hand, prompting me to look at her. “I promised Ledger I wouldn’t tell you this, but . . . he gave us one of the letters you wrote to Scotty.”

I’m shaking my head even though she isn’t finished talking.
How did Ledger get one of those letters? Which one did he give them?

“He made me read it last night.” Her expression falls. “After hearing your version of events, I was even more devastated and angry than I was before I read it. It was so hard . . . hearing all the details. I cried all night. But this morning when I woke up, it was as if an overwhelming sensation of peace had washed over me. Today was the first morning I didn’t wake up angry at you.” She wipes at the tears now sliding down her face. “All these years, I assumed your silence in the courtroom was indifference. I assumed you left him in that car because you only cared for yourself and didn’t want to get in legal trouble. Maybe I assumed all those things because it was easier to have someone to blame for such a horrific and pointless loss. And I know your grief shouldn’t bring me peace, Kenna. But it’s so much easier to understand you now than when I assumed you never grieved at all.” Grace reaches toward a strand of hair that’s fallen loose from my ponytail, and she brushes it gently behind my ear. It’s something a mother would do, and I don’t understand it. I don’t know how she can go from hating me to forgiving me in such a short amount of time, so I continue to be wary of this moment. But the tears in her eyes feel like the truth. “I am so sorry, Kenna.” She says that with such sincerity. “I’m responsible for keeping you from your daughter for five years, and there’s no excuse for that. The only thing I can do is make sure you don’t go another day without knowing her.”

My hand is trembling when I bring it to my chest. “I . . . I get to meet her?”

Grace nods, and then she hugs me when I fall apart. She runs a soothing hand over the back of my head and allows me several minutes to absorb everything that’s happening.

This is everything I’ve ever wanted, and it’s coming at me all at once. It’s both physically and emotionally overwhelming. I’ve had dreams like this before. Dreams where Grace shows up to forgive me and lets me meet Diem, but then I wake up alone and realize it was a cruel nightmare.
Please let this be real.

“Ledger is probably dying not knowing what’s going on in here.” She stands up and walks to the door to open it for him.

Ledger’s eyes search frantically until they land on mine. When I smile at him, he immediately relaxes, as if my smile is the only thing that mattered in this moment.

He pulls Grace in for a hug first. I hear him whisper, “Thank you,” against her ear.

She looks at me before she leaves my apartment. “I’m making lasagna tonight. I want you to come for dinner.”

I agree with a nod. Grace leaves, and Ledger is wrapping me in his arms before she even closes the door.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I say it over and over, because I know this would never have happened if it weren’t for him. “Thank you.” I kiss him. “Thank you.” When I finally stop thanking and kissing him long enough to pull back and look him in the eye, I see he’s crying too. It fills me with a sense of gratitude like I’ve never known.

I am so grateful for him.

This might be the exact moment I fall in love with Ledger Ward.

“I’m about to be sick.”

“Want me to pull over?”

I shake my head. “No. Drive faster.”

Ledger squeezes my knee reassuringly.

It was torture having to wait until this afternoon to make our way to Patrick and Grace’s house. I wanted him to take me to Diem as soon as Grace left my apartment, but I want everything to be on their terms. I’ll be as patient as I need to be.

I’m going to respect their rules. I’ll respect their timeline, and their choices, and their wishes. I’m going to show them as much respect as I know they’ve shown my daughter.

I know they’re good people. Scotty loved them. They’re just also
people, so I respect the time they needed to come to this decision.

I’m nervous I’m going to do something wrong. Say something wrong. The only other time I’ve been inside their house was such a series of missteps, and I need this time to be different because there’s so much at stake.

We pull into Ledger’s driveway, but we don’t immediately get out of the truck. He gives me a pep talk and kisses me about ten times, but then I become more nervous and excited than I’ve ever been, and the emotions all start to run together. If I don’t get it over with, I might explode.

He holds my hand tightly in his as we cross the street, and walk across grass Diem has played on, and knock on the door to the house Diem lives in.

Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.

I’m squeezing Ledger’s hand like I’m in the middle of an intense contraction.

The door finally opens, and standing right in front of me is Patrick. He looks nervous, but he somehow smiles through it. He pulls me in for a hug, and it isn’t just a forced hug because I’m standing in front of him, or because his wife encouraged him to hug me.

It’s a hug full of so many things. Enough things that when Patrick pulls away, he has to wipe at his eyes. “Diem is out back with her turtle,” he says, motioning down the hallway.

There are no harsh words from him, no negative energy. I don’t know if now is the right time to apologize, but since Patrick is pointing us toward Diem’s location, I feel like they want to save whatever sits between the three of us for later.

Ledger holds my hand as we walk into the house. I’ve been in the house before and I’ve been in the backyard before, so there’s a sense of familiarity that’s comforting. But everything else is frightening.
What if she doesn’t like me? What if she’s mad at me?

Grace appears from the kitchen, and I pause before we head to the backyard. I look at Grace. “What have you told her? About my absence? I just want to make sure . . .”

Grace shakes her head. “We really haven’t talked to her about you at all. She asked once why she didn’t live with her mother, and I told her your car wasn’t big enough.”

I laugh nervously. “What?”

BOOK: Reminders of Him
2.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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