Ends With Us Colleen Hoover (eng) – Free PDF Download (2023)

For my dad, who tried his best not to be the worst. And to my mom for making sure we never see him at his worst.

part One

Chapter One Sitting here with one foot on either side of the ledge, looking twelve stories down at the streets of Boston, I can't help but think about suicide. Is not mine. I like my life enough to want to move on with it. I focus more on other people and how they finally make the decision to end their own lives. Have you ever regretted it? In the moment after you let go and the second before impact, there should be a bit of regret in that brief free fall. Look at the ground rushing towards you and think, “Well, shit. That was a bad idea." Somehow, I don't think so.


I think about death a lot. Especially today, when you consider that just twelve hours ago I delivered one of the most epic eulogies the people of Pléthora, Maine have ever seen. Okay, maybe it wasn't the most epic. It could well be considered the most disastrous. I guess it depends on whether you ask my mom or me. My mom, who probably won't speak to me in a year. Do not get me wrong; The eulogy I gave was not profound enough to make history like the one Brooke Shields delivered at Michael Jackson's funeral. Or the one provided by Steve Jobs' sister. Or Pat Tillman's brother. But it was epic in its own way. I was nervous at first. After all, it was the funeral of the amazing Andrew Bloom. Dear Mayor of my hometown of Pléthora, Maine. Owner of the most successful real estate agency in the region. Husband of the esteemed Jenny Bloom, the most esteemed teaching assistant in all of Plethora. and lily's father


Bloom – That strange girl with the patchy red hair who once fell in love with a homeless man and brought her entire family to shame. That would be me. I'm Lily Bloom and Andrew was my father. When I finished your eulogy today, I flew straight to Boston and hijacked the first roof I came across. Again, not because I have suicidal thoughts. I have no intention of lowering that roof. I desperately needed some fresh air and rest, and damn if I can't get that from my third-floor apartment with no roof access and a roommate who loves to hear herself sing. However, I didn't take into account how cold it would be up here. It's not unbearable, but it's not cool either. At least I can see the stars. Dead parents, annoying roommates, and questionable compliments don't feel so bad when the night sky is clear enough to literally feel the grandeur of the universe.


I love it when heaven makes me feel insignificant. I like this night. We will . . . Let me rephrase this to better reflect my feelings in the past. I enjoyed this night. But to my dismay, the door was flung open with such force that I expect the ladder to throw a human onto the roof. The door closes again and footsteps move quickly across the deck. I don't even look up. Whoever it is probably won't even notice me here on the ledge to the left of the door. They got here in such a hurry, it's not my fault they think they're alone. I sigh softly, close my eyes and lean my head against the stucco wall behind me, cursing the universe for taking this introspective, peaceful moment away from me. The least the universe could do for me today is make sure I'm a woman and not a man. If I want company, I'd rather have a woman. I'm hard on myself


Size and they can probably match in most cases, but I'm very comfortable being alone on a rooftop with a strange man in the middle of the night. I may fear for my safety and feel the need to go, but I really don't want to go. As I said before. . . I feel good. Finally, I allow my eyes to travel to the figure leaning over the edge. Fortunately, it's definitely a man. Even leaning over the banister, I can tell he's tall. His broad shoulders contrast with the fragile way she holds her head in her hands. I can barely see the strong tug and pull of his back as he takes a deep breath and forces it out when he's finished. He looks ready to collapse. I consider speaking to let him know he has company or to clear my throat, but between thought and actual action, he turns and kicks one of the patio chairs behind him. I wince when it creaks on the deck, but as if he doesn't even realize he has one.


Public, the guy doesn't stop with a single kick. Over and over, he kicks the chair. Instead of giving way under the brute force of his foot, the chair continues to slide away from him. This chair must be made of marine grade polymer. I once saw my dad sitting at an outdoor patio table made from marine polymer and practically laughed at him. He dented the bumper but didn't even scratch the table. This guy has to realize he's no match for high quality material because he finally stops kicking the chair. Now she's standing over him, her hands balled into fists at her sides. To be honest, I'm a little jealous. Here's this guy unleashing his aggression like a garden furniture champ. He's obviously had a shit day, as have I, but as long as I hold back my aggression until it manifests as passive aggression, this guy really has a way out.


Gardening used to be my outlet. Whenever I was stressed, I would just go out into the backyard and pull up any weeds I could find. But since I moved to Boston two years ago, I haven't had a yard. Or a terrace. I don't even have weed. You may need to invest in a marine grade polymer patio chair. I look at the boy a moment longer, wondering if he's going to move. He just stands there and looks at the chair. His hands are no longer balled into fists. They rest on his hips and I notice for the first time that his shirt doesn't quite fit around his biceps. Looks good anywhere else, but his arms are huge. He starts digging through his pockets until he finds what he's looking for and, I'm sure it's probably in an attempt to vent his aggression even more, lights up a joint. I'm 23 years old, went to college, and used the same recreational drug once or twice. I'm not going to judge this guy for that.


he felt the need to smoke in private. But that's it - it's not private. He just doesn't know it yet. He takes a long drag on the joint and starts to turn his attention to the rim. He notices my exhale. He stops as soon as our eyes meet. His expression shows neither surprise nor amusement when he sees me. He's about ten feet away, but the stars are so bright I can see his eyes moving slowly over my body without revealing a single thought. This guy handles his letters well. His gaze is narrow and his mouth is tight, like a male version of the Mona Lisa. "What's his name?" he asks. I can feel his voice in my stomach. This is not right. Voices are supposed to stop in my ears, but sometimes, not very often, a voice slips through my ears and echoes through my body. He has one of those voices. Deep, confident and a little bit like butter.


When I don't respond, he puts the joint back in his mouth and takes another drag. "Lily," I finally say. I hate my voice, it sounds too weak to even reach your ears from here, let alone reverberate in your body. She lifts her chin a little and nods in my direction. "Do you come down, please, Lily?" It's only when he says that that I notice her attitude. Now he is standing upright, even rigid. Almost like I'm nervous because I'm going to fall. I am not. This ledge is at least a foot wide and I'm more on the side of the roof. I managed to catch myself easily before falling, not to mention that I had the wind in my favor. I look down at my legs and then back at him. "No thanks. I'm quite comfortable where I am." He turns slightly, as if he can't look directly at me. "Please leave" It's more like a demand now, although he uses the word please. "There are seven empty chairs up here."


"Almost six," I correct, reminding him that he only tried to kill one of them. You don't find the humor in my answer. When I don't follow his orders, he takes a few steps closer. “You are only three inches away from falling to your death. I've had enough of that for one day. He gestures for me to get off. "You're making me nervous. Not to mention ruining my euphoria. I roll my eyes and swing my legs. God forbid I wasted a joint." I jump down and wipe my hands on my jeans. "Best?" I say as I walk towards him. He lets out a sigh like he really was holding his breath when he saw me on the edge. I step past him to the side of the roof with a better view, and as I do, I can't help but notice how cute he is unfortunately. no Fluffy is an insult. This guy is beautiful. Well-groomed, smells like money, looks like he's several years older than me. His eyes tingle in the corners as he follows.


me, and her lips seem to be frowning, even though she isn't. When I reach the side of the building that faces the street, I lean over and look down at the cars below, trying not to look impressed by him. I can tell just by the haircut that he's the type of man who easily impresses people and I refuse to intrude on his ego. Not that he's done anything to make me believe he has one. But he's wearing a casual Burberry shirt, and I'm not sure he's ever been on anyone's radar who could casually afford one. I hear footsteps approaching from behind, and then he leans against the railing next to me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him take another hit on the joint. When he's done, he offers it to me, but I decline. The last thing I need is to be under this guy's influence. His voice sucks in itself. I kind of want to hear it again, so I ask him a question. "So what did that chair do to make you so angry?"


He looks at me. How is he really looking at me? His eyes meet mine and he just looks at me like all my secrets are on my face. I've never seen eyes as dark as his. Maybe so, but they look darker when linked with such an intimidating presence. You don't answer my question, but my curiosity is not easily quenched. If you want to force me out of a very peaceful and comfortable ledge, I hope you'll entertain me with answers to my curious questions. Was it a woman? I ask. "She broke your heart?" He laughs a little at that question. "If only my problems were as trivial as matters of the heart." He leans against the wall so he can look at me. "What floor do you live on?" He licks his fingers and pinches the end of the joint, then shoves it back in his pocket. "I never noticed you before." "That's because I don't live here." I point to my apartment. "Do you see the insurance building?"


He blinks as he looks in the direction I'm pointing. "Yes." "I live in the annex. It's too short to see from here. It's only three stories high. He looks at me and rests his elbow on the edge. "If you live there, why are you here? Does your boyfriend live here or something? His comment makes me feel a little vulgar. It was very easy: an amateur sing-song. Judging by this guy's appearance, I know he has better skills. This leads me to believe that he saves the toughest phrases for flirting with the women he considers worthy. "You have a nice roof," I tell him. He raises an eyebrow, waiting for further explanation. "I wanted fresh air. A place to think. I checked Google Earth and found the closest apartment complex with a decent roof. He looks at me with a smile. "At least you're frugal," he says. "That's of good quality ."


At least? I nod because I'm frugal. And it's of good quality. "Why do you need fresh air?" he asks. Because today I buried my dad and gave an epically disastrous eulogy and now I feel like I can't breathe. I look forward again and exhale slowly. "Can't we just talk?" He looks a little relieved that I'm asking for silence. He leans over the edge, swinging an arm as he looks down the street. He stays like that for a while and I keep looking at him. He probably knows I'm looking at him, but he doesn't seem to care. "Last month a guy fell off this roof," he says. I would resent your disregard for my request for silence, but I'm a little puzzled. "It was an accident?" He shrugs. "No one knows. It happened late at night. His wife said he was cooking dinner and he told her he would come over and take it away."


some sunset photos. He was a photographer. They think he was leaning over the ledge to photograph the horizon and slipped." I look over the ledge and wonder how anyone could put themselves in a situation where they could accidentally fall. But then I remember climbing onto the ledge across the roof a few minutes ago. "When my sister told me what had happened, all I could think about was whether or not he got the picture. I was hoping his camera didn't fall with him because it would have been a real waste, you know? Dying for you love of photography, but you didn't even take the last photo that cost you your life? Your thought makes me laugh. Though I'm not sure I should have laughed about it. "Do you always say exactly what's on your mind?" He shrugs. "Not for most people." It makes me smile. I like that he doesn't even know me, but for some reason I don't consider how most people do for him.


Lean your back against the edge and cross your arms over your chest. "You were born here?" I shake my head. "No. I moved here from Maine after I graduated from college." Sniff and it's a little hot. Seeing this guy, dressed in his Burberry shirt with his $200 haircut, I quip, "So you're in Boston purgatory, huh? That must suck." "What do you mean?" I ask, the corners of his mouth turning up like Tourists. I laugh. "Wow. That's a very accurate description." "I've been here two months. I'm not even in purgatory, so you're better off than I am." “What brought you to Boston?” "My home. And my sister lives here. He stamps his foot and says, "Just below us,


Same. I married a tech-savvy Bostonian and they bought the entire top floor. She looked down. "The whole attic?" He agrees. “Lucky Bastard works from home. He doesn't even have to take off his pajamas and he earns seven figures a year. Certainly lucky bastard. "What residency? Are you a doctor?" He nods. "Neurosurgeon. Less than a year until my residency and then it's official." Stylish, talkative and smart. And he smokes weed. If this were an SAT question, I would ask which one it is not. "Should doctors smoke weed?" he laughs. "Probably not. But if we didn't give up now and then, a lot of us would throw ourselves off those ledges, I guarantee it." She looks straight ahead again, chin resting on her arms. Her eyes are now closed. as if she was enjoying the wind in his face, he doesn't look all that intimidating.


“Do you want to know something only locals know?” "Of course," he says, turning his attention to me. I point east. "See the building? The one with the green roof?" He shakes his head. "There's a building behind him on Melcher. There is a house at the top of the building. Like a real house, built on the roof. You can't see it from the street and the building is so tall that not many people recognize it." He looks impressed. "REally?" I agree. "I saw it when I was looking at Google Earth, so I looked it up. Apparently, a building permit was granted in 1982. Wouldn't that be cool? Live in a house on top of a building? roof for you," he says. "I hadn't thought of that. If I owned it, I could plant gardens there. I would have a way out.


"Who lives there?" he asks. "Nobody really knows. It's one of Boston's great mysteries." He laughs, then looks at me questioningly. "What's another big Boston secret?" "Your name." As soon as I say that, I clap my hand to my forehead. It's sounded a lot like a cheesy pickup line; all i can do is laugh to myself. He smiled. "It's Ryle," he says. "Ryle Kincaid." I sigh and sink into myself. "That's a great name." "Why do you look sad about that?" “Because I would give anything for a big name.” “You don't like the name Lily?” I tilt my head and raise an eyebrow, “My last name…is Bloom” He's quiet, I can feel him trying to contain your sympathy.


"I know. It's horrible. It's the name of a two-year-old girl, not a twenty-three-year-old woman." Flourish. "Unfortunately for me," I tell him. I just love gardening. I love the flowers. The plants. grow things. It's my passion. It has always been my dream to open a flower shop, but I am afraid that if I did, people would not consider my wish to be authentic. , they would think that I am trying to cash in on my name and that being a florist is not really my dream job.” “Maybe he will. "But what's the point of it?" "It isn't, I think." I find myself whispering, "Lily Bloom's". I see him smiling a little name for a flower shop, but I have a master's in business administration.


I would go down, don't you think? I work for the biggest marketing firm in Boston. “Owning your own business is not a downgrade,” he says. I raise an eyebrow. "Unless I fail." He nods his head in agreement. "Unless I fail," he says. “So what's your middle name, Lily Bloom?” I moaned, which cheered him up. "You mean it's getting worse?" I drop my head into my hands and nod. "Pink?" I shake my head. "Worse." "Tolet?" "Desire." I wince, then mutter, "Blossom." There is a moment of silence. "Damn," he says quietly. "Yes. Blossom is my mother's maiden name, and my parents thought it was fate that their last names were synonymous. Of course, when they had me, Flower was their first choice."


One of them is. was. "My father died this week." Look at me. "Nice try. I won't fall for that." That's why I came here tonight. I think he just needed a good shout. He looks at me suspiciously for a moment to make sure I'm not pulling on his leg. He doesn't apologize for the mistake. Instead, his eyes get a little more curious, as if his intrigue is really genuine. "Were you close?" That's a tough question. I rest my chin on my arms and look out at the street. "I don't know," I tell him, shrugging. "As a daughter, I loved him. But as a person, I hated him." I can feel him looking at me for a moment, and then he says, "I like that. His honesty. He likes my honesty. I think I'm blushing. We're both silent again for a while, and then he says, " Do you ever wish people were more transparent?"


"Like him?" Pull a piece of chipped stucco with your thumb until it comes free. He throws it over the edge. "I feel like everyone is faking who they really are, even though deep down we're all screwed the same way. Some of us are better at hiding it than others." I'm fine with it. My favorite conversations are the ones that don't have real answers. "I don't think there's anything wrong with being a little careful," I tell him. "Naked truths aren't always pretty." He stares at me for a moment. "Naked truths," he repeats. "I like it." He turns and walks to the center of the roof. He adjusts the back of one of the chaise lounges behind me and sits down on it. It's the way you lay on him, so he puts his hands behind his head and looks up at the sky. I grab the one next to him and adjust it until it's in the same position as him.


"Tell me the truth, Lily." "About what?" He shrugs. "I don't know. Something you're not proud of. Something that makes me feel a little less fucked up inside. He looks up at the sky, waiting for me to respond. My eyes follow the line of his jaw, the curve of his cheeks. , the line of his lips. His brows are drawn together as he thinks. I don't understand why, but he seems to need a conversation right now. I consider his question and try to find an honest answer. If I can think of one, I'll look into it. back and go back to heaven." My father was abusive. Not with me, but with my mother. He got so angry when they argued that he sometimes hit her. If that happened, he would take care of it for a week or two to make it up to her. He would do things like buy her flowers or take us out for a nice dinner. Sometimes he would buy me things because he knew I hated it when they fought When I was a kid I was, I had


I was looking forward to the nights they would fight. Because she knew that if he hit her, the next two weeks would be great. I stop. I'm not sure I've admitted this yet. "Of course, if I could, I would have gotten to where he never touched her. But abuse was inevitable with their marriage and it became our norm. As I got older, I realized that if I didn't do something about it, I would be so guilty. most of my life hating him for being a bad person, but I'm not sure I feel much better. Maybe we're both bad people. Ryle looks at me with a thoughtful expression. "Lily," he says pointedly. No there are bad people. We are all humans who sometimes do bad things. I open my mouth to respond, but his words fall away. We are all humans who sometimes do bad things. I think that is true in a way. Nobody is exclusively evil, no one is exclusively good, some are simply forced to work harder to suppress evil.


"It's your turn," I tell him. Based on your reaction, I think you might not want to play your own game. He sighs deeply and runs a hand through his hair. He opens his mouth to speak, but then closes it again. He thinks for a moment and finally speaks. "I saw a little boy die last night," his voice is desperate. “I was only five years old. He and his younger brother found a gun in their parents' bedroom. The younger brother was holding on and accidentally let go. My stomach turns. I think that might be a little too true for me. "There was nothing to be done when he got to the operating table. Everyone around them (nurses, other doctors) felt so sorry for the family. 'Those poor parents,' they said. But when I had to go to the waiting room and telling these parents that their child didn't make it, I didn't feel the least bit sorry for them. I wanted them to suffer. I wanted them to feel the weight of their ignorance for holding a


loaded gun within reach of two innocent children. I wanted them to know that not only did they lose a child, but they ruined the entire life of whoever accidentally pulled the trigger. Jesus Christ. I wasn't prepared for something so difficult. I can't even imagine a family getting over that. “Poor boy's brother,” I say. "I can't imagine what that's going to do to him, seeing something like that." Ryle pulls something from the knee of his jeans. "It will destroy you forever, will it." I roll onto my side to face him and lift my head into my hand. "Is it hard? Seeing something like this every day?" He shakes his head slightly. "It should be a lot harder, but the more I deal with death, the more it becomes a part of life. I'm not sure how that makes me feel." He makes eye contact with me again. "Give me another one," he says.


"I have a feeling mine was a little more twisted than yours." I don't agree, but I'm talking about the bizarre thing I did 12 hours ago. "Two days ago my mom asked me if I would deliver the eulogy at my dad's funeral today. I told her I wasn't feeling well, maybe I was crying too much to speak in front of a crowd, but that was a lie. I just didn't want to do it because I think anyone who respects the deceased should give eulogies. And I didn't respect my father very much." "You did it?" I nod. "Yes, this morning." I sit up and tuck my legs under me as I look up at him. "Would you like to hear that?" He smiled. "Absolutely." I fold my hands in my lap and take a deep breath. "I had no idea what to say. About an hour before the funeral, I told my mom I didn't want to do this. He said it was easy and my dad wanted me to do it. She said everything she had to.


I got to stand on the podium and say five great things about my dad. such that . . . that's exactly what I did. Ryle props himself up on his elbows, looking even more interested. He can tell by the look on my face that it's getting worse. "Oh no Lily. What did you do?" "Here. Just let me recreate it for you. I get up and walk around my chair to the other side. I stand and pretend to look at the same crowded space I found this morning. I clear my throat." Hello. My name is Lily Bloom, daughter of the late Andrew Bloom. Thanks for joining us today as we mourn his loss. I wanted to take a moment to honor his life and write you five great things about my father. First thing…” I look at Ryle and shrug. “That's it.” He sits down. “What do you mean?” I sit in my chair and head back to bed. Minutes without saying another word, no, there were none


Too many things to say about this man, so I just stared at the crowd in silence until my mom realized what I was doing and my uncle pulled me off the podium.” Ryle tilts his head. “Are you kidding? You said the eulogy at your own father's funeral?” I nod. “Not proud of it. I don't believe. a much better one. If I was human, I would have stood there and talked for an hour.” Ryle leans back. “Wow,” he says, shaking his head. “You're like my hero. man "That's corny." "Well, yes. The naked truth hurts. I laugh. "It's your turn." "I can't get over it," he says. "I'm sure you can get close." "Not sure I can." eyes: "Yes, you can. Don't make me feel like the worse person out of the two of us.


Tell me about your last thought, which most people wouldn't say out loud. She puts her hands behind her head and looks me straight in the eyes. "I want to fuck you." My mouth comes out. Then I press again. I think I can run out of words. He gives me an innocent look. "You asked me for the last thought, so I gave it to you. You're beautiful. I'm a guy. If you're into casual sex, I'd take you to my room and fuck you. I can—" Don't even look at him. Your statement makes me feel so bad." things at once. "Well, I don't like one-night stands." "I thought so," he says. "It's your turn." He's so indifferent; he acts like I didn't shut up. "After that, I need a minute to regroup," I tell him, laughing. I'm trying to think of something with a little shock value, but I can't get over the fact.


you just said it. According. Maybe because he's a neurosurgeon and I never imagined someone so polite dropping the word fuck. I stand up . . some. . . and then say, "Okay. While we're on the subject... The first guy I had sex with was a bum. He perks up and looks at me. "Oh, I need more of this story." my head in it. "I grew up in Maine. We lived in a decent neighborhood, but the road behind our house was not in the best condition. Our backyard bordered a demolished house next to two abandoned lots. I made friends with a guy named Atlas who lived in the abandoned house. No one but me knew he lived there. I brought food, clothes and other things for him. Until my dad found out." "What did he do? I clench my jaw. I don't know why I bring it up if I'm still forcing myself not to think.


daily about it. "He hit him." That's about as simple as I want to be on this subject. "It's your turn." He looks at me silently for a moment, as if he knows there's more to this story. But then he breaks eye contact. "The idea of ​​marriage disgusts me," he says. "I'm in my late thirties and I don't want a woman. Above all, I don't want children. All I want out of life is success. Lots of success. But if I admit it out loud to someone, I come across as arrogant.—Professional or social status of success? He says, "Both. Anyone can have children. Anyone can get married. But not everyone can be a neurosurgeon. I'm very proud of it. And I don't just want to be a great neurosurgeon. I want to be the best in my field." "You're right. It makes you look arrogant." He smiles. "My mom is afraid I'm wasting my life just working."


"You are a neurosurgeon and your mother is disappointed in you?" I laugh. "My God, this is crazy. Are parents really happy with their kids? Will they be good enough?" He shakes his head. "My kids wouldn't be. Few people have the drive I have, so I would just let them down. That's why I'll never have any." I actually think that's respectable, Ryle. too selfish to have kids. Shake your head. "Oh, I'm too selfish to have kids. And I'm definitely too selfish to be in a relationship.” “So how do you avoid it? Don't you just leave?" He looks at me and there's a small smile on his face. "When I have time, there are girls who fill those needs. I don't lack for anything in this department, if you ask me. But Love never attracted me. It was always more of a burden than anything else."


I would like to see love like this. It would make my life so much easier. "I envy you. I have this idea that there is a man who is perfect for me. I tend to get bored easily because no one lives up to my standards. I feel like I'm on a never-ending quest for the Holy Spirit." Grail. "You should try my method," he says. "What is it?" "One Night Stands" He raises an eyebrow as if in invitation. I'm glad it's dark because my face is on fire. "I could never sleep with someone if I didn't see them going somewhere." I say it out loud, but my words lack conviction when I say it to him. He takes a deep, slow breath, then rolls onto his back. "Not that kind of girl, huh?" He says this with a hint of disappointment in his voice. I agree with his disappointment. I'm not sure I would turn him down if he made a move, but maybe I just wasted the opportunity.


"If you weren't sleeping with someone you just met…" His eyes meet mine again. "Exactly how far would you go? I don't have an answer for that. I roll over because the way he looks at me makes me reconsider one-night stands. I guess I'm not necessarily against them. No one has ever suggested I think about it. So far. I think so. Does he even offer a suggestion? I've always been terrible at flirting. He reaches out and grabs the edge of my chair. In one quick, smooth motion with minimal effort, he pulls my chair out closer until it collides with his. My whole body goes rigid. He's so close now I can feel the heat of his breath cutting through the cold air. If I looked at him, his face would be inches from mine I I refuse to look at him because he would probably kiss me and I know absolutely nothing about this guy other than a few bare truths, but no


it weighs nothing on my conscience as he places a heavy hand on my stomach. "How far would you go, Lily?" His voice is decadent. Soft. It goes straight to your toes. "I don't know," I whisper. His fingers start trailing the hem of my shirt. He slowly starts to push it up until a strip of my stomach is visible. "Oh Jesus." I whisper, feeling the warmth of his hand as he slides it over my stomach. Against my better judgment, I look at him again and the expression in his eyes completely captivates me. He looks hopeful, hungry and completely confident. He bites his bottom lip as his hand starts up the stairs. I know you can feel my heart beating in my chest. Hell, I can probably hear it. "Is it too far?" he asks. I don't know where this side of me comes from, but I shake my head and say, "Not even close."


With a smile, his fingers trace the bottom of my bra, gently stroking my skin, now covered in goosebumps. As soon as my eyelids close, the sting of a ring rips through the air. His hand stiffens when we both realize it's a phone. Your telephone. He drops his forehead to my shoulder. "Hell again." I frown when his hand slides under my shirt. He fumbles in his pocket for his phone, gets up, and walks a few feet away from me to take the call. "Dr. Kincaid," he says. He listens intently, his hand cupping the back of her neck. "What about Roberts? I shouldn't even be on duty right now." More silence is followed by, "Yeah, give me ten minutes. On my way." He ends the call and puts his phone back in his pocket. When he turns to me, he looks a little disappointed. to the stairs."I have to..." I nod, "That's good."


He looks at me for a moment, then holds up a finger. "Don't move," he says, picking up the phone again. He reaches out and holds his hand like he's going to take my picture. I almost disagree, but I don't even know why. I'm fully dressed. It just doesn't seem that way for some reason. He takes a picture of me reclining on a chaise longue, arms relaxed above my head. I have no idea what he intends to do with this photo, but I think it's a good thing he took it. I like that he needs to be reminded of what I look like, even though he knows he'll never see me again. He looks at the photo on his screen for a few seconds and smiles. I'm almost tempted to take a picture of him in return, but I'm not sure I want a keepsake of someone I'll never see again. The idea is a little depressing. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Lily Bloom. I hope you defy most dreams and actually make yours come true."


I smile, equally sad and confused by this boy. I'm not sure I've spent time with someone like him before, someone with a completely different lifestyle and tax bracket. I will probably never do that again. But I'm pleasantly surprised to see that we're not that different. confirmed bug He looks down at his feet for a moment while standing in a somewhat unsteady position. It's like he's wavering between wanting to tell me something else and needing to leave. He looks at me one last time, this time without the poker face. I can see the disappointment in his mouth before he turns and walks the other way. He opens the door and I hear his footsteps disappear as he goes down the stairs. I'm alone on the roof again, but to my surprise now I'm a little sad about it.

Chapter 2 Lucy, the roommate who loves to hear herself sing, runs around the room collecting keys, shoes and sunglasses. I'm sitting on the couch opening shoeboxes full of some of my old stuff from my time at home. I picked them up this week while I was home for my dad's funeral. "Work today?" Lucia asks. "No. I'm in mourning until Monday." She follows in their footsteps. "Monday?" Mock. "Lucky bitch." "Yes, Lucia. I'm so glad my dad died." I say this, of course, sarcastically, but I cringe when I realize it's not really very sarcastic.


"You know what I mean," he murmurs. She grabs her purse as she balances on one foot while slipping her shoe on the other. "I'm not going home tonight. I'm staying at Alex's." The door slams behind her. On the surface, we have a lot in common, but other than wearing the same dress size, being the same age, and both having four-letter names that start with an L and end with a Y, there's not much more in common beyond just classmates. room. But I'm fine with that. Aside from the incessant singing, it's quite tolerable. It's clean and she's come a long way. Two of the most important qualities in a roommate. I'm taking the lid off one of the shoeboxes when my cell phone rings. I reach across the sofa and pick it up. When I see it's my mother, I press my face against the couch and pretend to cry into a pillow. I put the phone to my ear. "Hello?" There's three seconds of silence and then – "Hello, Lily."


I sigh and lean back on the couch. "Hi Mom." I'm really surprised you're talking to me. It's only been a day since the funeral. That's 364 days before I expected to hear from her. "How is it going?" I ask. She sighs dramatically. "Okay," she says. “Your uncle and aunt returned to Nebraska this morning. It will be my first night alone since then. . "You're going to be fine, Mom," I tell her, trying to sound confident. He's silent for a long time, then he says, "Lily. I just want you to know that you shouldn't be ashamed of what happened yesterday." I pause. It was not me. Not even a little. "Everyone freezes once. I shouldn't have pushed you so hard, knowing how hard this day has already been for you. I should have let your uncle do it. I close my eyes. There she goes again. Cover what she's done. does not want to see . she has to endure. Of course, she told herself that I froze to death yesterday, and


so I refused to speak. Of course. I almost want to tell him it wasn't a mistake. I didn't freeze. I simply had nothing good to say about the discreet man she chose to be my father. But a part of me feels guilty about what I did, mostly because I shouldn't have done it in front of my mom, so I just accept what he's doing and move on. "Thanks mom. I'm sorry I choked." "It's okay, Lily. I have to go, I have to run to the insurance company. We have a meeting about your dad's policy. Call me tomorrow, okay?" I say. " running my fingers over it remembering the night i won this heart as soon as the memory starts to fade i let go of the nostalgia its a fun thing.


I push aside some old letters and newspaper clippings. Underneath it all, I find what I expected in those boxes. And there was no hope. My Ellen diaries. I run my hands over it. There are three in this box, but I'd say probably eight or nine total. I haven't read any of them since I last wrote about them. I refused to admit that I kept a journal growing up because it was such a cliché. Instead, I convinced myself that what I was doing was great because it wasn't technically a diary. I've directed every one of my posts to Ellen DeGeneres because I started watching her show the first day it aired in 2003 when I was a kid. I saw him every day after school and was convinced that if Ellen got to know me, she would love me. I wrote her letters regularly until I was sixteen, but I wrote them like journal entries. Of course, she knew that the last thing Ellen DeGeneres probably wanted was an accident.


Girl's diary entries. Luckily I never sent any. But I still liked having every post addressed to her, so I kept doing that until I stopped writing them altogether. I open another shoebox and find more. I go through them until I reach the one with fifteen. I open it and look for the day I met Atlas. There wasn't much in my life worth writing about before he came along, but somehow I filled six journals before he came on the scene. I swore I would never read them again, but with the death of my father, I thought a lot about my childhood. Perhaps by reading these diaries you will somehow find some strength to forgive. Though I'm afraid of risking even more resentment. I lay down on the couch and start reading. Dear Elena,


Before I tell you what happened today, I have a really good idea for a new segment on your show. It's called "Ellen at Home". I think a lot of people would like to see you out of work. I always wonder how home feels when it's just you and Portia and the cameras aren't there. Maybe the producers can give him a camera and sometimes he can walk up to you and film you doing normal things like watching TV, cooking or gardening. He might film you for a few seconds without you noticing and then he might yell "Ellen home!" and scare you Fair enough, since you love jokes. Ok, since I told you (I wanted to and I forgot), I'll tell you how my day was yesterday. It was interesting, probably my most interesting day, if you don't count the day Abigail Ivory slapped Mr. Carson for looking at her cleavage. Do you remember when I told you about Mrs. Burleson, who lived behind us? Is it over there


died the night of that great blizzard? My father used to say that she owed so much tax that his daughter couldn't take care of the house. Which is good for them, I'm sure, because the house was starting to fall apart anyway. It probably would have been more of a liability than anything else. The house has been empty since Mrs. Burleson, about two years ago. I know it was empty because my bedroom window faces the backyard, and no one has been in or out of the house for as long as I can remember. Until last night. I lay on the bed and shuffled the cards. I know it sounds weird, but it's something I do. I don't even know how to play cards. But when my parents argue, shuffling the decks sometimes calms me down and gives me something to focus on. It was dark outside anyway, so I immediately noticed the light. It wasn't light, but it was coming from this old house. it looked more like this


Candlelight most of all, so I went out on the back porch and found Dad's binoculars. I tried to see what was going on there, but I couldn't see anything. It was very dark. Then, after a short while, the light went out. This morning, as I was getting ready for school, I saw movement behind the house. I crouched by my bedroom window and saw someone enter through the back door. It was a boy and he had a backpack. He looked around like he wanted to make sure no one saw him and then he walked between our house and the neighbor's house and stopped at the bus stop. I've never seen this before. It was the first time I rode in my bus. He was at the back and I was in the middle, so I didn't talk to him. But when he got off the bus at school, I saw him going to school, so he has to go there. I have no idea why he slept in that house. There is probably no electricity or running water. I thought maybe he was doing it as a dare but


Today he got off the bus at the same stop as me. I was walking down the street like I was going somewhere else, but I ran straight to my room and looked out the window. In fact, I saw him sneak into the empty house a few minutes later. I don't know if I should say something to my mother. I hate being nosy because it's none of my business. But if this boy has nowhere to go, I think my mother will know how to help him, as she works in a school. I don't know. I might wait a few days before saying anything and see if he goes home. Maybe he just needs a break from his parents. As I sometimes wish. That is all. I'll let you know what happens tomorrow. —Lily Dear Ellen, I fast forward all your dances when I watch your show. I used to see the beginning when you danced in the audience, but I understand.


I'm kind of bored with it right now and I'd rather hear you talk. I hope this doesn't make you angry. Okay, I found out who the guy is and yes, he still goes there. It's been two days and I still haven't told anyone. His name is Atlas Corrigan and he's a senior, but that's all I know. I asked Katie who he was when she sat next to me on the bus. She rolled her eyes and told me her name. But then he said, "I don't remember anything else about him, but he sucks." She wrinkled her nose as if she were disgusted. I wanted to yell at him and tell him it's not his fault he doesn't have running water. But instead I just looked at him. He might have looked too long because he caught me looking at him. When I got home, I went out into the garden to tend the garden. My radishes were ready to be peeled so I was peeling them. Radishes are the only thing left in my garden. It's starting to get cold so I can't plant much more right now. could probably have waited


a few more days to get them out, but I was also out because I was curious. I noticed when I took them out that some were missing. It looked like they had just been dug up. I know I didn't grow them and my parents never touch my garden. Then I thought of Atlas and that it was probably him. I hadn't thought about why, if you don't have access to a shower, you probably don't have food either. I went home and made some sandwiches. I grabbed two sodas from the fridge and a bag of chips. I put them in a lunchbox and ran to the abandoned house with them and put them on the back porch by the door. I wasn't sure if he saw me so I called out loud and then I ran back to my house and went straight to my room. When I got to the window to see if he would come out, the bag was gone. I knew then that he was watching me. I'm a little nervous now that he knows I know.


he stays there. I don't know what I'm going to say to him if he tries to talk to me tomorrow. —Lily Dear Ellen, Today I watched your interview with presidential candidate Barack Obama. Does it make you nervous? Interview people who could run the country? I don't know much about politics, but I don't think I can be funny under so much pressure. Guy. So much has happened to both of us. You've just interviewed someone who could be our next president, and I'm supporting a homeless child. When I got to the bus stop this morning, Atlas was already there. At first it was just the two of us, and I'm not going to lie, it was awkward. I could see the bus coming around the corner and wished it would go a little faster. When he appeared, he took a step closer to me and, without looking up, said, "Thank you." The bus doors opened and he let me on first. I said nothing


because I was a little surprised by my reaction. Her voice gave me the creeps, Ellen. Has a boy's voice ever done that to you? Wait a minute. We're sorry. Has a girl's voice ever done that to you? He didn't sit next to me on the walkway or anything, but he was the last one back from school. There were no spaces, but I could tell from the way he scanned everyone on the bus that he wasn't looking for a space. He was looking for me. When his eyes met mine, I quickly looked down at my lap. I hate not being very confident with guys. Maybe that's something I'll grow into when I finally turn sixteen. He sat next to me and placed his backpack between his legs. That's when I realized what Katie was talking about. It smelled a little, but I didn't judge him for that. He didn't say anything at first, but he fumbled with a hole in his jeans. It wasn't the kind of hole that was there to make the jeans look fancy.


I could tell he was there because it was a real hole because his pants were old. In fact, they looked a little small to him because his ankles were showing. But it was slim enough to fit anywhere else. "Did you tell anyone?" he asked me. I looked at him as he spoke and he looked right at me like he was worried. It was the first time I saw it properly. His hair was dark brown, but I thought if he washed it, it wouldn't be as dark as it is now. His eyes sparkled unlike the rest of him. True blue eyes as seen on a Siberian Husky. I shouldn't compare his eyes to a dog's, but that was my first thought when I saw them. I shook my head and looked out the window again. I thought he could just get up and find another seat as I told him I hadn't told anyone but he didn't. The bus made a few stops and the fact that he was still sitting next to me gave me a little boost.


Courage, so I lowered my voice to a whisper. "Why don't you live at home with your parents?" He stared at me for a few seconds as if he was trying to decide whether to trust me or not. Then he said, "Because they don't want to." He stood up. I thought I had pissed him off, but then I realized he got up because we were at our stop. I grabbed my things and followed him off the bus. He didn't try to hide where he was going today, as he usually does. He usually walks down the street and around the block so I don't see him walking around my yard. But today he started walking with me to my backyard. When we got to where he used to turn to go in and he kept walking, we both stopped. He stomped his foot and looked back toward my house. "When are your parents coming home?" "Around five," I told him. It was 3:45 am. He shook his head and looked like he wanted to say something else, but he didn't. he just nodded his head


again and walked into this house without food, electricity or water. Well, Ellen, I know what I did next was stupid, so you don't have to tell me. I called his name and when he stopped and turned around I said, "If you hurry, you can take a shower before they get home." home and found a bum in our shower. He would probably die just fine. But she just couldn't see him coming back to her place without offering her anything. He looked down again and I felt his embarrassment in my stomach. He didn't even nod. He just followed me home and didn't say a word. The whole time he was in the shower I was in a panic. I kept looking out the window for one of my parents' cars, even though I knew it would be a good hour before they got home. I was nervous


Neighbors might have seen him come in, but they didn't know me well enough to think it wasn't normal to have visitors. I had given Atlas a change of clothes and knew that not only would he have to be out of the house when my parents arrived, but he would also have to be away from our house. I'm sure my dad would recognize his own clothes from any teenager in the neighborhood. Between looking out the window and checking the clock, I stuffed one of my old backpacks with stuff. Groceries that didn't need refrigeration, a pair of my dad's T-shirts, a pair of jeans that were probably two sizes too big for him, and a spare pair of socks. He was zipping up his backpack when he walked out of the hall. I was right. Even wet, I noticed his hair was lighter than it had looked before. It made his eyes look even bluer. He must have shaved while there because he looked younger than before.


he got into the shower. I swallowed hard and looked back at the bag, surprised at how different it looked. I was afraid he would see my thoughts written on my face. I looked out the window again and handed him the bag. "You might want to go out the back door so no one sees you" He grabbed my bag and looked into my face for a minute. "What is your name?" he said as he threw the package over his shoulder. "Lily." He smiled. It was the first time he had smiled at me and at that moment I had a horrible, shallow thought. I wondered how someone with such a big smile could have such bad parents. I immediately hated myself for even thinking about it because of course parents are supposed to love their kids no matter how cute, ugly, skinny, fat, smart or stupid they are. But sometimes you can't control where your thoughts go. You just have to teach him not to go there anymore. He held out his hand and said, "I am Atlas."


"I know," I said without shaking his hand. I don't know why I didn't shake his hand. It wasn't because I was afraid to touch him. I mean, I was scared to touch it. But not because she thought she was better than him. It just made me so nervous. He lowered his hand and nodded once, then said, "I guess I better go." I pulled away so he could walk around me. He pointed past the kitchen and asked silently if that was the way to the back door. I nodded and followed him as he walked down the hall. When he got to the back door, I saw him stop when he saw my room. I was suddenly embarrassed that he had seen my room. Nobody sees my room, so I never felt the need to give it a more mature feel. I still have the same pink bedspread and curtains I've had since I was twelve. For the first time, I wanted to tear up my Adam Brody poster. Atlas didn't seem to care about my room decor. He looked directly at my window - that


one facing the backyard, so looked at me. Just before heading out the back door, she said, "Thanks for not being dismissive, Lily," and then left. Of course I've heard the derogatory term before, but it was strange to hear a teenager say it that way. Even stranger is that everything about Atlas seems so contradictory. How can a man who is obviously humble and well educated use derogatory words like being homeless? How does a teenager become homeless? I have to find out, Ellen. I'll find out what happened to him. Just wait. —Lily ••• I'm about to open another entrance when my phone rings. Then I crawl across the couch, not at all surprised to be my mom again. Now that my dad died and she's all alone


He will probably call me twice as often as before. "Hi?" "What do you think of my move to Boston?" he snapped. I grab the pillow beside me and press my face against it, stifling a scream. "Uh. Wow" I say "Really?" She's silent and then: "It was just an idea. We can talk about it tomorrow. I'm almost to my meeting." Bye." And so, I want to leave Massachusetts. She can't move here. She doesn't know anyone here. She would expect me to entertain her every day. I'm wrong, but I'm going to Boston attracted by my own life and if I had them in the same town i would feel less independent my dad was diagnosed with cancer three years ago when i was in college if ryle kincaid were here right now i would tell him that


Honestly, I was a little relieved when my dad got too sick to physically hurt my mom. It completely changed the dynamic of their relationship and I no longer felt compelled to stay in Plethora to make sure she was okay. Now that my father is gone and I never have to worry about my mother again, I really wanted to spread my wings. But now he's moving to Boston? It feels like my wings have been clipped. Where is a marine grade polymer chair when I need it? I'm really stressed out and have no idea what I would do if my mother moved to Boston. I have no garden, patio, backyard, or weeds. I have to find another way out. I decide to clean. I put all my old shoeboxes full of journals and notes in my bedroom closet. Then I organize my entire closet. My jewelry, my shoes, my clothes. . . You cannot move to Boston.

Chapter Three Six months later "Oh" That's all he says. My mother turns and surveys the building, running her finger along the windowsill beside her. He picks up a layer of dust and wipes it between his fingers. "Yeah…" "It's a lot of work, I know," I interrupt. I point to the windows behind her. "But look at the front of the store. It has potential." She turns the windows and nods. She has this sound he sometimes makes in her throat, where he agrees with a little hum, but her lips remain pressed together.


actually not true. And she makes that noise. Twice. I drop my arms in defeat. "Do you think that was stupid?" She shakes her head slightly. "It all depends on how it ends, Lily," she says. The building housed a restaurant and is still filled with antique tables and chairs. My mom goes to a nearby table, pulls out one of the chairs, and sits down. "When things go well and your flower business succeeds, people will say it was a brave, bold and wise business decision. But if you fail, you lose your entire inheritance. Then people will say it was a stupid business decision," he shrugs. "It just works that way. You studied business administration, you know. He slowly looks around the room, as if to see what it's going to be like a month from now. "Just make sure it's bold and daring, Lily."


I smile. I can accept it. "I can't believe I bought this without asking you first," I tell him, taking a seat at the table. "You're an adult. It's your right," she says, but I can hear a hint of disappointment. I think she feels even more alone now that I need her less and less. It's been six months since my father died, and although she wasn't good company, it must be strange for her to be alone. She got a job at one of the primary schools, so she ended up moving here. She chose a small suburb outside of Boston. She bought a beautiful two-bedroom house on a cul-de-sac with a big backyard. I dream of making a garden there, but that would require daily maintenance. My limit is visits once a week. Sometimes two. "What are you doing with all that stuff?" she asks. She is right. There is so much rubbish. It's going to take forever to clean this place up. "I have no idea. I think I'll work hard for a while before I think about decorating."


"When is your last day at the marketing company?" I smile. "Yesterday." She sighs and then shakes her head. "Oh, Lilly. I really hope this works out for you. We both stand up as the front door opens. There are bookshelves in front of the door, so I turn my head around them and see a woman walk in. scan the room briefly until she sees me. "Hello," she nods. She's sweet. She's well dressed, but she's wearing white capris. A disaster waiting to happen in this bowl of dust. "I can help you. ?" She tucks her purse under her arm and walks toward me, hand outstretched. "I'm Allysa," she says. I shake her hand. "Lily." She lifts her thumb over her shoulder. "There's a sign wanted?" forward?" I look over my shoulder and raise an eyebrow, "Do they exist?" I didn't put up a Help Wanted sign.


She nods her head and then shrugs. "It looks old," she says. "It's probably been a while. I was walking around and I saw the sign. I was curious, that's all. I like him almost immediately. His voice is good and his smile seems real. My mother's hand falls on my shoulder and she leans in. He walks in and kisses me on the cheek. "I gotta go," she says. "Door open tonight." I wave at her and watch her leave, then turn my attention to Allysa. months." She should know better than to be judgmental, but she doesn't seem to be happy with a minimum wage job. Her purse probably costs more than this building. Her eyes shine. "Really? I love flowers!" Spinning in circles, he says, "This place has so much potential. What color are you painting it?


I cross my arm over my chest and grab my elbow. I rock back on my heels and say, “I'm not sure. I only got the keys to the building an hour ago, so I haven't developed a project plan yet. "Lilly, right?" I agree. "I don't plan on getting a design degree, but it's my favorite thing to do. If you need help, I'd do it for free." I nod. "Would you work for free?" She nods. "I don't really need a job, I just saw the sign and said, 'What the hell?' But sometimes I get bored. I'm happy to help you with anything you need. Cleaning, decorating, choosing colors. I'm a Pinterest whore. Something behind me catches his eye and he points to it. "I could take this broken port and make it great. All those things, really. There's a use for just about everything, you know. "I look around the room, knowing full well I won't be able to do this alone.


I probably can't even lift half of these things on my own. I'm going to have to hire someone at some point anyway. "I won't let you work for free. But I can make you $10 an hour if you're serious." She starts gossiping and if she wasn't wearing high heels she could be jumping up and down. "When can I start?" I look at her white capris. "Will it work tomorrow? They'll probably want to show up in disposables. She waves a hand and places her Hermès bag on a dusty table next to her. "Nonsense," she says. "My husband watches the Bruins play in a bar down the street. If that's okay, I'll stay with you and get started right away." ••• Two hours later, I'm convinced I've met my new best friend. And she really is a Pinterest bitch. We wrote "Keep" and "Toss" on sticky notes and stuck them to everything in the room. She's a fan of upcycling, so we came up with something.


Ideas for at least 75% of things left in the building. The rest, she says, her husband can throw away when he has free time. Once we've figured out what we're going to do with it all, I grab a notebook and pen and we sit down at one of the tables jotting down design ideas. "Okay," she says, leaning back in her chair. I want to laugh because her white capris are now covered in dirt, but she doesn't seem to care. "Do you have a purpose for this place?" he asks, looking around. "I have one," I tell him. "Successfully." She laughs. "I have no doubt you'll make it. But you need a vision. I think about what my mom said. 'Just make sure you're bold and daring, Lily,' I smile, sitting up straighter in my chair . "Bold and daring. I say. "I want this place to be different. I want to take risks." She narrows her eyes as she chews on the tip of the quill "But you only sell flowers" she said.


He says. "How can you be bold and daring with flowers?" I look around the room and try to figure out what I'm thinking. I'm not even sure what I'm thinking. I feel itchy and restless, like I'm about to have a brilliant idea. "What words come to mind when you think of flowers?" I ask. She shrugs. "I don't know. They're pretty, I guess? They're alive, so they make me think about life. And maybe the color pink. And spring." And then: "Allysa, you're brilliant!" I get up and start walking, "We've taken everything everyone loves about flowers and made it the exact opposite!" so she doesn't follow me. "What if instead of showing the cute side of flowers, let's show the villainous side? Instead of pink accents, we use darker colors like a deep purple or even black."


And instead of just spring and life, we also celebrate winter and death." Allysa's eyes are wide. "But...but what if someone wants pink flowers?" "Well, we'll give them the what they want, of course. But we'll also give them what they don't know they want." He scratches his cheek. "So you're thinking about black flowers?" She looks worried and I don't blame her. He just sees the darker side of my vision. I sit up at the table and try to talk to her: "Someone once told me that there are no bad people. We are all humans who sometimes do bad things. It stuck with me because it's so true. We all have a little bit of good in us and a little bit of bad in us. This is what I want our theme to be. Instead of painting the walls a sweet putrid color, let's paint them dark purple with accents in black And instead of displaying the usual pastel flower arrangements in boring glass vases that make people think about life, we get nervous.


Brave and daring. We feature darker flowers wrapped in things like leather or silver chains. And instead of putting them in glass vases, we put them in black onyx or . . . I don't know . . . Lilac velvet vases with silver rivets. The ideas are endless.” I get up again. “There are flower shops for flower lovers on every corner. But which florist caters to all those people who hate flowers? Allyssa shakes her head. "None of them," he whispers. "Exactly. None of them." We look at each other for a moment and then I can't take it anymore. I am filled with emotion and I start laughing like a silly child. Allysa starts laughing too and jumps up and hugs me. "Lily, it's so fuzzy, it's brilliant!" "I know!" I am full of new energy. “I need a table so I can sit down and make a business plan! But my future office is full of old vegetable crates!”


She goes to the back of the store. "Well, let's get you out of there and buy you a table!" We entered the office and started moving boxes one by one into a back room. I climb on the chair to make the stacks higher so we have more freedom of movement. “They are perfect for the window displays I envision.” He hands me two more boxes and walks away, and as I tiptoe to stack them on top, the pile starts to fall. I try to find something to hold on to, but the boxes knock me off my chair. When I land on the ground, I feel like my foot is bending in the wrong direction. The pain follows, up my leg and down to my toes. Allysa runs back into the living room and has to take two of the boxes away from me. "Lily!" She says. "Oh my God, are you okay?" I sit up, but I don't even try to put weight on my ankle. I shake my head. "My ankle."


He immediately takes off my shoe and then takes his phone out of his pocket. He starts dialing a number and then looks at me. "I know it's a stupid question, but do you have a cooler with ice in here?" I shake my head. "I thought so," she says. He puts the phone on speaker and sets it down as he starts to roll up my pant leg. I flinch, but not so much from the pain. I can't believe I did something so stupid. If I break it, I'm screwed. I just spent my entire inheritance on a building that I can't even take months to renovate. "Hello, Issa," a voice croons on her phone. "Where are you? Game over" Allysa picks up her phone and puts it to her mouth. Listen, I need. . ." The guy interrupts her and says, "At work? Honey, you don't even have a job." Allysa shakes her head and says, "Marshall, listen. It's an emergency, I think my boss broke his ankle. I need you to bring me some ice cream..."


He cuts her off with a laugh. "Your boss? Honey, you don't even have a job," she repeats. Allysa rolls her eyes. "Marshall, are you drunk?" "It's monkey day," she drawls into the phone. Got it, Issa. Free beer. until…” She groans. “Put my brother on the phone.” “Good, good,” Marshall mutters. The phone clicks, and then, “Yeah?” Allysa spits our location into the phone. “Get over here right away. Please. And bring an ice pack." "Yes ma'am," he says. The brother appears to be a little drunk too. There's laughter, and then someone says to the boys, "He's in a bad mood," and then the line goes dead. Allysa puts her phone back in her bag. "I'll wait for you outside, they're at the end of the street. Can you take care of this?"


I nod and take the chair. "Maybe I should try walking on it." Allysa pushes my shoulders back until I'm leaning against the wall again. "No, don't move. Wait until they get here, okay? I have no idea what two drunk guys can do for me, but I nod. My new employee feels more like my boss now and I'm a little freaked out right now. I had been waiting in the back for about ten minutes when I finally heard the front door of the building open. "What the hell?" a man's voice says. "Why? Are you alone in this creepy building?" I hear Allysa say, "He's back." She walks in, followed by a guy in overalls. He's tall, a little thin, but boyishly handsome, with big, honest eyes and a straight head. Full of messy dark hair that's long overdue for a cut. He's holding a bag of ice cream. Did I mention he's wearing a jumpsuit? I'm talking about a real grown man in a SpongeBob jumpsuit.


"Is that your husband?" I ask, raising an eyebrow. Allyssa rolls her eyes. "Unfortunately," she says and looks at him. Another guy (also in overalls) walks in behind them, but my attention is on Allysa as she explains why they're in their pajamas on any given Wednesday afternoon. “There's a bar down the street that gives out free beer to anyone who shows up to a Bruins game in overalls.” She walks over to me and motions for the guys to follow. "He fell out of his chair and hurt his ankle," she tells the other. He walks around Marshall and the first thing I notice are his arms. He fuckin' shit. I know these arms. These are the arms of a neurosurgeon. Is Allysa his sister? The sister who owns the entire top floor with the man who works in his pajamas and makes seven figures a year? As soon as my eyes meet Ryle's, her whole face breaks into a smile. Haven't seen him in... God, how long has it been... six


months? I can't say I haven't thought about him the last six months because I've thought about him a lot. But I never thought I'd see him again. Ryle, this is Lily. Lily, my brother, Ryle,” she says, pointing at him. "And this is my man, Marshall." Ryle walks over to me and kneels down. "Lily," he says, looking at me with a smile. "Nice to meet you." It's obvious he remembers me, I can tell by his knowing smile. But, like me, he's acting like we're meeting for the first time. I'm not sure I feel like explaining why we've met before. Ryle touches my ankle and inspects it. "Can you move it?" I try to move it, but a sharp pain shoots up my leg. I suck in air through my teeth and shake my head. "Not yet. It hurts." Ryle greets Marshall. "Find something to put the ice on."


Allysa follows Marshall out of the room. When the two were gone, Ryle looked over at me and his mouth twisted into a smile. "I won't charge for it, but only because I'm a little drunk," he says with a wink. I tilt my head. "When I met you, you were high. Now you're drunk. I'm worried you're not a very qualified neurosurgeon." He laughs. "That's how it looks," he says. It's my first day off in over a month, so I really needed a beer. Or five. Marshall returns with an old cloth wrapped in some ice. He hands it to Ryle, who presses it against my ankle. "I need that first aid kit in your trunk," Ryle tells Allysa. She nods, grabs Marshall's hand and leads him out of the room. Ryle presses his palm against the sole of my foot. "Press against my hand," he says.


I push down with my ankle. It hurts, but I can move his hand. "Is broken?" He moves my foot from side to side and says, “I don't think so. Let's give it a few minutes and I'll see if you can strain it. I nod and watch him settle into me. He sits down cross-legged and places my foot in his lap. He looks around the room, then turns his attention to me. "So what is this place?" I smile too much. “Lily flowers. She's going to be a florist in about two months. I swear her face is beaming with pride. “No way,” she says. “What about you? Are you really going to start your own business?” I nod. “Yes. I figured I'd give it a try while I'm still young enough to bounce back from failure. One of his hands holds the ice cream to my ankle, but the other is wrapped around my bare foot. Move your thumb back and


like it was no big deal that he touched me. But his hand on my foot is much more noticeable than the pain in my ankle. "I look ridiculous, don't I?" he asks, eyeing her solid red jumpsuit. I shrug. "At least you made a different character choice. It gives him a little more maturity than SpongeBob's choice." .”You are even prettier during the day.” Moments like this are why I absolutely hate having red hair and fair skin. The embarrassment isn't just showing in my cheeks—my whole face, arms, and neck are turning red. I lean my head against the wall behind me. I look at him the way he looks at me. "Do you want to hear the naked truth?" He nods. "Since that night I've wanted to go back to your roof more than once.


Scared that you were there. You make me a little nervous. His fingers pause their movements against my foot. "It's my turn?" I agree. His eyes narrow as his hand slides under my foot. He slowly runs his fingers from the tips of my toes to my heels. "I still really want to fuck you." Someone is panting and it's not me. Ryle and I both look at the door and Allysa is standing there with wide eyes. Her mouth is open as he points at Ryle. "Did you just..." She looks at me and says "I'm sorry Lily" And then she looks at Ryle with venomous eyes "Did you just tell my boss you wanted to have sex with her?" "Oh, honey. Ryle pulls out his bottom lip and chews on it for a second. Marshall walks up behind Allysa and says, "What's up?"


Allysa looks at Marshall and points at Ryle. "He just told Lily he wanted to have sex with her!" Marshall looks from Ryle to me. I don't know whether to laugh or crawl under the table and hide. "You did it?" he says and looks at Ryle. Ryle shrugs. "Looks like it," he says. Allysa puts her head in her hands, "Jesus Christ," she says, looking up at me. "He's drunk. They're both drunk. Please don't judge me because my brother is an idiot." I smile at him and wave my hand. "It's okay, Allysa. A lot of people want to fuck me." I look over at Ryle and he's still casually stroking my foot. "At least your brother is speaking his mind. 'Let's see if you can weigh this,' he says. He and Marshall help me to my feet. Ryle points to a table a few feet away that has been raised.


Against a wall. "Let's try to get to the table to finish." His arm is wrapped around my waist and he holds my arm to make sure I don't fall. Marshall is more or less supportive on my side. I put some weight on my ankle and it hurts, but it's not unbearable. With a lot of help from Ryle, I manage to jump onto the table. He helps me up until I'm sitting on top, leaning against the wall with my leg straight. "Well, the good news is, it's not broken." "What is the bad news?" I ask him. He opens the first aid kit and says, "You're going to have to stay out of this for a few days. Maybe even a week or more, depending on how it heals. I close my eyes and lean my head against the wall behind me." do," I growl. He carefully begins to wrap my ankle. Allysa stands behind him and watches as he wraps.


"I'm thirsty," says Marshall. "Would you like something to drink? There's a CVS on the other side of the street." "Estoy bien," Ryle says. "I'm going to take water," he says. "Sprite," Allysa says. You come with me." Allysa removes her hand from his and crosses her arms over her chest. "I'm not going anywhere," she says. "My brother is unreliable." “Allysa, it's okay,” I tell her. “He made a joke.” She looks at me silently for a moment, then says, “Okay. But you can't fire me if I do the stupidest things.” “I promise I won't fire you.” With that, he grabs Marshall's hand again and leaves the room. Ryle is still wrapping my foot as he says, “My sister works for you?" "Yes. I hired her a few hours ago."


He picks up the first aid kit and takes off the tape. "Do you realize she's never had a job in her life?" "She warned me," I tell him. His jaw is clenched and he doesn't look as relaxed as he used to. Then it occurs to me that he might think I hired her to be closer to him. "I had no idea it was your sister until you came in. I swear." He looks at me, then back down at my foot. "I didn't say you knew." He starts putting on the ACE bandage "I know it wasn't you. I just didn't want you to think I was trying to get to you somehow. We want two different things out of life remember? He nods and carefully places my foot back on the table. "That's right," he says. "I specialize in one-night stands and you're looking for your holy grail." I laugh. "You have a good memory." "I do," he says. A lazy smile spreads across her mouth, "But you're also hard to forget."


Jesus. You need to stop saying things like that. I press my palms to the table and pull my leg down. "The naked truth is coming." He leans against the table next to me and says, "All ears." I don't keep anything. "I'm very attracted to you," I tell him. "There isn't much about you that I don't like. And since we both want different things, I would appreciate it if someday we get back together, you would stop saying things that make me dizzy. It really isn't fair to me." He nods his head once and then says, "It's my turn." He places his hand on the table beside me and leans forward a little. "I'm also very attracted to you. There's not much about you I don't like. But I hope we never get back together because I don't like how much I think about you. It's not much, but it's more than I'd like. So if you You still won't agree to a one-night stand, so I think we'd better do something.


we can avoid each other. Because he's not doing any of us a favor. I don't know how he ended up so close to me, but he's only a foot away. Proximity makes it difficult to pay attention to the words that come out of his mouth. His gaze briefly drops to my mouth, but by the time we hear the front door open, he's in the middle of the room. When Allysa and Marshall arrive, Ryle is busy re-stacking all the dropped boxes. Allysa looks down at my ankle. "What's the verdict?" She asks. I push up my bottom lip. "Your brother, the doctor, said I should take a break for a few days." She passes me my water. "It's good you have me. I get to work and do what I can to tidy up while you rest. I take a drink of water and wipe my mouth. "Allysa, I'm going to make you employee of the month.” she smiles, then turns to Marshall. “Did you hear that? I'm the best employee you have!"


He puts his arm around her and kisses her head. "I'm proud of you, Issa." I like that he calls her Issa, which I assume is short for Allysa. I'm thinking about my own name and if I'll ever meet a guy who can shorten it to a cute obnoxious nickname. illy. No, it's not the same. "Do you need help getting home?" she asks. I jump down and try my foot. "Maybe just my car. It's my left foot, so I'm probably good at driving." He walks over to me and puts his arm around me. “If you want to leave me the keys, I'll lock it up and come back tomorrow and start cleaning. The three of them lead me out to the car, but Ryle lets Allysa do most of the work. Touch me now. As I climb into the driver's seat, Allysa puts my purse and other belongings in. He climbs out and climbs into the passenger seat. He takes out my cell phone and starts programming his number into it.


Ryle leans toward the window. “Make sure you keep as much ice as possible for the next few days. Bathrooms help too. I agree. "Thank you for your help." Allysa leans forward and says, "Ryle? Maybe you should take her home and take a cab back to the apartment, just to be sure." Ryle looks at me, then shakes his head. "I don't think that's a good idea. He says, 'She's going to be fine. I had a few beers, I probably shouldn't be driving.' "You could at least help her get home," suggests Allysa. Ryle shakes his head, then pats the roof of the car as it turns and drives away. I'm still looking at him when Allysa hands me my phone back and says, "Seriously. I feel sorry for him. First he flirts with you, then he's a selfish asshole. He gets out of the car and closes the door, then leans out the window. "That's why he's going to be single for life." He points to my phone. "Tell me when


you come home and call me if you need anything. I don't count favors like time.” “Thanks, Allyssa.” She smiles. “No thanks. I haven't been this excited about my life since the Paolo Nutini concert I went to last year," she waves and walks over to where Marshall and Ryle are walking down the street and I watch them in the rearview mirror. Ryle looks over his shoulder and comes back to me. I close my eyes and exhale. The two times I've been with Ryle have been days I'd probably rather forget. My father's funeral and my sprained ankle. But somehow their presence it made them feel less of the mess they were. I hate that he's Allysa's brother. I have a feeling this won't be the last time I see him."

Chapter 4 It takes me half an hour to get from the car to my apartment. I called Lucy twice to see if she could help me, but she didn't answer the phone. When I get to my apartment, it annoys me a little to see her lying on the couch with the phone to her ear. I slam the door behind me and she looks up. "What happened to you?" She asks. I use the wall for support as I leap into the hall. "I touched my ankle." When I get to my bedroom door, she yells, "Sorry I didn't answer the phone! I'm talking to Alex! I wanted to call you back!" "That is good!" i yell back and then slam my bedroom door i go into the bathroom and find some old pain pills i had stuffed in a


Cabinet. I swallow two of them and then fall onto my bed and look up at the ceiling. I can't believe I'm going to be stuck in this apartment for a week. I take out my phone and text my mom. I touched my ankle. I'm fine, but can I send you a list of things I can buy in the store?

I leave my phone on the bed, and for the first time since moving here, I'm grateful that my mom lives right next to me. Actually, it wasn't so bad. I think I like it better now that my father is dead. I know it's because he had a lot of resentment towards her for never leaving him. Although much of that resentment towards my mother has disappeared, I still have those same feelings when I think about my father. It can't be good to still have so much bitterness towards my father. But dammit, he was terrible. For my mother, for me, for Atlas. Atlas.


I was so busy moving my mom and secretly looking for a new building between work hours that I didn't have time to finish the journals I started reading so many months ago. Unfortunately I jump into my locker and only trip once. Luckily I stop at my dresser. Once I have the diary in hand, I go back to bed and settle in. I have nothing better to do next week now that I can't work. I could also feel sorry for my past while being forced to feel sorry for the present. Dear Ellen, Her performance at the Oscars was the biggest thing to happen to television last year. I don't think I ever told you that. The vacuum sketch made me pee my pants. Oh, and today I recruited a new follower of Ellen at Atlas. Before you start judging me for letting him into my house, let me explain how that happened.


After letting him shower here yesterday, I didn't see him last night. But this morning he was sitting next to me on the bus again. He looked a little happier than the day before when he slid into the seat and smiled at me. Not gonna lie, it was kind of weird seeing him in my dad's clothes. But the pants fit a lot better than I thought. "Guess what?" he said. He leaned forward and opened his backpack. "What?" He picked up a bag and handed it to me. "I found it in the garage. I tried to clean them because they were covered in old grime, but there's not much I can do without water. I grabbed the bag and gave him a suspicious look. That's the most I've ever heard him say. Finally I looked up and opened the bag. It looked like a bunch of old garden tools. "I saw you dig with that spade the other day. I wasn't sure if you had real garden tools and nobody used them like that. . .”


"Thanks," I said. I was a little taken aback. I used to have a paddle but the plastic broke on the handle and it started blistering. I asked my mom for some gardening tools for my birthday last year, and when she bought me a big shovel and a hoe, I didn't have the heart to tell her I didn't need them. Atlas cleared his throat and said in a much quieter voice, “I know it's not a real gift. ." He didn't finish the sentence, so I shook my head and retied the bag, "Do you think I can keep them until after school?" I don't have room in my backpack." He took the bag from me and then placed the backpack on his lap and placed the bag inside. She wrapped her arms around her backpack. "How old are you?" I ask. "Fifteen." The look in her eyes made him a little sad for my age, but I don't know why.


"Are you in tenth grade?" I shook my head but honestly couldn't think of anything to say to him. I haven't really been in touch with many guys. Especially older people. When I'm nervous, I just shut up. "I don't know how long I'm going to be in this place," he said, lowering his voice again. "But if you need help with gardening or anything after school, it's not like I have much to do there. Like I don't have electricity." I laughed, then wondered if I should have laughed at his self-deprecating comment. . the rest of the bus ride talking about you, Ellen. When he made that comment about being bored, I asked him if he'd ever watched his show. He said he would watch it because he thinks you're funny, but a TV would need electricity. Another comment that hit me hard. It made me wonder if I should have laughed. I told him he could watch his show with me after school. I always record on the DVR and


Watch him while I do my homework. I figured I could lock the front door, and if my parents got there early, I'd let Atlas run out the back door. I didn't see him until we got home today. This time he didn't sit next to me because Katie got on the bus before him and sat next to me. He was going to ask him to move out, but then he thought he was in love with Atlas. Katie would have a great day with that, so I let her take my place. Atlas was at the front of the bus, so he got off before me. I was a little uncomfortable standing at the bus stop waiting for me to get off. As he did so, he opened the backpack and handed me the tool bag. He didn't say anything about my invitation to watch TV this morning, so I pretended it was fact. "Let's go," I told him. He followed me inside and I closed the bolt. "If my parents come home early, run out the back door and don't let them see you."


He agreed. "Don't worry. I'll do it," he said with a smile. I asked if he would like a drink and he said yes. I made a sandwich and took our drinks into the living room. I sat down on the sofa. and sat in my father's chair. I turned on his program and that's all that happened. We didn't talk much because I fast-forwarded all the commercials. But I noticed that he was laughing at all the right times. Comic timing is one of the most important things in a person's personality. Every time he laughed at his jokes, it made me feel better to sneak into the house. I do not know why. Maybe because I feel less than." I would feel guilty if he was really someone I could be friends with. He left after his show ended. I was about to ask him if he needed to use our shower again, but that would have made him very upset. close until my parents came home. The last thing I


He wanted me to run naked out of the shower and across my backyard. Then again, that would be fun and awesome. —Lily Dear Ellen, come on woman. representatives? A whole week of reps? I understand you need some free time, but let me make a suggestion. Instead of recording one show a day, consider recording two. That way, you do twice as much in half the time and never have to go through reps. I say "we" because I mean Atlas and me. It has become my regular Ellen Watching partner. I think maybe he loves you as much as I do, but I will never tell him that I write to you every day. This might seem a bit too fanciful. She has lived in this house for two weeks now. He has showered at my place a few more times and I give him something to eat every time I visit. I even do her laundry while she's here after school. He keeps apologizing like he's a


To load. But honestly I love it. He distracts me and I look forward to spending time with him every day after school. Dad got home late tonight, which means he went to the bar after work. Which means he's probably going to fight my mom. Which means he'll probably do something stupid again. I swear sometimes I get so mad at her for staying with him. I know I'm only fifteen and I probably don't understand all the reasons he's staying, but I refuse to let him use me as an excuse. I don't care if she's too poor to leave and we have to move into a shitty apartment and eat ramen noodles until I graduate. That would be better than that. I can hear him yelling at her now. Sometimes when he gets like this I go to the living room and wait for him to calm down. He doesn't like to hit him when I'm in the room. Perhaps you should try this. -Lily


Dear Ellen, if I had access to a gun or a knife right now, I would kill him. As soon as I entered the room, I saw him pinning her to the floor. They were standing in the kitchen and she grabbed his arm trying to calm him down and he smacked her back with his hand and knocked her to the floor. I'm sure he was about to kick her, but he saw me enter the room and stopped. He muttered something under his breath and then walked into her room and closed the door. I ran into the kitchen and tried to help her, but she never wanted me to see her like this. He dismissed me and said, "I'm fine Lily. I'm fine, we just had a silly fight." That I was fine, he turned his back on me and held his hand out to the counter, "I said I'm fine, Lily. Go back to her room.


I ran down the hall but didn't go back to my room. I ran out the back door and across the yard. I was so mad at her for cutting it. I didn't even want to be in the same house as the two of them, and even though I thought it was dark, I went to the house where Atlas lived and knocked on the door. I could hear him moving around in there like he'd accidentally dropped something. "Here I am, Lily." I whispered. A few seconds later the back door opened and he looked back left and right. It wasn't until he looked into my face that he saw that I was crying. "You asked, leaving. I used my shirt to wipe my tears and realized he left instead of letting me in. I sat on the porch step and he sat next to me. just angry. Sometimes I cry when I get angry. rage ".


He reached out and tucked my hair behind my ear. I liked it when he did that and suddenly he wasn't so mad. Then he put his arm around me and pulled me close so that my head was resting on his shoulder. I don't know how he calmed me down without even speaking, but he did. Some people just have a calming presence, and he's one of those people. Completely different from my father. We sat like that for a while until I saw my bedroom light come on. "You should go," he whispered. We could both see my mom standing in my room looking for me. It wasn't until that moment that I realized what a perfect view she has of my room. On the way home I tried to think the whole time that Atlas was in that house. I tried to remember if I walked around at night with the lights on, because I usually only wear a T-shirt in my room at night.


Here's the crazy thing about it, Ellen: I hoped it had. - Lily, I'll close the diary when the painkillers take effect. I will continue reading tomorrow. Perhaps. When I read about the things my father did to my mother, I get in a bad mood. Reading about Atlas puts me in a bad mood. I try to sleep and think about Ryle, but the whole situation with him makes me angry and sad. Maybe I'm just thinking about Allysa and how lucky I am that she showed up today. I could use a friend, let alone help, over the next few months. I feel like it's going to be more stressful than I expected.

Chapter Five Ryle was right. It only took a few days before my ankle was good enough to walk again. However, I waited a full week before trying to leave my apartment. The last thing I need is to hurt him again. First, of course, I went to my flower shop. Allysa was there when I arrived today and to say she was surprised when I walked in the front door is an understatement. It looked like a completely different building than the one I bought. There's still a lot of work to be done, but she and Marshall got rid of all the stuff we'd marked as junk. Everything else was organized into piles. Windows have been cleaned, floors


He even cleaned up the area where I plan to set up an office. I helped her out for a few hours today, but initially she wouldn't let me do much that required walking, so I basically drew blueprints for the shop. We selected the paint colors and set a deadline for the opening of the store, which is approximately fifty-four days from now. After she left, I spent the next few hours doing all the things she wouldn't let me do while she was there. It was good to be back. But sir, I'm tired. So I'm debating whether or not I should get up off the couch and answer the knock on the front door. Lucy is back with Alex tonight and I just spoke to my mom five minutes ago so I know it's not one of them. I go to the door and check the peephole before I open it. At first I don't recognize him because he has his head down, but then he looks up and to the right and my heart races! What is he doing here?


Ryle calls out again, and I try to push the hair out of my face and smooth it down with my hands, but it's no use. I shaved my ass today and I look like shit. So if I don't have half an hour to shower, make up and dress before opening the door, he has to take care of me as I am. I open the door and her immediate reaction confuses me. "Jesus Christ," he says, banging his head against my doorframe. He's panting like he's been working out, and then I notice he doesn't look any more rested or clean than I do. He's been unshaven for a few days now, something I've never seen him do before, and his hair isn't styled like it normally is. He's a little unpredictable, like the look in his eyes. "Do you have any idea how many doors I knocked on to find you?" I shake my head because I don't. But now that you mention it, how the hell do you know where I live?


"Twenty-nine," he says. She then raises her hands and repeats the numbers with her fingers as she whispers, “Two. . . nine. I let my eyes wander to her clothes. She's wearing a robe and I absolutely hate that she's wearing a robe right now. Holy hell. Much better than mono and much better than Burberry. In twenty-nine gates? I ask, head cocked. "You never told me which apartment you owned," he says matter-of-factly. You said you lived in this building, but I can't remember if he said, "What floor are you on? And for the record, I almost started on the third floor. I would have been here an hour ago if I hadn't just followed my instincts." over her face and then points over my shoulder. "Can I pass?" I look over my shoulder and open the door wider. If you tell me what you want."


He walks in and I close the door behind us. He looks around, wearing his stupid hot robe, and puts his hands on his hips as he glares at me. He looks a little disappointed, but I'm not sure if it's him or me. "There's a big bare truth here, okay?" he says. "Hold tight." I cross my arms over my chest and watch as he inhales and prepares to speak. “These next few months are the most important months of my entire career. I have to concentrate, I'm coming to the end of my residency and then I have to do my exams. He's pacing my living room, talking frantically with his hands. "But for the last week I haven't been able to get you out of my mind. I don't know why. At work, at home. All I can think about is how crazy it is to be around you and I need you to stop, Lily. He stops and looks at me, "Please let him stop. Just once, that's all it takes. I swear."


My fingers dig into the skin on my arms as I watch him. He's still a little breathless and his eyes are still frantic, but he looks at me pleadingly. "When was the last time you slept?" I ask. He rolls his eyes like he's frustrated because I don't understand. "I just got off a 48 hour shift," he says dismissively. "Focus, Lily." I nod, replaying his words in my head. If I didn't know better. . . You would almost think it was him. . . I breathe easy. "Ryle," I say cautiously. "Did you really just knock on twenty-nine doors to tell me that thinking about me makes your life hell and that I should have sex with you so you never have to think about me again? Are you kidding me now?" He purses his lips and after about five seconds of thinking, he slowly shakes his head. "Well...yes, but...it sounds a lot worse when you say it.


I let out an angry laugh. "It's because it's ridiculous, Ryle." She bites her bottom lip and looks around the room like she's suddenly about to run away. I open the door and wave him out. He doesn't. His gaze lands on my foot. "Your ankle looks good," he says. "How it feels?" I put my eye white. "Better. Got to help Allysa at the store for the first time today." He nods, then pretends to head for the door to leave. But as soon as he reaches me, he turns to me and slams his palms against me. the door on either side of my head. I gasp at both his closeness and his insistence. "Please?" he says. I shake my head even as my body starts to switch sides, begging my mind to give up. Good at that, Lily," he says with a smile. "You won't have to work so hard anymore." I try not to laugh, but his determination is as endearing as it is irritating. "Good night, Ryle."


His head drops between his shoulders and he rocks it from side to side. He turns away from the door and straightens up. He turns and heads down the hall, but suddenly drops to his knees in front of me. He wraps his arms around my waist. "Please Lily," he says with a self-deprecating laugh. "Please have sex with me." He gives me dog eyes and a pathetic, hopeful smile. "I want you so, so bad and I swear that once you have sex with me, you'll never hear from me again. I promise. There's something about a neurosurgeon literally begging for sex on his knees that bothers me. He's so pathetic." and he pulls his hands towards the door on either side of me until he holds me in his arms “Is that a yes?” His chest barely touches mine and I hate how good it feels to be wanted so badly I should be down but i can barely breathe when


Look at him, especially when he has that lewd smile on his face. "I don't feel sexy right now, Ryle. I've worked all day, I'm exhausted, I smell sweat and I probably taste like dust. If you give me a little shower, I might feel sexy enough to have sex." with you." He nods feverishly before she finishes speaking. Take your time. I'll wait." I push him away from me and close the front door. He follows me into the bedroom and I tell him to wait for me in bed. Luckily I cleaned my room last night. Usually I have clothes lying around, books piled up on my nightstand, shoes and bras that don't fit in my closet.


I take a quick look around the room just to make sure he doesn't see anything embarrassing. He sits on my bed and I watch as he scans the room. I'm at my bathroom door and I try to tell him one last time. "You say this will stop him, but I'm warning you now, Ryle. I'm like a drug. If you have sex with me tonight, it'll only make things worse for you. But once is all you get. I refuse." to be one of many." girls you used to be. How did you say that night? Satisfy your needs? She sits up on her elbows. "You're not that kind of girl, Lily. I'm not the type to need someone more than once. We have nothing to be afraid of. I close the door behind me, wondering how the hell this guy convinced me to do this. Yeah. the uniform The uniform is my weakness It's has nothing to do with him I wonder if there's any way to leave them on during sex.


••• It never took me more than half an hour to get ready, but it took me almost an hour to get ready in the bathroom. I shaved more parts of myself than was probably necessary, so I spent a good twenty minutes freaking out and had to talk myself into opening the door and telling him to come out. But now that my hair is dry and I'm cleaner than ever, I think I can do this. I can have a one night stand. I'm 23 and I open the door and he's still lying in my bed. I'm a little disappointed when I see his top is on the floor, but I don't see his pants, so she must still be wearing them. But it's under the covers, so I can't tell. I close the door behind me and wait for him to turn and look at me, but he doesn't. I take a few steps closer and realize he's snoring. Not just a light, oh I just fell asleep, snoring. It's kind of like snoring in the middle of REM sleep.


"Rile?" I whisper. He doesn't even move when I shake him. You must be kidding. I throw myself on the bed and don't even bother waking him up. I just spent a whole hour getting ready for him after getting screwed today and this is how he treats me tonight? But I can't bring myself to stay mad at him, especially when I see how peaceful he looks. I can't imagine working a 48 hour shift. Also, my bed is very comfortable. It is so comfortable that a person can immediately fall asleep again after a full night's rest. I should have warned you about this. I look at the time on my phone and it's almost 10:30 pm. I put the phone on silent and lie down next to him. His phone is on the pillow beside his head, so I pick it up and slide it to the camera option. I hold her phone above us and make sure my cleavage is nice and lifted. I take a picture so you can at least see what you missed.


I turn off the light and laugh to myself because I fall asleep next to a half-naked man I've never kissed. ••• I can feel his fingers creeping up my arm before I even open my eyes. I suppress a tired smile and pretend I'm still asleep. His fingers trail down my shoulder, stopping at my collarbone just before reaching my neck. I have a little tattoo there that I got in college. It's a simple outline of a heart, slightly open at the top. I can feel her fingers wrap around the tattoo, so she leans in and presses her lips against it. I close my eyes even tighter. "Lily," he whispers, wrapping an arm around my waist. I moan a little, trying to wake up, and then roll onto my back so I can look at him. When I open my eyes, he stares at me. I can tell by the sunlight shining through my windows and into his face that it's not even seven in the morning.


"I am the most despicable man you will ever meet. Am I correct?" I laugh and nod a little. "Pretty close". He smiles and then brushes my hair out of my face. He leans forward and presses his lips to my forehead and I hate that he's doing this. Now it will be me who will be tormented by sleepless nights because I want that memory to repeat itself. "I have to go," he says. "I'm really late. But one thing, I'm sorry. Never do this again. It's the last you'll ever hear from me, I promise. And thirdly, I'm sorry. You have no idea." I force a smile, but I want to frown. because I absolutely hated his number two. I really don't mind if he tries again, but then I remember we want two different things out of life. And thank God he fell asleep and we didn't even kiss because if I had had sex with him while he was in his robe, I would have shown up on my knees at his door asking for more.


It's good. Tear off the plaster and let it go. "Have a good life, Ryle. I wish you all the success in the world." You too, Lily. Then he pulls away from me and stands up. I can't even look at him right now, so I turn to the side with my back to him. I listen as she puts on her shoes and picks up the phone. There's a long pause before he moves again, and I know it's because he was looking at me. I close my eyes until I hear the front door slam. My face instantly heats up and I refuse to get down. I force myself out of bed. I have work to do. I can't get mad because I'm not good enough to make a man reset all his life goals. Also, I now have my own life goals to fulfill. And I'm really excited about them.


So much so that I don't have time for a guy in my life anyway. There is no time. no busy girls here. I am a bold and daring businesswoman who has nothing to give men in a robe.

Chapter 6 It's been fifty-three days since Ryle left my apartment this morning. Which means it's been fifty-three days since I've heard from him. But that was okay, because the last fifty-three days I'd been too busy to think about him too much as I prepared for this moment. "Prepare?" says Allysa. I nod and she turns the sign to open and we both hug and scream like kids. We go around the counter and wait for our first customer. It's a soft opening, so I haven't put in any real marketing effort yet, but we just want to make sure there are no issues before our opening. “It's really beautiful here,” says Allysa, admiring our hard work. I look around and I explode


with proud. Of course I want to be successful, but I'm not even sure now if that matters. I had a dream and I worked hard to make it come true. What happens after today is just icing on the cake. "It smells so good in here," I tell him. "I love that smell." I don't know if we're going to have clients today, but we both act like this is the best thing that's ever happened to us, so I don't think it matters. Also, Marshall is coming over today and my mom is coming over when I get home from work. There must be two customers. that's a lot. Allysa squeezes my arm as the front door starts to open. All of a sudden I'm a little bit panicked, because what if something goes wrong? And then I panic because something went wrong. Terribly wrong. My first client is none other than Ryle Kincaid. When the door closes behind him, he stops and looks around in wonder. "What?" he says and turns


in a circle. "As in . . . ?" He looks at me and Allysa. "This is amazing. It doesn't even look like the same building! Okay, maybe you'll agree he's the first customer. It takes him a few minutes to get to the counter because he can't stop touching and looking at things. When he finally catches up with us, Allysa runs over around the bar and hugs him. Isn't that cool?" he says. She waves a hand in my direction. "It was all his idea. I just helped out with the dirty work." Ryle laughs. "I can't believe her Pinterest skills didn't play a minor role." Seat." She's humble. Her skills were half of what that vision was." Ryle smiles. Me and it might as well have been a knife in the chest because dammit! He slams his hands against the counter and says, "Am I the first customer?"


Allysa hands her one of our flyers. "Actually, you have to buy something to be considered a customer." Ryle looks at the flyer and puts it back on the counter. He goes to one of the windows and picks up a vase full of purple lilies. "I want these," he says, placing them on the counter. I smile and wonder if he realizes he just picked lilies. something ironic “Do you want us to take you somewhere?” Allysa says. "Deliveries?" "Allysa and I don't," I reply. “We have a delivery driver on standby. We weren't sure if we would really need this today." "You're really going to buy this for a girl?" Allysa asks.She's just snooping into her brother's love life, as a sister would, of course, but I find myself leaning closer so I can better hear her answer.


"It's me," he says. Her gaze meets mine and she adds, "I don't think about her much. Hardly ever." Allysa takes out a card and hands it to him. "Poor girl," he says. "You're an idiot". She taps the card with her finger. address must be given on the back." I watch him lean over the card and write on both sides. I know I don't have the right, but I'm filled with jealousy. "Take this girl to my birthday party. Friday?" Allysa asks. I watch her reaction closely. He just shakes his head and says without looking up, "No. Will you, Lily?" I'll be there, or if he hopes I won't. Given the stress I seem to be causing him, I think it's the latter. "I haven't decided yet."


"She'll be there," Allysa says, assuring me. She looks at me and narrows her eyes. "You're coming to my party whether you like it or not. If you don't show up, I quit." When Ryle finishes writing, he places the card in the envelope attached to the flowers. Allysa asks for the total, and he pays her in cash. "Lily, did you know that it's customary for a new business to frame the first dollar earned?" I nod. I know, of course. He knows that I know. He just rubs it in my face that his dollar for The Life of This Store will be the one framed on my wall. I almost encourage Allysa to pay her back, but that's one thing. I have to let my wounded pride out there. Once she has the receipt in hand, she bangs her fist on the counter to get my attention. He tilts his head slightly and says with a sincere smile, "Congratulations, Lily." He turns and leaves the store. As soon as the door closes behind him, Allysa grabs it.


to the envelope "Who the hell are you sending flowers to?" she says as she pulls out the card. "Ryle isn't sending flowers." She reads the front of the card aloud. "Make it stop". Holy crap. She looks at him for a moment and repeats the phrase. "Make it stop? What the hell does that mean?" he asks. I can't take another second. I take the card and turn it over. He leans over and reads the verse with me, asshole. he says, laughing. "He wrote the address of our flower shop on the back." He takes my card. Wow. Ryle just bought me flowers. Not just any flower. He bought me a bunch of lilies. Allysa grabs her. "I'll text him and tell him he screwed up." She texts him and then laughs as she looks at the flowers. "How can a neurosurgeon be such an idiot?"


I can not stop smiling. I'm relieved he's looking at the flowers and not me, otherwise he'll put two and two together. "I'll keep them in my office until we find out where he was taking them." I pick up the vase and take the flowers with me.

Chapter Seven "Stop moving," Devin says. "I'm not restless." He wraps his arm around mine as he leads me to the elevator. "Yes, you are. And if you pull your shirt back over your cleavage, it defeats the whole purpose of your little black dress." He grabs my shirt and pulls it down, then continues to adjust my bra. Dewin!" I slap his hand and he laughs. "Relax, Lily. I've touched better boobs than yours and I'm still gay." Date people you probably date more than once every six months.


Devin laughs. "Yeah, but that's half your fault. You're the one who left us on dry land to play with the flowers." Devin was one of my favorite people at the marketing company I worked for, but we weren't enough. close enough to make friends outside of work. He stopped by the flower shop this afternoon and took an almost immediate liking to Allysa. She begged him to come to the party with me and since I really didn't want to introduce myself, I finally asked him to come too. I run my hands through my hair and try to catch a glimpse of my reflection in the elevator walls. "Why are you so nervous?" he asks. “I'm not nervous. I hate showing up in places where I don't know anyone. Devin smiles knowingly and says, “What's his name?” I let out a content sigh. Am I that transparent? “Ryle. He's a neurosurgeon. And he really wants to have sex with me."


"How do you know he wants to have sex with you?" “Because he literally got down on one knee and said, 'Please Lily. Please have sex with me.'” Devin raises an eyebrow. "He begged?" I nod. "It wasn't as pathetic as it sounds. It's usually more serene. The elevator beeps and the doors start to open. I can hear music coming from the hallway. Devin takes my hands and says, "What's the plan? Do I have to make this guy jealous?" "No," I say, shaking my head. "That wouldn't be right." But... Ryle insists on telling me every time he sees me that he hopes he never sees me again." Maybe just a little?” I say and wrinkle my nose. “A little?” Devin opens his jaw and says, “Consider it done.” He places a hand on my lower back as he leads me out of the elevator. a


visible door in the hallway, so let's ring the bell. "Why is there only one door?" he says. "You own the entire top floor," he laughs. And does she work for you? Damn, your life is getting more and more interesting. The door starts to open and I'm so relieved to see Allysa standing in front of me. Music and laughter emanate from the apartment behind her. a glass of champagne in one hand and a whip in the other. He sees me looking at the whip with a confused expression on my face, so he throws it over his shoulder and takes my hand. 'Long story,' he laughs. "Come in, come in!" He pulls me along and I grip Devin's hand and pull him behind me. She keeps pulling us through a crowd until we're on the far side of the room. Hey!" he says and tugs on Marshall's arm. He turns and smiles at me, then pulls me into a hug. I'm looking


behind him and around us, but no sign of Ryle. Maybe I got lucky and got a call to work tonight. Marshall grabs Devin's hand and squeezes it. "Hey man! Nice to meet you!" Devin puts an arm around my waist. “I am Dewin!” he yells over the music. "I'm Lily's sex partner!" I laugh and nudge him, then lean into his ear. "This is Marshal. Wrong guy, but good try. Allysa grabs my arm and starts pulling me away from Devin. Marshall starts talking to him and my hand reaches behind me as he pulls me in the opposite direction." okay!" Devin yells. I follow Allysa into the kitchen, where she hands me a glass of champagne. "Drink up," she says. "You deserve it!" I take a sip of champagne, but I can't even appreciate it now that I'm looking at it. it. industrial kitchen with two complete burners.


and a fridge bigger than my apartment. "Shit," I whisper. "Do you really live here?" She laughs. "I know," she says. "And now that I think about it, I didn't even have to marry him for money. Marshall had seven dollars and was driving a Ford Pinto when I fell in love with him." "He still doesn't drive a Ford Pinto" She sighs. Good memories of that car.” She wiggles her eyebrows. “So… Devin is cute.” “And probably more into Marshall than I am.” “Oh, man,” she says. “That's a shame. I thought he was playing matchmaker when I invited him to the party tonight. The kitchen door opens and Devin enters. "Your husband is looking for you," she tells Allysa. She leaves the kitchen laughing the whole time. "I like her a lot," says Devin. "She's nice, huh?"


He leans against the isle and says, "So, I guess I just met the Beggar. My heart races in my chest. I think the neurosurgeon sounds better. I take another sip of my champagne. "How are you? do you know it was him? Did he introduce himself? He shakes his head. "No, but he overheard Marshall introducing me to someone as 'Lily's date.' I thought the look he gave me would set me on fire. That's why I came here. I like you, but I'm not willing to die for you." I laugh." Don't worry, I'm pretty sure that death glare he gave you was really his smile. They overlap most of the time. The door opens again and I immediately stiffen, but it's just a buffet. Sigh of relief. Devin says "Lily" like my name is a disappointment. "What?" "You look like you're about to throw up," he says accusingly. "You really like it."


I put my eye white. But then I drop my shoulders and pretend. "Yes, Devin. I will, I just don't want to." He takes my champagne flute and empties the rest, then puts his arm back in mine. "Let's socialize," he says, dragging me out of the room. cook against my will. "The room is even more crowded now. There must be over a hundred people in here. I'm not even sure I know that many people. We walk and work in the space. I hold back while Devin does more of the talking. He knows someone he has in common. with everyone he's met so far and after following him for about half an hour, I'm convinced he's made it a personal game to find someone to share with everyone here. I'm making out with him, my attention is half on him and half on the room, looking for signs of Ryle, he's nowhere to be found and I'm starting to wonder if the guy Devin saw was Ryle.


"Well, that's weird," says one woman. "What do you think this is?" I looked up to see her looking at an artwork on the wall. It looks like an enlarged photo on a screen. I tilt my head to inspect it. The woman wrinkled her nose and said: "I don't know why anyone would bother turning this photo into wall art. It's terrible. It's so blurry you can't even tell what it is. She walks away irritated and I'm relieved.. I mean... It's a little weird, but who am I to judge Allysa's tastes?" "What do you think?" Her voice is low and deep and right behind me. I close my eyes briefly and take a slow breath before exhaling softly, hoping he doesn't realize her voice is getting to me. I don't really know what it is, but it's interesting. Your sister has good taste.” She walks around me to stand beside me and in front of me. She takes a step closer until she's close enough to brush my arm. “Did you bring a date?”


he asks like it's a casual question, but I know it's not. When I don't answer, he leans in until he whispers in my ear. It's repeated, but this time it's not a question. “You brought a date.” I find the courage to look at him and immediately wish I hadn't. He wears a black suit that makes his attire look obvious. First I swallow the unexpected lump in my throat, and then I say, "Is it a problem that I brought a date?" I look away from him and back at the picture on the wall. "I tried to make it easy for you. You know. I'm just trying to stop it." He smiles and then drinks the rest of his wine. "How thoughtful of you, Lily," he tosses his empty wineglass into a trash can in the corner of the room. He takes the picture, but the glass shatters as it hits the bottom of the empty container. I look around but no one saw what just happened. When I look over at Ryle, he's in the middle of a hallway and disappears into a


Zimmer and I are here looking at the picture again. There I see. The image is blurry so it was hard to see at first. But I can see that hair from anywhere. this is my hair. It's hard to miss, along with the marine polymer chair I'm reclining in. This is the photo he took on the roof the first night we met. He had to blow it up and distort it so nobody would know what it was. I bring my hand to my neck because my blood feels like it's gushing. It's very hot here. Allysa appears beside me. "It's weird, huh?" he says, looking at the photo. I scratch my chest. "It's really hot in here," I tell him. "Don't you think so?" She looks around the room. "Yeah? I didn't realize it, but I'm a little drunk. I'll have Marshall turn the air on." the man has one


Picture of me hanging in the apartment. He bought me flowers. He gives me a chance because I brought a date to his sister's party. Act like there really is something going on between us and we never kissed! It hits me at once. The fury . . . the irritation. . the half glass of champagne in the kitchen. I'm so mad I can't even think straight. When the guy really wants to have sex with me. . . He shouldn't have fallen asleep! If you don't want me to faint, don't buy me flowers! You shouldn't put cryptic pictures of me where you live! All I want is fresh air. I need fresh air. Fortunately, I know exactly where to find it. Moments later, I entered through the roof door. There are new arrivals from the party up here. Three of them are sitting on patio furniture. I ignore her and go to the ledge with a good view and lean over her. I take several deep breaths and try to calm down. I want to go down and tell him to make amends.


but I know I need to have a clear head before I do that. The air is cold, and for some reason, I blame Ryle. It's all your fault tonight. All of it. Wars, famine, gun violence - it's all connected to Ryle in some way. "Can we be alone for a few minutes?" I turn around and Ryle is standing beside the other guests. Immediately the three of them nod and start to get up to give us privacy. I lift my hands and say, "Wait," but none of them look at me. "No need. Seriously, you don't have to go." Ryle stands stoically with his hands in his pockets as one of the customers mutters, "Okay, we don't care." eyes and go back to the edge once I'm alone with him. "Does everyone always do what you say?" I ask, irritated. He doesn't react. His steps are slow and deliberate as he approaches me. My heart


it starts throbbing like a speed date and I start scratching my chest again. "Lily," he says from behind me. I turn and grab the ledge behind me with both hands. His eyes travel to my cleavage. As soon as they do, I rip open the top of my dress so she can't see, then reach for the edge again. He laughs and takes another step closer. We're almost touching now and my brain is fuzzy. It's pathetic. I'm pathetic. "I feel like you have a lot to say," he says. "So I want to give you a chance to tell your naked truth." I say laughing. "Is it safe?" He nods, so I prepare to give it to him. I press against his chest and walk around him so that he is now the one leaning on the ledge. "I can't say what you want, Ryle! And every time I get to the point where I don't care, you come back out of nowhere! You


You show up to my work, you show up to my door, you show up to parties, you. . .” “I live here”, excuses the latter. This pisses me off even more. I clench my fists. "Ugh! You're driving me crazy! Do you love me or not?" He straightens up and takes a step towards me. "Oh I love you Lily. Make no mistake. My whole body sighs at that comment. Partly out of frustration and partly because everything he says makes me cringe and I hate letting him make me feel that way. I I shake my head." I like you, Ryle. And knowing that you only want me for one night makes me really, really sad. And if that had been a few months ago, maybe we could have had sex and it would have been fine, you would have walked away and I could have moved on with my life, but that wasn't a few months ago, you


I've waited a long time and so many parts of me are invested in you now, so please. stop flirting with me, stop hanging pictures of me in your apartment. And stop sending me flowers. Because when you do these things, it just doesn't feel right, Ryle. It actually hurts a little." I feel drained and exhausted and ready to go. He looks at me silently and I respectfully give him time to rebut. But no. He just turns around, leans over the edge and looks at the street like he hasn't heard a word from me. I walk across the roof and open the door, half expecting him to call my name or tell me not to go. I make it all the way back to the apartment before finally giving up on all the hoping that will happen. I make my way through the crowd and through three different rooms before I see Devin. When he sees my expression, he just nods and walks across the room to me. "Ready to go?" he asks, wrapping his arm around mine.


I agree. "Yes. Done that." We find Allysa in the main room. I say goodnight to her and Marshall with the excuse that I'm exhausted from opening week and want to get some sleep before work tomorrow. Allysa hugs me and leads us to the front door. "I'll be back on Monday," he tells me and kisses me on the cheek. "Happy birthday," I tell him. Devin opens the door, but just before we step into the hall, I hear someone say my name. I turn and Ryle pushes the crowd to the other side of the room. "Lilly, wait!" he yells, still trying to get closer to me. My heart is unpredictable. He walks fast, dodges people, and grows increasingly frustrated with every person who gets in his way. Finally he reaches a gap in the crowd and regains eye contact with me. He holds my gaze as he marches towards me. He doesn't stop. Allysa has to avoid him as she walks directly towards me.


At first I think he could kiss me or at least refute everything I said to him above. But instead it does something I'm not prepared for. He takes me in his arms. "Rilee!" I scream, grabbing his neck afraid he'll let go. "Drop me down!" He wrapped one arm under my legs and the other under my back. "I have to borrow Lily for the night," he tells Devin. "He is well?" I look at Devin and shake my head, my eyes wide. Devin just smiles and says, "Be my guest." Traitor! Ryle turns and heads back into the room. I look at Allysa as I walk past her. Her eyes are wide with confusion. "I'm going to kill your brother!" I yell at him. Everyone in the room is watching now. I'm so embarrassed I just press my face against Ryle's chest as he leads me down the hall to his room. Once the door closes behind us, he slowly lowers my feet back to the floor.


Flat. I immediately start yelling at him and try to push him out of the way of the bedroom door, but he spins me around and pushes me against the door, grabbing my wrists. He pushes it against the wall above my head and says, "Lily?" He looks at me so intently that I stop trying to avoid him and hold my breath. His chest is against mine, my back is against the door. And then his mouth is on mine. Warm pressure against my lips. Despite the power behind it, his lips are like silk. I'm surprised at the moans that flow through me and even more surprised when I part my lips and want more. His tongue slides over mine and he lets go of my wrists to grab my face. His kiss deepens and I grip his hair, pulling him closer, feeling the kiss all over my body. We both become a mixture of moans and gasps as the kiss takes us over the edge, our bodies wanting more than our mouths can offer. I feel his hands when he reaches down and grabs


my legs, he lifted me up and hooked them around his waist. My God, this man knows how to kiss. It's like he takes kissing as seriously as his job. He starts to pull me away from the door when I realize his mouth is capable of a lot. But what her mouth couldn't do is respond to everything I said above. As far as I know, I gave up. I give him what he wants: a one-night stand. And that's the last thing he deserves right now. I pull my mouth away from his and push against his shoulders. "Let me down." He's going to bed, so I'll say it again. "Ryle, put me down immediately." He stops and lets me sink to the floor. I have to step back and look away to collect my thoughts. Looking at him while I still feel his lips on mine is more than I can take right now. I feel his arms around my waist and he rests his head on my shoulder. "I am really sorry


he whispers. He turns me around, brings his hand to my face, rubbing his thumb across my cheek. "It's my turn now, okay?" I don't respond to his touch. I keep my arms crossed over my chest, waiting for what he has to say before allowing myself to respond to his touch. "My photo was taken the next day," he says. "It's been in my apartment for months because you were the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my life and I wanted to see it every day." "And that night I showed up at your door? I was looking for you because no one in the history of my life has pissed me off and refused to leave like you. I didn't know how to handle it. And the reason I sent you flowers this week is because I'm really, really proud of you for following your dream, but if I sent you flowers every time I feel the need to send you flowers, you wouldn't even be able to.


fits in your apartment. Because I think about you a lot And yes, Lily. He is well. I hurt you, but I also hurt myself. And until tonight. . . I didn't know why." I have no idea how I managed to find the strength to speak after that. "Why does it hurt?" He lowers his forehead to mine and says, "Because. I have no idea what I'm doing. You make me want to. I can be a different person, but what if I don't know how to be what you need? This is all new to me and I want to show you that I love you for much more than just one night." He looks so vulnerable right now. I want to believe the sincere look in his eyes, but he's been so adamant since the day I met him that he wants the exact opposite of what I want. And I'm scared that I'll give in to him and he'll leave. "How can I show you what I am, Lily? Tell me and I will."


I don't know. I barely know the guy. I know him well enough to know that sex with him won't be enough for me. But how do I know sex isn't the only thing he wants? My eyes meet his immediately. "Don't have sex with me." He looks at me for a moment, completely unreadable. But then he starts nodding as if he finally understands. "Okay," he says, still nodding. "Fine. I'm not going to have sex with you, Lily Bloom. She leads me to the bedroom door and closes it. She turns off the light, leaving only one lamp burning, then takes off her shirt as she watches." What are you doing? He throws his shirt on a chair and kicks off his shoes. "Let's go to sleep." I look at his bed. Then to him. "Right now?" He shakes his head and lifts me up. in one swift movement, he lifts my dress and places it over my head until I'm in the middle of it.


bedroom floor in my bra and panties. I cover myself, but he doesn't even look twice. He pushes me onto the bed and pulls back the covers so I can get inside. Moving to her side of the bed, he says, “It's not like we haven't slept together before without having sex. Piece of cake. I laugh. He goes to the dresser and plugs the phone into a charger. time to scan your room. This is certainly not the kind of guest room I'm used to - there's a couch on the other side of the wall, a chair in front of a TV, and a full office off the bedroom that looks complete with a floor-to-ceiling bookcase. I'm still trying to keep everything around me to watch when the lamp goes out. "Your sister is very rich," I tell her as I feel her cover us with the sheets. "What the hell is she doing?" doing with the ten bucks I paid her for the night? "hour?" Do you wipe her ass with that? ?” He laughs and takes my hand, running his fingers through mine. “He probably doesn't even do that.


cash the checks," he says. "Did you notice?" I don't. Now I'm curious. "Goodnight, Lily," he says. I can't stop smiling because that's kind of ridiculous. And so nice. "Goodnight, Ryle ." ••• I think I'm lost. Everything is so white and so clean, it's stunning. I crawl through one of the rooms, trying to find my way to the kitchen. I have no idea where my dress ended up last night. so I put on one of Ryle's shirts. It's just above my knees and I wonder if he has to buy shirts too big to fit his arms. There are lots of windows and lots of sun, so I have to shield my eyes as I go in search of coffee.


I open the kitchen door and find a coffee pot. Thank you Jesus. I let it rest and go to get a cup when the kitchen door opens behind me. I turn and see with relief that Allysa isn't always a perfect match in makeup and jewelry. Her hair is in a messy bun and mascara is smeared across her cheeks. She points to the coffee pot. "I'm going to need some of this," she says. She stands up on the island and then leans forward. "Can I ask you a question?" I say. He barely has the strength to nod. I wave my hand in the kitchen. "How did this happen? How the hell did your whole house get spotless from the party last night and I just woke up? You're up and getting clean?" he laughs. "We have people for that," he says. "People ?"


she nods. "Yes. There's people for everything," she says. "You'd be surprised. Think of anything. We probably have people for that." "Food?" "Guys," she says. "Christmas decorations?" She nods. "People for that too." “What about birthday gifts? Like for family members?” She smiles. “Yes. People. Everyone in my family gets a gift and card for every occasion and I never have to lift a finger.” I shake my head. “Wow. How long have you been so rich? "Three years," she says. “Marshall sold some apps he developed to Apple for a lot of money. Every six months he makes updates and also sells them.” The coffee drips slowly, so I grab a cup and fill it. "Do you want something in yours?" I ask. "Or do you have people for that?"


She laughs. "Yes. I have you, and I would like some sugar, please." I stir some sugar into her cup and walk over to her then pour myself a cup. She's silent for a moment while I put on the cream and wait for her to say something about me and Ryle. The conversation is inevitable. "Can we put the discomfort aside?" he says. Sigh of relief. "Please. I hate this." I look at her and take a sip of my coffee. She sets hers down next to hers, then reaches her hand out to the counter. "How did this happen?" I shake my head, doing my best not to smile. as if you were in love. I don't want him to think I'm weak or stupid for giving in. "We met before I met you." She tilts her head. "Wait," he says, "before we get to know each other better or before we even get to know each other?" "Never," I say. "We had a moment one night about six months before I met you."


"One moment?" She says. "Like...a one night stand?" "I don't say. "No, we didn't even kiss until last night. I don't know, I can't explain. We've had this kind of flirtation going on for a long time and it finally came to a head last night. That's all.” She picks up her coffee again and takes a slow sip. He looks down at the floor for a while and I can't help but notice that he looks a little sad. “Allysa? You're not mad at me, are you?" He immediately shakes his head. "No, Lilly. I just…” Put your coffee cup down again. “I only know my brother. And I love him. I really love him. But what?" Allysa and I both look in the direction of the voice. Ryle is standing in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest. He's wearing gray sweatpants that barely reach his waist. No top. I'll use this one. set to all the others I cataloged in my head.


Ryle opens the door and walks into the kitchen. He walks over to me and takes my coffee cup from my hand. He leans down and kisses my forehead, then takes a sip as he leans against the counter. "I didn't mean to interrupt," he tells Allysa. “Be sure to continue your conversation.” Allysa rolls her eyes and says, "Stop." He hands me back my coffee cup and turns to get his own cup. It starts pouring out of the pan. "It sounded like you were trying to warn Lily. I'm just curious to see what you have to say." Allysa jumps off the counter and takes her mug over to the sink, "This is my friend, Ryle. You don't have the best track record when it comes to relationships." He rinses his glass, then leans his hips against the sink, facing us. "As your friend, I have a right to my opinion on the guys you date. That's what friends do."


I suddenly feel uncomfortable as the tension between the two rises. Ryle doesn't even take a sip of coffee. He walks over to Allysa and pours it down the sink. He's right in front of her, but she doesn't even look at him. “Well, as your brother, I hope you have a little more faith in me than you do. That's what brothers do. He leaves the kitchen and opens the door. When he's gone, Allysa takes a deep breath. shook her head. She shakes her head and covers her face with her hands. "Sorry," she says, forcing a smile. "I need to take a shower." "Don't you have anyone for that?" she laughs as she leaves the kitchen. I wash my glass in the sink and head back to Ryle's room. When I open the door, he's sitting on the couch checking his phone. He doesn't look at me when I walk in and for a second I think he might be mad at me. Me too, but then he tosses the phone aside and leans back on the couch.


"Come here," he says. He grabs my hand and pulls me to him so that I'm straddling him. He brings my mouth close to his and kisses me so hard I wonder if he's trying to prove his sister wrong. Ryle pulls away from my mouth and slowly lets his eyes travel down my body. "I like you in my clothes" I smile. "Well I have to go to work so unfortunately I can't stay with them." He pushes my hair out of my face and says, “I have to get ready for a very important surgery. Which means I probably won't see him for a few days. I'm trying to hide my disappointment, but I'm going to have to get used to it if he's really going to try to make something work between us. He already warned me that he works too much. "I'm busy too. The opening is on Friday." He says, "Oh, I'll see you before Friday. I promise." I don't hide my smile this time. "He is well".


He kisses me again, this time for a solid minute. He starts to put me down on the couch but then pulls away from me and says. "No. I like you too much to be with you." I lie down on the couch and watch him get dressed for work. She wears a robe, much to my delight.

Chapter Eight "We need to talk," says Lucy. She's sitting on the couch, mascara brushing her cheeks. Oh shit. I drop my bag and run to her. As soon as I sit down next to him, he starts crying. "What's wrong? Alex broke up with you?" She starts shaking her head and then I'm really starting to freak out. Please don't say cancer. I take his hand and there I see him. "Lucie! Are they engaged?" she nods. "I'm sorry. I know we have another six months of rent but he wants me to move in with him."


I look at her for a minute. Is that why you're crying? Why do you want to get out of your lease? He takes a handkerchief and starts to wipe his eyes. "I feel terrible, Lily. You'll be alone. I'm moving and you won't have anyone…" Lucia? in . . I'll be fine. I promise.” She looks at me with hope on her face. “Really?” Why the hell does he get that impression of me? I nod again. “Yeah. I'm not mad, I'm happy for you. She throws her arms around me and hugs me. "Oh thank you Lily!" she starts laughing through her tears. When she lets me go, she jumps up and says, "I have to tell Alex! I was so worried you weren't going to let me out of my rent!" She grabs her purse and shoes and heads for the front door. .the sofa and look at the ceiling.Did he just play with me?


I start laughing because until that moment I had no idea how long I'd been waiting for this to happen. All place for me! What's even better, if I decide to have sex with Ryle, we can have him here the whole time and not have to worry about keeping quiet. The last time I spoke to Ryle was when I left his apartment on Saturday. We organize a test. No appointments yet. Just a relationship test to see if it's something we both want. It's now Monday night and I'm a little disappointed I haven't heard from him. I gave him my phone number before we parted on Saturday, but I really don't know texting etiquette, especially for workouts. I don't text him first anyway. Instead, I choose to spend my time with Teenage Anxiety and Ellen DeGeneres. I'm not going to wait for a guy I haven't even slept with to fire me. But I don't know why I assume I'm reading about the first guy I ever had sex with.


com will make me forget about the guy I'm not having sex with. Dear Ellen, my great grandfather's name is Ellis. All my life I thought it was a cool name for such an old guy. After he died, I read the obituary. Would you believe that Ellis wasn't even his real name? His real name was Levi Sampson and he had no idea. I asked my grandmother where the name Ellis came from. He said his initials are L.S. and everyone called him by his initials for so long that over the years they began to exploit them. That's why they called him Ellis. I was looking at his name and thought about it. Ellen Is that your real name? You could be like my great-grandfather and use his initials as a disguise. L.N. I'm with you, Ellen.


Speaking of names, do you think Atlas is a strange name? It's not correct? Watching your show with him yesterday, I asked where he got his name. He said he didn't know. Without thinking, I told him to ask his mother why she called him that. He just looked at me and said, "It's a little late for that." I don't know what he meant by that. I don't know if his mother died or if she gave him up for adoption. We've been friends for a few weeks and I still don't know anything about him or why he doesn't have an apartment. I would just ask him, but I'm still not sure he really trusts me. He seems to have trust issues and I guess I can't blame him. I'm worried about him. It has been very cold this week and should be even colder next week. If you don't have electricity, that means you don't have heat. I hope you at least have blankets. Do you know how horrible I am?


would you feel if you were frozen? Very horrible, Ellen. I'm going to find some blankets this week and give them to you. —Lily Dear Ellen, It's going to start snowing soon so I decided to harvest my garden today. She had already harvested the radishes, so she just wanted to put in some mulch and compost, which wouldn't take long, but Atlas insisted on helping. He asked me a lot of gardening questions and I liked that he seemed interested in my interests. I showed him how to cover the soil with compost and mulch so the snow doesn't do too much damage. My garden is small compared to most gardens. Maybe ten feet by twelve. But it's all my dad lets me use in the backyard. Atlas covered everything as I sat cross-legged in the grass and watched him. I wasn't lazy, he just assumed and wanted


do it, then I give up. I can say he is a great worker. I wonder if keeping busy might distract him and that's why he's always so willing to help me. When he finished, he walked over and sat down. When he finished, he walked over and sat down on the grass next to me. beside me on the grass. “What made you grow things?” he asked. I looked over at him and he was sitting cross-legged, looking at me curiously. That's when I realized he's probably the best friend I've ever had and we barely know each other. I have friends at school, but they can never come to my house for obvious reasons. My mom is always worried that something might happen to my dad and word gets out about his temper. I can never go to other people's houses either, but I'm not sure why. Maybe my dad doesn't want me to sleep with friends because he might


Witness how a good husband should treat his wife. He probably wants me to believe that the way he treats my mother is normal. Atlas is the first friend I've had who's been to my house. He's also the first friend to know how much I love gardening. And now he's the first friend to ask me why I garden. I bent down and pulled out a paintbrush and started breaking it into small pieces as I mulled over his question. "When I was 10, my mom bought me a website called Seeds Anonymous," I told her. “Each month I received a packet of unmarked seeds in the mail with instructions on how to plant and care for them. He didn't know what he was growing until he got off the ground. Every day after school I would run straight out into the backyard to check on the progress. It gave me something to look forward to. Letting things grow felt like a reward.”


I could feel Atlas looking at me as he asked, "A reward for what?" I shrugged. "For truly loving my plants. Plants reward you according to how much love you show them. If you are cruel to them or neglect them, they will give you nothing. But if you take care of them and love them de In fact, they will reward you with gifts of vegetables, fruits or flowers." I looked at the grass, which I broke up with my hands and only an inch was left. I rolled it between my fingers and shook it. I didn't want to look at Atlas because I could still look at him, so I just looked at my thatched garden. "We are equal," he said. My eyes shot to his. "You and me?" He shook his head. " No. Plants and people. Plants need to be loved properly to survive. Humans too. From birth, we trust that our parents will love us enough to keep us alive.


become better people in general. But if they neglect us. . .” Her voice dropped. almost sad. She wiped her hands on her knees, trying to get some of the dirt off. “If they neglect us, we will be left homeless and unable to do anything worthwhile.” With her words, my heart felt like the mulch I had just laid. I didn't even know what to say about it. Do you really think that of yourself? He acted like he was about to get up, but before he did I said his name. He sat down on the grass again. I pointed to the line of trees that bordered the fence to the left of the yard. “See that tree over there?” In the middle of the tree line was an oak, taller than all the other trees. Atlas took one look and let his eyes travel to the top of the tree. "It grew by itself," I told him. “Most plants need a lot of care to survive. but some things


as if the trees were strong enough to do that, relying only on themselves and no one else. I had no idea if he knew what he was trying to say without me coming out and saying it. But I just wanted you to know that I thought you were strong enough to survive whatever was going on in your life. I didn't know him well, but I could tell he was tough. Much more than it would be if I were in his situation. His eyes were glued to the tree. It took a long time before he blinked. When he finally did, he just shook his head slightly and looked down at the grass. I thought she was about to frown at the way her mouth twitched, but she actually smiled a little. When I saw that smile, my heart felt like it had just come out of a deep sleep. "We are equal," he said, repeating the same thing as before. "Plants and people?" I asked. He shook his head. "No. You and me."


I choked, Ellen. I hope you haven't noticed, but I definitely gasped. Because what the hell am I supposed to say about it? I just sat there, very uncomfortable and silent, until he got up. He turned around as if he were going home. "Atlas, wait." He looked at me again. I pointed to his hands and said, “You might want to take a quick shower before heading back. The compost is made from cow dung.” He lifted his hands and looked at them, and then looked down at his compound-covered clothes. "Cow dung? Really?" I smile and nod. He laughed a little and before I knew it, he was sprawled on the floor next to me, wiping his hands on me. We both laughed as he picked up the bag next to us, put his hand in it, then spread it into my arms.


Ellen, I am confident that the next sentence I will write has never been written or spoken aloud before. When he cleaned that cow shit off me, he was probably hornier than ever. After a few minutes, we were both on the floor, breathing hard and still laughing. He finally got up and helped me to my feet, knowing I couldn't waste a minute if he wanted to shower before my parents got home. Once he was in the shower, I washed my hands in the sink and stood there wondering what he meant earlier when he said we looked alike. It was a compliment? It sure looked like one. Was he saying he thought I was strong too? Because I certainly didn't feel strong most of the time. At that moment, just thinking about him made me feel weak. I was wondering what to make of the way I was starting to feel around him.


I also wondered how much longer I could hide this from my parents. And how long will he stay in this house. Maine winters are unbearably cold, and you won't survive without heat. Or blankets. I pulled myself together and went in search of whatever spare blankets I could find. She wanted to give it to him when she got out of the shower, but it was five o'clock and she was rushing out. I will give it to you tomorrow. —Lily Dear Ellen, Harry Connick Jr. it's hilarious as fuck. I'm not sure if you've had this on your show because I hate to admit I've probably missed an episode or two since it aired, but if you've never had it, you should. Have you watched "Late Night with Conan O'Brien"? There's a guy named Andy who sits on the couch in every episode. I wish Harry could sit on his couch in every episode. only the


He has the best lines and the two of you together would be epic. I just want to say thank you. I know you don't have a show on TV that's just there to make me laugh, but sometimes it feels like it. Sometimes my life makes me feel like I've lost the ability to laugh or smile, but when I turn on your show and it doesn't matter what mood I'm in when I turn on the TV, I always feel better when it's you, the show is over. . So yes. Thank you for that. I know you probably want an Atlas update, and I'll give you one soon. But first I have to tell you what happened yesterday. My mother is an assistant teacher at Brimer Elementary. It's a long drive and that's why he never gets home before five. My dad works two miles from here, so he always gets home a little after five. We have a garage, but because of all my dad's stuff, we only fit one car in it. My father keeps his


Car in the garage and my mom keeps her car in the garage. My mom came home a little early yesterday. Atlas was still home and we were almost done with his show when I heard the garage door open. She hurried out the back door and I hurried into the living room, arranging our soda cans and snacks. Yesterday it started to snow really hard around noon and my mother had a lot of things to carry, so she stopped in the garage to bring everything through the kitchen door. It was work stuff and some groceries. I was helping her bring everything in when my dad pulled into the driveway. He started honking his horn because he was mad my mom was parked in the driveway. I guess he didn't want to have to get out of the car in the snow. That's the only thing I can think of that would make me move her car on the spot instead of waiting for her to finish unloading. Now that I think why my


Dad always gets the garage? You'd think a man wouldn't want the woman he loves to get the fucking parking spot. Anyway, my mom got this really scared look on her face when he started honking his horn and told me to put all his stuff on the table while he drove the car. Not sure what happened when he left again. I heard a crash and then I heard her scream so I ran to the garage thinking maybe she had slipped on the ice. ellen . . I don't even want to describe what happened next. I'm still a little taken aback by the whole thing. I opened the garage door and didn't see my mom. I just saw my dad doing something behind the car. I took a step closer and realized why I couldn't see my mother. He pressed her against the hood with his hands around her neck. He drowned her, Ellen! I could cry just thinking about it. He was yelling at her, looking at her so hard


Hatred. Something about him having no respect for how hard he works. I really don't know why he was angry because all I could hear was silence from him as he struggled to breathe. The next few minutes are a blur, but I know I've started yelling at him. I jumped on his back and smacked him in the side of the head. So it wasn't me. I don't really know what happened, but I suspect he dumped me. I just remembered one second I was on his back and the next I was on the floor and my forehead hurt like you wouldn't believe. My mother sat next to me, held my head and told me she was sorry. I looked around for my dad, but he wasn't there. He got in the car and drove away after I hit my head. My mother gave me a cloth and told me to hold it over my head because I was bleeding and then she helped me into the car and took me to the hospital. On the way, he only said one thing to me.


"If they ask what happened, say you slipped on the ice." When he said that, I looked out the window and started to cry. Because I certainly thought this was the drop that broke the camel's back. That she would leave him now that he'd hurt me. It was at that moment that I realized that she would never leave him. I felt so down but I was too scared to tell him. They had to give me nine stitches on my forehead. I'm still not sure what hit my head, but it doesn't matter. The fact is, my dad was the reason I got hurt and he didn't even stick around to check on me. He just left us on the garage floor and walked away. I got home very late last night and fell asleep right away because they gave me some kind of pain reliever. As I walked to the bus this morning, I tried not to look directly at Atlas lest he see my forehead. I had my hair done in such a way that you couldn't really see it and he really didn't notice.


Road. When we sat side by side on the bus, our hands touched as we put our things down. His hands were like ice, Ellen. Ice. That's when I realized I forgot to give him the blankets I bought yesterday because my mom got home earlier than expected. The garage incident somehow took over all my thoughts and I completely forgot about it. It had been snowing and freezing all night and he was alone there in the dark in the dark. And now he was so cold he didn't even know how it worked. I took both hands and said, “Atlas. You are freezing. He did not say anything. I started to rub his hands in mine to warm them up. I rested my head on his shoulder and then did the most embarrassing thing. I started to cry. I don't cry a lot but I was still so upset about what happened yesterday and afterwards I felt so guilty that I forgot to bring him blankets and everything.


he met me right there on the way to school. He did not say anything. He just took his hands away from mine so I could stop rubbing them and placed his hands on top of mine. We sat there the whole way to school, our heads together and his hands in mine. I might have found it cute if it wasn't so sad. He finally noticed my head on the way home from school. To be honest, I forgot. No one at school asked me about it and when he sat next to me on the bus I didn't even try to hide it with my hair. He looked straight at me and said, "What happened to your head?" I didn't know what to say. I just touched it with my fingers and then looked out the window. I tried to get him to trust me more, hoping he would tell me why he doesn't have an apartment, so I didn't want to lie to him. I didn't want to tell him the truth either.


As the bus pulled away, he said, "Yesterday, after I left your house, I heard something going on there. I heard screaming. I heard you scream and then I saw your dad come out. I was just going to check on you to make sure everything was okay. " Fine, but as I got closer, I saw you walk away with your mother." She must have heard the fight in the garage and seen her surrounding me to sew. . I couldn't believe he came to our house. You know what what would my dad do to him if he saw him in his clothes? I was so worried about him because I don't think he knows what my dad is capable of. I looked at him and said, "Atlas, you can't do that! You can't come to my house when my parents are home!" Atlas got very quiet, then said, "I heard you scream, Lily." He said it as if my danger outweighed everything else.


I felt bad knowing he was just trying to help but that would have made things so much worse. "I fell," I told him. As soon as I said that, I felt bad for lying. And to be honest, he looked a little disappointed in me because I think we both knew at that point that it wasn't as easy as falling. Then he rolled up his shirtsleeve and stretched out his arm. Ellen, my stomach dropped. it was so bad, i had these little scars all over my arm. Some of the scars looked as if someone had put a cigarette in his arm and held it there. He turned his arm so she could see that he was on the other side as well. "I fell a lot too, Lily." Then he rolled down his shirtsleeve and said no more. For a second I wanted to tell him it wasn't like that, that my dad never hurt me and he's just trying to get me away from him. But then I realized that he would use the same excuses as my mother.


I was a little embarrassed that he knows what's going on at my house. I spent the rest of the bus ride looking out the window, not knowing what to say to him. When we got home, my mother's car was there. At the entrance, of course. Not the garage. That meant Atlas couldn't come watch his show with me. I wanted to tell him I'd bring blankets later, but when he got off the bus, he didn't even say goodbye. He started walking down the street like he was crazy. It's already dark and I'm waiting for my parents to sleep. But I'll get some blankets in a moment. —Lily Dear Ellen, I am impressed. Do you sometimes do things that you know are wrong but are somehow right? I don't know how to put it more simply. I mean, I'm only fifteen and there's no way I should have guys spending the night in mine.


Living room. But if a person knows someone needs a place to stay, isn't that person's responsibility as a human being to help them? Last night, after my parents went to bed, I snuck out the back door to find Atlas's blankets. I took a flashlight with me because it was dark. It was still snowing heavily so I was freezing when I got to this house. I knocked on the back door and as soon as it opened I pushed him out of the cold. Only . . . I couldn't get out of the cold. Somehow it felt even colder in this old house. I still had my flashlight on and it lit up the living room and kitchen. There was nothing in it, Ellen! No couch, no chair, no mattress. I handed him the blankets and continued looking around. There was a big hole in the ceiling above the kitchen and the wind and snow got in. Illuminating the room with my flashlight, I saw her things in one corner. His backpack and the backpack I gave him. there was a lot


other things I had given him, like some of my father's clothes. And then there were two towels on the floor. I think he put one and the other to cover himself. I put my hand in front of my mouth because I was so horrified. He lived like this for weeks! Atlas put his hand on my back and tried to lead me out the door. "You shouldn't be here, Lily," he said. "You might get into trouble." So I took her hand and said, "You shouldn't be here either." I went to take him out the front door with me, but he pulled his hand back. So I told him, "You can sleep on my floor tonight. I'm going to keep my bedroom door closed. You can't sleep here, Atlas. It's too cold and you're going to catch pneumonia and die. He didn't seem like, "I know. what to do. I'm sure the thought of being trapped in my room was as scary as catching pneumonia and dying."


and then he just nodded his head once and said, "Okay," so tell me, Ellen. Was I wrong to let him sleep in my room last night? It doesn't look bad. It felt like the right thing to do. But I would certainly be in a lot of trouble if we got caught. He slept on the floor, so it was little more than giving him a warm place to sleep. Last night I learned a little more about him. After sneaking him into my room through the back door, I closed the door and built him a bed on the floor next to my bed. I set the alarm for 6 am. m. and told her that she had to get up and leave before my parents woke up, as my mother sometimes wakes me up in the morning. I climbed onto the bed and slid onto the edge so I could look at him while we talked for a while. I asked how long he thought he would be there and he said he didn't know. So I asked him how he got there. My lamp was still on and so were we


I whispered but he got very quiet when I said it. He just looked at me with his hands behind his head for a moment. He then said, “I don't know my real father. He never had anything to do with me. It's always been just me and my mom, but she remarried about five years ago to a guy who never liked me. We fight a lot. When I turned eighteen a few months ago, we had a big fight and he threw me out of the house. He took a deep breath, as if he didn't want to say anything else. But then he started talking again. “I've been living with a friend of mine and his family ever since, but his dad got shipped to Colorado and they moved away. Of course they couldn't take me with them. Her parents were just being nice to let me move in with them and I knew it so I told them I had spoken to my mom and I was moving in. The day they left, I had nowhere to go. So I went back home and told my mother that I would like to go back to


graduate. She didn't let me. He said it would upset my stepdad. He turned his head and looked at the wall. "So I wandered around for a few days until I saw this house. I figured I'd stay there until something better came along or until I graduated. I applied for the Marine Corps in May, so I'm trying to hold out until then." May is in six months, Ellen. Six. Tears came to my eyes when he told me all this. I asked him why he didn't ask someone to help him. He said that he tried, but it is more difficult for an adult than a child, and he is already eighteen. He said that someone has given him several emergency shelters that can help. There were three shelters within twenty miles of our town, but two of them were for battered women. The other one was a homeless shelter, but they only had a few beds and it was too far to walk if I wanted to go to school every day, plus you had to wait a long time.


lined up to try to get a bed. He said he tried it once, but he felt safer in this old house than he did in the shelter. Being the naive child that I am when it comes to situations like yours, I said, 'But aren't there other options? Can't you just tell the school counselor what your mom did?" He shook his head and said he was too old to be in foster care. He's eighteen, so his mom can't get in trouble for not letting him go back. home. She said he called last week asking for food stamps but didn't have transportation or money to get to the appointment. Not to mention he doesn't have a car so he's not very good at finding a job. But he said he was looking When he leaves my house in the afternoon, he goes to apply somewhere, but he doesn't have an address or phone number to give applications, which makes things difficult for him. I swear, Ellen, every question I asked her, she had an answer. It's like he's tried everything not to get stuck in the situation he's in,


but there is not enough help for people like him. I got so mad about his whole situation that I told him he was crazy for wanting to join the army. I wasn't whispering so much when he said, "Why the hell would you want to serve a country that lets you put yourself in a situation like this?" Do you know what he said next, Ellen? Her eyes got sad and she said, "It's not this country's fault that my mother doesn't give a shit." Then he reached over and turned off my lamp. "Good night, Lily," he said. I didn't sleep much after that. I was so mad, I don't even know who I'm mad at. I kept thinking about our country and the whole world and how fucked it is that people don't do more for others. I don't know when people started taking care of themselves. Maybe it always has been. I wanted to know how many people out there were exactly like Atlas. I wanted to know if there were any other kids at our school who might be homeless.


I go to school every day and I often complain internally, but I never thought that school could be the only home some kids have. It's the only place Atlas can go knowing he has food. I can never respect the rich now knowing that they are willing to spend their money on material things instead of using it to help other people. No offense, Ellen. I know you're rich, but I don't think I mean people like you. I've seen all the things you've done for others on your show and all the charities you support. But I know that there are a lot of rich people who are selfish. Hell, there are even poor selfish people. And selfish middle-class people. Look at my parents, we're not rich but we're certainly not too poor to help other people. But I don't think my father ever did anything for charity. I remember one time we walked into a grocery store and an old man rang the bell.


for the Salvation Army. I asked my dad if we could give him some money and he said no, he works a lot for his money and won't let me give it. He said it wasn't his fault the others didn't want to work. He spent the whole time we were at the supermarket telling me how people take advantage of the government and until the government stops helping these people by giving them handouts, the problem will never go away. Elena, I believed him. That was three years ago and the whole time I thought homeless people were homeless because they were lazy or drug addicts or just didn't want to work like other people. But now I know this is not true. Of course, some of what he said was true to some extent, but he was assuming worst-case scenarios. Not everyone is homeless because they want to be. They are homeless because there is not enough help to get around. And people like my dad are the problem. Instead of helping others, people use the worst case scenario.


Scenarios to excuse your own selfishness and greed. I will never be like that. I swear, when I grow up, I will do anything to help other people. I will be like you Elena. Probably not as rich. -Lily

Chapter 9 I drop the journal onto my chest. I'm surprised to feel the tears streaming down my face. Every time I pick up this diary, I think that I'm going to be okay, that it all happened a long time ago and I still won't feel what I felt then. I'm an idiot, I miss hugging so many people from my past. Especially my mom, because for the last year I haven't really thought about what she went through before my dad died. I know it probably still hurts. I pick up my phone to call her and look at the screen. There are four missing messages from Ryle. My heart leaps immediately. I can't believe I put it on silent! So I roll my eyes, mad at myself for not being as excited.


Ryle: Are you sleeping? Ryle: I think so. Ryle: Lily. . . ryle. :(

The sad face was sent ten minutes ago. I press "Reply" and type "No. I'm not sleeping". About ten seconds later I get another message. Ryle: Good. I'm going up your stairs now. Be there in twenty seconds.

I smile and jump out of bed. I go to the bathroom and check my face. Good enough. I run to the front door and open it just as Ryle comes upstairs. She practically crawls to the bottom step and stops to rest when she finally makes it to my door. He looks so tired. His eyes are red with dark circles underneath. His arms wrap around my waist and he pulls me closer, burying his face in the back of my neck. "You smell so good," he says. I push him towards the apartment. "Are you hungry? I can make you something to eat."


He shakes his head as he takes off his jacket, so I skip the kitchen and head to the bedroom. He follows me, then throws his jacket over the back of his chair. He takes off his shoes and kicks them against the wall. Wear bathrobes. "You look exhausted," I tell him. He smiles and places his hands on my hips. "I am. I just helped out with an eighteen hour operation." He leans down and kisses the heart tattoo on my collarbone. No wonder he's exhausted. "How is this possible?" to say. "Eighteen hours?" He agrees. He then leads me to the side of the bed, where he pulls me close to him. We adjust until we're facing each other and share a pillow. "Yeah, but it was awesome. Groundbreaking. They're going to write about it in the daily medical journal, and I have to be there, so I'm not complaining, I'm just so tired." I lean down and kiss him on the mouth. He places his hand on the side of my head and


to pull. "I know you're probably ready for some hot, sweaty sex, but I don't have the energy tonight. I'm sorry. But I missed you and for some reason I sleep better sleeping next to you. Is it okay that I'm here?" I smile. It's more than fine. He leans down and kisses my forehead. He takes my hand and holds it between us on the pillow. His eyes close but I keep mine open and stare at him. He has the kind of face that people avoid because you can get lost in it. And when I think about it, I see that face all the time. I don't have to be humble and look away because it's mine. Maybe. This is a test. I have to remember that. Later After a minute, he lets go of my hand and starts flexing his fingers. I look at his hand and wonder what it must be like... to have to stand on his feet for that long and use his fine motor skills for eighteen hours. I don't I can't think of much else to match that level of exhaustion.


I slide out of bed and grab some lotion from my shower. I go back to bed and sit cross-legged beside him. I squirt some lotion onto my hand and then place her arm in my lap. He opens his eyes and looks at me. "What are you doing?" he murmurs. "Shh. Go back to sleep," I say. I press my thumbs into his palm and roll them up and then out. His eyes close and he moans into the pillow. I continue to massage his hand for about five minutes before switching to my other hand. He keeps his eyes closed the entire time. When I'm done with the hands, I roll him onto his stomach and straddle his back. He helps me take off my shirt, but his arms are like noodles. I massage her shoulders, neck, back and arms. When I'm done, I get off him and lie down next to him. I run my fingers through his hair and massage his scalp as he opens his eyes. "Lily?" he whispers and looks at me sincerely.


"You could be the best thing that ever happened to me." Those words wrap around me like a warm blanket. I do not know what to answer. He reaches over and gently cups my cheek, and I feel his eyes on the pit of my stomach. He slowly leans forward and presses his lips against mine. I expect a kiss, but he doesn't back away. The tip of his tongue slides over my lips, gently parting them. His mouth is so hot I moan as his kiss deepens. He turns me onto my back and runs his hand down my body, straight to my waist. He walks over and runs his hand over my thigh. He presses against me and a wave of heat shoots through me. I take a handful of his hair and whisper against his mouth. "I think we've waited long enough. I would really appreciate it if you fucked me now." He practically growls with renewed energy and starts tugging at my shirt. It turns into an interlude of hands and groans and tongues and


sweat. I feel like it's the first time a man has touched me. The few who came before him were all children, with nervous hands and shy mouths. But Ryle is full of confidence. He knows exactly where to touch me and how to kiss me. The only time he doesn't give my body his full attention is when he reaches down and pulls a condom out of his wallet. Once he's back under the covers and the condom is in place, he doesn't even hesitate. He shamelessly takes me in with one quick thrust and gasps into his mouth, every muscle in me tensing. His mouth is wild and needy, kissing me wherever I go. I get so dizzy I can't do anything but succumb. He doesn't apologize as he fucks me. His hand fits between my headboard and the top of my head as he pushes harder and harder, the bed hitting the wall with each thrust. My nails dig into the skin on his back as he buries his face in my neck.


"Ryle," I whisper. "Oh, God," I say. "Rilee!" Shout out. And then I bite his shoulder to muffle any sound that comes next. My whole body feels it, from head to toe and back again. I'm afraid I'm literally going to pass out for a moment, so I tighten my legs around him and he tenses. "Jesus, Lily." His body convulses with tremors and he presses against me one last time. He moans and lays on top of me. His body lets go and my head hits the pillow. It's a full minute before either of us can move. And yet we chose not to. She presses her face into the pillow and lets out a deep sigh. "I can't. . ." He pulls away and looks at me. His eyes are full of something... I don't know what. He presses his lips to mine and then says, "You were so right." "About what?"


He slowly pulls off of me and props himself up on his forearms. "You warned me. You said once with you wasn't enough. You said it was like a drug. But you didn't tell me you're the most addicted."

Chapter 10 "Can I ask a personal question?" Allysa nods as she perfects a bouquet that's about to be delivered. We are three days away from our grand opening and there is more activity every day. "What is it?" Allysa asks, looking over at me. She leans against the counter and starts scratching her fingernails. "You don't have to answer if you don't want to," I warn him. "Well, I can't answer unless you ask." This is a good point. "Do you and Marshall donate to charity?" Confusion crosses her face and he says, “Yes. Why?"


I shrug. "I was just curious. I wouldn't judge him or anything. Lately I've been thinking about how I'd like to start a charity." “What kind of charity?” she asks a few different ones, but my favorite is this one we got involved with last year. They are building schools in other countries. Last year alone we financed three new buildings.” “I don't have that much money, of course, but I would like to do something. I still don't know what.", Lily". Go around the counter and grab the trash can. I watch as he takes the full bag and ties it in a knot. I wonder why, when. He has people for everything, he's training, he'd even like to have a job that involved taking out the trash and getting his hands dirty.


Why do you work here? I ask. She looks at me and smiles. "Because I like you," she says. But then I notice the smile completely disappear from her eyes before he turns and goes out back to take out the trash. When she returns, I stare at her curiously. I will say again. "Alysa? Why do you work here?" She pauses what she's doing and takes a slow breath, like maybe she's thinking about being honest with me. She walks back to the counter and leans against it, crossing her feet at the ankles. "Because," she says, looking down at her feet, "I can't get pregnant. We tried for two years, but nothing worked. I was tired of sitting at home crying all the time, so I decided to find something to occupy my mind." He gets up and wipes his hands on his jeans. "And you, Lily Bloom, keep me very busy." He turns and starts messing with the same bouquet again. she has been


perfect for half an hour. She takes a card and places it on the flowers, then turns and hands me the vase. "These are for you, by the way." Allysa obviously wants to change the subject, so I take her flowers. "What do you mean?" She rolls her eyes and motions for me to enter my office. "It's on the map. Go read it. I can tell by your annoyed reaction that it's from Ryle. I smile and run to my office. I sit down at my desk and grab the card. Lily, I'm having severe withdrawal symptoms." and put the card back in the envelope. I pull out my phone and take a picture of myself holding the flowers with my tongue out. I'll write to Ryle. Me: I tried to warn you.


He immediately starts texting me. I anxiously watch the dots moving back and forth on my phone. Ryle: I need my next fix. I'll be done here in about thirty minutes. Can I invite you to dinner? I can't. Mom wants me to try a new restaurant with her tonight. She is a nasty foodie. :( Ryle: I like food. I eat food. Where do you take them? Me: A place called Bib's in Marketson. Ryle: Somewhere for one?

I look at your text for a moment. Do you want to meet my mother? We're not even officially together. I mean . . . I don't care if he knows my mother. she would love it. But he thought he wanted nothing to do with relationships to possibly take a driving test to meet his parents, all in five days? Good God. I really suck. Me, of course. Meet us there in half an hour.


I leave my office and head straight for Allysa. I hold my phone to her face. "He wants to meet my mother" "Who?" "Rile." "My brother?" she says, looking as surprised as I am. I agree. "Your brother. My mother." She takes my phone and looks at the text messages. "Mmm. This is so weird. I take my phone from your hands. Thanks for the vote of confidence." He laughs and says, "You know what I mean. We're talking about Ryle here. He never met Ryle's parents." a girl in her story as Ryle Kincaid. Hearing her say that makes me smile, of course, but then I wonder if maybe she's just doing it to please me. If maybe she's doing things she really doesn't want to do just because she knows I want a relationship.


And then I smile even wider, why isn't that the point? Sacrifice yourself for the person you love to see them happy? "Your brother must really like me," I say jokingly. I look at Allysa, expecting her to laugh, but there's a serious expression on her face. She nods and says, "Yes. I'm afraid it is." She pulls her bag from under the counter and says, "I'm going out now. Let me know how you are, okay?" She walks past me and I watch her walk out the door, and then I stare at the door for a long time. It bothers me that she doesn't seem excited about the prospect of me going out with Ryle. I wonder if this has more to do with his feelings for me or for him. Twenty minutes later I change the sign to closed. Only a few days. I close the door and walk to my car, but stop when I see somebody.


lean on it. I need a moment to admit this. He looks away and is talking on his cell phone. I thought you'd meet me at the restaurant, but that's okay. My car horn bleeps as I press the unlock button, and Ryle turns around. He smiles when he sees me. "Yes, I agree," he says into the phone. He puts his arm around my shoulders and pulls me closer, kissing the top of my head. "We'll talk about it tomorrow," he says. “Something very important just happened.” He hangs up and puts it in his pocket, then kisses me. It's not a welcome kiss. It's an "I've been thinking about you nonstop." He wraps both arms around me and spins me around until I hit my car, where he continues to kiss me until I'm dizzy again. As he walks away, he looks at me appreciatively. "You know what part of you drives me the craziest?" He brings his fingers to my mouth and


trace my smile "These" he says. "Your lips. I love that they're as red as your hair and you don't even have to wear lipstick." I smile and kiss his fingers. "Then I better see you around my mom because everyone says we do." same mouth." He puts his fingers to my lips and stops smiling. "Lily. Only . . . no.” I laugh and open the door. “Shall we get separate cars?” He opens the door for me the rest of the way and says, “I took an Uber here from work. We'll travel together." •• "My mother is already sitting at the table when we arrive. She has her back to the door as I guide her. I'm immediately drawn to the restaurant. My eyes are drawn to the warm, neutral colors on the walls and to the nearly full-grown tree designed in the center of the restaurant, it looks like it's growing out of the ground, almost as if the


The entire restaurant is designed around the tree. Ryle follows close behind, his hand on my back. As soon as we reach the table, I start taking off my jacket. "Hi Mom." She looks up from her phone and says, "Oh, hi, honey." She drops her phone into her purse and waves her hand around the restaurant. "I already love it. Look at the lights," he says, pointing up. "The lights look like something you would grow in one of your gardens." That's when he notices Ryle standing patiently beside me as I enter the cabin. ... My mom smiles at her and says, "Let's have two waters, please" My eyes flick to Ryle and then back to my mom. He's with me. It's not the waiter.” She looks at Ryle again, confused. He just smiles and holds out his hand. “Honest mistake, ma'am. I'm Ryle Kincaid." us, he lets go of her hand and slides


in the cabin. She looks a little confused when she finally says, "Jenny Bloom. Nice to meet you." He turns his attention to me and raises an eyebrow. "A friend of yours, Lily?" I can't believe I'm not more prepared for this moment. What the hell am I thinking about this? like "? My essay? Can't say dude, but can't say dude very well. The view looks a little dated. Ryle notices my pause, so he places his hand on my knee and squeezes reassuringly. "My sister works for Lily," he says, "have you met her yet? Allysa?" My mom leans forward in her seat and says, "Oh! Yes! Clear. You two are so alike now that you mention it,” he says. “It's the eyes, I think. And the mouth." She nods. "We both prefer our mother." My mother smiles at me. "People always say they think Lily prefers me." "Yes," she says. "Identical mouths. Weird." Ryle pushes my knee under the table again.


while trying to stifle my laughter. "Ladies, if you'll excuse me, I have to go to the men's room." He leans down and kisses the side of my head before getting up. "If the waiter comes, I just want water." My mother's eyes follow Ryle as he walks away, then slowly turns to me. He points to me and then to his empty seat. "How come I haven't heard of this guy?" I smile a little. “Things are a bit. . . Is not real. . .” I have no idea how to explain our situation to my mother. "He works a lot, so we don't spend a lot of time together. Not at all. In fact, this is the first time we've had dinner together." My mom raises an eyebrow. "Right?" she says, leaning back in her chair. He doesn't treat you like that. I mean, he seems pleasantly attached to you. Not normal behavior for someone you just met.” “We haven't met,” I say. “It's been almost a year since I met him. and we have


Spend time together, but not on a date. He works a lot.” “Where does he work?” “Massachusetts General Hospital.” My mom leans forward, her eyes practically wide. “Lily!” she whispers. “Are you a doctor?” I nod, suppressing her "A neurosurgeon." "Can I get you something to drink?" a waiter asks. "Yes," I say. "We'll have three..." And then I cover my mouth. He's looking at me. I'm my heart in my throat. I can't remember how to say it. "Lily?" my mother says. She gestures to the waiter. "She's waiting for your drink order." Sick. . . in . . " “Three waters,” says my mother, interrupting my clumsy words. the waiter snorts


in her trance long enough to touch her pad with a pencil. "Three waters," he says. "Understood." She turns and walks away, but I see her look at me before she walks through the kitchen door. My mother leans over and says, "What the hell is wrong with you?" I point over my shoulder. "The bartender," I say, shaking my head. "It looked like . . ." I'm about to say "Atlas Corrigan" when Ryle appears and slides back in his seat. He looks back and forth between us. "What I lose?" I swallowed hard and shook my head. That wasn't it. really Atlas. But those mouth-eyes of his. I know it's been years since I've seen him, but I'll never forget what he looked like. It had to be him. I know it was, and I know he recognized me, too, because the second our eyes met…it felt like I'd seen a ghost.


"Lily?" Ryle says and squeezes my hand. "He is well?" I nod and force a smile, then clear my throat. "Yes. We were just talking about you," I say, looking at my mother. "Ryle helped out with an eighteen hour operation this week." My mother leans forward with interest. Ryle starts to tell her all about the operation. Our water comes, but this time it's a different waiter. He asks if we've had a chance to review the menu and then tells us about the chef's specials. The three of us order our food and I do my best to concentrate, but my attention is searching the entire restaurant for Atlas. I need to regroup. After a few minutes, I lean over to Ryle. "I need to run to the bathroom." He gets up to let me out and my eyes scan Ryle's faces. all the staff when i cross the room i push the door to the hallway that leads to the bathrooms as soon as i am alone my back hits the wall in the hallway i lean forward and take a deep breath


I decide to take a moment and regain my composure before heading out again. I bring my hands to my forehead and close my eyes. For nine years I wondered what happened to him. Years. "Lily?" I look up and take a deep breath. He's standing at the end of the hall like a ghost from the past. My eyes travel down to his feet to make sure she isn't floating in midair. It's not him, it's real and it's right in front of me. I'm glued to the wall and I don't know what to say to him. "Atlas?" As soon as I say his name, he breathes a sigh of relief and takes three big steps forward. I see myself doing the same. We met in the middle and hugged. "Shit," he says, hugging me tight. I agree. "Yes. Shit."


He places his hands on my shoulders and steps back to look at me. "You haven't changed at all." He covers his mouth with his hand, still in shock, and looks him up and down. His face looks the same, but he's not the scrawny teenager I remember. "I can't say the same about you." He looks at himself and laughs. "Yes," he says. "Eight years in the army will do that to you." We are both in shock, so nothing is said immediately afterwards. We just shake our heads in disbelief. He laughs and then I laugh. Finally he lets go of my shoulders and crosses his arms over his chest. "What brings you to Boston?" he asks. He says it so casually, and I'm grateful for that. I may not remember our conversation about Boston all those years ago, which would save me a lot of trouble. “I live here,” I tell him, forcing myself to sound as casual as I ask him. "I have a flower shop in Park Plaza."


He smiles knowingly, as if he isn't the least bit surprised. I look at the door and know I have to go back outside. He notices and then takes another step back. He holds my gaze for a moment and is really quiet. Very quiet. There's a lot to say, but none of us know where to start. The smile fades from his eyes for a moment, then he points to the door. "You should probably go back to your company," he says. "I'll visit sometime. You said Park Plaza, right?" I nod. He nods. The door opens and a woman enters with a small child. She moves between us, putting even more distance between us. I step toward the door, but he stays where she is. Before I leave, I turn to him and smile. "It was so good to see you, Atlas." He smiles a little, but doesn't touch his eyes. You too, Lily."


I'm quiet for the rest of the meal. I'm not sure if Ryle or my mom noticed, because she's fine asking question after question. He takes it like a champ. He is very charming to my mother in every way. The unexpected meeting with Atlas tonight put a wrinkle in my feelings, but by the end of dinner, Ryle softened. My mother takes her napkin and wipes her mouth, then points at me. "New favorite restaurant," she says. "Amazing." Ryle nods. "I agree. I have to get Allysa here. She loves trying new restaurants." The food is really good, but the last thing I need is for any of them to want to come back here. "It was good," he says. "Me. He pays for our meals, of course, and then insists we walk my mom out to her car. I can tell he's going to call me about him tonight just by the look on his proud face. As soon as he's gone, Ryle I will bring my car.


"I ordered an Uber so you don't have to worry about driving me home. We have approx." He looks at the phone, "A minute and a half to kiss." I laugh. He wraps his arms around me and kisses first my neck and then my cheek. "I would treat myself, but I have surgery tomorrow morning and I'm sure my patient would appreciate it if I didn't spend most of the night in there. Don't come." I have an opening ceremony in a few days. I should probably sleep too." "When is your next day off?" he says. "Never. When is your? "Never." I shake my head. "We're doomed. There's a lot of drive and fulfillment between the two of us.” “That means the honeymoon period lasts into your eighties,” he says. “I come to you


Grand opening on Friday and then the four of us went out to celebrate. A car pulls up beside us and he wraps his hand in my hair and kisses me goodbye. "By the way, your mother is wonderful. Thanks for letting me come to dinner." It goes back and up to auto. You see it coming out of the parking lot. I have a very good presentiment about this man. I smile and turn towards myself, but I put a hand on my chest and jade when I see it. Atlas is behind my coach. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you." I exhale deeply. "Well you did." I lean against the car and Atlas stays where he is, three feet away from me. He is looking at the road. "Like this? Who's the lucky one?" "He is. . ." My voice cracks. It's all so strange. My chest is still tight and my stomach is churning, and I can't tell if it's the jitters left over from Ryle's kiss or if it's Atlas' presence. "His name is Ryle. We met a year ago."


I immediately regret that we have known each other for so long. It feels like Ryle and I have been together a long time and we're not even officially dating yet. "What about you? Married? Do you have a girlfriend?" I'm not sure if I'm asking to prolong the conversation you started or if I'm genuinely curious. "I certainly do. Her name is Cassie. We've been together almost a year. Heartburn. I think I have heartburn. A year? I put my hand on my chest and nodded. "That's good. You look happy." Does he look happy? No idea. "Yes. Well…I'm so glad I saw you, Lily.” He turns to leave, but then turns and looks at me again, hands shoved deep in his back pockets. “I'll tell. . . I wish this had happened a year ago. I shudder at his words, trying not to let them sink in. He turns and walks back into the restaurant. I look for my keys and press the button to open the car. I go in and close the door


take the wheel For some reason, a big tear runs down my face. A huge, pathetic, what the hell is this wet tear. I slide inside and press the button to start the car. I didn't expect to feel so hurt after seeing him. But it's good. This happened for a reason. My heart had to be closed off to give it to Ryle, but maybe I couldn't do that until that happened. It's good. if I cry But will feel better. It is human nature to heal an old wound to prepare a new layer. That is all.

Chapter Eleven I curl up on my bed and look at him. I'm almost done with this. Not many tickets left. I pick up the diary and place it on the pillow beside me. "I won't read it to you," I whisper. Although if I read what's left, I'm done. Seeing Atlas tonight and knowing he has a girlfriend and a job and, more than likely, a house is enough to close this chapter. And if I just finished the damn diary, I can put it back in the shoebox and never have to open it again. I finally pick it up and roll onto my back. "Ellen DeGeneres, you are a bitch." Dear Ellen,


"Just keep swimming." Do you recognize the quote, Ellen? That's what Dory says to Marlin in Finding Nemo. "Keep swimming, swimming, swimming." I'm not a big fan of cartoons, but I'll give you my support on this one. I like cartoons that make you laugh but also make you feel something. After today, I think this is my favorite cartoon. Because lately I feel like I'm drowning and sometimes people need a reminder to keep swimming. Atlas got sick. How sick indeed. He's crawled through my window and slept on the floor a few nights in a row now, but last night I knew something was wrong the moment I looked at him. It was Sunday, so I hadn't seen him since last night, but he looked awful. His eyes were red, his skin was pale and even though it was cold his hair was sweaty. I didn't even ask if he was okay, I already knew he wasn't. I put my hand


on my forehead and it was so hot I almost screamed for my mother. He said, "I'm fine, Lily," and then proceeded to put her bunk on the floor. I told her to wait there and then I went into the kitchen and got her a glass of water. I found some medicine in the cupboard. It was a cold medicine and I wasn't even sure if that was what was wrong with him, but I let him take it anyway. He was lying on the floor, curled up in a ball, when he said about half an hour later, "Lily? I think I need a trash can." I jumped up and grabbed the trash can from under my desk and knelt down in front of it. As soon as I put her down, he bent over her and started throwing up. God, I felt sorry for him. Being so sick and not having a bathroom, bed No home, no mother. All he had was me and I didn't even know what to do for him. When he was done, I let him drink some water and then told him to get into bed. Him


I declined, but I didn't want to. I put the trash can on the floor next to the bed and forced him to move towards the bed. He was so hot and shivering so much that he was afraid to put him down. I lay down next to him and for the next six hours he was sick every hour. I had to keep taking the trash can into the bathroom to empty it. Not going to lie, it was disgusting. The most disgusting night I've ever had, but what else can I do? He needed my help and I was all he had. When it was time for him to leave my room this morning, I told him to go home and stop outside the school to see how he was doing. I'm surprised he even had the energy to crawl through my window. I put the trash can next to my bed and waited for my mom to come wake me up. As I was doing that, he saw the trash can and immediately put his hand on my forehead. Lily, are you okay?


I groaned and shook my head. "No. I was sick all night. I think it's over now, but I didn't sleep" She took the trash can and told me to stay in bed and she would call the school and let them know she wasn't coming. "After she left for work I got Atlas and told him he could stay at my place all day. He was still feeling sick so I let him use my room to sleep. I saw everyone half an hour after him and he finally stopped. throwing up at lunchtime. he showered and then I made him some soup. He was too tired to eat. They gave me a blanket and we both sat on the couch and snuggled. I don't know when. I started to I didn't feel comfortable enough to snuggle against him, but it felt good. A few minutes later, he leaned forward a little and pressed his lips to my collarbone, right between my shoulders and my neck. It was a quick kiss and not I think it was romantic, it was more like a thank you


gesture without using actual words. But it made me feel all kinds of things. It's been a few hours and I keep touching this place with my fingers because I can still feel them. I know it was probably the worst day of your life, Ellen. But it was one of my favorites. I feel really bad about it. We saw Finding Nemo and when it got to the part where Marlin was looking for Nemo and feeling really defeated, Dory said to him, 'When life gets you down, you wonder what to do? . . . Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. Atlas took my hand when Dory said that. He wasn't holding his girlfriend's hand like a friend would. He pressed as if to say it was us. He was Marlin and I was Dory and I helped him swim. "Keep swimming," I whispered. —Lily Dear Ellen,


I'm scared. so scared I like him a lot. He's all I think about when we're together and I worry a lot about him when we're not. My life is starting to revolve around him and that's not good, I know. But I can't help it and I don't know what to do about it and now it might disappear. He left after we finished watching Finding Nemo last night and when my parents went to bed last night he crawled through my window. He had slept in my bed the night before because he was sick and I know I shouldn't, but I put his sheets in the washing machine before going to bed. He asked me where his bunk was and I told him he needed to go back to sleep in the bed because he wanted to wash his sheets and make sure they were clean so he wouldn't pass again. For a moment, it looked like he was going to jump out the window again. But then he closed it, took off his shoes and got into bed with me.


I wasn't sick anymore, but when he went to bed I thought maybe he was sick because my stomach was so bad. But I wasn't sick. I always get dizzy when he's this close to me. We sat across from each other on the bed when he said, "When are you going to be sixteen?" "Two more months," I whispered. We stared at each other and my heart was beating faster and faster. “When are you nineteen?” I asked, trying to speak so I wouldn't hear how heavily he was breathing. "Not until October," he said. I shook my head. He wondered why I was curious about my age and wondered what I thought about fifteen-year-olds. Did he look at me like I was a child? Like a little sister? I was almost sixteen, and a two and a half year age gap isn't too bad. When two people are fifteen and eighteen, it can seem a long way off. But as soon as I turn sixteen, I bet


No one would think twice about a two and a half year age gap. "I have to tell you something," he said. I held my breath because I didn't know what I was going to say. “I contacted my uncle today. My mother and I lived with him in Boston. He told me I could have it as soon as I got back from my work trip." I should have been so happy for him in that moment. I should have smiled and congratulated him. But I felt all the immaturity of my age when I closed my eyes and I felt sorry for myself." Could you?" I asked. He shrugged. "I don't know. I wanted to talk to you about that first. He was lying on the bed so close to me that I could feel the heat of his breath. I also noticed that he smelled like mint and I wondered if he used bottled water to brush his teeth beforehand.


comes here. I always send him home with plenty of water every day. I reached for the pillow and started to pull on a spring that was sticking out of it. When I got it all out, I twisted it between my fingers. "I don't know what to say, Atlas. I'm glad you have accommodation. But what about school?" "I could end up there," he said. so far it's Boston. It's probably a couple of hours, but it's a world away if you don't have a car. "I'm not sure it's me." I dropped the feather on the pillow and placed my hand at my side. "What's stopping you? Your uncle is offering you a place to stay. That's good, isn't it?" She pursed her lips and nodded. Then she picked up the feather she had been playing with and began to close it between her fingers. She put it back on the pillow and then


He did something I didn't expect. He brought his fingers to my lips and touched them. God, Ellen. I thought I was going to die instantly. It was the most I've ever felt in my body all at once. She kept her fingers there for a few seconds and said, "Thank you, Lily. For everything." He ran his fingers through my hair, then leaned down and placed a kiss on my forehead. I was breathing so hard I had to open my mouth to get more air. I could see his chest moving as he looked at me and I saw his eyes travel straight to my mouth "Have you ever been kissed Lily?" because I needed him to change this now or he wouldn't be able to breathe. Then, almost as if he were made of eggshells, he lowered his mouth to mine and just left it there. I didn't know what I was supposed to do next, but I didn't care, I didn't care if we stayed like this.


this all night and we don't even move our mouths, that's all. His lips closed over mine and somehow I could feel his hand shaking. I did what he did and started moving my lips the way he did. I felt the tip of his tongue brush my lips once, and I thought my eyes were about to roll back. He did it one more time and then a third time, so finally I did it too. When our tongues touched for the first time, I smiled a little because I was thinking a lot about my first kiss. Where would I be, who would I be with? Never in a million years did I think it would be like this. He pushed me onto my back and pressed his hand against my cheek and continued to kiss me. It got better and better as I got more comfortable. My favorite moment was when he pulled back for a second and looked at me, then came back even harder. I don't know how long we kissed. Long time. So long, my mouth started to hurt and my eyes


could not stay open. When we fell asleep, I was sure his mouth was still touching mine. We don't talk about Boston anymore. I don't know if he's gone yet. —Lily ••• Dear Ellen, I need to apologize to you. It's been a week since I wrote to you and a week since I watched your show. Don't worry, I'm still filming so you can take notes, but every day when we get off the bus, Atlas takes a quick shower and then we kiss. Each day. That's great. I don't know what's up with him, but I feel so comfortable with him. He is so sweet and caring. He never does anything that I'm not comfortable with, but so far he hasn't tried anything that makes me uncomfortable.


I'm not sure how much to divulge here, as you and I have never met in person. But let me say this if you've ever wondered how my breasts feel. . . Now you know. I can't understand how people function on a day-to-day basis when they like someone so much. If it were up to me, we'd kiss all day and all night and do nothing in between except maybe talk a little. He tells funny stories. I love it when he's in the mood to talk because it's not often, but he uses his hands a lot. He also smiles a lot and I love his smile even more than his kiss. And sometimes I just tell him to shut up and stop smiling or kissing or talking so I can look at him. I like looking you in the eyes. They are so blue you could stand across a room and a person could tell how blue your eyes were. The only thing I don't like about kissing him sometimes is when he closes his eyes. And not. We haven't talked about Boston yet.


—Lily Dear Ellen, Yesterday afternoon, when we were on the bus, Atlas kissed me. It wasn't news to us as we had kissed many times at that time, but it was the first time I had done it in public. When we're together, everything else seems to disappear, so I don't think he even considered that other people would notice. But Katie noticed. He sat down behind us and I heard her say "Gross" as he leaned in and kissed me. She was talking to the girl next to her when she said, "I can't believe Lily lets you touch her. She wears the same clothes almost every day." Ellen, I was so angry. I also felt terrible for Atlas. I I could see that what she was saying was bothering him. I wanted to turn around to yell at him for judging someone he doesn't even know, but he grabbed my hand and shook his head. "No, Lily," he said.


So I don't. But for the rest of the bus ride I was very angry. He was furious that Katie would say something so ignorant just to hurt someone she thought was beneath her. It also hurt that Atlas seemed used to such comments. I didn't want him to think I was embarrassed when someone saw him kiss me. I know Atlas better than anyone and I know what a good person he is, no matter what his clothes looked like or how he smelled before he started using my shower. I leaned over and kissed his cheek and then laid my head on his shoulder. "You know that?" I told him. He slipped his fingers through mine and squeezed my hand. "What?" "You are my favorite person." I felt him chuckle a little, and it made me smile. "How many people?" he asked. "All of them."


He kissed the top of my head and said, "You're my favorite person too, Lily. Absolutely." When the bus stopped on my street, he didn't let go of my hand as we started walking. He was down the hall in front of me and I was walking behind him so he didn't see when I turned and Katie turned. She probably shouldn't have, but the look on her face made it worth it. When we arrived at my house, he took the key from my hand and opened the door of my house. funny to see how comfortable he was now he feels at home with me. He walked in and closed the door behind us. That's when we noticed that the electricity in the house was not working. I looked out the window and saw a van on the street. working on power lines it meant we couldn't watch his show. I wasn't too upset because that meant we'd probably only be making out for an hour and a half.


"Is your stove gas or electric?" he asked. "Gas," I said, a little confused that he was asking about our stove. She took off her shoes (which were really just a pair of my dad's old shoes) and went into the kitchen. "I'll make something for you," he said. "Can you cook?" She opened the fridge and started to pack things away. "Yes. I probably love cooking as much as you love growing things." She got some stuff out of the fridge and preheated the oven. I leaned against the counter and watched him. He didn't even look at the recipe." He just poured the stuff into bowls and mixed it all together without using a measuring cup. I never saw my dad lift a finger in the kitchen. I'm pretty sure he did "I don't even know how to preheat the oven. I thought, most men were like that, but seeing Atlas working in my kitchen proved me wrong.


"What are you doing?" I asked him. I pressed my hands against the island and jumped onto it. "Biscuits," he said. He brought the bowl over to me and dipped the spoon in the mixture. He put the spoon in my mouth and I tasted it. One of my soft spots is cookie dough, and this was the best I've ever had. "Oh wow," I said, licking my lips. He placed the bowl beside me and then leaned over and kissed me. Cookie dough and Atlas Mouth mix like heaven, in case you were wondering. I made a noise in the back of my throat letting him know how much I liked the combination and it made him laugh. But he didn't stop kissing me. He just chuckled into the kiss and it melted my heart. A happy Atlas was almost overwhelming. He made me discover everything about this world that he likes and give it all to him. As he kissed me, I wondered if I loved him. I never had a boyfriend and I have


Nothing to compare my feelings to. In fact, I never wanted a boyfriend or a relationship until Atlas. I didn't grow up in a home that had a great example of how a man should treat someone he loves, so I've always maintained an unhealthy level of mistrust when it comes to relationships and other people. There were times when I wondered if I could ever allow myself to trust a man. Most of the time I hate men because the only role model I have is my dad. But spending all that time with Atlas changes me. Not big I guess. I still distrust most people. But Atlas changes me enough to think maybe it's an exception to the norm. He stopped kissing me and took the bowl back. She took him to the opposite counter and started pouring batter into two baking sheets. “Want to know how to cook in a gas oven?” he asked.


I'm not sure I've ever been very interested in cooking before, but it made me want to know everything I knew. It might have been because of how happy he seemed to talk about it. "Gas ovens have hot spots," she said as she opened the oven door and placed the baking sheets inside. “You have to be sure and turn the pans so they cook evenly.” He closed the door and took the oven mitt from her hand. He threw it on the counter. “A pizza stone also helps. If you just leave it in the oven, even if you're not making pizza, it will help eliminate the hot spots." He walked towards me and placed his hands on either side of me. The power really kicked in when he lowered the collar of mine. shirt. He kissed the spot on my shoulder he always likes to kiss and slowly ran his hands down my back. I swear sometimes when he's not even here I can still feel his lips on my collarbone. He was about to kiss me in the mouth when we hear a car pull into the driveway and the garage door starts to open.


island and looked around the kitchen frantically. His hands went to my cheeks and he forced me to look at him. "Watch out for the cookies. They'll be ready in about twenty minutes." She pressed her lips to mine and then released me, running into the living room to grab her backpack. my father was leaving. I started to gather all the ingredients when my dad walked into the kitchen from the garage. He looked around and then saw the oven light come on. "You're cooking?" he asked. I shook my head because my heart was beating so fast I was afraid he'd hear the tremor in my voice if I answered out loud. I rubbed a spot on the counter for a moment that was perfectly clean. I cleared my throat and said, "Cookies. I make cookies.


He put the briefcase on the kitchen table, went to the fridge and got a beer. "Out of power," I told him. "I was bored so I decided to bake while I waited for it to start again." My dad sat down at the table and spent the next ten minutes asking me questions about school and whether I'd thought about going to college. . Occasionally, when it was just the two of us, I'd get a glimpse of what a normal relationship with a parent would be like. Sitting with him at the kitchen table and discussing colleges and careers and high school. As much as she hated him most of the time, she still missed more of those moments with him. If I could always be the type I can be in those moments, things would be very different. For all of us. I turned the cookies over as Atlas said and when they were done I took them out of the oven. I took one off the baking sheet and gave it to my dad. hated that i was


good for him. I almost felt like I was wasting one of Atlas' cookies. "Wow," said my father. "These are great, Lily." I forced a thank you but didn't. But I couldn't tell him that very well. "They're for school, so you can only have one," I lied. I waited for the rest to cool down, put it in a tupperware and took it to my room. I didn't even want to try without Atlas so I waited until last night when he came. "You should have tried one when it was hot," he said. "Then they are the best." “I didn't want to eat them without you,” I said. We sat on the bed with our backs to the wall and ate half the cookies. I told her they were delicious, but I didn't say they were by far the best cookies I've ever had. He didn't want to inflate her ego. I liked how humble he was.


I tried to get another one but he pushed the bowl away and put the lid back on. "If you eat too much, you'll get sick and you won't like my cookies anymore," I chuckled. "Impossible." She took a sip of water and stood up, facing the bed. "I made you something," he said, reaching into his pocket. "More cookies?" I asked why. He smiled and shook his head, then raised his fist. I lifted my hand and he dropped something hard into my palm. It was the small, flat outline of a heart, about two inches long, carved from wood. I rubbed my thumb over it, trying not to smile too much. It wasn't an anatomically correct heart, but it didn't look like a hand-drawn heart either. It was lumpy and hollow in the middle. "You did it?" I asked looking at him. He agreed. I carved it out with an old carving knife I found around the house.


The ends of the heart were not connected. They curved slightly, leaving a small gap at the top of the heart. I didn't even know what to say. I felt him sit up in bed, but I couldn't stop looking at him long enough to thank him. "I carved it into a branch," he whispered. "From the oak tree in your garden" I swear, Ellen. I never thought I could love something so much. Or maybe what she felt wasn't because of the gift, but because of him. I closed my fist around his heart and then leaned over and kissed him so hard he fell onto the bed. I threw my leg over him and straddled him and he grabbed my waist and smiled against my mouth. "I'll carve a fucking house into that oak tree if that's the reward I get." he whispered. My king. "You have to stop being so perfect," I told him. "You are already my favorite human, but now you are doing this very unfair to everyone else because no one can reach you."


He put his hand on the back of my neck and turned me around until I was on my back and he was on top. "So my plan works." He said before kissing me again. I held my heart tight as we kissed, wanting to believe it was a gift for no reason. But part of me was afraid it would be a gift to remember him when he left for Boston. I didn't want to remember that. If I remembered him, it would mean he is no longer part of my life. I don't want her to move to Boston, Ellen. I know it's selfish of me because he can't continue to live in this house. I don't know what I'm more afraid of. Watch him leave or selfishly ask him not to leave. I know we have to talk about this. I'll ask him about Boston tonight when he comes over. I just didn't want to ask him last night because it was a really perfect day. —Lily Dear Ellen,


Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. He moves to Boston. I really don't feel like talking about it. —Lily Dear Ellen, This is going to be a big problem for my mom to hide. My dad is usually very conscious of hitting her where he doesn't leave a visible bruise. The last thing you probably want is for the townspeople to know what you're doing to them. I saw him kick her a few times, choke her, punch her in the back and stomach, pull her hair. The few times he slapped her across the face, it was always just a slap, so the marks didn't last long. But I never saw him do what he did last night. It was very late when they got home. It was a weekend, so he and my mother went to a community event. My dad owns a real estate company and he's also the mayor of the city, so they have to do things in public, like charity.


Dinner. Which is ironic since my dad hates charities. But I think you need to save face. Atlas was already in my room when they got home. I could hear them fighting as soon as they walked in the front door. Much of the conversation was muffled, but mostly it sounded like my dad was accusing her of flirting with a man. Now I know my mother Ellen. She would never do such a thing. Anyway, a boy was probably looking at her, and that made my dad jealous. My mother is very beautiful. I heard him call her a whore, and then I heard the first punch. I wanted to get out of my bed, but Atlas pulled me over and told me not to get in because he could hurt me. I told him that sometimes it really helps. My dad cringes when I walk in there. Atlas tried to convince me otherwise, but I finally got up and went into the living room. ellen i just. . .


He was on top of her. They were on the sofa and he had his hand around her neck, but his other hand was lifting her dress. She tried to fight him off and I just stood there, frozen. She kept begging him to get away from her, and then he slapped her across the face and told her to shut up. I will never forget his words when she said, "Do you want attention? I will pay attention to you." And that's when she got very quiet and stopped fighting with him. I heard her cry and then she said, "Please shut up. Lilly is here." She said, "Please shut up." Please shut up while you rape me, love. Ellen, I didn't know one person could have so much hate in one heart. And I'm not even talking about my dad. I'm talking about me. I went straight to the kitchen and opened a drawer. I grabbed the biggest knife I could find and. . . I do not know how to explain. It was like I wasn't even in my own body. I could see myself


I crossed the kitchen with the knife in my hand, knowing I wasn't going to use it. He just wanted something bigger than me that could take him away from her. But just before I left the kitchen, two arms wrapped around my waist and lifted me up from behind. I dropped the knife and my father didn't hear it, but my mother did. We exchanged glances as Atlas led me back to my room. As soon as we got back to my room, I started hitting her chest to get revenge. I cried and did everything I could to get him out of the way, but he didn't budge. He just wrapped his arms around me and said, "Lily, calm down." He said this over and over again and held me until I accepted that he wasn't going to let me out of this again. He didn't want to give me the knife. He walked over to the bed, picked up his jacket and started putting on his shoes. "Let's go next door," he said. “Let's call the police.” The police.


My mother had warned me in the past not to call the police. He said it could jeopardize my father's career. But honestly, I didn't care at the time. I didn't care that he was the mayor or that someone who loved him didn't know the terrible side of him. All I cared about was helping my mom, so I put on my jacket and went to the closet to find a pair of shoes. When I came out of my closet, Atlas glanced at my bedroom door. He opened. My mother came in, closed it quickly, and locked it behind her. I will never forget what she was like. He had blood running down his lip. His eye was already starting to swell and she had a lock of hair that rested directly on her shoulder. He looked at Atlas and then at me. It didn't take me a moment to worry that he was going to lock me up in my room with some guy. I did not care. He was just worried about her. I went to her and took her hands and


brought her to my bed. I brushed her hair off her shoulder and past her forehead. "He's going to call the police, Mom. Is he okay?" Her eyes widened and he started to shake his head. "I didn't. He looked at Atlas and said, "You can't. Do not. You can."t." "She was already at the window and about to leave, so she stopped and looked at me. "He's drunk, Lily," she said." He heard her door close, so he walked into our room. He stopped. If you call the police, trust me, it will only make things worse. Just let him sleep late, tomorrow will be better." and I could feel the tears burning in my eyes. "Mom, he tried to rape you!" She lowered her head and flinched when I said that. She shook her head again and said, "It's not like that, Lily. We are married and sometimes marriage is easy. . . You're too young to understand." There was silence for a minute, and then I said. "I hope you never do."


Then, she started to cry. She just held her head in her hands and started crying and all I could do was hug her and cry with her. I had never seen her so upset. Or it hurts. Or this fear. It broke my heart, Ellen. it broke me. When she finished crying, I looked around the room and Atlas was gone. We went into the kitchen and I helped her wipe her lip and eye. She never said anything about her presence there. It is not a thing. I waited for him to tell me he was grounded, but he never did. I realized that maybe she doesn't recognize him because she recognizes him. The things that hurt her are simply swept under the rug and never mentioned again. —Lily Dear Ellen, I think I'm ready to talk about Boston. He left today.


I've shuffled my deck so many times my hands hurt. I'm afraid if I don't express my feelings in writing I'll go crazy if I write it all down. Our last night didn't go so well. We kissed a lot at first, but we were too sad to really care. For the second time in two days he told me he had changed his mind and wasn't coming. He didn't want to leave me alone in this house. But I've lived with these parents for almost sixteen years. It was silly of him to turn down a house because he was homeless just because of me. We both knew it, but it still hurt. I tried not to be too sad about it, so while we were in bed I asked him to tell me about Boston. I told him maybe one day when he got home from school he could go there. He had this look on his face when he started talking about it. A look she had never seen before. As if he was talking about the sky. He told me that everyone there has the most amazing accents. Instead of car it says cah. You shouldn't notice that sometimes he says his r like this


an. He said he lived there from nine to fourteen, so I think he must have picked up the accent a bit. He told me that his uncle lives in an apartment building with the coolest roof. "They have lots of apartments," he said. “Some even have pools.” Plethora, Maine probably didn't even have a building tall enough for a rooftop terrace. I wondered what it would be like to be that high. I asked if he had been there and he said yes. That when he was younger, he sometimes went up to the roof and sat there, thinking as he looked out over the city. He told me about the food. I already knew he loved to cook, but I had no idea how passionate he was. I guess because she doesn't have a stove or a kitchen, so other than the cookies she made for me, she's never talked about cooking before. He told me about the harbor and how his mother took him with her before she remarried.


fishing there. "I mean, Boston is probably no different than any other big city," he said. “There's not much that sets it apart. Only . . . I don't know. There is a state of mind. A very good energy. When people say they live in Boston, they are proud of it. Sometimes I miss that." I ran my fingers through his hair and said, "Well, you make it seem like the best place in the world. Like things are better in Boston." He looked at me and his eyes were sad as he said. "Almost everything is better in Boston. Except for the girls. Boston doesn't have you. That made me blush. He kissed me very sweetly. and then I said, 'Boston still doesn't have me.' One day I will go there and find you.” He promised me. He said if I moved to Boston everything would be so much better there and it would be the best city in the world. We kissed some more. And I did other things that I won't bore him with. But that doesn't mean that they were boring they weren't.


But then I had to say goodbye to him this morning. And he hugged and kissed me so hard I thought I might die if he let go. But I didn't die. Because he released me and here I am. still alive Still breathing. So. —Lily I turn to the next page, but then close the book. There's only one more entry and I'm not sure I really want to read it right now. Or never. I return the diary to my locker, knowing my chapter with Atlas is over. He is happy now. Now I am happy. Time can definitely heal all wounds. Or at least most of them. I turn off my lamp and pick up my phone to plug it in. I have two missing messages from Ryle and one from my mother. Ryle: Hi Naked Truth from 3...2...


Ryle: I was worried that being in a relationship would increase my responsibilities. That's why I've avoided her my whole life. I already have enough to do, and given the stress my parents' marriage seemed to be causing them and the failing marriages of some of my friends, I wanted no part of it. But after tonight, I realized that maybe a lot of people are getting it wrong. Because what happens between us doesn't feel like a responsibility. It feels like a reward. And I go to sleep wondering what I did to deserve this.

I hold my phone to my chest and smile. Then I take a screenshot of the text because I will keep it forever. I open the third SMS. Mother: A doctor, Lily? And your own company? I want to be you when I grow up.

I also took a screenshot of it.

Chapter 12 “What are you doing with those poor flowers?” Allysa asks from behind me. I take another silver washer and slide it onto the rod. "Steampunk". We both pull back and admire the bouquet. At least . . . Hope you look on in awe. It turned out better than I thought. I used Florist Dip Dye to dye some white roses a deep purple. I then decorated the stems with various steampunk elements, like small metal disks and gears, and I even glued a small clock to the brown leather strap that holds the bouquet together. "Steampunk?" "It's a trend. A kind of subgenre of fiction, but it's becoming popular in other areas. Art. Music." I'm shooting


around and smiling, holding bouquet. And now... flowers. Allysa takes the flowers from me and spreads them out in front of her. "You are so…weird. I love you so much." She hugs them. "Can I have them?" I keep them away from her. "No, they are our opening exhibit. They are not for sale." I take her flowers and grab the vase I made yesterday. I found a pair of old women's boots at a flea market last week. They reminded me of the steampunk style and it was with the boots that I had the idea of ​​flowers. I washed the boots last week, dried them and then used super glue to glue the metal parts to them. After brushing them with Mod Podge, I was able to line the inside with a vase to hold water for the flowers. "Allyssa?" I placed the flowers on the display table in the middle. "I'm pretty sure that's exactly what I should be doing with my life." She asks.


I laugh and turn around. "To create!" I say. And then I go around the sign to open, fifteen minutes early. We both spent the day busier than we thought. Between phone orders, web orders, and visits, none of us have time to take a lunch break. “You need more staff,” Allysa says as she passes me with two bouquets. This is in one. "You need more staff," he tells me at 2am. m., holding his phone to his ear and typing an order while calling someone at the register. Marshall arrives after three and asks how you are. Allysa says, "He needs more staff." I'm helping a woman carry a bouquet of flowers to her car at four o'clock, and when I get back, Allysa is out with another bouquet of flowers. "They need more staff," she says angrily.


At six o'clock he closes the door and turns the sign. She slumps against the door, slides to the floor, and looks up at me. "I know," I tell him. “I need more employees.” She just nods her head. And then we laugh. I go to her and sit next to her. We put our heads together and looked at the store. The Steampunk flowers are front and center, and while I declined to sell this particular bouquet, we've had eight pre-orders for more of the same. "I'm proud of you Lily," she says. I smile. "I couldn't have done it without you, Issa." We sat for a few minutes enjoying the rest we are finally getting our feet. Honestly, this was one of the best days I've ever had, but I can't help but feel a lingering sadness that Ryle never showed up. He also didn't send text messages. "Did you hear from your brother today?" I ask.


She shakes her head. "No, but I'm sure he's just busy." I agree. I know you are busy. We both look up when someone knocks on the door. I smile when I see him put his hands over his eyes and press his face against the window. He finally looks down and sees us sitting on the floor. "Speaking of demons," says Allysa. I jump up and open the door to let him in. As soon as I open it, she pushes her way inside. "I lost? I lost. I lost." he hugs me "Sorry I tried to get there asap." I hug him back and say, "It's okay. You're here. It was perfect." I'm giddy with excitement that he made it. "You're perfect," he says, kissing me. Allysa walks past us. "You're perfect," he mimics. You know what?" Ryle releases me. "What?" Allysa picks up the trash can and throws it on the counter. "Lily needs to hire more staff."


I laugh at its constant repetition. Ryle shakes my hand and says, “Looks like the deal worked.” I shrug. I mean, the big day. Let's get everything ready and ready for tomorrow, and then Marshall will come right after we're done. He has a bag when he walks in and drops it on the counter. He starts taking big Chunks of some material and throws them at each of us. I take mine and unfold it. It's a play. With kittens everywhere. "Witch game. Free beer. Dress up, team!" Allysa groans and says, "Marshall, you made six million dollars this year. Do we really need free beer?


He slides a finger against her lips and pushes them in opposite directions. "Shh! Don't talk like a rich girl, Issa. Bad words." She laughs and Marshall takes off his overalls. He unwraps it and helps her inside. Once we're all dressed, we close the door and head to the bar. I had never seen so many men in my life. Seen onesies. Allysa and I are the only women who wear it, but I kind of like it. It's noisy. So loud and every time the Bruins play well, Allysa and I have to cover our ears from the screams. After about half an hour, a hut opens on the top floor and we all race upstairs to claim it. "Much better," Allysa says as we walk in. Our drink order. I order red wine, and as soon as I do, Marshall practically jumps out of his chair.


Screams. "You're wearing overalls! You don't get free wine in overalls!" He tells the waitress to bring me a beer instead. Ryle tells him to bring me some wine. Allysa wants water, which angers Marshall even more. He tells the waitress to get four bottles of beer, so Ryle says, "Two beers, burgundy red and water." The waitress is very confused as she leaves our table. Marshall puts his arm around Allysa and kisses her. "How am I going to try to wake you up tonight unless you're a little drunk?" The expression on Allysa's face changes and I immediately feel sorry for her. I know Marshall just said that for fun, but it must piss her off. She just told me a few days ago how depressed she is about not being able to drink beer, Marshall. You like me better when you're drunk. He chuckles to himself, but Allysa doesn't.


"I can't drink wine either. I really can't drink alcohol." Marshall stops laughing. My heart skips a beat. Marshall turns around in the booth and grabs her by the shoulders so she's looking right at him. "Allysa?" She just starts shaking her head and I don't know who starts crying first. Me or Marshall or Allysa. "I'm going to be a father?" he screams. She keeps shaking her head and I'm crying like an idiot. Marshall jumps into the dressing room and yells, "I'm going to be a dad!" I can't even explain what this moment is like. A grown man in overalls standing in a bar booth yelling to anyone who will listen that he's going to be a father. He picks her up and the two of them are standing in the dressing room now. He kisses her and it's the cutest thing I've ever seen in my life. Until I look over at Ryle and catch him biting his bottom lip like he's trying to hold back a possible tear. He looks at me and sees me looking


then look away. "Shut up," he says. "She's my sister." I smile, lean down and kiss her cheek. “Congratulations, Uncle Ryle.” Once the dads-to-be stopped making out in the dressing room, Ryle and I stood up and congratulated them. Allysa said she's been feeling down for a while, but she had a test this morning before our opening. She wanted to wait and tell Marshall when they got home tonight, but she couldn't stop herself for a second. Our drinks come and we order food. As the waitress walks away, I look at Marshall. "How did you two meet?" He says, "Allysa tells the story better than I can." Allysa straightens up and leans forward. "I hated it," she says. "He was Ryle's best friend and he was always at home. I thought he was so annoying. He had just moved from Boston to Ohio and he had that Boston accent. So he thought.


He was great, but I wanted to hit him every time he spoke. "She's so cute," says Marshall sarcastically. "You were an idiot," Allysa replies, rolling her eyes. "Anyway, one day Ryle and I invited some friends over. No big deal, but our parents weren't in town, so of course we had a little get-together." "Thirty people were there," says Ryle. "It was a party." “Okay, a party,” Allysa says. “I walked into the kitchen and Marshall was there hugging a pie.” “She wasn't a pie,” she says. “She was a nice girl. She tasted like Cheetos, but. . .” Allysa looks at him, then he shuts up. She turns to me. "I lost," she says. “I started yelling at him to bring his whores to his house. The girl was literally so scared of me that she ran for the door and didn't come back." "Penis blockers," says Marshall.


Allysa pats him on the shoulder. "Still. After blocking him with my tail, I ran to my room, embarrassed that I had done that. It was pure envy and I didn't even know I liked him so much until I found his hands on another girl's ass. played on the bed." it's history..." he says. Marshal. I laugh. "Shy. Stupid face. How sweet.” Ryle holds up a finger and says, “You're leaving out the best part.” Allyssa shrugs. “Oh yeah. Then Marshall came over to me, pulled me off the bed, kissed me with the same mouth he just kissed the bitch, and we kissed for half an hour. Ryle came in and started yelling at Marshall. So Marshall pushed Ryle out of my room, closed the door, and stayed with me for another hour.


Ryle shakes his head. "Betrayed by my best friend" Marshall pulls Allysa to him. “I like that, you stupid shitface.” I laugh, but Ryle turns to me with a serious expression on his face. "I didn't speak to him for a whole month, he was so mad. I finally got over it. We were eighteen, she was seventeen. I couldn't do much to tell them apart. "Wow," I say." Sometimes I forget how close you are in age. Allysa smiles and says, "Three kids in three years. I'm sorry about my parents." The table is silent. I see an apologetic look from Allysa to Ryle. "Three?" I ask. "Do you have another brother?" Ryle straightens up and takes a swig of his beer. He puts it back on the table and says, "We had an older brother. He died when we were kids.


A great night ruined by a simple question. Fortunately, Marshall redirects the conversation like a pro. He spends the rest of the night listening to stories about his childhood. I'm not sure I laughed as hard as I did tonight. When the game is over, we all go back to the store to get our cars. Ryle said he got an Uber earlier so he'll get it. Before Allysa and Marshall leave, I tell her to hang in there. I run to the store, grab the steampunk flowers, and carry her back to the car. Her face lights up when I hand it over. "I'm glad you're pregnant, but that's not why I'm giving you these flowers. I just want you to have them. Because you're my best friend. Allysa hugs me and whispers in my ear." home with you one day. We will be even better sisters.” She gets in the car and they drive off, and I stand there looking at her because I don't know if I've ever had a friend like her in my car.


all life. Maybe it's the wine. I don't know, but I love today. I especially love the way Ryle looks, leaning against my car and looking down at me. “You look really pretty when you're happy.” Yuck! This day! Perfect! ••• We're climbing the stairs to my apartment when Ryle grabs me around the waist and pushes me against the wall. He just starts kissing me, right on the stairs. "Impatient," I mutter. He laughs and cups my ass with both hands. "No. It's that overalls. You really should consider making this your business attire." He kisses me again and doesn't stop kissing me until someone walks past us and down the stairs. The boy mutters, "Nice overalls" as he squeezes. He walks past us. “Did the Bruins win?” Ryle nods.


"Good," says the boy. Once he's gone, I'll stay away from Ryle. "What kind of overalls are these? Does every man in Boston know about them?" She laughs and says, "Free beer, Lily. It's free beer. She leads me upstairs, and when we walk through the door, Lucy is at the kitchen table, zipping up a box of her things. There's another box that she hasn't sealed. . still." duct tape, and I could have sworn I saw a bowl I bought at HomeGoods sticking out of the top. He said he'd get all his stuff out for next week, but I have a feeling he's going to get some of my stuff, too. "Who are you?" he asks, looking Ryle up and down, "Ryle Kincaid. I'm a friend of Lily's. Lilly's friend. You found out what? Friend. It's the first time he's confirmed it, and he said it with such certainty." My friend, huh?" I


Go to the kitchen and grab a bottle of wine and two wine glasses. Ryle follows behind me as I pour the wine and wraps his arms around my waist. "Yes. Your friend." I hand him a glass of wine and say, "So I'm a friend?" He lifts his glass and slams it against mine. "Until the end of testing and the beginning of safer things." We both smiled as we sipped our wine. Lucy stacks the boxes and heads for the front door. "Looks like I got out in time," she says. The door closes behind her and Ryle raises an eyebrow. "I think your roommate doesn't like me very much" "You'd be surprised. I don't think she likes me either, but yesterday she asked me to be her maid of honor at her wedding.


However, I expect free flowers. It's too opportunistic." Ryle laughs and leans against the fridge. His eyes fall on a magnet that says "Boston." He picks it up from the fridge and raises an eyebrow. "You'll never get out of Boston Purgatory if you have Boston mementos on your fridge. as a tourist.” I laugh, pick up the magnet and put it back on the fridge. I like that he remembers so much about the first night we met. "It was a gift. It only counts as a tourist if I bought it myself. He takes a step towards me and takes my wine glass from my hand. He sets our two glasses on the counter, then leans forward and kisses me deep and soft. in love. , drunk. I can taste the fruity acidity of the wine on his tongue and I like it. His hands go to the zipper of my overalls. "Let's get out of those clothes." He takes me into the bedroom and kisses me as we both struggle to get out of our clothes.


By the time we got to my room, I was done with my bra and panties. He pushes me against the door and I gasp at the unexpected. "Don't move," he says. He presses his lips to my chest and then slowly starts kissing me down my body. Oh God. Can this day seriously get any better? I run my hands through his hair, but he grabs my wrists and pushes them against the door. He moves back into my body and squeezes my wrists tightly. He raises an eyebrow in warning. "I said…don't move. I try not to smile, but it's hard to hide. He pulls his mouth down towards my body. He slowly lowers my panties down to my ankles, but tells me, I shouldn't move, so I'm not going to kick them out. His mouth slides up my thigh until... Yes. Best day ever.



Chapter Thirteen Ryle: Are you home or are you still at work? Worked. It should be done in about an hour. Ryle: Can I come see you? Me: You know how people say there are no stupid questions? You are wrong. That was a stupid question. Ryle: :)

Half an hour later, he knocks on the flower shop's front door. I closed shop almost three hours ago, but I'm still here trying to sort out the chaos of the first month. The business is still too new to give an accurate forecast of how well or badly things are going. Some days are great and some days are so slow I send Allysa home. But overall, I'm happy with how things have gone so far.


And happy with how things are going with Ryle. I open the door to let him in. He's back in a light blue robe and even has a stethoscope around his neck. I just left work. very nice touch. I swear every time I see him right after shift I have to hide that stupid smile on my face. I give her a quick kiss and then head back to my office. "I have some things to do and then we can get back to me." He follows me into my office and closes the door. "Do you have a sofa?" he asks, looking around my office. I spent part of this week putting the finishing touches on it. I bought some bulbs so I didn't have to use the overwhelming fluorescents. The lamps give the room a soft light. I also bought some plants to keep here permanently. It's not a garden, but it's as close as possible. It has been a long time since this room was used as a storage for boxes of vegetables.


Ryle walks over to the couch and falls face down on it. "Take your time," he murmurs into the pillow. "I'm going to take a nap until you're done." Sometimes I worry about how hard he's trying to work, but I don't say anything. I've been in my office for 12 hours now, so I don't have a lot of room to talk when it comes to being overly ambitious. I spend the next fifteen minutes taking orders. When I'm done, I close my laptop and look at Ryle. I thought he was sleeping, but instead he's lying on his side with his head in his hand. He's watching me the entire time and seeing the smile on his face makes me blush. I push my chair back and stand up. "Lily, I think I like you a lot." He says as I approach him. I wrinkle my nose when he sits down on the couch and pulls me onto his lap. "Too much? That doesn't sound like a compliment."


"That's because I don't know if it is," he says. He lines up my legs on either side of him and then wraps his arms around my waist. "This is my first real relationship. I don't know if I should like you so much. I don't want to scare you." I laugh. "It's like that could happen. You work too hard to smother me." He rubs my back with his hands. "Do you mind if I work too hard?" I shake my head, “No. Sometimes I worry about you because I don't want you to get burned. But I don't mind having to share your passion with you. I love how ambitious you are. It's kind of sexy. until it's what you want." I like that best about you." "You know what I like best about you?" He rests his head against the sofa. "Oh, yes. That's first. But you know what my second favorite thing about you is?"


I shake my head. "You're not forcing me to be something I'm not capable of. You accept me exactly as I am." I smile. “Well, to be honest, you're a little different than when I first met you. You're not that anti-girlfriend anymore.” “That's because you make it easy,” he says, sliding his hand down the back of my shirt. "It's easy to be with you. I can still have the career I always wanted, but you make it ten times better by supporting me. When I'm with you, I feel like I can have my cake and eat it too." Now both hands are under my shirt, pressed against my back. He pulls me close and kisses me. I smile against his mouth and whisper, "This Is this the best cake you've ever had?" One of his hands moves to the "I'm sure, but I might need one more test to come back positive," he pulls my shirt and bra over my head.


I start to move away from him so he can pull my jeans off, but he pulls me back onto his lap. He takes the stethoscope and sticks it in my ears, then presses his diaphragm against my chest, right over my heart. "What is making your heart so fluttering, Lily?" I shrugged innocently. "It might have something to do with you, Dr. Kincaid." He drops the tip of the stethoscope, then picks me up and pushes me onto the couch. "He spreads my legs, kneels between them on the couch, and replaces the stethoscope against my chest. He uses his other hand to steady himself as he continues to listen to my heart. "I'd say you're at about ninety beats per minute. " he says. "Is that good or bad?" He smiles and sinks into me. "I'll be happy if it's one-forty." If it gets to 140, I think I'll be happy too. He lowers his mouth to my chest.


and my eyes drop when I feel his tongue slide across my chest. He takes me in his mouth and keeps the stethoscope pressed against my chest the entire time. "You have about a hundred now," he says. He loops the stethoscope around his neck and pulls it back to unbutton my jeans. As soon as he pulls her away from me, he flips me around until I'm on my stomach and my arms are draped over the back of the couch. "Get on your knees," he says. I do as he says, and before I get used to it, I feel the cold metal of the stethoscope hitting my chest again, this time with his arm wrapped around me from behind. I stand still as he listens to my heartbeat. Another hand of his slowly starts to find its way between my legs and then inside my panties and then inside me. I cling to the couch but try to keep the noise to a minimum as he listens to my heartbeat. "A hundred and ten," he says, still unsatisfied.


He pulls my hips back to meet him, and then I can feel him pull his robe off. He grabs my waist with one hand while he pushes down my panties with the other. Then he pushes himself forward until he's completely inside me. I grip the couch in two desperate fists as she pauses to listen to my heartbeat again. "Lily," he says with mock disappointment. "Twenty one. Not exactly where I want you." The stethoscope disappears again and his arm wraps around my waist. His hand slides down my stomach and between my legs. I can't keep up with you. I can barely stand. He kind of holds me with one hand and destroys me as best he can with the other hand. Just when I start to shake he pulls me until my back meets his chest He's still inside me but now he's gone he's focusing on the my heart again as he moves his stethoscope to my chest. I moan and he presses his lips to my ear. "Shh. No sound."


I have no idea how I can get through the next thirty seconds without making another sound. One of her arms is around me, the stethoscope pressed against my chest. His other arm is tight against my stomach as his hand continues its magic between my legs. He's still a little bit inside me and I try to move against him, but he's rock solid as tremors start to go through me. My legs are shaking and my hands are at my sides, gripping his upper thighs as it takes all my strength not to scream her name. I'm still shaking when he reaches out and places his belly on my wrist. After a few seconds, he removes the stethoscope and drops it on the floor. "One hundred and fifty," he says happily. He pulls out of me and rolls me onto my back and then his mouth is on mine and he's back inside me. My body is too weak to move and I can't even open my eyes and look at him. He bumps into me several times and then stands still, groaning.


in my mouth. He lands on top of me, tense but shaking. He kisses my neck and then his lips find the heart tattoo on my collarbone. Finally she snuggles into my neck and sighs. "Did I mention how much I like you tonight?" he asks. I laugh. "Once or twice". "Consider it a third time," he says. "I like you. Everything about you Lily. Being inside you. Being outside you. Being close to you. I like everything." I smile and love the feel of his words on my skin. In my heart. I open my mouth to say that I like him too, but my voice is cut off by his ringing phone. He groans against my neck, then pulls out of me and grabs his phone. She puts her robe back on and laughs as she looks at the caller ID. "This is my mom," she says, leaning down and kissing the top of my knee that's above her.


back of sofa. He tosses the phone aside, then gets up, walks over to my desk and grabs a box of tissues. It's always embarrassing to clean up after sex. But I can't say it was all that embarrassing to learn that his mother is on the other side of the circle. Once all my clothes are in place, he pulls me onto the couch and I lie on top of him, resting my head on his chest. It's after ten and I feel so good I'm thinking of sleeping here tonight. Ryle's phone chirps again, alerting him to a new voicemail. The thought of watching him interact with his mother makes me smile. Allysa talks a little bit about her parents, but I've never talked to Ryle about them. "Do you get along with your parents?" His arm softly caresses mine. "Yes. They're good people. We went through a rough patch when I was a teenager, but we got through it. Now I talk to my mom almost every day."


I cross my arms over his chest and rest my chin on them as I look up at him. "Are you going to tell me more about your mother? Allysa told me they moved to England a few years ago. And that they were on vacation in Australia, but that was a month ago." She laughs. "My mother? Well... My mother is very overbearing. Very critical, especially with the people she loves most. No services were lost. And I never heard her abuse my father with anything other than Dr. Kincaid mentioned." Despite the warnings, he smiles the entire time he talks about her. "Is your father a doctor too?" He nods. . " Psychiatrist. He chose an area that also allowed him to lead a normal life. A smart man. "Do they always visit you in Boston?" -Not really. My mom hates flying, so Allysa and I flew to England a couple of times per year.


But I want to meet you, so maybe you'll come with me on the next trip. I smile. "Did you tell your mother about me?" "Of course," he says. "It's kind of a monumental thing, you know. I have a girlfriend. She calls me every day to make sure I haven't screwed up somehow." I laugh, causing him to pick up the phone. "You think I'm kidding? I guarantee you, somehow he got in touch with you on the mailbox he just left. Press a few keys and start playing the voicemail." And his mother. I haven't spoken to you since yesterday. Miss you. Give Lily a hug for me. You still see her, right? Allysa says you can't stop talking about her. She is still her girlfriend. , right? OK. Gretchen is here, let's go for tea. I love you. Kiss kiss." I press my face against her chest and laugh. "We've only been together a few months. How much do you talk about me?"


He lifts my hand between us and kisses it. "Too much, Lily. Too much." I smile. "I can't wait to meet them. Not only did they raise an amazing daughter, they raised you too. That's awesome." His arms tighten around me and he kisses my head on the cheek."What was your brother's name?" I can feel a slight stiffness in him after asking this. I'm sorry to mention it, but it's too late to take it back." Emerson "I can tell from his voice that it's something he doesn't want to talk about right now. Instead of pushing him further, I lift my head and rush forward, pressing my mouth against his. You should know better. Kissing is like that." It's about me and Ryle. Within minutes he's back inside me, but this time he's everything he wasn't the other time. This time we love each other.

Chapter Fourteen My phone is ringing. I pick it up to see who it is and am a little surprised. This is the first time Ryle has called me. We always write. How strange to have a boyfriend of over three months that I've never spoken to on the phone. "Hi?" "Hello girlfriend," he says. I smile cheesy at the sound of his voice. "Hello friend" "Guess what?" "What?" "I'm taking tomorrow off. Your flower shop doesn't open until one on Sunday. I'm on my way to your apartment with two bottles of wine. Want to spend the night?"


with your boyfriend and drank sex all night and slept until noon? It's really embarrassing what her words are doing to me. I smile and say, "You know what?" "What?" "I'll make you dinner. And I'm wearing an apron." "Oh yes?" he says, "Just an apron." And then I hang up a few seconds later I get a text message Ryle: Photo please Me: Come over here and you can take the photo yourself.

I'm almost done making the dough for the casserole dish when the door opens. I place it on the glass plate and don't turn around when I hear him walk into the kitchen. When I said I was only wearing an apron, I meant it. I don't even wear panties. I hear him take a deep breath as I reach for the oven and push the baking sheet away. I might go too far for the show if I do that. When I close the oven, I don't look at it. I


grab a rag and start cleaning the stove, making sure to sway my hips as much as possible. I cry out when I feel a sharp pain in my right buttock. I turn and Ryle smiles, holding two bottles of wine. "Did you just bite me?" He gives me an innocent look. "Don't seduce the scorpion if you don't want it to sting you." He looks me up and down as he opens one of the bottles. He lifts it up before pouring us a glass and says, "It's vintage." "Vintage," I say, mocking. "What's the special occasion?" He hands me a cup and says, "I'm going to be a guy. I have a hot girlfriend. And I can get a very rare, possibly unique, skull split on Monday." your glass of wine and pour yourself. another." Craniopagus separation. Siamese twins," he says. He points to a spot on his head and touches it. "Attached to the right


on here. We have studied him since his birth. It is a very rare operation. Very rarely." For once, I think he really turns me on as a doctor. I mean, I admire his drive. I admire his commitment. But seeing how excited he is about what he does for a living is really sexy. "How long do you think that how long will it take?" I ask. He shrugs. "I'm not sure. You're young, so being under general anesthesia for a long time is a concern." Raise your right hand and move your fingers. "But this is a very special hand that has gone through nearly half a million dollars in specialized training. I have a lot of faith in this one. I move closer to him and press my lips to his palm. "I kind of like that hand too." He slides his hand to the back of my neck, then turns me so I'm leaning against the counter. I sigh because I didn't expect that.He presses against me from behind and slowly slides his hand down my side.


Body. I press my palms into the granite and close my eyes, already feeling the murmur of the wine. “That hand,” he whispers, “is the calmest hand in all of Boston.” He presses against the back of my neck, leaning further over the counter. His hand touches the inside of my knee and he slides it up. Slow. Jesus. He pushes against my legs and then his fingers are inside me. I groan and try to find something to hold onto. I reach out for the griffin just as he starts to cast his magic. And then his hand disappears like a magician. I hear him leave the kitchen. I watch him walk past the counter. He winks at me, drinks the rest of his glass of wine and says, "I'm going to take a quick shower." "Moron!" he shouted. "I'm not an idiot!" he yells from my room. "I am a highly qualified neurosurgeon!"


I laugh and pour myself another glass of wine. I'll show you who the wild card really is. ••• I'm on my third glass of wine when he comes out of my room. I'm on the phone with my mom, so I watch him from the couch as he goes into the kitchen and pours himself another glass. This is a very good wine. "What are you doing tonight?" asks my mother. I have them on speakerphone. Ryle leans against the wall and watches me talk to her. "Not much. Help Ryle study." . . it's not very interesting,” she says. Ryle winks at me. "Very interesting actually," I tell him. “I help him a lot with his studies. Mainly checking the fine motor skills of the hands. In fact, we'll probably stay up all night studying."


The three glasses of wine cheered me up. I can't believe I'm flirting with him while I'm on the phone with my mom. Rude. "I have to go," I tell him. "We're taking Allysa and Marshall out to dinner tomorrow night, so I'll call you on Monday." "Oh, where are you taking her?" I put my eye white. The woman cannot understand any clues. "I don't know. Ryle, where are we taking you?" "That place we used to go with your mom," he says. "Bibs? I made a reservation for six o'clock." My heart feels like this. It will slide across my chest. My mom says, "Oh, good choice." If you like stale bread. Goodbye Mom.” I hang up and look at Ryle. “I don't want to go back there. I did not like. Let's try something new.” I can't say why I really don't want to go back there, but how do you tell your new boyfriend that you're trying to avoid your first love?


Ryle pushes against the wall. "You'll be fine," he says. "Allysa can't wait to eat there, I've told her everything. Maybe I'm just lucky and Atlas isn't working. Speaking of food," says Ryle. "I'm hungry." The casserole! "Oh shit!" I laugh. Ryle enters. I run to the kitchen, get up and follow him there. I step in just as he opens the oven door and blows away the smoke. Ruined. I suddenly feel dizzy after three glasses of wine because I get up so quickly. I reach the counter next to him. to support me as he picks up the burnt pot. "Ryle! you need a . ." "Shit!" he screams. "Supports." The pan falls out of his hand and onto the floor, smashing everywhere. I lift my feet to avoid broken glass and chicken and mushrooms.


splash. I start laughing as soon as I realize he hasn't even thought to wear a kitchen mitt. It must be the wine. This is a very strong wine. He slams the stove down and goes to the faucet, dipping his hand in the cold water and muttering curses. I try not to laugh, but the wine and ridicule of the last few seconds make it difficult for me. I look down at the floor at the mess we're about to clean up, and a chuckle escapes me. I'm still laughing when I lean over to see Ryle's hand. I hope I didn't hurt you too much. I'm not laughing anymore. I'm sprawled on the floor, my hand pressed against the corner of my eye. In a second, Ryle's arm came out of nowhere and slammed into me, knocking me back. There was enough force behind him to throw me off balance. When I lost my balance, my face hit one of the closet door handles as I fell.


Pain shoots out of the corner of my eye, right next to my temple. And then I feel the weight. The weight follows and presses on every part of me. So much gravity, pressing down on my emotions. Everything breaks. My tears, my heart, my laughter, my soul. Broken like broken glass, it's raining all around me. I wrap my arms over my head and try to will the last ten seconds to pass. "Damn it, Lily," I hear him say. "It's not fun. This hand is my fucking career." I do not see. His voice doesn't penetrate my body this time. It feels like it's stinging me now, the sharpness of each word hitting me like swords. Then I feel him beside me, his fucking hand on my back. rubbing me "Lily," he says. "Oh, God. Lily." He tries to pull my arms away from my head, but I refuse to move. I start to shake my head, wanting the last thing


fifteen seconds to disappear. fifteen seconds. That's all it takes to completely change everything about a person. Fifteen seconds we'll never get back. He pulls me closer and starts kissing my head. "I'm sorry. I just…burned my hand. I panicked. You laughed and…I'm sorry it all happened so fast. I didn't mean to rush you, Lily. I'm sorry." I don't hear Ryle's voice this time. I only hear my father's voice. "I'm sorry, Jenny. It was an accident. I'm sorry." "I'm sorry, Lily. It was an accident. I'm sorry. I just want him away from me. I'm using every ounce of strength I have in my hands and legs and I'm forcing him away from me. He lands on my hands, full. of genuine sadness, but they're also filled with something else. Worry? Panic?


He slowly raises his right hand and it is covered in blood. Blood drips from his palm, down his wrist. I look down at the floor, at the broken glass pot. His hand. I just slid over the glass. He turns and stands. He puts his hand under running water and starts to wash away the blood. I stand up just as he pulls a piece of glass from his palm and drops it on the counter. I'm filled with anger, but somehow the concern for his hand still finds its way. I grab a towel and place it in his fist. There is so much blood. It's his right hand. Your surgery on Monday. I'm trying to stop the bleeding, but I'm shaking too much. "Ryle, his hand." He pulls his hand away and lifts my chin with his good hand. “Fuck the hand, Lily. I don't care about my hand. Are you alright?" He is


frantically looking back and forth between my eyes as he examines the cut on my face. My shoulders start to shake and huge tears of pain roll down my face. "Not." I'm a little shocked and I know he can hear my heart break at that one word because I can feel it in every part of me. "Oh my God. You pushed me, Ryle. You…" The realization of what happened hurt more than the actual action. Ryle wraps his arm around my neck and hugs me desperately. I'm sorry, Lily. God, I'm so sorry.” He buries his face in my hair and hugs me with all his emotions. “Please don't hate me. Please." His voice slowly becomes Ryle's voice and I can feel it in my stomach, in my toes. His whole career depends on his hand so he has to say something he doesn't even care. Right? I'm fine. so confused.


Too much is happening. The smoke, the wine, the broken glass, the food strewn everywhere, the blood, the anger, the apologies, it's too much. "I'm sorry," he says again. I pull away and his eyes are red and I've never seen him so sad. "I was panicking. I didn't want to push him away, I was just panicking. All I could think about was the surgery on Monday and my hand and…I'm sorry." He presses his mouth against mine and inhales me. He's not like my father. It can't be. He's not like that indifferent bastard. We're both upset and we kiss and we're confused and sad. I had never felt anything like this moment, so ugly and painful. But somehow the only thing that eases the pain this man has just caused is this man. My tears are calmed by his pain, my feelings are eased when his mouth is on mine, his hand grips me as if he will never let go.


I feel his arms around my waist and he picks me up, carefully stepping over the mess we've made. I can't say if I'm more disappointed in him or in myself. Him for losing his temper in the first place, or me for finding comfort in his apology. He carries me and kisses me to my room. He's still kissing me as he lays me down on the bed and whispers, "I'm sorry, Lily." He moves his lips to the spot where my eye hits the locker and kisses me there. "I am really sorry." His mouth is back on mine, hot and wet, and I don't even know what's happening to me. I hurt so much inside, but my body craves his apology in the form of his mouth and his hands on me. I want to hit him and react the way I always wanted my mother to react when my father hurt her, but deep down I want to believe it really was an accident. Ryle is not like my father. He's not like him. I need to feel sadness from him. his regret. I understand both in the way he kisses me. I spread


my legs to him and his pain comes in another way. Slow apologetic jolts inside me. Every time he enters me he whispers another apology. And miraculously every time he leaves me, my anger goes with him. ••• He kisses my shoulder. my cheek my eye He is still lying on top of me and touching me gently. I had never been touched like this before. . . so tenderly I'm trying to forget what happened in the kitchen, but it's all in the moment. He pushed me. Ryle pushed me. For fifteen seconds I saw a side of him that wasn't him. It was not me. I laughed at him when I should have been worried. He pushed me when he should never have touched me. I pushed him, causing his hand to be cut off. It was horrible. The entire fifteen seconds it lasted was absolutely awful. I don't want to think about it ever again.


He's still holding the rolled-up cloth and it's soaked in blood. I press against his chest. "I'll be right back," I tell him. He kisses me again and pulls away from me. I go into the bathroom and close the door. I look in the mirror and sigh. Blood. In my hair, on my cheeks, on my body. It's all his blood. I grab a washcloth and try to wash something off, then reach under the sink for the first aid kit. I have no idea how bad his hand is. First it burned, then it opened. Not even an hour later did he tell me how important this operation was to him. there is no more wine We must never again drink old wine. I grab the box from under the sink and open the bedroom door. He returns from the kitchen to the bedroom with a bag of ice cream. He holds it up, "For your eye," he says. I hold the first aid kit. "By your hand." We both smile and then sit on the bed. He leans against the headboard as I shoot.


your hand in my lap. He holds the ice pack to my eye the whole time while I dress the wound. I squeeze some antiseptic cream onto my finger and apply it to the burns on his fingers. You don't look as bad as I thought, that's a relief. "Can you keep it from blistering?" I ask. he shakes his head. "Not if he's a sophomore" I want to ask him if he can still have the surgery if his fingers get blisters next Monday, but he doesn't mention it. I'm sure you have that in mind by now. "Should I put something on your part?" He agrees. The bleeding stopped. I'm sure if he needed stitches they'd give him some, but I think he'll be fine. I grab the ACE Bandage from the first aid kit and start bandaging his hand. "Lily," he whispers. Looked at him. His head is leaning against the headboard and it looks like this


want to cry. "I feel terrible," he says. “If I could get him back…” “I know,” I say, cutting him off. “I know Ryle. It was terrible. You pushed me, made me question everything I thought I knew about you. But I know it makes you feel bad. We can't get it back. I don't want to bring it up again. I tighten the blindfold on her hand and look into her eyes. "But Ryle? In case something like this happens again… I'll know this time it wasn't just an accident. And I'll leave you without a second thought." brows furrowed with regret. He leans in and presses his lips against mine, "It won't happen again, Lily. I swear to you. I'm not like him, I know you think that, but I swear . . ." I shake my head, willing him to stop. I can't stand the pain in his voice. "I know you're not like my father," I tell him. "Just... please don't ever make me doubt you again. Please."


He brushes the hair off my forehead. "You are the most important part of my life, Lily. I want to be the one that brings you happiness. Not the one that hurts you." He kisses me and then stands up, leaning over me and pressing the ice to my face. minutes. This will prevent it from swelling. I replace his hand with mine. "Where are you going?" He kisses my forehead and says, "To clean up my mess." Spend the next twenty minutes cleaning up the kitchen. I hear glass being thrown into the trash can, wine being poured into the sink. I go to the bathroom and take a quick shower to wash off the blood, then change the sheets on my bed. When she's finally cleaned up the kitchen, she goes into the bedroom with a glass. He hands it to me: "It's a soda," he says. "The caffeine will help." I take a sip and feel it bubble in my throat. It's really perfect. I take


another drink and put it on my bedside table. "How does that help? The hangover?" Ryle slides into bed and pulls the covers over us. He shakes his head. "No, I don't think soda doesn't help at all. My mom used to give me soda after a bad day and I always felt a little better." I smile. "Well, it worked." His hand brushes my cheek and I can see in his eyes and the way he touches me that he at least has a fair chance. be forgiven. I feel that if I don't find a way to forgive him, I will somehow blame him for the resentment I still harbor towards my father. He's not like my father. Ryle loves me. "He said it, but I know he says it. And I love him. What happened in the kitchen tonight is something I'm not sure will ever happen again. Not after seeing how upset he is about hurting me. All people make mistakes.defines a person's character are not the mistakes we make.


That's how we take those mistakes and turn them into lessons, not excuses. Ryle's eyes get even more sincere somehow and he leans down and kisses my hand. He puts his head on the pillow and we lie there looking at each other and sharing that silent energy that fills every hole the night left in us. After a few minutes, he shakes my hand. "Lily," he says, rubbing his thumb against mine. "I'm in love with you." I can feel your words in every part of me. And when I whisper, "I love you too," that's the hardest truth I've ever told him.

Chapter 15 I arrive at the restaurant fifteen minutes late. As I was about to close for the night, a customer came in asking for flowers for a funeral. I couldn't reject it because. . . unfortunately . . . Funerals are the best deal for florists. Ryle shows me to the table and I walk directly to it, doing my best not to look back. I don't want to see Atlas. I tried twice to get him to change restaurants, but Allysa was dying to eat here after Ryle told her how good it was. I slide into the cubicle and Ryle leans over and kisses my cheek. "Hi girlfriend". Allysa moans. "God you guys are so cute it's gross" I smile at him and his eyes instantly go to the corners of my eyes. it does not seem


as bad as I imagined today, probably because Ryle made me freeze him. "Oh my God," Allysa says. "Ryle told me what happened, but I didn't think it was that bad." I look at Ryle and wonder what he said to him. The truth? He smiles and says, “The oil was everywhere. When she wore it, she was so graceful, you'd think she was a ballerina. Lie. For me. I would have done the same. "It was pretty pathetic," I tell him, laughing. We somehow finished dinner without any problems. No sign of Atlas, no thoughts of last night, and Ryle and I avoid the wine. After we finish eating, our waiter comes to the table. "A fancy dessert?" he asks. I shake my head, but Allysa encourages me. "What's wrong with you?" Marshall looks equally interested. "We eat for two, so we'll eat anything that's chocolate," he says.


The bartender nods, and as he walks away, Allysa looks at Marshall. "This baby is the size of a bed bug now. You better not encourage any bad habits for the next few months." The waiter returns with a dessert cart. "The chef gives dessert to every pregnant woman in the house," she says. "Congratulations." "She likes?" Allysa says, brightening up. "I think that's why it's called Bib's," says Marshall. "Koch likes babies." We all look at the shopping cart. "Oh, God," I say, looking at the options. "This is my new favorite restaurant," says Allysa. We chose three desserts for the table. The four of us spend the time waiting for it to be served discussing the babies' names. "No," Allysa tells Marshall. "We are not naming this baby after a state." "But I love Nebraska," she laments. "Idaho?" Allysa puts her head in her hands. "That will be the ruin of our marriage."


"Fate," says Marshall. "That's a really good name." Marshall's murder is foiled by the arrival of dessert. Our server places a piece of chocolate cake in front of Allysa and steps to the side to make room for the server behind him holding the other two desserts. The waiter points to the man serving our desserts and says, "The chef would like to congratulate you." "How was the meal?" asks the chef, looking at Allysa and Marshall. When his eyes meet mine, my fear washes out of me. Atlas looks at me and without thinking I say, "Are you the chef?" The waiter leans around Atlas and says. "The chef. The owner. Becomes a waiter, turns the plates. Gives Handson a whole new meaning."


The next five seconds pass unnoticed by everyone at our table, but they pass in slow motion for me. Atlas' eyes drop to the cut across my eye. The bandage wrapped around Ryle's hand. back to my eye "We love your restaurant," says Allysa. “You have an amazing place here.” Atlas doesn't look at her. I watch his throat roll as he swallows. He clenches his jaw and says nothing as he walks away. Shit. The waiter tries to cover up Atlas' hasty retreat by smiling and showing lots of teeth. "Bon appetit," he says and trudges into the kitchen. "Too bad," says Allysa. "We found a new favorite restaurant and the chef is an idiot," laughs Ryle. "Yes, but idiots are best. Gordon Ramsay?" "Good point," says Marshall.


I put my hand on Ryle's arm. "Bathroom," I tell him. He waves as I run out of the dressing room and Marshall says, "What about Wolfgang Puck? You think he's an idiot?" I walk through the restaurant with my head down and walk fast. As soon as I enter the familiar hallway I continue. I push open the bathroom door, then turn and close it. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. The look in your eyes. The anger in his jaw. I'm relieved he's gone, but I'm half convinced that when we first meet, he's probably been waiting outside the restaurant, ready to kick Ryle's ass. I inhale through my nose, exhale through my mouth, wash my hands, repeat my breathing. Once I calm down, I dry my hands on a towel. I will be back in a moment. I'm going to go out and tell Ryle I'm not feeling well. Let's go and never come back. Everyone thinks the chef is an idiot so that might be my excuse.


I open the door, but I don't. It starts to open on the other side, so I step back. Atlas leads me into the bathroom and closes the door. His back is against the door as he looks at me, focused on the cut next to my eye. "What happened?" he asks. I shake my head. "Absolutely nothing." His eyes are narrow, still ice blue, but somehow burning with fire. "You're lying, Lily." I can smile enough to make myself understood. "It was an accident." Atlas laughs, but then his face falls. "Let it." let it? Jesus, think it's something totally different. I take a step forward and shake my head. "He's not like that, Atlas. He wasn't like that. Ryle is a good person." He tilts his head, tilting it forward a little. "Funny. You talk just like your mother."


Your words hurt. I immediately try to walk around him to reach the door, but he grabs my wrist. "Leave it, Lily." I pull my hand away. I turn my back on him and take a deep breath. I let go slowly as I look at him again. "If it's just a comparison, I'm more scared of you now than I've ever been of him." My words make Atlas stop for a moment. His nod starts slowly and then becomes clearer as he backs away from the door. "I certainly didn't want to make you uncomfortable," she gestures toward the door. "I'm just trying to reciprocate the concern you've always shown me." I look at him for a moment, unsure how to interpret his words. He's still raging inside, I can see it. But on the outside he is calm, collected. let me go. I reach out and unlock the door, then open it. I sigh when my eyes find Ryles. I quickly look over his shoulder and see Atlas walking out of the bathroom with me.


Ryle's eyes fill with confusion as he looks from me to Atlas. "What the hell, Lily?" "Rile." My voice is shaking. God, this looks so much worse than it is. Atlas walks around me and stares at the kitchen door as if Ryle doesn't exist to him. Ryle's eyes are glued to Atlas's back. Go ahead, Atlas. As soon as Atlas reaches the kitchen door, he pauses. No no no. Continues. In one of the scariest moments I can imagine, he turns and walks over to Ryle, clutching his shirt collar. Almost as soon as that happens, Ryle forces Atlas back and slams him into the opposite wall. Atlas attacks Ryle again, this time pressing his forearm against Ryle's throat, pinning him against the wall. "You touch her one more time and I'll cut off his fucking hand and shove it down his throat, you useless piece of shit!"


"Atlas, stop!" shout out. Atlas forcibly releases Ryle and takes a big step back. Ryle breathes hard and looks at Atlas long and hard. Then his focus shifts directly to me. "Atlas?" He says her name familiarly. Why does Ryle say Atlas' name like that? As if he's heard me say that before? I never told him about Atlas. Wait. I made. The first night on the roof. It was one of my naked truths. Ryle laughs in disbelief and points at Atlas, but he's still looking at me. "Is that Atlas? The homeless man you pitifully fucked? Oh, God. The hall immediately becomes a whirlwind of fists and elbows and my screams for them to stop. Two waiters open the door behind me and they pull me apart so fast as it started.


They are pushed against opposite walls, facing each other and panting. I can't even look at the two of them. I can't see the Atlas. Not after what Ryle had just told him. I also can't look at Ryle because he's probably thinking the worst right now. "Outside!" Atlas yells and points to the door, but looks at Ryle. "Get out of my restaurant!" I look into Ryle's eyes as he starts to walk past me, afraid of what I'll see in them. But there is no anger. It just hurts, it hurts so bad. He pauses as if he's going to say something to me. But his face just makes a face of disappointment and he goes back to the restaurant. I finally look at Atlas and see the disappointment on his face. Before I can explain Ryle's words to her, she turns and walks away, pushing her way through the kitchen door.


I immediately turn and run after Ryle. She grabs her jacket from the booth and walks toward the exit without even looking at Allysa and Marshall. Allysa looks at me and raises her hands questioningly. I shake my head, grab my purse and say, "It's a long story. We'll talk tomorrow." I follow Ryle outside and he starts walking toward the parking lot. I run to catch up with him and he just stops and punches the air. "I didn't bring my fucking car!" he yells in frustration. I take the keys out of my purse and he walks over to me and snatches them out of my hand. I follow him again, this time to my car. I do not know what to do. He even wants me, now he wants to talk, he just saw me locked in a bathroom with a guy I had a crush on and then out of nowhere this guy attacks him, wow this is so bad.


When we get to my car, he walks directly to the driver's door. He points to the passenger side and says, "Get in, Lily." He doesn't talk to me the whole time while we're driving. I say his name once, but he just shakes his head like he's not ready to hear my explanation. When we pull into my parking lot, he pulls out as soon as I hang up, like he can't pass me fast enough. Walk beside the car when I leave. "It wasn't what it looked like, Ryle. I swear." He stops walking and when he looks at me my heart skips a beat. He has so much pain in his eyes right now and he doesn't even need it. It boiled down to a stupid misunderstanding: "I don't want it. I don't want this Lily," he says, "I didn't want a relationship! I didn't want this stress in my life!" "Well then go!"


"What?" I raise my hands "I don't want to be your burden, Ryle! I'm sorry my presence in your life is so unbearable!" He takes a step forward. "Lily, that's not what I mean," he throws up his hands in frustration, then walks past me. He leans against my car and crosses his arms over his chest. There's a long silence as I wait to hear what he says. what he has to say." His head is tilted, but he lifts it slightly and looks at me. "Bare truths, Lily. That's all I want from you right now. Can I get that, please?” I nod. “Did you know he worked there?” That's why I didn't want to go back, Ryle. I didn't want to run into him. My answer seems to ease some of his tension. He runs a hand over his face. "You said


him, what happened last night? Did you tell him about our fight? I take a step forward and shake my head firmly. "No. He took it. He saw my eye and his hand and just took it." Exhale forcefully, tilt your head back and look up at the ceiling. It seems like it's almost too painful for him, the next question of all: "Why were you alone in the bathroom with him?" I take another step forward. "He followed me there. I don't know anything about him now, Ryle. I didn't even know he owned this restaurant, I thought he was just a waiter. He's not part of my life anymore, I swear. He . .. .just…” I cross my arms and lower my voice. "We both grew up in abusive homes. He saw my face and his hand and... he was just worried about me. That was it." Ryle raises his hands and covers his mouth. I can hear the air rushing through her


fingers when exhaling. He stands up and takes a moment to absorb everything I've just said. "It's my turn," he says. He gets out of the car and takes the three steps that separated us before. He places both hands on my face and looks me straight in the eyes. "If you don't want to be with me…Please tell me now, Lily. Because when I saw you with him…it hurt. I don't want to feel this anymore. And if it hurts like this now, I'm afraid it will." think about it." he could do with me a year from now. I can feel the tears streaming down my face. I place my hands in his and shake my head. "I don't want anyone else, Ryle. I just want you. He forces the saddest smile I've ever seen on a human being. He pulls me to him and holds me there. I wrap my arms around him as tightly as I can. I can as he purses his lips pressing the side of my head "I love you Lily. God I love you."


I hug him tight and plant a kiss on his shoulder. "I love you too." I close my eyes and wish I could wash away the last two days. Atlas is wrong about Ryle. I wish Atlas knew he was wrong.

Chapter Sixteen “I mean. . . I'm not trying to be selfish, but you didn't have dessert, Lily. Allysa moans. "Oh, it was so good." “We will never go there again,” I tell him. He kicks like a kid. "But..." "No. We have to respect your brother's feelings. Cross your arms over your chest. "I know, I know. Why did you have to be a hormone-challenged teenager falling in love with the best chef in Boston? “He wasn't a chef when I met him.” “It doesn't matter,” she says. She leaves my office and closes the door. My phone vibrates with an incoming text message.


Ryle: 5 hours down. There are about 5 more to go. So far so good. the hand is great

Sigh of relief. I wasn't sure if he would be able to have the surgery today, but knowing how anxious he was makes me happy for him. Me: The steadiest hands in all of Boston.

I open my laptop and check my email. The first thing I see is an order from the Boston Globe. I open it and it's from a journalist interested in writing an article about the store. I'm grinning like an idiot and emailing him when Allysa knocks on the door. He opens it and puts his head inside. "Hey," she says. "Hey," I reply. He taps his fingers on the doorjamb. "Remember when you told me a few minutes ago that I could never get back with Bib because it's unfair to Ryle that the boy you loved as a teenager owns it?"


I fall back against my chair. "What do you want Allysa?" she sniffs and says, "If it's not fair that we can't go back there because of the owner, then how is it fair that the owner comes here?" What? I close my laptop and stand up. "Why would you say something like that? Is he here?" She nods, slips into my office, and closes the door behind her. "Yeah. I was asking about you. And I know you're with my brother and I'm with a son, but can we take a moment to silently admire this man's perfection?" She smiles dreamily and I roll my eyes. Allysa. "But those eyes." He opens the door and leaves. I follow her and see Atlas. "She's right here," Allysa says. "Do you want me to get her coat?" We don't take coats.


Atlas looks up when I leave my office. His eyes land on Allysa and he shakes his head. "No thanks. I won't be long." Allysa leans over the counter and rests her chin in her hands. "Stay as long as you like. Are you really looking for a part-time job? Lily needs to hire more people." and we are looking for someone who can. "He can lift very heavy things. Requires a lot of flexibility. Leaning forward." I narrow my eyes at Allysa and say, "Enough." She shrugs innocently. I hold my door open for Atlas, but I avoid looking directly at him as he walks past me. I feel a world of guilt for what happened last night, but also a world of anger for what happened last night. I walk around my desk and flop into my chair, ready to argue. But when I look at him, my mouth tightens. He smiled. He moves his hand in circles as he sits down across from me. "This is amazing, Lily."


I stop. "Thanks." He keeps smiling at me like he's proud of me. Then he places a bag on the table between us and pushes it towards me. "A gift," he says. "You can open later" Why is he buying me presents? He has a girlfriend. I have a friend. Our past has caused enough problems for my present. I certainly don't need gifts to make this worse. “Why are you buying me presents, Atlas?” he leans back in his chair and crosses his arms over his chest. "I bought it three years ago. I kept it in case I found you." Attentive atlas. He hasn't changed. Hell again. I take the present and place it on the floor behind my desk. I'm trying to release some of the tension I feel, but it's really hard when everything about him makes me so tense. "I came here to apologize to you," he says.


I ignore his apology and let him know it's not necessary. "That's good. There was a misunderstanding. Ryle is fine." Series. "I don't apologize for it," he says. "I would never apologize for defending you." nothing to defend He tilts his head and gives me the same look he gave me last night. Letting me know how disappointed he is in me. It burns deep in my stomach. I clear my throat. "Then why are you apologizing?" He is silent for a moment. Considered. "I wanted to apologize for saying you sounded like your mother. That was hurtful. And I'm sorry." I don't know why I always feel like crying when I'm around him. when I think of him when I read about him. it's like my feelings


still a little tied to it and don't know how to cut the strings. His gaze drops to my table. He steps forward and picks up three things. A pen. A sticky note. My phone. Write something on the post-it and then take my phone apart. Remove the case and place the sticky note between the case and the phone and slide the cover over it. He pushes my phone back on the table. I look down and then at him. He gets up and throws the pen on my desk. "This is my cell number. Keep it there in case you need it." I wince at the gesture. The unnecessary gesture. "I won't need it." And I know this is my only chance to understand what I have to say before he walks out of my life for good. "Atlas, wait."


I stand up so fast my chair slides across the room and hits the wall. He turns and looks at me. "What did Ryle tell you last night? I never…" I raise a nervous hand to my throat. I can feel my heart pounding in my throat. “I never told him that. He was hurt and upset and misinterpreted my words from a long time ago. Atlas's mouth is twisted at the corners and I'm not sure if he's trying not to smile or frown. He looks directly at me. "Trust me Lily. I know it wasn't a pity fuck. I was there." He walks out the door and his words take me back to my seat. It's just... my seat is missing. It's still across my office and now I'm on the floor. Allysa barges in and I'm lying on my back behind my desk. "Lilly?" She runs around the table and gets on top of me. "He is well?" I put my thumb up. "All right". I just lost my chair.


He holds out his hand and helps me up. "What was this?" I look toward the door as I grab my chair. I sit and look at my phone. "Nothing. He just apologized." Allysa sighs wistfully and looks toward the door. "You mean he doesn't want the job?" laugh and get back to work before I cut your pay.” She laughs and starts to leave. I tap my pen on my desk, then say, “Allysa. "I know," he says, cutting me off. "Ryle doesn't need to know about this visit. You don't need to tell me." I smile. "Thanks." She closes the door. I reach down and grab the bag from my three-year-old son. present inside. I pull it out and I can easily tell it's a book wrapped in tissue paper.


Paper. I tear off the tissue paper and drop into the chair. On the front is a photo of Ellen DeGeneres. The title is serious. . . I'm just kidding. I laugh and open the book, gasping softly when I see it's signed. I run my fingers over the words of the inscription. Lily, Atlas says to keep swimming. —Ellen DeGeneres I run my finger across her signature. So I drop the book on my desk and press my forehead against it, pretending to be against the cover.

Chapter Seventeen It's after seven when I get home. Ryle called an hour ago and said he wasn't coming tonight. The separation was a success, but he will spend the night in the hospital to make sure there are no complications. I walk through the door of my silent apartment. I put on my silent pajamas. Like a quiet sandwich. And so I lie in my quiet room and quietly open my new book, hoping it will soothe my feelings. In fact, three hours and most of a book later, all the emotions of the last few days are starting to boil over me. I bookmark the page I stopped reading and close it.


I look at the book for a long time. I think of Ryle. I'm thinking of Atlas. I think about how sometimes, no matter how certain you are that your life will end a certain way, all that certainty can be washed away with a simple turn of the tide. I take the book Atlas bought for me and put it in the closet with all my magazines. So I take the one that is full of his memories. And I know that the time has finally come to read the last post I wrote. Then I can finally close the book. Dear Ellen, most of the time I'm grateful that you don't know I exist and that I never wrote anything I'm writing to you. But sometimes, especially tonight, I wish I had. I just need someone to talk to about everything I'm feeling. It's been six months since I saw Atlas and I honestly don't know where he is or how he is doing. So much has happened since the last letter I wrote you as Atlas


moved to Boston. I thought that would be the last time I saw him for a while, but it wasn't. I saw him again after he left a few weeks later. It was my sixteenth birthday, and when it came, it was the absolute best day of my life. And then the worst. Exactly forty-two days have passed since Atlas left for Boston. I counted every day as if that helped in any way. Ellen was so depressed. I still am. People say that teenagers don't know how to love like adults. Part of me believes that, but I'm not an adult so I have nothing to compare it to. But I think it's probably different. I'm sure the love between two adults has more substance than the love between two teenagers. There's probably more maturity, more respect, more responsibility. But no matter how different the substance of a love is at different ages in a person's life, I know that love should still weigh the same. You feel that weight in your shoulders and in your stomach and in your


your heart no matter how old you are. And my feelings for Atlas are very heavy. Every night I cry myself to sleep and whisper, "Keep swimming," but it's so hard to swim when you feel like you're anchored in the water. Now that I think about it, I've probably experienced the stages of grief in some form. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. On the night of my sixteenth birthday, I was in a deep depression. My mother tried to make the day good. She bought me gardening supplies, baked my favorite cake, and the two of us went out to eat together. But when I went to bed that night, I couldn't shake the sadness. I cried when I heard a knock on my window. At first I thought it had started to rain. But then I heard your voice. I jumped up and ran to the window, my heart racing. He stood there in the dark and smiled at me. I lifted the window and helped him in and he took me in his arms and held me there for so long as I cried.


It smelled so good. As I hugged him, I realized he had gained some much needed weight in the six weeks since I last saw him. He pulled away and wiped the tears from my face. "Why are you crying, Lily?" I was ashamed that I was crying. I've cried a lot this month, probably more than any other month in my life. It was probably just the hormones of being a kid mixed with the stress of how my dad treated my mom and then I had to say goodbye to Atlas. I grabbed a shirt off the floor and wiped my eyes, then we sat on the bed. He pulled me into his chest and leaned against my headboard. "What are you doing here?" I asked him. "It's your birthday," he said. "And you're still my favorite person. And I missed you." It was probably not after ten when he got there, but we talked so much that I remember it was past midnight when I looked at the clock again. I can't even remember what we talked about.


Sort of, but I remember how it felt. He looked so happy and there was a light in his eyes that I had never seen before. As if he had finally found his home. He said he wanted to tell me something and his voice got serious. He readjusted me to sit on his lap because he wanted me to look him in the eye when he told me. I thought maybe he'd tell me he had a girlfriend or that he was joining the army sooner. But what he said next surprised me. He said that the first night he walked into that old house, he wasn't there because he needed a place to stay. He went there to commit suicide. My hands went to my mouth, having no idea it had gotten so bad for him. So bad I didn't even want to live anymore. "I hope you never know what it's like to be so alone, Lily," he said. He went on to tell me that the first night he was in this house he sat in the living room


Living room floor with a razor blade on my wrist. When I was about to use it, my bedroom light came on. "You stood there like an angel against the light of heaven," he said. "I couldn't take my eyes off you." He watched me pacing the room for a while. I watched as I lay in bed and wrote in my journal. And he put the knife down because he said life hadn't made him feel anything for a month, and looking at me made him feel a little. Enough not to be deaf enough to end things that night. So a day or two later I took the food to her and put it on the back porch. I assume you already know the rest of this story. "You saved my life, Lily," he told me. “And you didn't even try.” He leaned down and kissed the spot between my shoulder and the back of my neck that he always kisses. I thought it was good that he did it again. I really don't like my body, but that spot on my collarbone has become my favorite part.


He took my hands and told me that he would join the army earlier than planned, but he couldn't leave without thanking me. She told me that she was going to be gone for four years and that the last thing she wanted for me was to be a sixteen year old girl not living my life because I have a boyfriend that I never see or can never hear from. The next thing he said made her blue eyes water until they were clear. He said: "Lily. Life is a fun thing. We only have so many years to live it, so we should do whatever it takes to make sure those years are as full as possible. We shouldn't waste time on things that might happen. someday, or maybe never." I knew what he was saying. That he joined the army and I didn't want him to hold him while he was gone. He didn't really break up with me because we were never really together. We were just two people, helping each other when we needed it and joining our hearts along the way.


It was hard to be dumped by someone who never really hugged me. For all the time we spent together, somehow we both knew this wouldn't be forever. I'm not sure why, because I could easily love him like that. I think maybe under normal circumstances, if we were together like typical teenagers and he lived a normal life with a home, we could be that kind of couple. The guy who falls in love easily and never experiences a life where cruelty sometimes comes into fashion. I didn't even try to change his mind that night. I feel like we have the kind of bond that not even hellfire can break. I have a feeling he could do his time in the army and I'll spend my years being a teenager and then everything will fall into place when the time is right. "I promise you," he said. "If my life is good enough for you to be a part of it, I'll find you. But I don't want to.


wait for me because it could never happen." I didn't like that promise because it meant one of two things. Either he thought I would never make it out of the army alive, or he thought his life would never be good enough for me. His life was good enough for me, but I nodded and forced a smile. "If you don't come back to me, I'll come to you. And it won't be pretty, Atlas Corrigan. He chuckled at my threat. "Well, it won't be too hard for me. meet. You know exactly where I'll be." I smiled. "Where everything is better." He smiled back at her. "In Boston." And then he kissed me. Ellen, I know you're an adult and you know everything that comes next, but I still don't feel comfortable letting you know. tell you what happened over the next few hours. Let's just say we both kissed a lot. We both laughed a lot. We both


very dear We were both breathing a lot. A lot. And we both had to cover our mouths and stay as quiet and still as possible so we wouldn't get caught. When we were done, he held me tight, skin to skin, hand to heart. He kissed me and looked me straight in the eyes. "I love you Lily. Everything you are, I love you." I know these words are used a lot, especially among teenagers. Often prematurely and without much merit. But when he said them to me, I knew he wasn't saying them like he was in love with me. . It wasn't that "I love you" kind of thing. Imagine all the people you know in your life. There are many. They come like waves, coming and going with the tide. Some waves are much larger and have a greater effect than others. Sometimes waves bring things up from the bottom of the sea and leave these things on the beach. Footprints against grains of sand to prove it


The waves were there once, long after the tide went out. That's what Atlas was telling me when he said "I love you". He was letting me know that I was the biggest wave he had ever encountered. And I brought so much with me that my prints would always be there, even at low tide. After telling me he loves me he told me he had a birthday present for me. He took out a small brown bag. "It's not much, but I can't pay more." I opened the bag and took out the best present I had ever received. It was a magnet with "Boston" written on it. At the bottom was written in small letters "Where everything is better". I told him that I would keep him forever and that whenever I saw him I would think of him. At the beginning of this letter I said that my sixteenth birthday was one of the happiest days of my life. Because until that second it was like that. It was the next few minutes that weren't.


I hadn't expected Atlas before he showed up that night, so I didn't bother closing my bedroom door. My dad heard me talking to someone there, and when he opened the door and saw Atlas in bed with me, he was angrier than ever. And Atlas was at a disadvantage because he wasn't prepared for what came next. I will never forget this moment as long as I live. Being completely helpless when my father approached him with a baseball bat. The sound of bones breaking was the only thing that cut my screams. I still don't know who called the police. I'm sure it was my mother, but it's been six months and we still haven't talked about that night. When the police came into my room and took my dad out, I didn't even recognize Atlas, he was covered in so much blood. I was hysterical. Hysterical.


Not only did they have to take Atlas away in an ambulance, they called an ambulance for me because I couldn't breathe. It was the first and only panic attack I've ever had. No one would tell me where he was or if he was okay. My dad wasn't even arrested for what he did. Word spread that Atlas lived in this old house and was homeless. My father was revered for his heroic act: he saved his little girl from the homeless boy who manipulated her into having sex with him. My father said I embarrassed our whole family by giving the town a reason to gossip. And let me tell you, they are still gossiping about it. Today I overheard Katie say to someone on the bus that she was trying to warn me about Atlas. She said she knew from the moment she saw it that it was bad news. which is bullshit If Atlas had been on the bus with me, I probably would have kept my mouth shut and grown like he was trying to teach me. Rather, he was so angry that


he turned around and told Katie she could go to hell. I told her that Atlas was a better person than ever and that if she heard her say something bad about him, she would be sorry. She just rolled her eyes and said, “Jesus, Lily. Did he brainwash you? He was a dirty, thieving, homeless boy who was probably on drugs. He used you for food and sex and now you're defending him? You were lucky that the bus stopped in front of my house at that moment. I grabbed my backpack and got off the bus, then I went inside and cried in my room for three hours. My head hurts right now, but I knew putting it all in writing would only make me feel better. I have avoided writing this letter for six months. No offense, Ellen, but I still have a headache. Also my heart. Maybe even more than yesterday. That letter didn't help one bit. I think I'll take a break from writing to you for a while. Writing to you reminds me of that


him and everything hurt too much. Until he comes back to me, I'm going to pretend I'm fine. I'll keep pretending to swim when I'm really just swimming. I can barely keep my head above water. —Lily I turn to the next page, but it's blank. That was the last time I wrote to Ellen. I never heard from Atlas again either, and a big part of me never blamed him. He almost died at my father's hands. There isn't much room for forgiveness. I knew he survived and is doing well because my curiosity got the better of me at times over the years and I found everything I could about him on the internet. However, it wasn't much. Enough to inform me that he survived and was in the military. Although I never got it out of my head. Things got better over time, but sometimes I'd see something that reminded me of him and I'd panic. only when i was inside


College for a few years and dating someone else made me realize that maybe Atlas wasn't meant to be my whole life. Maybe it should just be a part of it. Perhaps love is not something that closes the circle. It just goes up and down, in and out, just like the people in our lives. On a particularly lonely night in college, I walked into a tattoo parlor by myself and placed a heart where I used to kiss. It's a tiny heart, the size of a fingerprint, and it looks exactly like the heart he carved for me in the oak tree. It's not completely closed at the top and I wonder if Atlas carved the heart that way on purpose. Because that's how my heart feels every time I think of him. It looks like there is a small hole in it that allows all the air to escape. I ended up moving to Boston after college, not necessarily hoping to find it, but because I needed to see for myself if Boston really was any better. Anyway, Pletora had nothing going for me and I wanted to stay as far away from mine as possible.


Dad as I could Somehow even though I was sick and couldn't hurt my mom, it made me want to flee the entire state of Maine, so that's what I did. Seeing Atlas at his restaurant for the first time filled me with so many emotions I don't know how to process them. I was happy to see that he was okay. I was glad he looked healthy. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't the least bit sad that he never tried to find me like he promised. I love it. I still do and always will. It was a big wave that left many marks on my life and I will feel the weight of that love until I die. I accepted it. But things are different now. After you left my office today, I thought about us a lot. I believe that our life is where it should be. I have Ryle Atlas has his girlfriend. We both have the careers we've always wanted. Just because we didn't land on it


The same wave does not mean that we are not yet part of the same ocean. Things are still very new with Ryle, but I feel the same depth with him that I used to feel with Atlas. He loves me like Atlas loved me. And I know that if Atlas had the chance to meet him, he would see it and be happy for me. Sometimes an unexpected wave comes, sucks you in and refuses to spit you out again. Ryle is my unexpected tidal wave, and now I'm gliding across the beautiful surface.

Second part

Chapter Eighteen “Oh God. I think I might throw up. Ryle places his thumb under my chin and tilts my face toward his. He smiles at me. "You'll be fine. Stop freaking out." I clasp my hands together and ride the elevator up and down. "I can't help it," I say. "Everything you and Allysa told me about your mom are doing. I'm so nervous." My eyes widen to saucers and I put my hands over my mouth. "Oh, God, Ryle. What if he asks me questions about Jesus? I don't go to church. I mean, I read the Bible when I was younger, but I don't know the answers to Bible trivia questions." ". Now he's laughing. He pulls me closer and kisses the side of my head. "She won't talk about Jesus. She already loves you. , Based on


what I told her All you have to do is be yourself, Lily. I start to nod. "Be me. It's okay. I guess I can pretend to be me for one night. Okay?" The doors open and he leads me out of the elevator to Allysa's house. It's funny to see him knock on the door, but I don't think he lives here anymore. The last few months he just started dating I'll stay. All her clothes are in my apartment. Her toiletries. He even hung this ridiculous blurry picture of me in our bedroom last week, and after that it looked really official. "Does she know we live together?" I ask. "Are you okay with this? I mean, we're not married. She goes to church every Sunday. Oh no, Ryle! What if your mother thinks I'm a blasphemous whore?" mother standing in the doorway, a layer of surprise on her face.


"Mom," says Ryle. "Meet Lily. My blasphemous whore. Oh my God. Her mom reaches out and pulls me into a hug, and her laugh is all I need to get me through this moment. "Lily!" she says and pushes me away. I hold one arm out in front of her so she can see me clearly. "Honey, I don't think you're a blasphemous whore. You're the angel I've prayed for the past ten years to land on Ryle's chest! He takes us to the apartment. Ryle's dad is the next to greet me with a hug. "No, she is definitely not a blasphemous whore," he says. “Not like Marshall here, who put his teeth in my girl when she was just seventeen.” She glares at Marshall, who is sitting on the couch. Marshall laughs. "You're wrong, Doc. Kincaid, because Allysa was the one who put her teeth in me first. My teeth were in another girl who tasted like Cheetos and..."


Marshall doubles over as Allysa elbows him in the side. And just like that, all the fears I had dissipated. You're perfect. you are normal. They say whore and laugh at Marshall's jokes. Couldn't ask for anything better. Three hours later, I'm lying with her in Allysa's bed. Her parents went to bed early and claimed to have jet lag. Ryle and Marshall are in the living room watching sports. I have my hand on Allysa's belly, waiting to feel the baby kick. "Your feet are right here," he says, moving my hand a few inches. “Give her a few seconds. She's very active tonight. We sit back while we wait for her to kick. It's like an alien! Allysa puts her hands on her stomach and smiles. "The last two and a half months are going to be hell," he says. "I'm so ready to meet you." . I can't wait to be an aunt."


"I can't wait for you and Ryle to have a baby," she says. I fall onto my back and place my hands on the back of my bed. "I don't know if he wants to. We never talked about it." "It doesn't matter if he doesn't want to," she says. "He will. I didn't want a relationship before you. I didn't want to get married before you, and I can feel a proposal coming every month." I rest my head on my hand and look at her. "We've only been together six months. I'm sure he wants to wait a lot longer." I don't push Ryle when it comes to rushing things in our relationship. Our lives are perfect the way they are. I'm too busy for a wedding anyway so I don't mind if he wants to wait longer." How about you?" Allysa squeezes. "Would you say yes if I asked you to marry me?" I laugh. "Are you kidding? Naturally. I would marry him tonight.


Allysa looks over my shoulder at her bedroom door. She purses her lips and tries to hide her smile. "It's at the door, isn't it?" She nods. "He heard me say that, didn't he?" She nods again. I roll onto my back and look over at Ryle, who is leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed over his chest. I can't say what you think after hearing this. His facial expression is tense. His jaw is clenched. His eyes narrow in my direction. "Lily," he says with stoic composure. "I would marry you," his words make me smile in the most embarrassingly widest way, so I cover my face with a pillow. "Wow, thanks Ryle," I say, my words muffled by the pillow. "That's really cute," I hear Allysa say. "My brother is really cute."


The pillow pulls away from me and Ryle climbs over me, holding her close to his side. "Go." My heart starts beating faster. "Right now?" He agrees. "I took the weekend off because my parents are in town. You have people who can run your business for you. Let's go to Vegas and get married." Allysa sits on the bed. "You can't do that," she said. it says. "Lilly's a girl. She wants a real wedding with flowers and bridesmaids and everything." Ryle looks at me. "You want a proper wedding with flowers and bridesmaids and everything?" second."No."The three of us are silent for a moment, then Allysa, giddy with excitement, starts moving her legs up and down on the bed. into the living room. "Marshall, pack our bags! We're going to Las Vegas!"


Ryle reaches down, grabs my hand, and hauls me to my feet. He smiles, but there's no way I'm going to do that unless I'm sure he wants to. "Are you sure about this, Ryle?" He runs his hands through my hair and brings my face close to his, brushing his lips against mine. "The naked truth," he whispers. "I'm so excited to be your husband, I could pee my fucking pants."

Chapter Nineteen “It's been six weeks, Mom, you need to get over it.” My mom sighs into the phone. "You're my only child. It's not my fault I've dreamed of your wedding all your life. She still hasn't forgiven me even though she was there. We called her right before Allysa booked our flights. We forced her out of the office. bed We forced Ryle's parents out of bed and then forced them all on a midnight flight to Las Vegas.our minds when we got to the airport.But she wouldn't let me forget.She dreams of a big wedding and a store of clothes and tasting cakes since the day I was born.


I put my feet up on the couch. "How about I make it up to you?" I say. "What if every time we decide to have a baby, I promise to do it naturally and not buy one in Las Vegas?" my mother laughs. Then she sighs. "As long as you give me grandchildren one day, I think I can get over it." Ryle and I talked about kids on the flight to Las Vegas. I wanted to make sure that possibility in our future was up for discussion before I committed to spending the rest of my life with him. He said it's definitely open for discussion. We then clarified many other things that could cause issues in the future. I told him I wanted separate checking accounts, but since he makes more money than I do, he has to keep buying me lots of gifts to make me happy. He accepted. He made me promise that I would never go vegan. That was a simple promise. I love cheese too much. I told him we needed to start some kind of charity or at least donate to those who cared about Marshall and Allysa. already said


ago, and it made me want to marry him even sooner. He made me promise to vote. He said he could vote Democrat, Republican or Independent as long as he was careful when voting. We shake it. When we landed in Las Vegas, we were totally on board. I hear the front door open, so I roll onto my back. "I have to go," I tell my mother. "Ryle just got home." He closes the door behind him and so I smile and say, "Wait. Let me rephrase that, Mom. My husband just got home." My mother laughs and waves goodbye. I hang up with her and toss my phone aside. I lift my arm above my head and rest it lazily against the arm of the couch, then I lace my leg over it and let my skirt slide down my thighs and gather at my waist. Ryle lets his gaze sweep over my body and he smiles as he walks over to me, kneeling on the couch and slowly climbing up my body.


"How is my wife?" whispers and kisses around my mouth. He squeezes between my legs and I let my head fall back as he kisses my neck. That's life. We both work most days. He works twice as many hours as I do and only comes home two or three nights a week before I go to bed. But on the nights we actually spend together, I tend to make him spend those nights buried deep inside me. He doesn't complain. He finds a spot on my neck and claims it, kissing it so hard it hurts. "Oh." He leans over me and murmurs in my throat. "I'm going to give you a hickey. Don't move. I laugh, but let it go. My hair is long enough to cover it and I've never had a hickey. His lips stay in the same place, sucking and kissing until they can't anymore." feel the sting. He is


pressed against me, arching into his robe. I move my hands and slide her robe down far enough for her to slide inside me. He continues kissing my neck as he leads me straight to the couch. ••• First he showered and as soon as he left, I jumped in. I told him we had to wash off the sex smell before we had dinner with Allysa and Marshall. Allysa is due in a few weeks, so she's pushing as much time as she can for us. She's worried that we won't be visiting after the baby is born, which I know is ridiculous. The visits will only become more frequent. I already love my niece more than anyone. Okay, maybe not. But it's close. I try to avoid getting my hair wet when I rinse because we're running late. I grab my knife and tuck it under my arm when I hear a snap. I stop.


"Rile?" Absolutely nothing. I finish shaving and then wash off the soap. Another accident. What the hell is he doing? I turn off the water, grab a towel and drape it over myself. "Rilee!" Still not responding. I quickly pulled on my jeans and opened the door as I pulled my shirt over my head. "Rile?" The nightstand next to our bed fell over. I walk into the living room and see him sitting on the edge of the sofa, his head resting on one hand. He looks at something in his other hand. "What are you doing?" He looks at me and I don't recognize the look on his face. I'm confused by what's going on. I don't know if he just got bad news or. . . Oh God. Allysa. "Ryle, you scare me. What's wrong?"


He holds my phone and just looks at me like I know what's going on. When I shake my head in confusion, he produces a piece of paper. "Funny," he says, placing my phone on the coffee table in front of him. "I accidentally dropped your phone. The cover came off. I found this number hidden behind it." Oh God. No, no, no. He crumbles the number in his fist. "I thought, 'Hmm. That's rare. Lily isn't hiding anything from me.'" He gets up and takes my phone. "So I called." Clench the phone into a fist. "You're lucky I got your damn voice mail." He hits my phone across the room and it slams into the wall and onto the floor. There's a three-second pause where I think this can go one of two ways. He's either going to leave me or he's going to hurt me. He runs a hand through his hair and heads straight for the door.


He leaves. "Rilee!" Shout out. Why did I never throw away that number?! I open the door and follow. He takes the stairs two at a time, and I finally catch up with him when he's standing on the second-floor landing. I slide in front of him and grab his shirt in my fists. "Ryle, please. Let me explain." He grabs my wrists and pulls me away from him. ••• "Close." I feel your hands on me. Soft. Constants. Tears flow and for some reason itch. "Lily, shut up. You're welcome." His voice is soothing. My head hurts. "Rile?" I try to open my eyes, but the light is too bright, I feel a twinge in the corner of my eye and I shudder. I try to sit up, but I feel his hand pressing on my shoulder.


"You have to be quiet until I'm done, Lily." I open my eyes again and look up at the ceiling. It's our bedroom ceiling. "Break up with what?" My mouth hurts when I speak, so I lift my hand and cover it. "You fell down the stairs," he says. "Are you hurt." My eyes meet his. They are worried, but also hurt. Rage. He's feeling everything right now and all I feel is confusion. I close my eyes again and try to remember why he's angry. Why is he hurt? My phone. Atlas number. the stairs. I grabbed his shirt. He pushed me. "You fell down the stairs." But I didn't fall. He pushed me. Again. That's twice. You pushed me, Ryle.


I can feel my whole body start to shake with sobs. I have no idea how much I'm hurt, but I don't care. No physical pain compares to what my heart is feeling right now. I start hitting his hands, wanting him to get away from me. I feel him getting out of bed as I curl up. I hope he tries to ease it like he did the last time he hurt me, but he never comes. I hear him walking across our room. I don't know what he's doing. I'm still crying when he kneels in front of me. "You could have a concussion," he says matter-of-factly. "You have a small cut on your lip. I just bandaged the cut on your eye. You don't need stitches. His voice is cold. "Does it hurt elsewhere? your arms? Legs?" He sounds like a doctor and not a husband.


"You pushed me," I tell him through my tears. It's all I can think or say or see. "You fell," he says calmly. "About five minutes ago. Right after I found out what a liar I married. He places something on my pillow next to me. "If you need anything, I'm sure you can call this number." crumpled up next to my head with Atlas's phone number written on it. "Ryle," I sob. What's wrong? I hear the front door slam. My whole world comes crashing down around me. "Ryle, " I whisper to no one. I cover my face with my hands and cry harder than ever. I'm destroyed Five minutes. That's all it takes to completely destroy a person. •••


A few minutes pass. Ten maybe? I can't stop crying. I still haven't gotten out of bed. I'm afraid to look at myself in the mirror. I'm lonely. . . terrified. I hear the front door open and close again. Ryle appears in the doorway and I have no idea if I should hate him. Or afraid of him. Or feel bad for him. How can I feel all three? He presses his forehead against our bedroom door and I watch as he bangs his head against it. One time. Twice. Three times. He turns and advances towards me, dropping to his knees beside the bed. He grabs both my hands and squeezes them. "Lily," he says, his face contorted in pain. "Please tell me it's nothing." He puts his hand on the side of my head and I can feel his hands shaking. "I can't with this, I can't." He leans forward and presses his lips firmly to my forehead, then presses his


facing mine. "Please tell me you won't see it. Please." I'm not even sure I can tell him this because I don't even want to talk. He stays pressed against me, his hand tight in my hair. "It hurts so much Lily. I love you so much." I shake my head, wanting to get the truth out of me so he can see what a huge mistake he just made. “I forgot her number was there,” I say quietly. "The day after the fight at the restaurant... he walked into the store. You can ask Allysa. She was only there for five minutes. She took my cell phone and put her number in because she thought she wouldn't be safe with you. I forgot that she was there, Ryle. I never looked at her. He exhales shakily and starts nodding in relief, "You swear, Lily? You swear by our marriage and our lives and everything you are that you didn't speak


Him since that day?” He pulls away so he can look me in the eye. “I swear, Ryle. You overreacted before you gave me a chance to explain," I tell him. "Now get the fuck out of my apartment." My words take my breath away. I watch it happen. His back touches the wall behind him and he looks at me silently. Shocked "Lily," he whispers "You fell down the stairs" I can't tell if he's trying to convince me or himself I repeat to myself calmly "Get out of my apartment" He freezes in place. I sit up in bed. My hand immediately goes to the throbbing in my eye. He lifts himself off the floor. When he takes a step forward, I slide back on the bed. "You're hurt, Lily. I will not leave you alone. I grab one of my pillows and throw it at him like I could really hurt him. "Get out!" I


Shout out. Take the pillow. I grab the other one, stand up on the bed, and start rocking it as I yell, "Get out! Get out! Get out!" I throw the pillow to the floor after the front door closes. I run into the living room and close the door. I run back to my room and fall on the bed. The same bed I share with my husband. The same bed he loves me in. The same bed he puts me in when it's time to clean up his mess.

Chapter Twenty I tried putting my phone away last night before I fell asleep, but it didn't help. It was in two completely separate parts. I set my alarm so I can wake up early and stop and buy a new one on my way to work today. My face doesn't look as bad as I feared. Of course, I couldn't hide it from Allysa, but I'm not even going to try. I brush my hair to one side to cover most of the bandage Ryle has placed over my eye. The only thing visible from last night is the cut on my lip. And the hickey he gave me on my neck. Damned irony at his best. I grab my purse and open the front door. I stop abruptly when I see the bulge at my feet.


it's moving It takes me a few seconds to realize that this bulge is actually Ryle. Did he sleep here? He gets up as soon as he realizes I've opened the door. He stands before me, eyes pleading, soft hands on my face. lips on my mouth "Sorry sorry sorry." I pulled away and let my eyes roam over him. Did he sleep here? I leave my apartment and close the door. I walk calmly past him and down the stairs. He follows me to my car and asks me to speak to him. I don't go out ••• It's an hour later when I have a new phone in my hands. I'm sitting in my car at the phone shop when I turn it on. I watch the screen as seventeen messages appear. All for Allysa.


I guess it would make sense if Ryle didn't call me all night since he knew what state my phone was in. I start to open a text message when my phone starts ringing. It's Allysa. "Hi?" She sighs heavily and then, "Lily! What the hell is going on. My God, you can't do this to me, I'm pregnant!" I start the car and put my phone on bluetooth as I drive to the store. Allysa has the day off. There are only a few days left until maternity leave begins. "I'm fine," I tell her. "Ryle is fine. We had a fight. Sorry I couldn't call you, he broke my phone." She's silent for a moment and then: "Did it break? Are you okay? Where are you?" "I'm fine. I'm going to work now." "Okay, I'm almost there." I start to protest, but she hangs up before I get the chance.


When I get to the store, she's already there. I open the front door, ready to ask questions and defend my reasons for evicting her brother from my apartment. But I stop for a moment when I see the two of them standing at the counter. Ryle leans towards him and Allysa takes his hands and says something I can't understand. They both turn to me when they hear the door close behind me. "Ryle," Allysa whispers. "What you do with him?" She comes around the counter and pulls me into a hug. "Oh, Lily," he says, running a hand down my back. She pulls away with tears in her eyes and her reaction confuses me. She obviously knows that Ryle is responsible for this, but when this is the case, she seems to lash out at him or at least yell at him. She turns to Ryle and he looks at me apologetically. Wish. Like he wanted to reach out and hug me, but he was scared to death to touch me. He should be.


"You have to tell him," Allysa tells Ryle. He immediately puts his head in his hands. "Tell him," Allysa says, her voice more irritated now. You have a right to know, Ryle. she's your wife. If you don't tell her, I will. Ryle's shoulders roll forward and his head is now pressed fully against the counter. Whatever Allysa wants me to say hurts her so much she can't even look at me. I clutch my stomach and feel fear deeper than my soul. Allysa turns to me and places her hands on my shoulders. "Listen to him," he pleads. "I'm not asking you to forgive him because I have no idea what happened last night. But as my sister-in-law and best friend, please give my brother a chance to talk to you." she would keep an eye on the store for the next hour until another employee arrived for her shift. He was still so mad at Ryle that he didn't want to


him in the same car with me. He said he would call an Uber and meet me at my apartment. All the way home, I tormented myself with what he might need to tell me. Allysa already knows. So many things crossed my mind. If she is dying? I was wrong? Did you lose your job? She didn't seem to know the details of what happened between us last night, so I have no idea how that ties in. Finally, Ryle walks through the front door ten minutes after me. I sit on the couch and nervously pick at my fingernails. I get up and start pacing as he slowly walks over to the chair and sits down. He leans forward and folds his hands in front of him. "Please have a seat, Lily," he says pleadingly, as if he can't bear my concern. I return to my spot on the couch, but I slide onto the armrest, lift my feet, and bring my hands to my mouth. "You die?" His eyes widen and he immediately shakes his head. "No. No. It's nothing like that."


"Then what is it?" I just want him to spit. My hands start to shake. He sees how much he's scaring me, so he leans down and takes my hands away from my face and takes them in his. Part of me doesn't want him to touch me after what he did last night, but part of me needs his validation. The anticipation of what I'm about to discover makes me nauseous. “Nobody dies. I nod and he lets go of my hands. He's the only one walking now, walking behind the coffee table. He leans back in his chair. "Lily? Do you remember the night we met? I agree.


"Remember when I went up on the roof? How angry was I?" What did I tell you about that night and what made me so angry? I lay my head down and think about that night and all the truths he told me. He said that marriage repelled him. He only liked one-night stands. He never wanted to have children. He was mad at a patient he lost that night. I start to nod. "The little boy," I said. "That's why you were angry, because a boy died and it upset you." He lets out a quick sigh of relief. "Yes. That's why I was angry." He gets up again and it's like he's watching his whole soul crumble. She presses her palms against her eyes and fights back tears. "When I told you what happened to him, do you remember what happened?" told me?


I feel like I'm about to cry and I don't even know why. "Yes. I told you, I can't imagine what that will do to that boy's brother. The one who accidentally shot him." My lips start to tremble. "And then you said, 'It will destroy you forever, it will.' Oh, God. Where is he going with this? Ryle walks over and drops to his knees in front of me. "Lily," he says. "I knew it was him. I felt it... because it happened to me. With Allysas and my big brother…” I can't hold back the tears. I start to cry and he wraps his arms around my waist and rests his head in my lap. “I shot him, Lily. My Best Friend. My oldest brother. I was only six years old. I didn't even know I was holding a real gun. I've never seen a gun before." shiver and he grips me even tighter. I press a kiss to his hair because it feels like I'm right in front of him.


Mental outbreak. Like that night on the roof. And even though I'm still so mad at him, I still love him and it's killing me to know about him. About Allysa. We were still for a long time: her head in my lap, her arms around my waist, my lips in her hair. "She was only five when it happened. Emerson was seven. We were in the garage, so no one heard our screams for a long time. And I sat there and..." He gets off my lap and stands on his back. After a long silence, he sits down on the couch and leans forward. "I tried…" Ryle's face contorts in pain and he lowers his head, covering it with his hands and shaking it from side to side. "I tried to get it all back in his head. I thought I could fix this, Lily." My hand flies to my mouth. I sigh so hard I can't hide it. I have to get up to catch my breath. It's not helping.


I still can't breathe. Ryle walks over to me, grabbing my hands and pulling me to him. We hold each other for a solid minute as he says, "I would never say that to you because I want it to be an excuse for my behavior." "You have to believe that. Allysa wanted me to tell you all this because ever since this happened there are things I can't control. I'm getting angry. I'm breaking down. I've been in therapy since I was six" But that's not my excuse . It's my reality. He wipes away my tears and cradles my head on his shoulder, "When you ran after me last night, I didn't mean to hurt you. He was upset and angry. And sometimes when I feel so many emotions, something inside me breaks." I don't remember the moment I pushed you But I know I did I did All I thought about as you ran after me was how I had to get away from you I wanted you out of the way I didn't think that there were stairs all around us.


I haven't processed my strength compared to yours. I screwed up, Lily. I messed up. Lower your mouth to my ear. Her voice cracks as she says, "You are my wife. I should be the one to protect her from monsters. I shouldn't be. She's holding me so desperately she's shaking. I've never felt so much pain emanating from a being. " human in my entire life. he breaks me. He's tearing me apart from the inside. All my heart wants to do is wrap around his. But despite what he just told me, I'm still struggling with my own forgiveness. I swore it wouldn't happen again. I swore to him and to myself that if he ever hurt me again, I would leave. I pulled away from him, unable to meet his eyes. I head to my room and try to take a moment to catch my breath. I close the bathroom door behind me and reach for the sink, but


can't even get up. I end up falling to the floor in tears. It shouldn't be like this. All my life I've known exactly what I would do if a man treated me the way my father treated my mother. It was easy. I would leave and it wouldn't happen again. But I didn't. And now I'm here with bruises and cuts on my body from the man who was supposed to love me. In my own husband's hands. And yet I'm trying to justify what happened. It was an accident. He thought he was cheating on him. He was hurt and angry and I got in his way. I put my hands in front of my face and cry because I feel more pain for that man, knowing what happened as a child, than I do for myself, and it doesn't make me feel selfless or strong. It makes me pathetic and weak. I should hate it. I have


being the woman my mother was never strong enough for. But if I mimic my mom's behavior, that would mean Ryle would mimic my dad's behavior. But it is not. I have to stop comparing ourselves to them. We are our own individuals in a completely different situation. My father never had an excuse to be angry with him, nor did he immediately apologize. The way he treated my mom was so much worse than what happened between me and Ryle. Ryle just opened up to me in a way he probably never opened up to anyone else. He fights to be a better person for me. Yes, he screwed up last night. But he's here trying to help me understand his background and why he reacted the way he did. Humans aren't perfect, and I can't let the one example of marriage I've seen affect my own marriage. I wipe my eyes and stand up. When I look in the mirror, I don't see my mother. I just


see me see a girl who loves her man and wants more than anything to help him. I know Ryle and I are strong enough to get through this. Our love is strong enough to get us through this. I leave the bathroom and go back to the living room. Ryle stands and looks at me, his face filled with fear. He's afraid I won't forgive him and I'm not sure I will. But an act need not be forgiven in order to learn from it. I reach out to him and take both of his hands in mine. I speak to you with nothing but honest truth. "Do you remember what you said to me that night on the roof? You said, 'There's no such thing as bad people.' We're all humans who sometimes do bad things." He nods and squeezes my hands, "You're not a bad person, Ryle. I know, you can still protect me. If you're upset, just walk away. and I'll go we'll go."


situation until you are calm enough to talk about it, okay? You're not a monster, Ryle. You are only human and as humans we cannot be expected to carry all our pain. Sometimes we have to share it with the people who love us so we don't crumble under the weight of it all. But I can't help you if I don't know what you need. ask me for help. We'll get through this, I know we can. He exhales what feels like every breath he's held since last night. He wraps his arms around me tightly and buries his face in my hair. "Help me, Lily," he whispers. "I need your help." He hugs me against him and I know in my heart that I'm doing the right thing. There's a lot more good than bad about it, and I'll do whatever it takes to convince you of that until I see it.

Chapter Twenty-One “I'm on my way. Is there anything else I need to do? I look up from the papers and shake my head. "Thanks Serena. See you tomorrow." She nods and walks away, leaving my office door open. Allysa's last appointment was two weeks ago. He'll be out any minute. I have two other full-time employees, Serena and Lucy. Yes. This Lucia. She has been married for a few months and came looking for work two weeks ago. It's worked really well. She works alone and when I'm here, when she's around, I just keep my office door closed so I don't hear her. sing must.


It's been almost a month since the incident on the stairs. Despite what Ryle told me about his childhood, forgiveness remained elusive. I know Ryle has a temper. I saw him the first night we met, before we'd even exchanged a word. I saw him in my kitchen that horrible night. I saw it when he found the phone number on my phone case. But I also see the difference between Ryle and my father. Ryle is compassionate. He does things my father would never have done. He gives to charity, he cares about other people, he puts me above everything else. Ryle would never in a million years make me park in the garage while he took care of the garage. I have to remember these things. Sometimes the girl inside me, my father's daughter, is very stubborn. She tells me that I shouldn't have forgiven him. She tells me that I should have left the first time. And sometimes I believe that voice. But then the side of me that


she knows Ryle understands that marriages aren't perfect. Sometimes there are times when both parties regret it. And I wonder how I would feel if I left him after that first incident. He never should have pushed me, but I also did things I'm not proud of. And if I left, wouldn't that violate our marriage vows? For the good or for the bad. I refuse to give up on my marriage so easily. I'm a strong woman. I've been in abusive situations my whole life. I will never be my mother. I believe one hundred percent. And Ryle will never be my father. I think we had to let what happened on the stairs happen to learn about his past so we could work together. Last week we had another argument. I was scared. The other two fights we had didn't end well, and I knew this would be proof that our agreement to help him get over his anger would work or not.


We talk about your career. You've completed your residency and signed up for a 3-month specialist course in Cambridge, England. He'll find out soon enough if he's admitted, but it didn't bother me. It's a great opportunity and I would never ask you not to go. Three months is nothing when we're so busy, so that's not even what got me so excited. I got angry when he talked about what he wanted to do after the trip to Cambridge was over. He's been offered a job in Minnesota at the Mayo Clinic and he wants us to move there. He said that Mass General is the second best neurological hospital in the world. The Mayo Clinic is number one. He said he never intended to stay in Boston forever. I told him that would have been a good topic when we discussed our future on the flight to Las Vegas to get married. I can't leave Boston. My mother lives here. Allysa lives here. He told me it was only a five hour flight and that we could visit as many times as we wanted. I


He told her that it's very difficult to run a flower shop when you live several states away. The fight continued to escalate and we both got angrier by the second. Once he knocked a vase full of flowers off the table onto the floor. We both look at her for a moment. I was scared and wondered if I had made the right decision to stay. Trusting that we could work together on her anger issues. He took a deep breath and said, "I'll go for an hour or two. I think I have to go. When I get back, let's continue this discussion." He walked out the door and, true to her word, came back an hour later when he was much calmer, put the keys on the table and came over to me. He cupped my face in his hands and said, "I told you I wanted to be the best in my field, Lily. I told you that the first night we met. It was one of my naked truths. But if I had to choose between working in the best hospital in the world or making my wife happy... I choose you.


My success As long as you're happy, I don't care where I work. We'll stay in Boston." I knew then that I had made the right decision. Everyone deserves another chance. Especially the people who mean the most to you. It's been a week since that fight and he hasn't mentioned moving again. I feel bad that I have. thwarted your plans, but marriage is about compromise. It's about doing what's best for the couple as a whole, not individually. And staying in Boston is best for our families. Speaking of family, I'm checking my phone when a text from Allysa comes in. Allysa: Have you finished work yet? I need your opinion on the furniture Me: I'll be there in fifteen minutes.

I don't know if it's because of the upcoming delivery or the fact that she's not working right now, but I'm sure I spent more time at her house than I did this week. I close the shop and go to his apartment.


••• When I step off the elevator, there's a note taped to her apartment door. I see my name written on it, so the game is out the door. Lily, on the seventh floor. Apartment 749. —A Do you have an apartment here just for extra furniture? I know they're rich, but even that seems a bit excessive. I get into the elevator and press the button for the seventh floor. When the doors open, I walk down the hall to apartment 749. When I get there, I don't know whether to knock on the door or just walk in. As far as I know, anyone could live here. Probably one of your people. I knock on the door and hear footsteps on the other side. I'm surprised when the door opens and Ryle is in front of me.


"Hey," I say confused. "What are you doing here?" He smiles and leans against the doorframe. "I live here. What are you doing here?" I look at the brass plaque next to the door and then at him. "What do you mean you live here? I thought you were staying with me. Have you had your own apartment the whole time?" I think an entire apartment would be something a man would end up bringing his wife. It's kind of irritating. In fact, it's ridiculous and misleading. I think I might be really mad at him right now. Ryle laughs and pushes the board away. the door. Now he fills the entire doorframe as he raises his hands to the doorframe above his head and grips it tightly. "Didn't get a chance to talk about this apartment considering I just signed the paperwork this morning." I take a step back. He takes my hand and pulls me towards the apartment, "Welcome home Lily."


I stop in the hallway. Yes. I said lobby. There is an atrium. "Did you buy an apartment?" He nods slowly, gauging my reaction. "You bought an apartment," I repeat. He's still nodding. "I did. Is that okay? I thought since we're living together now, we could use the spare bedroom." I slowly turn in a circle. When my gaze lands on the kitchen, I stop. It's not as big as Allysa's Kitchen, but it's just as white and almost as pretty. There's a wine cooler and a dishwasher, two things my apartment doesn't have. I walk into the kitchen and look around, afraid to touch anything. Is this really mine? The kitchen? This can't be my kitchen. In the living room, I take in the high ceiling and huge windows that look out over Boston Harbor. "Lily?" he says behind me. "You're not mad, are you?"


I turn and look at him, realizing he's been waiting for my reaction for the last few minutes. But I'm completely speechless. I shake my head and cover my mouth with my hand. "I don't think so," I whisper. He walks over to me, takes my hands in his and lifts them between us. "You do not believe?" He looks worried and confused. "Please tell me the honest truth, because I'm starting to think maybe I shouldn't have done this by surprise." I look at the hardwood floor. It's real hard wood. It is not laminated. "Okay," I say, looking at him again. "I think it's crazy that you bought an apartment without me. I feel like we should have done it together." that's it... it's perfect. I don't even know what to say, Ryle. Everything is


very clean. I'm scared to move. I could get something dirty. He lets out a breath and pulls me to him. "You can shake it, baby. You are. You can shake anything you want. Kiss the side of my head and I don't even say thanks. It seems like a small reaction to such a big gesture. "¿Cuándo nos movimos? . "Morning? I am free. It's not like we have a lot of stuff. We can spend the next few weeks shopping for new furniture.” I nod, trying to run through tomorrow's schedule in my head. I already knew Ryle had tomorrow off, so I had nothing planned. there are chairs but luckily the floor is clean "I need to sit down" Ryle helps me to the floor then lets go of me he kneels in front of me still holding my hands "Does Allysa know?"


He smiles and nods. "She's so excited, Lily. I've been thinking about buying an apartment here for a while. After we decided to stay in Boston forever, I moved in to surprise you. It helped, but I was starting to worry. I told you before I did. I just can't deal with this. Do I live here? Will Allysa and I be neighbors now? I don't know why I feel like this should bother me because I'm so excited about it. It takes a minute to process everything, but you didn't see the best part and it's killing me." He smiles and pulls me to my feet. We walked across the room and down a hallway. He opens each door and tells me which rooms, but I don't even have time to go into any of them. When we got to the master bedroom, I came to the conclusion that we live in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with an office.


I don't even have time to process the beauty of the room as he drags me across the room. He reaches a curtained wall, turns and looks at me. "It's not soil for planting a garden, but a few pots will bring it closer." He pulls back the curtain and opens a door to reveal a huge balcony. I follow him out already dreaming of all the pans he could put in here. "It offers the same view as the rooftop terrace," he says. “We will always have the same vision as the night we met.” It took me a while to understand, but at that moment it all hit me and I started to cry. Ryle pulls me into his chest and wraps his arms around me tightly. "Lily," he whispers, running a hand through my hair. "I didn't mean to make you cry" I laugh through my tears. "I just can't believe I live here." I pull away from his chest and look at him. "Are we rich? How can you afford that?


He laughs. You married a neurosurgeon, Lily. They are not necessarily short on cash.” His comment makes me laugh and then cry some more. And then we have our first visitor because someone starts knocking on the door. "Allysa," he says. "She was waiting at the end of the hall." I ran to the front door and opened it and we both hugged and screamed and I even managed to cry some more. We spent the rest of the night in our new apartment. Ryle orders Chinese and Marshall comes down to eat with us. We don't have tables or chairs yet, so the four of us sit in the middle of the room and eat straight from the bowls. We're talking about how we're going to decorate, we're talking about all the neighborhood stuff we're going to do together, we're talking about Allysa's upcoming birth. It's everything and more. I can't wait to tell my mom.

Chapter Twenty-Two Allysa is three days late. We've been living in our new apartment for a week now. We were able to successfully move all of our stuff the day Ryle had the day off, and Allysa and I went furniture shopping the second day we moved. On the third day we were practically installed. Yesterday we received our first email. It was a utility bill to set up the service, so now it finally looks official. IM married. I have a great husband. a great house My best friend is my sister-in-law and soon to be an aunt. I can say this . but can my life get any better? I close my laptop and get ready to go out for the night. I left before me now


usually because I'm so excited to be back in my new apartment. Just as I start to close my office door, Ryle uses his key to unlock the front door of the store. He lets the door slam behind him as he walks in with his hands full. He has a newspaper under his arm and two coffees in his hand. Despite the frantic eyes around her and the urgency of her footsteps, she smiles. "Lily," he says, walking over to me. He hands me one of the coffees and takes the newspaper under his arm. Three things. Um... have you seen the paper? He gives it to me. The newspaper is folded inside out. He points to the article. You get it!" I try not to get my hopes up when I read the article. He might be talking about something completely different than what I think. As I read the headline, I realize it means exactly what I thought. "Did I get this?" that my company was nominated for a Best of Boston award.


People's Choice Awards, which the newspaper presents annually, and Lily Bloom's was nominated for Best New Business in Boston. The criteria apply to companies open for less than two years. I suspected I might have been selected when a newspaper reporter called me last week and asked me a series of questions. The title is Best New Businesses in Boston. Vote for your top 10! I smile, nearly spilling my coffee when Ryle pulls me to my feet and spins me around. He said he has three pieces of news and if he started with that one, I have no idea what the other two might be. "What's the second?" He pulls me to my feet and says, “I started with the best. I was really excited.” He takes a sip of coffee and says, “I was selected to study at Cambridge.” My face breaks into a big smile. “Did you do that?” He nods and then hugs me and holds me turns around again. "I'm so proud of you," I tell her,


kiss him. "We're both so successful it's sick," she laughs. "Number three?" I ask him. He retires. "Oh yes. Number three." She casually leans against the counter and takes a slow sip of her coffee. Carefully, he places the coffee back on the counter. "Allysa is in labor" "What?!" Shout out. "Yes." He waves to our coffees. "That's why I brought you caffeine. We're not going to sleep tonight." I start gossiping, jumping up and down, then panic as I try to find my purse, my jacket, my keys, my phone, the light switch. Just before we reach the door, Ryle runs back to the counter, grabs the paper and tucks it under his arm. My hands shake with emotion as I close the door. "Let's be girls!" I run to my car.


Ryle laughs at my joke and says, "Dude, Lily. We're gonna be men." ••• Marshall walks silently down the hall. Ryle and I wake up and wait for the news. hour. Allysa screamed in pain, a signal she gave, but there was no sound. Not even the cry of a newborn. My hands go to my mouth and when I see the look on Marshall's face I fear the worst. His shoulders start to sag. tremble and tears begin to flow from his eyes. "I am a father." And then he hits the air. "I am a father!" She hugs Ryle and then me and says, "Give us fifteen minutes and you can come in and see her." As he closes the door, Ryle and I both breathe huge sighs of relief. We look at each other and smile. "Have you thought the worst too?" he asks.


I nod and then hug him. "You're a guy," I tell him, smiling. He kisses the top of my head and says, "You too." Half an hour later, Ryle and I are standing by the bed watching Allysa hold her new baby. She is absolutely perfect. A little too new to say it like it is, but beautiful nonetheless. "Do you want to hug your niece?" Allysa tells Ryle. He stiffens as if he's nervous, but then he nods. He leans forward and places the baby in Ryle's arms, showing him how to hold her. He looks at her nervously, then walks over to the couch and sits down. "Have you decided on the name yet?" he asks. "Yes," Allysa says. Ryle and I look at Allysa and she smiles with tears in her eyes. "We wanted to name her after someone Marshall and I thought of. So we added an E to her name. We named her Rylee."


I immediately look at Ryle and he exhales quickly like he's a little surprised. He looks at Rylee and starts to smile. "Wow," he whispers. "I do not know what to say." I squeeze Allysa's hand, then walk over and sit down next to Ryle. I've had many moments where I thought I couldn't love him any more than I already do, but once again I was proven wrong. Seeing him look at his new niece makes my heart race. Marshall sits next to Allysa on the bed. "Did you hear how calm Issa was the whole time? Not a single beep. She wasn't even high. He puts his arm around her and lays down next to her on the bed. "I feel like I'm in that Hancock movie with Will Smith and I'm about to find out I'm married to a superhero," laughs Ryle. "I took my ass once or twice growing up. I wouldn't be surprised." "No swearing around Rylee," says Marshall. "Ass," Ryle whispers to him.


We both laugh and then she asks me if I want to hug her. I pretend I have good hands because waiting my turn is killing me. I pull her into my arms and am amazed at how much I love her already. "When are mom and dad coming?" Ryle asks Allysa. "They will be here for lunch tomorrow." I just finished a long shift. Look at me. "Come with me?" I shake my head. "I want to get out some more. Just get in my car and I'll get a cab home." He kisses the side of my head and then rests his head on mine as we both look at Rylee. “I think we should make one of these,” he says. I look at him, not sure I understand correctly. He winks. “If I sleep, if you get home late, wake me up. We'll start tonight.


he says goodbye to Marshall and Allysa and Marshall tag along. I look at Allysa and she smiles. "I said I wanted babies with you." I smiled and walked back to her bed. She slides in and makes room for me. I hand Rylee back to her and we snuggle into her bed and watch Rylee sleep like she's the most beautiful thing we've ever seen.

Chapter Twenty-three It's three hours later and after ten when I get home. I stayed with Allysa for an hour after Ryle left and then went back to my office to run errands so I wouldn't have to go for the next two days. Whenever Ryle has a day off, I try to combine my days off with his. The lights are off when I walk in the front door, which means Ryle is already in bed. All the way home I thought about what he had said. I didn't expect this conversation to come up so quickly. I'm almost twenty-five, but I thought it would be at least a few years before we could start a family. I'm still not sure if I'm ready for this, but I do.


it's something he now wants to one day has put me in an incredibly happy frame of mind. I decide to prepare something to eat before waking him up. I haven't eaten yet and I'm starving. When I turn on the kitchen light, I scream. My hand goes to my chest and I slump against the counter. "Jesus, Ryle! What are you doing?" He's leaning against the wall next to the fridge. His feet are crossed at the ankles and his eyes are narrowed at me. He twirls something in his fingers and looks to the left at me and I see an empty glass that probably has fresh whiskey in it. He drinks from time to time to help him fall asleep. I look at him and there is a smile on his face. My body heats up from that smile because I know what's coming next. This apartment is about to become a dress-and-kissing frenzy, since then we've christened almost every room.


we moved here, but we haven't taken care of the kitchen yet. I smile back at him, my heart still beating erratically from the shock of finding him here in the dark. Her gaze drops to his hand, and I realize she's holding the Boston magnet. She brought it from her old apartment and put it in the fridge when I moved out. He puts it back in the fridge and punches it. "Where did you get that?" I look at the magnet and then look at it again. The last thing I want to do is tell him that Magnet came from Atlas on my sixteenth birthday. It would just bring up an already touchy subject and I'm too excited for what's next between us to tell him the honest truth yet. I shrug. I can't remember. I've had this forever. He looks at me silently, then straightens up and takes two steps towards me. I lean against the counter and catch my breath. His hands find my waist and he slides them between them.


my ass and my jeans and pulls me closer. His mouth claims mine and he kisses me as he starts pulling my jeans down. IT IS GOOD. So let's do this now. His lips slide down my neck as I kick off my shoes and then he pulls my jeans off completely. I think I can eat later. Baptizing the kitchen has just become my priority. When his mouth is on mine again, he picks me up and sets me down on the counter between my knees. I smell the whiskey on his breath and taste it. I'm already breathing hard when his warm lips slide over mine. He takes a handful of my hair and pulls it gently, making me look at him. "Naked truth?" he whispers and looks at my mouth like he's about to devour me. I agree. Another hand of his slides slowly down my thigh until it has nowhere to go. Slide two warm fingers inside me and hold


My gaze met his. I suck in air as my legs wrap tighter around his waist. I slowly start to move against his hand, moaning softly as he looks at me heatedly. "Where did you get that magnet, Lily?" What? My heart feels like it's starting to beat backwards. Why do you keep asking me this? His fingers still move inside me, his eyes still seem to love me. But his hand. The hand around my hair starts pulling harder and I shudder. "Ryle," I whisper softly, even though I'm starting to shake. "That hurts." His fingers stop moving, but his gaze never leaves mine. He slowly pulls his fingers out of me and then wraps his hand around my neck, squeezing gently. His lips find mine and his tongue dips into my mouth. I take it because I


I have no idea what she's thinking right now and I pray I'm overreacting. I can feel him hard against her jeans as he presses against me. But then he withdraws. His hands completely leave me as he presses my back against the fridge and his eyes roam over my body like he's leading me straight to the kitchen. My heart starts to calm down. I exaggerated. He walks over to her by the stove and picks up a newspaper. It's the same newspaper he showed me earlier, with the award ceremony article printed in it. He holds it and then throws it at me. "Have you had a chance to read this yet?" I sighed in relief. "Not yet," I say, and my eyes fall on the article. “Read aloud.” Looked at him. I'm smiling, but my stomach is in knots. Now there's something in it. how he behaves, I can't point a finger at him. "Should I read the article?" I ask. "Right now?"


I feel weird sitting half naked on my kitchen counter with a newspaper in my hand. He agrees. "I want you to take your shirt off first. Then read it aloud. I stare at him, trying to gauge his behavior. Maybe the whiskey has perked him up. When we make love, it's often as simple as making love. But every now and then every now and then our sex is wild. A little dangerous, like the look in his eyes right now. I put the paper down, take off my shirt and pick up the paper again. I start to read the article aloud, but he takes a step forward and it says, "Not everything." Turns the page where it starts in the middle of the article and points to a sentence: "Read the last few paragraphs." I look down, even more confused this time. But whatever brings us to the bed... "The company with the most votes shouldn't come as a surprise. the iconic


Bib's on Marketson opened in April of last year and has quickly become one of the best restaurants in town according to TripAdvisor. I stop reading and look at Ryle. He pours himself more whiskey and takes a sip. "Keep reading," he says, pointing to the paper in my hand. I swallow, the saliva in my mouth thickening by the second. I try to control the tremor in my hands as I continue reading. “The owner, Atlas Corrigan, is a two-time award-winning chef and also a United States Marine. It's no secret what the acronym for his wildly successful restaurant, Bib's: Best in Boston, stands for. Panting. Everything is better in Boston. I clutch my stomach and try to control my emotions as I continue reading. But when asked about his recent award, the chef finally revealed the true story of the meaning behind the name. "It's a long story", Chef


Corrigan explained. "It was a tribute to someone who had a huge impact on my life. Someone who meant a lot to me. He still means a lot to me." read more." My voice cracks its way to my throat. Ryle takes two quick steps forward and picks up the paper. He picks up where I left off, his voice strong and angry now. “When they asked the girl if she knew he owned a restaurant named after her, Chef Corrigan smiled knowingly and said, 'Next question.'” The anger in Ryle's voice makes me sick. "Ryle, cut it out," I say quietly. "You had too much to drink." I push him away and run out of the kitchen and into the hall that leads to our bedroom. There's a lot going on right now and I'm not sure I understand anything. The article never specified who Atlas was talking about. Atlas knows it was me and I know it was me


me, but how the hell did Ryle put two and two together? And the magnet. How could he know it was from Atlas just because he read that article? You exaggerate. I can hear him following me as I walk towards the bedroom. I open the door and stop suddenly. The bed is full of things. An empty moving box with "Lily's Stuff" written on the side. And then all the contents that were in that box. cards . . daily . . empty shoe boxes I close my eyes and breathe slowly. He read the newspaper. no he read. The diary. His arm wraps around my waist from behind. He slides his hand down my stomach and firmly cups one of my breasts. Another hand caresses my shoulder as he brushes the hair off the back of my neck.


I squint my eyes just as his fingers begin to caress my skin, up to my shoulder. He slowly runs his finger over my heart and a shiver runs through my entire body. His lips find my skin, just above the tattoo, and then he sinks his teeth into me so hard I scream. I try to pull away from him, but he holds me so tight he doesn't even move. The toothache of him piercing my collarbone rips through my shoulder and down my arm. I start crying right away. Hiccup. "Ryle, let me go," I say pleadingly. "Please, go." His arms cut through mine as he grabs me from behind. He spins me around, but my eyes remain closed. I'm too scared to look at him. His hands dig into my shoulders as he pushes me onto the bed. I start to try to dodge it, but it's no use. He's too strong for me. He's upset. He's hurt. And he's not Ryle. My back hits the bed and I frantically struggle for the headboard, trying to escape.


by him. "Why are you still here, Lily?" Her voice isn't as serene as it is in the kitchen. He's really mad now. "It's on everything. The magnet on the fridge. The diary in the box I found in our closet. That damn tattoo on your body that used to be my favorite fucking part of you! Now he's lying in bed." "I can explain." Tears run down my temples and into my hair. "You're angry. Please don't hurt me, please. Go away and when you come back I'll explain.” His hand grabs my ankle and pulls me under him.” I'm not angry. , Lily," he says, his voice worryingly quiet now. "I simply don't think you have demonstrated how much I love you." Get away from me. You're welcome."


No no no no. "I love you, Lily," he says, his words crackling against my cheek. "More than ever. Why can't you see it? My fear doubles in on itself and I'm diluted with anger. All I can see when I close my eyes is my mother crying on our old living room sofa; my father did her. Hatred surges through me and I start to scream. Ryle tries to drown my screams in his mouth. I bite his tongue. His forehead hits mine. In a moment all pain disappears as a shroud of darkness covers my eyes and it consumes me.••• I can feel his breath in my ear as he mumbles something unintelligible.My heart is racing, my whole body is still shaking, my tears are still falling somehow and I'm panting.


The words hit my ear, but the pain in my head is too strong to understand the words. I try to open my eyes, but it burns me. I feel something drip into my right eye and I know immediately it's blood. My blood. His words begin to come into focus. "Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry..." his hand is still pressing mine into the mattress and he's still lying on top of me. He's not trying to force himself on me anymore. "Lily, I love you, I'm sorry," his words are full of panic. He kisses me, their lips touching. He gently touches my cheek and mouth. He knows what he did. It's Ryle again and he knows what he just did to me. For us. For our future. I use your panic to my advantage. I shake my head and whisper, "It's okay, Ryle." He is well. You were angry, it's okay."


His lips meet mine in a frenzy and the taste of whiskey makes me want to throw up right now. He's still whispering apologies as the room starts to fade out again. ••• My eyes are closed. We're still in bed, but he's not completely on top of me anymore. He's lying on his side, his arm around my waist. His head is pressed against my chest. I remain rigid as I take in everything around me. He doesn't move, but I can feel his sleepy breathing. I don't know if he passed out or fell asleep. The last thing I remember is his mouth on mine, the taste of my own tears. I remain motionless for a few more minutes. The pain in my head is getting worse with every minute of awareness. I close my eyes and try to think. Where is my purse? Where are my keys? where is my phone


It takes me a full five minutes to slide under him. I'm too scared to move too much at once, so I move inch by inch until I can roll on the floor. When I can no longer feel his hands on me, an unexpected sob erupts from my chest. Covering my mouth with my hand, I get up and run out of the room. I find my purse and cell phone, but I have no idea where she put my keys. I frantically search the living room and kitchen, but I can barely see anything. When he hit me with his head he must have left a cut on my forehead because there's a lot of blood in my eyes and everything is blurry. I slide to the floor by the door and feel dizzy. My fingers are shaking so badly it takes me three tries to get the correct password on my phone. When I lift the screen to dial a number, I pause. My first thought is to call Allysa and Marshall, but I can't. I can't do this to you right now. She gave birth to a baby a few hours ago. I can't do this to you.


I could call the police, but my mind can't even process what it all entails. I don't want to make a statement. I don't know if I want to press charges as I know what it could do to his career. I don't want Allysa to be mad at me. I just do not know. I don't rule out calling the police at some point. I just don't have the strength to make that decision right now. I grip the phone and try to think. My mother. I start to dial her number, but the thought of what that would do to her makes me cry again. I can't drag you into this mess. She's been through a lot. And Ryle will try to find me. He will go to her first. Then Allysa and Marshall. So everyone else we know. I wipe the tears from my eyes and start dialing Atlas's number. I hate myself now more than I ever have in my entire life.


I hate myself because the day Ryle found Atlas's number on my cell phone, I lied and said I forgot it was there. I hate myself because the day Atlas put his number in there, I opened it and looked at it. I hate myself because deep down I knew there was a chance I might need this one day. So I memorized it. "Hi?" His voice is cautious. To ask. He doesn't know that number. I start crying as soon as he speaks. I cover my mouth and try to calm down. "Lily?" His voice is much stronger now. "Lily, where are you?" I hate myself for knowing the tears are mine. "Atlas," I whisper. "Need help." "Where are?" says again. I can hear the panic in his voice. I can hear him walking around, pushing things. I hear a door slam on her end of the phone.


"I'm writing to you," I whisper, too afraid to continue. I don't want Ryle to wake up. I hang up the phone and somehow find the strength to keep my hands steady as I text him my address and passcode to get in. Then I send a second text message that says "text me when you're here". Please don't touch.

I crawl into the kitchen and find my pants, which I struggle with. I find my shirt on the counter. After getting dressed, I go to the living room. I consider opening the door and finding Atlas downstairs, but I'm too scared I won't make it to the lobby on my own. My forehead is still bleeding and I feel too weak to get up and wait by the door. I slide to the floor, holding my phone in my shaking fist and looking at it as I wait for his message. It's agony twenty-four minutes later when my phone turns on. On here.

I get up and open the door. Arms are around me and my face is


pressed against something soft. I start to cry and cry and shake and cry. "Lily," he whispers. I had never heard my name so sad. He asks me to take a look. His blue eyes sweep over my face and I see what's going on. I watch the worry fade as he bangs his head on the front door. "Is he still there?" Go to. I can feel him getting angry and starting to walk towards the front door. I grab his jacket with my fists. "No. Please Atlas. I just want to go." I watch the pain wash over him as he pauses, struggling to decide whether to listen to me or walk through the door. Eventually, he pulls away from the door and wraps his arms around me.around.He helps me into the elevator and then through the lobby.Miraculously we only know one person and he's on the phone looking away.


When we reach the parking lot, I get dizzy again. I tell him to slow down and then I feel his arm slide under my knees as he lifts me up. So we're in the car. Then the car moves. I know I need stitches. I know you're going to take me to the hospital. But I have no idea why the next words out of my mouth are, "Don't take me to general mass. Take me somewhere else. For some reason, I don't want to risk running into any of Ryle's classmates. I hate him." "I hate him more now than I ever hated my father. But concern for his career still cuts through the hate. When I realize it, I hate myself as much as he does."

Chapter Twenty-Four Atlas is across the room. He kept his eyes on me the entire time the nurse helped me. After taking a blood sample, he came back and started tending to my cut. You haven't asked me many questions yet, but it's obvious that my wounds are the result of an attack. I can see the pitying expression on his face as he wipes the blood from the bite mark on my shoulder. When he finishes, he looks at Atlas. She takes a step to the right, blocking her view of me as she turns and looks at me again. "I have some personal questions to ask. I'm going to ask her to leave the room, okay? At this point, I realize she thinks it was Atlas who did these things to me. I


He immediately starts shaking his head. "It wasn't him," I tell him. "Please don't let go." Relief spreads across his face. She shakes her head, then pulls up a chair. "Are you hurt somewhere else?" I shake my head because she can't fix all the parts of me that Ryle has broken inside. "Lily?" Her voice is soft. "Were you raped?" Tears fill my eyes and I see Atlas roll over to the wall and press his forehead against it. The nurse waits for him to make eye contact with her again to continue talking. “We have a specific test for these situations. It's called the SANE exam. It's optional, of course, but I highly recommend it in your situation. “They didn't rape me,” I say. "It wasn't..." "Are you sure, Lily?" the nurse asks. I nod. "I don't want one." Atlas looks at me again and I can see the pain in her expression as he steps forward, "Lily. You need this. Her eyes are pleading.


I shook my head again. “Atlas, I swear. . .” I close my eyes and lower my head. "I will not take his place this time." I whisper. "He tried, but then gave up." “If you want to file a claim, you have to…” “I don't want the test,” I say again, my voice tight. There's a knock on the door and a doctor enters, saving me more pleading looks from Atlas. The nurse gives the doctor a brief description of my injuries. Then she steps to the side as he examines my head and shoulder. A light shines in both my eyes. He looks at the paperwork again and says, "I want to rule out a concussion, but given your situation, I don't want to do a CT scan. Instead, we'd like to keep you under observation." don't you want to do a CT scan?" I ask. The doctor gets up. "We don't like to X-ray pregnant women unless


vital. We'll monitor you for any complications, and if there are no more concerns, you're free to go. I hear nothing more than that. Absolutely nothing. The pressure is starting to build in my head. My heart. My stomach. I grip the edges of the exam table I'm sitting on and look down at the floor until they're both out of the room. When the door closes behind them, I sit in icy silence. I see Atlas approaching. His feet almost touch mine. His fingers gently caress my back. "Did you know?" I exhale quickly and inhale more air. I start to shake my head and when his arms wrap around me, I cry harder than I thought my body was capable of. He holds me the whole time while I cry. He saves me through my hate. I did this to myself. I allowed this to happen to me. I'm my mother. "I want to go," I whisper.


Atlas departs. "They want to monitor you, Lily. I think you should stay. I look at him and shake my head. "I have to get out of here. Please. I want to go.” He nods and helps me put on my shoes. He takes off his jacket and wraps it around me, so we drive out of the hospital without anyone noticing. He doesn't say anything to me as he drives. out the window, too tired to cry. Too shocked to speak. I feel submerged. Just keep swimming. ••• Atlas doesn't live in an apartment. He lives in a house. A small suburb outside of Boston called Wellesley, where all the houses are beautiful Spacious, well maintained, and expensive Before I park in her driveway, I wonder if she ever married this girl Cassie I wonder what she'll think of her husband bringing a girl home.


once beloved who had just been attacked by her own husband. She will feel sorry for me. She'll wonder why I never left him. She'll wonder how I let myself get to this point. She'll wonder the same things I used to wonder about my own mother when she saw her in the same situation. People spend a lot of time wondering why women don't go. Where are all the people wondering why men are abusive in the first place? Not the only culprit? Atlas parks in the garage. There is no other vehicle here. I don't expect him to help me out of the car. I open the door and go out alone, then follow him to his house. Dial a code for an alarm and turn on some lights. My eyes roam the kitchen, the dining room, the living room. Everything is made from hardwood and stainless steel, and your kitchen is painted a soft teal. The color of the ocean. If it didn't hurt so much, I would smile.


Atlas kept swimming and look at him now. He swam to the damn Caribbean. He goes to the fridge, grabs a bottle of water, and brings it to me. He removes the lid and hands it to me. I take a sip and watch him turn on the living room light, then the hall light. "You live alone?" I ask. He nods as he heads back to the kitchen. "Are you hungry?" I shake my head. Even if it was me, I couldn't eat it. "I'll show you to your room," he says. "There's a shower if you need it." I make. I want to get the taste of whiskey out of my mouth. I want to wash away the sterile smell of the hospital. I want to wash away the last four hours of my life. I follow him down the hall to a guest room, where he turns on the light. There are two boxes on an empty bed and more stacked against the walls. There is a big chair.


on a wall, opposite the door. He walks over to the bed, removes the boxes and places them against the wall with the others. "I just moved in a few months ago. I haven't had much time to decorate yet. She goes to a dresser and opens a drawer. "I'll make your bed.” He takes the sheets and a pillowcase. He starts making the bed while I go to the bathroom and close the door. I'm in the bathroom for thirty minutes. I spend some of those minutes looking at my reflection. Some of those minutes I spend in the shower. I spend the rest of my time in the bathroom, choking on the last few hours. I'm wrapped in a towel when I open the bathroom door. Atlas is no longer in the room, but his clothes are folded on the freshly made bed. Pants I'm wearing oversized men's pajamas and a T-shirt that hits below my knees. I tighten the drawstring, tie it off, and then climb into bed. I


He turns off the lamp and pulls the covers over me. I cry so much I don't even make a sound.

Chapter Twenty-Five I smell toast. I stretch out on the bed and smile because Ryle knows toast is my favorite. I open my eyes and the light hits me with the force of a head-on collision. I close my eyes as I realize where I am and why I'm here and that the toast I'm feeling is in no way due to my sweet, loving husband making me breakfast in bed. I want to cry again right away so I force myself out of bed. I focus on the emptiness in my stomach as I go to the bathroom and tell myself I can cry after I eat. I have to eat before I get sick again. When I leave the bathroom and return to the bedroom, I notice that the chair has turned over.


so now he looks at the bed and not the door. There's a random blanket thrown over it, and clearly Atlas was here last night while I was sleeping. He was probably worried he had a concussion. As I walk into the kitchen, Atlas moves back and forth between the fridge, stove, and counter. For the first time in twelve hours, I have a glimpse of something that isn't agony because I remember he's a chef. A good. And she makes me breakfast. He looks at me when I walk into the kitchen. "Tomorrow," he says, careful not to say it too emphatically. "I hope you're hungry." He pushes me a glass and a jar of orange juice across the counter, then turns and looks at the stove. "I am." He looks back over his shoulder and gives me the slightest of smiles. I pour myself a glass of orange juice and then head to the other side of the kitchen, where there is a breakfast area. there is an


Newspaper on the table and I start to pick it up. When I see the cross-printed article about the best deals in Boston, my hands immediately start to shake and I throw the newspaper on the table. I close my eyes and take a slow sip of orange juice. A few minutes later, Atlas places a plate in front of me and sits across from me at the table. He places his own plate of food in front of him and cuts a pancake with his fork. I look at my plate. Three crepes, drizzled with syrup and topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Orange and strawberry slices line the right side of the plate. It's almost too pretty to eat, but I'm too hungry to bother. I take a bite and close my eyes, trying not to let on that it's the best breakfast I've ever had. Finally, let me admit that your restaurant deserves this award. As much as I tried to discourage Ryle and Allysa from ever going back, it was the best restaurant I've ever been to.


"Where did you learn to cook?" I ask him. He takes a sip from a cup of coffee. "The Marines," he says, putting his glass down again. "When I started, I trained a little and then I went back to being a chef," he taps the side of his plate with his fork. "You like?" I agree. "It's delicious. But you're wrong. You could cook it before calling." He smiled. "Do you remember the cookies?" I nod again. "Best cookie I've ever had." He leans back in his chair. "I learned the basics. Growing up, my mom worked the second shift. So if I wanted dinner at night, I had to. It was either that or I'd starve, so I shopped." I got a cookbook. at a flea market and over the course of a year I made all the recipes with her. And I was only thirteen.” I smile, surprised she can do that. “The next time someone asks you how you learned to cook, you should tell them that story. Not the other."


he shakes his head. "You're the only person who knows anything about me before I'm nineteen. I want to keep it that way." He starts to tell me about his job as a chef in the military. How he saved as much money as he could by opening his own restaurant after resigning. He started with a small coffee shop that was doing really well, and then he opened Bib's a year and a half ago. "Okay," he says modestly. him. "It seems to be going more than well." He shrugs and takes another bite of his food. I don't speak after we finish eating because my thoughts wander to his restaurant. His name. What he said in the interview. So, of course, those thoughts led me to think of Ryle and the anger in his voice when he yelled the last line of the interview at me. I think Atlas can see the change in my demeanor, but he doesn't say anything as he clears the table.


When she sits down again, this time she chooses the chair next to me. He places a comforting hand over mine. "I have to go to work for a few hours," he says. "I don't want you to go. Stay here as long as you need to, Lily. Just…please don't go home today." I shook my head at the concern of his words. "I won't. I'll stay here," I tell him. "I promise." "Do you need anything before I go?" I shake my head. "I'll be fine." He stands and grabs his jacket. "I'll make it as soon as possible. fast as you can. I'll come back after lunch and bring you something to eat, okay?" I forced a smile. He opens a drawer and takes out a pen and paper. He writes something on it before leaving. After he leaves, I get up and walk over to the counter. to read what he wrote. He listed instructions on how to activate the alarm. He wrote down his cell phone number, although I know it by heart. He also wrote down his work number, his home address, and the address of his work.


At the end he wrote in small print: "Keep swimming Lily" Dear Ellen, Hello. It is me. Bom lily flower. . . technically it's Lily Kincaid now. I know it's been a long time since I've written to you. Long time. After everything that happened with Atlas, I just couldn't open the journals again. I didn't even dare watch his show after school because it hurt me to watch it alone. In fact, every thought of you depressed me. When I thought of you, I thought of Atlas. And honestly, I didn't want to think about Atlas, so I had to cut you out of my life, too. I'm sorry for this. I'm sure you didn't miss me like I missed you, but sometimes the things that matter most to you are also the things that hurt you the most. And to overcome this pain, you must cut all ties that bind you to this pain. You were an extension of my pain, so I guess it was me.


Does. I was just trying to save myself some agony. However, I'm sure your show is as good as ever. I still hear you dance at the beginning of some episodes, but I appreciate it. I think this is one of the biggest signs that a person has matured: knowing how to value the things that are important to others, even if they are not very important to you. I should probably tell you about my life. My dad died. I'm twenty-four now. I'm a college graduate, worked in marketing for a while, and now have my own business. A florist. Life Goals, FTW! I also have a husband and he is not Atlas. Y. . . I live in Boston. I know. Disgusting surprise. I was sixteen the last time I wrote to you. He was in a very bad place and very worried about Atlas. I'm not worried about Atlas anymore, but I'm in a really bad situation right now. More than the last time I wrote to you.


Sorry, I don't seem to need to write to you when I'm in a good place. You tend to just get the fucking end of my life, but that's what friends are for, right? I do not know where to start. I know you don't know anything about my life now or my husband Ryle. But there's this thing where one of us says "the naked truth" and then we're forced to be brutally honest and say what we really think. such that . . . naked truth. Get ready. I am in love with a man who is physically hurting me. I of all people have no idea how I got to this point. Growing up, I often wondered what was going through my mother's mind in the days after my father hurt her. How could she love a man who laid hands on her? A man who beat her repeatedly. He repeatedly swore never to do that again. keep hitting her.


I hate being able to empathize with her right now. I've been sitting on Atlas' couch for over four hours, fighting my emotions. I can't get them. I cannot understand you. I don't know how to process them. And true to my past, I realized that maybe I just have to get them down on paper. I apologize, Ellen. But be prepared for a lot of vocabulary. If I had to compare this feeling to anything, I would compare it to death. Not just someone's death. the death of one The person closer to you than anyone in the entire world. The one that brings tears to your eyes just imagining your death. That's how it looks. Looks like Ryle is dead. It's astronomical pain. Huge pain. It's a feeling that I've lost my best friend, my lover, my husband, my lifeline. But the difference between this feeling and death is the presence of another emotion.


does not necessarily follow in case of actual death. Hatred. I'm so mad at him, Ellen. Words cannot express how much I hate him. Yet somehow, in the midst of all my hate, waves of sanity flow through me. I start thinking things like, "But I shouldn't have the magnet. I should have told him about the tattoo from the beginning. I shouldn't have kept the journals." The reasoning is the hardest part of this. It's eating little by little, wearing down the strength my hate gives me. The thought forces me to imagine our future together and how there are things I could do to avoid this kind of anger. I will never betray you again. I will never keep it secret from him again. I will never give him a reason to react like this. From now on, both of us have to work harder. For good and for bad, right?


I know these are the things that used to cross my mother's mind. But the difference between the two of us is that she had more to worry about. She didn't have the financial stability that I have. She had no way of going and giving me what she thought was decent housing. She didn't want to take me away from my father when she was used to living with both parents. I feel like the reasoning really kicked her ass a time or two. I can't even begin to process the idea of ​​having a child with this man. There is a person in me that we created together. And no matter which option I choose, whether I decide to stay or leave, neither option would I want my son to do. Growing up in a broken or abusive home? I've already failed this baby in my life and I've only known of its existence for a single day. Ellen, I'd like you to send me a message. I wish you could tell me something funny right now because my heart needs it. I have


I've never felt so alone. This is broken. This is angry. That hurts. Outsiders in such situations often wonder why the woman is returning to her abuser. I once read somewhere that 85% of abused women come back. That was before I realized I was in one, and when I heard that statistic I thought it was because women are stupid. I thought it was because they were weak. I've thought about these things about my own mother more than once. But sometimes the reason women keep coming back is simply because they're in love. I love my husband Elena. I love so many things about him. I wish cutting my feelings for the person who hurt me was as easy as I used to think. Keeping your heart from forgiving someone you love is actually much more difficult than simply forgiving them. Now I'm a statistic. The things I used to think about women like me are now what others would think of me if they knew my current situation.


"How can she love him after what she did to him? How can she even think of getting him back?" It's sad that these are the first thoughts that go through our heads when someone is being abused. Shouldn't there be more hate in our mouths for the perpetrators than for those who continue to love the perpetrators? I think of all the people who have been in this situation before me. Everyone who will be in this situation after me. Do we all repeat the same words in our heads in the days after being abused by those who love us? "From now on, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part." Maybe these vows shouldn't be taken literally as some husbands do. Like it or not? Nonsense. That. Shit.



Chapter Twenty-Six I lie down on Atlas's guest bed and look up at the ceiling. It's a regular bed. Very comfortable, in fact. But I feel like I'm on a waterbed. Or maybe a raft floating in the sea. And I surf these huge waves, each one carrying something different. Some are waves of sadness. Some are waves of anger. Some are waves of tears. Some are sleep waves. Every now and then I put my hands on my belly and a little wave of love comes through. I have no idea how I can love something so much, but I do. I'm wondering if it's going to be a boy or a girl and what I'm going to name him. I wonder if he'll look like me or Ryle. And then another wave of anger will come and crash into that little wave of love.


I feel robbed of the joy a mother should have when she finds out she's pregnant. I feel like Ryle took that away from me last night and it's just one more thing I hated him for. Hate is exhausting. I force myself out of bed and into the shower. I was in my room most of the day. Atlas got home a few hours ago and I finally heard him open the door to see me, but I pretended to be asleep. I feel uncomfortable being here. Atlas is the real reason Ryle was mad at me last night, but is he the one I turned to when I needed help? Being here fills me with guilt. Maybe even a little embarrassed, as if my call to Atlas lent credence to Ryle's anger. But I literally have nowhere to go right now. It takes me a few days to process things, and if I go to a hotel, Ryle can track the credit card charge and find me. I could meet at my mother's house. On Alissa. At Lucy's house. He even met Devin at


a few times and will probably go there too. However, I can't imagine him tracking Atlas. Still. I'm sure if I avoid his calls and texts for a week he'll look everywhere for me. But now I don't think it appears here. Maybe that's why I'm here. I feel safer here than anywhere else I might go. And the Atlas has an alarm system, so it does. I look over to the nightstand to check my phone. I skip all of Ryle's stray messages and open Allysa's. Allysa: Hi Aunt Lily! They're sending us home tonight. Come see us tomorrow when you get home from work.

She sent a picture of her and Rylee and it makes me smile. So cry. Damn emotions. I wait for my eyes to dry before heading to the living room. Atlas is sitting at the kitchen table working on his laptop. Looking at me, he smiles and closes it.


"Listen." I force a smile and look into the kitchen. "Do you have anything to eat?" Atlas stands up quickly. "Yes," he says. "Yes, have a seat. I'll make something for you. I sit on the couch as he walks through the kitchen. The TV is on but no sound. I turn it off and click on the DVR. He's recorded some shows, but what calls me to Attention is The Ellen DeGeneres Show. I smile, click on the latest unwatched episode and press play. Atlas brings me a plate of pasta and a glass of ice water. He watches TV, then sits down next to Me on the couch. Over the next three hours, we'll be watching an entire week's worth of episodes. I laugh out loud six times. It's good, but when I take a bathroom break and walk back into the living room, the weight of it all starts to fall again.


I sit down next to Atlas on the couch again. She leans back, feet propped up on the coffee table. Of course, I lean into him and, as he used to do when we were teenagers, he pulls me close to his chest and we sit there in silence. His thumb grazes the outside of my shoulder and I know it's his unspoken way of saying he's there for me. That he feels sorry for me. And for the first time since he took me last night, I want to talk about it. My head rests on his shoulder and my hands are in my lap. I play with the drawstring of my pants, which are too big for me. "Atlas?" I say, my voice almost a whisper. "I'm sorry I was so mad at you at the restaurant that night. You were right. Deep down I knew you were right, but I didn't want to believe it. I lift my head and look at him with a pathetic look. "Now you can say, 'I told you so. '" He frowns as if my words hurt him somehow. "Lily, this isn't something I do.


I wanted to be right. I prayed every day that I was wrong about him. I shudder. I shouldn't have told him that. I know better than to believe that Atlas would think something like what I told you. He squeezes my shoulder, leans down and kisses the top of my head. I close my eyes as I take in his familiarity. Your smell, your touch, your comfort. I never understood how someone could be as solid as a rock and at the same time comforting. But that's how I've always seen it. Like I can take anything but somehow feel the weight everyone else is carrying. I hate that I can never fully let go, no matter how hard I try. I'm thinking about the fight with Ryle over Atlas' phone number. The fight over the magnet, the article, the things he read in my journal, the tattoo. None of this would have happened if he had just let Atlas go and thrown it all away. Ryle shouldn't be so mad at me.


After that thought, I cup my hands in front of my face, annoyed that part of me is trying to blame Ryle's reaction on my failure to graduate from Atlas. There are no excuses. nor. This is just another wave to surf. A wave of complete and utter confusion. Atlas can feel the change in my composure. "He is well?" I am not. I don't feel good because until that moment I had no idea how hurt I still am that he never came back for me. If he had come back for me like he promised, I would never have met Ryle. And I would never have put myself in that situation. Yes. I'm definitely confused. How can I blame Atlas for this? "I think I have to stop." I say quietly, pulling away from him. I get up and Atlas gets up too.


"Tomorrow I'll be on the road most of the day," he says. "Will you be here when I get home?" I shuddered at his question. Of course he wants me to settle down and find another place to live. What am I still doing here anyway? Do not. No, I can get a hotel, that's fine. I turn to walk down the hall, but he places a hand on my shoulder. "Lily," he says, turning me around. I didn't ask you to leave. I just wanted to make sure you're still here. I want you to stay as long as you need. I would put my arms around him and give him a hug. Because I'm not ready to go yet. Just a few more days before I'm forced to figure out what my next step is. I agree. "I have to go to work for a few hours tomorrow," I tell him. "There are a few things I need to pack. But if you really don't mind, I'd like to stay here for a few more days." "I don't mind, Lily. I would rather."


I force a smile and then head to the guest room. At least it gives me a buffer before I'm forced to face it all. As much as I'm amazed at his presence in my life right now, I've never been more grateful to him.

Chapter Twenty-Seven My hand shakes as I reach for the handle. I've never been afraid to start my own business, but I've never been this nervous either. The building is dark when I enter, so I flip on the light and hold my breath. I walk slowly to my office and carefully push the door open. It is nowhere and yet it is everywhere. As I sit at my desk, I turn on my phone for the first time since I went to bed last night. I wanted to sleep well without worrying about Ryle trying to get in touch with me. When it starts, I'll have twenty-nine missed messages from Ryle. that's right


Number of doors Ryle knocked on last year to find my apartment. I don't know whether to laugh or cry with so much irony. I spend the rest of the day like this. I look over my shoulder and at the door every time it opens. I wonder if he ruined me. If his fear will never leave me. Half a day goes by without a single call from him while I take care of paperwork. Allysa calls me after lunch and I can tell by her voice that she has no idea what an argument Ryle and I had. I let her talk about the baby for a while before I pretended she had a client and hung up. I intend to leave when Lucy returns from her lunch break. You still have half an hour. Three minutes later, Ryle walks through the front door. I'm the only one here. As soon as I see him I get cold. I'm standing behind the counter, my hand on the register because it's next to the stapler. Am I right


A stapler might not do much damage to a neurosurgeon's arms, but I'll use what I have. He slowly walks up to the counter. It's the first time I've seen him since he lay on top of me in our bed the other night. My whole body is instantly transported to that moment and I am overcome with the same emotions I felt at that moment. Fear and anger flow through me as he reaches the counter. He reaches out and places a bunch of keys on the counter in front of me. My eyes fall on the keys. "I'm flying to England tonight," he says. "I'll be gone for three months. I've already paid all the bills, so you don't have to worry while I'm gone. His voice is calm, but I can see the veins in his throat, showing that his composure takes all his effort. "You need time. He swallows. "And I want to give you this." He grimaces and opens the keys to my apartment.


to me. "Go home Lily. I won't be there. I promise." He turns and walks towards the door. I'm surprised he didn't even try to apologize. I'm not mad about it. I understand. He knows that the best thing for us right now is to part ways. He knows what a big mistake he's made... yet I feel the need to plunge the knife a little deeper." ryle. He looks at me and it's like he's holding a shield between us. He doesn't turn around and he's rigid as he waits for what I'm going to say. He knows my words will hurt him. "You know what the worst part of all this is?" I ask, he doesn't say anything, he just looks at me, waiting for my answer.


"When you found my diary, all you had to do was ask me the honest truth. I would have been honest with you. But you didn't. You chose not to ask me for help, and now we'll both suffer the consequences of your actions." for the rest of our lives." He shudders with every word. "Lily," he says, turning to me. I raise my hand to stop him from saying anything else. "No. You can go now. Have fun in England. I can see the war in him. He knows that no matter how much he wants to apologize to me, he can't get along with me now. The only option he has is to leave. turn around and walk through that door, even if it's the last thing he wants to do. When he finally forces himself out of the door, I run and close it, sliding across the floor and hugging my knees burying my forehead into his, I'm shaking so bad I feel my teeth chattering.


I can't believe a part of this man is growing inside of me. And I can't believe I'm going to have to admit this to him someday.

Chapter Twenty-Eight After Ryle left me his keys this afternoon; I thought about going back to our new apartment. I even called a taxi to the building, but I couldn't bring myself to get out of the car. He knew that if he went back there today, he would probably see Allysa at some point. I'm not ready to explain the spots on my forehead to you. I'm not ready to see the kitchen where Ryle's harsh words pierce me. I'm not ready to go to the room where it was completely destroyed. So instead of going back to my house, I took the taxi back to Atlas' house. It seems like my only safe zone right now. I don't have to face things when I hide here. Atlas texted me twice today to verify me, so if I get a message from someone


Minutes to seven pm I assume it's his. It is not; It's from Allysa. Allysa: Are you home from work yet? Come visit us, I'm already bored.

My heart sinks when I read your lyrics. She has no idea what happened between me and Ryle. I wonder if Ryle told him he left for England today. My thumb touches and wipes and touches some more as I try to think of a good excuse for not being there. I can not. I'm in the emergency room. Hitting your head on the shelf in the warehouse at work. get points

I hate that I lied to him, but it saves me having to explain the cut and why I'm not home right now. Allyssa: Oh no! Are you alone? Marshall can sit with you since Ryle is gone.

Okay, so she knows that Ryle went to England. It's good. And she thinks we're fine. It's good. That means I have at least three months before I tell him the truth.


Look at me, I sweep shit under the rug like my mother. I am not well. I'll finish if Marshall can be here. I come tomorrow after work. Give Rylee a kiss for me.

I lock my phone screen and put it on my bed. It's dark outside now, so I immediately see the flashing headlights as someone pulls into the driveway. I know immediately it's not Atlas because he uses the driveway at the side of the house and parks in the driveway. My heart starts racing as fear surges through me. Is it Ryle? Did you find out where Atlas lives? Shortly after, a loud knock is heard at the front door. Instead of hitting. The doorbell also rings. I tiptoe to the window, barely opening the curtains enough to see outside. I can't see who's at the gate, but there's a truck in the driveway. It doesn't belong to Ryle. Could it be Atlas' girlfriend? Cassia?


I grab my phone and walk down the hall to the living room. The knock on the door and the bell keep ringing at the same time. Whoever is at the door is ridiculously impatient. If it's Cassie, I find her extremely irritating. "Atlas!" a guy screams. "Open the damn door!" Another voice, also male, yells, "My balls are freezing! It's raisins, man, open the door!" Before I open the door and tell them Atlas isn't home, I text him, hoping he'll pull up in the driveway and take care of this himself. Me: where are you? There are two men at the door of your house and I don't know if I should let them in.

I wait ringing the doorbell further and knocking, but Atlas doesn't text me right away. Finally, I go to the door and leave the chain closed, but I unlock the latch and open the door a few inches.


One of the guys is tall, about six feet. Despite the youthful look on his face, his hair is gray. Black with a little gray. The other is a few inches shorter, with light brown hair and a baby face. They both look to be in their late twenties, maybe early thirties. The big guy's face contorts in confusion. "Who is it?" he asks, looking through the door. "Lily. Who are you?" The smaller one pushes the bigger one. "Atlas is here?" I don't want to say no, because then they'll know I'm alone here. I don't necessarily have a lot of faith in the male population this week. The phone in my hand rings and the three of us are startled by the unexpected. it's atlas. I press the answer button and hold it close to my ear. "Hi?" "Okay Lily, they're just my friends. I forgot it's Friday, we always play poker


Friday. I'm going to call them now and tell them to go away. I look at both of them and they get up and look at me. I feel bad that Atlas has to cancel his plans just because I'm at his house. I close the door and unlock it, then open the door again and wave them inside. "Ok Atlas. You don't have to cancel your plans. I wanted to go to bed anyway." "No, I'm coming. I'll let you go. I was still holding the phone to my ear when the two men walked into the living room. "See you soon," I tell Atlas, then end the call. The next few seconds they're weird. while the boys judge me and I judge them. "What are your names?" "I'm in it," says the taller one. "Brad," says the smaller one. "Lily." I tell them, even though I already said my name. "Atlas will be here soon." I close the door and they seem to relax.


little bit. Darin goes into the kitchen and uses the Atlas refrigerator. Brad takes off his jacket and hangs it up. "Do you know how to play poker, Lily?" I shrugged. "It was a few years ago, but I used to play with friends in college." Both walk towards the dining room table. "What happened to your head?" Darin asks as he sits down. he asks so casually, as if it hadn't even occurred to him that it might be a touchy subject. I don't know why I feel the need to tell you the honest truth. Maybe I just want to see how someone reacts when they find out my own husband did this to me. "My husband passed away. We had a fight two nights ago and he headbutted me. Atlas took me to the emergency room. They gave me six stitches and told me I was pregnant. Now I'm hiding here until I figure out what to do. "


Poor Darin is frozen halfway between standing and sitting. He has no idea how to react to this. From the look on his face, I think he's convinced I'm crazy. Brad pulls out his chair and sits down, pointing at me. You should call Rodan and Fields. The Amplifying Roller works wonders for scars. I immediately laugh at her haphazard response. In some way. “My God, Brad!” Darin says, finally sinking into his seat. "You're worse than your wife with that direct-to-consumer crap. You're like a traveling salesman." Brad raises his hands in defense. "What?" he says innocently. "I'm not trying to sell you anything, I'm just being honest. The stuff works. You'd know it if you used it on your fucking acne." "Fuck off," Darin says. "It's like trying to be a teenager forever," Brad grumbles. "Acne isn't good when you're thirty."


Brad pulls out the chair beside him as Darin starts shuffling a deck of cards. "Sit down, Lily. One of our friends decided to be a jerk and get married last week and now his wife won't let him come to poker night. You can fill in until he's divorced." my room tonight, but these two are making it difficult for me to leave. I sit down next to Brad and stretch out on the table. "Give me that," I say to Darin. He shuffles the cards like a one-armed baby. He raises an eyebrow and pushes the deck across the table. No, I know a lot about card games, but I can shuffle like a pro. I separate the cards into two piles and slide them together, pressing my thumbs into the edges and watching them fall into place beautifully. Darin and Brad are looking out onto the deck when there's a knock on the door. This time the door opens without interruption and a guy dressed in what looks like a very expensive tweed jacket enters. A scarf is wrapped around it.


neck and unwraps it as soon as he closes the door behind him. He waves in my direction as he walks into the kitchen. "Who is it?" He is older than the other two, probably in his forties. Atlas definitely has an interesting mix of friends. "This is Lily," says Brad. "She's married to an asshole and just found out she's pregnant with his child. Lily, this is Jimmy. He's pompous and arrogant." "Pompous and arrogant are the same thing, asshole," says Jimmy. Darin and taps his head with the cards in my hands, "Atlas sent you here to rush us? What kind of common person knows how to shuffle cards like that? I smile and start dealing cards to each of them. "I guess we'll have to play a game. one round to find out." •••


We are on our third round of betting when Atlas finally enters. He closes the door behind him and looks at the four of us. Brad said something funny right before Atlas opened the door, so I'm laughing when Atlas looks over at me. He nods towards the kitchen and walks in that direction. "Give up," I say, laying my cards down as I get up to follow him. When I get to the kitchen, he's standing where the guys at the table can't see him. I walk over to him and lean against the counter. "Ask you to leave?" I shake my head. "No, don't. I really like it. It distracts me from things." He shakes his head, and I can't help but notice the way he smells like herbs. Rosemary, specifically. I wish I could see him in action at his restaurant. "Hungry?" he asks.


I shake my head. "Not really. I ate some leftover pasta a few hours ago." My hands are pressed against the counter on either side of me. He takes a step closer and places one of his hands over mine, running his thumb over it. "I" I know it shouldn't be more than a comforting gesture, but when he touches me it feels so much more. A wave of heat rushes through my chest and I drop my eyes to our hands immediately. Atlas gives a thumbs up for a second when he feels that too. He pushes the h away and takes a step back "Sorry" he mutters turning to the fridge and pretending to look for something. It's obvious he's trying to spare me the embarrassment of what just happened. I go back to the table. and take my cards for the next round. A few minutes later, Atlas comes over and sits down next to me. Jimmy shuffles all new Ru maps “So Atlas. How do you and Lily know each other?


Atlas takes his cards one by one. "Lily saved my life when I was a kid," he says seriously. He looks at me and winks, and I'm drowning in guilt over how that wink makes me feel. Especially at a time like this. Why is my heart doing this to me? "Oh, how sweet," says Brad. "Lily saved her life, now save hers." Atlas lays down his cards and looks at Brad. "Sorry?" "Relax," says Brad. "Lily and I are close, she knows I'm kidding." Brad looks at me. "Your life might suck right now Lily, but it's getting better. Trust me, I've been there.” Darin laughs. "Were you beaten up, pregnant and hiding out in another man's house?" he tells Brad. Atlas slams his cards down on the table and pushes his chair back. "What the hell is wrong with you?" he yells at Darin. I reach out and squeeze his arm reassuringly. "Relax," I say. "We joined before you came." on here.


I really don't care if they take my situation lightly. It actually makes it a little less difficult.” He runs a hand through his hair in frustration and shakes his head. "I'm so confused," he says. "You were alone with them for ten minutes." I laugh. "You can learn a lot about someone in ten minutes." I try to redirect the conversation. "And how do you know each other?" Darin leans forward and points at himself. "I'm the sous chef at Bib's," he points at Brad. "He's the dishwasher." “For now,” Brad chimes in. "I'm working to ascend" "And you?" I tell Jimmy. He smiles and says, "Guess." Based on his clothes and the fact that he was described as arrogant and pompous, I would assume. . . "Biggest waiter?" Atlas laughs. "Jimmy actually works as a valet."


I look at Jimmy and raise an eyebrow. He throws in three poker chips and says, "It's true. I park cars for tips." “Don't let him fool you,” says Atlas. “He works as a servant, but being so rich bores him.” She reminds me of Allysa. “I have an employee like that. It only works because it's boring. In fact, she is the best co-worker I have. "Damn," Jimmy mutters. When it's my turn, I look at my cards and throw away all three poker chips. Atlas' phone rings and he takes it out of his pocket. I re-raise the pot with another chip as he leaves the table to accept the call. "Fold," says Brad, slamming the cards down on the table. I'm looking down the hall where Atlas quickly disappeared. I wonder if he's talking to Cassie or if there's someone else in his life. I know what he does for a living. I


know that he has at least three friends. I just don't know anything about his love life. Darin puts the cards on the table. Four of a kind. I draw my straight flush and grab all the poker chips as Darin groans. "So Cassie doesn't usually come to poker nights?" I ask as I search for more information on Atlas. Information I'm too afraid to ask him in person. "Cassie?" says Brad. I pile my winnings in front of me and nod. "Isn't that his girlfriend's name?" Darin laughs. "Atlas doesn't have a girlfriend. I've known him for two years and he's never mentioned anyone named Cassie." He starts handing out new cards, but I'm trying to process the information he's just given me. I grab my first two cards when Atlas comes back into the room. "Hi Atlas," Jimmy says, "Who the hell is Cassie and why haven't we heard about her before?"


Oh shit. I'm completely offended. I grip the cards in my hands tighter and try to avoid looking at Atlas, but the room goes so quiet it would be more noticeable if I wasn't looking at him. Look Jimmy. Jimmy stares at him. Brad and Darin look at me. Atlas purses his lips for a moment, then says, "There's no Cassie." His eyes meet mine, but only for a brief second. But in that brief second, I can see it written all over his face. There never was a Cassie. He lied to me. Atlas clears his throat and says, "Listen up guys. I should have canceled tonight. This week has been a little..." He rubs his hand over his mouth and Jimmy stands up, squeezing Atlas's shoulder and saying, "Next week. My house." Atlas nods appreciatively. The three begin collecting their cards and poker chips. Brad, apologetically, takes my letters from my fingers.


Because I can't move while holding her tightly. "It was nice to meet you, Lily," says Brad. Somehow I find the strength to smile and get up. I give them a goodbye hug, and after the front door closes behind them, it's just Atlas and me in the room. And not Cassie. Cassie has never been in this room because Cassie doesn't exist. What the hell? Atlas didn't move from his seat by the table. Me either. He stands there, arms crossed over his chest. His head is tilted down slightly, but his eyes bore into me from across the table. Why would you lie to me? Ryle and I weren't even an official couple when I met Atlas at this restaurant. Hell, if Atlas had given me any reason to believe there was a chance between us that night, I know without a doubt I would have voted.


him about Ryle. She barely knew Ryle at this point. But Atlas said nothing. He lied to me and said he was in a relationship for a year. Why? Why would she do that unless she didn't want him to think she had a chance with him? Maybe I was wrong all along. Maybe he didn't even love me to begin with and knew that making up that Cassie persona would drive me away from him forever. But here I am. knock on your house. interaction with your friends. Eat your food. With your shower. I can feel the tears stinging my eyes and the last thing I want is to stand in front of him and cry. I walk around the table and past him. I can't go far when he grabs my hand. "Wait." I stop, still looking away. "Talk to me, Lily."


He's right behind me now, his hand still wrapped around mine. I push her away from him and walk to the other side of the room. I turn and look at him just as the first tear trickles down my face. "Why didn't you ever come back to me?" He looked ready for anything to come out of my mouth other than the words I had just said to him. She runs a hand through her hair, walks over to the couch and sits down. After letting out a reassuring sigh, he looks at me warily. "I did Lily" I'm not letting air in or out of my lungs. I stand completely still and process his response. Did he come back to me? He folds his hands in front of him. "When I got out of the Marine Corps, I went back to Maine expecting to find you. I asked around and found out what college you went to. I wasn't sure what to expect when I showed up because we were two different people at the time. That's it.


Four years have passed since we saw each other. He knew that probably a lot had changed in both of them in those four years. My knees are weak so I walk over to the chair next to him and sit down. Did he come back to me? “I've been walking around your campus all day looking for you. Finally, in the late afternoon, I saw you. You were sitting on the patio with a group of friends. I watched you for a long time and tried to find the courage to go to you. You laughed You looked happy, you were alive like I've never seen you before. I have never felt so much happiness for another person as when I saw you that day. Just knowing you're okay. . .” He pauses for a moment. My hands are tight around my stomach because it hurts. It pains me to know that I was so close to him and I didn't even know it. "I started to walk towards him when someone came up behind me. A man. He fell face down.


Kneel by his side and when he saw him, he smiled and hugged him. So you kissed him. I close my eyes. He was just a guy I dated for six months. He didn't make me feel even a fraction of what I felt for Atlas. Exhale sharply. "After that I left. When I saw that you were happy, it was the worst and the best feeling a person can have at the same time. But at that moment I believed that my life was still not good enough for you. I had nothing "I had more to offer you than love and to me you deserved more than that. The next day I signed up for another tour with the Marines. And now . . ." He throws his hand lazily in the air, as if nothing in his life is impressive. I bury my head in my hands to take a moment. I silently regret what could have been. What is. What wasn't. My fingers move toward the tattoo on my shoulder, I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever be able to fill this hole now.


I wonder if Atlas will ever feel like I did when I got this tattoo. As if all the air was coming out of his heart. I still don't understand why he lied to me after meeting me at his restaurant. If he really felt the things I felt for him, why would he make something like that up? "Why did you lie about having a girlfriend?" He runs a hand over his face and I can see the regret before I even hear it in his voice. “I said that because. . . You looked happy that night. I was really hurt when I saw you say goodbye to him, but at the same time I was relieved that you seemed to be in a really good place. I didn't want you to worry about me. And I do not know. . . maybe he was a little jealous. I don't know, I immediately regretted lying to you. I put my hand over my mouth. My thoughts start racing, as fast as my heart races. I immediately start thinking about what would happen if. and if he


would have been honest with me Tell me how did you feel? Where would we be now? I want to ask him why he did this. Why didn't you fight for me? But I don't need to ask him because I already know the answer. He thought he would give me what I wanted because all he wanted for me was happiness. And for some stupid reason, he never felt like I could do that to him. Atlas considered. The more I think about it, the harder it is to breathe. I'm thinking of Atlas. ryle. Tonight. Two nights ago It's too much. I get up and head back to the guest room. I grab my phone, grab my purse and head back to the living room. Atlas didn't move. Ryle went to England today, I say. "I think I should probably go home now. Can you give me a ride?" A sadness fills her eyes and when she does, I know the right thing to do is walk away.


from us is closed. I'm not sure if we'll ever make it. I'm starting to think lockdown is a myth and being here now while I continue to process everything going on in my life is only going to make things worse for me. I need to clear up as much confusion as possible, and right now my feelings for Atlas are at the top of the most confusing list. She purses her lips for a moment, then shakes her head and takes the keys. ••• Neither of us speaks the entire way to my apartment. He won't let me. He pulls into the parking lot and gets out of the car. "I would feel better if you let me kick you," he says. I nod and we walk through more silence as we take the elevator to the seventh floor. He follows me to my apartment. I fumble in my purse for my keys and don't even realize my hands are shaking until my third failed attempt to open the door. Atlas takes it easy


Key me in and step aside as he opens the door for me. "Am I sure there's no one here?" he asks. I agree. I know Ryle isn't here because he's on his way to England, but to be honest, I'm still a little scared of going up to the flat alone. Atlas enters before me and turns on the light. He continues walking through the apartment, turns on all the lights and enters each of the rooms. When he returns to the room, he shoves his hands in his jacket pockets. She takes a deep breath and says, "I don't know what's going to happen next, Lily." He knows. He just doesn't want that to happen because we both know how painful it is to say goodbye. I look away from him because it breaks my heart to see the look on his face. I cross my arms over my chest and look at the floor. “I have a lot to work for, Atlas. A lot. And I'm afraid I won't make it with you in mine


Life. I raise my eyes to him. I hope you don't take offense because, at the very least, it's a compliment. He watches me silently for a moment, not the least bit surprised by what I'm saying. I can see there are so many things you want to say. I wish I could say a lot of things to him too, but we both know it's not appropriate to talk about the two of us right now. IM married. I'm pregnant with another man's child. And he's standing in the living room of an apartment another man bought for me. I wouldn't say those are very good conditions to mention all the things we've been talking about. I should have said a long time ago. He looks at the door like he's trying to decide whether to walk or talk. I can see his jaw move just before he looks at me. "If you need me, I want you to call me." me," he says. "But just in case of an emergency Guys, I'm in no position to go easy on you, Lily. His words startle me, but only for a moment. As much as I didn't expect that from him.


admit it, he is absolutely right. Since the day we met, nothing has been casual in our relationship. Everything is included or not included. That's why he broke up when he entered the military. I knew a casual friendship between us would never work. It would have been very painful. Apparently nothing has changed in that. "Goodbye, Atlas." Saying those words again shatters me as much as the first time I had to say them. He flinches and then turns and walks towards the door like he can't go fast enough. When the door closes behind him, I reach out and close it, then press my head against it. Two days ago I asked myself how I could make my life even better. Today I wonder how it could get worse. I jump back at the sudden knock on the door. It's only been ten seconds since he left, so I know it's Atlas. I unlock and open it and am suddenly pushed against something soft.


Atlas's arms wrap around me desperately and his lips press against the side of my head. I close my eyes and finally let the tears flow. I've cried so many tears over Ryle these past two days that I have no idea how they fit into Atlas. But I do it because they fall like rain on my face. "Lily," he whispers, still holding me tight. "I know it's the last thing you need to hear right now. But I have to say it because many times I've walked away from you without saying what I really wanted to say. He pulls back to look at me and when he sees my tears, he puts his hands on my face. "In the future... if by some miracle you're able to fall in love again... fall in love with me." He presses his lips to my forehead. "You're still my favorite person, Lily. Always will be." He releases me and walks away, not needing an answer.


When I close the door again, I slide to the floor. My heart feels like it's about to give up. I don't blame myself. He suffered two separate heartbreaks over the course of two days. And I have a feeling it's going to be a long time before any of these headaches start to heal.

Chapter Twenty-Nine Allysa drops onto the couch next to Rylee and me. "I miss you so much, Lily," she says. "I'm thinking of going back to work a day or two a week," I chuckle, a little taken aback by her comment. “I live on the ground floor and come here almost every day. How can you miss me? She pouted as she pulled her legs out from under her. "Well, it's not you I miss. I miss work. And sometimes I just want to get out of this house." It's been six weeks since she had Rylee, so I'm sure she can get back to work. But honestly, I don't think she would want to go back now that she has Rylee. I lean down and kiss Rylee on the nose. "Would you bring Rylee with you?"


Allyssa shakes her head. "No, you keep me too busy for that. Marshall can keep an eye on them while I work." "You mean you don't have the staff for that?" Marshall crosses the room when he hears me say this. Up, Lily. Don't talk like a rich girl in front of my daughter. Blasphemy. I laugh. That's why I come here a few nights a week, because it's the only time I can laugh. It's been six weeks since Ryle left for England and nobody knows what happened between us. Ryle didn't tell anyone, not even me. Everyone, including my mother, thinks he's gone to Cambridge and nothing has changed between us. I didn't tell anyone about the pregnancy either. I went to the doctor twice. Turns out the night I found out. I was pregnant, I was already 12 weeks old, now I'm 18 weeks old. I'm still trying to figure it out.


around. I've been on the pill since I was eighteen. Oblivion apparently got me a few times. I'm starting to show, but it's cold outside so it was easy to hide. No one suspects anything if you're wearing a baggy sweater and jacket. I know I'll have to tell someone soon, but I think Ryle should be the one to tell him first, and I don't want to do this long distance. He'll be back in six weeks. If I can somehow keep things quiet until then, I'll decide how to proceed. I look at Rylee and she smiles at me. I make faces at him to make him smile even more. I've wanted to tell Allysa about the pregnancy many times, but it's hard when the secret I'm keeping is hidden from her own brother. I don't want to put her in that situation as much as it kills me not to be able to talk to her about it. "How are you without Ryle?" Allysa asks. "Are you ready for me to come home?"


I nod but say nothing. I always try to avoid the subject when she brings it up. Allysa leans back on the couch and says, "Do you still like Cambridge?" "Yes," I say, sticking my tongue out at Rylee. she smiles. I wonder if my baby will look like her. With a little luck. She is very sweet but can be a bit biased. “Have you figured out the subway system there yet?” Allysa laughs. "I swear every time I talk to him he's lost. He doesn't know whether to take the A line or the B line." "Yes, I say. "He understand." Allysa sits on the couch. "Marshall!" Marshall walks into the room and Allysa takes Rylee from my hands. She hands them to Marshall and says, "Do you want to change his diaper?" I don't know why...ask this. I just changed her diaper." Marshall wrinkled his nose and lifted Rylee from Allysa's arms. "Are you a smelly girl?"


They wear matching one-piece outfits. Allysa grabs my hands and pulls me off the couch so fast I squeal. "Where will we go?" She is not answering me. He marches towards her room and then closes the door as we both enter. She walks a few times, then stops and looks at me. "You better tell me what the hell is going on, Lily!" I pulled away, surprised. What you mean? My hands go to my stomach immediately, thinking he might have noticed, but he's not looking at my stomach. He steps forward and jabs a finger into my chest. "There is no subway system in Cambridge, England, you idiot!" I'm so confused. "I made it up!" she says. "Something's been wrong with you for a long time. You're my best friend, Lily. And I know my brother. I talk to him every week and he's never the same.


Something happened between you two and now I want to know what it is!" Shit. I guess it happens sooner or later. Slowly I bring my hands to my mouth, not knowing what to say to him. how much to tell her I don't I had no idea until that moment how much not being able to talk to her about it was killing me. I'm almost a little relieved that he reads me so well. I walk over to his bed and sit on it. "Allysa," I whisper. "Sit down I know it's going to hurt almost as much as it hurt me. She goes to the bed, sits down next to me, and pulls my hands into hers. "I don't even know where to start." He squeezes my hands, but doesn't say anything. I'll tell you everything in the next fifteen minutes. I tell him about the fight. I tell him Atlas got me. I tell him about the hospital. I tell him about the pregnancy.


I tell him that I've been crying myself to sleep every night for the last six weeks because I've never felt so alone and scared. When I told him everything, we both cried. She didn't respond to anything I said other than the occasional "Oh, Lily." However, she doesn't need to answer. Ryle is her brother. I know you want me to consider her past like last time. I know he wants me to work things out with him because he's his brother. We should be one big happy family. I know exactly what you're thinking. He's silent for a long time as he struggles with everything I've told him. He finally looks up at me and shakes my hands. "My brother loves you, Lily. He loves you so much. You changed his whole life and made him into someone I never thought he could be. As your sister, I want more than anything for you to find a way to forgive. it. But how your best


Dude, I have to tell you that if you accept it, I will never speak to you again. It takes me a moment to register his words, but then I start sobbing. She starts sobbing. He hugs me and we cry over our mutual love for Ryle. We cry because of how much we hate him now. After a few minutes of crying miserably on her bed, she lets go of me and goes to the dresser for a box of tissues. We both wipe our eyes and sniff as I say, "You're the best friend I've ever had." She nods. "I know. And now I'm going to be the best aunt." He blows his nose and hiccups again, but smiles. "Lily. You're having a baby." She says it with enthusiasm, and it's the first moment I can share the joy of my pregnancy: "I hate to say it, but I noticed you put on weight. I thought you were just depressed and eating a lot since Ryle left.


He goes to the back of the closet and starts pulling things out for me. I have so many maternity clothes for you. We start sorting clothes and she takes a suitcase and opens it. She starts throwing things into the suitcase until it starts to overflow. "I could never wear that," I say, holding up a shirt that still has the tag on it. “They are all designers. I will soil them. She laughs and cradles them anyway. “I don't need it back. If I get pregnant again, I'll let my people buy more. He pulls a shirt off a hanger and hands it to me. I put it on, look in the mirror. I look…pregnant. Like you can't hide that pregnant shit."


She places her hand on my belly and looks in the mirror with me. "Did you find out if it's a boy or a girl?" I shook my head. "I don't want to know." "I hope it's a girl," she says. "Our girls can be best friends" "Lily?" We both turn to see Marshall standing in the doorway. His eyes land on my stomach. In Allysa's hand. Still in my stomach. He tilts his head. He points at me. "You..." he said confused, "Lily, there's a... Can you tell you're pregnant?" Allysa walks calmly to the door and puts her hand on the doorknob. if you want to keep me as your wife. This is one of those things. Understood? Marshall raises his eyebrows and takes a step back. "Yeah, okay. Got it. Lily isn't pregnant." She kisses Allysa's forehead and looks back.


with me. "I'm not saying congratulations, Lily. For absolutely nothing." Allysa pushes him to the door and closes it, then she turns to me. “We have to plan a baby shower,” she says. “No. I have to tell Ryle first. He waved his hand dismissively. "We don't need that to plan a shower. Until then, let's keep this between the two of us." He takes out his laptop. , and for the first time since I found out I'm pregnant, I'm happy about it.

CHAPTER THIRTY It's so convenient to take the elevator home from Allysa, as much as I sometimes want to get out of my own apartment. It's still weird living there. We only lived there for a week before we split up and Ryle left for England. He never had the opportunity to feel at home and now he feels a little spoiled. I can't even sleep in our room since that night, so I sleep in the guest room in my old bed. Allysa and Marshall are still the only ones who know about the pregnancy. It's only been two weeks since I told you, so I'm twenty weeks along now. I know I should tell my mom, but Ryle will be back in a few weeks. I feel like I should tell him first before anyone else.


learn If only I could hide my belly from him until he returned to the States. You should probably come to terms with the fact that you will probably have to call him and tell him remotely. I haven't seen my mother face to face in two weeks. It's been a long time since he moved to Boston that we've seen each other. So unless something happens soon, he's going to show up on my doorstep if I'm not prepared. I swear my stomach has doubled in size in the last two weeks. If someone who knows me well sees me, it will be impossible to hide. So far, no one at the flower shop has asked. I think I'm still on the verge of 'is she pregnant? Or just chubby? I start to open my apartment door, but it starts to open from the other side. Before I can pull my jacket on to hide my stomach from whoever is on the other side of the door, Ryle's eyes land on me. I'm wearing one of the T-shirts Allysa gave me, and it's kind of impossible.


hiding the fact that I'm wearing a maternity shirt when he looks at it. ryle. Ryle is here. My heart starts pounding against the walls of my chest. My neck is starting to itch, so I lift my hand and let it rest there, feeling my heart pound in my palm. It's throbbing because I'm afraid of it. It beats because I hate it. It's throbbing because I lost. His eyes roam slowly from my stomach to my face. A hurt expression washes over him, as if he's just been stabbed in the heart. He takes a step back into my apartment and brings his hands to his mouth. He starts shaking his head in confusion. I can see the betrayal on his face as he barely says my name. "Lily?" I freeze, one protective hand on my stomach, the other still on my chest. I'm too scared to move or say anything. I


I don't want to react until I know exactly how he's going to react. Seeing the fear in my eyes and the small breaths I barely take, he holds up a palm to reassure me. “I'm not going to hurt you, Lily. I'm just here to talk to you.” He opens the door and gestures toward the living room. “Appearance.” He steps to the side and my gaze lands on someone behind him. Now I'm the one who feels betrayed. Ryle texted me asking for help. He specifically told me not to tell you or Issa. Please don't divorce her, I'm just an innocent bystander. I shake my head, trying to understand what am i seeing.


"I asked him to meet me here so you would feel more comfortable talking to me," says Ryle. "He's here for you, he's not here for me." I look at Marshall and he nods. This gives me enough security to enter the apartment. Ryle is still a little taken aback, which is understandable. His eyes continue to flick to my stomach and then pull away as if it hurts to look at me. She runs both hands through her hair and points down the hall as she looks at Marshall. "We'll be in the bedroom. If you hear me... when I start screaming..." Marshall knows what Ryle is asking him. "I'm not going anywhere." As I follow Ryle to my room, I wonder what that's going to be like. I have no idea what might bother him or how bad his reaction will be. Having absolutely no control over his emotions. For a brief moment, I feel a little sadness for him. But when my gaze falls on ours


bed and remember that night, my sadness disappears completely. Ryle pushes the door closed, but doesn't close it completely. He looks like he's aged a whole year in the two months since I've seen him. The bags under his eyes, the frown, the hunched posture. If Regret took human form, he would look like Ryle. His eyes drop back to my stomach and he takes a slow step forward. Then another. He is cautious as he should be. He reaches out a shy hand and asks permission to touch me. I nod softly. He takes another step forward and places a firm hand on my stomach. I can feel the warmth of his hand through my shirt and my eyes close. Despite the resentment I've built up in my heart towards him, that doesn't mean the emotions aren't still there. Just because someone hurts you doesn't mean you can stop loving them. It's not one person's actions that hurt the most. yes it is love


If there was no love involved in the action, the pain would be a little easier to bear. He runs his hand over my belly and I open my eyes again. He shakes his head like he can't process what's going on. I watch as he slowly kneels in front of me. His arms wrap around my waist and he presses his lips to my stomach. He wraps his hands around my lower back and presses his forehead against me. It's hard to describe how I feel about him at that moment. As any mother would wish for her child, it's beautiful to see the love she already has. It was hard not to share that with anyone. It's hard not to share that with him, no matter how much it upsets him. My hands go to his hair as he hugs me. Part of me wants to yell at him and call the police like I should have done that night. A part of me feels sorry for that little boy who held his brother in his arms and watched him die.


A part of me wishes I had never met him. A part of me wishes I could forgive him. He unfastens his arms from around my waist and presses a hand to the mattress beside us. He gets up and then sits on the bed. His elbows rest on his knees and his hands are brought to his mouth. I'm sitting next to him and I know we need to have this conversation, but I don't want to. "Naked truths?" He agrees. I don't know which one of us should go first. I don't really have much to say to him right now, so I'm waiting for him to speak first. "I don't even know where to start, Lily," he rubs his hands over his face. "How about starting with 'I'm sorry I offended you'?" His eyes meet mine, full of certainty. "Lily, you have no idea. I'm sorry. You have no idea what I went through the last two months knowing what I did to you."


I grit my teeth. I can feel my fingers gripping the blanket beside me. I have no idea what happened? I slowly shake my head. "You have no idea, Ryle." I stand up, anger and hate welling up in me. I turn and point at him. "You have no idea! You have no idea what it's like to go through what you put me through! Fearing for your life at the hands of the man you love? Getting physically sick just thinking about what he did to you? You have no idea "Ryle! Nobody! Screw this! Fuck you for doing this to me!" I take a deep breath, surprised at myself. Anger comes over me in a wave. "Lily," he says. "Not me. . ." "No!" I yell and turn around again. "I'm not ready yet! You cannot speak your truth until I have spoken mine! Grab his jaw and squeeze the stress out of him. He lowers his eyes to the floor, unable to


look at the rage in me. I take three steps towards him and drop to my knees. I place my hands on his legs and force him to look me straight in the eye as I speak to him. "Yes. I kept the magnet Atlas gave me as a child. Yes. I kept the journals. No, I didn't tell you about my tattoo. Yes, I probably should." of my life. And yes, I'm sure it hurts you. But none of that gave him the right to do what he did to me, even if he walked. into my room and pinned us on the bed together, you still don't have the right to lay hands on me you son of a bitch!" keep walking across the room. My heart is pounding like it's trying to get out. I wish I could give give him a way out. I'd release the son of a bitch right now if I could.


Several minutes pass as I keep walking. Ryle's silence and my anger mix with the pain. My tears exhausted me. I'm so tired of feeling that I fall desperately on the bed and cry into the pillow. I press my face so hard into the pillow I can barely breathe. I feel Ryle lie down next to me. He places a gentle hand on the back of my head, trying to ease the pain he's causing me. My eyes are closed, still pressed against the pillow, but I feel his head resting lightly on mine. "My truth is that I have absolutely nothing to say," he says quietly. "I can never take back what I did to you. And you'll never believe me if I promise it won't happen again. Kiss my head. "You are my world, Lily. My world. When I woke up in that bed that night and you were gone, I knew I would never get you back. I came here to tell you how sorry I am. I came to tell you that I accepted this job offer in Minnesota. I came to say


you say goodbye Mas Lily. . .” His lips press against my head again and he exhales sharply. "Lily, I can't do this right now. You have a part of me inside of you. And I already love this baby more than I ever have in my life." His voice cracks and she grips me even tighter. "Please don't take this away from me." , Lily. Please.” The pain in his voice pierces me, and when I lift my tear-streaked face to look at him, he presses his lips against mine desperately, then pulls away. I love you. Help me. His lips meet mine again briefly. When I don't push him away, his mouth comes back a third time. A bedroom. When his lips find mine for the fifth time, they don't go away. He wraps his arms around me and pulls me to him. My body is tired and weak, but it remembers you. My body remembers how your body can soothe whatever you are feeling. how do you have one


Smoothness my body has been craving for the past two months. "I love you," he whispers against my mouth. His tongue lightly brushes mine and it feels so bad, so good, and so painful. Before I know it, I'm on my back and he's crawling over me. His touch is all I need and all I don't. His hand grips my hair and I'm instantly transported back to that night. I'm in the kitchen and his hand is pulling my hair so hard it hurts. He brushes my hair away from my face and instantly takes me back to that night. I stop in the doorway and his hand brushes my shoulder just before he bites me with all the force of his jaw. His forehead rests softly on mine and I'm instantly transported back to that night. I'm in the same bed below him when he slams his head into mine so hard I have to get six stitches.


My body no longer responds to his. Anger starts to take over me again. His mouth stops moving against mine when he feels me stiffen. When he pulls back and looks at me, I don't even have to say anything. Our eyes, connected to each other, tell more naked truths than our mouths. My eyes tell him I can't stand him touching me anymore. His eyes tell me he already knows. He slowly starts to nod his head. He pulls away from me and crawls down my body until he's standing on the edge of the bed, his back to me. He continues to shake his head as he stops slowly, fully aware that he will not receive my forgiveness tonight. He walks to my bedroom door. "Wait," I tell him. He turns and looks at me from the doorway. I lift my chin and finally look at him. "I wish this baby wasn't his, Ryle.


For all that I am, I wish this baby wasn't a part of you.” If she thought her world couldn't come crashing down anymore, she was wrong. He leaves my room and I press my face into the pillow. If I could hurt him the way he hurt me, I would feel vindicated. No. Instead, I feel vindictive and mean. I feel like my father.

Chapter Thirty-One Mom: I miss you. When will I see you?

I look at the text. Two days had passed since Ryle found out she was pregnant. I know it's time to tell my mother. I'm not nervous about telling him I'm pregnant. The only thing that scares me is talking to her about my situation with Ryle. I miss her too. I'll be by tomorrow afternoon. you can make lasagna

As soon as I close the text I get another incoming text. Allysa: Come up and have dinner with us tonight. It's homemade pizza night.

I haven't been to Allysa's in days. Even before Ryle got home. not sure where she is


stay, but I think it's up to them. The last thing I want right now is to be in the same apartment as him. Me: who will be there? Allyssa: Lily. . . I wouldn't do that to you. He works until tomorrow at 8. It'll just be the three of us.

She knows me very well. I text him back and tell him I'll be done as soon as I'm done with work. ••• “What do babies this age eat?” We all sat down at the table. Rylee was asleep when I got here, but I woke her up so I could hold her. Allysa didn't care; She said she doesn't want to be wide awake when she's ready to go to bed. "Mother's milk," Marshall says with a sip. "But sometimes I stick my finger in my soda and pop it in her mouth so she can taste it."


"Marshal!" Allysa screams. "You better be kidding." "Big joke," he says, though I can't tell if he really is. "But when do they start eating baby food?" I ask. I think I need to learn these things before I'm born. "About four months," Allysa says, yawning. She drops her fork and leans back in her chair, rubbing her eyes. "Would you like me to keep you with me tonight so you can sleep well?" Allysa says, "No, that's cool," while Marshall says, "That would be great." I laugh. "Seriously. I live downstairs. I don't work tomorrow, so if I don't sleep tonight, I can sleep until tomorrow." Looks like Allysa is going to think about that for a moment. "I could go. My phone on if you need me."


I look at Rylee and smile. "Did you hear that? You can stay at Aunt Lily's!" ••• With everything Allysa throws into her diaper bag, it looks like I'll be taking Rylee on a cross-country trip when she's hungry. microwave to warm the milk, just put it on the fire...” “I know,” I interrupt. "I've made about fifty bottles for him since he's been alive." Allysa nods, then walks over to her bed. She drops her diaper bag next to me. Marshall is in the living room feeding Rylee one last time, so Allysa climbs into bed next to me while we wait. She rests her head on his hand. "Do you know what that means?" she asks. Do not. What?" "I'm allowed to have sex tonight. It's been four months."


I wrinkle my nose. "I didn't need to know." She laughs and falls back onto the pillow, but then sits up. "Shit," she says. "I should probably shave my legs. I think it's been four months since I've done that too." I laugh, but then sigh. My hands quickly move to my stomach. "Oh my God! I just felt something!" "Serious?" Allysa places her hand on my stomach and we both sit in silence for the next five minutes as we wait for this to happen again. It turns out, but it's so soft, it's barely noticeable. laugh again once that happens. “I didn't feel a thing,” Allysa says with a pout, “I think it'll be a few weeks before you can feel it outside. the first time you felt him move?" "Yes. I was afraid I was raising the laziest baby ever. I placed my hands on my stomach, hoping to feel it again. We stand still for a few more minutes, and I can't help but wish


My circumstances were different. Ryle should be here. He should be sitting next to me with his hand on my stomach. Not Allyssa. The thought takes away almost all the joy I feel. Allysa must have noticed because she places one of her hands over mine and squeezes. When I look at her, she doesn't smile anymore. "Lily," she says. "I wanted to tell you something." Oh God. I don't like the sound of his voice. "What is it?" She sighs, then forces a sinister smile. "I know you are sad to have to go through this without my brother. No matter how involved he is, I just want you to know that this will be the best thing you ever experience in your life. You are going to be a great Mom, Lily. This baby is truly lucky." I'm glad Allysa is the only one here now, because her words make me laugh and cry and huff and puff like a hormone-ridden teenager.


thank you It's amazing how hearing those words brings back the joy I felt. She smiles and says, "Now take my baby and get him out of here so I can have sex with my filthy rich husband." I get out of bed and stand up. “You certainly know how to bring lightness to a situation. I'd say that's their strong suit." She smile. "That's what I'm here for. Now go."

Chapter Thirty-Two Of all the secrets I've been keeping from myself these last few months, the one that saddens me the most is keeping it from my mother. I don't know how he will take it. I know you'll be happy with the pregnancy, but I don't know how you'll feel about me and Ryle breaking up. She loves Ryle. And based on your history of such situations, you'll probably find it pretty easy to excuse her behavior and try to convince me to back off. And honestly, that's one of the reasons I put it off because I'm scared that she might succeed. I'm strong most days. Most days I'm so mad at him that the idea of ​​forgiving him is ridiculous. But some days I miss him so much I can't breathe. I miss the fun I had with him. I


I miss sleeping with him. I miss him. He worked so many hours that when he walked through the front door at night, she would run across the room with a sigh and jump into his arms because she missed him so much. I even miss how much he loved when he did that. It's not such strong days that I would like my mother to know everything that's going on. Sometimes I just want to go over to her house and snuggle on the couch with her while she tucks my hair behind my ear and tells me everything will be okay. Sometimes even grown women need the comfort of their mothers so that we can take a break from having to be strong all the time. I sit in my car parked in her driveway for a good five minutes before I find the strength to go inside. It's a shame I have to do this because I know I'm going to break her heart too. I hate it when she's sad and telling her I married a man who could be like my father will make her very sad.


When I walk in the front door, she's in the kitchen, putting noodles in a skillet. For obvious reasons, I don't take off my coat right away. I don't wear a maternity shirt, but I can't hide my belly without a coat. Mostly from a mother. "Hello, baby!" She says. I walk into the kitchen and give her a hug as she puts cheese on the lasagna. As soon as the lasagna is in the oven, we go to the table in the living room and sit down. He leans back in his chair and takes a sip from a glass of tea. She smile. I hate even more that he looks so happy right now. "Lily," she says. "I have something to tell you" I don't like that. He wanted to come talk to her. I'm not ready to take a call. "What is it?" I ask hesitantly. She holds the cup of tea with both hands. "I see someone."


I feel the mouth. "TRUTH?" I ask, shaking my head. "To mean . . ." I mean, that's fine, but I'm immediately concerned that he's put himself in a similar situation as he was with my dad. She can see the concern on my face, so she takes my hands in hers. "He's good, Lily. He's so good. I promise. I'm immediately relieved that he's telling the truth. I can see the happiness in his eyes. When can I meet him?" "Tonight, if you will," she says. "I can take you to dinner with us." I shake my head. "No," I whisper. "Now is not a good time." her hands grab mine as soon as she realizes I'm here to tell her something important. I'll start with the best part of the news first. I get up and take off my jacket. At first she doesn't think about it. assume it's me


make me feel comfortable, but then I take one of his hands and press it against my stomach. "You're going to be a grandma" her eyes widened like saucers and she was speechless for a few seconds. But then the tears start to flow. She jumps up and pulls me into a hug. "Lily!" She says. "Oh my God!" She leaves smiling. "It happened so fast. Have you tried? They haven't even been married that long." It was a shock. Trust me." She laughs, and after another hug we both sit back down. I try to keep my smile, but it's not the smile of an excited mom-to-be. She sees it almost immediately. She rubs her hand over her face and mouth. .baby," he whispers. "What's wrong?" Up until this point, I have struggled to stay strong. I've struggled with not feeling sorry for myself when I'm around other people. with my mother, i wish weakness, i just want to be able to give up for a moment.


he wants her to take control and hug me and tell me everything will be alright. And for the next fifteen minutes, as I cry in her arms, that's exactly what happens: I stop fighting for myself because I need someone to do it for me. I'll spare you most of the details of our relationship, but I'll tell you the most important stuff. That he's hurt me more than once and I don't know what to do. That I'm afraid of having this baby alone. That I'm afraid of making the wrong decision. That I'm afraid I'm too weak and should have arrested him. That I'm afraid of being too sensitive and I don't know if I'm overreacting. Basically, I tell him everything I didn't have the courage to admit to myself. Grab some napkins from the kitchen and head back to the table. After our eyes finally dry, he starts crumpling his napkin between his hands, rolling it in circles as he stares at her. "Do you want to get it back?" she asks.


I'm not saying yes, but I'm not saying no either. This is the first time since this happened that I'm completely honest. I'm honest with her and myself, maybe because she's the only one I know who's been there. She's the only one I know who would understand the mess I'm in. I shake my head, but I also shrug. "Most of me feels like I can never trust him again. But a big part of me is sorry for what I had with him. We were so good together, Mom. The time I spent with him is one of the best times of my life. And every now and then I feel like maybe I don't want to give up on this. I wipe the napkin under my eye and wipe more tears away. "Sometimes... when I really miss him... I tell myself maybe not it wasn't so bad." bad. Maybe I could tolerate him when he's at his worst, so I can have him when he's at his best."


He places his hand over mine and rubs his thumb back and forth. "I know exactly what you mean, Lily. But the last thing you want to do is lose sight of your boundary. Please don't let that happen. I have no idea what she means by that. She sees it." the confusion in me." Then she squeezes my arm and explains further: "We all have a limit. What we are willing to accept before we break. When I married your father, I knew exactly where my limits were. But slowly... .in each incident...my boundary was pushed a little more. And a little more. When your father hit me the first time, he immediately regretted it. He swore it wouldn't happen again. When he hit me the second time, he regretted it even more. The third time was more than a hit. It was a hit. And every time I took it back. But the fourth time was just a slap in the face. And when it happened, I was relieved. I remember. I thought, 'At least He didn't hit me this time. It wasn't so bad.'"


He puts his napkin over his eyes and says, "Every incident loses its boundary. Every time you decide to stay, it's harder to leave the next time. At some point you completely lose sight of your boundaries because you start thinking, "I've lasted five years. How much is five more?'” He takes my hands and holds them together as I cry. Don't be like me, Lily. I know you think he loves you and I'm sure he does. But he doesn't really love you. He doesn't love you like you deserve to be loved. If Ryle really loves you, he wouldn't let you take him back. He himself would make the decision to leave you to know for sure that he could never hurt you again. That's the kind of love a woman deserves, Lily. I hope with all my heart that you don't learn these things by experience. I pull her closer to me and hug her. For some reason, I thought I had to defend myself against her when I came here.


Not once did I think I would come here and learn from her. You should know better. I used to think my mother was weak, but she is actually one of the strongest women I know. "Mommy?" I say and leave. "I want to be you when I grow up," he laughs, pushing my hair out of my face. I can tell by the way he looks at me that he would trade places with me in a heartbeat. She's hurting more for me right now than she ever felt for herself. "I want to tell you something," she says. She grabs my hands again. "The day you gave your father's eulogy? I know you're not frozen, Lily. They stood on that podium and refused to say anything good about this man. I was proud of you like never before. You You were the only one in my life who stood up for me. You were strong when I was scared." A tear falls from her eye as she says, "Be that girl, Lily. Brave and daring."

Chapter Thirty-Three “What Do I Do With Three Car Seats?” I sit on Allysa's couch and look at all these things. She threw me a baby shower today. My mother came. Ryle's mom even flew out to pick him up, but now he's in the guest room, sleeping off jet lag. The girls from the flower shop and some friends from my old job came. Until Devin came. It was actually a lot of fun, even though I've been dreading it for the last few weeks. "That's why I told you to keep a record so none of the gifts are duplicated," says Allysa. I'm sighing. "I think I can let Mommy give me hers back. She's already bought me enough things. I get up and start packing up all the presents. Marshall already said he'd help me carry them."


to my apartment for Allysa to help me put everything in trash bags. I hold it open while she picks everything up off the floor. I'm nearly 30 weeks pregnant now, so you don't have the easiest task of stopping the crap. We pack up and Marshall is on his second trip to my apartment when I open Allysa's front door, ready to carry a garbage bag full of gifts to the elevator. What I'm not prepared for is Ryle standing on the other side of the door looking at me. We both look equally surprised to see each other, considering we haven't spoken since our fight three months ago. However, this meeting had to happen. I can't be best friends with my husband's sister and live in the same house as him without bumping into him. I'm sure he knew I was going to shower today because his mom flew in to do it, but he still looks a little surprised to see all those things behind me. I wonder if it shows it.


The fact that I get up when I go out is either an accident or a reasonable comfort. He looks at the garbage bag I'm holding and takes it from my hand. "Let me get that." I left. Bring this bag and another to the apartment while I pack my things. He and Marshall go back to the apartment while I get ready to leave. Ryle takes the last bag and heads back to the front door. I follow as Marshall silently looks at me and asks if Ryle can come down with me. I agree. I can't avoid Ryle forever, so now is a good time to talk about moving on. It's only a few floors between his apartment and mine, but the elevator ride with Ryle feels like the longest he's ever taken. I catch him looking at my belly a few times and wonder what it must be like to go three months without seeing me pregnant.


My apartment door is unlocked so I open it and he follows me inside. He carries the last few things into the kids' room and I hear him going through things, opening boxes. I stay in the kitchen and clean things that don't even need to be cleaned. My heart is in my mouth knowing he's in my apartment. I'm not afraid of him now. I am nervous. I wanted to be more prepared for this conversation because I absolutely hate confrontation. But I know we have to talk about the baby and our future. I just don't want to. At least not yet. Go down the hall and into the kitchen. I catch him looking down at my stomach again. He looks away just as quickly. "Should I fix the crib while I'm here?" I should probably say no, but he's partly responsible for making the kid in me grow. If he offers me physical work, I'll take it, no matter how angry I still am with him. "Yes. That would be a big help."


He points to the laundry room. "Is my toolbox still there?" I nod and walk to the laundry room. I open the fridge and look at him so I don't have to watch him come back through the kitchen. When he finally makes it back to daycare, I close the fridge and press my forehead against it as I grip the handle. I breathe in and out as I try to process whatever is going on inside of me. He's really handsome. I haven't seen it in so long I forgot how beautiful it is. I want to run down the hall and jump into his arms. I want to feel his mouth on mine. I want to hear him say how much he loves me. I want him to lie down next to me and place his hand on my stomach like I've imagined so many times. It would be so easy. My life would be so much easier now if I just forgave him and took him back.


I close my eyes and repeat the words my mother told me. "If Ryle really loves you, he wouldn't let you take that." That memory is the only thing keeping me from running down the hall. ••• I'll be busy in the kitchen for the next hour while he stays at daycare. Eventually I have to go through to get my phone charger from my room. On my way back down the hall, I stop at the door to the children's room. The cradle is assembled. He even fixed the bedding. She stands over him, holding on to the banister and looking down at the empty bed. He is so calm and still that he looks like a statue. He's deep in thought and doesn't even notice I'm at the door. I wonder where his thoughts went. Are you thinking about the baby? The kid he doesn't even live with when he sleeps in that same crib?


Until that moment, she hadn't been sure he wanted to be a part of the baby's life. But the look on her face tells me yes. I've never seen such sadness in an expression, and I don't even look at her directly. I have a feeling the sadness you are feeling right now has absolutely nothing to do with me and everything to do with your thoughts of your son. He looks up and sees me standing in the doorway. She pushes herself out of the crib and snaps out of her trance. "Done," he says, pointing to the crib. He starts putting his tools away in the toolbox. "Do you need anything else while I'm here?" I shake my head as I walk over to the crib and admire it. As I don't know if it will be a boy or a girl, I chose the nature theme. The comforter set is beige and green with images of plants and trees. It matches the curtains and will end up matching a mural I plan to paint on the wall at some point. I also plan to fill the nursery with some live plants from the store. I


I can't help but smile when I finally see it all coming together. He even turned off the phone. I reach out and turn it on, and Brahms' lullaby starts playing. I look at him as he spins, then look at Ryle. He stands a few feet away and just looks at me. As I look at him, I think about how easy it is for people to make judgments when we're out of a situation. I spent years assessing my mother's situation. When we're outside, it's easy to think that if someone abused us, we'd walk away without a second thought. It is easy to say that we cannot go on loving someone who mistreats us if we are not the ones who feel that person's love. When you experience this firsthand, it's not so easy to hate the person who abuses you, even though most of the time it's a godsend. Ryle's eyes gain a little hope, and I hate that he gets to see my walls temporarily come down. Take a slow step towards him.


to me. I know he's about to hug me so I take a quick step away from him. And the wall is back between us. Allowing him to move back into that apartment was a big step for me. He must recognize this. He hides any rejection he feels with a stoic expression on his face. He tucks the toolbox under his arm and picks up the box the crib came in. It's full of scrap metal from everything he's ever opened and assembled. "I'm going to take this to the trash can," he says, walking to the door. "If you need help with anything else, just let me know, okay?" I nod, as if muttering, "Thanks." When I hear the front door close, I turn to the crib. My eyes fill with tears, and this time not for me. Not for the baby. I cry for Ryle. Because even though he is responsible for the situation he is in, I know how


he is sad about it. And when you love someone, seeing them sad makes you sad too. Neither of us mentioned our split or even a chance to make amends. We haven't even talked about what will happen when this baby is born in ten weeks. I'm not ready for this conversation and the least you can do for me right now is be patient. The patience he still owes me for all the times he didn't have it.

Chapter Thirty-Four I wash the paint off the brushes, then head back to the nursery to admire the mural. I spent most of yesterday and all of today painting. It's been two weeks since Ryle came and set up the crib. Now that the mural is done and I've brought some plants from the store, I feel like the nursery is finally complete. I look around and feel a little sad that no one is here to admire the room with me. I take out my phone and text Allysa. Me: The mural is ready! You should go down and check. Allysa: I'm not home. Tasks. But I'll take a look tomorrow.


I frown and decide to write to my mom. She has work to do tomorrow, but I know she'll be as excited to see it as I am to finish it. Me: Would you like to go to town tonight? The children's room is finally ready. Mother: I can't. Afternoon lectures at school. I'm going to be late, can't wait to see it! I will go tomorrow!

I sit down in the rocking chair and know I shouldn't do what I'm about to do, but I do it anyway. Me: The children's room is ready. Want to come see?

Every nerve in my body comes to life as soon as I hit send. I look at my phone until it picks up. Rillo: Of course. I'm coming down now.

I immediately get up and start doing something at the last minute. I fluff the sofa cushions and arrange one of the rugs. I'm barely at the front door when I hear the knock. I open it and screw it. Wear bathrobes. I step aside as he enters.


"Allysa said you're painting a mural?" I follow him down the hall to the nursery. "It took me two days to finish," I tell him. “My body feels like I ran a marathon and all I did was run up and down stairs a few times,” she looks over her shoulder and I can see the concern on her face. He's worried that she's doing everything here on her own. You shouldn't worry. I have it. When we reach the kids' room, he stops in the doorway. On the opposite wall I painted a garden. It's complete with just about every fruit and vegetable I can think of to grow in a garden. I'm not a painter, but it's amazing what you can do with a projector and tracing paper. "Wow," says Ryle. I smile, recognizing the surprise in his voice and knowing it's real. He enters the room and looks around, shaking his head the whole time. "Lily. It's…impressive."


If he were Allysa, he would clap his hands and jump up and down. But he's Ryle, and the way things are between us, that would be a little awkward. He approaches the window where I've set up a swing. He gives a little push and she starts to move from side to side. "It also moves from front to back," I tell him. I don't know if you know anything about baby swings, but I was quite impressed with this feature. He goes to the changing table and takes one of the diapers from the diaper holder. He unfolds it and holds it in front of him. "It's so small," he says. "I don't remember Rylee being this small." Hearing him mention Rylee makes me a little sad. We've been separated since the night she was born, so I've never seen him interact with her. Ryle folds the diaper and places it back in the holder. Turning to me, she smiles and lifts her hands to move around the room. "It is


Really cool, Lily,” he says. "Everything. You're really…" His hands drop to his hips and his smile fades. "You are doing this really well." It feels like a density is building in the air around me. I suddenly have a hard, deep breath because for some reason I feel like crying. I really love this moment and it saddens me that we didn't spend the entire pregnancy filled with moments like this. It's good to share this. with him, but I'm also afraid of giving him false hope. Now that you're here and you've seen the nursery, I'm not sure what to do next. Obviously we have a lot of things to discuss, but I have no idea where to start. Or how. I go to the rocking chair and sit down. "The naked truth?" I say, looking at him. He takes a deep breath and nods, then sits down on the couch. "You're welcome. Lily, please tell me you're ready to talk about this." His reaction calms my nerves a bit, knowing he's ready to discuss anything I wrap my arms around.


around my stomach and lean forward in the rocking chair. "You go first." Cross your hands between your knees. He looks at me with such sincerity that I have to look away. "I don't know what you want from me, Lily. I don't know what role you want to play me. I'm trying to give you all the space you need, but at the same time I want to help you. More than you know. to be in our baby's life. I want to be his husband and I want to be good at it. But I have no idea what's on his mind. His words fill me with guilt. Despite everything that's happened between us in the past, he's still the father of this baby. He has a legal right to be a father, no matter how I feel about it. And I want him to be a father. I want him to be a good Father. But deep down, I'm still holding one of the my biggest fears and I know I need to talk to him about it.


"I would never take you away from your son, Ryle. I'm glad you want to be there. But..." She leans forward and buries her face in her hands with the last word, "What kind of mother would I be if a little part of me didn't care about your temper? The way you lose control How do I know when you Are you alone with this baby that something isn't bothering you?" So much pain fills his eyes I think they might burst like dams. He starts shaking his head uncompromisingly. "Lily, I've never…" "I know, Ryle. You would never intentionally hurt your own child. I don't even think it was intentional when you hurt me, but you did. And believe me, I want to believe you would never do such a thing. My father only mistreated my mother, there are many men, even women, who abuse their partner without losing their temper for someone else. I want to believe his words with everything


my heart, but you must understand where my hesitation comes from. I will never deny you a relationship with your child. But you really have to be patient with me as you rebuild all that trust you've broken." He nods in agreement. You need to know that I give you so much more than you deserve. "Absolutely," he says. "That's us. your terms. It's all on your terms, okay?" Ryle's hands clasp together again and he starts chewing on his bottom lip nervously. I sense he has more to say but isn't sure whether to say it or not. No "Go ahead, say what's on your mind while I feel like talking about it." He tilts his head back and looks up at the ceiling. Whatever it is, it's hard for him. I don't know if it's because the question is hard to ask or because he's afraid of the answer I might give him. we?" he whispers.


I tip my head back and sigh. I knew this question would come, but it's really hard to give an answer that I don't have. Divorce or reconciliation are really the only two options we have, but I don't want to make a choice. "I don't want to give you false hope, Ryle," I say quietly. “If I had to make a decision today. . . I would probably choose divorce. But honestly, I don't know if I would make that decision because I'm overwhelmed with pregnancy hormones or because I really want to. I don't think it would be fair to us if he made that decision before the baby was born." He exhales shakily, then places his hand on the back of his head, squeezing firmly. Then he stands up and looks at me. "Thank you," he says. For invite me. By the talk. I've been wanting to stop by since I got here a few weeks ago, but I didn't know how you would feel about it. "I don't know how I would feel either," I say honestly.


rocking chair, but for some reason it's gotten a lot harder in the last week. Ryle walks over and takes my hand to help me up. I don't know how to get past my due date when I can't even get up out of a chair without groaning. Once I stand up, he doesn't immediately let go of my hand. We're only inches apart, and I know if I look at him, I'll feel things. I don't want to feel anything for him. He finds my other hand until he holds both at my sides. He runs his fingers through mine and I feel it in my heart. I press my forehead against his chest and close my eyes. His cheek meets my head and we freeze completely, too scared to move. I'm afraid to move because I might be too weak to stop him from kissing me. He's afraid to move because he's afraid that if he does, I'll leave.


Neither of us moved a muscle for what felt like a full five minutes. "Ryle," I finally say. "Can you promise me something?" I can feel him nod. "Until the baby comes, please don't try to persuade me to forgive him. And please don't try to kiss me..." I pull away from his chest and look at him, "I want to do one big thing at a time and right now my only priority is having this baby. I don't want to add any more stress or confusion to what's already happening." calm me down.” One monumental, transformative thing at a time. Got it." I smile, relieved that we've finally had this conversation. I know I haven't made a final decision about the two of us, but I still feel like I can breathe easier now that we're on the same page.


He lets go of my hands. "I'm late for my shift," he says, jabbing his thumb over his shoulder. "I should get to work." I nod and lead him outside. It's only after I close the door and I'm alone in my apartment that I realize I have a smile on my face. I'm still incredibly mad at him for being in this situation, so my smile is simply because I've made a little progress. Sometimes parents need to overcome their differences and bring maturity to a situation to do what's best for their child. That's exactly what we do. Learn to deal with our situation before our son is brought into the fold.

Chapter thirty-five I smell toast. I stretch out on the bed and smile because Ryle knows toast is my favorite. I lie here for a while before I even try to get up. It feels like three men are fighting to get me out of bed. I finally take a deep breath and then kick my feet over the side and push myself off the mattress. The first thing I do is urinate. That's really all I do now. I'm due in two days and my doctor said it could be another week. I started maternity leave last week so this is my life now. I pee and watch TV. When I get to the kitchen, Ryle is stirring a skillet of scrambled eggs. she turns when


He hears me come in. "Good morning," he says. "Aren't you a baby yet?" I shake my head and place a hand on my stomach. "No, but I peed nine times last night," laughs Ryle. "It's a new record." Serve some eggs on a plate and toss the bacon and toast on top. He turns and hands me my plate, planting a quick kiss on the side of my head. "I have to go. I'm late. I leave my phone on all day." I smile as I look down at my breakfast. It's okay, eat too. I urinate, eat and watch TV. "Thanks," I say. happily. I take my plate to the couch and turn on the television. Ryle runs across the room and gathers his things. "See you at lunch. I may be working late tonight, but its dinner." I put my eye white. "I'm fine, Ryle. The doctor said light rest, not complete debilitation." He starts to open the door, but stops as if he's forgotten something. he runs to me and


He leans down and places his lips on my stomach. "I'll double your allowance if you decide to come today," he tells the baby. He talks a lot with the baby. I finally got comfortable enough a few weeks ago to let him feel the baby kick and since then he sometimes comes to talk to my belly and doesn't even talk to me much. I like it. I like how excited he is to be a dad. I grab the blanket Ryle slept on on the couch last night and wrap myself in it. She's been here a week, waiting for me to go into labor. I wasn't sure about the fix at first, but it's been really helpful. I'm still sleeping in the guest room. The third bedroom is now a child's bedroom, which means the master bedroom is available for him to sleep in. But for some reason he chooses to sleep on the couch. I think the memories of that room haunt him as much as they do me, so neither of us bothered to go in there.


The last few weeks have been really good. Aside from the fact that there are absolutely no physical relationships between us at the moment, things seem to have gone back to the way they used to be. He still works a lot, but on his nights off I started having dinner with everyone upstairs. But we never eat alone for two. I avoid anything that might look like dating or dating. I'm still trying to focus on one monumental thing, and until this baby is born and my hormones are back on track, I refuse to make a decision about my marriage. I'm sure I'm just using pregnancy as an excuse to postpone the inevitable, but being pregnant allows a person to be a little selfish. My phone starts ringing and I throw my head on the couch and groan. My cell phone is in the kitchen. That's about five meters from here. pooh. I get up from the couch, but nothing happens.


I will try again. Still sitting. I grab the arm of the chair and stand up. The third time is the charm. When I get up, my water glass splashes everywhere. I groan. but then i sigh. He wasn't holding a glass of water. Holy crap. I look down and the water runs down my leg. My phone keeps ringing on the kitchen counter. I go, or gingo, to the kitchen and clean up. "Hi?" "Hi, I'm Lucia! Quick question. Our order of red roses got damaged in shipping, but we have Levenberg's funeral today and they specifically wanted red roses for the casket sprinkler. Do we have a plan B?" "Yes, call the flower shop on Broadway. You owe me a favor." "Okay thank you!"


I'm hanging up to call Ryle and tell him my water broke, but I hear Lucy say, "Wait!" I hold the phone to my ear. "About those bills. He wanted me to pay them today or wait..." "You can wait, it's fine." I start to hang up again, but she calls my name and throws in another question. "Lucy," I say quietly, interrupting her, "I have to call you tomorrow about all this. I think my water broke." There is a pause. "Oh Oh! GO!" I hang up as soon as the first pain hits my stomach. I wince and start dialing Ryle's number. Answers on the first ring. "Do I have to turn?" "Yes." "Oh God. Really? Is it happening now?" "Yes."


"Lily!" he says excitedly. And then the phone is dead. I spend the next few minutes gathering everything I need. I already have a hospital bag, but I feel kind of gross, so I hop in the shower to rinse myself off. The second burst of pain occurs about ten minutes after the first. I lean forward and clutch my stomach, letting the water hit my back. As I near the end of the contraction, I hear the bathroom door open. "Are you in the shower?" Ryle says. "Lily, get out of the shower, let's go!" "Give me a towel." Ryle's hand appears around the shower curtain a few seconds later. I try to wrap myself in the towel before pulling back the shower curtain. It's strange to hide your body from your own husband. The towel does not fit. It covers my breasts, but then spreads out in an inverted V over my stomach.


Another contraction starts as I step out of the shower. Ryle takes my hand and helps me breathe, then he leads me into the bedroom. I'm calmly picking out clean clothes for the hospital when I look over at him. He's looking at my belly. There's an expression on his face I can't make out. His eyes meet mine and I stop what I'm doing. There's a moment between us when I don't know if he's going to frown or smile. His face somehow contorts into both of us and he lets out a quick sigh, dropping his eyes to my stomach. "You're beautiful," he whispers. A stitch shoots in my chest that has nothing to do with the contractions. I realize this is the first time he's seen my bare stomach. It's the first time she's seen what I look like as her baby grows inside me. I go to him and take his hand. I put it on my belly and keep it there. He smiled


me and rubbed my thumb back and forth. It's a beautiful moment. One of our best moments. "Thanks, Lili." It's written all over him, the way he touches my stomach, the way his eyes look at me. He doesn't thank me for this moment or any moment that came before it. He thanks me for all the moments I allow him with his son. I groan and lean forward. "Fucking hell" The moment is over. Ryle takes my clothes and helps me inside. She collects all the things she wants me to tell her and then we head to the elevator. Slow. I'm going to have a contraction when we're halfway there. "You should call Allysa," I tell her as we pull out of the parking lot. I will drive. I'll call her when we get to the hospital. And her mother. I agree. I'm sure I could call her right now, but I just want to make sure we get to the hospital first because it looks like this baby is


very impatient and wants to debut right here in the car. We get to the hospital, but my contractions are less than a minute apart when we get there. When the doctor arrives and tucks me into bed, I'm stretched out until nine. Just five minutes later they ask me to press. Ryle can't even call anyone, everything is going so fast. With each thrust, I squeeze Ryle's hand. At one point I think about how important the hand I'm shaking is to his career, but he doesn't say anything. He just lets me squeeze him as hard as I can, and that's exactly what I do. "The head is almost out," says the doctor. "Just a few more thrusts." I can't even describe the next few minutes. It's a blur of pain and heavy breathing and fear and sheer, definite euphoria. and pressure. Such tremendous pressure, like she's about to implode, and then, "It's a girl!" says Ryle. "Lily, we have a daughter!"


I open my eyes and the doctor holds them. I can only see its outline because my eyes are filled with tears. When they put them on my chest, it's the best moment of my life. I immediately touch her red lips, cheeks and fingers. Ryle cuts the umbilical cord, and when it's removed for cleaning, I feel empty. A few minutes later she's back on my chest, wrapped in a blanket. I can't do anything but stare at her. Ryle sits down on the bed next to me, pulling the covers up over her chin so we can get a better look at her face. We count her fingers and toes. Try opening your eyes and we think it's the funniest thing in the world. She yawns and we both smile and fall even more in love with her. After the last nurse leaves the room and we are finally alone, Ryle asks if she can hold her. Raise the headboard of my bed so it's easier for both of us to sit on the bed. after delivering them


I rest my head on her shoulder and we can't stop looking at her. "Lily," he whispers. "Naked truth?" I agree. "She's so much prettier than Marshall and Allysa's baby." I laugh and poke him. "I'm kidding," he whispers. But I know exactly what he means. Rylee is a beautiful baby, but no one will ever come close to our own daughter. "What should we call it?" he asks. We didn't have the typical relationship during this pregnancy, so we haven't discussed the baby's name yet. “I'd like to name it after your sister,” I say, looking up at him. "Or maybe your brother?" I'm not sure what you think of that. Personally, I think naming our daughter after her brother might heal him, but he might not see it that way.


He looks at me, not expecting that answer. "Emerson?" he says. "It's kind of cute for a girl's name. We could call her Emma. Or Emmy." He smiles proudly and looks at her, "Actually, it's perfect." She leans over and kisses Emerson on the forehead. After a while, I pull away from her shoulder to see how she holds it. It's a beautiful thing to see him interact with her like that. I can already see how much she loves him since he's known her for so long, so little. I can see that he would do anything to protect her. Everything in the world. Only at this moment do I finally decide on him. About Us. About what's best for our family. Ryle is amazing in so many ways. He is compassionate. He's considerate. He is smart. He's charismatic. He drove. My father was also one of those things. He wasn't very compassionate towards others, however.


There were times we spent together when I knew he loved me. He was smart. He was charismatic. He was driven. But she hated him far more than she loved him. I was blind to all the best things about him thanks to all the glimpses I got of him when he was at his worst. Five minutes of watching him at his worst didn't make up for even five years at his best. I look at Emerson and I look at Ryle. And I know I have to do what's best for her. Because of the relationship she hopes to build with her father. I'm not making this decision for myself and I'm not making this decision for Ryle. I do it for her "Ryle?" When he looks at me, he smiles. But as he assesses my expression, he pauses. "I want to divorce." Blinks twice. My words hit him with emotion. She shudders and looks at our daughter, shoulders hunched forward. "Lily,"


he says and shakes his head from side to side. "Please do not do that." His voice is pleading and I hate that he's holding out hope that I'll eventually take him back. It's partly my fault, I know, but I don't think I realized the decision I was making until I held my daughter in my arms for the first time. “Just one more chance, Lily. Please." His voice cracks with tears as he speaks. I know I'm hurting him at the worst possible time. I'm breaking his heart when this should be the best time of his life. But I know if I'm going to hurt him "Ryle," I say softly. What would you do? If that girl looks at you one day and says, 'Dad? My boyfriend hit me, 'What would you say to him, Ryle?'


He pulls Emerson to his chest and buries his face in the blanket. "Enough, Lily," he pleads. I straighten up in bed. I place my hand on Emerson's back and try to get Ryle to look me in the eye. "What if she comes up to you and says, 'Dad? My husband pushed me down the stairs. He said it was an accident. What should I do?'" His shoulders start to shake and tears well up in his eyes. the first time since the day I met him. Real tears run down his face as he hugs his daughter tightly. I'm crying too, but I keep going. thanks to you. "What if…" My voice cracks, "What if she comes up to you and says, 'My husband tried to rape me, Dad. He held me while I begged him to stop. But he swears he never will.'" What do you want me to, Daddy?'” He kisses her forehead over and over again, tears streaming down her cheeks.


What would you say to her, Ryle? Tell me. I need to know what you would say to our daughter if the man she loves with all her heart hurt her. A sob breaks out of her chest. She leans towards me and puts an arm around me. "I would ask her to stop," she says through her tears. Her lips press desperately against my forehead and I can feel a few of her tears falling onto my cheeks. She moves her mouth to my ear and hugs us together "I would tell her she's worth it." a lot more. And I would ask her not to come back, no matter how much I love her. She's worth so much more." We become a mess of sobs and broken hearts and broken dreams. We hold each other. We're holding our daughter. And as hard as that decision is, we break the pattern before the pattern breaks us. It breaks us. hands it back to me and wipes his face. eyes. eyes. He gets up and continues to cry. He's still trying to catch his breath. In the last fifteen minutes he's lost love


Of your life. In the last fifteen minutes he became the father of a beautiful baby girl. That's what fifteen minutes can do to a person. You can destroy them. You can save it. He points down the hall and tells me he needs to pull himself together. He is sadder than I've ever seen him walk to the door. But I know that one day he will thank me. I know there will come a day when you understand that I made the right decision for your daughter. When the door closes behind him, I look over at her. I know I'm not giving her the life I dreamed for her. A house where she lives with her two parents who love her and can raise her together. But I don't want her to live like I did. I don't want him to see the worst of his father. I don't want her to see him when he loses his temper so much that she doesn't recognize him as a father. Because no matter how many good times I can share with Ryle over the course of his life, I know from experience


that only the worst would cling to her. Cycles exist because breaking them is unbearable. It takes an astronomical amount of pain and courage to break a familiar pattern. Sometimes it seems easier to keep running in the same familiar circles than to face the fear of jumping and possibly not landing on your feet. My mother went through this. I went through it. Damn if I'm going to let my daughter go through this. I kiss your forehead and make a promise. "This way. With you and me. It ends with us.

Epilogue I make my way through the crowd on Boylston Street until I reach the intersection. I pull the cart into a narrow space and then stop at the curb. I pull my shirt back and look at Emmy. She kicks her feet and smiles as usual. She is a very happy baby. She has a calm energy around her and is addictive. "What's her age?" asks a woman. He's with us at the crosswalk, looking admiringly at Emerson. "Eleven months." "She's beautiful," she says. "He looks like you. Identical mouths." I smile. "Thanks. But you should see his father. He definitely has the eyes."


The go sign flashes and I try to get away from the crowd as we cross the street. I'm already half an hour late and Ryle has texted me twice. However, you haven't experienced the joy of carrots yet. You'll find out how messy they are today because I packed a lot in your bag. I moved out of the apartment Ryle bought when Emerson was three months old. I have my own apartment closer to my work so I'm within walking distance which is great. Ryle has moved back into the apartment he bought, but between visiting Allysa and Ryle's days with Emerson, I feel like I'm still in his building just like mine. "Almost there, Emmy." We're turning the corner to the right and I'm in such a hurry that a man has to swerve around us and hit the wall to avoid being run over. "Sorry," I mumbled, ducking my head and stepping around him. "Lily?" I stop.


I turn around slowly because I felt that voice down to my toes. There are only two voices that have done this to me, and Ryle's doesn't go that far. When I look at him, his blue eyes narrow against the sun. He raises his hand to protect her and smiles. "Listen." “Hello,” I say, my brain racing trying to slow down and allow myself to catch up. He looks at the cart and points at it. "Is that your baby?" I nod and he walks around the cart. He kneels down and smiles broadly at her. "Wow. She's beautiful, Lily," he says. "What is her name?" "Emerson. Sometimes we call her Emmy." He puts his finger on her hand and she starts kicking, swinging her finger back and forth. He looks at her appreciatively for a moment, then stands up again. "You look great," he says.


I try not to ignore it, obviously, but it's hard. It looks as good as ever, but this is the first time I've seen it and I'm not trying to deny how beautiful it is. Away from that homeless boy in my room. Still . . . somehow it stays exactly the same. I can feel my text messages buzzing in my pocket again. ryle. I point to the street. "We're too late," I tell him. "Ryle has been waiting half an hour." When I say Ryle's name, Atlas senses a sadness but tries to hide it. He nods and slowly steps aside so we can pass. "It's her day to have it," I clarify, saying more in those six words than most long conversations. I see a flicker of relief in his eyes. He nods and points back. "Yeah, I'm late too. He opened a new restaurant in Boylston last month." "Wow. Congratulations. I'm going to have to take Mom there to see you soon."


He smiled. "You should. Let me know and I'll prepare and cook for you myself." There's an awkward pause, and then I point the way. "We have to. . ." "Go," he says with a smile. I nod again, then duck my head and keep walking. I have no idea why I'm reacting this way. Like I don't know how to have a normal conversation. When I'm several feet away, I look back over my shoulder. He doesn't move. He's still watching me as I walk away. We turn the corner and I see Ryle waiting in his car in front of the flower shop. His face lights up when he sees us approaching. Did you get my email?" He kneels down and starts unbuckling Emerson. "Yeah, about the playpen recall?" He shakes his head as he pulls it out of the cart. "Shouldn't we get one of the Estes?” I press the buttons to fold the cart, then I carry it to the back of his car, "Yeah, but it broke about a month ago. I threw it in the trash."


He opens the trunk and then touches Emerson's chin with his fingers. "Did you hear that Emmy? Your mother saved your life." She smiles at him and gives his hand a playful slap. He kisses her forehead, then picks up his cart and tosses it into the trunk. I close the trunk and lean in for a quick kiss. "I love you Emma. See you tonight." Ryle opens the back door to put her in the car seat. I wave at him, then run down the street. "Lily!" He screams. "Where are you going?" He expected me to go to the front door of my shop, since I took so long to open it. It probably should, but the tingling in my stomach won't go away. I have to do something about it. I turn around and go back. "I forgot something! I'll see you when I go get it tonight! Ryle lifts Emerson's hand and they wave at me. As soon as I turn the corner, I break into a run. I dodge people, I bump them into


some and getting a lady to cuss me out but its all worth it once i see the back of her head. "Atlas!" Shout out. He goes the other way, so I continue to push my way through the crowd. "Atlas!" He stops but doesn't turn around. He tilts his head as if he doesn't believe what he hears. "Atlas!" I'm screaming again. When he turns around this time, he turns around on purpose. His eyes meet mine and there's a three second pause as we both look at each other. But then we both walked towards each other, determination in every step. Twenty steps separate us. Ten. Five. 1. None of us takes that last step.


I'm out of breath, panting and nervous. "I forgot to say Emerson's middle name." I put my hands on my hips and exhaled. "It's Dory." He doesn't react right away, but then his eyes tingle a little at the corners. His mouth twitches as if he's stifling a smile. “What a perfect name for her.” I nod and smile and then stop. Not sure what to do now. I just needed him to know that, but now that I've told him, I haven't really thought about what I would do or say next. I nod again, then look around and run a thumb over my shoulder. "Well...I guess I will..." Atlas steps forward, grabs me and pulls me hard against his chest. I immediately close my eyes as he wraps his arms around me. His hand goes up to the back of my head. and he holds me tight as we are surrounded by busy streets, horns honking, people passing us as they run, he presses a soft kiss to my hair and everything falls apart.


"Lily," he says quietly. "I feel like my life is good enough for you right now. So when you're ready . . ." I grip his jacket tightly in my hands and press my face hard against his chest. I suddenly feel fifteen again. My neck and cheeks flush at his words. But I'm not fifteen. I am a responsible adult and a child. I can't let my teenage feelings take over. At least not without some guarantee. I pull away and look at him. "Are you donating to charity?" Atlas laughs in confusion. "Several. Why?" "Do you want kids someday?" He nods. "Of course I want." “Do you think you'll want to leave Boston?” He shakes his head. “No. Never. Everything's better here, remember?” His answers give me the validation I need. I finished."


He pulls me tight and I laugh. With everything that's happened since he came into my life, I never expected this outcome. I really looked forward to it, but until now I wasn't sure if it would happen. I close my eyes when I feel his lips touch my collarbone. He presses a soft kiss there and it feels like the first time he kissed me there all those years ago. He puts his mouth to my ear and whispers, "You can stop swimming now, Lily. We finally made it to shore."

Author's Note It is recommended that you read this section after reading the book as it contains spoilers. ••• My first memory is when I was two and a half years old. My room had no door and was covered with a sheet draped over the top of the doorframe. I remember my dad screaming, so I peeked from the other side of the sheet as my dad grabbed our TV and threw it at my mom, knocking her unconscious. She divorced him before I was three. All the memories besides my father were good. He never lost his temper with me or


my sisters, although I have done this with my mother on several occasions. I knew their marriage was abusive, but my mother never talked about it. Talking about it would mean that she would speak ill of my father, and she never did. She wanted her relationship with him to be free of the tensions that existed between the two. Therefore, I have the utmost respect for parents who do not involve their children in the dissolution of their relationships. I once asked my father about the abuse. He was very open about their relationship. He was an alcoholic during the years he was married to my mother and was the first to admit that he didn't treat her well. In fact, he told me that two of her knuckles were switched because he hit her so hard he cracked her skull. My father regretted the way he treated my mother all his life. Abusing her was the worst mistake he'd ever made, and he said so.


he would grow old and still die hopelessly in love with her. I think it was too light a punishment for what he had to endure. When I decided to write this story, I first asked my mother for permission. I told her I wanted to write it for women like her. I also wanted to write it for all the people who didn't quite understand women like her. I was one of those people. The mother I know is not weak. He wasn't someone she could imagine forgiving a man for abusing her on multiple occasions. But as I wrote this book and delved into Lily's mindset, I quickly realized that things aren't as black and white as they appear on the outside. More than once, while writing this, I wanted to change the plot. I didn't want Ryle to be who he would be because I fell in love with him in those first few chapters the same way Lily fell in love with him. Just like my mother fell in love with my father.


The first incident between Ryle and Lily in the kitchen was what happened when my father hit my mother for the first time. She was cooking a casserole and he had been drinking. He took the casserole out of the oven without using an oven mitt. She thought it was funny and laughed. The next thing she knew, he hit her so hard she fell to the kitchen floor. She chose to forgive him for this incident because his apology and regret were believable. Or at least believable enough that giving him a second chance would hurt less than leaving him heartbroken. Over time, subsequent incidents were similar to the first. My father was always remorseful and swore never to do that again. She eventually reached a point where she knew her promises were empty, but at the time she was a mother of two and didn't have the money to go. And unlike Lily, my mom didn't have a lot of support. There were no local women's shelters. Very little government support was returned.


after. Leaving posed the risk of homelessness, but for her it was better than the alternative. My father died a few years ago when I was 25. He wasn't the best dad. He certainly wasn't the best husband. But thanks to my mother, I was able to develop a very close relationship with him because she took steps to break the pattern before it broke us. And it wasn't easy. She left him just before I turned three and my older sister five. We lived on beans, macaroni and cheese for two whole years. A single mother with no college degree, she raised her two daughters on her own with virtually no help. But her love for us gave her the strength to take that terrible step. I am in no way claiming that Ryle and Lily's situation defines domestic violence. Nor am I claiming that Ryle's character defines the characteristics of most bullies. Every situation is different. Each result is different. decided


It shapes Lily and Ryle's story after my mom and dad. I modeled Ryle on my father in many ways. They are beautiful, compassionate, funny and intelligent, but with moments of unforgivable behavior. I modeled Lily on my mother in so many ways. Both are caring, smart, strong women who just fell in love with men who didn't deserve to fall in love. Two years after my father's divorce, my mother met my stepfather. He was the epitome of a good husband. My childhood memories set the bar for the kind of marriage I wanted for myself. When I finally got to the point of getting married, the hardest thing I had to do was tell my biological father that he wasn't going to walk me down the aisle, that he was going to ask my stepdad. I felt like I had to do this for many reasons. My stepfather acted as a husband in a way my father never did. My stepfather stepped up


financially in a way my father never did. And my stepfather raised us as his own, never denying us a relationship with my biological father. I remember sitting in my dad's living room a month before my wedding. I told him I love him but I would ask my stepdad to walk me down the aisle. I was prepared for his response with all the rebuttals I could think of. But the answer he gave me was not what I expected. He nodded and said, "Colleen, he created you. He deserves to give you away at your wedding. And you shouldn't feel guilty about it, because it's the right thing to do." But it was enough, selfless as a father, to not only respect my decision, but also want me to respect it. My father sat in the audience at my wedding and watched another man walk me down the aisle. is not doing.


Just let any one of you walk me down the aisle, but looking back I realize I made the decision out of respect for my mother. Who I chose to walk me down the aisle wasn't quite my dad or my real stepdad. It was about her. She wanted the man who treated her the way she deserved to be treated to have the honor of handing over her daughter. In the past, she has always said that I write for entertainment purposes only. I do not write to educate, persuade or inform. This book is different. This was not entertainment for me. It was the most exhausting thing I've ever written. Sometimes she wanted to hit the delete button and take back the way Ryle treated Lily. He wanted to rewrite the scenes where she forgave him and replace them with a more resilient woman, a character who made the right decisions at the right time. But those weren't the characters I wrote.


That was not the story I told. I wanted to write something realistic about the situation my mother found herself in, a situation many women find themselves in. I wanted to explore the love between Lily and Ryle so I could feel what my mother felt when she had to make the decision to leave my father, a man she loved dearly. I sometimes wonder how my life would have been different if my mother hadn't made the choice she did. He left someone he loved so his daughters would never think that kind of relationship is okay. She wasn't saved by another man: a knight in shining armor. She took the initiative to leave my father alone, knowing that being a single parent would be a whole different struggle with added stress. It was important to me that Lily's character embodied that same power. Lily made the final decision to leave Ryle for her daughter. While there was a slim chance that Ryle had


eventually changed for the better, some risks are never worth it. Especially if these risks have failed you in the past. Before writing this book, I had great respect for my mother. Now that I'm done and able to explore a small fraction of the pain and struggle she went through to get to where she is today, I can only say one thing. I want to be you when I grow up.

Resources If you have been a victim of domestic violence or know someone who may need help getting out of a dangerous situation, please visit: www.thehotline.org. For a list of homeless resources, visit: www.homelessresourcenetwork.org.

Acknowledgments There can only be one name related to the author of this book, but I could not have written it without the following people: My sisters. I would love you both equally if you weren't my sisters. Sharing a parent with you is just an added bonus. My children. You are my greatest achievement in life. Please never make me regret saying this. To Weblich, CoHorts, TL Discussion Group, Book Swap, and all the other groups I can turn to online when I need positive energy. You guys are a big part of why I'm able to do this professionally, so thank you.


The entire Dystel & Goderich Literary Management team. Thank you for your continued support and encouragement. All at Atria Books. Thank you for making my high days unforgettable and some of the best days of my life. Johanna Castillo, my editor. Thank you for supporting this book. thank you for supporting me Thank you for being the biggest supporter of my dream job. To Ellen DeGeneres, one of the four people I hope I never meet. You are light where there is darkness. Lily and Atlas thank you for your shine. My beta readers and first followers of each book. Your feedback, support and continued friendship is more than I deserve. I love you all my niece. I go to see you every day now and I've never been so excited. I will be your favorite aunt.


For Lindy. Thanks for the life lessons and examples of what it means to be selfless. And thank you for one of the most insightful quotes that will stay with me forever. "There are no bad people. We are all humans doing bad things." I am grateful that my little sister has you as a mother. Vance. Thank you for being the husband my mother deserved and the father you didn't need to be. My husband, pagan. You are good for your soul. I couldn't have chosen a better person to raise my children and spend the rest of my life with. We are all very lucky to have you. For my mother. You are everything to everyone. Sometimes it can be a burden, but somehow you see the burdens as blessings. Our whole family thanks you. And finally, my ol' daddy Eddie, you're not here to see this book come to life, but I know you would have been your biggest support. you taught me many things


Life - the best thing is we don't have to be the same person we used to be. I promise not to remember your worst days. I'll remember you based on the best, and there were many. I will remember you as a person who knew how to overcome what many cannot. Thanks for becoming one of my closest friends. And thank you for supporting me on my wedding day in a way many parents wouldn't. I love you. Miss you.

Also by Colleen Hoover Slammed Point of Retreat This Girl Who Desperately Loses Hope Meets Cinderella, Maybe One Day Ugly Love, Maybe She Won't Confess, November 9

First published in the US by Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2016 This edition first published in the UK by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2016 CBS COMPANY Copyright © Colleen Hoover, 2016 This book is copyright of the Bern convention No duplication without permission. ® and © 1997 Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved. Colleen Hoover's right to be identified as the author of this work is asserted in Sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988. Simon & Schuster UK Ltd 1st Floor 222 Gray's Inn Road London WC1X 8HB www. simonandschuster.co.uk Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi


A CIP catalog entry for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: 978-1-4711-5626-7 This book is fiction. Names, characters, places and events are either figments of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to persons living or dead, events or settings is purely coincidental. Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY

Simon & Schuster UK Ltd is committed to sourcing paper made from wood grown in sustainably managed forests and supports the Forest Stewardship Council, the leading international organization for forest certification. Our FSC logo books are printed on FSC certified paper.

Contents Part One Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen


Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Part Two Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-Three Chapter Twenty-Four Chapter Twenty-Five Chapter Twenty-Six Chapter Twenty-Seven Chapter Twenty-Eight Chapter Twenty-Nine Chapter Thirty Chapter Thirty One


Chapter Thirty-Two Chapter Thirty-Three Chapter Thirty-Four Chapter Thirty-Five Epilogue Author's Note Resources Acknowledgments

@Created from PDF to ePub


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Tuan Roob DDS

Last Updated: 09/12/2023

Views: 5945

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (62 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Tuan Roob DDS

Birthday: 1999-11-20

Address: Suite 592 642 Pfannerstill Island, South Keila, LA 74970-3076

Phone: +9617721773649

Job: Marketing Producer

Hobby: Skydiving, Flag Football, Knitting, Running, Lego building, Hunting, Juggling

Introduction: My name is Tuan Roob DDS, I am a friendly, good, energetic, faithful, fantastic, gentle, enchanting person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.