Chapter 2 - Part 1
Jessica was on the way to the bathroom to shower when she stopped to study some pictures on the wall of the hallway. Three smiling brothers looked back at her with cheeky smiles and happiness that made her want to tear up: Karsyn, Myles and Dylan.
It had been taken a few years after she had become a part of their lives, and she ached for the time when things had been simpler, without the harshness of real life. She reached out and touched the photo as if she could go back in time and be with the three of them; but no matter how badly she wished she could, it wasn’t possible. That time was lost forever.
Her heart ached for the person Karsyn had been, for Dylan, and even for Myles before everything had changed forever.
She breathed through the emotion building up in her chest. It was difficult not to break down and cry for what had been lost. It had been nearly two years, but it felt like a lifetime ago. So much had changed since then.
There were a few other pictures of them, from babies to toddlers and then to children. There were only a few of them as teenagers, and none of them as men.
Her attention went back to the one of the three, in the newest photo. There was no mistaking the features shared by the Shaw brothers. They all had the dark-blond hair they had inherited from their father and the green eyes from their mother.
Mrs. Shaw had died when they had been young boys, after fighting a brave battle against breast cancer. She was a memory living in the photos around the house, always smiling. There was one photo of her when she had been much younger, when she had first met Mr. Shaw. She had been so beautiful it took your breath away, the same way her sons’ striking good looks had left a trail of broken hearts.
Mr. Shaw. The pain in her chest returned and the sadness that gripped her in its tight hold was too difficult to fight off. There was a photo of Mr. Shaw with him smiling with a drink in his hand at some work event, and there was another one of him shoulder to shoulder with his sons.
She found memories of the old man, who she had considered a second father, difficult to think about. The fond memories of him were marred by the sadness that inevitably crept in.
“You taking a trip down memory lane?”
She was surprised to find Myles watching her while she studied the family photos.
“Yeah,” she said quietly, looking back to the photo of his father.
“He loved you like a daughter,” he reminisced with a tinge of sadness in his voice.
Her eyes watered. “I know,” she said, her voice hoarse. There was so much pain it was difficult to breathe.
He touched her shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze before dropping his hand to his side. She wiped her tears, feeling vulnerable.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” she murmured, wanting the pain to let up, but it never did. It was the same raw pain she had felt when she had first heard the news.
“No, it doesn’t.” He studied the photo of his father with the same sadness in his eyes. He rolled his shoulders like he wanted to shake the feeling free.
She wanted to ask how Karsyn was, but she stopped herself. He wasn’t hers to worry about and she had to remember that. Once, they had lived and breathed every moment together, but now they were nothing.
It reminded her that she still hadn’t dealt with Charlie. He deserved an explanation but she wasn’t looking forward to that conversation. He had been so good to her, and breaking things off with him felt like she was betraying him in some way. She had promised herself that once she had cleaned up she would call him and tell him the truth. Delaying it would only make things worse.
“I’d better shower,” she mumbled, needing to get away from the things that were bringing so many memories of sadness that it was difficult not to curl up in a ball and cry.
He was quiet when she left him in the hallway. He was still staring at the photos as she ducked into the bathroom and closed the door. This was proving to be more emotional than she had expected, the wounds being as raw as the day they had been inflicted.
For her own sanity, she stopped herself from remembering and forced herself to get ready for a new day when all she wanted to do was stay in bed and hide away.
There was a clean towel folded on the counter, with a set of clothes that looked way too big for her. They were Myles’ clothes. It was either this or remain in her pajamas, which showed off more of her figure than she was comfortable with.
She brushed her teeth while the shower heated up. Once she got in, she allowed the water to run down her face, wetting her hair. She washed herself and rinsed.
She switched off the shower and reached for the towel. It was then that she heard a commotion. Hurrying, she wrapped the towel around her and opened the door to peer down the hallway.
“Where is she?” Charlie asked, sounding distressed and urgent. His voice was raised.
He was here. How had he found her?
“Her car is parked outside your house,” he continued angrily when no one answered.
Had he managed to track her? Maybe through her phone—but it didn’t matter how he had found her. He was here now.
With only a towel around her, she rushed down the passage to diffuse the situation, knowing Charlie’s presence wouldn’t be welcome to Myles. When everything had gone down, Myles’ loyalty to his brother had put him at odds with Charlie.
“Jessica,” Charlie said with concern as he grabbed her by the arms when she entered the living room.
“Charlie,” she murmured, feeling overwhelmed.
Her eyes shot to Myles. He stood to the side with his arms crossed, his disapproval clear in his features. Once, Charlie and Myles had been close, but now they could barely be in the same room for a short time without tension.
“I need a minute, Myles,” she said, wanting some privacy while she dealt with her unwanted visitor.
He hesitated for a few moments, sizing Charlie up before he left them alone.
“What happened, Jessica?” Charlie grasped her arms more tightly as soon as Myles left. “What the hell made you come here of all places?”
He wasn’t wrong. Her coming to Myles hadn’t been planned. The choice had come from a place where her pain lived day in and day out.
She closed her eyes briefly to build up the courage to do what she had been avoiding for too long. This wasn’t the time to be a coward. It was time to be brave, even if it scared her.
When she opened her eyes again, they were filled with the distressed features of her fiancé.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured, feeling the tightness in her throat.
He released her. “Sorry for what, exactly?” His eyes went to the door Myles had exited through.
“I shouldn’t have left like that,” she began to explain, trying to find the right words to tell him what he needed to know.
“Why did you?” he asked, standing back to study her while she pulled the towel tighter around her. She wished she had taken a moment to get dressed.
She hesitated, trying to find the best way to tackle the situation, but she realized there was nothing that was going to make this any easier.
“Talk to me, Jess. This is me,” he added sincerely, and it made her feel worse than she had before.
“I…” Words failed her. She made a point of looking him straight in the eye. It was time for honestly. “I can’t…marry you.”
His features froze.
“If you weren’t ready, all you had to do was say so. You didn’t have to leave in the middle of the night.” He dragged a hand through his hair. “You have no idea how worried I was when I woke up and you were gone. I found the ring on the table.”
He took her ring out of his pocket and held it out to her. But instead of taking it from him, she stepped back. When he took in her somber expression, he stopped. Realization dawned in his features. “It’s not just that, is it?”
The time to be honest was here, even if it was going to hurt.