Kylie found him on the back porch, staring out into the yard, his arms crossed and his breath coming out in white puffs of frozen air. His chest and feet were still bare, unprotected from the weather. He looked lost, buried deep in his thoughts, oblivious to the frigid temperature. She stepped outside and went to him, the worn wooden floor like ice under her bare feet.
“You’re going to catch a cold.” She wrapped her arms around him from behind, kissed along his shoulders.
Jimmy ran his hands lightly over her arms. “I never meant to do that.”
“I didn’t either.” She rested her cheek against his skin.
“I don’t know what happened. It was too much… It happened too fast.” He laced his fingers with hers against his chest. “I lost control.”
She kissed across his shoulders again, nibbled on his neck.
“I hurt you.”
“You didn’t,” she assured him.
“I saw you crying.”
“You didn’t hurt me, Jimmy. I swear.”
He turned around in her arms, his hands coming to her face. “I love you.” He held her gently, his eyes pained, conflicted, begging her to return his words.
“I love you, too,” she admitted, to him, to herself.
“Yeah?” he asked on a hoarse whisper, his crystal blue eyes filling with tears and cautious hope.
He kissed her softly, slipped his hand under the t-shirt she had on. “Is this my shirt?”
“Yeah.” She smiled against his lips.
“It looks really good on you,” he whispered, his mouth still lightly pressed into hers. As he leisurely ran his hands up and down her back, his gentle touch caressed her heart, and she felt the first beats of forgiveness.
“I’ve missed this.” As she said the words, her cell phone rang in her pocket, vibrating against her hip, and he groaned.
“I can’t. It might be Mom about Brayden.” She leaned back in his arms to pull her cell phone from her pocket. Jimmy shifted his kiss to her collarbone, so she could answer. “Hello?”
“You should have seen the sunrise this morning, Kylie. The depth of Nature’s palette is truly breathtaking,” David gushed in warm passion.
Kylie immediately ran cold. She pushed away from Jimmy, trying to physically push away the guilty knot tying up her insides. “Now’s really not a good time. Can I call you back later?”
Jimmy looked at her with confusion. “Who’s on the phone, Ky?”
“Who was that?” David asked.
“No one,” she stammered, uncertain whom she answered. Her hand trembled as she swiped the screen to disconnect and rushed to push the phone in her pocket.
“Who was on the phone?” Jimmy repeated his question.
She didn’t want to lie to him. “David.”
Her eyes darted away and then back to his, giving him the only answer he needed.
“Un-fucking-believable.” He slammed through the door, into the kitchen, the windows rattling in his wake.
The knot in Kylie’s stomach grew so big she thought she would choke on it. She eyed the screen door on the side of the porch that led out into the yard. She could slip out the back, catch the next flight to California, put them both out of their misery. Forever. It would be so easy to run. But she didn’t.
She owed him an explanation. She owed him an apology. She owed him the right to be the one to decide to call it quits.
She owed him the same opportunity to believe in faith, in love, to dare to keep going, as he had given to her all those months ago in her kitchen. The opportunity she had foolishly thrown away.
Once again, she squared her shoulders and went looking for him, one final time.
He knew he had no right to be pissed, to feel betrayed, but he did. He wanted to run, but it was his house. He had nowhere to go. He was trapped, stuck pacing his shithole of a living room like a rat trapped in a cage, and when she pushed through the plastic sheeting, looking at him with her sad, fucking eyes, he lost it.
“Get the fuck out of my house!”
“Can we talk about this?”
“Jimmy, please…” She reached for him, but he pushed her away.
“Fuck you.” He never wanted her to touch him again.
“Whatever you’re thinking about David, you’re wrong.”
“Oh, I know I was wrong! I was definitely wrong when I thought we might have a chance to work things out,” he agreed, his heart slamming against his ribcage in anger. “And I was sure the fuck wrong when I thought you still loved me.”
“I never stopped loving you,” she said, her voice barely a whisper.
“Are you sleeping with him?” he demanded.
“Don’t lie to me.” He grabbed onto her upper arms, his fingers digging into her skin. She let out a yelp of pain, but he couldn’t loosen his grasp. If anything, he held on tighter, desperate for the truth. “Tell me right now if you’re fucking him!”
“I’m not.” Her eyes were wide, terrified, as she rushed to explain, “We went out a few times—that’s all, I swear. We never—”
“Tell me the truth, Ky!” He wrenched her arm, shaking her. “Tell me!”
“You cheated on me!” she screamed, her fear morphing into rage as she shoved him away. “You have no right to be pissed about anything I do, ever again! You lost that right the night you slept with Marissa.”
“I never slept with her!” Jimmy snapped back. “Jesus, Ky.”
Her face drained to white, her eyes flashing through anger and betrayal as she processed what he had said. “Excuse me?”
He ran his hands through his hair in agitation, scrubbing at his scalp, the air in the room suddenly still, nauseating him as Kylie stared at him in silent shock. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry?” she parroted in a forced whisper. Tears poured down her cheeks and she started to shake violently.
“I didn’t sleep with her,” he said, knowing it wouldn’t matter, but knowing he had to try. “I kissed her, and I touched her, but I never slept with her.”
She looked at him as though he spoke to her in a foreign tongue.
“I was drunk, and I was pissed.” Memories of the night flashed through his body as though it was happening in real time, the intensity of the sensation confusing him even more. “It was raining—I wasn’t thinking straight, and she was there—”
“And you slept with her,” Kylie insisted.
“But you told me…” She trailed off, her gaze pulling inward. “You said…”
“I never told you I slept with her. You just assumed I did.”
“No!” she screamed, her hands balling into fists, her face flushing in rage. “Don’t you dare turn this around on me! You came into my kitchen at five in the goddamn morning! You apologized to me, over and over again! You told me—” Her eyes grew wide and her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, my god… You wanted me to break up with you…”
“No!” he insisted. She was getting it wrong. She didn’t understand. How could he make her understand when he didn’t understand it himself?
“You wanted me to break up with you,” she repeated with more conviction. “You wanted out.”
“No.” His stomach churned violently as he reached for her.
She took a step back, her features marred by betrayal. “You’ve never loved me, have you?”
“I have always loved you.” Desperate to make her understand how he felt, he pulled her roughly into him and kissed her. The tighter he held her, the harder he tried to show her how much he loved her, the more she struggled to be free. She shoved hard and slipped from his hands, fleeing from the house, into the chilled winter air.
He ran after her, screaming for her to stop. “Kylie!”
She whipped around, the winter wind swirling her hair about her face. “You broke my little boy! You used me, and you lied to him! You told him you loved him, and you let him believe it, and then, when you decided you were done playing house, you threw him away like he was nothing. And he hurts every day because of what you did!”
“I did not throw him away! I would never throw him away!” he cried, her accusation crashing into his chest in painful waves of guilt and panic, forcing to the surface anger born in his deepest fears. “You stole him from me!”
“He was never yours!”
“He is my son!” He slammed his fist into his chest, over his heart. “He will always be my son!”
“He will never be your son.” She stood ramrod straight, defiant, beside her car, anger and hatred radiating from her body in waves of scorching heat. Carefully enunciating every word, as though to ensure he fully understood, she said, “You are nothing to him.”
Barefoot, wearing his t-shirt and robbing him of his entire world, she climbed into the Mustang, shoved the key into the ignition and cranked the car to life, revving the engine to red-line levels before throwing it into reverse. He had to jump out of the way as she peeled out of his driveway, gravel pelting his face and body when she whipped the wheel and slammed the car into drive.
As he watched her tear up the road, he collapsed to his knees under the immense weight of despair, and he wept.