I stared at the crumpled letter by my side, the letter with her happy, loopy cursive.
Hands trembling, I tried to smooth it out, my fingers tracing the words again.
My Damien James, I hope this letter finds you well . . .
So this was how it was all going to end, then. Before I ever gave it a chance to begin. Before I could ever claim her as mine.
The universe could be one vicious motherfucker, sometimes.
An entire lifetime of knowing her. Of being wildly, madly in love with her.
An entire fucking lifetime.
And I’d waited too long.
Too damn long, and this was where I would run out of time.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
I wouldn’t hear her say I do, and ‘til death do us part.
I wouldn’t wake up every single morning for the rest of my life and see her face. Kiss her lips. Hear her laugh.
Make love to her.
But I’d offer her my heart, anyways. She could take it, fling it into her suitcase, pack it up. It was hers to take, no strings attached.
Here you go, baby girl.
Because it had always been hers. Because I had only ever been hers. Only hers.
I stared at the crumpled letter in my hand and shook my head again.
My Damien James . . .
I downed my glass of whiskey—just the one, because God knew I couldn’t tumble into that spiral—and laid back down in my sterile hotel room bed, my damn heart crushed beyond repair. The familiar dark desperation washed over me, the desperation I thought I had conquered, all those weeks ago.
“Goodbye, kisses and bites, Bella baby,” I whispered. “Be happy, sweet baby girl . . .”
And I shut my eyes against the darkness.
Nine Years Earlier
The doorbell rang. I heard low voices, and then my dad called out, “Mira. It’s Damien Mortensen.”
He was here. I flew down the stairs, my heart in my throat. Here. After five years. Finally.
A tall, lean guy was standing at the entrance next to my dad, dwarfing him. This was no easy feat as my dad, at an imposing six foot, was not a small man. I stopped in my tracks. This stranger wasn’t the little boy of my childhood. His face was chiseled, his lips set. He was wearing a black zip-up sweatshirt with the hood thrown up, the fabric unable to contain the dark hair falling out haphazardly over his brow. His long, muscular legs were encased in a pair of low-slung, ripped dark 511s, and he had on worn out, black high-top Vans. I could also make out piercings—a lot of them—glinting silver in the light. Every-fucking-where. He looked . . . dangerous. He must have heard me because he looked over my dad’s shoulder. His eyes were still a shattering, heartbreaking blue, the kind of blue that shines out after the rains have washed out the skies. And they were now ringed with smudged black liner. My breath caught.
“Hello, Mirabella.” His voice was deep, soft, barely a whisper. He took a hand out of his hoodie pocket and raised it in a half wave gesture. His nails were painted matte black.
“Hey Dame . . .”
“Sorry. I know I took my time . . .”
“Better late than never.” My voice cracked. I stumbled to him and he stepped up, engulfing me in a big bear hug as the intoxicating scent of sandalwood and smoke swirled around us. I melted against him. It felt so good to be in his strong, steel-like arms. The boy I’d known had grown into a man.
My dad cleared his throat. He didn’t look very happy at all but didn’t say a word.
“Let’s go for a walk.” I grabbed Dame’s hand and we walked outside.
I avoided looking at my dad. There would be hell to pay later. We stepped onto the tree-lined driveway, continuing past the black wrought iron gates. I glanced back and saw that he was still at the doors, staring at us.
“Let’s keep going,” I told Dame. He glanced at my dad, his baby blues dark.
We walked until we were out of my dad’s line of sight and had reached the small park and playground where Dame and I had played as kids. I sat on a swing. He did the same.
I looked over at him. He pushed back his hood. Time had hardened him. And yes, his height was an understatement. When he’d given me that bear hug, I’d barely come to his chest. Granted, at five three, I was super fun-sized, but Damien had to be at least a foot and change taller.
He raked his hand through his black hair. Sitting close to him, I could now see that it was shaven at the sides, with the hair at the crown long and falling in a mess over his brow, making me want to flit my fingers through it as it swept across his left cheekbone. He moved and the light glinted off his three helix hoops. I continued to catalog his piercings: right eyebrow, left nostril, small double rings that made up his spider bites on the lower right side of his decadent full lips.
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