فصل 10

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فصل 10

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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CHAPTER TEN

Owen

I’m losing track of the lies I’m telling her, and lying to someone like her isn’t normally something I would do. But I didn’t know how to tell her the truth. I was scared to let her go and scared to admit that I’m not actually moving on Monday, because the truth is, I’ll be in court on Monday. And after my hearing, I’ll be in either jail or rehab, depending on who gets his way. Me or Callahan Gentry.

When my father stopped by the studio this morning, I was careful not to say too much because I knew Auburn might be listening. But keeping my cool was harder than I thought it would be. I just wanted him to see what this is doing to me. I wanted to grab his hand and pull him up the stairs and point down at her, sleeping on my bed. I wanted to say, “Look at her, Dad. Look at what your selfishness is costing me.”

Instead, I did what I always do. I allowed the memories of my mother and my brother to talk me out of standing up to him. They’re my excuse. They’re his excuse. They’ve been our excuse for the last several years, and I’m afraid if I don’t find a way to stop using that night as my excuse, then Callahan and Owen Gentry will never be father and son again.

Nothing has made me want to stop this way of life like she has, though. As much as I’ve tried and as much as I’ve thought about it and as much as it defeats me every time my guilt wins, I’ve never felt stronger than I feel when I’m with her. I’ve never felt like I had purpose like I feel when I’m with her. I think about the first words I said to her when she showed up at my door. “Are you here to save me?”

Because are you, Auburn? It sure feels that way, and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt any semblance of hope.

“Where are you going?” she asks me.

Her voice could be used as a form of therapy. I’m convinced of that. She could walk into a room full of severely depressed people and all she would have to do to heal them is open a book and read out loud.

“Target.”

She shoves my shoulder and laughs, and I’m glad to see this side of her is back. She’s hardly laughed all day.

“I don’t mean right now, dummy. I mean Monday. Where are you going? Why are you moving?”

I glance across the street.

I look up at the sky.

I focus on my feet.

I look everywhere but into her eyes, because I don’t want to lie to her again. I’ve already lied to her once today, and I can’t do it again.

I reach out and take her hand in mine. She lets me, and the simple fact that I know she wouldn’t let me hold her hand if she knew the truth makes me regret ever having lied to her in the first place. But the longer I wait to admit the truth, the harder it becomes.

“Auburn, I don’t really want to answer that question, okay?”

I continue to stare at my feet, not wanting her to see in my face that I think she’s crazy for agreeing to spend the weekend with me, because she deserves so much better than what I can give her. I don’t, however, think she deserves better than me. I think she would be perfect for me and I would be perfect for her, but all the bad choices I’ve made in my life are what she doesn’t deserve to be a part of. So until I can figure out how to right all my wrongs, two days with her is all I’m really worthy of. And I know she said we would focus on today first before she decides to spend the entire weekend, but I think we both know that’s bullshit.

She squeezes my hand. “If you aren’t going to tell me why you’re moving away, then I’m not going to tell you why I ended up moving here.”

I was hoping to learn everything there is to know about her this weekend. I had questions lined up and ready to be fired, and now I have to withdraw, because there’s no way in hell I’m telling her about my life. Not right now, anyway.

“That’s fair,” I say, finally able to look at her again.

She smiles and squeezes my hand again, and I can’t fucking take how beautiful you look right now, Auburn. Free of worry, free of anger, free of guilt. The wind blows a piece of her hair across her mouth and she pulls it away with her fingertips.

I’m going to paint this moment later.

But right now, I’m taking her to Target. For groceries.

Because she’s staying with me.

All weekend.

She’s modest in a lot of areas, but definitely not when it comes to her food. I know she understands that she’ll only be at my house for two days, but she’s grabbed enough food to last two weeks.

I let her, though, because I want this to be the best weekend she’s ever had, and frozen pizza and cereal will definitely help me make that happen.

“I think we’re good.” She’s looking down at the cart, digging through it, making sure she got everything she wanted. “We’ll have to take a cab back to your place, though. We can’t carry all this.”

I turn the cart around right before we hit the checkout line.

“We forgot something,” I say.

“How? We bought the entire store.”

I head in the opposite direction. “Your birthday present.”

I expect her to run up behind me and protest, like most girls would probably do. Instead, she starts clapping. I think she might have just squealed, too. She grabs my arm with both hands and says, “How much can I spend?”

Her excitement reminds me of one of the times my father took Carey and me to Toys “R” Us. Carey was two years older, but our birthdays were only a week apart. Our father used to do things like that, back when Callahan Gentry knew how to be a father. I remember one particular trip; he wanted to turn the present buying into a game. He told us to pick an aisle number and a shelf number, and said we could pick anything we wanted from that particular shelf. Carey went first, and we wound up on the Lego aisle, which was typical of Carey’s good luck. When it was my turn, I didn’t fare so well. My numbers put us on the Barbie aisle and to say I was upset is an understatement. Carey was the type of brother who, when he wasn’t beating me up, was fiercely protective of me. He looked at my father and said, “What if he reversed the numbers? Maybe instead of aisle four and shelf three, we’re supposed to be on shelf four and aisle three.”

My father grinned proudly. “That’s pretty lawyerly of you, Carey.” We moved over to aisle three, which was the sports aisle. I don’t even remember what I ended up choosing. I just remember the day and how, despite that moment of terror in the Barbie aisle, it ended up being one of my favorite memories of the three of us.

I take her hand in mine, and I stop pushing the buggy. “Pick an aisle number.”

She arches an eyebrow and glances behind her, trying to peek at the aisle signs, so I block her view. “No cheating. Pick an aisle number and a shelf number. I’ll buy you anything you want off the shelf we end up at.”

She smiles. She likes this game.

“Lucky thirteen,” she says to me. “But how do I know how many shelves there are?”

“Just guess. You might get lucky.”

She squeezes her bottom lip between her thumb and forefinger, concentrating her gaze on me. “If I say shelf one, would that be considered the top shelf or the bottom?”

“Bottom.”

She smiles and her eyes light up. “Row thirteen, shelf number two it is.” She’s so excited I would think she’s never been given a gift before. She also bites her bottom lip to keep from appearing as excited as she is.

God, she’s adorable.

I turn around, and we’re standing on the opposite side of the store from aisle thirteen. “Looks like either sporting goods or electronics.”

She jumps a little and says, “Or jewelry.”

Oh, shit. Jewelry is close to electronics. This may be the most expensive birthday present I’ve ever bought. She lets go of my hand and grabs the end of the cart, pulling it faster. “Hurry up, Owen.”

If I knew birthday presents made her this excited, I would have bought her one the day I met her. And every day since then.

We’re still walking toward aisle thirteen when we pass jewelry, then electronics, eliminating both of those possibilities. We pause on aisle twelve, and even though we’re standing in front of sporting goods, she still looks excited.

“I’m so nervous,” she says, tiptoeing toward aisle thirteen. She rounds the corner first and peeks down the aisle. She looks back at me and breaks out into a huge grin. “Tents!”

And then she disappears.

I follow after her and round the corner with the cart, but she’s already pulling one off the shelf. “I want this one,” she says with excitement. But then she pushes it back on the shelf. “No, no, I want this one,” she mumbles to herself. “Blue is his favorite color.” She grabs the blue one, and I would help her, but I’m not sure I can move just yet. I’m still trying to absorb her words.

“Blue is his favorite color.”

I want to ask her who he is, and why she’s thinking about camping with someone whose favorite color is blue, blue, nothing but blue. But I don’t say anything, because I don’t have a right to say anything. She’s giving me two days, not forever.

Two days.

That won’t be enough for me, Auburn. I can already tell. And whoever’s favorite color is blue won’t stand a chance in this tent, because I’m about to make sure that the only thing she ever thinks about when she sees a tent again is Oh My God.

I get all the groceries loaded into the taxi and turn around to grab the tent. She takes it from my hands before I can put it in the trunk. “I’ll carry this. I want to go to my apartment for a little while before I go to yours, so I’ll just take it with me.”

I glance at the groceries and then back at her. “Why?” I shut the trunk and watch her cheeks flush when she shrugs.

“Can you just drop me off there first? I’ll meet you at your apartment in a couple of hours.”

I don’t want to drop her off. She might change her mind. “Yeah,” I say. “Sure.” I walk around to the back and open the door for her. I think she can tell that I don’t want her to go home, but I’m trying to hide my disappointment. When I get into the cab I grab her hand and close the door. She tells the cab driver her address.

I’m looking out the window when I feel her squeeze my hand. “Owen?”

I face her and her smile is so sweet, it makes my jaw ache.

“I just really want to shower and grab some clothes before I come over. But I promise I’m still coming over, okay?” Her expression is reassuring.

I nod, still not sure that I believe her. This may be her way of getting back at me for standing her up. She can still see the hesitation in my eyes, so she laughs.

“Owen Mason Gentry,” she says, pushing the tent out of her lap and onto the seat next to her. She slides onto my lap and I grab her waist, not at all sure where she’s going with this, but not really concerned enough to stop it. She looks me in the eyes while holding on to both sides of my face. “You better stop pouting. And doubting.”

I grin. “That rhymed.”

She laughs loudly, and have I mentioned I love her? No, I haven’t. Because that would be crazy. And impossible.

“I’m the queen of rhyming,” she says with a grin. “It’s all about the timing.” Her hands drop to my chest and she looks up at the roof of the car for a second, contemplating her next line before dropping her gaze to mine again. “So trust me, Owen. My desire for you is growin’.”

She’s trying to be seductive, and it’s working, but she also can’t stop laughing at herself, which is even better.

The cab comes to a stop in front of her apartment. She starts to reach for the tent, but I grab her face and pull her back to me, moving my lips to her ear. “So go take your shower. Come back over in an hour. Then you, Auburn Mason Reed, I will completely devour.”

When I pull back and look at her, her smile is gone. She swallows dramatically and her reaction to my words makes me grin. I push open the back door and she breaks out of her trance.

“You’re such a one-upper, Owen.” She leans across the seat and reaches for her tent. After she exits the cab, I smile at her and she smiles at me, but neither of us tells the other good-bye. I’m only saying good-bye to her once, and that won’t be until Monday morning.

I’m about to ring her doorbell. I know it’s only been an hour and she hasn’t even had time to make it back to my studio, but I couldn’t stop thinking about her walking all that way by herself. I hate that she makes that walk twice a day when she goes to work.

I don’t want to rush her, though, and I don’t want it to feel like I’m showing up because I doubt her. Maybe I should sit on the stairs and wait for her to open the door. That way, it’ll look like I got here just as she was leaving. And also, if she never opens her door, then I’ll know in a couple hours that she changed her mind. If that happens, I can just leave and she won’t even know I was here in the first place.

But what if she already left, and I just missed her because she took a cab? She could be at my place, and now I’ve made the idiotic decision to show up at her place. Shit.

“Do you want to come inside?”

I quickly turn, and Emory is standing in the doorway, staring at me. She’s holding her purse in one hand and her keys in the other.

“Is Auburn still here?”

Emory nods and holds the door open wider. “She’s in her room. She just got out of the shower.”

I hesitate, not feeling comfortable entering her apartment without her knowing. Emory can see the hesitation on my face, so she leans back into the apartment. “Auburn! That guy you should totally sleep with is here! Not the cop, the other one!”

The cop.

Emory faces me again and nods her head like she’s saying you’re welcome. I would say I like her, but every time she speaks, she’s bringing up the “other” guy. I wonder if he’s the one who likes the color blue.

I hear Auburn groan from inside the apartment. “I swear to God, Emory. You need to take a class on social skills.” She appears in the doorway and Emory ducks out, heading for the exit. Her hair is damp, and she’s changed clothes. She’s still in jeans and a simple top, but they’re different from the ones she had on earlier. I like that she’s so casual. She’s eyeing me up and down. “It hasn’t even been an hour, Mr. Impatient.”

She doesn’t seem annoyed, which is good. She motions for me to come inside, so I follow her into the apartment. “I was going to wait outside,” I say.

She walks into her bedroom and walks back out with a backpack. She tosses it on the bar and turns and looks at me expectantly.

“I was bored,” I say. “I thought I’d walk with you to my studio.”

Her lips curl up into a grin. “You’re way too into me, Owen. Monday won’t be good for you.”

She says this like she’s kidding, but she has no idea how right she is.

“Oh!” She turns toward the living room and retrieves the tent from the couch. “Help me set up the tent before we go.” She walks toward her bedroom with the tent in her hands. “It’s tiny, it won’t take long.”

I shake my head, completely confused as to why she wants to set up a tent in her bedroom. But she doesn’t seem bothered by it, so I don’t question her. Because what girl doesn’t deserve a tent in her bedroom?

“I want it over here.” She points to a spot close to her bed as she kicks a yoga mat out of the way. I look around her room, trying to see what I can figure out about her without having to ask questions. There aren’t any pictures on her walls or her dresser, and her closet door is shut. It’s like she decided one day that she was leaving Portland and she didn’t bring a single thing with her when she came. I wonder why that is? Is this not a permanent move for her?

I help her unpack the tent. I didn’t notice at the store, but it really is a small tent. It fits two people and has an optional divider down the middle of it. We have it set up in less than five minutes, but simply setting it up isn’t good enough for her, apparently. She walks to her closet and grabs two blankets that are on the top shelf. She lays them down in the tent and crawls inside.

“Grab two pillows off my bed,” she says. “We have to lie in it for a few minutes before we leave.”

I grab the pillows and kneel down in front of the tent. I push them inside and she takes them from me. I pull the flap back and crawl in with her, but I go to my side instead of doing what I really want to do, which is crawl on top of her.

I’m too big for the tent and my feet hang out of it, but so do hers.

“I think you bought a tent for fictional characters.”

She shakes her head and lifts up onto her elbow. “I didn’t buy it; you bought it. And it’s a kid tent, Owen. Of course we don’t fit.”

Her eyes move to the zipper hanging from the top of the tent. “Look.” She grabs it and begins zipping. A net lowers from the top and she continues to zip up the sides of it until a mesh screen separates us. She lays her head on her arm and smiles at me. “Feels like we’re in a confessional.”

I roll onto my side and rest my head in my hand and stare back at her. “Which one of us is confessing?”

She narrows her eyes and lifts her finger, pointing at me. “I think it’s safe to say you owe the world a few more confessions of your own.”

I lift my hand and touch her finger through the mesh. She opens up her palm and presses it against mine. “We could be here all night, Auburn. I have a lot of confessions.”

I could tell her how I know her. Make her realize why I have this overwhelming urge to protect her. But some secrets I’ll take to my grave, and this is definitely one of them.

Instead, I give her a different confession. One that doesn’t mean as much to me. I give her something safe. “I have three numbers in my phone. My father’s. Harrison’s. My cousin Riley’s, but I haven’t talked to him in over six months. That’s it.”

She’s quiet. She doesn’t know what to say, because who only has three numbers in his phone? Someone who has issues, obviously.

“Why don’t you have more phone numbers?”

I like her eyes. They’re very telling, and right now she hurts for me, because she realizes that she isn’t the only lonely person in Dallas.

“After I graduated high school, I kind of went my own way. I focused on my art and nothing else. I lost all my old contacts when I switched phones about a year ago, and when that happened, I realized I didn’t really talk to anyone. My grandparents passed away years ago. I only have one cousin, and like I said, we don’t really talk much. Other than Harrison and my father, there isn’t a phone number I need.”

Her fingers are tracing my palm now. She’s staring at her hands and no longer at me. “Let me see your phone.”

I pull it out of my pocket and hand it to her beneath the mesh, because I told her the truth. She can check for herself. Three numbers and that’s it.

Her fingers move over the screen for several seconds before she hands me back my phone. “There. Now you have four.”

I look down at my screen and read her contact. I laugh when I see the name she entered for herself.

Auburn Mason-is-the-best-middle-name Reed.

I slide my phone back in my pocket and touch her hand against the mesh again. “Your turn,” I say to her.

She shakes her head. “You still have a lot of catching up to do. Keep going.”

I sigh and roll onto my back. I don’t want to tell her anything else yet, but I’m scared if we don’t get out of this tent soon, I’ll tell her everything I know and everything she doesn’t want to hear. But maybe it’s best that way. Maybe if I tell her the truth, she can accept it and trust me and know that as soon as I get back, things will be different. Maybe if I tell her the truth, we’ll have a chance of making it beyond Monday.

“That night I didn’t show up here?” I pause, because my heart is beating so fast I’m finding it hard to think around it. I know I need to admit this to her, but I haven’t known how to bring it up. No matter how I spin it, I know she’ll react negatively, and I get that. But I’m tired of not being honest with her.

I roll onto my side and face her. I open my mouth to confess, but I’m spared by the knock on her front door.

Her confused expression reveals that she isn’t used to visitors. “I need to get that. Wait here.” She immediately climbs out of the tent, and I roll onto my back and exhale. In a matter of seconds, she’s back in her room and kneeling down in front of the tent.

“Owen.”

Her voice is frantic, and I lift up on my elbows as she pokes her head inside. Her eyes are full of worry. “I have to get the door, but please don’t come out of my room, okay? I’ll explain everything as soon as she leaves. I promise.”

I nod, hating the fear in her voice. I also hate that she suddenly wants to hide me from whoever is at her door.

She backs away and closes the bedroom door. I fall back onto the pillow and listen, aware that I’m about to get one of her confessions, even though she doesn’t quite seem ready to share it with me.

I hear the front door open and the first thing I hear is a child’s voice. “Mommy, look! Look what Nana Lydia bought me.”

And then I hear her respond. “Wow. That’s exactly the one you wanted.”

Did he just call you Mommy?

I hear feet shuffling across the floor. I hear a woman’s voice say, “I know this is last-minute, but we were supposed to leave for Pasadena hours ago. However, my mother-in-law was admitted to the hospital and Trey is on duty—”

“Oh no, Lydia,” Auburn interrupts.

“Oh, she’s fine. Diabetic issues again, which wouldn’t happen if she’d just take care of herself like I tell her. But she doesn’t, and then expects the entire family to give up their plans in order to take care of her.”

I hear a doorknob turning. “AJ, no,” I hear Auburn say. “Stay out of Mommy’s room.”

“Anyway,” the woman says, “I have to take some things to her but they don’t allow children in the ICU, so I need you to watch him for a couple of hours.”

“Of course,” she says. “Here?”

“Yes, I don’t have time to drive you to our house.”

“Okay,” she says. She sounds excited. She sounds like she’s not used to the woman trusting her to do this. She’s so excited, I don’t think she notices AJ is opening her bedroom door again.

“I’ll pick him up later tonight,” the woman says.

“He can spend the night,” Auburn replies, hopeful. “I’ll bring him back in the morning.”

Her bedroom door is open now and a little boy falls to his knees directly in front of the tent. I lift up on my elbows and smile at him, because he’s smiling at me.

“Why are you in a tent?” he asks.

I bring my finger up to my mouth. “Shhh.”

He grins and crawls inside the tent. He looks to be about four or five years old, and his eyes aren’t green like Auburn’s. They’re all different colors. Browns and grays and greens. Like a canvas.

He doesn’t have her unique shade of hair color, as his is dark brown. I’m assuming he gets that from his father, but I still see a lot of Auburn in him. Mostly in his expression, and how he seems so curious.

“Is the tent a secret?” he asks.

I nod. “Yes. And no one knows this tent is here, so we need to keep it between us, okay?”

He smiles and nods, like he’s excited to have a secret. “I can keep secrets.”

“That’s good,” I say to him. “Because it’s not muscles that make men strong. Secrets do. The more secrets you keep, the stronger you are on the inside.”

He grins. “I want to be strong.”

I’m about to tell him to go back to the living room before any attention is brought to me, but I can hear the opening of the bedroom door.

“AJ, come give Nana Lydia a hug,” the woman says. Her footsteps grow louder and AJ’s eyes grow wide.

“Lydia, wait,” I hear Auburn say to her with panic in her voice. But she says it a second too late, because I don’t have time to pull my feet inside the tent before Lydia walks into the room.

I can see her steps come to an immediate halt. I don’t have to see her face to know that she’s not very happy about the fact that AJ is in this tent right now.

“AJ,” her voice is firm. “Come out of the tent, sweetie.”

AJ grins at me and puts his finger to his mouth. “I’m not in a tent, Nana Lydia. There’s no tent in here.”

“Lydia, I can explain,” Auburn says, bending down. She motions for AJ to come out of the tent, and her eyes only meet mine for a second. “He’s just a friend. He was helping me put up this tent for AJ.”

“AJ, let’s go, honey.” Lydia grabs his hand, pulling him out of the tent. “You may be okay with allowing your son to be around complete strangers, but I’m not.”

I can see the disappointment wash over Auburn. It washes over AJ, too, when he realizes Lydia isn’t letting him stay. I follow after him, crawling out of the tent, standing up. “It’s fine, I’ll go,” I say. “We just finished setting it up for him.”

Lydia looks me up and down, unimpressed with whatever she thinks she sees. I want to eye her the same way, but I don’t want to do anything to make this worse for Auburn. When I get a good look at her, I realize I’ve seen her before. It’s been a while, but she hasn’t changed a bit, other than having a little more gray in her straight, black hair. She still looks just as stoic and intimidating as she did all those years ago.

She faces AJ.

“AJ, get your toy. We need to go.”

Auburn follows Lydia out of the room. “Lydia, please.” She waves her hand in my direction. “He’s leaving. It’ll just be me and AJ here, I promise.”

Lydia’s hand pauses on the front door, and she turns to face Auburn. She releases a quick sigh. “You can see him Sunday night, Auburn. Really, it’s fine. I should have known not to stop by unannounced.”

She looks over Auburn’s shoulder to AJ. “Tell your mother good-bye, AJ.”

I can see Auburn grimace and then just as fast, her frown turns into a smile as she turns around and kneels down in front of AJ. She pulls him to her and hugs him. “I’m sorry, but you’re gonna go with Nana Lydia tonight, okay?” She pulls away from him and brushes her hand through his hair. “I’ll see you Sunday night.”

“But I want to stay here,” he says with genuine disappointment.

Auburn tries to hide it with her smile, but I can see how his words have gutted her. She ruffles his hair and says, “Another night, okay? Mommy has to get up really early and work tomorrow and you won’t have any fun if all we do is go to sleep.”

“It’ll be fun,” he says. He points toward the bedroom. “You have a tent and we could sleep in—” AJ’s eyes cut to mine and he realizes he just mentioned the secret tent. He looks back at Auburn and shakes his head. “Never mind, you don’t have a tent. I was wrong, you don’t.”

As shitty as I feel about what’s happening right now, the kid makes me smile.

“AJ, let’s go.”

Auburn gives him another tight hug and whispers, “I love you. I’ll love you forever.” She kisses his forehead and he kisses her cheek before taking Lydia’s hand. Auburn doesn’t even turn around to tell Lydia good-bye, and I don’t blame her one bit. As soon as the door closes, she stands and brushes past me, heading straight to her bedroom. I watch as she pulls back the flap and crawls into the tent.

I stand at her door and listen to her cry.

It all makes sense now. Why she was so upset that Lydia stood her up on her birthday, because that meant she didn’t get to spend it with AJ.

Why she said his favorite color is blue.

Why she moved to Texas, when she seems so unhappy here.

And why there is no way in hell I’ll be able to walk away from her now. Not after witnessing that. Not after seeing how incredible she is when she loves that little boy.

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