Saving forever, p.13
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       Saving Forever, p.13

         Part #3 of The Ever Trilogy series by Jasinda Wilder
 

  "That's just it, Carter." Eden shifted, curling her legs beneath her butt. "I don't want you to get the wrong idea about...this." She gestured between herself and me. "It can't...I'm not--"

  I held up my hand to stop her. "That's fine. You don't even have to say it."

  "Aren't you going to ask why?"

  I shrugged. "Nope. It's your business. If you're not interested in telling me, then you're not. Doesn't mean I'm gonna quit helping you midway through the remodel."

  Eden groaned, letting her head thump back onto the couch. "Goddammit, Carter. You can't fucking remodel my house just because. I'll be fine."

  "You're not fine." I held her gaze and refused to look away. "I don't know who you're hiding from, or why, and it's none of my business. But you are hiding. You need help. This is the help I can give you, and the reasons why are my own."

  "I'm not hiding," Eden protested.

  I just laughed, a sarcastic bark. "I didn't take you for a liar."

  She ducked her head, sniffed. "You should go."

  I let out a long, frustrated sigh. "I'm sorry, Eden, I didn't mean--"

  "I'm not mad. I'm just...tired. And not feeling well." She glanced up at me, wiped a finger beneath her eye. "I'm fine, Carter. I promise. I just need to rest. I haven't been sleeping well."

  She looked pale, bags under her eyes. I stared at her, remembering Britt, remembering similar words. "Maybe I should stay for a while," I said.

  Eden's eyes widened. "Oh, shit. No, it's not like that. I'm fine, I swear. I'm just tired. I'll make some tea and read in bed."

  I stood up and went into her kitchen. I remembered seeing a box of chamomile tea in a cabinet. I put water on to boil and found a clean mug, a tea bag. "Go lie down," I told her.

  "Carter, you don't have to--"

  "Just go lie down. Please."

  Eden hesitated, her expression torn between tender and terrified. After a moment, she disappeared into her bedroom. I heard the door close, then silence as she changed. The door opened again, and she reappeared wearing a pair of baggy sweatpants and a loose T-shirt. The water boiled, and I poured it over the teabag as she retrieved her book, then followed her into her bedroom with the scalding hot tea.

  "Carter, you don't have to take care of me. I can take care of myself." She perched on the edge of the bed, one leg tucked beneath her thigh.

  I set the mug on the bedside table. "I made you a cup of tea. That's hardly taking care of you." I stuck my hand in the hip pocket of my jeans. "Besides, everyone needs someone to take care of them."

  "Who takes care of you?"

  "My brothers, if I need something." I dismissed the topic with a wave, not wanting to talk about me.

  "Well, thank you. For the tea, and for everything." She took the mug in her hands, watching me as she blew across the top.

  "It's nothing. I'll see you tomorrow."

  She frowned. "Why don't you take a day off? I'm sure you have other work to do."

  "Tired of me already?" I teased.

  "No!" she just about yelled in protest. She tried again more quietly. "No. I just--I need...space."

  She wasn't tired of seeing me, but needed space. I couldn't even begin to try to figure that one out. I just nodded. "Okay, then." I felt hurt, a little, which was stupid. I shoved it away, then gave her a wave goodbye as I headed to the door. "I'll see you in a day or two, then."

  Apparently I was being too casual, because she just sighed in resignation. "Wait, Carter. You've been really kind to me. Too kind. And it's confusing me. I know I don't make any sense, but there's just things I can't--I mean, my life is just--" She flopped back on the bed and groaned, her hand over her face. "I can't even make sense to myself. You must think I'm a lunatic."

  "No," I said. "You can't explain, but part of you wants to. I get it. You don't have to explain anything to me."

  "But you deserve answers, and I just can't give them." She stared at the ceiling as she spoke.

  "I don't deserve anything. Don't worry about it. Just...know that if you ever do want to...talk, I'm here. I'll listen, and I won't judge."

  "Don't make promises you can't keep, Carter." Her voice was hard, cold.

  Another enigmatic response that I couldn't make any sense of. "I don't."

  "You don't know me."

  "I'd like to." I shouldn't have said it, but I did. "That's what all this is about, Eden."

  "If you knew me, you wouldn't think that way." She turned away from me, but not before I caught a glimpse of her tortured expression.

  I hesitated. She clearly wanted me to leave so she could cry alone, but for that exact reason, I didn't want to leave. I stood staring at her back, at the hunched, defensive curl of her shoulders, the wave of blonde hair with the two-inch-long dark roots. She looked tiny and hurting and so, so vulnerable. Lonely. Afraid.

  I sat down on the edge of the bed, near her feet. "Eden. You're not alone."

  "Yes. I am. And I should be."

  "That's stupid. No one should be alone."

  She was shaking from head to toe. "I should."

  "Why?" There. I'd asked.

  She only shook her head, a silent denial, a refusal. "Go away, Carter. You're wasting your time."

  "It's my time to waste," I said. "I choose to waste it here."

  I wasn't touching her in any way, but I wanted to. I wanted to rest my hand on her calf, or her foot, or her shoulder. An innocent touch of comfort. I couldn't walk away. I should. I knew I should. The girl had baggage, that much was clear. She had a world of hurt hidden away inside her, guilt and grief and torment.

  I let my right hand drift out, settle on her ankle.

  She flinched when my palm touched her skin, jerked away. "Don't, Carter. Just don't. You're torturing yourself, and hurting me. Just go. Please, just go. Don't come back."

  "Eden--"

  "Please, Carter." Desperation had never sounded so painful.

  I stood up slowly. Walked out of her room, but turned back in the doorway. Her shoulders were shaking, and I could hear sobs coming from her. I squeezed my eyes closed, wishing I could erase the sound of her crying, but knowing I wouldn't, couldn't. I tried to walk away, but I simply couldn't.

  She flinched visibly at each footstep as I re-crossed the tiny bedroom. She moved toward the wall as I sat down on the bed again, shifting away from me. Her knees curled up against her chest, and she trembled all over, trying to stifle her tears. In vain.

  I sat by her hips, one knee up on the bed, the other foot on the floor, partially facing her. "I'm not leaving you like this. I can't, and I won't."

  "You can't fix this."

  "I'm not trying to."

  "Then what do you want from me?" She was still fighting the tears.

  "I don't want anything from you. I just want to be here for you."

  "Why?" The single word question was a whispered, ragged plea.

  "You're too beautiful to be this sad."

  Eden didn't answer, only silently fought away the sobs. After a few minutes, she rolled toward me. Tucking one hand under her face, fixing her tormented jade eyes on me. "You're determined to make this hard for me, aren't you?" She smiled sadly at me.

  "Make what hard?"

  "I'm trying to push you away. For your own good." She closed her eyes, sighed deeply, then sat up. "Fuck it. You're going to find out eventually, so I might as well just tell you. Get it over with."

  "Find out what?" I asked, but Eden just shook her head at me.

  "Let me talk. Don't interrupt. Please." She crossed her arms over her stomach, hunched over, eyes downcast. "You were right. I am hiding."

  A long, tense pause.

  Her eyes turned up to mine. "I'm pregnant, Carter."

  Shock rippled through me, quickly replaced by a dawning understanding. "You're--"

  "Yeah. It's why I moved up here."

  "You're pregnant. Where is--"

  "That's the hard part." Eden fisted her hand into the sheets, her face contorted in pain. "Two years a
go this Christmas Eve, my sister was in a car accident with her husband. It was really, really bad. She nearly died. She--she went into a coma. The doctors didn't think she'd ever come out of it." She paused, struggling for breath, for composure. "She's my twin. Did I mention that? Identical twin. God, I can't do this. Shitshitshit." She sucked in a deep breath, let it out with a wracking shudder. "She was in a coma for a year and a half. They talked to Cade, her husband, about donating her organs. Letting her die. Cade, god, that man has been through hell. I wish I could tell you. He was injured in the accident, too. It took him months of therapy to even walk again. He--had no one. She was his only family. Parents, grandparents...he had no one. But her. And me."

  I hated where this was going. Hated the devastation in her voice, the self-loathing in her eyes.

  "Our dad, he's...he's not really a part of our lives, but our life story isn't important. There's no--no justification or explanation for what I did. What I let it happen. I was just...I'd lost my sister. My twin. She was my best friend, my only family, the only person who cared about me. She was...never coming back, but she wasn't dead. You can't imagine how that feels. And Cade...god, he was falling apart. We were both a mess. And it just--it just happened. Both of us tried to...to stop it from happening. But--fuck. It wasn't like I seduced him, I just--he was hurting, and so was I, and--"

  "Cade is the father."

  She nodded. "Yeah." Her voice was tiny, not even a whisper. Just an agonized breath of admission.

  "Shit."

  "Yeah," she agreed, with a bitter laugh.

  "What happened?" I asked.

  Eden was openly crying now, tears streaming silently down her face. She didn't try to wipe them away. Just sat cross-legged on the bed, fingers tangled together on her lap. "She woke up."

  "Does she know?"

  "No." Eden clawed at her face, scratching her nails down her skin so harshly I reached out and held her wrists so she couldn't hurt herself. "She woke up. She doesn't know. He doesn't know. How could I tell them? How could they deal with this? She may never recover, Carter. He's all she has, she's all he has. They have to have each other. I--fucked everything up, Carter. I slept with my twin sister's husband. While she was in a coma." She jerked her wrists away, curled over her legs, sobbing.

  I didn't know what to say. How to react. What to even think. "But you're their family."

  "Not anymore."

  "So you just...left? Without telling anyone?"

  "YES!" Eden screamed. "I couldn't tell them! I was afraid! I'm still afraid! I'm terrified, Carter. You don't even know the worst part."

  Oh, god. There was more? "What's the worst part?"

  "She was pregnant when she had the accident. She miscarried. It was part of why she was so close to death. She lost the baby, and to--to save her, to stop the bleeding, they had to remove her uterus. She'll never have kids. I'm carrying her husband's baby, and she'll never, ever have that herself." Eden fell apart, crying so hard she couldn't breathe.

  I couldn't help reaching for her, grabbing her by the shoulders and pulling her against me. It was the only thing I could do.

  She fought against my hold. "No. NO! I don't--I don't deserve this. You shouldn't be here. You should leave." Her sobs turned into hyperventilation.

  I held her anyway, gently but firmly. "Eden. Breathe. Breathe." She sucked in a deep breath, and another. "Good. Look at me."

  She turned her wet, reddened eyes up to mine. "Why are you still here?"

  "I'm not leaving, Eden."

  "Why?"

  "Because I'm where I want to be."

  She pulled away from me, slid off the bed. "I'm pregnant, Carter. What do you think could possibly happen between us?"

  I didn't answer for a long time. "I'm your friend, Eden. I was your friend before this, and I'm your friend now. Maybe I thought..." I trailed off, shaking my head and began again. "No. Look, there're no ulterior motives. I'm here because you shouldn't have to go through this alone. No matter what happened, no matter what mistakes you may have made, it doesn't mean you should suffer alone."

  "Yes, it does. I betrayed my twin sister. She's half of me. And I betrayed her. I'm a shitty, terrible, horrible person."

  I stood up and faced her. "No. You're not."

  Eden's eyes met mine. "How can you even look at me? How can you stand there and act like you're not disgusted?"

  "I told you I wouldn't judge you, and I won't. I'm not." I turned away, hunting for the right words. "You want to know what I think? For real?" I pivoted back to face her. "It was a fucked-up, impossible situation. And I don't think anyone, least of all me, has any right to judge you for the choices you made. You want the truth? Here's a hard question for you: What if she hadn't woken up? Would it still have been a betrayal?"

  She turned away from me, refusing to meet my gaze. "I don't know."

  "Were you jealous? Did you do it out of some kind of...I don't know...manipulative rancor?"

  "No!" Eden whirled on me. "I was confused! Alone! So was he! It was the only comfort either of us had." She deflated, her anger and outrage bleeding away, replaced once again by guilt. "But...there was jealousy. Not over Caden. Just...growing up, Ever was always better than me. Popular. Everyone liked her. She made friends without trying. She was...everything I wanted to be. Tried to be. She could eat anything she wanted and stay skinny, and I've had to diet and work out all my life to keep from getting fat. I've just...I've always been jealous of her. In general. And I didn't sleep with Cade because of jealousy. I swear I didn't. But after I found out I was pregnant and she woke up, knowing I'd spent our entire lives nursing that little seed of jealousy...it just made everything worse. Made me question...everything. I mean, did I do it to get back at her? But...I love Ever. I do. I swear I do!"

  "You don't have to convince me, Eden."

  "I'm not going back. I can't. It's best this way."

  "Listen, it might not be my place to say this but...Cade or Caden or whoever he is does bear some responsibility." I took a step toward her, hesitant. Reached out and touched her arm.

  She flinched away, pulled her arm out of reach. "Don't, Carter. No matter what either of us might feel, it's impossible. So just don't."

  "What do you feel?"

  "It doesn't matter. It won't ever matter."

  I sighed, nodding. "Okay, well, be that as it may, I'm here. I'm your friend. And I'm not going anywhere." I reached for her again, tentatively. "Friends hug, right? Just a hug."

  She sniffed, and then laughed. "That would be nice."

  I chuckled and pulled her in. I was careful about how I held her, how I stood, where my hands went. She was my friend, and that was it. I wrapped my arms around her shoulders, turned my head to the side, away from her hair. She fit perfectly against me, her head tucked just beneath my chin. Her hair smelled like citrus shampoo, and I caught a whiff of body lotion. Cherries, or lavender. Something faint, but exotic. I resisted the urge to inhale her scent and just hold her. It was a hug, nothing more. There was space between our bodies, so she wouldn't mistake my intentions.

  She let out a long breath, shaky, tremulous, and stepped away. "Thank you."

  My hand reached out and brushed a lock of hair away from her eye. I hadn't meant to do that, but I couldn't take it back. She flinched from my touch, but she didn't pull away. I dropped my hand and shoved my fists in my pockets. "You're welcome."

  "I mean, for...for listening. For not judging. For being my friend, even though I don't deserve it." She sounded as if she absolutely meant that last part.

  "Eden. Everyone deserves friendship, and understanding. That's all I'm offering."

  "You're sweet."

  "So are you."

  She shook her head. "No, I'm not, but let's just agree to disagree." She glanced past me at the darkness that had fallen. "You should get home. It's getting late. You're not swimming home, are you?"

  I laughed. "Hell, no. I've got my boat. And I can always stay at the winery, if I have to."

&n
bsp; "Good."

  "I'm here, Eden. If you need anything, just ask."

  She nodded. "I will. Now go. For real. I'm fine."

  "'You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.'"

  Eden laughed, a genuine, delighted laugh. "'Inconceivable!'" She said it with an exaggerated lisp, doing her best to sound like Vizzini.

  I grinned at her. "If you hadn't gotten that quote, I might have had to rethink being friends with you."

  "I'm glad I knew it, then."

  "Me, too," I said.

  And just like that, we were back to serious. Her eyes searched mine, and I wondered what she was thinking. Maybe I was better off not knowing.

  The lock of hair fell across her eye again, and I was tempted to brush it away once more. I didn't. Instead, I hugged her again.

  She fell against my chest with a laugh, hugging me back, her arms going around my waist, her hands on my shoulder blades. "You give good hugs."

  "So do you."

  She pushed me away. "Go."

  I left and managed to drive away without looking back. I could feel her watching me from the doorway, though. I got all the way home before letting a brutal wave of exhaustion wash over me.

  Eden was pregnant. It explained all the changes I'd seen in her, and it explained the back-and-forth of her emotions. There was something between us. She knew it, and I knew it. But like she'd said, it was impossible.

  And just because I was talking again didn't mean I was totally over Britt, and what had happened there. If anything, telling Eden about it had brought it all back. I was doing my best to push it away, ignore it, keep it down and act like I was fine but, in truth, I wasn't. I missed her. Every day, I missed Britt. And, every day, I was sliced by pangs of guilt over having not been there for her. And now, with everything that was happening with Eden, I felt even more guilt about it. The seedling feelings I had for Eden were taking root all too easily. As if, somehow, I now wanted to replace Britt.

  I went into my workshop and took the sheet off the sculpture of Britt. I'm sorry, I wanted to say. I wish you were here, I wanted to say. But I couldn't get the words out, not to a sculpture. It wasn't her.

 
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