Saving forever, p.25
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       Saving Forever, p.25

         Part #3 of The Ever Trilogy series by Jasinda Wilder
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  Finally, she took a deep breath and let it out. "Cade, I don't even know where to start. This is all...so much. I guess I can understand why you were so closed off after I woke up. Why you seemed to be pulling away."

  I forced myself to meet her eyes. "Because I couldn't bear knowing what the truth would do to you."

  Quietly: "You don't know what it's done to me."

  "Then tell me. Tell me everything."

  She shook her head, and then jabbed her index finger at me. "You tell me everything." She squeezed her eyes shut. "I'm not sure I want to know, really, but I have to know. So tell me."

  "What do you want to know?"

  "Everything! Why? How--how long--how many times?" A long, agonized pause, tears in her eyes. "Who else?"

  "No one. No one else. I swear. Not that it makes it any better, but--there was no one else." I wiped my face with both hands, groaning. "As for the rest? How, why? How long? God, it was...it didn't start right away--you'd been in a coma for a year--"

  "'Didn't start,'" Ever repeated. "Meaning it was more than once."

  I could only nod and try to breathe. When I could speak again, it was in a rasped whisper. "Yes. It was more than once. You'd been--gone. I don't even know how to talk about it, Ever. You were gone. But you weren't dead. I could see you, I could visit your body, watch you breathe and watch the heart monitor spike. I could touch your hand. But I couldn't touch you. I couldn't grieve, or mourn, or move on, because you weren't dead. And I didn't want you to be. Please, you have to know that. I never stopped loving you. I never lied to you. There was only you. But...I was so fucked up, Ev. I'd lost everyone. Mom. Dad. Grams. Gramps. And then you. I had no one. I was completely alone. And I was hurt. Physically. I'm not sure I've ever really told you what it was like for me, when I first came to in the hospital. I'd shattered my left leg, basically. Broke it in three or four places. I've got pins and rods holding it together. And my arm...it was sliced to fucking meat by a piece of the car. I'd cracked my head open. I wasn't--I wasn't as hurt as you, obviously, but I was pretty fucked up. I couldn't walk. Couldn't dress myself, could barely feed myself."

  Ever's eyes were pained, compassionate. "God, Cade, I had no idea. Why didn't you ever tell me?"

  "Because it didn't matter. I'm fine now. My leg aches when it's super cold, and sometimes before a thunderstorm. But I'm fine. All that mattered--all that matters--is you." I scraped my thumbnail along the seam of my jeans, on the outside of my leg, unable to look at her.

  "I had to go through a shitload of physical therapy before I could really function. And the only person who could take me there, after I'd been released, was Eden. She was the only person in my life. Period. She was the only person who knew me, or who knew anything about me, or who knew you. Your dad took me home from the hospital, but he vanished again after that. And Eden was just...she was all I had. My only friend. And she was hurting, too. She'd lost you, too. Her twin, her other half. It tore her up like it did me. She took me to visit you until I was out of the cast and could drive. And after that it was just...someone to talk to. For a year and a half, that's all it was. Someone who understood."

  A thick silence, and then Ever sighed. "And then?"

  "And then it got to be too much. A year of...emptiness. Missing you, and visiting you. Talking to you. Writing you letters--"

  "I read them. All of them, the letters you wrote."

  I nodded. "I had to keep going, knowing you were technically alive. But, according to the doctors, you would almost definitely never wake up, and, if you ever did, there was a huge possibility that you'd be severely brain-damaged. They talked to me about--about donating your organs. Letting you die. It'd be more merciful to everyone, they told me."

  "Did you want to do that?" She whispered the question. "Did you consider it?"

  "I almost knocked the doctor's teeth down his throat when he suggested it. It was...right around Christmas. Around the one-year anniversary. He seriously called me into his office during fucking Christmas and suggested I let you die so they could harvest your fucking organs. Eden had to push me out of the office before I fucked him up."

  "So, no," Ever deadpanned.

  I laughed. "No. I didn't think about it for a goddamned second. You were my wife, my one true love. And if there was a chance--a chance--I'd take it." I had to pause to breathe, to gather my courage. "You can't...you simply cannot fathom the pain. How much I missed you. How much I needed you, and you weren't there. But you were, yet I couldn't have you."

  "I read your letters," she said, "I think I have some idea of what you were going through."

  I snorted. "Ev, babe. Those are words. And...there aren't words for what it was like. Those letters were as close to how fucking completely shredded and empty I was as the flame from a lighter is like the goddamned sun."

  "Oh." Her voice was tiny.

  "Yeah. Oh." I sucked in a long breath. "And then there was Eden. And she was--she was you. But not you. I could never mistake her for you, physically, emotionally, anything. So it wasn't that. Like she could replace you. Nothing, no one could ever replace you. But she was like...god, how do I even put it? She was like a mirror image of you. A reflection of you. Part of you--enough to remind me of what I was missing, what I'd lost. But hadn't lost enough to be able to heal from it. It was like someone had gouged out my heart, and every time I saw you it was like having acid poured into the open wound. Every day. And it never healed. Never closed, never hurt any less. Not for a moment. And Eden being around was a reminder of what it had been like to be whole."

  Ever shuddered a sigh. "Holy shit, Cade."

  "Yeah. So that's how it happened. I was so lonely, Ev. So alone. And she was there. The tiniest bit of...not pleasure, but--what? How do I even say it?" I scrubbed my hand through my hair. "A split second, a minute or two of...of not-pain. A chance to feel anything but the fucking endless pain."

  "How long? How many times?"

  I shrugged. "I don't even remember. I stopped keeping track. I never counted." I looked into her eyes, let her see into me. "It wasn't just once, but...that's all that matters. There's no way in hell I'll tell you details. I just want to forget it ever happened, in some ways. But in other ways? It was all that kept me sane, Ever. That doesn't make it okay. That doesn't make it any less of a betrayal. And I know that. I know there's no forgiving or forgetting. I regret that I hurt you, and it's fucking breaking me knowing it's destroyed what we had. But, in a way, that thing with Eden was all that kept me from...I don't know. Self-destructing. Just dying, like Dad did after...after Mom died. So you can get as mad as you want, but I'm not going to tell you anything else, other than that it lasted...a couple of months, at most."

  She nodded, sniffing. "I don't want to know any more."

  I swallowed hard, preparing. "I'm sorry, Ever. I love you. Please know that. Now, then, always. I've never stopped loving you. I never will."

  I stood up and zipped my duffel bag shut.

  "Where are you going?"

  I shrugged. "I don't know."

  "Well, hold on a second, Cade. That was your turn to talk. Now it's my turn." I never heard her move, but she was there behind me, the tips of her fingers touching my arm. "Don't you want to know what I have to say?"

  I nodded wearily. "Yeah."

  "Then sit down, and don't think you know what I'm going to say, because I'm pretty sure you don't." She took several deep breaths as I sat back down on the bed beside her.

  "Okay, first. I get why it happened. It doesn't make it hurt any less, but I get it. As much as I can, I understand. You've been through so much in your life, Cade, and the accident, me in a coma...I know I can't imagine what you went through. What Eden went through. You both needed comfort and you found it, really, in the only place it existed. So I get it. That was the easy part. Honestly. Mentally understanding why it happened, how it happened was the easy part of what I've been working through the past week."

  "Where did you go?"

  She shrugged. "
I don't know. I just drove. I drove until I couldn't see straight, and I stopped to sleep and eat, and then kept driving. I ended up in...Illinois, I guess? In the middle of some field, out in the middle of nowhere. Thank god Eden's car had GPS, 'cause I wasn't paying any attention to where I was going. I just drove. At first, I just tried to stop crying. That took most of the first day. I stopped in that field because I was crying so hard I couldn't see the road. I almost wrecked, actually, so I pulled over and cried. And then I kept driving. I sat in some little diner just off the freeway for probably eighteen hours, drinking coffee and trying to figure out what I was even thinking. What I was going to do. How I felt. If I was even going to come back." She glanced up at me, honesty in her eyes. "I almost didn't, Cade. I almost just kept going. Florida sounded nice. But...in the end, I had to come back."

  "Why?"

  "Because even with as bad as it hurt, as angry as I was, I missed you. The past week was the hardest, longest, and loneliest of my life. Not just because I couldn't sleep or eat, but, but because I--I fucking missed you, Cade." Ever rarely swore in normal conversation, so when she did, it was a little shocking. "And I realized...I just knew that I couldn't go on without you. You're a part of me, Caden. Just as much as Eden is, if not more. I need you. Which is why I'm still so--so angry. But I also can't help knowing that--I can't say that you didn't have a choice, really. But I know that you were in so much pain, after having gone through so much already."

  The towel tucked just above her breasts was loosening, and she untucked it, pulled it taut across her back, and re-fastened it.

  She sighed. "And the fact that it was Eden...that was harder for me to come to terms with. My twin. My sister. My only family. I'll never be able to look at her without knowing that you fucked her." She choked, her head hanging. "But it wasn't as empty as fucking, was it? I can't make it make any sense in my head. I tried to put myself in your shoes, her shoes. If you were in a coma, not dead but not alive? What would I do? Like I said, I understand why. But the fact that it was Eden? That's harder. It makes it better in some ways, honestly. It's strange, but...it would hurt more if it had been some random girl, someone who meant nothing to you. I don't know, maybe that's messed up a little, but it's my truth. It makes it harder, too, of course, because she's my sister and, like I said, I'll always know. She's my only family, all I have left. I think she thinks she can just run away or hide from me, but she can't. I haven't talked to her yet, but I will. It's not that easy for her. She can't just run away from this. From me."

  "I don't think it was easy for her. I think she didn't know what else to do."

  Ever's eyes blazed. "You let me worry about what happens between Eden and me, okay?" She ran her fingers through her hair, her eyes distant. Then, "She's part of me. No one knows her like I do."

  "I know."

  "What it comes down to, Cade, is that I forgive you."

  Shock hit me like a tidal wave. "You what?"

  "It's not for you. It's not about you. I'm doing it for me. Because I can't picture life without you. I love you. And I couldn't live knowing I'd walked away from the best thing that ever happened to me, if I just gave up on you. On us." She took my hands, and I dared to meet her eyes, hope blooming inside me like a flower of sunlight in a bottomless pit. "I love you, Cade. I'm angry. I'm hurt. I don't know if things will be quite the same, and it'll take time for me to...feel okay about us. But the funny thing is, I still trust you. You didn't cheat on me--not in the traditional sense. You weren't sneaking around behind my back because I wasn't enough for you or something. And I know you love me. I think in some ways, how things happened, you not telling me for so long...that was a good thing. I don't know if I would've been able to forgive you if I'd known any sooner."

  I felt my eyes burning again, felt joy and confusion and a million other emotions warring inside me. A tear trickled down my face, unheeded. "I do love you. I don't know how you can forgive me, honestly. I really don't. And I don't know how things will work. How we can be...us again, after all this."

  She seemed confused. "You're not...you're not still leaving, are you?"

  I shook my head. "No, of course not. I'm just...confused. I was...for the past eight, nine months, ever since you woke up, I've been dreading this day. I've been dreading this conversation because I expected it to be the end."

  "But it's not." Ever shivered and stood up, turned away from me and let the towel fall, then knelt in front of her suitcase and dug out an outfit. She spoke while she dressed, sliding on panties and fastening a bra, stepping into jeans. "I guess I thought you'd be...happier. I thought knowing I'm forgiving you, that--"

  "I am happy, Ever. I am. But there's more than just the knowledge that you're forgiving me." I hesitated. "There's the baby."

  She hung her head. "Shit. I'd almost forgotten." She wiped at her eyes. "I was so focused on us."

  "You have to go talk to Eden."

  She nodded. "Yeah."

  "You should know...I signed to accept paternity. I don't know what to do, how this will work, but I can't--I can't just...do nothing."

  Ever sighed. "I know. I wouldn't expect anything less from you." She tilted her head back, staring at the ceiling. "Fuck, this is so complicated."

  "So, so very insanely complicated."

  Ever slumped into the chair and put on her shoes, her coat, and then glanced up at me. "Come on. I've got to go talk to my sister."

  I stomped my feet into my boots, shrugged on my coat, and followed her out the door. The future was still clouded by a fog of uncertainty, but Ever still loved me.

  There was hope.

  PART THREE

  CARTER

  the courage to forgive

  Things were...tense. By which I mean--fuck. Eden was a disaster. The baby still didn't have a name after a week, and she was loud and constantly unhappy. Eden refused to breastfeed, for reasons I didn't dare ask about, which meant I'd been down the peninsula three times over the last week to get more formula, since Baby seemed to be hungrier than Eden expected. Eventually, I stopped a woman in the infant aisle at Meijer and asked her what kind of formula was best for a newborn, and how much to get. I returned from that trip with a tub of Enfamil that she told me would last a month, at least. Eden was in pain. I mean, she'd just had a baby, but not breastfeeding was causing her pain as well.

  She wasn't talking to me--not with any seriousness. Not about things that mattered.

  All this was made more difficult and awkward by the fact that Eden and I weren't actually a couple, and I had my own life to tend to. I had clients who needed attention, employees working on the tasting room who needed supervision. And I had my own home, which I hadn't been to in a week and a half. I'd spent nearly four days at the hospital with Eden, sleeping in a chair, and then the rest of the time at her house, sleeping on the couch. My back was protesting. I was exhausted to the point of collapse, and I needed five seconds alone.

  But Eden needed me. The baby overwhelmed her, my presence overwhelmed her, and the fact that Ever and Caden were still around made her tense. Yet Ever had vanished, with Eden's car, and hadn't returned. Eden had spoken briefly to Cade, who had acknowledged paternity. She'd returned from that visit shaking with shredded nerves. I'd held her as she cried, although I hadn't quite understood the full extent of the reason for her emotional outburst.

  Maybe it was just him, I thought. A reminder of her mistake.

  I was about to tell Eden that I had to go home for a while. I had to sleep. I had to get new clothes. I'd been wearing the same two pairs of jeans, the same two T-shirts, the same pair of boxers, the same socks. I'd showered once in almost a week.

  And then, at eleven in the morning a week after Ever had run off, there was a knock at the door. Eden was on the couch, feeding Baby a bottle, so I answered the door. Ever and Caden stood waiting. They'd obviously come to some sort of understanding, but there was still enough tension between them to cut with a knife.

  I stood aside. "Come in."

&
nbsp; Ever halted abruptly in the middle of the room, staring at Eden. Good lord, Eden was a mess. A beautiful, tortured mess. Her hair was like straw, greasy and unwashed and loose around her shoulders. The black roots showed a full three inches from her scalp. I don't know if she'd changed her clothes in as long as I had. She looked as if she hadn't slept in days.

  When the knock came, she looked up at the door, and when she saw Ever, I could see the journey of her emotions. Happiness at seeing her sister, then sorrow, then fear. Then, finally, resignation.

  "Hey, Ev." Eden spoke in a whisper, although the baby was wide awake, staring up at Eden.

  "Hi, Edie." Ever took a hesitant step forward, glanced at Caden, and then at me, and then back to Eden. "Can you guys give us a few minutes?"

  Caden nodded and left without a word.

  I glanced at Eden. "You need anything?"

  "My Diet?" She pointed at a silver can of Diet Coke on the table. She'd been indulging since giving birth, although she hadn't had any alcohol yet. I think that was coming, at some point.

  I gave it to her, then shrugged into my coat. "Text me when you're...done. Whenever."

  I headed out to the beach, found Caden standing with his hands shoved into his hip pockets, staring out at the bay. I stopped at the water's edge next to him, stuck my hands into the pockets of my pea coat.

  After a few seconds of silence, he spoke without looking at me. "You and Eden. What's up there?"

  I shrugged. "Friends." I figured he deserved truth. "For now."

  He nodded. "She's a good person. Deserves...she deserves good things. She deserves to be taken care of." He finally looked at me. The baby had his eyes, piercing amber. "Looks like you've been there for her."

  I chewed on my lip. This was supremely awkward. "I've done my best. She is a good person. What happened was...there was no easy answer."

  "She told you what happened?"

  I nodded. "Yeah." I kicked at the sand. "You and Ever. You work things out?"

  "Sort of."

  "How sort of?" I glanced at him. I didn't know him, but I recognized a man at war with himself when I saw one.

 
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