Saving forever, p.29
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       Saving Forever, p.29

         Part #3 of The Ever Trilogy series by Jasinda Wilder
 

  I'd never been there. I think it was significant that he'd phrased it as he had. "Home?"

  Carter tipped my chin up. "If you want."

  I only hesitated for a minute. "Yeah. I do. I need some of my stuff, though." When we got to my house--the cabin, which had been home for so long--I realized I only had a very few things. Some clothes, some other sundries for day-to-day life, books, and my cello. I turned to Carter, stopping in the act of stuffing a handful of underwear into my suitcase. "For how long?"

  He only smiled. "As long as you want?"

  I ducked my head. "I don't have much to bring."

  Carter chuckled, stepping up to me, gazing down at me. "So bring it all."

  "Everything?"

  He nodded, his eyes serious. "Everything." We weren't talking about my things anymore.

  "If you're sure you want me there."

  He tipped my chin up with a finger. "I've been waiting to bring you to my house for a very long time, Eden Eliot."

  I blinked at that. "I can't--I mean, we can't do anything. Together. Yet." I swallowed hard. "Six weeks, which is another three weeks away."

  Carter only dipped down and kissed me, ever so gently. "I've waited this long. I can wait a bit longer." He kissed me again, a nudge and a peck on the corner of my mouth. "It's not about that, anyway. It's about you."

  I peeked up at him. "It's not about that at all?"

  He laughed. "Maybe it is, a little." His voice went serious again. "Listen, Eden. When you're ready, not before. I only want you, as you are. Good, bad, beautiful, and messed up."

  "Then let's go home."

  It took a very short amount of time to pack the rest of my things into a suitcase, and to sort out a few boxes and storage containers. It all got piled into Carter's truck and strapped down. The hardest piece to get there was the sculpture Carter had given me for Christmas. He wrapped it in a couple of blankets and secured it in the truck bed. But before we closed up the cabin, I stopped in the living room, staring at everything. I wouldn't miss it that much, I realized. I associated the cabin with Carter, and all my memories of the cabin included him, and I was going with him. Home. With him.

  Oh, god.

  I finally admitted to myself that I wanted that. I wanted him. All of him. Very, very much. More than I'd really dared to think about.

  I locked the door behind me, tucked the key into my purse, and slid into the passenger seat of the truck. Carter closed the door behind me, as he always did. The drive to the marina where his boat was docked took less than ten minutes. He had a forty-foot cruiser--a big, beautiful, expensive-looking thing. I stood on the dock, admiring her. And then I saw the name across the bow.

  Carter followed my gaze. "Does that bother you?"

  I read it again. Britt. I shook my head. "She's part of you. Part of who you are."

  He breathed a sigh of relief. "Good." He tossed the line onto the dock, then handed me across into the boat. "She was a gift from Dad. For my twenty-sixth birthday. He gave it to me after I'd bought the island. He knew what I'd name it, and he had it painted on her before he gave it to me."

  "She's beautiful." I sat in the seat beside the captain's chair, excitement thrilling through me as he backed out of the slip.

  "That she is. Ironic thing is, Britt hated boats, hated the water. Got seasick. She wouldn't have set foot on this thing. And here she has a boat named after her."

  I reached out and rested my hand on his forearm. There wasn't much to say to that, so I didn't say anything. The trip only took about ten minutes, and then an island came into view. It was small, dominated by the house. There was a sward of bright green grass ringing the house and a cluster of pine trees on one end. A boathouse sat beside a long dock, a path of white rocks leading away from the dock toward the house. A white gazebo, overlooking the water, was located midway between the dock and the house.

  The house itself was breathtaking. Pale blue with white trim, huge amounts of glass. It had a tower with a copper roof and floor-to-ceiling windows and a small balcony. A wraparound deck circled most of the house, and white stone pathways led from the deck off the walk-out basement to the dock. It wasn't a huge mansion of a house, but it was glorious and perfect. Carter cut the engines and let the boat drift to a gently bumping stop in front of the boathouse. He stepped out onto the deck surrounding the boat slip, extended a hand to me, and helped me cross from boat to him. He then went back down to the boat and handed my small pile of belongings onto the deck. I carried my suitcase, rolling it behind me, while he carried a storage container and two boxes of books, leading me up the path through the gazebo and up to the house, to what I'd thought was the walk-out basement.

  But, as I pulled open the wide french doors, I discovered the entrance to the basement was actually the main entrance to the house, leading to the kitchen.

  Carter saw my confusion. "There was no reason to have a traditional front or back to the house, no reason to have an actual 'front door,' per se, you know?" He made air quotes around the phrase. "So I designed the house to capture the most light, and to be accessible from all parts of the island. I always come in from the boathouse, obviously, so I figured this was the most obvious place for a main entrance. But I didn't want to compromise the architectural design with a stupid door."

  He set the boxes down in a corner of the kitchen, took my suitcase and put it aside, and then led me back out to the gazebo, where he pointed at the house while he explained. "See, up there, what you thought was the back of the house, with the deck? That's the main living room, the den, whatever you want to call it. The kitchen is on the bottom level, accessible from the boat dock, since I have to bring in groceries and didn't want to hike up the stairs. I like to sit out here in the gazebo and eat. I wanted the living room to have a ton of natural light and the best view of the bay, since that's where I relax. And then up there, that turret?" He pointed at the copper-roofed structure that had first captured my eye. "That's the main bedroom. There's another, smaller bedroom on the upper floor, and a third on the kitchen level, and a bathroom on each floor. Plus there's my woodworking shop off the kitchen, which you can't really see since it's largely underground."

  "You built this place?" I asked, awed.

  He shrugged. "Yeah. It was first owned by some wealthy bigwig--meant to be a vacation home, I guess. They bought the island and laid down the plumbing, electrical and all that, running it out to the mainland. At huge expense, I might add. It's almost three miles from here to the peninsula, and to lay down all that piping and wiring? Jesus. I don't even want to know what it cost, what kind of permits they had to pull for that. Then they started the foundation, laying out the groundwork and such. At some point, though, they ran out of money and had to sell. I think whoever it was that started the project must've gone bankrupt, because the price I got the island for was just plain ludicrous. So the hardest part was done--plumbing and wiring an island for modern life. I just built the house on top. And, yes, I designed and built it myself." He stared at the house, clearly proud.

  As well he should be. "It's incredible, Carter."

  "Thanks. Let's grab the rest of your stuff and get dinner going. I'm hungry." He grinned at me and tugged me back to the boathouse.

  I carried Apollo, and he took the rest of what was left, putting it in the kitchen. The sculpture he put in the living room upstairs, in a corner between windows. He kicked off his boots and toed his socks off, wiggling his bare toes against the floor. And just like that, I was moved into Carter's island home.

  It was just him and me.

  Nerves shot through me, and I wondered if I knew what I'd just gotten myself into. I'd never lived with a guy before. Never done more than stay the night, and even that was unusual. Usually I'd leave that night, or early in the morning. I was an expert at the walk of shame.

  Granted, it had been a long time since I'd done that walk, but until my...thing...with Cade, it was what I knew. I'd grown to expect that once a guy had gotten his fill of me, I'd be se
nt packing. If not right away, then in a day or two. At most a couple of weeks. So I started bolting before the awkwardness of "so yeah, it's been fun, but I've got...plans" could begin. Would that happen here? How long before Carter got tired of me? How long before I was piling my shit back onto his boat?

  Of course, as I leaned against the granite counter of his kitchen, Carter seemed to sense my sudden onset of nerves. He dug into his front pocket and withdrew a five-dollar bill, set it on the counter beside me. "Five for your thoughts?" His voice was quiet, his eyes knowing.

  Damn the man for always sussing out my insecurities.

  I shrugged. "Just...I've never lived with anyone before. Except dorm roommates, I mean. I just--don't know what to expect."

  Carter shook his head with a small smile. "Nope, that's not it. Not entirely. That's not enough for the dark look you just had."

  I sighed, examining my fingernails so I didn't have to look at him. "No one's ever--there's never been a reason to stay. Not for more than a night or two, at most." I found myself unloading the most painful truth possible, bluntly. "No one ever wanted me to. There'd be a tumble or two. Maybe a month's worth of interest. Then? Buh-bye. See ya. Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out. Even Cade, he was torn up about what we were doing. You know? I mean how could he not be? I was torn up, too, but...it was worse for him. It was his condo, his and Ever's. Their place. Their bed. I never stayed long, even with him. And it was...intense with him." I blew out a pained breath. "Shit, I know you probably don't want to hear about this. Sorry."

  He leaned against the counter beside me. "No. I want to know everything about you. I told you: the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful, the perfect and the broken."

  I shook my head. "Shut up with your stupid poetry. There's mainly just the bad, the ugly, and the broken. Sorry to disappoint." I sniffed. "He was always very up front about the fact that I was only getting the leftovers, you know? That even if Ever never woke up, if he had to take her off life support, he'd never be able to love me. I was too much like her, but I wasn't her. And whether it was me or not, someone else, someone random, he'd never love them. Not the way he loved her. So I was just getting what he had left. And I still got attached. See, I always get attached. Even when I intellectually, mentally know they're just gonna hump-and-dump me, I get attached. And, with Cade, it fucking--it meant something. We were two hurting, broken, fucked-up people. We were the only ones who understood what the other was going through--losing someone who wasn't totally gone. It doesn't make it okay, and I'll never try to excuse it, or justify it--"

  "You don't have to. Not to me, not to anyone."

  I sighed and shook my head. "Yeah, I do. But regardless, my point is, this," I gestured at the kitchen, at my pile of things, "this is totally outside my comfort zone, outside my realm of expertise. If you want me to be gone in the morning before you wake up, I can do that. Well, it might be more difficult, since we're on an island and I can't drive a boat or swim three miles. But under normal circumstances, I could do that. I can dump you right when you're thinking of dumping me. I can tell you we don't have to worry about expectations or complicated things like emotions."

  Carter's face was taking on an expression that I could only describe as tragic. Pitying. It made me angry, and a little scared.

  I swallowed hard. "But...this? Whatever this is with you and me? I don't know how to do it. I don't know what you want from me. What I'm supposed to do, or...or anything. So. So maybe you should just take me back. Before things get even more fucked up."

  Carter frowned. "Do you want me to take you back?"

  I shrugged. "I don't know. I like it here. Your home is the most gorgeous place I've ever been."

  "But?"

  He always knew. "But...I don't know what we are, or how to be what you want."

  He let out a long breath. "You're complicating things, babe." He turned to face me, but I stayed as I was, so he was looking at my profile. He didn't allow that, though. He touched the side of my jaw and turned my face to his. "It's easy, Edie. Just be."

  I glared at him in confusion. "What the fuck does that mean? Is that some Zen bullshit?"

  He laughed, hard. "God, you're making this so difficult when it doesn't have to be. And it's so cute."

  I was pissed now. I backed away from him, walking toward the door. "Cute? It's cute? I don't like being made fun of, Carter, and that's what this feels like."

  He went serious then. His face hardened, his eyes blazed, and he stalked toward me. I wasn't afraid of him, but his demeanor made me nervous. "Eden. I'm not making fun of you. You seem to be under the misapprehension that I have some set of expectations. That there's some list of rules that you don't know about. There's not." He grabbed me by the shoulders and turned me around, seemingly oblivious to the fact that I was resisting him. He wanted me to move, so he moved me. And here I thought I was strong. "Have I ever put any kind of expectations on you?"

  I didn't answer.

  "Have I?"

  Tiny, minuscule, embarrassed voice. Unable to look at him. "No."

  "You're in my home because I want you to be." He brushed my hair away from my face, the way he always did. "I'll tell you a secret: Not even my brothers have been here. Only one person on the entire planet has ever been inside my house after it was finished." He let me go, but I stayed close to him, looking up into his blue eyes.

  I was curious now. "Who?"

  He grinned at me playfully. "My momma. That's who."

  I smiled. "That makes sense. You seem kinda like a momma's boy."

  He nodded seriously. "Absolutely. I accept that label with complete and total confidence in my manhood."

  Is there anything more attractive than a confident, sexy man who loves his mother? I'm not sure there is. Except maybe that same man barefoot in blue jeans. Something that's also mysteriously and unfathomably sexy.

  I blinked at the enormity of what he'd just said. "Why not your brothers? You seem close to them. Or your dad? He did give you the boat, after all."

  He only shrugged. "I'm a private person. You're also the only person, and this time I mean the only person, who knows everything about the night Britt died. I never told anyone, obviously, because I never spoke after that night."

  "Until you met me."

  "Until I met you."

  "Why me? I don't get it. I didn't do anything. More than one person has asked what I did, how I got you to talk. And I just don't know."

  Carter sighed. "I don't know any more than you do. I just--I saw you on the beach, and that was the first time I even wanted to talk to someone. I wanted to say hi. And then that time I accidentally kicked sand at you? I wanted to apologize. But I couldn't. And for the first time, being silent seemed like a burden. So then, when you wouldn't let me drive you home, even though it was so hot and you nearly passed out, I just had to talk to you. So I did. And after that, it was easy to just go back to being me." He ran his big toe along the seam of the tile underfoot, tracking the line of the grout. "It wasn't like I just flicked a switch, or anything. Like I was suddenly okay with what happened to Britt. But I'd had a year up to that point to come to grips. I still feel guilty about it. I know I should've done things differently. But the not talking wasn't about my guilt. It was about...the trauma of it, I guess. I don't know. I tried seeing shrinks, but they don't do much good when you don't talk."

  "So where are you, in terms of...guilt, and trauma, and everything? Are you over it?"

  He frowned. "I'm not sure you're ever okay, or over things like that. I loved Britt. I was at least partially responsible for her death. That will always be a part of me. But...I can't change what happened. And I can't keep living in the past. I want to be alive. I want to be happy. I want to have a future. If I'm this silent shadow just floating through life living in a pattern, not really participating in my life, then what's the point? Why don't I just become a shut-in? Just give up. You didn't intentionally do anything. You didn't fix me. One person can't fix anothe
r. I'm not trying to fix you. What you did was provide me with a reminder that there's life out there. That I have something to say. I have desires. I have pet peeves and fetishes. Maybe not fetishes, that may not be the right word. I'm not into, like, feathers or whips and chains and hot wax. I just meant I like certain things and not others. My point is, you were a reminder that even though I'd lost someone I loved--still love, really, because that kind of love never goes away--I'm still alive, and I deserve to live my life. I have the guilt still, because that also never goes away. You make a mistake, do something wrong--it doesn't just go away. You have to come to terms with it, Eden. Accept the guilt, acknowledge your fault. Then live. Learn from it, and keep going. You don't forget, you don't block it or bury it. You just...live. Don't let guilt define you."

  I laughed bitterly. "You make it sound so simple."

  "It is simple. It's just not easy." Carter stepped away from me, moving into the kitchen and rummaging through cupboards. "Is what happened with Cade the only thing about you that I need to know? Is it the totality of you?"

  "No, but--"

  "Is having had a baby and giving it up for adoption to your sister and brother-in-law all of what makes Eden Eliot a person?"

  "No, but--"

  He set two wine glasses on the counter, rummaged in the fridge and pulled out a bottle of Chateau Chantal Riesling, twisted the top off and poured a big glass for each of us. Handed me one, and sipped at his before he continued. "Then who are you? What makes you, you?"

  I stared into the pale gold liquid. Except for the tiny half-glass on Christmas, I hadn't had a drop to drink for over nine months. I thought about the question. "How do you define yourself in a few words? I'm a cellist. I'm a twin. I'm a musician, a composer. I like to read romance books. The smutty, steamy, bodice-ripper kind. I like car-chase movies like Gone in 60 Seconds or Fast and Furious. I also like end-of-the-world movies, like Armageddon or Day After Tomorrow." I sipped at my wine, closing my eyes and savoring the sweet, cold taste. I thought, and let whatever came to mind about myself emerge from my mouth. "I really, really like sex. I like it hard and fast, and slow and gentle. A little rough, but I don't like pain. I like to be the instigator, and I like it even more when control is taken from me. But that rarely happens. I like wine, mostly white, and a few kinds of red. I hate light beer, and I like reds, like Killian's. I hate whiskey. I love gin. I'm a gin snob. Don't bother if it's not Sapphire. I can't sew, knit, crochet, or anything like that. I suck at cooking. I can burn water and chronically undercook chicken, overcook red meat, and I can't ever seem to time my dishes to be done at the same time. Recipes confuse me, but I don't have the instinct for improvisation. I love food. I'm a foodie. It's why I work out so much. Dieting makes me angry, so I work out like a madwoman instead, so I can eat what I want. I was on a diet from the time I was thirteen till I was twenty, and then one day I just said 'fuck it.' I'm gonna eat what I want, when I want, and if I gain weight because of it, I'll just work it off. But yet I still try to eat healthy, just not a diet. I had a baby, but I don't identify myself as a mother."

 
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