Saving forever, p.7
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       Saving Forever, p.7

         Part #3 of The Ever Trilogy series by Jasinda Wilder
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  "You won't." He sounded bizarrely sure.

  "How do you know?"

  He did sob then. "Don't make me say it." He wasn't talking to me, I didn't think. "I've spent the last two years refusing to even think about this."

  "About what, Cade?" I sat up, not bothering to hold the sheet against my chest. "What aren't you telling me?"

  "Before the accident, did you know..." He trailed off and swallowed hard. His eyes were closed, his expression pinched and pained. "Did you know you--you were...pregnant?" He could barely get the words out.

  Shock hit me like a fist to the gut. "I was...pregnant?"

  He nodded. "Yeah. Eight or ten weeks."

  I fell backward, and my skull thunked against the headboard. I barely registered the pain, though. "I was pregnant?" I couldn't breathe. "Was?"

  Cade's hand curled into a fist and pressed against the bridge of his nose. "Yeah. Was. You didn't know?"

  "No, I didn't know!" I shot forward, dragging my fingers through my hair, pulled at it so the roots twinged. "I would've told you if I'd known."

  Cade was shut down, every muscle tensed, shoulders curled in toward his body, eyes closed, fists clenched, brows furrowed. He looked like he was suffering a beating, withstanding physical blows.

  "The accident...I--I lost it? Lost the baby?" I watched him with tear-blurred eyes, salt stinging, chest tight and heart thudding.

  Cade only nodded.

  "I lost the baby. I didn't even know I was pregnant. How--how could that happen? I was on an IUD."

  "You'd just gotten a new one put in." Cade could barely manage a hoarse whisper. "She said--she said that's when there's risk of pregnancy. It's a small percentage that it happens to, but it does happen."

  He still wouldn't look at me.

  "There's more, isn't there?" I sat cross-legged on the sheets, watching Cade curl inward even further.

  He nodded. I watched him, waiting. He sat up, breathing slowly through his nose. His eyes were agonized. "The caused you to miscarry. You were bad. There was blood everywhere. All over you. Me. The car. The snow. Fuck..." He covered his eyes with his hand, forced himself to keep going. "You were hemorrhaging really bad. They had--they had to do a hysterectomy to stop it."

  "A--a hysterectomy?" I didn't understand what he was saying. I refused to understand. "What are you saying?"

  "A hysterectomy, Ev. You know what that means. Please, fuck, please don't make me say it."

  I clutched at him. "No. No. Cade, no." Everything was spinning.

  The joy and the pleasure I'd felt only moments before wasn't even a memory. It was wiped out, erased. I didn't believe him.

  "You're lying. They lied to you. It's a mistake." My hands were clawed over my belly. Over my womb.

  Cade's head dropped, and his shoulders shook. "No, Ever. God, you think I wanted to tell you this? You think I'd lie about this?" He sounded as if razor blades were slicing his throat. "You can't conceive anymore, Ever."

  My fingers dug into my belly, as if I could rip the horrible truth out of my body, change it by violent force of will. "No. No." I rocked back and forth. "Don't say that. Don't say that!"

  I hadn't known, until that moment, what the ability to conceive really meant. I hadn't understood what it meant to me. I'd married Cade because I loved him, because we were perfect together. We belonged together, belonged to each other, and we always had, always would. I'd thought in vague terms of "having a family." Someday we'd have kid together, because that's what you did. We'd be ready for that step someday. That was what I'd thought. I remembered thinking it. I remembered the weeks before the accident, feeling nauseous at odd times. Being hungrier. Strange mood swings. But I'd not really thought about what it had meant. I hadn't known. I'd been pregnant, and I hadn't known. I'd been carrying Cade's baby inside me, and I hadn't known.

  And I'd never know. I'd never be a mother. I'd never have Cade's baby.

  I'd noticed my lack of a period, but I'd simply dismissed it as a side effect of the accident and the trauma and the ensuing stress.

  I lurched off the bed, stumbled into the bathroom, slammed the door closed with my foot. Fell against the wall and slid down to the floor, the tile cold against my butt and legs.

  I'd sobbed in my life. I'd been a wreck. I'd cried until I couldn't cry anymore. But never in my life had I cried like I did on that bathroom floor. Naked and alone and cold, I wept for what I'd never have, for what I'd never be able to give Caden.

  At some point, he came in and slumped to the floor beside me, wrapped me up and held me, unspeaking. He didn't reassure me, because it would never be okay, and he knew it.

  Strangely, unfairly, I felt closer to Cade in that moment of utter heartbreak than ever before.


  jumping off the dock

  I sat down on the empty beach, glad of the solitude. I'd gone to the beach early, right after breakfast. Not even eight o'clock. It was already a warm day, promising to be hot. I had my well-worn copy of my favorite romance novel in hand, and a bottle of water. The cottage was only a short walk away, in case I got hot, or overwhelmed, or needed the solace of four walls and closed blinds.

  As long as no one was around, I could leave my cover-up off and just soak up the sun. I was alone. I was okay, because there was no one else around to see the tears that fell when I remembered what I carried inside me, and the ruin it surely represented.

  I got comfortable and opened my book. I became deeply immersed in re-reading my favorite scene. I'd read it at least half a dozen times, but I never got tired of it. It was a place of comfort for me.

  I finished the chapter and looked up, surveying the lapping water of Grand Traverse Bay's east arm, the golden sand, the sun rising just above the horizon. Quiet, peaceful. And then I saw him. He'd come out of nowhere.

  Thigh-deep in the water, six feet tall, lean and wiry, corded with muscles so defined they might as well have been cut into his body by a razor. His hair was black as a crow's wing, dripping wet, thick. I couldn't help watching as he stretched his body. Couldn't take my eyes off his long, hard biceps as they flexed, his abs as they hardened and shifted. He wasn't huge, wasn't a burly beast. But he was clearly in incredible shape. He was breathing hard, his chest swelling as he sucked in a deep breath and let it out, rolling his shoulders. He'd obviously swum from somewhere far away, but where? There were a few sailboats anchored off in the distance, but they'd been there for days, no one coming or going that I'd seen. There was a small island a couple of miles out, but surely he hadn't come from that far.

  He'd literally just...appeared. A mouth-watering vision of male beauty. His face...god, his features were perfection, sculpted into a face that I couldn't look away from.

  When our eyes met, I felt a jolt in my soul, an electric shock. I forced my eyes back down to my book, but I couldn't see the words on the page. They wavered and blurred as I tried to keep from looking up, from meeting his gaze. His eyes were a pale blue, so pale they were like sunlit chips of sky-blue ice. They held me in their thrall, even as I kept my attention on my book. Or, pretended to. In reality, I was watching him through my peripheral vision as he strode up out of the water and onto the sand.

  He was, quite simply, a work of art from head to toe.

  Fucking hell. How could I be thinking that way? What the hell was wrong with me?

  I dug my fingernails into my thigh. I desperately wanted to look up, to see if he was watching me. What if he came up to me? What if he spoke to me?

  On the drive up I'd stopped for gas at a Speedway. I'd gone in to buy some Gatorade and snacks, and the clerk had asked me, in a very bored and uninterested tone of voice, how I was doing. The way people do out of habit, as a greeting, rather than actually caring about your response.

  "I'm pregnant," I'd blurted, my credit card held out in front of me.

  The clerk had stared at me in confusion as he swiped the card. "Oooh...kay. Congratulations," he said, handing my card back.

  I took my card, grabbed my things, and left, embarrassed. It had just popped out, an admission to a total stranger. The need to tell someone had been overwhelming. What I really should have said is, "No congratulations." " W-T-F, you stupid whore, would be more like it." That was what I deserved.

  What if this model-beautiful angel of a man approached me, and I blurted out the truth to him, too? I'd die. Just...die. So I gripped my thigh and my book, praying he wouldn't stop and talk to me, but also wishing, hoping desperately that he would. Because, shit, he was gorgeous.

  His step faltered as he passed me, and I thought he might stop, but he didn't. He regained his equilibrium and kept walking, out of range of my peripheral vision.

  A few minutes later, I heard--and felt--the stomach-shaking rumble of a throaty engine. Was it his? I wondered what kind of vehicle would make that kind of noise, and almost turned to look. But what if he was watching? He'd see me, and then maybe he'd stop to talk, and my wayward tongue would get me in trouble. I pictured a classic car, something low and sleek. Lean and powerful, like him. He'd moved with easy, predatory grace. He'd drive a car like that, something that would prowl, rumble.

  I wondered what his voice was like. Would it be deep? Rough? Smooth? I leaned back on my elbows, staring up at the blue sky. Now that he was gone, I could relax. I'd picked a spot on the beach that was not visible from the road, so I rolled onto my stomach, untied the strap of my top, and let the sun bake my back. I'd slathered on a thick layer of sunscreen, of course. Maybe too much sun wasn't good. For me...or for the baby.

  I wasn't even sure about what I was going to do. People talked blithely in books and TV shows and movies about "options." About "keeping it," or "getting rid of it." Those phrases weren't things to toss about so easily. Not for me. Keep it? Be a mother? Single, without a degree, without a family? I wouldn't, couldn't ask Cade for anything. He had Ever to take care of. There was no way to tell how she'd heal, how she'd recover. If she recovered. Dr. Overton had said she might not even recover completely. She could progress to a certain point, and then just...stop. Never recover all of her speech, or movement. There was just no way to tell. And if she did recover completely, it would be a long time before she was able to start any kind of life. It wasn't "resume life," really. It was more starting over. She'd have to relearn how to walk. How to use her hands. Re-develop her fine motor skills. How to write, how to draw, how to paint. Jesus, her painting. That was her life. How would she cope without that? Especially if she found out about Cade and me.

  I knew that would happen someday. I'd turned off my cell phone when I left. It was still active, still connected in case I needed it, but I had it turned off. There was no one I wanted to talk to. I'd been gone for just less than a week. Five days, in fact. Cade would probably suspect something by now. I'd never missed a day with Ever. Not in the entire eighteen months of her coma. And now I'd just...disappeared?

  It was cruel of me. To him, but to Ever most of all. Just vanishing, with no explanation? But I didn't know how else to handle it. Anything else would lead to the truth, and I just couldn't, wouldn't, lay that on Cade. But especially not on Ever. Not now.

  And so I was here. Alone. On a beach.

  I'd spent my first few days here cleaning the cottage. Tom--Mr. Callahan, the caretaker--had pulled the sheets off the furniture and turned on the water and utilities, but that was it. The whole place was coated in a layer of dust. There were decade-old canned goods in some of the cabinets. I emptied everything, dusted, vacuumed, scrubbed sinks and toilets and mirrors and counters. Mopped floors and cleaned windows. I bought a few cheap pieces of art in downtown Traverse City, just to make it homey. I replaced the twenty-year-old couch with something newer. Bought new bed sheets, towels, new dishes, cooking utensils, silverware. I stocked the cabinets with healthy food. No junk--except for a few treats, as a reward for eating healthier than usual--and no caffeine. That was hard. No soda, no coffee. Good thing I was alone, because right now I was a raging bitch without caffeine in the morning. No alcohol. That was the worst. Nothing to take the edge off. Nothing to help me forget. Just my own unrelenting thoughts...all the time.

  I spent a lot time running. There was no gym here, not something close at least, so I ran. I started with two miles first thing in the morning. Finished it with pushups and crunches. I couldn't afford to let my weight go. Not now. I noticed I was hungrier, except midmorning, when the nausea would hit. I usually puked a few times around ten or eleven, and I'd eat some saltines--a tip learned from the Internet. The feeling would pass, and I'd be fine the rest of the day.

  I also played Apollo. Ceaselessly. There was little else to do, now that I wasn't in school anymore. I worked on my solo. I played through the entirety of Bach's suites within the first three days. And then I started again. I hadn't dared bring Apollo to the beach yet, but I would. Someday. It was Mom's beach. Mom's cello. I had to play there, for her. For her memory.

  I hadn't thought of Mom in a long time. I'd purposefully put her out of my mind--it was my way of healing. I'd bleached my hair to look like hers six months after she'd died, and I'd kept it that color ever since, out of habit. Out of memory. Besides, I liked not looking identical to Ever. She was already more beautiful than I was, skinnier, glossy black hair, slimmer hips, svelte waist, delicate shoulders. Over the years I'd become obsessed with keeping my weight down. I'd grown to need the gym. Need the rush of a killer workout. It wasn't about Mom, not anymore.

  And now, here, at her family's cottage, I found myself thinking of her for the first time in years. Missing her. Needing her. Wondering what she'd say if she knew the mess I'd gotten myself into. Scold me? Yell? Scream? Refuse to talk to me? I didn't have any idea how she would have been as a parent to me in my later years. She'd been fairly even-tempered until the day she died. I got my temper from her, while Ever was more like Dad, inward-focused, quiet, slow to anger. Mom would get irritated with me and Ever. We'd get into trouble, and we'd play the twin-confusion card. She'd get fed up, and she'd yell. We always knew we'd pushed the game far enough when Mom got really mad. We knew we'd crossed the line when she stopped yelling and got scary-quiet. Now that I was an adult, would she sit me down and lecture me about my current situation? Or be a support? She would be disappointed. I knew that much.

  After letting the sun roast me for a while, I retied my top, slid off my shorts, got up, and moved toward the water. I walked in, toes, ankles, knees, then up to my thighs. The water was thigh-deep for several more feet, and then I hit the rope marking the boundary of the swim area and ducked under. Now the water was up to my waist, and then my boobs went buoyant. Finally, I ducked under, swimming underwater in the cold depths.

  Down, down, following the bottom until the pressure hurt my ears and the cold was too sharp. I let myself float upward, and I broke the surface. I saw in the distance a platform, bobbing gently in the little waves. The dock. It was still there. As a little girl, I remembered thinking it was so far out. Swimming out there had seemed so grown-up, so daring and adventurous. Now I realized it was maybe twenty feet from the roped-off section, if that far. The water was well over my head, though, and I felt an absurd moment of panic as I did a sloppy crawl stroke toward it. I'd swum in pools, of course, but I hadn't been in a lake in...years. Not since the last time I was here with Mom--well over ten years ago. How long? I calculated the time, distracting myself as I swam. She'd died when I was thirteen, almost fourteen. It had been...two years before her death that we'd come up here. I was twenty-two now. So, yeah, just about ten years.

  By the time I'd figured that out I was at the dock, rounding it to find the ladder. I held on to the metal bar, kicking my feet in the dark water. Swimming in the open like this wasn't the same as in a pool. If you faltered in a pool, you could kick over to the edge and climb out. In a lake, there was no edge. If you swam out too far, there was no escape, no easy edge to save you. It wasn't actual fear of that happening that I felt; rather, it was more the potential, the know
ledge of the possibility. I kicked and pulled myself up onto the dock, lay on my back, staring up at the sky. The morning air chilled my wet body, but the sun soon warmed me.

  I had a memory of being here, on this dock, with Mom. Ever had been on the beach, tanning. She didn't like swimming as much as I did. So Mom swam out with me, held the ladder, and waited till I climbed up. Following behind me, she sat beside me on the rocking platform. The beach seemed so far away, miles distant. I was out of breath from the swim, elated, excited, a little scared. I was going to jump off. I'd been out here with Mom the day before, but I'd chickened out of jumping off.

  Mom and I had lain, side by side, on the gently bobbing dock, watching the clouds shift overhead. We stayed until we were hot, and then Mom had climbed to her feet, slicked her hair back, and tugged on the elastic leg band of her swimsuit. I remember thinking, She's so beautiful, wishing and hoping I'd grow up to be as beautiful as she was, with her long blonde hair and green eyes and high cheekbones and easy, lovely smile. She'd glanced at me, smiling, winked, and then dove in, slicing perfectly. I'd stood, scared stiff, and watched the deep blue water shift and curl, imagining things lurking in the depths, imagining diving too deep and not being able to make it to the surface in time. Mom just treaded water and waited for me. I shuffled to the edge of the platform, peering over the edge.

  "Stop thinking and jump, Edie!" Mom had laughed. "You're freaking yourself out. I'm right here, honey."

  I was eleven. Way, way too old to be scared of jumping off some stupid dock. I'd closed my eyes and jumped. Feet first, arms flailing. I was immediately swallowed by darkness and achingly cold water. I'd fought the panic and kicked to the surface, felt the air on my face and sucked in a deep breath, spluttering, laughing. Mom had laughed with me, given me a high-five, and then we climbed back up and jumped off together, sending the dock rocking. Again and again we jumped off, laughing and making a game of who could jump farther.

  Finally, drawn by our laughter, Ever had swum out to join us. She'd acted brave as she climbed up and peered off the edge, the way I'd done, but I'd seen the fear. I remember admiring her so much for how she just jumped off, no hesitation, despite her fear. That day, watching Ever do with seeming ease what I'd been scared of, I determined to never let fear get the best of me. I'd always been the first after that. The first to try something, no matter how scared I was. It may have turned into a slight case of impulsiveness, taking risks simply for the sake of not letting fear get the better of me.

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