💑EP THIRTY THREE💑
I tried to breathe steadily. I opened my eyes slowly, almostafraid of what I would see before me. My dream about Tomhad seemed so real, I thought I had died and he’d come toget me. I wouldn’t have minded that. I missed him. Now,more than ever, I missed the brother who had alwaysbrought the sunshine with him. God knows I needed a ray ofsunshine in my life right now.
But he wasn’t real. He was a dream. And in my dream,he promised I would live a long and happy life. So I couldn’tbe dead. I was still breathing.
When reality finally dawned on me, I realized that I wasin a huge, dark room. There was light coming from thefireplace. A storm was still raging outside. A bolt of lightningwould sometimes illuminate the room, followed by a bellowof thunder. I shivered even though I felt warm. I almost feltscared. And then I remembered that I wasn’t alone.
I gently pulled away from the person holding me. Theroom that I was in was very unfamiliar to me. I hadn’t beenthere before.
I looked up to see the face of the person who wascomforting me, making me feel warm and safe. The firecoming the fireplace and the lightning outside gavevery little light in the room. But it was enough for merecognize his face.
My heart pounded in my chest, and I forgot to breathe. Ishould have known. The warmth of his arms around me, thecomfort that his body provided, and the intoxicating scent ofhis skin were all too familiar to me. So familiar, yet he seemed so unreal. He was so close, and yet he felt so faraway.
“Travis…” I whispered his name. The feel of it on my lipsbrought up so many of the emotions I had been bottling upinside me. Pain. Anger. Love.
He didn’t say anything. He stared at me for a while, andthen he pressed his palm against my forehead, feeling mytemperature.
I pushed farther away from him. This time, he let me go,allowing me to put some distance between us. I sat up onthe bed.
“Take it easy, Brianne,” he finally said to me.
I found that I was dressed in one of his pajama bottomsand shirts. They were too big for me, but they were enoughto keep me comfortably warm.
“Where are we?” I asked, trying to keep my voice steady.
“In my room. In my grandparents’ house,” he replied.
“You fainted yesterday,” he answered. “I was just rightbehind you. What were you doing bathing in the storm?”
I shook my head. I remembered flying home and walkingtoward Tom’s resting place. I remembered what I told Tom inthe graveyard. I was setting Travis free…not only of thepromises he’d made me, but also of the promises that he’dmade my brother.
“I need to go home,” I said.
Travis took a deep breath. “You are home,” he said. Hisvoice lacked the trace of anger or coldness. It was steady,and somehow there was a trace of anxiety.
I raised a brow at him.
“Remember, you’re still married to me. This is yourhome, too,” he said in a low voice.
I shook my head. “Not for long, Travis,” I said to him.
“I’m sorry for all the trouble.” I took a deep breath andwilled all my strength to be able to speak the next wordsthat came out of my mouth. “You’re free of your promises tome or to Tom now. You can live your life as you please. It’stime you made your choices without considering any vow orpromise you made my brother or me all these years. Wehaven’t been fair to you. It’s time to set you free.”
I slowly stood up from the bed.
“I’m not going to bother you anymore,” I said to him. “Iwill consult with a lawyer and file a divorce. Don’t worry i will not take anything from you. I’m keeping my part of thebargain. I don’t want your money.”
He didn’t say anything. I had my back on him while I wassaying those words. I was afraid to look at him. I was scaredthat I would lose my courage if I looked into his eyes.
“Th-thank you for everything you’ve done for me,Travis,” I said. “I want you to know, I will not hold anygrudge against you…after all this ends.”
I bit my lip to keep from crying. “And I h-hope…someday…we can still be…friends…but I cannot keepholding you hostage to your promises, to your guilt, or yourconscience…and likewise, I can’t allow myself to be hurt byyou anymore…I think it has to end. Here. Now.”
This was harder than I thought. But I knew that I wasstronger than I gave myself credit for. I stood up on my owntwo feet those months that Travis wasn’t with me. I wouldbe okay. And I’d always wish for Travis to be happy.
When I finally looked up at him, I found that he wassitting on the bed, his back on me. He was looking down at the floor, lost in his own thoughts, taking in every word thatI’d just said to him.
I took a deep breath. “I was at Tom’s grave…to tell himthat I was setting you free…of the promises that you made him before he died. You’ve fulfilled more than that already…it’s time to let go, Travis. It’s time to move on. It’s time tounbind your fate from mine…so you can live your own life,the way you want it…the way you were supposed to live it.”
God! I didn’t know where I’d gotten the courage to say, those things without breaking down on his bedroom floor.
Then I remembered seeing Tom again…after manyyears. He was just as happy, just as positive as he was whenhe was alive. And he promised me that things were going tobe okay. That I would be happy. I guessed I could hold on tothat hope. After all, Tom was also one guy who could keeppromises.
I stared at Travis’s finely sculpted back. He just satthere. He didn’t move…didn’t say a word.
After a couple minutes of silence, I turned to look at thecouch, trying to see if my clothes and shoes weresomewhere in the room.
I heard Travis’s sharp intake of breath. Then finally, hesaid in a sober voice, “You released me of my promises totake care of you…but don’t you remember? You promised totake care of me, too.”
I bit my lip. I remembered making that promise, too. Butwith Travis shutting me out of his world, I guessed that wasimpossible to keep. We were too broken. I’d hurt him deeply.
I didn’t trust him completely when I thought I trusted himwith my life. He hurt me terribly when I thought he’dbetrayed my trust and when he said hurtful words to me. Herisked our baby’s life, when I would have given everythingto keep it safe. I wouldn’t be able to give him the family hewanted when I knew it was the only thing that could save
him. I’d tried to fix us…but he didn’t give me a fightingchance.
How else could I keep my promise to save him? To takecare of him? I know they were impossible now.
Finally, he stood up from the bed and faced me. His facewas as dark as it was broken. “You can go now, Brianne,” he said in a low, sober voice. “But I promise you, no matterwhere you go, no matter where you run…I will find you. Andyou know that when I make a promise…I will die to keep it.”
He took a deep breath. “Because while you released mefrom the vows I made to Tom, I will never release you fromthe promises that you made to me…if that’s the only way tokeep you…to make you mine forever.”
Tears welled up in my eyes. I didn’t try to hide themfrom him this time. I shook my head. “But you don’t want tokeep me forever, Travis.”
Anger, pain, and desperation crossed his face. “Dammit,I do!” In a few strides, he was in front of me, snatching meto him, enveloping me in his warm embrace…crushing meagainst his bare chest.
“I…tried to see you. I called you about a hundred times,”I said to him. “You didn’t even want to see me or talk tome.”
He gave out a sigh of frustration but kept me prisoner inhis arms. “I was afraid, Brianne!” he said. “I was afraid ofwhat you were going to say to me…I wasn’t strong enoughto hear you say the words you are saying to me now. Nomatter how much I pictured a happy ending for us, I couldn’tsee you ever forgiving me. I knew you were going to ask meto set you free. I couldn’t think of any other reason why you
would want to speak to me…except to say the words youjust said to me now. I couldn’t hear them. I couldn’t hearyou say that it was over…so I avoided you instead. I stayedout of the country most of the time, because I was afraidthat divorce papers were on their way. And I couldn’t faceit.”
“But…that’s not why I wanted to talk to you, Travis.”
There was silence for a while. Travis kept his arms tightaround me, refusing to let me go even for just a moment.
Then he asked, “What were you going to say to me then?”
“I was…going to tell you that I remembered everythingthat happened that night. That I was sorry for hurting you,for calling you a beast! That…I wanted to try again.” Tearsrolled down my cheeks, soaking Travis’s chest. “But Irealized…in the end, it was better to let you go.”
I felt him shake his head. “Even if you let me go…I won’tlet you go!” he said in a rough voice. “Remember I told youthat you are the air that I breathe!?”
“You avoided me these past few months. And youbreathed just the same.”
“No,” he said. “I died the moment I walked out the doorof your apartment…that day you told me you werepregnant.”
I savored the feel of Travis’s arms around me. I felthome…I felt safe again. But I realized that, just the same,this did not change anything between us.
“We said hurtful words to each other…that destroyed usforever,” I said.
He shook his head. “No. It could never destroy us,Brianne. We’re stronger than you give us credit for.”
“How can it not destroy us, Travis?” I asked. “I called youa rapist, a beast! I accused you of raping me to get an heirto win your battles with your father.”
“And I forgive you. I know now that you didn’t meanthose words. You were angry and hurt. And you were right—I did betray you…I should have told you what had happenedbetween us before we got married. Damn! I shouldn’t evenhave left you in the room that night. I should have waitedfor you to wake up.”
He was right. He should have waited for me to wake up.But I understood now why he didn’t. He’d promised me overand over that he would protect me from himself. I wasconscious that night, but I wasn’t entirely myself. Hecouldn’t forgive himself for letting go of his control. He feltangry with himself for slipping…even though I preventedhim from making the right choice.
I remembered the most hurtful words he’d said to methat day while we were fighting. “You said…you shouldn’t have married me at all! You felt this was a mistake.”
He laughed bitterly. “No. That’s not what I meant at all.Marrying you was probably one of the few things I did right,”he said. “When I said that, I meant I shouldn’t have marriedyou without laying all the cards on the table. I felt like I’dcheated you. I should have told you before the wedding…that we’d made love…that you’d told me you loved me…
and that I loved you too. And when I married you, I nolonger intended just to buy you time to find the man youwere going to spend the rest of your life with…because Iintended to let you spend the rest of it with me. You shouldhave known all that before you married me…I should haveleft you with a choice.
“I knew you could still choose to marry me after knowingwhat I really felt…and what my new conditions were. But Irealized that when you were sober, you hadn’t even figuredout how you really felt about me. So I also knew there was afifty percent chance that you would choose not to marry meat all. And I didn’t want to take that chance. So I chose notto tell you about that night. I married you…without tellingyou what you were binding yourself to.” He paused for a
moment and then he said, “I felt that I had started ourmarriage with lies…and treachery. I was a manipulativeman, Brianne…and I felt ashamed because I felt I’dmanipulated you to get what I wanted…into the ending thatonly I might end up winning.”
I listened to his every word, trying to accept the apologybehind them. His arms tightened around me once again.
“But without all those complications in the way, Brianne…Iwould marry you over and over again. I’m sorry if I made itsound like I didn’t want to marry you at all. I think I’vewanted to marry you since your sixteenth birthday…after Itook you out on our first date. I’ve always known I wantedyou…but I always told myself I was forbidden to have you.Maybe all these years, I was hoping you wouldn’t findanother guy to settle down with. Because I knew that when the time came for you to call in my promise…it might be theonly chance for us to belong together. And that night wemade love, I realized why I was waiting for you…taking careof you all these years…why you meant the whole world tome…why for years you’d been the meaning of my life. It wasn’t just because of my promises to your brother,Brianne.”
I closed my eyes and more tears slid down my cheeks.Yesterday, I would have been jumping up and down to haveTravis say those words to me. But today, I realized theintensity of the damage in our relationship. Apart from thenight I thought he had betrayed me, a lot of things hadhappened that could put a wedge between us forever. And Icouldn’t take him back now…and risk losing him again inthe future. I was stronger now, but I wouldn’t be able torecover from this the second time around. “I lost your child,Travis. You gave it up,” I said. “I wouldn’t have risked his life.I would have fought.”
“I know,” he replied. “But the choice was left up to me.And it killed me to make that decision. I loved you both. Iknew you would fight for our baby’s life. But I chose to fightfor yours.” I could hear the tears in his voice. He took acouple of deep breaths, trying to keep his voice steady. “Ittore me apart to make that choice, Brianne,” he said. “That
reduced me to the cold, ruthless devil I was before I marriedyou. Because I would have to live with myself, knowing I hadsacrificed our child…but I couldn’t bear to lose you, too…tonot see you again…not see you smile again…even if Icouldn’t have you…I still wouldn’t be able to live in a worldwhere you did not exist. And I know you won’t be able toforgive me for that. But I’m really sorry, Brianne. I just love
you too damn much—I just won’t live without you…regardless of whether we are together or not.”
I remembered waking up in the hospital that day. Iwasn’t prepared for the pain that would greet me. I thoughtabout our little angel once in a while. He would have been a couple of months old by now. I always wondered what hewould have looked like and how he would be when he grewup. The biggest pain of losing a baby is confronting the
hundreds of questions about what could have been if he orshe had survived. Knowing that you will never know breaksyour heart every time you think about it.
And I knew…just like losing Tom, the only other personwho felt the exact same pain I felt when I lost my baby wasTravis. And knowing him…he would deal with his pain on hisown. I understood now why he ran away from me. Why hewas not at the hospital when I woke up, even though I knewhe’d held me during the times I was unconscious. He wasbroken because we’d lost our child. He was angry because it
was his decision to risk it. He couldn’t face me because heknew I was blaming him for all of it.
I heard his sharp intake of breath. “We cannot be over,Brianne…” he said in a desperate voice.
“Th-there was a woman…you were with a woman, thelast time I saw you.”
He pulled away from me. I stared up to look into hiseyes. I found that his cheeks had been streaming with tears.He gave me a broken expression.
I took a deep breath. “The one you were with when Iwent to your apartment.”
He thought for a while and then finally, he remembered.
I nodded. He smiled at me. “That was Sarah Atkins,” hesaid. “For your information, she’s fifty years old, and I don’tfancy older women. She’s almost like a mother to me. She’sour old art teacher, Mr. Atkins’s, sister. She’s been my artbroker for years.”
He nodded. “Sometimes I buy paintings. If she has agood find that’s worth buying, I buy it. This time, I asked her to check something out for me, and she came to deliverwhat I asked her to buy.”
“There was no other woman?” I asked.
He smiled at me wistfully. “I promised you I would nevercheat on you, Brianne. You still are my wife, remember?”
Tears kept streaming down my face. I was having newhope again. Hope that all is not lost. Hope that there was achance Travis and I could get through this.
“Do you want to see what I asked her to buy?”
He didn’t wait for me to answer. He motioned his handnear the couch where a painting in a golden frame wassitting. It was still partially wrapped, but I recognized thatpainting. It was mine. The one I’d replicated from his work inhigh school.
“How…how did you…” I stared at Travis.
“I didn’t miss any of your dances. Did you really think Iwould miss your art show? I asked Ms. Atkins to photographall your pieces so I could see your work, and see which onesI wanted to buy,” he replied. “When I saw this…” Hestopped and took a deep breath. “This completely tore meapart, Brianne. And it made me realize what I needed to do.It made me realize that it was time for me to find thecourage to face you…because regardless of what you wouldsay to me…it would not change the ending I wanted.”
He gently pushed me so I could sit on the bed. Hekneeled in front of me. “I realized that no matter how manytimes you ask me…I cannot stop fighting fate for you.” Tearsrolled down his cheeks, and in his eyes, I saw that his soulwas torn and broken, too. “We cannot be over, Brianne. Wecan never be…I won’t let it.”
I struggled to find my voice. “Travis…you mustremember…I…may not be able to conceive anymore. And Iknow you have dreams of having…kids. Lots of them.”
He chuckled bitterly. “I’m not going to have them withanother woman, Brianne. The doctor said thirty percent,remember? We’ll work through that percentage. We’ll keep trying. And if we can’t be blessed with one, then we canlook at other options. But I would rather be childless withyou…than be the father of some other woman’s children.”
He shook his head. “I already chose you over my heir once,Brianne. I will still make that choice now. And I will makethat choice over and over again.”
He held my face between his palms. I couldn’t stopcrying.
“You told me once that you were tired, Travis.”
He shook his head. “I said I was tired of not getting itright…every time, I only wanted to do what you and Tomasked of me. But somehow…in the end, I always lost, Ialways ended up eating my heart out. Tom asked me to takecare of you, and I ended up feeling something for you. Youasked me to take your innocence from you…I was stupid
enough to agree…not knowing that I would end up cravingyou like a drug!
“You asked me to marry you…as your safety guy, and Iended up not ever wanting to let you go. You asked me tomake love to you that night, and I ended up realizing I wasmadly in love with you, that I had been in love with you allthose years. I was tired of doing you all those favors andrisking losing you forever. I’m not saying I was tired of
taking care of you, Brianne. I will never be. I will put mymasks down for you a hundred times over…but I’m tired ofbeing afraid of losing you. I need assurance that I neverwill…that you’re mine forever. That’s all I ask.”
I pulled his hands away from my face and rested themon my lap. I realized that he was wearing his wedding ringagain.
“You’re wearing your wedding ring again!”
“I never took it off.”
“I saw a picture of you recently, in a magazine. Youweren’t wearing your wedding ring there.”
“That was taken months before we got married,” hesaid. “If they took a picture of me now, after we’ve been apart, I’d be in a much worse shape than I was in thatpicture.”
I stared at him. I could not believe what I’d beenhearing. And slowly, I was beginning to trust again. Tobelieve in Travis…to believe in Tom.
Is this what you meant, Tom? That I would live a longand happy life? With Travis?
He pulled me gently by the nape of the neck and kissedmy forehead. “You see? You can let me go all you want. Butnothing is going to change because I choose not to let yougo. And if I have to spend the rest of my life chasing you,running after you…then so be it. As long as in the end, Iknow you and I will be together.”
“Travis…” I stared up at him. “Have you forgiven me? Forwhat I did to you? All that I said to you?”
He smiled. “Forgiven. Forgotten,” he said. “If you forgiveme for hurting you, for avoiding you…for saying words that Iknow must have hurt you…if you give me another chance,I’ll spend the rest of our lives making up for it all…I’ll spendthe rest of my life making you happy…”
“There’s nothing to make up for, Travis,” I said and thistime, the tears I cried were tears of happiness.
He pulled me to him. “God, I love you, Brianne!” he said.
“I love you so much; I died the moment I thought I lost you!And I swear to God, I’m never going to lose you again!”
“I love you, too, Travis! And I will never doubt yourintentions, or your love ever again.”
He pulled away from me and smiled. Then gently heleaned his face forward and kissed me on the lips. He kissedme gently, and then more passionately.He pushed me down the bed and continued kissing me.He kissed me as if he couldn’t believe he was doing that…asif he couldn’t believe he could still do that.
We were lost in our passion. When he finally joined withme, we were both crying. We held each other, as if we both couldn’t believe we were back in each other’s arms…as ifwe had both just woken up from a very bad dream.
“I love you, Mrs. Cross. Very much!” he whispered to me,in a voice that made me cry even more.
“I love you, too!”
Even after we’d both reached our peaks, Travis didn’t letgo of me. He kept kissing me, nuzzling my neck, tracing mylips with his tongue. Moreover, he kept whispering howmuch he loved me.
When he finally pulled out of me, he lay on the bed andgathered me in his arms.
“God, I missed you, love!” he whispered. “I think I onlyrealize now just how empty I have been. And just howbroken my soul really was.”
“Me too,” I whispered. “It’s like you have to live again, torealize that you’ve died…and now is your second chance atlife.”
“I’m not going to waste it anymore,” he said. “I want totreasure every single moment of my life with you.” He tooka deep breath. “I have been…an empty soul for so long,Brianne. I did not have the warmth, concern, and love of afamily. Is it too much to ask for those things now? Fromyou?”
I propped up on my elbow so I could look at him in theeyes. I shook my head. “It’s never too much to ask forthose, Travis. And of course! As much as I can, I will give youthose things…I will nurture this little family that we have.”
He pulled my head to him so he could give me a kiss onthe cheek. Then he leaned his forehead against mine.
“Thank you, love.”
“Thank you, too, Travis,” I said. “Because you’ve mademe whole again.”
He smiled, and the boyishness returned to his faceagain. “Thank you…because you’ve made me live again.”
I lay on his shoulder, both his arms wrapped around me.
“How did you know I was here?” I asked.
“Eric. Karl told me he saw you with him. So when I finallymade the decision to stop running…I called him. He told methat you had just boarded the flight home. I went to yourhouse. When I found that you weren’t there, I knew therecould only be one place you would be. And I was glad I’dfound you just in time. You could have hit your head or
fainted with no one to find you.”
I sighed. “At that moment, I didn’t really care.”
Travis squeezed my shoulders, and I felt him kiss myforehead. But he didn’t say anything. I knew that he wassorry for making me feel the way I did. But it didn’t matternow.
“Travis…yesterday, I went to your apartment. I calledyou. You didn’t see me or hear me. I wasn’t allowed to enteryour building. Did you ban me or something?”
He tightened his embrace of me again. “Of course not.I’m sorry. I introduced you to Mr. Ferguson. But the buildingunderwent management changes and shuffled some of theirstaff. I was asked to update my tenant list to prevent anyhassles like that. Back then, I was dead to the world…I justdidn’t get around doing the things that I was supposed to bepaying attention to. I’m sorry, Brianne. But next time youcome to the building…you won’t be questioned anymore.
Brianne Cross will be on the list…as one of the owners of an
apartment in that building.”
I sighed contentedly. After so many months of pain…after feeling almost numb, I never thought I would feel thishappy again. I knew…only one man could make me feel thisway.
Travis kissed me passionately. He turned so that he wason top of me again.
“Travis!” I laughed. “We just…”
“Sorry, love. I told you I’d make up for everything. This Included! And I’ve got months I need to make up for!” My laughter died as he covered my mouth with passionatekisses again.