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|On Dublin Street(On Dublin Street #1)(45) by Samantha Young|
“Can we talk about this later?”
Instead of answering, Braden yanked me hard against him and crushed his mouth over mine. I could taste the Scotch and desperation on his tongue as his hand held my head against his, the kiss deep, wet and bruising. I couldn’t breathe. I pushed against his chest, making a noise of distress and he let me go. Well his mouth did. His arms still bound me tight.
“Let me go,” I whimpered, my lips swollen and sore.
“No,” he breathed harshly. “I’m not letting you do this to us. I don’t believe for a second I don’t mean anything to you.”
You don’t have a choice. “I can’t do this with you.”
“I just can’t.”
“Then I don’t accept that.”
I struggled in his arms, glaring up at him. “If I break up with you, you have to accept it!”
Fire-breathing Braden appeared almost instantly. “No, I f**king don’t!”
“Hey, you alright there?” a drunk guy drew our attention and we jerked our heads around. He was squinting at me and Braden locked together and it suddenly occurred to me that we were arguing on George Street on a Friday night where there were still people around to hear us.
“We’re fine,” Braden told him calmly, still not letting me go.
The drunk guy looked at me. “You sure about that?”
Not wanting this to descend into a fight—the last thing Braden needed right now—I nodded. “We’re cool.”
The drunk eyed us again and then deciding we could work it out ourselves, he turned around and started hailing for a cab.
I glared back at Braden. “Let me go.”
“You can’t caveman you’re way out of this.” I couldn’t meet his gaze as the pain and the lies bubbled up out of me. “I care about you, Braden, I do. You’re my friend. But this has gone on too long.”
“You’re afraid. I get it,” he bent to murmur comfortingly in my ear. “I know why you ran today, and I know why you’re running now. But shit happens, babe, there’s no protecting against it. You also can’t let it take over your life and rule your relationships with people. We need to enjoy the time we have, however long it’s going to be. Stop running.”
He should you have been a therapist.
I tried to let me body relax, and I ignored the horrendous churning in my stomach. “That’s why I’m ending it. Life is short. We should be with the people we love.”
Braden froze against me and I waited breathless, hoping for the strength to continue the lie. Slowly, he pulled away from me, his eyes hard as he gazed into mine. “You’re lying.”
Yes. I’m lying, babe. But I won’t survive you. And worse, you won’t survive me. “I’m not. I don’t love you, and after everything you’ve been through you deserve someone who loves you.”
His arms fell away from me, but not even like he meant to let go. He looked shocked. I think he was in shock. I took the opportunity to step back from him, afraid if I stayed close, I’d eventually let go of my steely resolve and tell him I was such a goddamn liar and I didn’t want him to ever let me go.
But I’d been selfish enough for one day.
“You love me,” he argued, his voice soft, low. “I’ve seen it.”
I gulped and forced myself to meet his eyes. “I care about you, but there’s a big difference.”
For a moment, I wasn’t sure if he was going to say anything, and then his eyes dulled and he gave me a sharp nod. “Alright then.”
“You’re letting me go?”
He curled his upper lip, his expression painfully bitter as he took a step back from me. “Apparently… I never had a hold of you.” He turned sharply, and without another word began striding down the street into the dark.
Braden never once looked back and that was a good thing.
If he had, he’d have seen Jocelyn Butler crying real tears for the first time in a long time, and he would have known that I’d lied. And lied big. For anyone who saw me, knew they were watching a heart in the process of it breaking.
“I don’t think that’s the healthiest thing you’ve ever done, Joss, do you?” Dr. Pritchard asked quietly, her brows drawn together.
“It was the best thing I’ve ever done.”
“Why do you think that?”
“If I tell Braden the truth, that I love him, he will never back down. He’s tenacious like that. And then he might spend the rest of his life with me.”
“And that would be a bad thing?”
“Well, yeah,” I responded irritably. “Did you not hear what I did to Ellie and him? I am so terrified of losing again that I pull shit like that.”
“Yes, but you’re aware now that that’s what you do. That’s a step in the right direction.”
“No it’s not. I have issues a mile long and I can’t promise that I won’t do that to him, over and over again. That’s not fair to him. Braden’s trust was broken once before by a woman he thought he loved. If I stayed with him and kept pulling that crap, I’d be breaking his trust over and over again. And he doesn’t deserve that.”
Dr. Pritchard cocked her head to the side. “That’s not up to you to decide. Surely that’s up to Braden to decide. And you don’t know for sure if you would keep pulling that crap, as you say. Being with Braden might help you through it. He might help you.”
“It didn’t help. Being with him didn’t help.”
“He talked you into being there for Ellie, and you have been. I’d say he helped.”
Stubborn determination gripped me. “I’m not telling him the truth. What I’m doing is best for him.”
“What I’m trying to say, Joss, is perhaps you should stop being a martyr. Perhaps what Braden thinks is best for him is having you in his life. And perhaps he’s willing to work through your anxiety and deal with your mile-high defenses.”
“Maybe you’re right.” I nodded, my eyes blazed as I tried to lock out the hurtful thought of Braden and me with a future together. “Maybe I am a martyr. And maybe he would. But he deserves better than that struggle. He deserves to be content in his relationship, the way my father was with my mother. And if their love has shown me anything, it’s that Braden’s right. Life is too damn short.”
Once the rain starts falling it’s hard to tell it to stop. I guess it stops in its own time. My tears, like the rain, kept falling as I made my way home through blurry vision. In truth it’s difficult to describe a broken heart. All I know is that unimaginable pain centers in your chest and radiates out, this throbbing, sharp ache that causes almost incapacitation. But there’s more than the ache. Denial lodges itself in your throat, and that lump is its own kind of pain. The affliction of heartbreak can also be found in a knot in your stomach. The knot contracts and expands, contracts and expands, until you’re pretty sure you’re not going to be able to hold down the vomit.
I somehow managed to hold onto at least that much of my dignity.
As soon as I got back to the apartment, through the pain of throwing away Braden came the fear. I stared down the hall at Ellie’s bedroom door, and I had to stop myself from going back on my promise not to run from her.
So I did the opposite.
I kicked off my boots, shrugged out of my coat and crept silently into her darkened room. In the moonlight shining through her window, I saw Ellie curled up in a protective ball on her side. I made a move towards her and the floor creaked under my foot, and Ellie’s eyes flew open immediately.
She gazed up at me, wide-eyed but wary.
I started to cry harder and at the sight of my tears, a tear slid down Ellie’s cheek. Without a word, I crawled onto her bed and right up beside her as she turned onto her back. We lay side by side, my head on her shoulder, and I grabbed her hand and held it in both of mine.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered
“It’s okay,” Ellie’s voice was hoarse with emotion. “You came back.”
And because life was too short… “I love you, Ellie Carmichael. You’re going to get through this.”
I heard her breath hitch on a sob. “I love you too, Joss.”
That’s how Braden found us the next day—lying with our heads tucked into one another, holding hands, sleeping with dirty, tear-stained cheeks like two little girls.
He didn’t wake me. In fact he didn’t even look at me.
I woke up because he was shaking Ellie awake.
“What time is it?” I heard her ask sleepily.
“It’s past noon. I’ve made you some lunch.” The sound of his voice might as well have been a fist punching through my chest. My eyes opened with difficulty, crusty from the salt of my dried tears, and swollen from the worst crying jag I’d had since losing Dru. Braden was bending over Ellie, brushing her hair back, his eyes bright with love. They were also still bloodshot and he had dark circles underneath them.
He looked like hell.
I would still bet I looked worse.
“I’m not hungry,” Ellie whispered.
Braden shook his head, his expression all no-nonsense. “You need to eat. Come on, sweetheart, time to get up.”
I watched as Ellie took his large hand and he pulled her gently up off the bed and onto her feet. Still holding onto her, he led her out, her linen pants wrinkled to the max, her shirt twisted around her body, and her hair a wild mess. She looked like someone whose life had just been upended. I hurt so badly for her. I couldn’t even look at Braden, because the pain I felt for him was indescribable.
“Joss, you coming?” Ellie looked back over her shoulder at me.
And for her, I nodded. Even though I didn’t want to be anywhere near Braden.
You know what was worse? He couldn’t even be outright petty about the breakup. Sure, he couldn’t look at me and wouldn’t talk to me, but… he’d made my damn lunch too.