“Until Avery found it, and you couldn’t leave your room for a week.”
“Still worth it.”
They watched the movie unfold, and she relished the parts she’d memorized over years of rewatching. The satisfactory experience was only sweeter next to Pierce, one of the few who understood and appreciated a good horror flick. The added element of their sexual connection allowed her to savor the light stroke of his hand up and down her arm, to breathe in his scent without apology, to melt into his hard body without barriers or worry about crossing the line.
Tonight, there were no longer any boundaries.
Taylor wondered briefly if she’d ever be able to fully go back to being just friends with Pierce, now that she’d experienced having all parts of him, but she quickly pushed the thought away.
Be in the present, she reminded herself. Just enjoy the now.
They analyzed the naked corpse in the bathtub and what she symbolized about Nicholson’s character. “Did you ever think of making films?” she asked him curiously. “Instead of being a still photographer, I always imagined you on a movie set, being involved in actual storytelling.”
His chest lifted in a chuckle. “Nope, but I think you would have pushed me that way in order to meet Joaquin Phoenix.”
“I do love him,” she admitted. “He’s so complicated and deep. A true gorgeous mess.”
“Don’t get distracted.”
“Sorry. So why not movies?”
“They’re someone else’s stories.”
His answer made her angle her head so she could look at his face. “Explain.”
She waited while he seemed to think about how to frame his answer. “I don’t want the camera’s job to narrate a story from a screenplay or actors trying to convey emotion. I’m more interested in what the world can show me in its true, naked form.”
Taylor nodded. “Yeah, that’s why you’ve been so good at weddings. You let them tell their story to you.”
“Exactly.” His brow furrowed with a frown. “I’m tired of chasing the same types of stories, though. I need new ones.”
Questions formed that she’d never wanted to bring up, but tonight, lying against his chest, feeling safe and content, she voiced the words. “You never seemed to have any interest in traveling or studying abroad. And you always seemed so sure of what you wanted to do and where you wanted to end up.”
His shoulder lifted in a half shrug. “I did. Why? Do you judge me for not being as adventurous as you?”
“God, no! It’s another thing I admire about you. You’re so confident about what you want and how to go after it. I guess I’m asking if you ever regret coming back home right after college. I didn’t have a choice, but you did. Unless . . .”
“Unless you chose to come home to help me.”
The moment the words were out, her ears burned. It sounded so egotistical, but she didn’t mean it that way. She remembered when she’d decided to go to Monmouth College. Pierce had been accepted to Montclair and NYU, both well known for their communications and visual-arts programs. But he’d immediately decided on Montclair, only a short distance from her school. Once it was confirmed they wouldn’t be separated, her touch of nerves about finally leaving home had turned to excitement. She knew the world would be her oyster as long as Pierce was within striking distance.
Funny, she’d never analyzed it before, the way they were always navigating into each other’s orbit. But had her sad fortune of returning to Cape May after college been the wrong turning point for her best friend? Had he sacrificed something important for her by choosing to protect her?
“No, Taylz. I made a choice that made sense. I knew I could build a solid business as a local photographer and work with your family for referrals. Mom and Dad were able to give me the loan I needed to start the whole thing. And truthfully, I was homesick. I missed my friends and the ocean and feeling like I belonged somewhere. I loved the security and comfort of knowing where I fit. All the pieces fell into place—how could I possibly say no? I have no regrets.” His voice reflected prisms of emotion and truth. Yes, she always knew he belonged here. His words were a simple confirmation.
Relief coursed through her. “Okay, it was something I always wanted to ask.”
“I do have a confession, though. I was glad you were forced to come home. Not because Matt died—that was a living nightmare—but that way I didn’t have to figure things out alone. We did it together. God, isn’t that messed up? Happy I got to keep you for a little bit longer?”
She shook her head. “No. Because I don’t think I could have been back here without you. I would have felt the same exact way. So I guess we’re both fucked-up and codependent.”
“It’s weird, but I’ve been analyzing pieces of my past lately,” she said, kissing his index finger. “Trying to separate where fate and choice intersected. Maybe it’s because I’m finally going to Paris for a show, and I never believed in my talent before. It makes me feel . . .” She trailed off, uncomfortable to say it.
“Vulnerable?” he asked softly.
She nodded. “For the first time, I can really spectacularly fail at something that’s important. Not that Sunshine Bridal isn’t.”
“I know. Being a wedding planner wasn’t your dream, though, so this has higher stakes.”
“Exactly. I keep thinking if the show doesn’t go well, I won’t have anyone else to blame. Not circumstances, or fate. Just me.”
“You won’t fail.”
She smiled at his confident tone. “If I do, I’ve made a plan B.”
“What is it?”
She took a deep breath. “I’ve saved enough to give myself a full year to travel and work. If Paris tanks, I’ll figure out where I went wrong and spend the time tweaking my art. I’ll take professional lessons and either stay in Paris or go to Italy. A place that inspires, where I can soak up everything history has to offer.”
“It’s a good plan,” he said. “I believe in you. And since you’ve been brave enough to put your art out there, it’s time I try to go deeper with my own work. Try a new outlet.”
“You should. It’s time we both take some chances.”