“No one can blame another person for their psych disorder. If blame was going to be assigned, it’d go to the parents, and there’s a whole environmental/biological argument happening there, too. Nature and nurture shit. There’s a ton of literature debate just on that subject, so Surrah’s parents suing yours was a payout. That’s it. They wanted money, and if they really blamed you, they just wanted a scapegoat.”
I was stunned.
No. I was speechless.
I was trying not to gape, but I was. “I said that to you and nothing. You took one second before responding with that.” I stood from where I’d been sitting. Nova was sitting on the floor in the far corner. She was sucking her thumb, staring at both of us.
She was going to start getting hungry soon. It was nearing her eating time.
I needed to check her diaper, too.
Going over, I scooped her up but swung back to Nate.
I didn’t know why this was affecting me how it was, but it was. Everything he did affected me.
“Look…” He was trying to be gentle.
Anger exploded inside me, but I held it back. I was being burned on the inside.
“I can guess about your sad and lonely childhood. I’m even willing to put a good ninety percent of the blame on your father, despite what I just said about Surrah’s parents, but if you think anything you say to me is going to shock me, you’re wrong. You grew up without a mom. You were a dancer. You had a friend. You had an eating disorder. So did she. You got better at some point. She didn’t. And what? You got crosses to lay on me, do it now, but if you’re looking for a pity vote from me, that shit ain’t happening. I’m not that guy. I’ve seen, done, and been through too much.” He had a serving spoon in his hand, and he laid it down before taking one step toward me. “Since we’re laying it all out right now, I’m going to tell you what I am scared of. You. We’ve not talked about your dad for a long time, and I shouldn’t be doing it this way. My intention was not to have the shock effect, but I’m worried about you. I think your dad will come at you at some point because of your past and the reasons you were in therapy, and I need to know you’re not going to fall apart because of it. He’s going to take everything he knows about you, all your triggers, and he’s going to press every single one of them. All at once. You’re going to feel like a fucking demolition ball has swung through your body, and it’s going to keep swinging until he thinks he’s torn you completely down. Now. Me? He’s going to throw shit at me, too, and maybe try to set me up. I’m ready for it. I have fail-safes in place, so I’m telling you, after this, I’ll be standing. I need to know that you’ll be standing, too. Nova will need us both.”
I wanted to kiss him.
I was weaving on my feet, but I grabbed the doorframe. My fingers sank in. I had Nova in my arms.
I steadied myself, and I took a beat, just as he had.
He was right. All of it.
I closed my eyes, feeling everything in me swirling and spinning.
He was right about everything.
“What do I need to do?”
His eyes fell to my lips, darkening. Then he folded his arms over his chest, and his eyes lifted back to mine. “You need allies from your past to rally around you.”
My mouth dried again because I knew who he was talking about.
“No,” I whispered, a clammy fear starting to crawl up my legs.
He grated out, “You have to.”
I looked, but his eyes weren’t on me. They were on Nova.
“You know who it’s really for. Neither of us has an option here.”
I sighed. Are you sure you meant me, Valerie?
“I’ll call my mother tonight.”
He jerked his head in a nod. “Quincey?”
I’d been about to take Nova back to her room. She was starting to squirm in my arms. “Yeah?”
“I’d like to hear more about you, about anything, if you’re willing to share again?”
A rush of pleasure and warmth pushed out the fear.
I nodded. “I’d like that.”
I meant that, and that surprised me. I didn’t share, and it was something I usually had to force myself to do, but with Nate, I wanted to share. I wanted him to know everything about me.
That should’ve alarmed me.
Nova whacked me across the face with one of her bottles. A distinct smell started to permeate the room as well, and I grinned.
I was thinking I needed to be more alarmed about Nova’s gift for me instead.
Four nights later
“We should’ve brought Nova.”
I threw Quincey a look because she’d been the one to suggest we use Emily for the night.
“You said she’d be a distraction.”
“Exactly.” Her lips were thinned. We were in my SUV, heading to Graham’s house for a family “reunion” dinner, and what I said was correct. Quincey had been torn whether Nova should come or not. She went back and forth until saying what I just responded to her with, which was correct. Nova would be a distraction. Everyone loved Nova, and the dinner talk we needed to have would not be kid-appropriate. Nova might not understand, but kids sensed everything.
After her confession, Quincey relaxed around me.
The night and immediate day after I pushed her about reaching out to her family, she’d been tense the whole time. She’d been wound up like a sober virgin at a sex club. There was an intense dancing session in the studio—aka the pool house—and when I say intense, it was intense. She didn’t know this, but most nights she went in there, Nova and I curled up in the back of the pool house to watch her.
She was beautiful to watch.
There were no other words to describe her movements.
I did my homework, so I saw recordings of some of her previous performances. I knew she was talented, but watching her live and in person was almost a religious experience. There was a reason Nova never moved out of my lap or made a sound. We both knew that when Quincey danced, we were watching magic happen. She was special—special in a way that she didn’t seem like she was from this world kind of beautiful special.