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Ricci was over every day. She either brought coffee in the morning before work, or she stopped by after work with coffee. Always coffee. Matthew was over a couple of times, commiserating with me because he didn’t like my stand-in or the new lead. She was good, though, and I knew he was only saying that to make me feel better.

And about that, I was okay with not being the lead. That not only surprised me, but it shocked me. If you’re a dancer, you’re a dancer. You were born to do that, and that was how it was, but I was starting to wonder if I had evolved somehow? I was a mother now, but what did that look like for the future? Especially if Nate decided to ask me to move out one day, and I had to be realistic because that was a possibility.

I didn’t want it to be. Just thinking about it, and I was close to tears. It felt like I was taking a lit hot stick and poking myself with it, permanently burning me, but I couldn’t stop. I had to be prepared for it to come. More than that. I just had to expect it because it would happen eventually.

Probably sooner since we weren’t sleeping together anymore.

On the first night, he never came to bed. I went to mine, not sure how to proceed, but his friends were there. He stayed up with a few of them.

The second night, it was the same thing.

The third night.

It’d been like that ever since my hospital visit.

No kisses. No touches. Just coldness.

I overcompensated with Nova. I cuddled and loved on her so much, but she was getting more independent. She no longer wanted us to hold her hand when she ran and walked. We could play with her, but she had to bring us the toys she wanted us to play with. She was becoming a bossy little girl.

That only made her even cuter.

I was sitting in the playroom with Nova, and Nate walked in. He paused when he saw us. He softened, as he always did when he saw Nova, but then he looked at me, and the same distant look came over him. I looked down, all of my insides being twisted up and knotted.

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t understand why what I said upset him so much.

I mean, he told me he didn’t love me. Why was I the bad guy?

But wait.

Nate wasn’t my father.

I’d been trained to keep quiet, to never just ask outright what’s going on. You couldn’t do that with Duke. If you brought out what was going on under the surface, it was World War III. I was the bad guy every time. I never understood how he did it, but it was a skill I needed to learn. I didn’t want to use it, but I wanted to understand it.

Fuck it.

I was hurting.

It’d been so long.

I had thought I could do this, endure this, but I didn’t think I could anymore.

I lifted my head and winced. Nate was staring—or more like glaring—right at me.

Déjà vu from my father, though I knew Nate wasn’t like him at all.

“What did I do?”

He frowned.

My voice was soft, and I hated that. I couldn’t help it, though. I’d already asked. And now that I had, I was wishing I hadn’t. I forgot this was the part where I was the villain, where everything got turned on me, and I’d cry and walk away thinking I was an asshole but not understanding why I was an asshole.

Please don’t do that to me.

“You didn’t do anything.”


“What?” I leaned forward, my elbows going to my knees. “Come on, Nate. This has gone on for too long.”

Nova moved to the chair, pulling herself up and sifting through some books. She was pushing them off the chair without meaning to until she had enough room to sit on her butt. There. She was happy, but no books were around her.

She started to climb back down, already eyeing her two favorites.

Nate went over and scooped her up. He scooped up her books, and he opened one on their lap. She started babbling, a word here and there that I could understand.


Mama. (My heart swooned.)

Battybattybattybatty. (I had no clue.)

Back to penguin.

She was done, hitting the page to turn it, and it was a repeat. This page had many more words, and she was reading them all. (She thought she was.)

Nate had been watching me the whole time I was watching her. He asked, “Why do you think I was upset?”

“Because you haven’t touched me since I got back from the hospital.” Was I living in a warped time zone? Right? He had been cold, hadn’t he?

No, no, no. This was how my father started.

I shook my head and sat up to my knees. “Don’t do this. Please. Don’t pretend you’re fine. You and I both know you’re not. You haven’t touched me, Nate.”

For the first time, I thought I saw genuine confusion.

It made my heart leap. Some hope? Did I dare?

He murmured, helping to move the pages for Nova, “I was upset with what you thought of me at the hospital, but you went to your own bed that first night. I thought… I thought you’ve been upset with me.”

“Are you serious?”

He nodded, a rueful look coming over him. He frowned. “I have been upset, but it’s not at you. It’s at myself. I think I’ve been beating myself up. You’re right. It’s been too long, but a part of me was waiting for you to heal or to say something. And we’ve had guests almost every day. You’ve been going to bed before me, and I don’t know. I now realize I’m an idiot. I thought I was an idiot going to your hospital room that day, but now I realize I’ve been an even bigger idiot after.”

That stung.

He thought he was an idiot just going to my room?


It was hurting to breathe. I felt knives slicing between my ribs.


I didn’t know what to do with that.


Get out.

I had to move. I had to walk. I had to go.

I had to run.

He was being an idiot, just going to my hospital room.

I felt the tears, and I swear, swear, I wouldn’t let them fall. Not now. Not here.

Just going to my room. An idiot. Him.

I had no idea what to do with that.

What did that even mean?

My head was swimming. Nothing was making sense, but I was hurting. That was all I knew.

“I-I have to go to the bathroom.” I rushed from the room.

I went to my room, shut the door, and then to the bathroom. The door was shut, and I slid down it until my ass was on the floor.


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