Reese: Just landed. Coach said we’re doing lunch there. I brought you a shirt from the airport.
“Hold on a second, Trent.”
Me: What airport?
Reese: Congratulations. It says you’ve visited New York.
Me: Always wanted to be a New Yorker. One second. On the phone.
He buzzed through again, but I was speaking once more. “Hey.”
Trent’s voice twisted. “So you’re going to lie and avoid more camp people?”
I sighed. “Janet and I were never close. And you don’t get it. You don’t know what I went through…”
“Because you won’t tell me. I’ve been gone for two weeks, and you’ve not once called or even texted. I thought you wanted to change, reconnect with the group, but you’re still avoiding us.”
I tried to be gentle. “Look, seeing you, coming here, reconnecting with Owen, Hadley, Grant, and you—that’s been huge for me. And it’s all I can handle right now.”
I didn’t get why he was upset. When he’d gone through his divorce—the main reason he’d become a motivational speaker—Janet had ripped his ex to shreds. I mean, that’d been around the time I began leaving the group, but I’d seen the emails. She’d been vicious. Yeah, she’d been talking about his ex-wife, but Trent had loved her and married her. I knew he wouldn’t have been okay with what she was saying.
He was silent, and I didn’t know what else to say. “Maybe we can talk more when you get here? When do you arrive?”
“I’ll be coming in tomorrow evening. You’ll be free?”
“Depends on the time, but should be. I’m usually at the courts till I close down.”
“Okay. I’ll let you know when I’m supposed to arrive. Maybe we could go somewhere to talk?”
I frowned as we hung up. The whole conversation had been odd, not really Trent-esque, but I decided to stop thinking about it. I’d just hear what he had to say tomorrow night. Until then, I stood and turned toward my cabin.
Grab and dash. Don’t breathe.
I ran inside, and I swear the smell had worsened again. After grabbing pants, I had just enough time to grab the bag Reese originally packed for me. I had to gasp once, and I almost threw up. This cabin really did need to be condemned.
Thanks, Keith. Boss of the year.
I’d just deposited everything in Reese’s cabin when my phone buzzed again.
Reese: At a gas station. You need anything?
Me: Booze allowed?
Reese: Done. Wine coolers?
Me: How about we do shots your last night here?
I waited, but there was a second before he texted back.
Reese: Shit. Just asked. Our last two preseason games are back home. We leave in three days.
I knew. And I tried to ignore how my stomach shriveled at the thought. Three days. Or more like two days. That’s how much time I had with Reese.
Reese: I bought a bottle of vodka.
Vodka it would be then.
Me: Always wanted to be half-Russian.
He didn’t respond, so I tucked my phone away and spent some time on my laptop. I needed to find a few jobs to apply for, maybe email someone about my apartment. Reese had his own Wi-Fi, and he’d left it behind, so I plugged that in. The camp’s internet sucked. Since I’d be out of a job again in a few days, I figured it was time I headed back home to face the music.
If I didn’t have any money coming in, I’d need to make some moves. New apartment, or gasp, make the dreaded call to see if I could bunk in my old room at my parents’ house. Damian and I had broken up once before, and I had asked if I could move back home. My mom said I could stay for the summer, but I’d have to pay rent. Damian and I had gotten back together three hours later, so I’d never had to deal with her offer. Now things were different.
I had less money. Most of it had been used paying Damian’s medical bills until his parents got involved, but no one knew. How do you tell family and friends that the person you thought was going to be your husband needed to put a note in the bathroom to remind him to brush his teeth? How do you do that and not have them look at your loved one in pity or look down on him? Because keeping your dignity is a thing. Sometimes it’s the last thing you have in situations like that, and you might be surprised by how far you’d go to preserve a thing called pride.
I had to take a breath.
My life was a mess. Everything about me was a mess.
Maybe Trent was right. Maybe it was time to start facing life again? I mean, I wasn’t going to sign up for a Janet session. Not about that, but opening up? Telling people? I’d mentioned it to Reese. And Grant actually knew what Damian had. Both times, I hadn’t gotten worse. Both times, I’d panicked, but I couldn’t deny that I felt a tiny bit better afterward.
I took a breath.
I wasn’t… I was.
I pulled out my phone and texted before I could stop myself.
Me: My ex had early-onset dementia. It ran in his family. His father got it super young, and he did too. It’s why we ended things.
Me: And full disclosure, I’m gonna have a panic attack that I told you. I hope it’s not too much for our new friendship. I’m turning off my phone. See you when you get back. You don’t have to mention this if you don’t want to deal with it. Totally okay with me.
I turned my phone off before Reese could text back. Yes. I was being a coward now, but I hadn’t been a moment before. That had to mean something.
I left my phone on his couch, turned off the laptop and his Wi-Fi, and went to the main lodge. The team would be arriving in a little over an hour, so Owen and Hadley would be setting up the food. I’d help.
I needed to stay busy or I was going to collapse.
I felt him before I heard him, when they arrived.
A hush came over the kitchen. Owen and Hadley stopped what they were doing, and Reese asked, “Where is she?”
I’d been in the back, putting away a mixing bowl.
Stepping around the corner, Reese saw me. His face clouded over, and he came into the kitchen.
Only staff was allowed back here, Reese didn’t care. No one said a word as he crossed past Owen and Hadley and took my wrist. He tugged me to Owen’s office and shut the door.
“I have to—”
“Don’t even,” he growled. He leaned back against the door, folding his arms over his chest. “You text me that and then shut off your phone? What are you? Twelve?”
I flushed. It was a bit immature. I picked at my shirt. “Adulting is hard.”
“Tough shit.” He pushed off from the door, stalking toward me.
I edged back, just a foot.
He lifted his hands, pausing mid-air, and I watched as a myriad of expressions flashed over his face. He fisted his hands, then unfisted them, then let out a harsh breath as he settled them on my shoulders.
His tone was gentle when he spoke. “You said he hit you once.”
I was numb.
The feeling was spreading fast, coming up from my feet to my legs, my thighs, my stomach. It flared up my sternum, my chest. Through my shoulders. Down my arms. My fingers. Up to my neck, rising, rising until I looked at him.
I knew a tear fell.
“How bad was it?”
My voice was hoarse. “Does it matter? He wasn’t in his right mind.”
“It matters.” His hands tightened on my shoulders, his fingers curving into my skin. “Please tell me the truth.”
I looked away. I couldn’t see whatever I was going to see in his eyes as I remembered this. I wouldn’t be able to deal with it.
The words spilled, for the first time. “He beat the shit out of me.”
He dragged in his air.
“It was the only time, but I’d started noticing little things. He wasn’t in control of himself anymore.”
God. Really? My throat wasn’t completely numb. It was hurting, squeezing, tightening.
“When I woke up, he was eating popcorn and laughing at Impractical Jokers. I got up, and he looked surprised. He didn’t remember hurting me.”
“Fucking hell.” Reese hissed as he ripped himself away from me. His hands balled into fists, pressed at his sides, and he turned his back to me. He faced the door, his shoulders tightening.
“He was tore up about it, and he never hit me again, but there were other things. Small things sometimes. Big things toward the end. He stole groceries from a drive-up lane. He thought they were ours, but he’d already put our groceries in the trunk. Another time, he left the oven on during the night.”
Reese’s head raised up. His shoulders bulged.
“His short-term memory was getting bad. He would forget things he’d done the day before. One time he forgot my name. Another time his own. Just for a moment—then he’d be back. He’d be normal again.”
He turned back, a rawness in his eyes.
“How long what?” I could only get a whisper out now.
“How long did you take care of him until you got help?”
That question punched me, right in the diaphragm. He didn’t know how much guilt came with that answer, how much shame, how much pain sliced through me. “He started showing symptoms three years in.”
“Before what? How did the relationship end?”