“This.” She was pointing to her head. “I have to be fucking perfect to maintain. That’s it. I’m just trying to maintain. Then someone walks into my office and says nice things to me and looks at me. I had to text you to come and get me. Fucking pathetic.”
“Hey! Don’t ever say that. Ever.”
She quieted, but her voice came out gravelly. “It’s the truth. It’s selfish of me to put you through this. You want to team up with me? Having to come and get me at a moment’s notice? That’s not a relationship. That’s a caretaker. I can’t fix what’s up here, and trust me, I’ve tried. I have to be perfect just to keep my head quiet at times, and that’s not fair to you. You could be with someone normal, someone who can take care of you—”
“—and what else? I mean, what if you want to marry me? God forbid. You want this for a whole lifetime? I’ll wear you out within the first two years. Children? You want kids? I can’t have kids. I can’t bring someone into this world and give them what I have. Put someone through the suffering that I endure daily. That would be selfish of me. It’s unbelievably selfish of me not to walk away from you—”
A fast food parking lot was on our right, and fuck it. I hit the turn signal and made a sharp turn, parking in the first slot I saw.
I cut the engine and turned on her. “I don’t want to ever hear you say that shit about yourself. And you don’t get to decide for me. I do. I choose. I choose who I want to be with, who I don’t, and I choose you. You. Got it?”
A tear fell from her eye, tracking down her cheek to her chin.
Her eyes held mine. I didn’t think she knew it was there, and cursing, I reached over to wipe it away.
“I love you.” I was holding her face in my hand.
Her eyes kept glued to mine, and she asked, “Why? Again. Why?”
I’d never felt this before.
I felt fury. I felt like I wanted to rip an opponent’s head off. I felt all those emotions when I hit the rink, but off the ice, I wasn’t emotional. Easygoing. Go with the flow. That was me, but not with her. Since that first party, and I just fell harder and harder each time she stripped herself down for me.
“Why?” I repeated her question. Had I heard that right?
A second tear fell and she bit her lip before nodding, her head still in my hand.
“I love you because you have every reason to be angry at the world, and you’re not. You wake up smiling, and you stay smiling. You’d choose laughter over anything, all day and every day.”
“Except for sex with you. I’d always choose that first.”
I grinned, moving closer to her. “Right.”
“You’re an alien sex god.”
“We’re getting off topic.”
“Just saying,” she said against my thumb.
I leaned closer and closer. She was almost looking up at me.
“You just proved all three of my reasons.”
“Those were good reasons. I’ll give that to you.”
Jesus. Everything in me was softening for this girl.
I said, my head angling more over hers, “I love you because you’re the strongest person I know. All the shit you’ve had to endure, and you keep going. You will keep going, no matter what happens. Your reasons for not marrying me or having children with me, they’re bullshit. Ask me how I know they’re bullshit.”
Pain flared in her gaze, and she tried to look away from me.
“I can’t.” Her lip started trembling.
I moved so my forehead was resting against hers. “Because if something happened to Natalie and Deek, you’d be the first in line to take Hunter in. If you got a call that someone’s mother died from an overdose and they needed a place to stay, you’d offer yours in a heartbeat.”
More tears fell. Her eyes were closed, and her entire body was shaking.
I kept on. “You’d take that child in, and you’d love that child with everything in you. You would deal, because that’s what you do. You deal and you keep moving forward, and you try to love everyone on the way. Because that’s how you are, and if you really want to know, I’d be fucking lucky to have you as a wife, and I’d be the wealthiest man in the world if you ever decide to give me a child. I’m not talking money. I’m talking life. You would be giving me life. So, when I see you and I hear you say that shit about yourself, it kills me inside because it’s the opposite of how I see you. The opposite, Cheyenne. I love you because you’re you. You open your arms, your heart, and you let people see you. So many people hide, but you don’t. You’re you, and I respect the fuck out of that.”
Now she opened her eyes.
Now she looked up at me.
Now she let me see her.
I smiled down at her, both hands cupping her face, and I ran both my thumbs over her cheeks, wiping away the tears that shouldn’t be there in the first place. “There she is. I see you.”
Her hands lifted to wrap around my wrists. She whispered, “Cut?”
“I love you, too.”
I smirked. “I know.”
She laughed, but then I was kissing her.
I was raw when we got to my place, but I was better.
The storm of emotions had passed. Something synced when Cut was telling me all the reasons why he loved me. I would never understand it, but I felt whole. I felt like something fell into place, and instead of feeling disjointed from myself, I could feel myself. I felt my emotions. I understood my emotions.
That had never happened to me before, and drawing in a breath, I actually felt stronger after one of my freak-outs. Like what he said was the truth, that I would deal because that’s just how I was.
I growled to myself because fuck yeah, he was right.
I wasn’t no weak sauce.
My head was swimming with so many different thoughts, but not this time. This time I was going to be driving my own bus, not my freaking brain. I shut it down. One thought after another. I was using all my cognitive coping exercises that I learned in therapy, and by damn, it was going to work. And I would go back to that event tonight. I would see Natalie. I would march up to Natalie, and I’d hug her.
I’d hug the crap out of Hunter’s mom, and I’d enjoy it.
Actually, I might not enjoy it, but I’d still do it.
Why was I going to hug her again?
The door buzzed and Cut asked me, heading over to it from the kitchen, “You expecting anyone?”
I was thinking, thinking—my girls!
“Melanie and Sasha were going to come over.”
He hit the buzzer and unlocked the door for them. “You want me to get rid of them?”
“No. I’m good.” I smiled at him. “They’re my homies.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He was grinning as he came over and brushed me with a kiss right as the door burst open.
“HOLY FUCKING OF ALL FUCKS, Cheyenne!”
Melanie marched inside, holding a carrier of coffee, a humongous bag, and she was brandishing her phone in the air. “You’re on the fucking first page of KC’s Dirty Rag.”