This Piece of Our Being
PRE-ORDER SPECIAL—Just .99 through December 5 release
On her last day in Toronto, Caryn wandered around the university campus. She had always loved summer on campus and happy memories crowded her mind. She stopped for a strawberry cream frappuccino at the coffee shop where her study group had met two-to-three evenings a week every school year. She smiled as she looked at “their table” where some summer students sat, textbooks open, chatting and taking notes on their devices. The tradition continues.
Caryn walked to the large grassy area, her favorite section of the campus. The sun felt delicious on her face, and she looked for a spot to sit. She leaned her head back and allowed a smile to spread across her face. I’m having a baby! Just for this moment, this very second, I’m happy. No worries about the future. No what-ifs. No second-guessing. I’m having a baby, and I am ecstatic!
She pulled her knees to her chest and rested her chin on top. In that moment, she could imagine celebrating the moment with Drew. She closed her eyes and imagined him laughing as he lifted her off her feet and swung her around in a circle, his blue eyes never leaving hers. A special romantic dinner poolside, stars shining above the lanai. Holding hands as they ate, planning the future, picking the bedroom they’d convert into the nursery, speculating whether the crib would hold their son or daughter. And choosing names! So many to consider. So many dreams. If only…
Caryn brushed both hands across her face when she felt the tears. Of course, that’s not my reality. Not now. And maybe never. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. You’re strong. No matter what happens, everything will work out. This beautiful child will know love from both parents…even if we live separately.
She sensed a presence beside her and began to scoot to her feet to stand and walk away, but then she suddenly knew. “Why are you here? How did you know?”
From the corner of her eye, she could tell he was about to reach for her hand.
“Don’t,” she begged softly. “Please.”
“Can we talk?”
“I can’t look at you right now.”
Caryn nodded without speaking and pulled her knees back up against her chest. She waited for Andrew to speak and heard him sigh.
“Are you going to Tampa when you leave here?” His voice was soft.
“Do you think we could sit down and talk?”
“You mean, like last time?” Caryn’s temper flared. “I’m not doing that again, Andrew.”
“I don’t want that either.” Andrew was quiet for a long moment. “I’m hoping we can work things out. I understand if you don’t want to see or talk with me right now. But, can we figure this—us—out sometime when we’re in the same city?”
“Do you believe I had nothing to do with my father calling you?” Caryn challenged.
“None of that matters, Caryn. Whether or not I ever play hockey again—it means nothing if there’s no us. It’s taken me too long to figure that out. I want to ask—make that beg—for the chance to talk with you. I’ve called Lauren, spoken with Kelly and Terri. No one could—or would—tell me where you were.”
“Only Lauren knows.”
“I get that I’m not her favorite person at the moment.”
Caryn bit back a short laugh. “You didn’t answer my question, Andrew. Do you believe I told you the truth about my father? Or am I still guilty by default?”
“Could I answer that face-to-face? I want to look you in the eyes.” He paused a moment. “Is that possible?”
Caryn sighed as she relaxed a bit, leaning back against him. “I can’t do this here. Not in this place, this spot.”
“Then, could you come with me to the townhouse? We can talk there. Please, Cary?”
Caryn leaned her head back, resting it against his neck. She felt that if she looked at him, she’d break, shatter into a million pieces. And if that happened, she wasn’t sure she could put herself back together. “Andrew, do you honestly want to work things out?” Her voice was a hoarse whisper. “Is it even possible?”
“Cary, we can find a way to work things out. Trust me.”
She shut her eyes against the hot tears that threatened and then pressed her face against her hands. “Somehow ‘trust me’ is not especially reassuring, Drew.”
“Walk with me? Just to the townhouse?”
Caryn nodded, but still did not look at him. Andrew held out his hand as he stood, and after a beat, Caryn stretched her hand toward his. He gently pulled her to her feet and then grasped her hand securely when she started to pull away. Caryn took a deep breath as she walked beside him, looking straight ahead as they navigated the campus.
Caryn concentrated on slow, steady, deep breaths, calming her nerves, trying to process Andrew’s sudden appearance after so many weeks. In Toronto, of all places, her refuge. She could not think beyond the next step, the next moment.
They entered the townhouse silently, and Caryn’s gaze immediately focused on Andrew’s luggage just inside the doorway.
“I’ll take that over to my parents,” Andrew said. “Like I said, I didn’t know you were here until I walked in.”
“Don’t worry about it. I have a flight this evening.” Caryn headed for the stairs. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” As she passed the night table in the loft bedroom, she grabbed a bottle of water and her saltines before stepping into the bathroom. After she shut the door, she nibbled on a cracker and took a drink of water, then looked at herself in the mirror. Besides the reddened eyes that were slightly swollen, she appeared normal. Caryn splashed cold water on her face and took a deep breath.
She dropped the pack of saltines into her carry-on and zipped it shut. Everything was packed and ready to go. She’d planned to strip the bed, but decided to leave it alone. She took a moment to straighten the sheets and tuck the comforter under the pillows. Drew can change it if he decides to stay. If not, I’ll be back soon. She looked around a final time, then after taking a deep breath, picked up her carry-on and walked reluctantly down the stairs.
Andrew waited in the kitchen, staring out the window at the courtyard. Any other year, we’d be here right now, home for the summer. Wonder if that’s why Caryn’s here? Am I running her off by showing up today? Something else I fucked up? He heard her footsteps on the stairs and returned to the living room in time to see her set her carry-on bag near the door.
“You’re not leaving because of me, Cary?”
She shook her head. “I made the reservations last week. I completed my meetings and I’m good to go.” She turned to face him then, and Andrew saw the wariness in her amber eyes. Those eyes that enchanted him with their sparkle now looked dull. Depression? Exhaustion? A breath caught in his chest when he realized her eyes held no hope.
Caryn walked to the side chair and sat down, and Andrew perched on the edge of the sofa closest to her. He reached for her hand, his eyes asking permission, and Caryn nodded. He closed his hand around hers, his thumb gently tracing circles on the back of her hand. She met his gaze expectantly.
“I love you, Cary. My feelings have never changed.”
“Why say that now? Suddenly, you believe I did not ask anyone to call my father?” Her eyes pierced his, not blinking.
He leaned toward her. “I think I’ve always known…deep inside…that you’d never make that call. I was too self-absorbed to admit it.”
Caryn waved her free hand between them. “So all this, between us, was…?”
“Entirely my fault—as Tom not so subtly pointed out to me.”
“What did Tom say?”
“‘Fool,’ ‘jerk,’ and ‘stupid’ were among the operative words. Plus ‘selfish,’ ‘inconsiderate,’ and ‘idiot.’ That’s about the gist of it, minus the rather blunt adjectives he used with each of those words.”
Caryn tried to suppress a giggle. “Wish I could have heard it.”
“I’m sure he’ll be glad to give you an instant replay.” Andrew smiled when he saw a hint of sparkle return to her eyes. “All that aside, I was wrong in more ways that I can count. I know I don’t deserve it, but I’m asking for the chance to make things right between us.”
Caryn’s eyes filled with sudden tears, and she pulled back as he reached to touch her cheek. She shook her head again when he started to speak and impatiently brushed aside the tears that had escaped. “Andrew, how do we…?”
He answered before she could finish the question. “Cary, all I know right now is that I love you and I want to be with you. If you’ll give me the chance, we will work everything out.”
Caryn shut her eyes for a long moment, taking a deep breath to calm her emotions, determined not to think beyond the present moment as her brain struggled to process Andrew’s words. I want to believe that things can be different this time, that what he says is possible. But what if…What if we can’t work things out?
He didn’t believe her last April, and his betrayal, his lack of trust, still stung. Her stomach contracted suddenly and the nausea rose in her throat. She stood abruptly, shaking her head at the question on his lips.
She barely made it to the bathroom, the nausea getting the best of her as it had so often over the weeks. She leaned weakly against the door as she stood, closing her eyes until the dizziness passed. She splashed more cold water on her face and filled a cup with water to rinse her mouth. She opened the door, Andrew nearby, concern evident on his face.
“You all right?”
Caryn nodded, but didn’t speak as he led her to the kitchen table. Andrew pulled a chair back for her to sit, then opened the refrigerator and grabbed the Coke he hoped to find. He pulled a chair facing hers, opened the bottle, and handed it to her.
“Thank you,” she whispered before she took a sip. When she looked at him, the apprehension was obvious in his eyes.
“Have you been sick?”
“No, I’m just overwhelmed. About everything.” She set the bottle on the table, taking another deep breath. “There’s so much we need to discuss.”
“Stay for a few days longer, Caryn. I’ll stay at my parents…we’ll have time to be alone and talk, right here in Toronto—our true home. What better place to begin to work things out?”
Andrew waited for Caryn to respond. When she finally met his eyes, he read the longing, the confusion, the anxiety, and the indecision in the eyes he knew so well. The last thing he wanted to do was to add to the obvious stress she was feeling. He tentatively reached out to brush his fingers against her forehead. “Do you have to get back to Tampa?” He gave her an out.
“I’ve put so much work off on Lauren.” Caryn’s voice was hesitant.
“I can fly back to Tampa with you.”
She shook her head. “No, you can’t.” Her voice was firm. “You need to spend time with your parents…” Her voice trailed off and she looked away. “I really do have work I need to complete for new clients.”
“Could you possibly handle the work from here?” Andrew was careful not to push.
Caryn looked at her hands. “I need time to process this. I wasn’t expecting to see you, hear you say you believe me.”
“I sense a ‘but’ coming.”
“Drew, I believed in us. I never dreamed you’d give up on our love so easily. I trusted you.” She blinked back the hot tears that threatened. “I convinced myself that happiness is overrated.” She met his gaze evenly.
Andrew closed his eyes briefly as he shook his head. When he spoke, his voice was raw with emotion. “I have no right to ask you to trust me. I realize that.” He gently brushed aside the single tear that escaped her eyes.
“You said you needed to concentrate everything on your recovery. What changed?”
“I’ve realized it doesn’t have to be a choice between one or the other. There’s room for both. I needed to get my priorities straight.”
“I pray every day that you will recover one hundred percent. I want you back on the ice, playing with the Suns, just as strong as you were before.”
“Maybe that doesn’t matter so much anymore.”
Caryn held up her hand. “Don’t! Do not say that. Do not tell me it doesn’t matter, that it’s been for nothing.” Her voice shook with anger. “If you don’t keep working for your recovery…” She shook her head. “That would be the worst thing of all.” She pushed back her chair to stand, but Andrew stood and grasped her arms before she could walk away.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Play hockey again.”
“I’ll do everything I can to make that happen, Caryn. There’s no guarantee.”
“I want what we had before you were hurt.” She reached to touch his lips to silence his protest. “I want us to be us again. And that includes your playing hockey, hopefully a long time with the Suns.”
“There’s no guarantee I’ll ever play again.” She met his eyes and he continued quietly. “I still don’t pass that ImPACT baseline.” He shrugged. “I could think I’m ready to play, but if I don’t pass that test…”
“You will. Don’t start doubting yourself now.”
Andrew’s smile was wry. “Now you sound like my brother.” He gently brushed the hair away from her forehead. “So, in the meantime…where do we go from here? What do you want me to do? What do you want to do?” Caryn hesitated, and he continued, “Look, I know I’ve got a lot of work to do before I can expect you to trust me. And I know I don’t deserve to ask…”
She silenced him by putting her hand against his cheek. “Andrew, I can’t do this again if things don’t work out.”
“What could stop us from working through this?”
“I might not be able to watch you play,” Caryn said quietly. “I still get flashbacks of that night. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to watch you play again.”
“Cary, that will never be a problem,” he said. He didn’t remember much from the accident that almost killed him, but she’d watched it all: his helmet flying off, the puck striking his head at full force, him lying motionless on the ice, the hours waiting to see if he’d survive surgery, the days spent wondering if he’d ever wake up. “I promise I will understand.”
Caryn was silent for several minutes, then reached for her Coke and took another sip. “I’ve never doubted you’ll play hockey again.”
Andrew laughed without humor. “I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked myself what I would do if I couldn’t play hockey again. I know I was wrong to push you aside.”
“Why didn’t you call me or tell me?” Caryn’s eyes held his steadily. “I believed what you’d said—that our marriage couldn’t continue until you totally recovered.”
“I convinced myself I didn’t want to risk hurting you any more than I had.” Andrew’s eyes left hers for a moment as he searched for the right words. “I knew I was wrong when I asked you to stay away…and then, I just watched you walk away.” Andrew shook his head. “I hope someday you can forgive me.”
“I already have.” Caryn reached to place her palm against his cheek. “There are a lot of things we need to talk about, but not today. You need to spend time with your parents. I need to get back to Tampa and take care of my clients. Think. Process everything you’ve said today.”
“I’ll be back in Tampa next week. Do you think we can start then?”
Andrew’s hand covered hers as she looked at him, searching his face. She saw the pain of regret mixed with a cautious optimism. She prayed she’d find the answer she sought in the intensity of his blue eyes—the same eyes that had captured her heart and had promised her a piece of his soul. A sensation rippled through her chest…a flutter of hope? Am I willing to open my heart? Risk believing in our future again? She smiled softly as she slipped her hand behind his neck and urged his lips towards her. In the kiss, tender at first and then quickly deepening, she found the answers.
There’s truly only one response, one leap of faith to chance. She pulled back and met his gaze before she stepped into the welcoming arms that closed securely around her. She nodded against his chest, her voice barely a whisper. “Yes, I’d like that, Drew…more than anything.”