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Adelaide Hatfield, you have to know, from that day, it was only you.
“He looks really sad,” I tell her, still not making a move toward the door handle.
“He looks like he’s realized he’s made a mistake,” she whispers.
I look at her, finding sympathy in her eyes.
“It doesn’t change anything,” I argue out loud even though the battle is internal.
“He told me differently once.” My eyes are drawn back to him.
“I need to talk to him.”
“I figured.” She grabs my hand before I can climb out. “Remember your head, Addi. He already has your heart.”
I nod, but a second later, I’m climbing out and making my way to him.
“Hey,” he says with a small smile.
“What are you doing here?” I retort. Cutting to the chase is much better than getting my hopes up. Protective arms cross over my chest even though I know he’s already inside me.
“I wanted to see you.” He slides his hands into the front pockets of his jeans, as if he’d reach for me if he didn’t.
“Okay.” What else do I say? I want to run into his arms. I want to tell him I’m so happy to see him, but the picture of him on the lounger and at home wrapped around two women comes to mind, and my stomach roils.
“I needed to see you,” he amends.
The pleading in his eyes devastates me.
“I just…” he begins, but silences when Mandy walks up. “Here, let me help you with that.”
It isn’t until he reaches for the handfuls of bags in Mandy’s hands that I remember we just got back from the grocery store. She offers them to him and shrugs when I glare at her as he walks up the steps and waits at the door for us to open it.
Unlocking it, I step through, peeking my head in to make sure Renee isn’t running around in her underwear. She’s lying on the couch, TV on silent as she flips through a magazine.
“I thought you had a headache,” I challenge when she looks up at me. It’s the excuse she’s used to get out of going grocery shopping—and not for the first time. She always manages to find an excuse.
“That fuckhead came by to see you. He said he’d wait. Clearly, he’s still a liar.”
I frown, stepping farther into the house.
“That fuckhead would wait an eternity for her,” Axton says, coming in behind me, his hands full of grocery bags.
“And he offered to help bring your food in,” Mandy adds. “Quit being so rude. You were raised better than that.”
My cheeks burning from embarrassment, I follow him into the kitchen.
“That means get off your ass and help put groceries away,” Mandy hisses from the living room. “I don’t know what’s going on with Elijah, but you can’t stop being a part of this household.”
I give Axton a weak smile as I begin to empty the bags. “Sorry.”
“I’d say I understand, but I’m an only child, so the whole sibling squabble thing isn’t something I have experience with.” He smiles back at me.
“You’ll do the shopping and putting away next week all alone. Addi and I are tired of this moping you’ve been doing,” Mandy says, continuing to lay into Renee as they both walk into the small kitchen.
“Don’t bring me into it,” I mutter.
“Shoo,” Mandy says, waving us off. “We’ll put the rest of this away.”
“You heard the lady,” Axton says, clasping my hand and tugging me from the kitchen. As soon as we’re back in the living room, I pull my hand away and watch his jovial mood melt instantly.
“Why are you here, Axton?” There’s more pleading in my eyes than there was on the front lawn.
He swipes his hand out, indicating for me to take a seat on the sofa, and I do…at the far end, ready to get whatever this is over with while hoping he’ll take a hint and keep some distance between us. As luck will have it, he does.
“I made a mistake.”
I have to give it to him, most people when admitting fault hang their heads, play with their hands—do anything not to look at the person they’re admitting their wrongdoing to. Instead, he looks me right in the eye, facing his faults.
“Just one?” I can’t help the snide remark. I mean, if we’re going to open up old wounds, we should do it one hundred percent.
“Many,” he corrects. “I’ve made many mistakes where you’re concerned. I told you—”
I hold my hand up. “You don’t owe me any explanations. We don’t have to hash all of that out. If that’s why you’re here, it’s fine.”
That’s it, right? He’s here to clear his conscience. Quit reading into stuff, Addi.
“It’s not. I’m here for you.”
“What does that even mean?” It’s my turn to clasp my hands together in my lap.
“I want you. I need you.” He shakes his head before scrubbing his big hands over his face. “This isn’t coming out like I want.”
“I’m not available for anything.”
His eyes find mine and he nods, as if he expected that response.
“I need you in my life.”
“I can always use another friend, but that’s the extent of what we can be.” Just like last time, I’m on thin ice and playing with fire all in the same breath.
As if that’s even a possibility with him. My heart is already banging in my chest and my fingers itch to touch the stubble he didn’t bother to shave before coming over.
“Friends,” he says, moving the word around in his mouth, like he’s trying to get used to it.
I nod. “That’s it.”
“So, I can’t kiss you?”
I shake my head.
“You said that last time.”
“Friends don’t kiss.”
“You also said that last time.”
“Seriously, Axton. If you’re here because that’s what you want, you might as well leave and never darken my doorstep again.”
“I can’t tell you I don’t hope for more with you. I haven’t gone one day without thinking about you.”
So much better than admitting I’m in the same boat. The last thing I need is to give him more ammunition to twist me into the form he’s made up in his mind.
“If friends is what you can give me, it’s a whole hell of a lot better than what I have right now.”
“And what’s that?”
“An emptiness in my chest—an ache that never goes away unless you’re near.”
“Maybe being friends isn’t such a good idea,” I tell him, shifting to stand from the sofa.
He clutches my arm at the elbow, urging me to look at him.
“Please,” he begs. “I won’t try anything. I swear. Just being near you is more than I have any right to ask for, but I’m not above begging.”
“You don’t have to beg.”
“But know that I will. I just want to hang out. Watch a movie, go to the lake, walk down the street together, grab dinner—anything, so long as it’s with you.”
“Why?” I don’t even recognize the huskiness in my voice as emotion from his candidness takes over.
“I’m lost,” he confesses. “Spiraling out of control, drinking too much. Things were better when you were around.”
I shake my head. “I can’t be your lifeline. I can’t be the one who saves you. You have to do that on your own.”
“And I can.” His eyes dart to my mouth, and my lips tingle. “I will. I’d just like to do it with some company. You’re the only person I can stand to be around.”
“I’m a pretty nice person,” I say with a smile. The conversation, although needing to be serious, is becoming too much for me.
“The nicest,” he agrees. “So? Friends?”
Looking down at his proffered hand, I start to second-guess everything in my life, but it doesn’t stop me from placing my hand in his.
I pull my hand away quickly, and if he’s offended or has ulterior motives, it doesn’t show on his face.
I sit back farther onto the couch and grab the remote.
“Want to go out tonight? Grab something to eat?” I tilt my head in his direction. “Not as a date. Just friends hanging out. I swear. I won’t try to kiss you. I won’t even hold your hand.”
I smile. “I guess we can hang out tonight.”
Tossing a middle finger to Macon, Georgia as I made my way to Nashville was always the dream. Sing country music, go on tour, top the charts—with my popularity growing every day, I was on my way.
But then a gust of wind blew up your skirt, and those white cotton panties had me hooked. I didn’t know your name, and you turned down every attempt I tried to throw your way. But I knew you were different, even though you told me I was the same.
“Friends” is what you offered, and I played by your rules, but, Adelaide Hatfield, you have to know, from that day, it was only you.
I just hope I can make you see how much you mean to me before we both drown in the sorrow of what heartbreak can truly be.
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