“Let go of what?”
“Anything that doesn’t serve the purpose of you finding happiness in this life.”
My gaze leaves our two hands in search of more meaning in his eyes. “Are you letting me go again?”
He flinches. “Swayze …”
My hand slides out from under his. I pump it into a fist a few times to shake off the lingering feeling of the boy I knew before the man. “I’m getting married. I have a great job. I think happiness has found me.”
If he’s trying to hide his concern, he forgot to tell the line between his eyebrows.
I nod toward the house. “So you said they’re excited to meet Morgan. How are you going to explain the nanny tagging along?”
“They know you’re coming too. They know you’re Morgan’s nanny. I said you’re a friend of the family and have been like a kid sister to me for years. You’ve heard all the stories about Daisy and you wanted to meet them.”
My lips twist to the side. “I suppose it will work.”
Nate opens his door. “It will work as long as you don’t get too creepy about your knowledge of them or their house.”
I climb out of the vehicle while he gets Morgan from the backseat. “I think calling me creepy is a bit excessive.”
“It’s really not.” His lips wrinkle to hide his smirk as he shuts the door.
Cue the music as I enter the Twilight Zone. When she opens the door, a tidal wave of memories weakens my knees. It’s like I’m seeing a ghost, but she isn’t a ghost. This house isn’t a ghost.
I’m the ghost.
“Nate!” Daisy’s mom holds out her arms for a hug.
“Claudia. It’s good to see you.” He sets Morgan’s car seat on the entry floor and hugs Daisy’s mom.
“Claudia, I’d like you to meet Swayze.” Nate smiles at me like, You’re up. Don’t be creepy.
“Nice to meet you, Swayze. What a unique name. I like it a lot.”
It’s no shocker that Claudia, who gave her daughter the middle name Daisy, would like my name.
“Thank you. Nice to meet you too.”
She quilts and makes scrapbooks. Cooking isn’t her strong suit, but she can follow directions with anything that’s a simple add-water-and-mix. The house is neat but not obsessively clean. I don’t have to run my finger along the banister or a coffee table to figure this out. I just know it.
“Oh, Nate … she’s adorable.” Claudia presses her hand to her chest, peering down at Morgan in her seat. I think she might cry. “We felt terrible for missing the funeral, but we were in Europe and just couldn’t make it back in time. We’re incredibly sorry for your loss.” She shakes her head. “I’ve wanted to come see you or call you a million times, but …”
Nate gives her a comforting smile. “It’s fine. I understand.”
Of course she’s emotional. Claudia lost her only two children.
“Come in, please.” She shuts the door behind us and leads us to a formal living room. “Dennis should be back soon. He ran to pick up a few things from the store.”
We take a seat on the sofa, and Claudia sits in the chair next to it. Nate pulls Morgan out of her car seat and hands her to Claudia.
She bounces her as Morgan springs her legs because she loves jumping. “Look at you, sweetie. So much energy. Such big smiles.”
Nate shoots me a look. I feel his joy and his grief.
“What did you name this beautiful little girl?”
Oh … fuck …
Seriously? Daisy’s parents don’t know that Nate named his daughter Morgan?
“Her name is Morgan.”
Claudia freezes, even with Morgan’s hyper legs demanding more bouncing. Way to make Claudia cry, Nate. I bet Jenna would have sent out birth announcements so this kind of surprise would have happened via snail mail instead of special delivery.
She gasps and several seconds later she releases that breath in what sounds like a hollow oh.
I grab Morgan before she drops her. Claudia’s fist covers her heart as tears stream down her face.
“Why don’t we give you two a few minutes?” I hug Morgan to me. “We’re just going to … snoop around.” I say the last two words quietly. But I know all that Claudia hears is Her name is Morgan.
We go upstairs. There are three bedrooms and a hall bathroom. Yep. Just like I remember. “So …” I stand at the entrance to Daisy’s bedroom. “This was my room, huh?”
Morgan doesn’t answer me. She’s too busy playing patty-cake with my cheeks. I recognize everything in this room. Holy heartbreaking hell! They haven’t touched her room since she died.
I feel bad for every time I’ve told my mom she needs to move on from grieving my dad. He hasn’t been dead all that long in comparison to the over two decades that Daisy has been dead.
Wouldn’t it be something if they knew that part of their daughter resides in me? Maybe like that heartbreaking yet inspired emotion that surely accompanies knowing that a loved one’s organs saved lives. That lingering physical connection.
But this is more. I carry something greater than flesh and blood. I have her memory. And on days like this, I wish I had her emotions too. I’m so numb to the familiarity around me. Sometimes empathy seeps in and disguises itself as something I think belonged to Daisy, but it’s not.
“There you are.”
I turn to Nate’s voice and a puffy-eyed Claudia behind him. Her gaze darts to the room. I haven’t left the threshold. It feels like I need permission for that.
A noise from downstairs distracts her. “That must be Dennis. Let me take Morgan.” She trips on her name, blinking back more tears.
I hand her Morgan.
“Go on in.” She smiles at Nate and nods toward Daisy’s room. “I know it seems crazy, but I’ve left her room the same. All these years later, I just like to go in there and talk to her. She was and always will be my daughter. I don’t want to forget her.” Claudia shrugs like it’s no big deal.
My twenty-two-year-old self with little true life experience would find Claudia a bit cuckoo. I think obsessed was the word I used with my mom. But after all summer and these first months of fall with Nate, I no longer feel qualified to judge anyone.
“We’ll be downstairs. Take your time.”
“Thanks,” Nate says.
When Claudia is out of earshot, Nate pushes me into the room and shuts the door behind us. My eyes shoot open wide. Holy crap! What is he doing?
“Finally.” He gives me a devilish look. I haven’t seen this look from adult Nate. However, I recognize that mischief in his eyes from my memory of him beneath me, when he said what are you going to do with me?
“I was never allowed in your room.”
“D-Daisy’s room,” I stutter as he gives me a predatory look.
He takes a step toward me. I take a step back.
“If I even looked in the direction of the stairs, your dad would clear his throat and scowl at me.”
“Her dad,” I say just above a whisper because I can’t breathe.
“Twenty-two years ago I would have thrown you on the bed and made out with you until you were …” He grins while biting his lower lip and shaking his head.
I take another step back until my legs hit the bed, and I stumble, landing with my ass on the edge. My hands fist the quilt.
Until I was what? I don’t want him to finish.
Shit! Yes I do.
He kneels on the floor in front of me, resting his hands on my legs. It’s giving me third-degree burns.
“Do you remember this room or are we both seeing it together for the first time?”
His hands require constant supervision. I can’t take my eyes off them. “Uh …” I swallow hard. “I remember it.”
“And?” He squeezes my legs a fraction.
I wish I were as numb to his touch as I am to the emotions of Daisy’s life, but I’m not. It’s not just that Nate is this incredibly sexy man touching me—I’m engaged to the sexiest man alive. It’s that my body lights up to his touch like seeing an old friend for the first time in two decades. The familiarity is the drug. Like I was once a Nate Hunt addict, and after years of sobriety, I’m getting a hit again and it sends my senses spiraling into an oblivion of need.
“Do you remember you?”
“Not me. Daisy.” I still don’t let my gaze drift an inch from his hands. “And no. I have this picture in my head of her life, you, this house, her parents … literally everything and everyone but her. It’s as if she’s been erased. And I hate not having feelings to put with the things I see.”
My breath catches as his hand moves from my leg to my chin, tipping it so I look at him.
“Do you want to remember what it felt like to be Daisy?”
“To make sense of the things in my mind.”
“What if it means you feel what she felt when she died?”
“I-I don’t know.”
“What if it makes it hard for you to ignore the two people downstairs? If your love for them comes back to life, what would that do to your relationship with your mom?”