Her eye twitches, jaw clenched.
“I was protecting them, not dismissing you.”
She whips her head toward me. “You were totally dismissing me like a child. I know when I’m being reprimanded publicly. My parents used to do it when I’d get fed up with them treating me like a child.”
I snicker. “So if they said something about you acting like a child, your answer was to act out even more like a child?”
Her nose wrinkles as she speaks with a mocking voice. “Swayze, do you need to go potty? Swayze, did you wash your hands with soap? Swayze, let me help you tie your shoe better. Swayze, you’re scratching your head a lot, let me check you for lice.”
“And did you have lice?”
“That’s not the point. I’m just tired of people telling me what to do or what to think. That’s why I want to do the hypnosis. I want my feelings and opinions about that life to be my own.”
I scratch my head. “We’ve hugged a lot lately. That’s all it takes for those pesky little parasites to jump onto someone else. Have you always been such a hugger?”
“Oh my gosh! Would you please focus? I didn’t have lice.” She looks out her window and mutters, “That often.”
Swayze blows a stray hair away from her face. “Shut up. There were like ten identical red hats in the lost and found at school. I just picked the wrong one.” On a sigh, she angles her body toward me. “But seriously, do you know how it could change their lives if they knew that Daisy did get a second chance?”
“Again, you’re not listening to me. You have nothing emotionally to offer them. If you have some miraculous recovery of your emotions through hypnosis, and you have this dire need to run home to Claudia and Dennis Gallagher, then you have my blessing.”
“Well, Dad. Good to know I have your blessing.”
I remind myself that she’s twenty-two, been scrutinized her whole life, and she’s living with memories from a past life. She deserves a pass for the snarky, childish attitude.
“I’m sorry.” She exhales pure frustration. “I’m having identity issues. Morality issues. Commitment issues. Life issues.”
We pull in the driveway. “My head has been all over the place since we met. And I’m certain what I’ve felt is a tiny fraction of what you’re dealing with. So no apologies. Okay?”
“Thank you for taking me to see them.” She rests her hand on mine over the gearshift.
The warmth of her touch gives me something I’ve missed for so many months. I savor it, feeling it bone-deep. “You’re welcome.”
She opens the door and climbs out.
I want to deserve her. I lost her once. My wife died. Fate is this beautiful, shiny, tempting excuse to bend my own morality to fit what I want, even when she’s not mine. “Don’t lose yourself in search of her.”
“In search of Daisy?”
Biting her lips together, a deep line forms along her brow. “What if I need to find her?”
“What if you don’t?”
“There’s my favorite grocery store guy.”
Griffin glances over his shoulder, working on some metal part at his workbench. His eyes make their usual inspection.
“Still like what you see?” I grin.
“Always.” He turns back to the part in his hands, inspecting it closely.
Say it. Please.
“How was your day, Swayz?”
“I over sugared my coffee this morning. Left me a little shaky by lunch. Morgan’s crawling a bit. In another week, I think she’ll be everywhere.”
“A fun age.”
“Yes.” I turn over my bucket and take a seat. This is nice. We’re talking about my job like a job, not like Griffin’s competition. I don’t sense any agitation in his voice. Maybe I can navigate this just fine after all.
“I have three really good job options away from here,” he says.
Griffin turns, wiping his hands on a rag. “I talked to Jett about it the other day. He gave me three options, any one of them would be mine if I wanted it. We can see which location would be the better option for you finding a job. I talked to my parents about it too. They agree it’s best.”
“B—” My lungs burn, begging for a breath as my heart crumbles, bearing down on my stomach. “Best for who?”
I shake my head. “What are you talking about? Why are you doing this?”
“I love you.”
Adrenaline dumps into my legs, shooting me off the bucket. “This isn’t love!”
“I want you safe.”
“You want me away from Nate.”
Griffin nods, eerily calm like he’s holding a royal flush.
“Nate’s not a danger to me. You can’t take me away from them. You can’t ask me to leave my mom. You can’t ask me to leave Dr. Albright just when we’re getting ready to have this breakthrough.”
“I love you. I want to spend my life with you. Protecting you is my number one priority.”
I start to respond, but the words vanish, leaving me choking on a breath of nothingness. It feels like my world is crashing down around me while Griffin shows no signs of stress, anger, or regret.
“Protect me from who? Nate?”
I fight back the tears that sting my eyes. “This isn’t love. This is your jealousy. This is you not trusting me. You not believing me. You think hauling me off to some place far from here is going to make the memories I have disappear. But they’re not going anywhere, and unless I find a way to bring them to life, I’ll never be able to let them go.”
“We’ll leave after the holidays, whether you find a job or not.” He turns his back to me.
“Is this an ultimatum?”
“It’s an intervention.”
I cough sarcastically. “An intervention? I think that requires more than one person.”
He shrugs. “Fine. I’ll call my parents and your mom.”
“My mom? Really? Because the last time I talked with her, she was on my side.”
“Swayz, we’re all on your side.”
As he turns, leaning against the workbench with his hands on the edge, I bat away the tears that sneak their way out.
“Forcing me to do something I don’t want to do is not being on my side. I am not a child. I am so sick and tired of everyone thinking they know what’s best for me.” The lump in my throat swells, making my words break apart. “I was Morgan Daisy Gallagher whether you choose to accept it or not.”
Griffin rubs his hand over his head. “Swayz, I believe you. I accept it.”
“Because I don’t want to risk someone fucking with your brain on the slim chance that you might remember something that will make a difference in the fate of Doug Mann. I don’t want to risk watching you lose your mind to some awful death. And …” His Adam’s apple bobs as his forehead wrinkles.
I hug myself as if I can physically hold everything together. “Finish it. You’ve come this far. Just … finish.”
“I don’t want you feeling things toward him. I’m begging you to leave all the emotions buried in the fucking ground with her body.”
My jaw slides side to side. “And you’ve shared all of this—Daisy, Nate, the reincarnation—with your family?”
I grunt, shaking my head. “And they believe it?”
“They don’t know what to believe. But given the fact that you have a psychiatrist who believes you, it’s hard to make a case for anything else. However, they agree that leaving Madison—leaving Wisconsin—is the only way we stand a chance.”
“Oh my god …” I run my hands through my hair, nudging the edge of hysteria and delirium. “It is an ultimatum. I agree to go and we stand a chance. But what if I refuse to go?” I hold my hands out to my sides, palms up. “Then what?”
For the first time tonight, I sense genuine pain coming from Griffin. “Swayze …”
Great. I’m Swayze now. This isn’t happening. Someone please wake me the fuck up from this nightmare.
“I’m leaving no matter what.”
Pressing my mouth into a firm line, I nod slowly, focusing on the floor between us. “So this isn’t really about what’s best for me. You just want to move.”
“Jesus …” He sighs, finally showing an edge of agitation, pacing several steps in each direction, head bowed, hands shoved into the back pockets of his jeans. “It’s all about you! Don’t you get that?”
“Then why would you still move if I say no?”
He stops in front of me, grabbing my face with a firm grip. “Because I’m not going to watch you self-destruct. I’m not going to watch you fall in love with another man. I’m not going to watch you be a mom to a child that’s not mine. You want the perfect proposal and the perfect wedding. But I just want you. Since the day we met, it’s been that simple for me. And I’ll take you with the souls of a million lives woven into yours. I’ll listen when you need me to listen, I’ll protect you when you’re scared, I’ll be whatever or whomever you need me to be … but I won’t be him.”