“You would not.”
He quirks a brow. “Now that’s the young naive Swayze talking. The one who doesn’t really know me. Give it a second. Once you start thinking like Daisy, you’ll know I’m one hundred percent truthful.” He shrugs. “Proud? No. I’m old enough to know that violence doesn’t solve anything, but I’m not too old to remember what it feels like to want the girl beyond all reason.”
I search for the right response, but there isn’t one, so I blink at him over and over.
“I have to get to work. Stay warm.”
“Nate?” I say just as he opens the door. “So you want me to leave?”
“Hell no. I’m still the boy who wants the girl beyond all reason.”
The door clicks shut.
Thirty minutes later, I get a text.
Professor: Stop holding your breath. I want my ‘friend.’ That’s all.
“Last week Griffin gave me an ultimatum. Move away or lose him. We’ve been coexisting in near silence since then. I have less than a month decide to stay or go.”
Dr. Albright offers a sympathetic smile, but I don’t sense an ounce of surprise.
“I want him, but I don’t want to leave. I mean … he said he believes me. He believes that I was Daisy and he can accept that.”
She listens, giving me a slow nod.
“But he’s worried about Nate. Daisy’s feelings for him. My feelings for his daughter. And ….”
Dr. Albright continues to offer a receptive smile. I love her patience with me. It’s not tick-tock time’s almost up. She looks at me like she gets me.
Of course she does.
“Go on. Take your time.”
Yeah. This is the grueling part. I know how much it hurts me, and I can only imagine it’s multiplied by a million for Griffin. “He found the picture of Nate. It was in the pocket of my jeans.”
“That must have been hard. Painful.”
I nod, blinking back the tears. “The need to know, to feel this other life has made me reckless. I’m making bad decisions, but they don’t feel like mine. And just saying that aloud makes me feel certifiably insane. No one gets acquitted for murder because the voice in their head was from another life. At best they end up in a mental hospital until they slit their wrists with a sharpened chicken bone.”
I laugh. It’s not funny, but I need to save myself. “I bet they only serve boneless cuts of meat in psychiatric hospitals. Huh?”
Dr. Albright smiles. It’s big. Not the contained humor of Dr. Greyson. “I don’t have all the answers. And I won’t pretend that I do. I wrote those books as a means of therapy. I wrote them, too, so maybe other lost souls wouldn’t feel so alone. Sometimes the memories make you feel empowered. Sometimes they feel like your demise.”
She sips her tea and holds up a finger. “Remember … this is a new journey for you. A journey full of choices. Acknowledging your past life is a choice. I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, but it is. Not everyone gets the opportunity to make that choice. If you need to know, then you need to know. Don’t feel guilty for that.”
“But what about Doug Mann? What if the reason I remember this other life is because Daisy’s soul wasn’t finished? Is that possible?”
“Absolutely. There are many possibilities. But your job isn’t to figure out what Daisy wants, it’s to figure out what Swayze Samuels wants. And it’s okay if it’s the same thing, but it’s also okay if it’s not. You are Swayze. This is your life. You cannot go back and live her life.”
“You’re saying I should follow Griffin.” She’s probably right. After all, he’s downstairs waiting for me, protecting me even when I’m where he doesn’t want me to be. Either he’s biding his time to say he did all he could or he loves me that much.
“I’m saying you should follow Swayze. She’s got a lot of roads to take. And maybe some wrong turns along the way. That’s all part of living life. Don’t steal anything from the past or borrow anything from the future. Pay your dues today. That’s living life.”
Yeah, I’m twenty-two, but I feel twelve because I don’t know what that means. But I have this feeling in my gut that it’s the most important piece of advice anyone will ever give me. I should tattoo it on my forearm and stare at it every day until the meaning sinks into my soul.
“How was your day?” I break the silence on the way home.
“That’s my line,” Griffin says, eyes on the road.
“Well, you don’t have the copyright on it, and you haven’t said it in a while, so I’m trying it on for size.”
“My day was good. I did some training this morning, and then I was interviewed for a magazine article.” That’s the most he’s said to me in a week.
“That’s cool. I can’t wait to see the article. Is it just online or an actual paper publication?”
“So a good day.”
“Yeah, she took me to lunch for the interview. Nice place. Picked up the tab.”
No big deal. No need for my mind to wander into jealousy land. Nope. Not me. It’s not like she sat on my bucket or shared a single bottle of beer or invited him to California.
I’m burning up with a fever of jealousy. He doesn’t have a half-naked picture of her in his pocket. He would never do that.
“What are we doing?” I ask as he pulls into a strip mall parking lot.
“In case it’s escaped your mind, Christmas is around the corner. I need to get some gifts. Do you need to get home right away?”
“No. Good call. We should shop.” I’m still on my firsts with him. It’s our first holiday season together. Griffin has a Christmas list. I like that. He could click a few buttons on the computer, but he’s not. He’s shopping. I like this a lot.
We hold hands. Another thing I like. A little something I took for granted.
“Coffee?” I glance up at him as he holds open the door to a coffee shop. “Now we’re talking.”
“Not for you. My mom likes a very particular coffee, but my dad gives her crap about spending money on it because it’s not cheap.”
“Sorry … all I heard is ‘not for you.’ Now I feel like I need this coffee.”
He gives me a frown before shooting the lady at the counter a killer smile while releasing my hand.
My emotions are on crack. I’m up and down, jealous and paranoid. Reading into every little look he gives me or doesn’t give me.
The lady gets Griffin two bags of the coffee and one really obvious flirty bite of her lip while batting her eyelashes. That look used to not faze me. I was the girl he took home. The girl he undressed. The body he worshipped. Now I feel on the verge of being his biggest disappointment. His biggest mistake.
“Can I get you anything else?”
“Actually…” I give her a smile just as sugary “…I’d like a small cup of that to go. Please.”
Griffin frowns at me again. WTF. Why the frown?
I scowl back at him. He looks away.
“Ring mine up separately.”
She puts a lid on the cup and sets it on the counter.
“It’s all together,” Griffin says with a bit of exasperation.
Flirty Face’s eyes ping-pong between us as she totals it up.
Griffin pays cash and grabs the bag. “Thank you.” He shoots her another awesome smile.
Dammit! I want that smile.
She bites that stupid lip of hers again and nods, releasing her lip and falling sober when she catches my raised eyebrow.
“Swayz,” Griffin says, holding open the door.
I take a few more seconds to stare her down like she’s the villain in my nightmare. But she’s not. That girl resides in the mirror.
Pivoting, I give Griffin the same stare-down look.
“What is your deal?” he asks when the door shuts behind us.
“What is your deal?” I lengthen my strides to stay a few steps in front of him like I know where we’re going next. But I don’t. “No coffee for you, Swayze. No smiles for you, Swayze.” My head bobs animatedly side to side.
I’m hitching a ride on the looney train. The clock is ticking, we’re just not counting down aloud. The toxic mix of anger, fear, resentment, jealousy, and bone-deep love is stripping every last piece of my sanity.
Every day I think he’s going to cave and say we don’t have to leave. We’ll work things out right here. Instead, every day he inches away from me a little more—not as many glances, hardly any words, rarely a touch.
Maybe he’s protecting his heart.
I wish I could protect mine, but I can’t. It’s going to break no matter what. There’s no way for this to end without me giving up a piece of myself, without me saying goodbye to part of my shattered heart.
“Are you done?”
I glance over my shoulder. Before I spew any more venom, I bite my tongue and nod. He’s hurting. I’m hurting him. This is on me. I don’t deserve good coffee or great smiles.
“In here.” He jerks his head toward the bookstore.