Daisy is not a gift. She’s a fucking curse.
Griffin turns and opens the door.
“No!” I bolt after him, shoving the door shut again, grabbing his shirt and tugging at it until he looks at me. “It was a joke. A terrible, morbid, ill-timed joke. I’m sorry. I’m scared. I’m desperate. I’m …”
My heart can’t keep up with my emotions. It’s a pulsing siren in my chest, warning me to shut up. And it hurts so much more than the playful bite of his hand on my ass.
He’s a concrete wall, no matter how much I try to shake him.
“She’s inside of me.”
Now he gives me his full attention.
“Or…” I shake my head, pinching my eyes shut “…I’m her. But I don’t think I totally am. I can’t figure it out. And I can’t let it go because these memories stay with me no matter where I go. They’re in my head, and as time passes, they only get stronger and more vivid. It’s not just Nate. He may have been some trigger for this, but she’s there, Griff. She won’t go away.”
I’m dying here.
It’s like a young child telling her parents there is an alien in the closet that only she can see. But she’s not crazy. It’s really there, even if there is no proof of aliens.
“You need a different job,” he says. It’s flat and matter-of-fact.
I don’t want him to be angry with me, but I’d feel better if his words were infused with some sort of emotion.
“I can’t quit my job.”
“You can.” He bites his lips together, eyes wide, and head cocked to the side as if he’s daring me to argue with him.
“Let’s go. I’m the guest of honor, not that I deserve to have a special birthday. We both know I’m the worst human that ever lived. In fact, we can say our goodbyes and go home. You can drop me off at the curb as you back out of the driveway. Whatever.” I grab the doorknob, but Griffin doesn’t budge from the door.
His gaze bores a hole into my head, but I refuse to look at him.
“Hitler was worse,” he says.
It’s funny. But it’s not.
It’s heartbreaking. But it shouldn’t be.
“Don’t be insecure. That’s not the woman I met in the grocery store.”
I nod slowly, not really agreeing to anything other than the universe whispering, “You’re screwed.”
Insecure. Ha! I’m not sure it’s fair to expect me to be anything but insecure. There’s a whole other world—a whole other time—in my head. It’s like taking someone halfway around the world and dropping them off in a desert without food or water and bidding them farewell with a “Bye. Don’t be insecure.”
Nothing makes a person feel more insecure than the unknown. This isn’t mind over matter. I can’t run around with my fingers in my ears, yelling “La la la … I can’t hear you, Daisy.” But I’ll save that argument for another day.
“I’ll do my best to be who you want me to be.”
“You’re making me feel like a dick.” He frowns.
I shrug, giving him a tight-lipped smile. “Well, you’re big, sometimes overbearing, and completely unbendable when you get worked up. I think that’s a dictionary definition of a dick. Now … are you done ruining my birthday? Are we even since I’m a step away from Hitler and no longer the woman from the grocery store? Which is funny because I don’t know how I led you to believe I was anything short of a disaster that day.”
Griffin scrapes his teeth over the corner of his lower lip, inspecting me through squinted eyes. “Do you want to marry me?”
It’s hard to catch my breath under the weight of his words. A chill slithers to my core as I gaze at him unblinkingly. “How can you ask me that?”
He lifts his hands up and lets them fall to his sides, releasing a heavy sigh.
Why doesn’t he answer me? Is the lump in his throat as thick as the one swelling in mine? Or does he have nothing to say?
“Move.” My pulse stutters like my voice, choking on hurt and anger.
His head turns away from me with a slack expression and vacant eyes. After a few long seconds, he steps aside. My shaky hand fumbles with the doorknob before it opens. I race halfway down the stairs and stop. Biting my quivering lips together, I bend over to catch my breath and swallow back the sob that wants to escape.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
“Pull it together,” I whisper to myself. Taking a deep breath, I blink a few times to gather some composure.
“Your ice cream has melted.” Sophie hands me my bowl of cake and melted ice cream.”
“I don’t mind.” I force a smile. It feels like a believable one, but my mom’s pursed lips and raised brows tell me I’m not selling it as well as I think I am.
“Where’s Griffin?” Sherri asks as I shovel down the soggy cake—anything to keep my chin from trembling and distract the rest of my body from doing what it wants to do—curl up in a ball and cry.
“Right here,” he says from behind me.
I take another bite of cake, avoiding my mom’s scrutinizing gaze. Griffin brushes past me with his bowl of cake and ice cream. A rare splurge for him. He plops down on the sofa, giving Hayley a playful nudge. She grins, nudging him back.
Through the corner of my eye, I watch my mom’s gaze bounce between Griffin on the sofa—ignoring me—and me leaning against the wall because I don’t want to sit next to anyone and have to form actual words.
“Swayze, you have a message.” Sophie holds up my phone that’s on the coffee table. “Aw … it’s Morgan.” She smiles at the screen.
“Let me see.” Hayley snatches the phone from her. “It’s a happy birthday message. She’s so cute.” She tips the screen toward Griffin.
His lips pull into a tight grin.
After the phone gets passed around the room, Sherri hands it to me. It’s a photo of a smiley Morgan with a sticky note on her tummy that says “Happy birthday, Swayze.” I don’t stare at it too long, and I don’t react to it because I know Griffin’s eyes are on me. Instead, I slip the phone in my pocket and finish the last few spoonfuls of chocolate and vanilla cake soup.
“We should have invited them to your party.” Sherri says like a verbal facepalm.
Yeah, that would have been a great idea. Just me, my fiancé, my boyfriend from another life, and his daughter named after me from that other life.
“I think he had plans this weekend. His birthday was yesterday.”
“I hope he had plans, otherwise we could have celebrated both birthdays. We’ve been wanting to meet the sexy professor.” Sherri shoots my mom a suggestive grin, but Griffin looks ready to bust out of his clothes like the Hulk.
She has no idea her son is not a Professor Hunt fan, and he has no idea she’s making the sexy comment for my mom’s benefit, not mine.
“Sexy Professor?” Scott pinches Sherri’s leg.
She shoos him away. “For Krista. I’m happily married.”
He nuzzles her neck. “Better be.”
I love the alpha side to the Calloway men, except when mine makes me feel unwanted on my birthday.
“Sit, Swayze.” Hayley stands. “I’m skipping out early to go to a movie with Maycee.” She takes my empty bowl and hugs me. “Happy birthday, Sis.”
Sis … Don’t cry.
“Sit.” She jerks her head toward the empty spot on the sofa next to the Hulk.
Sherri and Scott chat with my mom about the Alaskan cruise they have planned for their anniversary next summer. Sophie and Chloe flip through the channels on the TV. I make the uncomfortable journey to the sofa and ease onto it, leaning toward the arm so my body doesn’t touch Griffin’s.
He taps his spoon against his empty bowl, releasing what I know are nerves or built up anger over our argument and probably the birthday text too. Sherri frowns, leaning forward and taking the bowl from him, setting it next to hers on the coffee table while rolling her eyes at him.
“Scoot over.” Sophie kicks her feet at Griffin as she tries to sprawl out on the other side of him.
He scoots toward me, forcing our bodies to touch. I stiffen, hugging my arms to myself. My mom’s brow wrinkles as she observes us, probably not paying any attention to Sherri and Scott’s verbal itinerary.
I have to either surrender with the yes-we’re-fighting-I’ll-tell-you-about-it-later look or I need to make a move that says we’re fine. But I can’t deal with another second of her scrutiny. Just as I decide to give her the look, Sherri glances at me as if she realizes my mom is distracted by something.
I’m not prepared to give Sherri that look, even if I think she’d understand, so I swallow every last bit of my stupid pride and ease my head against Griffin’s shoulder. If it looks half as awkward as it feels, I’m screwed.
He tenses. I guess he’s not in the mood to play along. Mom flinches, seeing the obvious rejection he’s giving me, but the gesture seems to be enough for Sherri to offer me a warm smile before returning her attention to Scott. Griffin’s hands remain folded in his lap. I feel like a fly on the backside of a horse. Any minute he could whip his tail and shoo me away.