“Heartbreak?” I repeat.
She bites her lip and nods. “You broke my heart.”
The admission hits me deep in my chest, shattering all my ideas about her, about us.
“I didn’t…I didn’t know.”
“I wasn’t just hurt and humiliated when you broke it off and moved on to Stacy. I was heartbroken. Kessler, I was so in love with you. Maybe it was the young stupid obsessive kind of love that only comes on hard the first time you fall but…I fell for you. I loved you.”
She’s talking in past tense, but it feels real all the same.
I can barely talk, barely think. I just know I need her. I want nothing more than to hold her and kiss her and see if she can love me again.
No one has ever loved me like that.
Or at all.
“You were in love with me?” I manage to say. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
She shrugs, looking off down the beach, the moonlight reflected in her glossy eyes. “Because I was protecting myself. Because I didn’t want to be vulnerable. Because I thought it would protect me from being hurt. Because I knew in the end you would hurt me.”
Fuck. “You should have told me.”
“Why?” She glances at me curiously. “Would it have made any difference at all? Would you have stayed with me?”
I want to say of course it would have made all the difference in the world but the truth is, it wouldn’t have. I was a different person then. Younger. The things I wanted then weren’t love and security, they were cheap thrills and hot sex with different women. I loved being with Nova but I didn’t love her back then, and that was the truth.
I didn’t love anyone back then, including myself.
“See,” she says gently. “I knew that it wouldn’t make a difference. And it’s fine.”
“It still would have been nice to know.”
She runs her fingertips over my brow and I close my eyes at her touch. Every cell in my body is begging for her, wanting to know what it’s like to have her heart. I want her heart, to possess it, to protect it and never let it go.
“Well, you know now,” she says.
“I wouldn’t break your heart again,” I tell her, grabbing her hand, holding it tight in mine. “I swear I wouldn’t.”
Her smile wanes. “You’re a good man, Kess. A good man with good intentions. But you’re my boss now, and if you’re not my boss, that means you’re leaving in two months. I can’t go through all of that again. I don’t know how I’d survive losing you twice.”
She sighs and pulls away, getting to her feet. “I’m going back to the party and then I’m going home. Want me to say anything to Loan and Hunter? You can’t hide out here forever.”
I reach up for her hand and she grabs it, trying to haul me up but I just hold her still. “Stay with me. Tonight. Come back with us. Please.”
Her lips press together in thought and she swallows and for a moment I think maybe I’ve convinced her. Maybe she could take pity on me above all else.
“You’ll be all right, Kess,” she says, pulling her hand away. “Just sleep it off. I’ll see you on Monday.”
Then she’s walking off down the beach.
I don’t think she knows she’s taken a piece of my heart with her.
“And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”
“Augh,” I cry out, picking up a pineapple pillow and tossing it over to my iPod dock where it’s currently playing a range of holiday songs, including this one, the world’s most depressing. Lord knows why I’m doing this to myself on Christmas morning, alone in my house, drinking spiked eggnog in my coffee and shedding a pathetic tear every now and then.
But the pineapple pillow misses and hits a painting on the wall, which proceeds to fall down and smash on the bamboo floors, glass going everywhere.
I moan. It was my favorite painting from the Kahuna Hotels collection. Just the profile of a Hawaiian girl at sunset, her long wavy hair turning into a lei of plumeria flowers which then turn into waves. I always stare at her and think she’s got it going on. She’s free. She’s at peace.
Now she’s shattered on Christmas Day, lying on the floor in pieces.
To make matters worse, Judy Garland’s mournful singing about the most depressing Christmas ever goes away and the playlist replaces her with Paul McCartney and what I do believe is the worst Christmas song in the history of Christmas songs.
“Simply having a wonderful Christmas time,” he sings and my whole body literally shudders.
Or maybe that’s the pounding at my door.
I get up and make my way down the hall, opening the front door to see Kessler with Hunter in his arms and Loan behind him holding a giant turkey in a pan.
“Merry Christmas!” Kessler booms, practically shoving me aside as they all barge into my house, Loan giving me a giddy smile as she hurries on past, heading straight to the oven.
“I’m sorry, I thought you guys moved out weeks ago,” I say, following them down the hall.
“As if we would let you spend Christmas all alone,” Kessler says, just as Hunter goes, “Santa came last night!”
Such an innocent expression and yet I’m conjuring up the image of Kessler dressed as Santa and things are already so inappropriate in this brain of mine.
“Did he now?” I ask Hunter, while Kessler smirks.
“Yes!” Hunter yells. “I got Hei Hei and I got a whale and I got a submarine for the bath tub and I got some more army men and I got other stuff.”
Thank god there is no mention of a mom.
“Wow, Hunter, sounds like you got some pretty awesome presents,” I say to him, reaching over and messing up his hair. I glance at Kessler. “Not a pineapple in sight.”
“Hey,” Kessler says to me, putting Hunter down. “I’ll have you know the pineapples are very popular. Besides, your house still looks like you ransacked the merchandise department.”
“I told you I did,” I remind him. “Did you know we even made pineapple shaped back massagers at one point? They vibrate.”
This gets his attention, his brows arch devilishly. I don’t know why I’m even flirting with him like this, two seconds ago I was crying over a broken painting.
“Oh shit,” I say, quickly reaching down and grabbing Hunter before he has a chance to run off to the living room. “Sorry little dude, I forgot I have broken glass over there. Just hang out with your daddy for a bit while I’ll clean it up.”
“You said shit,” Hunter says, laughing. “The word is poop. Remember I pooped on your floor, right over there.” He points to the kitchen where Loan is standing.
“I recall,” I tell him.
“I cleaned up the poop, I might as well clean up the glass,” Kessler says, grabbing a dustpan from the hall closet like it’s second nature and heading over to the painting. He nods at the iPod. “Nice tunes.”
“Please don’t tell me you like this song.”
“I love this song.”
I groan, my head in my hands. “This is why we could never work, Kessler.”
When he doesn’t say anything to that, I look up to see him staring at me oddly, like he’s almost hurt by what I said.
But he recovers quickly with a shrug. “It’s Sir Paul. And Wings. Band on the Run.”
“But it’s not Band on the Run or Live and Let Die or Let ‘Em In, or any of the songs that make Wings awesome. It’s this vile piece of saccharine Christmas bullshit. How could you love this song?”
He grins at me and starts sweeping up the glass. “I don’t know. I just do. In fact, now that I know it bothers you so much, I might just love the song even more. Hey Hunter, do you know this song? We should sing along. It goes like this: Simply, having, a wonderful Christmas time.”
And then Hunter starts singing along on cue.
The irony is the kid could be signing it instead of Paul McCartney and no one would know the difference.
“Sim-ply! Hav-ing! A wonderful Christmas time!” Hunter starts yelling.
Oh my god. “Look, did you come here to annoy me on Christmas?” I say to Kessler as I pick up the painting from the floor. “Is that your present instead of a lump of coal? Because you are doing a good job.”
“I came here to keep you company,” he says. “And you’re welcome.”
“What if I didn’t want company?”
“You’d rather be alone drinking eggnog at ten a.m., trashing your house and listening to songs you hate?”
He’s got me there. “Besides,” he goes on. “Maybe I wanted the company. Maybe Hunter wanted to see you.”
“I’m pretty sure Loan wanted a day off.”
“She wants to cook the turkey, it was her idea. Look, we’re all kind of marooned on this same island away from family, so why not just have a castaway Christmas together.”
I hate how clever that sounds, a castaway Christmas. It reminds me that when it comes to marketing and ideas, Kessler is rather good at his job, even though I wish he wasn’t sometimes. But that’s my own insecurities talking, something I should probably get a handle on.
“What are you thinking?” he asks, peering closely at me. At this distance I can see the flecks of green and blue that come together in his eyes to make them seem teal at times.
“I’m thinking you might have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen,” I say, and the words surprise me as much as they surprise him.
“Nova Lane, paying me compliments?” he says in a low voice. “It’s a Christmas miracle.”
I look away, feeling strangely embarrassed. We’ve gotten closer—or at least friendlier—in the week since the Christmas party, when I found him on the beach and admitted I used to be in love with him. I wasn’t planning on telling him that, it just happened, but the moment the truth came out was the moment I felt a weight lift off my shoulders, a weight that had held me down for years.