I exhaled, the fear kicking in but it was just down to a minimum. If before whenever I hear he’s around, my fear would rocket to Level 10, right now it’s just at Level 1. I think that’s what happens if I don’t see him for a year, and I have H.
I HAVE H.
I don’t know who told him I was going home, or who let him inside the house. I don’t think the veiled promise of “I won’t hurt her” would do much to regain my parents’ trust because J has long lost it.
It was amusing, though, that it took him a week before he showed himself at my parents’ house.
“What are you doing here?” I asked him, taking a step back for every step forward he took. In the end I had to hold my ground, leaning against the headrest of the couch, and he stopped about five steps away from me. Still very much within arm’s reach, but I can run.
I had months of training from running away from him.
“I just wanted to see you. I heard you were coming home—”
“Please tell me who told you, because I’ll make note of removing them from my list of friends.”
J winced, and he clasped his hands in front of him, calm. I wasn’t used to this version of J—in my head he was still this scary psycho who wouldn’t just leave me alone after I found my way. A flash of that scene when he first hit me, across the face, that resounding slap, the bruise after… everything came back at that moment.
I heard his deep breath, and I knew he was really gearing for it. I knew what he was about to say, but I wasn’t even half-prepared for this. I knew I was bound to see him, but I didn’t know it was going to actually happen.
“K, I’m very, very sorry for everything that I’ve done,” he said, his eyes filled with the sincerity I had long forgotten that he could still carry. “I’m sorry for scaring you, hurting you, stalking you, and for making you run away.”
“For ruining my life,” I supplied, and J nodded.
“That too,” he admitted, even though I could see that it was a tough thing for him to agree to. He was really lowering his pride, and I was somehow proud of him for this. “I am very sorry.”
I debated, for a moment, if I should keep up this way of treating him. But I wasn’t this person—I never was.
“I shouldn’t let you off easy, after everything, but… I’m already fine now,” I said, sighing heavily. “I’ve forgiven you. But just for the record—I wouldn’t want you in my life anymore, J. Please do me that favor. After everything you’ve done to me, I think you at least owe me that.”
Pain flashed in his eyes, but I needed to be firm on this; else, he wouldn’t believe me that this was what I wanted. I think that was my mistake from before, you know? Whenever I asked him to leave me alone, I wasn’t sure. There was a hint of uncertainty every single time, and he knew he could still break through my shell.
“If you see him, don’t be gentle with him. Please, K. He stole so much from your life,” H’s words rang in my ears. “I know you’ve forgiven him—I’m glad you’re not carrying that pain and anger anymore—but he still hurt you. He hurt you.”
“K…” J’s voice trailed, and I held his gaze, challenging him to protest. I waited, and for a moment I thought he was going to. He closed the distance between us, and I flinched. He saw it, and I saw it hurt him further. His hands went up, about to touch me, but he thought better.
“I love you,” he whispered, “and I always will. I was a jerk, and I lost you.”
I nodded, trying to inch away from him but he had me trapped. I was trying not to panic, but I could feel my heart beating loudly in my chest. I looked up at him, making sure he sees my eyes as they plead.
“Please let me go, J. For one last time, I’m begging you, please let me go.”
I felt his lips press on my forehead, a long, lingering kiss—his goodbye—and then he stepped back. There were tears on his cheeks, and he quickly wiped them away with the back of his hand.
I closed my hands together, stepping away from him, wanting to put some distance between him and me. Needing to do that, because I could feel him cramming me into a spot again, a dark space, a place I don’t ever want to be in again.
I felt the promise ring on my finger that H gave me just before I left. “Actually running away did me good,” I told him, a thrifty but still nervous smile on my face. His eyes darted on to the ring on my finger, and his surprise was palpable.
“You met someone,” he said plainly, not a question but a statement of truth. I nodded, gladly making him think that I was actually engaged—or even married. I wasn’t about to correct him.
“And I’m happy,” I told him, and he got the message. He finally got it. He opened his mouth to speak, but we were interrupted by my brother running into the room, breathless and evidently excited.
“K!” he said, in between big gulps of air. “Someone’s looking for you. You didn’t say that—”
I froze for a millisecond, and then recovered, and I ran to him, into his open arms, his easy laugh loud in my ears. “Surprise,” he whispered into my ear, pressing his lips on my temple.
“H,” I breathed, and he pressed against me, tight, and then released me. I stepped next to him, his arm over my shoulder, and I watched as he regarded J with an I-mean-business stance.
“You must be J,” H said, and I had to stop myself from smiling. He was using his man-voice.
“You must be the man who put the smile back on her face,” J countered, offering a hand. H was decent enough as he accepted the handshake, and I knew he made sure it was a firm one. “H,” he said, and J nodded.
“I know who you are. I’ve seen your face on billboards around here,” he said, and I barely remembered that H and his band did an endorsement for a local clothing brand. J looked at me. “Serious upgrade from me,” he quipped, and I rolled my eyes.
I didn’t know he and I were back to joking.
“He is,” I said, my arm snaking around H’s waist.
J took it in stride, and then took a step forward. “Take care of her,” he told H.
H rubbed my shoulder, glancing at me, and then fixed J a serious look. “I fully intend to.”
J clapped him on the shoulder, and before I could say another word, he was out the door.
I blew out my breath, emphatically, my hair flying due to my exhalation. “Oh my gosh…” I said, leaning against H, who held me together. “I thought he was going to go ballistic on me.”
“You handled him well.”
And then it all came rushing into me. I pushed away from him, staring at him, wide-eyed, amused.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” I asked, and he gave me that smart-ass look that he was so good at. “Well, I was pretty worried about you. And I missed you. Terribly. So I decided to come here, do an impromptu meet-the-parents. I want to personally thank them for producing such a wonderful creature I’m sure I’ll call my wife someday.”
I whacked him on the arm, and he fake-yelped, and I pulled him towards me, placing my lips against his. I pulled away after a split-second—“You flew in private?”
He nodded, his lips on mine, but still not kissing. “Yeah. You’re flying back private with me too. I think we both know how the people here would go crazy if they found out I’m here.”
“Good. Let’s keep it under wraps first.”
“Yeah,” he whispered back, and then he said, “Now can we just kiss before your parents grill me?”
I rubbed my nose against his, and then gave in.