Irresistible(Buchanans, Book 2)(60) by Susan Mallery
Elissa drew in a shaky breath. She didn’t know what to think, what to feel. The knot in her gut told her the story wouldn’t end well.
“It came back,” he said flatly. “By April of our senior year they realized their mistake in treating the cancer so conservatively. It was back and it was everywhere. She was given less than six months to live.”
He stared at the floor. “She couldn’t tell me herself. She had her mother do it. I was scared, so scared. I didn’t want to believe it and then I knew I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t watch Charlotte die. She knew it, too. When I went to go see her, she saw it in my eyes. She cried and I cried and she told me to go away and never come back.”
“But why? To spare you?”
He nodded. “I knew she needed me. I knew she wanted me to stay. But I pretended her words made it okay and I ran.” He raised his head and looked at her. “I told everyone I went into the Marines to screw with Gloria, but that’s not true. I went in because I couldn’t stand to watch Charlotte die. I disappeared the day after graduation. I never called, I didn’t leave a note. I just walked out on her.”
Elissa hadn’t seen that coming. She stiffened in surprise.
“Her mother called me,” he said. “She begged me to come home. She said Charlotte needed me. It would just be for a few more weeks. That this was her baby and she would do anything to convince me. She asked for herself. Charlotte never said a word. I joined the Marines and went to boot camp.”
“When did she die?” Elissa asked softly.
“August. She wrote me a letter saying she loved me and knew I loved her. I couldn’t bring myself to read it for a year. I never saw her family again. They moved away.”
He stood and moved toward the door. “That’s who I am, Elissa. I’m the guy who couldn’t be there for the woman I loved. I would have died for her, but I didn’t have the balls to watch her die. Don’t trust me with anything important because there are better than even odds I’m going to let you down.”
He stepped out into the night and was gone.
Elissa let him go. She sat alone in her living room and cried. Whether it was for herself, Walker or a brave young woman who had faced too much too early, she couldn’t say.
“WE’RE HAVING an intervention,” Mindy said the following Tuesday when she, Elissa and Ashley had locked the front door of the diner. Frank had already left to go to the bank and the cleaning crew wouldn’t be there until later, so it was just the three of them.
“For who?” Elissa asked, although she had a good idea.
Ashley nudged her onto a stool at the counter, then crossed to the ice-cream freezer and grabbed a scoop.
“You’re not yourself,” Ashley said. “It’s been coming on for a while, but in the past couple of days, something’s gone very bad.”
Elissa winced. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make it so obvious.”
“And yet you did,” Mindy said with a grin. “Come on. You know we love you. Tell us what’s wrong.”
Elissa hesitated more because she didn’t know where to start than because she felt like keeping secrets.
“It’s that guy,” Ashley said. “Isn’t it?”
“Partly. It’s also about my family. My parents. They live here in Seattle.”
Both women stared at her openmouthed.
One of the things Elissa had liked best about working here was the lack of questions about her past. It was understood that everyone had secrets and they weren’t expected to share them. Now she gave her friends the Cliff Notes version of her past, starting with her running away and finishing with her Sunday-morning visit with her folks.
“I don’t know what I think about any of it,” she admitted. “I’m confused. On the one hand, it’s nice to have family again, but on the other, I don’t know. Now they know I’m here and we’re involved and I’m the one who ran away so why am I so angry with them?”
Mindy moved next to her and gave her a hug. “Because they went on to have lives that didn’t include you. Because they didn’t suffer enough.”
Elissa had a feeling she was right. “I hate thinking that. It’s shallow and selfish.”
“It’s human. You went away and the world went on. Look how much you changed. They changed, too. It’s going to take time to figure out this new relationship.”
Elissa nodded, then accepted the chocolate milk shake Ashley passed her. “I’m just so confused. It’s not just them. It’s Walker.”
Ashley and Mindy exchanged a glance. “I knew it had to be a guy,” Mindy said. “He seemed the likely candidate.” She dipped a spoon into her milk shake. “He’s good-looking, has money and is single. What’s the problem?”
“I would just like to make it clear that this is a theoretical discussion. I’m not actually interested in a relationship.”
Ashley rolled her eyes. “Of course you’re not.”
Elissa ignored that. “He’s emotionally unavailable. He’s told me and told me and now I’m thinking maybe he’s telling the truth.”
“If you don’t want a relationship, that matters why?” Ashley asked.
Elissa winced. “Did I say theoretical?”
“I don’t think it’s a theory anymore,” Mindy told her. “Do you?”
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