“You can go now.”

My fingers freeze on the buttons. “What?”

“I said, thank you, I’m tired—you can go.” And her eyes are flat, her face taught—like a mannequin in a department store.

I step toward her, trying to make it past her attitude.

“Dee, I know you’re upset . . .”

“Or maybe I just don’t want you here, Matthew!” she lashes out. “Maybe I just want to be alone.”

And, yes—in case you’re wondering—this is my pissed-off face. Jaw clenched, lips tight, eyes alive with adrenaline. I’m angry at her words—her outlook—her stubborn f**king inability to look at me and our relationship without the black cloud of her past hanging over it.

“You don’t want to be alone—you’re just f**king scared. You see Kate and your cousin and you don’t want to feel what they’re feeling . . .”

She claps her hands slowly. Sarcastically.

“Brilliant deduction, Watson. Forget Chippendales—if banking doesn’t work out, it sounds like you want to be a therapist.”

I push a hand through my hair, trying to rein in the frustration that makes me want to put my hand through her bedroom wall.

“This pushing me away shit is getting really f**king old, Delores.”

“Well there’s the door.” She points at it. “Why don’t you go find yourself something brand spanking new.”

My voice is low—but fuming. “Good idea. I’ll do that.”

Then I turn around and walk out of the goddamn room.

I make it all the way to the living room—my hand on the apartment door—before I stop. Because this is exactly what she’s expecting. For me to give up. On her.

On us.

Dee would rather hit first and then throw in the towel than risk getting sucker punched later on.

I know this. As well as I know the last thing she really wants is for me to leave.

To leave her alone.

My hand drops from the door and I walk purposefully back into her bedroom. She sits ramrod straight on the edge of her bed, facing away from me.

“I’m not leaving. You want to yell? You can yell at me. Feel like hitting something? I can take a punch. Or, we don’t have to talk at all. But . . . I’m not going anywhere.”

I sit on the bed and take off my shoes—the rest of my clothes quickly follow. Dee slides under the covers, then switches off the lamp, but the room doesn’t plunge into total darkness. There’s just enough light from the window to make out her silhouette—on her back, staring up at the ceiling. Boxers on, I climb under the covers next to her. And as soon as my head is on the pillow, she moves closer, turning on her side and resting her forehead against my bicep.

“I’m glad you didn’t go.”

I wrap my arm around her, pulling our bodies together—her cheek now on my chest, her hand on my stomach, our legs entwined. Delores whispers, “What am I supposed to do tomorrow? It’s Thanksgiving. Kate, Billy, and I were going to spend the day together—go out for steak.”

My brow wrinkles. “Steak?”

I feel her shrug. “Everybody eats turkey. I hate doing what everyone else does.”

And I can’t help but smile.

“I can’t choose between them,” she continues. “This is going to be hard enough—I don’t want either of them to feel lonely.” Dee lifts her head and looks into my eyes. “If Steven and Alexandra broke up, who would you pick to spend the day with?”

I stroke her back lightly and answer in the most unhelpful way possible.

“I don’t know.”

She lies back down on my chest. And I add, “You don’t have to choose. You could blow them both off equally and come to Drew’s parents’ place with me for dinner.”

She snorts. “No, I can’t do that.”

I didn’t actually think she’d go for it.

I suggest an alternative. “Your cousin is going to be sleeping it off for many hours to come. And when he does wake up, I can guarantee he’s not gonna want to eat steak. Leave Billy a note, meet up with Kate for brunch, spend the afternoon with her, then take him out for a late dinner.”

“But they’ll both still be alone, for part of the day at least.”

“They’re adults, Dee. They’ll deal. And who knows, maybe tomorrow they’ll patch things up.”

“I don’t think so,” she says softly. “It’s probably for the best if they don’t.”

“That’s pretty much what your cousin said too.”

She kisses my chest lightly—one sweet peck. “It’s just . . . sad. The end of an era.”

I squeeze her. Dee tilts her head back to look at me. “Matthew, these last few weeks with you and me . . . I . . .” She pauses and licks her lips. “I . . . I’m really glad you stayed tonight.”

“Me too.”

After a few minutes, her breathing turns steady and deep. I think she’s fallen asleep, until, in a small voice she says, “Just . . . don’t hurt me . . . okay.”

I run my hand through her hair and hold her tight. “Not ever, Delores. Promise.”

They’re the last words we speak before we both fall asleep.

Early the next morning, Dee wakes up just long enough to kiss me good-bye. I walk past Billy—dead to the world—on the couch and go home for a long shower. Then I drive up to Drew’s parents’ country place for the day’s festivities.

All the usual suspects are in attendance—John and Anne, Steven and Alexandra, George, and my mother and father. I make my way through the handshakes and hugs to the back sunroom, which affords a panoramic view of the pristine backyard. And a view of Drew—with Mackenzie—riding opposite ends of the very same seesaw we played on, as kids, a lifetime ago.

Although they seem to be engaged in a serious conversation, I walk out the back door anyway, to join them. Drew lets Mackenzie know I’m here and she jumps off the seesaw, runs, and throws herself into my arms like she hasn’t seen me for months. But I eat it up and give her a long hug when her little arms wrap around my neck.

Then I set her down and we walk back to Drew. “Hey, man,” he greets me.

“What’s up?” I ask. “You go out early last night? You never came back to the party.”

He shrugs. “My head wasn’t in it. I hit the gym and went to bed.”

Huh. That kind of behavior is weird for Drew, and I wonder if it has anything to do with his pissy attitude toward Kate and Billy at the party.

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