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Jenna Bayley-Burke



Brenda waited eight days for Nick to come around, wondering if more than pride and ugly words were getting in the way of their marriage. The house grew colder every day. Big and empty, until she couldn’t recall clearly just what the fight had been about. His mother, her sister, his new set of golf clubs, her third pair of new shoes this month. Whatever it was, it felt important at the time.

But now -- now that she’d actually sat in her car outside his office, followed him as he drove to the tiny bar, and watched him walk inside -- she knew it wasn’t important. Had it been her red-headed temper that pushed him here? Or was someone else pulling him this way?

She swallowed hard against the lump in her throat, and grabbed her purse. She needed to know. No matter how it hurt.

Crossing the dark parking lot, she passed his car and peered inside. The suitcase he’d thrown clothes into sat on the backseat, his gym bag in the front. An apartment guide lay open on the floor mat. Where had he been staying? Surely not in the car.

Once inside, a TV blared from one end of the bar, captivating the attention of the bartender and the other three patrons. Two of the men turned and smiled in her direction. But not Nick.

One hand wrapped around a longneck bottle of beer, his flat hand tapping against it. His gaze fixated on the bottle. Brenna stepped closer, until she realized what held his attention. As he tapped the fingers of his left hand against the bottle his ring pinged against the glass. Brenna twirled the diamond on her finger and stepped closer.

He looked the same, yet completely different. He’d had his routine haircut since he left, keeping his sandy brown hair cropped close. His wrinkled blue shirt hung on his slumped shoulders.

“What did you come for, Hon?” The bartender asked, suddenly near.

“Him.” She watched Nick turn, the tiredness in his eyes ripping at her soul. The intelligence in his gaze tugged at her heart. How had she ever been angry enough to let him walk away?

“I figured he belonged to someone. If you need anything, you give me a holler.”

“How did you find me?” His dusky whisper was warm, soothing her nerves.

“I followed you.” Brenna forced a smile and gathered her courage, determined to be bold and get to the truth.

“You followed me?” He raised an eyebrow at her. His eyes were laughing, but he schooled his mouth serious. He might be able to fool someone who hadn’t learned every inch of him by heart, but Brenna knew better. His eyes always gave him away. 

“You never came home. I wanted to know why.” Brenna shivered, running her hand up and down her arms for warmth.

“You threw me out, Brenna.” Nick turned back around, facing the wall of liquor bottles.

“I wasn’t sure if there was more to it.” She stepped to the bar and laid her hand against the cool laquered wood.

“More to it? Incredible.” He stared her down, made her regret having even thought he’d left her for someone else.

“I’m sorry.” In the two years they’d been married, he’d never given her any reason to doubt him. Still, after what she’d seen her mother go through, her mind went right there. Following the only pattern she knew.

“The problem is us, Brenna.” He shook his head and took a sip from the bottle. “We don’t need anyone else to mess it up. We do a good enough job on our own.”

“I know.” She swallowed against the tear in her voice. She shouldn’t have doubted him, she shouldn’t have gone there. “I just don’t know how we got here, how it got this bad.”

“That makes two of us.” Nick’s warm eyes peered into her soul. His love, frustration as palpable as hers.

Before Nick, Brenna had been sure she’d never marry. Never let anyone close enough to hurt her this badly. And all he’d done was go when she’d told him to.

“I don’t have a quick fix, Brenna. I don’t have the answers you’re looking for. I can’t tell you the reasons it went wrong.”

She reached across his body, taking his left hand in both of hers, his wedding ring between her thumbs. “I know it won’t be easy. But I don’t want to go home alone. I’m tired of fighting, of trying to win at a game where everyone loses. Please, just follow me home.” She fought against the tears, not wanting to manipulate him by crying.

“Brenna, I can’t live like that. I can’t always be the one to blame. We’ve both made mistakes.”

“I know.” She nodded furiously, trying to sift through what she felt and what she wanted to say. “I’ve been so cold. I wake up in the middle of the night just freezing. I look for you without meaning to, talk to the walls as if you’re there.”

“You’re lonely.” Nick pulled his hand away. The edge in his voice cut through her like a knife. “An electric blanket and a call to your sister can fix that.”

“It’s you I miss. Us. There used to be love in that house, Nick. Joy. Heat. And now it’s cold and empty. I want to get back to us. It’s not too late.”

“There is no magic fix for this. No one thing we can do to make it all go away.”

“Can’t we just put away our pride for a while? We can’t work through this if we’re not together.”

He stood, pulled a few bills from his wallet and dropped them on the counter. Brenna watched him slide the wallet back in his pocket and walk towards the door. Her heart stalled, her breath stuck in her chest. Would he really leave her again? Here?

“Nick,” she called out, hating the desperation in her voice.

He turned, extending his hand. “You’ll let it go? We’ll start fresh?”

She nodded, trying not to run as she made her way to him. She wrapped her arms around him, breathing in the smell of the man she missed, the heart that held hers.

  “Follow me home,” she said, slipping her hand in his. “I’ve been waiting.”