It’s seven o’clock.
I feel like a moron. I should have dressed better. Brought her some flowers. I was knocking around my house all afternoon trying to not get worked up about this that I drove myself fucking batshit. I walked out of the house in my cargo shorts and a T-shirt, looking like a goddamn bum asking this amazing woman to forgive him for being a complete bastard since the day she met him.
What the fuck am I doing here?
My eye twitches. It’s been doing that for two days. Alana told me she’d shown Mac the post I’d written, but wouldn’t elaborate much on her reaction, except to say she didn’t chuck the phone into the street. It’s been an hour since the time I’d asked to meet, though, and with each passing second my hope evaporates. Somehow, I’d gotten into my head this plan was foolproof. Mac would see my sincerity and thoughtfulness, and of course she’d forgive me.
This was a stupid plan. Why did I think pouring my heart out on a website she built to drag dumbasses like me would be romantic? I’m a joke. Maybe if I’d gone after her that night at the party, I wouldn’t be standing here with the seagulls, which are circling as if they’re mobilizing for an assault. I kick a mound of sand in the air to remind them of their place in the food chain.
She’s not coming.
Maybe I shouldn’t have expected to win her over with one grand gesture, but I never thought she’d blow me off entirely. It knocks the wind out of me like a punch right to the center of my chest. The boardwalk lights flicker on as the sun dips behind the town.
She’s really not coming.
Accepting my fate, I slowly turn back toward the way I came, and that’s when I see a lone figure walking toward me.
I careen into a full-blown panic at the sight of Mac approaching. She’s only ten yards away now. Five. She looks stunning, her tall, slender body wrapped up in an ankle-length blue dress with a low V neckline. I haven’t forgotten a single freckle or the way her eyes have little flecks of blue in their green depths. The crease of her lips when she says my name. Seeing her again, though, it’s wiping the dust off the window.
“I didn’t think you were coming,” I tell her, trying to keep my composure. I got her here. Last thing I want to do is scare her off, even if every ounce of me wants to hold her one more time.
“I almost didn’t.”
She comes to a stop, keeping a few feet of distance between us. Those three feet feel insurmountable. It’s strange how I can read her less now than the first time we met. She’s impenetrable. Not giving anything away.
Too much time passes where I’m lost, remembering what it was like to feel her hair between my fingers, and she gets impatient.
“So … what’s up?” she asks.
For days, all I’ve done is rehearse how I’d do this. Now I’m here and everything I’d planned to say sounds like some corny bullshit. I’m dying here.
“Look, the truth is I’m gonna be bad at this no matter how I say it, so I’m just gonna say it.” I take a deep breath. Now or never, asshole. “I’ve regretted every day I was too chickenshit to tell you the truth. I was selfish and stupid, and you have every right to hate me. I’ve had nothing but time to think about how to convince you I’m sorry and why you should take me back. Honestly, I don’t have a good reason.”
Mac looks away, and I know I’m losing her because this is all coming out wrong, but I can’t seem to stop the words from tearing out of my mouth.
“What I mean to say is, I know what I did was wrong. I know I destroyed your trust in me. That I betrayed you. I was careless with something very precious. But, damn it, Mac, I’m so in love with you and it’s killing me that you’re still out here, out of reach, when I know in my soul I can make you happy again if you let me. I’ve been a bastard and want you to love me back anyway. It’s not fair. I should have to suffer for how I hurt you. I fucking am suffering. But I’m begging you to put me out of my misery. I don’t know how to be without you anymore.”
I’m out of breath by the time my jaw snaps shut, the delayed message finally making its way to my brain, saying Shut the hell up. Mac wipes at her eyes and I have to lock myself down to stop from reaching for her. Seconds pass as I wait for her to respond. Then the cold, dead silence when she doesn’t.
“I want to show you something,” I blurt out when I sense she’s ready to bail. “Will you take a walk with me?”
She doesn’t budge. “What is it?”
“It’s not far. Please. It’ll only take a minute.”
She ponders my offer for almost longer than my nerves can tolerate. Then her head jerks in agreement.
I hold my hand out for hers. Instead, she walks ahead of me.
We go a little ways down the beach, where I coax her up to the boardwalk in front of her hotel. It’s still a gutted shell, though the debris has been hauled away. On what’s left of the veranda, two matching rocking chairs sit looking out on the water. Flickering candles line the railing.
Mac’s breath hitches. Slowly, she turns to meet my earnest gaze. “What’s this?” she whispers.
“First time you brought me here, you told me that you pictured guests sitting out here in rocking chairs, sipping wine, watching the waves roll in.”
She looks up at me with the thousands of tiny lights of the boardwalk shining in her eyes. “I can’t believe you remembered.”
“I remember every word you’ve ever said to me.”
Her gaze returns to the veranda. I can feel her softening, the stiffness of her body melting away.
“Mac, when I picture my future, I see myself old and gray, sitting in a rocking chair on a porch. With you beside me. That’s my dream.”
Before her, I didn’t bother looking ahead even five years. The image was never a pretty one. I figured I’d spend my days scraping by, getting the bare minimum out of life. I never considered the possibility that someone might be crazy enough to love me. But Mac did love me, and I’d gone and run her off.
“I can’t say I won’t ever mess up again,” I choke out through the gravel lining my throat. “I don’t have a great frame of reference for functioning relationships. Sometimes I get too far up my own ass, or too stuck in my own brooding thoughts. But I can promise to try to be a man you deserve. To be someone you’re proud of. And I will never lie to you again.” My voice grows hoarser by the second. “Please, Mac. Come home. I don’t know what I am if I can’t love you.”
She stares down at her feet, twisting her hands together. I’m bracing for the worst the longer she doesn’t speak, but finally she takes a breath.
“You broke my heart,” she says, so softly a slight breeze could blow the words right out of the air. “I’ve never been so hurt by anyone in my life. That’s not an easy thing to let go, Cooper.”
“I understand.” My heart is racing and I’m thinking I might drop to my knees if she doesn’t say yes.
“You’d have to promise me something else.”
“Name it.” I’d freeze a kidney for her if she asked for it.
A slight smirk curves her lips. “You have to start cashing my rent checks.”
My brain stutters to catch up. Then her smile widens and she grabs the front of my shirt, pulling my lips to hers. Overcome with relief, I hoist her up and wrap her legs around my hips, kissing her until we’re both gasping for air. I’ve never kissed anyone with more conviction or intent. Never needed anything the way I’ve needed to feel her in my arms again.
“I love you,” I mumble against her lips. It doesn’t seem enough to say it, and yet I can’t get the words out fast enough. “So much.” As far as close calls go, this one was razor thin. I almost lost her, lost this.
She clings to me, kissing me back with urgency. And my chest fills to the brim with the kind of naked, honest love I never thought myself capable of feeling. Of finding. I’ve learned a lot about myself over the last several months. Not the least of which is learning to take better care of the people I love.
Mac pulls back slightly, her gorgeous eyes seeking mine. “I love you too,” she breathes.
And in that moment I vow, even if it takes me the rest of my life, to show this girl she didn’t waste her heart on me.
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