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You, with a View: Chapter 32

My eyes drop to the folder in Theo’s lap. He puts a hand over it, his veins road-mapped underneath his skin. I’ve had that hand all over my body, and now I feel like it’s holding my heart.

“There were things I held back,” he says. “The stuff with my job, but other things, too. I want to tell you now, if that’s okay.”

“Okay,” I say faintly.

He opens the folder and my gaze locks in on the top picture. It’s Theo and me at Tunnel View overlook, the day I took my first photo. I’m in profile, my camera cradled in my hands. It’s clear I’ve just lowered it, and I’m gazing out at the view in wonder. Theo’s several feet away, watching. His expression mirrors mine, but he’s looking at me.

“Here, I was thinking about how proud I was that you took that photo even though you were scared,” Theo says, his voice low in my ear. “I thought about how scared I was that I walked away from a wreck I’d have to face in two weeks. I wished I could be brave like you, and I wish I’d told you that.”

“Theo—” I croak out, but he shakes his head, placing the first picture down.

“There’s more.”

The next one is us in Death Valley. We’re standing close, mirroring each other. Our shoulders are curved in toward each other. I’m gazing up at him, eyes wide, totally rapt. Theo’s hands are in his pockets, his body leaning into my space. It’s like he wants to reach for me, but won’t let himself.

“This is when you asked me about Where To Next’s name,” he says. “Granddad said it, and I knew you’d ask me about it. You’re always paying attention. I didn’t realize how much I needed to talk about it, but somehow you did.”

His expression got so soft when he told me that his trips with Paul were woven into the foundation of the company. It was clear how much it meant to him.

“I’ll never forget when you said Where To Next was my pay-it-forward moment over and over again,” Theo says. “You saw my intent the way no one else did, even Anton and Matias, and it hurt to know that was going to get taken away from me. You understanding what I wanted to do in the first place took some of that away, and I wish I’d told you that in the moment.”

I’m fully crying now, but Theo doesn’t stop. It’s like the floodgates are open and everything’s pouring out at once. It’s a purging of secrets.

The next picture, we’re in Zion at the swimming hole. We’ve just breached the water after yelling, and we’re looking up at Paul, so close our shoulders are touching. Underneath the water, our legs look tangled.

Theo’s thumb smooths down the corner. “This day, I played around with just telling you what I was going through. I could tell that you were going through something, too, and part of me knew you’d understand. But when I was talking about the company changing, you said you’d followed my career and that you were proud of me for fighting for this thing I believed in . . . I couldn’t say that I couldn’t fight it. It was already done. I felt like a liar, but I didn’t want to let you down.”

“You wouldn’t have.”

“I know that now.” He leans over to press a kiss against my hair, brushing at my wet cheeks with a knuckle. “But I was scared. I didn’t want to run you off. I didn’t trust what we had yet.”

We shuffle through more shots Paul took of us, and the realization is a lightning strike to my heart.

He did hold his biggest secret back, but he gave me so many smaller ones. The truth is laid out here. There are quiet moments where we’re hiking next to each other on dusty red trails, Theo’s hand hovering at my back. We talked about mundane details of Where To Next, my photography, bickered over high school shenanigans. There’s a shot of Theo looking right at the camera, his undiluted affection for Paul written all over his face. He let me see every tender part of their relationship while putting his vulnerability on display. He let me share their love, knowing it would heal me, too.

There’s a photo of the two of us dancing on the back patio in Sedona, the night before I confessed everything to him and he confessed right back. It wasn’t about his situation, but in telling me the way he saw me, he exposed his own wishes. In hindsight, I can see how much he wanted to believe those words for himself, and how much he probably needed to hear them.

I trace my finger over our tangled bodies. “It did hurt that you didn’t tell me about losing your job. But you didn’t hold back entirely, and it means everything that you trusted me enough to do that.”

“I do trust you,” he says quietly, then picks up the last picture.

It’s the one Theo took of me at the top of Angels Landing in Zion. I’m in motion, turning toward him. The photo is a little blurry. I teased him about it when I emailed it to him at his request, but I loved it then. Mixed in with all the others now, I love it even more. In the photo, he’s just called my name, and my eyes are lit up with everything. I’m telling on myself so badly.

Theo smiles, like he knows. “This one is my favorite.”

“Tell me why.”

“Remember how determined we were to get to the top?”

I laugh. I can still feel how shaky my knees were crossing the chainless section of the path, and yet how oddly calm I was with Theo right behind me.

Our eyes meet, and he lets out a breath. “Remember how we did that together?”

I nod silently, not trusting my voice.

“You got up to the top first, and all I could think about was how beautiful you were. You asked me what I’d do if I had time, and when I said I’d travel, I didn’t add the most important part.” He shifts, curving his hand around my leg. His eyes are a deep, fathomless blue but so clear. I can see everything in them. “I didn’t say that I’d spend it with you, but I wish I had. It was the first time I’d thought about what I could do once I’d left my company in a way that made me happy, and that was because of you. Because of what we could do together.”

Theo sets the picture on the table with all the others. A stranger could look at these and know how we feel. It was right there, growing between us every second, when we acknowledged it and even when we couldn’t.


He says my name so quietly, it’s barely a sound. The same emotion that’s welling in my chest is threaded through his voice when he gestures to the photos and says, “This is the way I fell in love with you.”

I knew that’s where he was headed, but hearing it out loud is still stunning, so I fall apart. Just a little. “It’s the way I fell in love with you, too.”

“I could see that.” A slow, almost shy smile spreads across his face like honey. When I lean forward to kiss him, I can taste it.

“I love you,” I say, and he says it back, framing my face in his hands. He gives me each word soaked in relief.

“I wish I’d told you all of this sooner,” he says, pushing my hair back from my face. “You make it easier to try to be brave, but I’m not always going to get it right. I can’t be perfect.”

“Haven’t you been listening to me? I don’t want you to be perfect. After all our battles, Spencer, you should know that it actually pisses me off.”

He laughs against my neck, kissing up my throat, to my ear, along my cheek, until he places the most careful kiss on the tip of my nose. His eyes are wide open. Mine are, too.

“Can I tell you why I love you?” I whisper.

Pulling back, he nods. The unease in his expression breaks my heart. But it fortifies me, too.

“First of all, you’re the best grandson ever. You’ll do anything for Paul, and it’s clear you’re obsessed with each other. And even though he’s yours, you stepped aside and let me have important moments with him without hesitation.” I say all this watching his anxiety melt away, turning into something so hopeful it makes a tear run down my cheek. “You’re so selfless that you’re going to share your title of favorite grandchild with me.”

His smile is luminous. “Slow your roll.”

“You catch me when I fall down hills, and you only yell about it a little bit. You have really terrible taste in music.” I hold up my hand as he starts to protest. “That’s not a plus, but it’s worth mentioning. I want the bad parts with the good.”

Theo laughs, but his eyes are suspiciously glassy.

“And last but not least, you held me up when I was at my lowest until I could climb out myself.” I swallow reflexively a few times while Theo gazes at me with the smallest, most beautiful smile. I’m glad no one’s here to take our picture; we must look ridiculous, so in love. It’s the best moment of my life. “You didn’t try to fix me. You just supported me until I believed it. I want to be that for you, Theo. Not because it’s a tit for tat thing or because I need your secrets to feel like we’re even, but because your happiness is important to me, no matter what it looks like.”

“I want that, too,” he says hoarsely. “You have no idea how much.”

“I do. It’s how much I want it.”

With a relieved exhale, he pulls me onto his lap and tangles his fingers in my hair, bringing my mouth to his. We’ve given each other so many words that now there’s nothing left to do but this. The pressure of his kiss is immediately intense, and I sag into him, wrapping my arms around his neck, feeling his heart beat hard against my chest. One of his hands moves down my back, and he cinches my hips tight against his until I can feel all of his need.

“I love you.” He groans while he says it, tightens a fist in my hair to keep me exactly where he wants me—right here with him.

I laugh against his mouth. “Yeah, you do.”

He grins, pulling back. He’s close enough that I could count each of his eyelashes individually if I wanted to spend my time doing anything but getting naked.

He gives me his stern eyebrows, but now I know all of his softness. They’re as effective as ever, but in a different way. “Your speech was better than mine, Shepard.”

I arch an eyebrow back. “It’s not a contest, Spencer.”

Our grins are mirrors of each other—euphoric love with a pinch of competition. That’s just who we are.

But shockingly, Theo concedes. “Okay, fine. This time we both win.”

He’s right. We both do, for the rest of the night and long after that.


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