“You know, I wasn’t happy about you two being back together.” I turn my head to look at Lilly’s dad when he speaks. I’m really not in the mood for any bullshit, but out of respect for Lil, I will let her dad say his piece. “But I trust my daughter, and I know she has always made smart decisions. Plus, your little speech about not caring what I thought about you marrying her may have earned you a few points in my book. It’s hard not to respect a man who knows what he wants.” He pats my back then squeezes down on my shoulder. “But you need to remember, son, she wasn’t always yours. She had a life, just like you did, and the quicker you can learn to accept that, the better off you will both be.”
“You’re right.” I take a breath. “I just never thought I would be seeing her life without me up close and personal.”
“Not everything is what it seems.” He smiles. “It’s like that joke. A hound dog lays in the yard, and an old man in overalls sits on the porch. ‘Excuse me, sir, but does your dog bite?’ a jogger asks. The old man looks over his newspaper and replies, ‘Nope.’ As soon as the jogger enters the yard, the dog begins snarling and growling, and then attacks the jogger's legs. As the jogger flails around in the yard, he yells, ‘I thought you said your dog doesn't bite!’ The old man mutters, ‘Ain't my dog.’”
“What the hell does that even mean?” I question, wondering if Lil’s dad has fallen off the deep end.
“Sometimes, we see what we want to see, and not what’s really going on,” he says low, his eyes going to the house. “It’s not my place to talk about Austin’s past, but him and Lilly were both dealing with the loss of people they cared about at the same time and were able to understand what the other was going though. Now trust me when I tell you that if I were to get Austin for a son-in-law, I would be a happy man. But I don’t think that would have ever happened. I just think they each needed a friend during a difficult time, and that’s all it ever was, a friendship. As for you, I knew when my daughter came home from Alabama with my granddaughter that she would never be the same. Not only because she was a single mom, but because she felt like part of her soul had been ripped away from her.
“I know I f**ked up.” I shake my head. “I thought I was doing the right thing at the time. I mean, no, I didn’t know about Lil being pregnant, but I thought I was protecting her at the time. I didn’t want her to have to deal with what I was going through.”
“I get that. But now think of it this way: Lilly says you have a big family, right?”
“She has me and her mom.” My gut tightens. I still hate myself for what I had unknowingly put her through. Okay, so I don’t want to kill Austin anymore, but that doesn’t mean that I want them alone together. “You’re smart,” Mr. Donovan says and smiles, reading the look on my face. “Now, go apologize; it works every time. It’s best you learn that real quick-like.” He pats my back again before reaching in to the SUV, grabbing two of our suitcases, and walking towards the house. I grab the other two bags out of the trunk before slamming the trunk, following behind him.
I find the kids and make sure they are okay before going in search of Lilly. I find her upstairs in a bedroom at the end of a hall, her back facing me. She is putting away the stuff from the bags her dad brought in, into a long dresser. “You need help?” I ask, walking farther into the room. Her body goes ridged, and I can hear her sigh.
“No. The kids are down the hall. Do you want to check on them?”
“The kids are fine; I just checked on them. I want to talk to you.”
“I don’t think I’m ready to talk to you,” she says low, her head shaking back and forth in agitation.
“Don’t ‘Lil’ me.” Her eyes finally meet mine, and she points at me. “I have accepted your past since the beginning of our relationship. I accepted who you were the first time we were together, and I more than accepted you this time around. What did you think, Cash, that you were the only person I would ever be with?” she asks, and I can hear the anger in her words. Each one cutting through me.
“That’s not what I was saying,” I say, taking another step towards her.
“You know, you’re right. You broke me. I couldn’t be with anyone else. Austin is a great guy—sweet, considerate, loving, and handsome—but I couldn’t be with him, no matter how many times I tried, no matter how much I liked him. He wasn’t you. No one was ever you.” As much as it kills to think of her trying to be with anyone, I understand. I see tears in her eyes, and I’m done with the space separating us. Walking towards her, I quickly pull her to me, not giving her a chance to argue.
“I’m sorry.” I breathe her in, the smell of lavender comforting me. “It was a shit thing to ask you.” I rub her back. “I love you, Lil. I just…shit...I just hate the idea of you with anyone else.” I take a breath; I can still tell that she’s crying. “Please don’t cry because I’m an idiot,” I say gently.
“You are an idiot,” she says. I can feel her cheek move against my chest and I know she’s smiling.
“As long as I’m your idiot, I couldn’t care less.” Her head tilts back, her glassy eyes meeting mine.
“You know, you make it really hard to be mad at you,” she says, studying my face.
“I’m not going to complain about that. It seems to be working in my favor.” She shakes her head before dropping her forehead to my chest.
“I hope you know that I will be meeting Austin when he comes back in from his fishing trip,” she tells me and I take a breath, not wanting to say the wrong thing, but not wanting her to meet up with a man that she obviously cares about.
“Can I come with you when you meet up with him?”
“No.” She shakes her head. “You have to trust me, Cash. Austin and I are friends, nothing more.” Her arms wrap around my waist. “But that doesn’t mean that feelings were not there, and Austin was hurt in the past and I want to make sure he’s doing okay.”
“I don’t like it,” I whisper into her hair before kissing the top of her head.
“I know, but it’s something I have to do.” She gives me a squeeze, trying to offer me comfort.
“I trust you,” I say, and it’s the truth.