“Hey, long time, no see,” someone said behind her, and Violet turned away from the sign and saw her friend Kirsten. “Glad to have you back,” Kirsten said with a grin, an identical cup of drive-thru coffee in her hand. “How was the vacation?”
“It was interesting,” Violet said, keeping her voice light. She sipped her coffee so she wouldn’t have to say more than that. Kirsten fell into step next to her, and the two teachers headed into the school.
“Well, you didn’t miss too much here,” Kirsten said, tucking her brown hair into a clip with her other hand in a way that bespoke years of practice. “More meetings, more detentions, though we did get some additional funding for the band program thanks to your mysterious benefactor.” She sounded thrilled; Kirsten was the band teacher, and for her, everything circled back to woodwinds and brasses. “You got a nice tan, at least. Where did you guys go?”
“Greece,” Violet murmured, and at Kirsten’s groan of excitement, she added, “purely for research, though.”
“Man. Greece! You tell that billionaire if he needs a band teacher, I’m first in line.”
A stab of jealousy shot through Violet. Kirsten would be Jonathan’s type, wouldn’t she? She was bubbly and pretty and easygoing, like Violet used to be. Like Violet no longer was. If she was a good friend, she’d fix them up and kill two birds with one stone. Make Kirsten happy, and get Jonathan out of her hair for good.
But she didn’t say anything. The thought bothered the hell out of her.
It’s just because you’re still too attached, Violet told herself. Give yourself a few months to get over him and you’ll be fine.
She’d been repeating that as a mantra for the last week or so. It didn’t stop her from crying in weak moments, or waking up at night and wishing he was there next to her. It didn’t stop her from being in a foul mood, and she’d avoided returning to school until she could put it off no longer.
She just needed time, Violet told herself. Time healed all wounds. Theoretically. This one hadn’t even had time to scab over yet.
So Violet listened to Kirsten chatter on about the newest piece that her students were learning, and how her only tuba player was eternally flat on every note, poor kid, and eventually Violet made it to her classroom, where her students weren’t thrilled to have her back. The substitute had been letting them watch movies while she was gone, and Violet didn’t see the harm in continuing that for a few days more. She put on a historical documentary about mummies and left them alone, staring out the window. Something about being home felt a bit . . . off. Violet couldn’t describe it. It just felt wrong.
It wasn’t until she was in the teachers’ lounge bathroom during lunch hour that she got her first inkling as to what was bothering her. She was seated in one of the stalls, her head cradled in her hands. She wasn’t using the bathroom, just hiding from the world. If she was in the bathroom, she wouldn’t have to answer questions about Jonathan, or the trip she’d been on, and everyone at the school was curious. They meant no harm, but no one could tell from Violet’s stiffly-smiling face that she didn’t want to talk about it.
Someone in the next stall tapped on the adjoining wall. “You don’t have a tampon, do you?”
“Of course,” Violet murmured, reaching for her purse hanging on the hook. She pulled out a tampon and passed it under the stall.
“Thanks,” the woman on the other side said. “Kinda snuck up on me this month.”
“I’ve had that happen,” Violet said sympathetically, and froze. Her blood felt like ice. That was what she was missing.
Violet’s heart pounded in her veins, so loud that she couldn’t even hear herself think. Emotion crashed through her. No period. Oh, God. With numb fingers, she searched through her purse, pulling out her birth control compact. She popped it open and examined it. Not a day missed. And she and Jonathan had used protection, every time.
But . . . she didn’t have her period.
It’s just stress, Violet told herself. Just stress. You’re stressed with the whole Jonathan thing and that’s why you can’t sleep at night. It’s throwing you off. You’re not pregnant. You’re not.
But after work, she still went to the pharmacy and bought a pregnancy test. In a daze, she drove back to her condo and let herself in. The pregnancy test was in her purse, waiting. All she had to do was pop it out of the package, pee on the stick, and she’d get results. Then she’d know if she was in the same situation that she had been ten years ago, or if she was just freaking out over nothing.
Instead of heading to the bathroom to end the torture of not knowing, though, Violet sat down on the couch and stared ahead, thinking.
She wasn’t beside herself with terror this time. Maybe it was because she was no longer a college student; now, she had stability and years of living under her belt. Whatever happened, she could handle it now.
If she was pregnant . . .
She’d have to tell Jonathan. Strange how her heart leapt at the thought. They’d have a reason to be together other than pure animal lust. It would go against everything she’d been cautioning herself to avoid, but with a child, they’d have a reason to stay in each other’s lives.
Her heart thrummed with excitement at the thought.
Maybe, just maybe, they could take it slow and raise the baby together, and learn each other. They could start fresh.
They could start over.
She shouldn’t want to do that. It should be the last thing she wanted. But the thought of Jonathan at her side as they went to baby appointments, Jonathan touching her belly, Jonathan rocking their child back to sleep at night and then crawling back into bed with her . . .
God, she wanted that. She wanted that so badly it surprised even her. She’d broken off with Jonathan so she wouldn’t get her heart hurt, but it seemed like her heart had already decided what it wanted, and it wanted Jonathan.
But she’d pushed him away.
Twisting her hands in her lap, Violet wondered what he’d think if she went to him and said she was pregnant. Would he be happy?
Or would he think she was messing with him? Her heart dropped at the thought. He was a rich, handsome man. He could have any woman he wanted. He’d wanted Violet but she’d pushed him away twice now. He’d probably given up on her at this point.
Thanks to her own actions, she was back in the same spot she’d been ten years ago—alone, troubled, and possibly pregnant. And this time, she couldn’t blame anything on her father, because she’d been the one to do all the pushing away.
She couldn’t blame anyone but herself.
Violet pressed her fingertips to her mouth, feeling ill. Why had she freaked out so much when he’d said that the last ten years didn’t matter?
She hadn’t even wanted to listen to his explanations. She’d heard Jonathan’s careless words, judged him lacking in her mind, and gone straight home. Any relationship hope? She’d cut and severed it in one fell swoop. She just decided that he was the same jerk she’d always thought he was and shut him down before he could explain. That was what she’d always done—run off and stuck her head in the sand when things got rough. And she’d done it again.
Oh, God, she was really going to be sick.
Her doorbell rang.
One hand pressed to her mouth, Violet stood up and automatically headed for the door. Of all the times for one of her neighbors to ask to borrow something, now was not the time. That pregnancy test was burning in the back of her mind like a brand, and she couldn’t stop thinking about Jonathan, and—
She opened the door and stared dumbly at the man on her doorstep.
Jonathan looked like hell. He hadn’t shaved in a few days, and there were dark circles under his eyes. His dark hair was a tousled mess, and his jacket and the shirt underneath both looked as if they’d been slept in. While his normal look was casual, she was surprised to see him so rumpled.
Heck, she was surprised to see him at all.
“Jonathan,” she said, since she couldn’t think of anything else to say. “W-what are you doing here?”
The look on his face was grim, stubborn. “I’m here to fight for you.”
Her eyes widened. “You what?”
“I’m here to fight for you,” he repeated, placing a hand on the door in case she was going to try and slam it in his face. He stepped forward, devouring her with his eyes. “I didn’t fight for you last time. I just assumed you were out of reach and I let you go out of my life. I’m not making the same mistake again.”
Blank with shock, she stepped aside and let him enter. “Come in.”
He entered, and she watched him, still hardly able to believe he was here after all. His big shoulders seemed to eat up her tiny apartment. She wondered what he thought of her place. It was small and cluttered with books and miscellaneous objects that appealed to her. On one wall hung a map of the Roman Empire. On another, she had a row of delicate antique ginger jars. There weren’t many personal pictures; she owned no pets, she had no ex-boyfriends who had left their stamp. She wasn’t even a great housekeeper. How embarrassing. Swiping a messy throw off one of her chairs, Violet folded it nervously. “What are you doing here in Detroit again? I thought you were based out of New York.”
“I am. I was.” He scanned her apartment, then turned to look back at her. “I might be staying here for a while, though. Maybe for good.”
Her heart pounded as if she’d run a mile. “Oh? Why is that?”
“Because you’re here, Violet. If you’re here, this is where I want to be.” He moved toward her, stalking like some big, delicious predator, and took the trembling hand she had pressed to her lips and kissed her fingertips. “I know you said you didn’t want me to follow you. You said this wouldn’t work. That we were two different people. The thing is . . . I know we’re different.” His smile was soft, almost apologetic, even as his eyes devoured her face. “You’re not the same girl you were ten years ago, and I’m not the same idiot boy. I like to think I’ve learned from my mistakes. So this time, I’m not letting you go.”
“I’m not. We’re doing this your way. However you want. If you want to ignore me for the next ten years, f**k me for one night, and then turn me out again, that’s how we’ll do this. Whenever, however you need me, I’ll be here.”
She flinched at his words. God, he made her sound so cold. She pulled her hand from his, hurting. “Jonathan, that’s not fair—”
“I don’t give a shit if it’s fair or not. I’m tired of trying to do the right thing if that means I don’t have you.” He moved forward and put his hands on her shoulders, ever so gently. “You don’t understand, Violet. I’m not saying this to hurt you. I’m telling you that I’m here for you, forever. Always. I know you’re scared of being hurt and disappointed. I know you’re afraid I’ll hurt you again and leave you abandoned. I know the only man in your life was your father, and he neglected you. I know your mother was lost in her own problems, and you’ve never had anyone to depend on. I’m here to tell you that I will be that person, Violet. I’m here. I’ll always be here for you. You can depend on me.” His thumbs brushed her shoulders and he gave her a tender look that made her ache inside. “Always.”
Violet’s lips trembled. A wealth of emotion threatened to erupt inside her. He wasn’t vowing intense, passionate love like he normally did.
He was promising to be by her side. Always.
And that was exactly what she needed to hear. What she needed so desperately and yet was terrified to ask for. “Jonathan—”
“Don’t turn me away, Violet. Please. Whatever capacity you want me in your life, I’ll be here. Even if it’s not as your lover. Even if you just want a friend, I’ll be here.”