“So what?” I replied, flabbergasted. “That means you should at least trust my opinion over his.”
She nodded slowly. “He said you’d say that.”
“He said you’d play the cancer card on me, reminding me that you were there for me when no one else was. Parker made a mistake, okay? And based on the past few months of your life, you know what it’s like to make a mistake.”
“That’s not fair, Mari.”
“No, you know what’s not fair? Holding it over my head every day that you stayed. Reminding me whenever I have any kind of feelings that you were the one who stuck around to help me during the cancer. So, what, am I now forever indebted to you? I can’t move on and live my life?”
“You think working under Lyric is going to be you living your life? All of this is happening because of Lyric’s need to control everything.”
“No, all of this is happening because you slept with your sister’s husband.”
“What?” I whispered, shocked by my sister’s words, by the way they fell from her lips so effortlessly, and I stood there for a second, stunned, waiting for her to apologize, waiting for her cold stare to soften, waiting for my sister, my best friend, my Pea to come back to me.
“Take it back,” I said softly, but she wouldn’t.
She’d been poisoned with love—the same love that had once destroyed her.
It amazed me how love could hurt so much.
“Look, Parker thinks…” She paused and swallowed hard. “Parker and I both think that Lyric helping take control wouldn’t hurt things. She’s a businesswoman. She knows the laws and how to help build up the shop. She wants the best for us. She’s our sister.”
“She’s your sister,” I corrected. “She’s your sister, and this store now belongs to you and her. I want nothing to do with it. I want nothing to do with either of you. Don’t even bother firing Chrissy. I quit.”
I walked around to the back, gathered all my belongings, and tossed them into a cardboard box. When I walked to the front of the store, I took the shop’s keys off my keychain and placed them on the front counter.
Mari’s eyes were still cold, and I could tell she wasn’t going to change her mind. I knew I wasn’t going to change mine either, but before I could leave, I had to speak my final truths—even though she’d think they were lies.
“They’re going to let you down, Mari. They are going to use your trust and let you down and hurt you. This time, though, it’s your choice. You have the free will to deal with the devils or not, and just don’t come crying to me when you get burned.”
“I know what I’m doing, Lucy. I’m not stupid.”
“No,” I agreed. “You’re not stupid. You’re just too trusting, which is a million times worse.” I swallowed hard and blinked back the tears that wanted to fall. “For the record, I never slept with him. I love him with every ounce of my heart. I love the way he loves me so quietly, but we never slept together, not once, because I could never get past the idea of doing something like that to my sister. Now, though, I see the truth—being a sister isn’t just defined by blood. It’s defined by unconditional love. Lyric was never my sister, and she never will be.” I took the heart-shaped necklace from around my neck and placed it in Mari’s hands. “But, you are my heart, Mari, and I know I’m yours. So, when they hurt you, find me. Find me and I’ll put your heart back together, and then maybe you can help me fix the cracks in my own.”
“Hey, where have you been? I’ve been calling you, but your phone went straight to voicemail,” Graham said as I stood on his front porch, exhausted. His eyes were filled with concern and a heavy dose of guilt as he held Talon in his arms. “Are you okay?”
I nodded slowly and stepped into his foyer. “Yeah. I stopped by Monet’s and got into another big fight with Mari. Then I went for a run to clear my head, and when my phone died, I realized my charger was here, so I just came to pick it up. I hope that’s okay.” I brushed past him and blinked my eyes a few times, trying to hide the emotion that was seeping from my spirit.
“Of course it’s okay, I was just worried.” His eyes stayed glued to me, his concern never easing up, but I tried my best not to notice as I walked into Talon’s room to grab my charger.
My heart was beating uncontrollably as I tried my best not to fall apart. My mind was spinning, thinking about everything that had just unspun with Mari in the shop. It was as if my favorite person in the whole world had been drugged and was being controlled by the hands of hate and confusion, yet was being told it was love driving her decisions.
It was heartbreaking to watch your best friend set herself up for heartache.
“Lucille,” Graham said, following after me.
The comfort of his smooth voice went right to my soul.
“I’m okay,” I told him, walking past him with my charger. I avoided eye contact, because I knew eye contact would make me melt, and I couldn’t melt into him. Maybe Mari was right—maybe every feeling I had for the man before me was wrong.
If only love came with a timeline and instructions.
If it had, I would’ve fallen in love with him when our timing was right. If love came with a timeline, Graham Russell would’ve always held my heart.
“I think I’m going to just stay at a hotel for a few nights. I think it’s too messy to stay here knowing Lyric is back. I’m going to grab some of my things.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he told me. “You’re staying here. This is your home.”
If he knew me, he’d know that all my life, home was always shifting. I never planted my roots anywhere, and when it was time to move, it was time to move.
Even if going meant leaving my heartbeats behind.
“No, really, it’s okay,” I said, still avoiding eye contact. I didn’t want to fall apart, not in front of Graham. I’d wait until I got to the hotel to lose myself. Feel less, Lucy. Feel less.
That was almost impossible when I felt a tiny hand reach out to me and tug on my shirt. “LuLu,” Talon said, making me turn toward her. She had the brightest smile and the widest beautiful eyes, which were staring my way. Oh, how her smile made my heart beat. “LuLu,” she repeated, reaching out for me to lift her up.
It cracked my heart, which I was trying so hard to keep intact.
“Hey, honey,” I said, taking her from Graham’s arms. I knew it wasn’t right, knew she wasn’t mine to have, but that little girl had changed me in more ways than I could’ve ever imagined. She never looked at me with judgment for my mistakes. She never turned her back on me. She only loved unconditionally, fully, honestly.