Chapter Twenty-Five - Forgiveness
Cole’s POV -
Fine, I admit, I seemed to have developed a small addiction to Orange-Zest-And-Lemon-Drop-Calming-Tea at Gypsy Rose.
I sighed and stared out the window as the snow fell on the sidewalk. The temperature seemed to have dropped considerably since Grace had run away from the bleachers earlier.
I frowned into my cup. Why had she run away? Her words echoed through my head: “You deserve someone who can love you back.”
And then she left. I had really thought she felt something, too.
But why? Did it have something to do with Fordman, or maybe –
My head jerked up at the sound of the new voice, and my breathing stuttered for a second as I stared into those beautiful brown eyes I’d recognise anywhere. The eyes I had once been in love with.
“Alyra,” I whispered, standing up shakily. “Um, hi.”
She shoved her hands in her pockets and looked around. I spotted Emilie in the corner, watching her sister warily. Ever since everything went down between Aly and I, Emilie had become an extremely protective sister. I had to admit, I admired her for that. I had always thought Alyra was very fragile.
“Hey,” she murmured quietly.
We both sat down and I looked into her eyes.
“Look, Aly… I just… I wanted to say I’m sorry,” I said abruptly, cutting right to the chase. No use beating around the bush.
“Look, Cole,” she said sharply, then cut herself off, registering my words. “Wait, what?!”
“I’m sorry,” I said, meaning every one of my words. “I thought I owed you an apology and an explanation.” I didn’t give her a chance to say anything; I needed to get this out. “Believe it or not… I really loved you. But I was afraid of doing something wrong and hurting you. I loved you enough not to do anything. And then the party happened and I got drunk and all of a sudden I wasn’t worried anymore. I didn’t mean for it to go as far as it did. But then one thing led to another and I woke up the next morning and realised what we’d done and I just… I didn’t want to hurt you.” I hung my head, ashamed still at my actions. “So I did what I had to do to make sure you didn’t get involved with me. Even though every single word hurt. I thought about you every damned day. I watched you get bullied and I tried so hard to make it stop. Eventually you transferred schools, but I still couldn’t get you out of my head. I was such a… a bastard to you. Eventually I got pretty good at not thinking about you. But then Grace went and brought you to that party. And I remembered all the bad things I did to you. I swear if I could I’d change what I did… I never wanted you to hate me.”
After my confession, I looked up at Aly to see her eyes filled with tears. She looked at her gloves.
“Why now?” she whispered. “Why not eleven months ago?”
“Because I never got the chance before. I just… I had to tell you how sorry I was. I needed you to forgive me.”
“I forgave you a long time ago, Cole,” she whispered. “You’re not a bad person. I never thought you were. At first I was bitter but now I just… I realised that you weren’t what everyone thought you were.”
“Thank you Alyra,” I whispered. “I just needed you to know.”
“No, thank you, Cole,” she said with a smile. “I feel a lot better knowing that you could admit that.”
I shrugged. “Aly, you meant a lot to me. Even if it didn’t feel like it at the time, you actually meant more to me than you could ever know. You were the first girl I ever loved.”
A blush colored her cheeks, and she downcast her eyes. “Thank you, Cole,” she said earnestly. “And, believe it or not, you were the first guy I loved, too. Even after you left me the next morning, I didn’t stop loving you.”
“I hope that one day we can… get back to the way things were before. Be friends?”
She smiled. “I would love that. I’ve gotta go, but thank you for everything.”
She stood up and nodded to Emilie, who copied her movements.
As she passed me, she put a hand on my shoulder and whispered, “You’ve changed, you know. I think Grace has had a good effect on you.”
Then she turned around left. I watched her lower her head against the snow and wind and walk towards the car with Emilie.
Annie slipped into the seat across the table. She had been a few tables over. She had come with me for moral support.
She gave me a small smile. “She’s right, you know. You have changed.”
“Thanks,” I said. “And thank you for convincing me to come here.”
She nodded. “You’re welcome. Look, I was meaning to ask you something.”
“I was wondering… Do you wanna go out sometime?” She blushed. “I mean, like, for coffee or something?”
My heart skipped a beat. Annie really was beautiful, with her willowy, blonde figure and sweet hazel eyes. And she was also incredibly smart.
I found myself smiling and nodding. “Yeah, I would love that.”
She smiled, looking relieved. “OK, great. Because for a second I was worrying you’d say no, and that would’ve been embarrassing.”
I laughed, and she flushed. There was just something about her…
“So do you wanna go out, like, now?” I asked.
She smiled, and the corners of her eyes crinkled. “I’d love to.”
By the time we made it into the diner down the street, snow was falling down in piles, and we were both shivering.
We took a seat beside the window, and when the waitress took our orders, we both surprisingly ordered the same thing: cherry pie and a black coffee.
“So,” I said, watching as she tucked her short auburn hair behind her ears. “Can I ask what prompted this sudden… date?”
She shrugged and grinned sheepishly. “I just thought I might like to get to know you better.”
I smiled at her. “So, tell me something about you.”
She raised an eyebrow. “What would you like to know?”
“Hmmm…” I stared out the window at the falling snowflakes coating the pavement, and furrowed my brow in search of a question. “What made you want to be a doctor?”
She bit her lip. “I don’t really know. I guess it was just a passion, really. And wanting to help people. I saw this fight once when I was little, and it was really brutal, and I decided that I wanted to help people and make them better.”
I nodded and thanked the waitress that brought our orders over. “That’s awesome.”
“Can I ask you a question?” Annie asked abruptly, watching me over the rim of her mug as she took a small sip.
I shrugged. “I don’t see why not. Shoot.”
“Do you still love Grace?” she asked, keeping her eyes averted.
I looked away from her, a blush coloring my cheekbones. “I loved her. don’t think I was ever in love with her, if that even makes any sense. Maybe she was a crush, but I wouldn’t call it love.”
“Really?” she questioned, quirking an eyebrow disbelievingly.
I laughed. “Really. She was just someone I liked.”
“Was?” Her eyebrow creased.
I nodded affirmatively. “Was.”
And it was true. My feelings for Grace seemed a million miles away as I stared into Annie’s caring brown eyes, and my stomach flipped slightly.
She was in the past.
But maybe another girl was my future.
Grace’s POV -
“Hey, Matt?” I asked, turning my head to look at him from where it had been resting on his shoulder as we swung on the lounge chair on my porch, staring at the sparkling stars.
“Yeah?” he asked.
“Three months ago, did you ever think we’d be here?” I questioned, looking down to where his slightly calloused thumb rubbed circles into my palm softly.
He chuckled, the sound reverberating through his chest. “Definitely not. I mean, I hoped so, but I didn’t really imagine things would be like this.”
I smiled. “I’m kinda glad it happened though. Otherwise we’d never be here, would we?”
“I could’ve gone without the fight between Cole and I, though,” Matt admitted, running a hand through my hair. I shivered involuntarily, and hoped he thought it was from the cold.
“Yeah, that wasn’t very high on my list of memorable moments,” I admitted, laughing.
He kissed the top of my head, and I shut my eyes, savouring the feel.
“It was worth it, though,” he whispered.
“Well, it brought me to you, didn’t it?”
I smiled, feeling my heart skip a beat at his sweet words. I really was the luckiest girl. He was perfect. I was really mad at myself for never realizing this before.
“I’m sorry about everything that happened,” he murmured.
I turned around to look up into his familiar hazel eyes. “Don’t be sorry, Matt. I’m sorry. I’m sorry the other night when you told me everything and I just stood there.”
He pressed a quick kiss to my lips. “It’s OK. I really thought you knew and didn’t feel the same way.”
I looked down at our entwined hands. “I was just so confused. But then Cole kissed me, and - “
“Wait, what?” he asked, effectively cutting me off.
I gulped. Crap. I hadn’t told him about that yet.
“Oh, um…” I trailed off, searching for a plausible excuse.
“Please tell me I heard you wrong,” he said through gritted teeth, his grip tightening around my hand.
“It meant nothing, I swear,” I hurried to reassure him, blushing. “I quickly left because I realised that I didn’t feel the same way. That I loved you.”
He relaxed slightly, but his muscles were still tense. “Matt, I swear,” I said quietly. “Nothing else will happen. Even if he does like me… I love you.”
He nodded, and squeezed me tighter to him. “Sorry for the mini freak-out.”
I shrugged. “Hey, totally understandable.”
Just then my phone rang, and I checked the Caller ID. “Annie?” I asked, picking up the phone.
“Hey,” she said, sounding breathless and excited. “You busy?”
I sat up a little straighter, and Matt copied my movements. “No, why?”
She giggled. “Because I have some news for you.”
I looked back at Matt, and he frowned, staring at me questioningly. “Well, so do I. You go first.”
“OK,” she said. “I just went out on a date with Cole.”
My jaw dropped, and I was rendered speechless, my question dropping momentarily from my mind.
“Um… Grace?” she asked a minute later, when she was only met by silence. “You there?”
“I’m here. Um… what?!”
“I said that Cole and I just -“
“No, I heard you. Just… what?!”
“Are you OK?”
“I just can’t believe it,” I said. “He kissed me this afternoon, Annie. Are you sure he’s serious?”
“He told me about that. Look, I know how this looks right now. But…I really think he’s serious.”
I knew it wasn’t my place to say anything, so I just feigned a smile and said, “That’s great, Annie. Please just make sure you’re careful, OK? I don’t want you getting hurt.”
“I will,” she said. “But… we’re going out again Saturday.”
“Wow, a second date,” I said, impressed. “You must have hit it off.”
She giggled again, and I smiled. She sounded so in love. I’d never really heard Annie like that. She wasn’t one to be all giggly and flirty and girly.
I looked back at Matt, who was engrossed in his phone. After peeking over, I realised he was playing some game on it as a way to pass the time.
“So what’s your big news?” she asked.
“Matt and I are actually a couple now.”
I knew what was coming next, so I quickly pulled my phone away, just as Annie started screaming in excitement.
Matt looked up and quirked an eyebrow. “You told her, didn’t you?”
I nodded and turned back to the phone, where Annie continued to scream in excitement.
We’d be here for a while.