Like Real People Do

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Epilogue

“You know, you’re going to have to start having a life sooner or later.”

I rolled my eyes at Shreya’s statement as I held my phone tighter to my ear and shifted closer to the train door. “What are you talking about? I have a life.”

We have this argument about once a week, so I’m honestly not surprised the topic is being brought up. And maybe the reason I haven’t actually bothered to come up with a suitable argument is because she’s right.

She proved it by saying, “I mean something besides binge watching every single show on Netflix and eating entire pints of ice cream in one sitting.”

“I don’t do that,” I replied automatically, despite the fact that she’d just described exactly how I spent the last two weekends.

I’d moved back to Seattle to essentially start over. But despite having every intention of making a new life for myself, I had very little interactions with people outside of work. Besides my dad, of course. Living in an apartment in the city that was less than an hour from my childhood home meant that I got to see my dad once a week for dinner. Which was great, because I finally felt like we were moving forward. Unfortunately, other than my weekly visits to the suburbs, I didn’t leave my apartment much.

And Shreya, who I missed dearly every single day, was well aware of that fact. I could practically see her rolling her eyes as she said, “I’m across the country and I know you’re lying.”

Sighing, I stepped off the train when it came to a stop, weaving my way through the crowd to the street level where my building sat. “I have to go in to work.”

“Fine,” Shreya conceded, “Just maybe try doing something fun this weekend?”

“Fine,” I sighed as I smiled gratefully at someone holding the door of the building open for me, knowing full well I probably wouldn’t end up keeping that promise. “I really have to go.”

“Love you.”

I couldn’t help but smile in response as I hurried towards the elevators, already looking forward to our next phone call. “Love you, too.”

As usual, I was the first one to arrive at the office. I’d started working at Kipling & Reed about nine months ago and on my first day, I’d arrived super early because I wanted to make a good impression on my new bosses. I’d kept up that habit for the first few weeks and now it was a routine, because I enjoyed the thirty minutes of solitude before the chaos began.

Not that there was necessarily a lot of hustle and bustle. The architecture firm I’d mercifully been hired at – thanks to learning my lesson and not drinking any overly sweet beverages before entering the interview – was relatively small. And although my dreams coming out of grad school had been to work for one of the large firms, I’d found that I was much better suited to this environment. I knew all of my coworkers by name and I never felt uncomfortable asking for help if necessary.

Maybe Shreya was right about me needing some new adventures, though. The next time that someone asked if I wanted to go to happy hour, I’d make sure to say yes.

The office employed a shared work space concept, so I didn’t have a specific desk to call my own, but there was a table near the glass wall of windows that I quite enjoyed, so I claimed it by setting down my bag before heading to the break room to start a pot of coffee.

Once I’d retrieved my necessary caffeination level for the morning, I settled into my work. My first task was to check my emails for any updates on current projects or information on upcoming proposals. Next, I worked on site plan sketches and upcoming proposals for clients and called consultants to ensure current projects were going smoothly. I became so engrossed in the work that I ended up skipping lunch and I didn’t realize this until about 1:30, when the combination of my stomach growling and my phone buzzing pulled me out of my work induced trance.

Frowning slightly, I stared down at the text message I’d received from an unknown number.

Buzzbrews. 2pm.

I wasn’t sure why I was being summoned to the coffee shop on the corner, so I leaned to the side to whisper to my coworker sitting next to me at the shared table. “Chloe…we don’t have a soft skills training today do we?”

Every couple weeks, a couple hours in our calendars would be blocked off and designated as ‘soft skills training’. This usually meant that we’d knock off from work a little early and go to a local bar or coffee shop. To be fair, we did do useful work while there. We’d practice how to speak to clients in social situations and how to go about making project proposals. It was a training which could definitely be done in a conference room, but it was nice to be out of the office and in a more relaxed setting. Maybe I hadn’t noticed a recent training that had been put in my calendar and someone was sending out a company wide text message reminder.

But apparently that wasn’t the case, because Chloe looked up from the sketch she was working on and furrowed her brow in confusion. “No, why?”

“I just got this text,” I explained, extending my phone towards her so she could read the message.

“Oooh, mysterious,” she teased once she’d glanced at the screen, her eyes lighting in excitement, “You should definitely go.”

Of course she would encourage me to be adventurous, because much like Shreya, Chloe thought I could stand to have a little more fun. She was constantly telling me that I didn’t venture out of my comfort zone enough. But I wasn’t so easily convinced. “What if it’s an assassin trying to lure me out of the office?”

Her most immediate response was to glare at me. “I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I’ve known you less than a year and I’m completely unfazed by your melodrama.”

“Seriously, Chloe,” I responded, doing my best not to laugh. “What do I do?”

She shrugged. “Text them back.”

That was a simple enough suggestion. After all, maybe they had the wrong number.

Who is this?

I was proved wrong in that assumption when I immediately received another text that sent my heart pounding.

Just come, Divya. Trust me.

“Shit,” I muttered, “they know my name.”

“Even more reason for you to go,” Chloe grinned, more invigorated at the thought than me, “It’s definitely someone you know.”

“I guess,” I sighed, knowing she was right. But I wasn’t sure if them knowing my name just made the situation even creepier.

“Go!” she urged me with a bright smile. “Do you want me to come with?”

Maybe not going alone was a good idea, but from the few words of text I’d received, I’d gathered that whatever reason the person sending the messages wanted to meet me for was probably personal and having Chloe there might just make things even more uncomfortable.

I decided it was about time I do something adventurous, so I took a deep breath and smirked at Chloe and said, “Nah. They might not show themselves if I come with another person.”

“Good luck,” she called out as I grabbed my bag and headed for the door.

Since I hadn’t taken my lunch break, no one questioned me dipping out of the office for an hour, and I was walking briskly towards the café on the corner in less than five minutes. The growling of my stomach reminded me that I should probably eat something, so before I even began to investigate who the mysterious text message was from, I focused my attention on picking the perfect sandwich and drink combo. It was only after I’d placed my order that I searched the fairly empty café for a familiar face.

And I found one relatively quickly. He sat in the corner near the window, watching me intently and as soon as our eyes met, his lips stretched into wide smile.

“Trey!” I gasped as I made my way over to him, immediately flinging my arms around his neck when he stood up to greet me. “Oh my god, what are you doing here?”

I hadn’t seen him since I’d quit my nannying job a year ago, and to be honest, it had taken me a moment to place him, because now that he’d grown out his stubble into a full beard, he looked like a full functioning adult. But his eyes were what confirmed his identity. They were the same bright blue, filled with endless amounts of mischief and excitement and wonder.

He squeezed me tight and then gestured for me to sit at the seat across from him. “We’re playing a show here.”

“Right, of course. I knew that,” I said, deciding that he wouldn’t buy me pretending that I had no idea what the band had been up to since I left. Even if my knowledge of their activities was strictly limited to what I read on celebrity websites, it didn’t mean I hadn’t glanced at their tour schedule to see when they’d be in my city. I didn’t have any intention of going to the show, possibly because I’d probably end up crying at some point, but it was better for my emotional state if I was prepared for any possibility of seeing them in promotional materials. Still, I wasn’t prepared to see Trey in the flesh. I honestly didn’t think that he, or any of them really, would want to see me. “But I mean…what are you doing a block away from where I work?”

I knew that Trey knew where I worked. We’d kept in touch a little bit since I left, meaning we’d text every few weeks with basic life updates, so I’d told him when I got my new job. But the band had a habit of changing their phone numbers every few months in order to keep their privacy and anonymity, and Trey hadn’t texted me since the last time that happened.

For someone I hadn’t spoken to in three months, he was awfully casual. Shrugging, he said, “I just thought we could chat.”

“About what?” I lifted an eyebrow in surprise, smiling gratefully at the woman who delivered my sandwich to the table.

“Divya, we haven’t seen each other in a year,” he laughed, leaning back in his chair and glancing out the window. “Surely we have some things to catch up on.”

“Sure,” I replied, my voice semi muffled by a mouthful of turkey. “But that’s not why you asked me to come here.”

He was right. We had a lot to fill each other in on regarding our lives over the past year. But despite not seeing him for a while, I could tell when Trey was hiding something.

“Perceptive,” he sighed, his eyes shifting to the window again. “You’re right.”

“So? Why do you keep looking across the street?” I asked, as a horrifying thought settled in my mind. My eyes widened and I couldn’t manage to raise my voice above a whisper as I vocalized his thought process. “Trey…if you’re about to ambush me…”

The only explanation I could think of for why he was being so shifty was that he moments away from sending me colliding into Jaxon’s path. And despite all the mental preparation I’d done up until this point, I never once imagined that I’d actually have to interact with Jaxon again. After all, unlike Trey, or any of the other band members really, Jaxon had made absolutely no effort to get in touch with me. I took that as a pretty definite sign that he never wanted to speak to me again.

“I’m not,” Trey replied automatically, before realizing that wasn’t entirely true and clarifying. “Well, I’m giving you the choice.”

“How so?” I asked. The part of me that wasn’t completely mortified was a little bit curious.

“Jaxon, Benji, and the twins are in the bookstore across the street,” he explained, confirming my suspicions of his master plan. “At some point in the next five minutes, Jaxon’s going to come meet me here. The way I see it, you have two options: you can either just walk away right now, or-”

I didn’t let him finish, pushing myself up from the chair, I said, “Yeah, that sounds good.”

“Divya!” Trey sighed in frustration, reaching out to place his hand over mine to keep me from leaving. “Seriously?”

The gesture made hesitate, but I was still considering bolting before I saw Jaxon. “I’ve walked away from him before, what makes you think I can’t do it again?”

As far as I could tell, nothing had changed since I’d left. And as difficult as walking away the first time had been, I’d done it for a reason. Jaxon deserved to be truly happy and his kids deserved some sense of normalcy in the craziness of their and obviously he found that and I had no business ruining it for him.

Except that Trey’s response was, “Because you’re not happy without him. And he’s not happy without you.”

“So?” I shot back, pulling my hand out from under Trey’s and crossing my arms over my chest. I’d give him the benefit of the doubt about knowing Jaxon’s happiness levels, but Trey and I had less than five conversations over the course of the past year, which meant he knew absolutely nothing about my emotional state. And he was partly right. I did miss Jaxon and the twins and there would always be a part of my heart that ached for them, but that didn’t mean I was meant to be in their lives.

“So,” Trey sighed, sounding extremely tired. “I’ve spent the last year watching my best friend in the world be fucking miserable and I can’t take it anymore. If you won’t talk to him for you, then do it for me.”

I stared at him, noting the tension in his posture and the sadness in his eyes and how despite the fact that he was shooting me a pleading smile, he also looked as though he might break at any moment. And for the first time since I left, I wondered if I’d had everything wrong all along. At the time, I’d told myself walking away was what was best for Jaxon, Finn, and Audra. But maybe the reality of the situation was that leaving was what was best for me. Because maybe I never truly believed that my relationship with Jaxon had a shot in hell of working, so I’d used Lauren’s reappearance as an excuse to take myself out of the equation before my heart was at risks for breaking.

In my attempt to keep my own heart protected, it seemed I might have hurt everybody else.

“You’re not going to let this go, are you?” I whispered.

He let out a sigh of relief as he realized I was coming around and shook his head. “Nope.”

“For the record, I hate you,” I shot back.

“Good to know,” he grinned, his gaze shifting towards the door behind me before he lifted his chin and smirked. “There he is. Go get your man.”

My eyes widened and my breath caught in my throat. In the midst of my conversation with Trey, I hadn’t even noticed Jaxon cross the street and enter the café. But as I took a deep breath and mentally prepared to set my sights on him for the first time in a year, I realized I could feel his presence in the way my heart was racing and my skin was tingling and I felt as though there was electricity running through my veins.

A little shaky, I turned slowly where I was standing, my eyes finding him automatically, standing just inside the café doorway as he searched for his best friend on the wrong side of the room. All I could see was his profile, but I still felt like I’d been hit by lightning.

His hair was a little bit shorter and he a bit more scruff, but he looked exactly the same. The same slouchy posture and habit of sticking his hands in his jean pockets. The same crinkle by his eyes as he smiled warmly to people walking past. As I simultaneously willed myself to move and tried to figure out what to say, I realized that there was something else that hadn’t changed at all either: my feelings for him.

I’d tried to bury them deep, to forget I even knew how to feel at all, in hopes that being emotionless would allow me to move on. And I think that to a certain extent, it had worked. It allowed me to live this safe, risk free life. But seeing him again changed all of that in an instant. It wasn’t so much that the feelings came rushing back, but that just being near him had awakened a part of my heart that I’d almost forgotten existed.

Trey must have realized that I was having trouble moving, because just as Jaxon turned towards our section of the café, Trey gave me a not so gentle push on the back that sent me hurtling in Jaxon’s direction.

I slammed into his front before he could realize what was happening, and I had to keep myself from sighing in contentment when he laughed softly and gently cupped my shoulders with his hands to keep me upright.

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you,” he began to apologize automatically. It took all of three seconds for him to register it was me and his eyes flickered with recognition, they were flooded with a range of emotions, starting with confusion and ending in something that looked a lot like disappointment. He whispered my name and I felt my heart stutter. “Divya?”

To be honest, no matter how much I thought about the possibility of this happening, I never actually expected it to happen. I didn’t know what to say, so I stuck to the basics, letting out a breathy sigh. “Hi.”

“What…,” he hesitated, blinking rapidly a couple times and pulling his hands away from me quickly, sticking them in his pockets once more, “what are you doing here?”

“I live here,” I reminded him, not wanting him to think that any stalking had occurred. It had taken a lot of willpower, but I’d done my best to keep my observation of his life limited to what I could learn from news sources.

“I know,” he blinked in response, and I realized he wasn’t accusing me of anything. His question was more a result of the fact that the probability of us randomly running into each other was pretty miniscule. “I guess I’m confused as to how this is even happening.”

“Trey,” I explained, turning my head to look briefly towards where Trey was standing to the side, grinning like an idiot, “he, um, he kind of ambushed me.”

Shooting his friend an annoyed glare, Jaxon sighed. “That makes sense.”

Trey took that as his cue to leave and flashed us both a sheepish smile before swiftly exiting the coffee shop. Tilting his head to the right, Jaxon silently suggested we take the empty table Trey had left behind. We slipped into chairs on opposite sides of the table and I laced my fingers on the wooden top, not sure how to continue.

I took it as good sign that he was willing to keep the conversation going at all, but I had no idea what to actually say, so I went with, “So…how’ve you been?”

He was unimpressed, lifting one eyebrow and saying “Really?”

“I don’t know what else to say,” I admitted with a shrug. “This is weird.”

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about what it would be like to see Jaxon again. But I always figured that if it ever happened, I’d be more prepared.

Luckily, he didn’t fault my complete lack of planning. “It is, isn’t it?” he scrunched his nose up sympathetically. “Yeah, um, I’ve been good.”

It was a vague answer, but at least he was trying. I urged him on. “And the twins?”

The mention of his children relaxed his posture slightly and his lips stretched into a wide smile. “Amazing, as usual.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” I beamed, glad to hear that Finn and Audra were happy and healthy. Despite thinking I was making the right decision, leaving the twins had been extremely difficult. I’d grown attached to them in the six months I’d been their nanny and I think there was a part of me that started to believe they were mine. Which meant that no matter how things between Jaxon and I played out, I wanted nothing more than for Finn and Audra to have the most wonderful lives possible.

A silence fell between us and I twisted my fingers around each other nervously, wondering if he could hear how loudly my heart was beating. I took some comfort in the fact that he seemed equally as uncomfortable, finally breaking the awkward tension by letting out a breathy laugh and saying, “I guess we can’t do small talk, huh?”

“I guess not,” I lifted the corners of my lips into a smile, a small part of me glad that we seemed to be on the same page, even if neither of us was particularly good at keeping the conversation flowing.

“You’ve kept in touch with Trey?” he asked after a few more moments of tense silence where both of us avoided eye contact and fidgeted with whatever pieces of jewelry we happened to be wearing.

“Not really,” I shook my head. I wondered if Jaxon thought I purposefully texted Trey but did my best to avoid having to speak to him. “He’s changed his number since the last time we spoke, because I didn’t recognize it when he texted. This whole thing was very James Bond.”

Jaxon laughed softly, a light sparking in his eyes as he spoke. “Sounds like Trey.”

I let out a sigh of relief, because finally, it seemed like the stiffness between us was cracking. Parting my lips, I meant to ask more about the twins, but before I could, a familiar ball of beautiful energy appeared by Jaxon’s side.

“Hey, Jax, sorry I’m late,” she said, bubbly and happy, “there was way more traffic than I expected…,” at this point, mid-sentence, she seemed to register my presence, her eyes and her smile both widening with joy, “Divya!”

“Lauren,” I breathed out as she leaned down to wrap her arms around me in a quick hug, feeling as though this entire situation was a bit surreal. “Wow, um, it’s good to see you.”

To be honest, it was a bit of a bittersweet feeling to know that Lauren was still around. Because on one hand, it meant that the twins were on the receiving end of a lot of love from both their mother and their father and they deserved happy and loving parents. But on the other hand, there was a possibility that it meant that she and Jaxon had reconciled their romantic relationship as well. And I knew I had no right to be upset by that, seeing as the entire reason I’d left was to give them that opportunity in the first place, but that didn’t mean that my heart didn’t ache a little bit.

“You too!” she grinned. “It’s been too long. How have you been?”

“Pretty….” I was going to say good, but that felt like a bit of an overstatement. “Okay. I’m working at an architecture firm here in downtown.”

She beamed, always the beacon of hope and happiness. “That’s great!”

“Yeah, it’s a pretty good gig,” I replied, allowing myself to breathe and relax. But I instantly tensed up again when she wrapped her left hand around the strap of her purse and I noticed a very familiar diamond on her ring finger. I gulped. “Um, that’s a gorgeous ring.”

My mind was racing and I realized I was jumping to all sorts of conclusions. Though, to be fair, the fact that she was wearing the very engagement ring I’d found in Jaxon’s bag didn’t really leave much to the imagination regarding the status of their relationship.

She confirmed the simultaneous shattering of my heart and sinking in my stomach by saying, “Thanks! Jaxon has really good taste.”

“That he does,” I whispered, my gaze flitting back to Jaxon, who looked decidedly uncomfortable with the entire situation.

“I should go check on the kids,” she said, lifting one hand in a wave. “It was good to see you, Divya.”

She pressed a quick kiss to Jaxon’s cheek and then she was gone before I could utter a goodbye. The knots in my stomach were tightening and my heart was cracking bit by bit, but I felt like we couldn’t ignore what just happened, so I said, “So…you’re engaged.”

“What?” Jaxon furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. “No.”

“No?” I repeated, wondering why he was denying it when she clearly stated it was his ring. “She’s wearing your ring…I recognize it.”

Recognize it was a bit of an understatement. Ever since I’d found the ring in Jaxon’s bag, the memory of it had haunted me. It was a symbol of everything he wanted. Of everything he almost had. So maybe the fact that it finally ended up on Lauren’s finger was the sign from the universe I needed to actually and completely move on.

He’d taken my advice to see if they could make things work and they’d come full circle. And despite the fact that I could physically feel my heart breaking, I wanted nothing more than for the four of them to be happy.

Except that Jaxon didn’t seem to be on the same page, because he said, “Oh, yeah, I mean, it is that ring, but she’s not engaged to me.”

My eyebrows furrowed and I parted my lips in confusion to ask what the hell he was talking about, but he beat me to it. Turning slightly in his chair, he gazed out the window, his eyes searching the sidewalk across the street until he found who he was looking for and pointed. “See that tall ginger guy standing outside the store? That’s her fiancé.”

I followed his finger to see Lauren was, in fact, kissing a tall ginger guy outside the bookstore across the street. I frowned. “I’m confused.”

“I guess part of the journey of finding herself included going back to school and getting her degree,” he explained. “She met Robbie in European History class. They were friends for a while before anything happened. It took him up until about a year ago to work up the courage to ask her out.”

“A year ago?” I repeated as I realized the implication of Lauren being in a relationship for that long, “So the two of you didn’t…”

I wasn’t exactly sure what I felt regarding the revelation that Jaxon and Lauren weren’t and apparently never had been in a relationship since I left. A part of me was relieved. But a part of me also wondered if they should have at least tried.

“We talked about it,” he assured me, picking at the leather bracelet he wore around his wrist. “For a long time. But the more we talked about it, the more we realized that neither of us are the same people we were two years ago. And the people we are now just aren’t meant to be.”

I didn’t know what to say because it was turning out that everything I had assumed about Jaxon’s life now was completely wrong. He and Lauren had attempted to have a relationship, but in the end had decided that they were better off as friends. And the fact that she was still a part of his life made sense. Because, of course, she wanted to be near the twins and if she and Jaxon could be friends before they even started dating, they sure as hell could be friends now.

“Oh,” I whispered, realizing that I had no clue how we proceeded past this point. Because everything was out in the open now and in an odd way, I felt like we kind of got closure. Jaxon knew that he wasn’t destined to end up with Lauren and I was comforted by the knowledge that they’d at least given it a shot and now we were at a crossroads, neither one of us really knowing which direction to choose.

“I think you were right, though, about why I kept the ring,” he went on, keeping me from having to move the conversation forward. “I think a part of me was hoping she’d come back. A part of me wasn’t ready to let her go. But that changed, and when Robbie told me he planned on proposing, I gave him the ring. I think it’s what I needed to move on.”

I was glad that he’d come to that conclusion, but there was a part of his statement that was bothering me. “What changed?”

He didn’t say anything, but lifted one eyebrow upwards to ask what I was talking about.

“You said that you weren’t ready to let her go, but something changed,” I clarified. “What changed?”

He’d said it so casually, without any explanation. But I felt like that phrasing definitely needed some elaboration.

He sat up a little straighter and kept his gaze direct, though his voice was soft. “You. You changed everything. You came into my life and turned it upside down and I fell in love with you and then you walked away and it all felt so…heartbreakingly familiar.”

I was frozen. That was a lot to process. I cycled through every emotion possible as I processed his words. His declaration of love had my heart singing but then I realized what he said about me leaving and realized I hurt him more than I ever meant to. The day I left probably gave him a sense of déjà vu as he recalled Lauren’s departure.

“Shit,” I replied, realizing that I hadn’t really thought through how my actions would affect everyone else. “I didn’t even think about that. I’m sorry.”

He didn’t look nearly as upset about my lack of consideration as I expected, shrugging and saying, “What for?”

“For breaking your heart.”

A hint of sadness leaked into his eyes, but he also lifted one side of his mouth into a small smile. “I’ll admit, I was kind of a wreck for the first couple weeks. But then I realized that you were right to walk away.”

I lifted my eyebrows in surprise. The last thing I expected was to have him tell me that he understood why I left. “I was?”

He nodded. “Lauren and I had our issues to work out and Finn and Audra needed to get to know their mother properly.”

“And me being there would have just made things confusing,” I added on. The twins would have been overwhelmed enough just having their mother back. Having me there too would have just been too much for them to process.

“Maybe,” he admitted, though he didn’t quite agree. “But I understand why you thought you had to leave.”

It was a strange sensation, to have him tell me that he didn’t blame me for walking away. Maybe it meant that when this conversation was over, we could part ways on good terms. “Does that mean that we’re okay?”

His smile widened. “Yes, we’re okay.”

“Good,” I matched his grin, letting out a sigh of relief. “I’m glad.”

Nodding, he leaned forward slightly. “So, what happens now?”

That was a good question. We’d gotten our closure. And both of us were where we wanted to be in life, professionally and personally. Sort of. But it seemed there was only one thing we could do. “I guess…we move on.”

He lifted an eyebrow in surprise. “Is that what you want?”

“Isn’t that what you want?” I replied quickly. At least, that’s what I thought he wanted to hear. Jaxon not being in a relationship with Lauren didn’t really change the fact that he hadn’t contacted me at all in the past year. I assumed the conscious decision to shut me out was due to the fact that he no longer wanted me to be a part of his life in any way.

Except that his response was, “No.”

“No?” I repeated, wide eyed and completely dumbfounded. After all we’d been through, it would be so much easier for us both to just walk away.

“No,” he said firmly, shaking his head and making sure he held my gaze. “What I want is for us to actually try. We never really gave this a chance. You had one foot out the door from the very beginning.”

He was right, of course. As strong as my feelings were for him, I don’t know if I ever truly believed that our relationship would work out in the long run. We lived such vastly different lives, and even if Lauren hadn’t returned, I wouldn’t have been able to stay forever. Eventually, I would have had to return to the real world.

“I know, I just…,” I sighed, “it all seemed a little too good to be true. Besides, I was never going to be the nanny forever.”

“I know,” he said quietly. “But I think you and I were worth fighting for. We still are. It’s your choice, Divya. What do you want?”

My choice.

I stared at him as I finally processed what he’d said in the first place. He wanted this to work. He wanted us to fight for this relationship, this love, and he was willing to do so. He’d taken the first step towards discovering what could truly happen between us. All that was left was for me to be to be brave enough to take that plunge as well.

I hadn’t really invested myself in our relationship the first time because I think a part of me thought that it ending was inevitable. And maybe it still was. Maybe fate had other plans for us and if we tried to go there again, it would only end in heartache.

But I needed to stop being so scared to fail that I never gave anything a shot. Because yes, maybe Jaxon and I wouldn’t live happily ever after. But maybe we would. Maybe we would be happy beyond belief. Maybe we’d be amazing. We’d never know unless we tried. Besides, if the past twenty minutes had taught me anything, it was that Jaxon one hundred percent still held my heart.

So, I reached out slowly and took his hands in mine, making sure I was looking directly into his eyes as I spoke, because I wanted him to know how much I meant every word I said. “All of it. I want all of it. I know this is probably a year too late, but you should probably know, I love you.”

It was so freeing to finally say those words. I’d spent so long just bottling up because I was scared of what would happen if I let myself utter them out loud. But now that I finally had, I’d never felt so filled with light and joy.

It took him a good five seconds to process what I said, but when he did, he smiled the widest, most beautiful smile I’d ever seen in my life. Leaning across the table, he pressed a soft kiss to my lips and I sighed contently as I smiled against mouth, feeling more at home than I’d ever felt in my life.

“I love you, too,” he whispered, grinning as he pulled away.

I laced my fingers with his on the table top, grinning like an idiot and wishing this moment could last forever. But I knew it couldn’t, and that was okay too.

“I don’t know what happens next,” I admitted. For once, I hadn’t really thought past me finally confessing my feelings.

And it seemed neither had Jaxon, because he paused for a minute to contemplate before suggesting, “Do you wanna see the twins?”

“I do,” I said, my heart leaping with excitement at the prospect of seeing Finn and Audra again. Though that joy began to fade as I realized I had very little time of my one hour lunch break left. “But, well, I think it should be done right. And I wanna spend so much time with them and I’ve already been gone from work too long.”

“Fair enough,” he nodded in understanding. We both stood from the table and he grabbed my hand and intertwined our fingers as we walked towards the door and I relished how natural all of it felt. He paused once we were outside, stepping to the side of the sidewalk so we wouldn’t get into people’s way. “How about tonight we order takeout and hang out in the hotel room? Just us and the twins.”

That sounded like heaven. Just the kind of intimate setting that would make seeing the twins again more comfortable. There were just a couple adjustments I wanted to make.

“And Lauren and Robbie,” I added, flattening my palms against his chest. “And the boys.”

“Yeah?” he replied, surprised yet delighted as his arms encircled my waist and he pulled me closer. “That won’t be too weird?”

“Nope,” I assured him. “Like I said, this should be done right. Which means the twins should be around everyone who loves them.”

Getting reacquainted with the twins while it was just me and Jaxon would have made it feel as though nothing had changed since the last time we were all together. But the truth was that everything had changed. And we couldn’t hide from that fact. If any of this was truly going to work, we needed to be all in from the very beginning.

Thankfully, Jaxon agreed, smiling softly and saying, “They should be around their family.”

“Exactly,” I grinned.

Leaning down, he kissed me again and I wondered if I would ever get used to the warmth running through my veins.

“Sounds perfect,” he said against my lips.

We kissed for what wasn’t nearly long enough before I sighed and said, “I should probably get going.”

“Okay,” he nodded, pressing one last long, deep, delicious kiss to my lips. “That should hold me over for a few hours. What time do you get off work?”

“Six thirty-ish,” I replied, feeling giddy and happy as I took a step backwards, out of his embrace, knowing that if I didn’t do so now, I’d probably never be able to leave.

He stuck his hands in his pockets again and widened his smile. “I’ll call you.”

My breath caught in my throat as I realized that meant he hadn’t deleted my number. Maybe there was a part of him that always believed that we’d find our way back to each other. And now, there was a part of me that was starting to believe in happy endings too.

“Can’t wait,” I grinned in response. I blew him one last kiss as I turned to walk away, unable to keep the smile off my face. Maybe falling in love wasn’t so bad after all.

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