Chapter 55 - Never stop
I had walked away from River too many times and it hurt differently every time. But to have her walk away from me? It was a whole new level of hurt that I wasn't ready for. I thought she would rush back through the door and scream at me but I listened as she started her engine and drove away and was left wondering if I should go to her. I could have. I could've called Jackson and got the address, I knew he was here visiting for Christmas. But I wanted her to come back to me. I needed it to be her decision.
That was three days ago.
Now on Christmas Eve, I was sitting on the couch admiring my newly installed crown molding and occasionally sweeping away pine needles that had fallen off of my Christmas Tree, it gave Charlie Brown's a run for his money but something wouldn't let me leave the tree farm without it. The more I stared at it, the uglier it became.
I walked to the refrigerator and opened it. I grabbed a beer as my phone buzzed in my pocket.
I asked Jackson, trying to not be a Scrooge.
"Do you have plans tonight?"
"Come over, there's going to be a ton of food and I know all you have there is beer. We want you here."
We want you here.
But did she?
"I don't know if that's a good idea."
"Come on, man."
I rubbed my forehead too hard. I wanted to go. I wanted to be in the same room she was.
"Now if you aren't busy."
Thirty minutes later I was standing in front of the door to River's apartment. I had ached to see where she was living since she moved here. I knew all about the dorms, and Taylor's apartment but this place, I knew nothing about it.
The door swung open, a short dark-haired girl stood on the other side. I could only assume she was River's roommate.
"You must be Beau."
She smiled as Jackson walked up and wrapped his arms around her.
I narrowed my eyes at him, silently asking him what was going on.
The girl stuck her hand out and I took it.
"Nice to meet you."
"You too. Come in."
She moved to the side as Jackson disappeared down the hallway.
"I'm not going to lie, I've been dying to meet you for years."
I quirked my brow as I shoved the beer I'd brought into the small refrigerator.
She nodded as she sat down on a barstool. I took a second to look around, it was a nice enough place. Small but it was just the two of them and as far as I could tell it was a safe area. There were touches of River everywhere. A tiny plant on the kitchen windowsill, a colorful braided rug on the floor near the sink, and I would bet any amount of money if I went to the bathroom or walked down to the hall closer to her bedroom, I would be able to smell strawberries.
I heard a door creak open and a pair of feet pad down the carpeted hallway. River appeared in the kitchen wearing fluffy Christmas pajamas and some of those fuzzy socks she loved. She was so damn adorable, I bit my bottom lip to distract myself because all I wanted to do was run my hand underneath the back of her shirt and let her body heat seep into my skin.
River's eyes found mine long enough to respond.
She said then found anything else to look at.
I hadn't realized that I'd been staring at her until Jackson walked up behind her and cleared his throat.
He asked and we all started filling plates with food. It was awkward, but I could deal with awkward. I watched River the entire time and I knew she could feel my eyes on her. She picked at her food and I tried to distract myself by talking to Jackson about work but I needed to get her alone so we could talk.
Maria and River sat in the living room while Jackson and I put the food away. We were halfway done when he started whispering.
"You're going to let my baby sister be sad on Christmas?"
He eyed me.
"You think I want that? I want her with me, and happy."
Just then River walked down the hallway and I put the container I was filling with ham down and followed her. She almost had her door closed when I wedged my boot in to stop her. Her eyes flew up and locked on mine through the space in the doorway.
"We need to talk."
I told her and she sighed, pulling the door open enough for me to walk in.
She sat on the edge of her bed and I leaned against her dresser as I took a deep breath, damn strawberries.
"Why did you leave the other night?"
She cocked her head to the side and opened her mouth then closed it and shook her head.
"I don't know."
She whispered in a shaky voice that sent something through my heart. I sat down on her bed next to her and took her hand in mine.
"Was it too much?"
"Maybe a little," she shrugged before continuing, "don't get me wrong, I loved the house. And just the thought of you going out of your way like that. It's. . . It's the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me."
I laughed and I kissed her knuckles.
"I didn't go out of my way River and I didn't do it to be nice. I bought the house because I'm all in. I want all of it and I want it with you. My only regret is not allowing myself to do it sooner."
I pressed my lips to her hand again before standing up.
I walked into the hallway and looked back at her.
"You know where I'll be."
I had nothing left to say and I needed her to think about my words for a while before she said anything back.
I told Jackson and Maria bye and noted how she grabbed his face when she thought I wasn't looking. I shook my head and headed home.
I waited until midnight before I turned all the lights off and climbed into bed. My mind wasn't tired so I turned the tv on and flipped through the channels aimlessly until a pair of headlights came through the windows.
I opened the door before there was a chance of knocking.
"I have conditions."
River rushed the words as if she was out of breath.
"Let's hear them."
Anything. I would give her anything she wanted.
I pulled her inside and out of the cold air.
"I want reality, I want to fight with you and then make up because we can't stand it. I don't want you making decisions for me. I don't want you to hold me above the clouds anymore, Beau."
I had inched closer to her at some point. Her back was against the wall, her head was tilted up so she could hold my stare.
I could give her all of that and more.
I wanted all of it. But I wanted to include something else.
"Done. Can I add one thing?"
She nodded as she stared at my lips. I put my finger under her chin and closed the small distance between us as I breathed in my favorite scent.
"Tell me you love me every day. I've waited a long time for it and I need it."
"Done," she shrugged before continuing, " I love you, Beau Holmes. I've loved you from the second that I first saw you when I was too young to even know what the word meant. But I know now, you made sure that I knew, that I could feel it all around me."
I nodded as I felt my heart swell in my chest.
"I'll never stop."
I promised her as I pushed her hair from her face. My mind flashed back to the girl I picked up outside of the airport a few years ago. She was still the same in a lot of ways, and she had changed in so many others.
But one thing that I knew without a doubt would remain the same, the main thing I thanked God for every single day, River was made for me. Sent to me so I could look after her in one stage of her life and love her in the next. I felt like we had been through hell to get to this point, but it was no doubt worth the heaven she would give me.
Because despite all that hell and heartache, we made it to this point. She was in my arms and I was going to let myself have her.
It took me too long to realize what deserving meant and how it played into our relationship.
Turns out, it didn't.
Because deserving or not, she was mine and I was hers and we had no control over the rest.
Don't worry my friends, I'm a firm believer in Epilogues ;)