PARTNERS

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Chapter 2

Scarlett's POV

Being off work is agonizing.

I’m the type that needs to be busy to take my mind off pain, or use that pain creatively to express my emotions properly, not sit and drown in the memories all day. But, that’s exactly what I was going to do.

Toren has been working from home the past few days in order to be close to me. He wouldn’t leave my side, glued to my hip in fact. The events left him in a state of panic. Always kissing me more than normal, staring into my eyes a little too long, constantly touching me in some shape or form. I could tell, even when going to get the mail, he looked as though I might vanish before he got back.

Seeing what he saw made life more meaningful and precious. I wasn’t made of diamond, or whatever other impossibly strong surface there is out there. I was fragile, and I could break too. The thought of losing me meant the loss of himself and that realization was terrifying.

He didn’t want me being alone right now, but when that call came through to check out a new house available for the Happily Home organization, I practically forced him out of the door.

Helping survivors of abuse is what he’s always been doing. Who knew the poor guy would have to do the work at home too.

I felt the guilt of him always trying to make me feel better. But, what about him? He mattered too.

He didn’t always need to be the healer. Sometimes it’s the healers who need to be taken care of the most. They tend to over exert and put everyone before themselves, and that was exactly what Toren always did for me.

But it was my mission as of late, to let him know how much I loved and appreciated him. I would shower this man with the adoration he deserves, because trust me when I say, he deserves it. I had a plan, just needed some help getting it into motion.

Yet, there was one thing I just wasn’t ready for yet. Talking about what happened with him proved to be difficult. How do I express that loss I felt from Ryder’s passing with my boyfriend? How do I explain those emotions when I didn’t understand them myself? My heart ached for him in a strange way because I had loved Ryder. I wasn’t in love with him, like I was with Toren, but the person I knew as Ryder had a piece of me, a special place in my heart. I didn’t know what to do with all of the newly surfaced feelings, so I often pushed it to the side and tried to deal with it on my own, or with my therapist.

After his departure, I attempted to get myself together and take a shower on my own. Having a bum hand is a serious issue. You don’t realize how much you need it till it’s gone.

The damage Tommy had done was beyond awful. The doctors needed to set the bones and manipulate them to position for them healing. It was just as painful as the breaks themselves. After setting the bones, a cast was placed with a reminder to come back in six to eight weeks.

As the doctor was making the appointment, I saw the tool at work in my mind that would get this cast off before that. I couldn’t wait that long to get back to releasing my creativity. Not a chance in hell.

With the baggie over my hand, I attempt to wash my hair. Getting frustrated after dropping the shampoo and not even being able to pump it out, I turn the water off and say fuck it.

Sponge bath from Toren it is.

Getting into some pajamas and attempting to put my hair back, I give up and make my way to the couch.

As soon as I sit, I start thinking about it again, the memories flood my mind, and the chill and horror of that night closes in on me. The gunshots, the look in Ryder’s eyes, the blood all over my face. The devastating loss of a friend and lover in more ways than one. Everything flashes before my eyes at every blink as the tears begin filling my eyesight again.

Just as I’m wishing I never would’ve let Toren leave, there’s a knock at the door. I wipe my eyes, picking myself up off the couch. Making my way over to it, I look out and visualize the last person I’d ever want to see. Especially right now.

The knock comes again, as I let out a sigh and find the strength to open the door.

There she stands.

Mrs. Hollingsworth.

With her hands holding two large brown paper bags.I open the door, leaning against it with my head, staring blankly at her.

“Hi.” she says softly with a timid smile. “Toren said you’d be alone. Can I come in?”

So this was Toren’s doing.

“Uhh, sure...” I respond blandly, unable to leave her standing in the hallway with these bags she clearly can’t hold.

I assist her by bringing one of the bags cradled in my arm over to the kitchen island, accidentally letting it tip over as I try to place it down. “Shit, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry hunny. Please, just sit.” she says, grabbing the spilled items.

“What is all this?” I question, picking up a butternut squash and looking at it sideways.

“Well,” she begins with a light smile, “I thought maybe you’d like some nice, warm, home-cooked soup. I make a mean minestrone.”

I bite the corner of my lip at her attempts to make peace. I want to be mad, I want to hate, but what is hate when life is so short. She’s clearly trying. Attempting to think of the last time I had a good home cooked meal, I shrug accepting the peace offering.

Sitting on the other side of the island, I watch her work her magic. She immediately starts cooking and begins explaining things as she’s doing them. She’s a complete natural. It’s phenomenal. An artist in her craft, that’s for sure. I watch her mix and mash and season, and I’m totally into it.

She drops the spoon she’s mixing with and pauses, looking at the bowl in front of her.

“What? You missing an ingredient?” My eyes dart over the bags and random items spread out, wondering what paused the magic in front of me.

She looks up at me with a sorrowful face, sighing, then walks around the island and sits in the seat next to me.

“I’m so sorry, Scarlett. Truly sorry. For how I treated you.” she begins.

I suck in a breath, and nervously blow it out, my eyes darting across the room.

“What I did was wrong. I’m disgusted in myself, my actions.” she wipes her forehead. “In reality, we’re so much more alike than not.”

I narrow my eyes looking quizzically back at her, cocking my head to the side in question.

“I’m a child of the system too.” she shrugs. “It might not seem like it from the pearls to the Rolls-Royce, but I came from nothing. I don’t know who my parents are, or why they decided to give me up at the age of two. But, I’m like you. I’m a fighter too. I made my way out by the skin of my teeth and I found love in the most unnatural and peculiar way in the process. In fact, when Toren’s father and I met, he was with another woman.”

What.

She chuckles lightly, looking to the ceiling at the memory in her mind. “I didn’t expect our love to blossom. I wasn’t looking for it. But, it found me, and boy, it didn’t let go either. We fought it for the longest time, me denying anything until he was single. It was his dorky ways that finally made me cave.”

He sounds just like his son. I smile at the thought.

I fought for the dream I had of having a family, fought for my kids to have a better childhood than I had, and be the mom I always wanted but never had.”

“Wow...” I breathe out, stunned by our similarities. I would never have guessed.

“When I had kids, I never imagined they’d be like Ro and To.” she smiles to herself. “They weren’t the easiest boys growing up. But, I loved them with all my heart nonetheless.”

Seeing her talk about her babies, the way her face lights up, makes my heart happy. She loves them more than anything, that’s clear.

“These boys aren’t like you and I. They’ve been gifted everything in life, they haven’t had to fight for it like we did. Granted we tried to give them a normal upbringing. Finding success in their world isn’t the same as ours. It’s not that it matters less, and it’s not as if they don’t work hard for what they have, we just started our races on different lines.”

I nod, feeling that deep within my soul.

“When I found out Toren was apparently having a baby, it was everything I’d hoped it wouldn’t be. I thought I’d taught them well enough, that having a child meant something serious. That bringing a child into this world with someone was no joke. That being safe was important.” She sighs. “I came down on him hard to do the right thing and stand by Camila, because I didn’t want that kid to go through what I went through. What you went through.”

“He would’ve done the right thing. He was trying to.” I add.

“And I scared you away to keep it like that.” She looks down at her hands, then looks back up at me. “For that I’m so sorry.”

I bite my lips, looking down at the granite, then back into her soft eyes. “I’m sorry too. I reacted out of complete anger and impulse. Anger that might have also been a bit geared towards your son. He didn’t exactly do a good job of explaining who I was or why I was there that night.” I say rolling my eyes.

“You make a great point. Really, this was all his fault.” She smiles, a sarcastic tone present.

I giggle as she chuckles.

“So...I’m Debbie, Debra, or Deb, whatever you wanna call me, just please don’t call me ‘that bitch’ anymore.” she makes a pained face, assuming the worst.

I throw my head back in laughter. “Nice to meet you, I’m Scar.”

Introducing her to myself as Scar feels better than I ever could’ve imagined. This is me, being me.

She laughs, taking my hand as we shake and find a common ground between us. It was never that I didn’t fit in with the Hollingsworths, I just didn’t know them. I didn’t know her. I never gave her the chance.She knew I needed this, the blatant truth. She knew I needed someone right now, when I’d so infamously been denied of realness. She understood me because in some sense, she was me.

We continue making the soup, talking about my work and marveling in my accomplishments. She said she about shit her pants when she found out the truth about me. I told her I wished she would’ve. We laugh as I help her while she teaches me step by step how it’s done.

“So, did Toren ask you to come over here? Keep me company so I wasn’t alone?” I ask, genuinely curious, slurping down the soup.

“Ha, no! He’d probably kill me if he knew I was here. But, I have my ways.” she winks, pouring herself a bowl from the pot on the stove.

“D-did...you hear about, did you know?” I ask her cautiously, wondering if she knew the whole story about, well...everything that’s transpired.

I’m sure she knows something. It’s literally all over New York, the gossip blogs, everywhere. At least to some extent.

“Another day, love. One mountain at a time, eh?”

I smile, beyond grateful. She gets it. She gets me.

Later that evening after Deb leaves, I take my pain medication and cuddle back into the large sectional sofa with a big fluffy blanket and a belly full of minestrone.

I must’ve fallen asleep because I wake to Toren scooping me up off the couch into his solid arms.

“Mmm.” I moan into the crook of his neck, breathing in his delicious scent of minty spice and man.

He squeezes me to him, then brings me into the bedroom, pulling back the comforter and gently laying me down on the bed.

“My baby had a big day today, you need your rest.” he says, tucking me in, then gently placing my casted hand on my stomach.

“Big day? I legit sat around and ate soup.”

“My mom told me she stopped by.” he mentions, a nervous look on his face.

She must’ve not told him much because it’s clear he’s worried how it went.

“It was a really nice visit, Toren, don’t get your thong in a twist. Seems we might get along after all.”

He lets out a huge sigh with a big toothy grin as he props his head on his hands, his elbows on the edge of the bed. He’s beautiful, there’s no other word to describe him. Everything from the light blonde stubble on his strong jaw to his soft, pouty pink lips, to his crystal blue eyes that are encased by lashes that any woman would be jealous. He’s just stunning and he’s focused adoringly on me. He looks into my eyes with such a softness, brushing my hair back off of my forehead, then touching the back of it, feeling the dampness. “You showered?”

“Tried. Failed.” I huff.

“Tomorrow. I’ll help you.”

“Thank you. For everything.” I say feeling heavy all over again.

“I’m gonna grab something to eat and I’ll be back to lay down. Do you need anything? Can I bring you something? Meds? Water?” he asks softly, rubbing his thumb along my cheek.

“I’m good, babe, just took my pills, feeling sleepy. Just need your arms around me when you’re ready.” I yawn.

He smiles, pressing his lips to my forehead, making my heart clench in my chest. “Get some rest, I’ll be back in a second.”

He turns off the lamp next to the bed, pulling the blanket up on me a little more, then rubs my leg gently before leaving the bedroom.

Being here with him like this, taking care of me, I see how amazing he would be as a father. As weird as it seems, seeing him in this mode makes me feel so much more open to the idea. I can picture it now, the day to day life. I see it.

I see my future with him.

But it’s the past that continues to haunt me.

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