Mending Heart

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Chapter 30

Secrets and Revelations

“There is no need to know the reason why everything happens the way it does. We never question the good, so we musn’t question the bad. Just trust that what’s meant to be happen, did, for a reason, and keep moving on.” – Kylie Francis


“Get up!” I chucked Ethan’s shirt at him. He was currently laying on the bed, arms folded behind his head, and a sheet draped over his waist.

“Come back to bed.” He pouted, cracking open one eye to take in my reaction.

“I am not coming back to bed!” I exclaimed. “There are five people upstairs waiting on cake – one of whom happens to be pregnant, and I honestly wouldn’t put it past her to come looking for us soon.”

“The cake is on the counter.” He lazily replied, finally getting off the bed and reaching for his boxers.

“How are they supposed to know that?” I scoffed, pulling the zipper of my dress as far up as I possibly could on my own. “Help.”

Ethan walked over to me and placed his hands on my waist. Tilting his head down, I felt his hot breath tickle my earlobe. “You’re no fun.” His actions heated my skin and quickened my heartbeat. Then, he slowly slid the zipper on the back of my dress all the way up before bending down to pick up his discarded clothes.

“That’s not what you were saying ten minutes ago,” I smirked over my shoulder as I slipped past him and into the bathroom. Although my hair was more frazzled than it was when I arrived and my lipstick was smudged, nothing else seemed out of place.

Maybe, just maybe no one would notice.

Who was I kidding? Of course, they were going to notice. We had been gone for more than thirty minutes. It wasn’t going to take a genius to figure out what we were up to.

With one last glance in the mirror, I walked back into the bedroom to find Ethan leaning against the door frame, waiting for me. “If anyone asks what took so long, just tell them some of the frosting fell apart and we had to re-frost the cake,” I said, my lame attempt at trying to find a reasonable explanation for our absence.

“Right –” He laughed, pulling the door shut behind him. “Like anyone is actually going to believe that.”

“Doesn’t matter if they believe it.” I scoffed. “I’m not just going to admit we snuck downstairs to have sex! My sister is up there!”

“Whatever you say, Cupcake.” He laughed, and I felt him playfully slap my ass as I walked up the stairs.

I knew I shouldn’t have gone in front of him, I thought.

When the two of us walked back into the dining room, every single head turned to look at us. Sara had her arms folded across her chest and she was scowling. Adam, my sister, and Ashely shared a knowing look. Meanwhile, Jason was oblivious to the entire situation.

There was no doubt in my mind that they all knew why we took so long to come back, and I felt my face heat up a thousand degrees under their scrutinizing gaze.

“If I’m ever in the hospital dying,” Sara growled, shooting daggers at Ethan. “You are definitely not going to be my first call.”

“Please,” Ethan scoffed and rolled his eyes. “You know I’d be there in a heartbeat.”

It was Sara’s turn to roll her eyes. It looked like she was going to say something else, but when Ethan placed a slice of cake in front of her, she closed her mouth and picked up a clean fork.

“All is better with the world again,” Ethan mumbled, draping his arm over the back of my chair. It was an oddly comforting gesture, and I felt myself relaxing into the back of my seat.

After dinner, I helped Ashley clear the table with some heavy protests from Ethan. It was only after Ashley threatened to spend the weekend if he didn’t go away, that Ethan eventually left us alone.

“So, you and my brother huh?” She smirked, stacking the plates together.

“Yeah, kinda,” I admitted placing the leftovers in the fridge.

“Don’t go jumping with excitement.” Ashley laughed.

“No, I’m sorry!” I shook my head. “I didn’t mean it like that. We’re just... we’re taking things slow.”

“Slow is good.” She nodded apprehensively. “But not slow enough not to sneak off during dessert.”

“I –” I felt my heart sink, and I tried to formulate a reply. Any reply. But no words came out.

“I’m just messing with you.” Ashely laughed, a huge grin spread across her face. “Honestly, it’s nice to see Ethan with someone other than that witch Stacy.”

At the mention of Stacy, my face involuntarily scrunched up. “I take it you’ve met her?” Ashley asked.

“You could say that.” I nodded, grimacing at the reminder of that day.

Then, Ashley threw her head back and burst out laughing. A deep, heartfelt laugh that was too intoxicating for me not to laugh as well. “Girl, none of us liked her! Well, maybe except my dad but that’s a different story altogether.” She said in between giggles.

After Ashley and I finished cleaning up, we went back out into the living room where everyone was already in the middle of a very serious game of charades. It was Adam’s turn, and he was walking in place with a goofy smile on his face. Ethan and Zoey were both calling out various movie names, one yelling louder than the other.

I think Zoey might have found her competition, I thought. Ethan was just as competitive as my sister, if not more so.

.......

After an hour of charades and laughing our asses off at Ethan and Adam’s acting skills, the six of us were all lounging around.

“So where did you go to college, Kenzie?” Sara asked me. In the short time I had known her, I discovered that Sara was one of these sweetest and most caring people you will ever meet – unless you’re Adam, in which case, she’ll throw shady comments your way left and right.

“I went to Loyola, here in Chicago,” I replied, lifting the wine glass to my lips and taking a sip. I wasn’t the best or the brightest student back in high school, so any ivy league university was out of the question for me.

“That’s so cool.” She smiled. “I didn’t think I would like Chicago so much, but I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else now.”

“None of you guys grew up here, right?” Zoey asked from where she was sitting on the floor nursing a soda. I told her she could have some wine if she wanted to, but of course, being the responsible sister she said no.

“Nope,” Ashley replied. “Ethan, Adam, and I grew up in New York together before we all went our separate ways.”

“I grew up in Florida, but went to school with Ethan in Philadelphia,” Sara said, the corner of her lips tugging upward in a smile. “And the rest is one big ass adventure.” Adventure would be an understatement, I thought, my mind drifting to some of their earlier stories.

“Man, I remember some of those frat parties we used to go to at U Penn. Them ivy league frat boys knew how to party.” Adam chuckled, shaking his head at the memory. When Sara cocked an eyebrow in his direction, he quickly tried to cover his laugh with a cough.

“Whenever Adam was home from deployment, he’s come up to Philadelphia,” Ethan explained. His hand was loosely snaked around my waist, and the two of us were sitting next to each other on the loveseat. “At first it was to see me but once he laid eyes on Sara, I was irrelevant.”

Adam tried denying it, but he couldn’t keep a straight face and in the end, ended up admitting Ethan was right.

I guess true love does exist for some people.

“God, I can’t believe it’s been so long since all of us graduated.” Ashley groaned. “I feel old.”

“You’re younger than almost everyone here.” I laughed. She was only twenty-six, making her the youngest besides Zoey.

If anyone was old, it was me. In a few weeks, I would be turning twenty-nine, officially entering the last year of my twenties.

And what do I have to show for it? A divorce and a sabbatical.

“College does feel like forever ago.” Ethan agreed, turning his gaze to Sara. “Do you still talk to anyone from our year?”

“I keep in touch with a few girls, but almost everyone went about their own business after graduation.” She shrugged. “Let’s be honest, a lot of those people went to college to say they went to college. They’re probably still living off their trust funds.”

Rich people problems, I thought.

After some more back and forth between everyone, Adam said something that caught my attention.

“Man, everyone thought you and Aisha were it,” Adam said, taking a swing of his beer. I felt Ethan stiffen next to me, and from the corner of my eye I saw something flash across his face, but it was gone as soon as it appeared.

“But you’re pretty cool Kenzie.” Adam quickly added after Sara elbowed him in the ribs.

“Thanks – ” I chuckled, my eyes scanning the room. It seemed like everyone except Zoey and I had tensed at the name, and I couldn’t help but wonder why. “I think?”

Zoey and I exchanged a look across the room, no one knowing what to say next. It’s as if the temperature had dropped ten degrees in there.

“Right –” Adam cleared his throat, slapping his hands against his knees. “Um... who wants to play another round of charades?”

Everyone eagerly nodded, scrambling to make room. Meanwhile, from the corner of my eye, I saw Ethan’s eyes were glued to the coffee table in front of us and his eyebrows bunched.

Ethan P.O.V

The past always had a way of catching up with you, no matter how hard you tried to make it go away.

I wish I could say I was surprised by McKenzie’s question, but I wasn’t. I should have known it was coming the moment Aisha’s name slipped out of Adam’s mouth.

He’s been my best friend for years, but sometimes he doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.

“So,” McKenzie twisted in her seat, the couch cushions shifting under her weight. Jason and Adam had gone down to the basement to play pool, and Ashley, Sara, and Zoey were huddled up trying to pick a movie to watch. “Can I ask who Aisha is?”

A dry smile made its way onto my face. “You caught that, did you?”

“I did.” She nodded, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth with hesitance the way she always did when she was nervous.

“Come on.” I stood up and held my hand out for her to take. I could see the hesitance on her face at first, but she pushed herself off the couch and placed her hand in mine. I led her through the kitchen and out to the patio, grabbing a couple of blankets on the way out.

Aisha was... Aisha.

She was sweet, funny, ambitious. She lit up every room she walked into, and she made me into the person I was today.

If I hadn’t met her, my future would have looked a lot different than it does now.

“Aisha’s an old girlfriend from back in college,” I admitted, handing McKenzie one of the blankets. The crisp November chill had made a permanent stay, and the wind was whipping through the trees.

McKenzie nodded, wrapping the gray blanket around herself before taking a seat in front of the fire pit. She refused to meet my gaze, and the action didn’t go unnoticed by me. “What happened?” She eventually asked, her eyes briefly landing on mine.

“She died,” I said, leaning back on the cushioned patio furniture and closing my eyes.

After a brief pause, I heard McKenzie ask softly, “How?”

“Car accident.” I sighed, keeping my eyes shut. “She was driving home after a party. The two of us had just gotten in a fight, and she said she wanted to go home. I was pretty shit-faced and in no condition to drive. I told her to just wait until I sobered up because I would take her home, but she was really pissed. She stormed out of the party, and ended up calling a cab to take her home.”

“The next morning when I stopped by her apartment, she wasn’t there. Some idiot fell asleep at the wheel and ran straight into the side of the cab.” I continued.

“Did she...” McKenzie trailed off, and I cracked an eye open to look at her.

“She didn’t die on impact. They rushed her to the hospital and she was in surgery for I don’t even know how long. When the doctor did finally come out, he said there was too much brain swelling and that the chances of her waking up were almost non-existent.” I lowered my eyes to the ground, an uneasy feeling twisting in my insides.

McKenzie looked like she was going to say something, but when she didn’t, I continued. “Her parents didn’t want to pull the plug at first, but it’s what she would have wanted. She was an organ donor and everything – she ended up saving a lot of people that day. She was truly what was good in this world.”

“I’m sorry Ethan.” She said softly, placing her hand on my arm and giving it a light squeeze. When I finally looked into her eyes, they were glassy with tears and she was biting her bottom lip.

“Hey,” My hand touched her cheek and I used my thumb to wipe the tears that had started falling. “It’s okay.”

“I – I can’t.. even imagine... go-going through... something lik – like that.” She choked back another sob and used the corner of the blanket to wipe her eyes.

“It was a long time ago.” I shrugged, pulling my hand back so I could reach for the pack of cigarettes I kept in my pocket. I could feel a migraine coming on.

A self-inflicted migraine.

We sat in silence until McKenzie spoke again. “How long were you two together for?”

“A year and a half.” I brought the cigarette to my lips and took a long drag, holding in the smoke for longer than usual. Then, when I exhaled, a cloud of gray smoke swirled around us. “She was the first girl I ever loved, and I was too stupid to realize that back then.”

“What do you mean?” She asked, her eyebrows furrowed together.

“I was a different person back then, McKenzie.” I took one last drag before reaching past her and stubbing the cigarette in the empty ashtray. “I was entitled, and careless. I was going to college just for the heck of it – I didn’t care about what the future held because I was one of those frat boys that had a trust fund to live off of when I graduated. If I had been more responsible and not such a dick, Aisha may still have been alive today.”

“Oh...” She nodded slowly, taking in my words.

“After her funeral... after everything that happened... I changed my whole outlook on life.” I exhaled slowly, running a hand through my hair. “I stopped going to all those parties, I started taking school more seriously, and I told my father I wanted an active role in the company. I grew up, and all it took was for her to die.”

McKenzie’s eyes softened and she tilted her head back. “Ethan that’s not true. You couldn’t have stopped what happened. God forbid if you were in that car with her, both of you might not have made it.”

“That’s the thing,” I scoffed, meeting her gaze. “I could have gone looking for her after she stormed off. I could have been less of a dick that night. But instead, what did I do? I continued drinking until I passed out and woke up the next morning with my memory of the night before fuzzy.”

I expected McKenzie to run away after hearing all of that, but she was still here. Her head was tilted back as she waited for me to continue, and her hand had not left my arm as she rubbed soothing circles against the fabric of my sweater.

All of which was a good sign, I guess.

“You can’t keep blaming yourself for the past.” She finally said before scooching closer to me and wrapping her arms around my neck. Then, I felt her warm breath tickle my ear. “She wouldn’t have wanted that.”

I couldn’t help but crack a smile at that because McKenzie was spot on. Aisha was the most selfless person I had ever met. If she were here right now, she’d tell me to stop feeling sorry for myself.

At first, I didn’t think I would have been able to move on, but Stacy came along during my senior year of college and pulled me out of the slump I was in. It took some time, but I eventually moved on and Aisha was just a distant memory in the back of my head. It took some time to get used to living with the guilt of that night.

If I could switch places with Aisha, I would do it in a heartbeat. Sometimes I’ll see things that remind me of her, and I’ll think about the what if.

Those days are just harder than most.

“You’re taking this unexpectantly well.” I pulled back from McKenzie’s hold and placed one hand on her lower back. Snaking my other hand to the back of her head, I leaned forward, pressing my lips to her cheek. I watched her face heat up with an adorable blush, and she leaned forward burying her face in the crook of my neck.

We stayed like that for a while listening to the wind gushing around us, until I heard McKenzie mumble against my shoulder. “Thank you for telling me.”

“Thank you for listening.” A smile made its way onto my lips as I looked down at her.

I had a feeling she and Aisha would have gotten along great.

_____________________________________________

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