It Starts With Us (It Ends with Us #2) (8 page)

BOOK: It Starts With Us (It Ends with Us #2)
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My throat is so thick with burgeoning tears, I can’t even verbally respond to what I just read. I set the phone on my leg and wipe at my eyes. I hate that he’s driving right now, because if we were parked, I’d throw my arms around him and hug him tighter than he’s ever been hugged. I’d probably kiss him, too, and pull him into the backseat, because no one has ever said such heartbreakingly sad things in such a sweet way to me before.

Atlas reaches across the seat and grabs his phone. He drops it back into the cupholder, but then he reaches for my hand. He threads his fingers through mine and squeezes my hand while staring straight ahead. That move causes a commotion in my chest. I wrap my other hand over the top of his, and holding hands like this reminds me of all the bus rides when we’d just sit in silence, sad and cold, holding on to each other.

I stare out the window, and he stares straight ahead, and neither of us says a word on our drive back to the city.

We stop and grab to-go burgers just two miles from my flower shop. Atlas knows I don’t want Emerson to be up too far past her bedtime, so we eat in the parking lot of Lily Bloom’s. Our conversation since getting back into the city and ordering burgers has been much lighter. It isn’t lost on me that I’m not mortified anymore. Him being vulnerable with me seemed to be the reset button I needed for our date to get back on track.

We’ve been discussing all the places we’ve traveled. He has me beat by a long shot, considering the time he spent in the Marines. He’s been to five different countries, and the only place I’ve been outside of the country is Canada.

“You’ve never even been to Mexico?” Atlas asks.

I wipe my mouth with a napkin. “Never.”

“Did you and Ryle not have a honeymoon?”

Ugh. I hate the sound of his name in the middle of this date. “No, we eloped in Vegas. Didn’t have time for a honeymoon.”

Atlas takes a sip of his drink. When he looks at me, his eyes are piercing, like he’s hoping to unpack the thoughts I’m not saying. “Did you want a wedding?”

I shrug. “I don’t know. I knew Ryle never wanted to get married, so when he said we should go to Vegas and get married, I saw it as a window of opportunity that might close. I guess I felt like eloping was better than not marrying him at all.”

“What if you get married again? You think you’ll do it differently?”

I laugh at that question, and nod immediately. “Absolutely. I want it all. Flowers and bridesmaids and shit.” I pop a fry into my mouth. “And romantic vows, and an even more romantic honeymoon.”

“Where would you go?”

“Paris. Rome. London. I have no desire to sit on a hot beach somewhere. I want to see all the romantic places in Europe and make love in every city and take pictures kissing in front of the Eiffel Tower. I want to eat croissants and hold hands on trains.” I drop my empty container of fries into the sack. “What about you?”

Atlas reaches for my free hand, and he holds it. He doesn’t answer me. He just smiles at me and squeezes my hand, like what he wants is a secret that’s too soon to spill.

Holding his hand feels like such a natural thing. Maybe because we used to do this so much as teenagers, but sitting in this car with him and
holding his hand feels more out of place than holding hands does.

Even with the hitch I put into our date by falling asleep, the entire night has felt easy and comfortable. Being near him is second nature. I trace a finger over the top of his wrist. “I need to go.”

“I know,” he says, rubbing his thumb over mine. Atlas’s phone pings, so he reaches for it with his free hand and reads the incoming text. He sighs quietly, and the way he drops his phone back into the cupholder makes me think he’s irritated with whoever just texted him.

“Everything okay?”

Atlas forces a smile, but it’s a pathetic attempt. I see right through it, and he knows it. He breaks eye contact and looks
down at our hands. He flips mine over until it’s faceup, and he begins to trace the lines in my palm. His finger feels like a lightning rod, zapping electricity from my hand throughout the rest of my body. “My mother called me last week.”

That confession takes me aback. “What did she want?”

“I don’t know, I ended the call before she could tell me, but I’m pretty sure she needs money.”

I thread our hands together again. I don’t know what to say to him. That has to be hard, not hearing from your mother for almost fifteen years, and then she finally reaches out when she needs something. It makes me so grateful that my mother is a huge part of my life.

“I didn’t mean to drop that on you when you’re in a hurry. We should save some conversation for our second date.” He smiles at me, and it instantly flips the mood. It’s remarkable how his smile can dictate the feelings occurring inside my own chest. “Come on, I’ll walk you to your car.”

I laugh because my car is literally two feet away. But Atlas rushes around the front of his car and opens my door, then helps me out. And then, with one step each, we’re at my car.

“Fun walk,” I tease.

He flashes a brief smile, and I don’t know if he means for it to be seductive, but I’m suddenly warm all over, despite the cold weather. Atlas peeks over my shoulder, nudging his head toward my car. “Do you have more journals in there?”

“Just had the one on me.”

“Shame,” he says. He leans a shoulder against my car, so I do the same, facing him.

I have no idea if we’re about to kiss. I wouldn’t object,
but I also just ate onions after sleeping for over an hour, so I doubt my mouth is at its most appealing right now.

“Do I get a redo?” I ask.

“A redo of what?”

“This date. I’d like to be awake for the next one.”

Atlas laughs, but then his laugh dissipates. He stares at me for a beat. “I forgot how fun it is being around you.”

His words confuse me because
is not what I would call our time together back then. It was sad, at best. “You think those times were fun?”

He lifts a shoulder in a half shrug. “I mean, it was the lowest point of my life, sure. But my memories with you from back then are still some of my favorites.”

His compliment makes me blush. I’m glad it’s dark.

But he’s right. It was a low point in both of our lives, but being with him was still somehow the highlight of my teenage years. I guess
is the perfect way to describe what we made of it. And if we somehow had fun together at such a low point in both of our lives, it makes me wonder what we could be like at our highest.

It’s the exact opposite of the thoughts I had about Ryle last week. I’ve experienced the lowest of lows with Atlas, and he has never been anything but incredible and respectful to me. Yet, the man I chose to be my husband somehow disrespected me in ways no one deserves… all while we were at such a high point in our lives.

I’m grateful for Atlas because I know he’s the standard I now hold people to. He’s the standard I should have held Ryle to from the very beginning.

There’s a convenient gust of cold air that sweeps between
us. It would be the perfect excuse for Atlas to pull me to him, but he doesn’t. Instead, the quietness builds between us until there’s only one thing left to do. Either kiss or say goodnight.

Atlas brushes a strand of my hair from my forehead. “I’m not going to kiss you yet.”

I hope my disappointment isn’t obvious, but I know it is. I practically deflate in front of him. “Is it my punishment for falling asleep?”

“Of course not. I’m just feeling inferior after reading about our first kiss.”

I sputter laughter. “Inferior to
? Yourself?”

He nods. “Teenage Atlas through your eyes was quite the charmer.”

“So is adult Atlas.”

He groans a little, like he already wants to change his mind about the kiss. The groan makes things feel a little more serious. He moves fluidly away from the car until he’s standing right in front of me. I press my back against my car door and look up at him, hoping he’s about to kiss the hell out of me.

“Also, you asked me to take things slow, so…”

Dammit. I did do that.
I said
slow, if I remember correctly.
I hate myself.

Atlas leans forward, and I close my eyes. I feel his breath scattering across my cheek right before he presses a quick kiss against the side of my head. “Goodnight, Lily.”


Why did I say “okay”? I’m so flustered.

Atlas laughs softly. When I open my eyes, he’s backing away from me, heading to the driver’s side of his car. Before
he leaves, he rests his arm on the roof of the car and says, “I hope you get some sleep tonight.”

I nod, but I don’t know if that’s going to be possible. I feel like every bit of caffeine I’ve consumed today has just kicked in all at once. I won’t be able to sleep after this date. I’m going to be thinking about the letter he let me read. And when I’m not thinking about that, I’m going to be replaying our first kiss in my head all night long, wondering what part two is going to feel like.

Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…

The familiar sounds of
Finding Nemo
are coming from Allysa and Marshall’s living room when I open the door to their apartment.

When I pass by the kitchen, Marshall is standing in front of the refrigerator with both doors wide open. He nods a greeting, and I wave, but I don’t make small talk with him because I’m aching to hug Emerson.

When I enter the living room, I’m shocked to find Ryle on the sofa. He didn’t mention he would be off work tonight. Emerson is asleep on his chest, and Allysa is nowhere around.


Ryle doesn’t look up to greet me, but he doesn’t have to look up for me to know something is bothering him. I can see the firm set of his jaw—a dead giveaway that he’s angry. I want to pick up Emerson, but she looks peaceful, so I leave her on Ryle’s chest. “How long has she been asleep?”

Ryle is still staring at the television, one of his hands
protectively on Emmy’s back, the other behind his head. “Since this movie started.”

I recognize the scene, which lets me know it’s been about an hour.

Allysa finally walks into the room, breathing life into it. “Hey, Lily. I’m sorry she’s asleep; we tried so hard to keep her awake.” We give each other a two-second glance. She silently apologizes that Ryle is here. I silently tell her it’s okay. They’re siblings—I can’t expect him not to show up when he knows she’s babysitting his daughter.

Ryle motions for Allysa. “Can you put Emerson on her pallet? I need to talk to Lily.”

The curtness in his voice alarms both me and Allysa. We give each other another look as she pries Emerson off Ryle’s chest. The ache to hold her only grows wider as Allysa lays her on the pallet.

Ryle stands up, and for the first time since I walked in, he makes eye contact with me. He gives me a once-over, noticing the outfit and the heels I’m wearing. I can see the slow roll of his throat. He nudges his head upward, indicating he wants to speak to me on the rooftop balcony.

Whatever conversation this is, he wants complete privacy.

He exits the apartment to head to the roof, and I look toward Allysa for guidance. Once Ryle is out of earshot, she says, “I told him you had an event tonight.”

“Thanks.” Allysa swore she wouldn’t tell Ryle about my date, but I can’t figure out why he’s so angry if he doesn’t know where I’ve been. “Why is he upset?”

Allysa shrugs. “No idea. He seemed fine when he showed up an hour ago.”

I know better than anyone how Ryle can seem fine one second and absolutely the opposite of fine the next. But I usually know what’s setting him off.

Did he find out I went on a date?
Did he find out it was with Atlas?

Once I’m on the roof, I locate Ryle leaning over the ledge, looking down. My stomach is already in knots. My heels click against the floor as I make my way over to him.

Ryle glances at me briefly. “You look…
.” He says it in a way that makes it seem like an insult rather than a compliment. Or maybe that’s just my guilt.

“Thank you.” I lean against the ledge, waiting for him to speak up about whatever is bothering him.

“Did you just get back from a date?”

“I had an event.” I go along with Allysa’s lie. There’s no point in being honest with him, because it’s too soon to know if this thing with Atlas is going anywhere yet, and the truth would only upset Ryle more. I press my back against the ledge and fold my arms over my chest. “What is it, Ryle?”

He waits a beat before he finally speaks. “I’ve never seen that cartoon before tonight.”

Is he just trying to make small talk or is he angry about something? I’m confused by this whole conversation.

Until I’m not.

I swear, I can be such an idiot sometimes.
Of course he’s upset.
He once read all my journal entries. He knows how much that movie means to me after having read everything I wrote about it, but I guess now that he’s finally seen it, he’s connected the dots. And by the looks of it, he’s added some dots of his own.

He turns now, facing me with an expression full of betrayal. “You named our daughter
?” He takes a step closer. “You chose my daughter’s middle name because of your connection with
that man

I feel an immediate pulsing in my temples.
That man.
I break eye contact with him while I think of how to properly communicate this. When I chose the name Dory as Emerson’s middle name, I didn’t do it for Atlas. That movie meant something to me long before Atlas came into the picture, but I probably should have thought twice about it before going through with naming her that.

I clear my throat, making room for the truth. “I chose that name because the character inspired me when I was younger. It had nothing to do with anyone else.”

Ryle releases an exasperated, disappointed laugh. “You’re a real piece of work, Lily.”

I want to argue with him, to further prove my point, but I’m getting nervous. His demeanor is bringing back every fear of him I’ve ever held. I try to defuse the situation by escaping it.

BOOK: It Starts With Us (It Ends with Us #2)
2.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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