Crystal comes in drained from work, grabbing a piece of pie and going up to her room. I make myself something quick and grab my laptop to eat outside on the swing, flipping through my emails and planning my day. I close it down and get up, making my way down to the beach. I love being so close to it, love that I get to breathe the salty air all the time. I wrap the knitted sweater around me and sit down, letting my mind clear.
It started as my therapy to purge Eric from my system, but now it’s more about finding out what I want for me. A dog barking makes me look down the beach. He runs to me, this time coming in to lick my face. “Flounder.” I push him away as he sits beside me, and I see Jensen walk toward me. His blue jeans torn at the thigh, his caramel-color sweater casual with a red t-shirt sticking out a bit from the bottom. His scruff still present as he walks to me smiling. He is so handsome, and he doesn’t even realize it.
“Shocking meeting you here,” he says as I look up and smile at his joke. “Mind if I join you?” I turn my wrist, my hand gesturing for him to have a seat.
“Where is Mila?” I ask as he looks at me. “Spending the night at Nana’s house. It’s her paint night, and Mila somehow convinced them she should be there.”
I laugh at the thought. “She is going to make a great lawyer one day.” I look at Flounder who sits right by our feet. “So how was your day?”
He nods his head. “It was good, busy. Spring is always a busy time. People coming out of hibernation. People changing things. People wanting a new house.” He puts his hand behind him and leans back, stretching out his legs. “What about you?”
“I finally got my email count down to zero.” I put my hands up in a cheering motion. “I took about a month off when Eric died, or maybe more, I don’t really remember much, but it feels good to get back.”
“How long were you married?” he asks.
“Six months, twenty-one days.” I smirk as he raises his eyebrows. “Not that I was counting. What about you?”
“Julia and I were together since we were in high school.” He looks at the water. “Isn’t that a cliché?”
I cross my legs. “Yes, but everyone has the dream to marry her high school sweetheart.” I smile.
“Then cheat on him,” he counters, laughing.
“Not the cheating part. Not everyone cheats.” I look at my fingers then look up. “So can I ask you a question?”
He looks at me confused. “That is a loaded question.”
“When did you wake up and not have the pain?”
“I can’t pinpoint it, but I think it’s still there, just lingering in the back. In the beginning, I would wake up every day with hatred for her, but then still long for her to come back.”
“Yeah, I’m at that stage now,” I tell him. “Lately, though, I don’t even want him to come back. I just want him gone, out of my mind.”
He laughs at me. “I burned all of Julia’s pictures,” he tells me. “Every single one of them. Except one.” He doesn’t say which one, and I don’t ask.
“When did you start dating again?” I think about the question and about how it’s not a question he needs to answer.
“Hailey, I live in a small town. A town that if I walked down the street with someone, it would probably be the town gossip for the month. I don’t date.”
I look at him in shock. “You don’t date?”
“Are you just talking about sex?” He laughs as he looks at me.
My mouth opens and closes. “Um …”
“Because if your asking that …” he starts, and I hold up my hand.
“NO,” I yell as I jump to my feet.
His hand comes out, and he grabs my hand, bringing me back down next to him. “Sit down.” He laughs as his hand still holds mine as sand gets between us.
“I don’t want to know that,” I say, pulling my hand away from his and brushing off the sand.
“There isn’t a set time for you to feel like yourself. There isn’t a right or wrong time for you to want to date. No one knows but you.”
I nod my head, thinking about what he is saying. “Thank you,” I tell him as I put my hands behind me and lean back, “for letting me stay in your house even though you hate it.”
“In all fairness, I had no choice.” He looks over as he leans back on his hands again, the heat of his hand so close to mine I feel it. “But you’re welcome.” I laugh at his words because it couldn’t be more right; no one gave him a chance to say no.