I get up to go to the door when the knock sounds again. “I’m coming,” I bark out and swing the door open. “What?” I say, and I’m not sure if it’s the whiskey or my imagination, but she’s standing there in front of me.
“I figured you needed a friend,” she says softly, and right then, my heart fills for the first time in forever. Her smile fills me; it makes almost everything okay.
“How did you know?” I ask her, moving aside to let her in.
“I didn’t,” she says softly as she looks around. “The kids left for the night, and I went into my room and I read the letter again. But this time, this fell out.” She takes the white envelope out with Hailey’s name on it. “Seems Eric wanted to say goodbye to her also.”
She turns around and notices the empty whiskey bottle. “Am I crashing a party?” she asks, and I don’t know why, but I tell her.
“Seven years today, Frankie died,” I say and then go to the couch and she follows me.
“Do you have another bottle somewhere?” she asks me, and I actually smile. “In the kitchen.”
She gets up, and I follow her the whole way. She’s wearing jeans and a sweater, nothing sexy, but she oozes class. She comes back with it and pours a shot in the glass and hands it to me “To a great, great woman.” When she holds the bottle up, we click the bottle to the glass, and she takes a pull while I swallow the shot. She hisses. “That’s fucking awful,” she says, coughing, and I laugh while she pours another shot. I raise it to my mouth, but she doesn’t join me.
“How did you know where I lived?” I ask her.
“I didn’t. I went to the firehouse I found online. They gave me your address,” she tells me and smiles. “FYI, they think I’m a stripper gram.”
I burst out laughing, smacking my leg. “No way.”
“I had to make it believable.” She laughs as I swallow another shot. My vision starts to get foggy.
“I promised her I would fall in love,” I say, looking at her sitting on my couch. “I lied.”
“You’ll fall in love again. I know it,” she tells me, smiling with tears in her eyes. “Anyone would be lucky to be loved by you,” she says, crouching down next to me and looking straight into my eyes.
“I can’t love anyone. I’m broken,” I tell her the truth. “Half of me is broken.”
“What if you find someone who is just as broken as you are and”—she swallows, and her hand comes to my face as she cups my cheek in her hand—“together, you’re whole.”
My hand moves on its own, brushing the hair from her face. “I would be so lucky,” I whisper, and then my eyes close, and the darkness finally finds me.
I don’t know what I was thinking. Fuck, I wasn’t thinking. When the girls left, I went to my room and remembered the white envelope stuck in with the letter from Eric. When I pulled it out, I was in shock that he left Hailey a letter. I immediately called Blake, but he didn’t answer. I knew he wasn’t at work, and when he spent most of the day radio silent and then didn’t answer my texts, I got worried, so I decided to take a drive. Was it my smartest moment? Obviously not. When I walked into the fire station, the eyebrows all raised when I asked if he was around. I joked around, saying I was his stripper, and one of the guys finally gave me his address.
When I knocked on the door, all the drapes were closed, but his truck was in the driveway. When he opened the door, the glaze in his eyes was apparent, and so was the shock of seeing me. I had no idea today was the anniversary of Frankie’s death.
He’s suffered all by himself; the big man with the biggest heart I’ve ever seen suffered by himself all day long. So I sat with him shot after shot until he passed out. But not before he told me he could never love again. Not before my heart broke for him and with him.
I close the door softly behind me as I walk down the steps to my car. I hold the tears in until I sit in my car and head toward my house. Our conversation plays over and over in my head for two and a half hours. When I finally roll home, I don’t bother to turn on the lights. I just walk to my bedroom and kick off my clothes, the first tear finally falling. Of course, I went and fell in love with a broken man who could never love me back.