Frayed Page 72

’’Coming,’’ I call as I shuffle toward her. Turning the lock, I pull it open and see Dahlia\s shining face.

Her eyes sweep me from head to toe. ’’Hi, are you just getting up?’’ She sounds concerned. She pushes past me with a tray of coffees in one hand and a white pastry bag in the other. I step aside and cross my arms as she heads for the kitchen with determination. Today I can tell by the look on her face she\s on a mission and I\m having a hard time seeing the beauty that\s usually the first thing I notice about her.

I follow her. ’’Hi yourself. What brings you here on a workday?’’

She sets the cups and bag on the counter and pulls out a coffee, squinting to read the side. ’’Do I need a reason to visit?’’

I eye her suspiciously. ’’No, I guess not.’’ Although I know why she\s here.

’’Well, I\m going to meet Aerie for lunch and I thought . . .’’ She pauses, handing me a cup. ’’Here, this one is yours. Extra cream and sugar.’’

I smile and remove the lid. Happy to have this delicious treat in my hands, I slurp down a big gulp. ’’Ow . . . that\s hot.’’

She laughs. ’’It\s coffee, Bell. Of course it\s hot. You\ e supposed to sip it, not chug it.’’

’’I know but usually the cream makes it cold.’’

She traipses across the tile floor in her high-heel black boots.

’’You were saying?’’

She shrugs. ’’I don\ remember.’’ She opens a cupboard and takes a plate out a clear pink glass one. ’’Charlotte\s been to the flea market, I see,’’ she says, eyeing the plate.

’’Yep. Came by last weekend with a bag full of groceries, Tupperware, and a few Depression-era pieces.’’

’’It\s beautiful,’’ she says, opening the bag and setting some muffins on the dish.

’’Yeah, it is,’’ I agree.

Her eyes meet mine. ’’But you still don\ like it here.’’

I lift one shoulder in a shrug. ’’It\s fine.’’

’’Bell, move in with River and me until you find a place you like better. Jagger stayed with us and it was fine, fun even.’’

’’I appreciate it but I\ll be quitting Tate\s by the end of the year and then I\ll have a lot of time to figure out where I want to live. And besides, I could never live with my brother.’’

She scrunches her nose. ’’Why do you say that? He loves you.’’

’’Nothing bad, it\s just him and Xander are so overprotective as it is. I couldn\ imagine the third degree any date I brought home might get.’’

She giggles. ’’Yeah, that might be an issue.’’ She takes the plate and her cup over to the sofa and sets them down on the coffee table. Her eyes dart to the book on the glass surface and I can see what she clearly knows it is Ben\s favorite book. She pulls a leg up and tucks it under her other one. Turning toward me, she asks, ’’So, do you want to talk about it?’’

I sit next to her and take a muffin from the plate. My eyes search hers as I peel back the paper around it.

’’I talked to Aerie. She says Ben seems withdrawn but refuses to talk about it.’’ She sips her own coffee through the small hole in her lid.

’’You really should take the cover off. It\s much easier to drink.’’

Her lip curls up. ’’You really should stop avoiding the conversation and your family.’’

God, she\s observant too observant. I sigh as tears prickle my eyes and I can\ hold them back anymore. And as awkward as the face-to-face conversation will be, I decide to tell her some of the things I skipped over last night. Like how I ran into Ben during the summer and then again at his award ceremony. How I was attracted to him and tried to fight it. How he seemed to care about me. How my mother told me I owed him and myself the truth and I agreed with her. And finally how he left me standing alone at the restaurant when I told him about the baby.

She listens quietly without even flinching and surprisingly without judgment. When I finish she says, ’’Bell, Ben has always been reactive and a bit of an ass**le at times and you have to understand that\s who he is. Sometimes he just needs time alone.’’

’’Well, he\s got it,’’ I say. What I don\ tell her is he was out with some girl the very same night, not because she\d care but because I do.

’’Hey, listen to me. I know you\ e upset right now, but he\ll come around and when he does I just want you to be happy. And if he makes you happy I\m okay with it.’’

I sigh in relief that the thought of me with Ben doesn\ infuriate her, but also knowing there\s no future with Ben anyway. ’’So you don\ hate me for everything?’’ I finally ask.

Her eyes fill with protectiveness. ’’God no! I\m here for you whenever you need me. No matter what it is you want to talk about. Ben is a part of my past, but that doesn\ mean I don\ want what\s best for him. And if you think he\s what\s best for you, then, Bell, I support you.’’

In this moment I can\ possibly love her any more. I swipe my tears away. ’’Well, he\s not what\s best for me, that\s for sure.’’ I can\ say anything else as my throat tightens.

She frowns. ’’However you choose to resolve this, do it, because it\s what you really want. I hate to see you like this.’’

I nod. ’’I\m fine. Just a minor glitch but don\ worry, I\ll be back to normal soon.’’

She eyes me suspiciously. ’’Bell, did Ben tell you how old he was when his father died?’’

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