I didn’t believe a word Georgina had said.
She’d gotten her test results back and she was okay, and her reaction was to end our relationship? No. It couldn’t be true.
I heard the tremble in her voice when she told me she was only using me for her list, that she was done with that and wanted to move on. She’d never been a good liar. And I clung fiercely to the thought that she cared about me as much as I cared about her.
And yeah, maybe I should let her go. Regardless of those test results, I could still lose her to tragedy. Losing someone I loved once should have taught me some kind of lesson, but clearly, I was a slow learner. Or maybe I had learned. I’d learned that tragedy could strike anybody, at any time, and we should go after what we wanted anyway.
What I wanted was Georgina.
I had a plan.
A gusty wind blew through my hair, cooling the sweat on my neck and forehead as I hesitated on the doorstep. I probably looked as pale as the white stucco walls, nervous and unsure of how I was going to get what I had come for.
I knocked hard on the aged wood.
Georgina’s dad opened the door, and stood before me, his eyes red raw under his bushy brows, and tears glossy on his cheeks.
I averted my eyes. “Sorry. I can, er, come back another time …”
“Something wrong with the sight of a man crying?” Tom challenged. I looked up and he caught my gaze, unflinching and direct.
“No. I just don’t want to bother you, if you’re going through something right now.”
Tom waved a hand and I smelled garlic and smoky whiskey waft from him. “When in life aren’t we going through something?”
He pushed the door wider, an invitation to me. I took a slow step forward, feeling like an intruder. “Are you okay?”
“I’m all right. It’s just hard … It’s always hard, this kind of pain and loss.”
My heart clenched. I hadn’t heard from Georgina for days—had something happened to her? Fear raced through me. “I thought the results weren’t—”
“No, no. The accident, and Julie. Her poor family.” Tom sniffed, shaking his head.
My blood chilled and ice trickled down my spine. “What happened to Julie?”
Before I knew it, I was sitting on the back step, staring at the purple flowering lasiandra tree, beer in hand. Tom sobbed into his beer beside me.
“Julie.” I said her name again, unable to believe she was gone. I’d only met her for a brief moment, but she’d made an impression. Tears swelled and dropped from my eyes. Fuck life, fuck this pain. I felt like swearing and screaming at the sky, but wanted Georgina’s dad to think I was a decent bloke. I said the only other thing I could say. “It’s not fair.”
And Georgina … she’d been in a car accident? Her roommate had been killed? And I couldn’t be there for her. God, she must have been in the hospital when she called. She didn’t even tell me. A sob tore hoarsely from my throat. I sniffed and wiped my eyes with the back of my forearm and took a long scull of beer. Tom patted my back, almost in time with his own short, hiccupping sobs.
It was refreshing, cathartic, to see him cry, to be able to cry like this with someone, with another man. My own father wasn’t so forgiving about this sort of display of emotion. Just one more reason I’d been happy to leave him and my country far behind. Tom wasn’t that kind of man though. There was nothing toxic about his relationship with emotions. I let everything out, my tears splashed on the mosaic tiled stairs and dripped into my mouth, mixing salt with the bitterness of the beer.
All the pent-up despair, guilt, and grief I’d locked away when Seyvia died rushed out of me. Tom must have thought I knew Julie really well, for how I cried. But I cried for Seyvia, and I cried for Georgina, and I cried for myself, and I cried for the pain and unfairness of life and how I still longed for this amazing, messy existence regardless.
“How do you do it?” I asked softly. “How do you deal? With everything you’ve lost?”
Tom put his beer down and picked up one of the purple petals that had fallen from the tree—the tree that had been planted in memorial for his wife. He held it delicately in his fingers as though it were a lock of his wife’s hair. “When the heart is pierced by pain, it doesn’t die. Those holes expand like a net and the heart grows even larger. It’s more fragile, but able to carry more … more love, more grief, more life. Enough to carry those you’ve lost and the hurt their absence causes.”
I stared at the yard, carpeted in those purple petals. My head bobbed, nodding as though it agreed before I could fully process the thought myself. My heart had grown larger. I had tried to deny it, pretending I had no grief to carry at all, but then Georgina had come into my life and filled me so fully with love that I found I did have room for it all. And I wanted it all. I wanted her.
“Georgina dumped me,” I admitted.
“I know,” Tom said.
I raised my eyebrows at him, wondering why he’d let his daughter’s ex in for this weepy heart-to-heart. Maybe he’d needed it too.
“Georgie told me she wouldn’t be seeing you anymore. She seemed upset about it. You better not have hurt her. I try to be the good feminist dad and not her relationship police, but she’s my little girl and she’s been through enough.”
Fire and pain flared in his eyes, extinguished by a raw vulnerability. The desperate hope I hadn’t hurt his daughter.
I wanted to tell him I hadn’t. But we had hurt each other a fair bit just by being in each other’s lives, when there was so much other pain to deal with. She’d hurt me as she dealt with the fear that her cancer had returned, and I’d hurt her as all my feelings of loss from Seyvia had resurfaced. The mess our relationship had become was more due to me finally dealing with that sadness than it was to do with Georgina.
“I didn’t do anything to her. But it was a hard time, and I think everything became too hard, too confusing. And she called things off.”
“Pity. I thought you kids were good for each other. Georgie’s really come out of her shell for the first time since her cancer treatment.”
Damn, it felt weird hearing him say it. Cancer. The word Georgina and I had done everything to avoid saying, or facing.
Tom must have read the surprise on my face. “I didn’t just out my daughter, did I?”
“No. No, I knew. She didn’t want to talk about any of it though. I can understand why.” My beer had gone warm, just one last mouthful left in the bottom of the bottle which I swirled around. Talking about this was hard, and I wanted to just let it go, but I had a mission. “Did she make, you know, some kind of list back then? Like a bucket list?”
Tom wiped fresh tears from eyes which gazed far into the distance. “Yeah, I think so. Between finding the lump and getting the results. Not that she did anything with it. She went into treatment so fast, and it really hit her hard. She was one of the youngest cases the doctors had seen, just a kid.”
I nodded, my heartrate increasing as my theory was confirmed. I kept my voice as casual as I could. “Do you know what was on it?”
“Nah, she kept it private, in one of her journals.” Tom shrugged. “Why do you think she made a list last time? Did she make one this time?”
I choked, and threw back the last mouthful of beer despite it being warm and flat. “Just curious. Thought it might be the kind of thing people did in that situation.”
“You’re still awfully interested in her.”
I put my hand on my chest and looked at him with every bit of sincerity I could muster between the beers and the tears. “I think I’m in love with your daughter. I’m hoping to win her back. I want you to know that.”
Tom laughed at me. It was full of ridicule and kindness and pity. He was a good person, and it showed. I only hoped I could be that kind of man, who could still be so positive after the life he’d lived. “Look, kid. If she doesn’t want you then she doesn’t want you. You just have to deal with that. I don’t want to hear about you turning into a stalker. But I like you. Figure you deserve one more chance. Just the one, hear me?” He slapped me on the shoulder. “You know her past, and you know her future isn’t certain. I need to know that my daughter won’t get hurt if you decide this isn’t the life for you after all. If you win her back, that is. I need to know you’re sure this is what you want, for the long term.”
I didn’t even hesitate. “I am.”
“So, did you just come around here to tell me that, or are you after a meal? I cooked a whole crockpot of beef stew and damn, if I don’t have anyone to eat it with me. You should know I put a full bottle of whiskey in it, so if you can’t handle that you should probably stick to bread and butter.”
I laughed. “It would take more than the threat of a hangover to stop me from eating one of your meals.”
“I swear I don’t normally drink this much.” Tom became serious for a moment. “But it makes the waiting easier.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant by ‘waiting,’ but I nodded, tipsy from the beer and fog of emotions.
I excused myself to the bathroom, telling Tom I wanted a few minutes to compose myself so I could help him out in the kitchen. He nodded and said he’d work out something for us for dessert and went to do that.
And I snuck off to find Georgina’s childhood bedroom.