Every Little Thing

Page 22


“Laughing out of solidarity, homewrecker?”
Dana narrowed her exotically tipped eyes on me.
Stu smirked at her side. All of the Devlin men were good-looking bastards, none more so than Jack. Stu wasn’t as handsome as his little brother but he was tall with thick blond hair and a chiseled jaw. However, his dark eyes were empty and his well-formed lips had a cruel twist to them. “You’re looking a little stressed there, Bailey. Anything I can do to help?”
“Sterilization,” I quipped.
“My point exactly. Good-bye.” I wiggled my fingers at them, gesturing them to move along.
“Maybe you should think about moving your argument inside if you want privacy,” Dana sneered.
“And maybe you should consider a vow of silence if you want people to find you attractive again.”
Upon my last retort Devlin decided to lead Dana away, probably fearing we’d catfight and I’d do damage to her pretty face. And it wasn’t like I wasn’t tempted. I’d been tempted to scratch her eyes out since she destroyed Cooper’s friendship with Jack.
Tom stared at me in affection mingled with sadness.
“Sterilization?” he said.
I grinned. “Yeah, I’m kind of proud of that one.”
“God,” he breathed out, like he was in pain, “I miss you, Bails.”
“I miss you, too,” I said. “But I only miss my friend. Maybe if you got yourself together . . . maybe one day I won’t have to miss my friend.”
Hurt flared in his eyes. “Your friend?”
I glanced down at my feet, unable to see that hurt gaze without feeling guilt. “Look, Tom, we both know what this town is like and you don’t need their condemnation right now.” I brought my focus back to his face, hoping I could help him somehow. “Go to Philly, see your grandfather and the rest of your family. Spend that two-week suspension getting your life together. If things are so bad at work, then maybe you should search for another job. Start over somewhere else.”
“A new job would probably mean moving out of Hartwell.”
“You don’t know that yet, but if it does, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.”
“Bailey,” he said, hurt again.
I felt awful hurting his feelings but I was trying to be realistic. To me being real with him was helping him, even if it didn’t seem like it. I took his hands in mine and squeezed them. He gripped on tight. “The kindest thing I can say to you right now is please don’t have hope that I’ll change my mind about us. We’ll never be together again. Friends one day I hope, but never more than that.”
Tom huffed, and pulled his hands from mine, seeming winded by my words. “Cruel to be kind, huh?”
“My dad once told me that hope dies last of all and that it’s so powerful it can save people. But he also said that hope is the mistress of limbo, and many a life has been wasted because of it. Sometimes hope hurts more than it helps. You and me, we’re a case of sometimes.”
For a moment all he could do was stare at me, pained.
Finally, he gave me a small nod of understanding and walked away.
My chest ached for him, realizing that despite Tom cheating on me, I’d actually come out of the situation for the better while he struggled. I didn’t want him to struggle, despite his betrayal.
I just wanted us both to move on.
Needing to rid myself of the ache weighing me down, I slipped off my heels and strode down off the boardwalk and onto the beach. My feet sank into the sand, the dry grains slipping over my toes until I hit the shoreline and it turned cold and squishy. I threw my purse and shoes behind me, away from the tide, and began to strip off, my clothes finding a spot with the purse and shoes.
In nothing but my underwear, I walked into the water, sucking in a harsh breath as the waves splashed around me like liquid ice. I kept going, used to the temperature from years of night swimming, and began to swim so that my muscles would warm me up.
I grew quickly accustomed to the cold water as I swam along the coastline, staying close to shore. I turned back after a while, nearing my clothes again, and I stopped to float. Moonbeams danced on the top of the water around me. As I stared at the moon, I realized that like the hope holding Tom back, fear was holding me back.
I had to stop focusing on my age and what I didn’t have, and focus on what I did have. I had boundless energy and great friends. And despite what I thought, I did have time.
The ache in my chest began to ease off.
Yes, I was determined now.
My only course was to move on and see where starting over would take me.
“Why am I getting a call to see if we’ve changed our minds about selling the inn?” my dad said without preamble.
It was the day after my tranquil midnight swim and decision to make a go at this whole starting-over business. In an attempt to do just that I’d decided to hell with my control freakery. If I wanted to start dating, I needed a personal life. And in order to have a personal life I needed to learn to trust someone to be my inn manager.
I was in my office, in the middle of posting the manager position ad online, when my dad called.
“What are you talking about? Did Ian Devlin call you? I own the inn.”
“Along with your sister and brother. Something I reminded Ian.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah. Sure. They’re here every day to help out.”
“You know what I mean. Technically they are also part owners with you. But that’s beside the point. Devlin is concerned the inn is too much stress for you considering your recent breakup with Tom, and thought perhaps we, as good parents, were considering selling the place to ease your burden.”