Alex took the news better than expected. He was upset that Hope had kept such a huge secret from him, and that they’d gone behind his back for so long. He was also hurt that Paul had come back to town and not called him, but Hope couldn’t do anything about that.
She put Adam to bed at seven and set about cleaning the house. She picked up his toys and stashed them in the bins she kept around the room, the ones that were usually empty. The living room looked the same as it had the last time Paul had been in her life, something Hope suddenly felt embarrassed by. She wanted him to believe she was doing well, that she didn’t need him and didn’t miss him. She wanted to show him how great her life was.
It was all a fake.
With Alex out for the night and Adam sleeping, Hope had nothing to do but sit and wait. And worry. She’d gotten good at worrying since becoming a mom. Some days she felt like her only conscious thoughts were worrying about what could happen to Adam. Now, with Paul back, her fears centered around losing her son, even part of the time, to the man who’d left her when she needed him most.
When the doorbell finally rang Hope had chewed off all her fingernails. She jumped at the sound and rested a hand on her chest as she went to open the door.
Paul looked good. His dark hair was still wet, curled around his collar. On top was disheveled as though he’d been running his hands through it the entire drive. She knew he probably had and it made her feel better that he was just as nervous as she was.
Hope stepped back without a word to let him in. Paul stepped inside for the first time in five years and looked around. She wondered if he saw any of the things she saw when she looked around the room. Like the couch where they’d shared their first kiss. The door that he’d pressed her against after she went out with someone else and he admitted he wanted her all to himself. The kitchen where they’d made dinner more times than they could count. Or the bedroom where he’d taken her virginity and then some.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Paul asked.
Hope sat on a chair opposite the couch and gestured for him to sit across from her. He did. With her hands clasped in front of her, Hope began her story. “I found out after you’d left. I was 17 and didn’t know how to find you. Alex didn’t know where you’d gone and you changed your number. We had no way of getting in touch with you. I tried social media but couldn’t ever find you. There was no way for me to tell you.”
“I left because I knew Alex would kill me if he found out. I’d made a comment about how gorgeous you’d gotten and he nearly took my head off. I told me not to ever look at you again or he’d kill me. I knew I had to leave.”
Hope nodded. She understood. Five years was a long time to stay away but she’d decided years ago she wouldn’t ever see him again. She’d set her mind on getting over him. If he hadn’t left, they would have stayed together, she’d never doubted that. But Alex was very protective of her. It wasn’t a surprise that he threatened Paul.
“I’m sorry you had to find out how you did.”
“Would you have told me?”
Hope took a deep breath. “No. He’s my whole life. I can’t lose him. I don’t know what you’re hoping for, but please don’t take my son away from me.”
Her throat clogged with emotion and her eyes filled. She tried to blink them away but gave up when they streamed down her cheeks. Hope squeezed her eyes shut. She heard him move, rise from the couch and move toward her. He took her hands in his and wiped her cheeks with a finger. “Please don’t cry Hope. I could never handle it when you cried. God, honey, please, stop.”
Hope strained to stop the tears and finally managed to calm the terror in her chest and look into his eyes. He was so close, his crystal blue eyes peering deep into hers.
She wanted to believe what she saw in his gaze. It opened up a part of her that had been closed off since he left, but she wasn’t sure if she could trust it. Didn’t know if it was real.
Paul’s hand caressed her cheek and she leaned into it, unconsciously. “I left because I loved you. I left because I couldn’t have you, not the way I wanted. It broke me to leave. Without you in my life everything was… it sucked.”
He paused, obviously searching for words. Hope waited him out, not trusting her own voice to say anything. She didn’t know where he was going with his train of thought but she wasn’t about to stop him.
“I’ve missed you every single day. I tried to move on but I saw your face on every woman I met. I heard you laugh inside my head constantly. I dreamed of a life together. A little boy,” he laughed. “I came back to find you. I was going to call Alex and ask if I could date you, tell him I’m in love with you. Start over. I got a job here so I could be close to you and I was hoping you would give me another chance.”
Hope’s heart crashed inside her chest, pounding relentlessly as he spoke. She closed her eyes and could see everything he talked about. A family, the two of them together, with their son, maybe even more kids. It was everything she wouldn’t let herself dream of, but everything she’d ever wanted.
“It won’t be easy, I know that,” Paul continued. “But I’m willing to do whatever I have to to prove that I’m not leaving this time. And it doesn’t matter what Alex says. You hold my heart, you always have, and I’m not letting you go again. Please, Hope, say something.”
Words left her. She couldn’t think of anything to say. Instead she just leaned in and tentatively brushed her lips against his.
The soft kiss shocked him still for a second before he took control of her lips. His hand cupped her cheek and pulled her close to him, his tongue sweeping through her mouth to learn her all over again. She sighed softly against his lips, new and old all at the same time.
“I never thought you’d come back.”
“I’m never leaving again. I’m home. For good.”
He sealed his lips to hers again and let her lead him to her room. And started to make up for the last five years.