The Billionaire's Embrace Page 32

“Maybe someday I’ll see for myself,” Malcolm said. “Not in the winter, though. I’m too warm-blooded.”

“The first winter was bad,” I admitted. “You get used to it, though. You just need the right clothes.”

Our food came, and we ate and talked about everything that had happened in the last six years. Malcolm told me that his sister had gotten married, and that his brother’s girlfriend had just had a baby, and they were planning a wedding to keep the relatives happy. He said he’d been dating a girl for a while, but he broke it off when she started bugging him about having kids. “I’m not ready for that,” he said. “I’m focusing on my business now, you know?”

“You’re still young,” I said. “You don’t have to start popping out babies at twenty-four. You’ve got time.”

“Tell that to my mom,” he said, rolling his eyes, and I grinned. She’d been ready for grandchildren ever since Malcolm’s sister turned sixteen.

The margarita made me feel warm and languid, and it was easy to sit there laughing and bantering with Malcolm like no time had passed. He knew things about me that nobody else ever would. He had held me while I cried on the nights I climbed out of my bedroom window to escape my father’s drunken rampages. He had seen me cold and furious after arguing with my mother. That part of my life was over now, and Malcolm was its sole witness, the one person I had trusted enough to see me live through it.

We were fooling ourselves, of course. Too much time had passed. We had lost our old intimacy, and would never get it back. But it was nice to pretend for a while.

We paid and went out to the car. I expected Malcolm to start the car and drive off, but instead he sat there with his hands on the steering wheel, not moving.

“Um, I should probably get back,” I said. “The wake—”

“Sure,” he said, but he still didn’t start the car. He turned toward me abruptly and slid one hand around the back of my neck.

I realized I was holding my breath.

“Regan,” he said.

He kissed me.

I kissed him back.

Just for a moment, but it was enough. I pulled back, my heart beating. “Sorry, um—”

“Bad idea, I know,” he said, and grinned. “I had to try, though.”

We drove back to my mom’s house in silence. It wasn’t uncomfortable, though; just the familiar silence of two people who knew each other well enough to not have to say anything at all.

My lips still tingled from his kiss.

He pulled to the curb in front of my mom’s house. All the lights were on in the house, a warm orange glow from within. “It was good to see you again,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. I swallowed. “I’ll email you, okay? Maybe the next time I’m in California—”

“Sure,” he said. “I’d like that.”

“Malcolm, I just want you to know,” I said. “I’m sorry for what I said, when I broke up with you. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t stop loving you.”

“I know,” he said.

I leaned in and kissed him, slow and sweet, and then got out of the car and stumbled blindly toward the house.

We both knew I wouldn’t email. Maybe I would never see him again.

I didn’t know how I felt.

The house was full of people, smoking and talking and playing cards. I stood in the doorway, feeling overwhelmed by the lights and noise. My mother came over and said, “You’re back so soon? Come help me in the kitchen, then.”

“Okay,” I said. My heart ached. What was Carter going to think? I shouldn’t have kissed Malcolm, but it seemed like the right thing to do, in that instant right before I did it. I couldn’t bring myself to regret it. He had been my whole world for four years. Maybe I just needed to say goodbye.

The kitchen was empty and quieter than the living room, and it was easy to let my hands move and my mind wander. Chopping vegetables was sort of like meditating, in a way.

Maybe it was that blank space in my head that made me say it, like in the absence of conscious thought my mouth filled up with words I hadn’t known I needed to say. Maybe I just temporarily lost my mind. But either way, after a long, silent span of working, I turned to my mother and said, “Do you remember that last fight we had, right before I left?”

She made a noncommittal noise. “I remember.”

“You told me to leave,” I said, and my throat tightened unexpectedly, with the weight of years of regrets, the grieving I had never really given myself enough room for. “You told me to get out and never come back.”

“I remember,” she said again, stirring the pot, not looking at me.

“Why did you say it?” I asked desperately. “Did you hate me that much, that you didn’t want to look at my face ever again—”

“No,” she said, voice sharp. She set the spoon down and turned to me. “You had to go. I knew what you were planning. Your dad found the plane ticket. He was—” She shook her head. “He was so angry. I was afraid for you.” Suddenly, to my shock, she started crying. She raised her hands to cover her eyes and spoke through her tears. “I never protected you from him. I should have. I tried to, then. You had to go.”

“Mom,” I said, helpless, unsure what to do. I took a step toward her and tentatively wrapped my arms around her. “Mom, don’t cry.”

She brought her arms around me and squeezed me tight. “I missed you every day since you left,” she said.

My heart broke open like an egg. I didn’t know how much I needed to hear that until she said it.

We stood there for a while, holding each other and crying.

Finally, she stepped away and wiped her eyes. “Well, the food won’t cook itself.”

“Mom, don’t,” I said. “Can we talk about this? What happened to dad?”

“I kicked him out,” she said. “After you left. I should have done it years ago.” She shrugged. “He went to live with his brother, I think. I haven’t heard from him in a long time.”

“Why did you wait so long to email me?” I asked. “I thought you hated me.”

“No,” she said. “How could I hate you? I gave birth to you right here, in this house, and you came out so red and yelling that I knew I would love you until the day I died.” She picked up her spoon and stirred the adobo. “I wanted you to have a good life. I didn’t want you coming back here, letting that Malcolm get you pregnant, never doing anything with yourself.”

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