Walking out her door was the hardest thing he’d ever done. He had his own tears to shed as he stood there, just outside her apartment, heart aching as he heard the first sob from inside. He could go back in there right now and tell her to forget about it, that he loved her and didn’t need any time to figure that out. He did love her, and she knew it.
But he knew she deserved more. Deserved all of him just as she’d asked, and he had to figure out if he could give it. So he turned and walked away, needing to bounce his situation off someone. But who?
Normally he’d seek out Ben, but Ben had enough problems just then. Adrian had been helpful, but he hadn’t been where Cope was right now. He’d been helpful enough earlier that day, but Cope needed to talk with someone who was in a relationship that worked.
He drove around awhile, in the end, heading to the hospital because he needed to check in anyway.
And maybe because he knew there would be someone there who could help him find his way past this massive roadblock of fear that choked his fucking every thought.
He recognized Brody’s truck in the lot across the way and found the big man talking with Todd in the waiting room.
“I say next time we meet we go for a place with better lighting.” He plopped down next to Todd. “Here.” Cope handed him a bag. “Thought Erin would appreciate something to do. It’s a handheld system with some games.”
Todd laughed. “She’ll love it. Thanks.”
“How is she?”
“The same pretty much. Bored out of her head. Grumpy. Scared. Her protein levels are better today. Alexander is right as rain. He’s active and apparently happy in there.”
“Good. Anything I can do?”
Todd sighed. “For now, no. Ella called earlier to say she’d check in at the café, but I told her Erin gave everyone the day off. She said she’d come in this morning to bring magazines and books. Erin says she’s going to come out here so she can visit with everyone, though. If it wasn’t raining so hard I’d take her out for a walk in the gardens in the back. She needs it.”
“I figured Ella would come in with you.” Brody gave him a once-over.
Both men goggled at him. “Complicated? What does that mean? You didn’t cheat on her, did you?”
“Why would you think that? I’m not an ape, you know; I can keep my dick in my pants or in my girl. For the record, I have no desire to step out on Ella. What other woman could compare anyway?”
“So what makes it complicated?”
“Dude, your wife is in a hospital room right now. You have your own problems. Don’t sweat it.”
“Andy, we’ve been friends since before we had our permanent teeth. If that’s not worth sweating over, I don’t know what is. Erin is going to be fine. This is my mantra. I should have Brody ink it on my arm so I can look at it over and over. But she is, she will be and so will Alexander. Spill.”
He took a deep breath and began to talk. “How do you get past the fear? Do you feel it?”
Brody nodded. “Hell yes. My god, when we didn’t know if those fuckers would be successful at taking Rennie from Elise? I wanted to howl. I wanted to tear shit up. I wanted to fly to New York, find them, and beat them bloody. I knew Elise would fall apart if that happened, and I knew what my life would be like without that kid too. I knew what it would be to see this woman I adore lose that child. And I wondered if I would be enough if that were the case. Enough to keep her living with a purpose. And then I got sort of pissed about it, because why shouldn’t I be first? Why wouldn’t I be enough? Was I enough? Was I good enough? What if she looked at me really closely, what if she saw that I was so not worthy, and she left?”
Cope didn’t know why, but hearing that made him feel better, even just a little bit. Maybe it was knowing he wasn’t alone.
“During all that stuff, Raven was doing her thing. Being a bitch, but needing to be loved, and I’d been her friend forever and she was one of my people. But damn it, she was trying to mess with my girls, and I had to choose.”
Brody stood and began to pace. “That’s when I sort of knew I was fucked.” He barked a laugh. “Because I did, and I would again. And because I did it knowing Elise would be first for me always, even if I messed up and she walked away. Rennie and Elise are mine. Mine in a way that comforts me, fills me up, thrills me and scares the ever living crap out of me. Jesus, these two ladies mean everything, and what if I mess it up? What would I do without them?”
“What if Erin dies on the delivery table? It would be my fault because I wanted a baby with her so bad. Ben and I wanted a family with Erin, wanted a child to fill the house with laughter. But we have laughter now. So in my greed, what if I’ve made the worst mistake in my life, and I lose them both?” Todd leaned back. “Christ, I want a cigarette.”
“So is that what’s making things complicated? You broke up with her because you’re afraid she’ll walk away?” Brody asked.
“We didn’t break up. But this fear, seeing my brother who is the strongest guy I know reduced to tears because of how much he loves Erin, that hit me. I’m not that strong. Maybe it’s a sign she and I aren’t meant to be, if I can’t take that last step. I told her this morning, essentially that I was freaked out and unsure. She told me to figure it out. Told me a lot more than that actually, but the gist is: Don’t call me again until you’ve got your shit together because I’m worth it. And she’s right. She is.”
“So you’re going to let a woman like Ella go because why? I’m not getting it. I mean, I get the fear part. That’s what broke Erin and me up the first time. And we know how that turned out. Ten years of being unhappy and uncomfortable because I was meant to be with the one woman who challenged me on every level, even as she got me. Accepted all of me, the darkness, the broken stuff, the uneven edges. Do you know what that’s worth, Andy? Fitting with someone in a way no one else will?
“I’ve seen you two together. Even before you finally manned up and asked her out. But since then you two fit. She’s amazing. Beautiful. Strong. She works hard, and she looks at you and sees you. I’ve met the chicks you were with before. Not a single one saw the whole of you. Even I forget about it sometimes because you wear the smiling Cope façade so much.”
“She told me she wanted all of me. Cope, Andy and Andrew. I suppose part of me has used Cope to hide behind. It’s easier that way. She challenges me to be more. I have never been challenged this way. What if I fail? What if I give it my all and it still doesn’t work and she walks away and I’m alone?”
“That’s the rub isn’t it? I mean, here we’ve got this awesome thing. This woman who we’d give anything for, but the thing we have to give is, well everything. You have to figure out if she’s worth the work. Because I can’t lie and tell you it’s easy to be with someone. Even someone you adore. Marriage is hard work. There’s a balance there where things run on their own without much effort, but you have to do maintenance or it will break down. You have to expose yourself, ask someone else for their blood, sweat and tears and give your own. It leaves you laid bare and inside out, Andrew. And that’s what makes it so good. That’s love, man. That’s love and part of what makes it so awesome is the level of real, true intimacy, and the risk you take by opening yourself up that way to someone who has the power to gut you.”
Brody sat across from them. “That’s it really, in a nutshell. So I guess the question here, Andrew Copeland, is do you have the balls? Because love is a go big or go home sort of thing. You can’t sort of love someone. You can’t caveat love. You do it, you make the effort and you live without a net sometimes. Thrilling and terrifying and I wouldn’t have it any other way. “
Todd sat forward, clasping his hands between his knees. “I think the question is, can you live without her? Watch her fall in love with someone else? See her bring him to our events and stuff? She, Erin and Elise are tight, so the reality is, that’s what will happen. You’ll see some other dude get what you could have had. If the fear of some random thing happening in the future is bigger than the reality of her being with another guy, walk away now when it’ll merely sort of kill you to do it. But you can’t have this doubt between you. Man up. Love her the way she deserves it, or let another man do it.”
That was the question.
He stood. “I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later today to check back in. I’ll have my cell if you need me. Thanks.” He looked to both men who were friends who’d become his brothers as much as Ben was. “I mean it. I needed to get it all out there, and you helped me do that.”
“Call if you need anything from us too, right?” Brody stood as well. “I’m going to call Elise and Rennie and then go in to hug my sister. Love, Andrew, love makes everything in the world seem doable.”
He drove back to his place. Maybe working on the last part of the wainscoting in the formal dining room would help quiet his thoughts.
And there it was, in his mailbox. The envelope was manila, nothing fancy, her writing, the same beautiful script she’d used before, this time with forest green ink. It was not stamped, so she’d come by and tucked it into the box herself sometime between yesterday afternoon when he’d checked last and that morning.
He went into the house and sat in her chair, opening it up.
Inside was a photograph and a letter.
This is my great-grandfather and great-grandmother. When I look at them, I wonder what it would be like to be with you through our youth, into middle age and the waning days of our life together. I see a house filled with noisy Copland children, with grandbabies, dogs, the children and grandchildren of our friends. Our nieces and nephews. A happy life filled with vacations on the coast, with road trips and stolen kisses after we’ve put all the toys together, all ready for the morning when the kids wake up in the predawn hours and proclaim it Christmas.
You told me you loved me. I’ve always felt this from you, and I’ve carried it around inside and not really known it. It was just something I associated with you without being able to identify, really. This is what love means for me. Family. Fidelity. Faith in one another. And love.
I love you, and I want to spend every day until I am no longer breathing with you. I want to bear your children and open my eyes each day to see you there with me, beside me.
The writing changed, and more was added with a different pen.
I wrote the part above before Erin’s pregnancy problems. I debated sending this to you. It’s a big deal, and I haven’t said any of this to you before. I may scare you off, or you may not feel the depth of love I do, and I’m running with something you hadn’t intended.
I heard hesitation in your voice tonight when we spoke, and it scared me. It scared me because I realized I’d simply accepted your presence in my heart and in my life, accepted that you were mine.
I love you, and I want you to be happy. I hope that you want to be happy with me. All you need to do is give me the word and I’m yours.
Forever and always,
He put the envelope down and looked at the picture. He saw Ella in her great-grandmother’s face. Though the picture was black and white and a bit yellowed with age, the spark between the couple leapt from the paper.