Jason’s eyes narrowed on the words, but his expression remained unreadable.
“I fell in love with you from almost the first moment we met,” Christina said, her face flushing with the words. “But I kept putting the memory of Bill between us. Because I was still hurt, because I never wanted to be hurt again. It was an easy excuse, one I didn’t have to examine, because you made me feel things again, without even trying.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Christina saw Matthew motion to Mary—but when they each made to step out of the way, and give the two some privacy, Christina held up a hand.
“No. You don’t have to go. I put you all through this.” She turned back to Jason. “You were right when you said I played it hot-and-cold. You see, I wanted to be with you so much that it overrode my fear.”
He made a half-laugh, but there was nothing of humor in the sound. “Not for long.”
She shook her head numbly, aware that he hadn’t unbent one inch, not even when she’d confessed her feelings. “No, never long enough,” she admitted. Shifting uneasily, she ploughed ahead. “But I’m done with that. I’m done letting Bill have any sort of control over me. He doesn’t get to be the reason my heart breaks for a second time.”
Jason’s eyes closed. “Christina…”
But she couldn’t stop. “Look, I know I screwed up. I pushed you away. I said terrible things. I never gave you a chance.”
His hands curled into tight fists down at his sides.
“I never gave us a chance.” Her eyes pleaded with his, her concentration totally alerted to every facial nuance—she was so absorbed that she didn’t see when Mary and Matthew did leave, slipping out into the kitchen. Probably, they were too embarrassed for her to stay any longer. “If you can’t, or don’t, want anything more to do with me, then that’s okay. But I promised myself I would never do what my mom did to me.”
His brow furrowed.
She lifted one shoulder. “I’d never just let the person I love walk away without a fight. You deserve a fight. So I’m here. If you want me.”
His lips twitched. “You should have gone home years ago.”
She snorted. “Don’t I know it.”
He took a short, hesitant step toward her. Christina tried not to notice how much her heart rate accelerated at the movement. Then he stopped. Far too soon, he stopped. “I don’t know Christina,” he admitted. His hand motioned between them. “After everything, this all feels a little fast to me.”
Christina felt her throat constrict. “Fast?”
“Last week,” he ran a hand through his hair. “Last week you didn’t trust your feelings for me—or mine for you. You felt certain what we had was nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy. You thought you wanted me because you shouldn’t have me—because that’s how it was with Bill. And I get it, that you threw him between us to protect yourself, but it doesn’t change the fact that, at the time, you truly believed that your feelings were nothing more than illusion.”
Christina swallowed an instinctive desire to argue.
“And now, now you’re standing here telling me after one visit with your mother that’s resolved. Just like that?”
Christina took a deep breath. “No. I’m not saying that.”
He took another step toward her. “Then what are you saying?”
“That when I saw her, after all these years, all I could think about was how much I’d let myself lose that awful night she threw me out and Bill threw me over.”
He inclined his head.
“I realized,” throwing her shoulders back, Christina plunged forward. “I realized that I’m stronger than even I knew, but that strength came at the cost of my happiness, and suddenly it didn’t seem worth it anymore.”
He smiled. “Okay. That doesn’t answer my question.”
“I’m not asking you to marry me,” Christina said.
Jason raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t think…”
“I’m not saying that I’m not damaged. I am. I’m damaged.” Her voice shook a little. “But I’m healing.”
He still didn’t look sure.
“Look, I don’t know what more I can do to convince you,” Christina snapped, her arms flying out to the sides. “I’m standing here, my heart shaking in my mouth, telling you I love you and any second now you’re going to reject me, tell me it’s too late.” She took a deep breath. “But I’m here anyway. Risking it all. For you.”
Her voice lowered. “It took me four years to get here, and I guess it seems fast to you, but don’t all decisions seem that once they’re finally made—once that flip finally shifts?”
Jason grimaced. “But that’s just it, a week ago you were this sure that we wouldn’t make it. And now…” he shrugged, but there was a look of finality about it.
“I’m sorry, Christina,” he said, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes anymore. “I’m just, it’s too much. It’s too much.” Turning on his heel, this time he didn’t wait for her to answer. This time, he was the one who walked away.
Sitting at home that night, Christina stared emptily at the television screen in front of her. Tears partially blocked her vision, but she wasn’t bothered by their appearance. A dull sort of emptiness had replaced the throbbing ache in her chest by now. She was still in her sundress, that same bottle of whiskey sitting unopened on the coffee table before her.
As much as she wanted to drink her sorrow away, she knew it would get her nowhere. Plus, when it came to Jason she had a habit of doing stupid things when she drank. Snorting, she rubbed her palm roughly against her wet cheek. “Probably, I’d end up drunk texting him.”
It wasn’t like she had really been that surprised when he’d walked away. She could hardly blame him. From the word go, she’d done little to elicit his faith in her feelings. She’d done it to herself.
“At least I’ve still got Mary and Matthew,” she consoled herself. She wouldn’t let what had transpired between her and Jason get in the way of that. “We’ll make it work, somehow. At some point, I’ll stop loving him—” at the words she broke off, a small sob escaping from her raw throat.
The thought hurt. Profoundly.
She wasn’t allowed to wallow long however; the sudden buzz of her doorbell disturbed her fresh bout of sorrow. Despite herself, Christina felt a fissure of hope envelope her person. Could it be…?
Throwing her legs out underneath her, she raced to the door, her fingers scratching at the lock in her hast to open the damned thing. Swinging it open, she hardly realized she was holding her breath.
Blinking in disbelief, she swayed slightly when her eyes lifted— “Jason?”
His hair was rumpled, his eyes narrow—almost angry as they gazed at her. “Just shut up, would you?”
She wasn’t given a chance to so much as agree before his mouth came crashing down against hers. In shock, she felt the imprint of his lips with wonder. Her body reacting on instinct, she felt her arms twining around his neck. There was no room in her scattered thoughts to wonder at his intentions.
“Dammit Christina,” he muttered against her trembling lips. “Do you have any idea how aggravating you are?”
“No,” she answered dreamily. “I only know that you’re here.”
“Yeah, well…” with a growl, his nipped at her lips, “I didn’t mean to be.”
“Then why?” She asked, her stomach clenching.
“Because I’m in love with you.”
She felt his hands pressing her more firmly against his body as a fresh wave of tears coursed through her tense body. “Thank God.”
“And I couldn’t stay away.”
“Now you know how I felt all this time.”
His hands came up to frame the sides of her face, one thumb rubbing circles against the delicate skin. “I only hope I’m not too late.”
She smiled. “I think that’s my line.”
He chuckled. “I don’t think I even knew how I felt until you walked out my house last week.”
She ducked her head. “I know and I’m sorry—”
“No, let me finish,” he said. “I’ve spent the last week oscillating between missing the hell out of you and cursing your damn name.”
Jason shrugged. “It was so easy to handle my attraction to you all these years. I chalked it up to curiosity and tried to move on. But then, after Easter…”
“Everything changed,” she finished for him.
“In ways I wasn’t prepared for,” he admitted ruefully. “Everything grew all out of proportion and then…and then you just left.”
“In a weird sort of way, it put what you went through with Bill into a different perspective. I get it a little better now, because that’s how I felt this afternoon: afraid, angry even, that if you came back you’d only leave again and I wasn’t sure I could—”
“I won’t,” she swore. “I promise I won’t do it again.”
“No,” he said, his lips coming down to press softly against hers. “Me neither.”
Lifting up against the crush of his mouth, Christina sighed. They weren’t finished talking—she knew that. But the conversation could wait. For a little bit, it could wait.