Everyone held still, waiting for Dena to continue.
“He said something, though, that stuck with me. He claimed I was living with a ghost and I needed to either bury it or banish it by fighting for the real thing.”
“What are you going to do?” Abby asked.
Dena took a deep breath. She’d gone over her plans in her head, but she’d yet to vocalize them. This would be the first time she spoke them out loud. “I’m thinking about taking some time off work. A month or two. I have the time coming to me.”
“Are you going to …?” Julie looked at her with excitement growing in her eyes.
Dena found it so easy to say the words with Julie sounding so excited about what she was going to potentially say. “Yes. I’m thinking about going to Colorado. To fight for the real thing.”
Abby burst into a big smile. “I knew it! I knew you guys were going to work it out.”
“Whoa, there,” Dena said. “I said I was thinking about going to Colorado—not that I was. And even if I do go, Jeff might show me the door as soon as I arrive.”
“Have you ever even seen the way he looks at you?” Julie asked. “There’s not a woman in this world who wouldn’t kill for a man to look at her just once the way Jeff looks at you.”
“There’s so much history between us. I’m not sure we can overcome it.”
“Love conquers all,” Sasha said, lifting her glass. “Or so I’ve heard.”
“Sometimes life gets in the way.” Dena wasn’t aware of how much of her history with Jeff Abby and the others knew about, and she didn’t feel like talking about her lost pregnancy at the moment. “We’ve tried to fight it before.”
“You have to keep trying,” Julie said. “That’s what makes it so sweet when you finally make it. It’s like that with everything. You value what you’ve had to work for.”
Julie would know. She’d had to fight her own inner demons before she was able to find her happily ever after with Daniel. Her fight had been worth it. It was obvious to anyone how happy they were as a couple.
“We had a really awesome night just before he left,” Dena said. “But I messed up the next day.”
“Everyone messes up,” Abby said. “Remind me to tell you about my first few months with Nathaniel sometime.”
Dena shook her head. “You didn’t see him. I think I went too far. I think he’s over me for good.”
“Not possible,” Julie said. “I’ve seen you two together, and I’ve seen the way he looks at you. Trust me. You guys could live on separate continents and he wouldn’t get over you.”
Dena looked over to Sasha and raised an eyebrow. “You believe that, too?”
“I want to,” she replied. “I’ve never had a relationship like yours. Or Julie’s. Or Abby’s.”
Julie took her friend’s hand. “You just haven’t met the right guy yet. Your time’s coming.”
Sasha whispered a “thank you.”
“And you,” Julie said with a determined look on her face. “You need to get yourself to Colorado. We’ll help you pack.”
Jeff hated everything about Colorado. At night, when he couldn’t sleep, he’d play a game with himself where he’d try to come up with a list of things he liked about the state. He always fell asleep before he could think of one.
When he’d arrived three weeks ago, he’d been shocked at just how bad his father looked. Even though he knew hospice had been called and his dad had only weeks to live, seeing him with the IVs giving his skeletal body morphine had taken his breath.
“You should have told me sooner,” he told his dad.
His reply was a raspy, “Would you have gotten here any faster?”
Jeff didn’t have an answer for that. Not one he could voice. The truth was, he didn’t think it would have mattered. He’d probably have stayed with Dena. His father had never been a real father to him. The sad fact was, his dying didn’t change that. But Jeff felt guilty whenever he admitted that to himself.
Hell, he was tired of feeling guilty.
One more thing he hated about Colorado—the guilt he felt whenever he was around his father. Apparently, Wilmington, Delaware, didn’t hold sole rights to his guilty conscience.
Nearly two thousand miles hadn’t kept Dena from his thoughts. She was on his mind constantly. He considered it a small victory when he went half an hour without thinking about her. Or worrying. It killed him that she’d received another phone call and he was so far away. He felt like a failure. Even though Tom was working on the case, Jeff worked late into the night after his father was asleep, looking over files and running searches. There was something somewhere he overlooked, and he was determined to find it. He wouldn’t be able to live if something happened to her.
During the day he pictured her at work. He’d seen her in court once. Snuck in without telling her he was going to show up. Seeing her work the courtroom, so confident and sure of herself, had been an instant turn-on, made all the more intense by the silver cuff she’d been wearing that marked her as his. He’d been surprised to discover he wasn’t jealous of the unabashed way men had stared at her with longing and desire in their eyes. She didn’t once pay them any mind, and he knew whose bed she’d be in when night came.
But the nights in Colorado were far worse than the days. Alone in his childhood bedroom and all the memories that came with it—finding his mother drunk and passed out on the kitchen floor, his father’s absence—had him tossing and turning all night, wishing Dena was beside him. Even with all those years of sleeping apart, it’d taken only that one night together for his body to remember how it was to share a bed with her.
Jeff sighed as he washed the breakfast dishes on his fourth Tuesday morning in his father’s house. They were the same blue and white flowered china he remembered from childhood. When his father died, he was going to throw them away.
His father had had an appointment with his oncologist the day before. The doctor had told them it was only a matter of time. His father had refused to listen.
“Damn quack doctor,” he’d snapped. “Said that a month ago, and I’m still here.”
Jeff had been silent, but later that day when he’d entered the living room quietly, thinking his father was asleep, he’d found him instead sitting on the side of the bed, crying. Jeff stood frozen, hesitating. He’d lived with his father’s anger his entire life. He didn’t know what to make of his fear. But his feet eventually moved him forward, and he put a hand on his dad’s bony shoulder. It was the first time he’d touched him in years, and the contact made his father crumple. He reached his arms up and embraced Jeff, and they’d both wept until they’d exhausted themselves.