My chest ached for him—ached for the whole situation. I got the what-ifs that surrounded the incident. What if the boy hadn’t been on drugs? What if he hadn’t gotten into the fight? What if it had been the other officer’s bullet? I’d asked myself those kinds of questions a thousand times. What if I hadn’t dragged Charlie to the football game so I could catch a glimpse of Reece? What if we had decided to stay the entire game? What if I had simply walked away and not gotten into it with Henry?
“There was a lot of anger.” He looked at me then and sighed. “A lot. Like why was I the one who got the call? Why was it my bullet? Did I make the right decision? Was there something else that could’ve been done?”
“You did what you were supposed to do,” I told him, believing every single word.
A small smile appeared. “Whenever there’s an officer-involved shooting, there’s always an investigation. I was cleared of any wrongdoing, but that doesn’t make it easier, knowing you took a life of a kid who wasn’t even old enough to buy this beer I’m drinking.” He raised his bottle to that and then said, “Because doing the right thing isn’t always the . . . well, the easiest thing to live with. Living with that kind of anger and guilt is a bitter combination.”
Boy, didn’t I know that. I took a sip of my beer. I knew there was very little I could say that would make a huge difference, but I said what I thought was true. “You are not a bad person, Reece. What you had to do was hard and he was a kid, but—”
“But it happened, babe. It was something that I had to deal with—still dealing with, so I know it when I see it.”
“I see it when I talk to Henry. And I see it in you, but Roxy, you’ve got no ownership to that. You understand that?”
I nodded, mainly because it was hard to explain why I felt such guilt over Charlie. “I’m glad you talked to me about what happened,” I said after a couple of moments. “I know it’s not easy to talk about.”
“It’s not. So you know that door is two-way, right?”
I raised my brows.
“I know there’s stuff you’ve got that isn’t easy to talk about, but you need to try, and when you do, I’ll be here.” He pulled his feet off the railing and stood. “Want another beer?”
Blinking, I glanced down at my almost empty beer. “Sure.”
As he moved to go back inside, he stopped beside me and curled his fingers under my chin. Tilting my head back, he dipped down and kissed me like he had all the time in the world. Slowly at first, just a brushing of his mouth against mine, and then deeper, parting my lips with his tongue. It wasn’t just a kiss. Not when his tongue danced over mine or the way he tasted me. Reece turned kissing into an art form, and if I had to attach a color to it, to get it on canvas, it would be supple shades of reds and purples.
I was still dazed from the kiss when Reece returned with more beer. We ended up talking into the wee hours of the morning, sometimes about nothing important, and after about the third beer, the conversation got a little more serious. I might have admitted to locking my younger brother in a chest once. Then I admitted that I hated taking the design classes in college. “The guys are freaking snots to deal with,” I told him. “Like you need a dick to know code or work in design, when in reality, any thirteen-year-old with a computer can design a decent website.”
Reece frowned over at me. “Then why do you do it? It’s a serious question.”
I shrugged. “I should get a degree.”
“You should do what you want.”
“It is what I want.”
He snorted. “Whatever.”
I stuck my tongue out, and he laughed, which made me smile, because I really liked the sound of his laugh. As I watched him finish off his beer, I thought about what he shared with me tonight. It made sense why he was able to look at everything objectively when it came to Henry. Didn’t mean I agreed, but I got where he was coming from.
“How did you finally let go of the anger, Reece?” I asked.
One shoulder rose. “Do you ever really let go of that? Completely? The anger and guilt? Nah. I think it cuts deep enough that it leaves scars that don’t heal. You just learn how to manage before you hit rock bottom with it.”
“And have . . . have you hit rock bottom with it?”
A long time passed before I realized he wasn’t going to answer that question. Maybe because he didn’t know the answer. Reece looked away, his jaw flexing as he stared into the woods, seemingly at nothing. Silence descended, and I knew deep down there was something he wasn’t sharing with me. Something he didn’t want me to know.
It was a week after the break-in and I wasn’t really thinking about that at the moment, because it was a little weird to be going to a cookout at Jax’s place, because I felt like this was the first time Reece and I were really stepping out as . . . as something like a legit couple. I guessed that’s what we actually were. We talked like we were. We had sex like we were. He had the extra key to my apartment. Mainly because if I was working when the guy wired my place, he’d be able to let him in, but whatever. We were like a couple, and that made me feel kind of stupid for being so weird about it in the first place.
But my head had been all over the place this past week. I wasn’t used to being around a guy as much as I was with Reece, and I thought I’d be annoyed with the lack of space, but I wasn’t. I actually missed him when he wasn’t around, which was odd, because when he wasn’t working, he was with me. I really liked it when Reece came home.