I gaped at her.
She focused on her plate, exhaling heavily. “I think—no, I know—I’ve always known that. All these years, he loved me. He genuinely cared about me, but it wasn’t enough. Alan tried, he really did, and I’m not making excuses for him, but how he felt was just not enough.”
I stared at her, unsure of what to say, because I...I had never heard any of this before.
“We married young, as soon as we found out I was pregnant with Lori. That is what people did back then.” Then she dropped another bomb. “Your father didn’t want to leave, Lena. He saw me—saw us—as his responsibility, and while you two were his responsibility, I wasn’t. I wanted to be his equal and his partner, not his responsibility.”
“What?” I whispered, nearly dropping my fork.
“I asked him to leave. It was me who initiated the separation.” Her smile was sad, a little bitter. “I thought that confronting what I always knew, that what he felt wasn’t enough, and asking him to leave might make him feel the way I did.” Her laugh was like glass cracking. “I may be a grown woman, Lena, but every so often, we still believe in fairy tales. Asking him to leave was the last chance. That maybe he’d—”
“Wake up and fall in love with you?” I asked, voice pitched. Had she really believed that? I briefly squeezed my eyes shut. Had she thought that by asking him to leave, she’d get her own happily-ever-after like in a book?
Mom nodded. “I did. And looking back, there was a tiny part of me that knew you couldn’t scare someone into loving you more. That’s not how things work.”
All I could do was sit there.
“I love him—unconditionally. But when I could no longer lie to myself and I could no longer let him lie to himself, I knew the marriage was over.”
I sat back in the chair, hands falling into my lap. “Why...why didn’t you tell us any of this?”
That faint, sad smile faded. “Pride? Embarrassment? When we divorced, you were still too young for that kind of conversation. So was Lori, even though she was a teenager. It’s not something easy to talk about, to admit to your young daughters that you stayed with a man who didn’t love you like he should’ve.”
“But I...” But I’d always believed that Dad had just checked out and left. “You made him leave?”
“It was the right thing to do, and I know we should’ve been more honest with you girls, but...” She trailed off, staring out the window into the backyard. Her fingers folded on her mouth and she blinked rapidly. “But we don’t always make the right choices. Not even when you’re an adult and you’re supposed to know better.”
* * *
Like clockwork, the balcony door opened a little after eight. I wasn’t napping. I was just staring aimlessly at my textbook, rereading the same paragraph for about the fifth time. Nothing was sticking in my head since dinner.
Sebastian grinned when he saw me. “Nice shirt,” he said when he closed the door behind him.
“My shirt is awesome.” It was an oversize black shirt with baby Deadpool on it.
He stalked toward the bed in a long-legged prowl and my stomach dipped crazily. “Yeah, but when you wear my old jersey shirt is better.”
Flushing, I knocked a loose strand of hair back from my face. “I threw it away.”
“Sure you did.” He dropped into the computer chair, just like Abbi used to, when she actually liked me. “What have you been doing?”
“Nothing much.” I watched him kick his legs up, planting his feet next to my hip. He was barefoot, always barefoot. I dropped my highlighter into my notebook. “You?”
“The usual. Practice.” He folded his arms across his chest. “I also showered.”
I cracked a grin. “Good for you.”
Tipping his head back, he chuckled. “I live an exciting life.”
My gaze flickered over him and our eyes met and held for a moment. A liquid heat slipped over my throat and into my chest, then spread much, much lower. Looking away, I took a deep, even breath. “So...um, my mom kind of dropped a bomb on me tonight.”
“She told me why Dad left.” I flicked the highlighter. “You know how I always thought he just checked out because he couldn’t deal with everything?”
“Yeah.” He dropped his feet onto the floor and leaned forward, fully invested. “That’s why, right?”
I shook my head. “Come to find out, it’s because he didn’t really love my mom. Like he loved her but wasn’t in love with her.” I told him what my mom had said as I pushed the highlighter back and forth. “Crazy, right?”
“Damn.” His brows were raised. “How do you feel about all that, since you and your dad...?”
He didn’t need to finish the statement. I’d held a major grudge, obviously, after my dad had left. I lifted my hands up. “I have no idea. I still think I’m too shocked to be angry, you know? Like how did she keep that from us this long? But at the same time I feel terrible for her, because a part of me can understand not wanting to tell anyone.”
And just not wanting to talk about it. That, I could totally understand.
“I got way too much in my head,” I admitted. “Like it’s just going to explode. Mom had basically let me and even Lori think Dad was just crap. I mean, he is still kind of crap, I guess, for marrying someone he didn’t really, truly love, but... I don’t know.”
“Time to clear your head.” He stood and walked over. Picking up my textbook, he closed it and placed it on my table.
“Hey,” I said. “I was doing my homework.”
“Uh-huh.” The notebook, pen and highlighter joined my textbook. Then he sat on the bed, in front of me, one knee up and bent, pressing against my calf. “So it’s Monday night.”
“Yeah.” I dropped my hands into my lap. “Thanks for clearing that up. I was so confused.”
One side of his lips kicked up. “You know what that means?”
“I’d have a whole week before the next episode of The Walking Dead if it was on?”
“No,” he replied drily.
I watched him plant his right hand next to my left knee. “Um. There’s only four more days left in the week?”
“Well, yes. There’s that.” He leaned in just the slightest, and my heart rate sped up in response. The absolute crappiness of the day faded away. “But Monday night means something else, something far more important?”
“And that is?” My gaze dropped to his mouth briefly, and I felt the clench in my lower stomach.
His head tilted slightly to the side. “It’s time for no more talking.”
“No more talking?” I repeated dumbly as a flutter started deep in my chest and moved south. Did he mean what I thought he meant?
“Yeah.” He inched his upper body closer and I felt his breath dance across my cheek. “I’ve deemed Monday night officially No-Talk-Monday. And you know what that means?”
My right hand closed into a loose fist. “What?”
“We find better uses for our lips and our tongues.”
Eyes wide, I coughed out a laugh. “Did you really just say that out loud?”
“Yes. Yeah, I did, and I don’t take it back.” He leaned in, and I jerked when his forehead rested against mine. “No shame in my game.”
“I don’t think you have any game.”
“Oh, I have game,” he replied smoothly. “So much you wouldn’t know what to do with all of it.”
A quiet laugh escaped me. “Sebastian—”
“This Monday’s going to be different.” His left hand found my right one. Just the tips of his fingers grazed my hand. “Can I show you how?” he asked, coasting his fingers up my bare arm, eliciting an acute shiver, stopping at the sleeve of my shirt. “Would that be okay?”
That would be amazing, but I...thought about what my mom had told me at dinner. Sebastian and I had been friends forever. Literally. I knew he genuinely cared about me, probably did love me, but did he really love me? I thought about how he drove me to school, worried about what I was eating and suddenly showered me with all kinds of attention. It wasn’t exactly like Mom and Dad. I didn’t get pregnant. But I did almost die. “Am I your responsibility?”