I dropped my purse and coat on the antique chair in the corner of the room. The room was quaint, containing a queen-sized bed and some simple furniture. I walked around restlessly. Outside the snow swirled through the air. Those could have been my thoughts, the flurry of emotions that whipped through me now. I wanted this storm to end. I was at the end of a cold hard winter, and I wasn’t sure how much more I could take.
My mother’s name scribbled on the roster of visitors flashed through my mind again and again. She’d been here. There was no other feasible explanation. Weeks ago, after years of nothing, she’d been here to see my grandmother. Had she really asked for money? Why didn’t she try to find me? Why hadn’t she come to me if she needed help? That’s what I’d been waiting for this whole time—a chance to help her. Where was she now?
A hopeless pain filled the hollow place in my chest. The anxious tremble had graduated to a penetrating shudder, and I couldn’t stop its course through me. I was unraveling. I surveyed the room, aware that we likely lacked some of the common amenities of a hotel room. The basket near the coffee maker held nothing but gourmet teas and coffee. They were of no use to me now. I opened the small mini fridge and relief filled me when I saw it was stocked with both caffeine and beer.
I grabbed one of the beers. When I stood, Cameron took it deftly from my grasp, his lips set in a disapproving line.
“What the f**k?”
“I need a drink.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me. After last night, how can you even consider it?”
“I’m stressed out, okay?”
“About what? Seeing your grandmother?”
“No. You wouldn’t understand.” He wouldn’t because I’d never tell him.
“Then explain it to me.”
“Just…” I groaned, wishing he would back off and leave me be. “I need to take the edge off. I can’t possibly get far-gone. There are only a couple beers in there.”
He shook his head. A mix of sympathy and certain disappointment tightened the muscles of his beautiful face. I couldn’t have felt any worse.
“You’re talking to the man who carried your unconscious body up two flights of stairs last night. If you think I’m letting you get anywhere close to drunk tonight, you’re sorely mistaken.”
Panic rose, tightening my throat. The walls were closing in on me—Cameron’s judgments, my past, and the painful certainty that our future was doomed. Everything pressed down on me until I could scarcely breathe. I pulled on my coat and side stepped him.
I moved for the door.
“Wait.” He blocked my exit, staring down at me. “Why are you running off?”
“Let me go.” I could barely hear my own voice—a small and sad testimony to how I felt in my soul.
He grabbed the lapels on my coat, opening it at the chest and taking it off as swiftly as I’d put it on moments ago. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“Like hell I’m not. Let me go.” I wrestled out of his grasp, my coat flailing to the floor. My shoulders shook with the effort to hold myself together.
“You need to stop this s**t, Maya.”
The abrasiveness in his voice sent a chill through me. I pushed at him, anger overpowering the pain that pulsed through me. I felt the brunt of the effort to move him away in my wrists when he didn’t budge.
“Who are you to judge me?” I pounded my fists on his chest, resorting to my last and only effort.
He caught my wrists, holding them gently but firmly enough that I couldn’t wrestle free or deliver another blow.
“I’m not judging you, goddamnit. I’m loving you. I give a s**t. I’m sorry if no one else cares enough to tell you no, but I’m not going to watch you f*****g drown yourself in booze.”
“I’m not asking you to do anything, except get the hell out of my way. This is my life, and if I have to water it down now and again, that’s none of your g*****n business.”
“You’re staying right here with me, so knock it off.” He loosened his hold on my wrists so I could step back.
I struggled to catch my breath. My adrenaline surged, every nerve alive. Anxiety and the steady pain I wanted so desperately to stamp out pulsed through my veins. Cameron was here witnessing all of it, fighting my impulses like some f*****g warrior. I didn’t need a warrior. I didn’t need this brand of love.
“If this is you loving me, I’m not interested. You don’t know anything about me.”
His jaw tightened. “Because you give me nothing. You won’t let me in. I have to sneak around to learn anything about you. The poems… Christ, Maya, there’s so much more there that you never give me, that you never give anyone.”