He took a silent breath, his features softening slightly. “Please, Maya. I’m begging you to talk to me. Something happened back there. Tell me. Don’t keep me in the dark.”
I squeezed my eyes closed against a new wave of tears. I was losing it. His words cut through me, past the skin, right down to the bone, right down to the weak, scared, motherless person I hated to be.
“Maya,” he whispered, grazing my cheek with the warmth of his touch.
“My mom visited Ruthie a few weeks ago.” I shook my head. “There are things you never knew about me, Cameron.”
“Tell me.” He rose and sat beside me, his arm around me.
I brushed away the last of my tears and took a steeling breath.
“My mom and I… We never had much, but we had each other, you know? It wasn’t easy for her, raising me on her own, and when I left for school… Everything pretty much went to hell after that. She was always kind of a mess anyway, but without me to hold her down and give her a reason to stay put, she spiraled out of control. Boyfriends, drinking all the time, and though she’d never admit it, I figure drugs finally entered the picture. I couldn’t quit school though. I mean, I seriously considered it. But this is what we’d worked for, a better life, and I couldn’t just let it all go. I was determined to finish and get a good job, like we’d talked about, and I was going to get her out of whatever mess she’d gotten herself into. But I was too late…”
“You left, and then…she left. Disappeared. I figured she’d moved again and hadn’t given me her new number, but days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. I never heard from her. I filed reports. Nothing.”
“Christ, Maya. You never…”
“You were gone, but even if you hadn’t left, I’m still not sure I would have told you. You and Olivia, I never wanted either of you to know that side of my life, that part of me that was so far from perfect.”
“I’m pretty sure perfect means something different for you than it does for me.”
I shrugged. He tossed that word around too much. I wasn’t Olivia. I wasn’t the kind of girl you couldn’t wait to introduce your parents to.
Cameron tipped my chin, locking me in his stare and interrupting my self-defeating tirade.
“Did you think you really had me fooled into thinking you were like everyone else? I knew things weren’t all roses for you. I didn’t know exactly why, but I’d figured one day you’d tell me. I didn’t think it’d take five years though.”
“I couldn’t tell you.” I drew in a jagged breath at the memory. “Even when I was about to lose you, somehow I couldn’t muster the strength to tell you.”
I looked into his deep blue eyes. They seemed to light up the darkening room.
“You weren’t the reason I said no that day. I knew I needed to stay close, to take care of my mom. I couldn’t bear the thought of explaining to you then how marrying me would mean signing on for that part of my life too. But I wasn’t going to let her just slip away and out of my life either.” I shrugged. “She did anyway. I lost you both, trying to be the perfect girl for you and somehow take care of her too. I ended up with nothing.”
A sad laugh escaped me. I thought back to that dark time when all the purpose of my life had been ripped from me. Now my two reasons for living were back, in some way. I was still floundering, lost and f*****g it all up. No closer to fixing anything than I had been the day Cameron left me. The tears dried cold on my cheeks and the heaviness was back, a thick suffocating kind of pain that only knew one outlet. I stared down at my hands tangled together to still the fretful tremble. F**k all, I needed a drink.
“I need it to go away for a few hours, Cam. Everything will be better in the morning, I promise. I’ll be better. I won’t be like this.”
He gathered me close. My forehead fell to his chest, my body even weaker in the strength of his embrace. I wanted to disappear in his arms, to curl up into a protected little ball and forget the rest of the world. But I worried that wouldn’t be enough to stave off the kind of pain that plagued me now.
“Please,” I begged, praying Cameron would take pity on me.
“I’ll make it go away, okay?” he whispered, pushing the hair away from my tear-stained face. “Just stay with me.”
I looked up at him, desperate and so very lost. He held my cheek. His arm wrapped possessively around my waist.
“I want you, Maya. Your heart may be broken, but I still want it. And I may not deserve it, but I’ll wait for it, as long as I need to. In the meantime, I’m here. For tonight, let this be enough, just you and me.”