"I'm out." It's such a simple statement to announce the end of my entire way of life.
Mac and Clay stare at me, their smiles gone. Beneath the sutured gashes and yellowing bruises, Clay's expression is sympathetic. Mac's is just... empty. I have no idea what she might be thinking. I'm not sure I care any more.
Mac recovers first. She moistens her lips and starts to rise. "Surely the Admiral—"
"He said no, Mac." My voice is cold, clipped. "It's over." I'm not sure what insane impulse prompted me to come to the hospital. Killing two birds with one stone, I guess. Or maybe I just needed to see them together to reassure myself that I'm doing the right thing.
She sinks slowly back into her seat. "What are you going to do?" For the first time in a long time, it seems, there's real concern in her voice.
I brace myself. "I'm moving back to California."
"What?" Mac leaps to her feet, her expression faintly outraged. "You're leaving?"
Her reaction really ought to make me angry, but it seems like too much effort. I shrug again. "Yeah." I look into her eyes. "There's nothing holding me here."
The comment has the expected effect. She recoils, and I feel a stab of satisfaction. More than anything else, that convinces me I'm making the right choice. If the only pleasure I can find in this relationship comes from hurting her, then I really need to go away.
Mac holds herself stiffly, her hands clenching at her sides. "You can still fight this, Harm. You have a lot of friends in Washington. You can go to the SecNav—"
"Sarah." Clay's quiet voice cuts through her urging like a knife. "Let it go."
She glances uncertainly at him, then turns back to me. She seems to have run out of words. An awkward silence descends.
Clay turns to me. He seems uncomfortable, but his gaze is clear. "Good luck, Harm." He extends his right hand with its trailing IV tube. I shake it, surprised by how little animosity I feel for this man. "If you ever need anything..."
I manage a smile. I may never forgive him for being so cavalier with Mac's life, but I can't question his friendship. "Thanks."
"You planning to practice law out there?" Clay continues. His interest seems genuine, and, strangely, that means something to me. I nod.
"Probably." I run a hand through my hair, feeling the tenderness along my hairline. "If the concussion effects fade to the point that I can pass a flight physical, I may rejoin. Finish out my twenty in a squadron." I shrug. "I'm capped at commander, no matter, but at least I'd get my retirement." Mac is staring suspiciously at me. "What about JAG?"
I turn to her. "What about it?"
"You wouldn't take a slot as a Judge Advocate?"
Short and simple, I tell myself. There's no point in getting into it with her. "No."
Her eyes narrow. "Why not?" she demands in that accusing tone that makes me bristle.
"Forget it, Mac."
She tosses her hair. "No, I want to know. You owe me that much."
I owe her? My anger ignites and I know I'm going to regret it, but I can't let that one go. "Fine, Mac.
You want to know why? Because I don't want to take the chance that I might have to work with you again. Satisfied?"
Her mouth gapes open in shock and her eyes—her eyes take on that wounded doe look that makes me wish I were dead. My anger dies away as quickly as it came. I'm not going to cave, though, no matter how much I want to.
Mac's mouth moves a couple of times before she manages to form words. "I can't—I can't believe you said that." She's staring at me like she's never seen me before. Who knows? Maybe she hasn't. I'm not sure I recognize the guy I see in the mirror these days, either.
I shrug. "You know, Mac, I've said a lot of things I didn't mean over the years, some of them pretty nasty. Hopefully I've managed to apologize for them all. But that one—" I gesture vaguely, unable to meet her gaze. "That one I meant." I finally bring my gaze to hers and hold it there. "Look, I don't think there's any point to beating our heads against this thing any more. I think the best thing I can do is to get out of here, for both our sakes." I start to turn away.
"So that's it? You're just going to cut and run?"
I pause, facing the door. "If that's what you want to call it."
"I call it cowardice. You'd rather run away than admit what you feel, or that you have any feelings at all!" Her voice is sneering, angry.
I pivot on my heel, adrenaline tingling through me. "You know what, Mac? You're right." I'm starting to shake, I'm so mad. "I would rather leave than tell you how I feel because history has proven that anything I say—or don't say, for that matter—can and will be used against me, and I'm sick of it."
She leans toward me, eyes flashing. "You're sick of it? Excuse me? This from a man who—"
"Hey! Knock it off, you two!" Clay glares at us from his hospital bed. He's half-upright, grimacing in pain as he pointedly shifts his attention between us. "Or at least take it outside so I can get some sleep."
I feel the flush creep up my neck. I'd forgotten he was there. I nod, acknowledging his rebuke, and offer him a half-hearted wave.
"Take care, Webb." I can't find a smile.
He settles back against his pillows. "You too, Rabb."
Without looking at Mac, I walk out of the room. I take all of three steps before she comes slamming out into the hall after me.
"Why should I?" I keep walking.
"I want to talk to you!" I can hear the frustration in her voice, the rising tension that speaks of how tautly her emotions are strung.
The swinging doors leading into the wing beckon me from the end of the hall. Past those, and maybe I can start to leave this all behind.
"I'm done talking," I toss back over my shoulder. I have to get out of here.
"Harm, stop. Please!" She's almost frantic now. So am I.
"I can't, Mac." The doors are only a few paces away. I can make it.
"What do you want from me?" The agonized cry brings me up short, and no matter how hard I try, I can't get my feet to move forward. Against my will, I turn.
She's followed me about halfway down the hall. Her uniform is crooked and wrinkled, and tears stream freely down her face. And somewhere, out of the depths of my heart, I find an honest answer for her.
"You could have said thank-you."
She stares at me as she drifts a couple of steps closer. "I did." Her eyes dart here and there, intent on some inner landscape. "Of course I thanked you."
I shake my head. "No you didn't."
"Yes, I did."
"I..." Her eyes jump to mine, soft and confused. "I never thanked you?"
"No, you didn't." I know I should leave it there, just let it go. But I don't. "You were too busy making snide comments, I guess."
"Now wait a minute—" The flash of anger is back in her eyes.
"No, you wait, Mac. You started it. Why are you so mad at me?"
She crosses her arms. "I'm not mad at you."
I snort. "You've been mad at me for a while now. In fact, you were mad at me when you came to my apartment—before any of this other insanity happened. You accused me then of trying to guilt you into not going to Paraguay. You were hardly there five minutes! Did you come over that night just to spit in my face?"
"You deserved it, Harm!" She shifts her weight. "Just because you have some kind of... of... feeling for me doesn't give you the right to insult my abilities!" She gestures sharply, her voice rising.
I grit my teeth, my voice coming out in a hiss. "Did it ever occur to you that I might have asked you not to go for a completely selfish reason? One that had absolutely nothing to do with you, and everything to do with me?" From her expression, it's obvious she has no idea what I'm talking about.
"Mac," I tell her with a kind of throttled impatience. "I spent an entire month in the brig. On trial for murder. And in all that time, the only people I talked to were my lawyer and my mother. When I got out, all I wanted was to get back to my life." I lower my voice with an effort. "And spend some time with the people who are most important to me." I pause. "It was never about you."
Mac stares into my face, thoughts shifting impenetrably behind her eyes.
"I... don't know what to say," she admits after a long moment. "I misread the situation."
I wait for a bit, wondering if she's going to say anything else. She doesn't though, and I shake my head. "Yeah, you did."
The silence stretches, thin and brittle, between us. Finally, I turn away. The doors beckon me once again with their promise of freedom.
"Harm?" Behind me, her voice is small, fragile.
Cursing myself, I turn back.
She stares at me, hands clasped in front of her like a little girl. "You're still leaving, aren't you?" she asks.
Slowly, I nod. "Yes."
"I already told you why."
She presses her lips into a thin, pale line. "That answer isn't good enough for me." Her voice quavers, and I can tell she's terrified. Terrified of being abandoned once more. I already knew my leaving would do this to her, and in some small part, I'm sorry for it.
For that reason, I don't argue with her statement. "All right," I agree softly. "Then I'll give you another." The knowledge twists in my gut. "You still haven't said thank-you."
Tears fill her eyes. Real tears. Remorseful tears. I have to wrench myself away, but I manage. This time I make it to the swinging doors and push my way through.
I have to get out of here.
The knock at my door isn't unexpected. Dreaded, perhaps, but not unexpected. Mac isn't the kind to let something personal go until it's been pounded into the ground one time too many. I suppose there's something to be said for not backing down, but still... Should it hurt this much?
I trudge to the door and pull it open. I don't want to have to fight with her about why I didn't let her in. She stands on the other side of the door, dressed in one of those casual, summery outfits that belie her status as a US Marine. I cast only a quick glance at her face, not wanting to have to look in her eyes. Leaving is the healthiest thing I know how to do for us. I don't want to find a reason to stay.
She hesitates on the threshold. "Can I come in?"
I step back, unable to help my weary sigh. "Sure." The sarcastic defense-mode voice in the back of my mind is already starting to spew comments. I bite them back, at least for now.
Mac drifts into my apartment, her head turning as she takes in the piles of collapsed packing boxes and the general chaos that has taken over the space. What can I say, I make a mess when I pack. So sue me.
"What's on your mind, Mac?" I can't bring myself to start any small talk.
She turns slowly to face me. "I came to say thank-you." There's little emotion on her face or in her voice. "And that I'm sorry I let my anger keep me from being even decent to you. I do owe you my life, and I'm grateful."
I stare at her. "You came all the way over here to make a pro forma apology?"
She stiffens, and her dark eyes flash. "I came here to try and make some kind of peace," she tells me coldly. "Apparently, I shouldn't have bothered." She turns and stalks toward the door.
I watch her go. What does it matter how many times she walks out of my life?
She grabs the doorknob and yanks my front door open, only to pause with the knob still in her hand. She stands frozen for a long moment and then her shoulders slump.
"You aren't going to try to stop me, are you?" Her voice is quiet, defeated.
"No." I still don't understand why she would want me to. Isn't that synonymous to telling her I don't think she's capable of running her own life? I shift my weight to ease the ache in my low back. "If you want to stay and talk, then stay, Mac."
She doesn't move. "That doesn't tell me what you want, though, does it?"
I bite the inside of my lip. "The last time I told you what I wanted, things didn't go so well."
She releases the doorknob and gently nudges the door closed. I hear the latch click into place. Mac stays where she is, facing the closed door with her hands loosely balled at her sides.
"I thought you were jealous of Webb."
"I think you were trying to make me jealous of Webb."
She's silent. I leave her to her thoughts and wander over to the couch. I need to sit down. My back is starting to scream. I collapse into my usual spot and lean my head back, closing my eyes. A little while later I hear a rustle and a small, wooden creak as she settles on the edge of the coffee table. I can smell her perfume.
"Would it really be so awful for me to want you to be jealous?" Her voice is hardly above a whisper. Aaargh. Why does she want to talk about this? It's only going to get ugly. But, I guess it doesn't matter any more what I say to her. I'm out of here in three days. It can't come back to bite me for too long.
I reach up to pinch the bridge of my nose. "It's beneath you to be that manipulative." I pause. "Or at least, it ought to be."
Her breath catches, and I tense.
"Why, because it's 'beneath me' to want to wring from you some tiny bit of proof that you might possibly care?" The words are acid, angry.
I pick my head up to stare at her. "I threw away my entire life to come after you, Mac. How much more proof do you want?"
She jumps to her feet with a strangled cry. "That doesn't count!"
Fury goes through me in a white hot flash. I push myself off the couch, ignoring my body's protests. The move puts us nose to nose in the narrow space between the couch and table, but that's fine with me.
"Doesn't count?" I hiss. "My career, my wings... my life doesn't count?" Go on, Sarah Mackenzie. Answer that one.
Her eyes widen in alarm. "That's not what I was trying to say, Harm!" She tries to back up, but trips on the edge of the coffee table and sits down with a thump. Her only reaction is to lean forward, burying her face in her hands. "You should know that's not what I meant."
Trembling from adrenaline I have no use for, I move to the side and seat myself on the arm of the couch. I want to grab her by the shoulders and shake her until she tells me something that makes sense. I tuck my hands beneath my thighs to hold the temptation at bay while the adrenaline rush fades.
Eventually, Mac raises her head. I don't see any anger in her expression. She reaches out a hand, but doesn't quite touch my knee.
"Harm, I've seen you put your career, your life—even your flight status—on the line for other people more times than I can count." Her gaze flickers to mine. "You'd do it for some seaman's apprentice you don't know just as quickly as you would for your dearest friends, and that's something I... greatly respect."
I can only shake my head. "You sure have a strange way of showing it."
She snorts and turns her head away, but not before I see the anger come back to life in her eyes. "Could you drop the sarcasm for a minute?" She turns back to me. "I really am trying to have an honest conversation, here, okay?"
I'm not ready to play nice. I meet her gaze. "When I try to be honest, you find some reason why whatever I said isn't good enough for you, and then you stomp off without giving me a chance to clarify. At least with sarcasm, all I get from you is anger." I give her an empty smile. "It's a heck of a lot easier to deal with."
Well, you've done it now, Rabb. Two red splotches appear on her cheeks and her eyes turn black with suppressed fury. "Forget it." She makes a hard slashing motion with her hand as she stands. "I tried to give us a chance to talk this out, but that's it. I'm done." She turns away.
"There you go stomping off again." My voice is mild. Whenever I get to this point, it's almost euphoric. Not feeling anything is so much nicer than feeling like my insides are being ripped to shreds.
She whirls on me, a storm raging behind her eyes. "At least I tried," she sneers, dashing an angry tear from her face. "That's more than I can say for you."
My comfortable numbness shatters and everything it shielded comes boiling out. I take a step toward her, my hands knotted into fists. "Oh, yeah, you tried," I spit at her. "You tried so hard in Sydney that you fell into bed with Mic Brumby. What did you do, trip?"
Her gasp punctuates the silence. The red spots on her cheeks have turned white. I recognize that danger sign, so I'm ready for the hand that slices toward my face. I catch her wrist, halting her palm a couple of inches from my cheek. She tries to pull away, but I don't let her.
"Tell me, Mac... were you just trying to make me jealous then, too?"
She goes utterly still, the weight of her arm hanging from my hand. Then her mouth twists into a snarl. "You know what? I was. Okay? Are you happy now?" Tears fill her eyes and overflow, but that only seems to make her angrier. "Does it make you feel good to know that I spent two years pretending to love another man on the off chance that it might get you to notice me? How's that for your overblown fighter jock ego?" To my shock, she begins to cry for real. She hunches her shoulders, her entire body shaking. I think, if I let go of her wrist, she'd fall to the floor. I don't know what to do. Why does she think I've never noticed her? All I've ever tried to do was respect her wishes.
Before I realize what I'm doing, I gather her into my arms, pulling her against my chest. I can't watch her cry like that. I just can't.
"You didn't have to do anything to get me to notice you, Mac," I tell her. Maybe it's a lame thing to say, but that's the only part I can get my mind wrapped around. "I noticed you the day we met."
She's been leaning into me, but now she pulls back. I immediately miss the feel of her cheek pressed against my chest, her hair tickling my chin.
Her hands twitch at her sides in a hopeless gesture. "Why didn't you ever say so?"
What do I tell her? At first, it was simply because I didn't think she wanted to hear it. All those red lights she threw. But, I know that's not all there is to it.
"I guess, because I felt like you were trying to force my hand." My thoughts jump to Mic Brumby. "I did try to tell you... on the Guadalcanal, but you didn't bother to wait around long enough to hear it." I see her stiffen, but I've run out of darts to throw.
"After that..." I trail off with a sigh. If I'm honest with myself, I know she's not the only one who's been trying to manipulate the situation. "After that I decided to make you figure it out for yourself."
Standing there, she looks so small, so lost. She rubs the outsides of her arms as if warding off a chill, her gaze focused on the floor. "And I was determined to make you say the words before—" She looks up at me with a helpless shrug. "What a pair we make, huh?" There's bitterness in her voice, but this time it isn't aimed at me.
We stand silently for a few moments, then Mac shoves her hands into her jeans pockets. "I guess—I guess there's not much else to say, is there?"
"I guess not." I gesture toward the door. "I'll walk you to your car."
We make the trek in silence broken only by the sound of our shoes. Mac unlocks her car door and opens it, then turn to look at me. "Thank you for coming after me, Harm." Her gaze is sincere, and filled with sadness.
One of the knots binding my heart loosens unexpectedly. "You're welcome."
"I... wish we'd found a way to make this work."
I sigh. "Me, too."
"Harm—" I see the spark of hope kindle in her eyes, and it scares me.
"If you're ever in California, look me up," I say quickly. I'm grateful we've found some resolution, but I'm not ready to step forward. Not yet.
Her gaze falls, and she nods. "All right. Take care of yourself, okay?"
"You, too." On a whim I hold out my arms. She steps into them, and we hug each other goodbye for perhaps the last time.
After that, there's nothing to do but hold the door for her as she climbs into her car. I shut the door behind her, and watch as she pulls away from the curb.
A moment later, she turns the corner and is gone.
Life is pretty good. I taxi the last hundred yards toward the hangar with Eddie on my tail. Through the canopy, I note that the new sign is here. Two men with a crane are in the process of hanging it over the hangar door. The sign says "Rabb Air" in blocky script, its color a deep navy blue that matches the paint job on my aircraft. Well, technically they're the bank's aircraft, but they'll eventually be mine. In the back seat, my passenger is quietly gathering his composure after the little taste of air combat operations Eddie and I just gave him.
I smile fondly as I pull to a stop outside the hangar and begin the shutdown sequence. This may be a Russian knockoff of my beloved Tomcat, but she's still a sweet ride. Off to my left, Eddie parks the T-38 that serves as our "Red Team" aircraft. Like the Sukhoi, it's painted dark blue and trimmed with white and gold stripes. This close to San Diego, the distinctly military colors bring in business. I pop the canopy as Scooter, my mechanic, wheels up a set of stairs. Not for me, for my customer.
"Enjoy the ride?" I ask my backseater as I pull myself to my feet.
The young executive gives me an exuberant thumbs-up and starts babbling about the flight. I smile and nod at appropriate intervals, but most of my attention is on making sure he gets from the cockpit to the ground safely. His legs don't look entirely steady.
Scooter flashes me a grin as I climb down the proper way. "You got a customer waitin' in the hangar, boss," he tells me, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. His smile tells me this new arrival is both female and quite attractive.
Whistling to myself, I jog toward the hangar doors. The interior seems dark after the brilliant sunshine outside. I pause and blink a few times, letting my eyes adjust. Sarah sits alone in the cavernous space, her yellow paint job standing out starkly against the concrete and corrugated metal. She's more of a showpiece now, though I do take her out from time to time.
Sarah blocks my view of the counter, which is where new customers are made to wait. Beneath the wing I catch a glimpse of shapely bare legs and a pair of Birkenstocks. Curious, I increase my pace as I round Sarah's wingtip.
The woman is standing with her back to me as she studies the pictures lining the wall near her. She's tall and slim, dressed in a tank top and a pair of jean shorts. Her dark hair is pulled up in a rough ponytail and a backpack hangs from one shoulder.
I have only a split second to realize she seems familiar before she turns, and I find myself face to face with Sarah Mackenzie.
I stop short, feeling like I've just bounced off a brick wall. It's been almost two years since I watched her drive away from my loft in DC.
"Hi, Harm," she offers with a nervous smile. Her right hand is clasped around the shoulder strap of her backpack, holding it in place, and her other arm is folded across her waist.
For a moment, I simply stare. She's changed. Long strands of hair have escaped her ponytail to frame her face with a kind of femininity I don't remember her ever showing openly. Her eyes are as dark as I recall, but now they're framed by laugh-lines. She looks fit and tan and more relaxed than I think I've ever seen her.
"Mac—" It comes out as a croak and I clear my throat self-consciously. "What are you doing here?"
She offers a shrug. "I was in the area, so I decided to drop by. I was hoping we could catch up."
I'm surprised by how appealing that offer sounds. The pain of our parting has faded with time. Most of my abiding memories of this woman are good ones, fond recollections of a friendship that will always be precious to me. But holding onto memories is a lot safer than facing the real thing. Especially when I've had no time to prepare myself.
"Are you out here on an investigation?" I ask, stalling, as I eye her attire which is a far cry from Marine greens.
She smiles again. "No, I'm a paleontology student at San Diego State."
Huh? I look her over again as I try to gather my composure. I've got to admit she looks like a student, but—
"You left the Corps?" I didn't think anything could make Mac give up the Marines.
Her smile slowly dies, to be replaced by a soft, sad expression. "There was nothing there for me anymore."
If she wanted to floor me, she couldn't have done a better job. My gut twists, knotting into a painful ball. But before I can form a response, we're interrupted by a pair of men's voices. Eddie and Scooter are walking across the hangar, their conversation peppered with laughter.
They fall silent when they reach us. I guess they can feel the tension. After a moment, Eddie extends his hand to Mac with a grin. "Hi, I'm Ed Morton, and this here's Scooter."
Mac smiles shyly as she shakes both men's hands. "Sarah Mackenzie. I'm an... old friend of Harm's."
"Nice to meet you," they chorus, then Eddie turns to me with a knowing smile. "Listen, Scooter and I can close up shop if you want to take off early."
"I—" Mac's staring at me, the first hint of fear in her eyes and I bite my lip. "Okay. Thanks, guys," I tell them.
They quickly take their leave, and Mac and I are left staring at each other.
"If you don't want to do this, Harm—" she begins, but I wave her off.
"No." The idea of letting her walk away again is more than I can take. "It's fine, Mac. I'm just a little surprised, is all."
"Sarah," she says softly.
I give her a quizzical look and she shrugs. "I don't go by Mac any more."
I absorb that as we walk out to the parking lot. So much has changed that I don't even know where to begin.
Mac—Sarah—walks unerringly toward my corvette and goes around to the passenger side. She tosses her pack into the back seat with casual familiarity, then opens the door and slips into the passenger seat. She leans her elbow on the open window rail, propping her head on her hand as she watches me climb in beside her.
The image hits me hard. She looks so right sitting there. Like she belongs in my car... my life. The sudden resurrection of that dream leaves me reeling, and I know I shouldn't let myself think like that. I put this part of the past to rest a long time ago because all we could do was hurt each other. I even let little AJ's fifth birthday go by without contacting her because trying to keep that promise would have been sheer stupidity. We both deserve better.
Shaking my head at my thoughts, I turn the ignition over. The car rumbles to life, and I carefully back out of the parking space. Mac smiles briefly at me as the wind catches her hair, blowing it into her face.
She remains quiet as I pull out into traffic, as if content to leave me to my thoughts. For a while I simply drive, but eventually I realize I'm stealing glances at her every couple of seconds. She's so incredibly beautiful.
"Why did you come here, Sarah?" The question flies out before I can catch it. I know there's an edge to my voice, but her presence is eating at me, stealing away the peace I thought I'd gained.
She turns to me, her dark eyes expressive. "Because I miss you."
I slam on the brakes, yanking the steering wheel to the right. The corvette skids to a stop in the gravel at the side of the road amidst a chorus of honking horns. I ignore the other drivers as I leap out of the car, slamming the door behind me. Somehow I end up in front of the 'vette, my pulse hammering in my ears as I stare through the windshield at Mac.
She slowly gets out of the car and approaches. But rather than walking up to me, she takes a seat on the hood and props her feet on the fender. I can't bring myself to be concerned for the car.
"Why now?" I demand.
Her expression remains mild. "Why not now?"
"I don't know." I spread my hands, feeling helpless in the grip of old hurts. "I thought we were over." Mac sighs and looks away, toward the horizon. "Out of all the mistakes I've made in my life, the one I regret most is destroying our friendship."
The simple honesty in her statement makes my chest ache. I stare at my dusty boots. "It wasn't just you," I feel compelled to say.
Her laughter is strained. "I'll share the blame with you however you want to divide it, Harm."
I risk a glance at her. She's watching me, hope and terror conflicting in her eyes. In an instant, all the pain, all the fear—all the wonder—wrapped up in this woman comes back to me. How is it that I can feel more alive right now than I have at any time in the last two years?
I bite my lip. "I miss you, too."
She answers with a smile. Sliding off the hood, she walks up to me, her chocolate eyes searching my face. "Do you think there's a chance we could start over?"
I want to touch her so badly, but if I do, I'll be lost. "How do you know we won't make the same mistakes again?" I counter.
"I don't." She pulls back at step, putting us at a more comfortable distance, but her eyes never leave mine. "But this time I won't be trying to pretend that I don't need you in my life, or that I don't love you." Her gaze is almost defiant.
For my part, I can only stare. Two years ago, I would have given anything to hear those words from her. I would have given anything to have been able to say them to her, too. But at the moment, I can't seem to move.
She doesn't seem too surprised by my reaction—or lack thereof. She watches me for a few moments and then shrugs, her smile lopsided. "You don't have to say anything." The amazing thing is, I believe her. My paralysis shatters.
"Sarah," she reminds me softly.
"Sarah." I let her name roll around on my tongue. It feels so... intimate to call her that. From the look in her eyes, I can tell she feels it, too. I reach out to touch her waist, drawing her close. Sarah comes to me without protest, and I bend down until my forehead rests against hers. I can feel her breath against my chin, the warmth of her skin seeping through her shirt into my hands.
This is what we never had. What we wanted so badly and tried to steal from each other without giving anything in return. This... intimacy.
"I love you, Sarah." Suddenly the words don't seem so hard to say. They've been true for so long.
She tips her head back, laughter bubbling out of her. Her arms go around my neck and I sweep her up, hardly daring to believe. Her hair tickles my face, smelling of honeysuckle. I don't ever want to let this woman go.
If I can help it, I never will.
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