Home > Aflame (Fall Away #4)(7)

Aflame (Fall Away #4)(7)
Author: Penelope Douglas

But I can’t do what she wants me to do. I can’t quit school to find myself and be around her at the same time. What do I do? Stay home all day, wander the city, take on odd jobs as I explore my options for who knows how many years while she comes home every day from her classes, which keep her life moving forward?

I hate to put it like this, but the raw truth? My pride can’t take it.

I can’t be the deadbeat boyfriend doing shit with his life as he figures himself out while she’s there to see it.

But I will come back. I’ll always want her.

She sits on the bed where we’ve slept next to each other for nearly ten years. The bed where I’ve made love to her countless times, and I feel like a candy-ass right now. I’m a fucking coward because I need to leave, and a coward because I don’t want to. I feel myself giving in.

But I clear my throat and meet her eyes, pushing forward. “The apartment is paid up for the school year, so you don’t have to worry—”

“A year!” she cuts me off, shooting out of bed. “A fucking year! Are you kidding me?”

“I don’t know what I’m doing, okay?” I admit. “I don’t feel like I fit in at college! I feel like you’re moving a hundred miles an hour, and I’m constantly trying to catch up!”

She shakes her head at me, unable to believe what’s happening.

I steady my voice, speaking firmly. I have to do this. “You know what you’re doing and what you want, Tate, and I’m . . .” I steel my jaw. “I’m fucking blind. I can’t breathe.”

She turns away to hide tears I know are falling. “You can’t breathe,” she repeats, and my stomach knots. Did she think that this didn’t hurt me, too?

“Baby.” I pull her around to face me. “I love you.” I look into her storm blue eyes. “I love you so goddamn much. I just . . . I just need time,” I plead. “Some space, to figure out who I am and what I want.”

Her eyes search mine as she lowers her voice. “So what happens?” she asks. “What happens when you find the life you’re looking for?”

I straighten my back, taken by surprise. There was no future without her in it. She had to know that.

“I don’t know yet,” I admit. I didn’t know where I’d end up, what I’d be doing, but she was mine. Always.

I would be coming home again.

She nods. “I do,” she says, her voice turning clipped. “You didn’t come in here to tell me you’ll be back. That you’ll call or we’ll text. You came in here to break up with me.”

She pulls away and tries to turn around, but I catch her. “Baby, come here.”

But she brings her arms down, severing my hold. “Oh, just get out!” she shouts, looking up at me with fire in her eyes. “You cut off everyone who loves you. You’re pathetic. I should be used to this by now.”


“Just leave!” she shouts and walks for her bedroom door, yanking it open. “I’m sick of the sight of you, Jared. Just go.”

I shake my head, narrowing my eyes on her. “No,” I argue. “I need you to understand.”

She lifts a defiant chin. “All I’ll ever understand is that you needed to live a life without me in it, so just go and do that.”

“I don’t want this.” I search for the words to get her back. “Not like this. I don’t want to hurt you. Just sit down, so we can talk. I can’t leave you like this,” I press. Why can’t she understand? I’m not leaving her. I’m coming back.

But she shakes her head. “And I won’t let you stay. You need to be free? Then, go. Get out.”

I swallow the hard lump in my throat and watch her. What the hell’s happening? Regret races through my brain as I think that maybe I should’ve done this differently. Sat her down and eased into it. But I don’t know how to do that shit. I don’t know how to be gentle.

Fuck, I’d blindsided her. Even though we’d been distant the past week, I knew she wasn’t expecting this.

After everything I’d done to her over the years, she still doesn’t trust me. She doesn’t see that I’m trying to be strong. That I’m trying to be a man. All she sees right now is me causing her more pain, and she’s had enough.

“Now,” she orders, her tears drying on her face.

I let my eyes fall, and every muscle in my arms tenses with the urge to charge her. Take her, hold her to me, and will her to melt into me like she always does. I have to have Tate in my life.

She’ll wait for me.

And as I grab my bag and leave, I know that I’ll be back. I have to do this, but I will be back for her.

I didn’t even need a year, either. Only six months.

Turns out six months was too long.


“Awesome,” Pasha bit out, peering out the window of her first-class seat. “I totally get what they mean by ‘flyover state’ now.”

I ignored her distaste for whatever she was seeing out there and stuffed my iPad into my carry-on, nudging it back under my seat with my foot.

“Cheer up,” I sighed. “We have cars and liquor and cigarettes in Shelburne Falls, too. It will feel just like home to you.”

She settled back into her seat, and I could feel her little scowl directed at the seat in front of her. “Looking forward to it.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm. “I do get to get drunk tonight, right?” she confirmed.

I grinned and closed my eyes against the popping in my ears as we descended. “As long as you are glued to my side, I don’t give a shit what you do.”

I could hear her short, aggravated breaths, and I wondered—probably as much as she did—why I felt the need to drag her with me. “This is weird,” she grumbled. “You’re weird. Why do I have to be here?”

“Because I pay—”

“You to,” she finished. “Well, someday when you want a kidney, it’s really going to cost you, man.”

I licked my lips, envisioning an invisible hand pressing on my heart to slow that fucker down. In a minute, I’d be back at home base, and even though Tate wasn’t there, I was nervous. Seeing my house, her house next door, our old high school . . . and my best friend, who wasn’t talking to me . . .

Jesus, I was a little bitch.

I twisted my head, still lying on the headrest. “Pasha?” I mumbled softly. “What do you want me to say? That I can’t chew my food without you these days?” I shrugged. “I’d rather have you around and not need you than need you and not have you.”

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