Kiss Me Like This
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“How could you?” But he didn’t give her a chance to try to answer. “I thought I knew you.”
“You do know me.”
“Do I? Or was I just being an idiot, blinded by your face like everyone else?”
It stung, God, how it stung, to hear him talk about her looks right now, and to blame his feelings on them. Especially after the way she’d told him last night that he was the only person in her life who didn’t look at her face as a commodity.
“I’m so sorry for looking at the pictures without your consent, sorrier than you’ll ever know,” she said again as she tried to push away his heated words, words she didn’t want to believe he could possibly mean. He was grieving and in terrible pain over the loss of his mother, and her actions had obviously brought all of those feelings back up before he was ready to deal with them. “But I’ve seen the way you look every time your mother comes up and I want so badly to be there for you.”
“So this is how you thought you’d do it? By snooping through my things?”
Why couldn’t he see that she hadn’t meant to hurt him? That she’d only done what she had because she cared so much about him? And that it also hurt her the way he was shutting down, shutting her out so completely?
“You asked me from the start to trust you. You said it was okay to be scared, because you’d make sure that I didn’t get hurt, and that we wouldn’t move too fast. I’ve tried to keep trusting you, tried so hard that sometimes I actually think I’ve succeeded at conquering some of my own demons. But now, with these photos which obviously mean everything to you, why can’t you trust me, too?” When he didn’t say anything, even though something way down deep inside of her it felt like everything was starting to shatter, she still couldn’t let herself give up on him. On them. “I know I can’t understand what it must be like to lose your mother. But if you can just try to let me in a little—”
“How many times have you spoken to your mother since you’ve been on campus?”
“I…” Her throat felt as raw as if she’d been crying all night rather than sleeping in Sean’s arms. “I haven’t.”
“Do you know how many times I would have given anything to talk to my mom again? You haven’t even talked to yours at all, but now you want me to open up to you about mine being dead?”
She knew he was hurting terribly, but for everything he thought she didn’t understand about him, there was just as much he didn’t understand about her. And what he didn’t know about her mattered. Mattered a lot, even if it wasn’t life and death.
“Do you know why I haven’t talked to my mom? Because she won’t call me back. She won’t write me back, won’t have anything at all to do with me, because she’s so mad at me for finally making my own decisions about everything. But even though she doesn’t understand why I need to make my own decisions for once in my life, I’ve been trying so hard to make sure they’re the right ones.” God, she could hardly think it, let alone say it aloud, but she had to. “Now you’re making me think I haven’t. Now you’re making me wonder if the dumbest thing I ever did was trust you with myself. With my heart.” Her breath was coming fast and her ears were ringing as if she was in the front row of a hard-rock concert. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, so impossibly sorry that you’re hurting. I’m so sorry you lost your mom. I’m so sorry I pried into your private things. I shouldn’t have done it. I shouldn’t have kept looking at your pictures. One day I hope you’ll be able to forgive me. But most of all, one day—” She could barely get the words out around the tears that clogged her throat as she reached blindly for the doorknob, needing to run so he wouldn’t see just how broken she felt about opening up her heart to him just in time for him to break it in two. “One day I hope you’ll find a way to be happy again. Because there’s nothing I want more for you than that.”
It had been a huge shock to see Serena going through his pictures. But it had been an even worse shock to see the photos of his mom again.
Sean hadn’t just stayed away from his camera since the day his mom died. He’d completely avoided his box of pictures, too, not even letting Olivia dig into them for the funeral when she’d needed some extra photos to display for the hundreds of people who had come to pay their final respects.
Just hours earlier, he’d fallen asleep holding Serena in his arms, and it was her absence that had woken him up. He’d been so glad to see that she was still there. But then, when he’d realized what she was looking at, it had felt like all his skin had been ripped off and there was nothing left of him but blood and bones and guts in front of her. That was why he’d reacted so harshly. Too harshly. Like a complete idiot who couldn’t stop things he didn’t even believe about her from spewing out of his mouth.
Not until she’d turned to walk away from him and it finally got through his thick skull that she was leaving.
Because he’d hurt her.
“Please.” He caught her halfway down the back stairs. “Please don’t go. I’m sorry for everything I just said. I’m sorry for everything I just did.” He didn’t care who heard them, who saw them together. All that mattered was that Serena knew he was sorrier about what he’d said to her than he’d ever been for anything his entire life. “If I could talk about my mom with anyone, it would be with you. I didn’t mean what I said. I swear I didn’t.”
For several long, painful moments, she didn’t move. Didn’t speak. And he thought for sure that he’d lost her.
But then, when she finally turned back to face him, he was brought nearly to his knees. Because instead of looking at him with hate…all he could see was the pure truth of how much she cared about him. Just like she’d said over and over when he’d been blinded by grief.
“I know you didn’t,” she said softly. And then, though he didn’t deserve it after what he’d said, after the way he’d behaved—when anyone else would already have been gone by now—she slid her arms around him and laid her face against his chest. “And I know you would.”