I sat on the edge of my bed, lost in thought. Behind me, I could hear Carter’s deep, even breaths as he slept. Another night that he stayed over. Those nights had become more and more frequent until he rarely spent the night at his parents. Joshua and Nora expected him at the breakfast table now.
My idling thoughts skittered back to the conversation we’d had during our walk tonight.
“I want us to have dinner with my parents.”
I stopped on the sidewalk and stared up at him. “What?” Even though what he said made perfectly logical sense, I wished he had said something else. Meet is parents? The idea had me wanting to run screaming in the other direction.
He smiled and took my hands. “I want you to meet my parents. It’s been three years, Hadley. They’re starting to think you’re not real.”
“I guess when you put it like that…” Watcher, had it really been three years? I did the math in my head and realized we’d actually be up to four years in just a few months. It really was sensible that I should meet his parents, but still… “Can I think about it, Carter?”
He leaned down and kissed me, his characteristic smile never leaving his face. “Of course, Haddie.”
Meet his parents! I shook my head. They would just love me, I was sure. I couldn’t imagine that they were at all pleased that their son was seeing an older woman. No doubt they thought horrible things about me. I had thought that that first dinner with Camille and Shirley was awkward – it wouldn’t even hold a candle to this.
I got to my feet and quietly crept out of the room. I paced the hallway, careful to avoid that one creaky board so I wouldn’t disturb Carter or Joshua. There was more on my mind than just the act of meeting his parents. A small part of me still didn’t feel like this relationship was “real.” Still believed, like I had said to Shirley four months ago at her wedding, that Carter would soon move on from me. But, not only was I trying hard to silence that voice, that also wasn’t what this was about.
Meeting Carter’s parents would be a big step. A serious sort of step. The kind of thing that said he was planning to keep me in his life for the foreseeable future. Until now, I hadn’t realized that Carter was thinking of us in such a serious way. Knowing that he did…it thrilled me, but also frightened me. Thrilling because it made me so hopeful that this was real, that it was going to stick. Afraid that I was going to start to believe this was real and then he’d leave. I don’t know if my heart could take another beating like it did with Houston.
Because it would be the same as before. Despite my best intentions, I had gone and fallen completely and hopelessly in love with Carter. Losing him would shred my already fragile heart. Tonight was a sign that my feelings were returned, and that I could count on Carter to be around. Hope warmed my heart at the same time that a sliver of fear took up residence in my stomach; if he left now, it would be even more devastating.
I would just have to talk to him, I decided. I would tell him what my feelings were and then either he would reciprocate them or he wouldn’t. At least I would know. I couldn’t stand this “we’ll see where it goes” mentality any longer.
The next day after the kids left for school, I pulled Carter down onto the living room couch. I wasn’t sure how to start, so I decided to just dive in. “Carter, where do you see our relationship going?”
He looked at me with surprise. “What do you mean?”
Not a good sign. “I mean, do you see us together for another year? When you’re thirty? When I’m sixty? Because I need to know if this is going to be permanent – or at least as permanent as anyone can predict.”
“Haddie.” He gave me a gentle, crooked smile. “Don’t you know I love you? I see us together forever, Hadley.”
Tears welled in my eyes. “What?”
He pulled me into his arms and laid a soft kiss on my lips. “I love you, Hadley. How could you think otherwise? You’re every star in my sky.”
I hugged him tight and kissed him again. “I love you, too, Carter. I love you so very much. You brought joy back to my life, and you continue to bring it with you every day. If I’m your stars, then you’re my sun. You could light up the sky with that smile of yours.”
He smiled that wonderful bright smile, that smile that made all my worries and fears fade away. “You’re not getting rid of me, Haddie. Not ever.”
I smiled warmly at the woman in front of me. She probably wasn’t more than six years older than me. “Hello. I’m Hadley Yuen.”
She smiled and pulled me into a hug. “I’m Elaine Harrison. It is so nice to finally meet you.”