The Good Luck Charm Page 11

That means he’s in a mood. I’ve experienced Martin’s crankiness plenty of times over the years. This isn’t the same, though. Before the stroke he could find ways to manage the anger or frustration. He could take off in his boat and go fishing for hours, or tinker on his old Chevy in the garage, or work on one of his little projects. But now all he can do is stew inside his own mind, unable to verbalize his frustrations without succumbing to further irritation. It’s an unending cycle that will take work to break free of.

As we finish loading the blender, Ethan appears at the top of the staircase, hair still wild, shirt still missing, but wearing a pair of dry shorts, carrying a T-shirt and what I assume is his toiletry bag.

I glance at his fly. I wonder if he took care of his situation while he was in the basement.

“Ethan, put a shirt on!” Jeannie scolds.

“I have to shower.” He drops his T-shirt on the back of the couch, which has been moved to make it easier for Martin to get around. I think he’s parading around shirtless on purpose, because he keeps running his hand over his pecs like he’s feeling himself up, or trying to draw attention to his bare chest. Which he doesn’t need to do, because it draws enough attention without his assistance.

Once the smoothie is made and it’s passed Martin’s taste test, I glance at the clock. “I should probably head to work.” It’s only a little past seven thirty and my shift doesn’t start until nine, but I don’t think hanging around with a shirtless Ethan is particularly smart.

“Do you have time for a coffee?” Ethan leans on the counter, the muscles in his arms flexing deliciously.

“I just finished brewing a fresh pot. Why don’t you grab a cup? I was about to make some scrambled eggs and toast. Have you had breakfast?” Jeannie says.

They’re both looking at me with hopeful expectation. I suppose I can’t avoid Ethan forever. At the very least, we can clear the air and put the demons of the past to rest.

“I can stay for coffee.”

Ethan’s smile melts my icy heart the tiniest bit.

He pours us both a coffee and hands me a steaming cup. “Wanna sit on the porch?”

“Okay. Sure.” We used to sit on that swing, long after his parents had gone to bed some nights, and watch the stars.

I nab his shirt from the back of the couch and follow him outside. I toss it at him as he holds the door open for me. “Put this on.”

He grins but doesn’t comment. I take a seat on the porch swing and watch every muscle in his torso flex as he draws the shirt over his head and covers his cut chest and rock-solid abs. He collects the empty beer bottles scattered on the porch floor and sets them on the railing before taking the spot beside me.

I motion to the row of empties. “Who’d you get sauced with last night?”

“Me and Ty had a couple of beers.”

I raise a brow. “That looks like more than a couple.”

“I kept going after he left.”

I glance at him. Beyond the morning scruff and his disheveled appearance, he looks tired. “Everything okay?”

“Just a lot on my mind these days.”

I nod as if I understand, and I guess in some ways I do, because it’s been the same for me.

“Martin’s already making great progress. He’s too stubborn to let this get him.”

He nods. “Yeah. It’s not just that, though.” He reaches over and runs his finger along the edge of one of the photo albums sitting on the table beside him. I recognize them as ones from high school. I’ve looked at them countless times over the years.

“You’re worried about the new season?” I know that’s not what he’s referring to, although I’m sure it’s one of the things on his mind.

“Maybe a little.”

“Is it hard, getting used to a new team?” I don’t know anything about this part of his life anymore.

He nods. “Yeah. I want to mesh with them, perform well, show the coach he made a good call on the trade, but with my Dad, it’s a lot of pressure, most of it brought on by me. Being home is challenging for a lot of reasons. But it’ll be what it’ll be, I guess.” He shifts so he’s facing me. “That’s not really what I meant, though.”

My chest feels suddenly tight, and panic sets in. I fight the urge to get up and run. The inches separating us seem to disappear and the tightness in my chest moves up to my throat. “Oh?”

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve been sent home.”

“Ethan—” Always with the superstitions. They ruled him when we were teens, sometimes to the point of obsession. Back then I’d either laugh it off or find it endearing, apart from the putrid lucky socks, anyway.

“Just hear me out for a second. I know I made a lot of mistakes when it came to you, and I can’t take back the hurt I’ve caused, or change the past, and I definitely don’t expect things to be anything like they were, but maybe we can start by being friends again.”

A light breeze has picked up, causing the surface of the lake to ripple gently. “Friends?” I don’t like the sharp sting of the word, a fresh blade across my already aching heart.

“It’s a place to start, isn’t it? If you want to.” He runs his fingers over a knot in the wood a few inches from my leg. “I mean, I get it if maybe you don’t, but it’s been a long time. We have all this history. You were such a huge part of my life, and you’re still very much part of this family. I didn’t realize how much I was missing this until I came back, you know? I don’t want to force my way into your life, but maybe when you’re ready, I can apologize and we can talk about what happened between us. You could maybe give me a chance to try to earn your forgiveness. Then we could move forward from there.”

“I don’t—”

His smile is sad, pleading. “Please don’t say no, Lilah. Just think about it. I know I hurt you, but it was complicated. I was going to come back for you. I wanted to come back for you.”

He says it so quietly I’m not sure if I heard him correctly. “What? Come back for me when?”

Ethan rubs the back of his neck, eyes fixed on the lake in the distance. “After my first season in LA, Minnesota wanted me. I was going to take the deal. I knew you were in Minneapolis for college. I thought maybe I could find a way to fix things, but then I found out you were engaged, so I stayed in LA instead.”

I feel like I’ve been backhanded in the face.

“I don’t know what to say.” And I really don’t. What would my life be like now if he had come back? If I had never dated Avery right after high school and accepted his proposal in my first year of college? Would I have broken off my engagement for Ethan? Would it have mattered? We’ll never know, because we never traveled that path. And it doesn’t change anything now.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.” He lifts a hand, fingertips sweeping under my eye.

I startle at the contact and the realization that a tear has slipped free. I look away. “You broke my heart.”

“I know, and there’s nothing I’ve ever regretted more. I just want a chance to have you back in my life in whatever way you’ll allow me.”

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