Note: Thank you SO MUCH for your patience! (Also thank you for the well-wishes, the wedding was perfect! <3)
Here is our next chapter. I am publishing this the same day my husband and I leave for our honeymoon! What this means is that I will be able to pop in and read comments, but chances are, I will not be replying to them. I’ll try to do some short replies if I have a chance, but please do not feel offended if you just get a “like” on your comment, but not a reply. I promise that I will be reading all of them! I just can’t promise that I’ll be able to reply individually to everybody on this particular chapter. But I really wanted to get this out before we left, as we aren’t coming back til July 7th, so it’ll be another few weeks before the next chapter!
Thank you all so much for your support and patience, as always! ❤
“Okay, I know I’m not supposed to yell at you on your birthday…” Zelda began, her tone a mixture of amusement and irritation. “But seriously Ember, can’t you at least take your eyes off your phone long enough to say ‘bye’ to your best friend?! Me and Jace need to head home before this storm gets any worse.”
As though on cue, the wind outside gave a loud howl as Zelda spoke. Over the past couple of weeks, the unseasonably warm fall weather had abruptly done a complete 180, plunging them headfirst into winter. The rest of the family had already left the birthday celebration to try and beat the impending storm, but Zelda and Jace had lingered to spend some more time with their friend…
And unfortunately, Emberlynn had spent almost the entire time with her eyes glued to the screen of her phone.
“Sorry, sorry!” Emberlynn hastily shoved her cellphone back into her pocket. She’d gotten caught up looking at Xander’s Facebook page yet again.
“Still stressing out over that girl he posted about?” Jace asked.
Emberlynn just shrugged. “A little.” She admitted. Or a lot… But she wasn’t about to admit that out loud.
Zelda let out a soft sigh. “Look, if it’s really bothering you this much, why don’t you just ask him?”
“Yeah!” Jace agreed. “It’s not that hard right? ‘So who’s this Taylor chick? You banging her, or what?’ See, easy!” He teased.
Zelda rolled her eyes, but laughed. Emberlynn, on the other hand, was much less amused by his suggestion.
She’d been panicking ever since she’d seen the post he’d made earlier that week, thanking some mysterious girl (‘Taylor Murdock’, according to the tag) for cooking him ‘the best dinner he’s had’ since arriving to Paris. Ugh. Who the hell was she? And why was she cooking him dinner?! Did he really move on that quickly? Emberlynn was way too terrified to find out the answer, so instead she’d busied herself with stalking Xander’s Facebook page for some kind of clue.
“Well, it’s not my business who he’s banging anyway, right?” She replied at last, wishing she could believe the words coming out of her own mouth. “It’s not like we’re dating. Hell, we might not even be friends anymore, at this point.” She grumbled moodily. Things had continued to feel so different between them ever since he’d gone back to Paris nearly three weeks ago.
Zelda and Jace exchanged a look. “I love you, Ember.” Her cousin broke the brief silence. “But I’m not having this conversation with you AGAIN. You already know what my advice is gonna be.”
Emberlynn sighed. “I know.”
Her friends didn’t stay around much longer after that. It was hard to tell whether it was really because of the weather, or because they were feeling fed up with her. Maybe both. Either way, as she watched Jace and Zelda head out to the car hand-in-hand, Emberlynn could not suppress a sudden bubbling of jealousy rising in her chest.
They were such a cute couple. And they made things look so EASY. It just wasn’t fair…
Emberlynn’s mood continued going downhill for the rest of the night… and so did the weather. The storm turned out to be much worse than any of them had thought, so Phoenix and Gigi had insisted she spend the night, rather than attempt to make it back to her apartment.
As Emberlynn sat on the edge of her old bed, wearing pajamas she’d borrowed from her mother, she marveled at how strange it felt to be back in her childhood bedroom. It was so empty now, but being there still brought back so many memories — playing dress up with Zelda, sewing some of her very first costumes, long hours spent chatting with Mason and Xander…
Emberlynn pulled out her phone once more, looking down at the ‘Happy Birthday’ message he’d sent her earlier that day. He’d sounded friendly and kind, just like he always did… But it felt like there was something different too. Like he was more distant, maybe? And he’d made no mention of her upcoming visit. Emberlynn had been planning to visit him in Paris to celebrate both their birthdays, which were barely a month apart. But he hadn’t said a thing about it.
Maybe he didn’t even want her to come anymore. Could it have something to do with that mysterious Taylor girl? Or maybe the way Emberlynn had fucked things up during his visit had been enough to ruin things on its own.
Ugh, what’s wrong with me?! Emberlynn finally ripped her eyes away from her phone screen. Why do I have to be so afraid? I shouldn’t let this stupid fear or whatever control me, should I? But… God, I just can’t.
A sudden knocking at the bedroom door made her jump. “C-come in!” Emberlynn called out awkwardly, not really caring who it was. At this point, anything would probably be a welcome distraction.
“Hey, birthday girl.” Her grandmother’s voice called from the doorway.
Emberlynn forced a smile as Harper entered. “Hey, Oma… What’s up?”
Her grandmother shrugged. “Just checking in on my favorite granddaughter.”
“Uh-huh… Except I’m your only granddaughter.”
“Well, yeah… Which makes you my favorite too!”
Emberlynn couldn’t help but laugh. “Oma, that was SO bad.”
“I know.” Harper laughed along with her. “But accurate!” After a few moments, her laughter finally began to fade. “So… you had a good birthday?”
“Of course I did. Why wouldn’t I?” Emberlynn almost winced at how overly-defensive her reply came out. And unfortunately, her grandmother seemed to notice too.
“Sounds to me like you already know the ‘why’…” She replied gently. “Is it something you wanna talk about?”
Emberlynn kicked herself mentally. She would’ve thought that all those hours she spent at the theater would have helped some acting ability to rub off on her, but apparently not.
She ruminated on her grandmother’s question for a bit longer before replying. “It’s… It’s this guy. My friend.” She added hastily, feeling more like a little girl again than ever. “Xander.”
Harper nodded knowingly. She’d heard all about Xander over the past several years. “He came to visit just a few weeks ago, didn’t he?”
“Yeah, but… I think I fucked it all up, Oma. And I’m not sure how to fix it.” Before she even realized what she was saying, Emberlynn found herself telling her grandmother all about what had happened with Xander, how afraid she’d felt, and how hurt and conflicted she’d been feeling ever since. The words poured from her lips so easily — it felt good to finally get it all out to someone besides her journal.
Emberlynn suddenly felt so grateful that it was her grandmother who had come to her. She could never imagine telling either of her parents about any of this. Harper now knew even more about what had happened than Zelda did. Emberlynn was shocked by how easy it was to open up to her.
Harper did not immediately reply as her granddaughter’s story came to an end. She almost seemed to be teetering on the edge of something — like there was some brief internal back-and-forth. Emberlynn simply eyed her questioningly as she waited for her grandmother to speak, terrified that opening up had been a mistake.
At last, Harper opened her mouth to speak. “Honey… I understand.”
The old woman nodded. “I do. A hell of a lot better than you know. Trust me.”
For a moment, Emberlynn laughed. “Oh come on, you can’t just tease me with all that ominous crap… There’s gotta be some kind of story here, right?”
“Two, actually.” Harper replied, smiling almost sadly. “But they aren’t very happy ones.”
Emberlynn’s smile vanished instantly at her grandmother’s words.
“When I was just a little bit younger than you, there was one thing that I was absolutely terrified of…” Harper continued. “Admitting I was wrong.”
Her granddaughter blinked wordlessly in reply. Seriously? This already sounded nothing like the grandmother she knew.
“I was proud and stubborn and… pretty damn awful, to be honest.” Harper spoke the words so matter-of-factly. “And one of the people I wronged the most was my own Oma.”
“Jocelyne?” Emberlynn knew the woman’s name well — she was still something of a legend down at the theater for all her years directing there. Emberlynn passed a plaque dedicated to her great-great-grandmother in the theater lobby every day.
Harper nodded. “The most amazing woman I’ve ever met. Biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known.” A few tears sparkled in her eyes as she spoke. “She took in my Papa when his parents died, raised him as her own… Helped raise me… She was such a kind person. And I took advantage of that kindness in the worst way.”
“What did you do?” Emberlynn asked softly, dreading the answer. She’d never seen her grandmother like this before — ever.
The old woman shook her head, but left the question unanswered. “I felt awful for what I did to her. And I paid for it, in the worst way… Not in the way anybody thought I would either, I don’t think.” She explained softly. “I felt like shit for hurting her, but I was too much of a coward to apologize. And she died before I ever got the chance to.”
Emberlynn’s heart sank at her words. “Oma, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. It was my own fault.” Harper replied with a shrug. “And you’d have thought I’d learned my lesson after that, right? That I’d be honest about how I felt. Speak up more…” She shook her head. “But I didn’t.”
“Things were such a mess back then. I’d just lost everything — my Oma, your Opa Erik, your Papa, my parents, my friends… I’d pushed everyone away from me. Everything was falling apart… And then I met someone.” Harper’s voice was barely above a whisper now. “Someone who helped put me back together again. She taught me how to own up to my mistakes, and try to fix things. How to be better…”
Emberlynn noticed that the tears in her grandmother’s eyes had returned. “Sounds like a pretty amazing person.” She replied at last, not sure what else to say.
“Oh, she was.” Harper’s eyes were misty, like she was looking at something far away. “I loved her so much. Probably more than I’d ever loved anybody, until your Opa Dev and I got together…”
Loved… HER? It seemed she was learning a lot of things about her grandmother that night. Once again, Emberlynn said nothing.
“But I was afraid.” Her grandmother continued, absentmindedly stroking the faded green tattoo on her forearm. “I couldn’t tell her how I felt. I made every excuse in the world not to, even though my heart kept telling me it was wrong… And do you know what happened?”
The way Harper was looking at her sent a chill down Emberlynn’s spine. “Oh shit.” She whispered.
Harper nodded. “It was like my Oma all over again, but so much worse…” She paused to take a breath and wipe a few tears from the corners of her eyes.
Emberlynn’s throat felt suddenly dry. “I’m so sorry, Oma.”
“Like I said before, don’t be. It was my own fault. I don’t think there was anything I could have done to save her… but at least I could have made sure she knew how I felt before it was too late. But I didn’t. And I have to live with that now, for the rest of my life.”
When Emberlynn remained silent, Harper slowly rose to her feet. “It’s getting pretty late, so I won’t bore you with any more of my stories.” She promised her. “And I’m not trying to scare you or anything, honey. But after hearing about you and Xander, I just wanted you to understand. Lots of people are afraid of the same things you are. Opening up, telling people how we feel… It’s scary as hell.”
Emberlynn nodded. “I’m afraid of what might happen.” She admitted. “I don’t wanna get hurt.”
“And you might.” Harper replied. “It could all blow up in your face and your heart could get broken. It’s a huge risk, and getting hurt is a real possibility. But you know what hurts a hell of a lot more?”
Emberlynn said nothing, already knowing what the answer would be. For one brief moment, Masons’ face flashed across her mind’s eye, but she quickly shook the vision away.
“Regret. Having to live with it for the rest of your life. Knowing you should have said something, but you didn’t. Laying awake at night thinking about those ‘what-ifs’. Realizing that no matter how many years go by, there’s a small part of you that will never be able to forgive yourself…” Harper took a deep breath. “Just promise me you’ll think about, it okay?”
Emberlynn nodded, rising to her feet as well. She felt closer to her grandmother in that moment than she ever had in her life. “I will. Thanks, Oma. I love you.”
“I love you too, honey. Goodnight.”