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{You can read the entire story as I write it here; I’ll add a chapter each week, after I post to Instagram.}

One year ago.

“Noah?” Jude stepped onto his best friend’s back patio, looking around.

“Hey. Down here!”

Jude saw Noah waving from the dock. He slipped off his shoes once he got to the wood planking, rolling up his pants so he could drop his feet into the water next to his friend.

“Goddamn, I love it here.” Jude looked out across the lake, watching the late afternoon sun break across the soft current. A few brightly colored leaves were caught, red and orange and yellow dancing around each other as they drifted across the surface.

“Me too,” Noah answered. He was wearing that faraway look that Jude realized he had more and more often.

“What’s up? Why aren’t you at the gallery?”

Noah dunked a leaf with his foot before saying, “I talked to Eden.”

Jude ignored the mess of love and loss that hit him every time she came up. After so many years, it had become a dull roar in the back of his head. Constant, but something he’d learned to drown out. “How did it go?”

“I didn’t tell her.”

“What! Why?”

“I didn’t know what to say.”

“You can’t keep putting it off, Noah. She’s going to find out. And when she does, she’s going to be fucking pissed you didn’t tell her about it sooner.”

“She doesn’t have a right to pissed,” Noah spit out, angrier than Jude had heard him in a long time. “She has no fucking right.”

“I don’t disagree. But you know that won’t make a damn bit of difference.”

“Shit!” Noah pushed himself up quickly, water splashing across the dock and Jude’s legs. He started to pace up and down, the ancient boards creaking under his heavy steps.

“What aren’t you telling me?”

“I need to sell half of the gallery.”

Jude twisted, eyes tracking Noah’s agitated movements. “Why?”

“I need the money.”

“For-”

“Yes,” Noah didn’t let him ask the question. Jude knew he didn’t want to talk about it. And they wouldn’t. Not until they needed to.

“I can lend you the money.”

“No. I don’t want you to do that.”

“Why?”

Noah stopped and stared down at Jude, his face hard and flushed with the emotion he was trying to keep in check. “Because I won’t be able to pay you back.”

Jude didn’t care, and he knew it wasn’t that simple, but he wasn’t going to push. “What about Wes?’

“Same applies.”

“He wouldn’t ask you to. He’s your brother. You know he just wants to help. We all do.”

Noah was back to pacing, his hands scrubbing his short blonde hair. “I don’t want help. I want to sell half of the gallery.”

“Fine,” Jude answered, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible. “I’ll buy it.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

“Jude. Stop. What the fuck will you do with half an art gallery. You don’t know the first thing about art. “

“Not true.”

“You think a semi-decent circle on an etch-a-sketch is worthy of praise.”

“Fuck off. That was once. And we were, like, four.”

“More like six.”

“Whatever. That’s not the point. I won’t be running the gallery. You will. And you’ll have the money you need. Win-win.”

“You know that’s not true.”

“What?”

“That I’ll be running the gallery. Because I won’t.”

Jude dropped his head. They still weren’t saying it out loud. The thing that hung around their necks like a dead weight, slowly choking the hope out of them.

“Fine. Yes. I do know that. But I also know that there is someone who can run it.”

“Eden? And how is that going to work, exactly?”

“You tell her the truth.”

“What, like you did?” Noah narrowed his eyes at his friend. “How’s that working out for you, Jude? Huh? Have you had your little heart-to-heart with Eden, explained to her how everything got so completely fucked up?”

Jude jumped up, not caring that his lower-legs got soaked. “That’s not the same thing and you know it.”

“Oh? Explain it to me,” Noah was practically shouting, impotent rage coursing through his large frame. “How is you keeping your huge fucking secret from her any different from me keeping mine?”

“Because,” Jude shouted back, “it isn’t just my secret, Noah. You fucking know that. Just like you know she isn’t ready to hear it. If she was, she would’ve come back. Just once. Just long enough for me to explain, for Allie to tell her what really happened. Goddamnit! If I thought for one fucking second that I could get her to listen, that I could get her to come back and stop running around war-torn countries, taking pictures, and almost getting herself blown on a daily fucking basis, don’t you think I would’ve?”

His shouts were echoing across the lake, his chest heaving just as hard as Noah’s. He needed to stop. But he couldn’t. Because he was staring at the heartbreak and desperation on his best friend’s face and it was like looking deep into his own battered soul.

“Jesus Christ, Noah! I know I have to tell her. But I can’t fuck it up. Not again. So, no. You’re right. I haven’t said a fucking word. And I won’t. Not until it’s the right time. And that right there is the difference. Because I still have time, Noah. I still have time and you-”

Jude stopped, horrified by what he was saying. By what he’d been about to say.

Noah gripped his hips and looked out across the water, his breath short and his eyes glassy. “Because you still have time. And I don’t.”

“Fuck, Noah.” Jude clasped his friend’s shoulder, his own slumped in regret and defeat. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I didn’t mean to say that.”

“I know.” Noah wouldn’t look at him, but he didn’t step away. “It doesn’t matter. Because you’re right, about that, at least. I don’t have time. Not nearly enough. But you were wrong about the other part, my friend.”

Noah met his eyes then, the green already less vibrant than Jude remembered.

“You don’t have as much time as you think. None of us do. So stop fucking wasting it.”

***

Present.

Stop fucking wasting it. Noah’s advice clamored in his head as Jude returned his phone to his pocket.

His friend had been right. He needed to tell Eden. No more waiting.

“Jude?” Eden held the gallery door open, her expression wary. “Did you follow me?”

“Yes.”

Her wariness tightened to a frown. “You shouldn’t have.”

“I should’ve. Long before now.”

Her crystalline eyes hardened, her hair flipping across her shoulders as she turned back into the building. “Well, you didn’t.”

“Have dinner with me.”

“What?” Eden stopped, thrown off by the rapid change of subject.

“You heard me. We need to talk. And I don’t want to do it here. So, have dinner with me.”

“Jude.” She said his name in a way that sent blood rushing below his belt. “What’s the point? We’ll yell. We won’t eat. It’ll be perfectly good waste of food. Not to mention time.”

“I won’t yell. And we will eat. And the point, Eden, is that we have a lot to discuss.”

“Oh?”

Those perfect lips formed a perfect ‘O’ and Jude’s mouth practically watered with the aftertaste of their kiss.

“Yes. Regardless of whether or not you stay, Eden, there are things you need to understand. Things I should’ve explained. And, now that you’re here, I’m not letting you leave until you give me a chance to do it.”

“Do as the man asks, Eden.” Wes came out from the back room, his gaze level as he looked between them.

“Why do I get the impression you two are ganging up on me?”

“You shouldn’t. Cause we’re not,” Wes continued before Jude had a chance to speak. “It just so happens that, in this case, I agree with him.”

“You do?” Jude asked, surprised. Whatever else they were, he and Wes were not friends. And he definitely didn’t consider him an ally.

“Believe it or not, I do.” Noah’s brother said. “This has gone on long enough. And since she is staying, you two need to sort your shit out. So, Eden,” Wes turned towards her. “Go, talk. And, please, for the love of God, don’t do it here.”

“Eden?” Jude worked to keep his face as neutral as possible. This would only work if she agreed on her own. “What do you say? Have dinner with me? Give me a chance to tell you what I should’ve a long time ago.”

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