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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.}

“What about this one?” Eden pointed to a photo of the diner. The upward spike of the “M” in Mitchum ended below a low moon, the silver metal glinting in the light captured in black and white.

“Not for the central piece, no.” Jude shook his head. “That stays over here. The path to the lake stays on the big wall.”

“Jude.”

It had been a week since their dinner on the dock and in that time he’d learned a few things about this adult version of Eden. For example, she still knotted her brow when she was concentrating. But now her head tilted, too, like the weight of all of her decisions had started to drag it down.

She was still scrappy. Jude had filled out since high school, the lithe muscles of his youth honed into sharp, regularly-exercised definition. He hadn’t stopped growing until he was twenty, so he was even taller than when Eden had left. But, his size didn’t stop her. Eden argued with her body, a whirl of limbs and declarative movements, and nothing about his larger frame kept her from going toe to toe with him. Literally.

Which usually came shortly after she used that tone. The one she took just then, saying his name. The one that told Jude that Eden didn’t think he was very good at this whole gallery thing. Definitely not as good as her.

“It’s the show, Eden. There’s a progression. Noah and I went over it, again and again. This is the way it’s supposed to go.”

Eden looked down at the floor and drew a line across the concrete with the tip of her shoe. She didn’t like it, but she wasn’t going to push back. Yet.

“What about the smaller room, the one back there?” Eden pointed to the more intimate space behind the main gallery. “Do you know what’s supposed to go there?”

Jude nodded. “The photos are still at Noah’s house, I haven’t seen them yet. But, yes, I know which ones go there.”

“We need to take a look. Can you bring them here?”

“They’re big. We should probably see them in his studio, first. Plus, that way you’ll be able to give me tips on how to move them without damaging them.”

“Hmmmm.”

That non-committal murmur: he’d gotten used to that too. It hovered on the “no” side of “maybe,” and was a sound Eden made often. Every time he suggested they grab a drink after a day in the gallery. Every time he said they needed to go over to Noah’s to do, see, or grab something. And every fucking time he invited her out to another dinner.

Eight days, seven nights.

That’s how long it’d been since he’d had her writhing beneath his tongue, the feel and smell and taste of her clicking some long forgotten piece of him back into place. Jude had spent eight days and seven nights reliving every second of those moments together. How he’d been able to tell her with his mouth and hands everything he’d felt about her since he was a boy. How the little sounds she’d made, soft at first, then louder, more demanding, were the soundtrack to the life he’d always wanted to live. And how it had become clear that despite everything – most likely, because of it – they were virtually strangers.

“I’ll make you a deal.” Jude crossed the room to stand next to Eden. He let his fingers skim the back of her hand, relaxing when she didn’t move away.

Holding his breath, he twisted their fingers together. Jude’s heart flipped when Eden pressed her palm to his, their hands locking together easily. He studied her profile as she stared at the photograph.

“I’ll bring the rest of the pieces over from Noah’s myself. You don’t have to come. But, you have to do something for me, in exchange.”

“Hmmm?”

“I miss you, Eden. So fucking much.” Jude’s voice sounded loud in the empty gallery, but he didn’t care. “I know you’re here. For now, at least.” He squeezed her hand tight. “And I want to spend every single chance possible getting to know you again. I want to spend time with you.”

“We’ve spent every day together for the last week.”

“Here, working, Eden. That’s not what I mean and you know it.”

“Okay, what do you mean?” Eden’s attention was still fixed on the picture in front of them and her fingers were cool between his.

“We don’t know each other. Not any more. And I want to get to know you again, so damn much. And I want you to get to know me. The person I’ve become. The grown-up, not just the kid who stayed behind, or the fuck-up you’ve been so mad at for so long. There’s so much I want to tell you. Stories I’ve been saving up for years, on the off chance you’d ever be willing to listen. I want to talk about Noah-” Jude stopped, swallowing hard, his hand locking around Eden’s when she tried to slip away.

“There are things–memories–I don’t want to talk about with anyone else. Really good parts of our lives, times when it was just the three of us. You’re the only one I can talk to about them. The only one who remembers, or understands.”

Jude turned so his chest brushed Eden’s shoulder, his uncertain breaths skimming the top of her hair. He was thankful she wasn’t looking at him. It was easier to confess when she wasn’t looking at him.

“I want my best friend back. Even if you’re nothing like the girl I once knew. Even if we have to start from scratch. Even if it means you get to know the man I’ve become and decide you want nothing to do with me, ever again.”

Eden’s eyes closed and she shook her head, just a little. “I’d never-”

Jude cut her off, not ready to hear her protest yet. “I’ve been really fucking lonely. Since even before Noah died. I can barely describe it. You were the one who went so far away, who went to live with strangers. And I stayed here, in this tiny freakin’ town that I know inside and out, half of which my family literally built.

“But when you left…when I made that crazy fucking agreement with Walter and gave you the chance to get away…. You took my home with you, Eden. It makes no sense, I know. I’ve had friends, a business, a wife, a daughter, a roof over my head, and food on the table, all of the things any soul on this earth should be grateful to have, every single day. But despite all of it, I’ve missed you. No, more than that. I’ve missed the piece of me that left with you. The part that grounded me, the part that’s always known that you are what made this town home.”

Jude felt Eden’s shaky sigh all the way down his spine. She wet her bottom lip before glancing up at him. “Th-that’s a fairly hefty trade for moving a bunch of photos, don’t you think? In fact, it might just be better if I get them myself.”

His throat went dry and it wasn’t until he saw Eden’s small smile that Jude could make his lungs work.

“Just tell me what you want.”

He spoke fast, as clearly as he could. “I want to spend real time with you. Not working. Not at the gallery. I want to get to know who you are, now. And I want you to get to know me, again.”

“Even if there’s the chance I don’t like who you are now?” Eden turned and looked him in the eyes, their hands still locked together. “Even if there’s a chance we don’t like each other?”

Jude gave himself a second to memorize her face and the way her eyes, bright and solemn, looked in the golden afternoon light. “Yes.”

“Then, yes.”

He blinked, not understanding. “Yes?”

Eden’s smile, though small, didn’t waver. “Yes. I’m agreeing to your deal.”

“Really?”

“What, you don’t want me to?”

“No!” He pulled her a little closer, past the line maintained by even the closest friends and into the space reserved for lovers. It was hard for Jude to hear himself think over the pounding of his heart. “I mean, yes. I want you to to say yes. I’m just surprised.”

“Surprised?”

“I expected to have to campaign a little harder. I didn’t think you’d agree so fast.”

Eden pulled her hand from his, but didn’t back away. “Your campaign was effective, trust me. Besides, I’ve been thinking about everything you said that night. At dinner.”

Jude couldn’t help it. He loved the blush that creeped up her neck and tinged the tips of her ears.  “Everything I said?” he prompted.

“I made decisions, too, Jude. And I’m starting to realize that not all of them might have been the right ones. Not when I really didn’t understand what was going on.”

“I should’ve told you,” Jude interjected.

“I should’ve asked.” Eden stepped back, putting distance between them, but she didn’t look away. “Look. This-” she waved between them and then again, at the gallery “-whatever this is, it involves both of us. I agreed to stay. I agreed to listen to you at dinner. And I more than agreed to everything that happened after.”

Some of Jude’s tension faded on the chuckle he was unable to hold back when Eden’s eyes flicked down to his crotch before she could stop herself.

“In which case,” he murmured, “can I just say, now, how much I like the way you agree?”

“Stop,” she answered, rolling her eyes. “That’s not the point.”

“Okay, what is?”

Eden’s smile vanished and the look she gave him made every inch of him hard. “I haven’t been fair to you. I keep thinking about it, over and over. What I thought happened verses what you said. And I have so many questions and so many things I still don’t understand. But I do know, Jude, that this awkward place we are now – it’s as much my fault as anyone’s. So the only answer I can give you is yes. Even though I’m stating for the record that I’m absolutely fucking terrified about what happens next, my answer is yes.”

“Okay.” It was stupid, not at all eloquent. But it was the only think he could say.

“Okay.” Eden nodded, taking a few more steps back. “But now you have to agree to my deal.”

Jude stayed silent, terrified that anything he might say would undo the truce they’d formed.

“You let me plan our time together.”

“You’re sure?”

“Absolutely.”

Jude gripped his hips, trying to stop himself from rocking on his feet. “Okay, this is suddenly making me nervous.”

Eden laughed. “Hey, this was your plan. I’m just going along with it.”

“Right. Exactly why I’m nervous.”

Eden closed the distance between them and threaded her finger through one of the belt loops on his jeans. And tugged, once. “Don’t be. I promise. It’ll be fun.”

“Nope.” Jude’s Adam’s apple bobbed on a harsh swallow. “Not helping.”

“So, is that a no?”

“No, no. Not a no. It’s a yes. Definitely, one-hundred-percent yes. But Eden?”

“Hmmm?”

“Promise me one thing?”

“Yes?”

“You’ll try. I mean, really try. Promise that you’ll let me in, that you’ll give us a chance to start again?”

“Hmmm. Promise.”

***

Eden has some planning to do! What do you think?

They get to know each over over a series of dates?

OR

Eden plans a trip to a sentimental spot for the weekend?

Vote in comments below!

***

CHAPTER TEN: Thursday, December 7

 

 

 

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