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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.}

Jude was exhausted. He couldn’t blame it on sleepless nights, though he’d had plenty of those. No. The weariness that made his heart beat a little too slow and his fingers slightly numb came from a lifetime of giving and losing.

He’d given so much. His love, his body, his freedom.

He’d lost even more. His friend, his wife, his child. His Eden.

“You are such a goddamn idiot,” he muttered. Only silence answered.

Jude glanced around the cabin. He was glad his parents had kept it. He, Noah, and Eden had spent more summer afternoons than he could remember rocking in the hammock outside and licking buttery corn off their fingers on the back porch.

Even when there wasn’t a soul around, Jude never felt alone at the cabin. There were more than enough memories to keep him company.

Jude tipped the last drops of the whiskey down his throat and was about to pour a third when the silence was broken by a knock.

Maddie was at a friend’s house for the night. His parents didn’t come to the cabin anymore. And, though Wes knew where he was, he’d never show up without calling first.

Which just left….

“Hi,” Eden said when he opened the door.

“Hey.” The porch light danced across Eden’s auburn hair, but her face was shadowed. When Jude cleared his throat it sounded unnaturally loud. “What are you doing here?”

“Wes told me where you were.”

“Oh.”

Eden peeked around his shoulder, trying to get a better look inside. “Is Maddie here?”

“No. She’s at a sleepover.”

“Oh.” She paused, then, “Can I come in?”

He stepped back and waved her inside. Two drinks and no dinner made his brain sluggish and his thoughts scattered. But that didn’t stop his pulse from kicking when her soft scent slipped into his lungs.

Eden came to a stop in the center of the tiny living room. She dropped her bag on the well-worn plaid sofa before twisting to look at him. Despite the questions in her eyes, she didn’t say a word.

Her silence did nothing to help Jude’s blood pressure. “What are you doing here?”

“Like I said, Wes told me where you were.”

“That’s how you found me, Eden. Not why you’re here.”

She cocked her head towards the bottle of liquor. After a beat Jude held out his empty glass. It was the only one handy. Eden didn’t hesitate, but her fingers lingered against his before she pulled the glass away. “I’m here to talk.”

“I–” Jude brushed his hair back before dropping into one of the chairs. God, he was so tired. “I think we’ve talked enough for one day.”

Eden took three steady sips of his whiskey before sitting across from him. “Maybe you have. But I want a turn.”

Her face was so serious, her eyes so dark, and Jude thought he could see the end in them. Not that it surprised him. He’d kept too many secrets for too long for this to be anything more than that. But that didn’t mean he welcomed the inevitable.

“It’s late, Eden. And this day has been pretty shit. Whatever you want to say, can it wait until tomorrow?” Please.

Her expression didn’t lighten. “That’s not fair, Jude. For weeks you’ve been demanding I stay and face everything, so that’s what I’m trying to do. But now, all of a sudden you want me to wait?”

He wished he had the liquor back. It would help burn away the confession that was about slip loose.

Yes. I want you to wait. I’m not ready to give you up. I’m not ready to be broken, completely.

But Eden wasn’t waiting. She was drinking from his glass and leaning back on his sofa and pinning him with those unforgiving eyes. “Mom told me about Allie and how she got pregnant with Maddie. I know.”

Oh. Jude leaned over and plucked the whiskey from her hands. He finished it in one swallow. “She shouldn’t have told you.”

“She called Allie first. My sister gave her permission.”

“Step-sister,” Jude half-whispered.

“Does it matter?”

He was about to say yes. It had always mattered. In many ways it was the detail that had mattered most. At least to him. To his laughably heroic, ridiculous eighteen-year-old brain, the fact Eden and Amy weren’t related by blood had made the whole thing a little less awful. And the betrayal a little more forgivable.

But now that Eden knew everything….well, maybe the details didn’t matter much at all.

“I don’t know what to say.” Even to his own ears Jude sounded defeated.

“Good. Cause you don’t need to say anything.” Eden’s eyes settled on the empty glass in his hand. She wouldn’t meet his gaze. “I don’t regret leaving.”

Good thing she didn’t expect him to talk, because his voice abandoned him. Along with whatever shred of hope he’d been clinging to.

“I don’t regret leaving,” she repeated. “I would’ve been miserable if I’d stayed. Especially then.”

Jude stared at his knees and hoped Eden didn’t notice they were shaking.

Her voice was low and calm when she continued, “And I refuse to regret the life I’ve lived. The people I’ve met, the things I’ve seen, the stories I’ve been able to tell…. It was good work, Jude. Work with purpose. Some might even say I had a life with purpose.”

As Jude listened and stared, the weave of his denim turned into a blur of dark blue. Maybe because his knees were shaking harder. Or maybe because a grown man with too much liquor and too much loss can only hold the tears back for so long.

“But…” Eden paused and when she spoke again her voice was louder. Closer. “But, I’ve missed so much, Jude. God, I didn’t even know how much until I came back. I’ve missed time with Amy, Allie, and Maddie. So much time with Noah. What feels like a lifetime with you. And that I regret. Very, very much.”

Something light and warm touched his chest. Jude blinked. It took a second for the haze to clear, but when it did his eyes confirmed what his heart was feeling. Eden’s hand rested on his chest.

He found her eyes – so bright, so vivid – and the trembling spread from his knees to his legs. This time, though, instead of empty air they met the warmth of Eden’s body where she kneeled in front of him.

“I’m heartbroken about Noah. I shouldn’t have abandoned him. And, whatever else you might think, I’m as much to blame for that final fight as you. It shouldn’t have been his job to come get me. I should never have been so distant, so unreachable, for so long. That was my unforgivable decision. I was a shitty friend. Still am, going by how I feel. But I’m also tired of thinking about the shoulds and regrets and what ifs. I don’t want to lose any more time. Not when the one thing I’ve wanted my entire life is so close I can touch it.”

Every line of her face was serious, intent. Every one but the line of her lips, which was curling it’s way to a tantalizing, glorious smile.

“Ask me.”

“Hmm?” Jude was terrified to break the peace that had settled over him, the one that ran from beneath her fingers deep into his bones. Then, deeper, tethering his soul to the earth.

“Ask me what that one thing is. The thing I’ve always wanted.”

He licked his lips, tracking the way her eyes tracked his tongue, before managing, “What’s that one thing, Eden?”

“A home.”

Jude’s hand flexed around the glass, the peace slipping. Was she teasing him? Taunting him? No, torturing him. “A home?”

“I’ve been looking for it, everywhere. All across the world. And no matter how close I got, no matter how hard I tried, I never found it. Not once. Not until I came back.”

“You mean here.” His voice was flat. “You mean you found your home here, where you grew up.”

Eden pressed closer, her elbow resting on his knee, the palm of her other hand still flat on his chest. “I mean you.”

It was three heartbeats before Jude realized why he didn’t feel hard glass beneath his fingers. He’d traded it for Eden and he was gripping her tight. Holding her so there was no escape.

“It’s always been you,” she whispered, her lips brushing his cheek. “You were always the one to push me, to encourage me. And always the one who made sure I was safe. You demanded the most from me, even when I wasn’t sure I had anything to give. And you were willing to give up everything just so I could have all the things I’d ever wanted. Except….”

Jude pulled Eden closer, their chests touching as their noses brushed together. “Except?”

“All those things meant so little without you. And it took years and thousands of miles for me to figure that out. Now that I’m back, I’m not letting go. I’m home, Jude. Like you said, no escaping.”

“You’re staying?”

“I’m staying.”

“With me?”

“With you.” He felt her lips curl against his ear. A smile.

“Why?”

Eden buried her fingers in his hair and leaned against him. And for the first time in longer than he could remember, Jude relaxed. He dropped his head to her shoulder and dragged in a deep breath, inhaling in the scent of whiskey and memories and Eden.

“Because,” she answered, before whispering the three simple, life-altering words Jude had waited his entire life to hear.

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