Nori was gone.

She left me.

I kept saying it over and over again, hoping that saying it would change things. That, somehow, it wouldn’t be true. It couldn’t be. She wouldn’t have just left without a word. That wasn’t like her.

Then again…

I thought back over the last two days, over how well things had been going until I’d inevitably fucked everything up. First, by sleeping with Nori in a moment of weakness, then acting like an ass the next morning. And, of course, I couldn’t forget the whole incident with Kipp either. It’d been the fact that I’d punched my physical therapist for inquiring about Nori that had led to her confronting me in the kitchen. I’d assumed that my surly attitude would piss her off, but I hadn’t imagined she’d end the argument by saying that she couldn’t work with me anymore.

I tried to apologize, but she’d ignored my attempts. I’d thought for sure that she’d calm down and we’d finally have our talk. She knew how hard losing Father O’Toole had been – and still was – and I didn’t doubt that once I told her how sorry I was, she’d help me through all of it. That she’d be there because I needed her.

Or so I thought.

I’d come up to the third floor this morning with the intention of not moving from in front of her door until I’d had my say. Except her door had been partially open, and when I’d gone inside, her things were gone. At some point between when I began drinking myself into a stupor and when I’d woken up, she left.

She hadn’t even said goodbye, not even through a note. Now that the shock was starting to fade, I realized that just because she hadn’t left a note in her room or in the living room downstairs didn’t mean she hadn’t left one at all. I’d been looking for her, not a piece of paper.

That thought allowed me to move again, and I went toward the kitchen. If she intended to leave me a note where she knew I’d find it, it would be there. I searched the entire room twice – including the fridge itself – before I admitted to myself that she hadn’t left anything.

The only other option was that she’d left a note on or outside my door, and I hadn’t seen it. I kept that hope in mind as I headed upstairs, but it didn’t take long for it to go away. Nothing on the floor on either side of the door. Nothing on the door. No note, no explanation.

I sat down on the bed and buried my head in my hands. I couldn’t blame her for leaving without saying a word. After the way I treated her, I was actually surprised she hadn’t packed her bags and left immediately. Then again, I reasoned, I didn’t know for sure how the order of events had gone. For all I knew, Nori had been upstairs packing since I practically kicked her out of my bedroom, and had only waited until I was passed out to leave because she hadn’t wanted to risk running into me. What she said to me was all the warning she’d been willing to give.

“Dammit!” I shouted. I raked my fingers through my hair, wincing as my stiff skin pulled across my hand. I closed my eyes as the sound cut through my head.

I had a killer headache, but that was my own dumb fault. I’d been the idiot who’d decided drinking almost an entire bottle of tequila was a good idea. At the time, it accomplished what I wanted: made me forget about everything that happened. For a while anyway. As soon as I woke up, it all came rushing back. And now I had Nori leaving on my conscience too.

Right before I kissed her, she told me that she and Tanner weren’t together, that she didn’t intend to get back together with him. But that was before I’d reverted back to my asshole ways and chased her off. I was sure that her rich and good-looking ex-boyfriend never would’ve done half the things I’d done to her. I didn’t know all the reasons why they hadn’t gotten back together, but it wouldn’t have surprised me to find out that I’d driven her right back into his arms.

Which meant I knew where she was going…or had already gone. Home.

Just the thought of San Antonio made me nauseous. The sun, the people…the memories. Then there was what I’d have to go through to get there.

Aside from the short treks between door and car, I hadn’t been outside since the day of the accident. Well, I stepped out for a minute once when I was looking for Nori before – the last time I’d been an ass. I didn’t think that really counted though. It was behind the house, within a fenced in area. As for people, there hadn’t been much interaction there. The thought of anyone seeing me like this turned my stomach.

The memories weren’t something to disregard though. I still had nightmares, times when the past would come back with startling clarity. Sometimes they were about the accident, but other times, they were about my times in the army or the things that happened in my childhood. When Father O’Toole first suggested moving back to Philadelphia, I hadn’t wanted to deal with the memories this city would bring. Now, I didn’t want to even think about what going back to San Antonio would mean.

I shook my head and immediately regretted it. I wasn’t going anywhere. It didn’t matter that I had no way of getting back to Texas without putting myself out in public. I had too much to do here to go chasing after someone I scared away. I had to continue calling people about Father O’Toole, schedule the reading of his will, and finish planning the funeral.

I couldn’t go anywhere.

I stood too fast and my head spun, but I managed to stay on my feet and not throw up, so I considered it a win. I needed to get something on my stomach and then figure out what I was going to do next.

As I made my way back downstairs, I found myself listening for the little things I’d become used to since Nori moved in. Her footsteps on the floor above, faint, but still there. Her moving around in the kitchen. The slight creak of the stairs that led from her floor to the ground.

I knew the house was large, but I’d never truly appreciated the size of it until now. Even though I knew they weren’t, I almost thought I could hear my steps echoing. There’d been only two of us living here, but it shouldn’t have been such a big difference to go from two to one.

My heart twisted. I knew there was no way Nori would come back, especially not if she’d felt the need to leave without a word. It would just be me here. I needed to get used to that. Kipp had already been transitioning me to doing my physical therapy on my own. After my behavior, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he simply moved up the timeframe. That meant, with Father O’Toole gone, I’d be alone here pretty much all the time.

Unless, of course, I decided to hire someone new, someone to take Nori’s place.

I barked a bitter laugh. Someone might be able to do the work, clean the house, make meals, but no one would ever be able to take her place.

I’d fought my feelings for her for so long, hoping they would go away, or at least fade. I’d convinced myself that I had things under control until I had a moment of weakness and kissed her the other night. After we slept together, I knew I’d never be able to completely forget her. I’d hoped then that I’d be able to push her away, force her to move on. I knew I’d be miserable, but at least, I wouldn’t drag her down with me.

I had no idea just how miserable I’d be though. It was an almost physical pain, something so deep and thorough that I could feel it down to my bones. I thought I’d prepared myself for losing her, but it wasn’t until now that I admitted I hadn’t really thought about her actually being gone. I always thought of her as being there, probably pissed off, but still there. I never truly imagined that she’d leave me.

“Dammit, Nori,” I muttered. But it wasn’t her fault. All of it was mine.

Mea culpa.

It was always my fault.

But even as I thought it, I could almost hear Father O’Toole in my head, telling me that I wasn’t truly to blame.

And telling me that I needed to go after her.

I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want anyone to see me, didn’t want to interact with anyone. I’d been plagued by dreams in various forms that all had one thing in common. People calling me a monster, a freak.

But I wanted Nori more than I wanted to avoid people, I suddenly realized.

I wanted her more than I didn’t want those other things. I needed her to know that, even if she never spoke to me again, I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t try to fight for her.

Fuck it all.

I was going back to Texas.




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