‘Caleb’s widow and the lads at the fire station helped me.’
Margaret’s brow crinkled. ‘What did they do?’
‘It was what they didn’t do that made the difference.’
‘They didn’t coddle me. Or respond to my moods. Or my self-pity. They were tough. Dragged me to my rehab sessions. Drove me to my PTSD appointments no matter how much I cursed them. They blanked all my moods. My anger, my rage, my shame.’
As harrowing as this was to hear, Margaret knew she needed to hear the whole story. It was the only way she would understand who the man sitting next to her was now. He definitely wasn’t the Scott who’d left her with a soul-quenching kiss and a promise to return on bended knee all those years ago.
Was he still a man she could marry?
A man she could trust?
Or was he a man she needed to make her peace with and say goodbye to forever?
‘I’m going to be brutally honest with you.’ Scott scrubbed a hand through his hair, a flash of his scarring catching the candlelight as he did. ‘It sounds selfish now, but…I split up with you because I was in the darkest place imaginable. A place I never wanted you to see, let alone knew existed.’
Her heart twisted in agony that he’d gone through all of this. It tightened again as she remembered the heartbreak she’d endured, wondering what she’d done wrong, questioning herself, her life goals, revisiting their emails again and again to see if there was anything she could’ve done better when all along they had only needed each other.
Eventually she said what they both knew, ‘Love doesn’t work like that.’
‘I know that now. The second I saw you again, I knew that.’ He gave a rueful laugh. ‘I’m hoping to God I’m not too late to convince you I’m a changed man. I’m actually shocked you even joined me tonight.’
‘You and me both,’ Margaret said emotionally. ‘Although, the timing’s pretty hilarious.’ She clapped her fingers to her mouth. She hadn’t meant to mention her job offer, and yet…as painful as their talk had been so far, there was that deep-seeded level of familiarity and comfort they’d once shared rising to the surface as naturally as lungs took in air. The same feeling she’d felt that very first day they’d clapped eyes on one another and just knew.
‘Why? What’s funny about the timing?’
‘I—I finally began to see things from your perspective.’
‘What do you mean?’ Scott looked genuinely confused.
‘You know. You wanted to travel the world, try out all sorts of incredible jobs in equally amazing places, and I was happy here.’
‘So…’ The flecks of brightness that had appeared in his eyes dimmed. ‘You’re moving? What about Becca?’
‘She’s happy in uni. There are carers in place to help her there.’ She pulled out the letter she’d tucked into her handbag and handed it to him.
His eyebrows lifted as he let out a low whistle. ‘Canine mountain rescue training in New Zealand, huh?’
She nodded, her top teeth biting down hard on her lower lip.
‘Have you accepted it?’
‘Do you want to go?’
She hesitated. There was a part of her that wanted to, but earlier today she’d been willing to chuck it in because her bestie was having a bad day. Was she really capable of packing up her entire life just to prove her ex-boyfriend wrong? ‘I suppose I wanted to prove to you and to myself that I had what it took to do something courageous.’
Scott pulled her hands into his. ‘You are the most courageous person I know. You stayed here, helping your family, your sister, when I know you wanted to join me.’
Tears stung at her eyes. She had. She truly had, but…there was no way she could’ve left. Not with her sister and parents so reliant on her. Maybe she should’ve taken that risk. Perhaps if she’d gone out there, it would’ve changed their lives, too.
Scott cupped her chin in his big hand and said solemnly, ‘I’ve learnt the hard way that staying is one of the bravest things a person can do.’
‘What are you saying? Exactly.’
‘I’m trying to tell you that wherever you go, whatever path you choose, I’ll be with you—if you want me to be. Thick and thin. Good times, bad times. All of it.’
The waiter approached one last time. ‘Can we offer you anything to eat tonight?’
Margaret picked up her menu with a smile. Suddenly she was ravenous.