Begin Again

Page 3

Coco scratched at my leg, interrupting my wayward thoughts, and I grinned down at her. I scratched her belly, finished my coffee, and got dressed before grabbing my purse and heading out the door.
I PULLED INTO HUNTLEY and Grayson's driveway and stopped in front of their double garage. Their house was stunning on the outside, and everything I could imagine Huntley wanting – white picket fence, blue shutters, wraparound porch. As soon as I walked in through the front door Hunter came barreling down the hallway, and flung himself into my body, nearly knocking me off my feet.
"Mimi!" he yelled excitedly. I bent down and allowed him to wrap his arms around my neck. He squeezed tight, and whispered, "I missed you," in my ear so that only I could hear.
I squeezed him back, and pulled away to look at his handsome little face. "Hey booger. I missed you too."
He grinned a wide, toothy grin, and my heart filled with love for my Godson. I stood up, took his hand in mine and walked into the kitchen. Grayson's mother, May, was standing in front of the stove, while Huntley's aunt, Emma, was filling glasses with what I assumed was her sweet tea. Huntley was leaning against the counter, laughing at something her aunt said.
"Hey Dem," Huntley greeted. She hugged me, and I returned it.
"Hey girl," I replied. Huntley's eyes searched mine, and it was a look I'd become familiar with months ago. It was probing. She was trying to gauge how I was feeling. If it were anyone else my defenses would've shot right up. But she was my best friend, and she understood how hard the last year had been for me.
"You seem better today," she remarked. "I'm glad to see that smile again. I missed it."
I gave her hand a squeeze, and replied, "I'm good."
Huntley's eyes were bright with understanding, and I knew she was glad that I was feeling more like the old me. After I greeted May, and Emma, Huntley and I took a seat at the island in the middle of the kitchen. Huntley looked a little worried, and opened and closed her mouth a few times before talking.
"I need to tell you something," she said. Her gaze dropped momentarily, and then lifted back to mine. My heart sank, because I knew what she wanted to tell me.
"I know he's coming tomorrow," I said, beating her to the punch. She was going to tell me Brody would be arriving tomorrow, which I already knew. Huntley and Grayson's wedding was only a week away, and since Brody and I were both part of the wedding party, I figured he'd want to be here for everything that was planned for the week ahead. I was Huntleys' Maid of Honor, but luckily Jeff was Grayson's' best man, which meant he'd be my date.
Huntley's shoulders dropped, and she sighed in relief. "Who told you?"
"Jeff," I replied, fighting the urge to smile at the sound of his name.
Huntleys' mouth tipped into a knowing smirk. "He's been calling you hasn't he," she observed.
I nodded. "Yeah. Almost every night." I felt a knot form in my stomach at the admission, and I knew it was guilt.
"You have nothing to feel bad about," Huntley said, reading my thoughts. "He makes you feel like you again, and there's nothing wrong with that."
"We're just friends," I sighed, knowing that it's a partial lie. Huntley's brows rose and I could tell she didn't believe me. She knew me better than that. Huntley took my hands, and held them, giving me a sympathetic gaze. "You have no reason at all to feel guilty. I know Jeff helped you get through a lot, and if I'm being honest, I'm glad he did. I know you care about him, Dem, and he cares about you too." Jeff was another member of the Carter family that I grew up with, so we'd been friends since we were kids. But he'd become something more to me. I needed someone to hold me up when everything around me, and inside me, was falling apart and Jeff was there . Somewhere along the way something happened and I'd started seeing him a little differently. Even so, I never acted on those feelings because at the time I was emotionally unavailable and he knew that, but didn't seem to mind.
"I know," I replied. I tried not to think about everything too much and on most days, like today, I actually got it right. It wasn't always easy for me to talk about, even to Huntley, but I understood how important it was to do what I had to in order to move forward, and put myself back together. It helped that Huntley and I worked at the same school. I'd spent many lunch breaks in her counselors' office talking it out, crying if needed. Of course, that was after I took a short leave of absence after everything that happened when Brody left. The school insisted I take more time after everything I'd been through, but I reached a point where being at home drove me crazy and I grew tired of the mind-numbing pills that made me feel nothing for far too long. I was stronger than that and I only realized that when I was the only person who could pull me out of the hole I had fallen into. Sure, I had Huntley and Grayson to help me, Jeff too. In fact, I had the whole Carter family, and the Morgan family, taking care of me. But I needed to draw on my own strength to pull myself through my grief. After a while, the sunshine started coming through the darkness again and I reveled in it when those moments came. Eventually, I started feeling okay again. I accepted that I could never be who I used to be, especially after what I had lost, but I found a new determination. I wasn't ready to lose myself. So I fought and I fought hard. All that fire inside me led me to today, to feeling more like myself than I had in months.
"There you girls are."
I looked up just as Grayson walked in. I stood up and he pulled me into his body for a bear hug. He'd become a little bigger since he graduated. Working at the new Sports Rehabilitation center kept him fit and he looked good.
"Hey Gray," I sighed, hugging him around his waist.
"Good to see you, Demi," he said, smiling at me. He let me go and lifted Huntley off her chair before taking her place and depositing her in his lap. "What's this I hear about my brother?" he asked, looking between Huntley and me curiously.
I looked down and felt my cheeks heat.
"Now that's a sight for sore eyes," Grayson mumbled. I looked up to find him and Huntley grinning at me like fools.
"What?" I asked.
"You're blushing," Grayson remarked. "I didn't know if we'd ever see that again."
I knew what he meant. Grayson was Brody's best friend, but he was one of mine too and he cared about me. I wasn't sure how things were between him and Brody now but I knew their relationship had been strained for a while after he left. Grayson was pissed that Brody left, and he wanted me to tell him about what happened to me, but I just couldn't. I wasn't ready then and the one time I tried it blew up in my face. Luckily, I had Jeff to help me get through yet another one of life's disappointments.
"Your brother has been good to me, Gray."
"I know. We're just glad to have you smiling again. I know Hunter has missed you too."
I smiled thinking about my adorable Godson. I missed him too, even though I'd seen him regularly. He often went with Huntley to school on the days she worked and during lunch I'd steal him for a while. He was always so happy, and it was impossible to dwell on life's shortcomings with him around. Huntley and Grayson were both worried that being around Hunter would be difficult for me, but it was actually quite the opposite. Now that it was summer vacation and Huntley and I were on a break, I could see him more often.

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