Home > With You Forever (Bergman Brothers #4)

With You Forever (Bergman Brothers #4)
Author: Chloe Liese

 

1

 

 

Rooney

 

 

Playlist: “Cowboy Blues,” Kesha

 

 

My eyes are on the road, but my head is in the clouds. Windows cracked, cool autumn air spilling in as Seattle-Tacoma Airport fades behind me and a cozy cabin staycation lies ahead.

Thoughts drifting, I soak up the view: sapphire sky, emerald evergreens mingling with burnished bronze leaves, an onyx asphalt ribbon paving the way. My rental car blasts Kesha because, hello, I’m a woman on a solo trip, figuring out her shit—of course I’m listening to Kesha. There’s just one of her songs that I avoid. Because the last time I heard it, I did A Very Terrible Thing.

I kissed Axel Bergman.

Which isn’t the end of the world. I’m over it. It’s not like I fixate on it. Or daydream about it. Not about The Charades Kiss or Axel, who I haven’t seen since.

Who I’m definitely not thinking about now, as I drive through his home state, that song filling the car before I can skip it, while a rainbow whooshes across the sky.

Ohhhh, Rooney. Liar, liar, palazzo pants on fire.

My mind isn’t on the road or in the clouds. It’s in the past, in the moment after our kiss…

The clue—kiss—scrawled on a piece of paper, flutters to the ground. My lips tingle, my cheeks are hot as I stand with my head back, staring up at Axel, who I’ve just kissed.

Maybe “mauled with my mouth” is more accurate.

A rainbow gale of confetti whips around the room, spun off the ceiling-fan blades that whir overhead. In a haze of soft, warm lights, the air thumps with that upbeat song’s opening bars.

But it all fades as I look at him. Six feet, many inches of grumpy gorgeousness. An unreadable, dangerously kissable mystery.

Who I just crushed my mouth to for the sake of a charades clue.

I bring a shaky hand to my lips. “Axel, I-I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean… That is, I shouldn’t have… I’m just viciously competitive, and I…”

He stands, silent, staring at my mouth. Then, slowly, he takes a step closer. For once, he doesn’t leave like he always seems to when I get close. He doesn’t run.

He stays.

“I think…” he says hoarsely, leaning a little closer.

I lean a little closer, too. “You think…?”

Axel swallows roughly as his fingertips brush mine. It’s the faintest touch, but it seismic-booms through me, in tempo with the music, as if it’s the soundtrack to this tenuous, almost-something-moment.

“I think,” he whispers, “I have a new appreciation for charades.”

My mouth falls open in surprise. The silent giant just cracked a joke.

He takes a step closer, placing us toe to toe, and his gaze settles on my mouth. He bends his head toward mine. He’s close. A little closer.

And just as I realize he might be on the verge of kissing me back, sharp, warning spasms clutch my stomach, punching the air out of my lungs.

In the world’s worst timing, I’m the one who pulls away. I’m the one who runs from the room. The moment stolen from me before it was even fully mine.

That’s where it always ends, where the daydream leaves me, wondering, what if?

What if I hadn’t had to run off without a word of explanation?

What if, when I finally came back, Axel was still there, waiting for me?

My daydream what-ifs spin cotton-candy sweet but dissolve just as easily when my phone’s ringtone overrides the music. I glance at the screen, my throat tightening as I see my best friend’s name: Willa.

The only sound in the car is the call’s rhythmic ring. It’s suddenly quiet—too quiet—and my thoughts have backpedaled to what I came up here to escape.

I wish I could say that kissing Axel Bergman in a moment of overzealousness for charades, then having to bolt for the bathroom in gastrointestinal agony, was the low point of my recent existence, but I can’t.

Because since that night, my health nosedived to the point that I had to take a leave of absence from law school, and when I came back to the apartment after finalizing said leave of absence, defeated, exhausted, so fucking lost, I couldn’t stay one second longer.

So here I am, directionless, doing something I haven’t in…ever. I’m trying to take care of myself.

Willa is still calling, each ring chipping away at my resolve. I take a deep breath, push the right button on the steering wheel, and accept her call.

Finding my I’m-okay upbeat voice, I holler, “I’m here!”

“You’re here! Just got your text that you landed. Where are you exactly?”

“Whoa now, no need for an interrogation.”

“You’re lost, aren’t you?”

“I’m not lost.” Squinting, I glance at the GPS on my rental’s display screen and the winding trail of my directions. Then I peer up at my surroundings. “I’m…heading…west.”

“Uh-huh. You know you have nothing to prove to me, right? You’re a bio-chem geek who’s at Stanford Law. It’s okay to have a weakness and admit that you’re directionally challenged.”

“I admit that I have many weaknesses and that I am directionally challenged. I do not, however, admit to being lost.”

I swear I can hear her eye roll. “The property’s entrance sneaks up on you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed it. It’s easy to drive past, so go slow when you come to that hairpin turn.”

I grimace as I stare at the directions. I have no idea what she’s talking about. “Will do. I can’t wait to see it.”

“Oh, Roo, you’re gonna love it. It’s so beautiful. I wish I was there to welcome you and watch you take it in. I would absolutely reenact an epic Chariots of Fire run to your car if this professional soccer gig weren’t so damn demanding. Crummy World Cup Qualifiers. Crummy flight. Crummy soccer.”

“So crummy,” I tell her. “Crummy dream come true, crummy playing for the U.S. Women’s team. Crummy honor of being a rookie who’s on the starting line-up.”

“Okay, fine, it’s not crummy, and I’m very excited. I just miss you.” After a beat of hesitation, she says, “How are you holding up?”

“I’m…okay.”

I set a hand on my stomach, which has started making warning twinges that I’m all-too-familiar with, especially since my old meds stopped working a few months ago. Thankfully, my new treatment has finally started giving me relief from my most serious ulcerative colitis symptoms, so I’m relatively much better—meaning I’m not incapacitated at home or in the hospital for dehydration and pain—but I have lasting damage to my intestines. Even while I’m in clinical remission, some symptoms are a permanent fixture in my life.

But Willa’s not asking about my GI troubles. She’s asking about everything else. Because this is the one thing I keep from her.

She and I have most of the West Coast between us these days, but we talk all the time, and she knows I’ve taken a leave of absence from Stanford Law. She just doesn’t know the medical reason. Because Willa doesn’t know I have ulcerative colitis. She knows I have a sensitive stomach and make more bathroom trips than most, but not why, not the worst of it.

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