Being with John… Everything felt like it as finally slotting back into place. I guess maybe I even started falling for him a little. I mean, he was such a selfless guy, and he was great with the kids, what with having Beau. He treated them like his own – even Lewis – and I couldn’t thank him enough for it. After what’d happened with him and Maxxie, he’d sort of changed a little. I’d only ever known him as Cayden’s friend, but the changes had still been obvious. He took his time with things, really thought about stuff before he did it, y’know? He never seemed to do stuff that’d benefit him. Like this promotion he got at work; the pay wasn’t that much better, and the hours were longer, but he didn’t take it because it meant he’d have less time with Beau. It didn’t matter to him that he’d been after this promotion for years, he just wanted to make sure his daughter didn’t miss out on spending time with him.
As the months drifted past, I really felt like we could make this work. Like we could all be this big, happy family. And for the most part, I’d thought John had felt the same. We were a long way off anything permanent, I knew that much, but this part of me couldn’t help wondering if Cayden would mind if John and me got married, or moved in together, or anything like that. I hoped not. I wanted the both of them to be happy, and at least this way when John and me kicked the bucket, we wouldn’t have to worry about there being a third wheel or anything. It was perfect.
We’d just more or less hit our one year anniversary, and had celebrated by taking the day off work and fucked like rabbits, with some anniversary pancakes for breakfast. It was getting kinda close to the time the kids would be getting home from school, but there I was; on my hands and knees, my face buried in the pillows, with John behind me, gripping my hips tightly. The both of us collapsed onto the bed when we were both spent, ignoring the sticky mess we’d made of the sheets. I vaguely caught sight of John throwing the condom towards the trash can, but I was too busy snuggling up to his chest to care whether or not it reached its destination. John put an arm around my shoulders but something felt off about the situation. I propped myself up on my elbows and studied his face. He looked tired, and not the blissful kind of tiredness that follows a good fuck.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, still studying his face. He couldn’t look me in the eye.
“I can’t do this, Hadley”
I frowned. “What do you mean?”
He sighed. “You’re a great guy, but keeping this up… It isn’t fair to you. I care about you, really I do, but… Every time I look at you, I just see Cayden. I feel so guilty for keeping this going so long, but I’d hoped if I kept at it long enough, I’d stop seeing Cayden and start seeing you”
“…I don’t understand”
“You really do look like each other, y’know? I mean, some bits are different, your cheek bones, for example, but I can still see him in your face”
“My cheek bones…?”
John nodded. “His are higher, and yours are softer than his. And you have more of a button nose than him, but you’ve got the same jaw line as each other, same as your dad’s, and your eyes are the same, save for the colour… I’m sorry, Hadley”
Sure, I was upset, but I’d known we weren’t going to last. Hadn’t I…?
“No, it’s not. I’ve lied to you and used you for the last year”
“No you haven’t. It was still a relationship, and it takes two for that. And even if you did just see Cayden all the time, we still had something”
“Did you… Did you ever love me?”
“A little. Why?”
“Well that makes me feel like even more of an ass” he chuckled weakly.
I rolled my eyes and pushed myself upwards, kissing him softly, feeling his lips respond to mine. “Don’t. I just wanted to make you happy, at least for a little while”
“You did?” he asked and I nodded.
“I know Cayden would want you to be happy, and he wouldn’t want you to be alone. I guess maybe I was just trying to make you realise that”
He smiled, then. This full, bright smile that I hadn’t seen on him since him and Cayden had gotten married. It was like something in him changed; he wasn’t John Ocala the mourner anymore. He’d cast off the black clothes and ghostly complexion, and the oh so delicate black lace veil had been lifted from his eyes. It almost looked like he was seeing in colour again for the first time in years.
“Did Smithy say something to you before he died?” he asked, the smile still stretched across his lips.
“Yeah. He called me a horny bastard and told me that he was proud to be able to call me his brother”
John shook his head. “No, I meant about me” he said and it was my turn to shake my head. “He told me, not long before he went, that he’d do whatever it took to make me happy. Even when he was gone”
I smiled a little at that. Cayden really was a sentimental little shit. The two of us stayed where we were until the kids got home, getting dressed quickly and promising each other one last time for old time’s sake, before letting the kids know that we weren’t together anymore. Beau wasn’t exactly upset at the idea that Danny was no longer her potential step-brother, and the kids weren’t that bothered either. Clearly the three of them had known we wouldn’t last.
We snuck upstairs once the kids were fed, being quick about it all in case one of them came to find us, and soon enough it was time to take the kids home. John thanked me for helping, and I told him not to mention it, kissing his cheek and getting in the car, texting Caleb to let him know he was taking me out this weekend. Because I fucking needed it.