It took a little digging and a few bribes to track down Charlie’s home address. But as soon as I have it, I’m booked on the first flight out of Jersey.
She still isn’t answering my texts or calls. I know she’s angry at me about those damn photos that Winslow took. But nothing happened between us. Winslow and I are done. Have been for a long time. What I want, the only thing I want, is Charlie.
There’s a car waiting for me when I arrive at Detroit Metro Airport, and I give the driver the hospital address before getting in the back and calling Charlie’s cell for what’s probably the hundredth time.
Verging on stalker mode, Beckett.
I grunt, knowing it’s probably close to the truth. But there’s something almost primal inside of me that needs to make sure she’s alright.
My call, like my last four, goes straight to voicemail. I hang up and curse before dialing the hospital where I know her mom is admitted. If Charlie won’t take my calls, I have other means of checking in on her.
“This is Spencer Beckett,” I say when I’m directed to the nurses’ station. “I’m calling about Heather Hayes.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Hayes is unable to take calls.”
“I’m aware of that. But can you tell me if anyone is with her right now?”
There’s a short silence before she says, “Her daughter was with her earlier, but I think it’s Mr. Hayes who’s in there now.”
“Thank you.” When I hang up, I say to my driver, “There’s been a change of plans. I need you to take me to fourteen Dundas Street.”
I lean back in the seat and stretch my legs out in front of me as I watch the concrete city go by. Decrepit buildings and dilapidated factories are soon behind us, replaced by forests of trees, and one story cookie cutter houses decorated with Christmas lights.
Finally, we pull into one of the driveways. From the outside, the house looks like it only contains one room. White vinyl siding, concrete stairs that have been converted into a wheelchair ramp leading up to a brightly colored red door. An undecorated Christmas tree sits in the single front window, looking lonely and out of place.
I tell the driver to wait as I get out of the car.
I’m not sure what I’m expecting. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if she told me to leave her the hell alone. But I have to do this. Need to make sure she’s all right. Need to see her.
There’s a creaking of footsteps behind the door when I knock, and when it opens, I see the shock on Charlie’s face when she sees me.
“Spencer.” She blinks up at me, those big hazel eyes slightly red and puffy from crying. It takes all my willpower not to pull her into my arms. “What are you doing here?”
“You weren't answering my calls.”
She keeps looking at me, obviously expecting more of an answer.
I rub the back of my neck, all the words that I’ve wanted to say for the last few days suddenly gone. “Can I come in?”
“I...” She glances over her shoulder, brows drawn down, before stepping back to let me in. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Thanks.” I step inside, shivering. Jesus, the place is almost as cold as it is outside.
I wasn’t that off when I said the place looked like it was only one room. There’s a small living room when I first walk in, and an even smaller kitchen off to the side. There’s a short hallway that leads to the back of the house with three doors, which most likely open onto two bedrooms and a bath.
“It’s not much, but it’s home,” Charlie says, frowning at me like she’s reading my thoughts.
“I wasn’t judging if that’s what you think.”
She raises a brow like she doesn’t believe me.
Silence stretches between us.
“Why are you here, Spencer?” she finally asks, her voice filled with exhaustion. She looks tired. Her face is free of makeup, her hair pulled up in a messy bun, and her eyes look slightly bruised.
My chest squeezes and I wish I could take away all the pain I see in her face. Wish she would let me in, let me help.
Fuck it. I walk toward her and wrap my arms around her waist, tugging her to me. “I want to be here for you. I heard about your mom.”
She lets out a shaky breath and slowly melts into me. My girl is stubborn, and I know she’s trying to keep distance between us, but there’s no denying the pull, the gravity of what we have.
I cup her jaw, forcing her to look at me. “I want to see everything about you, everything that makes you, you. I want you to trust me, to—”
“Spencer, I don’t...” Confusion and emotions make her words come out shaky.
I press my forehead to hers. “I know you’re angry at me.”
“You’ve been ignoring me.”
“I’ve been busy.” She chews on her bottom lip, then gives a small shake of her head. “No, that’s not fair. You’re right. I haven’t returned your calls, because I don’t know...”
“Don’t know what?” I trace her bottom lip, wanting so much to kiss her.
She lets out a shaky breath. “Anything.” She tries to pull back, but I don’t let her. “I don’t know anything right now, Spencer.” Tears build and when she blinks, one falls down her cheek.
I brush it away. “Talk to me. Tell me what’s going on. Your mom’s sick, but Jill said something about you dropping out of school?”
“She shouldn’t have told you that.” Her palms rest on my chest, and even through the heavy material of my coat, I can feel her warmth, her need for me. It’s not sexual, it’s something more. And I want to give it to her. Everything she wants, everything she needs.
Because the fucked up fact is I need her just as much.
“If it’s about money, I can—”
“Not everything can be fixed by opening your checkbook.” Frustration makes her words clipped, and I can see her pulling away, not physically, but emotionally. She’s building walls, a fucking fortress around her heart, and I don’t know how to penetrate it.
“Charlie, I want to help.”
“Shouldn’t you be with your own family? It’s Christmas.”
Yeah, my parents are expecting me. My mom’s left over a dozen messages for me already. But I’ll gladly deal with her wrath to make sure Charlie is all right.
“I want to be here. With you.”
I see a tiny flicker of what looks like hope in her eyes, but then she blinks and it’s gone. “Why?”
Because I care about you more than I should. Because I have no idea what to do with the emotions that are burning inside of me. Because for the first time in my life I feel like my feet are firmly rooted to the ground. Because the thought of being away from you is torture.
I want to say all those things, but I know it’s too much. All of it. I barely know how to process everything I’ve been feeling.
“I just know I need to be here.” I drag my thumb over her bottom lip again, desperate to kiss her and remove all the distance between us. “Don’t push me away, Charlie.”
Her mouth curves into a small smile. “You know there’s no way my dad will let you stay here.”
“I’m okay with staying at a hotel. I just want to be close to you.”
She sighs. “You really are Princeton Charming, aren’t you?”
I chuckle. “So is that a yes?”
“Good.” Gently, I kiss her, breathing her in. God, I missed her. She melts into me, and everything in the world seems right again. And I want, no need to make her feel it too. She’s made it abundantly clear that she doesn’t want me fixing things with money. But there are other ways I can try and help.
After all, it is our first Christmas together.
When I pull back, I glance over at the sad looking Christmas tree in the corner of the room. “So, Charlotte Hayes, do you have any decorations?”