First Comes Love(74)By: Emily Goodwin
Noah inhales then slowly lets his breath out. “I know. And I agree.”
I open my eyes, looking right at him.
“I don’t want to be that dad. I don’t want Ella thinking I’ll run out when times get tough. I don’t want to be like my own father. And, Lauren … that’s why I drank that night.”
“My dad. He showed up outside the studio Friday before the shower. I’ll just say it brought up a lot of bad memories and old feelings I didn’t know I still had. It freaked me out. My dad left when I was just a kid, and it still gets to me, still hurts. I … I don’t want to be a bad dad too. I don’t want to let you down or ruin Ella’s life.”
I take his hand again. “That’s why you were acting weird Friday night.”
“Yeah,” he admit.
A few beats pass in silence. I trace a tattoo on the inside of his wrist. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You had enough going on. I didn’t want to add to it.”
“Noah, you have to tell me these things. If we want to be a couple—a family—then we can’t keep things from each other like that.”
“I know now.”
“You know what will ruin Ella’s life?” I start. “Bottling up your feelings and drinking away the pain. Not trusting me enough to help.”
“It’s not that,” he says definitely. “I do trust you, more than anyone, Lauren. I didn’t tell you because there’s no need for you to know how I spent my eighth birthday at the police station because my dad got arrested for a DUI on the way to the football game he was taking me to.” He shakes his head, looking at the floor. “But the real kicker? My own mother used Ella as an excuse to call that asshole, even after I said I don’t want anything to do with him. He doesn’t deserve to meet Ella, and Ella doesn’t need to be anywhere near someone like that. Bad parenting, a life of disappointment and hurt, it’s in my blood.”
“That’s not true.”
“It’s all I know, and I’m damned to repeat it. I did the best I could for you, and it wasn’t good enough.”
“That’s not true either. Why didn’t you just ask me? Noah, what we had was perfect. This started as a nightmare, as the worst thing that could possibly happen besides dying, and we made it into something beautiful. I was really happy.”
“Was,” he mumbles. “I’m sorry, Lauren. If I could do it over, I would.”
“You can’t rewrite the beginning, but you can create a new ending.”
“I want that ending to be a happily ever after for you. You deserve it, even if it’s not from me.” Each word hurts him, every syllable tearing his heart bit by bit. The pain is obvious on his face.
I’ve never felt stronger for him than I do right now.
“I want it to be you.” And I do. I want Noah not just because he’s Ella’s father, but because I’ve fallen for him, hard. There is more to him than motorcycles and tattoos.
Noah moves forward, cupping my face in his hands, bringing my lips to his in a kiss.
“I love you,” he says, lips hovering over mine. “I’ve been in love with you for years. Ever since the first time I saw you, when you came into Mrs. Jefferson’s office to protest against dissecting the cats in biology.”
“You remember that?”
“I remember that you were wearing a pink and white dress. I remember how you smelled like strawberries. And I remember how crushed I was when I found out you were Colin’s sister. I thought I’d get over you. It was just a stupid teenage crush, but I didn’t, and the more I got to know you, the harder I fell. And then that night when you walked into the bar and I took you home … I thought one night with you would be the closet I would ever get. But then in a bizarre twist of fate, you got pregnant and gave me a chance. And then I was so scared of losing you, of letting you and Ella down, that I fucked it all up, and you deserve better.”
Tears are streaming down my face. I open my mouth only to close it again. The words soak into me, deep inside my heart, healing the hurt. All this time, he’s loved me. All this time he’s cared.
“I love you too, Noah.”
We kiss again, then Noah rests his forehead against mine. “Now what?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’ll fight for you. For our family. I’ll do whatever it takes to prove to you this can work.”
“Noah,” I squeak out, unable to talk without crying.
“Can we start by being together and you be my girlfriend again?”
“Yes.” I close my eyes and press my lips to his. “But only if you make me a promise.”