I opened the door as Tripp came walking up to it. I’d been expecting him. I had called him over an hour ago. Told him we needed to talk.
“You look good, Della. Much better than the girl I left here,” he said before stepping into the house.
“Thank you. A lot has changed,” I said, then motioned for him to go to the living room.
“Apparently it is a good change. You look almost happy.”
Almost was a stretch. I wasn’t happy. I missed Woods. I missed him so much it hurt. “Not sure if I’ll be able to achieve happy, but I hope to,” I said simply.
Tripp sat down in the closest chair, stretched his legs out in front of him, and looked up at me. “Talk, Della girl. I’m listening.”
“I’m not going to South Carolina. I’m not sure what I’m going to do next but I won’t be going with you. Thank you for everything. Thank you for putting up with me for the past two weeks and helping me when I needed it. What you did means more than words could ever express. I promise to pay you back every penny you spent. As soon as I get a job I’ll start sending you money. I have your address.”
Tripp frowned. “Don’t send me any money. Keep it. I had fun. I had a traveling buddy for a while.”
I wasn’t going to let him get away with that. I had taken two weeks of his life on the road and now he was staying in Atlanta this week while he waited on me. “No. I’m paying you back.”
Tripp smirked and shook his head. “I won’t argue with you right now,” he said.
“I found out some things this week,” I told him. “I’m not having night terrors anymore. I still have dreams and there’re still bad memories but I don’t get scared. The fear is gone. I just wake up.”
Tripp’s eyes went wide and he beamed at me. “That’s awesome, Della.”
I nodded because I agreed. It was amazing. I had conquered something. “Yeah, it is.”
“Are you going back to Rosemary?”
I wasn’t sure. Every minute that passed in which I didn’t have a panic attack and have to fight off the fear that used to overwhelm me, I wanted to go back. I wanted to show Woods that I was complete. I wasn’t broken anymore. I was whole. He could love me. I was safe to love. But had I burned that bridge?
“I don’t know,” I replied.
Tripp bit his bottom lip. He did that when he was thinking. Finally, he let it pop free. “Listen. I can’t say much because it isn’t my place, but go back. If you want to go back. Be brave and go back.”
I wish it was that easy. “What if he doesn’t want me back?”
Tripp shook his head. “Not possible. Trust me.”
“I left him. All I left was a note. He hasn’t looked for me. He must hate me.”
Tripp stood up and paced back and forth in front of the fireplace while biting his bottom lip again. What was he so worked up about?
I watched him, waiting for him to say something.
Finally, he stopped and ran his hand through his hair, pulling on the ends a little, like he was having a hard time with something. “Tripp, what’s wrong?” I asked.
He stared at me hard a minute. He knew something. Is Woods dating someone else already? Surely not. Oh, God. I’m going to be sick. Could he move on like that?
“The money, it was all—“
“All because he was a good friend and wanted to help you, Della. Wasn’t it, Tripp?” Braden’s voice startled me as she interrupted Tripp.
He swallowed hard, then nodded. “Yeah,” he finally said.
That wasn’t what he was going to say. Braden knew what he was going to say and she had stopped him. She was keeping something from me. What was it?
I stood up and spun around to look at her. “Is he with someone else?” I asked. Just saying it ripped me into pieces. If she said yes I would crumple to the floor. I wouldn’t be able to deal with that.
Her eyes were determined. I could see she wanted to tell me but she wasn’t going to. “I think you need to go back to Rosemary and take back your man, if that’s what you want. I think that if you love Woods Kerrington, then you need to be brave enough to put your heart on the line and go after him. You need to stop fearing things, Della. This is your last obstacle. Face it.” Her voice cracked. “Please, Della. Go get him. If you want him. Go get him.”
He had moved on. I sank back down on the couch. “Oh, God,” I gasped as the pain started filling every inch of my body.
“Shut up, Tripp,” Braden snapped. She wanted me to know the truth. Tripp was trying to ease my pain because he was a good guy but Braden loved me enough to be honest.
“How do I go after him? He doesn’t want me,” I said, my voice no more than a whisper.
Braden knelt down in front of me. “You are beautiful, smart, kind, and selfless, and you’re the best friend I’ve ever had. I love you like a sister. You are my family. I’ve watched you hurt and I’ve watched you hide from your fears as if they really were those monsters under your bed that your mother threatened you with. In two days I’ve seen you face life with a strength I knew was in there but I’d never seen you use. If you want Woods Kerrington—if he is your forever—then go get him. Don’t doubt yourself. Don’t doubt your importance. People don’t love you and forget you, Della. You’re unforgettable.”
I covered my mouth to smother a sob. Braden didn’t reach for me and hug me. She didn’t offer words of comfort. She just knelt there and watched me. She was waiting on me to decide. She was betting on me. When the rest of the world thought I was hopeless, she bet on me. She believed in me.
So had Woods.
“Can I have one last ride?” I asked Tripp as I raised my gaze to meet his.
“You know it,” he replied.
Braden let out a loud sob as she stood up and wrapped her arms around me. “I’m so proud of you. You did it, Della. You did it,” she said into my hair as she cried in my arms.
I smiled over her shoulder at Tripp, who was getting a little teary-eyed himself.
He gave me a thumbs-up and winked, then he turned and walked out of the room.