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FORGIVENESS IS A VIRTUE – CHAPTER THREE

Thornton

No… no… no…What’s he doing here? What the fuck is he doing here?

I stood from my chair, ready to bolt. I wasn’t prepared to see him, and I refused to fall apart in front of him. “What the hell is going on?” I snapped at the two of them.

“Thorn, calm down, please? I know it’s a surprise, but there are so many things we need to discuss. Please, give me the chance to explain my stupidity to you. It has been too long that we’ve both suffered, and it’s time for us to talk about things. I know… I know you owe me nothing, but Thorn, I owe you a lot. I owe you an explanation,” Kennedy pleaded.

I wanted to curl into a tight ball right there in Lily Graves’ office as all of the feelings washed over me like storm surge, but after everything that had transpired between Kennedy and me, I knew I had to remain strong and appear unaffected by his sudden, unannounced intrusion into my life. I looked at the two of them standing together, and I wondered why the fuck I didn’t see the resemblance when I looked into her eyes the first time. She was Kennedy’s twin sister, Rory. How the fuck had I gotten duped? Why would Candace put me in this position?

“So, you’re Rory?” I asked coldly, feeling like a fucking fool at their charade.

“Rory Cross, Mr. Marsh. I’m sorry for all the covert tactics, but the fact of the matter is we want to publish this book. We truly believe this book can put all of us into a new stratosphere, Mr. Marsh, and if this story is as important to you as Candace believes it to be, I hope you’ll listen to Kennedy. If you need me, I’ll be in the conference room, Kenny,” she stated before she left the two of us alone, closing the door on her way out.

I turned back to look at him, not sure why I was still standing there. Maybe it was something, Lily—Rory—had said about life being too short to live with pain and regret. I sunk into the chair and maintained my silence, waiting for him to say something. He’d set me up, and it was up to him to take the conversation in the direction he wanted.

Kennedy took a seat in Rory’s chair, appearing quite nervous. I was unsurprisingly happy about that because my stomach was churning like a tornado.

“Where do you want to start?” Kennedy asked. I shrugged, not offering him any help at all. He usually had a lot to say. I was pretty sure that hadn’t changed over the years.

“Okay. Um, I guess the best place to start is at the end. I read your manuscript, and you’re an incredible writer, not that I doubted you would be. I remember reading your stuff back in college, and I knew you had it in you. I never doubted you, Thorn,” he yammered.

I chuckled without any humor. “What are you doing running a publishing company? I thought you were a programmer. You used to sit in the apartment writing code in your underwear. What happened to that career?” I asked with a bite in my voice.

He looked down for a minute and pulled out something from his pocket, staring at it before he tossed it in the air to me. I caught it, seeing a key ring with three bronze-colored circular chips attached to it. I looked at one of them, seeing the words, “To Thine Own Self Be True.

“What’s this?” I asked as I tossed the key ring back to him with a little force, bringing that bright smile to his face as he caught it above his head. I wanted to slap that smile away. In the past, I’d crumble under the weight of it, but I was a different man now. Wasn’t I?

“They’re sobriety chips. You’re the last person on my list to whom I need to make amends. I didn’t know… well, I hoped someday I’d get the chance. Thornton, I’m so sorry for everything I put us through—put you through. It was all my fault, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me someday. You didn’t deserve any of it, and when I read your manuscript, it brought back the reminder of what a horrible partner I was for you. I am so very sorry,” he apologized. He looked contrite, but I was trying not to let it get to me.

Thankfully for him, he didn’t try to play on my sympathies. He was the same Kennedy I’d first fell in love with—assured, charming, irresistible. Unfortunately for him, I wasn’t the same starry-eyed innocent he’d met some ten years earlier.

“What happened with your degree?” I asked again.

“I graduated, but I still don’t know how. I fell into a bottle after I fucked things up with us. You didn’t make me an alcoholic, okay? I did that all on my own because I was too much of a coward to face up to what I’d done to us… what I’d lost. The only way I could begin to live with myself was to be numb, so I did it as often as possible. After you disappeared and nobody would tell me where you went, I started drinking,” Kennedy confessed.

I wanted to scream at him and ask him why, but I held my tongue. He still seemed to have something to say, and the masochist in me wanted to hear it.

“I stayed in that bottle for five years, sometimes worse than others. I lost several good jobs because of it, and the only person who would hire me was my mother. That’s how I ended up working here. Only after a threat I couldn’t turn away from did I clean up my shit for good. It, uh, I sobered up because I have a son, and his mother threatened to take him away if I didn’t get my shit together. That was the impetus for me, but it took me a few tries to finally get it right,” he explained.

I, on the other hand, was sure my eyes were about to pop out of my head. He. Has. A. Son? God, that was the last thing I wanted to hear. I stood and picked up my leather case. “Kennedy, I accept your apology, but forgiveness? I don’t know if that’s something I can ever give. If you actually read that fucking manuscript, you know about my life. I’m glad you got your shit together, and I hope you stay on your path for the sake of your son, but I don’t see us fitting together on this book deal. Maybe just getting it off my chest is enough. Tell your sister I appreciate her time,” I stated as I started for the door.

“Thornton, I need to tell you I still love you. There’s been no one else who has ever made me feel the way I still feel about you, and I’m sure there will never be. I fell in love with you in that elevator as well, and I didn’t cherish it, which is my biggest sin. I never got over you, and I know I never will,” he hurriedly admitted to me which made my heart ache and my temper flare.

I wheeled on him. “You mother fucker. If that’s the case, why wasn’t I enough? Why did you bring that whore into our home? Into our bed? On my mother’s wedding quilt… you fucked her on that quilt, in our bed where you made love to me the night before. Why?!” I shouted, not giving a shit about the people outside the door hearing about my most significant shame and heartbreak.

He took a deep breath and stepped toward me. I held up my hands for him to keep his fucking distance because if he got too close, I was sure I’d deck the bastard. “Fine. I’ll stay here. The reason I made the stupidest fucking mistake of my life was to be sure. I knew I loved you, but I had a hard time accepting I was gay. I thought if I kissed a girl and it didn’t do anything for me, I’d finally be able to own my sexuality. When I kissed Lark, I got hard, and then one thing led to another. I took it one step too far, and you walked in.” I wanted to fucking laugh at how easy it seemed for him to say the words. I didn’t know there were steps to betrayal.

“It’s a lame excuse, I know. I never, in my wildest dreams, intended to hurt you or throw away what we had, Thornton. I made the worst mistake of my life that day, and if I could turn back time…”

I laughed darkly. “Well, Cher, you can’t. I’ll give you a little bit of advice. Don’t dwell on what ifs. They’ll drive you to madness, and you’ll never have peace. I can tell you that for a fact,” I told him and turned to leave.

Before I opened the door, I had to know one thing. I needed it for closure. “So, you’re straight?”

“No. I’m as crooked as the day is long, okay? Yes, I have a son with Lark Nutter, but we were only together that one time. The condom broke, and she wasn’t on the pill. We didn’t have…”

I’d heard enough from him, so I left. I closed the door, along with that chapter of my life. For the first time in such a long time, I felt good about the way it ended. I walked out on him again, but this time, I felt like I had the upper hand. I had my ending. As I caught a cab back to my apartment, I sent Candace a scathing text.

I don’t know if I can forgive you for what you put me through. Don’t call and don’t respond. I’ll contact you when I’ve calmed down and have an inkling of a plot for the next Caine book. TM

I turned off my phone, and when the cab pulled up in front of my building, I paid the man and went inside, intending to drown my sorrows. I was going to get blind drunk, and Kennedy’s revelation of his alcoholism wasn’t going to deter me in the fucking least.

I didn’t drink often, but that night, I was going to drain the biggest bottle I had in my liquor cabinet. If I were lucky, I wouldn’t remember a damn thing in the morning. That was if I woke up. I didn’t care either way.

–FIAV–

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I woke the following day but I sincerely wished I hadn’t. As my brain pulsed in a dehydrated fog, I wondered how many mornings Kennedy had awakened with the same feeling. I hated myself for wondering about it, but the curiosity was there, nonetheless.

I thought about the previous day, and I wondered if I’d gained any closure. It is sure as fuck didn’t feel like it. I decided I didn’t want to think about it, so I got up, took a shower, and went to the kitchen to make myself something to eat.

I’d skipped food the previous night in favor of some Irish whiskey. I’d probably never drink it again, and for a minute, I was sad because I remembered times when Uncle Rob and I had enjoyed a glass or two over the years. I should have had tequila which I didn’t like in the first place.

After I finished two scrambled eggs and a piece of toast, I hauled up my balls and turned on my phone, vaguely remembering when I’d turned it off the previous night to avoid messages from Candace. After it quit vibrating, I picked it up and saw her retribution.

You’re an idiot. You and I both know you still love him. Rory called me. Candace

Thorn—Ignoring me won’t keep me from yelling at you. Call me, jackass.

I laughed at her complaints, which made my head hurt like hell, and when I opened the final message, I was surprised—and not exactly happy.

Topher and I will be there at ten this morning, and you better open the goddamn door because you know he won’t care about breaking it down. Love you, Candace.

I looked at the clock and saw it was nearly ten, which meant unless I was going to haul ass out the back door of the building, I was screwed. When I heard the knock as I plotted my escape, I knew it was too late.

I went to the door and opened it, seeing Candace and Topher Kelly standing there with an expectation of admittance. I laughed. “How presumptuous of you? What if I’m not ready to receive?”

They both laughed along with me. “Queenie, you need to snap out of this shit. You love Kennedy, and we all know it. Thorn, he fucked up,” Candace began her argument. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard it.

“Yeah, Candace, he fucked up big. Stay out of it,” I responded as I let them in and closed the door.

Candace sighed. “You’ve never gone into detail with me about your relationship with Kennedy, and I let you get away with that bullshit explanation of having a bad breakup in college. You didn’t want to discuss it, and I didn’t press you on it, allowing you to tip-toe around the truth because I was your friend and I didn’t want to remind you of a time that was painful for you. But, what I read in that manuscript is your heart, just breaking on the page. You love the man, and you need to find a way to get to a better place. Talk. To. Him,” she directed.

“It’s none of your business,” I responded coldly. I hated that Candace knew me so well to be able to figure me out so quickly.

Topher coughed before looking at me with a nervous twitch I’d seen before from the man. Finally, he spoke. “Look, I’m in the dark about most of this, but I don’t think it’s healthy for you to refuse to find out why he cheated. I’m not saying it won’t be a fucked-up reason but look how it affected your relationship with Joey. You were never into him as much as he was into you,” Topher offered his opinion, which was completely unwelcomed.

“As I said, it’s none of your—”

Of course, Topher held up his hand for me to stop talking. “Thorn, seriously, if this Kennedy guy is the reason you refuse to be in a serious relationship? I think you need to get a handle on it so you can move forward. I love you, and I hate to see you unhappy. Maybe you should give the guy the opportunity to explain himself so both of you can get some closure? It’s just a suggestion, man,” Topher offered, which shocked the fuck out of me. He usually stayed the hell away from any conversations I had with Candace. Why he was getting into it now had me astounded.

The two of them came inside and settled in the kitchen. “Well, just make yourselves at home,” I mumbled, not happy with the situation at all.

I gathered my wits—even as painful as it was that morning—and addressed the last statement. “Topher, I love you like a brother, but I walked into the bedroom of the little apartment Kennedy and I shared, and I found him fucking someone else. It doesn’t matter if it was a woman or a man. He was fucking someone else. Someone who wasn’t me,” I reminded.

I knew Topher knew the story because he and Candace had no secrets. If she’d figured it out from the manuscript, then she’d likely filled him in on the highlights.

She looked at Topher and cocked an eyebrow. “Tell him.”

He seemed to pale a bit. “Baby, I don’t think…” he began.

“Topher, tell him,” she demanded.

It was funny to see the five-foot, four-inch woman command her giant of a husband to do anything, but he loved her and would set the world on fire if she asked. It was what I truly craved in a relationship, and there was a time when I’d thought… No, don’t go there.

Topher cleared his throat and looked at me. “I cheated on Candy once.”

My head snapped to her immediately, seeing the pain on her face. She quickly masked it, but I knew it hurt for her to hear him say it.

“When?” I snarled. I wanted to hit him, but he’d just pummel the shit out of me so that would be useless.

“We’d been dating for about six months, and she’d made it known she wanted us to be exclusive. I got it, but the feelings I had for her were so overwhelming that I needed time to get myself wrapped around them. When she told me that she didn’t want me sleeping with anyone else, I decided before I committed, I needed to get one more under my belt,” Topher admitted. I was beyond shocked.

Topher continued. “Unfortunately, I forgot I’d given Candy a key, and we were supposed to meet at my place when she got off work. When she walked in on me doing a girl on the couch…”

Candace broke in, not happy with the way Topher was telling the story. “Oh, hell no! It wasn’t just a girl on the couch, asshole. It was Joanna. She’d been trying to break us up for a long time.”

Candace then turned to face me. “I walked into his place to see he was fucking that cunt on the couch where we watched movies and laughed about stupid shit. After I was able to catch my breath, I threw his key at him and walked out.”

She turned back to Topher, and I had a feeling they weren’t done with that particular episode in their lives. “My heart had been ripped in half, but I was stupid in love with the asshole. He begged and pleaded for my forgiveness for a month before I’d even listen to him, but what could I do? I loved him,” Candace stated as she looked at him

She then turned to me. “He fucked up, Thornton, but I had to take a step back and decide if I could forgive him because if I couldn’t, I’d be breaking my own heart.”

I was about to argue, but she smiled at me. “People freak out when a strong relationship comes along that’s unlike anything they’ve ever experienced. Sometimes, that fear causes them to act out selfishly before weighing the consequences. I’m not making an excuse for Kennedy’s behavior, but do you love him? Do you still love him?” Candace prompted.

The news of Topher’s dalliance was surprising because they’d always seemed like the perfect couple. I’d introduced the two of them, after all, and Topher had reciprocated by helping me meet my last lover, Joey—a guy with whom he worked.

I’d known Topher from the gym I frequented to work off the continuing frustration at the failure of a love I couldn’t forget. Candace had just moved to Spokane from San Diego where we’d gone to college together to work for her father.

I’d invited her to take a yoga class with me at the gym, and Topher Kelly had been in the same class. She and Topher hit it off immediately, and I hadn’t had any idea the tow of them had ever had a problem since the day they got together.

When she lifted the veil of secrecy around what had happened between them, it made me open my eyes. Did I still love Kennedy Catrelle? Yes, very much. Could I forgive him? I didn’t know. Did I think about him every day and wonder why he’d done what he’d done? Fuck, yes, I did.

I looked at the two of them for a moment before I focused on Topher. “You’re a stupid, stupid man, and if I were straight, I’d have given you a run for your money with Candace, but I appreciate your honesty, Cristopher. Let’s go eat,” I demanded to avoid the rest of the conversation Candace was aching to have with me.

I had to reconcile myself to the looming reality of having run into Kennedy again and how it had made me feel before I could share it with anyone else.

Later that night, I sunk into bed, and I remembered a night so precious, I couldn’t dismiss the scene playing in my mind like a movie.

Baby, I want you. I know… I know it’s new for both of us, but can we try?” Kennedy whispered. We were in my dorm room in my twin bed, and we’d been making out. Slowly, we’d stripped each other, both craving the feel of flesh on flesh. We were finally naked, and it was time for us to decide if we were ready to take the next step.

I didn’t remember every nuance regarding how we’d gotten to that point, but his hard cock against mine was all I needed. My roommate left for the weekend, and I wanted nothing more than to have Kennedy Catrelle fuck me in my tiny twin bed in my dorm room.

Reach into my nightstand,” I whispered as I kissed my way over his chest. He found the lube and condoms on my nightstand, and after I felt his fingers caressing my hole and then slip inside me, there was no turning back. I’m ready, but go slow, please.”

Kennedy kissed me gently, and he did exactly as I asked. Once my body accepted him, I began moving wildly. The feeling of him inside me was nothing I’d ever thought I’d experience in my life. His kisses, slow and passionate as he thrust in and out of me, were nothing I’d ever expected.

I was sure when we took the step it would be hurried and fumbling, but it wasn’t. It was full of love and passion, and when we both climaxed, I told him I loved him. He smiled and kissed me, saying, “I feel the same way. I feel the same fucking way.”

After we cleaned up, we laid in my horrible dorm room bed, wrapped around each other and making grand plans. We were going to move in together the next year, and we were going to have a great life.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

–FIAV–

It had been a week since I’d dwelled on the memory of the first time I made love with Kennedy Catrelle, and I’d jerked off to it every fucking night, which wasn’t exactly dignified nor the way I usually handled myself.

One thing I couldn’t shake off was the advice I was given by Topher and Candy, unsolicited as it had been. I needed to talk to Kennedy—and not about the book. I needed to know what I had meant to him while we were together. My soul needed to know if his feelings for me were true as I’d believed them to be back then. I needed to see if it hurt him to betray my trust the way he had or was it easy to throw us away because he’d never really felt about me as I had him.

To be continued…


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