Simple Perfection (Perfection #2)(11) by Abbi Glines

Tripp got the key to our room and we headed to the elevator. I didn't feel like talking much. I had called Braden earlier and she'd told me that Woods still hadn't called her. That bothered me. I should have been relieved. But I wasn't. The longer I was away from him without his calling Tripp or Braden, the more I realized this was what he wanted. Deep down, I'd given him his out. I didn't want to think about his being in pain. It made it easier to function each day knowing that the never-ending ache in my heart was something I suffered alone.

"You're quiet today," Tripp said as the elevator door opened and we stepped out onto the second floor. That was as high as Tripp would go. He had a thing about being too high up in a hotel. He said that if the place caught on fire he wanted to know he didn't have too many flights of stairs to take to get the hell out. I hadn't really thought about it but he had, apparently.

"Just not in the mood to talk," I told him.

"Your talk with Braden go okay?" he asked.

Sure. It had gone fine. She hadn't brought up Woods. She had only asked me where we had gone and what we were doing. Nothing more. "Yeah, it was fine."

Tripp opened the door to our room and glanced back at me. "You okay if I go out and get a drink tonight?"

This was code for "You okay if I go out and get laid tonight?" He didn't know that I had this figured out and I preferred that we keep it that way.

Every night he went out for a drink he came back around two in the morning smelling like perfume. He would have made a horrible cheating husband.

"I want to order a pizza and watch cable. Go, do what you want," I told him as I walked into the room.

"Thanks," he said, stepping in behind me.

"No problem. I need a shower. You leaving now?" I asked, taking my bag from his hands and heading for the bathroom.

"Yeah, I think so."

"See you in the morning," I told him. I stepped into the bathroom and closed the door behind me. I waited until I heard the hotel room door close and he had sufficient time to get away before I let the tears come. I'd been holding them back for hours. Crying didn't make the pain easier, but for that one moment I could lose myself in my sorrow. I didn't have to hide it. I could let it out freely.

Deep down, I knew what I had done was right. I'd let Woods go. My fear that I would hurt him no longer haunted me. He was okay. He was living his life and he would find that someone who could be his perfect fit. What we'd had was never going to be perfect. Love should be simple. I wasn't simple.

Woods deserved someone like Blaire Finlay. He needed a woman by his side who could pull out a gun and take care of herself. A wife who could give him babies that he could love and know they would be mentally healthy. The fear that their mother could snap would never be there.

I would never be a Blaire. I wanted to be more than I wanted my next breath, but it would never happen. I wasn't Woods's simple perfection. He would find it one day with someone else. Maybe one day I would find a way to be happy again. Maybe living life would help me find my place.

I refused to believe I would end up damaged like my mother. I might not have been wife-and-mother material, but I was a person. I could be something. I could make a difference in this world. I just had to find out what that something was. Thinking about Woods and his disinterest in finding me wasn't doing me any good. Crying wasn't healing me.

It was time I healed myself. I didn't need a man to hold my hand and cuddle me. I needed to do this on my own. Woods had wanted to help me and I'd wanted someone to cling to.

Tripp and I had pooled our money together and it had been enough for a while, but it wouldn't last forever. It was time Tripp went back to his place in South Carolina and I found a life. One that I lived alone. One in which I depended on myself.

I stood up and turned on the shower and undressed. I would wash away my tears and I wouldn't allow myself to do this again. There was a bravery inside of me that I was going to find and nurture.

Woods

I sat outside on my balcony with a beer in one hand and my phone in the other. Tripp called at nine every night. It was the only way I kept myself sane. Listening to him tell me about what she was doing, what she was saying, and even what she was wearing was the only way I held on to my last shreds of sanity.

The moment Tripp's name lit up the screen I answered.

"Hey, how is she?" I didn't care about small talk. I had decided not to find Tripp and break all the limbs from his body when he'd called me the first time and promised to keep me updated on Della. He said she needed time to deal with things and I needed to give her that. I was trying like hell but I wanted to go to her. Every time he told me which city they were in, I fought the need to jump on a plane.

"She was quiet today. Didn't talk much and couldn't wait to get rid of me. She's depressed but this is just another stage for her."

"Where are you now?"

"Memphis."

"Are you checked into a hotel?"

"Yeah. She's in the room. I'm out, giving her some space tonight."

Giving her space? Alone, in a strange city? "What the f**k are you thinking? You can't leave her alone! If she's been quiet she may be closing in on herself. You can't leave her alone. She'll need someone to bring her back. She can't---"

"Woods! Calm down, man. Calm down." Tripp's voice was commanding.

"She can't be alone," I said again as emotion lodged in my throat. I hated to think of her alone.

"She needs to be alone. She needs to cry. She needs to decide if giving you this freedom she thinks you need is going to be possible. Her leaving is all about you, Woods. She didn't want to leave you. I've told you that already. She loves you so much that she left to give you the life she thinks you want. One where you don't have to deal with her shit. So, now that she's done that, she has to live with it. Give her time. She'll come back."

I had set my beer down and stood up. Gripping the railing, I closed my eyes and fought back the pain. I just wanted her. Just Della. Any way I could have her, I wanted her. I wasn't ever going to be all right. I didn't want her to be alone. I wanted someone to hold her.

"Hold her for me. Hold her tight. Don't let her be lonely. Don't let her hurt. Please."

"I will do what she allows me to do. But my arms aren't the ones she wants."

"Fuck," I growled as sharp pains wrapped around my throat.

"Just give her more time," Tripp said.

I took several long, steadying breaths. He had to get back to her. He couldn't leave her alone like this. "When we hang up, go back to her."

Tripp sighed. "Fine. But I had plans tonight. There's a hot little bartender giving me the eye."

"Do you need more money?" I asked him. I had been depositing money into his account since he had called the first night. I wanted her in nice hotels and I wanted her to eat well.

"She's going to notice soon that we aren't running out of money. I keep waiting for her to bring up the fact that we stay in the nicest part of each town and eat in high-end restaurants instead of fast-food chains. She's not an idiot."

"I'm holding on by a damn thread. Your phone calls and the fact I know she's in nice hotels and eating good food is the only f**king thing keeping me sane."

"I'm going to see if I can convince her to go back to my place in South Carolina with me. I have a nice place there. It's safe and I have a job I can go back to. I can get her a job, too."

I just wanted her to come home. "Whatever you need to do. But she stays safe."

"I'm keeping her safe. I promise."

"You took her from me," I reminded him. I couldn't thank him.

"She asked me to. I'm her friend, too."

"She needs me."

"No, dude. Right now, she needs to find the strength inside herself. The strength she doesn't think is there. Once she realizes that she isn't a burden, she'll be back."

"She has to," I said, then ended the call before Tripp heard the pain in my voice.

Della

The pizza hadn't even arrived yet when Tripp walked back in the door. I had been sure he was going to screw a stranger. "You're back?"

He shrugged. "I decided I'd rather have pizza instead of a beer."

Something was up. He wouldn't rather have had pizza than get laid. Tripp was a bit of a man-whore. I had figured this out pretty fast. Women liked him and he liked them right back---for about two or three hours, then he was gone.

"Why are you really back? You never choose pizza over . . . beer."

A crooked grin tugged at his lips and he shifted his gaze over to me. "By the way you just said beer, I'm going to assume you know what I'm normally up to when I step out for a drink."

I rolled my eyes. "Uh, yeah."

Tripp sank down on the edge of the other bed. "Well, tonight I was thinking about something and I thought we might need to talk more than I needed a beer."

I wasn't sure how to respond to that so I just waited.

The knock on the door stopped him from going any farther.

"Pizza," he said, standing up and going to pay for the pizza. I had also ordered a two-liter soda. It wasn't beer but it came with the special.

I watched as he set the pizza down on my bed and grabbed the two plastic glasses by the ice bucket and fixed us a drink. I had been thinking we needed to talk, too, I just wasn't sure when we would get the chance. Before we got any farther away from South Carolina, I planned on telling him we should go there.

"Meat lover's. It's like you knew I was coming back," he said.

"No. The special tonight was a large meat lover's and a two-liter soda for fifteen dollars. I went with the special."

"Lucky me," he replied.

"Talk, Tripp. I want to know what's more important than beer."

Tripp let out a small chuckle and took a drink of his soda. Then he settled his green eyes on me. "Impatient, aren't you."

I didn't reply. I just raised my eyebrows to let him know I was still waiting.

"We need to go back to South Carolina. I need to get back to my job and I can get you hooked up with a job, too. I have a place there and it will be good for you to stay in one place longer than a day and think about stuff."

Not what I had been expecting him to say.

"Okay," I replied.

He stopped chewing. "'Okay'? Just like that?"

I nodded. "Yeah, just like that."

He finished chewing his bite of pizza and swallowed. "Why do you always surprise me? All the damn time? You'd think I would be used to it by now."

I took another bite of my pizza and shrugged. I hadn't realized I was going to be so easygoing about it either. I wasn't going to stay there permanently, of course, but I could work there awhile and save up some money. Then I would hit the road again.

"There is one thing I want to do first," I told him.

"What?"

"Go through Georgia and see my best friend, Braden, and her husband, Kent. I haven't seen them in a while and I'd like to stay at their house for a couple of days."

Tripp nodded. "Sounds good. I can get a place at a hotel in town and you can stay with them."

"They would be happy for you to stay with them, too," I assured him.

Tripp smirked. "Yeah, well, that sounds nice but honestly, I could really use a couple of nights to have some . . . beer."

The small bubble of laughter was fast and unexpected. Tripp's smirk turned into a pleased grin, and I laughed for the first time since I'd left Rosemary.

Later that night, I had just started to fall asleep when I heard Tripp get up and walk to the bathroom. I thought he was going to take a shower but I heard him talking to someone. Who would he be calling after midnight? Then I heard my name.

I eased out of bed quietly and tiptoed close enough so I could hear what he was saying.

"She wants to stop by her friend's house in Georgia first. . . . Yeah. . . . I said yes. Damn. . . . Near Myrtle Beach. It's safe. I swear. . . . Probably need some more, yeah. . . . I'll call you. . . . I said I would call you. Go to sleep."

I hurried back over to the bed and crawled back in. Who had he been talking too? Was there a girl back where he lived? Had he left someone behind to come help me? No. That couldn't be it. He slept with too many women. Maybe it was just a friend.

"Della?" Tripp's voice surprised me and I almost responded. Then I realized he was checking to make sure I was asleep. I didn't say anything.

It must have been a friend of his wondering when he'd be home. But the "safe" comment---that was weird. I closed my eyes and decided to let the exhaustion take me. I would think about this tomorrow.

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