Page 85 of The Keeper

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I can’t help the look of pure shock that must be crossing my face.

“I’ve never wanted anything but for you to have an opportunity to show the world how talented you are,” she says softly.

“Can you hear what that sounds like, Mom?”

She sighs and folds her hands in her lap. “Billie, I’ve always seen that light inside of you. That talent. Your dad and I make a business of finding those sparks or making something of them. And you had it. Since you were really little, you had it.”

“But I didn’t want that life. I didn’t want to be made up and paraded around like a singing monkey. And as I got older, the way men looked at me…it was terrifying to be looked at like that as a twelve-year-old.”

“I see that now.” She shakes her head softly and looks…regretful. Something I don’t ever recall seeing in my mother. “I pushed too hard, and I was too blind to what you needed. But I knew you haditand I just wanted people to see how good you were. How proud of you I was.”

“So why not, like, put me in normal activities like dance classes or whatever? Come cheer on my spring recital like a normal parent?”

“I’m so sorry.” Again, not a thing she says very often. It hits me like a ton of bricks that she really means it. “You are extremely talented, Billie. And I know why you left. I pushed too hard and I’m sorry for that. But I’m glad you found something you love. And I’m very proud of what you’re making here.”

“I’m so scared, Mom,” I admit, my voice breaking.

“It can be scary to put yourself out there like this, so publicly. This is big. Your brother’s movie. A whole album. It’s a new world and it will be very different than the safe one you’ve built in Vegas.”

The thought of Vegas makes me sad. I try to push it away, but I can’t because the sadness is always with me now. I blurt out my pain just like I did when I was little. “I haven’t heard from Cal since sending him my song. I guess he doesn’t feel things after all.”

“Oh, my baby.” My mom pulls me into a hug and swipes away the tears now rolling down my cheek. “Well, that was the other reason I came up here. There was a ‘supermodel handsome’”—she rocks her hands back and forth—“quirky young man downstairs asking for you.”

“Was? Cal was here?”

She smiles for real. “Well, he said he’d be down the beach waiting for you. I told him he’d be welcome here in the house, but he said no.” She gets up and brushes nonexistent lint off her perfectly pleated pants…and then she takes my face firmly in her hands. “Billie Seraphina Hirsch, no matter the mistakes I’ve made as a parent, as you’ll find when you make plenty of them with your own children someday, nothing changes how much we love you and how much we want for you to be happy. Now dry your beautiful face and go to him.”

She kisses me on the forehead before stepping out of my room, shutting the door with a soft click behind her. I stare at the closed door for a beat, indulging in one short moment of pure relief before bursting into action.

My emotions are all over the place as I race around the room, changing out of my jeans and T-shirt into a simple black dress and some silver sandals. I brush my teeth, throw on some minimal makeup, and pull my hair into a side braid.

Not wanting to wait another second, I run down the stairs and out the back door. Down the pier to another set of stairs. Once I hit the sand, my eyes search frantically. I’m looking, looking…for the shape of his body. The shape of Calum.

Finally, when my heart is about to burst right out of my chest to flop around on the sand, I see him.

Down the beach.

Sitting on a large piece of driftwood, elbows on his knees, chin resting on praying hands. Waiting for me just like my mom said he would be.

Waiting forme…

It takes every bit of control I have not to run. Still, my pace is quick as I make my way toward him, nearly ready to cry again, taking in his sun-kissed hair and handsome face after too many aching weeks apart. I know when he spots me because I can feel his deep blue eyes on me. I can feel my Calum’s eyes.

Mine?Please let it be so.

Calum stands as I approach. In khakis and a crisp white button-down, he’s simply dressed, but dear God, so incredibly gorgeous. Even after all this drama between us, I still want him as much as ever. Our time apart hasn’t changed how I feel. I want to strip him of that crisp white shirt and touch his defined pecs and rippling abs. I want to kiss my way up that hard jawline of his. I want to feel his strong arms holding me up—

“Bil-lie.” A catch in his throat as he says my name is his only tell. Whatever this is, it’s big for him. He gestures to the driftwood for me to take a seat.

I sit and look up at him, folding my hands in my lap, determined to hear him out. But I can’t believe he’s here—that my eyes are really seeing him right now.

I can even smell him.

Here on the beach, in the open autumn air, I can smell the glorious scent of him.

In fact, all my senses are working on super maximum overload trying to absorb every detail possible after being starved for far too long.

Because my body remembers yours.

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