Glancing around the small space almost depressed him more. No Christmas tree, no family, no dinner and laughter and sharing stories. But if he went down to the main house he’d only make Nora feel awkward and he’d be in a foul mood. No need in making the family dinner a miserable experience for everyone.
Besides, Nora needed family more right now. And when he returned to Atlanta, his family would continue to watch over her just like they always had. At least he had that comfort.
Damn it, he didn’t want her to be watched over and cared for by his brothers and parents. He wanted to be the one she leaned on, the one who shared everything with her.
Eli went to the dinette table and booted up his laptop. Since he had nothing else to do, he went to check his work email from Atlanta. He’d been off the radar a couple of days.
And the first message he saw was the one he’d been waiting for. He’d gotten the promotion.
When Drake and Cameron had pulled her aside after dinner she’d been afraid of what they’d say. But she had no idea the bombshell they had in store.
Her nerves were on edge, her hormones were all over the place and she honestly didn’t have a clue what to do next.
She rested her hands on the countertop in the galley kitchen and sighed.
“I’m making Eli a plate,” Bev said, bustling into the kitchen as if she didn’t know about or wasn’t commenting on all the turmoil. “Would you care to run it up to him, dear?”
“Bev,” Nora said, turning around. “I know you mean well, but I doubt you know what you’re asking.”
Setting a stack of dirty dishes on the counter, Bev crossed to Nora and took her hands in hers. “I know exactly what I’m asking,” Bev said softly. “I know two people I dearly love are hurting and the only way to get past that is to talk. Communication is the key to any relationship.”
Nora swallowed, praying she didn’t start sobbing here. She’d been tear-free for two hours. A record for her after the past couple days.
“We don’t have a relationship,” Nora whispered. “I know you wanted—”
“It doesn’t matter what I want or don’t want,” Bev interrupted. “What matters is there are two broken hearts and I can’t sit back and let this happen. Now, I’m making a plate. Do you want to take it or do you want me to have Eli come down here?”
Nora closed her eyes and sighed. “I’ll take it.”
There was so much pain, so much anguish. The damage was too great to even get back to a friendship status—how could they ever repair what had been done?
Nora bundled herself up in her coat and scarf while Bev fixed the plate. This was the dead last thing she wanted to do, but she knew she and Eli needed to talk, no matter how much hurt lay wedged between them.
“Drake put a little salt on the walk with that fresh dusting we got, but be careful.” Bev held the door open. “Take your time.”
Nora knew the woman meant “take your time in the apartment,” not “take your time getting to the apartment.”
She didn’t stop to think about what she was doing; she just set out toward the garage and up the steps, gripping the wooden rail for support as she went. But she did stop to knock. When he didn’t answer, she tried the knob.
Nora held the plate and eased the door open. Eli sat at his small table with his back to the door.
“I told Cam and Drake to tell you I’d come down and see you and Dad tomorrow.”
Nora cleared her throat. “Um… She sent me.”
Eli jerked around, shooting out of his seat. And Nora froze. He’d been crying. His eyes were red, moist, and when he realized she was staring, he swiped a hand down his face.
“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “Your mom sent this up and…”
This was beyond awkward. Nora crossed to the kitchen, purposely avoiding eye contact with Eli. She knew he would never want anyone to see him vulnerable, let alone her.
After she set the plate on the kitchen counter she turned, meeting his gaze from across the open room.
“I’m surprised you brought dinner to me,” he said, his voice husky with emotion. “Thanks.”
Nora nodded. “I…I needed to talk to you.”