The sound of the fork hitting the plate was confirmation that she’d heard him clearly.
“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, his hand instinctively rushing to his mouth to cover it, as if somehow he might be able to push the words back in. “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m so sorry.”
Phyllis blinked back at him, her eyes wide. “I…” She took a breath, her trembling hands now clutching the sides of the table. “Excuse me, please.”
Ronan stood, unable to do or say anything, simply watching as she rushed from the room.
“Aright mister.” Ashley took a seat beside the bed, clutching her phone in her hand. “Let’s find you a name.” She grinned up at him, with clear determination in her eyes. “I have a list of the most popular male names for the year. Let’s pick one.”
Billy chuckled softly. It seemed like a crazy concept, picking a name from a list, but why the hell not. When you can’t remember who you are, things like this become your luxury. “Alright,” he sighed, “Let’s hear them.”
“Okay…We’ve got Bennett, Aiden, Sage, Liam, Michael…” She paused to look at him. “None of those suit you. There’s Mason, Jacob, Matthew, Noah, William, Cameron, John..”
“We could just go with that you know.”
Ashley looked up from her phone. “Go with what?”
“John..I mean, they were calling me John Doe anyway, right? I kind of like John—it’s simple, basic..kind of what I need right now.”
“John huh?” Ashley smiled at him before standing, “Alright then, John. Let’s see what we can do about getting you started on your brand new life.”
“Phyllis?” Ronan stepped slowly into the kitchen, stopping as he saw her standing against the counter. “If you want me to go, just say so.” He stood still for a moment, waiting for a response. Hearing nothing he turned.
“Wait, Ronan. Don’t go.” She watched him as he turned back towards her slowly. “I didn’t mean to run out like that.”
“No. No. I’m the one that should be apologizing. I had no right to say something like that to you. I should have never pushed like that. You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. This was all on me.”
She sighed. “Let’s go in the living room and talk,” she said softly, leading him out the kitchen and taking a seat on the edge of the bed when she reached the other room. Her hand raked through her hair as she struggled to find the right words. “What you said earlier…I…”
“I know,” Ronan interrupted. “I shouldn’t have…”
“You gonna let me finish?” She flashed a small smile at him, the hint of fire in her eyes sending a wave of heat through him. He loved the banter they used to share and it warmed him to know that she still had that spark and life in her.
“Sorry,” he whispered, gesturing towards her with his hand. “The floor’s all yours.”
“And stop apologizing,” she said quickly. “There’s nothing for you apologize for. It’s not like you said something horrible. You told me you loved me. People like hearing that. It’s a nice thing. It just took me by surprise. That’s all.”
He opened his mouth to speak, then stopped. He smiled, his eyes asking the question.
“Go ahead,” she smiled.
“I totally understand. I didn’t mean for it to come out like that. I never meant to just blurt it out, but I do mean it. I’m not asking you for anything, Phyllis.”
She softly placed her hand on the empty space beside her, her head tilting, urging him over. Her body turning to his when he sat down. “Do you remember when you left town years ago…do you remember what you said to me?”
Ronan nodded. There was very little about his interactions with her that had left his mind. He remembered everything..the way she looked, the way she felt, the way she smelled. He remembered ever conversation, every argument, every look of amusement, consternation, and annoyance and everything he’d done to cause each and every one.
“You said I wasn’t allowing myself to fall for you…and you were right.” She looked at him, her eyes sincere. “I was afraid of getting hurt. I was afraid of investing more than I could afford to lose. And now—knowing what I know, I’m probably more afraid that I ever was back then. “
“I get that,” he said softly. “I know you’ve been through hell.”
“Every night since the night Billy died, I’ve fallen asleep thinking about him, and every morning, my first thought when I open my eyes is whether or not this horrible reality has just been a nightmare.”
She brought her hand to his lips, covering his mouth as she saw him poised to speak.
“Last night, I didn’t think about him…last night, I fell asleep thinking about you. This morning, when I woke up, I wasn’t thinking about him..I was thinking about you. And there’s a part of me that wants this…that wants you…but there’s another part..a huge part that feels guilty.”
He closed his eyes, the weight of the secret he carried becoming more and more difficult to bear. It was the sincerity in her eyes, the pain in her voice that made it all the more difficult to keep quiet, but those very same elements were promises of what could be a future with her. “I want you to know that I would never ask you to forget about him,” he said softly. “You love him. I respect that.”
“But..” She felt the tear slide down her face just before she felt his hand brush it away. Her hand covered his as she pulled it away from her face, holding it now tightly in her grasp. “He’s gone,” she managed, “And as much as I wish it weren’t true, it is. I have to accept that. I have to move on because that’s what he would want. He wouldn’t want me to be alone. He would want me to find someone that loves me and cares about me. He’d want me to have someone that will protect me and Grace..someone good and honest..someone I feel safe and comfortable with.” She stared at him, her eyes still shimmering with tears. “Someone like you.”