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What if he was my chance at forever and I didn’t pursue it?

What if Mark was my chance at forever and I didn’t pursue it?

A sense of urgency struck me in the chest, knocking me back a step.

Dad lifted his hands from my shoulders. “You know what you need to do.”

I wanted to know what Dad had said to him the other night when he was here. But I sensed it was private and not something I should be privy to, but I’d always regret it if I didn’t talk to him.

My heart pounded. “I need to go.”

Dad’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “Don’t worry about the dishes. I’ve got it.”

But I was already moving, grabbing my purse from a nearby chair, and walking out the door without saying good-bye to anyone else. Dad would handle it.

Remembering Mark’s stricken expression when I’d said I couldn’t leave spurred me on. During one of our conversations, Kendall told me where they lived, so I drove to his house just outside of town with mature trees and a tire swing in the front yard. I wasn’t even sure he’d be home. With Kendall at my dad’s, he might have gone out.

There was no truck in the driveway, but he could have put it in the garage. I knocked, my heart beating rapidly in my chest. What if he didn’t want to see me? What if what happened ten years ago didn’t matter to him?

That thought hurt because I’d done nothing but think of how things could have gone differently.

The door opened slowly, and Mark’s eyes widened in surprise. “Sophie? What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to talk.” Now that I was here, my determination was fading. What if it was a mistake to come here?

With the emotions crossing his face, I had this overwhelming urge to jump in his arms and kiss him. To remind him how good we were together. I wanted to erase any rejection he might have felt when I’d said no. I wanted to reassure him that I never stopped loving him.

He held out a hand, and I took it. My hand felt clammy in his as he shut the door behind us.

He turned to face me, his expression uncertain.

I took a deep breath, and my words came out in a rush. “I think that you misunderstood where I was coming from when I said no.”

“When I proposed?” he asked cautiously.

I took a deep breath. “The night before you proposed, Ellie told me and my dad she was pregnant.”

The shock of my announcement seemed to reverberate through him. “I didn’t realize.”

“She made us swear that we wouldn’t tell anyone. She was worried she’d be made out to be a slut at school.”

“So, when you said no—”

“It wasn’t that I didn’t want you or didn’t love you, but my family came first. I couldn’t leave my sisters, especially when Ellie was pregnant. She needed me. My dad needed me. A part of me was worried if I told you everything, you’d talk me out of staying.”

“You deserved to live your life.”

“I couldn’t leave Ellie. I decided to stay home and commute to college. With the baby coming, I knew I could only take a fraction of the courses I originally wanted to. It would take me longer to graduate.”

“You’re a good sister. The best. You care about your family in a way that I never experienced myself.”

I think that’s what drew me to him. Mark soaked up my love like a sponge. I was drawn to people who needed me. “And on some level, I didn’t want to hold you back. You wanted to leave, and I didn’t want to be the reason you stayed. I hoped you’d suggest we could stay together. Long distance.”

“When you said no, I took that to mean you didn’t want me. You didn’t love me enough to plan a future with me.” His expression was vulnerable.

“I did want a future, but you shut down. You shut me out.”

His mouth twisted. “My dad had just issued an ultimatum. Come work for him or live somewhere else. I’d already talked to an Army recruiter about my options. I knew I could provide for myself and that they would make me into a man. It was an attractive idea, and then my dad—”

“Gave you the catalyst you needed to go through with it.” The air between us was charged. The hair on my arms stood on end.

Mark moved closer, and my skin tingled with anticipation. “I didn’t want to leave you, but when you said no, it played on every one of my insecurities. My father said I wouldn’t amount to anything, and I believed him. I thought I wasn’t worthy of you.”

“That couldn’t be further from the truth. You’re a good man.” My heart broke for him. For the situation his father had put him in. For the unnecessary pain I’d caused by not explaining myself.

He brushed a hair back from my face and lingered. “I think you’re the reason I am.”

I tipped my head back, searching his face for any clue that he wanted me.

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