The other attorney swept out of the room and before I could tell Avett not to give a second thought to his idle threats she was on her feet and moving out of the conference room after him. I called her name but she didn’t even look back as her small body artfully moved in and out of the rush of people coming and going in the busy courthouse. She hit the glass entrance doors without slowing down and only stopped when I caught up to her a few hundred feet from the entrance. I put my hand on her elbow and spun her around to face me and felt my heart had split open when I noticed she was crying and that her lush bottom lip was quivering.
I didn’t think. I didn’t deliberate the pros and cons. I didn’t rationalize that it wasn’t the time or place. All I could do was react. My girl was hurting and I wanted to make it stop, so I pulled her to me and put my lips over hers and tried to kiss the pain away.
At first, she yielded soft and sweet, her return kiss a delicate surrender. Unfortunately, it quickly turned from something warm and comforting into something that felt more like combat. She jerked her head away from mine and then her hand cracked across my cheek with enough force to have my head snapping to the side. She gasped in shock at the same time I barked her name. She lifted the shaking fingers of one hand to her mouth and put the others on what I was sure was a violent red welt that was rising on my cheek. I could feel her shaking and remorse all the way through my body.
“I’m so sorry, Quaid. Oh, my God, what is wrong with me?” She took a step back and I saw fresh tears start to spill out of her wild and terrified eyes.
“Avett.” I said her name with patience I wasn’t feeling, especially when I caught sight of a familiar blonde woman watching our interaction with open curiosity as she talked on the phone pressed to her ear.
“No, Quaid. I’m super sorry I hit you. I’m shaken up and heartsick but that isn’t an excuse. I never seem to be able to do the right thing or react the right way, even when I really want to. I feel terrible but maybe it’s for the best. It looks like we’re having an epic breakup and that means your bosses won’t get on your case and maybe it’ll keep that viper of an attorney off of your back. Walk away from me, Quaid. Walk away from this entire mess before it’s too late and your entire future is gone.”
I reached for her again but she evaded my grasp and shook her head violently from side to side. “I’m serious. I’m always going to be the girl that jumps, Quaid. I’m going to jump not knowing what’s below. I’m going to jump even when I know the water is cold and that it’s dangerous. I’m going to jump when I know the risks and when I don’t know them. I’m going to jump even when I know the landing is going to hurt. You said yourself that you’re not the kid who jumps anymore because it lost its appeal. You know better and maybe I do, too, but I’m still going to jump because that’s who I am. Who I am is not going to ruin you, Quaid. I won’t let it.”
She looked like she was ready to bolt after she tossed her revelations at me. I put my hands in my pockets and studied her thoughtfully. “Did you ever think that I was ruined when you found me and that you’ve been instrumental in reconstructing me? I wasn’t living any kind of life before you blew into it, Avett. My wife left me after starting a family with someone that wasn’t me, even though I gave her everything I was capable of. My parents practically disowned me because they didn’t approve of the way I wanted to live my life. I have a job that is getting increasingly difficult to stomach, and all I have to show for it is a nice wardrobe and a killer view. Everything was all for show and there wasn’t a single real thing until you. I told you that your chaos doesn’t scare me.” But her wild terrified me because I knew there was no way to harness the wind and she looked like she was getting ready to blow out of my life as quickly as she had careened into it.
She put a hand to her chest and pulled her watery gaze away from mine. “But it scares me. There are very few people in this world that I want to protect from the kind of mayhem I bring with me and you are one of them. I love you, Quaid. I didn’t want to but I do, and that means I’m going to let you go.”
I wanted to shake her and hold her to me and never let go. I wanted to throw every argument I could think of at her to keep her from making this mistake. I wanted to pick her words apart and put them back together into ones I wanted to hear. I wanted to focus on the fact she said she loved me, not the fact that she was leaving, but she turned around and started moving away from me, which made that impossible to do.
“Avett.” She pulled up short and shot me a look full of sorrow and sadness over her shoulder. “This is a bad decision you don’t have to make. You don’t have to protect me from you or anything that comes with being with you. I’m a big boy.”
She gave a shuddering sigh and I saw the finality of her decision stamped all over her expressive face. “That’s the thing, Counselor. This feels way too much like the right decision. And I’m not protecting you from me. I’m protecting you from yourself, and the things you’ll lose if you love me back.”
Her words hit me hard, and all of the feelings and emotions she had stirred to life inside of me got so big and so out of control that I felt like they were going to consume me. I wanted to give her so much, everything I had, and none of it had a dollar sign attached to it. I knew I could tell her that, throw words at her until I was blue in the face, and that I could lawyer-speak my way around her argument and fear that she would hurt me by being with me, but words felt like they were too simple and could be too easily misconstrued. I was going to have to show her she was worth everything to me and then some.
I’d worked hard at my education because I knew it was my ticket out. I’d worked hard to distance myself from my childhood and from having nothing because I knew I wanted more out of life than the basics. I worked my ass off to establish myself in my career and to be considered a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom and in the bedroom because I wanted to be the best and I wanted everyone to know it. I put up a reasonable fight to save my marriage before I realized it was all a sham and I battled through my divorce so I could keep all the things I thought were the most important to me.
Watching Avett walk away from me for my own good, I realized I needed to work and fight like I never had before because I wasn’t willing to let her go. This was a battle I wasn’t going to lose because to do so meant losing her. She was everything I wanted and all that I never knew I needed. I could put in all of my effort for her because she was more valuable than anything I owned and worth more to me than how many wins in the courtroom I could brag about. She finally managed to show me what was really important in life and what I had been missing from what felt like the very beginning. I needed someone to love me for me and for what I had or didn’t have. I needed someone to support me because what was important to me was important to them since they cared about me. Avett did all of that without a second thought and I knew, deep down into the fibers that made me the man that I was, that she was the only person I was capable of giving my all to, because she deserved everything I had to give … even though she never asked for any of it.