The dark, lonely hours dragged by agonizingly slow, and I'd almost thought that dawn would never come again. After Derek had left my room last night, I couldn't sleep a wink.
As a ray of sunlight peeked through the curtains, I felt more conflicted than ever about my feelings for him. Everything had been going so well for us, but then it'd come crashing down like a storm. All because he was incapable of drawing the line between him and Ashley.
But what if he didn't want to?
Then it finally dawned on me. My husband had hired Ashley to work for him with the intention of keeping their close friendship. No matter how much he denied it, I knew that he'd always have feelings for her.
But he loves you, my subconscious reminded.
I sighed heavily, nestling into my pillow as I stared up at the ceiling. Honestly, I didn't even know anymore. My relationship with Derek had never been an easy one, but now, I began to fear that it was on the edge of a cliff, struggling to survive.
Regret consumed me as I remembered the hurtful things I'd said to him yesterday evening. More than ever, I wanted to apologize to him, but I was afraid that he'd push me away.
It felt like a giant rock had been placed between us, neither one choosing to climb across. I really hoped it wasn't going to be like this forever.
Eventually, I decided that I couldn't stand the silence anymore and got out of bed, pulling on a hoodie over my tank top. My footsteps were light against the floor as I walked down the hall to Derek's room.
The door was open and immediately, my heart sank as I saw the neatly made bed and unwrinkled sheets. He hadn't slept in here at all last night. My suspicion was confirmed when I went into the garage to see an empty space where his Range Rover was normally parked.
Derek had left. And it was all my fault.
Dragging myself upstairs, I felt lonelier than ever. I wished it was all just a dream and that he would walk through the front door any minute, but in reality, he was probably at a hotel right now and absolutely furious at me.
A man could only keep his promise for so long until he'd finally had enough.
I climbed back into bed and snuggled under the covers, blinking back tears. An hour later, I was about to fall asleep when I felt the mattress dip beneath me.
"Derek?", I croaked, praying that it wasn't just my imagination. I winced, suddenly aware of how much my throat stung from screaming yesterday.
"It's me, sweetheart. Are you alright?", he asked. My eyes fluttered open, and I looked up to see his kind, blue eyes gazing down at me intently.
"Y-you came back."
He tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, his brows furrowed in confusion. That's when I noticed the huge bags under his eyes, and to say that he looked sleep-deprived would be an understatement.
"I drove out to Pacific Beach and went for a run earlier. And like you said, I'm back now. What's with the surprised tone, though?"
"I thought you left me," I said quietly.
"Why would I leave you?"
"Because of everything I said to you yesterday."
I sat up straight, rubbing my eyes with the back of my hand then met his gaze.
"Do you have any idea how rough last night was for me? I lay awake for hours worrying about you...about us," he said, running a hand through his hair.
"I know. I'm so sorry, Derek. I never meant to say the things I did."
I gently touched his arm, searching his eyes for any sign of anger but saw none. He was silent, and I sat there awaiting his response.
"Are you mad at me?", I prodded.
"Of course I am."
"Well, it isn't all entirely my fault either."
"Great, now we're back to this all over again." He rolled his eyes in annoyance, standing up to leave when I grabbed his arm.
"Why don't you fire Ashley? You already know she wants to ruin our marriage yet you still let her work for you. I just don't get it."
I released Derek's arm and could feel the tears threatening to escape as I wiped them away with my hand. I was constantly fighting an internal battle with myself about whether or not to trust my husband, and quite frankly, I was tired of it.
"And you better tell me the truth," I added.
"Claire, ever since we got married, I haven't told you anything but the truth," he stated firmly without a hint of doubt.
"God, I'm such a wreck," I said to myself with a dry laugh as I choked on my own tears. "I mean, look at me. I'm acting like some crazy idiot."
Derek's expression became grave and he gathered me in his arms, burying his face in my hair.
"You wanna know what's crazy? The fact that you had to go through the deaths of not only your best friend, but your father, too. You're not a wreck, sweetheart," he spoke with certainty.
"But I'm broken."
"Oh, Claire," he breathed, letting out a long sigh before pulling back to look at me.
"I hate when we fight."
"I do, too," he said with a sad smile, leaning in to kiss my forehead. "Come back to bed with me."
"Why can't we talk here?"
"This isn't our room."
The edges of my lips curled into a weak smile and I got up, following him back to our room. He plopped onto the bed and opened his arms wide as I crawled into them, relaxing against his chest. I closed my eyes, inhaling the scent of his body wash and aftershave.
Now this was where I belonged.
"You know, it took every cell of my body to not fire Ashley yesterday," Derek spoke, propping himself up on one elbow. "But the thing is, I can't."
"Why not?", I asked.
"She needs this job in order to pay off her college loans. I made a promise to her parents that as long as she worked for me, she'd never have to worry about being in debt."
"But if it makes you happy, I sent her to work in Keith's department from now on."
He nodded his head.
"It's about time," I said with a huff.
His face split into a wide grin and he wrapped his arms around my waist, lightly kissing my neck.
"I'm sorry I've been acting like a dick this past week. I'll do everything I can to make it up to you. Sound good?"
"Yes." I smiled.
We both lay there in silence, simply enjoying being in each other's arms again. It was then that I decided to bring up the subject I'd been dying to ask him about.
"What you said to me last night...did you mean it?"
"You were awake?", he asked incredulously.
"I couldn't sleep the entire night either."
"Claire, I meant every word I said. I love you. I never thought I would be capable of feeling this way about a woman. But I honestly can't imagine my life without you."
The fiery, passionate look in his eyes held the depth and promise of his love, but for some reason, I just couldn't seem to reciprocate his words. Instead, I found myself staring out the window.
"You don't love me, do you?", he mumbled.
"I just need some time...to forget about yesterday, you know?"
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see his face fall as a look of disappointment clouded his expression.
"I understand," he said with a deep sigh.
My heart ached for Derek and I hated to see him brooding like this, but it wouldn't be fair for me to just say that I loved him when I didn't mean it. He deserved better than that.
"I can't believe I actually threw that cake at you yesterday," I remarked with a laugh, trying to lighten the atmosphere.
"Yeah, me neither."
When he still wasn't smiling, I began to grow worried.
"Are we ok?" The question came out as a mere whisper.
"We'll always be ok." He hugged me tightly and I breathed a sigh of relief, resting my forehead against his.
I sure hoped so...
Being able to hold Claire in my arms again should've felt like enough. After all the hateful things she'd screamed at me yesterday, I was surprised she hadn't distanced herself or worse, left.
But there was nothing more I'd wanted than to hear that she loved me back. I knew that I shouldn't ask too much of her because the painful truth was, she was broken.
Even if Claire did love me, she probably wouldn't have said it. She was afraid something would happen in the future and then her worst nightmare would come to life.
But how could I make her understand that I was never going to leave?
Things would've been a lot less complicated if she'd simply told me that she still loved Nick. Yes, it'd hurt to accept it, but at least then I would know exactly what I meant to her.
I watched the rise and fall of Claire's chest while she slept, reaching out to caress her cheek with the back of my hand. We'd both been lying in bed hours, neither one having the energy to get up.
It's amazing how much my love for her had blossomed these past couple of months. It was true, I couldn't imagine living without her let alone not being able to see her.
Every morning that I got to wake up next to my wife, I'd thank God for bringing her into my life. She easily could've been with another man- or worse yet, dead- had she decided to take her life that night.
She deserved nothing but endless happiness and joy. And as I long as I lived, I would try to give her that.
My beautifully broken angel...
It was around two in the afternoon when Claire woke up. She looked more lively and healthier than she had this morning. As she got out bed to go take a shower, I grabbed her arm, pulling her back until she collapsed on top of my chest.
"What do you want?", she asked with a giggle, staring into my eyes. I smirked playfully then captured her lips in a kiss, rolling over so that I lay on top.
Her hair fanned across the pillow, and I noticed the slight dilation of her pupils as I paused to catch my breath. Even in a hoodie and pajama bottoms, she looked more desirable than ever.
I could feel the bulge growing in my boxers as I kissed her again, this time invading her mouth with my tongue. She moaned, and the sound was like music to my ears. I began to grind my hips against hers when to my utter dismay, she pulled away.
"Nuh-uh. You're not getting any of this unless the Blackhawks win tonight."
I stared at her with unblinking eyes.
"Are you serious?"
"Yup." She smirked.
And with that, she wriggled out of my hold then headed to the bathroom. I couldn't help but chuckle to myself.
Man, she was quite something.
After eating a late lunch, we drove up to LA in my red pick-up truck. Claire had insisted we take it since it matched the color of her Kane jersey, and she'd claimed to be a huge fan of trucks.
I, on the other hand, was sporting my black Kopitar jersey. The radio was on full blast as we bellowed out our favorite songs, from Sam Hunt's Leave the Night On to Walk the Moon's Shut Up and Dance.
"Which singer are you a fan of but too embarrassed to admit?", she asked.
"Ariana Grande," I said with a lopsided grin.
Claire burst out laughing.
"Hey, she has quite a lot of good songs." I playfully jabbed her in the ribs.
"What else do I not know about you?"
"That's it. For now." I smiled.
When we arrived at Staples Center later that evening, I was glad to see Claire in such a happy mood. Even while she told me a story about how she and Nick got to meet Patrick Kane back then, she didn't seem sad or depressed.
I guessed I could take her to hockey games more often now.
We had center ice seats, and I snapped open a beer, leaning back in my chair to watch the game unfold. During the first period, the Hawks had quite a few outstanding players. Toews's backhand shot and Sharp's power play goal gave them a 2-0 lead.
It warmed my heart to see Claire cheering and smiling every time the Hawks scored. I loved the Kings, but as long as she was happy, then I didn't care if they lost.
"Looks like we won't be sleeping much tonight," I spoke in her ear at the end of the second intermission. Immediately, she began to blush.
"You would bring that up now."
I laughed and took another swig of beer, draping my arm over her shoulder.
"I love you, Claire."
She simply smiled and nestled against me.
I could wait.
A/N- Hey guys! Sorry it's taken me so long to update. I've been drowning in a sea of homework and tests, but I managed to write this chapter before bed last night. So what do you guys think? Does Claire love Derek and is just afraid to admit it? Or does she still love Nick? And as for Derek, I feel really bad for him. Hopefully, their relationship will only blossom from here. Like always, remember to like and comment!