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Finn Rhodes Forever: Chapter 55

Olivia

I STARED down the hallway to the bar. It was early afternoon and I could hear a few regulars chatting. The TV was on, playing highlights.

I stepped into the bar. Cole sat at the counter, in Finn’s normal seat. My pulse beat in my ears as I studied him. I had seen photos of him when he was younger. He was still handsome, just older, with gray blurring at his temples and lines around his eyes. He wore work boots, jeans, and a t-shirt. His arms and the back of his neck were tanned. There was a white tan line along his hairline at the back of his neck, like he had just gotten a haircut.

He turned and our eyes met. “Olivia.”

He had my eyes. His forehead was wrinkled and his skin seemed weathered, not smooth and freckled like my mom’s.

His voice was gravelly like a smoker’s. There was a glass of soda on the counter in front of him.

“Hi.” I didn’t move.

He shifted with discomfort before clearing his throat. He gestured to the seat beside him, where Holden usually sat.

“Do you want to take a seat?” he asked. “Or we can, uh.” He cleared his throat again. “We can go somewhere else. I can take you for lunch or coffee. Whatever you want.”

Behind him, Joe cleaned a glass, not looking at us, but I could sense his attention. He glanced up and gave me a quick wink, the I’m here gesture he had made a thousand times in my life. I nodded back at him.

“Let’s walk to the marina,” I told Cole.

He nodded once and reached for his wallet. Joe waved him off.

“On the house,” he said.

“You sure?” Cole asked.

Joe nodded again with a smile. “You bet.”

“Ah. I appreciate it.” He got up and gestured for me to lead the way.

We walked down the street to the marina in silence before he finally spoke. “I didn’t mean to surprise you like this,” he said again, rubbing the back of his neck.

“It’s fine.”

“You drove from Whistler?” I asked.

He nodded. “It’s nice there,” he continued. “Lots of trees and mountains.”

“Is that your scene?” I asked, keeping my eyes on the road. “Trees and mountains?”

He huffed a laugh. “Yeah, I guess it is. Didn’t use to be but it is now.”

I nodded like I understood what he meant. Like I knew anything about him. He said it like I knew his life.

We kept walking in silence. The streets were busy because of the Sunday afternoon market, with tables and booths out along Main Street.

Cole let out a low whistle when the marina came into view. “That ice cream place is still here? Shit. You still like ice cream?” His gaze darted to mine, unsure. Like he was nervous.

I nodded. “Yep.”

He tilted his head at the busy shop. “What flavor?”

“Anything chocolate, cherry, or coffee. You want me to come with you?”

He shook his head. “You take a seat. I’ll be right back.”

I sat on the bench while he loped over to the ice cream place. Fuck. This was awkward. Part of me wondered if he was going to make a break for it, take off and leave me sitting on this bench until I figured out he’d left.

Part of me was surprised when he returned with two ice cream cones.

“Don’t feed the seagulls,” I told him as he sat beside me and handed me a napkin. He’d gotten me the coffee flavor, and for himself, something that looked like strawberry.

He choked on a laugh. “I remember. One near took Jen’s eye out when we were kids.”

Right. It rushed back at me that they had grown up together, same as Finn and me. The parallel made my heart ache, especially knowing how it had turned out for them.

How was it going to turn out for Finn and me? My chest hurt at the thought.

“You loved birds,” he told me before he blinked like he didn’t mean to say it.

Silence stretched between us as we ate our ice cream. I barely tasted it. This was the guy I was supposed to be mad at? In front of us, the late-afternoon sun sent a sparkle across the water. Tourists lined up at the fish and chips shack for an early dinner. I caught Beck’s eye as he climbed onto his boat. He gave me a wave before he turned the engine on and headed into the harbor alone.

“Joe seems like he’d doing well,” Cole said.

“He is.”

A weird guilt rose in me. Fuck. This was going horribly. I had wanted to talk with him and now, I could barely say a handful of words.

“I like forests, too,” I said, trying not to cringe at the words.

I like forests, too? Wow.

“I looked you up online. I saw the stuff on the university website about your research and finding the flower.” He glanced at me and our eyes met. He gave me a quick smile. “I’m proud of you, for what it’s worth.”

My pulse thudded in my head and anxiety wrapped a tight fist around my throat.

“Why’d you leave us?” I blurted out.

Wow.

He froze, blinking like I’d slapped him.

“I, uh.” He winced, rubbing the back of his neck, blinking more. His mouth clamped closed.

Right. I didn’t know what I had wanted out of this but I couldn’t sit here any longer. I shot to my feet.

“Olivia, wait.” He stood and his hand came out like he was going to touch my arm before he jerked back. He made a noise of anguish. “Please don’t leave yet.”

I folded my arms over my chest and sat back down, staring at the ocean. My lungs felt weighted and heavy.

What had I expected? For him to waltz back into town and throw himself at my feet, begging for forgiveness? For him to say he wished things had gone differently? That he’d fucked up?

He let out a long breath. “It’s hard for me to say these things but I’m working on it.”

I waited, wanting to disappear into the ground.

“When you were born, my whole world changed,” he said, and my heart ached. “You were this blob with eyes and I couldn’t stop looking at you. I’d stay up half the night, staring at you. I never knew I could love something the way I loved you.” He swallowed, leaning forward and staring at the water. “And everyone thought I was trash. The whole town, Jen’s parents, my parents—they were still pissed that I had gotten Jen pregnant. Even Jen was waiting for me to fuck up.”

His words rang in my head like a bell and my lip curled.

He let out a heavy breath, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he frowned. “Your mom and I split, but we were trying to make it work. Then Joe came into the picture and he was everything I wasn’t. Responsible, had a good job, and everyone liked him. Super nice guy. Can’t say a bad word about him. That guy is a better father than I could have been.” He shook his head. “You loved him, I could see that. You didn’t need me,” he said quietly. “You were better off with Joe.”

Sharp unease twisted in my stomach.

“My therapist says I’m avoidant attachment,” he continued, and I turned to him with a bemused expression.

“You have a therapist?”

He nodded, cheeks puffing out as he blew out a long breath. “Yep. Started seeing him this past winter. I was drinking a lot. I’ve always drank a lot, but there was a night this winter I was in the bar getting loaded because then I wouldn’t think about what a fuck-up I was, and I just got tired of it.”

My gaze shot to his. He winced and turned back to the water.

“I didn’t want to be that guy anymore. It flipped my switch. I started going to AA, quit smoking—it wasn’t easy, and I fell off the wagon a few times. I’ll probably fall off a few more times, too. But my sponsor recommended I start counseling.”

“Oh,” was all I said, because my mind was reeling.

“He’s this old, weathered biker dude in his sixties. I think the guy’s been to jail. Tattoos all over his hands and neck. Had a change of heart in his fifties and went back to school for counseling. He says my attachment style is avoidant attachment, and when I’m scared or vulnerable, I find safety in pulling away.” He folded his arms over his chest and sat back against the bench. “You were so precious, so tiny and special, and you deserved everything.”

His unspoken words rang in the air—you deserved better than me. He had never grown bored with me or moved on to a better life without me in it. He had felt unwanted, and neither my mom nor I had helped with that.

My heart sank, like I was watching an accident in slow motion.

Finn had left once because he thought he wasn’t good enough, and that it was only a matter of time until I figured it out.

He was supposed to be a drunk deadbeat. He was supposed to be a reckless asshole who didn’t give a shit about anyone but himself, but here he was, talking about therapy and me being precious.

“You’re not supposed to be like this,” I said.

“Yeah, well…” He shrugged. “I’m trying to be better.”

My heart squeezed with a weird, stinging emotion, and I felt like crying.

I wished Finn was here. He’d know what to do.

Cole let out a long sigh that I felt in my bones. “I regret leaving, Olivia. I’ve regretted it every day, every minute of every day. When you called, I knew this was my last shot to make things right.” He winced like he was in pain. “I want to know you. I don’t want to regret things anymore. I can’t change the stupid stuff I did in the past. I fucked up—” His eyes widened. “Sorry. I screwed up but I’m taking accountability for my actions.” He said the words like he’d said them before, maybe in counseling. “You’re well within your right to tell me to leave, tell me you don’t want anything to do with me. I’ll understand and you don’t owe me shit.” His eyes widened again. “Sorry. You don’t owe me anything.” His throat bobbed again and he frowned. “But I can’t leave without telling you that. I’d move back if it made things easier.”

My heart twisted at his vulnerability, something that had always been so hard for me. I would have liked to know the guy beside me on the bench, and because he hadn’t been able to say those things when I was younger, I had never been able to.

Until now.

There was a weird shift in my head, like a door opening, light spilling in, and I finally saw myself for who I was. All these years, I thought this was strength—holding people at a distance. Keeping things locked up inside, keeping my emotions suffocated under a thick layer of eye rolls, snorts, and bitchy glares.

Last night, when Finn needed me, I had pulled away. I’d encouraged him to go. He’d been there for me all summer, and I sent him packing.

Coward, my mind whispered at me. I blinked at Cole, seeing myself in twenty years.

It was suddenly so simple. All of this could have been avoided if he had known how much I needed him. I was just a kid, though, so I didn’t know any better.

I wasn’t a kid anymore, though, and I was done standing on the sidelines, keeping everything locked up to protect myself.

“You can say fuck,” I told him.

“What?”

“I’m twenty-nine years old and I spent the last decade working in bars. You can say fuckShit, too.”

“What about moist?”

“Are you making a joke?” I arched a brow, the corner of my mouth tipping up.

He winced. “Yeah. Sorry. Bad joke.”

I snorted. “No, you can’t say moist. That’s gross.”

He saw the twitch at the corner of my mouth and some of the sadness left his eyes. “So, what do you think?”

“I think…” The words were hard to say but I shoved them out. “I want to know you, too.”

His eyes searched mine as his smile lifted. “Yeah?”

“Yep.”

His crinkled. “Great.”

Something unraveled in my chest, maybe the knots that had been tying themselves throughout this conversation. I had said the thing, and I didn’t die.

Finn’s expression of self-hatred from last night flashed in my head. He had given me everything and in return, I gave him the scraps I could spare and nothing more.

And here was Cole, trying to be a better person despite everyone’s low opinion of him. Despite fucking up so hard. The deck was stacked against him and he was still trying.

I knew what I had to do. I had to tell Finn how I felt—that I loved him. I had to go get him back.

I looked at Cole. “It’s worth something.”

He tilted his head. “What’s that?”

“That you’re proud of me.” I nodded. “It’s worth something.”

His eyes softened, Adam’s apple bobbing. “Good.”

“I have to go do something.” I stood. “But I don’t want you to leave. Are you staying in town for a bit?”

He got to his feet. “I have a hotel room. I can stay.”

“Maybe we can have dinner tomorrow.”

His mouth quirked before flattening, like he was trying not to smile too hard. “That would be great.”

I hesitated before I gave him a quick hug. He smelled like pine and citrus, masculine but warm and comforting. It felt weird hugging him because we were both awkward.

“Thanks for this,” he said, having a hard time meeting my eyes. “It meant a lot.”

I nodded once. “Dinner. Tomorrow.”

“You got it.”

I waved goodbye as I left the marina, heading up Main Street, breaking into a jog and then a run. As I ran to Elizabeth and Sam’s house, I pulled my phone out, fumbling through a Google search before I found who I was looking for.

“Hello?” the guy answered.

“Hey,” I said, breathing hard as my sneakers hit the pavement. “We don’t know each other, but my name is Olivia Morgan. I need your help.”


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