My Darling Bride: Chapter 32

EMMY

“Graham offered us a town car to take us home, and I told him yes,” Jane says as she helps me get dressed a few days later.

“Fine,” I say as I slide on a pair of joggers easily enough, but the loose blouse requires more movement and makes the incisions sting. I slip my feet into a pair of sneakers, and she brushes my hair and puts it up in a high ponytail.

The best way to deal with the things Graham has done since my surgery is to keep my emotions locked down.

“He’s worked at the bookstore for the past two days,” Jane continues. “He needed something to keep him busy, since you said he couldn’t visit you here.”

I take the brush from her hand and stuff it in my bag. “That’s great.”

She exhales. “I swear the man nearly cried when he saw you.”

I shrug. “He’s empathetic. Don’t read into it.”

“God, you’re so annoying.” She rolls the wheelchair up and pats the seat. “Now have a seat, and we’ll escape this place.”

The nurse arrives and escorts us downstairs to the exit for waiting vehicles. A driver gets out of a black luxury car and helps me inside. Jane slides in next to me and smiles. “Homeward bound in style.”

I narrow my gaze at the gleam in her eyes. “Just to make sure, we are going to our home. Gran’s. Right?” As much as she’s been pro-Graham since the surgery, I’m starting to wonder if she’ll slow the car down and kick me out in front of his apartment building.

She nods. “Yes.”

“What’s up with all the smiling? If there’s a bunch of flowers in the apartment, call Andrew and tell him to give them to the neighbors. I can’t deal.”

She rolls her eyes. “I’m happy because my sis is coming home, and Londyn has missed you, and I’m thankful you’re okay. Isn’t that enough?”

“Hmm, I suppose.”

We arrive home and head to the elevator. Jane opens the door to the apartment, and Andrew and Londyn come rushing toward me. He gives me a hug with her in his arms. I’m not supposed to lift anything, so I have to settle with giving her kisses.

“Graham had dinner sent over,” Andrew tells me as we walk in the den. “It’s pecan chicken salad with croissants and fresh fruit. I put it in the fridge for later. Can I get you anything?”

“I’m just going to make some tea.” As long as I don’t bend and twist much, I’ll be perfectly fine.

I walk into the kitchen and stop, frowning. I feel Jane behind me. “Um, where the hell is our stove?”

Jane pats my arm. “In the dump, I hope. Maybe providing a home for some rats. We didn’t want to raise your blood pressure, darling, but well, Graham sent a new one. He said if you’re going to live here, then you needed a stove to make your meals on.”

“He sent dinner. We aren’t using the new stove.”

“We will. Stop being a Graham meanie.”

I grab my purse and root around for my cell. Jane knocks it out of my hand. “Don’t call him. I doubt he’ll answer anyway. He’s probably busy with stuff.”

I gape at my phone on the floor. “Who are you, and what have you done with my sister?”

She picks it up and hands it back, then tosses an arm around me. “Did I mention he sent someone over to check on the plumbing. He replaced the hot water heater.”

“Ugh,” I groan.

“Come on, relax. Let’s go watch TV.”

An hour later, I’m propped up on the couch reading aloud to Londyn when Andrew and Jane both come into the den.

“Turn on the TV!” Andrew calls out. “ESPN!”

I toss him the remote. “Go for it.”

He clicks it on as I sit up straighter, positioning Londyn next to me. “What’s so important, anyway?”

“News conference about the fall season for the Pythons,” Andrew says excitedly, then sends me a glum look. “I really hope y’all work shit out so I can go to some games.”

I throw one of Londyn’s stuffed toys at him, and he ducks, still focused on the TV screen.

The screen shows a long table with several players and coaches. The Python emblem hangs on a wall behind them.

As Jane calls for Andrew to turn it up, my body tenses. I feel the energy in the room as the flashes from cameras illuminate the area. Graham stands confidently behind the podium wearing a Pythons polo and jeans; his smile is contagious, causing the crowd to erupt into cheers that go on longer than expected. He shifts uncomfortably but accepts their applause with grace.

“Thank you for that sweet reception. I really appreciate it,” Graham murmurs as the people grow quiet. “There’s nothing like New York fans, and there’s nothing anywhere more incredible than the guys and coaches on the Pythons team. I’ve felt at home here from day one, and since last year, after winning the Super Bowl—well, it was one of the greatest highs I’ve ever experienced. There’s no better way to leave football in style than after that win. Today, I’m officially retiring . . .”

I lose track of his words, the shock making my ears ring. I study his face, searching for signs that something is wrong. I search for dread, or dissatisfaction, on his features, but only see . . . relief.

“I suffered a serious injury last season that gave me reason to think about the rest of my life and what I wanted that to look like, and well, it’s about health and family. I’m newly married and now own a bookstore. Formerly known as A Likely Story, we’re renaming it the Darling Bookstore. Check us out on Instagram.”

Several people cheer.

He pauses, and the crowd waits eagerly for his next words. He smiles, a wry expression softening his face. “It’s been a long road to get here,” he begins, “to find the person I need, and once you find them, it’s not hard to figure out the rest.”

“He’s talking about you!” Andrew says with an awed look.

“Arghh” comes out of me. It’s not a word. I don’t know what it is. I’m trying to process if he means what he’s saying.

Graham continues. “I’m so proud to have been part of the Pythons team, and I’m thankful for all the wonderful memories we made together. It has been an honor to be able to contribute to such an incredible team.”

The reporters begin to call out questions, eager for more information.

“What motivated you to leave such a successful football team?” asks one reporter.

“I just want to be around my family. Enjoy them,” Graham says and then stares at the screen. It almost feels as if he’s talking directly to me. “I’m crazy in love with my wife, in case you haven’t figured that out. I loved her before I even knew her.”

A tear slides down my face, and I brush it away. Does he mean it? Is this for show? My mind races in a hundred directions. If this is true, has he given up football to make me happy? I’m not sure that’s okay. I want him to be happy. I want him to make the right choice for him.

“What’s been the most challenging part of owning a bookstore? Do you and your wife work well together?” asks a woman.

Graham laughs wryly. “You think football is wild. Bookstore life is different every day. Also, a shout-out to my friend Hank and his python, Veronica. You’re welcome in the store anytime, but leave her at home, yeah?” He winks into the camera.

“How have your teammates reacted to your decision?” shouts someone.

“They respect me and understand why this is what I need.”

“We’re fine!” Jasper calls. “I support our guy a hundred percent.”

Everyone laughs as Graham smirks. “Guess you all want to hear from Jasper now, am I right?”

More whistles reverberate from the crowd as Graham moves aside to hand over the mic.

I ease Londyn to the floor and get up to head to the bathroom.

Jane follows. “Well? That was a pretty awesome thing, right? He won’t be playing football anymore.”

I nod.

“I mean, he changed the bookstore name to Darling. He’s creating a legacy for you.”

“Yeah. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta pee.” I ease the door closed, but not before I see her disappointed face.

I tug out my phone and sit on top of the toilet and send Graham a text. Hey. Saw the news. I hope you’re happy, that you did this for you.

He doesn’t reply, which isn’t surprising, since he’s still at the press conference.

I stay there for several minutes, waiting to see if he replies. When he doesn’t, I go back out into the den, tell my family good night, and head to bed. Magic jumps up when I pull the covers down and slide inside.

Grabbing the extra pillow, I wrap my arms around it tight and somehow drift off to sleep.

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