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Terms and Conditions: Chapter 43

DECLAN

I can’t find Iris anywhere in the hotel. The only other place besides the park that I think she would go to is Rowan’s place.

I take a deep breath and knock against his door. The light above me turns on before the door swings open, revealing Zahra on the other side. She looks bright and cheery as always—like she gets her energy straight from the sun. I don’t know how my brother can stand it.

“Have you seen Iris?” I don’t bother with pleasantries.

“Umm, shouldn’t she be with you?”

I turn around and walk down the steps, not wanting to waste any more time.

“Hey! Wait!” Zahra chases after me.

I speed up.

“Stop!”

I don’t.

The sound of flip-flops smacking against the ground makes me grind my teeth together. I ignore Zahra calling after me, only to be stopped by my brother on his way back from his run.

He pops an earbud out as he scowls at me. “What are you doing here?”

Zahra stops beside me, trying to catch her breath. “Has anyone told you that you have very long legs?”

“Why are you chasing after my brother?”

“Because I wanted to talk to him, but he didn’t want to be caught.”

Rowan raises a brow at me. “Care to explain why you are running away from my girlfriend?”

I take a deep breath. “I don’t have time to chat. I’ve wasted enough of it as it is.”

“Then make time.”

“I’m trying to find Iris.”

“Good luck with that.”

I take a step forward. “Do you know where she is?”

“I’ll tell you if you do what Zahra asks and give her a few minutes of your time. It’s the least you can do after acting like such a dick to me earlier, don’t you think?”

My jaw clenches. “Fine. Speak.” I look down at Zahra.

“Can we go inside first? I need a glass of water.”

My short fuse burns down to nothing as I follow them back into the home I spent most of my youth vacationing at. The memories slam into me as I take in Mom’s porch swing, still hanging in the same spot years later.

“It’s my favorite place in the whole house.” Zahra shoots me a small smile.

Of course it is.

I ignore her as I walk through the front door. The place hasn’t changed besides a fresh paint job and more modern furniture. There’s still a doorframe by the kitchen that has our height marks over the years, with me being the tallest.

“It’s pretty weird coming back here after so long, huh?” Rowan leans against the kitchen counter, observing me as I take it all in.

“How do you stand living here?”

“It reminds me of some good times.”

“That makes one of us.”

The corners of his lips lift in a silent reply.

“Would you like anything to drink?” Zahra pops her head into the fridge.

“Water is good.”

She pours me a glass before making one for herself.

“So, would anyone like to tell me why I’m being held emotionally hostage here?”

Rowan looks over at Zahra and she only grins. “I lied when I said I had something to tell you. I was only hoping to stall you for as long as it took until Rowan got back so you both could talk this out, once and for all.”

Rowan shakes his head as he looks up at the ceiling. “You’re a pain in my ass.”

“I know, but you love me for it.” She kisses his cheek before disappearing up the stairs.

“She’s smart.”

“She’s a meddler is what she is. She hates when we fight, especially when it’s over my choice to stay here.”

“You told her about earlier?”

“I tell her everything.”

I take a sip of my water. “Interesting.” Safe to say Zahra probably thinks I’m the biggest asshole around.

He grabs a glass and fills it to the top with water. “How did the walkthrough go?”

“Why are you asking?”

“Because I care.”

“Even after I lashed out at you?”

He sighs. “Love isn’t conditional. I know Father made us believe that, but just because I get angry at you and vice versa doesn’t mean I don’t love you or care about you. Even if you do act like an idiot most of the time.”

“Who knew Dreamland would turn you into such a sappy fuck?”

“Dreamland and the people in it.” He smiles in a genuine way that reaches his eyes, and I can’t remember the last time I have ever seen him look this happy. Maybe never.

No one can control falling in love, and he happened to find it in the last place I expected. It’s time I accepted it and moved on for both our sakes. I’ve been punishing him for seeking out what makes him feel fulfilled, all because I felt like he betrayed me. I held on to the idea of him abandoning me like everyone else to manage my father and all the expectations that come with the company. Rather than support him, I held his happiness against him just like my father did countlessly throughout our lives.

You’re no better than him.

It is a sour feeling to realize the man I have spent my whole life resenting is the one I am slowly becoming.

It’s not too late to start making better decisions.

My mouth feels dry no matter how much water I drink. “I’ve made some mistakes.”

Rowan blinks but stays quiet.

“I’ve said things I’m not proud of. Made threats, talked down to you, pushed you away because you made a decision I didn’t like. As your big brother, I’m supposed to set the example. Be the bigger person. Make the best choices. Stay strong no matter how much I’m being beaten down. Except all I’ve done is show you what not to do. Instead of letting you become your own person, I was trying to shove you back into a mold you didn’t fit into anymore. It was selfish of me, and I’m sorry.”

“Wow.” He blinks.

There isn’t much else I need to say. From now on, I plan on being better. The end.

I stand. “I better get going.”

Rowan grabs a set of keys from a bowl on the counter. “Let me drive you to the airport.”

“Airport?”

He chuckles. “Iris took the jet back to Chicago earlier.”

“She what?”

“Looks like you’re flying commercial tonight. You better buy a ticket before you lose the chance.”

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Iris is in Chicago right now.

Why would she stay? You never gave her a good reason to after the way you spoke to her.

I swallow back the lump in my throat. “I fucked up.”

“It’s nothing some good groveling can’t fix.”

“Groveling?”

“Get in the car and I’ll explain.” His grin is worrisome.

Well, shit. This is going to be an interesting car ride.


Does groveling include mentioning to Iris how I rode a commercial flight for the first time in a decade solely so I could get to her sooner? Because if so, then the middle economy seat I was subjected to buying at the last minute was worth every excruciating minute, seeing as I was stuck between a toddler who wouldn’t stop talking and a mother holding a crying infant.

My ears are still ringing by the time I make it back to our house. Harrison opens my door, and I get out. I don’t think to ask him about Iris until I walk into a silent, dark house.

“Iris?” I call out as I walk through the halls filled with her plants.

No one answers back. I search the whole house twice before I come to the conclusion that she isn’t here.

“Fuck.” I pull out my phone and call Iris. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t respond.

I dial Cal’s phone number next, but he doesn’t pick up.

Me: Is Iris with you?

He doesn’t answer right away, and I’m not interested in sitting around. I might as well drive to his place while I wait.

Less than thirty minutes later, I park outside his apartment and decide to call him again. He finally answers, but his voice is gruffer than usual.

“What do you want?”

I see Iris got to him first.

“Where’s Iris?”

A door shuts in the background. “She’s sleeping.”

“At your place?” My teeth grind together.

“I don’t think it matters much to her so long as it isn’t yours.”

“Put her on the phone.”

“She doesn’t want to talk to you right now.”

“I want to hear her tell me that herself.”

“Man, just listen to me. Go home and take the night to cool off. Both of you are too emotional to deal with one another right now.”

“Fuck this.” I hang up the phone. I’m not about to let Cal tell me how to handle my wife. They might be friends, but I’m her husband. She belongs in our house no matter how upset she might feel right now. Couples talk issues out. They don’t need third-party mediators to handle their shit for them.

Cal’s doorman holds the door open for me. I press the elevator button and wait, tapping my loafer against the floor until the doors slide open. The ride to the top is quick.

I knock my fist against Cal’s front door. “Open up.”

“Motherfucker.” I hear him grunt before the door swings open.

“Go home,” he seethes as he shuts the door.

I block it with my foot and throw it back open. “Where is she?”

He shoves me, and I stumble back.

I blink. Cal pushed me? He doesn’t touch anyone, much less throw his weight around because he is pissed. The only time I’ve ever seen him do such a thing was on the ice during high school hockey games, and it was a part of his sport.

He jabs a finger against my chest. “She doesn’t want to deal with you right now.”

“So what? You know what’s best for her?”

“One of us has to, seeing as you sure as hell don’t. I knew you weren’t capable of taking care of her. I freaking knew it and I still helped you, thinking maybe you were really starting to change. That maybe you really did love her.”

“I do love her. Not that I owe you any explanation.”

“No, Declan. Clearly you don’t if you called her a failure like every other disappointing fuck in her life.”

“Shut your fucking mouth.”

“Why should I? It’s not like you ever do the same.”

My jaw tightens. “I made a mistake.”

“A mistake?” He laughs. “You belittled your wife until she felt as worthless as you. You made her feel small, useless, and insignificant—all because you care more about your job than the person you claim to love. So all I can say is congratulations, Declan. You spent your whole life protecting us from our father, only to become just like him.”

“Fuck you.” I bite down on my tongue and taste blood.

He salutes me with his middle finger before slamming the door in my face.


Nothing feels worse than returning to the house without Iris. Defeat presses against my shoulders, making each step feel more difficult than the last. I drag myself inside the dark house that is as silent as a tomb. What used to bring me comfort only fills me with dread now, especially knowing what I did to earn it. I’m stuck replaying my brother’s words to fill the silence.

You called her a failure like every other disappointing fuck in her life.

You belittled your wife until she felt as worthless as you.

You spent your whole life protecting us from our father, only to become just like him.

It’s the last one that hurts the most. To hear how Cal thinks of me…

It makes me want to rage. Not because of the sacrifices I’ve made, but because he is right. If I don’t check myself, I will become just like my father. It’s not like he started out as a cold bastard either. It took him time, and heartbreak, to get to a dark place faster than most.

You can be different. It’s not too late.

I release a deep breath as I move toward the kitchen. After my flight from hell and my brother’s conversation, I have no energy to cook anything, but my grumbling stomach demands some kind of nutrition.

I sift through the pantry, turning over different items before settling on Iris’s favorite.

Pasta straight out of a box.

The pressure in my chest intensifies as I consider all the times she cooked for me over the weeks. It might not have been gourmet, but I didn’t care so long as she kept me company.

Company I no longer have because I drove her away.

I set up two placemats without thinking much of it. It takes me a whole ten minutes before I realize my mistake, and my throat tightens to the point of difficulty breathing. I try to eat but everything tastes like cardboard to me.

The churning in my gut gets progressively worse as I dump my half-finished plate of pasta in the sink and go upstairs. No matter where I go, I can’t escape my mistakes. Even my damn bedroom isn’t safe. The memories of Iris assault me the moment I enter, with her perfume lingering in the air.

Her hair tie on the dresser. Some random heel left abandoned in a corner during a hookup. A framed photo of us on our wedding day, with her smiling up at me while I scowl at the camera.

I grip my chest, wishing for the tightness to stop. My hands tremble and I take a few deep breaths, trying to curb the anxiety attack before it starts.

You never deserved her.

No. I didn’t yet I wanted her anyway.

I miss my wife. She belongs next to me, complaining about how I like to cuddle although she secretly loves it. I’d do anything to hear her groan about my alarm clock in the morning or for the grumpy kiss I get before I crawl out of bed to go work out.

I slide under my comforter after my shower and stare up at the ceiling, surrounded by the smell of Iris’s coconut body wash. No position feels comfortable without her.

You’re fucked.

I turn over for the third time and stare at the cactus she bought me two years ago.

Don’t be a prick.

I’ll try. Just for her.


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