“It was a frame,” I say, and her eyes widen. “I got framed by three of my friends who accidentally murdered that girl. The police never looked past the shoddy evidence; I was just a foster kid from some bad homes, and I had a reputation for being wild. There was no one to care what happened to me. For them, it was an open and shut case.”
I pause. Jessica is just watching me, making no move to interrupt, drinking in all the new information.
“Then the state lawyer comes along. He wasn’t like the others. The case was big enough that he wanted to give it his all. I think he came in believing I was guilty. I don’t know if he ever believed I was innocent. But he’s the one that found the discrepancies in the evidence. The whole state thought I was guilty. But, in court, he proved that I was innocent. He believed my alibi and spent hours tracking down proof until he found me on a security camera at a local store miles away from the murder site. After that, the prosecution’s case fell to pieces and I was released. The lawyer saved my life. He helped me relocate to Philadelphia; I was nineteen by then, and already too old for the foster system, so I didn’t have to deal with foster parents that thought I got off on a technicality.”
“Did some people believe that?” Jessica asks quietly.
“The arresting officer,” I grimace. “He was a real fucking piece of work.”
“Yeah,” Jessica says, and I know she’s thinking of Alex’s interview with the man. “I didn’t like the sound of him.”
I snort. “Most people don’t.”
My shoulders slump. That was it, the last thing that Jessica didn’t know. My chest clenches and then loosens, and I’m almost dizzy with how light I feel. I’ve been carrying the weight of this around for a very long time.
“No wonder you hate the police,” Jessica says with a small smile, and I’m glad she isn’t apologizing again, because I don’t need that right now.
“There are good cops,” I admit. “I just had a bad experience. A really bad fucking experience.”
We fall silent, both contemplating what has happened. I wonder what Jessica is thinking. Then I realize it doesn’t matter. She’s already made it clear that she doesn’t care about these things anymore. The only reason I told her the truth was for my sake, and for the sake of the relationship we’re going to try one more time.
“I did miss you,” I say quietly. “I missed you a lot.”
“I missed you too,” Jessica says, and she closes her eyes over her regret briefly. “I was such an idiot. It always felt like something was missing in my life, and I knew it was you.”
I reach out and take her hands. Her breath catches and her eyes dart open to meet mine.
“Let’s try this,” I say. “Really try it. Everything’s out in the open now. There’s no more secrets.” I pause. “I need you. You’re like air to me. I can’t imagine not having you in my life, not wanting you. It’s not going to be easy, like I said.”
“That doesn’t matter,” Jessica says, and there are tears in her eyes. “I completely understand. But I want to try anyway.” She swallows. “I won’t make you regret giving me another chance, Grant. I’m going to help you trust me again. You really believe we can make it work this time?”
“I don’t know,” I admit. It’s not the answer she wants, I know, but it’s the only one I can give. She smiles, understanding. “We can only try it.”
“Yeah,” she says.
She raises her hands and cups my cheers. Her hands are warm on my face.
“I want to kiss you,” she says.
“Then do it,” I reply.
Her smile grows and she leans up to meet my lips. The kiss is soft, and I can feel every bit of happiness and love that she’s feeling. I know she loves me, but she hasn’t said it again yet, and I’m okay with that. It’s nice to know, but I’m not ready to return those words, not yet. Maybe later, if things work out the way we want them to, when I’m completely happy and content with the way everything is going.
But not now, not when I know those darker, sadder emotions are still there. But as long as we get through those moments that are harder, when it becomes difficult to see or trust that this going to work out, I know we’ll be okay.
Jessica pulls back. Her face is light with hope. She wants this. I want this. There’s no reason why we can’t do this.
“Thank you,” she whispers. “For giving me another chance.”
I kiss her again, harder this time. Jessica bites my bottom lip, and I can’t help but groan into her mouth as she touches her tongue to mine. Suddenly, the air around us is heated instead of quietly content. I hadn’t called Jessica here with the intent of having sex. But my body reacts to her touch anyway, and I step in closer to her. She shudders and wraps her arms around my neck, her ankle curling around mine.
Then we pull back, panting for air. I see Jessica swallow.
“Sorry,” she says with a weak smile.
“Don’t be,” I say. “It’s fine.” I pause. “Is it fine?”
Jessica smiles and plays with the strands of hair at the back of my neck that have fallen out of my ponytail. She presses her body closer to mine, and I can feel the thud of her heart. Or is that mine?