Author's Note: If you've read or are currently reading this story at Archive Of Our Own-Dot-Org, know that the story is undergoing revisions and the fully edited version of each chapter is posting here at Fanfiction-Dot-Net first.
The next time I opened my eyes, it was to morning sunlight shining brightly through the blinds into the bedroom. I groaned softly realizing I had forgotten to close them the night before hence my early morning wake-up call from the sun. I rolled over and looked at the clock, which read 11:30am. As I rolled back to my boyfriend's side of the bed, it him me that I was alone. Meaning Tripp must already be awake as his side of the bed was not only empty, but cold. I laid back & covered my face, just as I was about to release a frustrated noise, the sound of a voice talking reached me. I frowned as I realized he was hiding in my closet as he talked on the phone. It took me a few moments to focus enough to make out his side of the conversation because he was keeping his voice low, but I managed to still hear what he was saying because he'd left the door ajar.
"No," he sighed. "No, I haven't told her any of this yet. Why would I worry her with something like this when I don't even know what's gonna happen yet?"
A long pause followed as I can only assume he listened for a response. I wanted to move closer to Tripp's side of the bed, but I worried that if I moved around too much he'd realizing I was awake. I almost felt bad for eavesdropping, but I knew he was keeping something from me. Something that was bothering him & the anxiety of ignoring my instincts had likely been manifested in my nightmare. So I let my curiosity win out.
"Well, how can I turn this opportunity down?" he asked. "This is what I've been working towards. It's the reason for the insane hours and everything else. This is huge for me, but... right now, it feels like a black cloud over my relationship with Ciara. I don't know how she's going to feel about this."
He paused. "Because she knows me better than anyone else," he continued. "We can look at each other and know something's off. I have to tell her what's going on before she starts asking more questions that I can't give the right answers to."
I frowned, and turned on my side away from my closet. I had to fight the urge to sit up and demand to know what was he talking about. Was all of this referring to school or something else? I hoped it was just school stuff. I was more worried than ever about what Tripp was keeping from me. But I couldn't help, but feel a small measure of relief over the fact that he was keeping whatever this secret was from me. At least it confirmed my instincts where he was concerned & about why he had seemed so distant were right. But why wouldn't he just talk to me if it was so important? What was he really doing behind my back? I couldn't even bear the thought of him doing something that would be a real betrayal. His voice cut into my thoughts ending my worried mental rambling.
"When I finally get the call about their decision... it's going to be impossible to turn down. I don't know how she'll feel, but I'm hoping she'll understand."
I didn't want him to know I had been listening so I closed my eyes and continued to listen.
"Today? Okay, I'll be waiting for the call then. Bye Dad."
I could hear the lingering frustration in his voice, before he walked out of the closet and came & sat down on the bed. I kept my eyes closed. I could hear him take a few deep breaths before he laid down beside me, and wrapped his arm around me.
So much was going through my head. I had so many questions & so much to tell him, but I didn't want him to know I'd heard his end of his conversation with his dad. So, I had no choice other than to be patient and wait for him to start this conversation.
He began rubbing small circles over my belly as we laid there for what seemed like forever. Finally, I rolled over to face him and groggily opened my eyes pretending I had only just woken. He slid his hands up to cup my face and kissed me.
"Mmm, Tripp?" I muttered. "What time is it? I can't believe I slept so late. I can't remember the last time I woke up after dawn."
"It's okay, babe," he chuckled indulgently. "You needed to sleep. It's 12."
"Gawd, I haven't slept this late since at least high school."
I rolled over onto my back, but Tripp followed me and laid his head on my shoulder. I wrapped an arm around him as I took his hand and began rubbing it with my thumb.
"Ciara, I have to talk to you about something," he admitted after a long silence.
This was it I realized & had to work to maintain my calm. "Okay," I replied as coolly as I could. "We can talk. You know that you can tell me anything."
The knots that I was feeling in my stomach seemed to intensify, and I began kneading the knots I was finding in Tripp's shoulder to distract myself from panicking.
"Well, a few months back, when my dad came down to Nashville to visit, he told me about this internship program they had for the ISA in London. He put my name out there with one of the agents in charge… one who sort of owed my dad a favor, and my dad told me to apply. It didn't guarantee me the internship, but it got me put on top of the list of finalists."
I felt a huge wave of relief rush over me. It had just been about school this whole time. It almost made me feel bad for what I had been fearing. But like Claire had reminded me last night, any girl in my position would have doubts or fears. Long distance relationships were hard, especially when his college was probably full girls throwing themselves at a smart, driven, handsome guys like him. Blonde, blue-eyed, good looking, charming, going places. He was exactly the type of guy any girl would have wanted. Why wouldn't he be tempted by a girl who would be able to share his bed without waking him up with her nightmare? Instead of some broken, damaged girl. Like me. Then the most important part of his statement hit me.
"London?" I said stoically. "Really? Wow. So… how are you feeling about that?" My initial relief now completely replaced by a gut-wrenching knot of tension & dread in my stomach again. Him being in Nashville had been enough of a struggle for us. But him being thousands of miles away. I retreated behind my most impenetrable mask of stoicism—the one that even to this day even Claire had trouble reading behind. The one that Dr. Evans had said I would need if I truly want to follow my intended career path. I could not let how I was feeling show on my face if I wanted any hope of him really opening up to me. I would to show him my neutrality & my support until everything was out & I had a chance to process it.
"Babe," he began nervously. "There's obviously a part of me that is really excited about this. I mean, this would be a huge opportunity for me. The doors it would open for my career. This could really help my future prospects no matter where I land at post-undergrad, but you know my dream job to be in the same ranks as my dad. To follow in his footsteps. I never thought it would happen so fast for me." He paused seeming to remember who he was talking to & his tone lost its excited almost dreamy quality. "But then there's you—and us. I'd be gone from May until Sept, and summer has always been something we looked forward, too. I don't want to put all those miles between us. I know how hard, it's been especially lately. So I'm very torn."
"Tripp," I sigh. "This is an amazing opportunity for you. What kind of girlfriend—or friend for that matter, would I even be if I let our relationship get in the way of your future." I swallowed as subtlely as possible. "That would take a much more selfish person than even I like to think I am. And to be honest, I don't really have as much of a problem with this as the fact that you've kept this from me for so long. A relationship is supposed to go both ways & have open lines of communication." I suddenly couldn't stand to just lay there and slid out from under him.
"I can't believe you didn't tell me this sooner," I huffed, sitting up on the edge of the bed. "I've been feeling like you were pushing me away and being distant, and to be honest, I had stared to think you were cheating on me."
"What was I supposed to think?" I cut him off. "You were being distant & evasive. I've had so much that I wanted to talk to you about, but now everything I was feeling & fearing almost seems so ridiculous that I feel stupid for even doubting you. And while part of me feels a little bit of relief, it's more than a little infuriating that you handled it this way. You shouldn't have kept it from me, and you shouldn't turn this offer away because of me. But we're not going to make it if you can't talk to me about things. The way you dealt with this was so unfair to me. But I have always known about your dreams and goals of becoming an ISA agent. I have alway supported them. I more than anyone get why they are so important to you. And it's just as important as me. Your happiness is just as important as mine."
He put his head down. "But Ciara, you make me happy," he replied, placing a hand on my shoulder. "I'm so miserable at times because I'm not with you. I have to keep myself busy so I don't feel so lonely. So I don't think about it so much." I turned my head slightly, not yet ready to face him, but letting him know I was listening & hearing him. "Sometimes, I can't even FaceTime with you because when I see you, it breaks my heart that I'm not with you. I've hated being this far from you. And to move even further away wouldn't be any better for me—it would make all of this worse." My shoulders sank under the weight of his sorrow & I placed my hand over his. "You're already feeling like I'm cheating on you what would being further away do?" I tensed because the physical distance wasn't what had fed my insecurities. But he wrapped his arms around my shoulders & pulled me back into until he held me securely. "It's not selfish to want to be with me or closer to me. My career is very important to me, but you're just as important." He rested his forehead on my shoulder as his arms tightened around me, and a part of me suddenly felt trapped in his embrace instead of safe. "You think I don't know what sacrifice this has been—how much of a sacrifice this internship would be for you. I know you better than anyone, and you put everybody before yourself. You make sure I'm happy before you even consider whether or not you're happy."
He placed a kiss into my tense neck. "But you're right, it has to go both ways. You need to start thinking about your happiness, too. You should have told me how you were feeling along time ago. I'm a big boy you can tell me things and not have to worry if it'll make me worry or be upset. None of this has been easy for either of us, but if I don't go, we'd have the summer to be with each other and reconnect."
"And you would have the rest of our lives to resent me for holding you back," I murmured.
"Look, I know how important we are to each other, and I know how hard this has been. And yes, I sometimes second guess if you're missing me, but what did you expect when you were putting distance between us? I was feeling as if I didn't matter anymore. That her I was missing you, wanting to be with you and talk to you, to FaceTime with you, but you were always just too busy. How could I not get the idea that maybe you really just didn't care as much as I did? You know a text is really not the best way to talk—and I mean really talk. How could I tell you what I was feeling? With you being so far away, I can't just stop by to chat when I need to open up or vent and can't get you on the phone or whatever." I tugged on his arms until he finally loosened his grip enough for me to turn and face him. "Girls practically throw themselves at you. I've seen it since you moved here to Salem. What if one lonely night you found someone to fill the void? And maybe I should have tried harder to tell how I was feeling, but I guess I was just afraid of seeming clingy or not strong enough to handle things. I didn't want to seem weak or needy. But to know part of the reason you were distancing yourself from me was because of how much you missed me & how hard it was for you breaks my heart, too." I closed my eyes.
"Ciara, babe, I don't ever want you to think I'm out there cheating on you," he swore cupping my face & staring deeply into my eyes. "I would never do that to you. I'm sorry that's what you've been thinking. There are times when we FaceTime that you will just breakdown. And you know how much I hate seeing you cry when I can't be there to make you feel better. But please," his voice caught, "please, don't you ever for a second think I don't care about you when you are all that matters to me."
And in that moment the guilt over doubt hit me like a sledgehammer. "I love you so much," i blurted in a rush as I leaned in for a quick kiss. "Gawd, I feel so bad for even letting myself think all these things and allowing myself to doubt you for even a second."
He kissed me & I cupped his face. When Tripp pulled me into his arms, i was more than willing. And this time when he squeezed me so tight, it felt like he was as afraid to lose me as I had been to lose him—it felt like he would never let me go.
"I love you," I breathed into his neck. "But you have to take this internship if they accept you. We'll figure something out. It's only for a few months. We can get through it."
"Ciara, are you sure? I can only do this if I have your full support or else it would not feel right for me."
"Tripp, that team is going to be so lucky to have you. You're going to do so great. From the stories my mom has told me the team in London is the top of the top. Cream of the crop. They trained my dad as well. That's where you belong."
"Yeah, I know," he said pulling back as his gaze got that faraway quality again. "I've met some of them personally. My dad introduced us, and they really are amazing. Your uncle Shane runs the London Force, and he also trained my dad."
He put his hand behind my neck and kissed the top of my forehead before releasing me. "So when are you supposed to get the word on your acceptance?"
"I will know the decision by 6pm tonight." He got out bed and grabbed his bag. "I head out after finals in May. I'll get about a week down, where I'll come home and then my dad will fly with me to London on a Saturday and get me settled in. He has an apartment there that he's going to let me stay in. He's kept it for when he's had to travel there. I'll start the internship that following Monday. Then I'll come back to Salem for a week before school starts and then it's back to Nashville."
"That all seems so fast."
"Yes, it is, but it's the ISA."
I nodded. "Well, at least that explains why you got so quiet when I asked you about going to Myrtle Beach with me, my mom, & Rafe. I guess Claire and I will get our girls trip after all."
As bad as I wanted to cry, as much as I wanted to scream 'No, you can't go! What about us? You're just going to ditch me during the only time we have together outside of the odd trip during the school year?! Is this this going to be how the rest of our lives are going to be? You go off and do whatever is more important to you than me or us? No. You need to stay home and spend the summer with me', I didn't. It took everything in me, but I did what he said I do and put him first. I pushed down every urge to say those things & I swallowed every tears that desperately wanted to fall. This wasn't about me. It couldn't be. This was about Tripp and his future. I couldn't stand in the way of that. Not if we had any hope of surviving without the weight of his resentment swallowing us whole. The tense knots in my stomach slowly tightened, but I fought to hide any emotions other support. "Tripp, you really are going to be great," I reassured him supportively keeping my back to him as I went through my dresser for a clean shirt. "This is going to be so exciting for you! I can't wait to see what your future has in store."
"This really is going to be awesome, babe," he enthused grabbing a change of clothes and a towel. "I'm going to be learning from the best."
"And I will be right here waiting for you when you get home." I gave him a quick kiss and then said, "Ugh! Now, we have a whole new waiting game beginning!"
"It's definitely stressful," he admitted ruefully. "I just want to know already."
"Instead of just waiting around here we should go do something to pass the time," I suggested needing a buffer if I had any hope of maintaining my facade & hiding my anxiety from him. "How about we go visit your parents and call Tyler? I'm sure he's dying to see you. I'll invite and then we can all go get dinner."
Tyler Stevens had been Tripp's best friend since they'd met in high school. Tyler was his Claire. Ty was always the life of the party, which guaranteed his popularity, but he never let it get to his head, which only added to his charm.
"Well, my Dad and Kayla are actually in New York," Tripp admitted plugging his phone into a charger. "My dad just called me, and we were talking about everything. They're in New York for the week because they decided to use some vacation time and escape for a bit. I'll definitely call Tyler, though. I miss his ass. It'll be nice to hang out with him for awhile."
"Speaking of your dad, he's gotta just be so happy and proud. You're lucky to have him."
"I definitely don't take him for granted, that's for sure."
I had to swallow the lump of misery and pain that welled suddenly in my throat. "Well then, why don't we do this? You call Tyler & meet up with him. And I'll see what Claire has going on. Then we could meet back here around 5. And I'll just make reservations for you and I to have dinner after."
"You wouldn't mind, babe?" He asked with a frown. "I mean, it would be nice to see him for a little guy time, but—"
"I don't mind at all!" I chuckled shaking my head. "It was my idea, silly."
"Ok," he agreed, a smile spreading across his face. "I'll call him now & then hit the shower."
"And I'll go talk to Claire." He gave me a kiss as he passed me to pick his phone up off the bed. Tyler picked up after a few rings because as I reached I could heard the ever upbeat Tyler on the other end saying, "Dalton! What is up, bro?!"
"Not much, man. Just wanted to see if you wanted to meet up for some lunch or maybe to shoot some hoops."