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The next day, I was declared divorced after years of being separated from my former husband.
After the hearing, I started making my way to Nashville, Erik’s hometown. I’d already planned to backtrack to Oak Ridge after the service because I was heading here to Oak Island after the funeral to clear my head and grieve for my best friend and the loss of her husband Erik. And when I booked the hotel, I intentionally made sure it was thirty minutes away from the place Mr. H. was staying.
He checked on me throughout the drive because he knew I hadn’t slept, nor had I eaten.
Mr. H. asked me to stop at Starbucks since it was on the way so he could caffeinate me. He even offered to buy lunch, but I was running behind and didn’t have time to eat, so I stopped and had coffee with him for about half an hour. We sat out in the sunshine under an umbrella at a patio table amongst all the other Starbucks junkies. I studied his face while he talked, memorizing every line, noticing that the pink long-sleeved Ralph Lauren button-down shirt he had on was perfectly pressed. He mentioned he wished he could drive me rest of the way so I wouldn’t have to go alone, but he had a meeting he couldn’t miss. He asked if I’d be interested in having dinner next to my hotel after the service. I agreed, and off I went, while he patiently sat in his car, allowing me to exit the parking lot first. He was such a gentleman in that way, and it’s one of the things I took notice of about him.
On the way to the funeral, however, I felt interrogated by The Man Who Had My Heart.
“Why are you going back to Oak Ridge tonight? Why not just stay in Nashville with Kyra?” – the honest to goodness truth is that there was a conference in Nashville and hotel rooms were scarce; not only that, I had to go back through that area anyway to get to the beach, and I didn’t want to drive a whole lot the next day. He must have been between patients, sitting at his computer during that conversation because he indignantly said, “Well, there’s a room in Mt. Juliet…do you want me to reserve it?” I believe at that point, I asked him if he was writing a book because he was asking so many questions; remember, we weren’t together, so I didn’t really owe him explanations, nor did I give him any. Look, the man knows me like the back of his hand, so it goes without saying that he knew there was more to it than what I was telling him. He’d met someone during our hiatus anyway, so I didn’t really understand why it mattered that much. In hindsight, I recognize now that I meant more to him than I realized.
I was in Nashville longer than I expected to be because I just couldn’t bear to leave my best friend.
About halfway back to Oak Ridge, I texted Mr. H. and told him I would be getting back too late for dinner, but that I would see him when I returned home. I’d not eaten or slept for 39 hours, so I stopped at a convenience store for Advil to kill the headache I was getting and grabbed a Gatorade to keep my blood sugar from bottoming out. I pulled into my hotel and fell completely apart right there in my car, my head in my hands, sobbing until I could barely breathe. Two goodbyes in one day, one to my former husband when I delivered the divorce papers, and the other to Erik at his funeral, was just two too many.
Mere seconds later, a car pulled in beside me, and when I glanced over, there sat Mr. Hottie.
Unbeknownst to me, he had been at the restaurant next to my hotel the whole time and I have to tell you that I have never been so glad to see a familiar face because the devastation in that moment was just too much for me. He opened my car door, lifted me out of my seat, saying, “Hey, Gorgeous, what can I carry for you?” —Just so you know, I was not at all gorgeous at that moment! My mascara was running down my face, my eyes were swollen, my summer dress was wrinkled, and my shoes were God knows where because I had taken them off sometime during the drive. He loaded up both shoulders with my things, joked about being a pack mule, and we made our way to the second floor where my room was.
I’m sure you think I’m going to tell you that we fell into bed in no time, and you’d be right.
However, what happened isn’t what anyone would expect. He twisted the top on the Gatorade I had bought and opened a packet of Advil for me. I was so sleepy that I could barely keep my eyes open, so I took my jewelry off and crawled right into that amazing bed in my dress. At first, he looked a little panicked but climbed in with me anyway. Wrapping me up in him, he held me for three hours while I cried my heart out.
“Tell me everything about Erik and Kyra.”
And then things like “What’s your favorite color? There’s so much I want to know about you that I don’t.” He learned that mint chocolate chip ice cream is almost always in my freezer; that I have two favorite colors – purple and green; that I think roses are cliché and prefer sunflowers instead; and that I turn up the music and dance with abandon in my kitchen when I’m cooking. I even told him things about my childhood that I never really tell anybody—in fact, it took me YEARS to tell The Man Who Had My Heart those things. And while I talked, he cupped my face with both hands as I spoke, never once taking his watery eyes away from mine.
Not once did he put either of us in a compromising position.
And that integrity is what made my heart start to love him—really love him. Think about it: after 39 hours of no sleep and no food, he very well could’ve taken advantage of that situation, but he didn’t. To me, that says a lot about his character and who he is as a man. The very last thing I remember about that night was being almost asleep and feeling his kiss on my forehead as he whispered something along the lines of how he never believed in soulmates until there was me. And then, just like that, he was gone. Even now, I get teary just thinking about it.
I went to the beach the next morning and we talked every day. The Man Who Had My Heart was also checking in on me regularly, and between the two of them, I felt so loved, so supported, and so well cared for.
When I returned home, Mr. Hottie came over to my condo to see me. We sat close on the sofa, hands clasped, our shoulders, thighs, and legs touching, talking about the beach, his kids, Kyra, us. But when the subject of us came up, I felt so conflicted that I couldn’t look at him. And before I realized what was out my mouth, I said, “It has always been him…and it will continue to be him until it isn’t him anymore.” I saw the tears flood his eyes, but the timing was very wrong for us to be anything other than what we were and both of us knew it. I felt bad when I said it, and I felt even worse when he left an emotional mess, saying “I don’t like this…” It was the very last time I laid eyes on him and the mere thought of that conversation is just as painful today as it was back then.
The Man Who Had My Heart and I moved forward – still not together but working through things.
Timing is everything, you know, and I had been contemplating telling him about Mr. H., but there was a lot of turbulence in his life at that time, so I waited several weeks before talking to him about it. I didn’t want to hurt him—I didn’t want to hurt anybody.
One afternoon, he came over for lunch and the subject of Mr. Hottie came up in conversation (listen, he called him Mr. Coffee, for obvious reasons, and I caught the disdain in his voice when he said it). I told him about stopping in Oak Ridge that day to see him. He stopped eating and put his fork down, remembering that I’d said I was afraid I was going to be late for the service that day. And then I told him that he came up to my room with me but that nothing had happened. I also relayed the conversation I’d had with Mr. H. about how it was always going to be him until it wasn’t him anymore; how the feelings I had for him wouldn’t ever measure against the feelings I might have for someone else.
Questions. There were lots of questions…
“How often did he bring you coffee?”
– I don’t know, I didn’t exactly keep count.
– No, of course not.
—Why does it matter?
“Every other week?”
– Omigosh, I don’t know. I told you I didn’t keep up with it.
“Because if I’m figuring things right, he spent a lot of money on you during that time buying coffee.”
Yes. The Man Who Had My Heart was actually doing math in his head, which is so like him, and the very thing he would do in an uncomfortable moment.
“How could you not know he was interested in you?”
–I just didn’t. I’ve been out of the game a long time. I thought he was just being nice and I truly didn’t know until he told me.
“Bringing you coffee, Kristi? That’s a love gesture, not being nice.”
I shook my head as if he was being ridiculous.
“You liked that, didn’t you? Him bringing you coffee?”
–Yes. Yes, I did. It was nice that someone actually surprised me with Starbucks without having to ask. I mean, do you even know what my favorite coffee is? After all these years?
And then he said, “…I do now.”
I told him I wasn’t in love with Mr. H., but that yes, I had real feelings for him and that I had grown very fond of him over the time I’d known him.
The conversation then turned to something about keeping Mr. Hottie a non-negotiable. Deep down, I knew it was the right thing to do—the only thing to do—but my heart couldn’t agree to that, even as much as I wanted it to, and I know he saw that all over my face as he searched it for an answer with the steady gaze of his hazel-green eyes. I nodded, but said nothing and even though we were not together per se, I felt shame in that moment for ever allowing myself to feel something for another man other than the one who sat square in front of me. No matter what he had done in the past, he was still my best friend, my world, my rock, my everything. Life went on and nothing else was ever mentioned between us about Mr. H.
Tune in next week for the rest of the story as well as a heartfelt letter to the one and only Mr. Hottie!
Did you miss Part 1 of this series? If so, you can find it here.
Til next time, stay sassy!