~ 1:30 AM ~
“Took you long enough,” Porn said as he answered the door.
“What are you doing here?” Garrett asked, surprised that it was Porn and not Walsh that answered the door.
“I may have been hurt, but my Ava is hurting more,” he answered. “Being there for people I love is more important than my pride. You of all people should know that.”
“You’re a good man,” he said with a pat on Porn’s face. “Where is she?”
“Here,” he said and poked his around the corner.
“You look like shit.”
“It’s okay,” Hart replied. “I feel as shitty as I look.”
“Before you come in, I should give you a heads up,” Porn said.
“The place is a mess. I know she’s having it painted.”
“Well, no and no,” he said, grabbing Hart by the shoulder and dragging him into Ava’s apartment. “Look. I think these are of you.”
Hart felt his jacket slip from his hand. Around Ava’s apartment were colorful murals that he immediately recognized as his tattoos. They all had been captured on canvas with brush strokes of love.
“What’s going on?” he asked no one in particular.
Walsh stepped up to him and handed him a cup of tea. “From what Porn and I have gathered and what we could get out of Ava is that you mentioned at one time or another you thought about having your tattoos put on canvas because color fades or something like that.”
Hart set his tea on the coffee table and walked to the canvas that was currently on the easel. It was half finished and clipped to the top of the easel was a photo of the tattoos on his back: his great grandfather’s family crest, swirling shadows that tied his tattoos together into one cohesive piece and the various other tributes he had inked into his skin in honor of family. He turned and looked at Walsh, Garrett, and Porn filled with more emotion than he’d had earlier in the night.
Garrett stepped forward. “It was to be a gift for your one-year anniversary,” he said. “She did get her apartment painted but she only needed two days. She took the opportunity of staying with you to get the rest of the photos she needed of your tattoos. They’re all here.”
“Where is she?” Hart asked swallowing back his emotions.
“Her bedroom,” Walsh answered. “She finally fell asleep about twenty minutes ago.”
Moving past the trio, Hart walked down the short hallway to Ava’s bedroom. Resting his hand on the door, he took a deep breath. Opening the door, he walked in and saw Ava fast asleep. He crawled into bed next to her, pulling her as close as he could.
“I just want to sleep Porn,” she said into chest.
“We are,” he whispered back. “I don’t want you to wake up alone tomorrow.”
Ava nodded and snuggled closer. “Porn, you smell like Hart.”
“It is Hart, Ava. I’m here.”
Pulling away, she looked up and saw she was in Hart’s arms. Trembling, she placed her hand on his face in teary-eyed disbelief. “It’s you,” she smiled and caressed his face. “It’s really you.”
Hart nodded. “I’m an asshole. I’m so sorry.”
Kissing him, Ava felt her heart sigh. “You’re here now. That’s all I care about.”
“I have Garrett to thank and of course, Walsh and Porn. Between them all, I think they crashed my voice mail.”
More tears slipped from Ava’s eyes.
“I saw the paintings,” Hart said, wiping her tears away softly with his thumb. “When? How? I have so many questions.”
“I wanted surprise you,” she confessed. “I had some photos of your tattoos but was missing some so Frank’s been helping me get photos too.”
“All of them?”
Ava nodded. “I didn’t need to stay with you the whole week to have my apartment painted. I really only needed a couple of days, but it was an opportunity to be with you and get the photos I needed.”
Kissing her forehead, Hart pulled her closer.
“We were laying in bed one night and you were telling me about the one that is on the crook of your right arm,” she admitted, “and it gave me this idea and in round about ways I shared it with you and you admitted that you liked the idea of having your tattoos on canvas. I knew then I had to do it.”
“But you said as a web designer you can’t draw?”
She smiled. “I can’t draw. I’ve been scanning the photos and piecing them together and having them printed on canvas. I might not be able to draw, but I can do color by number painting.”
Laughing, Hart kissed her. “I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything. They are a part of you, a road map of your life. I’ve learned so much about your journey in life by doing this. In the end, I just wanted to make you smile. I wanted to show you how much you mean to me, how grateful I am to have you in my life, and how much I love you.”
Hart sighed. He didn’t deserve the love that Ava held for him not after the tears he caused her. “Can you forgive me for tonight? I was jealous that you wanted to hear Garrett loved you. In my head, it meant that you didn’t want to hear that I love you.”
“You love me?”
Brushing her hair away from her face, he smiled. “I fell in love with you the first time I saw you sitting in the coffeehouse curled up on that ugly green couch with your nose stuck in a book. I always looked for you but my timing never seemed right until the day Mo dragged you out with us and I even managed to screw that up and let you slip away before I could ask you for your number. My luckiest day was running into you that second time. I wasn’t going to let you slip away again.”
Hearing laughter from Ava’s bedroom, Walsh, Garrett and Porn looked at each other in relief.
“I guess all is right,” Walsh said with a tired sigh.
“I guess so,” Garrett added.
“So, Walsh told me you told Ava you loved her tonight,” Porn said as he stared at the man he considered a brother. “Are you okay?”
Garrett shrugged his shoulders. “In the end, I believe I will be.”
“And right now?”
“It fucking hurts,” he confessed. “I am in love with a woman who is in love with someone else.”
“I know that feeling,” Walsh piped in with a smirk.
Reaching behind him, Garrett threw the pillow he was leaning on at him. “You’re such a jackass.”
“You did the right thing,” Porn said.
“Did I?” he asked. “If I had kept my mouth shut, we all wouldn’t be here right now. Was it the right thing trying to convince Ava that she really loves me and not Hart? Was it the right thing, breaking her like this? I hurt the one person in the world I never wanted to hurt.”
Letting out a silent sigh, Walsh offered, “Look, it sucks but if you hadn’t stepped up and said anything, you would have become bitter and angry. It’s all out in the open now, everyone can heal and move on.”
Garrett couldn’t comment. He didn’t have the energy to. He hurt the one person he never wanted to hurt. “I’m gonna head home,” he said as he stood.
“You’re not staying?” Porn asked. “We are staying to show a united front to Ava. We love her and even though we, especially me, was a bit over dramatic about it all, we are going be here to say we want her to be happy.”
“It’s not that I don’t want her happy,” Garrett replied. “It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted for her. I just don’t think she would want me here and I really don’t think Hart would want me here.”
“You don’t have leave,” Hart said from hallway.
The three of them looked and saw Hart and Ava standing together. Both had puffy red eyes and a tiredness that affects someone in their bones, but despite their outward appearance, they radiated a happiness that seeped into the room like jazzy notes on a lazy Sunday morning.
“We want you to stay,” Ava added. “I want you to stay.”
Garrett stared at the couple. “Can you both forgive me?” he asked.
Letting go of Hart’s hand, Ava walked to him and wrapped her arms around him in a hug so tight she felt him sigh. “Forgiven.”
Hugging her tightly, he kissed the top of her head. “Thank you for always being here for me.”
“You and me. Always.”
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