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"Maybe I'm to blame, or maybe we're the same, but either way I can't breathe."
Marley knocked on the door, patiently waiting for an answer. She heard a loud bark and Cody's huge paws thumping across the wooden floors. A true smile graced her lips when Mr. Baker opened the door and the eager dog rushed her, jumping up to rest his paws on her shoulders, causing her to stumble as he stood face to face with her, fighting to lick her face.

"Hey Marley." Mr. Baker beamed at her, appearing behind her massive dog. "How was your trip?"

She felt her face sag as she forced Cody off of her, "Uhm. It was-different?" She sighed, scratching the large dog behind his ears.

"Hmm." His eyebrows drew together in thought, "That bad, huh?"

She tucked her hair behind her ear, "Yeah. It just-didn't go as planned, I guess."

"You know, Marley. I'm not tryin' to pry, but you know that boy needs to be here for you more. I know he's some rockin' star, but it's no excuse to leave the woman you love at home alone as much as he does 'specially by herself, you know."

She hung her head, not wanting him to see the tears forming in her eyes. Joe was all she thought about the entire way home. Shit, he was all she could think about; period.

"Yeah." She breathed, trying to brush it off. "I'm going to go unpack though, so thanks so much for watching Cody."

"No problem." He smiled a sad, knowing smile at her and handed over the leash and container of dog food. In the process of getting her things together, she checked her phone only to see Joe hadn't returned her call and voicemail saying she'd gotten in all right. She grit her teeth and paused at the door, "Oh Mr. Baker, I meant to ask, is Lindsey still looking for someone at the gallery?"

His eyes lit up and he nodded, "Yes ma'am, she is. Was 'bout to call an agency to get someone in there, you interested?"

Marley smiled, nodding her head, "Yeah, I think I am. Give her my number and tell her to get in touch, will ya?"

He smiled, "Yeah, Marley. I'll do that."


Walking into their apartment, Marley dropped her luggage to the floor and slumped onto the couch, pulling the large blanket on top of her, and cuddling into the corner, she let go. She didn't even have time to think about the tears before they were rushing down her face. Cody climbed on the couch next to her, whimpering softly at her sudden breakdown and attempting to lick the tears from her face. She hugged the dog, burying her face in his fur trying to muffle her sobs.

"Why does he do this to me?" She sobbed, gasping for air and trying to take control of her body and the lack of air from her intense cries.

What Marley could only guess as hours later, her phone startled her back to reality. It buzzed violently across the coffee table and she forced her aching body to sit up, wiping the remaining tears from her face adn reaching for the phone, a new wave of sadness washing over her when she saw Nick's name flashing on the screen. The wrong brother.

"Hello?" Her voice was harsh and raspy, sadness oozing from the short greeting. She didn't bother disguising her voice as happier than she felt, not for Nick.

Her ears were met with a sharp intake of breath and her eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

"Nick?" Her voice became alert, "Is something wrong?"

"Marley." A pang hit her heart. The pain in his voice was almost too much to bear.

"Joe?" She asked softly, wondering if her mind was playing tricks on her.

"Yeah, it's me." She knew it had to be, she'd know that voice anywhere.

"Where's your phone?"

"I didn't think youd answer if I called."

"Don't be stupid Joe." Something new rushed throughout her and she clanched her jaw, "I've been a mess all day because you don't have the decency to call and see if I made it home okay."

"Marley, I--"

"Not to mention;" She cut him off, "Letting me walk away after what happened in the car..." Her eyes watered at the thought and she sniffled, wanting to stay strong. "You've never let me walk away." Her voice cracked, unmansking her strong facade and the tears returned.

Joe was quiet on the other line, trying to compose himself while listening to her break down, her I-can-handle anything act was up and she was hurting and it was his fault. He imagined her curled up on the couch, wrapped in their old comforter she refused to give up with Cody laying halfway in her lap...

He wanted to smile but the sound of her trying to muffle back sobs burned his ears. Marley became angry with his lack of words and grit her teeth.

"Do you know what that feels like?" The loudness of her voice startled hm and he snapped back to the conversation. "Do you know what it feels like to have the only person in the world that you truly trust let you walk away like you mean nothing to them--"

"Stop it!" He roared into the phone. "Don't say that." He stood from his spot, slumped in the armchair in his hotel room, "Don't you fucking dare, Marley." He seethed, "You know good and goddamn well that you mean everything to me."

She was taken aback, he'd never yelled at her. She heard his labored breathing and decided to give him a few minutes to calm down.

"I'm sorry." She whispered a few quiet moments later, feeling bad for accusing him of something she knew wasn't true.

"Don't do that." He shot back, without hesitation.

"Do what?" She wondered, genuinely confused at his statement.

"Apologize." He groaned. "I'm the asshole here. Not you." He confessed quietly. "And I don't want you to back down, fight back, apologizing and saying I love you isn't going to fix this." His voice was hard and she flinched, resting the phone between the side of her face and her shoulder so she could rub her temples, she didn't want to fight, she was emotionally drained and physically exhausted, this wasn't the time.

"I don't want to fight back." She admitted quietly, "I'm not strong enough to fight back. I'm tired, Joe. And I'm sad. And I just can't do it."

He sighed into the phone. "I know, and I'm sorry about the airport. I wanted to come after you, but the photographers and the press. I just couldn't."

"Yeah." She frowned.

"They're just always around." Joe sighed, "Always."

Marley's eyebrows furrowed and a sickening feeling squeezed against her stomach. "Joe, I have to go." She said quickly.

"Wha-? Um, okay." He stuttered, confused by her sudden need to go, "Um, I love you."

"Love you too." She said quickly before ending the call and rushing to the bathroom, Cody hot on her heels. She skidded to a stop in front of the toilet and leaned over, emptying the contents of her stomach.

Flushing the toilet, she let out a violent sob, as tears flooded down her cheeks, this was too much. Joe had just confirmed her worst fears. The press would always be around. Photographers would always be around. The boys weren't leaving the spotlight anytime in the near future and she'd reamin the secret.

A secret. That's what she was and that's what she'd remain. The only part of her life that made her insecure. The only part of her life that made her unhappy. The only part of her life that broke her heart over and over again. And, the only part of her life she was fighting with herself on whether or not to give up.
Chapter End Notes:
Song: Goodbye - Secondhand Serenade.
Wow. I mean. Wow. I never expected to get this much feedback. I'm glad all of you are loving it. And I'm headed out of town so I probably won't be able to post until Sunday-ish. But thank all of you who are reading...you all are amazing. and you got me featured :) you're all amazing.
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