He looked away, refusing to meet my eyes, and shook his head.
My jaw clenched. "Who is she?"
He shrugged, refusing to meet my eyes. My heart pounded in my chest as I waited for him to respond, but he wouldn't say a word.
Realization set in. He knew I'd come here. He'd wanted me to catch him. He wanted to push me away.
But why this way? I let out a short, dejected sigh as an unbearable weight settled on my chest. "Jax, what are you doing?"
He bit his lip, hard, and after a moment finally looked up at me. "I'm sorry," he said, his voice low as if he didn't have the strength to speak any louder. His dark eyes locked onto mine for a second before he shook his head and let his gaze fall back down to the floor.
I watched him and pressed my lips together, my throat closing tight. "You're sorry?" I choked out. "Is that all you have to say to me right now?"
He froze for several seconds, seemingly gathering himself. "It's done," he said finally, shaking his head. "There's nothing to talk about."
Pain shot through my entire body. I threw my hands up as tears blurred the corners of of my vision. "What's done?" I said through my teeth, struggling to fight back my frustration. "Are you breaking up with me? Because I'm not dumping you just because I caught you pulling some stupid stunt with a groupie."
He flinched, briefly, and rubbed his eyes for several seconds before looking away. I gave him time to get his words together, but after a while he looked back down at the floor.
His silence was killing me. I balled my fists up in frustration. "Damn it, Jax!" I snapped, unable to keep the hurt and bitterness out of my voice, and not caring. "Why are you doing this? Did you ever care about me at all?"
He started, as if snapped out of a trance, and looked up at the ceiling before finally bringing his gaze to meet mine. The shadows under his dark eyes told me he hadn't slept at all, and pain etched deep lines in his face. "Damn it, yes!" he said, his voice tortured. "That's why I'm doing this, Riley. Why are you dragging it out and making this worse for both of us?"
Stabbing hurt wracked my body. It was a moment before I could speak, while I weighed each word that I wanted to say to him. "Because I still think we can make it work. Just give us a chance, Jax. You just told me about this yesterday. We haven't had any time to even figure out a way past it."
He shook his head. His unfocused eyes gazed over my shoulder for a moment, then refocused on me. "No. You'll get hurt."
"What, that concert yesterday? Jax, we already—"
"No!" Jax shouted.
I flinched back at his sudden outburst. Finally, he had come to life.
"No," he continued, more quiet but no less intense,"It's not just the concert. It's the fucking nightmares. It's stuff like the shit on the motorcycle. It's me living in terror that I am going to hurt you because of this fucking condition."
I shook my head, not willing to let him make that choice for me. "Jax, I'm not some fragile doll you need to protect. Let me make my own boundaries."
"No," he said firmly, shaking his head. "I can't let you get hurt."
I grimaced and tried to hold myself together. "If you're breaking up with me for my own safety, why can't you let me make that decision?"
He looked back down at the ground. "Because you won't," he said, his voice quiet.
The world seemed to stand still and I swallowed painfully.
He brought his gaze back to meet mine. "You won't leave me, Riley. You'll stick by me until the end. I don't know how it's going to happen, but if we stay together it will happen, and it's going to be ugly."
A shiver went down my spine. The hard intensity in his face scared me.
"I can't let that happen," Jax said, his voice nearly a whisper. His dark eyes looked haunted, as if the life had been sucked from him.
I took a deep, shaky breath, trying to calm myself. "If it's really over," I said, my lips trembling despite my attempts to hold it together. "Then say it to my face, Jax. Say you're breaking up with me."
He looked up, squinting, his jaw working slowly. After a deep breath, he looked me right in the eyes, his mouth trembling for a moment before holding firm. "I'm breaking up with you. I'm sorry, Riley. I wish there was another way."
My stomach felt sick as tears rolled messily down my cheeks. This was really happening. After weeks of struggling to figure out what was wrong with Jax, it was over.
I knew Jax was trouble the first time I set eyes on him. What I hadn't counted on was what a sweet, sensitive, romantic man lay beneath that mask. And that I would fall in love with him. Now, the man I fell in love with sat with his shoulders slumped as if he'd been broken. Defeated.
I took a deep, tortured breath and looked at him, my vision blurry with tears. Even if it was over, I needed to make sure he knew I cherished what we'd had. "Well, I still love you," I said shakily, fighting back a sob. "More than anyone I've ever met. Whatever it is you're going through and whatever you do to recover, maybe that will help—that you'll know that I'm out there somewhere, still in love with you."
His head dropped for a moment and he ran his hands through his hair before he looked back up at me. "Riley, I—"
His voice broke, then he was mute, and his head fell lifelessly down. The thought of hugging him one last time crossed my mind, but he hadn't made any movement toward me from his seat, so I didn't. I walked back to the door and turned to say goodbye.
A sob shook me as I opened my mouth to say the word. I couldn't. Tears flowing, I put my hand up lamely to signal I was leaving and stepped out of the room. Then I stormed down the hall quickly and from there away from the performers area to the bus. The vision of him sitting there like a cracked statue haunted me as I left.
We were done. What now?
As I walked, I thought about my friends. Kristen, Jen, even my mom. They were the ones I wanted to talk to. But they were all in New York.
That was where I needed to be.
After stopping by the tour bus to grab my work bag, I called a cab and headed to the nearest main street to be picked up. When the cabbie came, I got in and told him to take me to LAX. I would figure out a flight home to New York when I got there. Then I looked out the window and cried for what Jax and I had lost. I was shattered.
Manhattan. My island. My home.
I'd been in town for two weeks now, trying to adjust. The skyscraper canyons were a stark contrast to the spacious, palm tree lined California boulevards I'd left behind.