I ignore him as I continue up the steps. As soon as I open the front door, I can smell fresh chocolate chip cookies. Mrs. Bennett must be baking.
“Oh hey, Kate, would you like a cookie?” she asks, taking a pan out of the oven.
“No, thanks. I just had breakfast.” It wasn’t the truth but my stomach is so tied up in knots that I’ll be surprised if I can eat anything for the next week.
“Well, I’m going to send some home for you and your mom. Jeff and I don’t need to eat them all,” she smiles, rolling more dough into balls.
I follow Beau to his bedroom, which looks empty compared to what it was just a few days ago. Most of his Iowa posters are gone, and his charcoal grey comforter is missing from his bed. My eyes fly to the bulletin board that hangs above his desk, and I notice that the pictures of the two of us are also missing.
“I’m going to put all of them up in my room,” he says, coming to stand in front of me. I bite my lip to hold back a smile. It makes me feel better knowing that he doesn’t want to forget about me.
“Beau, why is your mom baking cookies so early in the morning?” I ask.
He rolls his eyes. “She wants to make sure I have enough to eat at school. I swear, she thinks I’m going to kindergarten all over again.” Beau’s mom reminds me of one of those sixties sitcom moms; always doing special things for him and his father. I spent a lot of time here growing up. In fact, I think I ate more suppers here than I did at my own house.
“So, where are the boxes you need help with?” I ask, glancing around the room.
“You really are trying to get rid of me,” he laughs, pointing towards his closet.
Of course I don’t want to get rid of him. I just don’t know how long I can hold the tears back. I almost have myself convinced that this is just another day for the two of us, but once reality hits I’m going to be a mess, and the clock is ticking.
I help him out to the truck with the last two boxes and stand silent with my hands tucked into my back pockets. This is the moment I’ve been dreading.
“Well,” I say, staring nervously at my feet, “I guess this is goodbye . . . for now.”
He places his hands on my shoulders, gently rubbing his thumbs against my neck. “This is see you later. I could never say goodbye to you. Ever,” he says, pressing his lips to my forehead.
My eyes fill with tears that had threatened me all morning. “I’m going to miss you, Beau,” I cry, wiping my cheeks with the sleeve of my sweatshirt.
“I’ll come home next weekend. I promise.”
I shake my head. “No, you have to live your life. Please, don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay.”
“Kate, don’t try to push me away,” he says, pulling me into his chest.
“I’m not. I’m just letting you go,” I cry. The longer Beau holds onto the idea of us, the longer it will take him to find something better. He deserves all the good the world will give him. He deserves the love of someone who can give him everything. I have to let him go so he can find that.
“Stop, Kate. I’m coming back for you every weekend.”
“No, listen to me. I think it would be best if we spent some time apart. I need to work on myself, and I want you to worry about other things besides me,” I say, feeling his hands grip the back of my sweatshirt a little tighter. I look up at his face to see his eyes are glossed over. This sucks.
“No, just don’t. I’ll call you every day, but please, do this for yourself,” I plead. This is the hardest freaking thing I’ve ever had to do. I want Beau to come back every weekend and see me so that I never have to go a day without seeing him, but I’m not going to be selfish. My future was taken from me, and I can’t take his too.
“I’m coming back once a month,” he says, letting go of the back of my shirt. The front door of his house opens, causing us both to step back. His mom and dad are following him to Iowa City to bring his furniture so it must be time for him to leave.
He walks to the driver’s side door without taking another look in my direction. My heart falls into my stomach.
He climbs in and rolls down the window, using his index finger to motion me over to him. I hesitantly step forward, scared to death that he may say something I don’t want to hear. When I’m close enough that he can touch me, he cups my cheek in his hand. “I’ll play this game by your rules. But, Kate, remember that I can’t shut my feelings off just because you tell me to,” he says, putting his hand back on his steering wheel.
I stand back and watch him pull out of the driveway, waving as he disappears down the street with his parents following close behind. I want to crumble to the ground and bury my head in my hands, but I run into my empty house instead, not stopping until I’m face down on my bed. My body shakes as I let the tears flow for what seems like hours. For a moment, I regret telling him not to come home every weekend, but Beau can’t start moving forward with his life if he’s always looking back at me.
I stay in bed for the rest of the day, alternating between staring at the ceiling and crying. It’s the same thing I did after I left Drew Heston’s house that night. In fact, I stayed like that for days, telling my mom I had the flu. I’d always been a strong girl before, barely shedding a tear over anything, but things have really changed the last two years. I feel like I’m crying more often than not.
I often wonder what would have happened if I’d told someone what Drew did to me that night.
Drew finally stops moving, making a loud grunting sound that makes me sick to my stomach. I’m numb and broken. I feel the sweat from his forehead dripping on my back, and it disgusts me. He crawls off my body and throws my clothes at me before walking out the door. I’m almost too scared to move, but I do it anyway. My whole body aches as I climb out of the bed and pull my underwear back up my legs.
When I see the blood smeared on the inside of my thighs, I start to cry so hard that my vision becomes blurred. It’s a reminder of what he took from me and what I can never get back. I pull my jeans on and button them before adjusting my shirt and bra. I don’t waste any time before throwing open his bedroom door and glancing down the hall. I don’t see or hear anyone around. I just have to find Morgan and get out of here before anyone else sees me.
I’m almost to the stairs when a hand wraps tightly around my arm, pulling me back until I’m pressed against a hard, strong chest. I’m afraid to turn around and see who stands behind me, so I pinch my eyes shut and wait.
“Don’t even think about telling anyone about tonight. You wanted it, and they wouldn’t believe you anyway.”
My body is shaking so much that I can’t talk. I just want to go home and try to forget tonight ever happened.
He tightens his grip on my arms, digging his fingers into my skin. “Did you hear me, Kate? No one will believe you,” he repeats. Tears are welling up in my eyes because deep down I know he’s right.
I nod, waiting for him to let me go. I hate the roughness in his voice. I hate the feel of his hands on me. I f**king hate Drew Heston.
He loosens his grip and pushes me forward causing me to stumble. “Get the f**k out of my house.”
I quickly run down the steps and out the front door into the rain, not looking back once. When I find Morgan, she’s too drunk to realize that anything is wrong. Her boyfriend drives us home as I slump down in the backseat, letting the tears fall. I feel used and dirty. Why did he choose me?
If Morgan hadn’t been drunk that night, she might have noticed how fragile I was. Would I have told her? If my mom had been home that night when I opened the door, would I have told her? If Beau had seen me that night, he would have known.
But there was no one.
I’M SCHEDULED TO WORK TODAY, and the distraction couldn’t be more welcome. After watching Beau drive away yesterday, my heart can’t handle another heart-breaking, soul-shattering day like that. Besides, I care about Beau too much, and I never want to see that pained look in his eyes again and know that I was the one who caused it.
I pull on my dark blue jeans and my red Bonnie’s Diner t-shirt then look at myself in the mirror. Just as I predicted, my eyes are puffy and red from almost twenty-four hours of marathon crying. I pull my hair into a high ponytail and rub some concealer under my eyes before applying foundation to the rest of my face. The last thing I want is all of my customers asking what’s wrong with me. It’s easier to act that it’s just another day.
When I’m satisfied with how I look, I grab my keys and head out the door. Without even realizing what I’m doing, I stand with my eyes fixated on Beau’s house. I wonder what he’s doing right now. Does he miss Carrington yet? Does he like his new roommate?
I can’t let myself dwell on it, though. It’s time to get in the car and face my new normal. It just sucks that my normal keeps getting more and more unpleasant. I once thought I had everything, but ever since that night I’ve been unhappy and alone. Beau has been my only exception for the past two years and now he’s gone.
I really have no idea where my life goes from here. I want to say it can’t get any worse, but I’ve thought that before and there always seems to be a deeper hole to sink into. Some days I don’t even know if I can go on.
What’s the point?
When I pull into the parking lot behind the diner, I put the car in park and rest my forehead against the steering wheel. Just thinking about making it through the day alone makes it difficult to breathe. It’s like someone is constantly sitting on my chest.
I take a few deep breaths, trying to get some air in my lungs to ease the panic, but I’m struggling to gain control. Sometimes it helps to close my eyes and imagine I’m sitting on the beach looking out onto the lake, but I’m so overwhelmed I can’t even bring myself to go there today. Not having control of my emotions is like being in a speeding car without brakes, or like a vice gripping my ribs and squeezing. I feel lost and desperate, and I have no idea when this is all going to stop.