I swallow at his honesty. The hurt I caused is still evident in his voice, which kills me.
“I wanted to protect you,” I tell him earnestly. “It was the only way.”
“Protect me from what?” He only knows half the truth.
I tuck my lips into my mouth, scared to finally say the words aloud. Donny knew I lied about seeing another guy, but he didn’t know why I lied in the first place. It was painfully obvious I wasn’t interested in dating anyone, but I lied to keep Hayden from making a mistake I knew he’d regret later or worse, resent me for.
“Remember that first Thanksgiving our freshman year? I came home, and we were at your parents’ house for dinner.”
“I overheard you talking to your dad and Hunter about transferring to New York so you could be closer to me. You said being long distance was getting too hard, and that you could play football at another university.” I remember it like it was yesterday, and it still stings as I remember it.
“My dad lost his shit,” he says.
“Yeah, he did.”
Hunter wasn’t happy about it either. He looked up to Hayden so much at that age. Still does, I’m sure.
“But who the fuck cares? My dad always lost his shit over anything that wasn’t a part of his plan. I was barely speaking to him at that time anyway, but I knew I had to tell him I wanted to transfer.”
“I couldn’t let you do that.”
“So that’s why you lied about seeing someone else? So I wouldn’t follow you to New York?” He winces as if I’d just slapped him, and I feel impossibly worse.
“No, Hayden. Well, yes. I wanted to protect you from making a mistake you’d later regret because I knew football was your life. I knew you got a huge scholarship for playing at CSU, and I didn’t want to be the reason you uprooted and changed your life.” I knew there was no guarantee he’d even get into another school near me, never mind get on the football team. It was the middle of our first year. Too much was at stake.
“You were my life, Savannah. I wanted to move to New York. I hated being away from you, and I thought you felt the same until—”
“Of course I did! I missed you every single day. But knowing that you were going to give it all up for me? I couldn’t let you do that. School and practice made me so busy, I barely had time for me. How could I give us time on top of that? It was too much pressure.”
“So you’d rather make me believe the love of my life was cheating or fell out of love with me instead?”
I shrug, hating this so damn much. “It had to be something big enough for you to let me go. You would’ve tried to convince me otherwise, and I didn’t know if I’d be strong enough to say no then.” I blink away the tears threatening to spill. The guilt weighs so heavy on my chest. “I didn’t know what else to do, Hayden. I was eighteen. I thought I was protecting you by keeping you from leaving a college career I knew you wanted.”
His gaze is hard and unwavering. “I wanted you more.”
“I’m sorry,” is all I can muster. “I really am.”
Hayden clenches his jaw, and I know he’s pissed. I can’t blame him, of course. I hurt him so badly, that much is evident.
“I had always hoped you moved on and found someone amazing. I never knew, though, because I couldn’t bear the possibility of seeing you smiling with another woman. Though I would’ve deserved that pain.” I knew that. It’s why I didn’t like being on social media. Ignorance was bliss when it came to him.
I cover his hand with mine, and he jerks away as if my touch burns. A tear escapes and slides down my cheek. I royally fucked up. It’s why I never had the courage to tell him sooner or to clear the air. No amount of time can heal this kind of betrayal. I was his life, and he was mine.
After long moments of silent, our conversation is done. He’s done.
I slide off the barstool and walk away. Glancing over my shoulder one last time, he doesn’t move. Nothing I say can fix this or take back what I did to him. I don’t know how those days after the breakup were for him, but I knew he was hurt. I was hurting too.
I leave the bar and head to the elevator. There’s nothing more to say.
Once I’m inside my room, I slip off my shoes and try to keep more tears from falling. Hayden Manning was my first love, my first everything, and I broke him.