Page 51 of The Dating Proposal

These feelings have all the strings, and the last time I felt even close to this way, I was blindsided, bitch-slapped, and left with two KitchenAid mixers I didn’t need.

I don’t even know what to do with one.

“Hi, Amber.” The greeting comes out stilted.

“You were so right about this place. It’s wonderful. I’ve started coming here since that first time I saw you, and I love, love, love it.”

“That’s great, great, great,” I say, then I want to slap myself. I don’t mock people, even people who steal grooms.

But she’s not the one I was mad at a little more than a year ago.

Todd was.

Only, I got over him.

I’ve 100 percent moved on from him.

But I haven’t moved on from being human.

I can’t move on from that. And because I’m human, I’m not immune to falling, after all. I’ve fallen hard and big and recklessly.

Now all I can think is—what if the same thing happens again? What if Chris finds someone funnier, smarter, more interesting? Someone who loves deeper, better, more?

What if I’m left behind again?

Fear reopens the wound inside me that had healed but not scarred over, and it’s raw, like insecurity is rubbing salt in it.

Somehow I swallow past the hurt in my throat. “Glad you like it,” I choke out, walking back my snitty reply so I don’t have to add one more thing to feel awful about today.

Amber flashes a cordial smile and walks away.

I eat, and the salad tastes like cardboard, the Diet Coke seems flat, and the fries are anti-orgasmic.

When I leave, I go to the bakery and decide the only thing that could make me feel better is a cupcake. I order a chocolate buttercream and stuff it in my mouth.

But it doesn’t remove the self-doubt that’s formed an ulcer in my heart.

30

Chris

The interview is locked in for later this week.

The surf report for this afternoon appears top-notch.

And karaoke night is always a good time. Plus, I get to introduce my girl to my friends.

There’s only one little hiccup.

The girl has gone radio silent.

I text her after lunch with the good news regarding Zander.

No reply.

I text her that afternoon telling her the ratings are strong for the segments.

Nada.

I tap out a third text then decide I’m a wuss. Something is wrong, and I need to man up and call her.

It rings five times.

She answers with a muffled hey.

“Hey,” I say sympathetically, because she must be sick. “Are you okay? Do you have a cold or something?”

“No.”

“What’s wrong, babe?”

“Nothing. Just napping.”

I arch a brow. Don’t get me wrong—naps are awesome. But I have a hard time reconciling the bright and effervescent McKenna with someone who sleeps during the daytime. “I didn’t know you were into afternoon naps.”

“I’m not.”

My Spidey-sense goes on full alert, and I sit up straight in my desk chair. “What’s wrong?”

She heaves a sigh. “I don’t think I can go to karaoke tonight.”

“Okay, that’s fine. But is something else wrong?”

“I just . . . Everything is happening so fast. I think I need a night to . . . figure it out.”

I freeze.

Brace like I’m about to get pounded by a killer wave.

She’s breaking up with me.

I swallow hard and try to form words. “What do you need to figure out?”

“This. Us. Everything. Why fries taste bad, and Diet Coke is flat, and cupcakes made me sick.”

Ah, maybe she is ill. “So you are sick? Do you need something? Some soup? I can bring you food or crackers or anything you need.”

She whimpers. “You’re too perfect. This is too good to be true. I like you too much. I have to go.”

She hangs up.

I stare at the phone like it’s relaying radio signals in Martian.

Because that made zero sense.

I hit redial, but it goes straight to voicemail.

Now that? That makes sense. That translates to only one thing—she doesn’t want to hear from me.

31

McKenna

So this is what having a meltdown is like. It’s about blankets and dog cuddles and sad music blasting out all the noise in my head. It’s Elvis and Billie Holliday bathing my brain in sad songs, tunes of love that’ll never be. Love gone awry. Love that’s broken.

Because a little hurt is better than a big hurt.

And I’ve had the big hurt.

I simply can’t endure a bigger one, or even the risk of it. And with Chris, the hurt would be a doozy. It’s best to wrap myself in layers of Kevlar now by going through life alone. Solo is way safer.

After about three hours of burrowing under my covers and feeding the kernel of sadness inside me, I spring out of bed, lit up with an idea.

Meltdowns need fashion.

I forage through the new shipment of clothes sent by brands wanting features on my site. For my solo fashion show, I blast a new and old girl-power mélange of Cyndi Lauper and P!nk and Billie Holiday, singing along with the ladies as I try on jeans and skirts and sweaters. With just the right outfit, I am armor-clad. Fashion is a shield. Lift up your chin, hold your head high, and drape yourself in discount designer wear. That’s how you make it through your new life as a solo act. Or, really, my pre-Chris life. That’s what I’ll be—alone and fabulous, never hurt, always happy.


Tags: Lauren Blakely Romance
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