“Apparently not,” he says, climbing off the bed.
Panic fills my chest, making it difficult to breathe. “You weren’t wrong about me, Mateo. I desperately wanted to be that for you. You know I did.”
As he steps into his pants, he turns back to meet my gaze. “Then why aren’t you?”
He knows why, goddammit. Still, it makes my heart sink like I’ve failed him.
“Maybe we have different definitions of unconditional,” he says casually, looking away from me and buttoning his pants.
My mind races as he pulls his shirt on. I don’t want him to leave, not like this. Not disappointed in me.
Then he says, “Can you take off the necklace?”
My hand flies to my neck, to the locket hanging there. “Why?”
“Because it’s already dangled from the neck of one woman who didn’t love me, and I don’t want to do that again.”
This is even worse—I can’t keep the look of absolute revulsion off my face as he all but calls me Beth.
I didn’t know the story of Beth, but Meg filled me in. Meg doesn’t hate her, because she’s Meg. But I do—fuck that bitch. Doing what she did to him probably made him the way he is.
“I am not like Beth.”
“I think I’m a better judge of that than you,” he points out mildly, buttoning up his shirt.
“Stop getting dressed,” I say, impulsively. “Sit back down and talk to me.”
“It’s time to get back to my life, Mia,” he tells me.
Ouch. “I’m part of your life,” I remind him softly.
He sighs, taking a seat on the edge of my bed and looking back at me with a look that verges on apologetic. “I think that was a mistake.”
I fall back on my legs, feeling a little like he just stole the breath from my lungs. “Are you… are you dumping me?”
“We’re not 15, I’m not dumping you. I just don’t want to do this to you anymore. I thought this would be rewarding for both of us, and it obviously isn’t turning out the way we thought it would. I think it could’ve, if you would’ve been able to…” He stops, shaking his head. “But it doesn’t matter. It didn’t, and it’s not your fault but you can’t give me what I need from you.”
“Yes I can,” I say automatically, not even realizing what I’m saying. I just have to disagree with him, because I don’t want this.
“It’s okay,” he says, reaching out and tenderly caressing my jaw. “You don’t have to.”
“But I can,” I argue, wanting to sink into his touch. Wanting to cry. Is he serious? He killed my boyfriend, and after a month he’s just going to call it? What the fuck? This was all for nothing, and he’s disappointed in me. It’s like he’s undone everything. It’s like he’s erasing the good memories. It’s like… he’s erasing me from his life.
“I’m going to get you an apartment in the city near campus. I won’t make you stay here any longer. I’ll still pay for you to finish your degree, it’s the least I can do for you.”
I shake my head in denial, unable to grasp this. “You’ve gotta be kidding me. You’re punishing me. This is a punishment.”
“This is not a punishment, Mia. It’s a punishment to be with someone you love, knowing they don’t feel the same way. That’s a punishment. And I don’t want to do it again. It hurt like hell last time. Right now this is just a disappointment. Let’s not let it grow into a painful memory.”
“This isn’t right,” I tell him, shaking my head. “I don’t want us to be a disappointment. I don’t want this. I don’t want to leave.”
“Well, there’s no point in you staying.”
“But I’ll never see you again.”
Smiling faintly, he stands. “That’s probably a step in the right direction.”
“No.” I climb closer to the edge of the bed, grabbing the tail of his shirt since he hasn’t tucked it in yet. I tug him closer, bracing my hands on his sides, searching my mind for something to say, something to do. He’s wrong. He’s wrong about all of this. I’m not unable to give him what he wants. I can love him unconditionally. I was willing to share him, for fuck’s sake. It’s just… the toll that would take on me, loving him when every ounce of that love costs so much now….
Gently tugging his shirt out of my hand, he says, “Let go, Mia.”
Tears spring to my eyes and I feel like my heart is splintering apart in my chest. “I don’t want to let go.”
“Well, you have to let go of something. Either let go of me, or… It seems like the only option is to let go of me. Move on with your life.”
“That’s not the only option,” I say, quietly. “I don’t want this.”