His phone rang, and I felt it in my gut. I'd lost him. He was still in front of me, turned away with the phone to his ear, but I knew he was already gone from me. His voice was soft. It was the kind of quiet I'd use if I didn't want someone else to hear my conversation, and that was the part that killed me. He didn't want me to know who was on the other end or what they were talking about. He didn't want me to know.
My stomach felt like it'd been punched.
When Bryce looked back with his phone call done, his eyes were different. The blue color was the same, but he was different. Then I realized that he looked at me differently. I was the one who had changed, but I wasn't sure if that was my fault or not.
I wrenched out, "That was her?"
He didn't reply, but I saw it in his eyes.
I nodded. "You need to go to her?"
He didn't respond again.
I didn't think I needed him to anymore. "We're done, aren't we?" Then I looked up. I pushed past the emotion that made me see him in a haze, and I focused. That's when I saw what I'd been denying for so long. There was guilt, pain, love, but there was relief. When he got that phone call, I accepted it and he knew it. He knew I was letting him go. "Do you love her?"
Bryce opened his mouth, but couldn't speak. He shook his head, but then choked out, "I don't know anything anymore, Sheldon. I really don't. I do love you and I will stop the charade with her, but it's not that easy. She's not okay, not in the head. I've told her about you. I told her how much I love you and don't want to lose you, but she really thinks we're together. I'm afraid of what she'll do when I make her accept that I'm not with her."
I shook my head because it was too much, but something told me I needed to understand this. Bryce was telling me this for a reason, but I really didn't want to hear it.
He continued, but his voice was strained. "I'm trying to reach out to her parents. I need to know there will be someone who will be there for her when I pull away. I can't do it yet. She refuses to talk to her parents, but no one in her entourage will stand up to her." He jerked forward a step, but stopped abruptly. His voice was so quiet. "I'm not lying to you when I say that I'm not with her. I'm not, but…it's complicated. When you broke up with me and left Spain, I did go on a date with her. Only one, for real, but that was it. Now everything is all messed up, with the media and my agent. I came back for you. I did that for you, but…"
"She followed you here." Then I swallowed. It was so painful, but I needed to know more. "How long as this been going on?"
I held my breath. I didn't want to hear the answer.
"Since you left me."
Six months. She had been in his life, whether in a real way or a pretend way, but she was there. Six whole months.
I choked out, "How long have you been trying to reach her parents?"
"For five months."
I drew in a deep breath. What happened between them for that whole month? Then I whispered, "I don't know if I can wait." I didn't know if I could or couldn't, but the situation with her wasn't right. I felt it in my gut. She had kept him around for five months, how deep were her claws in him? And I knew there was more. He wasn't telling me everything.
Bryce jerked back as if he'd been hit and retreated to the hallway. With his shoulders hunched over and his head bent, he stood there and shook his head back and forth. His voice was muffled. "I have to go. That was my agent."
"Go!" I looked away and felt a wall come over me. I didn't look again, not even when he came over and kissed my forehead or when the door closed behind him. The car sounded shortly after that and then faded until I couldn't hear it any longer. That was when Corrigan came to the doorway with a glass of wine in hand. "Did Bryce just leave?"
I turned and hugged him with all my might. Then I buried my head in his chest and choked on my first sob.
I curled up in the same chair as before and watched through the window, but I didn't see anything. I wasn't looking for anything. A blanket was draped over me, but I sat there frozen. Corrigan laid on the bed most of the time. He'd reach over and hug me once in awhile. When I'd start crying, he'd lift me up and set me on his lap. He'd cradle me as if I were a child. When the tears subsided, he'd let me go back to the chair alone until it started again.
Denton stopped in a few times. He brought bottles and bottles of wine. Corrigan mostly left them alone, but he opened one and passed it between the two of us until my eyes started to droop. I fell asleep, and when I woke, I found myself in the bed. Corrigan was beside me, holding my hand and snoring into my hair. He tossed an arm over me, as if comforting me still in his sleep.
I rolled to my side and rested my head on the pillow, content for the moment to watch him sleep. I'd never realized how angelic he seemed with his soft skin and long eyelashes. Then he opened them and something struck me. I blinked it away and pushed it down, because I couldn't handle it. Not then.
"Hey." He smiled back.
I snuggled into his side. "You're my best friend."
He tucked his chin into the crook of my neck. "I know."
His breathing was deep, and a moment later I heard his snores. I felt them against my neck while I remained awake. My eyes were wide open. When Corrigan woke a few hours later, he looked up, and I saw the sleep still in his eyes.
He asked, "Did you sleep?"
"Oh." He frowned and then pushed up on his elbow to run hand through his hair. "Why?"
"I don't want to talk about it. We should go back." Then I stood up and started to rummage through my clothes. With jeans, shirt, bra, and underwear in hand, I went to the bathroom.
"Sheldon." Corrigan stopped me in the doorway.
I looked back and waited for him to ask, but he didn't. I didn't want to talk about Bryce. I didn't know when I would, but it certainly wasn't going to be then. He sighed, "Nevermind."
I tried to tell him thanks with my eyes, but I turned when I felt a tear threatening to spill out. After ducking into the bathroom, I quickly showered and dressed. I emerged feeling still dirtied, but it wasn't something that was going to be leaving me anytime soon. So I took a deep breath and wove my shoulder length hair up in a little French braid. I wasn't one to put my hair up in those fancy twists, but something new struck me. I didn't want to feel my hair on my shoulders any longer. It needed to be off, up, out of my face.
When I was done, I looked in the mirror. A stranger stared back at me. I no longer recognized her: thin frame, skinny arms, huge eyes, huge mouth, and something in her that no longer made sense. It was like I was looking at myself from out of my body. I felt weird and, yet, comforted at the same time.
Someone knocked on the door and I called out, "Yes?"
Denton's voice was muffled. "Corrigan said you're leaving?"
"Yes." I didn't open the door. In fact, I didn't break eye contact with my reflection.
"Can you open the door?" He sounded aggravated.
When I did, he looked it too. I didn't mention it. "Bryce took the car. Can we use one of yours?"
Denton looked taken aback but recovered quickly. "I…yes. Yes, of course. I can come later in the week to get it. That's no problem."
"Good." I reached to close the door again.
"Sheldon." Denton blocked it with his leg and his hand shot out. His eyes searched mine. "Are you okay? You look…"
"What?" I was detached, but calm. Everything was fine.
And like Corrigan, he closed his mouth and shook his head. "Nevermind."
It didn't take me long to pack. When Corrigan and I left, Denton seemed reserved. Sondra acted giddy, but she kept throwing looks at Denton. I had no idea why, but I hugged her stiffly. My