How is he looking at me? Is that sympathy? Or is he haunted and suffering like me? I can’t tell anymore, but I can’t stand it. I just need a way out of this room. Out of this horrifying moment. “Elijah.” I pat his hands and step back. “I love a party, but I’m going to sit this one out.”
“No. You can’t leave like this.” Panic swells in his eyes, joining the denial already there. “Not with everything on the table and nothing worked out.” His chest is lifting and falling faster and faster. “Addison. We have to resolve this.”
“We’ll work it out at home.” I smile even though it must be pathetic. Even though I’m lying right to his face. “I’ll see you at home.”
In my utter desperation, my lie is the epitome of convincing, though, and he seems to buy it. He’s not happy, but with the music beginning to blare upstairs, both of us know the new mayor doesn’t have a choice but to leave. To talk and shake hands and receive congratulations for the next several hours. I’m banking on him living up to his responsibilities, as usual, because I have to get out of here and keep moving. I’ll drop otherwise.
A voice comes over a loudspeaker upstairs and his name—along with his new official title—is called to the sound of booming applause and whistles. When Elijah’s eyes slide closed, I start to step back, but at the last second, something compels me forward and I lift up, pressing a kiss to his mouth. With a broken sound, he tries to bury his fingers in my hair, tries to deepen the kiss, but I’m already on my way to the door.
“Looks like I’m the one all dressed up with nowhere to go this time.” Over my shoulder, I toss back the words from the day he climbed into my car, followed by a genuine smile. I can’t help it. He might have broken my heart, but I still love him. I’ve loved every second I’ve been given with him. “Later, Captain.”
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There’s a state between sleep and wakefulness I get stuck in sometimes. My common sense swears I’m alone, the only one occupying my room. But the part of my brain that’s dreaming causes me to see things. People. They want to ask me questions. To work. No matter how many times I remind myself I’m alone in my bedroom, I can’t block out the dream.
That’s how I feel for the rest of the day. Like I’m half asleep and being harassed by figments of my imagination. Only, unlike my dreams, I’m gutted where I stand.
Being on the receiving end of applause and back slapping and bullshit is unacceptable. Don’t they know the most incredible person on the planet just told me she loves me…and I let her leave? How did I let her leave?
Worse, how could I not say it back?
The words were right there in my mouth and I kept swallowing them. Because I didn’t want to lie? Or was it something else? Hours later, I’ve still got an axe buried in the center of my chest and the wound only deepens the longer it takes me to get home to Addison. Although I have no idea what’s going to happen when I get there. Things can never go back to the way they were. The loss of the reality I lived in this morning is catastrophic.
For the last twenty minutes, I’ve been nodding at the state senator’s son, but I can’t recall a single word he’s said. I think it might have been something about government subsidies? Or possibly a recipe for pork marinade. That could have been the last guy I spoke with, too. How long until this party ends? Every time someone leaves, two people seem to take their place. Reminding myself of the important job ahead of me doesn’t help at all. None of it seems to mean a damn thing without Addison here.
When the senator’s son launches into a story about his glory days on the gridiron, I drift back in time myself. To the only other time a woman told me she loved me. Naomi. I was walking her to her car after a date, wasn’t I? My memory of where or when is hazy at best, but we’d probably been dating about two or three months. The appropriate amount of time for an announcement like I love you. I said it to her, because tradition dictates the man say it first—and we were all about tradition. She said it back. I opened the car door for her and waved her off as she drove away.