“Hello?” It’s Steven. But Kate doesn’t know that. I force my voice to sound strong. Energized. “Hey, Stacey. Yeah, baby, I’m glad you called.”
Always score first. Remember?
“Sorry I missed you on Saturday. What was I doing? Nothing important—a little project of mine. Something I’ve been trying to get done for a while. Yeah, I’m finished with it now. Turned out it wasn’t as good as I thought it’d be.”
Yes, my words are calculated. Yes, I hope they hurt her. What did you expect me to say? This is me you’re talking to here. Did you really think I’d sit back like a chump while Kate gave me the brush-off?
No fucking way.
I ignore Steven’s confusion on the other line and compel my lungs to laugh. “Tonight? Sure I’d love to see you. Right, I’ll bring the taxi.”
Why are you looking at me like I’m the bastard? I gave Kate everything I have, everything I’m capable of. And she kicked me in the fucking teeth with it. I opened up my soul to her—and I know how pussified that sounds. But it’s true. So don’t look at me like I’m the bad guy, because—for once—I’m not.
I loved her. God, I fucking love her. And right now, it’s killing me. I feel like one of those patients on ER who get their chests cracked open with a freaking rib spreader.
With the phone still on my ear, I finally look up at Kate. And for a second, I can’t draw a breath. I thought she’d be pissed, maybe disappointed that I tossed her to the curb first. But that’s not how she looks.
Have you ever seen someone get hit?
I have. Matthew, in our younger years. And Jack, on occasion, hasn’t moved fast enough after coming on too strong to the wrong woman. When they got smacked—there was this expression. It only lasted a few seconds. Their whole face just went white…and blank. I guess it’s shock, like they can’t believe what just happened actually happened to them.
That’s what Kate looks like.
Like I slapped her across the face.
You think I should feel guilty about that? You want me to be sorry? Well too fucking bad. I can’t. I won’t. She made her decision. She made her choice.
Now she can choke on it.
I cover the mouthpiece of the phone. “Sorry, Kate, I have to take this. I’ll see you at lunch, okay?”
She blinks twice. Then turns and walks out of my office without a word.
AFTER KATE LEAVES, things are…hazy. Isn’t that how they always describe it? Victims of some catastrophic train wreck? That, in the moments after, it’s all unclear. Unreal.
I tell Erin I’m sick. Her smile is sad and pitying. Before I get in the elevator, I look back at Kate’s office, hoping to see her again. Just to torment myself.
But her door is closed.
It’s raining outside. A winter downpour. The kind that soaks your clothes and chills you from the inside out. It doesn’t bother me.
I walk back to my apartment, numb and dazed. Like a zombie from some low-budget horror film who doesn’t react, even when he cuts his own foot off with a chainsaw.
But when I make it through the door—that’s when my senses kick back in. When I start to feel again. And I feel Kate.
I can still see her eyes, heavy lidded with heat. I hear her whisper in my ear as I fall on the bed. Her scent covers my pillow. And I just can’t get past the fact that she was right here a few hours ago. And I could touch her and look at her and kiss her.
And now I…can’t.
It’s like when someone dies. And you can’t believe they’re really gone because you just ran into them yesterday. They were right there with you, alive and real. And that’s the memory you hold on to—the moment you mourn the most.
Because it was the last.
When did it happen?
That’s what I can’t figure out. When did Kate become so important to me that I can’t function without her? Was it when I saw her crying in her office? Or the first time I kissed her in mine? Maybe it happened when Anderson insulted her, and I wanted to kick his ass for it. Was it that first night at the bar? The first time I looked into those endless brown eyes and knew I had to have her?
Or was it here? In my apartment? In any one of the hundred times I touched her…
God, why didn’t I see it sooner.
All those weeks—all those months—wasted. All those women I fucked, whose faces I can’t even remember. All the times I pissed her off, when I could have been making her smile. All those days I could have been loving her. And getting her to love me.
Women fall in love quicker than men. Easier and more often. But when guys fall? We go down harder. And when things go bad? When it’s not us who ends it? We don’t get to walk away.
I shouldn’t have said those things. In my office. Kate didn’t deserve that. It’s not her fault she doesn’t want what I want. That she doesn’t feel what I feel.
Christ, this is awful. Just fucking kill me.
Where’s a stray bullet from a random drive-by shooting when you need one?
Have you ever felt like this? Have you ever held something that meant…everything to you? Maybe you caught a home run ball as it flew over the fence? Or looked at a picture of yourself from some sweet, unforgettable time? Maybe your mother gave you a ring that belonged to your grandma’s grandmother? Whatever it is—you look at it and swear you’ll keep it forever. Because it’s that special. Precious.
And then one day—you don’t know how or when it happened—you realize it’s gone.
And you ache for it. You’d give anything to find it again. To have it back with you, where it was always supposed to be.
I curl myself around the pillow. I don’t know how long I stay there like that, but the next time I open my eyes and look out the window, it’s dark. What do you think they’re doing right now? Celebrating probably. Going out. Or maybe staying in.
I stare at the ceiling. Yes, those are tears. Liquid regret.
Go ahead—call me a pussy. Call me a bitch. I deserve it. And I don’t care.
Do you think he has any idea how lucky he is? How blessed?
Of course he doesn’t. He was the idiot who let her go. And I was the idiot who couldn’t keep her.
Maybe they won’t last. Maybe they’ll break up again. When Kate realizes she deserves better. But I guess that won’t make a difference for me, huh? Not after what I said. Not after I put that look on her face.
I roll off the bed and fall toward the trashcan. I barely make it before I wretch and heave. And anything that was in my stomach isn’t.
And that’s the moment—there on my knees. That’s when I tell myself I have the flu. Because this…this broken wreck can’t really be me.
If I’m just sick, then I can take some aspirin, get some sleep, and I’ll feel better. I’ll be me again. Eventually. But if I admit I’m crushed, if I acknowledge that my heart has been shattered into a thousand fucking shards…then I don’t know when I’ll ever be all right again. Maybe never.
So I get back into bed. To wait it out.
Till I’m over the flu.
SO THAT’S IT. That’s my story. The rise. The fall. The end. And now—here I am—in this lousy restaurant Alexandra and Matthew dragged me to, where I just finished telling them pretty much the same story I told you.
When I was six, I learned how to ride a bike. Like all kids when they first take the training wheels off, I fell. A lot. Any time it happened, Alexandra was the one who was there. She dusted me off, kissed the scrapes away and convinced me to climb back on. So it’s only natural that I expect my sister to be compassionate about my heartache. Gentle. Sympathetic.
What I get is, “You’re a goddamn idiot, you know that, Drew?”
I bet you were starting to wonder why we call her The Bitch. Well, here you go.
“Yes, sorry is exactly what you are. Do you have any idea what a mess you’ve made? I always knew you were spoiled and self-centered. Hell, I was one of the people who made you that way. But I never thought you were stupid.”
“And I could have sworn you were born with testicles.”
I choke on my drink. And Matthew laughs.
“I’m serious. I distinctly remember changing your diaper and seeing those cute little guys hanging there. What happened to them? Did they shrink? Disappear? Because that’s the only reason I can think of to explain why you would behave like such a pathetic no-balls coward.”
“Jesus Christ, Alexandra!”
“No, I don’t think even He can fix this.”
Defensive anger seeps into my chest. “I really don’t need this right now. Not from you. I’m already down—why the fuck are you kicking me?”
She scoffs, “Because a swift kick in the ass is exactly what you need to pick yourself up. Did you ever even consider that when Kate said they were ‘really good,’ perhaps she meant they were civil? That they had decided to be friends? Part amicably? If you knew half as much about women as you think you do, you’d understand that no woman would want to end a ten-year relationship on bad terms.”
That doesn’t even make any sense. Why would anyone want to be friends with someone they used to be able to fuck and can’t anymore? What would be the frigging point? “No. You’re totally off base.”
She shakes her head. “Regardless, if you had acted like a man instead of a wounded little boy, you would have told her how you felt.”
Now she’s just pissing me off. “Do I look like a fucking asshole to you? ’Cause I’m not. And there’s no way I’m going to put myself out there and chase after someone who wants to be with somebody else.”
A look washes over Alexandra’s face that I’ve never seen before. At least not directed at me.
“Of course not, Drew. Why should you chase anyone, when you’re so content to let everyone chase you?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means everything has always been easy for you. You’re handsome, intelligent, you have a family who loves you and women who lay down for you like sacrificial lambs. And the one time you have to struggle for something you want—the one time you have to risk your heart for someone who’s finally worth it—what do you do? You give up. You shoot first and ask questions later. You curl up in a ball and wallow in self-pity.”
She shakes her head slightly, and her voice softens. “You didn’t even try, Drew. After all that. You just…threw her away.”
I look down at my drink. My voice is quiet. With remorse.
Don’t think I haven’t thought about it. Don’t think I haven’t regretted my words or lack thereof. Because I have. Bitterly. “I wish…but it’s too late now.”
Matthew finally speaks up. “It’s never too late, man. The game’s not over; it’s just rain delayed.”
I look at him. “Has Delores said anything to you? About Kate and Billy?”
He shakes his head. “Not about them…but she’s had a whole lot to say about you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean Dee hates your guts. She thinks you’re a scumbag. Seriously, dude, if you were on fire in the street? I don’t think she’d spit on you.”
I roll that information around for a minute. “Maybe she hates me because I fucked her cousin’s fiancé?”
“Maybe she hates you because you broke her best friend’s heart?”
Yeah. It’s a toss-up. No help there.