258,655
07.03.2019

And I make sure I walk away first.

I stride toward my office. But I can’t help but stop at Erin’s desk when they walk by. As Kate turns to close her office door, our eyes meet. And she smiles at me. And for the first time in my life, I don’t know what it means.

Is she reassuring me that nothing’s changed? That nothing will? Is she saying thank you for bringing that f**k nut crawling back to her? I just don’t know.

And it’s driving me crazy.

I clench my jaw and stalk toward my own desk, slamming the door behind me. And then I pace. Like a soon-to-be father outside the delivery room, waiting to see if everything that means anything to him will come out unscathed.

I should have told her. Last night. When I had the chance. I should have explained how much she means to me. What I feel for her. I thought I had time. I figured I’d ease into it, slowly work up to it.

Stupid.

Why didn’t I just f**king tell her?

Goddamn it.

Maybe she already knows. I mean, I brought her to my apartment, I cuddled with her. I worshiped her. I f**ked her without a rubber—three times. She’s got to know.

Erin quietly enters the room. I must look like a disaster, because her face is soft with sympathy. “So, Kate and Billy are talking, huh?”

I snort. “Am I that obvious?”

She opens her mouth, probably to tell me yes, but closes it and starts again. “No. I just know you, Drew.”

I nod.

“You want me to take a walk? See what I can see…or hear?”

“You think that’ll work?”

She smiles. “The CIA would be lucky to have me.”

I nod again. “Okay. Yeah. Go do that, Erin. See what’s going on.”

She walks out. And I go back to wearing a hole in the rug. And pushing my hand through my hair until it sticks up like I’ve been struck by lightning.

A few minutes later, Erin comes back. “The door’s closed, so I couldn’t hear anything, but I peeked through the glass. They’re sitting in front of her desk, facing each other. He’s got his head in his hands, and she’s listening to him talk. Her hand is on his knee.”

Okay. He’s pouring his heart out. And she’s being sympathetic. I can live with that. Because then she’s going to crush him, isn’t she? She’s going to tell him to screw off. That she’s moved on—found someone better. Right?

Right?

Christ, just f**king agree with me.

“So…what should I do?”

Erin shrugs. “All you can do is wait. And see what she says when they’re done.”

I’ve never been good at waiting. No matter how hard my parents tried, I could never wait until Christmas morning to find out what I got. I was like a mini-Indiana Jones—searching and digging until I found every single gift.

Patience may be a virtue, but it’s not one of mine.

Erin stops at the door. “I hope it works out, Drew.”

“Thanks, Erin.”

And then she leaves. And I wait. And think. I think about the look on Kate’s face when she was crying at her desk. I think about the panic she was in when she saw Warren at the bar.

Was that all I was to Kate? A distraction? A means to my own end?

I start pacing again. And praying. To a God I haven’t spoken to since I was ten years old. But I talk to him now. I promise and I swear. I barter and beg—fervently.

For Kate to choose me.

The longest ninety minutes of my life later, Erin’s voice hisses out of the intercom on my desk.

“Incoming! Incoming! Kate, nine o’clock.”

I dive across my desk, knocking pens and paperclips to the floor. I push my chair up, smooth my hair down, and shuffle some papers around so it looks like I’ve been working. Then I take a deep breath. Pull it together.

It’s game time.

Kate opens the door and walks in.

She looks…normal. Completely herself. No guilt. No anxiety. Not a care in the world.

She stands in front of my desk. “Hi.”

“Hey.” I force myself to smile casually. Even though my heart’s pounding in my chest. Kind of like a dog’s would—just before he’s put down.

I should make small talk so I don’t look too eager—too interested. But I just can’t manage it. “So…how’d things go with Billy?”

She smiles softly. “We talked. We said some things that I think we both needed to hear. And now we’re good. Really good, actually.”

God. Can you see the knife sticking out of my chest? Yeah—the one she just twisted. They talked—they’re good—really good. She took him back.

Fuck.

“That’s great, Kate. Mission accomplished, then, huh?” I should have been an actor. I deserve a goddamn Academy Award after this.

Her brow wrinkles. “Mission?”

My cell phone rings, saving me from this nightmare of a conversation.

“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 f**king 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 f**king 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 f**king 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 f**king 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.

Chapter 18

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.

Everywhere.

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 f**ked, 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.

Gone.

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.

We crawl.

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 f**king 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.

Irreplaceable.

And then one day—you don’t know how or when it happened—you realize it’s gone.

Lost.

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 p**sy. Call me a bitch. I deserve it. And I don’t care.

Not anymore.

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.

❮❯