‘We both agreed. We want the same thing here.’
‘And what if that’s changing?’
‘No.’ My denial is sharp, and panic is obvious in my voice. ‘It can’t.’
‘For many, many reasons.’
‘Well... You’re not in any kind of place to be getting serious with anyone. And I’ve just... I’ve done that. I’ve done the whole falling in love thing. Getting to know someone. Swapping secrets. Planning a future.’
My voice cracks and I think of my engagement ring for the first time in months. Unconsciously I rub my finger, trying to focus my thoughts. Ethan is watching me, though, and I am distracted by him.
‘I’m not... I’m barely myself again. Eight months.’ My eyes feel hollowed out. ‘For eight months I have tried to make sense of how terribly things went wrong. I have tried to move on. To forget. To look in the mirror and see myself as someone other than that woman. It almost killed me when it ended.’
I stare at him, willing him to understand.
‘I’m still so...so broken. So broken. If I let myself... If I let you in and you hurt me... God, Ethan. I wouldn’t do so well.’
He pulls me close roughly, urgently, and he wraps his arms around me so tight, as though he can put me back together again.
‘I’m not going to hurt you.’
‘That’s exactly what he would have said.’
He doesn’t let go. And I really, really don’t want him to.
‘Okay,’ he murmurs against my hair. ‘I promise I’m not going to push this. We can do it your way.’
Relief—or I think that’s what it is—moves through me.
‘I’m not going to hurt you,’ he says again. ‘But I want to see more of you. I want to see as much of you as I can before I go.’
Hurt. Pain. It lashes through me.
Just contemplating his absence from my life, the finality of his departure, fills me with an ache I didn’t to expect.
And I know then that we have to shift the rules slightly. Because I don’t want him to go from my life and for me to realise I didn’t see as much of him as I could. I want to grab him with both hands while I have him, so long as my heart isn’t in play.
I nod slowly. ‘More is fine. Just so long as we both remember what we want here.’
‘You know what I want?’ he says seriously, his expression impossible to interpret.
‘I want a burger.’
‘A burger?’ I think for a second I’ve misheard.
‘Yeah.’ A sexy grin. ‘A burger. Whaddya say, Miss Douglas? Brave the streets of New York with me once more?’
I have become used to indecision. I think one thing and want another. And then I question what I want and what I think until they become tangled together. But I am glad for this change in conversation topic and tempo. It is a relief not to be thinking about defining what we are, nor the rules we have already agreed do define us. I try not to think of them as limiting us, because that has negative connotations and our boundaries are definitely a good thing.
‘A burger sounds good.’
It does. My stomach is prepared to answer that question.
‘I know just the place. How quickly can you get ready?’
The promise of food motivates me.
I shower in record time, pulling on what I arrived in the day before—a pair of jeans and an oversized shirt. I have just a few cosmetic basics in my handbag. I wipe some concealer underneath my eyes and some rouge on my cheeks, tap a little gloss over my lips. But I’ve forgotten a hairbrush, meaning my hair is wild and sex-styled. I comb it with my fingers and pull it over one shoulder.
He whistles when I step out of the bathroom, low and soft, but it makes my tummy flip-flop.
‘Same to you.’
He’s wearing jeans and a black shirt, with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. He’s got a black baseball cap on his head. Groan. He’s hot.
He puts a hand in the small of my back as we leave the hotel. The contact is nice. No, it’s better than nice.
The elevator doors swish open and we move inside, but the second we’re in he pushes me against the back wall and kisses me, his mouth on mine demanding. It is a kiss that drugs me with its intensity and changes the parameters of my existence.