‘You love me too,’ he says, prowling towards me.
‘No!’ I deny it on every level except one. Deep in my heart I wearily admit the truth of what he’s said.
He kisses me gently. ‘Yes.’
And, infuriatingly, I feel him smile against my mouth.
I stamp my foot down on his. ‘No.’
He rips his mouth away in surprise, his eyes laughing when they meet mine. ‘What the hell...?’
But then he’s back, kissing me again, holding me to him, holding me tight.
‘You love me. And I know that you’re not ready to see that, or to say it. But I think you feel it. I’m not going to walk away from this.’
I make a shuddering noise, as though I’m hyperventilating.
‘I’m not going to crowd you either. I’m just going to be in your life until you’re ready.’
That same little kernel in my heart is jumping up and down. I ignore it.
‘Why?’ It’s a question loaded with suspicion.
‘Because this is special. I know that you’ve been hurt and that you’re shit-scared to trust someone again. But I’m not Jeremy. And I love you.’
‘Didn’t love you,’ Ethan murmurs. ‘No guy who really loved someone could do what he did.’
He shrugs, and the simple truth is sitting between us like a diamond I never noticed before.
It makes so much sense.
Jeremy never loved me.
It is so simple and so immediately freeing.
Except there’s nothing simple about the tangle of what I’m feeling now.
I’m still so angry. I’m angry at Jeremy and at Ethan, and I’m angry at myself for letting it get this far.
‘I need to go,’ I say.
‘Alicia,’ he says grimly. ‘Don’t walk away from this.’
I storm towards the door and wrench it inwards. I have no concept of what I feel, nor of what I want. I know only that I need to get away from Ethan before I start actual ugly crying.
‘I have to go.’ I force myself to meet his eyes. ‘I’m sorry.’
* * *
I don’t sleep. I brood. Ally has left me after I put everything on the line. Ally has left me after I did everything I could to help her see why she should stay.
She is everywhere I look in the hotel room. The bed smells of her, of me, of us. It is rumpled from where we lay. My towels have been used by her. We have made love on just about every surface of this damned hotel room.
I pace through it as the minutes of the night groan heavily, sombrely past. I am at the funeral of our relationship and I don’t know if I should rip my hair out or... I don’t know. I press my hands into my eyes, hard, and then I blink, staring out at the city as dawn slowly spreads like the yolk of an egg being cracked into a pan.
I stare at New York and I imagine I’m not here. That I’m back in London.
I try to picture my life BA—Before Ally—and I can’t.
I know I have a heap on in the next year, but suddenly it’s all so pointless.
Is she thinking of me? Is she missing me?
A little before six o’clock there is a knock at my door, and every part of me responds with a surge of relief. I wrench it inwards, a smile on my face as I prepare to pull Ally into my arms and do whatever it takes to keep her in my life.
My smile drops.
It’s not Ally.
* * *
I am in agony.
I am in pain.
I am alone.
I stare up at the ceiling, the incessant ticking of my clock like a sombre marching band. It is a noise that I used to find hypnotic and reassuring but that now makes me want to stab my ears.
Or is that just my general mood?
Everything seemed so easy two weeks ago. It all made so much sense.
We were fucking.
And having fun.
We both knew what was at stake if we fell in love. We both knew why we couldn’t.
And yet we did it anyway.
But love terrifies me. Loving Ethan even more so.
He’s not just a normal guy—someone I can trust to look after my heart and keep it safe with his. He is a rock star. A celebrity. He has the adoration of the world.
I would worry all the time that some other woman was going to usurp me.
It would be so much worse even than with Jeremy.
I give up on sleep. I’m exhausted, but the relief of dreams will not come. I am still wearing what I came home in yesterday. His shirt is soft against my skin. I breathe it in and I cry more tears. I sob into the darkness of my room. I pull my blinds aside a little and stare out at New York. A lamp from overhead casts a perfect cone of light into the street.