I rip the shirt off impatiently and pull one of my own from the drawer, not bothering with a bra. It’s a simple floaty black blouse with dark grey beading stitched across the front. I rake my hair over one shoulder.
He will leave in two days and then my city will be my own. I won’t have to wonder if I’ll run into him. He’ll be gone. In London.
Until he’s not.
Until he’s back in New York and I know about it from Twitter or the newspapers.
I close my eyes, anguish heavy upon me. I can hardly breathe.
I can’t lose him.
Maybe that’s just inviting pain. Maybe I’ll be hurt one day and it will be ten thousand times worse than what I went through with Jeremy because these feelings I have for Ethan are so different, so raw and powerful and pure. But I can’t walk away from what we share just because one day it might end. It would be like never going to school because one day you might lose your dream job.
What’s that expression about loving and losing? It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? Something like that.
I tiptoe out of my room and lift my keys silently from the nightstand. My clutch purse is there too. I remove my bank card and his key card and check my reflection—and thank Christ I had the foresight to do so when I see that yesterday’s mascara is now two sludgy racetracks along my cheeks.
I slip into the bathroom and lather my cheeks, washing away all of yesterday except the pieces I want to keep.
I love you.
I smile at my reflection. I clean my teeth, brush my hair, and then I sneak out of the apartment, making sure the door clicks softly behind me so as not to wake Cassie or Eliza.
I catch a cab but get it to pull over a block from the Gramercy. I stop for breakfast burritos and coffee. His love for fried food was a constant in our brief, blinding relationship. Besides, once I see him again I have no plans to leave his bed for the foreseeable future—arming myself with sustenance seems wise.
The waiting is soul-destroying. I glare at the burger flipper until finally he places the food into a brown paper bag and hands me the coffee cups in a recycled card tray.
‘Thanks,’ I mumble, pressing my card to the machine and then moving towards the Gramercy with my head bent.
The whole time I imagine what I’ll say to him.
How can I convey to him that I’m willing to risk everything—even my heart, even knowing what heartache feels like? How can I apologise for letting him down last night? For not being brave when he was so far out on a limb?
I keep my head down as I glide into the Gramercy, wincing as a flash goes off in my face. I’ll get better at that. I’ll learn to live with the paparazzi and the other women who want Ethan I-love-you Ash.
Because he does love me.
Believing that takes a leap of faith, but I’ve already leapt. For him. And for myself.
Because it’s what my own heart demands of me.
I jam my finger against the button for the lift impatiently, turning my back on the curious stares of a couple of women across the lobby. But heat spreads through my cheeks. They obviously know who I am, and can probably guess where I’m on my way to.
The lift whooshes open and I step inside, waving Ethan’s key over the panel and pressing the number for his floor. It climbs up quickly and smoothly—and, oh, my heart.
How it pounds and races and flips and flops.
I stare straight ahead, trying to look outwardly calm when I am an absolute mess.
What if he’s angry?
What if I hurt him too much?
Well, then, I’ll fix it. I’ll make him see that I was just scared.
And he’ll understand. Because he loves me.
I hold that thought to my chest like a talisman as I reach his door. I think about knocking. I lift my hand but something stops me. I smile slowly, imagining him asleep in bed, naked. I think of the best way to wake him up. The most meaningful apology.
I slip the key card from my back pocket and slide it in the door, then push the door inwards, juggling the coffee cups in one hand with the bag of burritos dangling from the same fingertips. I’m purposely slow because I don’t want to wake him prematurely.
But I needn’t have worried.