I could have denied it. I could have told him the whole story. I could have run. But I felt too hollowed out to move. I slumped onto my knees, wrapping my arms around my middle like that would somehow hold me together, like if I held hard enough, the pain wouldn’t creep in.
But it did.
And the empty spaces in me were suddenly full of the words I regretted and the shame I felt and the absence of him. There was nothing more to do, but cry.
It streamed from me slow and steady, rising like the tide, washing away everything I’d loved about our time together.
A hand touched my shoulder, and I spun around, hoping.
It was Cade.
Slow and unsure, he knelt beside me and took me in his arms. I hesitated for a moment, knowing how he felt, knowing how hard this must be for him, knowing that as usual he was too good to me.
Then I couldn’t resist any more. I was already selfish, what was the harm?
I burrowed into his arms, and let go. It was the ugly cry of all ugly cries, but I didn’t care. Because my capacity to ruin good things knew no bounds.
“It’s okay,” Cade told me. “It wasn’t that bad.”
“Wasn’t that bad?” I rubbed at my eyes, and my hands came back smeared black. “Maybe in comparison to the holocaust. But as break ups go, I think it was pretty bad.”
He stiffened. “You guys were together? Like really together?”
“For a couple weeks, technically, before I ruined it.” God, no wonder I was a virgin. I must have broken a whole world of mirrors in a past life.
Against all odds, he had actually liked me. Despite the fact that I ran out on him during sex with a terrible excuse. Despite the fact that I still wouldn’t sleep with him. Despite how horrendously fucking awkward I was. He liked me. I sobbed again, because it wasn’t fair.
“You like him a lot, don’t you?”
Struggling for breath, I nodded. “I do. I know it’s crazy. I know it’s stupid. But, but… we met before he was our professor, and I can’t just turn it off. I tried. We tried. I guess I’ll have to turn it off now.”
Cade rocked me back and forth, and even though it was nice, it made me feel young and immature. Unprofessional, just like Garrick had said.
“He’ll forgive you,” Cade said. “I would.”
I wanted to ask if that meant Cade forgave me now, but I was too afraid. So I stayed in his arms, crying and quiet, just in case this was only a temporary reprieve, in case this was all I would get.
By the time we left the studio, rehearsal was over, and everyone else had left. He walked me out to my car, and I started to hope… to hope that maybe we’d be okay. He didn’t kiss me on the cheek like he would have before. He rested a hand on my shoulder. And though it was different, it was enough.
“It will be okay,” He said. And I hoped he was talking about everything… about us, about Garrick, about life.
I needed everything to be okay.
Chapter Twenty- Two
I thought about going to his place as soon as I got home, but truth be told I was afraid. And it was so much easier just to feel sorry for myself. I had a tub of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream in my freezer on hold for just such occasions. It would have been nice to share it with Kelsey, but I couldn’t afford to share my secret with another person, and I wasn’t selfish enough to make Cade witness any more of my pity party. He promised he wouldn’t tell anyone, and I believed him.
I sat on one end of my couch, eyeing Hamlet spread out on the other end. I wondered if she might comfort me. She had been nice to me only once at another sad moment, so maybe I had a chance. I reached for her, and received not just her usual growl, but a hiss too.
She was clearly on Garrick’s side.
I thought about going to him a thousand times, maybe a thousand and one. But I had to face it—he had been out of my league from the very beginning. He would have gotten tired of me eventually, once the forbidden factor wore off. And I can’t even begin to contemplate what might have happened if we’d been caught. Even the thought of it brought adrenaline rushing through me, like when he’d kissed me in the lab for anyone to see. Maybe I was doing myself a favor, severing the ties now. I mean, it sucked times seven billion, but it would have been worse after more time.
In my dim, quiet apartment in my ice cream induced haze, I could admit that I had been falling for him. Our oh-so-brief relationship had been like spending a day in sunlight when you’ve lived your whole life underground (my former self being the mole man in this story). Maybe that was all we got when it came to relationships like that—flashes of sunlight. Maybe it was too bright to be sustained for any extended period of time. Maybe I should be thankful.
I didn’t feel thankful. I felt miserable (and full of ice cream).
We were in the lab again Wednesday, and he never came within three feet of my workspace. At rehearsal that night, he sat in the top row taking notes, and never said a word.
Thursday and Friday were the same. Though the acting in rehearsals had improved now that Cade and I had patched things up (sort of). We weren’t quite friends again. I didn’t see us hanging out alone any time in the future, but we could talk without any major disasters, and both of our minds had cleared enough to focus on the play.
I returned to my mole man state on the weekend, never leaving my apartment, showering only when absolutely necessary. Any other weekend, Kelsey might have forced me into an outing, but she was still a little ticked about my attitude at the club.
So, I was pretty much alone.
I had no one, but Hamlet. Who hated me with the fire of a thousand suns.
I passed an entire week in a state of loneliness before I had the nerve to do anything about it.
I dropped by during his office hours, too afraid to confront him at home or after class. When I approached the door, he was on the phone.
“I know,” He was nodding, smiling. “I know. I’ll be home before you know it. What is it, just three more months?”
I froze. I plastered myself to the wall outside his door, and my lungs seemed empty no matter how many breaths I took.
“That? No, I’m over it. It really wasn’t anything to begin with… just inconvenient.”
Something was crumbling inside me, something that had already been vulnerable and weak, but now was breaking and breaking.
“I should have known better. I know, but it’s over now, and I don’t really care anymore, you know? Yeah, yeah. I’ll find another place to work. It’s just not worth it.”
Not worth it?
I think, until then, I’d still hoped, even though I’d tried to talk myself out of it.
Hope… it was such a motherfucker.
I wouldn’t cry. He was over it. I needed to be, too. And I needed to make sure he knew it. If he was thinking about quitting to stay away from me, I had to fix that. I wouldn’t be the reason he left.
Before I could change my mind, I reached out and knocked on the doorframe, and stepped into the open doorway.
He looked up, and stuttered over whatever he was going to say next. He stared at me for a second, the phone forgotten in his hand.
Then finally, he blinked, and turned back to his conversation.
“Hey, I have to go. I’ll call you later, okay?”
I hated whoever was on the other end of that phone call. Was it a girl? Did he have a girlfriend back in Philly? Had it been just a fling for him, just sex (or well, almost sex)? Whoever it was spoke for another twenty seconds while he said yes and okay and nodded along.
When he hung up, I still had no idea what I was going to say.
He just looked at me for a moment, and then said, “How can I help you, Bliss?”
His formal tone made me queasy, but I tried to copy it as best as I could. “I just wanted to apologize for my behavior during our rehearsal together. Cade and I have worked everything out—“
He interrupted, “I noticed.”
My thoughts stuttered, fleeing for the moment. “So… I, uh, I promise it won’t happen again. In the future, I will maintain a professional attitude. I won’t bring my personal life into rehearsal or your classroom.”
He put down the pen he’d been toying with, and started to stand. “Bliss…”
Whatever he was going to say, I couldn’t hear it. If I had to listen to him try to let me down easy (when I knew he didn’t care), I would end up crying and making a fool of myself. So I cut him off.
“It’s okay. I’m over it. No big deal, right?”
He paused and I was certain he knew I was lying, certain he could see into my churning stomach, my wringing heart. I willed him to believe me.
I’m okay. I’m over it. I’m okay. Okay. Okay.
“Right,” he finally said.
I sucked in a greedy breath.
“Great. Thanks for your time. Have a nice day!” Then I was out the door and running, running, running down the stairs out into the air where I could gulp and fill my lungs until I no longer felt like crying.
From then on, I built walls with smiles and closed myself off with laughs. I made up with Kelsey, promising her I would go dancing whenever she wanted. I threw myself into rehearsal, memorizing all of my lines over a week before the off-book date. I willed myself into March like a soldier, moving forward, refusing to look back. Eric praised my work in rehearsals, saying he could feel my shame, my self-hatred in every word, could see it in even my posture. I smiled and pretended like I was glad to hear it.
I set my sights on graduation, when I would leave and go who knows where. Maybe I’d max out a credit card and go traveling with Kelsey. Maybe I’d go back home and work, save some money. Mom would just love that. Maybe I’d stay here, get a job at Target or something. I just had to get to the end. Things would get easier then. Then… I would deal. I’d tell Kelsey about everything, and we’d party the pain away. Then.
I couldn’t wait for Then.
It seemed possible. It seemed do-able.
Until the Now screwed everything up.
We were one week away from Spring Break—a much needed break. Friday afternoon had us all in the black box theatre for beginning directing scene workshops. The entire department was gathered into the theatre—the Junior directors petrified, everyone else ranged from boredom to sadistic glee.
I was just marching forward, willing the time to pass, until Rusty stood to make an announcement before the first scene.
He cleared his throat, remarkably serious for Rusty. “So… I went to the doctor yesterday…”
“And you’re pregnant?” Someone at the back shouted.
“No,” He smiled, albeit a small one. “Actually… I have mono.”
There was a beat before it sank in.
“The doctor said that the incubation is anywhere between four and eight weeks, which means I could have had it as far back as January or February. So… you might want to be careful about drinking after people and… other things.”
January or February. The party. I’d kissed Rusty at that party. We’d all kissed… everyone.
By instinct, my eyes sought out the other members of that spin the bottle game. Their expressions were just as anxious and fearful as my own. If Rusty was already contagious back then, that meant I would have it, along with Cade, and Kelsey and Victoria, and every person at that party.
I caught up to him as soon as the scenes were over. Actors milled about still in their costumes. Professors congratulated their students, and everyone gravitated toward their groups, making plans for the weekend. Everyone else seemed calm and happy, and I felt like the world was ending. Walking toward Garrick was up there with walking into a room filled with anthrax.
But I did it anyway.
Luckily, he wasn’t talking to anyone, just checking something on his phone. I stood behind him for a few moments. Just being this close to him affected me. It really was like a poison. I breathed him in, and I could feel it breaking down the walls and protection I’d built.