He paused at the door. “Yeah?”
“We’ll be okay. We just need time to let each other go so we can make our way back to friendship.”
Even now, he wanted to reassure her. Hug her, stroke her back, and remind her that a crazy leap was just like a creative element. Sometimes you failed spectacularly. Sometimes you won spectacularly.
But this was a cop-out, a lie to keep from jumping at all. And that move, out of all of them, had completely destroyed them both.
He didn’t answer. Just walked out the door and out of her life.
Taylor stared at the canvas in front of her. She’d been at it for hours, but nothing made sense. The meandering mess of lines and colors tried to come together as a whole but was falling flat. Better to take a break and try again later.
She put down her brush and stretched out her cramped muscles. Uncorking a bottle of red, she climbed out to her balcony and sat on the wrought-iron chair, staring out at the crumbling yellow building across the road. A woman three stories down to the right was also outside, drinking a glass of wine, flipping through some type of magazine. She lifted her head, saw Taylor, and raised her glass of wine in a toast.
Taylor smiled, mimicked her movement, and drank.
Paris was everything she’d ever hoped for, but the city was now teeming with ghosts. The sight of the Eiffel Tower brought nothing but agony and images of Pierce in front of his camera, then kissing her while the crowd clapped. The streets were haunted with the cafés they’d eaten in and the sights they’d shared. But most of all, her apartment had become a tool of torture. She went to bed every night clutching the shirt he’d left behind, trying to wrap herself in his scent to soothe the pain.
After he left, her multiple texts went ignored the first few days. Then he’d finally responded.
Taylz, I can’t talk to you right now. I need time. This is not a punishment, but I can’t pretend to chat like a friend. Not for a while. I’ll see you at the wedding. Hope you understand and that you’re doing well in Paris and with your painting.
Each word was like a slash of a knife, cutting through her skin. She’d read it over and over, trying to decipher every emotion and nuance, until she lay on the sofa, exhausted and clutching her phone.
Another full week passed before she finally got herself together. After all, she’d been the one to send him away. She couldn’t waste any more days grieving and torturing herself over what-ifs. She’d come here to achieve her dreams, and that took work. So Taylor forced herself in front of the canvas every morning and didn’t stop until late at night. Slowly, images began to take hold, misty at first, then emerging from the background. She remained patient with her muse and her broken heart, putting her entire focus on the only thing she had left.
As the weeks passed, she fell into a routine. Lessons three times per week. Regular meetings with Luis. Appointments at galleries, meeting wealthy business owners and other artists, broadening her circle. She studied French every morning for an hour with a private tutor. Anything to fill up the empty spaces inside that Pierce had left behind. And though she loved every new experience, something always seemed to be missing.
Late one night, Taylor sighed and stared up at the full moon. At least the wedding was in three days. She’d been on the phone with her sisters almost every night, going over all the details. Her parents were there, and hearing their proud voices praising her for all her accomplishments brought silly tears to her eyes.
She also used those conversations to squeeze out every kernel of information she could about Pierce. She pretended that they’d decided to return to a platonic friendship and were both happy and satisfied with their mutual decision.
Lying was so much easier over the phone.
But right now, in this instant, she craved the sound of his voice. It was like a sickness crawling through her—this desperate need to make contact. What or who was he photographing lately? What did he have for dinner last night? Had he seen the latest episode of The Witcher? Did he miss her?
She looked at her empty glass of wine and buckled under the loneliness.
Taylor dialed his number.
One. Two. Three rings.
It was going to go to voice mail. He still refused to speak to her, even when they’d soon be walking down the aisle together as groomsman and bridesmaid.
Click. “Hello? Is this Taylor?”
The feminine voice caught her by surprise. She stared at the phone, trying to find her words. “Um, yeah. Who’s this?”
A light, tinkly laugh responded, like one of the Disney princesses Zoe loved. “It’s Samantha. I’m sorry, Pierce is in the restroom and left his phone. I didn’t want him to miss your call, so I figured I’d pick up. How’s Paris? Pierce filled me in, and your art show sounded so exciting! Congratulations on your success!”
Taylor’s stomach clenched into a hard knot. This was the woman she’d met at Pierce’s studio. The one he was eating breakfast with the morning she’d left. The one who seemed super friendly. Had they hooked up? Was this his new girlfriend? How could he dive into a relationship so soon after their breakup?
The questions circled her mind like a merry-go-round, but she was desperate to get answers while she could. “Thanks so much—I appreciate it. Paris is amazing! How are you guys doing? Where are you eating?”
“We’re all doing great here! Tonight, we’re at the Blue Pig.”
She stiffened. They rarely ate there due to the gourmet food and high prices, preferring to only go on special occasions. Pierce always loved casual dining and bigger plates. “Oh, fancy.”
Another laugh. The sound grated on her nerves. “We wanted to indulge for a change. And Pierce had a great day—did he tell you yet about the big sale?”
Taylor smothered the pain and lied. “Yes, isn’t it wonderful! What were the final details? He was going to tell me later since we didn’t have time to chat.”
“Oh, well, after he did so well with his collection at Escape, they offered him a monthly blog. He’s supposed to do a kind of photography-in-the-wild column, which I think he’s perfect for. It’s only a three-month contract, but if it goes well, they’ll extend it. I’m so happy to see both of you succeeding—it gives me hope I won’t always be at Key West Tacos! Oh, Pierce is back. I’ll hand you over.”