“Did something happen before that? I mean, babe, you called specifically to tell me that Nate wants to talk. Considering you are both shacked up together and sleeping together, that’s telling me there’s something significant to this ‘talk,’ and that’s why you’re calling me about it.”
I hesitated, but Ricci was right.
I was pushing out the door, stepping out into the street.
“I—I’ve been pulling away from him.”
“Pulling away? You told me that you had great sex, and then bam, this came up. You were pulling away before that?”
“Yeah,” I confessed.
I’d been so stupid.
Ricci sounded confused. “Why would you do that? Are you okay?”
I hesitated again, but this was why I called her. I needed to talk it through with someone.
“I’m in love with him.”
Ricci snorted. “Duh. Who wouldn’t be in your shoes? He’s a great guy, and you’re living with him. You’re both raising Nova. If that’s not the recipe for falling in love, then I’m clueless about how the world works. But, babe. What’s wrong with falling in love with him?”
“I’m worried that he’s tired of it.”
I sighed. “I know, but I pulled away from him.”
“Yeah. Not connecting the dots here. Wait. I’m not saying this to upset you, but how you’re thinking right now, could this be because of your dad?”
“What?” I reeled on that one.
“Yeah, like your father’s programmed you to think everyone’s going to leave you or something like that? I don’t know what your dad’s said to you, but I know he used to say things to you. You’d pull away from people. I saw it over and over again, and I always knew it wasn’t healthy. Is that what’s happening here? Do you think maybe you’re sabotaging yourself?”
A memory pierced me, coming at me hard and fast.
“She doesn’t really love you.”
I stared up at my dad, and I just got off the phone with Mom. “What?”
“They don’t love you.” His eyes were so cold. “You can’t believe what she says. I know your mother. She only thinks about herself. She cares about you, but she doesn’t love you. Not really. Not deep down. At least, not like the rest of her kids.”
He said it so casually, as if he were helping me in the long run.
He looked at me as if he were doing me a favor, but there’d been no remorse. Nothing. He meant what he said.
Searing pain burrowed deep in me, because it wasn’t the first time he said it. Or the second.
It’d been the thirtieth by then.
I was six.
And it still hurt.
He said it about everyone.
It happened so many times it was common practice, and… Was she right?
But no. “Ric, he doesn’t love me back.”
“He doesn’t love me.”
People were moving around me. Someone shoved into me, dipping around.
“Move it, lady.”
“Fucking—” a guy cut me off, darting around me.
I heard them all. I felt them all, but I was locked in this phone call.
“How do you know? He might love you.”
I was a blister. I was raw and bleeding, and I was trying to pop my own sore, trying to get the healing started because I needed it.
“He told me. He doesn’t love me.”
“When?” She got quiet.
I shrugged. “Does that matter?”
“Yes! It matters. When did he tell you that? Before or after you started sleeping together?”
“When we first started.”
He didn’t love me while I loved him, and when he woke me up like he did this morning, I loved him even more. If this kept going, I’d keep falling. Harder. Faster.
I’d be so deep, there’d be no way out when he’d end things between us, because he would end things. There was always an end when someone didn’t love the other one.
I’d been falling hard and fast since the first time I saw him.
“Honey.” Her words were twisted in sympathy.
“I’ve been pulling away because I’m trying to protect myself. It’s not working, Ric. It’s….” It was hurting to breathe.
It was hurting to just stand here and have this conversation because once I said the words, it’d be real. Once I told someone about it, I’d have to deal with it.
I’d have to leave.
But I couldn’t.
I would never leave Nova. Not ever.
“I love him.”
A soft sigh from her. “I’m so sorry, Quince.”
“Are you absolutely sure that he doesn’t love you back?”
I don’t love you… But I want to fuck you.
“Okay. This is what we’re going to do. You are not going to think about this anymore. Set it aside. Push it to the back of your head because you have a show tomorrow. You’re going to do your show, and you’re going to ace it, and I’m going to be there for you afterward. You can come stay here that night.”
“Ricci,” I started.
“No. Hear me out. You need a night away. A night to compose yourself. You’ll be fresh off the show. You’re going to be exhausted, have adrenaline in you, and your emotions will be all over the board.”
“He wants to talk tomorrow night.”
She got quiet again. “What do you think he wants to talk about?”
I needed to move.
I needed to keep walking, get my food, and head back to rehearsals. I was losing time, but for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to move forward. It was as if this phone call took precedence over everything.
“Probably what he wanted to talk about today. I think he could feel how much I loved him, and I think he’s going to end it between us.”
“No. You don’t know that.”
But I did.
I felt it.
“Are you going to tell him how you feel?”
The pit of my stomach dropped out. I was gripping my phone so hard. I whispered, feeling like a coward, “I don’t know.”