How the hell do I ask him to tie himself to that bullshit long-term? He’s been so patient and encouraging already, but this is too much for anyone to handle. It’s too much for me.
I see the alarm on his face, and I know what comes next. The pain, the betrayal. I don’t want to do this to him. He deserves better and probably always has. We were a mess from the start and maybe it’s fitting it should be just as messy at the end. He won’t understand, but he’ll get over it. They always do.
“I’m sorry, Conor. It’s over.”
This isn’t funny. Because she has to be messing with me, right? Some sick idea of a joke. In lieu of presents I will be scaring the shit out of you.
“I’m serious,” she says, looking at her feet.
I came up to the Kappa house to find her acting suspiciously, like she was making an escape. Bag slung over her shoulder. She looks worn out, ragged, and if I didn’t know better, I’d think she was hung-over. Yet there’s a coldness about her. Her expression hard and impassive, as if my Taylor isn’t even in there anymore.
“Listen, I’m sorry, but you’re just going to have to accept it. This is over.” She shrugs. “I’ve got to go.”
Like hell it is. “Talk to me,” I order.
She’s got Sasha with her and they start walking toward a red car parked at the side of the house. I leave the flowers behind to follow them, because she’s not pulling this shit today.
“You’re seriously breaking up with me? On your birthday? The fuck is that, Taylor?”
“I know this is shitty,” she says, walking fast and refusing to look at me, “but it’s the way it has to be. Just…I’m sorry.”
“I don’t believe you.” I step in front of her, needing her to look me in the eyes and tell me the truth. I notice Sasha trying to edge away from us, but Taylor glances over in panic and Sasha stops. She stands a few feet away, but doesn’t leave.
“It doesn’t matter what you believe,” Taylor mutters.
“I love you.” And yesterday I would have said she loved me too. “Something’s happened. Just tell me what it is. If someone said something to make you think—”
“It was a fling, Conor. It’s run its course. You’ll bounce back.” Her gaze drops to the pavement. “We both got in over our heads.”
“What does that even mean?” This woman is fucking infuriating. I feel like I’m losing my mind. Everything up is down and left is right. It makes no sense that yesterday she was in my bed and today she’s practically running at the sight of me. “I was in this for real. I am in it. And I know you were too. Why are you lying?”
“I’m not lying.” Her indignation is far from compelling and the more she feeds me this bullshit, the less I can remember why I’m still standing here like a jackass getting my heart stomped on. “Whatever you want to call it—”
“A relationship,” I growl. “It’s a fucking relationship.”
“Well, not anymore.” She sighs, and at this point I’d believe she didn’t give a shit about me if it weren’t for the fact that I know her better than she’d like to admit. “The semester is ending, anyway. You’re going back to California and I’m going home to Cambridge, so. The long-distance thing never works.”
“I wanted you to come stay with me. Already cleared it with Max and my mom.” I shake my head in frustration. “They were excited to meet you, T. My mom was redecorating one of the spare bedrooms for you.”
“Yeah, well…” She fidgets, eyes bouncing from the ground to the road. Anywhere but me. “I don’t know where you got the idea I wanted to spend the summer with your parents. I never said yes.”
Taylor isn’t a cruel person. She doesn’t treat people like this. Even me. Even when I was breaking her heart because I was too afraid to face her. She isn’t this heartless.
“Why are you doing this?” This act, this façade she’s put on, is nothing like the person I’ve known for the past few months. “If this is about the whole thing with Kai, I’m sorry. I thought we’d—”
“Maybe you guys should take the night to sleep on it and talk again tomorrow,” Sasha cuts in, her attention trained on Taylor. I don’t know Sasha well, but even she is giving off a sketchy vibe.
Taylor moves to go around me so I block her path. She glares at me not with anger but something that resembles defeat.
“Just level with me, Taylor.” This is exhausting and I don’t know how else to get through to her, to break through this barrier she’s erected between us. Even the first night we met I never felt this distant from her. As if she’s looking past me. Invisible. Irrelevant. “You owe me that much. Just tell me the truth.”
“I don’t want you as a boyfriend, okay? Are you happy now?”
The gun was loaded that time. Bullet goes right through my chest.
“Like, seriously, Conor, you’re a great guy and you’re good looking, but what else do you have going on? You have no idea what you want to do with the rest of your life. You have no ambition. No plan or prospects. And that’s fine for you. You can live in your parents’ house and hang out on the beach for the rest of your life. Well, I want more for myself. It was fun, but next year we’ll be seniors and I’m ready to grow up. You’re not.”
At that, she grabs Sasha’s hand and pushes past me.
This time I let her go.
Because finally she hit the nail on the head, what I’ve always known and hoped she’d ignore—that we’re on two different paths. Taylor is bright and motivated. She’ll accomplish whatever she sets her mind to. I’m…a fuckup. A perennial drifter carried on the current with no aim or drive of my own.
Sasha’s car pulls out down the driveway and disappears around the corner.
A pang of loss stabs me square in the gut. A deep, buried memory of pain breaks the surface. A child’s memory of being in a darkened room, crying, alone and unconsoled. It was the first time I realized I had no father, when I was truly old enough to understand that it was something other kids had, but not me. Not because he died, but because we weren’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough. Abandoned. Disposable. Garbage.
It was bound to happen. That moment Taylor woke up and realized she was out of my league. That she’d been too quick to forgive me for running out on her over Kai. I’d kept her hanging and waited too long to figure out my feelings for her. I waited too long to make my intentions clear and define our relationship. I was selfish to think she needed me, wanted me, enough to be patient. I took her for granted because no one had ever made me feel as comfortable and accepted as she did. No one had ever given me that sense of self-worth before she did.
And now the best thing that’s ever happened to me just drove away.
I only watch shows with British accents now. It’s like going on vacation without having to put on pants. On Friday I skipped class—it was just a review anyway—turned off my phone, and dove into my to-be-watched list that has languished for months. When that failed to adequately distract me, I signed up for about a dozen streaming free trials.