There was a pause.
“Why are you doing this?” She rubbed the bridge of her nose, wincing. “You don’t have to. Yet you’re still nice to me, even when giving me shit.”
“Oh,” I said breezily. “I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing this for me. Being good makes me sleep better at night. It’s not that I don’t suffer from the same symptoms as you—jealousy, heartache, insecurity. They’re the side effects of being alive, pretty much. But I learned a simple thing recently. That gap between reality and our dreams? That’s where life is tucked.”
In the end, I couldn’t do it.
Walk away from Chase without clearing the air, no matter how badly I knew I’d hurt if I saw his face again. Plus, there was the small matter of giving him back his trillion-dollar engagement ring.
The worst part was that it wasn’t even a conscious decision. I didn’t go through the normal route of picking up the phone and calling or texting him to set up a time and a place. You know, like a sane person would. I just found myself going to his place after work unannounced.
I hoped—fine, prayed—I’d have a few minutes alone in the apartment so I could compose myself (translation: have a mental breakdown and wash my face). The odds were in my favor. I knew Chase’s schedule, and it included visiting his parents after work to check on his father.
The doorman at his building, an older gentleman named Bruce, knew me by face and showed me in. Guess that was the upside of being the uncoolest person in the universe, as Nina had dubbed me. I didn’t look like the type to empty a billionaire’s apartment of possessions and jewelry.
“Haven’t seen much of you lately. Mr. Black has been a bit of a sour face since you stopped coming.” Bruce led me to the elevator. I still had the key from our first rodeo. Chase had never asked for it back, and I hadn’t exactly been in the mood to initiate more conversation with him. I pushed Chase’s door open just as my phone pinged with a message.
Sven: Bad news. The Dream Wedding Dress model never showed up. She was on location.
Maddie: Crap! Can we reschedule?
Sven: We don’t have time. We need to start making it tomorrow if we want to get everything on time. Aren’t you a size six?
Maddie: Sure. I’m also half her height.
Sven: Send me your measurements. I’ll adjust it accordingly when the prima donna can finally see us for a fitting.
I gave him my measurements and hit send. For the next hour, I gave myself a tour of Chase’s apartment, filing everything away in my memory, knowing it was the last time I was going to visit him. For real, this time. The azaleas, as I’d suspected, were nowhere to be seen. Not in any of the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the living room, or the kitchen. Finally, I collapsed on his couch, stared at the ceiling, and let out a sigh. I didn’t remember the exact moment I fell asleep. By the time I was jarred awake, my phone indicated it was close to one in the morning. I heard Chase messing with the lock outside his apartment and sat up straight, prying away the bits of hair that stuck to the dry saliva on my cheeks.
I heard his keys drop to the floor, a groan, and then a woman huffing and picking them up for him. A woman.
Déjà vu of the day Chase had walked into his apartment with a stranger slammed into me. I darted up, ready for a fight. Not that there needed to be one. We weren’t together anymore. Or ever. Yet I couldn’t help but think of him as mine.
“Hold still,” the woman murmured. He hiccuped. He was drunk. The door was pushed open. Chase came tumbling in, his black dress shirt ripped open, supported by a slender woman who clutched his shoulder to keep him upright.
“Didn’t take you long to get over me,” I said, my fingers balling into a fist beside my body. Every one of my muscles shook with anger. “Again.”
He lifted his head at the exact same time the woman did. They both stared back at me.
It was Katie.
God, I was such an idiot. Now was a good time to put the engagement ring on his table and run for my life. Still, I was rooted to his floor.
“You’re here,” he said tonelessly.
“You’re . . . drunk,” I retorted, looking at Katie with what I hoped was an apologetic expression.
She smiled, depositing Chase against the door so she could come and give me a small squeeze. “Hey. Don’t worry. It’s not awkward between us at all. My brother felt a little worse for wear after work and decided to go drinking with some friends. I dropped by the bar he was at before I went home and found him like this. Figured he’d need a good night’s sleep before the hangover kicked in.”
“Good call.” I nodded.
“I’ll leave you two to it.”
Katie left, and then it was just Chase and me. A very drunk version of him, anyway. I felt furious with the universe for bringing Chase to me like this. Barely coherent, when there were so many things I wanted to say to him in what was going to be the last time we ever spoke.
I slid the ring off my finger. It was weird. Throughout the weeks we’d been pretend-dating, I’d been careful to remove it at work, but I’d enjoyed flaunting it practically any other time. While I was on the subway and went out with friends and took Daisy for walks. I saw other people checking out the engagement ring while I held the pole on the train or flagged a taxi or flipped a page on my Kindle while waiting for a hair appointment. I could see the wheels in their heads turning. The stories they made up for this spectacular ring. I loved this part the most. The guessing part. My wedding obsession, I realized, was also about the meet-cute. The falling-in-love story. I’d wanted to sit each of them down and tell them about Chase. About how funny and gorgeous he was. About how fiercely he loved his family, how deeply he cared for his niece.
“So I thought I’d stop by and give this to you.” I handed him the ring.
He ignored my outstretched hand, blinking as he tried to focus on my face. “Keep it.”
“Chase . . .”
“Sell it. Give it away. You earned it.”
I shook my head, my heart clenching painfully. “It’s too much.”
“I won’t return it.” He staggered to the living room, collapsing on the couch and turning on the TV. ESPN was his default channel. “I can’t even look at it.”
He looked so tired that I thought arguing with him about this was less kind than keeping the ring.