The words kept coming, one after another, the emotion within them failing to stop the cracks in her heart. Chloe sat on the sofa mutely, eyes full of unshed tears as she watched Christian’s lips move, her mind numbly trying to absorb what he was saying.
Oh God, had he really just said that tired old line, “It’s not you, it’s me?”
Seriously, did people still come out with those old clichés and think they somehow spared the other person’s feelings? Because it wasn’t sparing her any as she listened to her lover of the past year explain why he was letting go, why he was walking away from something that had appeared so perfect to her right up until five minutes ago.
What had been so wrong with their relationship? They didn’t argue overly much and there had always been a good amount of communication between them. It wasn’t all based on lust and sexual attraction. They shared a lot of the same likes and dislikes and were able to debate anything they didn’t agree on without it turning into a personal attack against each other. In her mind, everything had been perfect.
“Christian, this doesn’t make sense,” she finally blurted out, wanting to halt the words coming from his mouth. “How could you make love to me last night knowing you didn’t want to be with me anymore? How could you tell me you loved me when you knew you were going to break up with me this morning?”
Her words ended on a strangled sob and the tears finally fell, hot and wet against her flushed cheeks. Chloe had never wanted to be the kind of woman who begged a man but she wanted to throw her arms around his neck and plead with him not to leave her.
She loved him. He was the one, that one person she’d been waiting for all her life. Why couldn’t he see that? Why didn’t he feel the same way? As she looked into his azure eyes, she could see the sadness within them, and knew that this moment was hurting him almost as much as it was her, but that didn’t make it any more palatable.
“I do love you, Chloe. I’ve never lied about that,” Christian said quietly, moving to sit beside her on the sofa and tentatively reaching out for her hand. “You’re not listening to what I’m saying, love, you’re only hearing bits of it and focusing on those. I need some space, some time alone to think about what I really want out of life. I’ve had the offer to go work in Italy for six months and that’s going to require all of my attention for a while. It’s unfair to ask you to sit here waiting for me.”
“You don’t have to take the job, Chris. You can tell them it’s not for you right now…or I could come with you. I can write anywhere. I’m not chained to a regular job like most people.”
He sighed deeply, staring down at the hardwood floor. “This placement is a stepping stone in my career, Chloe. You know that, we discussed it last weekend. We’ve never gotten in the way of each other’s careers. We’ve always respected our respective work fields. I know you’re hurting but please, don’t lay something like this on me, expect me to sacrifice a large portion of what makes me who I am.”
He sighed again and turned his head to look into her wet eyes, frowning at the misery he saw there. “This is make or break for me, love. I need this time apart to concentrate on what’s best for me. I know that sounds selfish to you and I’m sorry this is hurting you so badly. But this is what I need right now. Can’t you understand that just a little?”
Chloe sobbed harder, wrenching her hand from his, jumping up and pacing across the room. “You want me to understand? All I understand is you’re leaving and you’re giving me some bullshit about how unfair it is on me to expect you to come back in six months’ time, that you’re telling me to go meet other men like I’m a free agent. All I understand is that you won’t even countenance the thought that I could come with you, that we’re a couple and that’s what couples do.”
She stopped pacing, glaring at him with red eyes. “You just want to break up with me and are too chicken-shit to admit it. You’re trying to dress it up in fancy words but that’s what it boils down to. Just get out, Christian. Go find yourself, safe in the knowledge you can fuck as many Italian women as you want. I’m done!”
Chloe ran out of the sitting room, down the hall to her bedroom, and slammed the door closed. She tried to muffle the sound of her sobbing with her hands, before giving up and throwing herself onto the bed to bury her head under the pillow. She’d made more than enough of a fool of herself over him. She wasn’t going to let him see her cry anymore and she didn’t want to hear him leave. She just wanted to lie in a ball of misery until she could begin to heal and start moving on.
Christian hesitated at the bedroom door, hating the sound of muffled weeping within. He’d known Chloe would be upset but he hadn’t expected her to react this emotionally. She wasn’t the type of woman who was prone to emotional outbursts, she usually thought things through before discussing it calmly.
Sighing he rested his forehead against the door. “Chloe, I know you don’t believe this right now but I do love you and I am going to miss you very much while I’m away. I’ll call you when I get back. Maybe you won’t hate me as much and we can talk.”
There was no response and he sighed again, turning to leave the apartment, leaving his key on the table beside the door.
The costume party was in full swing, Chloe had opted to go as a Goth, choosing a black corset dress with a puffy lace skirt, complimenting it with fishnet gloves to her upper arms. It was the first time she’d gone out in over six months, having stayed home in her misery, staring at her phone waiting for Christian to text or call or something.
Finally, she’d realised how pathetic she was being and she’d bought a new phone. Changing her number had seemed symbolic to moving on with her life. It had been one small step to acknowledging that her relationship was over even as she missed Christian every single day.
Her friends had nagged at her for the last two weeks to come to the party and she’d finally relented to get some peace and quiet. Now she was here, she wished she hadn’t come and found the first opportunity to slip outside into the back garden, to get away from the thumping music and revolving light.
Taking a deep breath she tried to centre her thoughts but all she could think about was Christian would be home now. Had he tried to call her? If she’d kept her old number would they be together again? She’d told herself time and again not to think like that but the wistfulness still brought tears to her eyes even after all this time.
Burying her head in her hands Chloe swallowed hard to fight back the emotions threatening to overwhelm her yet again.
She stiffened, her head swinging around in shock, her gaze locking instantly with a pair of azure eyes she hadn’t seen in such a long time.
Christian’s smile was hesitant, his concern evident in his expression. “I saw you heading outside. Wasn’t sure if you wanted to hear from me seeing as you changed your number. I had to come out though to make sure you were okay.”
“Christian.” She could only whisper out his name, stunned to see him standing there. He looked amazing as always, his blond hair a little longer than he usually wore it, but it looked good on him. He looked…he just looked.
“Are you?” he prompted, his eyes searching her face as if trying to record every minute detail.
“Am I?” Her voice echoed her confusion because all she could do was try to breathe in everything about him, his scent, the sound of his voice, his gorgeous face.
“Okay. Are you okay? Chloe, you’re worrying me, love.”
The use of the endearment broke her stupor and she bristled, straightening her shoulders. “I’m just fine, Christian. And you don’t get to call me that anymore. You lost that right when you left me.”
She could see the hurt in his eyes and she tried to ignore it. What did he have to be hurt about anyway? He was the one who let her go, who walked away without a backward glance. She could still remember the pain of finding his key on the table that day, of how it felt as if her heart was being ripped out of her chest.
“I’m sorry I hurt you,” he said sadly, running a hand through his hair. “I never wanted to hurt you, Chloe.”
“Well you did but that’s all in the past now. I’ve moved on. My life is good. I hope your time away was as beneficial to you as you hoped.” She added the last bit because even though he’d hurt her, she had only ever wanted his happiness. She did hope that he’d been successful.
“It was. I got the promotion when I arrived back. It should have been a pivotal moment in my life but the sense of achievement felt hollow. I realised I only wanted to share it with one person and she’d changed her number.”
“Don’t, Christian. Don’t think you can break my heart and then just waltz up when it’s convenient for you and pick up where you left off.” It was hard to keep the anger from her voice. It was harder not to throw herself into his arms and take him back.
“You made your choice six months ago when you wouldn’t even discuss the option of taking me to Italy with you. You said you needed a little time. Well you took it, and while you were away, I had some time to look at my life as well. I healed, Christian. I didn’t think I had right up until the moment you said my name just now, but I realise that I have.”
Chloe stepped around him turning to head back inside.
“I love you, Chloe.”
“I loved you too, Chris, so much so it broke my heart when you left. But I know I deserve better and one day, I will meet that man who will love me enough to never want to be apart from me, who will make it a priority that I be allowed to accompany him if he were ever sent on secondment to another country.”
She turned back to look at him, sad that he was hurting but feeling the first tendrils of freedom creeping into her soul. “Be happy, Christian. Do something remarkable with your life and show the world what an amazing person you are. There will always be a little piece of my heart that belongs to you and I do wish you well.”
Holding her head up, Chloe walked away without another backward glance. She did wish Christian well, and part of her thanked him for making the decision he had six months before. Because she did deserve better and she would find it one day. Until then, she had a life to live, and stories to write, and happiness to experience.