IT’S HERE! And it’s a lengthy chapter! This is the final chapter, I hope you all enjoy it!
One Year Later
Things have been very stressful and rocky since I finished my book last year. I’ve been working like crazy, waiting tables and tending bar at a restaurant just down the street from our new apartment. Nick has been insanely successful at his job, and has to go on business trips every other month or so, which leaves me behind, and alone, frantically trying to find someone, anyone, to publish my book. I learned quickly that it was foolish of me to think that writing would be the most difficult part of the process.
When Nick first started leaving for business trips, I was sad. I never wanted him to leave, and he didn’t want to leave me, either. He called daily, sometimes more than once, and usually texted me all day long. The more business trips he took, the less he called, and the longer he would be away. He would call sometimes after a few days of being gone, sounding breathless and and desperate, saying he was too busy and didn’t have any time to call me until then. At first, I understood, and was patient. My patience wore thin quickly, and soon, we would end a call quicker than it started, usually with a big fight over nothing.
Of course, when he came home, he always tried to make everything up to me, and it gave me a glimmer of hope that we could be the couple we used to be. We wanted to wait to be married, and still have not set a date, or really gotten any details figured out. I think my parents and Rachel are getting more and more impatient than I am, always asking for updates and asking to go shopping for dresses. Though I hated it, I always declined, but I have window shopped for wedding dresses more than I would care to admit.
Marriage is now a touchy subject for Nick. At first, he was so excited to be married, but he wanted it to happen in enough time for us to plan our dream wedding, and make sure it was everything I ever wanted. As time passed, we both grew busier, and now, any time I try to bring up marriage or the wedding, or even just planning, it starts a fight. I’m not even able to speak to him about children, or our future past the wedding without starting a fight!
Nick doesn’t know it, but when he leaves town, I go and stay at my Mom’s house. Lately, I’ve reached out to some of my old high school friends, and when I’m done working a shift, I change and head out to a bar. Lots of guys flirt with me and then when they see the ring, they leave me alone, and avoid me like the plague. There has been nights, and many more recently, that I’ve considered leaving the ring at home, but when I take it off, I put it right back on; I feel too naked without it, and it feels wrong.
I’m desperately hoping that Nick and I can find that place that we once were, before all of the business and the writing, the wedding, and the fighting. In the midst of finding a publisher that will actually accept and publish my first novel, I’ve written a sequel, but with all of the stress, I’m having a major case of writer’s block. When all I can focus on is the fighting and worrying about if he’s actually going to come home, or call, of course I’m going to be stressed and not focused on writing…
And just like that, I had a new idea, something different and that had potential to be therapeutic for me. This little idea literally felt like the lightbulb that you see above inspired characters in children’s cartoons, and though I felt cheesy, I also felt a lot better. I pulled out my phone and called Rachel as soon as I knew. She answered on the very last ring. “I’m really kinda busy and irritated right now, as in, I don’t really want to listen to your Nick drama,” she snapped at me. Okay, update on Rachel and I- since Nick and I started fighting, Rachel and I first grew closer, but with me turning to her to talk to and complain to all the time, she grew sick and tired of me quickly. Most of the time she just would say she was busy, and she’s never said flat out she doesn’t want to talk about Nick problems. Not that I blame her…
“Bitchy much?” I growled back at her through the phone.
“If all you wanted was to call me names, I’m going to hang up-”
“No, no no, Rach. Wait, please,” I begged. “I’m not calling to complain to you, or to fight with you. I want you to go out with me to the mall or something.” I said it all in one huge rush, as if she would actually hang up on me, and only had a few seconds to spit out exactly what I needed to say.
Rachel was silent for about five seconds before responding. “I’m listening,” She sighed. “What do you need at the mall? And where is ‘or something?’” She quoted me.
“I don’t know Rach, I just need to get out for a bit, get some air,” I sighed. “I just figured some retail therapy would help, and I do need to get out and do something other than my normal late night bar crawls.”
“Oh, em, gee!” She squealed. “Yes, Diana! Welcome back, sis! I’ll come pick you up in about twenty minutes!” I laughed. “Oh, and BTW, would you please shower and wear at least minimal makeup? And look presentable? You only ever go out looking like a hoe, no offense,” She giggled. I rolled my eyes, smiling.
“At least you’re honest about it. Yes, I will shower and look nice and not like my usual ‘hoe’ bar look. I will be ready soon, I’ll leave the door unlocked for you. Let yourself in when you get here if I’m not ready by the time you get here.” We said our goodbyes and as I plopped my phone down on the bed, my phone began ringing at me again. This time, it was Nick. I paused, contemplating if I wanted to answer or not. Who am I kidding, of course I want to. He’s my future husband, and this project will be for him, too. In my heart, I knew that at the very least, I needed to hear his voice. “H-hello?” I stuttered. I rummaged through my closet while balancing the phone on my shoulder.
“Hi, babe. What are you doing?”
“Getting ready to go out with Ra-”
“You have to be fucking kidding me, Diana!” Nick growled at me. “It’s only two in the afternoon, and you’re going out to a fucking bar?” He snorted. “Typical. Poor you. I’ll be home later tonight, I’ll sleep on the couch and let you crawl into bed yourself.”
The call ended, and I felt as if I got smacked across the face. Hot, angry tears welled up in my eyes, and I looked for shorter shorts, and a top that was showed a little more skin.
Most importantly, I took off the ring, and hid it in the ring box in my underwear drawer. Today, I was only Diana Malley, single girl, chasing her dreams and trying not to choke the shit out of her roommate, who also happened to be avoiding her problems with retail therapy. Rachel sent me a text saying she was here and ready to go, and when she saw me, she covered her eyes and looked away in annoyance. I fastened my seatbelt and looked over at her in time to see her shake her head. “What?” I asked, playing dumb. I knew too well why she was shaking her head at me, and I did deserve it.
“Did I miss a memo? Are we really going to the mall, or are we going to a bar or a club today?” She snapped, huffing angrily at me. She held her lips in a tight line, as if holding back everything she truly wanted to say. She looked down, and cut me off as I opened my mouth to respond. “Whatever, just save it. I’ll take you to the damn mall, and then to Mom, so she can see how you truly are. When was the last time you remember looking in the mirror and thinking that you can remember the night before? Or where you went, even who you were with? Can you remember a time you were actually proud of yourself, or what you’ve done?” She vented. She took a deep, shaky breath.
“Yes, I can actually,” I said calmly, not allowing the lump in my throat to be known. “The last time I looked in the mirror and was proud of myself, or what I’ve done, was when I finished the book. I was waiting for the last page to come off of the printer, and as I did, I couldn’t think of how my life could ever go wrong, because then, it was perfect. I had tears in my eyes and running down my cheeks, but I smiled through the tears. I smiled, ear to ear, because I was genuinely, one hundred percent happy, and full of pride.” The knot had actually gone away, and though I knew I had messed up plenty of times, I was not ashamed to talk about how proud of myself I used to be, how happy I once was with my life.
“And now?” Rachel whispered, wiping tears from her eyes. Her eyes begged me for an answer, to make a promise. I reached over and squeezed her hand gently for the first time in a long time, causing my baby sister to smile.
“And now, Rach, I’m going to tell you the truth.” I closed my eyes, willing the tears to disappear, taking a deep breath. “This may hurt, but it definitely won’t hurt as much for you as it will for admitting it to myself. I hate myself, Rachel. I’m rebelling, retaliating against myself. I could have had another book written and ready to present by now, I could have had most or all of the wedding things squared away by now. But I was feeling weak, defeated, and completely alone.” My voice broke, and Rachel stifled a small sob as I continued. “I mostly hate myself because I threw everything away, and I’m now in the same boat I was in before I moved back home. This habit I have, it was easy getting back into because it’s all I knew when I was in San Diego. The only difference was, most nights I would bring home a different guy. I was too scared to be attached, and I didn’t want any feelings or emotions between us. Most of the time, I was too wasted to want anything else anyway, and they never came home with me.”
Rachel interrupted, looking down into her lap, clearly scared to ask the question. “Diana, I need to ask you this, only because I love you and I need some clarity.” I nodded, and she took a deep breath. “Have you slept with anyone else? Or you just go out to drink and come home miserable, whether Nick is here or not?”
I hesitated, stalling by running my hand through my hair. “I have not cheated on Nick, and I don’t want to,” I sighed. Her eyes found my bare ring finger, and widened. “This is not what it looks like. I haven’t done anything with anyone else, and like I said, I don’t want to. I love Nick, but when I’m pissed off at him, I take it off. Usually it ends up back on before I leave the house, but he said something that really hurt me today, and I decided I didn’t need the extra weight of the ring to remind me of the hurtful things he’s said to me.” Rachel turned off the car and leaned across the seat, squeezing me in a long, tight hug.
“Do you want me to kick his ass? Because it’s been a long time since I had to threaten to kick his ass,” she joked, causing both of us to laugh. “Hey, let’s go upstairs and get you changed, and get the ring back. I have a better idea than retail therapy.”
“Fine, but I’m not wearing that ring right now. I meant what I said, and obviously Nick did, too. He was hurtful and rude, and I’m not going to flaunt his ring and give him the satisfaction right now. Maybe in a couple hours and after some coffee.” Rachel nodded in agreement, and as I let her into our apartment, she ran straight for my closet. She protested when I tried to help her find my outfit, and she told me to go check some e-mails and call out of work tonight, because we now had plans together. Once I had everything taken care of, she called me back to the my room from the living room. She had laid out a beautiful black dress on the bed, with a pair of nice pumps and beautiful accessories that all went together perfectly. My eyes shot wide open as soon as I saw the dress, because I haven’t worn that dress since…
“The engagement dress. Rachel, I can’t-”
“Yes you can, and you will. You looked completely stunning that night and you need to again tonight, trust me.” She was firm, and picked up the dress, holding it out to me. “I’ve already picked out an outfit for myself, and I’m going to take your bathroom to change and fix my makeup and hair. Crying makes me terribly ugly, I’m afraid,” she laughed, then locked the door. I rolled my eyes and smiled, as I quickly changed into the outfit Rachel picked for me, without any further complaints.
Rachel had taken me to a dinner meeting with another publisher, and this one went surprisingly well compared to the others in the past. Most of the time, the receptionist was the person you were able to communicate with, and she would insist that you mailed in your rough copy, and that they would be in touch if they were interested. I still had a pile of rejection letters waiting to be shredded. At first, I saw it as a reminder daily to stay determined and keep moving forward, but as time went on, it turned more into a daily reminder of what I haven’t accomplished; how I failed.
I really enjoyed the dinner we all had together, and Rachel was seriously good at talking me up, making me look awesome and professional, and making it sound like the publisher would be making a big mistake by not taking me on, essentially. After a year of rejection letters and short-tempered receptionists, I left dinner still hopeful, but not with my hopes too high. I know I need to make a change, starting with spending my nights in bars and clubs versus at home, working on my writing. What I needed most was to let out all of my emotions, and though I thought all the alcohol and dancing was letting it out, I still never felt completely better and relieved.
Rachel gave me a quick hug as she dropped me off, waiting until I was inside the building before pulling away. I made my way up the stairs and down the hall, taking my time unlocking the door and stepping inside. The lamp in the living room provided a dim light through the apartment, but every other room was dark. I slid out of my heels and padded down the dark hall into the bedroom, ducking into the closet in time to hear Nick’s laughter, and someone else’s voice. What the hell?!
There was another woman, in my apartment. Laughing with Nick, discussing who knows what. I could hear their voices, and as I peeked around the corner, I saw him throw his head back as he laughed, this dark haired, tan-skinned lady watching him. They were both trying too hard, and both held a glass of my favorite red wine, with the bottle sitting on the coffee table next to them, empty. I had a choice to make- one, I could be typical me and freak out, shrieking at the other woman until she left my home, or two, I could pack a bag and ask Rachel or my mom to pick me up, and sneak out, leaving Nick to his own suspicions. Deep in thought, Nick’s deep voice bellowed at me from across the room, snapping me back to reality. Here we go…
“Oh, Diana, you’re just in time to meet my new friend!” He giggled like a teenager with a crush; he was clearly drunk. “Well, wait, she’s my boss but my friend off the clock!” They both howled with laughter, and didn’t even notice when I turned my back on their ‘conversation’ and excused myself to pack a bag. I don’t need to stay and watch this… I don’t have to deal with this, and I’m not going to. Not anymore…I rushed into the bedroom, furiously wiping at the hot, stinging tears in my eyes. I grabbed my purse, the laptop, and the book I had been reading, when the sparkling ring grabbed my attention as I walked past the mirror. Holding back a sob, I pulled it off, and put it back into the small, black velvet box, and left the small box on my side of the bed; no note, no explanation, nothing.
I padded back down the hall, my vision so blurred with tears that I didn’t even see the other woman making her way towards me. I completely ran into her, mumbling an apology as I ran out the door, slamming it behind me. I didn’t bother locking the door; Nick would take care of it when he took home his boss, friend, whoever she was. My phone rang as I walked towards the bus stop, and when I saw his picture on the screen, I threw my phone into the pavement. He continued to call, and my phone screen stayed lit up on the ground, as I plopped down on the curb, hugging myself as I cried.
I had finally gathered the courage to pick up my phone and face whatever wrath I had waiting for me. Was there any way to fix this? I left the ring- his ring, in the box on my side of the bed. I can’t fix things right now, I can barely fix myself and my bad choices. Nick had called me five times, and sent me three texts. As I went to open the messages, his picture popped up on my screen one more time, giving me a last chance to answer and face him. “H-hello,” I stuttered, attempting to sound as normal as possible.
“Are you done being psycho yet, and are you going to give Alice a chance? She’s just a friend, there’s nothing going-” He paused. I already knew what he had found. “Diana. Why?” Silently, I let the tears run down my cheeks, letting him talk, get angry, whatever he would do. Her voice- Alice, wasn’t it?, softly followed a series of knocks on the door. I heard her say she was leaving, and taking a cab home. He grunted goodbye, saying he would see her at work on Monday when he went back in. Nick took a deep breath, letting the silence between us grow for a few seconds. “Is this what it’s come down to, Di? Are you that jealous or insecure?”
“No, Diana, no excuses! What happened?” His voice grew shaky and quiet. “You were wearing same dress as the night you said yes. I didn’t know it was possible for you to look more beautiful than you did that night. I saw you, Di-”
I panicked and hung up the phone, sobbing as I hugged my knees tightly to my chest. A car slowed down and pulled up to the curb next to me, rolling down the window slowly. I looked up, and wouldn’t you know it? Alice had pulled up, wearing a mask of concern. “Hey hun,” she called, “Do you need a ride somewhere? I know you just left home and I could give you a ride back there or-”
“Can you actually give me a ride to my mom’s house?” I cut her off. Alice smiled back at me, and gestured her hand to get in the car. She moved her purse to the back seat, making sure there was room for me. Avoiding her eyes, I sat down quickly and pulled the seatbelt across my chest, looking at my feet the whole time. From my peripheral vision, I could tell that she was watching me, waiting to start driving until she made sure I was fine. I took a deep breath and turned to face her, when she pulled a tissue and a small mirror from her purse and handed them to me. Then, I understood why she did- I look freaky! My mascara and eyeliner completely ran down my cheeks, leaving black streaks. My eyes resembled a racoon, and needed some major TLC. Once I had wiped most of the makeup off and looked acceptable again, she silently handed me her phone and had me type the address into Google Maps.
The entire car ride was uncomfortable, and completely quiet. I had turned my phone completely off, so I wouldn’t be bothered by anybody on my way home. As she pulled into the driveway of my childhood home, I turned to her. “”Thank you for the ride, Alice.” I muttered, before she stopped me.
“Wait, Diana.” She blurted. When I turned and looked at her, her dark brown eyes seemed to be genuine and full of concern. “He never once mentioned he was engaged, until he started drinking. All Nick talked about was you, until you got home, and then he turned into a real jerk. I’m putting in a transfer tomorrow so I don’t have to work with him or be his boss any more, and he will have a male boss. I never wanted to be a homewrecker, and I will never be one, as long as I breathe. Do you trust me?” More hot tears spilled down my cheeks as I nodded. “Good,” she said shakily. “Plus, he’s not really my type anyway.”
I giggled shakily, swiping at the tears running down my cheeks. “Should I even ask who or what is your type?” She smiled back at me, and looked down, as if she was embarrassed.
“You’re more my type than he is,” she smiled back at me, and waved as she rolled the window back up. I rushed around to the driver’s side of the car, and tapped the glass quickly. She rolled down the window and I pulled her into a quick, awkward hug. “Thank you,” I whispered by her ear. “I’ll talk to him in the morning when we’ve both had some time to cool down.”
Alice pulled back, looking at me. “I’m glad to hear that,” she sighed, smiling at me. “He really does love you, you know. Lately he just hasn’t been good at showing it. To be honest, I think what’s bothering him the most is his own failure in your relationship. But hey, I’m an outsider here. What do I know, anyway?” She laughed softly, looking down again. “I am honestly glad to know you’ll give him another chance, even after the way he’s been to you. You deserve someone great, and most of the time, that’s exactly what Nick is. I wish you the best, Diana, but I need to get going. I’m tired and have an early flight out tomorrow, but give me a call if you need anything, okay?” She handed me a napkin with her number scrawled across it. I stepped back from the car, waving as she pulled away from the curb.
I plopped myself down on the front porch, and took a few deep breaths as I waited for my phone to turn back on. My phone was full of texts, missed calls, and even a voicemail, all from Nick, but nothing rattled me more than the most recent text he sent. I swallowed the lump in my throat as I gazed down at the beautifully happy couple in the photo, from the night he took his love out for her dream proposal, and had a photo taken of them, her showing off the ring to the camera. My smile was radiant, but his was so genuine and true, it was contagious. “What happened to them?” I whispered to myself, looking down to the finger where my ring used to be.
“They started drifting apart, because the man wasn’t a man at all, he was weak and stressed out.” Nick’s deep voice startled me; I hadn’t even heard him pull up or walk up the driveway. “They drifted because the man that was supposed to be there for his girl, to support her as she chased her dream, decided to chase his instead, leading him to stress and irritability, and a lot of alcohol.” He crossed his arms over his chest, looking down. Even though I only saw him under the light of the moon, I could see the tears shining in his eyes, though he tried to avoid my gaze. “Diana, what have I done? How can I ever make it right?”
“I don’t know, Nick,” I sighed, “I honestly don’t know how we could fix this. We’ve both made mistakes, and we’re both to blame, not just you-”
“But I’m the one who pushed you, and our relationship, to this point!” He bellowed. “I didn’t cheer you on, I half-listened to you, made false accusations, and criticized you, every step of the way! I’ve never been even half of the man you deserve, and the fact that I tried to flirt with my boss tonight in front of you, in your home, proves that I-”
“Don’t you say it, Nicholas,” I warned. “I don’t want to hear it as much as you don’t want to say it. I’ve messed up too, you know! I was demanding, needy, and I’ve always been broken. You made me whole again, you were exactly what I needed.”
He looked up at me, and I stood to meet his eyes. “W-what do you mean, I was exactly what you needed?” He whispered shakily. “Am I not what you need anymore? Is there someone else or something else you need to be happy? What can I do?”
I shook my head, grabbing his arms, trying to get him to look at me again. “Nick, that’s not what I meant, and you know it,” I cried. “You’re still what I need and who I need, but we also need to find ourselves again, and I think we need to remember why we fell in love. My heart and my head hurt too much to figure any of that out tonight, and that’s why I came here, Nick. I need to think. I need some time, and that’s all I need. You’re welcome to come by in the morning, I’m sure my parents will be happy to see you. Maybe that’s a place to start.”
He looked down, frowning and nodding his head. “Diana, I could barely make it here in the car. I’ve drank too much, and I don’t think I can make it home. Can I stay with you? Will you come home with me, please? Baby, I need you more than anything-” He continued babbling, grabbing my arms, my wrists, trying to pull me closer as I struggled to gain distance.
“Nick, stop!” I shrieked. I took a step back, and took a deep breath. “I need time and a little space. You can stay here, or I can drive you home, but either way, I’m coming back here. Before you come inside, you need to calm down, or my parents will come out here and I guarantee they won’t allow you to stay. Not like this,” I sighed. I thought I didn’t sound as shaky as I felt, and that I was in control. Nick nodded silently, waiting for me to make the next move. “What do you want me to do, Nick?” I sighed again, swallowing hard to get rid of the lump in my throat. I had already cried so much, I didn’t realize I still had any tears in me.
“I can stay in another room, and I’ll give you whatever space you need and want,” he responded calmly. “I’ll go home after breakfast tomorrow, and I can drive you back so you can get some clothes and things. I did bring this back for you tonight, in case you did end up needing or wanting it.” He pulled the ring out of his pocket, kneeling again in front of the porch, holding it up to me. “I want more than anything to make things right, but I know that we both need space, and I’m okay with that. I have the next couple of days off, and they will be lonely without you, but I’ll be home. I’ll wait for you, I promise.” I stifled a sob, holding out my hand, allowing him to slide his beautiful ring back on my finger again. It felt right, and I already felt a little less broken. He stood and pulled me into his arms, and I cried harder into his shoulder than I had all night. He rubbed soft circles in my back, allowing me to let my emotions out.
Quietly, we padded through the dark house, as I showed him to the guest room, just a couple doors down from mine. We were separated by only a closet and the small bathroom, but it felt like he was halfway across the world. As soon as I flopped down on my bed, it was easy to find sleep; the only problem was staying asleep. I would reach out, reach for Nick, and when I felt the empty space next to me, everything hurt a little more. I gave in, grabbing my pillow and a blanket, and padded to the guest room. He was in bed, rolled flat on his back, just staring at the ceiling. I opened the door and he sat up, and breathed a sigh of relief when he recognized me.
“I thought you needed space,” he whispered as I crawled in bed next to him.
“I need you more, Nicholas,” I half smiled at him. “I can’t sleep, I hardly ever sleep when you’re gone.” Nick smiled back at me, and pulled me against his chest, nuzzling my neck. It had been a long time since things had felt so right, a small part of me wanted to pinch myself to make sure it was real.