Chapter 1 - Part 1

Jessica lay in the dark, the only light coming from the alarm clock beside the bed. She listened to the steady breathing beside her while she gripped the covers, tightly wrestling with the turmoil inside. She let out a heavy breath, trying to stave off the crushing feeling in the middle of her chest that made it more difficult to breathe.

 

She should be happy, she should feel like the happiest woman alive, but she didn’t.

 

The man beside her shifted slightly, still peacefully asleep as his arm curled around her waist, bringing her closer. She didn’t move so as not to wake him. He was totally unaware of her inner struggle while she closed her eyes, feeling the sting of tears as she swallowed hard, fighting off the need to cry.

 

There was no more denying it or trying to cover it up. Things weren’t working, and there was no way to pretend any longer.

 

She turned to look at the dark profile of her fiancé beside her. Charlie. She thought back to when they had started their journey together, to grasp the hope she had felt, but now there was none. All that was left over was the lie she was living day in and day out. On the outside she smiled brightly, but inside she was dying with each day.

 

Slowly, she slipped out of his loose hold. As quietly as she could, she went to the kitchen without turning on any of the lights and found herself sitting at the kitchen table in the darkness. She felt guilty that what she was contemplating was going to hurt the man who had bought her out of the darkest time in her life. He had saved her when no one else had been able to, including herself.

 

She sat quietly contemplating what she needed to do to right the wrong she had done, even though she knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Hurting Charlie was the last thing she wanted to do, even if it was the right thing to do. Maybe if she had known the outcome she would have been stronger and it wouldn’t have happened, but there was no point in wishing she had done things differently. She was here now.

 

Her eyes settled on the ring that weighed on her finger like a ball and chain. Why had Charlie pushed her for this? He had asked over a romantic dinner. She had hid her horror to smile and gasp a yes like she had been expected to, but it was now the point at which she had to face what she had been avoiding for months. Maybe if he hadn’t proposed, she would have been able to continue with pretense. She didn’t want to marry him and spend the rest of her life with him.

 

Deep down she knew her heart belonged to another. No amount of distance and years had changed that. She had been too much of a coward to face it before.

 

Releasing a long breath, she threaded her hands through her hair and hunched over while resting her elbows on the table. The path ahead felt insurmountable and she didn’t know if she was strong enough. 

 

Before, she hadn’t been. Charlie’s strength had gotten her through the worst time in her life. She owed him, and that was why she didn’t want to hurt him, but it would be impossible to be true to herself if she stayed. Besides, in the long run it wouldn’t be fair to him either—he was a good man who deserved to be loved unconditionally. He deserved that much.

 

She released her hair and sat back in the chair, trying to find the courage to do the right thing. Change scared her, but staying scared her more. With a growing sense of guilt, she removed the solitaire diamond ring from her finger and set it down on the table.

 

In the moonlit darkness of the kitchen, she rose up. She hesitated momentarily before she went to the counter and picked up her car keys. The right thing would be to wait a few hours until morning when Charlie was awake to tell him they were over, to look him straight in his warm hazel eyes and tell him she couldn’t be with him anymore. He would be understandably angry and hurt, but he would be free to find someone who could love him in a way she couldn’t. It wasn’t fair that no matter how much she had tried, she couldn’t love him in the way a woman should love a man. 

 

It took all her bravery and strength not to slip back into his bed and to continue to pretend it was the life she wanted, even if she knew she would be back to wrestling with the mounting guilt building up from one day to the next.

 

For a few minutes she contemplated leaving a note, but words failed her. She was scared that if she stayed long enough to write a note she might lose her nerve or Charlie might wake up. If he found her, she wouldn’t have the heart to go through with it, she knew that much for sure. It had to be now or never.

 

She pushed through the last barrier of hesitation before grabbing her purse and heading to the front door. She unlocked it quietly and didn’t look back as she closed it slowly. Once outside, she rushed to her car and got into the driver’s seat. Her hands shook so badly she had to take a moment to breathe through the panic taking hold of her.

 

Breathe, she told herself. She reminded herself it would hurt more in the long run if she failed to do the right thing now. 

 

There were consequences of taking the easy way out and not dealing with things head on. Taking the easy way out had landed her in the webbed mess she was in.

 

Images of a wedding and more pretending brought the stark reality of her situation to the cold light of day. She rested her forehead against the steering wheel, trying to gather the strength. Breathing in deeply and exhaling sharply, she fought against the pull to go back inside the house, to the safety Charlie gave her. 

 

With her hands still shaking, she started the car, and, with no clear destination, she pulled out of the driveway and began to drive.

 

Only when she began to try to figure out her destination did she realize she was still dressed in her pajamas, which was a shirt with shorts. She hadn’t been in a clear enough state of mind to change or pack a bag.

 

Checking into a hotel was out of the question, so what should she do next? Feeling the panic rising, she pulled over and switched off the car. With a few deep breaths she tried to rein in her panic while she tried to figure out what she was going to do.

 

Her parents were closest, but her father had a heart condition and being woken up in the middle of the night wouldn’t be good for him. She checked the time on the dashboard of her car. It was three in the morning. 

 

She could go to a friend, but the thought of explaining why she had left Charlie in the middle of the night was something she wasn’t ready for yet. That didn’t leave her with a lot of options. She glanced up at the street name. It reminded her of a friend.

 

Myles Shaw. He lived nearby. Granted, she hadn’t seen him in a while and wasn’t sure how he would react to her waking him up in the early hours of the morning, but she had no other options.

 

It had been a year since they had last talked, and it had been a quick and awkward conversation. Even thinking about him brought a heaviness that weighed on her shoulders. They had been so close once, but that had been before everything had changed. 

 

One night had altered her and all those she had held so close. Just sitting in her car and staring into the distance, she remembered the first time she had stood outside the front door to his house. She had been fourteen and had just moved into the area. 

 

It was difficult to think back to that time without the shortness of breath of intense emotion clogging her throat. She pushed all thoughts of her past out of her mind so she could concentrate on what she was going to do now.

 

Myles. She started the car and made the short journey to his house while she wrestled with the thought of how he would react. It didn’t help that when she pulled up on the sidewalk beside his place, there was a car parked in the driveway. It was the first time it occurred to her that he might have a girlfriend living with him. 

 

She considered sleeping in the car but her fear for her safety made her discard the idea. Besides, she was tired and emotional. With her plan in motion, she needed sleep to be able to handle the fallout from her actions. 

 

She got out of the car, taking her purse with her, and slammed the door shut. The porch light was on. She hadn’t been back in this house for a while, but it was so familiar it was ingrained in her memories. Before, it had always been welcoming, but now it wasn’t. It was a reminder of what had been lost.