It starts just like every other night seems to start these days.
Come home, change clothes, go for a run, do some strength training, do some ab work, undress, shower.
Get ready, put on some music, start cooking and wait for the doorbell to ring.
Then, slowly, people start arriving. The neighbor, the college friend, the ex-roommate, the brother's girlfriend and - finally - him.
And, just like every other night, we eat. We talk. We joke. We laugh. We bitch. We moan. We clean up the dishes. We play one game or another. We say our goodbyes. And then we're alone. Me. With him.
He helps me pick up. He grabs me when he can. Brief touches here and there. A nuzzle of my neck. A kiss to my shoulder. Brushing my hair back from my forehead. And always, without fail, he compliments me. His words shower over me and instead of bathing in them, I'm drowning in guilt.
But, as I said, it's like any other night. So I smile. I laugh. I thank him. And, most of all, I pretend that everything is okay.
It's not okay. And as he's leaving tonight, it's more palpable. He hugs me goodbye. Nothing too pushy. He's a gentleman, always. He lifts my hand to his mouth and lightly brushes his lips to my palm. "Call me before you go to bed?" I laugh and so does he. Our personal little joke. We both know I don't sleep. "Sure." He hugs me again. "Maybe tonight will be different," he says.
It turns out he's right.
I close the door and settle in with a book. I read page after page, but my mind's not on the words. I can't stop the thoughts from turning over and over in my head. Worse, I can't stop the feelings overwhelming me from manifesting themselves in my mouth begging to be said.
So I call him. At 2:18 in the morning, I call him. And I tell him everything I shouldn't.
I tell him I'm broken. That I've been broken so long now that I don't think I can be fixed. I tell him about the man that broke me. About spending night after night beside him praying - begging - hoping that one day he would love me even a fraction of the way I loved him.
I tell him about waking one morning in his arms and realizing he never would. About reconciling myself to that fact and deciding it didn't matter. That I could and would love him enough for both of us. Until the day I realized it was killing me. That I wasn't the same person that began the relationship and that I hated who I'd become. And so I shut down.
And it's then that he realized he loved me. And he promised me that he would do better. For the first time, I could hear in his voice that he actually meant the words he was saying. His "I love you's" didn't echo hollowly. His eyes followed me in all that I did. And I should have been ecstatic.
But it was too late. He'd already broken me. And I was too scared to love like that again. Too afraid to trust his words and his actions. Terrified that I would wake up tomorrow and the hollowness would be back. I was empty. It would take time for me to heal from what damage had already been done. But he wouldn't wait and we ended before we ever truly began.
My love didn't end. Not a day passed that I didn't wish for his arms around me and those words in my ear. For him to be by my side and me to be by his. But I could pretend with the best of them. So I moved on as though nothing had happened.
And that was fine until someone came along that wouldn't take no for an answer. A man who wasn't content with a date here or there followed by weeks of silence. Someone who deserved more than that and I knew it.
I tell him to find someone who can love him back. To find someone that will kiss him goodnight and beg him to stay. To quit caring for someone whose every thought is consumed with her past. To stop hoping someone broken could love him back. To realize he deserved so much better than the pieces of me that still remain.
He stays silent through it all. Breathing softly. Letting me get it all out in broken words and tearful jerks. When he knows I have nothing left to say he softly - but strongly - says "No" and then hangs up the phone.