Fourteen months before…
With an exasperated and not a little irritated huff, I forcefully wedged a pair of yoga pants into the overflowing suitcase. The luggage’s partner was already stuffed to capacity and sitting by the front door, ready for its early morning flight to our new temporary home.
In Asia. In a country where I could lose myself a little. Just a little.
A year was a long time, but sometimes I wondered if it’d be long enough. If any amount of time would be long enough…
“If you wanted a vacation, I’ll take you. You don’t need to move.” Jake scowled in the way I both adored and condemned, big fists jammed into the pockets of meticulously tailored charcoal-gray slacks as he stood among the explosion of clothes and shoes. “A week. A month. Whatever. Just say the word.”
I was really going to miss that scowl. For the hundredth time in the last hour, I sighed, not bothering to spare him a glance as I insistently added a t-shirt into the bursting textiles. “It’s not a vacation. You know I’m going there to work, not for some guided adventure.”
“There’s no work for you here?”
The sarcastic, near-barked words had me slanting him an impatient look. “We’ve been over this, Jake. This is a great opportunity for my career, expands my international portfolio. There’s already talk about it being on the cover of ID,” I reminded him of the distinguished design magazine. “This doesn’t happen to an interior designer from a small firm every day.” Knowing Jake wouldn’t drop this no matter how hard I tried to convince him of the unique advantages to my career, I laid a hand on his freshly shaven cheek. It was warm and surprisingly smooth. “I wish you’d be excited for me.”
His lips thinned, his shoulders so stiff I was amazed his spine didn’t crack from the added pressure. “And I’m sure this has nothing to do with that fucking Fieldergast.”
My hand stilled, dropping lifelessly to my side. Fingers that wanted to tremble ruthlessly, determinedly curled. It was like a thousand spiteful needles pricking all my internal organs all at once, and it was all I could do not to crumble into a pile to join the heap of mess already on the floor. On a deep inhale, I shut my eyes and fought back the vicious wave of pain that assailed me.
Without a word I returned my shattered focus to the stack of hurriedly folded socks.
I loved Jake to death, but he seriously needed to Back. Off.
Josh Fieldergast left me. Two years of planning our future together, and my boyfriend just up and moved to Chicago. Never to be heard from since. As though what we had never mattered – as though I never mattered. Not even worth a text to let me know he was alive and breathing.
Two months. Fifty-eight days of being plowed with heartbreak, and it was like it just happened last week.
A large hand settled on my back, gentle yet strong. That was Jake through and through. God, how I would miss him. My platonic boyfriend. My best friend. My rock. If it hadn’t been for his undeniable strength and the ruthless, impenetrable shelter he created around me during the last two months when all I wanted to do was huddle in bed and never crawl out of it, I wouldn’t be here now, rearranging my life as I knew it for a promising journey of my young career.
He hated change. Me being gone for a year, not physically being in each other’s lives, was going to genuinely disrupt his sense of order and routine. I got that, knew he was upset and had been for the last two weeks after I made the announcement.
“I accepted the Mavis Gorman project. I’m moving to Asia for a year!”
His expression. I would never forget it. There were no words in the vocabulary that could adequately describe the utter shock and possibly betrayal.
But that couldn’t be, could it?
Without having to say it, it was as if he knew my thoughts…
I can’t stay here right now, Jake. Not even for you.