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I didn\ know I did it until he flinched back in horror and let go of me abruptly.

I\d dug my fingernails into his cheek and clawed at him the second his lips had touched mine.

He took a step back, his eyes wide with terror and brought his fingers to the deep clawed marks starting from his cheek bone and ending just below his jawline. The claw marks swelled, turned bright red, and bled. He looked down at the blood on his fingers, breathing slow with a look that brought every angry cell in my body to a halt.

When I saw his eyes go red from unshed tears, my whole body began trembling. I couldn\ move or think straight. I just watched him. He turned away from me as a ragged breath escaped his lips, and then he went to his dresser and pulled out a pair of jeans and a shirt. I watched him hastily dress in front of me before hurrying out of the bedroom without so much a glance in my direction. I heard the sound of his car keys and the loud slam of the front door.

Then it happened.

Everything just... hit me.

I looked down at my hands, at my fingernails that were rimmed in my love\s blood. My whole body shook and one single image flashed in my mind: my father. The monster that would beat on us with a rage that had me peeing my pants in bed most nights. You\ve turned into him.

’’No,’’ I sobbed out loud. The tears fell mercilessly down my face. The emptiness in the apartment was suffocating me. All I wanted was Jaxon here again and I wanted to erase the entire night. No, f*k that, I wanted to erase half the year I\d spent in this monstrous state.

I\ll be different. I\ll beg for his forgiveness again. He\ll take me and he\ll forgive like he always does and we\ll be perfect again. I\ll stop trying to be so independent. I\ll stop thinking he\s going to deceive me. I\ll stop all that bullshit and I\ll be the perfect girlfriend. I swear, I will. No more of this shit.

Only that wasn\ enough. The promises I was making to myself were hollow because I knew how out of control my anger had become.

I\m a poison, and I\ve poisoned my relationship. My love means nothing. It\ll change nothing.

I fell to my knees and then cradled myself against the door, rocking my body to and fro, sobbing out loud and muttering incomplete sentences. ’’I don\ know what to do... Tell me what to do... I\m so sorry and... Oh, my God. Oh, my God, what the f*k did I just do? Oh, my God, I won\ do... I don\ know wh...’’ The pain in Jaxon\s eyes kept flashing before me. In fact, the pain I\d been inflicting on him relentlessly was now a slideshow in my head. He was perfect. He\d always been perfect. He did change for me, and I wronged him by doubting it.

It became all too clear what had to be done. I had changed, but he hadn\ . And my change might not have permanently damaged us at that point, but it would as time progressed. Our love would be a shell of what it once was, and to ruin what our love was at its pinnacle felt like the worst crime imaginable. I didn\ want to outweigh good memories with the bad. I didn\ want to destroy more and more of our love to a point we\d forget why we were even in love. No, the rational thought at that point was to preserve what we did have.

I need help. He deserves better.

Something in me snapped. Jaxon would never let me walk away. He would beg me to stay and I would agree, and this horrible cycle would repeat itself, and that nightmare of destroyed love would turn into a reality.

No. You have to just do it. Do it now before it\s too late. Before he changes your mind. Remember the pain you feel now forever and let it remind you why you\ e going to do this. Because you\ve destroyed him, destroyed that confident man who thought the highest of you. Let him look back at whatever good memories of you he does have... It\s the only way.

My legs felt like lead when I stood, but my body moved like a machine being directed its orders. I packed a suitcase and filled it up with as much clothes as possible, until it was billowing from the top and I had to press down on it as I zipped it closed. I grabbed my wallet off the night stand and paused at the framed photo of Jaxon and me. It was a close up of us, shoulder to shoulder, and I was smiling at the camera while he was looking at me with a small smile and eyes that spoke volumes of his affection for me. I grabbed it and stuffed it inside, and then I grabbed two other frames around the apartment: one of us at Prom and one of us kissing in front of the Christmas tree last December before everything had changed. These were good times, good memories. This was before I tainted us.

I hovered at the front door of the apartment holding onto the suitcase with one hand, and the phone with the other. I looked down at the phone, half tempted to call Jaxon up and beg him to come home. He usually went out for an hour or so after a bad fight to blow off some steam. Then he would return and try again... and again. A teardrop fell from my eyes, and it was a teardrop on fire because it ignited the scorching pain of what I was going to do in the next minute.

Breathing unsteadily, on the verge of panic, I looked down at the phone and slowly rested it on the kitchen counter. After another moment of doubting what I was about to do, I pushed on through with one thought only: Jaxon deserves better, and he will find better.

I opened the door. ’’I\m sorry,’’ I cried, as if the walls could hear and reiterate it to Jaxon when he came back.

And then, without a final glance back, I walked out.

PART TWO: A Change in the Air

Ten

Five years later...

Sometimes I dream of what would have been. I see Jaxon\s face, his chin length dirty blonde hair blowing in the wind, and the smile that could give life back to a mummy;I would see myself cradled in his arms, his mouth to my lips, and his words in my ears, telling me I was beautiful, perfect, but most importantly... that he loved me.

Then I awoke, tears streaming down my face, and remembered the awful reality: Jaxon wasn\ here.

I sat up in bed and looked over at the clock on my night stand. 4:03am. I\d been waking up every morning for the last two weeks at around this time, and when I tried to go back to sleep, I\d find I couldn\ . Being in bed alone and cold makes you reflect on things, makes you reflect on the important things, really.

But I wasn\ alone this early morning. I looked over at the tall, lean man lying next to me, keeping a safe distance away. I didn\ cuddle, and he respected that. I made out his long face, black eyebrows, big lips, high cheekbones, black ruffled hair.

Daniel Hale was a gorgeous man. And he was broken. Like me.

To get my mind off of the pain in my heart, I remembered the day I met him three years ago. The day I was out of money and struggling to get a job. On my way to the interview at the firm that had miraculously contacted me, I\d taken a nasty spill in the busy streets of Winthrop, knocking the contents of my open purse everywhere. Warm and gentle hands went around my shoulders, sitting me up on the concrete sidewalk. The man who\d helped me up was wearing a navy pinstriped suit tailored to a tee;his black hair was slicked back, and his brown eyes wide with concern.

’’Are you okay?’’ he asked soothingly.

I nodded. ’’Yeah, I\ll live.’’ I turned away from his gaze and bent down to pack away my things.

He crouched down beside me and helped. ’’You\ve got a bad scrape on your knee.’’

I looked down at my knee, but cursed out loud at the rip in my knee length pencil skirt. ’’Shit!’’ I swept my fingers over the tear and shook my head in anger - an anger I was still not entirely good at suppressing, I might add. ’’Dammit, this is the last thing I need right now!’’

’’You got someplace to be?’’

’’Job interview.’’ I stood up and swiped furiously at my skirt, removing all the bits of grime and dirt of the city.

I was at it for a while before I noticed the man was still standing beside me. I looked up at him and sheepishly smiled. ’’I\m alright. Thanks for stopping and all...’’

He smiled widely at me, and I remembered idly liking the fact he had no dimples to remind me of someone I didn\ want to think about. ’’It\s no problem at all. You looked to be in a hurry. Watched you get off the bus a street down, and noticed we were headed in the same direction. Couldn\ look away from you.’’

My cheeks heated. He was flirting, right? This was him complimenting me? I barely knew. I\d been so out of touch with guys and the whole social thing, so being complimented at all was entirely foreign to me. I ended up tucking my hair behind my ear three times, and then I awkwardly looked down at the sidewalk and kicked a small stone with the tip of my heel.

’’Have you eaten?’’ he then asked, looking down at his rather expensive Rolex. ’’I\ve got a bit left in my lunch break if you wanted to grab something. Might take your mind off your job interview and the tear in your skirt.’’

’’Thanks, but I\ve eaten,’’ I lied. I actually hadn\ had anything since last night\s lasagne. But this interview was important, and I\d been too pent up with nerves to eat.

’’Alright.’’ He looked a tad bit deflated. I hoped he didn\ take it as a rejection. He must have known he was handsome enough to score any girl walking down this very street. ’’Well, hope you have a good day then and good luck with your job interview.’’

’’Thank you.’’

I watched him walk away, pretending to fiddle around with my purse when I was really trying to talk myself into this interview with my torn skirt and all. He was a good distance away, and soon enough he blended in with the crowd and disappeared. I pulled out my phone where I\d been tracking my way to the law firm. Even after five years in the city I needed directions. H&L Law Firm was apparently another block away.

When I showed up at the receptionist\s front desk of the boutique law firm, I was dishevelled from head to toe. I quickly ascertained the semblance of a decent looking woman by tucking my blouse into my torn skirt, putting my hair up into a neat ponytail, and retouching on my make-up.

The receptionist, with the name Becca on the tag on her shirt, smiled kindly at me despite looking like an atrocity had thrown up in her space. Then again, my self-esteem had taken a nose dive the last couple years and thinking the worst of me came naturally.

I was told to wait on a comfortable leather chair across the room from her until I was called upon by my potential boss, Daniel Hale. I kept trying to focus on how I would compose myself. Look him in the eye when you speak to him. Act professional. Smile. Be confident. Answer and do not lie.

Rent was due soon, and I tried not to go back to thinking about that, but every thought held another that did. This job would be a blessing! Working as a waitress in a dodgy part of town earning pennies had been my last resort for a while until they\d contacted me, though I never recalled submitting my resume there. As if I cared how they got it, though! The perks of working in a small law firm with no more than ten attorneys meant I could learn the ropes and be exposed to what I would have enjoyed doing as a career.

When I was called upon, I followed Becca down a wide corridor and into a glass walled office. ’’Just take a seat in the chair there, and Mr Hale will be with you in a moment.’’

I sat down and set my purse on the floor beside the chair. Looking down at the skirt, I tried to think of ways I could hide the rip. Maybe if I placed my hand over it... No, that would look too awkward and obvious. Maybe if I laid the purse down

’’No way,’’ came a voice from behind me. I looked over at the door and couldn\ help the surprised smile from stretching across my face. It was the man who helped me off the ground not even thirty minutes ago. What were the chances?

’’So this is the job interview you were talking about.’’ He walked over, smiling widely, and offered me his hand.

I shook it. ’’Yes, it is actually.’’ I was damn relieved I didn\ have to hide the tear in my skirt.

Becca, who was standing behind him with a confused look, handed him what I knew was my resume. He took it, shooed her off and shut the door. Still smiling, he walked over and took a seat in front of his giant mahogany desk, barely blinking down at my resume before discarding it on the desk. Why wasn\ he looking at it? Didn\ he want to know my past experience? Oh, f*k. What if he was unimpressed?

’’So, Sara Nolan, right?’’

I nodded. ’’Yeah... er, Yes, sir.’’

’’How\s the knee?’’

It was hurting like a bitch. ’’It\s good, thanks. I appreciate you helping me out there, by the way. I was in a hurry, so I didn\ want you to think I\d brushed you off on that lunch request...’’ Okay, shut up now.

His smile had long faded, but he was gazing at me intensely. It wasn\ in a respectful way, either. It was a full on gaze that went from my eyes and travelled down my body. In normal situations I would have been offended at this blatant objectification, but if he liked what he saw, surely he might consider hiring me, right?

God, I was desperate.

’’So we\ e a small law firm, as you might have already guessed. We specialize in business litigation and disputes. How is your knowledge in that department of law?’’

Okay, here we go. Just like you rehearsed with Lexi. ’’I know that you probably cover Injunctions, Contract Disputes, lawsuits ranging from fraud and breach of contract. I studied law for two years at UW, so I\ve been exposed to a lot of study in this area.’’

’’Two years? Are you still studying?’’

If he\d read my resume, he\d have known the answer to that...’’No, I had to stop.’’

’’How come?’’

I gulped. This would have to be my one and only lie. ’’Money issues.’’

He was casually leaning back in his black leather chair, tapping a pen against his lips, looking at me with blatant curiosity. He wasn\ carrying himself at all professionally. He set himself up on the chair as comfortably as a high schooler in the back of a class room would, kicking his feet up on the desk. There was something edgy about this guy. His nonchalant demeanour was se*y as f*k.


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