This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, business establishments or events is entirely coincidental. Comments and feedback are highly appreciated, send to


Chapter 12.

I walk out of the large house amidst an ocean of confused faces. Mark's, as well as Elisabeth's, friends, colleagues and family all appear to be equally confused by the dramatic turn of events. And once again I'm left wondering how I fit into this huge mess. Which part of the puzzle am I? In the grand scheme of things, where do I stand? As I'm walking out I realize I'm stepping all over colorful confetti, which someone must have thrown when the lights came back on. Little sparkly pieces of paper, used as a means to celebrate something, to rejoice. I sadly snicker at the irony.

Before I leave I bump into Hilary who, in between making frightfully annoying sounds, informs me that Mark and Elisabeth, as well as Chris and her, will be going back to New York shortly after Mark passes his bar exam. She says this with a type of cruel glee in her voice, like she's expecting, and hoping, that this news will affect me in a negative way. That perhaps it will devastate me, or make me feel bad about myself. My answer is a tactful nod, the kind you would give a petulant child who's about to wear out your patience, and a "Have a safe trip, it was good seeing you," which seems to disturb her more than any insult I could have hurled at her.

When I get inside of my car to my surprise I breathe a large sigh of relief. It's time to say goodbye to him now, for good. It's time to really move on. And yes, there is relief. Before there was uncertainty, that perhaps there was still a chance for a reconciliation, however small, but now there is relief because I know that it's finally over, I know that he's getting married, and I know that our story has come to a predictable conclusion. Relationships like the one we had don't work for numerous reasons. There's our different social status, economic background, and even the obvious physical differences. Confident, rich guys with with six packs don't end up with thin, nervous guys who work at bookstores, and whose problems stem all the way back to childhood. That's not realistic, I tell myself. But mixed in with the relief I also feel melancholy, and I'm not sure why. I mean I've already learned how to live without him, so I know that I can do it. I have a great, handsome, funny and caring boyfriend, so I'm not lonely. From a rational point of view I don't actually NEED Mark for anything. So why is there this lingering feeling of profound sadness? Why does it feel like he is actually necessary to me, even though I know he's not? I try to stop thinking, because I realize that the answer might scare and hurt me.

Logically I understand that love, as some neuroscientists love to point out, is just a string of chemical reactions in the brain. Some even like to compare it to to drug addiction. I understand that this chemical reaction happens so that humans can stay together long enough to procreate, similarly to how a mother experiences a love cocktail right after giving birth, in order to protect and want to care for her child. Yes, it's all simple science, and there are hundreds of logical, rational reasons for me to step away, happily, knowing that in how the world is set up, Mark is not my best match, actually far from it. My best match would be someone closer to me in all things, someone relatable, someone with the same goals, someone like Derick.

I compress all my other feelings and concentrate on that one sentence. Derick is logically my best match. Derick is logically my best match. Derick is logically my best match. I repeat it over and over again, as I try to force out the sad feeling that I'm losing somebody indispensable to my existence.

When I get home and relay the crazy events of the night to Derick he looks displeased, which I find quite strange. I mean he was the one who wanted me to go to this damn thing in the first place. He shakes his head for a while and then says, "What a douche."

"Who, Mark?" I ask confused. Derick isn't one to judge people or say negative things flippantly. It takes a lot to upset him.

"Yeah, I mean no offense Jer, but the guy is such a jerk. He's messing with all these people's lives like his actions have absolutely no consequences. His fiancé, his father, her father, his friends, even you, he treats everybody like they're disposable. He's the type of guy who actually storms out of his own birthday party, ungrateful. Do you realize how manipulative he is?"

I listen and notice the strange pattern repeating itself again. I wonder why it is that when people close to me talk about Mark, it always seems to be negative, and I always seem to be the one defending him. It's like a huge glaring red flag, telling me that I'm wrong, that I'm not being rational, that this relationship/friendship has always been a mentally abusive one. That I've always put him on a pedestal, idealized him, because that's what people do in the initial stages of attraction. That I always defend his flaws, and ignore all the warning signs.

And yet I can't help but to sympathize with Mark, because I believe that I know the real him. And the real him is anything but the guy he's acting like now. I'm not sure how that's possible, but it is. The Mark I know is sweet, caring, loving, giving and a great deal of other good traits. But if that's so how can he act like the careless guy he is being now? How could he just leave me, barely saying goodbye? How can he lie to Elisabeth, and live this double life? That doesn't sound like a nice, likable person. And yet I can't help but stand up for him.

"Well, he didn't exactly have it easy growing up you know," I say trying to get Derick to see Mark's point of view better.

"Yes, poor little rich boy. I feel so much compassion for his tortured soul," Derick says with a mocking smile, but I know he's being serious.

"He's been through a lot," I reply.

"Right, keep on defending him Jer,"

"I'm serious," I reply annoyed at Derick's dismissive attitude, "It's not easy growing up with absent parents."

"Easy, Jer? He didn't have it easy? Sorry, I must have forgotten that being a promiscuous douchebag and a drug addict at the age of fifteen is the definition of not having it easy. You know what I was doing in high school? I was watching my mom die of cancer, after my dad left, and working at McDonalds while trying to study for math exams. So don't tell me about how Mark Norton didn't have it easy living in his villa and being depressed cause his parents had a fight," he replies angered. I sigh, sad that I started this discussion. I can see Derick's point, and it's a very good one. But comparing two different situations isn't always a good idea. Yes, Mark had it easier financially, but apart from his father, Derick had a very loving family, and a relatively decent upbringing, while Mark was home alone, trying to fill in a void. But out of respect for Derick I drop the conversation.

The next day I decide to drive to visit my family, and hopefully clear my head. I usually see them about once a month since I live pretty close. My mom complains about me not visiting more, but she understands that being at home brings back a lot of memories for me, most of them not so great. I park my car outside and put on an extra shirt and a sweater over it, so that hopefully my mom won't notice the extra few pounds I lost since I saw her last. When I walk in everything is the same as I left it, my mom's in the kitchen, while my sister's watching TV in the living room. My dad is at work, which suits me just fine. Ever since he found out about Derick he's been talking to me even less than usual. It would almost be easier if he was overtly angry at me, but he acts as if I don't really exist. He will engage in small talk with me, but it never goes beyond that. I never feel anything resembling affection or any sort of attachment coming from him, so I try to do the same, I try to pretend he doesn't exist either, and that's much easier to do when he's not around.

"Hi honey," my mom beams at me.

"Hey ma," I reply smiling and giving her a kiss on the cheek, "what are you making?"

"Chicken Parmesan," she says looking me over. "Did you lose weight?"

"No, I don't think so," I reply casually, but she doesn't seem convinced.

"Hey loser," my sister says bumping my shoulder as she walks past to grab some bread sticks. She opens the refrigerator door and pulls out a jar of pickles and some mustard, then walks back to the living room.

"How's she doing?" I ask my mom after Kayla leaves. My mom just shakes her head.

"I don't know Jeremy, I don't know what I did wrong. She's spending all her time with these losers. She's not applying to any schools, she can't hold a job. I just don't know what to do," she responds distressed. I sigh in annoyance, I wish my sister wasn't such a burden for my mom. She could at least take a few stupid classes, just to appease my parents. But because I knew she wouldn't listen to me anyway I decided not to even bring it up to her.

"By the way, I saw Mrs.Norton yesterday," my mom says changing the subject.

"Oh, I don't think she goes but Norton anymore, mom," is all I can reply.

"Right, I forgot she was divorced." The d word is a big no-no in my mom's world, it's shameful. Sometimes I wish I could open her mind on some stuff, but it's not my place to teach my mom that divorced people are just as normal as anybody else.

"She mentioned something about seeing Mark," she continues the unfavorable subject.

"Yeah, I actually bumped into him the other day. But I think he already left, don't worry," I add, knowing my mom's uncertainty about Mark.

"Well that's good, I don't think he was the best influence. He seemed like a troubled young man. Nice, but troubled.." she declares. I stare into space in silence. There's nothing to say.

The three of us have a quiet lunch, and even though Kayla already ate a bunch of food she continues eating two portions of lunch. I watch amazed. She always had a pretty big appetite, but this seems excessive. Before she's even finished she goes to the freezer and pulls out some ice cream. And a minute later she runs to the bathroom.

"Is she throwing up?" I ask my mom, horrified at how obvious my sister's problems are becoming. I mean I thought she had bulimia in high school but I didn't know it was still continuing.

"Yes, she's been complaining about a stomach bug or something," my mom replies.

"A stomach bug?" I ask skeptically. My mom just nods. I sigh.

"I'll go see if she's okay," I state, kind of annoyed that I still choose to show kindness to the person who I can't ever remember being nice to me. I go upstairs and walk into her room.

"Kayla, are you okay?" I call out. Her bathroom door is shut, and I hear noises that suggest she's still barfing up her lunch. I look around the messy room. Her clothes are thrown about everywhere, her bed looks like it's never been made, and there is a giant pink Hello Kitty bong sitting on her table. I shake my head, it's like she never left high school.

"Kayla, do you need any help?" I ask gently knocking on the door. Finally she opens it looking like a huge mess.

"Ugh, what do you want," she groans making her way to the bed. She lays down and covers her face with her hand.

"I feel like shit."

"Are you actually sick?" I ask surprised.

"You could say that," she replies vaguely. "Can you get me some mouthwash? It's under the sink."

"Sure," I reply, still confused by her comment. I walk into her bathroom and for some reason open the mirror cabinet instead of the sink cabinet. I realize my mistake and I'm about to close it when something catches my eye. Behind an old bottle of perfume lays a white stick with a purple cap. Fuck, tell me this is not what I think it is, I silently tell myself. I grab it and look down. Fuck.

"A stomach bug?!" I ask her raising my voice. Her head shoots up from the bed.

"I said under the sink you moron. Ugh, why are you snooping through my stuff!"

"When are you going to tell mom about this," I reply ignoring the insults she throws my way.

"None of your business," she replies.

"It is my business, she doesn't need to be raising another baby."

"She won't have to asshole! I'm going to move in with the father and we'll raise it together."

"Who is the father?" I ask, scared of the answer.

"None of your business," she replies.

"Does he even know?" I ask horrified.

"Of course he knows," she replies irritated, "he just needs time." I stare at her. Does she even realize what she's saying?

"How far along are you?" I ask.

"Second month."

"You can still get an," I start suggesting but she cuts me off with a sharp, "NO." I nod my head.

"He will love the baby, he just needs time," she replies, trying to convince herself as well as me.

"What about you? Are you ready?" I ask.

"How hard can it be? Women do it everyday," she replies unconcerned. I sigh, I already feel a great deal of compassion for this poor unborn child. I want to spare it the pain of having an unprepared mother and a possibly absent father. I want it to go back to God or heaven or whatever higher place, where there is no pain, no grief, no shame, no hunger, no poverty, no anxiety. And if this place doesn't exist then I want this child not to exist in the real world, because the real world is tough, and ugly, and brutal, and the real world is a place where people who abuse children, abandon children, hurt other people, exist, and my niece/nephew deserves better. So I'd rather them not exist, then to have this.

"Kayla," I say pleading.

"No," she replies knowing what I'm about to say, "I'm not having an abortion. I'm not giving it up for adoption. It's mine," she says like it's her iPhone or computer.

"You have to tell mom."

"I will...soon. Just keep your mouth shut for now," she replies and walks out of the room.

My mom asks me to stay the night, and I agree, too tired to drive home after the day's events. I figure if I stick around one more day my sister might decide to tell mom. I go back to my old room and sit down on my bed, exhausted. When I do I hear a small crinkling sound, and I remember my childhood nightmares. With an anger I didn't know I had in me I rip the damn thing off and throw it in the trash. I haven't had an accident in a very long while, and I almost forgot the shameful feeling I got every time I went to bed in high school. When the wretched thing is off I lay back and try to go to sleep, overwhelmed by everything that's happened in the last couple of days. And for the first time in a year I have a night terror.

The room is dark, yet I know someone is inside. I can feel their presence. I can't hear anything, but I'm certain of it. The fear is everywhere, I squeeze my eyes tight, trying to shut out my surroundings. The fear is in my throat, restricting my breathing. When I can't take it anymore I open my eyes, and his face is inches away. I try to scream at the hideous mass of flesh, but no sound comes out. His face is deformed, and he's coming for vengeance. He is angry. He is angry because I did this to him. I did this to him because I told his secret. I told his secret and now he's going to shut me up forever.

I wake up screaming and swinging my arms in the air, fighting the same person I've been fighting for years. Except this time his presence was so much more realistic, and terrifying than usually. I guess being back home has triggered certain feelings I thought were dead and gone. I hear somebody run into my room and I am terrified until I realize it's just my mom. She leaves after I calm down and reassure her that it was just a bad dream. Although my heart and breathing has calmed down, I am terrified, completely and utterly terrified. I can't turn off the lights, afraid that the vision will come back. I try to lay down, but I can't stomach being in this room. So I throw on a sweater and walk out of the house.

It's still dark outside, but I have no sense of the exact time. I slowly walk and take in deep breaths, trying to provide my body with a good dose of oxygen, hoping it will help it relax. As usual I find myself going towards the large bridge, on the outskirts of town. The same bridge where I met up with...I stop myself. No sense of bringing up more painful memories when I'm already in the hole. I lean on the the strong steel post, completely lost in my thoughts, when I feel a wet sensation on my leg. I turn around alarmed, but my panic turns to laughter when I see the horrendous looking bulldog.

"Ro," I say sitting down and petting the damn creature. As much as I dislike him, and he dislikes me, we feel a certain sense of comfort at seeing each other again. Except the comfort disappears when I realize that Ro obviously didn't just wonder away from home on his own, and my suspicions are proved true when a minute later a sweaty, yet gorgeous looking, Mark Norton jogs toward me and his dog. Even though I saw him a few times the past couple of days, the shock of our meetings prevented me from really "seeing" him. Now that he's wearing his running clothes I can actually compare him to the old Mark. He looks just like in high school, except a hundred times better, which I never thought would be possible. He's bigger, more muscular, and taller. He's more manly, yet there's still a kind gentleness about him. The only thing off is the glaring black eye that seems to look much worse today than it did last night.

He slows his pace and walks the remaining ten paces between us, and then he slumps down next to me, but at a respectable distance. I know I should get up and leave, but I just sit there, swimming in my jumbled thoughts and emotions. I've given up on Mark, so what's the harm in sitting here and getting to see him for a few more moments?

He slowly pulls out the white headphones from his ears and hangs them around his neck. The beautiful details of his physicality torture me. The black tuft of hair, a little out of place. The tiny mole behind his ear. The square jaw. The tired looking, yet alert deep green eyes. Everything about him always was and always will be perfect.

We sit there, staring straight forward, as I contemplate everything that has happened in the past few years. Ro lays down in front of me, and I put my hand on his head, gently moving my nails back and forth over his short fur.

"Bad dream?" he asks, still looking straight ahead. I look at him, that beautiful chiseled profile, and feel an immense sense of loss. I turn away.

"Yeah. What are you doing here? I though you'd be back in New York by now."

"It just felt like this is where I needed to be now." I nod, not understanding.

"How's your mom?"

"Worried," he replies honestly."Jer," he starts, and I know the exact territory this is going. I don't want to hear the half-assed apology again.

"Don't," I cut him off, "not tonight. Not now. I'm too tired." He examines my face for a while.

"Okay," he says as we continue to sit in silence. Finally he gets up and starts leaving, saying "come on boy," to Ro. Unexpectedly, I burst into tears watching him walk away. I get up and start walking in the opposite direction, confused by my reaction. Why am I crying like a child? Why does this "loss" hurt so deeply? And with horror I realize that I cannot stop crying, and that it seems to be getting worse. I stop, hyperventilating and sobbing at the same time. This has happened before, when I've been under a lot of stress, I figure I'm having a panic attack, so I bend over and place my hands on my knees, slowly trying to regain my breathing. After a few minutes I start calming down, when I hear footsteps running toward me.

I'm sweating and crying, I'm one big emotional mess, and for once Mark seems to reflect that. He starts talking out of breath, and his forehead is glistening with a thin layer of sweat as the morning sun that just peeked out shines directly into his perfect face. Yet there is a vivacious warmth coming from him, like he's finally about to get something big off his chest. Like he's about to let go of a burden.

"I'm sorry, but I have to say it. It's now or never, and I understand that you don't want to hear it, but you have to, for my sake," he starts, and I listen confused. "I know I got us to where we are now, I know I'm responsible for all of this, Jer, I know. But please just listen to me for a minute. Today I will be taking the bar exam at the Exhibition Hall. I'll be there at 10 A.M." I listen to the unclear sentences, trying to figure out why he's telling me all this. He continues, "If you think that there is anyway you could forgive me, after everything that I've done, that you could maybe try to live with it, if there's even an ounce of hope for that, please stop me from taking it," he says pleading. "I know I've made it completely impossible for you to care for me, but if there's still anything that you feel for me at all, no matter how small, I would be happy with that. I could live with that. But once I take the exam, there's no turning back," he says confusing me even further. What is he saying? He must sense my confusion because he starts to explain, "There's a plan, okay? I've been working on it for the past couple of years now, and tomorrow is the final day, and if I pass the bar I'll have to continue with the plan. But if I still have a chance, if you could forget about Breckett, if you could live with everything that I've done to you, if you could be with me in any way, no matter how small, then come and stop me."

I try to comprehend what he's saying, but it's all so much in so little time. I just stand there.

"Today, at the Exhibition Hall. I'll be there at 10 A.M." he repeats.

"A plan?" I mumble out.

"Yes, a plan. If you don't come, I'll go on with the plan. And the plan will work, because I've put my blood and sweat into it. And I've done a lot of things in the process that I'm not proud of. But it was all to reach one goal, and when you find out, you'll understand. But I can forget the plan, if I think I have any chance of being with you again, I will give it all up. In a heartbeat. Okay?" he asks. I just stand there, when he gently puts his hand to my cheek.

"Tell me you understand," he says quietly. I don't look at him, knowing that if I do I'll never be able to leave. I slowly remove his hand, even though I don't want to, and start walking away. I can feel him standing there for a long time, just watching me. I can still feel him, even when he's long out of sight. I slowly walk home, more confused than ever.

After telling Kayla once again that she needs to come clean to mom, I leave to go back to my apartment. I drink two coffees in order to stay awake. I turn the radio volume as high as I can, trying to forcefully remove the cluster of thoughts currently occupying my head. How dare he? How dare he just put everything on me. How dare he just force me to make that decision. How dare he be so unclear about everything? I speed up feeling more angry by the second. How fucking dare he.

I get home in half the time it usually takes me. My body feels exhausted, but my mind's wheels won't stop spinning. I try to sleep but instead I toss and turn and kick the blankets and throw my pillow, finally giving up altogether. I watch the clock hit 9. How dare he just show up again and mess with my head? And how dare I fall for this? No, I refuse. And for him to give me a time frame? I wallow in my feelings of anger at how Mark is handling the situation.

After a few hours I get up and start getting ready for work. I refuse to look at the clock.

I decide to walk to work, in order to get some of the negative energy out. I pass by people, and small stores, and cute dogs; yet no matter what I look at, or who I say hi to, or what puppy I pet, I cannot be distracted from the omnipresent thought of Mark. There is no escape. I reach the store just as I'm about to lay down in the middle of the street and give up on everything altogether. I feel emotionally exhausted, and physically drained.

Danielle gives me a dirty look as I walk in.

"Jesus, did you forget to shower today or something? You look like crap."

"No, just not feeling so good," I reply. She chews her gum and continues to look me up and down.

"What?" I ask her, she smiles.

"Is it girl troubles?" Jesus, how can women smell this stuff from miles away? I roll my eyes.

"Yeah, sure," I reply.

"What's she doing? Ignoring your calls, or being too clingy?" she asks, her curiosity in my love life clearly evident.

"She left me, and now she's trying to get back together, I think," I answer rambling as Danielle looks on, "I don't really know because she doesn't make any of this clear. Plus, I'm seeing somebody else now and so is she."

"Damn," she replies, "that's some twisted shit."

"Yeah, exactly," I reply.

"Well don't let that bitch play you. She's just jealous cause she saw you with someone else. All of a sudden she wants you again? That's trouble, I'm telling you," she says giving me a confident look of experience. I nod my head, wondering if maybe somewhere in Danielle's logic lies a nugget of truth. Is he doing this only because he's jealous of Derick?

"Oh and by the way I forgot, remember that hot guy that was here looking for you a couple of days ago?" she asks matter-of-factly.

"Yes, why?" I ask wary.

"He was here yesterday, and he left you something," she replies handing me a small white package. I examine it carefully, and then slowly tear it open. Inside I find a familiar looking book. As I turn it over I realize it's Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass." I smile remembering Mark confusing the book, and me having to correct him. I notice that he bookmarked one page, so I turn to it and find a short poem titled "O You Whom I Often and Silently Come."

On the bottom of the page there are some scribbled words. I know the hand writing too well. I read them first. "You were right, I don't know much about Whitman, but I do know that this poem makes me think of you.- M.N."

I look at the poem, just 49 words. I read it.

"O You whom I often and silently come where you are, that I may be with you; As I walk by your side, or sit near, or remain in the same room with you, Little you know the subtle electric fire that for your sake is playing within me." I read it again. And again. And then one more time. And I can't help the tears that start to form in my eyes. And then I burst out laughing. It's so simple. It is so simple. No, it's not rational. No, it's not the smart thing to do. But it's what I have to do.

I check my watch, it's 6:00. I know bar exams are extremely long so I still have a good chance. I tell Danielle that I have an emergency, grab my backpack and run out of the store as fast as I can. My body is running on pure adrenaline as I bump into people and almost get hit by a car. I feel like I'm in a fast paced action movie. I bump into another man who yells after me, I don't care. All I can think about is Mark, as the words "electric fire" play in my mind. Whatever it is, whether it's just neurons firing off in my brain, making me crazy, or whether it's a fatal attraction, I no longer care. All I know is that I will never be able to replace that feeling, the feeling of electric fire that spreads through me whenever he is near. Nothing will ever come close to it, I realize. Not even close. So I run as fast as I can.

When I reach the building I tear through the door like a tornado. I run toward the receptionist.

"," I exclaim out of breath.

"You're here to take the bar?" she asks outraged?

"N...oo...I'm loo...king...for..somone...who is," I reply, hoping she'll hurry up and tell me where it is already.

"Oh, well you just missed it. Everyone's left already." My stomach drops. I run out and look around, nobody is in sight. The fear sets in as I realize I might have just ruined my last chance with him. I pull on my hair in frustration. I take out my phone and dial Joanna's number. She's surprised, yet happy, to hear my voice. I ask her if she has any idea where Mark is and she tells me he went straight to the airport after taking the exam, on his way back to New York. I shake my head in desperation. I ask her to give me his number and she does. I try calling but his phone goes straight to voicemail. So I text. *I came, but I was too late. Please call me.*

Then I go home, dreading the fact that I will have to tell the person I love that I just don't love them enough.

When I get home Derick starts talking to me about a tv show, but I cut him off right away. I don't have the strength to hurt him anymore.

"What's wrong?" he asks. I look at him, groping around my brain for the right words, yet nothing feels right in this situation.

"You want to break up?" he asks alarmed. I confirm his fear with my silence.

"Because of him?" he asks and I sense disgust in his tone. I slowly nod.

"That's a mistake," he simply states, rational as always.

"I know," I reply, my voice not sounding like my own.

"Then why are you doing it?" He asks harshly.

"I don't know. I love him," I reply, fully realizing how pathetic I sound.

"You don't love him. You love some fantasy man you made up who doesn't exist, you do realize that don't you?" he asks.

"Perhaps," I reply sadly. He swallows hard, trying to digest this information.

"Fuck," he says, tearing up, which in turn makes me tear up, "fuck, fuck, fuck. I hate that son of a bitch. He will hurt you, you know that right?" I stay silent.

"He will hurt you, because that's all he knows how to do. He's engaged, how are you planning to do this? You want him to just leave her? How much more selfish can you get?" he asks enraged.

"I don't know," I reply, tears rolling down my cheeks.

"Did you guys get physical while we were together?" He asks all of a sudden, completely confusing me.

"Of course not," I say, not understanding why he would want to know this.

"Did you love me?" he asks, his voice breaking again.

"Of course I did, I still love you," I reply walking toward him, he hugs me firmly for a brief period of time, and then just as firmly lets go and backs away.

"It's my fault, I knew it, I knew it yet I still tried to keep you," he says all of a sudden.

"That's not true," I reply.

"Yes, it is. Maybe I wasn't sure before, but when we saw him at the restaurant, I knew. Inside, I knew. You know how I knew Jer? Because that smile...that beautiful smile of never reaches your eyes. And I never noticed that, because I never had anything to compare it to. But when I see you looking at him, I see it. I see a spark in your eyes, a brightness. And that's just something I can't compete with, no matter how much I want to." I stare at Derick, tears pouring out of my eyes. Tears because I love him. Tears because I know it's over. Tears because I can see how hurt he is, even though he puts on a smile to cover it up. Tears because no matter how much I try I could never feel for Derick what I feel for Mark. Yet the hurt is profound because I do love Derick and I respect him so much as a person. Hurting him hurts me ten times more than any punishment he could have inflicted on me.

"I can't stay here," he says.

"Are you sure? I can leave if you want," I reply.

"No, I want you to stay. I'll leave. We can talk about the apartment tomorrow," he says and I nod. He grabs a few things and leaves, making me feel torn and empty inside.