“I-I can’t.” Susie could barely choke out the words as tears filled her eyes. “I’m so sorry.”
She rushed out of the room and went upstairs. The sound of the bedroom door slamming echoed throughout the, now silent, house. Nick heard a couple of people clear their throats uncomfortably and the sound of people awkwardly shuffling their feet. If they could have, everyone would have probably bolted from the room like Susie did. But they didn’t. They were frozen in place, waiting to see what Nick would do next.
Slowly, he got off his knee and back onto his feet. He glanced down at the small box in his hand. The ring sparkled up at him, almost as if it were mocking him. He snapped it shut and shoved it back into his pocket. His face was burning with a mixture of shame and anger. He could feel everybody watching him. He wanted to get rid of them just as badly as they wanted to leave, but he wasn’t ready to admit defeat yet.
After all, this was Susie. She was the love of his life, his everything. There had to be a reason she said no. If whatever it was was bad enough to make her reject him in front of a room full of people, then it must have been important. He wanted to know what it was. He took a deep breath and forced a smile as he turned towards the gawking crowd.
“Well… that certainly wasn’t the answer I was expecting,” he said, forcing a small chuckle.
He said that hoping to lighten the mood a little. Instead, it seemed to make things more awkward. The crowd immediately started avoiding eye contact with him. He rubbed the back of his neck. How to handle a situation like this? In a million years, he never would have thought that she’d say no. He wouldn’t have thrown this party if he had. He cleared his throat.
“Look, I know this evening probably didn’t go like any of us planned,” he admitted. “There are obviously some things Susie and I need to talk about, but I don’t want that to put a damper on the party. Please, stay, eat, drink, and have a good time. I’m going to go talk to her and, in the meantime, I leave you with the beautiful voice of Ms. Lauren Thatcher.”
Nick nodded quickly to his sister. She picked up the cue immediately and went over to the karaoke tv set up in the corner of the room.
“Who wants to hear some Madonna?!” Lauren called out enthusiastically.
It wasn’t much, but it was something. A few people began to murmur amongst themselves, a few wandered over towards where Lauren was. It was a start. Nick took the opportunity to slip out of the room.
He put on a brave face as he went upstairs, but his chest felt like somebody had crushed it with a rock. Why did she say no? They’d been together for so long now. What was it, almost five years? More than that, he thought that they really had a connection with each other. Especially in the last few months. They started having fun again. They went out more often, they tried new things, they opened up to each other. It was like when they first started dating again. So why did she say no?
He heard some shuffling behind the bedroom door. She was still there. He knocked softly. The shuffling stopped at once.
“Susie, can we talk?” He said gently.
“Nick, go away. Please,” she begged.
He took a deep breath. Yes, he was upset, but he wasn’t going to take it out on her. There had to be a reason, and whatever that reason was it was upsetting her. He had to be patient, he had to try to understand.
“Look, Suze, I don’t know why you said what you said, but I want to,” he explained. “If there’s something bothering you, I want to know. I want to understand whatever’s going on. At the very least, I want an explanation. Can I at least have that from you?”
Silence filled the air. After a moment, he heard footsteps coming towards the door. He heard the sharp click as she unlocked the door. Had it really been locked? She opened it up and peeked out at him. It was obvious she’d been crying this whole time. She looked at him a moment before sighing and nodding. She gestured for him to come in.
As he entered the room, his eyes immediately went to the half-packed suitcase on the bed. Panic filled him at once. Okay, a rejection was bad, but this? Leaving? What was going on? Was she worried her saying no meant the end of everything? Or was it something more serious than that?
“Don’t,” she said, dragging the suitcase to the floor. “Just… don’t.”
She sat on the bed and turned away from him. He looked at her. The way she fiddled with her hands, the way her entire body was tensed up like she was bracing for impact. Whatever this was, it was obviously hard for her. As much as he was hurting, he didn’t want this to be any harder for her than it had to.
He took a deep breath. “Okay, we’ll… put a pin in that one for now. Suze, what’s going on?”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry. Nicky, I’m so, so sorry, but I can’t do it.”
“That’s okay,” he reassured her. He sat next to her on the bed. “Look, we’re just… not at the same place in our relationship right now. I get it. You want more time, or you want something more from me, and that’s okay. I-”
“Nick, that’s not it,” she mumbled.
“Susie, if I did something-”
“That’s not it either,” she insisted. “It’s not that you’re not doing something, it’s not that you did something wrong, it’s not you Nicky. It’s me.”
He scoffed. “Wow. How original.”
“Look, I know that’s a pathetic excuse, but it is me. Nick, this isn’t some insecurity I need to work through,” she explained, “this isn’t a fear of commitment, this isn’t a veiled plea for you to try harder, this isn’t anything that you can do something about. This is a problem that I have, that you can do nothing about, and it’s never going to change.”
“Why?” He almost pleaded. “What is so wrong with our relationship that you want to leave me and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it?”
“Nick… I don’t love you.”
It was like the world ceased to exist. Everything around him vanished. Now there was only him, only her, and those sickening words echoing in his mind again and again.
“Let me rephrase,” she said quickly. “I’m not in love with you. I care about you more than anything in this world, Nick. I do. But when I think about a future together, about marriage, and kids, and everything like that, I just don’t see myself having that future with you.”
He wanted to be the good guy, he really did, but all the misery turned to bitterness in his heart. She reached out to touch his hand and he slapped it away. He couldn’t even stomach looking at her right now. He scoffed and shook his head slowly.
“Okay, great. Glad it only took you five fucking years to figure that out,” he snapped.
“I know, I know, but I promise this is recent,” she pleaded. “There were times when I felt something was off between us, but I always rationalized it as I was scared or overthinking, but… something happened recently.
I’ve realized something very important and now I know for sure that I will never be able to love you in the way you deserve. I can’t marry you knowing I’ll be living a lie. I can’t do that to myself, and I definitely can’t do that to you. You deserve real love Nick, and I can’t give it to you.”
“What?” She asked, surprised.
“What happened?” He demanded. “You say this big thing happened and now you can never love me, so what the fuck happened?”
She sighed and buried her face in her hands. A couple soft sobs escaped her lips, but he was past the point of caring now. She looked up at him, her eyes full of misery and shame.
“Nick… I’m gay.”
“I know!” She wailed, exasperated. “I-I always knew I was kind of bi, but I never thought about it too much. I mean, I was with you and we were so happy, so why would I bother. But then…”
“Last week, when Lauren and I went shopping…” She sighed. “I guess I understand now why she kept wanting to look at jewelry stores. We… we went out for dinner and drinks after. You know, girls' day. Having fun, laughing, talking. I guess I had one drink too many. I- I kissed her.”
“You kissed my sister?!” He shouted.
“I know! I know it’s terrible, I know it’s the worst betrayal I could ever do to you, I know I’m a terrible person, but it’s true,” she practically sobbed. “I’ve always thought Lauren was a beautiful girl, but I promise I've never thought about doing something like that with her before. I wasn’t even thinking. She was just walking me back home, and… I don’t know. I have no clue what came over me, but I leaned in and I kissed her.”
“So, you and Lauren-”
“No!” She said quickly. “It was a kiss, that’s all. Please, do not blame Lauren. She blew it off immediately. She laughed and said I must have been drunk. There’s nothing between us and I would never think of dating her, I promise.
But when I kissed her, it just felt… right. Like this puzzle piece that I’d always been missing finally appeared and suddenly, I knew what was always wrong with us.
Nick, I do love you, but I’ll never be in love with you. I know you’re hurt, and angry, and you’ll probably want nothing to do with me after this, but I don’t want to lie to you. You deserve better than that. You've never lied to me, never cheated on me, never hurt me. You've always, always been there for me. You’re a good man who deserves a good life. I just know I can’t give it to you.”
“Are you done?” He asked stiffly.
Susie flinched at the coldness in his voice. In all their time together, she’d never heard him sound so hollow. Tears stung her eyes.
“I just want you to know that you mean the world to me. No matter what happens next, I’m glad that you were a part of my life and I hope, someday, you’ll forgive me enough to let me be a part of yours again.”
Nick nodded slowly and stood up. “Finish packing. I want you out by tomorrow.”
He could hear Susie sobbing as he closed the door, but he didn’t care. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore. As he walked downstairs, he heard the faint sound of music and mumbles from the next room. He didn’t care about “saving the party” anymore. He just wanted to be alone.
Not surprisingly, about half of the guests had left already. Most of them probably ran for it as soon as he was out of sight. The ones who were left fell silent as soon as they saw him. Everyone was staring at him again, waiting for an update.
Nick sighed deeply. “Thanks for coming, everyone, but… party’s over. Please go home.”
The guests all went around the room grabbing their coats and purses. They filed past Nick slowly. None dared to ask what had happened upstairs. His face made it obvious that it was nothing good. Lauren put a couple of things back in their place before coming over to him.
“Nick, what happened? Is-”
“Go home, Laurie.”
Lauren looked concerned. “Nick, what’s wrong? Did you two have a fight? Maybe I can-”
“You can’t do anything!” He snapped. “Get out of my house. I don’t want to see you for a while."
Her eyes went wide with surprise, but she nodded. If Nick was forcing her out like this, then it must have been bad. She grabbed her coat. She squeezed his arm gently as she walked past him. A silent, but encouraging gesture to let him know things would be okay.
Except they wouldn’t. As he heard the door close behind her, he looked around at the living room. It was an empty mess, just like his heart. He sat in a nearby armchair. As he did, he felt a hard object in his pocket. The ring. He forgot he still had it.
He pulled out the small box and looked at it again. He remembered the ring inside, the ring Lauren told him Susie had loved that fateful day. If only he hadn’t sent them to look for it. If only he’d taken her himself. If only…
No. It wouldn’t have changed anything. Sooner or later, it would have happened. It would always end the same way. With him staring up at the ceiling and wondering why this had to happen to him. To them.
He chucked the box as hard as he could across the room. It made a sharp thud as it hit the opposite wall. He buried his face in his hands. He thought that he would end up crying, but instead, he laughed. Before he knew it he was laughing hysterically. As he did he couldn’t help the thought that went through his head. God, this was one hell of a party.