The Hard Place

“What’s that?” Daniel asked, nodding toward August’s hand. She followed the direction of his gaze before her fingers curled into a tight fist. Still, the engagement ring couldn’t be hidden.

“I agreed to marry Jack,” she said at last.

Daniel inhaled sharply. His jaw tightened and he glared at her, though her eyes remained in her lap. “So, the other night—”

“Was a mistake,” she said. “Even if I wasn’t marrying Jack. The other night was a mistake.”

“Look at me, August.”

She couldn’t. Not without breaking. And she needed to stay whole, even if just for a little while longer. “I’m sorry, Daniel,” she said, getting to her feet. “I have to go.”

Still avoiding his eyes, she started for the door but he stepped in her path. “Look at me,” he repeated. Finally, she did. His features were contorted with pain. Confusion. August swallowed hard, blinking back the tears that welled behind her eyelids. “Be honest with me. For once, just be fucking honest.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say,” she said.

“I want you to tell me the truth!” he lashed out. “I’ve been in love with you since we were fifteen! And just when I think maybe you’ll put me out of my fucking misery, you do this. I understood back then, but I’m not accepting it now. You don’t love that guy, and don’t stand here and tell me you do. Why, August? Why? What is it about me that drives you into the arms of every other man?”

She shrugged, struggling to keep her eyes on him. It was like torture; looking at him, hearing his voice and his words and his anguish. “I do love him,” she replied, her voice just above a whisper.

“The truth, August!”

“That is the truth!”

The truth!” he bellowed.

“Fine!” she shrieked. “You want the truth? The truth is I’m still in love with Mason! Alright? Are you happy now? I love your brother! I always have and I probably always will!” Spinning away from him, she began to pace the room. “Sometimes I imagine myself ending up with you. Even when we were kids, I thought about it, pictured it, considered it. But I love Mason, Daniel. I love him in a way that I can’t get myself to love anyone else. Five years later, and I still dream about him miraculously coming back to me. Just showing up at my doorstep so we can pick up where we left off. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I just can’t get past him. He’ll always have a piece of me. And you deserve a girl who can give you a hundred percent of herself. A hundred and fifty percent. I’m not that girl.”

When she turned back to him, he was expressionless. He stared down at her with empty eyes. And then he chuckled, though humorlessly. “Fine,” he said, turning toward the door.

“Daniel, wait—”

“He’s not going to show up at your doorstep, August. Not for another five years, anyway. And by then, it’ll be anything but miraculous.”

Without waiting for her reply, he left.

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