Prologue: 8 Years Earlier
“You’re dumping me? You’re really dumping me?”
Ryan Reilly, my on-again off-again boyfriend of the last few years, is pacing the length of the living room of his spacious one-bedroom apartment on the upper west side. He’s alternatingly furious and astonished. Guys who look like Ryan aren’t used to getting dumped. He’s used to being the one to hand out the “it’s not you, it’s me” line. He relishes it.
“I’m not dumping you,” I protest.
Except, of course, I am. I most definitely am.
“Yes, you are,” he insists. “Don’t insult my intelligence, Jane.”
Ryan’s not stupid—I’ll give him that. He’s got a laundry list of bad qualities, but that isn’t one of them. He’s arrogant, he’s obnoxious, and he’s got a terrible temper, but he’s not stupid. He’s a surgeon, actually, and he’s really good at it. He’s one of the most skilled and dedicated surgeons I’ve ever met. It’s one of the things I love about him.
Loved, actually. Now that this is ending, I should get used to thinking about us in the past tense.
Ryan stops pacing and sinks down onto his leather sofa. I was with him when he bought this sofa, and he got a kick out of the fact that the number of digits in the price tag made me gasp out loud. (I can’t afford a sofa like this—I’ll probably never be able to afford a sofa like this.) Ryan tugs at the collar of his green scrub top—he’s been in the hospital operating all day since five in the morning, so I’d imagine he’s exhausted. But he still sounded excited when I told him I wanted to come over. I’ve never known anyone who looked so bright-eyed at the end of a thirty-hour shift. How does he do it? He’s almost superhuman.
Ryan stares up at me with his blue eyes. Those eyes were the first thing I saw the day I met him three years ago, when the rest of his face was covered by a surgical mask. He has really nice eyes. Clear blue like the sky or a bluebird or a raspberry Jolly Rancher. If I keep looking at them, I’m going to lose my resolve.
Don’t look directly at the sexy surgeon, Jane.
“Come on,” he pleads with me, running his hand anxiously through his blond hair, “don’t do this. You know I’m crazy about you.”
I stay on my feet, looking down at him. “Gee, I thought we were keeping things casual.”
“Guh!” Ryan punches his fist into the back of the sofa, creating a knuckle-shaped indentation. That’s his infamous temper flaring up. A guy like Ryan always keeps lots of minions around to scream at during surgeries. I’ve seen him do it—it’s brutal. He’s made nurses cry. “There’s someone else, isn’t there?”
I’m a terrible liar and he knows it, so I’m not even going to try. “Yeah.”
“So… just do what you need to do with him.” Ryan nods his head like he’s just come upon a brilliant solution. “Then come back to me.”
I shake my head. The two of us haven’t exactly been exclusive—he’s taken advantage of our open relationship far more than I have—but I’m not coming back to him. Not this time.
“What’s his name?”
I hesitate. “Ben.”
Let me tell you about this guy Ben.
He’s really cute. Boy next door sort of cute. Okay, he doesn’t make women clutch their chest and murmur “oh my” the way Ryan does, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s a plus.
Ben always holds my hand when we’re together. He doesn’t pull away and pretend like he doesn’t know me when he spots a cute blonde at the concession stand at the movies.
Ben shows up to our dates with flowers. Every freaking time. I want to say to him, “Okay, Ben, enough with the flowers.” Except I don’t because it’s so sweet that it makes me almost tear up. Ryan’s never bought me flowers once.
Ben and I have gone out nearly every night for the last week, and last night we stayed awake talking at my apartment until the sun came up. We didn’t even notice until Ben remarked, “Holy crap, I need to be at work in two hours.”
I really, really like him. I don’t quite love him yet, but something firmly in the middle between “really, really like” and “love.” I loke him. I lovike him.
And Ben would definitely not be okay with my hooking up with Ryan on the side.
“Ben!” Ryan punches the sofa again. He probably would rather punch something with less give than a leather sofa, but he’s smart enough not to break his hand on a wall. “What a stupid name! I can’t believe you’re dumping me for a guy named Ben.”
“What’s wrong with the name Ben?” There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the name Ben. It’s a perfectly nice, normal name.
“People with one syllable names are notoriously boring,” he says.
I squint at him. “Jane is a one syllable name, you know.”
“Exactly!” he says. “That’s why you need me.”
I can’t help but laugh at that one. Even when Ryan is being a jerk, he always manages to make me laugh. No matter how awful I’ve been feeling at various times over the last few years—and there have been some truly awful moments—he could always get me to smile.
Is this a mistake?
Ryan notices my hesitation. “What do I have to do?” he presses me. “What can I do to get you to stay? Tell me what I have to do.”
I don’t want what most women want. I don’t want a proposal or an invitation to move in with him or even a drawer set aside for me in his bedroom. Not that I wouldn’t like those things, but it’s not what I want most from him. What I want most is something that he’ll never, ever be able to give me.
I stare down at him. “You know what you have to do.”
He knows what I’m talking about right away. I watch him cringe—he probably wishes I’d demanded a ring. “Please don’t ask me that, Jane.” His blue eyes plead with me. “You know I can’t do that. Please. This is my whole life we’re talking about.”
“Well…” I shrug my shoulders. “That’s what I want.”
Ryan falls back against the couch, the fight taken out of him. He doesn’t look angry anymore—only sad. I suspect I’m the only person who gets to see Ryan when he’s sad. He can be the biggest asshole in the world, but whenever he loses a patient, he lies down on his bed, shuts the door to his bedroom, and stares at the ceiling for hours. I can’t talk to him when he’s like that, but he’ll let me lie down beside him.
Nobody sees that side of Ryan but me. And after I leave, I’m not sure anyone else will. Not for a long time. Maybe never.
But it doesn’t change a thing.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“No, it’s fine.” Ryan waves his hand in my direction. “Go ahead and leave me for Ben.” He sits up a little straighter. “But that guy better watch out, because the second he messes up, I’m going to swoop in and get you back.”
Yeah, right. In a year from now, Ryan won’t even remember my name.