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I Know This Isn't Fair
“I love you Rick.” She forced a smile. She had finally said it. The “L” word. It wasn’t true, but she knew he needed to hear the lie soon or he’d give up trying, and she needed him to stay. He was what kept her out of the dark. Rick’s eyes lit up as he stood and walked around the small café table to her.
“Then, I think this is the appropriate time for this…” He stuck his hand into his pocket and pulled out a little black box. Oh god; that little black box. Her heart skipped a beat.
“The appropriate time for what, Rick?” Her voice rose higher and she practically squeaked “Rick?!” when she saw her boyfriend bent on one knee, opening the box.
“Catherine, will you marry me?”
She stared at him, petrified, a look of horror on her face.
Rick’s expression became panicked. “Catherine? Sweetie? I’m sorry! It was too soon, wasn’t it? Sorry!”
It wasn’t too soon. They had been living together for the last two years and had dated for four years before that. He started to put the ring back and stand up. She saw the future she wanted: a small house with a garden, a toddler playing with toys in the front room and her in the arms of the man she loved, and she knew it was never going to happen. But part of it could. She could have the house, the garden, the kid, and she could find herself in the arms of a man who loved her unconditionally.
He was wrong. “N-No!” His green eyes flooded with pain and the first jolting pain of rejection stabbed his heart straight through. “I mean, YES! Yes, Richard Hallon, I will marry you!” Instantly his wounds were healed, and he radiated pure joy as he slipped the ring onto her slender finger and wrapped his muscled arms around her petite frame. If Rick had stepped back to see his fiancé’s face, he would have thought that what he saw were tears of joy.
He would have been wrong.
“Oh my god Catherine! That dress is perfect! Don’t you think?” Anna Hallon didn’t wait for her to reply before looking to her mother and receiving a nod of agreement. The bride-to-be turned to smile at her future family and spun around, making the white dress billow out around her like a white, silk bell. The dress was perfect. It was simply cut, but elegant. Standing there on the raised floor surrounded by mirrors and twinkling lights with her bare feet and unruly brown hair, Catherine felt like a fey-child from an old fairy tale.
“You just have to wear this one!” Anna’s red, curly locks bounced with every energetic nod of her head. “Rick won’t be able to keep his eyes off of you the entire wedding!” Confusion flashed across Catherine’s face.
Rick? That’s not the right name… I’m not in love with Rick. I’m supposed to marry --
“Rick! Hey! Yeah, we just found the perfect dress!” Catherine twisted away from the sight of her soon-to-be sister-in-law talking to her fiancé on the cell phone. “No! Of course you can’t see it! It’s bad luck to see the dress before the wedding.”
I think it’s also bad luck to marry the wrong man… Catherine studied her reflection in the many mirrors surrounding her. She practiced smiling and looking happy. It looked fake. She looked fake. She was fake. She told herself to snap out of it! She could love Rick. I love him. I do. She shook her head violently to rid her mind of the image of saying those two words to the man she saw whenever she closed her eyes. The man who was no longer a part of her life. He was not coming back. Rick was who she belonged with. He was her future.
Catherine sat up suddenly, gasping for air. It was 1:27 AM, the day of her wedding. Oh god, oh god, ohgod. Calm down, you’re fine. Nothing wrong with being nervous. Totally normal before a wedding. She rolled her eyes at her own thoughts as she slipped out of bed. Who do I think I’m kidding? She tried not to wake her lightly snoring fiancé as she pulled on a sweatshirt and running shoes.
She jogged to the corner and started her usual route. Running was something that she could always turn to when she was stressed or unsure or just needed some time to herself. Unfortunately, her problems were not the sort that she could just run away from. They followed her as she started down the darkened street, eating at her mind.
Her feet pounded on the pavement as she pounded the images of her long-gone love out of her head. He’s gone. She loved Rick. Rick was her future. She continued her mantra, and soon, booming thunder joined her throbbing pulse and thudding footsteps. Each individual raindrop crash landed on the pavement, splattered into brilliant flashes of reflected light, and disappeared like miniature universes bursting into nothingness. She let the cacophony flood her mind and wash it clean of all thought.
Exhausted, gasping for breath, and dripping wet, she clutched her keys tightly in her trembling hand so they wouldn’t jangle. She left her shoes at the door and oozed her way out of her drenched sweatshirt and pants. She cradled the bundle against her chest and made her way as silently as possible to the bathroom. There was nothing she could do about the deafening noise of the shower, so she just gritted her teeth and sent a prayer out that Rick would sleep through it.
The hot water cascaded down her body and swirled into the drain. She visualized her worries, problems, memories following the water and leaving her free. The merciful numbness set in and remained, a comforting weight in her limbs and mind, until she crawled back into bed. Rick rolled over and kissed her cheek lovingly. “Where were you?” His eyes were still glazed with dreams and didn’t see the grimace when he kissed her and the strain behind her reassuring smile when she answered him.
“I had a bad dream and I thought a hot shower would help me relax.”
He accepted her lie without question. He hugged her close and whispered that he would protect her from the nightmares before falling asleep, his strong but limp arms acting as a prison around her thin frame.
Her guilty thoughts kept her awake far longer than her fiancé’s snoring could. How could she lie to him so easily? No guilt at all! She lied all the time! Every single time she told him she loved him, she lied. What kind of fiancé was she?
She didn’t see the irony in feeling guilty about not feeling guilty.
“Catherine?” Rick knocked on the door again. “I know it’s unlucky, but I really think we should talk.”
He knocked on the door again; tapping out his frustration on the white painted door with a plain wooden cross hanging above. Another hint he had missed: Catherine was apathetic in the planning process. Sure she smiled and nodded and played along, but his mother and sister spoon-fed everything to her. There has to be something wrong when the bride says
“I don’t mind. I don’t know” when they’re trying to decide on the setting for her wedding.
He had missed so many hints. But now he was here to straighten things out.
“Catherine, I love you. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love you. Please open the door?”
Still no answer.
He opened the door.
There, on the table where she should be sitting doing makeup or rearranging her hair, was a single white sheet of paper covered with swirling black. Catherine’s elegant handwriting jumped off the page and stabbed him in the heart. There on the page were the words he never wanted to hear, but needed to know.
“Rick, I know this isn’t fair…”