Carly felt the pillow turn damp. She’d been sobbing into it for too long. The house seemed empty. Her life seemed empty.
How did it all turn so wrong so quickly? She was happy and engaged to her soulmate what seemed like a minute ago.
She heard the doorbell ring. She crawled bed begrudgingly. Whoever it was, she hoped she’d be able to make some form of an excuse as quickly as possible. Even pretending she was holding it together was too big of a task.
She dragged herself across the room, to the back entrance.
And there he was. The person that caused her all this pain. The person she couldn’t shake off her mind. Just standing there in her back garden, surrounded by dozens of candles and tulips – her favourite flower.
Why did he have to pay attention to the little things, and not the big things?
“Ralph… what is this?” She asked him.
Of course, what she really wanted to do was to pull him as close to her as possible and tell him to never let go.
But that wasn’t exactly an option.
“Lottie, I know I’ve really messed up this time,” Ralph told her. “I was reckless, and wasn’t thinking about how what I was doing would affect you. I was just thinking about the endgame. But listen, if you give me another chance, I think this can bring us closer. No more secrets. I’d never threaten what we have that way again…”
It took all of her willpower not to jump straight into his arms. He sounded sincere. But he always had. So why would it be different now? Of course he was going to say he would change, and that he’d never lie to her again. Ralph wasn’t stupid.
She looked around the flowers uncertainly.
“Do you like the tulips?” He asked.
“Of course I like the tulips Ralph, that’s not the point,” Carly replied. “Look, I want to trust you Ralph, but how can I? You’re so good at lying you became a spy! I can’t trust anything that leaves your mouth now!”
“That’s why I kind of figured I’d let this do the talking for me,” he gestured to the flowers and candles on the ground. “I’ve told you this before, big speeches aren’t really my forte…”
“Yes, you did say that.” Carly sighed. “You don’t do big romantic speeches, you do big romantic gestures. Well that’s not good enough! I don’t want either, I just want somebody I can actually rely on. Ralph, you wouldn’t need all these gestures if you didn’t keep messing up!”
“But… but… we always pull through, don’t we Lottie?” Ralph’s voice was shaking. “If there’s nothing I can say or do to change your mind, then what do you want me to do?”
“There’s nothing left to be done.”
Looking at him hurt. Not being with him hurt. But this wasn’t something that could be solved by empty promises.
“I think you should go, Ralph.” She told him.
Carly couldn’t sleep, the conversation replaying over and over in her head. Along with all the memories.
The night he proposed. The way he looked at her at the Snow Ball. The scavenger hunt he’d planned for her when they were still teenagers. The way he’d always tease her. Their first kiss. The day he first sat next to her in plumming algebra…
It was getting late. Was that the first rays of sunlight already poking in? Except for the shadow by the door.
He came back. Or maybe he never left. She wasn’t sure. And in that moment, it didn’t matter.
She’d done enough fighting with herself for the day. And she needed him. So she allowed herself to switch off her brain.
She opened her eyes, not knowing what time of the day it was. It could already be the evening again, for all she knew. The last few hours before they fell asleep were a blur.
Ralph was awake too. He was smiling at her.
The way he said it was as if nothing had ever changed between them. Just how he’d usually greet her when they first woke up.
Except that nothing was the same anymore. She stumbled onto her feet.
“We shoudn’t have done this.” She said to him.
Ralph sat up on the bed, his face slowly becoming lifeless again. “Why not?”
“It doesn’t change anything… it just made everything worse.” Carly tried to explain. “We still have the same exact problems, except that now letting you go is going to be all that extra harder.”
“Then don’t let me go,” Ralph pleaded. “I don’t want to let you go. I want the opposite. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. That’s why I gave you that ring, remember?”
“I know, Ralph. But will you lie to me for the rest of your life too?” Her throat felt dry.
“That’s hardly fair…”
“Fair? You just took on that undercover job like it was a casual newspaper delivery! And you never mentioned a single word about it… You could have died!” Carly burst into tears. “Meeting up with criminals, just on your own, risking your life…”
“And if anything did happen to you, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea!” She didn’t let him interrupt. “You would just… disappear. Don’t you understand? I’m not saying you have to tell me about every minute detail of your day, but there’s a limit to secrecy. And if you died… what would I do?”
“I’d never let it get that far,” Ralph said. “I always knew what I was doing…”
“How can you say that? It only takes one mistake!”
“Ok, maybe I was lucky. But I’m done with those kinds of jobs now. Done. All I want to do is open a nice little furniture store, with you. We can sell books too, if you want. Or collectibles…”
“Listen, you said you wouldn’t know what to do if I died,” Ralph tried a different angle. “So why toss me out of your life? It doesn’t make sense!”
“Because this way, at least it’s my choice,” Carly said desperately. “Because this way, I can pretend you’re fine no matter what. Because this way, if something happens to you, it won’t be me crying for you…”
“That’s a horrible reason,” Ralph shook his head. “If you do really care about me as much as you say you do, then just give me one more chance to prove that I’m serious. I have moved on from that lifestyle. I have the minute it put us at risk. I’d do anything to keep you by my side. I love you, you know that. I love you so much Lottie…”
Carly looked at him sadly. She was out of tears by now.
“I love you too, Ralph. But sometimes love is not enough.”
“Don’t give me that one… That’s such a cliché thing to say.”
“Well, you know why clichés become clichés? Because they’re predictable. Because they happen all the time. We’re over, Ralph. Cliché or not, you better believe it.”