I rolled my eyes. “Do you know if he’s still been seeing her?”
Chloe seemed to be considering her answer carefully. “Well—I don’t officially know of him ending things with her,” she said, wincing a little. “But Hanna, he adores you. Anyone can—”
She sighed reluctantly. “I honestly don’t know. I know we all gave him a hard time about not ending things, but I can’t . . . for a fact, I mean, say that he ever stopped seeing her.”
Shaking her head, Sara murmured, “I’m sorry, honey. I honestly don’t know, either.”
I wondered if it was possible for a heart to break by fractions. I’d been sure I’d heard it crack when I’d read the text from Kitty. Felt another piece break with his lie about Tuesday night. And all week, I’d felt bruised, felt every tiny shard as it fell away until I wondered what could possibly still be beating in my chest.
“I’d overheard him talking to my brother about wanting to be serious with someone but being afraid to end things with the others. But I figured, maybe he just meant officially end them? Things seemed really good with us. But then Kitty sent him this text,” I said. “I was playing with his phone and she replied to a message he’d obviously sent her about getting together Tuesday night.”
“I wanted him to tell me himself. Will has always been all about honesty and communication, so I figured if I invited him over for dinner Tuesday he’d tell me he was going to be with Kitty.”
I sighed. “He said he had a thing. A meeting that night.”
“Yeah,” I mumbled. “So I ended it right there. But I did it really badly because I had no idea what to say. I told him that it was getting too heavy, that I was only twenty-four and didn’t want anything serious. That I didn’t want this anymore.”
“Damn, girl,” George sang quietly. “When you want to end things, you dig a hole and drop a bomb in it.”
I groaned, pressing the heels of my hands against my eyes.
“There has to be an explanation,” Sara said. “Will doesn’t say he has a meeting when he’s going to be with a woman. He just says he’s going to be with a woman. Hanna, I’ve never seen him like this before. Max has never seen him like this before. It’s clear he adores you.”
“But does it matter?” I asked, my drink long forgotten. “He lied about the meeting, but I’m the one who said we should keep it open. It’s just that open for me meant the possibility of someone else. Open for him was more of the reality already in hand. And all along he was the one pushing for more between us.”
“Talk to him, Hanna,” Chloe said. “Trust me on this one. You need to give him a chance to explain.”
“Explain what?” I asked. “That he was still seeing her, per the rules I’d initially set? Then what?”
Chloe took my hand and squeezed it. “Then you hold your head high and tell him to f**k off in person.”I dressed as soon as the first hint of light appeared outside the window and walked the ten blocks to the race in a nervous haze. It was held in Central Park and the entire circuit went for just over thirteen miles, snaking through trails and paths in the park. Several local streets were cordoned off to support the sponsor trucks, tents, and herds of people, both racers and spectators.
This was real now. Will would be there and I would decide to talk to him or just leave things the way they were. I didn’t know if I could handle either choice.
The sky had just started to brighten and a chill hung in the morning air. But my face felt warm, my blood hot as it raced through arteries and veins, through my heart that beat too fast. I had to focus on pulling every breath into my lungs, pushing it out again.
I didn’t know where I was going, or what I was doing, but the event seemed well organized, and as soon as I neared the location, signs directed me to where I was meant to check in.
I looked up to see my former training partner, my former lover, standing at the registration table, watching me with an expression I couldn’t quite make out. I’d hoped my memory had exaggerated how striking he was, how overwhelming it was to just be near him. It hadn’t. Will held my gaze, and I wondered if I would start laughing uncontrollably, cry, or maybe just run away if he got any closer.
Abruptly, I held out my hand as if he should . . . what? Greet me with a handshake? Jesus Christ, Hanna! But I was committed now, and my trembling hand remained suspended between us as he looked down at it.
“Oh . . . we’re . . . going to be like this,” he mumbled, wiping his palm on his pants before gripping my hand in his. “Okay, hey. How are you?”
I swallowed, jerking my hand away as soon as I possibly could. “Hey. Good. I’m good.”
This was comically bad, and it was the kind of bad I wanted to dissect with Will and only Will. I suddenly had a million questions about awkward post-breakup protocol, and whether handshakes were always a bad idea or just now.
Bending robotically, I signed my name on some line and took a packet of information from a woman seated behind the table. She was giving me instructions I barely comprehended; I felt like I was suspended underwater.
When I finished, Will was still standing there, wearing the same nervous, hopeful expression. “Do you need help?” he whispered.
I shook my head. “I think I’m good.” It was a lie; I had no idea what I was doing.
“You just need to go to the tent over there,” he said gently, reading me perfectly as always and putting a hand on my arm.
I pulled back and smiled stiffly. “I got it. Thanks, Will.”
As the silence stretched on, a woman I hadn’t even noticed at his side spoke up. “Hi,” she said, and I blinked over to see her smiling with her hand outstretched. “I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced. I’m Kitty.”
It took a moment for the pieces to come together, and when they did, I couldn’t even contain my shock. I felt my mouth fall open, my eyes go wide. How could he possibly think this was even remotely okay? I looked from her to Will, who, I quickly realized, seemed as surprised as I was to find her standing there. Hadn’t he seen her approach?
Will’s face could have been at the dictionary entry for uncomfortable. “Oh God.” He looked back and forth between us for a flash before murmuring, “Oh, shit, um . . . hey, Kitty, this is . . .” He looked to me, his eyes softening. “This is my Hanna.”
I blinked to him. What had he said?
“Nice to meet you, Hanna. Will has told me all about you.”
I knew they were speaking but the words didn’t seem to penetrate the echo of that sentence repeating over and over again in my head. This is my Hanna. This is my Hanna.
It was a mistake. He was just uncomfortable. I pointed over my shoulder. “I’ve got to go.” Turning, I stumbled away from the table and toward the women’s tent.
“Hanna!” he called after me, but I didn’t turn back.
I was still a bit foggy when I handed over my information, got my race number, and walked over to an empty spot to stretch and lace up my shoes. At the sound of footsteps, I looked up, already dreading what I would find. Seeing Kitty standing there, it was worse than I thought.
“He’s really something,” she said, pinning her number to the front of her shirt.
I lowered my eyes, ignored the fire that flared low in my belly. “Yeah, sure is.”
She sat on a bench a few feet away and began peeling the label from a bottle of water. “You know, I never thought this would happen.” She shook her head, laughing. “All this time and he’s always used the It’s not you. I just don’t want more with anybody excuse. And now? Now that he finally ends things, it’s because he does want more. Just with someone else.”
I sat up, met her eyes. “He ended things with you?”
“Yeah. Well,” she said, considering. “This week was the official end but we hadn’t really seen each other since . . .” She looked up at the ceiling of the tent, considering. “Since February? And he’d been canceling on me ever since.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“At least I know why now.” I must have looked completely dumbstruck because she smiled, leaned in a little bit. “Because he’s in love with you. And if you’re as amazing as he seems to think you are, you won’t blow this.”I don’t remember crossing the park to where the other runners were gathered. My thoughts were hazy and jumbled.
We had only been running then . . .
. . . March—that’s when Will and I actually started sleeping together. . . .
Tuesday night . . . so he could end things, face-to-face.
Like a decent human being, like a good man. I closed my eyes when the full force of the realization hit me: he told her all of this even after I broke up with him.
I jumped, surprised to see Will standing next to me. He put a hand on my arm, offering a tentative smile. “You okay?”
I looked around, as if I could escape somewhere and just . . . think. I wasn’t ready for him to stand this close or talk like we were friends again, to be nice. I had such an enormous apology to make, and I still had an angry earful to give him for lying. . . . I didn’t even know where to start. I met his eyes, looked for any sign there telling me that we could fix this. “I think so.”
“Hey,” he said, taking the smallest step closer. “Hanna . . .”
“You’re . . . you’re going to do great.” His eyes searched mine, heavy with anxiety, and it made my stomach twist with guilt. “I know things are weird with us. Just put everything else out of your head. You need to be here, head in the race. You trained so impressively for it and you can do it.”
I exhaled, felt the first flare of pre-race, non-Will anxiety.
I saw the moment he switched into trainer mode and I took some small level of comfort in it, grabbed on to this splinter of platonic familiarity.
“Remember to pace yourself. Don’t start off too fast. The second half is the worst and you’ll want to keep enough in the tank to finish, okay?”
“Remember, this is your first race and it’s about crossing the finish line, not where you place.”
“You’ve done ten miles before; you can do thirteen. I’ll be right there so . . . we’ll do this together.”
I blinked up at him, surprised. “You can place, Will. This is nothing for you—you should be in the front.”
He shook his head. “That’s not what this one is about. My race is in two weeks. This one is yours. I told you that.”
I nodded again, numb, and couldn’t look away from his face: at the mouth that had kissed me so many times, and wanted to kiss only me; at the eyes that watched me intently every time I said a word, every time I’d touched him; and at the hands that were now braced on my shoulders and were the same hands that had touched every inch of my skin. He’d told Kitty he wanted to be with me, only me. It’s not like he hadn’t said those exact words to me, too. But I’d never believed them.
Maybe the player really was gone.
With one last, searching look, Will dropped his hands from my shoulders, and pressed his palm to my back, leading me to the starting line.The race started at the southwest corner of the park near Columbus Circle. Will motioned for me to follow and I went through the routine: calf stretch, quad stretch, hamstring. He nodded wordlessly, watched my form and kept in constant, reassuring contact.
“Hold it a little longer,” he said, hovering over me. “Breathe through it.”
They announced it was time to begin and we got into place. The crack of the starter pistol burst through the air and birds scattered in the trees overhead. The sudden rush of hundreds of bodies pushing off from the line melded into a collective burst of sound.
The marathon route began at the circle and followed the outer loop of Central Park, arching around Seventy-second Street and back to the start.
The first mile was always the hardest. By the second, the world grew fuzzy at the edges and only the muffled sound of feet on the trail and blood pumping in my ears filtered through the haze. We hardly spoke, but I could hear every one of Will’s footsteps beside me, feel the occasional brush of his arm against mine.
“You’re doing great,” he told me, three miles in.
At mile seven, he reminded me, “Halfway done, Hanna, and you’re just hitting your stride.”
I felt every inch of the last mile. My body ached; my muscles went from stiff, to loose, to on fire and cramping. I could feel my pulse pounding in my chest. The heavy beat mirrored every one of my steps, and my lungs screamed for me to stop.
But inside my head it was calm. It was as though I was underwater, with muffled voices blending together until they were a single, constant hum. But one voice was clear, “Last mile, this is it. You’re doing it. You’re amazing, Plum.”
I’d almost tripped when he called me that. His voice had gone soft and needy, but when I looked over at him, his jaw was set tight, eyes straight ahead. “I’m sorry,” he rasped, immediately contrite. “I shouldn’t have—I’m sorry.”