I wanted her to blame me, to rail. I wanted her to tell me all the ways in which I’d disappointed her. Her silence was terrifying because it was so unlike her. I would rather have a million angry words than a single moment of her reserve.

Her opinion and esteem were already fundamental for me, even after only a month. The simple truth was that I’d never felt both so known with her, and so wandering even a day without. She was unlike anyone.

But eventually, under the weight of her continued silence, I let her go, begging her to call me when she felt ready.

Two more days passed without word from her, and I was unable to get out of the house, craved nothing to eat, and imagined nothing could be better than sleeping for hours on end. I knew I was facing the type of blood-draining sadness I’d previously—or, rather, blissfully ignorantly—only imagined could be avoided by stoicism itself.

Ruby was the only woman I would ever want, and the prospect of having her in my life for only these past four weeks was so depressing it turned something sour inside me.

The first weekend after I took a hammer to her trust and forced Ruby to silently end our relationship, I managed to make it to the office to gather some reports and designs. I wanted to at least present a semblance of getting work done at home. I was long unshaven, wearing the same worn jeans and T-shirt I’d had on for the previous thirty-six hours, and I’m not sure I’d even looked at myself in the mirror before leaving the flat.

It was still dark out, so early in the morning that the streets were wonderfully still, providing a sort of external calm I was desperate to steal and pull inside me. Cars remained parked at the curb; shops wouldn’t open for hours yet. The lobby of the building was silent as a vault.

I pulled my keys from my pocket outside the glass doors, curiously peering in at the single light turned on inside the firm.

It was in the far right corner. Near Ruby’s old office.

I found my hand moving forward and the door opened under my robotic push. In the back corner, I could make out the sounds of papers being tapped into order on a surface, of picture frames being set down. Of books being dropped into a box.

“Hello?” I called out, rounding the corner and freezing as I caught sight of her inside the interns’ office, hand suspended in midair as she met my gaze.

She’d had the same idea: come in early on a weekend, avoid everyone. But instead of picking up work to numbly sort through in the privacy of a living room, Ruby was packing up her desk.

My stomach crawled up into my chest, clogging my windpipe with emotion.

She closed her eyes, and turned back to her packing. “I’m almost done.”

“I wish you wouldn’t rush off. I’ve . . . I’ve wanted to speak to you. To really speak to you, not like that rambling on the phone the other night.”

She nodded but didn’t say anything. I stood lamely, staring at her and completely at a loss over what to do.

Her cheeks were pink, bottom lip wet and thin beneath the pressure of her teeth biting down upon it.

She’d phrased it as a question, almost as if she wasn’t sure continuing this horrible silence was even the right decision. I’d never been heartbroken before, ever, a stark realization for someone who’d spent the majority of his adult life in a single relationship, and the weight of it pressed down on every vital part of my body.

I wanted to walk to her, pull her to face me, and bend to kiss her. Simply kiss her, tell her she was the only woman I think I’d ever want again. If she’d let me, maybe I’d be able to offer up some begging. I might, in fact, be able to put a name to these things I felt.

Above it all: love.

Instinct, however, told me to give her space.

I turned, walking to my office. Behind me, her packing sounds seemed to pick up speed and force and I winced, wishing it was easier than all this. Was I wrong? Was my instinct a constant red herring? I clutched my forehead in both hands, wishing I knew what the hell to do.

Absently, I grabbed a file off my desk, collecting a few more from my cabinet. I was barely focusing on the task in front of me, knowing Ruby was only a few feet away.

Stepping out of my office, I exhaled a long-held breath at the sight of her still in the building, taping up her small box of belongings. Her hair was messier than usual, as if she’d scarcely paid it any attention. Her clothes were loose and drab: a beige skirt, a mud-colored sweater. She looked as if she’d been dragged through a rain cloud.

I missed her. I missed her with a kind of clawing ache that seemed to dig deep scars inside my chest, in a place I couldn’t reach, pushing aside things I required for breathing, heart beating, for moving about the world in a way that had once been reflexive. I’d never had the tendency toward melodrama, but in this case my self-pity was crippling. I’d never had to win over anyone before in my life, at least not consciously, and felt utterly unprepared for what was required of me in this instance.

“I know you want to be left alone,” I started, trying to shake off the way she seemed to wince at the sound of my voice, “and I realize that I’ve hurt you in a way that will be impossible to undo. But, darling, I’m so sorry. And if it means anything—”

“I think I’m going to lose my spot at Oxford,” she said in the world’s quietest voice.