I felt my entire body go still. “You what?”
“I was fired, but Tony also put a letter in my file. He sent me a copy of it—though after reading it I have no idea why he thought I would want to see it—and in essence it says that I was a tolerably mediocre employee because my affections for you had me preoccupied and, he thinks, affected the quality of my work.”
I took a step forward, blood pumping so fast in my veins my chest ached. “For one, that is utterly preposterous. I’d heard him rave about you on more than one occasion. And two, he had no knowledge of your affections prior to our trip!”
“I know. Thanks for passing that along,” she said dryly, reaching to put the tape back on the now-empty desk.
“Ruby,” I spluttered, “I mentioned it spontaneously, like a bleeding idiot, simply because I was still awed that you—”
“Niall?” she interrupted, and I could see tears shining in her eyes. “Don’t, okay? I get it. You didn’t mean to tell him that, or at the very least you didn’t mean for it to come off the way it did. I don’t actually care that you told Tony I had feelings for you before our trip; I don’t think it matters. Tony is an enormous prick for what he did. My problem with this,” she said, motioning between us, “is that he’s not entirely wrong. I was distracted. I was preoccupied. I made it clear I would do anything to be with you . . . and you went back to her.”
“I didn’t. I knew before I went into her flat that I had no intention of—”
“The way you left it last week,” she said, her voice thick with restrained tears, “felt like you were giving her another chance.”
“I threw myself at you. I was so in love with you—had been for so long—that I ignored all your signs telling me you weren’t ready. I told you I loved you after only a few weeks, and you clearly weren’t ready to have sex with me, but you did—”
“Ruby, please stop.” I felt nauseous. I couldn’t keep up, but her words grew brittle and toxic in my ears.
“—and the very next day you went to hear Portia out about reconciliation, assuming that I was so desperate for your attention I would still be here if you decided against it.” When she looked up at me, the tears in her eyes finally fell. “I think you assumed that because I always want to talk about everything that I would understand how much you wanted to hear what she had to say, and that would somehow override my need to feel important to you.”
I opened my mouth and closed it again.
“I think you assumed I would think it was a great idea because—hooray—it turns out Portia isn’t a robot and actually does have feelings and she finally wants to share them.” She swiped at her cheek. “But I didn’t. I wanted you to tell her she had eleven years as your wife to tell you those things and that you had a girlfriend now who had the privilege of talking about what was going on in your mind and your heart.”
She sucked in a lungful of breath before she continued. “Jesus Christ, I was so eager to hear everything you had to say, even if it meant talking about your sex life with Portia right after we made love for the first time. For fuck’s sake.” She laughed sharply, without humor. I’d never seen emotion so raw. Ruby wasn’t filtering for my benefit; she was just laying it all out in a rush before she could talk herself out of it.
“You could have told her she was welcome to come meet you for lunch if she had things to get off her chest, or to feel free to put it in a fucking email. But to go see her the first night after we’d made love? To be unwilling to make it clear that you were with me now?” She shook her head, wiping away more tears. “Even if what we had was raw and weird and sometimes had these awkward fits and starts it was way better. We had something good, we had something real, and you know it.”
I stepped closer, put my hands on her hips. To my profound relief she didn’t pull away, and I bent, kissing her neck. “Ruby, I’m so sorry.”
She nodded, her arms limp at her sides. “You hurt me.”
Pulling away, she closed her eyes to collect herself and then, to my absolute horror, she picked up her box and walked down the opposite way from me, down a row of cubicles and out of the office before I could gather the right words to make her stop.
Bringing home the folders was an exercise in going through the motions. I remained just as useless for the remainder of the weekend.
My phone was disturbingly silent. I was grateful to receive no calls from Tony, no calls from family, nothing more from Portia. But it devastated me every time I looked down at my phone and had heard nothing from Ruby.
So when it began buzzing over where I’d hurled it a few hours before, on a throw pillow on the floor across the room, it took a few full rings for me to startle out of my trance and answer.
I stumbled over, and cursed down at the screen, answering it anyway. “Max.”
“I talked to Rebecca earlier,” he said by way of greeting.
“Mum’s in bits over this. Rebecca already told her she thinks Ruby’s going to be the one.”
I spoke into my tumbler of gin, “At least you two never dive in to anything headlong.”