The lights were low, a single candle burning on each table, setting a tasteful yet overtly romantic scene. DeVino’s was where we’d gone for our first anniversary and I thought it would be the perfect place to pop the big question to Sara.
I fingered the ring in my pocket one more time. I hoped she didn’t notice the fidgety movement of me touching the ring every couple of minutes. It felt like it was burning a hole against my leg and I wanted to just take it out and get it over with, but I was waiting for just the right moment. We only had our drinks and I planned on asking during desert which meant another hour or so of making sure the ring didn’t slip out of my pocket in some nightmare scenario.
The server came over and refilled our slightly empty water glasses and Sara sipped her wine, looking around the room, unusually quiet. Normally she talked non-stop, always telling me about the latest drama at work or with her sisters. Most of the time we were together Sara carried the conversation, which was just fine for me since I was almost always tired from lectures, study sessions, and labs. My brain felt like it was overwhelmed so I loved just hearing her talk about all that was going on in her world. Her silence tonight wasn’t doing anything to help my nerves as I reached my sweaty hand in my pocket and fingered my ring one more time.
“Colton, what are we doing here? It’s not our anniversary. Why are we at the most expensive restaurant in the city?” Sara knew that I didn’t have a lot of extra income and we didn’t eat out, especially at restaurants this fancy, very often. That would all change once I finished med school and my residency. We just had to tough it out for a little while longer.
“Well, I, listen, Sara—” I stammered with my words and although my perfectly planned evening involved proposing over a shared tiramisu, Sara’s favorite, I decided it was time to deviate from the plan. “There’s something I want to ask you.”
“Colton, there’s something I need to talk to you about you first.” Sara had a strange look on her face and fingered the edge of the white table cloth draped atop the table.
“Okay, what did you want to talk about?” I figured I could hold off on the big question for a little while longer, maybe even get back on track for the tiramisu plan.
“I’ve been thinking, and I just don’t see this—us—working any more.”
I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. What the hell was she talking about? I touched the ring box one more time before placing my hands on the table, trying to stay calm and make sure I was understanding her words correctly. “Sara, what do you mean? What are you talking about? Us not working any more?”
“Colton, look, you’ve been in med school for forever and I just, I can’t keep waiting around for you to finish. We just have different ideas of how life should be lived. I mean, you can’t even afford this restaurant, so why are we here? I know this is going to set you back in a major way, and I’m tired of having to worry about that all that time.”
“You don’t have to worry about that, and it’s not that expensive. I don’t have a lot of money now, but once I’m all finished, we’ll be set.” I couldn’t believe she was still hung up on me not having money. We’d been having this fight for over a year now and it was always the same thing. She’d complain that we couldn’t go on a vacation, or that I couldn’t buy her jewelry or a $120 sweater—different items, same story. She’d known this was how it was going to be when we first started dating, and it hadn’t bothered her. Not until about a year ago.
“It’s not just the money, Colton. It’s everything. I just don’t feel like we’re moving in the same direction. Come on, we’ve been dating for over two years and we don’t even live together. It’s just not how I pictured my life.” Sara sipped of her wine, avoiding eye contact. She’d kept her voice low and her mannerisms were totally normal, as if she wasn’t ripping my heart out.
“Sara, what exactly are you saying?”
“I’m breaking up with you, Colton. I’m sorry, I just can’t do this anymore.”
“Colton, stop. Don’t make a scene. Please just be an adult about this.” She looked around the room as she took a sip of wine.
“Don’t make a scene?!? Are you kidding me? So, what we’re supposed to just sit here and eat our dinner together like nothing happened? This is nuts! Sara, I know we’ve been fighting a lot lately and I’m super busy with school, but this is insane, I mean, I just... I don’t understand.”
I felt frozen. Numb. My fingers were twisting the napkin in my lap, but I couldn’t feel the fabric.
Where was this coming from? I knew that we fought a lot, but all couples did, right? Part of the struggle of making it work. And we hadn’t moved in together yet because my place was too small for both of us, but it was all I could afford at the moment. Once we got engaged, I’d planned on looking for something bigger so that we could have our own place by the time the wedding was set. This was not the plan. This was not how it was supposed to happen.
“What is this really about? These aren’t new issues.” This was so out of the blue, so unexpected. I had an engagement ring in my pocket for god’s sake! How could I be getting ready to propose and she was dumping me? The room was shrinking in on me and I felt the sting of tears begin to well up behind my eyes. I might be an alpha, but I still had a heart and feelings and right now that heart felt like it was being ripped in two.
“Don’t, Colton. Please, can’t we just be adults?”
“Sara, come on. I love you.” I reached out to hold her hand. Whatever this was, we could work through it if she would just talk to me.
Her eyes hardened and she pulled her hand back. “Well I don’t. I don’t love you Colton. And I haven’t for a while now.” She took a deep breath and a sip of her wine, setting it carefully back on the table, not looking at me. “If you really want to know, there’s someone else.”
With that, my heart completely shattered, and I had to fight back the flood of tears that threatened to stream down my face. “Who?” My voice was low but filled with anger.
“Colton, it won’t help--”
“Who?” I dropped my hand to my lap and dug my fingers into my thighs.
Sara sighed. “Edwin York.”
Edwin fucking York. She couldn’t be serious. Edwin York was the the top cardiac surgeon at Hopevale General where I was supposed to start my residency next year. He was also about sixty years old.
“Fuck you, Sara. How long? You know what, never mind. It doesn’t even matter how long. You’re right, this is done.” I pushed my chair out from the table and stood up on shaking legs. My whole body was vibrating with anger and heartbreak and I feared I would fall apart in the middle of the restaurant if I didn’t get out of there fast.
I took the ring box from my pocket and slammed it on the table. I had been saving to buy the simple ring for a long time, but I couldn’t bear to carry it a moment longer.
“I won’t be needing this anymore. Enjoy your dinner.” I turned and left, not caring what kind of a scene I had caused or that I was leaving Sara with the bill and two unserved entrees. I needed to go home. I needed to be alone. I needed to be out of that damn restaurant and as far away from Sara as possible.
I arrived at my small, tidy apartment and took a moment to breathe deeply and ground myself in the tiny space. It wasn’t much, but it was mine. I didn’t come from money, but I had worked my ass off to get every scholarship and financial aid possible so I wasn’t riddled with debt. I lived a meager life, but I was proud of it and if Sara didn’t want to share that life with me, well... then screw her.
I peeled off my slacks and dress shirt, too tired and emotionally drained to shower even though I knew the warm water would feel good against my skin. I crawled into my bed and reached for the book on my nightstand. I’ve read it before, lots of times in fact, but it was exactly what I needed now. An L.J. Hart thriller. As always, picking up one of her books gave me a feeling of homesickness. Lorrie Hart was like a second mom to me back home in Smokes, but once I got into the pages, I forgot about the writer and disappeared into the story: all danger and death, mystery and intrigue. I could escape into this other world and forget the fact that my world was crumbling around me.