“So you broke up with Maggie, and Ridge started dating her?”
“Yes and no. We had a long conversation about it that afternoon, because Ridge is big on sharing his thoughts and shit. We agreed we had to honor the bro code, and it wouldn’t really be good for us if he picked up and started dating a girl I had just screwed. But he liked her. He liked her a lot, and even though I knew it was hard for him, he waited until the term ended before he asked her out.”
Warren nods. “Yeah. Don’t ask where we came up with it, but we agreed twelve months was a decent length of time before the bro code became null. We figured enough time would have passed, and if he wanted to ask her out after a year, it wouldn’t be so weird. By that time, she might have dated other people and wouldn’t be going straight from my bed into Ridge’s. As much as I could have tried to be cool about it, it would have been too weird. Even for us.”
“Did Maggie know how he felt about her? During the twelve months?”
Warren shakes his head. “No. Maggie never even knew he liked her like he did. He liked her so much he didn’t go on a single date for the entire twelve months I made him wait. He had the date circled on a calendar. I saw it once in his room. He never mentioned her, never asked about her. But I’ll be damned if the day that year was up, he wasn’t knocking on her front door. And it took her a while to come around, especially knowing she would have to interact with me. But things eventually worked themselves out. She ended up with the right guy in the end, thanks to Ridge’s persistence.”
I exhale. “Wow,” I say. “Talk about devotion.”
He turns his head toward mine, and our eyes meet. “Exactly,” he says firmly, as if I just summed up his whole point. “I have never in my life met another human being with more devotion than that man. He’s the best damn thing that’s ever happened to me. The best thing that’s ever happened to Maggie.”
He pulls his feet up onto the couch and faces me full-on. “He’s gone through hell and back for that girl, Sydney. All the hospital stays, driving back and forth to take care of her, promising her the world, and giving up so much of himself in return. And she deserves it. She’s one of the purest, most selfless people I’ve ever met, and if there are two people who deserve each other in this world, it’s the two of them.
“So when I see how he looks at you, it pains me. I saw the way the two of you watched each other at the party the other night. I saw the jealousy in his eyes every time you spoke to Brennan. I’ve never seen him struggle with his choice or the sacrifices he’s made for Maggie until you showed up. He’s falling in love with you, Sydney, and I know you know that. However, I also know his heart, and he’ll never leave Maggie. He loves her. He would never do that to her. So seeing him torn apart because of the way he feels about you and knowing his life is with Maggie, I just don’t understand why you’re still here. I don’t understand why you’re putting him through that much pain. Each day you’re still here and I see him looking at you the same way he used to look at Maggie, it makes me want to shove you out the damn door and tell you to never come back. And I know that’s not your fault. I know that. Hell, you didn’t even know the half of what he’s going through until tonight. But now you do. And as much as I love you and think you’re one of the coolest damn chicks I’ve ever met, I also never want to see your face again. Especially now that you know the truth about Maggie. And forgive me if this is harsh, but I don’t want you getting it into your head that the love you have for Ridge will be enough to hold you over until the day Maggie dies. Because Maggie isn’t dying, Sydney. Maggie’s living. She’ll be around a lot longer than Ridge’s heart could ever survive you.”
My head rolls forward into my hands as the sobs erupt from my chest. Warren’s arm folds over my back, and he pulls me against him. I don’t know who I’m crying for right now, but my heart hurts so much I just want to rip it from my fucking chest and throw it over Ridge’s balcony, because that’s where this whole mess began.
Maggie has been asleep for a couple of hours now, but I’ve yet to sleep. That’s usually how it is when I’m with her in the hospital. After five years of sporadic stays, I’ve learned it’s much easier not to sleep at all than it is to get a half-ass couple of hours.
I open my laptop and pull up my messages to Sydney, then send her a quick hello to see if she’s online. We haven’t had a chance to discuss the fact that I asked her to move out, and I hate not knowing if she’s okay. I know it’s wrong to be messaging her at this point, but it seems even more wrong to leave things unsaid.
She returns my message almost immediately, and the tone of it already relieves some of my worry. I don’t know why I always expect she’ll respond unreasonably, because she’s never once shown a lack of maturity or regard for my situation.
Sydney: Yeah, I’m here. How’s Maggie?
Me: She’s good. She’ll be discharged this afternoon.
Sydney: That’s good. I’ve been worried.
Me: Thank you, by the way. For your help last night.
Sydney: I wasn’t much help. I felt like I was in the way more than anything.
Me: You weren’t. There’s no telling what could have happened if you hadn’t found her.
I wait a moment for her to respond, but she doesn’t. I guess we’ve reached the point in this conversation where one of us needs to bring up what we both know must be discussed. I feel responsible for this entire situation with her, so I bite the bullet and lay it out there.
Me: Do you have a minute? I really have some things I’d like to say to you.
Sydney: Yes, and likewise.
I glance up at Maggie again, and she’s still asleep in the same position. Having this conversation with Sydney in her presence, as innocent as it is, makes me uneasy. I take my laptop and walk out of the hospital room and into the empty hallway. I sit on the floor beside the door to Maggie’s room and reopen my laptop.
Me: The main thing I’ve appreciated about our time together over the last couple of months is the fact that we’ve been upfront and consistent with each other. With that being said, I don’t want you to leave with the wrong idea about why I need you to move out. I don’t want you to think you did anything wrong.
Sydney: I don’t need an explanation. I’ve more than worn out my welcome, and you have enough to stress about without adding me into the mix. Warren found an apartment for me this morning, but it isn’t available for a few days. Is it okay if I stay here until then?
Me: Of course. When I said I needed you to move, I didn’t literally mean today. I just meant soon. Before things become too hard for me to continue to walk away.
Sydney: I’m sorry, Ridge. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.
I know she’s referring to the way we feel about each other. I know exactly what she means, because I didn’t mean for it to happen, either. In fact, I’ve done everything I could to stop it from happening, but somehow my heart never got the message. If I know it wasn’t intentional on my part, I know it wasn’t intentional on her part, so she has nothing to apologize for.
Me: Why are you apologizing? Don’t apologize. It’s not your fault, Sydney. Hell, I’m not even sure it’s my fault.
Sydney: Well, usually when something goes wrong, someone is at fault.
Me: Things didn’t go wrong with us. That’s our problem. Things are way too right between us. We make sense. Everything about you feels so right, but—
I pause for a few moments to gather my thoughts, because I don’t want to say anything I’ll regret. I inhale, then type out the best way to describe how I feel about our entire situation.
Me: There isn’t a doubt in my mind that we could be perfect for each other’s life, Sydney. It’s our lives that aren’t perfect for us.
Several minutes pass without a response. I don’t know if I crossed the line with my comments, but however she’s reacting to them, I needed to say what I had to say before I could let her go. I’m beginning to close my laptop when another message pops up from her.
Sydney: If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this whole experience, it’s that my ability to trust wasn’t completely broken by Hunter and Tori like I initially thought. You’ve always been upfront with me about how you feel. We’ve never skirted around the truth. If anything, we’ve worked together to find a way to change our course. I want to thank you for that. Thank you so much for showing me that guys like you actually exist, and not everyone is a Hunter.
She somehow has a way of making me sound so much more innocent than I actually am. I’m not nearly as strong as she thinks I am.
Me: Don’t thank me, Sydney. You shouldn’t thank me, because I failed miserably at trying not to fall in love with you.
I swallow the lump forming in my throat and hit send. Saying what I’ve just said to her fills me with more guilt than the night I kissed her. Words can sometimes have a far greater effect on a heart than a kiss.
Sydney: I failed first.
I read her last message, and the finality of our imminent good-bye hits me full-force. I feel it in every single part of me, and I’m shocked at the reaction I’m having to it. I lean my head against the wall behind me and try to imagine my world before Sydney entered it. It was a good world. A consistent world. But then she came along and shook my world upside down as if it were a fragile, breakable snow globe. Now that she’s leaving, it feels as if the snow is about to settle, and my whole world will be upright and still and consistent again. As much as that should make me feel at ease, it actually terrifies me. I’m scared to death that I’ll never again feel any of the things I felt during the little time she’s been in my world.
Anyone who has made this much of an impact deserves a proper good-bye.
I stand and walk back into Maggie’s hospital room. She’s still asleep, so I walk over to her bed, give her a light kiss on the forehead, and leave her a note explaining that I’m heading to the apartment to pack a few things before she’s released.
Then I leave to go and give the other half of my heart a proper good-bye.
• • •
I’m outside Sydney’s bedroom door, preparing to knock. We’ve said everything that needs to be said and even a lot that probably shouldn’t have been said, but I can’t not see her one last time before I go. She’ll be gone by the time I get back from San Antonio. I have no plans to contact her after today, so the fact that I know this is definitely good-bye is pressing on the walls of my chest, and it fucking hurts like hell.
If I were to look at my situation from an outsider’s point of view, I would be telling myself to forget about Sydney’s feelings, that my loyalty should lie solely with Maggie. I would be telling myself to leave and that Sydney doesn’t deserve a good-bye, even after all we’ve been through.
Is life really that black-and-white, though? Can a simple right or wrong define my situation? Do Sydney’s feelings not count in this mix somewhere despite my loyalty to Maggie? It doesn’t seem right just to let her go. But it’s unfair to Maggie not to just let her go.