It Started One Christmas(9)

By: Susan Mallery

She checked her phone. According to the app, Dalton’s flight was on time, and any second now he would be coming down the escalator. He’d spent six months at Sloan Kettering, the cancer center in New York City, doing whatever really smart thing it was he did for his fellowship. He would go back after the holidays. But for these few days before Christmas and through New Year’s, he would be at her family’s home.

Dalton at Christmas had become a tradition. Her junior year he’d brought Inessa—a leggy redhead with big boobs and a foul temper. She and Dalton had fought for two days before she’d stomped out of the house. Everyone had breathed a sigh of relief. This year he’d promised to come alone—a fact for which Keira was incredibly grateful. She honestly didn’t care if he had a girlfriend or not. It was just she needed her friend to focus on her and not some other girl. Her heart was breaking, and he was all that stood between her and a complete meltdown.

“Not a meltdown,” she told herself. She was strong. She was self-actualized. She was not going to cry.

Five minutes later, she spotted him coming down the escalator. He grinned and waved. She took in the ever-present glasses, the nice leather coat—Dalton was finally making something close to a living wage—and the familiar confident walk before humiliatingly bursting into loud, unattractive sobs.

He rushed toward her. “Keira, what? Tell me.” He pulled her close and hugged her hard, as if he would never let go. “What’s wrong? Is it your family?”

“N-no,” she managed to gasp, tears pouring out of her eyes as snot dripped down her lip. “T-they’re fine. It’s Hugh.”

“Boyfriend Hugh?”

“I d-don’t think it’s physically possible to know more than one person named Hugh at a time.” She wiped her nose on the back of her hand and looked up at him. “He slept with someone else. Or she slept with him. I don’t know which. I caught them together.”

More sobs escaped. “He said he l-loved me. He said I was important to him. I s-slept with him. I gave him my heart and my virginity, and he slept with someone else while we were still together.”

They stood at the bottom of the escalator. Keira was aware of the people easing around them and was sure more than a few of them were staring. She tried to care but she couldn’t. She hurt too much. Her whole body ached, even her hair.

“I was so careful,” she said, digging in her bag for a tissue. “I stayed away from the known players—I made sure he was nice and that he had good hygiene. Everyone said he was supposed to be a good guy. I dated him for two months before sleeping with him. I thought we were in love.”

She wiped her face again. “The thing is, I’m more mad at myself than at him. I should have known. Why did I trust him? I knew better, but there I was, giving in to some stupid guy who betrayed me. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I get anything right?”

“You get a lot of things right.”

“Not this.”

Dalton pulled her close again. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Keira.”

“You can’t know that.” She sniffed. “Maybe I’m a terrible girlfriend.”

“I doubt that. You’re smart—”

“Not as smart as you.”

He ignored her. “Funny, pretty—”

“Not as pretty as Inessa.”

“She was a beauty, but that’s not the point, is it?”

“I g-guess not.” More tears flowed. “I feel awful.”

He put his arm around her and led her to the baggage-claim area.

“It’s going to hurt for a while, and then it will get better.”

“You’re just saying that.”

“No, I’m pretty sure it’s true.”

She wiped her face again and glared at him. “No offense, Dalton, but you haven’t had a relationship that lasted longer than three weeks. I was with Hugh for two months, and I slept with him.”

She was careful to keep her voice down on that last bit.

“I gave him my virginity, or did you miss that last part?” Because honestly, where was the outrage?

“How was it?”

The flashing lights over the luggage carousel came on and buzzed as the conveyor belt began to move.

“How was…”

He grinned. “The sex? Did you like it?”

She narrowed her gaze. “You are my friend. Please don’t remind me that you’re also a guy.”

He didn’t look the least bit cowed. “How was it?”

“Jeez, it was fine, okay. Not amazing, just fine.”

“Then Hugh was doing it wrong.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m done with men and relationships. I’m going to be celibate for the rest of my life. I wish I could become a lesbian. Women are so much nicer than men.”