Read Together Apart Online

Authors: Natalie K Martin

Together Apart

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Text copyright © 2015 Natalie K Martin

 

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

 

Published by Lake Union Publishing, Seattle

www.apub.com

 

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Lake Union Publishing are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

 

ISBN-13: 9781503944114

ISBN-10: 1503944115

 

Cover design by Najla Qamber

He who loves you, loves you with all your dirt.

—Ugandan proverb

1.

M
arry me, Sarah.’ Adam blinked. Had he really just proposed? He had. He’d proposed. Marriage. He’d
proposed
marriage
?

Sarah’s eyebrows shot up. ‘What?’

Maybe it was the alcohol. Yeah. That’s probably what it was. The booze must have mixed with the romance in the air and turned him soft. But then, if that’s all it was, why did his stomach sink to the floor at her reaction? Did he really want to marry her? He looked across the table at her. Yes. Yes, he did.

‘Seriously. Let’s get married.’

As he said the words, the idea cemented itself into his
consciousness
like an affirmation taking hold. He bounced his leg under the table. How had this happened exactly? He drained the last of his beer. The last thing he’d expected was to get sucked in by the charms of Santorini, with its reputation for sunset weddings and proposals. He looked at the sky behind Sarah. It was a kaleidoscope of colours, and after watching the sun dip below the horizon against a purple and orange backdrop earlier, he had to admit it was awe-inspiring. The air was still warm out on the terrace of the restaurant, and the view around them was picture perfect, right down to the cruise ship cutting through the sea in the distance. The place lent itself to romantic gestures, and now that he thought about it, proposing seemed like the natural thing to do, even if he hadn’t exactly planned on doing it.

‘I know I don’t have a ring, but we can get one this weekend and make it official.’

It was probably for the best that way. Sarah wore quirky
jewellery
, like the tiger’s eye pendant hanging from her silver chain. He couldn’t imagine her opting for a diamond. He moved his chair to sit next to her, held her head in his hands and planted a kiss on her lips. Every nerve ending in his body buzzed with adrenalin, just as they had years ago when he’d done a bungee jump in
Thailand
. He’d stood on the edge of a water tower, looking down into the blue-green waters of a lagoon, with his heart in his throat and his stomach bouncing with nerves. But as scary as it was, it had nothing on this.

‘I love you. I want you to be Mrs Sarah Thompson.’

He told her that he loved her all the time – daily, actually. It had never sounded so important until now, but a look of hesitation quickly passed across her face.

‘I don’t really know what to say,’ she replied.

He smiled. ‘Well, it’s the first time I’ve ever done this, so I’m no expert, but I think yes is the universally accepted answer.’

She put her hands on his and took them away from her face, looking around at the other diners in the restaurant. ‘I need some air. Can we go?’

His insides nearly fell to the floor as the words left her mouth, but when her cheeks started to blaze red, he let out a sigh of relief. He understood. Of course she wanted to run away from the
restaurant
. She was embarrassed. There was no way anyone around them could have heard their conversation, but it was obvious. He sometimes forgot how shy she could be. A busy restaurant was the worst place he could have proposed. Thank God he hadn’t got down on one knee. She probably would have fainted with embarrassment.
He sign
alled the waiter for the bill as Sarah rummaged around i
n her hand
bag. It might not have been the Hollywood-style response he’d expected, but at least she hadn’t said no. He put his hand on the small of her back as they left the restaurant and joined the steady stream of 
tourists
.

‘Better?’

She nodded. ‘Sorry, I just had to get out of there.’

He shrugged, trying to disguise his unease, but nonchalance was the last thing he felt. He’d done this all wrong, launching a proposal at her out of nowhere, especially since she’d told him before that she hated surprises. He had to play it cool. He would wait until they were back in the privacy of their apartment. She liked to be in control of things, and a proposal was a huge step. He understood that she’d need time to process it.

They wove their way through the labyrinth of marbled streets, past the shops selling paintings, sculptures and leather bags, back to their apartment. He took a deep breath and held it in his lungs. He was in the heat of a foreign country, and the salty tang of the sea filled the air around him. The stress of work had been forgotten, and he was relaxed and happy with Sarah by his side. He might have shoved his foot in his mouth and botched dinner with his bumbling proposal, but he still had a smile on his face because at that moment he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

As soon as he opened the door, the stifling air inside their studio apartment hit him, and he headed straight for the fridge. He took a long swig of water as Sarah went onto the terrace and leaned against the railing. He threw the empty bottle into the sink and went out to join her. She didn’t turn around as he stepped out, but enticed by the familiar, fruity scent of her shampoo, he put his arms around her waist and looked up at the sky. Two nights ago, they’d sat on the beach after dinner, and a shooting star had soared above their heads. Sarah had smiled, saying it was romantic. The proposal might not have gone smoothly, but he reckoned it topped the romance scales over a shooting star, and it was a perfect way to end their first holiday together.

He kissed the top of her head. How should he propose for the second time? He could get down on one knee and come out with a heartfelt speech, but that wasn’t his style.

‘So . . . second time lucky?’ He leaned down to kiss her neck.

Sarah turned and put her hand flat on his chest. Why wasn’t she looking at him?

‘I can’t.’

He frowned, trying to ignore the uneasy way his stomach was turning. ‘What?’

‘I can’t marry you.’

Adam took a step away from her as his heart missed a beat before stuttering back to life and hammering against his chest. ‘
Is thi
s some kind of joke? Because if it is, it’s really not funny.’

She shook her head and finally looked him in the eye.
‘I’m sorry.’

His breath caught in his throat, and everything around them fell silent, until all he could hear was the pounding in his chest as h
is he
art cracked with every beat it made. A cold sweat broke out
on hi
s skin, and the turning of his stomach gave way to a dull, heavy lurch as her words reverberated around in his head.

She’d said no.

2.

A
dam’s stomach churned. The plane lurched, but it wasn’t the turbulence making him feel sick. He couldn’t stop thinking about the look in Sarah’s eyes when she’d turned him down. Everything in him wanted to ask why, but he’d lost his voice, and she’d practically hung off the far side of the bed with her back to him all night, with a seemingly impenetrable wall around herself. It was probably for the best anyway. So far, not speaking to her was working just fine because if he did say anything, he would explode. Or implode, which was much worse. At least with an explosion, the effect of her rejection would be immediate – he would simply burst in a ball of shattered pride. But if he imploded, he would be in one piece, having to feel the confusing, painful and, frankly, embarrassing aftermath of rejection collapsing around him. He shook his head and looked out of the window.

All he wanted to do was get home and put Santorini firmly i
n the
past. He wanted the familiarity of his flat.
Their
flat – the place they’d been turning into their home as they started building a life together. Being back there would put his proposal in context and make things right. It had to. Sarah sighed in the seat next to him and played with the ends of her hair. It reminded him of the first time he’d seen her, the previous autumn.

After squeezing himself through the closing doors of an Underground train, he’d sat down and leaned over to pick up a newspaper on the opposite seat. When he looked up, he saw her sitting a couple of seats away, dressed in a grey trouser-suit and flat ballet-style shoes. She wasn’t his usual type. He normally preferred the typical high-street honey with glossy hair, perfectly applied makeup and a sharp attitude.

For starters, she wasn’t wearing a scratch of makeup. Her
fingernails
were bitten down and unpolished, and her chocolate-brown hair fell in waves around her shoulders. She was toying with the ends of her hair, and when he’d caught her eye, she’d looked
surprised
, and her eyes had darted around the carriage as if she were checking that he wasn’t looking at someone else. It was cute.
He could
n’t help looking at her over the top of his paper, and the more he looked, the more he liked what he saw. She had something about her that the girls he was used to didn’t, and it was that
something
that had made him stand up as they pulled into Warren Street Station and follow her up the escalator. It wasn’t even his stop. He needed to go up to Euston, but he couldn’t just let her leave.

He’d followed her through the ticket barrier and croaked at her before they left the station.

‘Excuse me. You don’t know how I can get to Dover Road,
do you?’

There was no way she could. He’d had to think of something to start a conversation with, so he’d made the street name up on the spot. She turned around to face him, and up close he saw the
freckles
sprinkled across her nose and cheeks against her mocha-brown skin, the bright amber of her eyes and the small, faded scar above her left eyebrow.

She shook her head. ‘Sorry, I don’t.’

One of her front teeth was ever so slightly crooked, and it only made her more gorgeous. For some reason, still unknown to him, he didn’t reply, and he lost the opportunity to carry on the conversation. He must have freaked her out by staring, because she gave him a wary smile, shrugged her shoulders and left him standing there as if she couldn’t get away fast enough. He’d been on his way back to the office and decided to walk the rest of the way after grabbing a drink from the café across the road. Sitting by the window, he’d laughed at himself.

After splitting up with his ex, he’d fully embraced single life. Every weekend, he’d go out with his best mate, Carl, get drunk and pull girls. The last thing he wanted was commitment; instead, he concentrated on enjoying himself without the burden of having to answer to anyone else. So why was this girl different? Why had he got so nervous when he spoke to her? He must’ve looked like a complete moron. Maybe it was because he pictured them laughing over dinner and going for walks in the park. What was that about? It wasn’t that he was emotionally devoid; he wanted the same things everyone else did eventually, but settling down wasn’t on his to-do list for a few more years.

He’d shaken his head and gulped down the last of his coffee. So she’d made his stomach somersault – big deal. He couldn’t sit there all day fantasising about a woman who’d probably already forgotten he even existed. He had a meeting to get to, and the last thing he needed was to be late. As he left the café, he almost stopped walking mid-stride. There she was, heading back to the Tube station. It had to be more than coincidence that he was seeing her again after
stopping
for coffee at a random café.

As she got closer, he’d taken a breath and stopped her in the street. She might have thought he was a crazy stalker, but who cared? That swirly feeling in his stomach was back. There was no way in hell he was going to let her go a second time.

Sarah sighed next to him as the light behind the seatbelt signs above their heads switched off. This wasn’t who they were. This wasn’t what they were like. They were the couple everyone loved to be around – his friends had said it enough times. They could spend hours talking about anything. Despite her shyness, she had opinions about everything. Her smile was wide and warm, and her laugh was so infectious, it was difficult not to join in. She could distract his thoughts when he was stressed or annoyed, without him even realising what she was doing. So how the hell were they sitting only inches apart and acting like strangers?

‘Do you want anything from the trolley?’ Adam asked, breaking the silence as he saw the flight attendant making her way up the aisle.

‘Um, just a Coke, please.’ She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

Her hand was shaking, probably because of the turbulence. He still wanted to comfort her – put an arm around her and kiss her, like he would if things were normal between them – but the wall she’d put up around herself since last night was still there. How was he supposed to talk to her, let alone comfort her, if she wouldn’t let him in? She’d turned down his proposal, but it wasn’t like they were splitting up. Marriage was a big commitment, and he wasn’t going to leave just because she wasn’t ready for that step. He could wait. They just had to talk, but she was giving no clues as to when the wall she’d built would start to come down.

She leaned her head back against the chair and breathed out through her mouth.

He sighed. ‘Are you okay?’

She nodded and shifted in her seat to face him, leaning on the armrest. ‘Adam, listen, about last night . . .’

The woman sitting next to them lowered her magazine, and Adam saw her looking at them out of the corner of her eye. Couldn’t Sarah have said something earlier? Like when they were waiting in the airport bar for their long delayed flight to arrive, instead of now, sitting in an aeroplane with minimal privacy and a woman who was clearly eager to eavesdrop sitting right beside them?

‘I don’t really want to talk about it right now.’

‘Oh. Okay.’ Sarah nodded and looked away.

Adam looked down at his watch. There were still three hours to go before they were due to land. He closed his eyes and pretended to sleep.

His head thumped as they exited Gatwick Airport, and the cool air around them as they walked through to the car park did nothing to help. Sarah was silent as she sat in the passenger seat of the car beside him, and he thought about the prospect of the long drive home in silence.

‘I can’t wait to get home,’ he said, putting the key in the
ignition
. It was a flippant comment, but it was obvious she’d taken what he’d said on the plane the wrong way, and he was beginning to feel irritated with the tension between them.

‘Do you want to change the radio station?’ he asked as they left the car park.

No reply.

‘We should’ve flown from Luton, really. It’ll be ages before we get back.’

No reply.

‘Typical to come back to rain, isn’t it?’ He cringed. Had he really resorted to making small talk about the weather?

Still no reply.

He gripped the steering wheel. She was sulking, but if anyone had that right, surely it should be him.

‘Look, Sarah, I didn’t mean I didn’t want to talk at all. It just wasn’t the right time or place,’ he said, struggling to keep his tone light. She had always been more guarded than he was, but she’d never withdrawn from him like this before, and he felt like he was trying to coax a cat from a tree.

Still, she gave no reply.

‘Sarah? For God’s sake, will you talk to me?’

He looked at her as she stared straight ahead. It was like she was on a different planet altogether. She sniffed and leaned her head against the window. Great. She was going to start crying. He tightened his grip on the steering wheel and kept his eyes firmly on the road ahead as they sped home in stony silence.

As soon as they got home, Sarah went straight to bed without even uttering a word in his direction. He sat on the sofa with his mind replaying every detail of the last twenty-four hours. He must have missed something, because it just didn’t make any sense. He rubbed his hands over his face and sighed. She’d tried to talk on the plane. Surely, that had to be a good sign? He lay down on the sofa, pulling the blanket across his body. They’d talk tomorrow.
Everything
always looked better in the morning.

7 September, 5.50 a.m.

 

I haven’t slept at all. The bed feels so big without Adam in it, a
nd I spen
t all night with my face buried in the pillow because I didn’t want him to hear me crying. I’ve got no right to. After all, this whole situation is my own doing. I’m officially a fuck-up. I’m a
horrible
, horrible person. The look on his face when I said no – I can’t get it out of my head. It was like, in that instant, something in him shifted. I’ve broken his heart, and, worst of all, I can’t bring myself to tell him why.

I wonder if he’s awake. The TV in the living room has been on all night. Maybe I could go and sit with him. We could talk and try to salvage something, and I could cuddle up to him, breathing in his smell and twirling his dark hair around my fingers like I always do. I could say it was just a shock, and I wasn’t thinking straight.

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