I’d been watching my phone for the past hour, waiting on Amanda to text me. After once again searching the job listings online, I’d come up empty handed. If I had taken welding in school, I’d have a job, that was for damn sure. If I didn’t need money right now, I’d go to school for welding. That way I could work hours that fit into my schedule and make more than enough money to cover our needs.
A knock at the door interrupted my thoughts, and I put my phone down and grabbed a pair of discarded sweats. I jerked them on quickly and went to the door. It was after eleven. Who the hell was coming to see me so late?
When I opened it, Amanda walked inside, pushing past me.
“I have to ask you a question. It is going to sound ludicrous, but I need you to listen to me, and then you can explain how very wrong my mother is.”
Her mother. No. God, no. I couldn’t say anything. My voice left me. This was not happening. Not now. I hadn’t had enough time to fix it.
“Preston, you’ve gone pale.”
I couldn’t look at her. She knew. She didn’t believe it, but she knew.
“You’re scaring me. Preston, look at me.”
I needed her to say it. “What did your mother tell you?”
I was going to lie. I needed a lie to get out of this. I couldn’t lose her.
“She said . . .” Amanda let out a frustrated sigh. “I can’t even believe I’m about to say this out loud.”
She didn’t believe it. I could convince her it wasn’t true. I could tell her something else. The women I worked for wouldn’t want the truth out. They’d never back up her mother’s story.
“Just tell me,” I urged, finally making eye contact with her.
She ran her hand through her hair and looked over at the couch. “You want to sit down? It’s kind of unbelievable, and it may take awhile to explain.”
Getting her farther away from the exit for her to go running out of was a good idea. “Sure.”
I followed her over to the couch and sat down in the chair across from her. I wasn’t sure how this was going to play out, and sitting too close to her might be a bad idea. I also wanted to see her face.
“My mom found out that you and I are seeing each other. Apparently, someone saw us at the beach today. She was upset, which I’d expected. But why she was upset was not at all something I’d expected.”
She twirled a strand of hair around her finger nervously. “Mom saw you at the mayor’s house. Going upstairs . . .” She trailed off. She wanted me to say something. What could I say? There was no denying I’d been there. This was my chance to lie. To cover this mess up. But my mouth wouldn’t open. I couldn’t come up with one thing to say to ease her mind.
“She said you were sneaking upstairs and that Janice was really nervous. Then after she left, she saw you through the bedroom window closing the curtains, and then she saw Janice’s shadow join you.”
Again, it was my chance to lie to her. But I couldn’t. The lies wouldn’t come.
“Preston, say something.”
I realized, sitting there looking at her, that I loved her. I’d been right. When you love someone, you can’t lie to them. It hurts too much. It’s a deception that goes too deep.
“I remember seeing her,” I finally replied.
Amanda raised her eyebrows. “And? Were you in Janice’s bedroom?”
The truth was going to rip my heart out, but it was what she deserved. What she’d always deserved.
“Yes, I was.”
Amanda didn’t say anything. She just sat there staring at me in shock. I knew she was waiting on some reason as to why I was in Janice’s bedroom other than what her mother had told her. I wished like hell I had a reason other than the truth.
“My mom said Blanche Turner told her that she pays you to sleep with her. That many women do. Tell me that isn’t true, Preston. I don’t believe you’d do something like that.”
I stood up because sitting down was impossible. This was the moment I’d feared since I’d let Amanda in. “I have classes and baseball, and three other mouths to feed, and a whole other house’s bills to pay. Three kids aren’t cheap. I have to make sure they’re fed and still keep my scholarship, which means I don’t miss baseball and I don’t fail classes. It’s more responsibility than most adults have, Manda.”
Amanda stood up. “Are you telling me this is true? All this time, you’ve been leaving me to go screw other women for money?”
“They mean nothing to me. They know it. There is no emotion. Just sex. It’s more money than I could make doing anything else. It keeps the kids taken care of, and I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to keep their electricity on or how I’m going to pay for braces or for new tires for my mom.”
Amanda shook her head. The disbelief in her eyes sliced through me. “You never thought to tell me about this? How long have you been doing this?”
“Three years? So you just started dating me and let me promise to be exclusive and that I wouldn’t be with anyone else, while you left me regularly to screw other women?”
“No! It was just sex. I felt nothing for them. Ever. They were a job. That’s all they’ve ever been.”
“But you didn’t tell me—”
“I didn’t tell anyone, Manda. It’s not something I’m proud of. I tried to push you away. I tried to tell you I wasn’t good for you, but you wouldn’t stop. You kept getting close, and I wanted you so bad.”
“You let me fall in love with you,” Amanda said as a sob escaped her.
And I’d fallen in love with her. I couldn’t tell her that now. Not like this. She’d think I was saying it to keep her. I didn’t want her to ever doubt it. If I told her now, she’d never believe it.
“I’m looking for another job. I’m trying to find something else to do. I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to be worthy of you. Of your love. I just need some more time.”
Amanda covered her mouth as another sob broke free. She shook her head. “No. It doesn’t work like that. You should have told me. You made a fool out of me. I thought what we had was special to you. I knew you didn’t love me, but I thought you cared for me. But all this time, you were leaving me to go have sex with other women. I don’t care that they paid you. It’s that you did it. That you could do it. I could never have let another guy touch my body. Not when I was with you. I wouldn’t have been able to stomach it.” She wiped at the tears streaming down her face.
“I had to have the money—”
“No, Preston. That isn’t a good enough excuse for me. You should have told me in the beginning. Before I fell foolishly in love with you. You should never have asked me to be exclusive and led me to believe you were doing the same thing.” She turned and headed for the door. This was it.
I ran after her and wrapped my arms around her from behind. It was time to beg. “I swear to you that I will find another way to make money. I never cared about any of them. Just you, Manda. It’s always just been you. Don’t walk out of here. I can’t lose you.”
She was stiff in my arms. “When you chose to sleep with other women and lie to me about it, then you decided that you could lose me. You knew all along that if I ever found out I’d be gone, but you did it anyway. Let me go, Preston.”
I deserved this. Every moment of agony and pain that followed, I deserved it. Letting my arms fall away, I watched helplessly as Amanda opened the door and walked out without a backward glance.
She wouldn’t be back. This was it for us. Just as I’d realized that I couldn’t keep lying to her because I was in love with her, she’d realized that you can’t love a lie.
When I opened the door to my house, my mother was standing there waiting on me. Any anger I’d felt was gone. It was replaced by a cold, numbing pain.
“Well?” she asked.
“I won’t ever see him again, if you agree to never tell Marcus about any of this. I don’t want him to know. If you tell Marcus, I will go back to Preston Drake. You won’t be able to stop me. But I can promise you I’ll never speak to him again if you promise me you’ll never breathe a word of this to anyone. Especially my brother. He doesn’t need to know.”
Mom frowned. “Does he know about you and Preston?”
“Yes. He knows.”
She didn’t like that. “What am I supposed to say to him if he asks about your breakup?”
I shrugged. “Tell him I changed my mind and realized Preston wasn’t good enough for me after all. Or tell him I’m seeing Jason Stone now. Just don’t tell him the truth.”
Might as well lie about how it all ended. The entire relationship was one big fat lie. It seemed fitting. I walked past my mom and up the stairs. I wouldn’t get much sleep tonight, but I wanted to be alone. My broken heart needed privacy to grieve. Hearts don’t realize they’ve been lied to. They still love anyway.