Chapter 2

I park in my usual spot by the dumpsters and groan as I walk by a black Porche 911 parked by the entrance to my apartment building. Ranger is the last person I want to see right now.

Instead, I take a big breath and slowly work my way up the stairs, my back pulsing with pain with every step I take. I turn the knob, ironically finding it locked before it opens just as I'm about to push the key into the deadbolt. Ranger's eyes go from amused satisfaction to concern in the two seconds it takes him to step away from the door and usher me in.

"Babe."

Now, Babe means a lot of things. Here, it means "what happened," but I'm not in the mood to answer that question.

"Ranger." I know it's childish, but the man has a college degree and owns his own company. Surely his command of the English and Spanish languages is better than one word.

I drop my messenger bag on the counter and turn to get a snack for Rex out of the fridge. Mostly, I'm buying myself time away from Ranger's inscrutable expression to compose myself. I want to be left alone, and that's not going to happen if I give him any more cause for concern.

"What happened?"

"Nothing," I shrug, dropping the carrot into Rex's cage.

"Don't lie to me."

"Then I don't want to talk about it," I fire back, my eyes flashing.

"Are you hurt?" His voice softens, as he looks intently at me.

"I'll be fine." Ranger doesn't look convinced. Damnit. I want him to go away so I can take a hot bath in peace. "I will be fine," I amend, and Ranger's blank face slides into place.

"Who?" His tone is quiet, calm, and dangerous.

"Did you need something, or is this a social call?" I respond, sitting in my living room recliner, hugging the pillow against my chest.

"I'm going out of town for a month, but I'll have access to my phone," Ranger eventually responds. "However, I feel like I should cancel my trip."

"Why would you do that? Did someday finally arrive?" I reply, surprising myself with my courage. I guess I'm all out of fucks to give today.

Ranger's blank face drops as he takes in my meaning. "You know what we are, Babe," he states, caution replacing astonishment.

"Yes, I do," I assert, coming again to my feet. "I'm the entertainment. I'm what keeps the betting pool going. I'm the girl who gets a condom and not a ring. I'm the one who gets fucked and sent back to another man's bed."

"There's no price between us."

"Bullshit." My eyes flash as I spit out the word.

"Babe," Ranger whispers, his hand clenched at his sides.

I sigh, releasing the anger just as quickly as it rose. "Look, Ranger, you were completely clear that you don't do relationships. I didn't mean to fall. . . ." my words trail off before I can foolishly confess my love to a man who always made sure I knew I was to never fall in love with him. I thickly swallow my feelings away before I embarrass myself further.

"You don't deserve my anger, but I can't do this anymore." I walk to my purse and take the Rangeman fob off my keychain, dropping it on the counter beside him.

Turning and walking into my bedroom, I never looking back as I close the door between us.

I sit on my bed and watch out the window until I see Ranger's car drive away. It's then that I let the tears rip from me with a wail. I felt relief as I walked away from Morelli. I knew I didn't love him. I just loved the idea of finally having my family and my community's approval. I was also holding onto some residual Catholic guilt. Joe was my first, even if that's not how I wanted my first to be, and thanks to those poems, the whole Burg knew it. Part of me felt that ending up with Joe was, meant to be, maybe? The right thing to do.

I ended my relationship with Morelli because I refuse to be hurt any longer by him. I don't even think I have fully processed how much he hurt me, and I suppose I, him. Right now, I'm numb to everything that happened this evening. However, stepping away from the wrongness of being with Joe almost immediately gave me a lighter perspective. Although the feeling was tucked firmly away in denial land, I thought I loved Ranger and that I've loved him for a long time. Seeing his Porche go around the corner for the last time, well, now I have definitive proof I love him because my heart is breaking. That's my fault, though, because I kept placing myself in Ranger's orbit which was playing with fire. He made me feel alive, gorgeous, and confident, but he always left. I played with fire, and I got burned.

What a day, I think, collapsing back onto my bed. Morelli physically hurt me, and Ranger emotionally hurt me, and I think it's the emotional hurt that is the worst. But at the same time, as I cry, I begin to feel better. Sometimes you have to break something to put it back together stronger than it was before.

I'm not just crying because I just ended my relationships with Morelli and Ranger. I'm crying for a little girl and a vulnerable teenager whose no was not respected and heard. I'm crying for a young bride whose own mother chose to be loyal to an adulterous husband over her daughter. I'm crying for the woman who wasn't enough for either Morelli or Ranger, the woman who both could walk away from. I'm crying because I let myself be used again and again by everyone in my life. But as of today, I am no longer that woman. Ending the toxic relationships on MY terms leaves me feeling stronger and empowered. I finally set boundaries and enforced them.

Somewhere along the road of trying to do the right thing by everyone else, I forgot how to do the right thing for myself. I was in a relationship with two men, and deep down, I knew there would be no happily ever after with either of them. I can't change the past, but I can change my future. It's time for me to learn how to love myself. I want more, and honestly, I deserve more.

Today I relieve myself of the weights that were holding me down, and I decided to fly.

I fall asleep with dried tear tracks on my face, but despite the pain, hard work, and unknowns that lay ahead, my heart already feels lighter.