“No,” I whispered. The words catching in my throat, threatening to linger. I shook my head, unable to look at him. My hand slapped my leg as he dropped it.
“No? What do you mean, no, Sarah?” His voice pitched higher. It only did that when he was upset or on the verge of losing his temper. Both were likely.
Kneeling before me, he still held the delicate platinum band between his thumb and index finger. The half carat Princess cut diamond caught the fading sunlight. He fell back but caught himself. He shoved himself away from me, backing towards the ocean. The waves lapped the shore, singing their song as if our entire world weren’t crashing down around us.
In the absence of my response, the only sound that remained was the waves lapping on the shore. A deep pink and purple Malibu sunset reflected on the pristine waters behind him. Literally everything about this moment was exactly how I’d imagined it.
We’d spent the better part of the day in bed. First surrounded by French toast and mimosas. Then tangled in a mess of sheets and clothes. We’d made love at least three times since the sun first woke us. Our bodies close and blended together, lost in passion.
For the first time in years, we’d been free to just be together. No cameras. No interviews. Nothing to hide. At first it was freeing, but now it suffocated me.
“Brody,” I finally said, his name bittersweet on my lips. “I can’t marry you. I’m so sorry.”
“Why?” He pushes off his knees and leapt to his feet. His face flushed.
I didn’t have an answer for him. Nearly a decade together and I couldn’t find the words to tell him why.
Every question that came to mind was answered with a resounding No.
Did I want to spend the rest of my life as Mrs. Brody Wilson? No.
Could I imagine loving anyone else? No.
Did I want to marry him? No.
Did I want to break up? No.
I couldn’t wrap my head around why I couldn’t say yes. The reasons to say yes were all there. Brody and I were high school sweethearts. We’d survived the long-distance thing when he moved to Nashville to pursue music and I headed off to California for college. Our relationship outlived his first year on the road as a touring musician. We’d overcome groupies and tabloids, rumors and expectations. Literally everything about us was perfect.
Except, it wasn’t.
As I stared into his desperate blue eyes I wanted to dive in head first. Take that leap of faith and give him everything he wanted. He deserved that. He deserved everything. But I couldn’t give that to him. My heart wasn’t in it anymore. I was tired of being in the shadows and hiding our relationship. As long as his fans and his label had him, I never would. At least not all of him. Yet, that is what he expected from me. I’d be forced to give up my career to follow him from city-to-city and wait up for him. Lonely hotel rooms. Meals from bags or boxes. Standing on the sidelines.
That’s not what I wanted. It’s not how I saw my life unfolding. I wanted more, I knew that, but what I didn’t know was what that was.
He blinked. When his eyes opened again, he looked right through me. He knew the answer to his question. My face was an open book and he was reading every single page, flipping to the end. The final scene did not include him. A dark cloud washed over him.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
He walked away without looking back . His feet sank into the sand and he quickened his pace to a jog. Part of me wanted to run after him and apologize, begging for a second chance. Maybe I’d say yes when he asked again. Instead I just watched my entire world leave me alone on the beach. My ring and future walked away with him, along with the hotel key and my plane ticket home.
Every step he took away from me was one step closer to what I’d been craving… silence, room to breathe, a fresh start. Exhaling, I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, the outline of him was so small it barely existed. The ocean sang in the air behind me and its mist peppered my skin.
So this is what freedom feels like.