Together Apart


by Natalie K. Martin

1.

Marry 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 signalled the waiter for the bill as Sarah rummaged around in her handbag. 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 this 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 his heart cracked with every beat it made. A cold sweat broke out on his 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.

Adam’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.

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