Authors: Alex Strong
“No,” Karina groaned from where she was lying lengthwise across her bed. “I changed my mind, I’m not going out.”
“Yes you are,” Ginny said as she walked in and started rifling through Karina’s closet. “It’s Saturday night and you can’t just hang out here by yourself.”
“I do it all the time.”
Ginny sighed as she stopped what she was doing and came to sit on the bed.
“I think it will be good for you to get out,” she said in a soothing voice. “You’re just going to make yourself more miserable by sitting here wallowing in it.”
Karina forced herself to sit up. “You’re right.”
“Yay!” Ginny cheered, giving her a hug.
The idea of socializing did not appeal to Karina at all, but Ginny did her best to keep the mood upbeat as they got ready, and by the time they walked out the door an hour later, Karina felt her spirits improving.
The two of them were halfway down the stairs, laughing at something Ginny had said, when someone walked in the building entrance, causing Karina to stop short.
“What’s the—” but Ginny didn’t have to finish when she saw who had come in.
“What are you doing here?” Karina asked Damien, who was standing at the door, looking up at her.
“I need to talk to you,” he said.
Karina’s heart raced. There was only one reason he would come all this way to talk to her.
“I was just headed out,” she said, not willing to make it easy for him.
“I see that.”
“I could meet you there,” Ginny said.
Karina didn’t respond. She wasn’t sure if she trusted herself to be alone with him. But Ginny took her silence as agreement and rushed down the stairs to slip past Damien and out the door. Still Karina said nothing while Damien climbed the stairs to where she was standing.
“I miss you,” he whispered.
Karina shook her head. “Why are you here?” she asked.
“I told you, I want to talk to you. I need to explain.”
. To explain why he had to let her go, she imagined.
“You can’t do this to me, Damien,” she said, her voice cracking.
“Please,” he pleaded.
She sighed before turning around and heading back up the stairs with him following her. He stood right behind her as she unlocked the door, and the heat of his body brought back so many memories. Memories she didn’t need to be thinking about if she was going to protect her heart.
They walked in, and Damien shut the door behind him.
“What is it you wanted to say?” she asked, turning to face him while leaving enough space between them.
He stood there by the door, staring at the ground.
“I rehearsed it so many times in my head the past few days,” he said. “And now….”
“This is exactly what I was afraid of,” she said, reaching around him for the door.
“Wait,” he said, grabbing her arm. “You kept asking why I wanted you in Miami with me, and I wasn’t able to give an answer.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” she said, wrenching her arm from his grip, and he frowned.
“When I came into the coffee shop that morning,” he said, “the line was long. And as I looked at the front of it, trying to decide if I should just send Tom in, I saw you. I continued to watch you as the line progressed, laughing and smiling with the customers. It was mesmerizing.” He touched her face, and this time she didn’t stop him. “Then you turned around and our eyes locked, and it was as if the world stood still. I couldn’t understand it.”
Karina could still remember that moment when she first saw Damien like it was yesterday. It had literally taken her breath away.
“After I left,” he continued. “I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I even went back the next morning, but you weren’t there.”
“I closed that night,” she said, and he nodded.
“I grabbed a business card on my way out. Not really sure why, but it made me feel connected to you somehow.”
“I saw it,” she said. “By your bed.”
He nodded again before continuing.
“When I ran into you outside the library, I decided I wasn’t going to let you slip through my fingers this time. And even though you declined my invitation to dinner, I knew you had felt something too. You didn’t try to pull your hand away when I impulsively grabbed it,” he said, moving his hand from her face to her hand, lacing his fingers through hers. “I hoped that meant something, so I came back that night and you explained your situation. Somewhat. I thought if I offered to help and you accepted, then you must be feeling something as well.”
Karina remembered how pained Damien had been when she told him in New York that she had been going to change her mind. It all made sense now.
“I had seen your full name on one of the papers you dropped,” he explained. “Since you were looking at graduate programs, I knew you must have already been a student, so I started with the same school and immediately found you. And then you agreed to my proposition. But you made yourself sick that first night,” he said as his face twisted into something else. “And I was worried about you, and even that emotion surprised me. It occurred to me that you drank so much because you were afraid of me, so I gave you space. It’s the only reason I ran off to LA. I could’ve handled everything from home. I thought maybe I had been wrong about you,” he said, shaking his head. “That you hadn’t agreed because you wanted to be with me, but because of what I was doing for you. That you were like everyone else. And it was breaking my heart.” He sighed before continuing. “But when I came home, you came downstairs. Just being in the same room with you reminded me how much I wanted you. And you no longer seemed afraid of me.”
He took her other hand.
“I heard you come to my bedroom door that night,” he said. “You turned the handle even. But you didn’t come in.”
“I was confused,” she whispered.
“About you. About what I was starting to feel for you.”
“I’m in love with you, Karina,” he said. “I think I have been since the moment I laid eyes on you. And it terrifies me. I’ve never felt this way. I couldn’t even recognize it at first. Not until you told me you wanted to go home early. When you told me that…well, it was a pain I never imagined.”
Damien lifted both her hands to his lips, and Karina felt her eyes water.
“I was a fool for letting you walk out the door.”
“You were an asshole,” she laughed, and a tear slid down her cheek.
“I was,” he said, wiping the tear away. “I don’t deserve you. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying to prove how much you mean to me. I love you, Karina. Please come home with me. Please go to school in Miami.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t want to remember what my life was like without you. Let me show you how much I love you.
Amorecito, me cielo.
You are my world.”
“Is that what that means?”
He nodded. “Technically it translates to ‘my sky,’ but same thing.” He pressed his forehead to hers. “You are my sky, my sun, my everything. And I’m sorry it took me so long to say it to you.”
“Did you just apologize to me?” she asked with a smile.
“I did,” he said, smiling back. “I think I owe you some music, don’t I?”
“Does that mean you’ll come with me?”
“Yes,” she said, and Damien pressed his lips to hers as he lifted her off the ground and spun her in a circle.
“I love you,” he said, setting her feet back on the floor. “I’ll say it a hundred times every day if I have to. Anything to have you at my side.”
“I love you too,” she said. “And I’ll say it back a hundred times if I have to for you to remember it.”
Karina and Ginny stood in the foyer talking to her parents.
“So are you going to start the job hunt soon?” her mother asked.
“Not just yet,” Karina said cryptically.
“Just because your boyfriend’s a billionaire doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use that new fancy degree of yours,” Ginny said.
“I’m sure that’s not what Karina is implying,” her father said before narrowing his eyes at her. “Right?”
She shrugged and was spared having to say anything else by a waiter coming around with a tray of champagne.
“For the toast,” he told them.
She looked at him in confusion until Damien walked up, already carrying his own glass.
“May I borrow Karina for a moment?” he asked, and everyone nodded.
“What’s going on?” she asked as she let him lead her over to the stairs.
“What kind of host would I be if I didn’t congratulate the graduate,” he said. They walked up a couple of steps, just enough so that everyone’s face was in view.
“Don’t embarrass me,” she said with a nervous smile.
“I’ll try not to,” he said, kissing her cheek before turning to the crowd in his home. “May I have everyone’s attention?”
All the guests looked in their direction, and Karina could feel herself blushing already.
“I want to thank you all for coming tonight,” he said, “to help celebrate Karina’s achievement. I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as she has these past two years. Especially the last couple of months, where as part of her capstone project, she has been helping me establish the Bishop Community Health Center, something I think we’re both very proud of,” he said, putting an arm around her.
“Despite all the speculation,” he continued, “I’ve yet to name a director for the program. What Karina didn’t know until this morning was that I’d been hoping she would fill that role. And I am thrilled to announce that she has accepted.”
Everyone clapped, and Karina could see a couple heads nodding as though they knew it. Tom gave her a wink from the crowd. How he managed to keep it from her, she’d never know.
“If I could have your attention just a little bit longer,” Damien said, and everyone quieted again. “What Karina doesn’t know is that I still have one more important question.”
Karina looked out at Tom, who looked just as baffled as her, and then to Damien, who was getting down on one knee, pulling a little blue box from his pocket, and she gasped.
“Karina Watson, will you marry me?”
“Oh my god, Damien,” she whispered. “Yes. Yes, yes, yes!”
The guests all cheered as he stood and slipped the diamond ring on her finger.
“Before you,” he said quietly enough so that only she could hear, “I thought true love was impossible, a charade. Now I can’t imagine spending a day without you. I love you, Karina, with all my heart.”
“I love you, Damien, with all of mine.”
He pulled her into him, enveloping her in his arms, and in a kiss. The rest of the crowd melted away from her thoughts, and Karina knew she was right where she belonged.
The most important sentiment my father drilled in to me was thank you. No matter what, you always say thank you. So thank you to Tama, Andrea, Liz, and Cattigan for beta-reading this project that I have been beyond excited about since day one. Thank you to my editor Carrie for helping me polish it. Thank you to my husband for his support and for picking up take-out because I couldn’t—didn’t want to stop working. And a big thank you to my readers for giving me a reason to keep doing this. I know I’d probably be doing it anyway, but thank you for making it feel worthwhile. Your love and support makes my heart swell.
As a kid, I wanted to be a lot of things when I grew up. Strangely enough, being a writer wasn’t one of them, no matter how much I was doing it in my spare time. I never did decide what I wanted to do, and for that I am grateful because I might not being doing this now if I were too busy with a “real” job. I’ve managed to experience a lot in my lifetime, both good and bad, and I love drawing from it all to create my stories. So while the tales you read are completely made up, my heart and soul are still sprinkled among the pages.
If you’re like to know more about me, come find me on social media!
Twitter and Instagram: @TheAlex_Strong