Seven years before Set Me Free starts....
Suze rolls onto her side, away from me, hugging a pillow to her chest. I sit up and brush her tangled red hair back from her neck.
"Suze," I begin, but I can't find the words to continue. She slips away. Her hair tumbles down her back and tangles in the white lace of her negligee. She won't quite look at me while she finds her clothes, scattered across the floor of my bedroom. Her eyes are dark and abstract, shadowed by her lashes.
"I have to go paint," she says, as she tugs on her jeans. She pulls a sweatshirt on over her negligee, covering it completely. It's as if this afternoon never happened.
I draw my knees up to my chest on the bed. "Okay."
"Is that all you have to say?"
I apologized after my mistake, but it didn't help. She broke off all our plans, didn't return any of my calls. For two interminable weeks, I thought it was over.
Then today she showed up at my house, a few minutes after I got home from my landscaping job, and walked in on me while I was in the shower, her eyes full of fire. She was already wearing her negligee—I could have counted the freckles scattered across her fair body through the transparent lace. And even though I knew we should have talked first, I'm only human. I had missed her so much, every single second she was gone.
I always miss her when she leaves me, and sometimes I think she misses me, too.
I look at the curve of her lower lip and wonder if it is trembling, very slightly. If this is her finally wanting to talk about what I did—her arms folded, her posture stiff, her cheeks still flushed from making love.
"I don't know what you want me to do," I say quietly, glancing down at my hands. "I can't take it back." And I don't want to.
She shakes her head. "It's just... what are we even doing with our lives?" she says. "You know? I'm twenty-two years old and I'm still on this damned island. Still doing commissions for the same people. Still getting stuck on the same stuff. I'm just... so worthless."
We call her Our Island's Artist and she calls herself worthless. "Suze..." I'm so weary of this argument. "God, Suze."
She swallows. Her lips are definitely trembling. It makes me a fool, but I shift to the edge of the bed and take her hands in mine, pulling her in towards my legs and the sheet across my lap.
"You're not worthless," I tell her. "You know that. And you're not wasting your life." Not even by spending some of it with me.
"Why can't I be like you?" she asks me softly.
"Like me?" I say, confused. "What about me?"
"Happy," she says. "The way you are."
I don't think of myself as happy much anymore. These days, all I feel is that tired, restless longing for what I can't have. Sometimes I wonder why I put myself through it, even while everyone else in town wants to know what she sees in me. They're sure it's my fault that she's never left the island, never went to Pratt; I'm holding her back.
I run my thumb across a smudge of old paint on Suze's palm. "You told me once there's more to life than being happy," I say. "It's about... passion, and service. Having a calling."
"You know why I said that?"
"Because I don't know how to be happy. I've never known how. My brain doesn't work like that."
"It comes from here." I touch the soft fabric of her sweatshirt, right where her heart is. "You just need to give yourself permission to feel it."
"It's empty," she murmurs.
How can she feel so little for me, after three years together? Even if I don't deserve her, at least I've never pretended that I did. I would do anything for her. If only she would let me.
"I'm sorry." She kisses my forehead. "I'll try. For you."
Try what? I want to ask, but my throat aches. I asked her to marry me two weeks ago, and she said no. How do we come back from that?
"I want to be better to you," she says quietly. "I know you deserve better. More from me."
I shrug and try to look away, but she takes my face in her hands and tilts it upwards towards hers. "Owen, you know—you know I love you. Don't you know that?"
She has only told me this twice before in three years. I locked those words jealously inside my heart, to be taken out and held each time she left me for someone else or for reasons I still don't understand.
Tears sting my eyes. I nod, because I do know her well enough to understand that she wouldn't come back to me every time if she didn't, on some level, love me. She just doesn't love me as much as I love her.
Suze leans in close, her body brushing mine, her small hands twining into my hair. "I swear I try. I don't know why I'm like this. I wish—" Her voice breaks. "I just... hate myself. I hate myself for doing this to you, but I don't know how to stop it. I get so freaked out, sometimes."
"I should never have asked." We'd been doing so well, I'd let myself forget everything I'd learned.
"I'm a wreck," she says. "You don't want to marry me. How could you?"
But I do—I still do, in spite of everything.
"I love you," she says, kissing my temple, my cheek, my lips. "I'm sorry."
I know I'm a fool, but I pull her onto my lap, and kiss her back.
Poor Owen! :'( Were you surprised by Owen's "mistake"? What would you do in Owen's situation--would you take Suze back?
Parts III and IV will be up next Friday... And in Part IV, we get to see Owen's point of view when he meets Miranda. :D
As always, thank you for reading! <3
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