"I'm in love with you."
I thought I must have imagined that. I must have been lightheaded from the hike up the butte, and I was having visual and auditory hallucinations. I've read that happens to mountain climbers on Mt. Everest. Exhausted and deprived of oxygen at high altitudes, the climbers imagine meeting fellow hikers who don't exist.
I'd walked only fifteen minutes to reach the top of the butte, so it isn't quite Mt. Everest--but hallucination was still a possibility, right? It was easier to believe that I was having a psychotic episode than it was to believe that Will Darcy was actually standing there, announcing that he's in love with me.
But I knew it wasn't a hallucination, because no mirage is so finely detailed that you can see a man's pupils dilate with panic. If I were merely imagining Will's presence, my addled brain wouldn't give him the expression of a man who accidentally pressed a button to launch a nuclear missile.
I said, "What?"
And I immediately hated myself for saying that, because it sounded like I was asking Will to repeat himself. The first time was distressing enough. I rushed to say, "Wait, no, I heard you the first time. You don't have to say it again."
"I didn't intend to say it like this." Will raked a hand through his hair. "I planned to bring it up in a more appropriate setting, but we couldn't agree on a time. So. Here we are."
So it's my fault he blindsided me with a non sequitur declaration of love? What is an "appropriate setting" to declare you're in love with someone, anyway? The words wouldn't be any less mortifying in a fancy restaurant than they were on a hiking trail.
Why did Will have to say them at all? Why couldn't he lock up those feelings and treasure them secretly until they wilted away, like everyone else does? Why did he have to force them on me, and put me in this horrible position of having to answer him?
I didn't know how to answer. I couldn't even remember how to speak. I'm proud of myself for remembering how to stand.
Will cleared his throat again. "I don't regret saying it," he said, though his expression showed he regretted it very much. "One of us was going to have to say it eventually. It might as well be me."
Slowly, my thoughts transitioned from surprise, to dismay, to annoyance. Not only did Will subject me to this embarrassing situation because he couldn't keep his big mouth shut, but the pompous narcissist assumed I was in love with him!
I said, "What do you mean, 'one of us'?"
Will paced back and forth on the dirt, growing more agitated with each step. "I promised myself I would never do this," he muttered. "Dad must be rolling around in his grave right now, laughing at me."
He threw up his hands and burst out, "You're nothing like you're supposed to be!"
"Your career is a disaster. You have no savings and no long-term goals. You use humor as a coping mechanism to ignore your problems. You're hopelessly idealistic, and irrational, and I can't stay away from you, no matter how much I wish I could."
He closed his eyes and grimaced. "Every day I tell myself I'm not going to meet you. I have important work to do. I don't have the time to sit around at a coffee shop, flirting like a lovesick teenager. But every day I drop everything I'm doing to rush to that coffee shop, because nothing feels as important as...you."
Will choked on the last word and inhaled sharply, as if he'd forgotten to breathe while speaking. I remembered I should be doing that too.
He said, "You're all wrong for me, but I've come to accept that I don't have any choice. It has to be you."
YOU ARE READING
Lizzie Bennet's DiaryRomance
"Today I met a man, and I thought he was my soulmate, but then he turned out to be a conceited, judgmental, small-minded lemon-sucking jerk." When free-spirited writer Lizzie Bennet meets handsome lawyer Will Darcy at a party, she's smitten...until...