Chapter Twenty-Seven

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A few weeks later

"We can talk about it, Darius. I can be there for you if you want me to," Trace's voice was soft and he put his hand on my back.

Ever since we'd come back to Toronto our relationship had taken a step backwards. What had happened in the competition had turned me inside out. I'd been withdrawn, anxious and a bit depressed for the past few weeks.

I had to go back to my regular life and work like everything was normal when everything had changed. Trace could tell there was something wrong but I didn't know how to tell him that I hadn't stood up for myself. He was always standing up for me and I couldn't even defend myself when it mattered. It was fucked up and I hated myself for it.

At the time I hadn't even considered confronting Mary Lou and getting to the bottom of what she did but these weeks it was all I could think about. Why hadn't I done more?! Why couldn't I have done something?!

So many things were going wrong. I wasn't happy at Sweets N Things anymore because I needed a challenge and a neighbourhood bakery remotely challenging. I needed to see a therapist but the thought of making the calls filled me with unimaginable dread. And me and Trace still hadn't had sex. Sure, some of what we'd done could be considered sex but it wasn't exactly, 'the deed.' It made me feel like I was endlessly leading him on.

Tonight, we were at my apartment and he was trying to get me to talk to him. The two of us were sitting up on my bed and we'd watched a non-zombie related movie earlier in the evening but there was a baking subplot and I mentally checked out until the movie was over. Trace had kept quiet about it until we'd gone to bed but then sat me down and said I could confide in him if I wanted.

I took a shaky breath and stared hard at my boyfriend. God, Trace was gorgeous. Confidence dripped off of him in waves and he was so sure of himself all the time. Right now his brown eyes were deep with concern and the forever frown of his mouth was more worried than anything else.

Trace kissed the inside of my shoulder. "Baby, please," he begged. And I knew Trace had too much pride to beg for anything so this was serious.

"I'm a mess," I confessed in a raw, broken voice, "I can't do anything right. I can't manage to get it together and just not fuck up everything meaningful in my life."

Trace let out a harsh exhale. "Don't talk about yourself that way, Darius."

I shook my head and shrugged off his touch. "Except I'm the problem. The competition was such a massive mistake and I was so stupid not to realize it. My anxiety is w-w-worse than it was before. I have more panic attacks and I just get so upset when I think about all the times I wasn't able to stand up for myself. I don't know why I thought I could go through all of this and come out on the other side of it al-al—" I breathed. "The other side of it okay. I can't believe I'm so stupid." Humiliatingly, my eyes started to burn and then I couldn't keep the tears at bay anymore.

They were tears and emotions I'd been holding in for the past few months. All the raw hurt from the competition and my heartrending loss blurred together until I was just weeping messily. It was mostly pure frustration as snot spewed from my nose and my eyes puffed up. And now Trace knew that I was just a big baby.

A part of me expected him to sit there awkwardly and pretend I wasn't breaking down or maybe even for him to turn away in disgust. But, instead he sat right there with me and let me cry into his shoulder. He rubbed my back and he surprised me with some tissues to help me wipe away the tears. He kept telling me it was okay and as my tears subsided I was starting to realize that maybe things could be.

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