Chapter no 15

It Ends with us

I arrive at the restaurant fifteen minutes late. Right when I was about to close tonight I had a customer come in to order flowers for a funeral. I couldn’t turn them away because . . . sadly . . . funerals are the best business for florists.

Ryle waves me over to the table and I walk straight to them, doing my best not to look around. I don’t want to see Atlas. I tried twice to get them to change the restaurant location, but Allysa was hell-bent on eating here after Ryle told her how good it was.

I slide into the booth and Ryle leans over and kisses me on the cheek. “Hey, girlfriend.”

Allysa groans. “God, you guys are so cute, it’s sickening.” I smile at her, and her eyes immediately go to the corner of my eye. It doesn’t look as bad as I thought it might today, which is probably due to Ryle forcing me to keep ice on it. “Oh my God,” Allysa says. “Ryle told me what happened but I didn’t think it was that bad.”

I glance at Ryle, wondering what he told her. The truth? He smiles and says, “Olive oil was everywhere. When she slipped, it was so graceful you’d think she was a ballerina.”

A lie.

Fair enough. I would have done the same thing. “It was pretty pathetic,” I say with a laugh.

Somehow, we get through dinner without a hitch. No sign of Atlas, no thoughts of last night, and Ryle and I both avoid the wine. After we’re finished with our food, our waiter approaches the table. “Care for dessert?” he asks.

I shake my head, but Allysa perks up. “What do you have?”

Marshall looks just as interested. “We’re eating for two, so we’ll take anything chocolate,” he says.

The waiter nods, and when he walks away, Allysa looks at Marshall. “This baby is the size of a bedbug right now. You better not encourage bad habits for the next several months.”

The waiter returns with a dessert cart. “The chef gives all expectant mothers dessert on the house,” he says. “Congratulations.”

“He does?” Allysa says, perking up.

“Guess that’s why it’s called Bib’s,” Marshall says. “Chef likes the babies.”

We all look at the cart. “Oh, God,” I say, looking at the options. “This is my new favorite restaurant,” Allysa says.

We pick out three desserts for the table. The four of us spend the time waiting for it to be served discussing baby names.

“No,” Allysa says to Marshall. “We’re not naming this baby after a state.”

“But I love Nebraska,” he whines. “Idaho?”

Allysa drops her head in her hands. “This is going to be the demise of our marriage.”

“Demise,” Marshall says. “That’s actually a good name.”

Marshall’s murder is thwarted by the arrival of dessert. Our waiter places a piece of chocolate cake in front of Allysa, and steps aside to make room for the waiter behind him who is holding the other two desserts. The waiter motions toward the guy placing our desserts down and says, “The chef would like to extend his congratulations.”

“How was the meal?” the chef asks, looking at Allysa and Marshall.

By the time his eyes make it to mine, my anxiety is seeping from me. Atlas locks eyes with me, and without thinking, I blurt out, “You’re the chef?”

The waiter leans around Atlas and says. “The chef. The owner.

Sometimes waiter, sometimes dishwasher. He gives a new meaning to hands-on.”

The next five seconds go unnoticed by everyone at our table, but they play out in slow motion to me.

Atlas’s eyes fall to the cut on my eye.

The bandage wrapped around Ryle’s hand. Back to my eye.

“We love your restaurant,” Allysa says. “You have an incredible place here.”

Atlas doesn’t look at her. I see the roll of his throat as he swallows. His jaw hardens and he says nothing as he walks away.


The waiter tries to cover for Atlas’s hasty retreat by smiling and showing way too many teeth. “Enjoy your dessert,” he says, scuffling off to the kitchen.

“Bummer,” Allysa says. “We find a new favorite restaurant and the chef is an asshole.”

Ryle laughs. “Yeah, but the assholes are the best ones. Gordon Ramsay?”

“Good point,” Marshall says.

I put my hand on Ryle’s arm. “Bathroom,” I tell him.

He nods as I scoot out of the booth, and Marshall says, “What about Wolfgang Puck? You think he’s an asshole?”

I walk across the restaurant, head down, fast paced. As soon as I get into the familiar hallway, I keep going. I push open the door to the women’s restroom and then turn around and lock it.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

The look in his eye. The anger in his jaw.

I’m relieved he walked away, but I’m half-convinced he’s probably going to be waiting outside the restaurant when we leave, ready to kick Ryle’s ass.

I breathe in my nose, out my mouth, wash my hands, repeat the breathing. Once I’m more calm, I dry my hands on a towel.

I’ll just go back out there and tell Ryle I’m not feeling well. We’ll leave and we’ll never come back. They all think the chef is an asshole, so that can be my excuse.

I unlock the door, but I don’t pull it open. It starts pushing open from the other side, so I step back. Atlas steps inside the bathroom with me and locks the door. His back rests against the door as he stares at me, focused on the cut near my eye.

“What happened?” he asks. I shake my head. “Nothing.”

His eyes are narrow, still ice blue but somehow burning with fire. “You’re lying, Lily.”

I muster enough of a smile to get me by. “It was an accident.” Atlas laughs, but then his face falls flat. “Leave him.”

Leave him?

Jesus, he thinks this is something else entirely. I take a step forward and shake my head. “He’s not like that, Atlas. It wasn’t like that. Ryle is a good person.”

He tilts his head and leans it forward a little bit. “Funny. You sound just like your mother.”

His words sting. I immediately try to reach around him for the door, but he grabs my wrist. “Leave him, Lily.”

I yank my hand away. I turn my back to him and inhale a deep

breath. I release it slowly as I face him again. “If it’s any comparison at all, I’m more scared of you right now than I’ve ever been of him.” My words make Atlas pause for a moment. His nod starts out slowly, and then gets more prominent as he steps away from the door. “I certainly didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.” He motions toward the door. “Just trying to repay the concern you’ve

always shown me.”

I stare at him for a moment, unsure how to take his words. He’s still raging on the inside, I can see it. But on the outside, he’s calm

—collected. Allowing me to leave. I reach forward and unlock the door, then pull it open.

I gasp when my eyes meet Ryle’s. I quickly glance over my shoulder to see Atlas filing out of the bathroom with me.

Ryle’s eyes fill with confusion as he looks from me to Atlas. “What the fuck, Lily?”

“Ryle.” My voice shakes. God, this looks so much worse than it is.

Atlas steps around me and turns toward the doors to the kitchen, as if Ryle doesn’t even exist to him. Ryle’s eyes are glued to Atlas’s back. Keep walking, Atlas.

Right when Atlas reaches the kitchen doors, he pauses.

No, no, no. Keep walking.

In what becomes one of the most dreadful moments I can imagine, he spins around and strides toward Ryle, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt. Almost as soon as it happens, Ryle forces Atlas back and slams him against the opposite wall. Atlas lunges for Ryle again, this time shoving his forearm against Ryle’s throat, pinning him against the wall.

“You touch her again and I’ll cut your fucking hand off and shove it down your throat, you worthless piece of shit!”

“Atlas, stop!” I yell.

Atlas releases Ryle forcefully, taking a huge step back. Ryle is breathing heavily, staring at Atlas long and hard. Then his focus moves directly to me. “Atlas?” He says his name with familiarity.

Why is Ryle saying Atlas’s name like that? Like he’s heard me say it before? I’ve never told him about Atlas.

Wait. I did.

That first night on the roof. It was one of my naked truths.

Ryle lets out a disbelieving laugh and points at Atlas, but he’s still looking at me. “This is Atlas? The homeless boy you pity-fucked?”

Oh, God.

The hallway instantly becomes a blur of fists and elbows and my screams for them to stop. Two waiters push through the door behind me and shove past me, separating them just as quickly as it started.

They’re pushed apart against opposite walls, staring each other down, breathing heavily. I can’t even look at either of them.

I can’t look at Atlas. Not after what Ryle just said to him. I also can’t look at Ryle because he’s probably thinking the absolute worst possible thing right now.

“Out!” Atlas yells, pointing at the door, but looking at Ryle. “Get the hell out of my restaurant!”

I meet Ryle’s eyes as he begins to walk past me, scared of what I’ll see in them. But there isn’t any anger there.

Only hurt. Lots of hurt.

He pauses as if he’s about to say something to me. But his face just twists into disappointment and he walks back out into the restaurant.

I finally glance up at Atlas and can see disappointment all across his face. Before I can explain away Ryle’s words to him, he turns and walks away, pushing through the kitchen doors.

I immediately turn and run after Ryle. He grabs his jacket from the booth and walks toward the exit without even looking at Allysa and Marshall.

Allysa looks up at me and holds her hands up in question. I shake my head, grab my purse and say, “It’s a long story. We’ll talk


I follow Ryle outside and he’s walking toward the parking lot. I run to catch up to him and he just stops and punches at the air.

“I didn’t bring my fucking car!” he yells, frustrated.

I pull my keys out of my purse and he walks up to me and snatches them from my hand. Again, I follow him, this time to my car.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if he even wants to speak to me right now. He just saw me locked in a bathroom with a guy I used to be in love with. Then, out of nowhere, that guy attacks him.

God, this is so bad.

When we reach my car, he heads straight for the driver’s side door. He points to the passenger side and says, “Get in, Lily.”

He doesn’t speak to me the entire time we’re driving. I say his name once, but he just shakes his head like he’s not ready to hear my explanation yet. When we pull into my parking garage, he gets out of the car as soon as he turns it off, like he can’t get away from me fast enough.

He’s pacing the length of the car when I get out. “It wasn’t what it looked like, Ryle. I swear.”

He stops pacing, and when he looks at me, my heart doubles over. There’s so much pain in his eyes right now, and it’s not even necessary. It was all due to a stupid misunderstanding.

“I didn’t want this, Lily,” he says. “I didn’t want a relationship! I didn’t want this stress in my life!”

As much as he’s hurting because of what he thinks he saw, his words still piss me off. “Well, then leave!”


I throw my hands up. “I don’t want to be your burden, Ryle! I’m so sorry my presence in your life is so unbearable!”

He takes a step forward. “Lily, that’s not at all what I’m saying.”

He throws his hands up in frustration and then walks past me. He leans against my car and folds his arms over his chest. There’s a long stretch of silence while I wait for what he has to say. His head is down, but he lifts it slightly, looking up at me.

“Naked truths, Lily. That’s all I want from you right now. Can you please give me that?”

I nod.

“Did you know he worked there?”

I purse my lips together and wrap my arm over my chest, grabbing at my elbow. “Yes. That’s why I didn’t want to go back, Ryle. I didn’t want to run into him.”

My answer seems to release a little of his tension. He runs a hand down his face. “Did you tell him what happened last night? Did you tell him about our fight?”

I take a step forward and shake my head adamantly. “No. He assumed. He saw my eye and your hand and he just assumed.”

He blows out a laden breath and leans his head back, looking up at the roof. It looks like it’s almost too painful for him to even ask the next question.

“Why were you alone with him in the bathroom?”

I take another step forward. “He followed me in there. I know nothing about him now, Ryle. I didn’t even know he owned that restaurant, I thought he was just a waiter. He’s not a part of my life anymore, I swear. He just . . .” I fold my arms together and drop my voice. “We both grew up in abusive households. He saw my face and your hand and . . . he was just worried for me. That’s all it was.” Ryle brings his hands up and covers his mouth. I can hear the air rushing through his fingers as he releases his breath. He stands

up straight, allowing himself a moment to soak in all I’ve just said. “My turn,” he says.

He pushes off the car and takes the three steps toward me that previously separated us. He puts both hands on my cheeks and looks me dead in the eyes. “If you don’t want to be with me . . . please tell me right now, Lily. Because when I saw you with him . . . that hurt. I never want to feel that again. And if it hurts this much now, I’m terrified to think of what it could do to me a year from now.”

I can feel the tears begin to stream down my cheeks. I place my hands on top of his and shake my head. “I don’t want anyone else, Ryle. I only want you.”

He forces the saddest smile I’ve ever seen on a human. He pulls me to him and holds me there. I wrap my arms around him as tight as I can as he presses his lips to the side of my head.

“I love you, Lily. God, I love you.”

I squeeze him tight, pressing a kiss to his shoulder. “I love you, too.”

I close my eyes and wish I could wash away the entire last two days.

Atlas is wrong about Ryle.

I just wish Atlas knew he was wrong.

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