I wasn't like the women in those movies. You know, the ones you catch on the Lifetime network when you're channel surfing over a pint of ice cream at two in the morning? I didn't get sucked in by grand gestures and lavish gifts. I wasn't the poor, plain, ignored girl who'd magically attracted the attention of the most handsome man in town. I wasn't so devoid of self-esteem that I just accepted whatever hell I got as something I deserved. And he wasn't just an act, waiting, baiting me to fall for him so he could beat me and break me. No, the guy I fell for was real. He was sweet and considerate, he was funny and smart, and he was so roguishly beautiful that I couldn't stop staring at him long after the ‘honeymoon phase' was over. I didn't fall for some charming façade only to learn that Mr. Right was actually Mr. Right Hook. No, I was different. He was different. And that's what made what happened all the more difficult to accept.
We'd been friends first. We'd known each other since our freshman year in high school when I was the new girl, and he was the guy I maimed with an errant pitch in P.E. We walked to classes together and occasionally had lunch together. I'd copy his physics notes, and he'd get my help with his English homework. He even picked me up when the worst date of my life left me stranded downtown because I wouldn't put out after junior prom. My date from hell just happened to suffer a broken nose that weekend, and I knew it was no coincidence. After that, we continued to look out for each other. He did the oil changes on my truck, and I helped him pick out the perfect Christmas present for his mom. I even set him up with a girl he had a huge crush on in our biology class, and he constantly reminded me that the guys I went out with didn't deserve me. It was a true friendship, and I honestly never thought it would be anything more.
It wasn't until our senior year that we found ourselves tangled up on his sofa, both having had too much to drink after making asses of ourselves at frat party we'd somehow talked our way into, and both a little depressed that the dating pool wasn't worth dipping a toe in. I'm not sure who kissed who, but before I knew it, our lips were crushed together and we were breathing heavily, hoping his mom didn't come home soon. I turned the most unflattering shade of red when he yanked my t-shirt up to my neck, and we both snapped out of our alcohol induced lust-haze immediately. Well, not all the way out of it, but enough that we realized we were treading on dangerous ground. He had apologized profusely, to the point that I finally laughed and begged him to forget about it. But there was something about that kiss that neither of us could forget.
A few weeks later, we were officially dating. He'd bring me daisies and take me out to dinner. He even saved up enough from his after-school job to take me to one of those five-star restaurants in Seattle at the end of the school year. He said was it his combination graduation and anniversary present to me. We'd been dating for six months. And not once during those six months had he tried to pull my clothes off again.
In fact, he was so respectful when it came to physical boundaries that I eventually had to take the lead. School had let out early one day, and we were alone in my room. I got up the nerve to grab his hand and push it up under my shirt. He happily got the point, and we'd spent several wonderful minutes making out until my dad got home and threatened to shoot him. Dad's a cop, so we were pretty sure he had the resources and connections to make it look like a suicide.
Dad kept pretty close tabs on us after that, sometimes sitting with us while we watched a movie in the living room, sometimes making not-so-subtle comments about how late it was getting, and never letting him anywhere near my bedroom again. I finally had to sit Dad down for a very uncomfortable conversation about how I was eighteen, about to go to college, and mature enough to decide if or when I would have sex with my boyfriend. Dad watched us suspiciously all summer, but he didn't give me any more trouble about it.
Fall semester started and I moved into my first apartment. Dad had offered to pay for a dorm (as long as it wasn't coed) or even buy me a new car so I'd have reliable transportation if I wanted to live at home and commute, but I insisted on my own place. Besides, I loved my old truck, even if it was hideous and loud, and I didn't want to be a burden. A small town cop's salary only stretches so far. Luckily, I'd been saving every penny for years, ever since I was thirteen and got my first babysitting job. So when it came time for college, I had enough financial footing that I could concentrate on my education and not worry about a part-time job. But in the end, I got a full scholarship, so the money I'd saved was put to other uses...like my new apartment.
I rented a big, beautiful, three-bedroom place in the nicer part of town, and it was just a short walk from campus. The largest bedroom was just off the living room, and I turned it into my own little library, outfitting it with a comfortable loveseat for curling up and reading as well as a large antique desk for studying. The smallest bedroom had the worst view, overlooking an alley, so I made that into the guestroom, and over time it became my makeshift storage space as well. It wasn't like I would be entertaining many overnight guests anyway, but it was good to have a second bed available just in case. The middle-sized bedroom was down the hallway behind the kitchen and it overlooked the courtyard, so I made that my room. It was connected to my library by an enormous bathroom, complete with one of those old fashioned claw-foot tubs. A second bathroom was down the hall, and to top it off, I had a nice sized kitchen, a small wood-burning fireplace, and gorgeous hardwood floors. And since mine was a corner unit, my balcony wrapped all the way around, with big glass doors opening up off the library, my bedroom, and the living room. It was absolutely indulgent, and I loved it.
We talked about moving in together, but in the end we agreed a step like that should wait. It was our first semester at college, our first time not living with our parents, and the first time we could truly make our own decisions. One step at a time, we told ourselves. It wasn't like we were ever really apart for every long anyway, but it was nice to have a place to call ‘only mine' at the end of the day. I decorated according to my mood, filled my library with worn out copies of my favorite books, and spent hours whipping up pseudo gourmet meals in my kitchen.
Things were so perfect, in fact, that he proposed over Christmas break. So much for not rushing things. I'd thought Dad was going to have a heart attack when he saw me peel the wrapping paper back to reveal what was clearly a ring box, but he'd managed to hold it together long enough for me to say yes. We didn't want to get married right away anyhow. Our engagement simply illustrated what we already knew; that we had forever in our grasp. The truth was that we weren't even going to set a date until after we both had college degrees in hand. Poor Dad looked heartbroken, insisting he would always see me as the clumsy little five year old who never did quite learn how to keep a bicycle upright. I knew that while he wanted me to be happy, my growing up wasn't easy for him. But he took it in stride, congratulating us and awkwardly explaining the benefits of waiting several years before starting a family.
Everything was perfect. My grades were good, my college was paid for, and the future of my dreams was set. Until it wasn't.