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Dating Games
Author:T.K. Leigh

Dating Games by T.K. Leigh




To all the survivors…





Chapter One





I’ve always had an affinity for the number three.

Third time’s a charm.

Past, present, future.

Beginning, middle, end.

Three is considered the perfect number, and not just by me. Many religions view it as a sacred number, a holy number. Even Plato recognized the idealism in it, dividing his Utopian city into three populations — Laborers, Guardians, and Philosophers.

Three is also the “magic” number in fairy tales. A hero or heroine is often given three choices, or they overcome the obstacle on the third try. Think back to the beloved tale of Cinderella. When the prince searches for his perfect match, with the aid of a glass slipper, Cinderella’s is the third foot he tries after unsuccessfully attempting to shove it onto her darling step-sisters’ feet. There’s a tension inherently built into this number that has always spoken to me on an ethereal level. Throughout my life, everything always happened in threes, perhaps due to my own insistence.

I graduated third in my high school class. Granted, there were only a whopping ten people in my graduating class, but that made it even more significant, considering I was in the top 33.33%. I kept my circle of best friends small, only three of us. And up until now, I’ve only had sex with three people.

The first was my neighbor, Brent. There was no romantic attraction. I was almost eighteen and thought it best to have a practice round so I’d be fully prepared when it counted. Plus, we both felt like we were the last two virgins our age in all of Nebraska. Years later, I found out Brent was gay. I hope it wasn’t his experience with me that made him realize this.

My second sexual encounter was with Christian Murphy. He was the one I wanted to practice for. (Thank you, Brent.) Handsome. Popular. Smart, without having to try. I thought he was the man I would spend the rest of my life with, which concerned me, because he was only my second.

But when Trevor Channing walked into my History 101 class freshman year of college, it was suddenly goodbye, Christian, and hello, Trevor!

You know those scenes in movies where the heroine locks eyes with the leading man the first time and an explosion of orchestral music fills the background? That’s what happened with Trevor. Without saying a word, I knew he’d forever be my number three. My perfect match.

Which is why it feels like all the wind has been sucked from my lungs as I stare at him incredulously. I must not have heard him correctly. There’s no way those words came out of his mouth, not when we’re celebrating my thirtieth birthday at the sushi place where we shared our third meal after moving to New York.

All day, I’d been confident this was the night he would pop the question. After all, we’ve been together over ten years. Not to mention the fact I often said I wanted to wait until I was thirty before I got married. Surely, Trevor would have taken the hint that this meant he should propose on a birthday of such significance. Every sign pointed to me screeching “yes” after he got down on one knee in front of a restaurant full of strangers and poured his heart out. Hell, in my fantasy, he even shed a few tears because of how overwhelmed he was.

As is typically the case, my fantasy was so far from reality.

Perhaps Chloe brought the wrong batch of brownies to the office and this is the result of having mistakenly consumed one of her “special treats”, as she refers to them. Perhaps it’s the lack of sleep from pulling an all-nighter to rewrite my article for the magazine. Perhaps it’s due to the shot of Jameson I threw back to settle my nerves before heading here. But as I stare into Trevor’s deep-set hazel eyes, his expression filled with pity and something else I can’t quite put my finger on, I know none of those circumstances are true.

The truth is my boyfriend just broke up with me.

The man I moved my world for so I’d be near him during law school.

The man I supported by working two jobs while he studied for the bar exam.

The man I imagined for myself when all other girls were dreaming of marrying that year’s boy band lead singer.

“Evie?” He cuts into my thoughts, snapping me back to the present. I used to enjoy listening to him talk. Now it oozes with betrayal. “Please, say something.”

I place my hands on the small wooden table, bracing myself as I draw in a deep breath. “Are you seriously breaking up with me?” My voice rises in pitch, unable to reel in my disbelief at this turn of events. My jaw tenses as I peer at him with an unfocused gaze. I’m convinced I’m in some alternate universe, like when Alice daydreamed about a world of pure nonsense, then ended up in Wonderland where everything wasn’t as it seemed. That’s got to be what’s going on here, too. Any minute, the White Rabbit will come scurrying in front of me. Right? Right?

Trevor leans closer, hushing me, not wanting to make a scene. He’s always been this way. He’s not boring, per se, but he can be quite…serious, perpetually worried about even the most subtle hint of impropriety. After all, he is a lawyer. His maturity was one of the many things I found attractive about him.

Until Trevor, I was convinced the entire male species was the same. That they only cared about when the next Call of Duty would be released, despite my na?ve hope they’d eventually outgrow that kind of thing when they sprouted hair on their balls. It was a rude awakening when I went away to college and walked through the hallways of my dorm to see my male counterparts huddled in front of a screen, their fingers glued to game controllers in a way that solidified my suspicion they’d probably never touched a clitoris with such excitement. Hell, they probably couldn’t even find a clitoris. At least I’d never let them near mine.

Then I met Trevor.

Handsome.

Intelligent.

Mature.

I thought this was it. He was it. The person I was meant to be with. My Bogart, my Grant, my Gable.

“Please, Evie,” he implores. My stare only becomes more harsh as I recall everything I’ve done for him, everything I’ve sacrificed for him...just so he can walk away after twelve years. “You have to understand how difficult this is for me.”

“For you?” I blink repeatedly. “You think this is only difficult for...you?”

He glances over his shoulder, anxious about anyone overhearing. If he wanted to avoid a scene, he should have considered that before breaking up with me in public. The restaurant isn’t too busy yet, considering it’s only a little after five. I’d originally thought it odd he asked me to meet him for dinner so early, but I figured he wanted to devote as much time as he could to celebrate my birthday.

Apparently, he forgot about that, too.

“I gave you over a decade of my life, Trevor. I did everything to support you, to make you happy, to make this relationship work. I sacrificed my own dreams so you could pursue yours. I worked two jobs while you went to law school so you wouldn’t have to worry about working and could focus on your studies. I’ve done everything for you. Every decision I’ve made over the past twelve years has been for you, for us.”

“But that’s the thing...” He blows out a breath, running a hand through his dark hair. “We started dating when we were eighteen, too young to experience life.”

“We’ve experienced life. Together.” I reach across the table and cover his hand with mine. The familiar warmth of his smooth skin comforts me. But it’s fleeting. Too soon, he pulls his hand away. The corner of his mouth twitches, a nervous tick I’ve grown accustomed to over the years.

“We’re not the same people anymore.”