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Prologue

Prologue

2 Years Earlier

"I love you." I smile down at the beautiful, petite brunette before me.

"I love you more." She embraces me, leaning up to peck me on the cheek before getting ready to leave.

"Not possible." I tease. "I'll see you tonight?" I grab her hand before she can walk away.

"Tonight?" She hesitates, glancing over her shoulder to look at me.

"Our anniversary. You forgot?" I arch a brow at her. "That's a first." I chuckle. She's usually the one who has to remind me.

"Right." She nods. "About that..."

"Oh no," I laugh, searching her brown eyes, "what now?"

"I have to work overtime tonight," she says, averting her gaze from mine.

"Oh..." I drawl in disappointment. "That's fine," I quickly add upon seeing her face. "Don't worry. You don't have to feel guilty. We'll celebrate another time."

"Are you sure, Ben?" She asks wearily.

I nod. "Go." I encourage. "I'll see you. We'll celebrate on Saturday."

She turns to leave but then stops. "And your parents?"

I hold back a grin. "I'll make sure they don't join our anniversary celebration this time." I promise her, reassuring her that there won't be a repeat of last year. My overwhelming family tends to make her uncomfortable.

"You better." She jokes.

I shake my head to myself as I watch Bex walk away. How did I get so lucky?

"Your girl's cheating on you," a voice says from behind me before I feel a hand rest atop my shoulder.

I angrily shrug his hand off, moving to face him. "When are you gonna drop that theory? It's getting old."

Oliver, my best bud, chuckles. "As soon as you believe me."

I scowl at him. "Bex isn't like that."

"They all are." He argues.

"Bex isn't."

"Alright, alright," he holds his hands up apologetically, "I'll back off."

"Good," I reply. "'Cause I'm getting sick of hearing it."

"When are you going to propose?" He asks, dropping it, for the time being.

I take out the box from my coat pocket. "I was going to tonight but she's working an extra shift." I open it and stare down at the ring. I've been saving for a while now.

"Tough break," he slaps me on the back. "Maybe another time."

I change topics, tired of the focus being on me. "What about you? When are you going to settle?"

"Never." He chuckles, entertained by the mere thought of it. "Why should I? I have girls dropping at my feet. You did too once; that was before you made yourself unavailable."

I scoff even though I know he has a point. "You'll never change. I thought it was just a phase in high school but I was wrong. You're a player. It's your identity."

"And your identity is held in one person, Bex." He retorts, not bothered by my comment. In fact, he's proud of it.

I stare at him for a second longer. He's never purposely tried to annoy me. "What's your problem, dude? You're supposed to be my friend. My best friend at that."

Oliver's green eyes don't move from me. He stares at me intently as if thinking deeply about something.

"Oliver?" I repeat.

He shakes his head, running a hand through his brown hair. "Sorry, got sidetracked by my own thoughts. I don't mean to be a jerk. Work is just...I'm stressed."

"About what?" I ask, concerned. It's rare to see him uptight about anything.

"I..." He falters. "I don't know."

*~**~*

"I say you should, Benjy," my mother tells me. "Don't lead the poor girl on. You've been going out since high school."

"I know, Ma, but this is the third time she's blown me off-"

"Stop listening to Oliver. She's not cheating on you. He's such a bad influence on you. I've never liked him." Ma reprimands me. "It's his fault that you drink and he's the one who encouraged you to drop out of law school."

"Oliver's hot. He's got my vote," one of my sisters chirp in.

I roll my eyes at my Ma. "I'm responsible for my own actions."

"Then propose already!" She huffs in exasperation.

"No!" Sash whines, disagreeing with Ma. "I hate her."

"Why do you always say that?" I glare at her. She and my other sisters are jealous that I spend more time with Bex than I do with them. I'm sure of it.

"She never even tries to speak to us. She acts as if she's better than us. She doesn't even greet us," Lea replies, backing Sash up.

I've never noticed.

"Well, maybe it's because she knows you're all judging her. Maybe you guys should put in the effort first. I mean, I'm marrying this girl. The least you could do, as my sisters, is try." I protest, wanting my family to love Bex as much as I do.

Laura contemplates it before coming to a conclusion. "No."

*~**~*

I shake off my sisters' words, as well as Oliver's, and decide to take my mother up on her advice. I've been putting it off for long enough.

I take in a deep breath before knocking on the door. When she doesn't answer, I knock again. Her car is in the driveway. It's late. She has to be home by now.

I nervously take out my phone and dial her number but she doesn't answer.

"Bex?" I call, hoping she'd hear me. "Can we talk for a second? I'm at the front door."

I'm met with more silence and a scowl from one of her neighbors peeking out from their window.

Worried, I open her door, knowing that she never locks it.

I enter and close the door shut after me.

All the lights are off.

"Bex?" I call again. "You here?"

There's some shuffling from upstairs before a light flickers on and Bex appears at the top of the staircase. Her hair is a mess and her clothes are frumpled. She notices me staring and is quick to pat her hair down and straighten her shirt.

I smile. That's my Bex – even beautiful when caught off guard.

"You were sleeping? Sorry for waking you. I didn't mean to scare you." I apologize, feeling sure now that I've seen her – it's enough to settle my doubts. "There's something I need to-"

"Bex," a familiar voice calls from behind her, "whoever it is, they'll leave. Come back to bed."

Oliver stumbles out from behind her, looking just the same.

The look Bex gave me this morning, the one of guilt, is back in her eyes. It takes me a second to process it. This must be what it feels like to have your heart ripped right out of your chest. I never expected her to do this to me, not the girl that I'm meant to spend the rest of my life with and definitely not with my best friend.

"Huh..." I move my gaze to Oliver. "So that's how you knew she was cheating."

"Benley," Bex begins, falling into panic, "I can explain. He just-"

"Him?" I point to Oliver who doesn't even seem to care much. "I knew he didn't have a conscious. But you, Bex, you were supposed to care as much as I did."

"Did?" She asks, anxious, as she hurriedly makes her way down the stairs toward me.

I nod. "Toys will play with used toys." I step back from her reach, dodging her hand. "Trash will find trash." I move toward the front door, feeling disgusted by both of them. "And cheaters will stay cheaters!" I slam the door shut after me, ignoring her calls for me to wait.

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