Feisty Francesca

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#42 Keep that ring in the box, boy

“So…” I start, not sure what to ask first. “That was… weird.”

James looks at me with tears in his eyes, and he sinks down on the chair he was in earlier, looking like he wants nothing more than to crawl into bed and never come out again. I ache to touch him, to comfort him, to pull him close and tell him everything will be okay, but I’m not sure it will be. I’m more than a little freaked out by what Lizzy just threw out there, wondering how much of it was true. Elijah was right when he said that it’s wise to take her words with a pinch of salt – she was a huge drama queen even at 13 years old – but James is so freaked out that she must have been telling the truth about the proposals. Why else would he be on the verge of tears?

“Are you okay?” I ask, sitting down on the couch, my body angled in his direction so I can put a hand on his knee. I need some answers, but he needs comfort right now. I can’t just stop caring about him because Lizzy told me to be aware of him. I haven’t seen her in over ten years, whole I’ve spent the past three months spending most of my free time with this gorgeous, kind man in front of me. Maybe there is an explanation. There has to be.

“No,” James croaks out, grabbing my hand so tightly that he’s almost hurting me. “No, I’m not okay. I fucking hate Elizabeth. I knew it was a mistake inviting her, but Dean assured me she’d be on good behavior, that she wouldn’t tease me like she did last time. And then she did this…” He shudders. “I’ll help you pack up your things. I’m sorry things had to end this way.”

“End?” I repeat, blinking rapidly. “Are you breaking up with me?”

Me? Break up with you?” James lets out a shaky laugh. “Are you kidding me? I don’t want you to go anywhere! I just assumed you’d be out the door with the rest of them.” His eyes find mine and the panic in his gaze subdues a bit when he sees that I’m not crying or panicking or anything like that. “You’re not leaving me?”

“I’m not sure yet,” I say honestly. “I don’t even quite grasp what just happened. All I know is that I’m not making a decision about our relationship purely based on Lizzy’s dramatic statements. I’d like to hear what you’ve got to say.”

He’s surprised at my composure, and I have to admit I didn’t expect to feel this eerily calm either. We’ve been doing so good since that talk we had about our relationship, finally putting it all out there. I know that we haven’t been together that long, but I really do love him. We only met twelve weeks ago, but it feels like way more time has passed since then. I’m slowly learning how relationships work, how important communication is, and I’m not ready to walk out on this, on him, on us. Not without getting the full story.

It’s not like I just found out he used to beat his ex-girlfriends or something. Or that he’s a rapist. Or that he murdered his sister.

So, he likes to propose to girls. He’s intense. He moves way too fast.

Didn’t I sort of already know that? The proposing thing is new, but I figured that aside from the three serious girlfriends there must have been a string of other girls, since he’s obviously looking for someone to settle down with. You don’t find someone by sitting at home on your own. I know he was on all the apps before meeting me and even went speed dating a few times with his friend William, who is also looking for a girl to settle down with. James told me all of that, he’s been very open with me about looking for something serious and not just another girl to sleep with.

That’s what I like about him. What I love about him. He’s serious about me, doesn’t just see me as someone to pass the time with like all the others did.

But maybe… maybe he’s a little too serious.

“Did you propose to ten girls?” I ask when James doesn’t start talking.

He shakes his head and for a moment I think that it was all an elaborate prank Lizzy was pulling on me, but then James opens his mouth. “Twelve,” he says quietly, looking down at our intertwined hands.

Well shit.

“When was the last one?”

“Two months before I met you.”

“And the first one?”

“When I was 20.”

Holy. Shit. Okay. Twelve girls over the course of nine years. That’s a lot. That’s more than a lot. That’s insane.

“Why?” I ask. I’m not sure what I’m asking, to be honest. Why did he propose to them? Why did he propose at all? Why didn’t he tell me?

“Because I loved them.”

“All twelve of them?” I don’t know much about love, but to fall so deeply in love that you want to propose… Can that really happen so often in such a short amount of time? Twelve in nine years… That means he only takes a few months to drop to one knee. What the fuck.

“Yes,” James says softly. “All twelve of them.”

“And that’s not even counting Teddy, right?” I realize, feeling sick to my stomach. “Is the story you told me about her true? That you were with her for two years before breaking up? That you wanted to propose for months but didn’t because things felt off and then when you finally decided that you were going for it, she told you she was engaged to Leonard?”

He nods, still staring down at our hands like he can’t believe I’m still touching him. “Yes, that was all true.”

So those nine years are actually just seven years, because he obviously didn’t propose to anyone while he was living with Teddy. That means he proposed to twelve girls in seven years. This is just getting worse with every new detail I find out.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I ask, slowly pulling my hand out from under his, needing some space.

James looks up at me with so much pain in his eyes that I feel tears bubbling up in me as well.

“Because I didn’t wanted you to look at me the way you’re looking at me now,” he explains, reaching for me and pulling back when he sees me recoiling. “This doesn’t change anything between us,” he says pleadingly. “I love you. Everything I’ve told you about myself is true. I only… I changed the number of the number of girlfriends I’ve had and I didn’t tell you about the proposals.”

“That’s kind of a big thing to keep from me, though.” I get up from the couch, needing to move to think. I pace up and down the living room and grab a beer from the fridge, sipping it while I keep going around in circles around the furniture, trying to gather my thoughts. “Are you even really into me?” I ask, realization dawning on me. I thought that it was great to have a guy be all in, to be this into me, to want something serious. It made me feel special. But… he must have been all in with all those other girls as well, or he wouldn’t have wanted to marry them. How special am I really if I am at the very least number fourteen of the women he proposed to or wanted to propose to? Does he like me or does he just like being in love and going through the motions that eventually lead to marriage?

“Of course I’m into you,” James says in a tight voice. “I told you about being in therapy after Teddy, right? That wasn’t a lie. I worked hard on myself. I know I get in too deep, too fast. I’m working on that. Telling you about my issues was a huge step for me. I’ve never talked so honestly about me being intense and jealous and all that shit. I’ve never opened up this much with someone before.”

I shake my head and down the rest of my beer before putting the bottle down on the coffee table. I catch his eyes going to the condensation making a ring, but I don’t give a fuck. If he starts talking about coasters right now, I will flip my shit.

“You can’t seriously tell me that you were open with me, James.” I give him a hard look. “You left out the fact that you’ve been in love with thirteen girls, not three. And not just in love, but down on one knee, asking them to marry you. Did any of them say yes?”

“Three of them,” he admits. “Shanice, Hailey and Giselle.”

“So why aren’t you married right now?” I gasp, suddenly realizing that I have no idea if he’s married or not. “Oh my God, please tell me you don’t have a wife.”

“Of course not,” he says, sounding a little calmer than before. “I never got married.”

“So you don’t have an ex-wife either?”

“No, just three ex-fiancées.”

“And who broke things off?” I sigh, already knowing the answer. “They did. Why?”

He shrugs. “Because I’m intense, possessive, jealous and I put too much pressure on girls.” He’s fidgeting with a loose thread on his shirt. “I want too much, too fast, too soon. With you, I feel like I’m finally moving past that. I still want all those things, but I seem to be getting better at talking about it, at stopping myself from moving so fast that I’m scaring you off. I mean, it’s the first time wasn’t the first to say I love you. I’ve never waited seven weeks to tell someone I love them. Never. Lizzy wasn’t kidding when she said that I usually drop that bomb within the first five weeks.”

And to think I didn’t even love him that time he thought I was showing him my feelings though a song. I didn’t love him the first ten times I said the words. I know I need to be open and honest with him, but not about this. I can’t tell him that, not when it means so much to him. I don’t want to break him anymore than he’s already broken.

Because he is. He’s broken. I can see that now. This is not healthy behavior. You don’t propose so often to girls you’ve been with for such a short amount of time and after already getting turned down so often, not if there’s not something wrong with you.

Not that I’m judging him, I’m not. He’s working on himself, he went to therapy, he’s still that same sweet, caring, wonderful James I’ve been getting to know the past three months. At the same time, it’s like I’m looking down at a completely different person.

How do we move on from this?

Do I even want to move on from this?

“Is there more?” I ask him, sinking back down on the couch. “Because if there is anything else I should know, this is definitely the right moment to tell me. I’m not going anywhere yet, just so you know. I’m not sure what to do with all of this yet, but I do know that if I get another bomb dropped on me in another month, I’m running for the hills.”

He shakes his head. “No, there’s nothing else. This is me, all of me, insanity and faults and all.”

“Okay.” I rub my eyes and sigh. I’m worn out. “Let’s go to bed.”

James seems surprised, but follows me to the bathroom anyway, watching me take off my dress and brush my teeth in my underwear. I hand him his toothbrush and put some toothpaste on it for him, motioning for him to start getting ready for bed as well.

“You’re staying?” he asks, sounding like he can’t believe what’s happening.

“Yeah,” I say before rinsing my mouth. “I’m staying.”

I’m not sure what I’ll want to do in the morning, but for now I am not going to rush to make a decision. James may not be who I thought he was, but we all have our issues, right? I need to talk to him about this more, to understand his past, and to figure out how I feel about all of it. I’m too tired right now, not in the right mindset to make up my mind. It wouldn’t be fair to either of us if I went home right now.

I take off my bra and pull on one of his shirts, slipping into bed without taking off my make-up. Fuck waking up with a face full of mascara goop and lipstick smeared on the pillowcase. That’s hardly our biggest problem right now.

James walks in from the bathroom, pulling off his clothes and looking down on me with wonder in his eyes. “Can I lie down with you or should I sleep on the couch tonight?”

“Get over here,” I order, pulling back the blanket for him to scoot in next to me.

He spoons me, his arms pulling my back flush against his chest. It still feels warm and safe like it did every single night before this.

“I can’t believe you’re still here,” he whispers, kissing my neck.

“Hmm,” I murmur, letting my eyelids flutter shut and enjoying the soft circles he’s rubbing over my side. “We’ll talk more tomorrow, okay? I’m really tired.”

“Of course.” He kisses my neck again. “I don’t know if I’m being stupid for saying this right now, but I really do love you, Franny.”

“Love you too,” I say, putting a hand over his and squeezing gently. “Just don’t propose to me tonight, okay?”

He lets out a shaky laugh. “Deal.”

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