“So this is inevitable withdrawal / Even if I stop wanting you / And perspective pushes through…” – Amy Winehouse

It was like a fever breaking – falling out of love. Like waking up to a suddenly clear morning after days of delirium. Katie’s mother never told her about that part. She’d raised her on love stories and fairy tales, fed her sugar-coated fables and sickly sweet made-for-TV movies. Her mother looked for love at every turn. She found it fast, and easily. Lost it just as quickly. She relished in the chaos of her chronic heartache.

Katie had watched her mother bounce from boyfriend to fiancé and back again for the last 20 years. Her parents had divorced when she was 11 and, while her dad had quickly found a new life in a new state, her mother had never quite seemed to recover. The divorce had left her mom… stunted. Stuck. Like one of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys but wrapped in rhinestone denim and Chinatown Chanel.

And so, Katie had sworn off love. It was easier than she expected at first. When Brady Thomson invited her to junior prom, it was the way his dry lips kept getting caught in his braces. When Conner Hansen sent her a text during their sophomore year chem lab at Penn State, it was because he used “your” instead of “you’re.” When Evan Gilby met her at the Golden Fox for cocktails, it was the way he snapped at the bartender and left a pocketful of coins as a tip. Katie always knew from the beginning that each one was terminal. Good for a few months, maybe even a year or two.  But eventually she’d pull the plug.

She was wholly unprepared, then, for when Jack Hobbs smiled at her and an expiration date wasn’t immediately stamped in the margins. They went on a date. And then a second, and then a third the next week. She’d succumbed quickly after that. Her heart was circling the drain long before she recognized the damage being done.

But then came a Saturday night in late December. A Christmas tree was glittering in the corner of her apartment and a soft snow had blanketed the city around them. It’s a Wonderful Life played quietly on the TV and Jack was busy making dinner. He’d arrived with a bottle of her favorite champagne tucked under his arm and a very small, elegantly wrapped box had been nestled into the boughs of the tree.

Katie was draped across the couch in one of Jack’s college sweatshirts, content to simply exist in this perfect moment. She stretched luxuriously and enjoyed the dampened roar in her ears as her back arched and her toes curled inside her wool socks. As she settled back into the green velvet cushions, Mary Hatch Bailey’s voice came floating across the room.

“I’ll love you till the day I die.” And there it was. She felt the prick of a needle somewhere deep inside her head. All at once, the happy, near-delirious warmth that had been blooming across her chest sharpened and disappeared.

Don’t end up like Mama, 11-year-old Katie whispered gently. With a small gasp, Katie sat up and rubbed her palms on her knees, her stomach suddenly turning at the smell of the paella bubbling away in the kitchen. It was Jack’s grandmother’s recipe, and one she knew was saved for very special occasions. She coughed and rubbed her knuckles into the center of her chest. She pointed the remote at the TV, the picture freezing as Katie stood up and peeled off Jack’s sweatshirt. The cozy living room felt stiflingly hot.

“Jack,” she began, as she wiped a hand across her sweaty brow and stepped toward the cheerful glow of the kitchen. “I think we need to talk.”

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