Valerie shook her head again, adamantly disagreeing while pressing the tissue to her eyes.

He took a deep exasperated breath and shrugged. “I know because of what’s happened you won’t want to believe this, but trust me. He cared about you. Probably still does. Has he tried to talk to you?”

She shook her head immediately. “I refuse to. I’m so done with all his excuses.”

“But he has tried to call?” Her dad pressed on.

“Nonstop. It’s why I turned my phone off. I can’t let him suck me back in.” Her stupid lip began to quiver again. “It hurts too much. I need him out of my life forever.”

“Okay,” her dad said, pressing his lips together. “It’s your decision. But he’s young too and clearly still making stupid mistakes. Costly mistakes. But believe it or not, all these mistakes are for a good reason. It’s all par for the course, honey. Part of life. These mistakes you think you’ve made, mistakes he’s for sure made again and again, and the pain you’ve had to endure are all going to make and shape you into stronger adults.” He grabbed a couple of tissues out of the box and wiped some of her tears. “You know what I always say. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This experience, too, will come in handy. If, in fact, you really want him out of your life for good—”

“I do!” she said with conviction.”

“Then this here.” He tapped her upper chest. “This pain you’re experiencing and the humiliation you’re feeling now because you think giving your heart to him was a sign of weakness, will help, not if but when the time comes to face him again. Because let’s face it, baby. You’re bound to run into him again.”

She’d practically groaned, remembering Sarah’s wedding next year. But talking to her father had helped a lot. It gave her hope that all her stupidity and weakness for Alex hadn’t all been for nothing. Because, damn it, if she ever had to face him or even talk to him again, she’d need all the strength she could possibly conjure up.

Even Sarah had come down to console her yesterday. Since Valerie had turned her phone off, she hadn’t returned anyone’s calls or texts at all. Except for calling the office to let them know she wouldn’t be in for the rest of the week, she hadn’t spoken to anyone but Isabel and her dad since her meltdown. So her worried cousin had called Isabel, and her roommate let Sarah in on what was going on. Sarah dropped everything at once and rushed to Valerie’s apartment.

“Valerie!” Sarah had gasped when she entered Valerie’s room. “Have you been eating?”

“Yes,” Valerie said, attempting to smile.

“No, she hasn’t,” Isabel said, crossing her arms and leaning against the doorway. Valerie shot her a look. “No, I’m sorry, but I am not gonna cover for you anymore. I told your dad you’d been eating only because of his heart condition, and he already looked so upset and worked up by what Alex did, but I’m not lying to Sarah.” Her roommate turned to Sarah, who was looking at her very concerned now, and did just what she said she would—threw Valerie under the bus.

She snitched about Valerie drinking mostly Gatorade, and even that was only to keep herself hydrated because her stupid body reacted to her sobbing by spiking her temperature into the hundreds. Isabel had threatened to call her dad back if she didn’t keep it down. But she told Sarah about Valerie hardly touching any food that week. She just couldn’t. Her normal insatiable hunger for all things eatable had been hacked away as badly as her heart had.

“I had some oatmeal today,” Valerie offered.

“Oh, please.” Isabel huffed. “You had like two tiny spoonfulls.”

“Oh my God, Valerie,” Sarah said, already dialing someone. “You can’t do this.”

“Do what?” Valerie asked, anxiously sitting up. “And who are you calling?”

Sarah held up her hand and proceeded to order two large pepperoni pizzas with extra cheese and sausage, something that normally would have Valerie’s mouth watering. Now it only made her frown. She had no desire to stuff her face.

“You’re going to eat at least half like you normally would,” Sarah said as soon as she hung up.

“I don’t eat half a large pizza all by myself,” Valerie said, wiping her nose with a tissue.

Both Sarah and Isabel crossed their arms and raised an eyebrow. Sarah took a seat next to her on her bed, putting a hand over Valerie’s. “I’m so sorry, honey. I wish there was something I could say that would magically make the pain go away.”

Valerie shook her head. “It’s my own fault—”

“No, it’s not,” Sarah said firmly. “We all thought he’d changed. Even Angel had noticed something had changed these last couple of months.” She shook her head. “I’m so mad at Alex right now. I can’t believe he’d be such a jerk.”

“I don’t wanna talk about him, Sarah,” Valerie said, feeling the unyielding lump in her throat again. “The only hope I have of getting over him once and for all is to stay away from him for good and not think or talk about him at all. I can do that if I throw myself into my work.”

The concern on Sarah’s face changed for a second. She looked a little alarmed. Maybe she didn’t buy that Valerie could actually do it. So Valerie continued to explain why she thought she could.

“My job excites me. I get so into it. After this week”—she held her chin up—“because I’m not taking a day off after this week, not to cry over him anyway, I’ll use work as my therapy. I think if I could do that for even a few months I’ll be home free. I just need him out of my life completely for a few months.”