Today's the day I was supposed to say ‘I do’.
Kiss the groom, cut the cake, and dance our first dance as husband-and-wife.
So much for forever.
Instead of sipping fruity cocktails and soaking up the sun on my honeymoon, I’ve escaped to Lonesome, Oregon. It seems as good a place as any to lick my wounds. It's peaceful, remote, and my favorite person in the world lives here: my grandma. She needs help running the Sweet Escape Bed and Breakfast, and I need a place to lie low while I attempt to recover from the mess my life has become.
And it appears I’m not the only person here who’s running from something painful. A gorgeous man with sad eyes has been holed up in cabin seven since he arrived. I told myself to stay away from him, but my curiosity got the better of me.
If only I hadn't knocked on his door.
That’s when things got a whole lot more complicated.
I came to Lonesome to recover from a broken heart, but with a man like him around? Something tells me I’ll be leaving with a heart more damaged than it was when I arrived.
One Good Thing
Hot sweat rolls down my ribcage. It accumulates in my sports bra, and soaks through the tight-fitting black leggings I’ve painstakingly shoved my legs into. Why am I wearing these? I should be in baggy sweats. And I should have ice cream. Something with chocolate and gooey caramel.
But, no. I sucked in my stomach and worked myself into leggings that look painted-on, as if this were any other day. As if the current landscape of my life weren’t punishment enough, now I’m going to sweat through my pants.
I’m out of sorts today.
Scratch that. Out of sorts is for a harried young mother trying to quiet her toddler while breastfeeding her infant.
I’m much worse off.
Who does this beating heart belong to?
These thoughts… Are they mine?
They can’t be. I’ve been alone with these thoughts all morning and they. Cannot. Be. Mine.
Because if these thoughts are true, then my life really is a broken, bloody mess.
And the culprits are the last people in the world I would’ve thought could do this kind of thing to me.
Warren’s parents. My fiancé’s parents.
I choke back a sob.
Ex-fiancé. I think. It’s not a determination that is easily made, considering the circumstance.
“What are you going to do?” Ashton uses a flattened palm to shield her eyes from the sun. She’s looking to me for direction, a leader to follow, and I don’t have a clue what my next step should be.
I stare up at the sign in the window of my bakery. For Lease, it declares, with the name and number of the leasing company below the script.
A wide variety of bad names float through my mind. I picture my soon-to-be (would’ve been?) mother-in-law and throw every crude name at her scrunched up, judgy, permanent make-up face. Her husband is only guilty of having rubber for a back bone. The For Lease sign is the work of his underhanded, vindictive wife.
I woke up this morning the way I always do. Ready for what the day would bring, and ready to know if today was the day the universe would deliver anything more, any closure, anything new.
I was brushing my teeth when Ashton’s name flashed across my phone screen. I’d thought perhaps she needed help with something at the store; a question about a recipe, or the combination for the cash box that she keeps forgetting.
“I can’t get into the store,” she’d told me tearfully. “There’s a lock on the door handles.”
I flew into action, leaving my face free of make-up and my stomach empty of food. I earned a few angry honks from people I cut off to get here as quickly as possible. I don’t know why I rushed like that. What was I in a hurry to see? The lockbox on the padded copper door handles, denying entry even to me? Or the giant white sign in the window, announcing my failure in big blue letters to everyone who passes?
If only I could tell Warren about his parents, how cruel his mother has become.
“This must be a mistake,” I assure Ashton. It’s not a mistake, but she looks like a fawn in search of its mother, and even though she’s only a few years younger than me, I feel the need to protect her. “Take the day off. I’ll get this sorted out.” I pat her back, a gesture meant to soothe and also propel her into action. I have a call to make.
Ashton offers me a weak, worried smile and starts off down the busy street. Chicago isn’t the city that never sleeps, but it’s the busiest place I’ve ever lived. The bakery is tucked away on a side road, but it’s hardly quiet. The foot traffic on this street rivals the number of cars zooming past.
Ignoring the curious looks of passersby, I take my phone from my purse and call Vivienne. As it rings and rings I picture all those names I threw at her in my head. I’d really like to throw them at her in person, and watch her forehead try to move as she takes umbrage with them.
“Addison.” My name, spoken in a clipped tone, has apparently replaced hello. And it’s not Vivienne who has answered, but her daughter, Shannon. Warren’s sister.
“Shannon, I need to talk with your mom.” Obviously. That’s why I called her phone.
“My mom asked me to tell you there’s no need to have a discussion. If you’re going to turn tail and run away from Warren then she has no choice but to pull her funding.”
Funding. As if this is a passion project instead of my livelihood.
My teeth clamp together as I work to control my anger. “It’s a trip to Oregon to clear my head. I’m not running away.”
“Call it whatever you need to call it to make yourself feel better about deserting Warren.”
I squeeze my eyes shut. I have nowhere to put my outrage, nowhere to send the injustice I’m experiencing. “So this is it? The bakery is no longer mine?”
Shannon snorts. “It was never yours, Addison.”
No matter what she says, no matter who paid the mortgage, the bakery was mine. I earned every dollar it made, I baked every crumble that perched in the corner of someone’s lips.
“I don’t foresee us needing to talk again. Have a nice life, Addison.”
There is no click, no obvious sign she has hung up. Only silence.
I tuck the phone back into my purse and stare up at the sign above the door. Addison’s.
This place was mine.
And I’ve learned how to lose what’s mine.
In the past ten months, I’ve lost an entire life.
At least I made it to my car before the tears began pouring like rain.
Normally I hate traffic, but this morning it’s almost soothing, the stop and go, as dictated by something mechanical and not a vengeful puppeteer pulling the strings.
I choke on a sob and touch the brake, gliding to a stop at a red light. My hand dips into my purse, finding my phone. I need to read someone else’s bad news. I’ve been sitting in my own for so long.
It takes three seconds to navigate to a gossip site. Two seconds to see the top story: Self-Help Guru Needs To Help Herself. I skim the body of the article, my stomach sinking as I reach the end. If this beautiful, accomplished, intelligent woman’s pro-football boyfriend slept with the stripper from his bachelor party, what hope do the rest of us have?
I scroll down to the comments section. Most of them have a pitying tone. Some berate her for not seeing this coming, because apparently her boyfriend’s career makes him a guaranteed philanderer. And from a few, vitriol spews.
DrummerGirl423: I mean, really, who cares? She probably doesn’t even have a heart, and if she does, then this famewhore got what was coming to her. She can go cry into 1000 thread count sheets about her NFL fiancé, then tomorrow accept an even bigger diamond and go on social media to spout more stupidity, and tell us all that ‘mistakes are part of the process’.
A short breath pushes from me. Geez. And I thought Vivienne and Shannon were cruel.
DrummerGirl423 probably didn’t give this woman a second thought after she hit publish. She stepped away from the screen and microwaved her dinner, or wiped a child’s runny nose, or who knows what else.
Indignation spread across my chest.
I’m going to respond. I’m going to tell DrummerGirl423 just how nasty her comment is and how her words affect people. I’m going to stand up for myself. I mean, for this woman.
A flash of rage streaks through me, and I stomp my foot.
Right onto the gas pedal.
And into the car in front of me.
Metal kisses metal, an unmistakable sound.
“Nooooo,” I groan, my forehead falling down onto my steering wheel. I lift my head and watch the driver of the car I’ve just plowed into step out of her car. She looks like she’s twelve, but obviously she’s at least sixteen.
I hit the hazards button and climb from my seat, meeting her at our enmeshed bumpers.
“I’m so sorry,” I say, at the same time taking in her creamy, unlined skin.
She looks scared. Another fawn looking for its mother.
I take a deep breath and try to calm her with an apologetic smile. “We’re going to exchange insurance information. Tell your parents you were rear-ended and it’s not your fault. My insurance will pay for your new bumper.” Her car is one of those little starter cars, the kind with more plastic than metal.
She nods, going to her car. I duck into mine, and reach for my glove box. I’m not even sure my insurance card is in here. It’s one of those things you don’t think you’ll ever need, so you shove it to the back of some dark place and forget about it.
Turns out I have it. And my registration, too. Apparently I’m more than prepared to get in an accident or interact with law enforcement. Speaking of, I’d like to wrap this up before any red and blue lights arrive and start directing traffic. People are figuring out to go around us without any help from the boys in blue. I meet her on the passenger side of her car. We snap photos of each other’s insurance cards.
And that’s it. It took all of eight minutes for my life to get just a little bit worse. I’m not even going to wonder how many other bad things could happen today, because at this point they might actually come true.
Stay longer. That’s what my grandma said yesterday afternoon when I called to tell her about the bakery. I told her I’d think about it, but really, what is there to think about?
Relationship? That’s gone.
Reason to stay in Chicago? Also elusive.
I want the outdoors. I want air that smells like earth, not exhaust and a mix of cuisines. I want soft dirt that slips through my fingers, leaves and twigs crunching under boots. I want my grandma. And I’m sure she could use some help running her bed and breakfast.
Planning a visit to Lonesome, Oregon is what put Vivienne on the warpath. If she didn’t want me going to Oregon, she could’ve just said it. As it is, her behavior has had the opposite effect. My visit just turned into a trip without a return date.
There are things to do now. Matters to handle. My apartment, or I guess mine and Warren’s apartment, will go up for rent, fully furnished. In this market and in this neighborhood, it’ll be snapped up.
I spent today gathering personal items and putting them in boxes, and I hired Ashton’s two younger brothers to carry the boxes to the storage unit I rented.
It’s shocking how easy it is to rearrange a life. It’s happening faster than I can keep up. The past thirty-six hours have been punishing, bloated with change, and I haven’t had a chance to really breathe. I’m not sure how I’ll feel when the dust settles.
Ashton’s brothers show up and help me load my car with the new dent. They’re sixteen and eighteen, miniature men, filling out but not quite there yet. Warren was the same way; I’ve seen pictures.
We make six trips in total. There isn’t much in my apartment anymore. Vivienne came and cleared out Warren’s things two weeks ago when I told her I was going to visit my grandma. Too bad I didn’t realize she was planning to clear out my career along with his favorite shirts and running shoes. She doesn’t have everything though. Before she arrived, I hid some of his things, mostly his concert shirts, ones she couldn’t possibly know about because they were concerts he and I went to together.
After the final trip to the unit, I pay each kid (man child?) a hundred dollars. Money well spent. It hits me that I need to do something with my car, so I text Ashton and ask her if she’d like to use it. Her car is old enough that her windows are the kind you have to crank to roll up or down. She responds with a yes and twenty exclamation points. I tell her the keys will be under the seat and she can come get it tomorrow.
I make my way back to the apartment for my final night for who knows how long. I pass an upscale restaurant, the kind of place that is more bar than restaurant. It’s crawling with the after-work, happy hour crowd. Men in collared shirts with the sleeves rolled up, their blazers hung over the backs of chairs, and women in pencil skirts and and blouses. They must be hot wearing that in the summer.
After a lingering glance in the window, I move on. I’d like to have a glass of wine, dull the sting of the day just a little, but I don’t have time. Instead I pick up a bottle from the little store on the corner, and drink more than I should while I scrub countertops and floors, checking every drawer and forgotten corner for artifacts of my life with Warren.
When I finally collapse into bed, mentally and emotionally exhausted, I can’t fall asleep. I stare up at the ceiling, seeking out the design in the textured ceiling that resembles a strawberry. I only know it’s there because of all the time I spent on my back in this bed, Warren moving on top of me. It wasn’t always that way, but I’d be lying if I said I’d never mentally sifted through the contents of my refrigerator while Warren was hard at work.
That was back when life was normal.
Then the stable surface I’d been standing on transformed to vapor, and I fell down, down, down.