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 bra, soaking through my tight-fitting black leggings.
My plans for today did not include jogging down a busy street wearing clothing better suited for a chic restaurant with over-priced cocktails. Neither did they include being woken up by my assistant’s phone call. “I can’t get into the store,” she’d told me tearfully. “There’s a lock on the door handles.”
When I saw her name flashing across my phone, I’d had a fleeting thought she needed help with something at the store; a question about a recipe, or the combination for the cash box that she keeps forgetting. Panic surged through my veins as I listened to Ashton, and I rushed from my apartment wearing the first clothes I grabbed.
Forgetting the hot, humid Chicago weather is only the icing on my cake of troubles.
My lungs fill with air and I keep going. Finding a parking spot closer to my bakery would’ve been smart, but I’m out of sorts.
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. 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, anyhow. It’s not a determination that is easily made, considering the circumstance.
I spot Ashton ahead, picking at her thumbnail. I slow, then come to a stop in front of her. Gently I touch her forearm and manage a huffed greeting. My hello feels out of place given the situation, but what is a person supposed to say?
“What are you going to do?” Ashton asks, choosing to forgo a greeting altogether. Her eyes are wide, frightened, and she uses a flattened palm to shield them 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 makeup face. I’d yell at her husband too, but he is only guilty of having rubber for a backbone. The For Lease sign is the work of his underhanded, vindictive wife.
My gaze moves from the sign to the door, and I think of how I rushed to get here. 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. Her about-face would shock him as much as it did me.
“This must be a mistake,” I assure Ashton. It’s a lie. I know the sign and the locked doors are not a mistake, but she looks like a fawn in search of its mother, and 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 has apparently replaced hello, and it’s being spoken not by Vivienne, but by 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.” Shannon knows how much I love Oregon, how deeply I miss my grandma. I’d told her on more than one occasion. She must know I’m not running away, just attempting to heal.
“Call it whatever you need to call it to make yourself feel better about deserting Warren.” Her voice is cold, and it only solidifies what I’ve known for awhile now. We’ll never be sisters-in-law, and we’re no longer friends either.
I squeeze my eyes shut. I have nowhere to put my frustration, nowhere to send the injustice I’m experiencing. “This is my bakery, Shannon, and—”
She snorts loudly, disbelievingly, in such a cruel way it stops me short. “It was never yours, Addison.”
No matter what she says, no matter who paid the mortgage, that bakery was mine. I worked for every dollar it earned, I made each baked good that touched someone’s lips.
“I don’t foresee us needing to talk again. Have a nice life.”
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. 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. Essentially, her football boyfriend slept with the stripper from his bachelor party. 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.
Outrage spreads across my chest.
I’m going to respond. I’m going to tell every one of these mean people just how nasty their comments are and how their words affect others. I’m going to stand up for myself. I mean, for this woman.
A flash of anger 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. A second later 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 hazard 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 and agrees, going back to her car. I duck into mine and reach for my glovebox. 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 away from us. 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 much worse my day could get from here, because at this point it might actually come true.
* * *
You should extend your stay. That’s what my grandma said this 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 my boots. I want my grandma. And I’m sure she could use some help running her bed and breakfast.
Planning a visit home 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 morphed 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 called Ashton and told her what I couldn’t bear to tell her this morning. She said she’d assumed such, and I offered my name as a reference when she starts looking for a job.
I gathered personal items and put them in boxes, and then realized I needed help getting the boxes to the storage unit I rented. The problem was easily fixed by knocking on the door of the apartment across from mine and recruiting the two teenage boys who live there with their mom.
It’s shocking how easy it is to rearrange a life. It’s happening faster than I can keep up. This day has 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.
The boys from across the hall 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 planned a visit to 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.
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 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 look up, 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.