All those words run through my head as my younger sister Juno shoves me and my puffy white dress into the backseat of my older sister, Savannah’s, SUV.
There had to have been signs that my fiancé Jeff wasn’t happy, but all I recall are the smiles and the kisses and the hugs and the laughs. Well, there weren’t a ton of laughs, but Jeff just isn’t a lighthearted or laughing kind of guy—the complete opposite of my brothers. Though they aren’t laughing or cracking jokes right this minute.
“Don’t do anything stupid!” Juno screams over the hood at the boys and climbs into the passenger seat next to Savannah.
“He obviously has a death wish,” Austin says, climbing into his Jeep with my other three brothers, their suit jackets stripped off, ties hanging around their necks. The tires of the Jeep peel out of the small church parking lot, fishtailing before it rounds the corner, almost on two wheels, and disappears down Main Street.
They’re kind of protective, and my oldest brother Austin never liked Jeff from the get-go.
“It’s going to be okay.” Juno extends her hand into the backseat, rubbing my knee through the million layers of tulle.
Savannah looks at me through the rearview mirror, a reassuring smile perma-plastered on her face. She wanted to stay and inform our friends and family, but I think Juno was scared to handle me by herself, so we left the job of telling all the guests there’d be no wedding in the hands of our Uncle Brian. My grandma Dori, my twin sisters Phoenix and Sedona, and Austin’s girlfriend Holly stayed behind to help remove the flowers from inside the church.
“I’m fine. I’m good.”
It’s a lie. I know this. They know this. But I’m fighting to keep it together. Falling apart and having a mental breakdown will only add to the level of humiliation I already feel.
I look out the back window of the SUV and watch as the church doors open, and guests begin walking down the concrete stairs, confusion and surprise laced in their expressions.
Thanks, Uncle Brian.
Juno straightens in the passenger seat and looks across at Savannah. They’ve been doing their whole non-verbal talking thing since Jeff’s text came through. That’s right—the asshole ditched me on our wedding day via text.
My eerie calmness must set off alarm bells for my sisters. Don’t mistake my composure as a good sign. I want to scream and rant and if Jeff was in front of me, I might actually beat him with my bouquet like Carrie did to Big when he left her looking like the fool on their wedding day in the Sex and the City movie.
Jeff’s not here though because he’s a coward.
All I have is the text message he sent me five minutes before I was supposed to walk down the aisle. After my family spent a shit-ton of money on a huge-ass wedding I didn’t even want. I would’ve been happy with a small affair, but nooo…Jeff practically wanted the entire town to bear witness to our nuptials, and now my eventual humiliation.
A text…after I got up at the butt-crack of dawn to get my hair done. After I slipped into a pair of white silk panties imagining him sliding them down my legs tonight. After a nice Belgium lady ripped all the hair out from between my legs to give me a smooth Brazilian wax.
What a fucker! The fact I did that for him stokes the rage inside of me.
“We’ll go back to the house.” Savannah flips the turn signal to head to the house I grew up in.
Yeah, I’m not going there. “No, go to the apartment.”
Juno glances back to me again, her eyes expressing her uncertainty. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. We’ll go to the house, wait for the guys.”
“Hopefully none of them get arrested,” Savannah mumbles. “The last thing Bailey Timber needs right now is one of us getting arrested… again.”
“Well, now that you’ve switched to those disposable coffee cups, we should be good.” Juno laughs, nailing Savannah with a dig about the time she threw a coffee mug at her enemy’s face and spent a few hours in jail.
Savannah flips her off.
Leave it to my family to bring up another sore subject right after my life has fallen apart. Maybe it’s because we’ve dealt with so much tragedy that we search for anything to make a serious situation feel less severe.
Savannah turns toward the house, ignoring my instructions.
“Sav, the apartment.”
“I don’t thin—”
Her eyes shoot to mine again through the rearview mirror. She’s never been afraid of me, and it’s hard to tell if she is now. She’s had to play mama bear a lot over the years since my parents died a decade ago.
I soften my voice. “I need to see if he’s there. I want answers.”
I look down at my phone still clasped in my hands. A damn text message. I’m not surprised he didn’t have the balls to tell me face-to-face. Jeff’s not a confrontational type of guy. Still, I thought he loved me. That’s what hurts the most—I obviously had it all wrong.
“Screw the bastard,” Savannah says.
Juno’s kind eyes look back over the side of the headrest once more. “If closure is what you need, then let’s go.” She squeezes my hand and flips back around, shooting a look to Savannah to say listen to the girl.
Savannah huffs, forever the control freak, but she does a U-turn and heads toward the apartment I signed a lease for only last week with Jeff.
Why didn’t he say something then? Like, “hey, this whole wedding thing? I’m not so sure I want to be a husband.”
We drive for ten minutes and pull up to the cluster of white buildings, each one bearing a small balcony, some overlooking Lake Starlight. We paid a little more money in rent for the view. Jeff said he thought the app he’s been developing for the past year was about to sell and we’d be able to afford it.
“I’m going on record that this is not a good idea.” Savannah pulls the keys from the ignition and the three of us sit looking up at where my future was supposed to start. When we signed the lease, I’d thought of the apartment as our starter place. I pictured Jeff and I driving by years from now after we could afford to move, our kids in the backseat while we pointed out where it all began. They’d roll their eyes like they couldn’t care less and then we’d make our way back to a single-family home with a large yard and a cute sign on the front door that said ‘The Brickles.’
What a crock of shit.
I open up the vehicle door. I really should have thought about the size of my dress, but then again, I wasn’t thinking I’d be making a walk of shame in it.
My eyes are set on that small balcony on the side of the building. The one where Jeff said he’d put a grill and a chair for me to keep him company as he cooked his famous burgers.
My sisters exit the SUV and murmur behind me. Savannah still going on about how this is the wrong call and Juno arguing back that I have to do this sometime.
Digging into my purse, I find the keys. Two keys on a heart keyring. How naive was I? I roll my eyes, inserting my key into the main door of the building and turning the knob.
The foyer smelled of flowers and a future when we moved our stuff in last week. Now it smells of loneliness and despair as I walk up the first flight of stairs, rounding the second.
“Watch your dress,” Juno says.
“Why? We’ll be burning it tonight,” Savannah says.
I pick up the front of the big skirt. Why did I decide on the Cinderella princess style again? What a waste of money.
When we reach the top floor, I look at the numbers on the outside of my apartment door. I thought it was a sign, my parents’ own anniversary date. Three twenty-two. They married on March twenty-second and that number was magic for them. I had hoped it’d be the same for me. Shaking my head, I insert my key.
Juno’s hand covers mine. “Are you sure you’re ready?”
I look over at her. No one would imagine we’re sisters. Her auburn hair is contrary to my blonde. Her green eyes to my blue. But if you look closely, you’ll see our nose slopes the same way, and our lips hold the same smile. But that’s where our similarities end.
I nod. “I told you. I’m good.”
Juno steps back and I open the door to what was supposed to be my future home.
We all walk into the apartment and the door automatically shuts behind us.
The light in here is not nearly as bright as I remember. The space smaller and older in appearance.
“I’m going down to talk to the landlord. I’m getting you out of this lease,” Savannah says, and the door opens and closes with her departure.
“She’s in fix-it mode.” Juno’s hand lands on my shoulder and I ignore the tingling in my nose. “Want me to go down to Liquory Split and get us something to take the edge off?”
My gaze veers to the couch we bought one another as a wedding gift.
I smile over to her. “That’d be great. Thanks.”
“Consider it done.” Her heels click on the hardwood floor while she makes her way to the door. Another selling point for the apartment. “Are you sure? I mean, you’ll be okay?”
I circle back around, keeping the smile on my face. “Yeah. I’m sure Savannah will be back soon.”
Appeased with my answer and my smile, she opens the door and leaves the apartment.
The silence that cloaks the room feels like nails on a chalkboard. I scour the small apartment. Jeff’s suit jacket from yesterday still hangs off the chair. The coffee cup he drank out of this morning sits in the sink. Did he sip that while typing out the text? I stare down at my phone again.
“Coward,” I say, my voice echoing through the half-empty apartment.
I pick up the coffee mug, inspecting it for lipstick. What other reason could there be for him to break every promise he ever made to me? There has to be someone else.
It’d be easier for me to handle this if someone else convinced him to leave me rather than thinking he came to some realization himself between the time he kissed me goodbye on my family’s house porch last night to texting me this morning to tell me I’m just not what he wants. But I don’t find the evidence I’m seeking.
I toss my phone on the table and blindly throw the coffee mug with no thought of direction, but the smashing sound lifts my mood slightly. A piece of him. A piece of our promised future gone. God, it feels so good.
I grab his jacket, pulling hard on one sleeve, ripping it and throwing the scrap of fabric to the floor. I search his pockets for any evidence of a cocktail napkin with a woman’s name and phone number scrawled on it. Nothing.
Stepping out of my heels, I run down the short hallway into our master bedroom.
I pounce on the disheveled bed like a puma, lifting the pillow to my nose, wanting to smell the perfume of a woman. I toss it, smelling the other one and tossing that one to the floor as well. I open every drawer, only finding the box of condoms we bought the night we moved our stuff in. Heading to the bathroom, I open the medicine cabinet; cologne and aspirin bottles crash to the bathroom floor. I dig madly through the trash, finding nothing except a small piece of bloody toilet paper he must have used when he cut himself shaving. Is that when he decided I wasn’t who he wanted?
Coming up empty of any evidence that there’s another woman, I head into our closet, the main reason I decided to sign a lease on this apartment. His clothes are on one side, mine on the other. I smiled like a fairy princess after we hung our clothes up. I’d dreamed of the whole his-and-hers closet since I was sixteen.
I yank his v neck sweaters and his horrendous collection of Star Wars t-shirts from the shelf. Opening the built-in drawers, I throw socks, underwear, and every other stitch of his clothing out onto the floor.
“Screw you, Jeff Brickle!”
Still without a sign of any other woman, I sit down in the middle of our closet looking at my neat and orderly side and the pile of his belongings on the floor in front of me.
My throat locks up and I struggle to breathe as my chest constricts.
I pick up an armful of his clothes, stomp out of the closet and into the living room. I open the patio door to our small balcony, throwing them over the banister and head back inside for another load.
“I’m throwing you out of my life!” I toss another pile of his shitty wardrobe.
“Brook!” Savannah screams from below.
I ignore her and snatch up every other belonging of Jeff’s. His precious collection of Star Wars movies. His stupid alarm clock that blares his shitty taste in music.
I’m heading back to the balcony when Savannah rushes in through the apartment door. Her hair has fallen out of her perfectly styled updo. “Brooklyn. Stop.”
The man to her right is the guy who we signed the lease with.
I toss everything in my hands over the balcony.
“Please Miss Bailey, you need to stop. You could injure another resident.”
I inhale a deep breath. “How could you let me sign this lease? Surely you have some sense of these things? I mean he called off our wedding! You had no inkling of that happening when you pointed to that dotted line?”
“Sorry,” Savannah says to the man.
“I’m not sorry.” I point my finger at the building manager. “You should let me out of this lease. It’s the least you can do!”
I pick up the sci-fi novel Jeff claimed was better than any of my romance books. Should have figured out then that we weren’t compatible.
The manager runs over and locks the screen door.
“Please.” He blocks it, but there’s fear in his eyes. If I step closer, he’s going to move. Somewhere in my sensible brain I know I need to calm down, but it feels impossible at the moment.
“What the hell?” Juno rushes in through the door, two brown paper bags in each hand.
Her hair has also fallen out of the pretty bobby pins with little flowers I glued to the ends. What a waste of fucking time!
I chuck the book in my hand at the door. Juno dodges it, thank God. Her reflexes always were stellar in our adolescent fights.
“FUCK!” a male voice yells from the hallway.
Savannah’s eyes widen and she turns toward the sound.
I nibble on my lip, praying it was one of my brothers.
Juno places the two bags on the table and follows Savannah.
The manager slides along the wall so he doesn’t have to come close to the possessed bride and heads toward the door.
“What the hell?” a deep male voice says.
Nobody has to leave the apartment though because the person I hit holds Jeff’s book in one hand while rubbing his head with his other. There’s a small trickle of blood running down through the crease of his fingers.
“Oh, we’re so sorry!” Savannah takes the reins because she’s the one who handles any crisis in the Bailey family.
“Are you really?” His tall figure eats up the entire doorway. He’s in a pair of slacks and an untucked button-down shirt. You’d think he was a guest invited to my wedding.
His dark beard is scruffy, his hair neatly gelled except one chunk that’s fallen loose, probably from the book hitting him.
“I am sorry, really,” I say and take a step forward.
His gaze moves from Savannah to me. He blinks his eyes three times like he can’t believe what he’s seeing. After a few seconds, he stares down at himself and chuckles. “Nope. I’m not naked or in a tux… thank fuck. For a second I thought my worst nightmare had come true.”
I raise my arms in the air. “Great, just what I need. Another man afraid of commitment!”
“Let me grab you some ice.” Juno breezes into the kitchen. “Oh, a broken coffee mug.” She picks up a piece and holds the evidence up to Savannah. “What does our family have against coffee mugs?”
The laughter Juno’s going for never arrives.
I disappear down the hall and slam my bedroom door. I know this is only the second worst day of my life. The first was the day I lost my parents, but at the present moment, it sure feels a hell of a lot like things couldn’t be worse.
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