Well, at least it felt like an hour. I honestly had no idea what time it was. I couldn’t look at the clock to verify how long I’d been immobile. I couldn’t look at anything besides the hand resting in my lap.
No, not resting. It shook violently, no matter how hard I pressed it flat against my jean- covered thigh.
My skin all over was clammy and frigid at the same time. Sweat tickled my palms, pooled at the base of my neck and in the hollow dip of my throat. It was quite possible I was running a fever.
I should feel sick. This was sickening.
The house felt eerily quiet, desolate, though I knew Marcus was in the other room. I hadn’t heard the evidence of his departure—the front door closing or the low rumble of his truck starting up.
He hadn’t left. And why would he? Why would he be the one leaving in this scenario?
You should be leaving, Sydney. Get up. Run. Grab your stuff and get the hell out of here.
I exhaled a trembling breath. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t stop shaking. I could barely remember how important oxygen intake was in the matter of staying alive. Long seconds stretched out before I would inhale in a panic, allow my lungs to taste the air in the room I shouldn’t still be sitting in, then expel that breath all too quickly.
I needed to go. I needed to react somehow, because I hadn’t thus far.
I felt numb. And this…this felt like a dream.
A paralyzing dream.
The kind you didn’t wake up from.
My phone rang from my bag on the floor somewhere, but it sounded miles away. I couldn’t lift my head to the noise. I couldn’t even remember where I had tossed it after I endured the one-sided conversation with Marcus.
Endured. Not participated in.
Him, doing all the talking, all the explaining, and none of it sounding the least bit apologetic, his voice cold and distant, detached, final…having made the decision, his decision, while I stood there frozen.
Marcus turned on his heel and swiftly left the room. I collapsed into a pile of heavy limbs on the floor, where I’d remained, and where I had every intention of remaining.
That was my reaction. It was the only reaction I was capable of.
Until the phone rang…again.
Something felt off. It was a miracle I felt it, whatever it was, considering my deadened state.
Like a whispered warning against my ear.
My spine stiffened in an instant. I turned my head in the direction of my muffled ringtone, scanning with what felt like new eyes.
Fresh and alert.
I was up to count six of Taylor Swift singing about being young and reckless. I knew who was calling, and I contemplated ignoring my best friend again, slouching over and righting myself to my previous position, until I realized…
My already tight chest grew tighter.
Tori never called me that many times in a row. If I didn’t answer her, I was usually in the middle of a shift at work, and she’d leave her standard “call me when you get a sec” message.
She never rang me up like this. Urgently.
Was something wrong?
I found my bag halfway under the bed and tugged it out by one of the straps. Palming my phone, I answered the call just before the last words of the verse sounded.
“H-Hey, what’s up?” I asked, voice strained and anxious, stumbling brokenly through my greeting.
My head hit the side of the mattress as I resumed my location on the floor with my knees pulled in close against my chest.
“Syd.” Tori’s voice cracked with a whimper. “Hon…hey, hey, are you busy right now? Do you have a minute to talk? I need to talk.”
I blinked rapidly at her distressful tone.
I suddenly couldn’t remember the last hour, or however long I had been in this room. I couldn’t remember the bomb Marcus dropped in my lap before he dismissed me with a curt nod and went about his business doing God knows what.
My hands no longer shook. My breathing was even. Focused.
I had never heard my best friend cry. Never. Not once in the twelve years we’d known each other. And we’d been through some shit, let me tell you.
But she was now.
I was right. Something was off.
Worry consumed me. My blood ran warmer as I began to pace along the length of the bed, pressing the phone to my ear as I quickly collected myself.
“I have as much time as you need, sweetie. What’s going on? Why are you upset?”
“Wes,” she hiccupped.
Tori’s boyfriend of six months and serious enough he was obviously worth shedding tears over.
I hadn’t had a chance to meet the guy yet, due to my busy work schedule and the three-hour drive time between Tori and myself. But I felt like I knew him. Ninety percent of Tori’s and my conversations revolved around what amazingly sweet thing Wes did for her that week.
He seemed perfect.
My attention snapped back to the phone at my ear when I heard a crash, the sound of glass breaking, followed immediately by my best friend’s livid but still distraught high-pitched voice.
“Married. He’s fucking married, Syd! Can you believe that? That son of a bitch has a wife!”
I stopped pacing and stared openmouthed at the wall.
Tori took in a shuddering breath and I started pacing again, needing to either move or hit someone. And I wasn’t jumping at the chance to confront Marcus just yet, so option two was out.
Tori’s voice shrank to a more vulnerable decibel when she finally continued.
“God, Sydney, how stupid am I? How did I not see this? His weeknight rule with being too busy to see me Monday through Friday, always sending my calls to voice mail only to return them minutes later, which I’m imagining now was enough time for him to make up some bullshit story to appease his wife so he could sneak out and call me back. Asshole. God…that stupid, fucking asshole. How? How did that not set off alarms in my head? Was it that obvious? Was I that blind, Syd?”
I didn’t know if it was from my frantic pacing, or from Tori’s confession sinking in, but suddenly I needed to steady myself with a hand on the wall.
The room began to spin.
I blinked everything into focus before finding my own voice, which I kept quiet.
“Oh, my God, Tori. My God. How did you find out? What happened?”
“Saw him with her at the mall, pushing a damn stroller through the food court,” she answered, sounding equal parts disgusted and destroyed. “They looked so fucking perfect together, I didn’t know whether to throw up or scream.”
She groaned, and I heard more things rattling in the background.
I pictured Tori testing the weight of different glass objects before she chose one to hurl against the closest wall.
“I walked right up to the son of a bitch. I saw her ring. I saw his. I was ready to confront him then and there. You know me. But you know what that bastard did?”
She sniffed loudly through the phone.
It broke my heart to hear her like this, but I didn’t get to tell her that before she continued.
“He…he threw his arm around her, smiled at me, and introduced us. He actually introduced his wife to me, Sydney. Told her I was an old friend from high school. Can you believe that? A friend.”
She chuckled derisively at the word.
“I’ve done things with him I’ve never done with other men. I’ve talked with him…you know? That kind of talking where you just share yourself with someone for hours and hours and you can’t think of anything else you’d rather be doing. I don’t know if I loved him, but I could’ve. I know I could’ve.”
“What did you do?”
She breathed through a tight laugh.
“I know what I should’ve done. I should’ve called him out on it. Stomped his balls out. His wife deserved to know. I would want to know, but I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t. I stood there like some freak, staring at him with my mouth hanging open. I probably looked psychotic. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. After God knows how long they walked away and I…I just kept standing there until a security guard came up to me and asked if I was okay.” She paused, then whispered, “I wasn’t. I’m not.”
I moved to the bed and sank onto the mattress, elbows on my knees, and rubbed my palm across my forehead.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing either. I couldn’t believe people could be this malicious as to openly hurt someone this way, even though I was suffering from a pain similar to what Tori was experiencing. But at least she was acknowledging it. Admitting the effect it had on her and even going as far as confessing it to someone.
I couldn’t do that yet. I wasn’t feeling anything.
The change was swift. I suddenly felt everything, as if someone had taken a book filled with the range of human emotions and chucked it at my head. I was overwhelmed. Alive with reaction. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I was full of rage and bitterness, pain…God, the pain was undeniable now. It felt like a cancer eating away at my bones.
Tori let out a strangled yell. Something else shattered through the line.
I closed my eyes and imagined doing the same thing.
I knew her adoration for Wes ran deep and threatened to run deeper the more time she had spent with that man.
She saw him as her future.
He already planned one out with another woman.
Are all men complete pieces of shit?
My eyes flashed down at my left hand, lifeless on my leg. One particular finger felt foreign to me. Irritating. Like an itch I couldn’t reach to scratch.
I couldn’t remain still anymore.
My skin pricked at the base of my neck as I stood and pulled my suitcases from the walk-in closet, dragging them to the bed.
I knew my best friend better than anyone. I knew that sometimes she simply needed me to listen instead of offering my assurance or advice. Just knowing someone was there for you spoke louder than a lot of words.
So that’s what I gave her. Silence.
She cried softly into my ear as I threw my entire life into two suitcases and one duffle bag. I ransacked the bathroom, not caring how I left it as I packed away my toiletries. I wiped away every memory of myself from that room.
Every photo. Anything tying me to Marcus. Everything personal.
I wanted them gone. But more important, I wanted to be gone.
I stripped the ring from my finger and held it tight in my fist, the blunt edge of the diamond threatening to break skin.
Tori dragged out an edgy breath, then told me quietly, “I’m sorry, hon. I just needed to get that off my chest. You’re probably busy, right? Are you at work? It’s cool, I’ll let you go.”
Work. That was another thing I had to deal with. Immediately. Sooner the better.
“Yeah, I’m kind of in the middle of something,” I replied, which wasn’t entirely a lie. I knew she would assume that meant I was at the hospital, when in reality I was in the middle of letting go of the life I thought I was meant to have.
The one I wrote vows for.
I had to get off the phone. The sooner I finished this, the better.
“All right. I gotta go anyway. There’s glass everywhere. I should probably clean it up before I step on it. Call me tomorrow if you have a chance.”
The call disconnected.
I chuckled, which seemed so strange given the reality of the situation.
My current, completely fucked-up situation.
Tori never waited on the line to hear anyone’s good-bye. I knew that about her. I’d overheard many conversations she held growing up, but every time we spoke, I still readied myself with a response.
It was habitual, and the normal thing to do.
I envied her ability to cut the world off like that. To dominate life.
It wasn’t too late for me to become a wrecking force. I had absolutely nothing to lose anymore.
I had nothing at all.
Securing the duffle strap over my shoulder, I lifted the suitcases and marched down the hallway.
Noise from the television grew louder as I descended the stairs. Marcus was continuing on with his night as if nothing had been revealed. As if we were still an “us,” and he hadn’t taken all of that away from me.
I briefly glanced in his direction when I moved past the living room.
He was sitting in his favorite chair and nursing a beer, his feet crossed at the ankles and propped up on our coffee table. His eyes glued to the game.
He was a creature of habit, and he had already come to terms with a world we were no longer facing together. He chose it willingly.
Why should my departure affect him? He’d already let go of me.
Marcus didn’t speak. I knew he wouldn’t, but what surprised me was my silence. I had so much to say, to scream, in his face or from this distance, it didn’t matter, but more than anything I wanted to get on the road before darkness blanketed the sky. I hated driving at night.
And most important, I wanted to get to my friend.
I didn’t need to free up a hand to open the door. Our storm door never latched properly, and with a swift kick at the base, it would swing free and open, creaking at the hinges.
For the first time since we’d moved into that house, I was grateful for the minor imperfection.
I didn’t need to free up my hand, but I did need to open it slightly. Two fingers letting go of the weight burning against my flesh.
The last noise I heard before I stepped outside and welcomed the damp air on my skin was the ping of gold striking the wood beneath my feet.
I rode with the windows down the entire drive to Dogwood Beach. I reveled in the clean scent of grass and earth, the sweet warmth of a May evening. Everyday things, beautiful things that would normally calm my restless mind, but not tonight. I kept the music off and just let myself think, piling on sign after obvious sign I had been too stupid or too disconnected to notice over the past three months.
It was all so clear now. Every color of our corrosion.
The naive veil had finally been lifted, and the longer I drove, the more I hated myself for becoming one of those women who allowed deceit to slip past them. Who stayed too detached and okay with little changes that should’ve been red-hot alarms, blaring with an incessant warning.
Our growing silence with each other, leaving our only conversations to be ones we needed to have, not ones we wanted to have. The indifferent way he began to look at me, or the late nights when he’d claim he was too tired to drag himself to bed and instead chose to camp out on the couch.
A couch I knew from experience wasn’t the best for sleeping on.
I regretted every whispered word I uttered into the dark late at night when I wrapped myself around a cold pillow and reached with a seeking hand for a body I knew wasn’t next to me.
What was I reaching for?
And why? Why didn’t I see it? Where had I been?
Tori’s questions from earlier became a mantra.
Was I that blind? How stupid was I?
With each passing minute, my hands formed tighter to the wheel until a crack of pain shot up my forearms. I adjusted and readjusted, flexing until my shoulders began to shake. I was a bottle of pent-up aggression, a warrior in a cage, watching as a threatening figure inched closer…closer until I saw the intimation radiating off them in heated waves. Until I felt it on my skin. The warm bite of hunger scratched the back of my throat. I wanted to bare my teeth and sink them into flesh. Draw blood. I couldn’t remember ever feeling this alive before, but I was ready.
Ready to release my anger onto someone who truly deserved it.
It was after nine when I finally arrived, parked my car behind Tori’s Volvo, and grabbed my duffle, leaving my other bags in the backseat.
The smell of salt water soaked into my lungs as I climbed the stairs to the porch, and for a brief moment I thought about how peaceful my new life was about to become.
Living at the beach was a fairy tale to me. A pipe dream that was about to become a reality…at least I was hoping it would.
I was showing up at my friend’s house, unannounced, seeking refuge.
Bag in hand, I held my breath and knocked three times.
Seconds passed before the door swung open.
Tori stood before me in her pajamas, a pair of pale blue linen shorts and an oversized T-shirt that hung off her shoulder.
Her jaw hit the floor as she looked me over with wide, startled eyes.
“Syd! What are you…” She paused, gaze lowering to the duffle in my hand. “What’s going on? Where’s Marcus? Is he with you?”
She glanced behind me in the direction of the driveway.
Explanations were in order. This was the boldest move I had ever made in all of my twenty-four years, aside from getting married straight out of high school.
I never visited Tori without planning out my trip, and she always knew about it well in advance.
This wasn’t simply a visit, though. This was a permanent relocation.
But explanations could wait. I had to deal with something, or someone, to be specific, before I revealed anything.
I pushed past her and entered the house.
“No, he’s not. And he won’t be joining me either. I hope that offer you made me last year still stands. I know you were just joking about us ditching our men and starting a lesbian life together, but as long as we keep it purely platonic, I could swing it.”
I tossed my bag on the couch in the large sitting room and spun to face a very, very confused-looking Tori.
She tilted her head, motioning around the room as if the house, and not the woman standing in front of her, had just magically appeared.
“What’s going on here? What are you doing?”
“I need that asshole’s number. Let me handle this first, and then I’ll explain everything. I promise.” I tugged my phone out of my back pocket. My hand shook ever so slightly. “What is it?”
She slowly inched closer.
“Who? Wes? Why? You’re not going to call him, are you?”
“Tori,” I growled. “Give. Me. His. Number.”
My words, and the tone behind them, acted like a fire lit to blaze under her ass. She gasped, then moved with purpose through the tiny but lavish beach house.
Tori came from money. Her family came from money. You didn’t live this close to the water and in digs like this without either having connections or a stacked bank account.
“Okayyy.” She spoke with uncertainty, her tongue clinging to the word as she walked back into the room. “Okay, um, seriously, I have no clue what’s going on right now, but I’m almost afraid you might choke me if I don’t do what you say. You’re a bit scary right now, Syd.”
If I’d had it in me, I would’ve smiled at that.
But I didn’t have it in me to smile.
Tori dug the heel of her hand into her eye while her other scrolled through the contacts on her phone.
Her long blond hair was haphazardly pulled back into a loose pony, with several pieces falling onto her shoulders and curling there.
She looked unkempt and exhausted, but still unbelievably gorgeous, because she always looked unbelievably gorgeous no matter how unkempt or exhausted she was.
Tori was a natural stunner and the definition of small-town beauty queen. She grew up in the pageant circuit, won every competition she ever entered without even caring enough about them to try, it was all her mother’s doing, putting her in those pageants and exploiting her daughter’s beauty, and Tori went through the motions to make her mother happy, but that didn’t mean Tori didn’t know when to put her foot down and that occurred when she was approached by some agency to do shampoo commercials when she was fourteen.
My best friend wasn’t interested in the kind of attention appearing in a shampoo commercial would bring a fourteen-year-old who had developed a lot earlier than the rest of her peers.
So that offer was the end of Tori’s pageant days and, subsequently, the beginning of her mother’s descent into the world of plastic surgery.
If her daughter wasn’t going to bring her attention, Mrs. Rivera would find her own way to grab it.
I watched another strand of hair fall out of Tori’s messy, yet still utterly perfect pony.
I imagined after she destroyed God knows how many breakables in the house, she probably tossed about in her bed, praying for sleep and dreams involving Wes’s unfortunate but highly deserved demise.
Keeping her eyes on her phone, Tori shook her head then finally spoke.
“He probably won’t answer you. That’s his thing. But whatever. Ready? It’s 919-555-6871.”
I opened up the keypad on my phone and moved my thumb furiously over the numbers.
He would answer. I’d hit Redial until my fingers bled if needed.
I placed the phone to my ear and waited.
I felt anxious and slightly dizzy. My pulse was racing. I knew I probably needed to sit down, take a breath, but the second that motherfucker’s deep voice seeped into my ear with a tired yet undeniably sexy “yeah,” which pissed me off to no end seeing as I hated this man with every fiber of my being and had no businesses thinking his “yeahs” were sexy, I was on high alert and once again found myself pacing the room like a strung-out junkie.
“You,” I growled, voice vibrating low and sore in my throat. “Stupid, worthless piece of dog shit.”
Tori gasped behind me.
“Excuse me?” Wes sounded put off. “What the fuck—”
“Who the hell do you think you are, huh? And in what universe is a douche bag tool like you able to bag a wife? Is she also a fucking idiot?”
I heard his heavy breathing on the other line, but nothing else. His silence boiled my blood.
“Hello! Remove the dildo from your mouth and fucking speak!”
I spun around, shocked at my own coarse words, and looked up at Tori, curious to see her reaction.
She stood frozen between the couch and the wall, her eyes swollen and red from her earlier tears, doubled in size now that I’d let my mouth loose on this dipshit.
A light, amused chuckle hissed in my ear.
I pulled in a breath through my nose.
“Jesus Christ,” he mumbled. “Think you might have the wrong number, Wild. I don’t normally suck on dildos after six o’clock on Tuesdays.”
I blinked at the floor.
Was he making fun of me?
He was. He was making a joke, out of me, out of this, out of my best friend’s pain.
I flattened a hand to my chest, feigning regret.
“Oh, I am so, so sorry. I forgot. You’re into ass play. Hard and deep, right? Tori told me all about it. My mistake. Is that something your wife enjoys? Do you take turns fucking each other?”
“Fuck,” he groaned. “You serious?”
“You hurt her,” I bit out through clenched teeth. “You hurt my best friend. And you better pray to the God of assholes like you that I don’t ever see your ugly, motherfucking face. Jail doesn’t scare me, loser. I will cut your dick off and make you eat it in front of your mother.”
He laughed again, only this time it was bold and straight from his belly. One of those laughs I knew had his head thrown back and tears brimming his eyes.
My feet stuck to the carpet. The hand at my side curled into a tight fist with nails threatening to break skin.
“You’re…wow,” he said, his voice floating with another soft laugh. “Damn. Just slow down a minute, all right? Quit yelling for a second.” He cleared his throat. I heard the creak of the mattress. “Look, I’m not going to deny that I partake in a little ass play on occasion, but no joke, I’m the one delivering it. There is no other scenario. As for my dick? I really need him to stay attached. We’re close. You get me?”
Did I get him?
“I hate you,” I whispered, closing my eyes, my heart pounding.
Suddenly, I forgot who I had dialed and could only picture Marcus standing in the doorway of our bedroom.
Marcus, telling me it was over.
Marcus, digging his nails into my chest and clawing out my heart.
Marcus, my husband, who had stopped loving me and wanted out.
He didn’t look remorseful in that moment. He looked…relieved.
There was no need to lie anymore. No need to pretend he was happy. He was free, and I was falling.
Into the unknown, where I had to find the person I was without him. I didn’t even know where to begin looking for her.
Wes hesitated responding, finally giving me a quiet, “Don’t even know me,” followed by a heavy sigh. “Again, you got the wrong number. This guy who you think I am, he screwed over your friend? Right? Do me a favor and check the number you were supposed to dial. I’m betting you’re only off by one.”
“Fuck you,” I spat.
I was sick of hearing his denial, but then strangely found myself pulling the phone back and studying the screen.
There was something in his voice when he dropped the enjoyment of my verbal lashing. A concealed sadness, and I didn’t think the man who had shamelessly introduced his wife to his girlfriend had the ability to feel anything that deep.
You had to have a heart first. Wes clearly didn’t.
I couldn’t remember what number Tori had given me. It could easily have been the number lit up on my phone, but I wanted to be certain.
I lifted my head to look at her.
“What was that number again?”
Tori narrowed her eyes, her mouth dropping open. She then glanced down once more at the phone in her hand and slowly repeated, “Uh, 919-555-6871.”
Exactly one number off. I’d dialed 6872.
“What’s going on?” Tori asked, stepping forward.
I knew the man on the other end of the line heard the confirmation he was betting on. By the time the phone touched my ear again, he was finishing the last subtle notes of a throaty chuckle.
“Sorry you’re going to have to go through that epic speech again, Wild. You nailed it, though, if that helps.”
His voice was smooth and low, wickedly playful.
I was ready to dig a hole in the sand and bury myself in it.
God, I am such a shit.
I slapped a hand over my eyes, groaning.
“Oh, my God. I am so, so sorry. This…was clearly a call not meant for you. I’m sure you’re not a douche bag tool.”
“Who sucks on dildos and gets fucked by his wife?”
He chuckled again.
I could feel the heat burn across my cheeks and down my neck.
“Yeah,” I said through a wince.
“Not really my thing.”
Tori nudged my elbow, then held her hands out, silently questioning what was going on.
I shook my head. I needed to get off the phone with this guy. I’d abused him enough already.
I held up a finger to Tori and spun around, facing the large bay window at the front of the house.
“Right. Um, again, I’m very, very sorry I cussed you out and accused you of enjoying…those things. I don’t normally go off like that. It’s just been…one of those days. You know?” I blew out a quick breath. “Sorry again. Take care.”
Quickly, before he had the chance to respond, I slid my thumb over the End Call button.
My body slumped into the nearby recliner and I curled into the leather, dropping my head back with a sigh.
That felt good. Even if I hadn’t spewed that hatred at my intending victim, something in my chest felt lighter. It was bizarre. Maybe I didn’t need to dial the correct number to chew out Wes, or face my new reality and lay into Marcus.
Speaking of douche bag tools.
Marcus had gotten off too easy. He pulled the pin on our relationship and walked away without any refusal from me. I’m not a wallflower. Far from it, actually. I would eventually face him and give him every word I was meant to say in that bedroom. He deserved to know how I felt, but more than that, he deserved to feel it.
“What…the hell was that?” Tori appeared in front of me, her hands stuck to her hips. “Did you seriously say all of that to a wrong number?”
“Holy shit, you badass. Way to commit.” Her smile faded a second before her eyes went soft. “Are you going to try Wes again? Because really, Syd, you don’t have to do that. I’m not asking you to fight my battles, and to be honest…” She trailed off, swallowing heavily as her eyes lowered. “I think I’m okay. I mean, I’m completely done with men for the time being, but I’m not chasing a bottle of pills with some hooch. I’ll get over it. He was just another mistake.”
After I was silent for a few seconds, she bent down and placed her hand gently on my knee.
“Hey,” she whispered.
I rolled my head to the side until our eyes met, and before she spoke her next words, I knew from the look on her face what she was planning on asking me.
I decided to beat her to it.
“Marcus told me tonight he wants a divorce.”
She sucked in a breath.
“What? Why? What happened?”
Before I could answer, she shot up abruptly, holding her hand out to keep me quiet.
“Wait. We need wine for this discussion, and all of the chocolate in this house. Give me a minute.”
She turned to take a step, but halted, spinning back around and pointing at the floor.
“You will be living here.”
My mouth lifted in the corner.
She disappeared down the hallway in a blur of blond hair and long limbs as I tucked myself into a ball, staring off into the quiet house.
My new home.
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