I let my panties fall to the floor, and I pulled off my damp socks with my toes. I stepped under the steaming uneven spray. Once in a while, the water would become ice cold and then turn scalding before returning to normal, but I didn’t care.
The trash was full, the laundry was a week behind, and dirty dishes were in the sink. And I would go to bed without giving any of it a second thought. No one was there to yell at me, to obsess over order, or to chastise my untucked shirts or untamed hair. I didn’t have to be perfect here. I didn’t have to be perfect anywhere anymore. I only had to exist and breathe for no one but myself.
The yellow wallpaper in the bathroom was peeling from years of steam filling the room, the paint in the living room was chipped and scuffed, and the ceiling in my bedroom had a large water stain in the corner that seemed to get worse every year. The carpet was matted, the furniture older than me, but it was all mine, free of memories and free of obligation.
Once I’d scrubbed the grease and sweat from my skin, I stepped out, wrapping myself in a fluffy yellow towel. Then I began the nightly routine of brushing my teeth and moisturizing my body. I slipped on a nightgown and watched exactly six minutes of the news—just long enough to catch the weather. Then I crawled into my full-sized bed and read something completely and utterly trashy before falling asleep.
Breakfast at the Bucksaw would begin in ten hours, and I would repeat my day like every other day, except for Sundays and the occasional Saturday when Phaedra would insist I find somewhere else to be. Only, the next day would be different. I would have to survive dinner with the interagency oaf, likely listening to how cool axes and tattoos were and being just bitchy enough that he’d steer clear of me until he went home to Estes Park.
A knock on the door startled me, and I leaned up on my elbows, looking around the bedroom as if that would help me hear better.
“Falyn!” Kirby said from the other side of the door. “Gunnar is going to be late! Let me in!”
I groaned as I crawled off the comfy mattress, and I crept out of my room and across the living area to the front door. Just after I rotated the dead bolt, Kirby pushed through the door, still in her apron and holding a to-go cup half full of soda.
“Is it possible to love everything about someone, except for everything about him?” she growled, slamming the door behind her, narrowly missing my face. She sipped on her drink and leaned against the closest thing to the door, the side of my refrigerator. “This is the second time he’s been late this week.”
“Maybe you should stop letting him borrow your car,” I said.
“His truck is in the shop—again.” Kirby’s eyes scanned over my purple cotton nightgown, and she puffed out a laugh. “What a sexy nightie you have, grandma.”
“Shut your face,” I said, taking a few steps to face the large mirror on the wall. It was basically an oversized T-shirt. There was nothing grandma about it.
I padded across the worn carpet, inviting her to sit. I grabbed a section of my still damp hair, mindlessly using both hands to twist the ends. My hair was camouflage, falling in soft waves over my shoulders, long enough to cover my breasts if I were ever stranded in a lagoon without clothes. It would keep my hands busy when I was nervous or bored. It was also a cloaking device. With just one tuck of the chin, a tawny veil would be lowered between me and an unwelcome stare.
Whether a man would mention my hair or my eyes first was a toss-up. My eyes weren’t as closely set as Kirby’s, but they were the same almond shape, only slightly hooded. No matter how many YouTube makeup tutorials I’d watched, eyeliner was a waste of time. Makeup in general was a waste of time because I had never mastered the art, but for some reason, the shape of my eyes plus their bright green color were something my regulars would comment on often. That was only slightly more frequent than the mentions of the splash of freckles over my nose.
Kirby made herself at home, sitting on my sofa and leaning back into the cushions. “I love this old thing. I think it’s older than I am.”
“Older than both of us put together,” I said.
The loft had come furnished with all but the bed. I’d slept many nights on that sofa until I could save up enough to buy a frame and mattress. I deemed a headboard unnecessary. My tips were spent only on the bare essentials.
I sat in the scratchy orange swivel chair beside the sofa, watching Kirby frown as she sipped from her straw.
She turned her wrist to glance at the delicate black leather watch on her wrist, and then she heaved a dramatic sigh. “I hate him.”
“I hate waiting. I feel like that sums up my entire relationship with Gunnar—waiting.”
“He adores you. He is taking all these classes to get a good job and give you everything you want when you’re his wife. It could be worse.”
“You’re right. He is the hottest thing in town—besides your new toy. Are you really going to let him take you to dinner?”
“You can eat for free downstairs,” Kirby deadpanned, the tiny diamond stud in her nose glinting in the light.
Kirby’s dainty nose went with the rest of her petite features, including her size five-and-a-half feet. She was built like a high school cheerleader and smiled like Miss America. She could be a model or an actress, but instead, she was a waitress in the Springs.
“Why are you still here?” I asked, ignoring her point.
I reached out to her as she stood to leave. “No, dummy!”
I pulled her down, and she sat with a frown.
“I mean, why haven’t you bounced out of this town yet?”
Her face smoothed. “I like it here,” she said, shrugging. “And Gunnar is still in school. His parents will foot the bill as long as he stays home and helps with the ranch.”
“He’s still going to apply for the physician’s assistant program in Denver?”
“That’s why he’s staying close to home, doing his prerequisites for pre-PA at UCCS, and then he can transfer super easily to CU Denver.”
“Just to save money. Then we’ll move to Denver. Hopefully, I can find something there that’s flexible like this job, so I can work while he is in class.”
“I bet you can. Denver is … well, Denver. You’ll have options.”
Hope widened her eyes. “Where did you go? Not around here.”
I felt my expression involuntarily turn in. “I was premed at Dartmouth. Well, that was the intended direction anyway.”
“Just one year? You act like it was a lifetime ago.”
“Just one. And, yes, it feels that way.”
Kirby fingered the edge of the plastic lid on her to-go cup. “How long has it been since you left? Two years?”
“I’ve been working with you all year, and you’ve never talked about it. It has something to do with your parents, doesn’t it?”
I raised an eyebrow. “I’m surprised it’s taken you this long to ask.”
“By the time I thought we were close enough for me to broach the subject, I was afraid of what you might say.”