"Yeah. You said he wanted to meet me."
"And he did. He still does. But things between us have changed while you've been away. We've reconnected."
Reconnected. That translates into one thing: she's sleeping with him again and judging from that stupid grin on her face, she couldn't be happier about it. "What about his wife?"
I can see that she doesn't care much for me asking about Mrs. Beckett. "He doesn't love her. He might have very early in their marriage, but that was a lifetime ago."
And that's why he's married to her instead of you. "And I guess he always loved us and it was agony pretending we didn't exist for the past twenty-three years."
I'm being a total bitch and I should stop. I'm certain I'd be as big a fool if Jack Henry showed up in my life years down the road. It probably wouldn't matter to me if he was married. I'm sure I'd crawl into his bed if he asked me to. "I'm sorry, Mom. That was a terrible thing for me to say. I'm really happy for you. I hope he gives you everything you've wanted all these years."
Our conversation is one-sided. I listen to her go on and on about my father, as though she's my best friend from high school talking about her boyfriend. It's uncomfortable. I don't want to hear about my mom doing a married man—or any man at all—even if he is my father.
She never once mentions Australia, so I don't, either. This is just another fine example of the way my mom puts herself before everyone—except him. He will always come first.
I needed her to act like a mother today—to listen and guide me—but as usual, I'm playing the role of her confidante. And it hurts. "You know what, Mom? I'm really exhausted after my flight. Can you take me to my apartment and we'll talk about this later?"
But she doesn't wait until later to talk about him. She continues telling me things I don't want to know about their relationship and I stare out the window trying to drown out the things she's saying.
My phone alerts me to a text message. Addison.
I quickly thumb a reply as I ignore the things my mom is saying about my dad.
*On way to apt now*
There's almost no delay in Addison's response.
*Love U. Call if U need anything.*
Maybe I should've gone home with her instead of coming back to Nashville. I'm definitely rethinking that decision as Jolie goes on and on about her affair with Jake Beckett.
*U2 & I will. But I'm ok.*
My mom helps me with my luggage and I immediately notice how stagnant the apartment smells. I'll need to open windows tomorrow and air the place out.
Thankfully, Jolie doesn't stick around. I've heard way more than I want to about her and my sperm donor.
I shut the door after she leaves and the clicking sound of the deadbolt confirms I'm completely alone. I lean against the door and look around. Nothing has changed. The brown leather sofa is right where we left it pushed against the wall. The beige carpet still looks freshly vacuumed. But one thing has changed—I'm not the same person I was when I was here last. I had no idea what it was to desperately love or to be devastatingly hurt. Now, I know both.
I don't know how long I stand there with my back pressed against the front door. It could've been seconds, or maybe hours. Elements of time are indistinguishable in the dark place I've entered without Jack Henry in my life.
At some point, I become a pathetic pile on the floor, my cheek pressed against the cold ceramic tile. I squeeze the tip of my nose because it's freezing and I shiver against the cold March wind blowing through the open space at the bottom of the doorjamb. I sit up to look out the window. It's getting dark, so it's only going to get colder as the sun goes down.
I switch on the heat but decide the best way to warm up is a shower. I turn the water to full-blast hot and the bathroom quickly fills with steam. I adjust the temperature and step under the warmth pelting down. It feels good against my weary body but does nothing to ease my mind. All I can think about is each and every time Jack Henry was in the shower with me. I remember the way he made me feel when he worshipped my body. I'm desperate to feel that way again but I never will. And I don't know how I'll deal with that.
When I finish showering, I dress in one of Jack Henry's T-shirts that I stole—the one he was wearing before we went to bed together for the last time. I bring it to my nose and inhale deeply. I fall into bed because exhaustion has become my master. I will spend the night alone for the first time in more than two months. It's a strange feeling, and I don't like it.
Jack Henry would've already gone to bed without me for the first time. I can't keep myself from wondering if he missed me as he lay next to my empty spot. Did he wake and reach for me before he remembered I was no longer there? I wish I knew if he lost any sleep over me.
I feel the tears coming and I can do nothing to hold them back. I'm alone so there's no reason to try. A scream threatens to burst from my throat. I bury a pillow over my face to muffle it because I don't want to alarm the neighbors. I kick my legs against my mattress like an irate toddler. I'd be admitted to the loony bin if anyone were to witness my mad fit. But it needs to come out. I'm in so much agony.
He could've asked me to stay but he didn't. I told him I loved him and he couldn't say it back. That's because it would've been a lie, and pretending is one thing we didn't do.
I can't help myself. It's one lie I wouldn't have minded at all.
No brunettes. I can never see another one without thinking of her. Laurelyn has ruined all of them for me. Forever. And she's ruined me as well. That's why I'm drunk off my arse in this hotel bar. I have to be if I'm going to do the only thing that might make losing her less painful. Find number fourteen, take her upstairs, and fuck her until I drive Laurelyn out of my head.
I was plastered five shots ago, so now I'm on shot number oblivion. I toss it back and slam the glass on the counter. "Another." The bartender gives me a sideways glance as he's deciding if he'll cut me off, so I reach into my wallet and drop a fat bill for him. "I said another."
I turn around on the barstool to begin my search. I have the hotel room. All I need now is a woman who doesn't recognize me. Number fourteen.
I scan the room like I always do and begin by taking inventory. I see a few decent-looking blonds, maybe a redhead or two, but none of them hold a candle to her. No one ever will.
I've lost the only thing that ever made me feel alive.
My thoughts drift to the place in my head where only Laurelyn resides, so I don't notice when someone takes the seat next to me. I'm brought out of my trance when I hear her voice. "Waiting on someone?"
I turn to the voice's owner and see an attractive blond with chin-length hair set in loose curls, her bright blue eyes displaying no recognition of who I am. Probably midthirties. Maybe closer to forty and dressed like a professional in a sheath dress and fitted jacket. She's just my usual type. Before Laurelyn.
I shake my head. "No one in particular. Just here to find a little company."
She smiles. "Me too. Maybe we can keep each other company."
Because I'm drunk, I have no reason to think I'm going to put this out there in an appealing manner. I don't know. Maybe I want to fuck it up so she'll blow me off. "I'm not your normal kind of company. I have very specific requirements for the women I date. The first of which is that I won't tell you my real name and I don't want to know yours. Honestly, I really only want to fuck and have a little fun for a few weeks and then I never want to see you again."
I wait for the slap or for her to get up and leave, but neither happens. "My, my. Aren't we a direct one?"
"I say what's on my mind because I don't have time for silly games." Isn't that what I told Laurelyn after she asked me if I was missing my filter?
What? Really? She's saying okay to that shit? "You're up for it?"
"Sure. You're hot and I need a distraction."
"The man I love." She glances down at her drink as she sloshes it around. "He doesn't feel the same. What's your deal?"
I won't talk about the one I love with another woman, especially not one I'm about to have meaningless sex with. Even I know that's not right.
"No deal. I'm just not into commitment or contact after I'm finished with a woman."
"I respect your honesty." She swallows the last of her girly drink. "You want to go upstairs?"
"That's why I'm here." I throw back my shot and get up from the stool. I'm a little unstable so she reaches out to steady me.
I work to get myself straight so I don't blow this because it's what I need. It's what I have to do to get her out of my mind. "Yeah. I'm good. We don't have to stop for a room. I've already got one."
We ride the elevator to the third floor. I'm shocked I'm able to find the room because I'm so wasted. She has to take the keycard to open the door because I'm too uncoordinated to slide it in and pull it out. Let's hope that doesn't apply to my cock.
We go into the room together and I play tag with the walls before falling backward onto the bed. I close my eyes for what feels like a second and when I open them again, the nameless blond has stripped down to her knickers and bra and is straddling me.
She reaches behind to unfasten her bra and then takes my hands and puts them on her breasts. They look good, but even drunk, I still know they're fake because they don't feel anything like Laurelyn's.
Damn! I can't even get her out of my head when I have two palms full of tits.
She leans down to kiss me and I turn my head so that her mouth lands on my jaw. She makes no haste in trailing kisses down my neck. I shut my eyes because I don't want to look at her.