Page 9 of Tripping on a Halo

But… for what? She had been the one who had changed everything. The woman that he once loved … he couldn’t even find her anymore. The more surgeries, the more she disappeared. Then she had quit her job and became a Hooter’s waitress. A few weeks later, she’d had a phone full of strangers’ phone numbers and started skipping date nights in favor of hanging out with her new friends.

Three and a half years together, and all of it for nothing. There was no reason for him to apologize to her. And nothing worth mourning over. Nothing to waste another moment thinking about.

He stepped into the house and flipped the hall switch, the dim light illuminating the rows of baseball caps. He hung his keys on the hook and wandered into the kitchen, letting out a breath as he surveyed the quiet space. He could have brought Margaret here. She could be settling in at the island while he poured her a drink. She would have moved closer, and they would have kissed. He could have lifted her onto the counter, run his hands up her shirt, then carried her into the bedroom.

She had wanted him. He had seen the heat in her eyes, hadn’t missed the linger of her touch when he’d hugged her goodnight. He may have been out of the dating world for some time, but he could recognize when a woman was interested. And it wasn’t like he didn’t need some sexual release. God, it had been six months since Nicola. Six months, and he hadn’t had so much as a kiss. His body was aching for a woman, yet he dropped her off with a friendly smile and drove away.

He was an idiot. An idiot who let Nicola fuck up his game and get into his head. He grabbed a bottle of beer from the fridge and twisted off the top. Tossing the cap in the trash, he headed for the living room.

His new TV sucked. He stared at a sports replay, the football field more yellow than green. Picking up the remote, he struggled through the complicated menu options.

It wasn’t just Nicola and Margaret. His life seemed to be cursed when it came to women. Take this blonde girl, screaming nonsense on the street yesterday and lurking behind corners and menus every time he seemed to turn around.

He reached for his beer and accidentally dropped the remote, the menu changing, the words now all in Chinese. Fuck. He reached down, grabbing the slim control and tried to move through the menus and find the language dropdown. At least his stalker hadn’t shown up at dinner. As well as Margaret had handled Nic, adding a second crazy person to their date might have been too much drama for her to take.

He growled in frustration as the screen filled with foreign characters. Pushing to his feet, he tried to remember where he’d put the flat screen’s manual. When he’d opened the big box, it had been with Nate’s help, the two of them working together to mount the giant television on the wall. He remembered stomping on the box to flatten it, then tossing it into the back of his truck and taking it to the dumpster. But the manual… he grimaced, fairly certain he threw the thing away.

Draining the last of his beer, he walked out the front door and headed to the trash cans at the curb. Close call. A few days later and they would have been taken. Pulling the heavy green recycle bin toward him, he opened the lid and reached in, pulling out the top bag. Setting it down on the concrete drive, he bent over and worked the tie open. He smiled, grateful for his mother’s strict rules on trash separation. Without her, this manual would have been covered in a mess of leftover Chinese takeout and soda. Now, it would be cleanly discarded alongside paper towel rolls and mail. He got the bag open and reached in, digging through the items. He paused, confused.

Hesitatingly, he pulled out a tampon box, and then a squashed bottle of strawberry tea. This wasn’t his trash. He straightened and looked back in the recycle can, paying closer attention to the contents. Hadn’t there been more bags than this? Normally he had at least three or four, the bin almost full. Now, there was just one other bag, which he reached in and withdrew. Opening it up, he saw more unfamiliar items. Water bottles, dozens of them. Cans of energy drinks flattened by one of those tools that some people had mounted on the wall.

It didn’t make any sense. Why would someone take his trash and leave their own? It’d be one thing if someone had tossed their trash on top of his, maybe because their own bin was full. But to exchange his trash for theirs? He dug deeper into the first bag, coming across a women’s magazine and a stack of mail. He flipped through it. It was all opened, mostly junk and all addressed to the same person. Autumn Jones. The address was on Frolicking Lane, the zip code one from the south part of town. He stared at the name. Autumn Jones.