“Hell, I didn’t recognize you before. Now I know I’m going to regret this,” I hear him say behind me, sounding alarmed. “You’re the Mayor’s Getaway Girl.”
I look back over my shoulder at him, but the wind whips the hair into my eyes and blocks my vision. “Not anymore.”
Run for cover, Charleston.
This sweet jiggle isn’t the only thing making the ladies wet tonight.
I unlock the door to my house and throw it open, making a beeline for the kitchen. I’ll check there first. If she’s not making coffee or leafing through recipes, she’ll be upstairs working on ornaments. Sitting cross-legged on the floor with her hair in one of those messy knots, frowning as she applies tiny sequins to fabric. She needs floor pillows. Why didn’t I think of that before? Next week. I’ll get her a million floor pillows so she can be comfortable.
The back of my neck is tingling. There’s no light coming from beneath the kitchen door. Rainclouds are starting to gather in the sky, thanks to a building storm, so if she was in there, she’d need light. I check, anyway, refusing to acknowledge that the entire house is dark. It’s all fucking dark and I’m kicking myself for not coming home sooner. She told me she’d be here—that she’d see me at home. At the time, I was still so stunned over her confession, I took her word at face value. Which was stupid. I can see now how incredibly stupid it was.
I throw on the lights in the kitchen, just to make it less cold. It doesn’t help. Why is it so cold? I’m pushing back out into the foyer a second later, trying not to panic. I mean, why would I panic? My girlfriend—my best friend—told me she loves me and I didn’t say it back and now she’s not home. She’s not home. Where the hell is she?
Holding on to one final thread of hope, I start up the stairs, begging her to be in the ornament room or dozing on our bed. When I find her, I have no idea what I’m going to say, only that I better make it good. I’m going to start with sorry. Sorry for not deserving her. Sorry she didn’t feel comfortable telling me about what happened yesterday at the market. For behaving like an untrusting fool this morning.
God. God, she has exactly zero reasons to be here, does she?
What reason have I given her to stick around?
A knock at the door stops me halfway up the stairs. At first I write it off as rolling thunder, but no, there’s a shadow beneath the door. Maybe Addison ran out to get something at the store or went for a run and forgot her key. Knowing I don’t deserve to be so lucky, I jog back down the stairs with a prayer on my lips, nonetheless.
But when I open the door, it’s not Addison.
Naomi stands in front of me, her fist raised to knock a second time.
“Elijah.” Her hands cling to her purse strap. “Hello.”
What follows her greeting is not subtle. I’m clubbed over the head so hard, the force splits my skull down the center. This woman framed in my doorway might as well be a stranger to me. And I know her as well now as I did during our engagement. During all of it. I spent those years of our relationship convinced what we had was love. Maybe I was convinced right up until a second ago, when I opened the door. And that’s why I couldn’t recognize what love actually felt like. I’d never experienced it.
Naomi and I didn’t drift apart or fall out of love. We were never in love to begin with.
Love isn’t duty and tradition and consistency. It’s wild and unquenchable and inconvenient. It’s messy and raw. It’s what I feel for Addison. I love Addison.
I’ve questioned that love because it was so different from the first time. But the first time was only a forced illusion. Not the real thing. And I might have been able to make the distinction, if I hadn’t been associating love with failure. A broken engagement. Disappointing family and community. Not seeing it coming. Failure. Jesus, I couldn’t allow myself the possibility that I loved Addison because I was too afraid to fail again.
I was too afraid to fail when it actually mattered.
I love Addison. I love Addison so much the weight of it is crushing me.
“Elijah.” Naomi ducks her head into my line of vision. “Are you all right?”
“No.” My hand goes to the doorframe for support. “Naomi, I don’t want to be rude, but this isn’t the best time.”
“Oh, of course, I—” With a confused frown, she digs through her purse. “I wouldn’t have come, only you sent me the note.”