Harper Bentley

USA Today Best Selling Author of adult and new adult contemporary romance

Archive for the category “Always and Forever”

Always and Forever (Serenity Point #2) is LIVE!

 

 

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Always and Forever (Serenity Point #2) Video–Brody and Piper :)

Cover Reveal!! Always and Forever (Serenity Point #2) Coming Soon!

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Always and Forever (Serenity Point #2) teaser chapters 1&2!

Here are chapters 1 & 2 🙂

Always and Forever will be out at the end of June!

Chapter 1

 

I’m staring out my store window watching Brody Kelly walking down the sidewalk across the street and briefly picture him as one of those ducks in that arcade shooting game. I pull my right hand up, pointer finger out and thumb up as if my hand’s a gun, squint an eye closed, aim and take my shot.

“Piper Knowlton!” my older sister Greer calls from behind me.

I turn around, caught red-handed and have the decency to look guilty. “I know,” I say.

She walks over to where I’m standing. “You know, a rifle would do a much better job.” She holds her right hand up the same as I had but brings her left up and out as if she’s holding the gun barrel, aiming it at Brody, and I die laughing.

“And that’s one of the many reasons you’re my favorite sister,” I say through my giggles.

“Ha ha. I’m your only sister, you jerk.” She turns her “gun” on me now. “Say something nice or you get it.”

“You’re the best sister anyone could ever have!” I respond to appease her silliness, holding my hands up in surrender.

Lowering her arms she nods. “That’s what I thought.” She glances out the window watching as Brody goes inside Maggie’s Diner, the best eating establishment this side of the Mississippi. “You still haven’t gotten any info from anyone?”

“Nope. As far as I know, Brody’s reason was the reason.” I roll my eyes.

“And you’re sure he’s not dating?”

Ouch.

“I don’t think so. Ryan said she’s kept a close eye on him and hasn’t seen or heard anything.”

Ryan Stratton has been my best friend since she moved to Serenity Point, Virginia, our seventh grade year. She now owns The Mane Event, the one hair salon in town, and hears all the latest town gossip firsthand, so after Brody and I broke up, she officially declared herself warden of any wooing he might consider undertaking. I actually think she hopes he does try dating someone else because she won’t stop telling me how eager she is to put to use the Taekwondo skills she’s been learning in her class at the gym on Monday nights if she catches him.

“And even after the googly eyes he was giving you at the New Year’s Eve party he still hasn’t tried calling?” Greer asks with a frown.

“Nope.” I sigh. “I guess it really is over.” I frown too when I see one of the antique tables in my store has a drawer pulled out. I walk over and close it and get ready for the tears to come as they always do when I see Brody, and what’s weird is, they don’t. Hm.

It’s been over a year since Brody and I broke up and it hasn’t been a lot of fun. I mean, Jesus, we’d been together since we were sophomores in high school. He’d been my first everything. He’d been my only everything. And I thought I knew him but apparently not.

As for the breakup, if you’ve ever gone through one where the other party refuses to talk to you, just insists it’s over without any logical explanation, then you feel my pain. And although being without him hurts, I think what hurts worse is how it ended.

I’d been out of town because Greer had just given birth to my gorgeous niece Addison and when I’d come back, Brody had acted strangely toward me, closed off and distant. I’d asked him several times what was wrong but he’d played it off, saying he was just stressed about his job since he’d just become a fireman. Then a month later right before Christmas, he picked a fight with me over how many kids we’d have when we got married. I say when because that’s how sure I’d been about our relationship. Talking about our future kids was normal since I knew we’d be together forever. Anyway, he’d known from the beginning that I always said two was the most I wanted and he’d wholeheartedly agreed. Then out of the blue he started insisting that we have five, and suddenly it was all five kids or freakin’ bust. I’d been so confused about where that’d come from especially since he’d taken such a strong stand about it, getting red in the face as we argued for three days about it.

Now, of course we’d had heated arguments before, just like any couple, but we almost always resolved our differences in a matter of hours then proceeded to have awesome makeup sex. But when the great “I’ve changed my mind and want you to squeeze five of my spawn out of your vagina” argument kept going, I became concerned, wondering what was making him so adamant that we have enough kids to form a boyband.

On the evening of the third day of our argument, things had cooled a bit and we’d made love. Afterward, as we’d been lying there, me in his arms thinking we’d finally resolved things and thanking God that he’d come to his senses in deciding to spare my lady bits the trauma of birthing three more children than I wanted to, he’d abruptly moved me off of him and sat up, putting his feet on the floor. He then sat at the edge of my bed, head in his hands and I had no clue what was going on. When I’d heard him let out a shuddering breath, I’d gotten on my knees and gone to him, wrapping my arms around his neck from behind, asking what was wrong.

And that’s when he’d told me he “couldn’t do this anymore” and that we were over then he’d gotten dressed and left.

Just like that.

Silly, huh?

I’d just given him a surprise birthday party at Jen’s Jamming Joint, Serenity Point’s local bar, the week before when he’d turned twenty-eight for cripes’ sake! But during the weeks leading up to the party, he’d seemed on the verge of telling me something and before I ever heard what he wanted to say, we were finished.

Kaput.

Over.

Done.

Of course, I knew the “let’s have enough kids to match how many seconds in which you can safely eat something you dropped on the floor rule” thing was a ridiculous reason and had to be an excuse for something he was trying to cover up. I’d cornered him at his parents’ house the next day and asked what the real reason was that we’d broken up, but he’d stuck with the same stupid story making me want to smack him. I’d sought him out for two weeks straight after that, wherever he happened to be—in Mags’ getting lunch, in the shower (I still had a key to his doublewide trailer), in the bathroom at Jen’s—begging him to explain things to me but still got nowhere. Hell, I’d even made a last-ditch attempt to embarrass the truth out of him by confronting him at the firehouse in front of his fellow firemen (I know, lame, but I’d been brokenhearted and desperate and clearly out of my mind), and when he’d looked at me coldly telling me for the twentieth time it was because he wanted five kids, I’d given up.

Then I’d gone home, crawled into bed, and cried my eyes out.

Unfortunately, small-town breakups are the worst. I swear, everyone in Serenity Point knew we’d broken up three seconds after the fact. That next day I probably got thirty calls from people telling me how sorry they were that things hadn’t worked out between Brody and me. On top of that, it amazed me that women who I’d thought were my friends, like, my entire life, had asked if I minded if they asked Brody out! Stacia Mackie and Bethany Yates were now and forever on my shitlist. Backstabbing bitches. But the overall shittiest thing of living somewhere with a small population is that I’ve had to see him almost every day since, which hasn’t helped in the healing process one bit.

So now here it is January, coming up on the thirteenth month anniversary of our relationship’s demise and I surprisingly hadn’t gotten teary-eyed when I’d seen him.

“Greer…” I turn to face her and just stand there, my mouth hanging open as I blink at her.

She’s moving a flower arrangement to a different table before she stops and turns to look at me. “What?”

“I saw Brody,” I say.

Her brow comes down and I have to smile because she looks so much like our mom right then, her long hair in a French braid down her back and her green eyes looking at me curiously. She’s no taller than I am, or Mom for that matter, all of us petite, barely making it over five feet, we all have the same strawberry blond hair, but where they both have green eyes, mine are blue.

So as Greer gazes at me, I finally see the lightbulb come on as her eyes get big.

“You didn’t cry,” she says quietly as if she’s stunned.

I shake my head slowly, just as shocked as she is.

This is huge, monumental even.

I bring my thumb to my mouth and bite on the nail, a bad habit I’ve had since birth, I think. “Does that mean I’m over him?” I whisper.

She purses her lips and shrugs. “I don’t know, Pipe. Let’s just say it’s a start, okay?”

I nod uncertainly, feeling sort of bad for not choking up at seeing him. I mean, I’ve been doing it for the past year and I’m kind of used to it, but now all of a sudden the waterworks have stopped? So weird and a little scary all at the same time.

“Strange,” I mutter. Then I shrug too, deciding I’ll mull it over later. “You ready to help sand Mrs. Mackalhay’s armoire?”

She lets out an irritated breath. “As I’ll ever be. I actually think it’s toning my arms, though, which is kinda cool,” she says, sticking an arm out and shaking it. I chuckle before we go to the back of the store to work on my latest project.

I opened Knowlton’s Knick Knacks three years ago and love everything about it. I started out leaning toward it being an all antique shop, but when I’d gone on road trips to check out other stores and get ideas, I’d come across so many cool things I decided hodgepodge was the way to go. I’ve always had a pretty eclectic sense of style, combining anything and everything from contemporary to classic to rustic to industrial, and after opening, I immediately had a steady flow of customers because I guess people liked the combination of those styles too as they came from all over Virginia and the surrounding states to purchase my wares. And they keep coming back because if I don’t have it, I can almost always find it and I think they like that I’m willing to go the extra mile for them.

When we get to the back of the store, I switch on my little radio for some tunes to keep us entertained then Greer and I grab our sanding blocks and get started. When we’d begun this project, she’d at first complained asking why I wasn’t using electric sanders and I’d explained that the armoire was over a hundred years old and we had to be careful. I guess she wasn’t complaining now since her arms were getting a workout. And, God, I was so happy she’d moved closer to home. Her husband Clay was an optometrist (and was amazing to her, by the way) and had been working in Harrisonburg for the past five years, but three months ago he’d gotten a job in Richmond and we’d all been thrilled. Instead of them being almost three hours away, now only an hour separated us, which meant we got to see them and my sweet niece more often. Greer and Addie had come in Wednesday of this week and were staying until Sunday at Mom and Dad’s and Clay was coming down this evening. I loved when my family was all together as did my parents who were right now watching Addie and loving that they were getting to play Grandma and Grandpa. And I was loving that my parents, while Greer was here, weren’t bugging me asking when I was going to have kids.

While I sand away, I think about what happened earlier, testing to see if I’m really over Brody, wondering that if I saw him out with someone else, would I be jealous. When I come to the conclusion that, hell yes, I’d be jealous, furious even, and would probably spontaneously claw the chick’s eyes out right before castrating him, I sigh. So much for progress, huh? I let out another sigh, and to get my mind off him, I start listening to the radio which is a bad idea because as I listen, I realize that almost every song is about love and heartache and breakups and cheating and I want to throw something.

Note to self: Don’t listen to the radio when you’re single. Ever.

Using her sisterly ESP and sensing that I’m having a tough time, Greer looks at me cross-eyed then winks mumbling that everything’s going to be okay before she takes a deep breath herself and continues scrubbing on the armoire. It’s then that the bell on the front door of the store jingles.

“Be with you in a second,” I holler then put my sanding block down and go over to rinse my hands in the sink. “I’ll be back,” I tell Greer as she continues with her sanding, making me giggle as she shakes her butt to what’s finally an upbeat tune that’s now playing on the radio.

As I walk toward the front, I run my hands down the cute floral dress I’m wearing. It’s got skinny shoulder straps and a big, hot pink bow that ties to the side. Totally girly and totally me. It’s also a dress meant to be worn in the spring which is still a couple months away but I’m ready for nice weather, so ridiculously sick of the cold. I’d accompanied it with a hot pink sweater but had hung it over the back of a chair before I started sanding. Now my hot pink heels click on the floor as I approach the man standing with his back to me, and I can only see the outline of him since the big window of my store is behind him, the glare from outside making him a shadow, but I see he has broad shoulders and a narrow waist which makes me raise my eyebrows in appreciation. Nice. I could stand some man candy right about now to obliterate all thoughts about my ex. I find I’m actually looking forward to my mind spending some time in the gutter for the next few minutes lusting over this guy, really hoping his face matches that body, but when I get right up on him, I stop so quickly my heels have probably left skid marks on the wood floor, and I have to suck in a breath when he turns around.

Then my voice goes all shaky when I ask, “Brody?”

 

Chapter 2

 

Holy shit. What’s Brody doing here?

He turns and looks at me and I frown at the expression on his face.  “What is it?”

And, God, it’s so weird to see him all up-close-and-personal after all this time. He still looks the same, his sandy brown hair messy as usual, expressive hazel eyes that don’t miss a thing, his square jaw covered in scruff, and, lord, he looks good in his blue cargo pants and t-shirt with the FDSP logo over his left pec, the t-shirt tight across his powerful chest and around his muscular biceps. He’s more than a foot taller than I am, but I’ve always loved that, his size making me feel protected and safe. But as I take him in now, I find myself getting angry that he’s actually here. In my store. After all this time, he’s making an appearance when before he wouldn’t even give me the time of day. It’s like a punch to the gut and I find that I really want to punch him in the gut for even being here. And, damn it! I’m not a violent person but just seeing him here is bringing it out in me. Ugh!

“It’s Dory…” he says and I just stare at him.

Four years ago, he’d won a blue betta fish at the town carnival by knocking down bottles with a baseball at a booth the Boy Scouts ran. He’d been so excited, telling me it was our first “kid” together. The next day he’d bought an aquarium and rocks, a castle, hell, the whole nine yards, and set it all up on a stand next to the TV in his trailer. I’d laughed at how much attention he’d given it but had been secretly thrilled that he’d acted as if it was ours which made me think he’d be a fabulous father someday.

And now he gives me those two words. The first words he’s spoken to me in over a year. A year!

And they involve a fucking fish.

“What about her?” I inquire cautiously knowing it can’t be good if he’s here, but I’m still stuck on the fact that this is the first time he’s talked to me in months and I’m starting to get even angrier.

I watch as he purses his lips then mumbles as he looks at the floor, “I found her floating at the top of the tank when I ran home after lunch just now.”

I can’t help but stare at him, entirely at a loss for words. I mean, I haven’t even thought about the stupid fish since we broke up. I know she represented something between us at the time, but with all he’s put me through, I just can’t find it in me right now to be upset over it. I’ve had a year of being upset and I’m sick of it.

I take a deep breath and as nicely as I can offer, “I’m sorry.”

His head comes up and his eyes look directly into mine. I haven’t had his eyes on me like this in forever and it feels as if my heart’s being squeezed by some invisible hand inside my chest. “I-I’m gonna miss her… I…” he clears his throat, “miss… you…”

Wow.

Of course, this is something I’ve been dying to hear from him for a long time, but now that I have, it just seems anticlimactic.

As in, big fat wow.

So all I can do is keep staring at him as the thoughts inside my head start pinging off the walls of my skull like a pinball stuck between a bumper and the side of the machine as it racks up a gazillion points.

He misses me.

Because a fish died.

He misses me.

Because now I guess he’s realizing he’s truly alone.

Just like I’ve been for the past year.

And he hasn’t talked to me in such a long time.

But he finally comes to me because of an idiotic fish.

He’s ignored me when we’ve passed each other on the street, seemingly content in not even acknowledging my presence even though I’ve caught him staring at me every other time but always from a distance.

And now he says he misses me. And he says it on the day I didn’t tear up when I saw him and hoped it meant I was finally getting over him.

And now I’m chewing on my thumbnail, damn it.

I lower my arm and feel my hands ball into fists at my sides gritting my teeth because I want to bash his friggin’ face in then yell at him or vice versa. Either works. But then I remember myself, remember that I’m in my store and that anyone could come through the door at any time and I wouldn’t want to lose business because I’ve turned into a raging bitch. I breathe in deeply through my nose and let it out trying to calm myself which works for the moment. “You miss me…” I state quietly, my eyes narrowed as they remain locked on his.

I see his jaw muscles jump as he stares back at me. Then he nods slowly.

Well, this is just too much.

I huff out a laugh, putting my hands on my hips. “I think it might be too late, Brody,” I state a little snottily, seeing his eyes go hard upon hearing that. Whatever.

“What’re you saying, Piper?”

I shrug nonchalantly although every muscle in my body is tight. “I saw you walking to Mags’ earlier and to be honest, I felt nothing. After more than a year of wanting to cry every time I saw you, today that didn’t happen.” I shrug again to get the point across even as my heart’s beating a hundred miles an hour in my chest.

“Huh.” I see his eyes flash with anger but whoop-ti-doo. I’m angry too. Then he throws me a zinger. “Is it because you’re in love with that guy?”

I want to roll my eyes so badly it’s all I can do to keep them still in their sockets.

I’d gone out exactly two times with Alex Troxell who I’d met on a trip to an antique show last October. He was from Richmond and made Shaker style furniture that he sold in a shop he owned. We’d immediately hit it off but when he’d asked me out I’d been hesitant. When he’d persisted, I’d finally explained to him about the breakup letting him know I probably wouldn’t be good company. He’d understood but had continued to pursue things, asking me to give him a chance. He was very cute and very sweet, so I’d finally agreed. After our second date (we’d gone to Jen’s and I’d run into Brody on the way out which had been all kinds of awkward), I realized Alex would never be anything but a rebound, which I hated because he was such a nice guy, but my heart couldn’t be convinced otherwise, so I’d ended things with him at my front porch where he’d given me a chaste kiss then told me to call him if I ever got to a place where I thought I could move on.

And now Brody’s asking if I’m in love with him, a guy I haven’t seen in three months and who I seriously could’ve seen myself with if it hadn’t been for my feelings for Brody. And with his accusatory tone, he’s trying to make me feel guilty about it when he’s the one who broke up with me! And now here comes my temper.

“No, I’m not in love with him! And it’s all your fault!” I hiss.

His head jerks back as he frowns at me.

I nod. “Yeah. If it wasn’t for you, I could be dating him right now!” I step into him and jab my finger into his chest on the words you and now but stop because his chest is rock hard and that just pisses me off more. Putting my hands back on my hips, I continue. “Alex is a wonderful man but I had to let him go because I realized I wasn’t over you yet!”

When I see his lips twitch at that, I see red.

“What’s so fucking funny, Brody Matthew Kelly? Is the fact that I’m still not over you and had to end it with a great guy that hilarious?” I screech.

He frowns again.

Now I go for the throat. “And what’s more is, he didn’t have a problem with me only wanting two kids!” Total lie because Alex and I never talked about kids.

Brody’s eyes spark with anger again and I’m glad I’ve hurt him because he’s hurt me so much. The next thing I know, he grabs me by my upper arms and turns, pushing me against the wall and gets right in my face, his voice all rumbly. “You listen to me, Piper, and listen good. I love you! You’re mine! I wanted to rip that fucker’s head off when I saw him with you at Jen’s but knew I had no right. I’ve got a right now.”

His lips come crashing down on mine and I’m so stunned I don’t even try to resist. But when he pulls back and looks down at me, I gaze up at him, definitely shaken by what’s happened until my head stops spinning enough for me to realize what he’s just done and I’m livid. To prove it, I haul off and slap him, feeling some satisfaction that I’ve actually made him step back from me.

“Stay away from me, Brody!” I snap, pushing at his chest but of course he doesn’t budge which just serves to make me madder than I already am. “I mean it. You lost any rights to me when you ended things between us!”

His eyes are on mine as he rubs his cheek slowly and I see an edge to them, as if I’ve offered him a challenge.

Great.

And now the bastard grins. “We’ll see about that,” he replies smoothly as he turns to leave. “Catch you later, Greer!” he hollers without a look back just before he walks out the door.

Greer comes up and stands beside me, both of us watching Brody walking down the street toward the firehouse, hands in his front pockets all easygoing and shit.

“Jerk,” I mumble.

I see Greer nodding out of the corner of my eye. “I do have to say, though, that was pretty steamy, Pipe.”

I glance over to see her staring dreamily out the window and elbow her in the arm. “Whose side are you on?”

“Ow!” She rubs her upper arm frowning at me. “My arms are sore enough, Piper! God, you keep doing things to make them worse, then I’m definitely on his side!” She turns and walks to the back and I hear her grumble, “Especially now that he’s decided to man up.”

~~~

“So, I heard Brody paid you a visit today,” Ryan says when she calls me at home that night.

See? It’s like there’s a gossip hotline around here.

I bend my head, holding my phone between my shoulder and ear as I squirt a buttercream frosting bow onto a high-heel shaped sugar cookie then place it onto the wax paper where the rest are. Tomorrow is Saturday and it’s the annual After the Holidays Hullabaloo where every business in town offers huge sales and other goodies. I’ll be giving a twenty-percent discount on everything in the store and giving out my signature cookies which are always a big hit.

The Hullabaloo has been a major to-do in Serenity Point ever since I can remember and practically the whole town comes out for the fun. There’s a silent auction to which most of the businesses donate goods, anything from Mags’ homemade pies or cakes, a free haircut from The Mane Event, a flower arrangement from Patty’s Petals to new tires offered by Hale’s Garage which is down the street from my store. This year I’ve donated an antique quilt I purchased at an estate sale in Richmond. There will also be a carnival (the same one where Brody won Dory all those years ago) where local organizations have game booths, a cakewalk is run, different bands play throughout the evening and finally a bachelor/bachelorette auction is held with all the proceeds from everything going to the maintenance of the city library and park.

Now, as for this bachelor/bachelorette auction? Only men can bid on women and women on men, so in previous years, Brody and I hadn’t participated because, well, we were together. Last year we hadn’t because we’d just broken up and I think we both were in a stupor from it, but this year I’ve decided to enter just for the hell of it. I mean, all that happens is someone bids to win a particular person then that person is theirs for a day, usually doing yardwork for them or something of the sort.

Well, except for two years ago when old Mrs. Neely, former Miss Virginia and who’s about a hundred years old and has been a widow for as long as I can remember, bid and won Mike Heller who’s in his early thirties, owns the local gym, is a boxer, and is pretty much an all-around badass. She’d had him take her to Richmond where they’d had dinner then attended the opera. Afterward, Mike informed Kade, Brody’s older brother who owns the lumberyard in town and who Mike works part-time for, that they’d taken her early 80s Lincoln Town Car (where, according to him, she tried groping him a couple times as he drove) to one of the fanciest restaurants he’d ever been to. He said she’d ordered oysters on the half shell first, telling him they were an aphrodisiac as she waggled her eyebrows at him. For dinner they’d had lobster, which had been served whole and he admitted he hadn’t known what to do. She’d taught him how to take it apart, crack the shell then eat it which he said was messy but pretty cool. He also said their conversation had been good until she kept trying to talk him into becoming her own personal American Gigolo to which he’d graciously declined. Overall, he said the “date” had been fun until they got home and she’d tried to kiss him after he’d walked her to her front porch. He relayed that the worst of it all had been when she’d puckered up, her dentures had shot out and he’d had to retrieve them from a flower pot on her porch.

So to help my town—and maybe to make Brody a little jealous but whatever—this year I was going up on the auction block in the hopes that I’d get someone who only wanted me for something easy like raking leaves or vacuuming their house. I’d asked Dad to make a bid so I could help him clean out the shed but he’d laughed and said he’d have me do it for free another time.

“Yeah. He told me he misses me. Can you believe it?” I say to Ryan as I continue decorating cookies.

I hear her cleaning up the salon in the background. “Yes, I can believe it. He’s moped around town with puppy-dog eyes for the past year. He still loves you, Pipe. I think he regrets what he’s done and wants you back, plain and simple.”

“This whole thing is weird,” I mumble.

“Yeah, it really is. You’d think I would’ve at least heard something about why he did it but I got nothin’,” she replies.

“That is strange,” I agree. This town is like Peyton Place, so whatever secret Brody’s keeping which led to our breakup should’ve come out a long time ago. And speaking of Peyton. “I still think it has something to do with Peyton. Brody acted like he was scared to death of her when we ran into her at his birthday party. And Kade’s been bend-over-backwards nice to her the past year, well, until he and Amelia got back together.”

Peyton Capps is the town bitch. Every town has one, and believe me she takes her role seriously. She was the mean girl in high school and still wears that crown to this day. Her dad had been mayor throughout her high school years and I guess she thought that meant she was royalty because she acted as if she was so much better than everyone. During school, she’d broken up tons of couples by starting rumors either just to be mean or because she wanted to date the guy. My freshman year she’d been a senior so I hadn’t been in her line of sight, but many others had and she’d wreaked havoc wherever she’d gone. I think the entire town gave a huge sigh of relief when she’d headed off to college the next year. When she’d come back two years later after dropping out, everyone thought she’d settle down once she was married and had kids, but nope, that wasn’t the case. Her husband’s job had taken him out of town quite a bit and she’d ended up cheating on him with the current mayor which led to her divorce. Now she spends a lot of time at Jen’s scoping out guys with her bitchy group of girlfriends.

“And you know what? I’ve been in a coma the last year with everything but I’m waking up now, so I think I’m gonna get to the bottom of things with her,” I inform Ryan.

“Just be careful. She’s evil. As in, try to make you eat a poison apple, prick your finger on a spinning wheel, steal your voice, your Dalmatians and then lock you in a tower, evil.”

I chuckle. “You’ve been hanging out with your nieces for too long.”

“I know. I cried the other day when Elsa wouldn’t build a fucking snowman with Anna.”

This makes me laugh as I set my phone down, putting it on speaker while I put more frosting into the bag. “So, you’re doing the bachelorette auction too tomorrow, right?”

I hear her sigh. “Yep. Third year in a row. Instead of having to cut some old balding guy’s hair for free, I keep waiting for Prince Charming to ride up, bid on my ass, swoop me onto his horse then we ride away into the sunset where I cut his hair on a golden throne but it hasn’t happened yet.”

“My house Sunday, you, me, Sons of Anarchy marathon to get all this Disney shit outta your head.”

“For real. I’m so there.” I hear water running in a sink as she cleans. “But, God, you’d think there’d be one guy around who I’d wanna date so I didn’t have to hang out at my brother’s all the time with my nieces. I’m sure he and Camille are tired of me coming over almost every weekend even though I do babysit.”

“Have you thought about dating Dwight? Or Mike?”

“I told you I think I’m too curvy for them. The last girl Sheriff Dwight dated was smaller than you! And Mike is Mr. Fit Boxer and I’m Ms. Five-ten 36-26-36. I think he likes them smaller too. I also think I scared him away at the New Year’s Eve party when I told him I could beat him at arm wrestling.”

I laugh again. Ryan’s beautiful: tall, long blond hair and hazel eyes that turn green when she’s happy and flash to brown when she’s pissed. She modeled some when we were in high school and probably could’ve gone places with it, but her love for making others beautiful led to her getting her hairdresser’s license and opening her own shop instead. “Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. His eyes got huge and he acted like he couldn’t get away fast enough. Meh. So he’s a wuss. I know there’s someone out there for you. In the meantime, just enjoy being single with me.”

She lets out a “Pffttt” sound. “Yeah, you’ve enjoyed it so much this past year.”

“Well, I’m gonna start to enjoy it now! I’m tired of being a Debbie Downer. Be ready ‘cause I’m gonna be coming in to get my nails and hair done soon!”

“Uh, you do that once a month anyway, Pipe.”

“Well, I’m gonna do it with more pep!”

She giggles. “Thatta girl. ’Kay, I’ve gotta close up then run by Josh’s and help Camille finish making cupcakes. Hot guys are waiting to bid on us tomorrow so get a good night’s rest!” she says before hanging up.

Hot guys indeed. I’ll be lucky if I don’t get stuck with Gus Batchelder who’ll probably want to go skinny dipping in the ocean. Never mind that it’s January or that he’s eighty-something and married. He already streaked down Main Street a couple years ago, so it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if that was his plan.

I finish the cookies then proceed to place them into my multi-tray cookie courier and seal it up. After a quick cleanup, I pour myself another glass of wine then taking it with me, head back to the bathroom where I turn the water on in my clawfoot tub and pour a generous amount of my calming bubble bath in. It’s been a long day and I need a long, soothing soak, I decide. I’ve also not allowed myself any time to think about what happened earlier with Brody and now’s as good a time as any.

After going to my bedroom to strip down and grab my robe, I return to the bathroom and stepping into the tub, sink down into the mass of bubbles with a sigh. I retrieve my wine from where I placed it on the windowsill and take a sip before lying back and resting my head against the tub. God, if we could wear plastic suits filled with bubble baths all day every day, life would be so much less stressful.

I stick my toe out and turn the cold water knob by degrees eventually shutting it off but allow the hot to run for a bit longer before doing the same to it, having now acquired a just-right temperature. As I lie there in silence, eyes closed, the lavender smell of the bath relaxing me, it’s then I realize that I’m crying, big tears running down the sides of my face. I sniff and bring the wine glass to my lips again, allowing myself this time to break down a bit. I’ve known all day it was coming so I’m not surprised.

The tears continue as I think about all I’ve gone through since Brody and I split. I mourn the loss of our friendship (yet again), how good we’d been together, how completely loved I’d always felt being with him. I cry because I know I hurt Alex even though he’d said he understood. I lament the loss of being part of Brody’s family, having missed his awesome parents and brother and sister. And, yes, I even find it in me to bemoan the fact that Dory died.

But most of all, my heart aches at losing the only man I’ve ever loved, at the loneliness I’ve felt inside for so long because he left me, and at the anger I’ve felt due to his betrayal.

I give myself a few minutes more to grieve as I think about today. I wonder what’s changed making him say he has a right to me now. He also says he still loves me and I know I still love him, but I’m a different person from the one he broke up with. I’m stronger now, tougher and, sadly, more jaded than I was before. Getting your heart broken for the first time tends to shatter your innocence and that thought makes me sad too.

I sigh and finish the rest of my wine, and after placing the glass back on the ledge, I slowly lower myself down in the tub until I’m completely submerged, my hair floating above me like the gossamer fibers of cotton candy as it’s being spun. And it’s quite lovely under the water, the only sound being the solid thrum of my heart beating in my ears. And it’s my heart, a heart that’s been destroyed this past year, completely obliterated, yet on it beats, that fills me with a sense of pride knowing that I myself didn’t break.

I hold my breath until I no longer can and blow out air as I resurface. The peace I suddenly feel is one that I haven’t felt in a very long time and I know everything’s going to be all right.

I hope.

©2015 Harper Bentley

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