Authors: Jerica MacMillan
Copyright © 2015 by Jerica MacMillan
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
To my husband, for believing.
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My eyes are gritty and puffy from exhaustion and crying.
Today is the first anniversary of Tom’s death. I can usually get through the day without thinking about it, without thinking about him. But not today. I called in sick for work, and closed myself in my room. I can’t stop crying, even though I really want to.
Every time I stop, I start again a few minutes later. My nose is raw from the constant stream of snot, and my bed is littered with used tissue.
Grief is ugly.
In the movies they always show these pretty girls who get slightly flushed, but keep their perfect makeup while tears glide down their perfect faces.
In real life you sob so hard you can barely breathe. You make noises that sound less than human. Your eyes swell almost shut, and your whole face gets red and puffy. Your eyes get bloodshot, and your nose turns into a fountain of snot. It just gushes. You can’t lie down. If you do you can’t breathe anymore because the snot is so thick.
I’ll say it again—grief is ugly.
Fortunately, no one is around to see me like this.
I’m wearing an oversized All American Rejects t-shirt that used to be Tom’s. I stole it to sleep in when we were first together. I usually keep it in a box in the closet now. Too many memories are attached to it, and I can’t let myself cry like this every night.
But today I get it out and remember. And cry.
I fish my phone out of the drawer on my side table. I put it on silent and stuck it in there a couple hours ago and I feel like I should check it. I have a missed call and five texts from my best friend Amy and a voicemail and text message from my mom.
They’re checking on me. They know what today is. I listen to my mom’s voicemail, smiling through my tears at the concern in her voice. I send her a text message reassuring her that I’m alive and promise to call later. Then I call Amy.
“You answered,” I say when she picks up. It’s not quite three in the afternoon. Amy’s an English teacher, and her classes end at two thirty. She doesn’t usually turn her phone back on until after she’s gotten home closer to four.
“Of course I did. My phone’s been on all day just in case you decided to call.” That provokes another small smile. Amy’s been there for me a lot over the last year. “I’d ask how you are, but I think I can probably guess,” she says.
“Yeah. I can’t believe it’s been a year already.”
I’m crying again. Not sobbing now, just tears. It’s almost like my eyes have sprung a leak, and I can’t stop them. They’re overflowing with tears and there’s nothing I can do about it.
“I’m almost done here. I’m going to finish up and come over. Have you eaten today?”
“Not really. I had some toast earlier, but that was a while ago.”
“Okay, I’ll bring food. See you in a bit.”
Amy comes over an hour later with a pizza, two pints of ice cream, and her library of rom-coms. She’s done this for me a lot over the last year. It’s always the same—a large pizza with double pepperoni and extra cheese, Cherry Garcia for her and Phish Food for me.
“I have everything we need to cheer you up,” she announces when she gets here. She must have gone home and changed after she got off work. Her red hair is pulled back, and she’s wearing yoga pants and a t-shirt.
I’m still all red and puffy. I haven’t cried in the last ten minutes, though, so it’s progress. I roll my eyes at her. “I’m not sure cheering up is possible right now, but I’ll take a cessation of uncontrollable sobbing.”
She shoots me a sympathetic look as she sets the pizza down on the counter and puts the ice cream in the freezer. She brandishes a six pack of my favorite flavor of Mike’s Hard Lemonade at me. “This might help.”
What can I say? She knows what I like.
“I’ve decided what your next step should be,” Amy says after the first movie is over. We’ve eaten half the pizza, and each plowed through half of our respective pints.
I groan, both from feeling overfull and with dread from hearing her decision for my life. “I’m stuffed,” I say, putting the lid back on my ice cream and getting up to put it in the freezer. “Do you want another Mike’s?”
“Sure. Aren’t you going to ask what I’ve decided?”
“No. I don’t want to know.”
“Yes, you do. It’s brilliant, I promise.”
“What happened to sympathetic Amy that I talked to on the phone earlier? Can I have her back?”
She grins. “Nope. It’s proactive Amy’s turn. Ask me what you should do next.”
I take a deep breath and brace myself. “Fine. What have you decided I should do next with my life?”
“You need a rebound.”
“A rebound. You know, to bounce back.”
“I don’t want to bounce back. I’m not very bouncy.”
“C’mon, Jenna. It’s been a year. I know you love Tom, but you need to get out there again. You need to move on and not just stay in this holding pattern forever.”
“Really? And you know so much about this because…?”
“Jenna, I’m not trying to piss you off, I swear.”
“Well, you might not be trying to, but you are.”
“I’m sorry. But this isn’t healthy.”
“It’s only been a year, Amy. We were together for three years. We were a month away from getting married. It takes time to get over that.”
“I know. I’m not suggesting anything serious. But you need to have fun again. You need a rebound guy. Just some fun so you remember what that’s like.”
“I remember what fun is, Amy. I just don’t feel fun. Dating some guy just because doesn’t sound like fun to me.”
Amy sighs. “I know it doesn’t. But you have to do something.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Fine. If you won’t put yourself out there, won’t try dating again, then go to a support group.”
“A grief support group. You won’t see a counselor, but maybe you’d feel better if you could meet other people who do know what it’s like.”
“No way. I don’t want to go cry in front of a room full of strangers.”
“Jenna, you’re still in the same place emotionally that you were a year ago. I know that grief takes time to process, but you’re not processing. You need to do something.”
“You keep saying that. That I have to do something, need to do something. I don’t feel the need to do anything. I go to work; I pay my bills. I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine. You’re stuck.”
“What is this? An intervention? I’m fine.”
Amy just shakes her head at me. “You’re not fine. Pick one—rebound guy or support group.”
“There’s no way I’m going to a support group.”
“Rebound guy it is, then.”
It’s Friday night, and I just got out of the shower. Amy is dragging me to a wine bar. Neither one of us is into clubbing, so we decided to try this. I’m trying to figure out what to wear. I want to be comfortable, but I know Amy will make me change if she doesn’t like my clothes. She’d say I’m not trying hard enough. I don’t really want to try hard enough, but she’s not giving me much choice.
Who goes to a wine bar, anyway?
I think as I survey my closet. I pull out a knee length black pencil skirt and a burgundy fitted t-shirt. I figure I’ll wear a scarf and my tall black boots. It’s not the jeans and comfy t-shirt I’d really prefer, but it should make Amy think I’m trying.
She shows up about twenty minutes later, letting herself into my apartment with a courtesy knock as she opens the door.
“Seriously?” she says when she sees me.
Amy brushes past me into my bedroom and starts going through my closet. She pulls out a green shirt with a deep V neck. “You need to show some cleavage, at least,” she informs me. “So lose the scarf.”
I roll my eyes as I take the shirt out of her hand. “Fine. Whatever. Shoo if you want me to change.”
She grins and leaves the room.
Amy drives. She doesn’t trust me to take us to the right place, she says. She thinks I’ll try to take us to a comfy restaurant instead of a wine bar. She’s probably right. A wine bar? I mean, c’mon. I’m not really the wine bar type.
“It’s for your own good,” Amy says as we walk into the place.
It’s decorated in warm, dark colors. There’s a mahogany bar, with high stools covered in chocolate colored leather. There are also groupings of couches and overstuffed chairs covered in plush upholstery around low tables throughout the room, all in warm earth tones, accentuated by dim light fixtures over each grouping. Soft jazz is playing in the background.
We walk up to the bar and each order a glass of wine. I look around as the bartender—is he called a bartender in a wine bar?—pours our wine.
I take my glass and head toward one of the comfy looking chairs. If I have to be in a wine bar of all places, I’m going to be comfortable while I do it. As I’m sitting down, Amy sidles up to me and perches on the left arm of my chair.
“What are you doing?” she asks out of the side of her mouth, her face turned away from me, eyes darting around scoping out the room.
“Sitting down. Maybe you should try it?”
“Why are you sitting in the corner over here?”
“It’s a free chair and it looked comfortable.”
“I thought we’d sit at the bar. I was talking to the bartender and I turned around and you were gone.”
“I don’t want to sit at the bar. I want to sit in this nice comfy chair.” I stroke the plush upholstery fondly.
“But no one can see us over here. The point is that we’re here to meet people. We can’t meet people if there are no people to meet.”
I shrug and take a sip of wine.
“Jenna,” Amy says in an exasperated tone, “you’re not even trying.”
“I’m here,” I say. “I came to the wine bar with you. I’m drinking wine. If someone wants to talk to me they can. I’m talking to you, after all. I’m not hiding. Or I wouldn’t be if you weren’t blocking me from the room. You’re welcome to stay there, though. I don’t mind at all.”
Amy jumps up as if she realizes she’s been sitting on a tack. She moves to the chair to my right and sits down with a sigh. I hide my grin behind my wine glass as I take another sip while she rolls her eyes. She can be so dramatic sometimes. It’s one of the things I love about her.
We chat for a bit while Amy’s eyes are constantly on the move. She’s prowling for guys and I’m cramping her style.
I’m responding to something Amy says when I hear a masculine throat clearing next to me.
I look up and see a guy standing near my chair, two wine glasses in hand.
“Hi,” he says, blue eyes twinkling, “I’m Brian. I couldn’t help but notice that your glass was down to the dregs. I asked the bartender what you were having and took the liberty of getting you something much better.”
I stare up at him dumbly. He moves to hand me a glass and I just stare at his right hand moving toward me. When I don’t take the glass, he adjusts course and sets it on the little table in front of me next to my nearly empty glass.