Five Years Later
I watched his eyes, knowing precisely what was coming before it happened.
Don't say it, don't say it, I pleaded in my head
“It's not you, it's me.”
Whoop there it is. He fucking said it, just like the seven other guys I’d dated in the past three years.
Why was there always something wrong with them? I was starting not to believe them anymore—instead, thinking there was something wrong with me.
I put a hand over my forehead and tried to ignore prying eyes from nearby tables. My dark ringlets fell over my face, covering my reddening cheeks.
This was another restaurant I would have to cross off the list. Thank goodness New York had thousands of them, because I'd suffered break-ups in at least a dozen by now.
I stared at the napkin on the table. Loose Joe’s.
Sorry Joe, I thought. No matter how loose you are, we’re never seeing each other again, which sucks because this cheesesteak reminds me of home.
“I mean, I guess I'm just not ready for how serious you are,” my new ex began to explain. “I need a little bit more fun in my life.”
So I’m not fun? I immediately wished he’d kept his explanation to himself because it was just making things worse.
I sighed. “Not that this isn’t great information and everything, but I think it's time for the check.”
Minutes later, I was rushing to the door. I tried my best to be inconspicuous, but accidentally ran directly into a waiter, who subsequently spilled water all over me.
Clearly, it just wasn’t my day.
As I attempted to hail a taxi, my phone rang. I looked down, seeing that it was my older sister, Allie. I wanted to press ignore, but it was the third time she’d called me; if I kept ignoring her, she would just keep calling.
“What the hell have you been doing all day besides ignoring my calls?”
“Hi Allie,” I said. “How are you? Wonderful? Great, because I'm just peachy.” A taxi pulled up in front of me and I got in. “642 56th Street, please.”
“Are you in a cab?”
“Oh shit, were you on another breakup luncheon? I swear last time this happened, I told you to refuse the next guy who asked you out to lunch.”
“So I’m just supposed to drag out a relationship with some guy who doesn't like me?”
“Alicia, I hate to tell you this, but I don't think there are any guys who like you in New York anymore. So if you can snag one that has a good job and a 401(k), you should just let it drag out as long as possible. Hopefully all the way down the aisle.”
“You sound like Mom.”
“Well, you've got to start listening to someone. I swear to God, I'm going to be dead before you finally meet a man.”
“You're so lovely at this time of day. Or actually any time of day,” I said, sarcasm dripping off my words.
“Speaking of death, we need to talk about Uncle Jimmy's funeral.”
I sighed. This is why I had been avoiding her calls. There was no way in hell I was going back to Savage, Colorado for some ridiculous family reunion and the depressing funeral of my Uncle Jimmy, who I hadn't seen in at least a decade. “I'm not talking about Uncle Jimmy's funeral right now. I already told you, I have to work.”
“Well that's hilarious because I called Adam and he told me that he could clear your schedule for all of next week. So I expect you to be here tomorrow.”
Adam, that Queen. He was officially on my shit list now.
“I can't just pick up and be there tomorrow! That’s not how it works here. I have clients and appointments—”
“Adam has cleared all of that for you already,” Allie interrupted. “By the way, he says he is very sorry for your loss.”
I sighed again. “You're not giving up, are you?”
“You missed Christmas, Mom and Dad are pissed as hell at you, and no one wants to talk about you because they think you're sad and lonely. Now I know that you are sad and lonely, but I still want to see my baby sister. So come home. Pack a bag and get on a plane tomorrow. Do I make myself clear?”
I hated the way she bossed me around, but she was right. I hadn't gone home for Christmas because a friend surprised me with tickets to the Rockettes on Christmas Eve. I had never been before even though I'd been living in New York for five years, so it had been an opportunity I hadn’t wanted to pass up.
“Fine. I'll come,” I said begrudgingly. “But don't expect me to be excited about it. And I want my own room! I'm not paying to stay at some rinky-dink hotel up there for a week. Mom and Dad have plenty of space, so they can put me up. Or even better, you can.”
“Nope,” Allie said quickly. “We’re already full, so you're definitely staying with Mom and Dad. And the best part is Aunt Ira is staying with them too.”
“Great. So I can get judged from all sides.”
I glanced out the cab window, seeing that we were nearing my apartment. “Well, I guess I gotta go pack now. Bye.”
“Ta-ta for now!” Allie said, and hung up.
I leaned back and closed my eyes for a second. My sister was an over achiever who made me want to vomit ninety-five percent of the time. She was our parent’s favorite, had stayed close to home, gotten married, and had kids. Basically, she’d done everything the right way.
But not me. I was the black sheep of the family. The super-successful, yet unmarried lawyer whom they were never satisfied with. There was a reason I had run away.
But now I was going back. It was going to be a long week, that was for sure.
When the taxi pulled up to my apartment, I paid and reluctantly climbed out. In that moment, I would have preferred staying in a musty old taxi cab forever than face going back home for a week.
I couldn’t believe that after just one phone call, my sister had gotten me to agree to an entire week in Savage. I was nowhere near back in town yet, but I already hated her for it.
There was a lot of pride among Savage residents. With the town’s military connection—being the base of the Savage Soldiers—there was a strong sense of patriotism there. Most families in the area had been there for many generations and had no intentions on leaving.
Hence, those who left, like me, were frowned down upon.
After letting myself into my apartment, I pulled my dark hair back into a ponytail and grabbed my suitcase from my closet. I sighed deeply and rolled my eyes. The last thing I wanted was to go back to Savage, but there was no way out of it now.
My entire life started and ended in that small town. I was always the girl who wanted out. When I went to college just a few miles away, it was with one goal in mind-- get the hell out of Savage. College had been my one chance to start the life I’d always wanted.
Yet, that was the reason my parents had always liked Allie better. She was the townie and was totally happy to stick around Savage forever. She’d gotten married at the ripe old age of nineteen and had popped out three kids in five years, just like most of the girls in the area tended to do.
But me? I’d had other plans. Plans that hadn’t included Savage.
In my last year of college, I’d been still living at home with my parents. They’d been secretly hoping I would give up my dream of becoming a big city lawyer and settle for practicing family law right there in my hometown.
“Wouldn’t that be nice?” my mother had asked a hundred times. “You could still help people and this way, the people you help would be the very same people you’ve known forever. What could be better than that?”
My response was always the same. “New York City, Mom. New York would be better than that.”
I had never even considered staying in Savage until I met Zane Prewitt.
Zane was muscular, broody, dark, mysterious, and a Savage Soldier—the kind of man every twenty-one year girl wanted, and I had been no exception. While I wished I had played hard to get, I had fallen for him hard and fast.
I would have loved to say that he’d wooed me slowly, but that’s not how it happened.
Zane had simply walked into Kellan’s Pub one night and boom—I was a goner. From the second his dark brown eyes locked with mine, I fallen head-over-heels for him. And the more time we spent together, the more I liked him.
Our sexual chemistry had been intense, unlike anything I’d ever experienced. There had been nights when we couldn’t keep our hands off each other no matter where we were. We would collide in the backseat of his car, or even in the bathroom at Kellan’s.
Anywhere, any place, our bodies reacted to each other like magnets.
But most importantly, he understood me. I could talk to him about things my family only made fun of. I’d even told him how I wanted to move to New York after passing the bar exam, spending hours gushing over all the things I would do if I lived there. He never once told me I was being stupid. He had always supported my dreams because he’d had dreams of his own.
He had told me all about how badly he wanted to rise in the ranks among the Savage Soldiers. He’d been in the military since he was eighteen, but his dream was to do something that really mattered and to him, that was working his way up to carrying out missions for the Savage Soldiers, just like the men he’d grown up admiring.
“It’s my purpose, you know?” he’d told me one night sitting in our booth at Kellan’s. “I don’t know how else to explain it. When I think about the one thing I was put on this earth to do, it’s that.”
I guess I should have seen it coming; all the signs were there. Yet at the time, all I saw was his ambition and it only made him sexier to me. If I had opened my eyes, I may have been able to prepare myself, and maybe I would have seen the signs in time for me to get out. But I hadn’t, and the night he told me he was relocating was the worst night of my life.
He’d come to me that night with a huge smile on his face, announcing he’d been selected for a mission. There was just one catch though—he had to be relocated. Indefinitely.
Yet, his dream had come true and he felt important. Seeing the excitement in his eyes, I knew I didn’t compare. I was nothing more than a loose end he needed to tie up before being shipped out.
I took a deep breath and threw a pair of underwear into my suitcase.
The more I thought about that night with Zane, the less I wanted to go home. I even went so far as to pick up my phone, ready to call Allie and tell her to shove it, but I restrained myself.
As much as I hated to admit it, Allie was right. I couldn’t hide in New York forever. No matter what Zane had done to me back then, I still had family in Savage who needed me.
Besides, hadn’t I done okay despite Zane? Hadn’t I recovered from the heartache and made something of myself? Wasn’t I a big city lawyer?
Hell yeah I was.
I imagined walking through downtown Savage. It was easy to picture the streets lined with people from my childhood. Mr. Jacobs, the banker. Tonya Alans, the town gossip. Melanie Daniels, the prom queen who married the quarterback of the football team. They would all wave at me somewhat hesitantly, their smiles forced because they wouldn’t know what to expect from the new Alicia Joppa. I’d spent so much time away that all they knew about me was from town gossip.
They would corner me and ask questions about my life without really wanting to know the answers, and I would give the answers proudly not giving a damn what anyone thought.
I would stop at Angel’s Café to order one of her famous scones—the one thing I would actually be glad to do. I had looked everywhere, but hadn’t been able to find a bakery in New York that could beat Angel’s.
My mind drifted to the high school where my favorite English teacher still taught. Mrs. Lawson would be happy to see me; she, of all people, would be proud of how my life turned out.
I thought about the flower shop my mom and dad owned. It made me smile to picture them sitting behind the counter together. I hadn’t realized it, but I really did miss them.
As I finished packing, I realized it wasn’t exactly Savage that I was dreading, but the memories that awaited me there, rather. I didn’t want to become that heart-broken girl I’d once been again. I didn’t want to let everything I went through back then continue to define me.
I wanted to stay here, in New York, where I was strong and confident. Where I knew who I was.
Where I was safe.
I squeezed the pair of socks I was holding. With my eyes closed, I breathed slowly. Just the thought of being back in that town was hard.
Still, I had to remind myself that life in New York wasn’t perfect. There were things I missed from Savage that I could never get in New York—like Angel’s scones and judgmental looks from my Aunt Ira.
I could already hear her voice. “Met any nice guys in the city? No? Well, of course you haven’t! Everyone there is either a drug addict or only interested in whores!”
I smiled to myself at the thought. Thinking of Aunt Ira was actually the thing that resigned me to my fate. I was going back to Savage to spend an entire week with my family and I was going to face all their snide comments with a smile.
So what if I was still single? I was kicking ass and no one could take that away from me—not my family, not my hometown, and certainly not Zane Prewitt.