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By´╝ÜWinter Renshaw


In the still, small hours, every single day, my mind always finds a way to wander to him. He’s long gone, and I’m stuck treading these same dark waters. Day in. Day out. Going nowhere. Feeling it all.

Everything reminds me of him.

Of us.

Everywhere I go.

Everything I see.

Everything looks exactly the way it did when he was around.

He left me to live this life without him, in a town that makes me feel like he’s still here.

If I ever run into Royal again, I’m going to shove a fistful of my hurt down his throat so hard. I want him to feel the way I do, because maybe then he’ll understand what he’s done to me.

How he’s broken me.

How he’s made it impossible for me to feel for anyone else the things I once felt for him.

My fingers squeeze the life from my steering wheel as I jerk the car into an empty parking spot in front of an empty convention center hotel. The stoplights in the distance change from green to yellow to red, performing for a dead intersection.

I blink over and over until the sting in my eyes dissipates, and my mind wanders to Brooks and the graveness of his situation. Can’t help but feel responsible in a fucked-up way. I should’ve stopped him from leaving. Had I made him sit down and explain exactly why he wanted out, maybe he wouldn’t be sitting in a hospital bed, fighting for his life.

Instead, I basked in my sudden liberation and told him not to let the door hit him on the way out.

The image of his packed bags, jangling keys, and solemn expression comes to mind.

The only thing I know for certain, in this moment, is that Brooks Abbott did not want to be with me anymore. He left me.

He did not want to marry me.

He didn’t even suggest trying to make it work.

He just wanted . . . out.

And now, it appears as though I might be spending the rest of my life taking care of a man who, at zero hour, changed his mind about loving me.

And couldn’t get away fast enough.

I pull back onto the road and stop at a fluorescent liquor store on my way home. Maybe I can drown out some of these thoughts tonight, because they’re not doing me a damn bit of good. If anyone so much as stares at me sideways when I buy my fifth of vodka, I swear to God, I’ll bite their fucking head off. Tonight, I’m not a sweet kindergarten teacher. I’m not a picture-perfect Rosewood daughter. I’m not planning my wedding to one of the most eligible bachelors in the tri-county area.

I’m just trying to get through this.

My thoughts go to Royal for the twentieth time today, and guilt seeps into my bones, weighing me down into my worn leather seat. I shouldn’t be thinking of him right now, but I lack the energy it takes to stop myself.

As per usual.

I imagine him sitting in a bar somewhere, wearing that disarming, dimpled smile that makes all the girls weak in the knees. I imagine him buying some pretty blonde with fake tits up to her chin a fruity little cocktail that matches her lipstick. I imagine he’s going to take her home tonight, fuck her so hard that she thinks it actually means something, and then tell her how sexy she is in the morning when she makes him breakfast in nothing but his t-shirt.

In my mind, that’s the kind of man he’s become.

I bet he doesn’t have a care in the world. I bet he doesn’t even think about me.

Truth is, I don’t know where he is tonight. All I know is . . .

I still love him.

And I hate him.

I hate him, I hate him, I hate him.

Chapter Two


I pull my cap down and duck behind my steering wheel when I see the flash of her Subaru headlights barreling down the road. The car veers, bouncing into the driveway and coming to a forced stop. In the dark and away from any streetlights, I watch as Demi Rosewood storms out of her car with a brown paper bag tucked under one arm.

My heart hammers the way it always does when I see her.

The twitch of my fingers threatens to lunge for the door handle.

Maybe this time . . .

Hurried steps carry her to the front door.

In an instant, she’s gone.

I pull in a lungful of dry, November air and start my engine. The seat beneath me vibrates and the heat kicks on.

Tonight is not the night.

Slinking back in my seat, I linger a little longer, watching the lights snap on and off as she makes her way through her suburban mini mansion. First the hall, then the kitchen, then an upstairs bedroom. Within minutes, her house darkens again. Only the telltale flicker of a TV screen from a bedroom window offers a cozy glow.

The tightness in my chest spreads, creeping up my neck. I force myself to look away. My foot rests on the brake, and I shift out of park and slam right back.

I can’t keep doing this.

For seven years, I’ve stayed away. For almost five years, I’ve watched her from a distance, promising myself that as long as she was happy, I would never intervene.