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By´╝ÜWinter Renshaw

And maybe . . .

Maybe a teeny, tiny, microscopic part of me hoped that Royal would . . .


I hate thinking about it, because I know how completely ridiculous and unrealistic it sounds.

I said yes the fourth time Brooks proposed because I realized exactly why I was with him in the first place: he was the antidote to Royal Lockhart. The antithesis of the one man who shattered my heart and crippled my ability to feel a shred of the happiness I’d once known.

Brooks Abbott was the only thing that could cure me of the obsessive love sickness I’ve been plagued with since the day Royal left and never came back.

“I’ll make sure he knows you never left his side,” she says. “I’ll remind him every damn day for the rest of his life.”

Brooks lies lifeless in his bed, his back propped up against pillows and his chest rising and falling in sync with the machines. His beautiful, electric green eyes are swollen shut, his strong, square jaw broken in four places. Flecks of dried blood cling to his thick, blond mane.

Gone are his pressed white polo shirts, crisp khakis, and navy dinner jackets. Gone are his fancy watches and money clips and Gucci loafers. You strip Brooks Abbott down to a hospital gown, and he’s no more special than any other person in this hospital building.

Royal would detest Brooks if they ever met. And maybe a small part of me is secretly pleased by that.

I almost wish Brooks could see himself like this. He was always so obsessed with crafting this perfect image to the rest of the world.

Perfect house.

Perfect fiancé.

Perfect smile, perfect cars, perfect friends . . .

The list went on and on.

He had it all, and nothing ever kept him satisfied for very long.

I wish I could ask him where he was going that night. He sure as hell wasn’t upset about calling off the wedding. The man didn’t shed a single tear. Kept the entire exchange short and sweet. I should’ve suspected something was up when I came home from work and saw a packed bag next to the front door. His keys dangled from steady hands, and the laces of his boat shoes were tightly tied.

Brooks’s nurse clears her throat from the corner of his room. I cover his legs with a white flannel blanket, place the lotion aside, and gather my things. I need a shower. I need a hot meal. I need a full night’s rest. I need to organize my thoughts. Maybe have a good cry.

Brenda slips her phone from her pocket and leaves. She’s been doing that all day, taking phone calls and spreading the word. One of his aunts started a Go Fund Me page for the “lengthy recovery and medical bills he’s going to face” despite the fact that Brooks is a very successful financial planner, and the Abbotts are one of the wealthiest families in Rixton County.

And despite the fact that we don’t even know if he’s going to pull through.

On at least four occasions, I caught Brenda taking screenshots of various headlines from online news articles discussing the accident. She claimed she pinned them to a Pinterest board to make a “digital scrapbook” for Brooks to see when he wakes up.

I guess we all deal with things differently.

Twelve hours I spent with that woman today, and I still didn’t have the courage to tell her that Brooks and I broke up the night of his accident. I imagine the way her face might fall when I tell her. I imagine that half of Rixton Falls will hear within hours. And I imagine the snickers and stares I’ll face from locals who balk at my timing.

“Yeah, sure,” they’ll say. “How convenient.”

No one will believe me. I’ll be branded a shitty human being, my reputation forever tarnished.

The pads of my shoes make soft, sticky noises as I leave the hospital. Outside, an early November snow begins to fall. The flakes are huge, but they don’t stick.

Nothing ever really sticks around Rixton Falls.

Except for idiots like me.

I climb into my old Subaru and crank the ignition. Cold air blows through the vents, and I shove my fingers up against them as if that might possibly make the air warm any faster.

Brooks tried to get me to trade it in last year for something flashier, even offering to make the down payment for me. I told him I didn’t need a BMW when the school I teach for is five blocks away from our house, and my Subaru shows absolutely no signs of biting the dust in the very near future.

Five minutes later, I’m coasting down the quiet streets of my hometown, past the green-roofed library with the iron frog-and-toad sculpture. Past the Ice Cream Queen. Past the rich people nursing home and the two-screen movie house. Past the hill we used to sled down as kids every winter. Down the avenues we used to cruise when there was nothing better to do on a small town Friday night.

They all blur together like a messy streak of memories, and they all silently whisper his name.