“It was amazing. My dad’s still a little distant, but I think my mom believes me one hundred percent that I was raped and wasn’t being all promiscuous and stuff.”
“That’s wonderful,” I say.
“We even talked about having them pay for my college education.”
“Really? Oh, Anne. Just do it. You’re such a smart girl, and I know you would do great. Are you seriously considering it?”
“Well…” she says.
“Well what?” I say.
“What would I do without you?” she pouts.
“Anne, you are not going to put your life on hold just because of me, you hear?” I say as strictly as I can. “When you see an opportunity, you go for it.”
“Like you did with Michael?” she asks.
For just a split second I had forgotten about how much pain I’m in, but the mention of his name brings it back ruthless and hard, a jab to my chest.
“Scarlett?” she says.
My throat has clamped up so much that I can’t even speak, and I’m afraid if I try, I’ll just completely lose it and break down into a really ugly sob.
“What happened, Scarlett?”
“Oh, God!” I moan, clenching my fist.
“Did you break up with him?” she asks.
“I don’t want to talk about me right now. Tell me everything that happened on your trip. Please.”
“As long as you promise to tell me everything the second I arrive back home.”
“I promise,” I say.
She tells me about how her dad had basically forced her mom to throw Anne out of the house when Anne had become pregnant, and how heartbroken her mom had been for years. Anne’s mom finally broke down and said if he wouldn’t agree to let Anne back into their lives she would leave Anne’s dad. Needless to say, he agreed, and now, if she moves back home and goes to school they will go to counseling and work on sorting out their differences.
After I hang up with Anne, I hop into the shower and get ready for my day. Unfortunately, trying to keep a certain someone out of my head proves impossible. Everything about this house reminds me of Michael now. I mean, we had sex in my bed, in the living room, in the shower…ugh!
I’ll have to compartmentalize those memories, wrap them up in a neat, air-proof little package and store it far, far away.
I decide to make breakfast, but when I check the fridge, everything’s either expired or missing. When I open the front door to go get groceries, I suddenly find that I’m unable to step across the threshold. I stand frozen as the snow flurries blow into the house, the cool air stinging the skin on my face. I’m acutely aware that I simply can’t do it. For some reason, I just can’t step outside and into my day, pretending everything is fine. I glance across to the neighbors’ houses, noting how normal and dull everything looks. Nothing has changed in all the years I’ve lived here, but here I am completely paralyzed by what has just transpired.
The same thing happened when my mother died and it took me weeks just to be able to function as a human being again. I turn back into the house and close the door, locking it behind me.
Exhausted from not having slept a wink last night, I decide that instead of going grocery shopping, I’ll take a nap. I pull off my coat and take off my boots, go upstairs, and collapse into bed.
* * *
I wake up to my phone ringing and someone banging on the door. Shit, how long did I sleep? I check the clock on my phone. Five hours? I rub my eyes, hop down the steps, and open the door.
Anne has brought a bottle of wine with her and she hands it to me right away.
“Hell, it looks like I had the right thing in mind,” she says, her big, blue baby doll eyes glaring at me. “You look awful!” She, of course, looks lovely in her black slinky pants and a tight-fitting, square-neck top. “Michael?”
I look down. My friend knows me all too well. “How did you know?”
“Well, I had a little heads up. I read about every minute detail on Facebook,” she says.
My eyes widen in shock. “Facebook? What do you mean Facebook?”
She walks by me, into the kitchen, and pours us each a glass of nearly frozen white wine. I close the door.
“Someone captured the entire thing last night on their phone and posted it online. And it’s everywhere now, all over Twitter, and…”
“When did you see this?” I ask, feeling my stomach churn.
“Right after you called.” She looks at me sympathetically and hands me my wine. “I would have called you back, but the stewardess nearly ripped the phone out of my hands, yelling at me to shut the damn thing off or she’d dispose of my phone. Whatever that means.”
“Why would anyone post that online?” I slump down by the kitchen table and take a big gulp of my wine.
“Because even though no one knows the whole of it, they think that your love story is so amazing. I mean, come on. How romantic is that? You fulfilled your fiancés secret fantasy on Christmas Day. In a fucking strip club. What guy wouldn’t absolutely love that? I even saw that now it’s being dubbed as the most romantic Christmas present of the year.”
“Really?” I say, laughing macabrely.
“Well, not everyone agrees. Some say it’s a waste of money, because it must have cost an arm and a leg to rent The Black Chapel, and others are saying—”
“I really don’t think I want to hear anymore,” I say. Sometimes Anne doesn’t know when to stop talking.
“It’s trending all over Portland, Scarlett. You can’t hide from it. You just have to let it run its course.” She blinks.
Trending? Oh hell. She’s right. I can’t control anything about the situation now that it’s out. I just wish it wasn’t the fake story that was circulating out there. On second thought, I don’t want the real story out there either.
“Then what the hell do I do?” I say. “I’ve lost the one man I ever loved, and now I have to marry him for show!”
“Honey, you have to look at the bright side. He still wants to go through with the deal, right?”
“Yes, but—” I say.
“And now you can save your parents’ house, save your dad, and live happily ever after as a single woman. You don’t need a man to make you happy, especially one who wants to cheat on you with a stripper.”