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’’Have you had any experience as a legal secretary anywhere else, Sara?’’

If he\d read my resume, he\d have known that too. ’’Well, no,’’ I admitted. ’’When I had to drop out of school, the money issues were rather bad, so I took whatever jobs I could get my hands on. I\ve been waitressing and bartending the last couple years just to get by.’’ This was a terrible admission because it meant my lack of experience might hinder my chances for this job. I felt hopelessness tug in my chest, and I sighed, letting that desperation morph into frustration at figuring out how I was going to keep the apartment I was currently living in with Lexi. We were both struggling lately.

’’You need this job, don\ you?’’ His soft voice had me looking up at him in surprise. I\d never been asked something like that in any of my job interviews from the past three years.

I blinked away the tears and nodded. ’’Yes, I do, Mr Hale.’’

’’Daniel,’’ he corrected me. ’’When we\ e alone, you can call me Daniel. When we\ e in front of the others, you can put on the charade of \Mr Hale, sir\.’’

Whoa, wait. ’’Are you saying....?’’

’’Job is yours.’’

’’What, like that?’’

’’Yeah, like that.’’

’’No more questions?’’

’’Like what?’’

’’Like...well, I don\ know... Questions!’’

’’Look, I need a secretary asap, and you need a job asap. We\ e pretty much made for each other, don\ you think?’’

I was too stunned to speak. He smiled and removed his legs from the desk. Then he propped himself up like a professional attorney was supposed to do, and said, ’’Now, how soon can you start?’’

’’What are you thinking about?’’

I turned my head to Daniel. He was staring right at me and who knows for how long.

’’Thinking about the day we met, actually,’’ I answered.

’’Yeah? What grabbed you?’’

I turned on my side, facing him. ’’Why did you hire me?’’

He turned on his side too, and inched his way over the white sheets until we were a few inches apart. ’’You know, you always ask me that.’’

’’And you never answer.’’

He chuckled. ’’You already know the answer. You just want me to say it.’’

’’You liked what you saw.’’

’’Yeah. And?’’

’’And I didn\ look like her one bit.’’

He nodded. ’’Precisely.’’

’’I notice you can talk about it more lately.’’

’’You make it easier.’’ He lightly stroked my bare arm as his eyes went about my face. I remember before it would have been impossible having him say more than two words about the woman he\d given his heart to. It took me over a year just to get her name out of his lips. Sandra it was, and she\d stomped on his heart by betraying their love in the worst way imaginable. I figured she cheated and that\s what the ultimate betrayal was, but he was yet to tell me the exact reason.

We respected each other\s privacy, which is why this arrangement worked so well for us. We\d been sleeping together for two years. In the beginning, it was occasionally. We weren\ fully into it, and only when the itch got too bad we sought each other out. But lately, the holes we thought would be closing were only getting bigger. The past six months we were seeing each other three nights a week... minimum.

But still. That line was drawn deep in the sand between us. We didn\ want a relationship. Relationships were doomed. We just needed that contact, the slightest reminder of what it would be like to feel complete again. Every time we f*ked, it made me forget, for even the briefest of moments, Jaxon Barlow.

Having dreamt him, I pushed away from Daniel and decided to have an early morning shower. I wanted to preserve that dream, not taint it by forgetting him in the arms of Daniel. Some pains are worth enduring, I realized.

He wasn\ in the bedroom after I was out. I heard his voice coming from the kitchen, and then Lexi\s laughter. I quickly changed and joined them. Daniel was standing beside coffee machine, and it was brewing. Lexi was sitting at the kitchen table, wearing the same club clothes as last night;her eyes were puffy, her face plagued by exhaustion, and a bottle of wine wrapped in her manicured hand.

’’Trying to beat a hangover with alcohol, huh?’’ I remarked with a roll of my eyes. ’’A bit counter-productive, don\ you think?’’

’’Eh, f*k you. I do what I want.’’ Even her voice sounded slurred.

’’When did you get home?’’

’’Caught her through the door just as I left the bedroom,’’ Daniel said, smiling at Lexi with a shake of his head. ’’She was telling me all about her little fling with some Russian kingpin.’’

Lexi eagerly filled me in about her se*ual encounter with the Russian accented businessman, openly using words that defined it like ’’huge cock’’ and ’’wet pussy’’ in front of an amused Daniel, while I stared wide eyed at her openness. She just got looser as time passed.

’’Moving on,’’ I said the second she finished draining every colour from my face and forever scorching my brain with images that I might not ever move on from, ’’you\ve still got a shit load of boxes to unpack. We\ve been in this apartment three weeks and I still can\ walk around without bumping into your shit.’’

I loved Lexi, and was used to the fact she wasn\ a pack rat like me and left her stuff everywhere, but we\d agreed that getting a bigger apartment would mean changing those habits. So far, I hadn\ seen much change in her. I wished she was just as dedicated at home as she was at work.

’’Yeah, yeah,’’ she grumbled, lacking charisma from before. ’’By the way, your new phone\s come in the mail yesterday. It\s on top of the television stand. Forgot to tell you last night. Sorry.’’

Finally! I jumped out of my chair and raced to the living room, dodging boxes and jumping over some of Lexi\s random shit on the floor. When I saw the small, taped brown box on the television stand, I felt immense relief.

I\d been without the phone for three weeks, literally the day we moved into the apartment it fell four stories off the balcony when I was propping it up on the ledge so I could bring in the balcony table. I\d knocked it off with the swipe of my shoulder. My poor, beautiful android fell to its death bringing down every contact and photo I\d stored into that phone to its grave. I still had my phone number chip, so it wasn\ all that bad.

As Daniel and Lexi chatted, I opened the box and pulled out my white, identical cell phone to my last. As I charged it, I turned it on and went through the usual instalment steps before putting in my number.

’’What did you want to do today?’’ Daniel asked me sweetly as he walked into the living room. He sat down on the black leather couch and watched me cross legged on the hardwood floor with the phone to my face.

’’What did you have in mind?’’ I asked.

’’We could hit the movie store and have a day of relaxation again.’’

I frowned. ’’As long as you\ e not going to force me to watch legal documentaries, then sure.’’

He chuckled. ’’What\s wrong with the legal documentaries we watch? You\ve never complained about them before.’’

’’I complain about them every single time you pop one in, but you distract me by ordering pizza and then throwing a bowl of chocolates in my face. That has to stop too, you know. My ass is going to explode.’’

’’Nothing wrong with that.’’

After I\d uploaded every update and put my number in, it took barely a minute before it began beeping relentlessly. Surprised, I stared down at the screen and at the ten voicemails I\d accumulated in the last three weeks.

I abandoned the rest of the instalments and hurriedly accessed my voicemails. I\d never received such an accumulation before. I wasn\ a popular girl, didn\ know a lot of people, and certainly never just handed out my number. So whatever this was, my gut was telling me it was bad.

All blood drained from my face when the first voicemail came through.

’’This is Father Mark from Gosnells. I need to talk to Sara Nolan. It is imperative she call me as soon as possible. There is news I\m afraid she needs to hear.’’

Eleven

The way to Gosnells was straightforward. Directions were easy, and it would have taken me three hours if I hadn\ stopped every half hour at a gas station. At every stop, I found myself endlessly walking the aisles, buying a few snacks, then returning to my car and idly sitting for a good, long while, thinking and eating, and repeat.

Mom was dead, he said, the second I called him back. The rest of the voicemails had been from him stressing the importance to reach him as soon as I got his messages. Nothing had prepared me for the news.

Mom passed away eight days ago in a car crash. Eight.Days.Ago.

I\d been numb all over. My whole body had shook wildly, and a cold sensation ran up and down my spine, but my emotions were detached. Maybe it was self-preservation. I didn\ want to think I was too unfeeling to care, but the evident fear made the thought plausible.

Then more news. She\d had her funeral. My mother\s funeral and I wasn\ there to bury her. More shock. More glacial tingles down my spine. Speechless. Numb. Numb. Numb.

I\d called just in the nick of time. Her landlord had done all he could to keep the house with all her possessions intact, but he was losing money and needed to have it cleared out.

Too lost for words at that point, I\d simply answered yes when he asked me to do it. I was forwarded the landlord\s number. After I\d gotten off the phone, I broke the news to Daniel and Lexi who were beyond stunned themselves. I didn\ need sympathy, not when it was suddenly so hard for me to evoke any kind of emotion at the loss of my mother who I hadn\ seen and barely, if at all, spoken to in years.

When they\d offered to come out with me, I adamantly told them it was something I needed to do on my own. I wasn\ prepared to have those close to me see the life I left behind. I liked keeping that part of me buried in the past.

After calling the landlord, I was given two weeks to clear the house. Daniel handed me the keys to his SUV, and I packed a suit case and decided to start the journey the next morning. There was no way I was going to delay this. In and out was my objective, and maybe somewhere in the entire process I would be able to feel something. Currently, the news was indigestible. So surreal, as if I was outside of my body, watching me;doe eyed and lost, like a child in search of direction.

I should have just told the landlord to toss everything in that house in the landfill. What would I possibly want to have in it, after all? Only I knew that would be a callous and uncaring act. My mother had been a shitty parent to me, but I had to respect the situation and not run from it because it was the easy way out.

On the other hand, I knew the difficulty in emptying that house wasn\ the sole reason why I didn\ want to return. It was everything that Gosnells stood for: my childhood, memories, Lucinda... and Jaxon. I\d done my research. The town had tripled in size the last three years due to the mining boom about an hour out of town that brought in a flood of workers and families looking to situate themselves in an established town where moms and kids weren\ far from their fathers and husbands. The population was exceeding fifty thousand. Gosnells was becoming a small city and not just an agricultural town anymore.

Still. I knew there was a big possibility I might bump into people I\d grown up with;people who were tied to him. And Lucinda wasn\ even a block away from my mother\s place. The thought of seeing her made my chest constrict painfully. It would be a downright nightmare. I took off. Buried my past and her along with it. How would I explain myself?

All that thought did was lead me to the painful reminder of what happened five years ago. After I\d left Jaxon without so much as a goodbye, I\d showed up at Lexi\s doorstep and hysterically bared my soul to her. I told her everything because I couldn\ hold it in anymore.

’’Did he ever lay a hand on you?’’ was her first question after I\d revealed my dark side.

’’Never. It was all me, Lexi. All of it.’’

’’You can stay here, but I don\ know for how long.’’

’’He\ll know where to find me.’’

’’Then where are you going to go?’’

’’Probably stay the night at a hotel, and then take the Greyhound bus out of the city. I\ve got a good chunk of money tucked aside.’’

’’And go where?’’

I shrugged, the weight of the world pressed on my heart. ’’I don\ care. Away.’’

She\d been silent for a while, deep in thought. I knew her too well, and when I saw the stiffening of her shoulders, I knew something was up.

’’What\s wrong?’’ I\d asked.

Her eyes glistened as she looked up at me. ’’Trevon and I broke up three days ago.’’

’’What? Why haven\ you told me?’’

’’Because he\s been trying to make it work out between us and sometimes I get tempted to move on and forgive. Then I remember what he did. Caught him texting some girl, and she\d been sending him nude photos. Told him that I was through with him, and that I wanted him gone. But he\s on the lease, too, and he\s playing the stubborn asshole. Won\ go.’’ With a sigh, she bit her lip and that tough look I knew so well to be Lexi returned as she straightened herself and relaxed her shoulders. ’’If you\ e going to go, then I\m going with you.’’

Snapping myself back to reality, I parked in the gas station just outside of Gosnells. The pain and the tightness in my chest had me gripping the steering wheel with all my might. I was having an anxiety attack, and it didn\ help when I looked back on that summer Lexi and I took off. Four weeks we jumped on buses and made our way to nowhere in particular. It was sometimes eventful, but most of the time we were running away and locked up inside our heads, talking to strangers as a way to distract ourselves from the pain and the thinking. I\d convinced myself the spontaneous trip was therapy, and that I\d healed from the evil inside of me. Every morning I woke up in some grubby motel room wishing I had Jaxon with me, and knowing damn well I\d made the biggest mistake of my life. So I turned it around and we headed back to Winthrop.


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