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’’How long?’’

’’Two years,’’ I proudly stated because that was true too. I ought to be proud to be banging some guy for two years and not have bored him. That actually had me glowing;he wasn\ bored of me or my body.

’’Wow, sounds serious. What does he do?’’

’’He\s a lawyer. He works at his dad\s firm in the city.’’

’’Your little behind scored a lawyer?’’ Lucinda\s eyes twinkled in delight. ’’You hold onto that one. How did you meet?’’

’’I work for him.’’

’’Oh, that\s right, you were studying for a law degree. Is my Sara a lawyer now?’’

I shook my head. ’’No, I didn\ finish the degree.’’

’’You were studying?’’ Taken aback by her voice, I looked over at Christy. She\d been listening to the entire conversation and, to my horror, so had Jaxon. His glare was back on me.

’’Yeah.’’

’’What\d you study?’’

’’Law.’’

’’For how long?’’ Why did she want to know the details?

’’Two years.’’ I bit my lip again because if she asked the next question, I knew exactly where my thoughts would lead me back to-

’’What made you stop?’’ F*k.

’’Money issues.’’

Jaxon scoffed, nostrils flaring. ’’You had a scholarship.’’

’’Jaxon,’’ Lucinda\s voice warned.

’’She did. She had a f*king scholarship.’’

’’Alright, you caught me,’’ I said with a casual shrug. ’’I was too dumb to finish the degree. I failed epically in my third year.’’ That was a good lie.

Christy looked apologetic for asking. God, she had a conscience too, this perfect woman! Jaxon didn\ respond to that, but his eyes never left my face, and that heat I was feeling in them was making me squirm uncomfortably in my seat.

’’Are you studying?’’ I asked Christy, not out of curiosity but as a way to shift the attention over to her.

She nodded. ’’Yeah, I\m currently in Med School. I\m doing a placement at the hospital here. Got one more year to go.’’ To top it off, she was becoming a doctor? Just... wow.

’’So you said you work for him,’’ Lucinda intervened, not having bat an eye at Christy.

’’Yeah, I\m one of the legal secretaries at the firm.’’

’’Do you like it?’’

’’It\s good. The co-workers are great, my boss is... obviously great, and the pay is enough to float me by. As long as the bills are paid and I\ve got enough to eat, I\m good.’’

’’Looks like you got plenty to eat,’’ Jaxon said, with a devilish grin on his face as he wickedly looked me up and down. ’’You\ve gotten a lot bigger.’’

Christy looked away uncomfortably while Lucinda stiffened beside me. He was calling me fat, and though it hurt a tad, I\d become the kind of passive person to accept all criticism without a slump in my step. Even from Jaxon.

’’I probably have,’’ I said, staring him directly in the eyes with a fake smile.

He leaned back into his chair with a content face, keeping his eyes directed on mine. ’’Oh well. Some people hit their peak young, I guess.’’

’’I guess so.’’

’’Not easy being on your own, is it?’’

’’No, certainly not.’’ I kept my voice light and kind as I answered him even though I knew exactly what he was getting at. A sliver of anger was felt in the depths of me that he would bring something like this up now.

’’You look beautiful,’’ Lucinda said to me just then, turning the scowl she\d directed at Jaxon to a kind smile. ’’You actually look thinner than I remember. Make sure you keep eating, okay?’’

’’No need to worry,’’ I smiled again, deceptively looking calm and cool as I proved my point by taking another big bite out of my pizza.

He didn\ say anything else, and I was glad because I\d frankly had enough of him. He had every right to hate me, but he didn\ have to speak to me either. The fact that he did made me hate him, or at least want to hate him. He was nothing like I remembered, and maybe now that I knew this I would be able to mend my broken heart and try to move on once and for all.

The next hour, I tried to pay attention to all the conversations around me. Then I had Lucinda tell me the gossip I\d been missing out on the last five years. It was nice to genuinely laugh at some rather funny stories, but in the centre of my soul I was always aware of his presence. I didn\ have to look at him to know he was close-by. Even when she spoke and I\d hear his voice in the background, I found myself drowning her out to listen to him. It was hard pretending to be okay when I was broken inside. But I finished out the hour well, and then I yawned and faked exhaustion so that I could be on my way. Lucinda and I exchanged numbers before I grabbed my purse and stood up.

’’It was nice meeting you all,’’ I said as I made my way to the door of the gazebo. I flashed a kind smile to every face around me as they reciprocated my words. When my eyes landed on Jaxon, whose lips were firmly shut, I could feel the corners of my mouth quiver. I looked away from his arctic glare and hurried out. Lucinda followed and led the way to the driveway.

’’I\d like to see you again,’’ she told me when we approached the car. Her eyes went glossy under the moonlight. ’’You can come again for dinner if you\d like tomorrow. It\ll just be the two of us, I promise.’’

’’I\d like that,’’ I agreed, and then I added, ’’If it was just the two of us.’’

She caught the gist and vigorously nodded her head. ’’Absolutely. Jaxon\s busy most of the days. He comes around Tuesday nights and sometimes over the weekend. He does his own thing now, and though I don\ approve of his lifestyle changes, I have little choice but to support him. I mean, look at the roof he put over my head.’’

I glanced at the mammoth of a house. ’’What\s he doing exactly?’’

She sighed uneasily. ’’He\s got some businesses around town now, but the people he associates with aren\ the kind you want to invite over for pizza. Those guys in the yard right now... they\ e small time bikers, trying to prove their worth to him.’’

This confused me. ’’Is he around dangerous people, Lucinda?’’

She waved her hand over her shoulder dismissively. ’’Oh, you know, I\m not going to burden you with heavy stuff, darling. You just do your own thing. You\ e going through hell at the moment. I won\ rain down on your already stormy weather. Just come and see me again, please. I love you, Sara. God, I love you like my own.’’ The tears escaped her eyes rapidly, and she sniffed and wiped away, embarrassed at her emotional display. ’’Goodness, look at me. Must be reaching that time of the month again.’’

I took her into my arms and hugged her tightly. She held me too, and we rocked back and forth for what felt like an eternity. I let out a few tears of my own. ’’I\m so sorry.’’ It came out in a wild rush. ’’I\m so sorry for leaving you like that. I think about you every day. I swear to God, I swear I\m so sorry. I wish... I wish I\d done things differently with you, and with... with him. I was young and scared and terrified of what I was turning into and...’’

’’Hush, hush now. Don\ be apologizing for anything. Fresh start now, honey. I\m only sorry that we had to see each other again at a time like this with your mother gone and all.’’ She pulled back, tucked the strands of hair behind my ears, and lifted my chin up to her. ’’I don\ need to know the details. I can just take a look at you and know that you\ e healing still, but I need you to watch out for something.’’

’’What?’’

’’Jaxon\s different now, and it would be smart to steer clear from him. He\s not who he was, and I would hate to see him tear you to pieces because of his own anger.’’

I nodded. ’’Okay, I will. I\ll steer clear.’’ I had no problems doing that.

’’Okay, get in your car now, darling, and sleep. Where are you sleeping at now, by the way?’’

I opened the car door and slid into my seat. ’’I\m at the Manor Motel.’’

Her face fell. ’’What? What are you doing on that side of town?’’

’’It\s close to where we used to live, so I figured that was alright.’’

She frowned. ’’I don\ think you should sleep there. Find another room tomorrow, please. Be very careful, Sara. There\s a lot of crime in that part of Gosnells with the bikie gang located there and all. Lotta seedy people slumming it, too, especially at night.’’

’’I\ll be fine, don\ worry.’’

’’Text me when you get to your room, okay?’’

’’Okay.’’

She leaned into the seat and gave me a kiss on the forehead. ’’See you tomorrow, beautiful.’’

’’See you tomorrow.’’ I backed the car out of the driveway, honked the horn once at her, waved and drove off. I barely breathed the whole ride back to the motel. My mind was too busy recapping every single moment in that gazebo.

*****

Lexi called me just as I parked in front of the motel. She was in the middle of demanding to know every detail about my encounter with Jaxon when I noticed a familiar bearded man standing beside his car arguing with a dark haired, solid guy in front of him. He was parked a couple empty spaces away.

Though their conversation was muffled from within the car, the conversation was inescapable.

’’You\ e always attacking me after I see some pussies! You act like a f*king father, little bro, and it\s getting on every last f*king nerve!’’

’’You\ e sloppy!’’ The solid man raised his forefinger and pointed at the bearded man\s chest. ’’Got the Scorpians all over your back and I\m the f*ker that has to bail you out every f*king time! Don\ got time for this shit anymore, man. I got my own skin to worry about and you\ e putting me in a tight spot.’’

’’I\m not askin\ you to bail me out! I got no problems with them!’’

’’Steer clear is what I\m saying, and that\s not a request. It\s a f*king demand! Shit\s raining down on us and I don\ have time for your bullshit.’’

There\s no way to discreetly shut a car door. So when I attempted to and failed epically, it caught their attention. Solid man stopped midsentence, bringing his hand back down to his side as they immediately quieted down. I felt both sets of eyes on me the whole way to my room, and when I got inside, I breathed a sigh of relief, locking it. I recognized the bearded man. He was the guy I\d passed last night - the one that ogled my chest.

’’Tell me what happened for the tenth time! I know you\ e there, I can hear you breathing!’’

I plopped down on the bed relaxed my back against the headboard. ’’Nothing really happened. To say he hated me would be an understatement. I can\ blame him.’’

’’Why do you think he hates you? Did he say anything?’’

’’His face said enough. It doesn\ matter. I was freaking out, but seeing him doing well on his own and moving on with someone else has helped me personally. No more \what ifs\, you know?’’

’’He was with a girl?’’

’’Yeah, and she was lovely, and beautiful;a med student too. Quite the catch if you ask me.’’

’’She could be the biggest bitch in the world.’’

I scoffed in disbelief. ’’I highly doubt that. You know how sometimes you just have a good vibe about someone? I felt that with her. Besides, I\m sure Jaxon\s standards have risen dramatically since I left him.’’

’’Sara-’’

’’I\m tired. I really need to head to bed. I\ll talk to you tomorrow, alright?’’

’’Alright, Sara. I love you, girl.’’

’’Love you too, Lexi.’’

I hung up and rested the phone on the night table. Then I just sat there for who knows how long, swallowed up in the silence of my own company. I couldn\ stop thinking about his hand entwined in hers, and how happy she looked. Happy because he must be giving her all he gave me in our relationship. I threw it all away. I threw it all...

Tears fell from my eyes. I didn\ want to fight the sadness anymore, or pretend it didn\ exist. I wanted to feel the pain for tonight, and maybe tomorrow I\d be better. Maybe.

I grabbed the pillow and hugged it to my chest, but the gaping hole in the centre of me only deepened. Then I began sobbing.

F*k, I threw it all away. I threw him away without a goodbye. Why? Why did I do that? I could have been the one sitting next to him, smiling like my world was complete. It could have been me. It could have been...

My phone buzzed just then. I sloppily wiped the snot from my nose and reached for it. A text from Daniel: I miss you.

I replied, I miss you too, Daniel.

Then I texted Lucinda to let her know I made it back alright. I turned off the phone after that and closed my eyes, letting the tears spill while I imagined what could have been.

Fourteen

I woke up early the next morning. I vowed I wasn\ going to waste today. I had to get things done at the house. Time was running out. It was already a given I\d probably be here until the weekend.

Using the internet on my phone, I looked up the local skip service and called them to have it delivered in front of my mother\s home tomorrow morning. So that was done and dusted. I\d head over there within the hour and get the garbage sorted. Then I called the \Used but New\ store and waited until I could speak to the owner. He made up some rubbish about intending to call me, and I pretended to believe him. Then he told me he could make it by Friday afternoon to pick up the furniture, and that was alright by me as long as it was a guarantee.


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