Alice felt like a stalker. Maybe she was one. After all, she’d stood outside John’s office, just out of sight, listening to him tell a coworker all about how he brought his golden retriever to the Piedmont Dog Park every Saturday morning, bright and early. Stella, Alice’s skittish Pomeranian, curled up in Alice’s lap, bored, ready to leave.
Alice took a long sip of her coffee and took another surreptitious look at the entrance. No sign of John. She felt like an idiot. It was probably some big prank. Someone from the office was in the bushes, watching her, taking video of her being made a fool of. It was just so hard to get a guy to ask a girl out these days. She didn’t know how many more hints she could drop. Drastic times.
Just then, she saw a flash of yellow darting across the grass, John looking adorably rumpled, chasing after it. Alice fluffed her hair, then Stella’s, and called out to John.
This would be CeCe’s and Ricky’s last date. She’d been infatuated with him for so long, actually becoming his girlfriend had been thrilling, surreal. She’d felt like Molly Ringwald at the end of Pretty in Pink.And the first kiss…a warm shock of excitement shot through her still when she thought of it. It always would. But they just weren’t compatible.
They stood in front of the scarecrow at the edge of her family’s property, CeCe knowing that they were in full view of her mother’s reproachful gaze. She told Ricky she thought they’d be better off as friends and Ricky seemed genuinely surprised.
“I thought things were good,” he protested.
If you only had a brain.
Alone in her room that night, CeCe’s disappointment faded. Ricky would spend his life in this town, as his family had done for generations. There was nothing wrong with that, of course. She just wanted a different life. There were places she wanted to explore, strange boys she wanted to kiss.
She’d been writing the same book since college. The story was a beautiful one that had come to her in a dream. She’d sprung from bed in her tiny dorm room, startling her roommate, and run to jot the idea down before she forgot it.
Today, the girl with the eager smile and a head full of dreams was gone. She was a mother. A wife.
A thousand words. I need a thousand words.
“Coming to bed, babe?” Dean asked as he passed her office in the hall.
“Not yet.” She blew him a kiss, then opened her laptop.
It was too hot to sleep. The air was so still in the bedroom that sisters Cora and Emily had shared growing up that they decided to move to the screened in back porch, praying for the slightest breeze. They hadn’t spoken in months. Their father’s funeral had drawn them both home, but only for a night. In the morning, they’d leave, continuing on opposite paths.
Hours later, they were still awake, and restless, when Cora began to recall a memory. Their father, tiptoeing out of the back door in the middle of the night, venturing to the covered bridge that bordered their property. He would emerge an hour or so later, wearing a mysterious smile.
Barefoot, the women tiptoed through the dewy grass in their nightgowns, giggling, their arms around each other. “It was really dark those nights, but I’m pretty sure this is the place,” Emily said as they looked around for their father’s secret treasure. They easily found the shallow hole he’d dug. Inside – a half-empty bottle of his favorite bourbon. Emily dusted it off and took a long swig as she sat in the dirt, passing it to her sister who followed suit.
They leaned against the dirty wall in silence, as a cool breeze began to encircle them.
The library was closed. She locked the doors, shut down the front desk, put away the last of the books that were left behind on the tables. When the work was done, she pulled her own book from her bag and curled up on the couch by the windows, reading by the waning light of the late afternoon sun. She heard her phone buzz again in her purse, but ignored it. Was that the tenth missed call? The eleventh?
She read until it was too dark to make out the words on the page. That’s when she saw headlights in the parking lot, heard the angry, urgent pounding against the front door. She closed the book, pulling up the collar on her shirt for the 100th time that day to conceal the blue-black finger marks on her neck. She fumbled in the dark for her phone and with trembling hands, for the first time, she dialed 911. He’d invaded her last safe haven.
I’ll never forget my first trip to Costa Rica. The rain forest. The lush landscape. The gorgeous tropical birds, dashes of bright color weaving through the trees. I’d been there to volunteer, to help others, but ended up falling in love with a beautiful local boy, Marco. How handsome he was – coppery skin darkened by the sun, dark curls falling into his oversized deep brown eyes. We spent that summer together, but my home city, work, responsibility, all the trappings of adulthood, called me back. I never saw him again.
I’m standing next to my husband in an ornate restaurant, surrounded by our family and closest friends. It’s our 25th wedding anniversary. My daughter, visiting from college, beams at me from her table. My husband is giving a speech about how blessed we both are to have found our perfect match. “We never do anything halfway,” he says, as our friends chuckle. I smile and nod and laugh at the appropriate parts, but I’m not really there. I’m hearing the call of the birds, feeling the balmy breeze in my hair, as Marco slips his rough hand in mine and leads me to the ocean.