“What time are you planning on being home, darlin’?” John asks as he picks up his ringing cell phone while we’re munching on cereal at the breakfast table. It hasn’t quite been a month since Stella and I ended things, but John seemed to take it pretty well – even if he thought we belonged together even more than I did. “No, no that’s fine. I’m sending Beau up to Lyons to check on Mr. Sheldon and see if he’s ready to sell off the last bit of his stock to me.”
I glance at my own phone, at a text from Colt telling me about some insane wedding reception everyone’s invited to tonight, and quickly press the back button to avoid seeing Stella’s thread that I can’t bring myself to delete. Sometimes when I really miss her at night, I’ll just sit there and read through them, trying to remember how happy I was then. Anymore, all I feel is pain and despair when I think about love. The thought of going to a wedding reception tonight actually makes me want to throw up when I remember the stupid promise ring that is sitting on my dresser. Some promise it kept.
“Okay, yes. That’s fine, pumpkin. Okay, we’ll see y’all soon. Drive safe. Love you!” He calls into the phone, and I roll my eyes.
“Was that a story to keep me from seeing Stella or are you actually sending me up to Lyons to see about Mr. Sheldon?” I ask, picking up my bowl and guzzling the milk left behind.
“A little bit of both. I didn’t figure you’d want to be here when she shows up with some other guy.” John explains, and my gut wrenches at the thought of her already bringing another guy home. It hasn’t even been a month!
“Some other guy?” I ask, sure my voice isn’t more audible than a mouse squeak.
“Yeah she said some guy named Connor is coming with her.” John shrugs, and I think that felt more like running into a brick wall. Maybe my suspicion about them was right all along if she’s already bringing him home to meet her dad.
The longer I sit and think about the two of them, the angrier I get. By the time I’m able to pull my boots on and slam the door of my truck, I’m seething, and I know my face is beet red. I’m sure that if cartoons where steam comes out of ears and a train whistle blows were real, then that’d be me right now. I know it’s dumb, and that I have no claim to her anymore, but for some reason I feel betrayed and like the last year didn’t mean as much to her as it did to me.
Mentally, I know that I shouldn’t be driving right now because I’m so angry, but I want to put as much distance between myself and this place as I possibly can over the next few hours. Pointing my truck out of the driveway, I try my best to avoid flooring it and throwing rocks everywhere, but a few rocks flew anyway. The drive to Lyons is a little over two hours, and I’m nearly calmed back down when I stop in front of the old, gray farmhouse that this little hundred-year old man still lives in and manages all by himself. He’s walking towards the house from the barn when I pull in.
“Hey Mr. Sheldon!” I holler, slamming the door to my truck and hurrying to his side.
“Mr. Morris! It’s good to see you again, young man. How is that daughter of John’s treating ya these days?” He asks, grabbing onto the side rail to help him up the three steps to the house. I take a deep breath to keep myself from returning to the anger pit I was earlier.
“Well, she’s not. We kind of ended our relationship last month.” I explain, holding the door for him before following him inside.
“Well ain’t that the shits. I always said women were no good.” Mr. Sheldon grumbles, and I glance at the photo hanging on his wall of his wife, Nancy, who passed away almost 20 years ago.
“Right.” I laugh, glancing at the picture beside the one of his wife to that of his 9 children – 7 of whom are still alive, and grand kids and great grandkids. And then the picture beside that one has an even younger great, great grand kid generation in it. “You wouldn’t have had this amazing family had it not been for a woman, Mr. Sheldon.”
“Well, I can’t fault that logic, sonny. Now, tell me your business here. Is John still trying to take the last of my stock?” He asks, grabbing a half-gallon of milk out of the fridge and shakily pouring himself a glass.
“I think that was part of his mission sending me up here today, but I think he also wanted me to have an excuse to be away from the farm today. Do you have any chores you need help with while I’m here?” I ask, and he offers me a donut from a box that looks freshly baked. I wonder which of his kids or grandkids stopped by this morning?
“I am perfectly capable of doing everything myself, boy.” He glares at me from across the brim of his cup, and I roll my eyes and chuckle.
“I’m not offering for you, Mr. Sheldon. I’m offering because I’d like to have a place to hide out for a few more hours and I might as well do something useful while I’m avoiding my problems.” I answer, and the old man in front of me cracks a grin.
“In that case, I suppose there’s a lawn that needs mowing and a few horses that could use some exercise. While you’re doing that though, I’m going to go take my late morning nap, so if you’ll excuse me.” Mr. Sheldon throws his hand up in a farewell wave as he shuffles into his chair in front of the TV that I don’t think even still works anymore. I watch until he sits down and seemingly passes straight out and make sure he’s still breathing before I head out to retrieve the large lawn mower to start on his acre lot.
The sun has dipped low in the west by the time I’m shaking Mr. Sheldon’s hand after I mowed his lawn, exercised all four of his horses, mucked their stalls, hauled some hay into their paddock, and loaded an orphan calf into the floorboard of my passenger’s seat to take back to the farm. It was born this morning, and I found its mama dead about fifty feet from the bawling calf on one of my exercise rides. Thankfully, Mr. Sheldon had some frozen colostrum that I thawed and put in a bottle to feed the starving thing, but he didn’t want to have to worry about feeding an orphan all the times it needs fed throughout the day, so I offered to take her home. Maybe it can be a project for Connor this summer.
Just the thought of them together makes me cringe, and unfortunately, it’s the only thing I can think about all the way back to the farm. When I pull into the driveway, I see Stella on Zeus’s back, riding through the paddock, and there’s a lawn chair right outside the fence with who I’m assuming is Connor sitting in it. Upon closer inspection, he has a notebook on his lap and is sketching Stella and Zeus. Honestly, I’m impressed with what I can see from the small distance between us as I carry the bawling calf into the barn.
I must have startled him though, because he quickly puts his sketchpad down and heads towards me. I continue on my way to the tack room where there’s a heat lamp for the little girl and a safe place for her to be until she gets used to the place. Connor follows me, before getting down on his knees when I put the calf into the old hay bed.
“I’d be careful, dude.” I warn, taking in his khaki pants and rolled cuff wanna-be western shirt. “Little calves can be dangerous.”
“How could something this small and delicate be dangerous?’ He asks, reaching out a hand to the calf, who sticks her nose out and licks his fingers. “Why is it here and not with its mama?”
“She’s an orphan. I found her mama dead in the pasture, so the guy who owned her told me to bring her here because he couldn’t deal with an orphan.” I explain, letting Connor be alone with the calf and praying that nothing happens while I stuff some hay into hay nets for the horses tonight. Tank glares at me from his own stall that he finally moved to after I weaned him a few months ago. The little paint shit drives me crazy with his shenanigans, but at least a sugar cube will straighten him up long enough for me to be able to get a halter on him whenever I need to.
“Connor are you ready to – oh, hi, Beau.” Stella jogs around the corner and stops in her tracks as we come nearly face to face.
“Hey.” I mutter, rolling my eyes as I turn away from her and head back towards the tack room. I hear her grumble something about ‘real mature’ or something, and I kick myself for not acting like the grown-ass man I am. In my defense though, this girl literally turns my knees weak, and the thought of her being with this prick really grinds my gears. “There’s an orphaned calf in the tackroom that’s going to need cared for and I’m too busy this next week to take care of her properly. You’re going to have to.”
Somehow though, I’m pretty sure Connor already has bonded with the cute little brockle face sweetheart. “I’ve decided to name her Delilah.” Connor announces when I walk through the doors and glance down at the two of them. Surprisingly, Connor already has straw strewn everywhere across him and dirt on his khakis from the little calf crawling over him and ultimately using him as a pillow. He seems thrilled with the little thing drooling all over his thigh, and I raise my eyebrow in bewilderment.
“I think Delilah is a beautiful name for her.” Stella quickly agrees, crawling on the ground beside Connor and stroking the napping calf while I fill feed buckets.
Almost two hours later, I’m headed for Colt’s house wearing my best jeans and a button-down with the top button popped. After watching Stella practically drool over Connor to her dad during supper – which was just mac and cheese because I ended up making it – I decided I definitely did not need to be around the house tonight, so I called Colt and told him I was in. Getting shit-faced at a stranger’s wedding reception is exactly what I need right now. It might not cure the pain, but it sure as hell will mask it for a few hours.
“Hey man, you ready for this?” Colt asks as he jumps into my truck when I barely stop at his house.
“I need to get Stella out of my mind.” I grumble, and he gives me the most pitiful look ever. “I don’t want your pity, either, man. Just do me a favor and don’t let me drive later.”
“We’ll find a place to hide your keys, bud, because tonight, we’re having slutty wedding sex!” Colt hollers, and I know he’s already had a few beers. “Wait, that sounded gay. We’re having slutty wedding sex with bridesmaids, not each other.”
“I know, Colt.” I chuckle, glad he hasn’t changed at all since college.
It’s barely getting dark when Colt tells me what backroad to take to get to an old farm, where apparently the reception is taking place in the barn of. The place is already packed and the music is way too loud, but this atmosphere is perfect for my plans tonight. It doesn’t take two minutes of walking around the party for a drink to be in my hand – what smells like a very potent rum and coke – and a girl to be dragging me towards the dance floor. Taking in the pretty pink dress worn by several other girls – including the one who Colt snagged – I’m assuming that he wasn’t wrong in his slutty wedding sex with a bridesmaid assumption. The girl who is currently dancing very badly but confidently to the Beach Boys is pretty cute, and the more I drink, the hotter she gets.
“I’m going to get another drink!” I holler to her as a slow song comes on and I want to avoid the closeness like the plague.
“No! Come dance with me, handsome stranger.” She gives me bedroom eyes and wraps a perfectly manicured hand around my wrist and drags me towards her.
“No need to tell me your name. I’m trying to get over someone and the best advice I got was to get under someone else, and you’re the lucky guy tonight.” She whispers to me before slowly tracing her tongue my ear, causing me to shiver.
“That’s the shittiest advice I’ve ever heard.” I chuckle, slowly spinning her in a circle to avoid bumping into the other couples.
“Maybe so, but at least it’ll get my mind off things for a few hours.” She shrugs, and I raise my eyebrows.
“You’re giving me a lot of credit there, miss.”
“You look like the kind of guy who can handle himself between the sheets.” She says, gazing up at me before surprising me when she gently slaps her hand against the front of my pants and starts whispering dirty things to me in the middle of the crowd. Literally helpless as she holds my future in her hand, I stand there with her until the song ends and she’s forced to step back. I take a deep gulp of air and hurry to the open bar and order a double shot of whiskey, and then another, and then a third.
I’m startled when a hand slaps my shoulder, but quickly calm back down when I realize it’s just Colt with a stupid silly grin on his face. “Man, I don’t know about you but my bridesmaid is HOT. H-O-T hot! He exclaims, before ordering a shot of bourbon for himself and a screwdriver to take back to his h-o-t hot bridesmaid. Before I can return to my own bridesmaid, I spot the cake table, and figure it’s not going to hurt anybody if I have a small piece of cake. I mean, I guess I need something to absorb the six shots of hard whiskey I just drank back to back to back.
It takes me a while to make it back to where I left the anonymous bridesmaid still on the dance floor, mostly because the alcohol is hitting me a tad bit harder than I was anticipating – probably because it’s been a while since I’ve gone this hard, but I guess that’s what Stella can do to me. After another few songs, and another few shots, I’m very blatantly stumbling over my own feet and slurring my words, which is when my bridesmaid decides it’s time for us to head back to the house where all the wedding party is crashing. Each bridesmaid even gets her own room, apparently. All of a sudden I hear my name being called, questioningly, and then more pronounced, and the next thing I know my bridesmaid has been pushed away and I’m staring into the face of my beautiful Stella, who is frowning at me and looking concerned.
“Beau what are you doing here?” She asks, putting her hands on her hips and drawing my attention to a very short black dress that shows off her amazing legs.
“Drink. Party. Slutty wedding sex. Get over. You.” I mumble, my eyes still glued to her gorgeous legs.
“You’re so stupid.” Stella grumbles, and I give my bridesmaid a helpless look, and she just looks plain annoyed.
“Look, get your own hot guy to fuck tonight, because this one’s mine.” The bridesmaid frowns, stepping in front of me and crossing her arms, telling Stella to back off.
“Shut up, Roxie, and get lost. Beau doesn’t need your herpes infested cooch tonight.” Stella growls, and my heart immediately surges with pride for my girl, standing up for me.
“That’s my girl.” I grin, sloppily trying to pull her into a hug and lay a probably slobbery kiss on her mouth, but that’s the last thing I remember.
What the fuck happened last night? I ask myself as I push myself to a sitting position before realizing what a horrible idea that was. Sunlight is streaming through some window, and I quickly notice it’s not my loft, Stella’s room, or the spare room, so I immediately wonder where I am and how I got here last night. After rubbing my temples for a few minutes, I finally make it into a sitting position and realize I still have all my clothes on, and I’m in a very messy living room. It doesn’t take me long to figure out it’s Colt’s place with all the spare beer cans and pizza boxes lying around, but that doesn’t answer my question of how the fuck did I get here.
“Ah, good morning, sleepyhead.” A way-too-enthusiastic blonde grins, bounding down the stairs in Colt’s shirt he was wearing last night.
“How the hell did I get here?” I ask, managing to move my stiff body from sleeping on the floor onto the couch before rubbing my temples some more.
“I drove. You were passed out in my backseat and Colt and I barely got you inside without hitting your head on something.” She chuckles, getting a mug of coffee and leaning against the counter, watching me.
“Are you just going to sit there and tantalize me with the coffee or are you going to share?” I ask, grumpily at the stranger standing in my best friend’s living room, acting like this is an every-day occurrence.
“I bet you’re wondering what happened.” She guesses, bringing me my own cup of coffee before sitting on the arm of the couch, letting her long legs stretch out under the shirt she’s wearing. Suddenly, I remember thinking about Stella’s legs last night.
“Stella.” I mumble, squeezing my eyes shut as I’m trying to fight away the headache and piece together my life last night.
“Yup. She and some other guy dragged you over to Colt as we were getting ready to leave. You were barely coherent enough to get you into my Jeep, let alone out of it, so I drove here, Colt dragged you inside and we left you there because we didn’t know what to do with you.” She shrugs, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. “I’m Rachel, by the way.”
“Beau.” I murmur, not really paying attention to her as I try to piece back my memory. “I haven’t been blackout drunk since Spring Break in Cancun my sophomore year of college.”
“Damn, guess it has been a while, then.” She laughs, and Colt finally comes down the stairs – wearing only a towel wrapped, I hope securely, around his waist.
“Good morning, babe.” He grins, leaning down and kissing Rachel’s cheek. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this cheerful before, and it’s kind of tripping me out.
“Am I dreaming right now?” I ask, squinting as I trade my looks between the two of them.
“No buddy, you’re not.” Colt answers, pouring himself his own cup of coffee. “But you do need to get your shit together. Rach will drive you back to get your truck.”
And with that, I’m dragging my hungover ass out the door and into the front seat of Rachel’s Jeep Renegade. Over the next few hours, after I got back to the farm and downed a few Tylenol, pieces of last night started coming back to me. There was a really confident, kinda cute bridesmaid who got hotter with every drink. There was a very dirty slow dance. There was Stella, keeping me from having slutty wedding sex to get over her. Apparently it didn’t work too well, because here I am thinking about her. Oh wait, I never actually had slutty wedding sex. Then I remember the bridesmaid who I still don’t know/remember her name storming off after Stella told her to get lost and said something about her cooch. And then I remember yelling at Stella until I was literally trying to get in her face so badly that I tripped over my own two feet and would have fallen into her if Connor hadn’t caught me. I even remembered Stella bitching to Colt about me, until I stumbled into the car and woke up at his house.
After I remembered everything I said to Stella last night, I made it a point to steer clear of her until I can figure out how to apologize for how I acted. She didn’t deserve anything I said. I mean, I was the one who ended things. I shouldn’t have to go get blackout drunk to forget her for a night. I guess seeing her is inevitable though, so when I pull the tractor back into the driveway while she’s giving Zeus a bath, I kill the engine in the middle of the road and jump out and jog to her. She turns her hose on me, glaring at me in an attempt to keep me away from her, but I really need to apologize.
“Stella, I’m sorry for everything.” I sigh, holding my hands up in surrender and trying to avoid rushing to her and holding her when I realize she’s crying.
“You should be.” She shouts, throwing the hose at me and storming into the house, leaving poor Zeus all sudsy and tied to the fence. I realize I should probably leave her alone right now, but I can’t help it. She needs to hear me through, so I follow her inside, softly knocking on her door. “Go away!”
Even after she yells through the door, I twist the knob, completely ignoring her wishes, and push my way in, carefully peaking around the door. “Please don’t throw anything at me. I came to apologize. I know I was childish last night, and you didn’t deserve any of the harsh things I said to you.”
I take in her quivering lip and put my head in my hands as I grab her desk chair and sit in it. “Then why did you say them?” She asks, looking at me with her big, brown eyes, and the heartbreak I see inside them is 10x worse than the heartbreak I saw when we ended things.
“I was drunk. I was angry that you brought Connor home already. I thought that by sleeping with another girl, it’d help me get over you. I don’t know, I guess there isn’t an excuse though.” I sigh, glancing at her, and trying to plead with my eyes for her to forgive me.
“Why were you so angry that I brought Connor home? It doesn’t make sense that you’d be angry. You seemed to like him enough over Spring Break, so what changed?” She asks, wiping a stray tear from her cheek.
“Uh, I was always suspicious of him. I always figured he wanted to be more than friends with you even on that trip, and when you brought him home only a month after we broke up, I guess my fears were confirmed. I didn’t think you’d move on that fast, and I guess I was just hurt by that fact. I know I should be more supportive of you, especially if you love him, but seeing you with someone else hurt, Stel.” I explain, and she shakes her head.
“That’s what you thought?” She asks, slightly laughing.
“Yeah?” I question, frowning at how she finds this funny.
“You really are stupid, Beau. Connor is gay! There is no relationship between us besides purely friendship.” She says, and I frown at that ridiculous lie.
“No way. I’ve seen how you look at him. I mean, why else would you have blown off our date last month to go on a date with him? It’s cool that you love him, but you don’t have to lie to my face about it.” I growl, standing up and heading for the door before she grabs my hand and yanks me back to the chair.
“How dare you accuse me of lying about this? Ask him yourself, Beau. Connor is 100 percent into men. He’s as much into men as I am. That ‘date’ we went on last month? I was going as a buffer for his date with a dude – another 100 percent gay dude. He came home with me this summer because he has an aunt in town staying with his parents who doesn’t support him and thinks he needs shock therapy to turn him into a ‘normal’ boy or whatever. The woman is awful, so obviously I told him he could spend a few weeks here while she’s in town. Connor and I are friends, Beau. That’s all we will ever be.” Stella shakes her head at me, and I sit dumbfounded at how stupid I was being the whole time.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” I ask, suddenly realizing how much sense it makes now.
“I figured you’d figure it out eventually! What straight guy is an artist, knows his designers, wears his hair and clothes like that, and even talks like he does? Come on, Beau, you couldn’t have been that blind.” She rolls her eyes, and I realize just how jealous I actually was of him, and end up hanging my head.
“You’re right. I guess I was just so jealous that I was picturing things that weren’t really there. I feel so stupid.” I sigh, rubbing my hands down my face in defeat.
“I can’t believe you thought I was cheating on you. Why didn’t you just confront me about it? Is that the reason why you dumped me?” She asks, suddenly horrified.
I can’t do anything but keep my eyes trained on her comforter, and when I do finally glance at her face, all I can see is pain and hurt written across it. “Everything made sense to me at the time.” I shrug, suddenly feeling horrible.
“I can’t believe you didn’t trust me. I can’t believe that the 10 months we spent together meant absolutely nothing to you and that you felt you couldn’t talk to me about anything.” She whimpers, and I suddenly feel my heart break as I realize she’s right, and that there’s absolutely nothing I can do now to fix things between us. Once that trust was broken, I’ll never be able to build the wall back as solidly as it was before.
“Those 10 months meant everything to me, Stel.” I whisper, standing up and finally heading for the door.