RYDER (Antagonist to Lovers)

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C H A P T E R | 11

J U L I E
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Julie arrived to a cute brick cottage in an old subdivision which was surrounded by two acres of lavish land just outside of Connellsville, Pennsylvania, about twenty minutes from where the gym was. Tall trees and rolling hills surrounded it, the front yard full of copious amounts of yard decorations that were accentuated with carefully arranged flowers. The garden grew with the health that could only be given by a green thumb like Dolores. There was even a small greenhouse off her kitchen for herbs.

Dolores was on her front porch and when Julie arrived, wind chimes sand an unwritten song by nature as Dolores greeted Julie with a hug, to which she leaned into after not having one in so long.

They went inside the cottage, the home smelling like a bakery and incense. It was more modern than Julie expected with a lot of renovated touches, although the dark wood looked original. On the walls were images of Dolores and a young woman who was the elder’s spitting image. Hardly any of a husband. I’ll have to ask about that when I can.

“How was the cookout?” Dolores asked, shutting her large front door that was painted a mint green.

Julie wanted to lay out every detail possible, but decided to start small. “Good. Short lived for me. The guys are all talking about Warlord and I start to blend into the background. So I decided to come here.”

“What is Warlord again?” Dolores asked, leading Julie to a small but well stocked kitchen.

The backsplash was a gray subway tile, the cabinets white and the island painted the same mint green, all topped with wooden countertops. Large, paned windows covered the walls to let in inordinate amounts of sunlight, and plants bloomed in every free space that Dolores could find. It was like a greenhouse that doubled as a kitchen.

“It’s a competition for UFC fighters. Big money to win,” Julie said, sitting down at an old wooden table with fresh scones on a plate in the middle. Dolores put some hot water on the old gas stove.

“Do you have any good fighters?”

“We do, actually. One, specifically. His name is Joey Ryder. Was a pretty big hot shot years ago,” Julie said, feeling at home here. It reminded her of her grandmother’s from years ago, eyeing the backyard through the windows.

Dolores poured water into a yellow watering pot as she asked, “Something on your mind dear? You don’t seem as chipper.”

Julie looked at Dolores, the sunlight catching dust through the air. “Oh, uh--nothing, really,” she lamely lied.

Dolores chuckled, watering the many plants, a few of them bonsais. “You’re acting how my daughter did when she wanted to tell me something.”

“You have a daughter?”

“I did. She died five years ago from cervical cancer,” Dolores said, a sadness in her tone upheld by a pained acceptance.

Julie’s jaw dropped, her brows furrowing as a chill ran down her spine. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s alright. It’s why I like new young faces. I have a lot of motherin’ left in me, so I figure now I should just spread it,” she said, her smile reaching her eyes in a way that could only be described as bittersweet.

Julie looked at the scones on the dining table that had blueberries in them. “The scones look amazing.Do you need help with anything?”

“No, please, just sit,” she said, reaching up high to water a hanging plant.

“I really appreciate this, you know. My mom doesn’t call, so this is nice for me to chat with you. I miss having someone around that’s not a bunch of sweaty men.”

Dolores’ kind face fell to indignation, the slow whistling of the boiling pot like a personification of her offense. “She doesn’t call? Why not?”

Julie fidgeted with her hands as Dolores brought teacups over. “She favored my brother. Her and I never really got a long. She wanted me to a cheerleader but I stuck to gymnastics; she wanted me to wear more dresses, but I liked pockets and pants; she likes designer purses, but I stick to Target. You know, that basic drama. After Jeremy died she’s been off with my cousin whose a freshman in college. Her and my mom get along a lot better.”

“That’s awful. Especially since she knows what it’s like to lose a child,” Dolores said, placing a bag of tea in each cup as she poured hot water into them, steam spiraling into the air.

She didn’t want to linger on that, feeling horrible for making Dolores even slight upset. “It’s alright. I got my dad. He’s really amazing. They’re divorced now, and it’s even kind of nice—I can openly tell him about my problems with mom and he gets it,” Julie said, placing her hands on the warm mug. “And I met you, so it’s all working out.”

Dolores gave a genuine, closed-lip smile, sitting down in the creaking, wooden chair. “So what did you want to talk about, then?”

Julie sighed, her lips half-curled upward. “I’ll warn you: it’s pure drama, and me being full of self-pity. It’s not that interesting.”

“That’s alright, honey. Get it off your chest.”

Julie wanted to hug the woman and felt horrible for taking the time to speak about the ills of her life, but she didn’t realize how much she needed a motherly figure as once she began, it all spilled out. “I’m just a little lost in life, you know? I had this huge plan with Jeremy to help him build his gym. I loved hanging out with him every day and getting lunches together. I kind of saw the both of us finding our people and getting married, having kids, and having this super fun life and dad would eventually move out here, and we’d have big Christmas’s, and I could cook the turkeys for Thanksgiving,” said, pausing as her eyes stung with tears that begged to flow. “Then he died.”

Julie took a scone, breaking it open so it wasn’t just her sitting there talking, trying to distract herself from crying. “And I’m just more confused than ever because I feel really lonely. I don’t have family here, and I can’t seem to find a guy that I like. Anyway, this is super embarrassing” --Julie glanced up at Dolores, who watched with caring eyes-- “Is this too much? We can change the subject if we need.”

Dolores took a careful sip of her tea. “You know, I used to be a social worker before I started my nursery garden. Really, I like helping people like this. Go ahead.”

Julie took a bite of the scone to give her a moment to go over everything in her mind, but her eyes shot wide open. “These are amazing, Dolores. I can never get my scones like this.”

“Oh, do you bake?”

“I love to.”

Dolores chuckled. “Well, one day I’ll have you come over and we can bake more scones. Pumpkin season is coming, and I love pumpkin scones.”

“You have no idea how much I’d love that,” Julie said, putting her scone down. She glanced back up at Dolores. “You’re seriously just what I needed in my life right now.”

Dolores took a bite of her pastry, and for a random moment, Julie wondered if Dolores could make Dampfnudels. “That’s why I love the JC. It brings people together, and like bees, we are social creatures.”

Maybe she knows a good answer to my problems. “Can I ask a you question about men?”

“If course,” she said, holding the scone up like one might with a glass of wine.

“There’s this guy at the gym called Cody that really fell for me two years ago. We sort of almost dated, but he just doesn’t do it for me. Like he does, in many ways, but there’s a lack of a spark. I see him and feel warm and comfortable, but I don’t get butterflies. I mean I did at the very beginning, but it never hit me deep, you know?” She paused, getting lost in how good it felt to get this off of her chest. “Can that be built? I’m nearing thirty and honestly, I just want to come home to someone. And Cody would be a great guy to come home to.”

Dolores sighed, taking a bite of her scone. “You know, I was married in the early seventies. We lasted for a few years before I cut ties with him. I loved him, and he was a great source of comfort when our daughter passed, but Bob never made me feel how Kenny Williams did,” she said, something glinting in her eyes as she looked out to her backyard through the window.

Julie curiously grinned. “Who is Kenny Williams?”

“A handsome man that I met at the wrong time. I married Bob, my ex husband, then met Kenny a year in. I stuck it out with Bob, especially since we had just had our daughter Sharon, but Kenny showed me that I chosen the wrong man. Bob had a great job, treated women well, but he wasn’t my lover. He was essentially a roommate that I had ‘okay’ sex with, but I didn’t know any better until Ken took me for a ride on his Harley one evening...By the time I left Bob, Ken married another woman.”

Julie frowned. “Oh, that sucks.”

“Yeah, sucks is putting it lightly,” Dolores said with a laugh, which turned into a sigh, her smile remaining. “It’s alright, though. He is still with his wife and I am happy for him, but he still showed me what falling in love is really like; what it can be. The point is, even if you want to settle, you should know there are two types of loneliness. One is while you’re in a relationship, and the other is when you’re at home, alone. I’d always choose being home alone than being married, but feeling lonely.”

“But what if I am always lonely at home?” Julie asked, fearing that with an immensity that she didn’t know until her brother left her.

Dolores’ eyes were stern. “I’d rather spend one year with Kenny and forty years alone, then forty years with Bob, but never getting the chance to meet my next Kenny.”

Julie looked at her tea, those words washing over her like a splash of cold water, wondering if her ‘Kenny’ was around the corner.

She hoped he was. How badly she wanted that.

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