The memory of my own words taunted me as I reached for the pen in his extended hand. Every fibre in my body screamed at me to run.
How did I end up in this situation, again? This is all wrong.
I held the black pen adorned with gold lines. My eyes found the iconic white Montblanc emblem inlaid in the cap top, and I scoffed. It was the same pen I sold my gold earrings to buy for him as a gift years ago. Even the tool to my mistake reminded me of how foolish I had been, and how I shouldn't repeat the same mistake twice.
But I’m not the twenty years old girl I once was, head over heels in love with her best friend.
I looked straight at him with a confidence I didn't feel, hoping my eyes would tell him just that. I've no idea what game he was playing, nor what he’d gain from this mess. All I knew was that I'd never fall in his trap again.
Dread crawled under my skin, threatening to crack my façade. I tightened my hold on the pen to prevent my hand from shaking. I couldn’t show him any weakness.
I looked at the paper in front of me as a lump formed in my throat. He already signed it, but I couldn’t seem to force my hand to jot the few strokes I once did with a stupid grin on my face and happy tears in my eyes.
I took a deep breath. My eyes travelled around the notary's office as I exhaled. Plain white walls, an almost empty room with only a desk and the three chairs we were sitting on, and two sets of eyes looking at me made it look like a business deal. A trade.
As it should be.
It wasn't a second chance. It was a mere contract.
I was sure he got the message, if the disappointment in his eyes when I showed up, in my hoodie and worn out sneakers, sweat dripping from my forehead after my morning run, was any indication.
My eyes drifted back to the contract. This is suicide. I sighed. But there’s no escape, I already said yes. Here goes nothing.
I signed the marriage contract, threw the pen on the desk and stood as if the seat was on fire. My chest tightened, but I had to piss him off before I leave. I wiped my sweaty hand on the side of my pant and extended it to shake his, a fake smile on my face.
“Thank you Mr. Adam.”
The tightness in his jaw didn't go unnoticed by me, but he shook my hand nevertheless. I smiled to myself and walked toward the door. He called me as I expected. Now, I had to bite my lip to stop my laughter.
“You’re coming to live with me.”
“Uhuh,” I said, without looking back.
“Next week... I didn't pack.”
“You already know we’re getting married today. Why didn't you prepare yourself?”
I turned to face him, raising an eyebrow. All trace of humour left me.
“It slipped my mind. I was busy with important things. Next week, I’ll move in with you.” I turned and left the office.
Truth was I did pack everything, but he should have known better than to order me like that.
Leaving the building, a few droplets of rain caressed my cheeks where my tears should've been.
I tightened the hoodie around my face as I walked the small distance to my bakery, leaving behind a problem I wouldn't be able to avoid for long. The cold weather urged me to walk faster in hope that I’d lose myself with the people on the street. However, in a small town like ours, you couldn’t. There were always smiles you had to reciprocate, faces you had to greet and eyes—that knew more than they should—you needed to avoid.
My steps slowed as I approached the closed door of the bakery. It had been a week since we closed our business. I turned the key in the door lock as people walked behind me, not sparing me a glance. Nobody cared that sweat, tears and blood were put in this dream, but it was now gone.
My heart sunk deep in my stomach, rooting me in place at a sight I couldn’t get used to.
The inside was dark and empty, mirroring my own. The delicious aroma of fresh pastries was replaced by the smell of fresh paint.
Even this place's moving on. Why can't I?
I turned the lights on and went to the kitchen. It was pristine clean. I made sure of it myself when I scrubbed everything yesterday.
I strolled around, checking every corner for a missed spot or any item that was left behind. I couldn’t find any.
It was ten in the morning. The land lord would arrive any moment. I took my phone out of my pocket and called my friend and co-founder of the bakery, Janice.
“Well, hello, lovely bride. Congratula—”
“Janice, please, now is not the time for your jokes.” I said, flinching at her high pitched voice.
“I’m not joking. I’m really happy that you’ve given the man a chance. Maybe he has changed. I know he's still in love with you. Why else would he ask you to marry him again?”
Her infectious enthusiasm should be shut down this moment.
“He’s not, and even if he’s, I don’t love him anymore.”
“Don’t be stubborn, child. Life is too short to keep a grudge. Open your heart and maybe you’ll be lucky like me to still be in love at the age of seventy.”
“Janice,” I laughed, leaning on the counter, “You met Harold only two years ago. You make it sound like he’s your long life husband.”
“My point is, don’t waste your youth. You’re married to him anyway. Just try to make it work.”
Easy for her to say. The woman was still in the honeymoon phase, whereas I had known Adam all my life and had been married to him for six years. He’d never change. He never did. Not for me... Not for our daughter. He was a good person overall. It’s the things he couldn’t master that pushed me away, like being a husband and a father. He couldn’t do that to save his life.
“How is Jenna? Did she ask about me?”
“She’s such a good girl. She asked about you yesterday when she went to sleep, but during the day I’m keeping her busy so she won’t miss you too much. Did you finish everything?”
“Yeah, it was a crazy week. Everything is ready at last. I’m in the bakery, waiting for Harold to give him the keys. I’ll come by after that. Tell her she’s coming home today. Thanks, Janice, for taking care of her.”
“Don’t mention it, love. It’s the least I can do.”
The front door opened with a low creak that made me look towards the entrance.
“Janice I have to ran. Harold's here. Bye.”
Her faint goodbye was lost to my ears as I lowered the phone, tapping the red button. Slow footsteps approached. My eyes scanned the room for a last time. I went to the door, my hand trailing once again on the countertop.
Everything is clean.
My hand froze midway to my pocket as the voice calling my name wasn’t Harold’s.
My steps quickened towards the door, anger flaring.
“What are you doing here?” I said when Adam's figure blocked the door.
He was still wearing the same grey suit with burgundy t-shirt as earlier. His bald bearded face was set in the natural deep frown it froze in since he hit puberty...like any other caveman.
His black eyes travelled around the kitchen then settled on me and never left. I knew he wouldn’t speak because cavemen only grunt and growl. So, I said, “Just leave already. The land lord’s about to arrive. I don’t have time for this.”
“I’ll wait,” he said and left.
I stood there with raised eyebrows.
I’m not looking forward to living with him.
Harold came at last. The sweet old man was a father figure to me for the longest time. He sighed upon seeing the shop empty.
“Sweetheart, I’m sorry you had to close your business because of me.”
“Hey, no worries, I know you don’t have a choice. I’m more sad that you and Janice are leaving and I wouldn’t be able to visit you guys.”
“Yeah, I know. I never thought I’d go back to Greece, but when my brother asked me, I couldn’t say no. He raised me after all. The least I can do is to grant him one of his last wishes.”
“It’s the right thing to do. Also, Janice will love it in there.” I said as I handed him the keys.
“You have no idea, she’s more excited than I am.” He chuckled, shaking his head.
We exited the shop. I waited for him to lock the door, then I said, “By the way, tell Janice I’ll pass by later. Something came up.”
“I’ll tell her that the bride got busy.” He said, wiggling his eyebrows and nodding towards Adam who was leaning on my beat up truck.
“Harold,” I gasped, “You’re worse than your wife.”
I chuckled despite the tightness in my chest. I dragged my heavy feet towards my truck. The sun shone behind me, sending small needles to my back.
I should’ve gone home earlier and took a shower.
The first days of autumn were always like this. Dark and rainy one minute, then it was all sunny. I hated it.
“Let’s go home,” Adam said, standing, before I even reach his side.
I sighed, taking the keys out of my pocket. “I told you I didn’t pack.” I said as I unlocked the car.
I looked at him, mouth open, but no words came out of it. Our eyes clashed and I shut my mouth, clenching my jaw.
No need to deny it. He knows me too well. I’m a planner. I never let my tasks pile up. It makes me too anxious.
“I have to bring Jenna from Janice’s house.”
“Let her stay the night. We need to talk.”
“Talk?” I scoffed, rubbing my temples. “Just let me be. It’s been a long week.” I didn’t mean for my voice to quiver, but every door was shut in my face and I needed a break.
His eyes were fixed on my face, reading tales I hid from the world behind a smile and the well practised lie of “I’m fine”. The abyssal depth of his eyes saw it all. The lack of sleep in the darkness under my eyes, the trace of tears in my bloodshot eyes and the paleness of my face from the lack of food.
He grunted, nodding. My shoulders sagged in relief, but then he said, “Go get some rest then come home tonight.”
My eyes widened as I raised my hands and slammed them at the sides of my thighs.
“You never listen, do you?”
I glowered at him, eyebrows knit together. I reached for the door handle and pulled at it with all my might. It didn’t budge. I tried again to no avail. Heat crawled to my face from both anger and embarrassment.
“You, rusty trap.” I said through clenched teeth. It gave in at my third attempt. I hopped in and drove away, in a way slower pace than it should compared to the force I used on it.
“I’m not coming tonight,” I said to myself, hitting the drive wheel. “Thick head. He’ll never change.” I curled my lip as his figure shrunk in the rear-view mirror.