Mending Heart

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Chapter 16

Full of Surprises

“Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.” – Alice Walker

“I am never drinking again.” Megan groaned, pressing the ice pack harder against her forehead. She was currently laying down on my couch, eyes closed and feet propped up.

After I left Ethan’s office last night, I returned to the VIP lounge to see Megan and Sammy dancing on the table, with Megan seconds away from flashing everyone within the vicinity.

Turns out that after I left, they took it upon themselves to order a bottle of tequila and finish it before I had come back. It took some persuading, but around three in the morning I finally convinced everyone it was time to call it a night.

I had surprised even myself with how responsible I was being.

Normally I’d be the first one to say another drink, but I was pretty worn out last night. Any more alcohol and I don’t know how any of us would have made it home.

“I had to pry the glass out of your hand last night.” I peered over at her from above the rim of my steamy coffee mug. I too had a slight hangover, but it was nowhere near as bad as Megan’s.

“Please don’t remind me.” She opened one of her eyes, stealing a glance in my direction. “You know sharing is caring.” She glared at my mug.

I nodded, reaching into the cabinet above the sink and grabbing another mug.

“You guys talk too much.” Zoey chose that exact moment to walk in. Her hair was tangled in a messy bun, and she was still dressed in her yellow SpongeBob pajamas, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.

She’s been staying with me for over a week now, and while I love her to death, it was time for her to go home.

The first few days were fun – we watched all the crappy movies on Netflix, and ate so much take out I don’t think I could stomach another slice of pizza for a while. However, I can’t exactly walk around naked anymore, or have company over.

It was also time for her and mom to kiss and make up.

“Good morning to you too.” I laughed. Here I thought, I wasn’t a morning person.

“There is nothing good about the morning.” She grumbled, snatching the coffee from my hands.

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz

“Does that thing ever stop ringing?” Zoey glared at my phone on the counter.

Picking it up, Ethan’s name stared back at me.

Ethan: What are you doing today?

Kenzie: Depends.

Ethan: On?

Kenzie: What you want.

“Uh-oh.” Zoey taunted. “She’s smiling down at her phone.”

“Shut up.” I rolled my eyes, placing it once again face down on the counter. “Are you guys hungry?”

“That must be Ethan.” Zoey flashed me a grin. “And to answer your question, I am starving.”

Meanwhile, Megan shouted, “What?”

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

Ethan: For you to come over.

Surprise flashed across my face, and I tried to quickly hide it before either Megan or Zoey noticed. While Ethan and I had spent a significant amount of time together, I am just now realizing that I’ve never been to his place.

A flutter begins to form in my abdomen, tugging at my heart.

“She only smiles like that for one person,” Zoey replied in a sing-song voice, bouncing on her heels.

Kenzie: Only if you can promise me a good time.

Ethan: Always.

“You two really need to mind your own business.” I tried to hide the stupid smile that had unwillingly made its way onto my face by reaching into the cabinet next to the sink for a pan.

After a night of drinking, eggs and bacon are the only cure for a hangover. That, and it was one of the very few things I could make without burning down the apartment.

“And you,” I pointed at Zoey. “Need to go home.”

“You’re kicking me out?” Her face fell and her eyes widened.

“You don’t live here.” I rolled my eyes. “Plus, you and mom need to make up and stop acting like children.”

“She always starts it!” She mumbled, refusing to meet my gaze. “Why can’t she just leave me alone. It’s like, nothing I ever do is good enough for her.”

“Zoey...” I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose. I mean, what do you say to that. “You know that’s not true.”

I can understand where she’s coming from because mom is harsh on her for no reason. I don’t think parents understand how much their actions affect their children. While I think mom viewed her actions as trying to discipline Zoey and doing what’s best for her, Zoey saw it as a way for mom to constrict her.

It’s been theorized that our adult personality develops from early childhood experiences. There’s been countless studies and extensive clinical research which has found links between a parents’ behavior during childhood, and how the child acts as an adult.

Looks like those intro to psychology classes I took in college weren’t for nothing, I thought.

“Yeah, right.” Zoey snorted, plopping down on a stool. “It’s a never-ending battle with her. Nothing is ever good enough.”

“Look,” I wiped my hands on a kitchen towel. “You are always welcome to stay with me, but you can’t run away from your problems. Soon enough you’ll be going away to college, and the two of you can get some distance.” Earlier in the week, Zoey had told me that she accepted Penn State’s offer for admission, primarily because it was almost 600 miles away from home and she could get some space from mom.

That’s rich coming from you, my subconscious reminded me. You’re constantly running away from your problems.

Pushing the annoying little voice in the back of my head, I continued, “I’m not saying mom is innocent – hell no! But you also need to understand that she’s a parent who just wants what’s best for you.”

“She sure has a funny way of showing it,” Zoey replied, her lips pursed in defiance.

“We’ll go over tomorrow and if you two still can’t work it out, you can keep staying here.” I sighed heavily, cracking four eggs into a bowl.


After Megan had gathered enough strength to get off my couch – her words, not mine – she finally went home, leaving just Zoey and me.

By the time I left to go meet Ethan, Zoey was snuggled on the couch in front of the Tv ready to binge yet another random series. Slipping on my favorite pair of Converse, I said, “Call me if you need anything.”

“I won’t!” She shouted. “I wouldn’t want to interrupt your sex life. As a matter of fact, get some for those of us who aren’t!”

“Zoey!” My head whipped in her direction. She was trying to stifle her laugh and failing miserably. “I do not need to know about your sex life, just like you don’t need to know about mine!”

“Oh please – don’t be such a prude.”

“I’m not. But you better be!”

Her response was to shrug before returning her attention to the screen in front of her.

“I’m leaving now.” Grabbing my purse and keys, I glanced back at Zoey one more time before closing the door behind me.

I cannot believe my baby sister just said that, I shuddered. She may be almost eighteen years old, but to me, she’ll always be the five-year-old running around in the living room in her pink tutu screaming at the top of her lungs.


It took me about thirty minutes on the highway before I pulled up into Ethan’s driveway. His house was a modern two-story contemporary residential-style home. The exterior was decorated with clean beige stone, and large plated glass windows adorned the front.

As I made my way up the five steps leading to the front door, my fingers reached out to ring the doorbell while my eyes wandered around the surroundings. The garage door was open, revealing Ethan’s Porsche and a dark blue Jeep Wrangler with the doors taken off.

His house screamed modern and expensive, even though all I had seen was the outside.

“McKenzie,” Ethan answered, a smile tugging at his lips. He looked as handsome as ever, dressed in a pair of regular jeans and a plain black t-shirt that emphasized his defined upper body. “Come in.”

“I have to say,” I glanced around, my eyes taking in the interior. “This is not what I was expecting.”

“No?” He cocked an eyebrow, an amused smile present.

“No,” I shook my head. “I was expecting gold plated staircases, fancy marble floors, maids running around everywhere – you know, the whole shebang.”

“Sorry to disappoint, Cupcake.” He shrugged with an easy grin. Just then, the annoying classic iPhone ringer started to go off. Ethan rolled his eyes and let out an exasperated sigh, pulling out his phone from his back pocket. “Give me five minutes.”

“Sure,” I replied, setting my purse on the back of the sofa. The furniture was elegant and simple, accentuated by the sunlight illuminating through the large panel windows. I continued to wander around the first floor until I found myself in the kitchen. The white granite countertops blended in well with the white cabinets and stainless steel appliances, highlighting the farmhouse-style interior design of the entire house.

I was admiring the backyard patio through the casement windows right above the sink when I heard Ethan’s footsteps approaching. Looking over my shoulder, I saw him enter – furiously typing on his phone.

“Everything okay?” I asked, leaning against the granite countertop.

“Fine.” He dismissed. Although he looked as handsome as ever, the dark markings under his eyes were becoming more and more visible every day.

“You know, it’s okay to take a day off.”

“Taking a day off isn’t a luxury I have, Cupcake.”

“What was it you said to me?” I smiled innocently. “I believe were your exact words were, make the time then.”

Choosing to ignore my comment, he asked, “Are you hungry?”

“Starving,” I replied. Although I had made Megan and Zoey breakfast, I wasn’t hungry at the time. “Something greasy, please. To help with the hangover.”

“Ah, yes.” He smirked. “How was your night?”

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes as I watched him take out different ingredients from the fridge and set them on the counter. “Eh – you know, it was okay. Could’ve been better.”

“Is that so?” He asked, arching his eyebrows. He reached out, taking my hands in his and pulling me closer so that I was pressed against his body. “What exactly could have been better, Cupcake.”

“The company,” I smirked teasingly. Ethan’s hold on me tightened and he hoisted me up on the counter. A sharp gasp left my lips at the sudden movement.

He caressed my cheek gently with one hand, lowering his head so that we were at eye level. “If I recall, that’s not what you were saying last night when you were screaming my name.”

Heat engulfed my cheeks as I tried to look away from him.

“You’re cute when you blush.” He smirked, tangling his free hand in my hair and placing his lips on mine. I immediately relaxed under his touch, allowing myself to get lost in the feel of his lips on mine.

Pulling back for air, I slipped my arms around his waist and smiled sweetly up at him. “Like I said, the company could’ve been better.”

“I’ll keep that in mind for next time.” Mischief laced his voice, and his eyes darkened slightly. Untangling himself from me, Ethan began chopping up some of the veggies he had taken out while I dangled my feet off the counter.

“Are you feeling better?” He asked after a few moments of silence, his back turned to me.

“Kinda,” I mumbled, all of a sudden finding the cuticles on my nails very interesting.

“You’ve got to open up, McKenzie.” He stole a glance in my direction over his shoulder. “It’s not good to keep it all bottled up.”

“I know.” I sighed heavily. “It’s just hard.”

“It’s only hard because you make it.”

“Well – what do you want to know?” I asked cautiously. I don’t think I’m ready to open up about my entire life story just yet, but maybe letting him in won’t be such a bad thing. Maybe it’ll help alleviate some of what I’m feeling.

“What happened last week?” He asked, once again walking to the fridge and taking out a Whole Foods wrapped bundle. I watched as he unwrapped it to reveal two pieces of steak, and began seasoning them.

“My ex-husband.” I tried to keep my voice leveled.

“How long were you married for?” He placed the steaks on one plate and the cut-up veggies on another. Motioning for me to follow him, we walked out onto the patio. There was a striking black pergola all the way to the left, adjacent to a large L-shaped grill island. A few feet away to the right, there was also a lounge area sunken to create a cozy vibe around a sleek fire pit. A few plants were also scattered around, and wintergreen boxwood shrubs lined the fence.

“About six years,” I replied, closing the kitchen door behind us.

“What happened?”

“We wanted different things. He wanted the boring suburban life while I wanted to travel. I spent my twenties, how I should have spent my forties.” I shrugged, avoiding his gaze. “That, and the fact that he was cheating on me.”

I don’t know why I told him that last part, but the words were out of my mouth before I could stop myself.

His eyes snapped up to meet mine, and I saw the flare of anger in them. “The guy’s a fucking idiot then.”

“It’s whatever.”

“It’s not whatever.” He walked around the grill island until he stood in front of me. “Listen to me McKenzie, his actions are not a reflection on you. You did nothing to cause or deserve it. You’re fucking amazing, and the fact that he couldn’t see that, only confirms what a moron he is.”

I nodded dumbly, training my eyes on the grill behind him.

“It’s not too late to start living the life you want.” His lips pursed, and his eyes flickered with some internal debate.

“I know,” I bit down on my lower lip which caused Ethan’s eyes to immediately drop to my mouth. “I just feel like I wasted so much time.”

“It’s never too late, McKenzie. Start putting yourself first for once.” He said before placing a soft, lingering kiss on my lips.


“Oh my god!” I moaned into another mouthful of food. “This is so good, Ethan.”

He chuckled in response, cutting his steak into pieces. After my surprise confession to Ethan, he had cooked our food while I sat and watched, idly chatting about lighter topics. He told me about his family and childhood, while I tried to refrain from talking about mine too much.

I think I had done enough sharing for today.

“How are you so perfect?” I demanded, setting my utensils down.

“Trust me, Cupcake I’m far from perfect.” Ethan snorted and gave me a weary look. “There are things you don’t know about me; things I’m not proud of.

“Oh please, did you blow a stop sign or something?” I scoffed, arching an eyebrow. “Or no, let me guess – you forgot to give half of your paycheck to charity this month?”

“Maybe one day I’ll tell you, Cupcake.” He shook his head, a dry smile playing on his lips. “For now, eat your food.”


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