“Babe, how are you feeling?”
I look up from my computer screen, not seeing what’s in front of me anyway. “Okay…” The expression on Val’s face tells me she knows I’m lying. I sigh and sit back, confessing, “Not really.” I have a shitty hangover. It would be worse if I didn’t throw up. Sadly, I threw up on Rod. What’s worse—maybe not for Rod—was I said things to Finn that I don’t remember. Rod said it was funny, but I doubt it.
“What can I do for you?” Her motherly concern is nice.
Biting my lip, I angle my head as my eyes fall on my desk. “Wave your magic wand and make it all go away.”
“Oh, honey. I wish I could. I can’t believe this happened.”
I told Val that Finn cheated on me with Cara. I just couldn’t give her details. I already relive them enough. So far, nobody else seems to know.
When I called Bethany, she cried with me.
When I told my dad, it upset him, and I could tell that Finn cut him deep, too.
“I can’t believe it happened either. I guess my aura wasn’t as hopeful as you thought, Val.”
I hear her inhale. “I asked Paloma about your aura. We can talk about that later. Oh, I forgot to tell you that Brandon got a call from Drake Emerson, one of the other sportscasters at you-know-who’s station.” I sadly smile at Val’s effort to spare me hearing his name. “Drake said he will coach our next game. He wants to meet with us an hour beforehand to get to know the team. I’m not sure if this is a permanent thing… He said Ricky has to work, so…” At least Finn found a replacement. That’s kind of thoughtful. It’ll be weird around Ricky, but he was sympathetic to me, even after what he had done in his past, and after I had assaulted his best friend.
“I don’t know if I can play after what happened. It’ll be too hard.”
“I know, babe. Skip some games. If anyone asks, it’s under your doctor’s advisement from your accident.”
“I’m here!” Morgan glides into my office and around my desk, grabbing me into an enveloping hug. I easily dissolve into cries and wracking heaves. Val hugs me from behind. I hear Morgan and Val whispering above me, but can’t discern what they’re saying.
Morgan squats next to my chair. “Okay, so I want to take you to get a new phone.” I sniff and grab for a tissue. “Then later, we’re going for a ride.”
As I dry my eyes, I’m apprehensive. “Where?”
“It’s a surprise.” She glances up at Val and smiles. “Everything will be okay, Hadley.”
Morgan convinced me to change my phone number, so I don’t get calls from Finn. I didn’t want to at first, but she told me when I’m ready, I can email him my new number, or she or Rod can give it to him. I still can’t talk to him, but I might sometime.
Rod said Finn texted him he’ll never give up on me. I don’t know how I feel about that. I didn’t run to someone else. Sex was the last thing on my mind as my world fell apart. How could it be at the forefront of his?
Not in the mindset to mess with my new, complicated phone, Morgan takes it and my list of names to add to my phone contacts.
Before Val leaves for a meeting, she comes around my desk and gives me another hug. “I love you, babe. We’ll help you through this.” I nod against her and sigh as my eyes tear up again. Anymore, I would cry less, cutting an onion.
As she leaves, I look back to my computer and see an email from Simone Garrison. Shit. Finn must’ve given her my email address. My eyes fill with fresh tears as I read her email, begging me to have lunch with her. After much reluctance, I agree to meet her in the cafeteria.
Feeling nervous to face Simone, I take my time going downstairs. Does she pity me, or does she think I’m a callous bitch for not forgiving her brother?
As I step off the elevator, I see Simone sitting on a bench near the front entrance. When she notices me, she bounds over, throwing her arms around my shoulders.
“Jesus, Hadley,” she says, squeezing me. “I’m sorry. I can’t believe… I don’t know what to say.”
Stepping out of her hug, I anxiously twist my ponytail while looking out the large windows, still unsure if this is a ruse, and she brought Finn with her.
Accepting that he isn’t here, I nod over my shoulder for her to follow me. When we walk past the guards, I fold my arms and ask, “So, how did you find out? Did he call you, saying I’m making a deal out of it?”
Her forehead wrinkles, and she frowns. “No, he didn’t. I called him because I’m in town staying with a friend until I can move into my dorm.” Oh, right. She’s going to school here soon. “Ricky answered my brother’s phone, and he told me you two broke up.”
We walk into the cafeteria, but we find a table instead of getting food. As we sit, she swipes her cheeks and blinks at me, explaining, “At first, I thought it was like the one you guys had at my mom’s, about those issues. I went to his apartment to tell Finn how stupid he is, but when I got there, I found him hiding in his office, on the futon. Ricky said he wouldn’t move from it, refusing to sleep in his own bed. Finn called off work, but he was in trouble anyway when they found out it involved him in a domestic disturbance. So, I confronted my brother about it, and he confirmed that you broke up with him.”
I clear my throat and play with my pink blouse’s sleeves. “Did he tell you why?”
She offhandedly plays with her blonde hair and gives me a remorseful smile. “He told me about you proposing to him with a ring, and he said no. I almost smothered him with his pillow just for that. You really asked him to marry you?” I nod at the table but don’t elaborate. She continues. “Then, he told me he thought you were breaking up with him. He said you caught him and a coworker…” She tucks hair behind her ears and frowns.
“Yeah.” I prop my elbows on the table and hide my eyes behind my clasped hands.
“I’m sorry. I wanted you to know that I’m here for you. I’m so mad at that asshole. I really thought he’d eventually marry you.”
“I hoped, but he didn’t want it. He never did.”
“But he said he proposed to you… after.”
I lower my arms and shrug. “Too late, don’t you think?”
“I don’t understand how he could turn to that slut. He was so in love with you. He still is. He’s so… devastated. I’ve never seen him like that before, not even with Mom and Jack’s divorce. That’s nothing compared to this.”
“I’m devastated, too.” I clench my hands into fists and lean on them. “He crushed me!” I bite my lip and look down to the table, whispering, “I love him, too. I always will. I thought we were forever. I just can’t get the thought of them together out of my head. It haunts me every second.”
“Maybe you two will find your way back to each other.”
I look up at her somewhat encouraged face. “I don’t know if I could ever trust him again.”
“He’d have to earn back your trust. What hurts for me is that I’m losing you in my life. I don’t want that to happen, Hadley. I really thought of you as my sister-in-law.” Her voice hitches, and I look up but seeing her tears causes more of my own.
Bowing my head again, I close my eyes. “Me, too, Simone.”
We sit and silently cry with each other. Finn’s shattering actions have a further reach than I had realized.
She asks, “Can I email you to keep in touch? I won’t send them too often. I just want to see how you’re doing. I won’t mention my shithead brother.”
“I don’t know. Just seeing you is hard for me.”
“I understand. It’s hard for all of us. My mom…” She sighs and wipes her eyes. “My mom is so despondent. When I told her, she made me put him on the phone, and she screamed, called him a slew of names and hung up on him. Even without her on speakerphone, I could hear everything she said. She was so irate.”
“After I yelled at him, I left, and Ricky had to convince me to help him watch Finn. I can’t even look at him, but he doesn’t move from the futon.” Rod won’t let me lie around, not facing the world.
“Take care of him, though, Simone. He’ll need you and Ricky.”
She grudgingly says, “Ricky and I are switch-hitting, watching him. One of us tries to be with him at all times since we’re not sure what he’ll do. We don’t want him making any more scenes or upsetting you.”
“I’ve been staying with a friend.”
She thoughtfully smiles. “That’s probably for the best. Maybe you two can talk sometime?”
Sighing, I attempt a slight smile in return, but it doesn’t feel right. “Maybe someday. Right now, I just want to breathe again.”
Shortly after I return from my visit with Simone, Morgan returns to my office with my phone and Rod.
“Let’s go,” she announces.
I pick up my purse. “Where are we going?” She hands me my phone, and I take it like it’s a loaded gun. I don’t know how to work it. The guy in the phone store showed me, but I wasn’t paying much attention to him.
She gloriously smiles, and I’m instantly suspicious. “You’ll see. Do you have everything?”
“Just asking. Rod, I need to borrow your phone. Mine needs a new battery, so it doesn’t hold a charge.”
“Awesome, Morgue. Now you’ll intercept all my personal calls.”
She holds out her expectant hand. “Yeah, from your mommy and your kite broker. Come on. We need to get going.”
“Where’s the fire, chief?” Rod grouses as he pulls his phone out of his pocket and hands it to Morgan.
“I want to go before it’s too crowded. I’ll be downstairs.” She leaves the office while Rod waits for me to lock my cabinet drawers.
“Do you know where we’re going?” I ask him.
“Yeah. You’ll like it.”
“I don’t want to run into anyone.” Cara’s mouth. Ricky’s questions. Finn’s arms.
He knowingly smirks. “We won’t.” I sigh, and he puts his arm around me, towing me to the door.
We meet Morgan in the lobby, where she’s busy tapping at Rod’s phone. She looks up and says, “We have to make a quick trip to the gym. I need you and Shane to get a picture together.”
I stop walking as they move for the door. “What? Why?”
She holds the door open for Rod and me. “It’s for my scrapbook. I need a few more of you and Shane. I got a lot of Tonya and Derrick, but not of you and Shane. Please? Two.”
As Morgan stands against the door waiting for us and checking Rod’s phone, he whispers to me, “I’m sure she got a lot of Ton-ya.” I elbow him and feel a smile trying to emerge.
I practically whine, “Really, Morgan?”
“Yeah. I’ll also need you to change and pull out your ponytail.” She impatiently rolls her hand at us. “Let’s go!”
“Sure. I’ll just take off my clothes and wear nothing,” I reply, rolling my eyes.
Rod takes his arm off me to clap. “Now, that’s the spirit, Hadders!” I smack his stomach, and he shoves me forward through the open doorway, out into the sunshine.
Morgan says, “I brought you something to wear. Calm down.”
“You had this all planned,” I complain.
“I did. I didn’t want you to worry about it. It’s just a few pictures.”
I pout. “Don’t expect me to smile.”
Walking to her Mercedes SUV, she argues, “I’ll need some smiles, Hadley. They’re for my book!”
“That’ll cost you extra.”
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Morgan asks from the passenger seat of her car, having refused to take Rod’s truck because of her lousy sense of balance with her growing belly. However, she also refused to drive her own car because of emails she needs to return.
“It was horrendous.” It wasn’t that bad. I’m just bitter. “Thanks for letting me borrow your dress, though. I think I might keep it.” Morgan gave me a knee-length, light pink dress to wear, explaining that she wanted pictures of Shane and me in different clothes for variety.
Looking down at Rod’s phone, Morgan says, “Shane looked nice, too.”
I roll my eyes. “I guess.”
“Well, you got some pictures with Dick Rod.” She makes a disparaging noise at him, and he flips her off.
He huffs, “Yeah, and I look like fucking trash!” Greg Rodwell looking like trash? Never. Not even when he wears his lamest concert T-shirt, cheapest blue jeans, and sneakers. He always looks cool.
Morgan sneers, “You don’t matter.”
He turns to glower at her. “Thanks a lot, hag.”
“Watch the road, Ass Rod. You’re driving my car.”
“Was your hearse in the shop?” Before Morgan makes a snide comment, I hear Rod’s phone buzz, and she instantly returns to her messages.
As we merge onto I-95 North, I ask, “Where are we going?”
Distracted, Morgan answers, “The jazz festival.”
“Jazz festival? Where?”
Rod jumps in. “Washington, D.C., baby!”
“What the hell?”
Morgan twists as much as she can behind a seatbelt and burgeoning stomach. “It was Val’s idea. She wants you to get away for the weekend.”
“Come on, Hadley. You need some time away from…” Her gaze moves from me to the back window. “You’ll have fun with us.”
“But…” I’ll be far away from… home.
She glares at me. “No. You’re getting away.” As if she reads my mind, she turns around and mutters, “He’ll still be there when we get back, unfortunately.”
I scoff, “You’re a newlywed! Won’t it upset Ivan?”
“He has to work. He said he’ll meet us there for a day. We’ll be back on Sunday. Chill.”
I ask, “Rod, you’re leaving your truck in the lot until Sunday?”
He looks at me in the rearview. “No. It’s at Morticia’s. Relax. We have it all figured out.”
Morgan answers, “Packed.”
Rod laughs. “And boy, did I love going through your undies. I did not know you had so many pairs of handcuffs and vibrators! You go, girl! I especially loved the crotchless underwear. Wow.”
Rolling my eyes, I try to hide my smile as I gaze out my window. “Shut up.”
Morgan assures, “I packed your clothes. I also checked your mail. You had a ton. I put it on your table. There was a car key on your floor.” Oh, right. Ricky.
“You swiped my apartment key, too?”
“I told you we had it covered.”
“Thanks for the B&E. I’m calling the police.” I’m sure Ricky would still be the first to respond.
“Good luck figuring out how to dial 911 on your new phone,” she mocks me.
“Bitch,” I retort. “Jeez. You guys thought of everything.”
Rod says, “Yep.”
Petulantly, I cross my arms, making my stomach ache. “I’m not in the mood to go to a festival.” I’m not in the mood to even wake up in the morning.
“We’ll get you jazzed.” Rod laughs. “Ha ha. Get it?”
Morgan’s laugh escapes before she’s able to conceal it, and even I smile. A little.
After we check into the hotel, I sit on the bed in the room Val reserved for me. I love that woman. She is forever taking care of me.
The whole two-and-a-half-hour drive here, I stared out the window. Rod tried to make me laugh by changing lyrics to songs and making fun of other cars, but I don’t feel like laughing. Why can’t anyone understand that? I want to stay in bed and be alone with my formerly happy memories. How do I go on without Finn? How do I get through every day, knowing we won’t have our forever?
There’s a knock at my door, and I groan. I just want to be left alone. Honestly. Just. Alone. I sigh and resentfully get up to answer the door. Morgan sweeps by me. I mutter, “Do come in.”
She beams. “Let’s sightsee.”
I scowl as I sit down on the bed. “Are you serious?” Pouting, I grab one of the thirty pillows on my bed and lie down with it. “You’ve been here. A lot. What more is there to see?”
“I’ll never tire of D.C!”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I grumble as she pulls on my arm.
“Isn’t this great?” Morgan picks up her cheeseburger and takes a bite. “Eating near the monuments?”
Rod crumples his wrapper. “Yeah. I like eating with an enormous erection in my face. Now I know how starving hookers feel.”
“That’s gross,” I say, wrinkling my nose and sliding my unwrapped burger to him. I pick at my fries and massage my bruise. It seems to flare up along with my attitude, like a mood ring. Like Finn’s hair.
“Dick Rod, that’s the Washington Monument. It’s cool!”
He pushes my burger back to me. “Morgasm, it still looks like a giant co—”
“Got it. Noted.” Morgan checks her watch for the umpteenth time. From the corner of my eye, I notice movement, and I turn to see Ivan approaching Morgan from behind… with Shane.
Ivan says, “Well, look here, Shane. These people look awfully familiar, don’t they?” I really want to go back to my room now. Or another planet.
Shane approaches the bench, and Morgan scoots down to let him sit between us. What a pal.
Rod puts his arm around me, clasping my shoulder, and I smile because I know he’s in protective Greg mode now, not letting anything happen to me.
With a wide smile, Shane says, “Hey, there, Hadley. We have to stop running into each other like this.” He’s still wearing the khaki button-up shirt and black pants from our photo op.
I pull my ponytail around me and curl it around my hand. “Yes. We really do.” Truly.
He asks, “So that little photo session was fun, wasn’t it?”
“It was a hoot,” I mutter as I shove my burger back to Rod.
Rod rubs his hand up and down my upper arm. “Hadley always breaks the cameras. It’s a curse. She’s so beautiful.” He laughs, pulling me closer to him. My champion.
Suddenly, Morgan jumps up from the bench, a little too enthusiastically for a pregnant woman, and spins to look at me. “I want more pictures since Shane’s here!”
Caustically inhaling, I shake my head. “I’m good.” Sparks…
She crooks her finger at me. “Oh, no, Hadley. Come on.”
I put my arm around Rod’s waist, leaning away from Shane. “Only if Rod gets some pictures, too.”
She rolls her eyes and concedes, “Fine.”
I pull Rod up with me, and we walk over to Morgan as Shane follows us. She warns, “I want some fun ones.” Fun is not on my agenda today, or ever again. She waves her hand to Shane and then to me. “Shane, why don’t you dip Hadley?”
I step closer to Rod. “Do what with me?”
She sighs. “Dip. Like dancing.”
Rod snatches me, twirls and dips me, making me laugh in surprise. He looks up, smiling. “Get your picture, Mortgage.” I hear a click, and Rod lifts me back up.
She announces, “Okay. Shane’s turn!” What? No!
“I’m not a rag doll!”
Shane takes me from Rod and dips me, delighting Morgan. This is so stupid. She yells, “Be silly!” How? Before he brings me back up, he descends and puts his face into my neck. I giggle at first because it tickles, but it’s unnerving. I urgently push on his chest, and he stands me up.
I glare at Morgan. “Happy?”
“Not yet. Shane, put your arms around her, and both of you smile.”
“Must we?” I crabbily dispute.
She purses her lips. “Yes.” Shane puts his arms around my waist from behind me. She takes one and then says, “One more!” I want to roll my eyes, but that might force us to undergo another picture.
Before she can take the picture, Rod dodges in front of me and pops his head up, and I laugh as she takes the picture.
With Rod still on the ground, I squat and put my arms around his shoulders. He leans forward, and I squeal because my dress is riding up. Morgan takes our picture, and I let go of him, so I don’t flash Shane.
I turn to go back to the bench, but Shane grabs me and says, “Last one.” He drapes an arm over my shoulders, and as Morgan raises Rod’s phone, Shane kisses my cheek. I immediately jerk away and try not to make too much of a face.
“Now, I’m officially done,” I affirm. Shane laughs, and Morgan grins as she plays with the phone. Shane and Ivan make jokes, while I sit down.
Rod sits next to me, glaring in Shane’s direction. “There’s something about that douchebag.”
I look at Rod. “Maybe that he’s a douchebag? Could that be it?”
His gaze drifts to me as the wind flutters his brown hair. “Smartass.” I giggle and nudge his arm. I notice the burger still on the bench, and I hand it to him. He finally unwraps it and takes a bite.
“Morgan seems hell-bent on me liking him or something. He’s annoying enough at the gym. I don’t want to spend time with him outside of it. I wish she would stop.”
Between bites, he says, “I agree. She needs to leave you alone. It’s not like you’re ready to date anyone, especially him. He’s a…” Rod seems to be at a loss for the right word, so he takes another bite.
He nods and laughs. “Yeah. I already forgot.”
Shane takes a seat next to me again, and I automatically incline toward Rod. When Shane casually puts his arm behind me on the bench Rod practically foams at the mouth.
Startling me with his audacity, Shane picks up my hand. “Where’s that pretty ring you always wear?”
I wrench my hand back, frowning. “It’s at home.” Attempting to distract myself, I watch people walking on the converging sidewalks.
Shane asks, “So, is it true that you’re single again?”
I practically growl, “No.”
“Really? You and Wilder didn’t break up?” Good news travels fast.
Rod snaps, “They’re fine. Leave her alone.”
Shane says, “Okay, but I saw him hanging out with some blonde recently.”
I shrug and attempt to sound nonchalant. “Probably a coworker.”
“They didn’t seem like coworkers.”
I helplessly look to Morgan, who is typing something into Rod’s phone, so she doesn’t see my silent screaming. I scowl at her anyway and tell Shane, “He has women friends.” Apparently, women friends who give blow jobs upon request.
“Is he still not going to marry you?” Shut the fuck up, Shane!
I abruptly stand. “Morgan, I want to go back to the hotel.”
Glancing up from Rod’s phone, she puts a hand on her hip and testily shakes her head. “You’re not staying cooped up in your room for the entire trip.”
“I want to go now. My stomach is bothering me.” Shane is bothering me.
She stomps over to us, grabs my hand, and leads me away from the guys. I look back to see Rod and Shane watching me. However, Rod’s look doesn’t make me want to blow a rape whistle.
Taking me behind a nearby colossal oak tree, she turns to me and says, “You have got to move on.”
Not wanting a lecture, I fold my arms over me. “I want to be left alone!”
She puts her hand on the smooth bark and states, “I know that look in your eyes. You’re pining for him. You’re considering taking him back!”
“I don’t know what I’ll do, Morgan! I can’t just turn off my feelings! I still love him!”
“After what he did to you? He doesn’t care! Why hasn’t he shown up at work, asking to see you? Why isn’t he fighting for you? He should walk through fucking fire to win you back!”
I peer around to see if anyone is paying attention to us. I quietly say, “We’ve been through enough.”
“We? Are you kidding me? Do you think he’s suffered like you have? You caught him…” She also looks around before lowering her voice. “God, Hadley. He’ll never change. He only thinks of himself. You deserve so much better than that.”
Careful to not be too loud, I hiss, “You don’t know him like I do!” Shit. I don’t even know him like I thought I did.
She rolls her eyes and swings her hair over her shoulder. “Says every woman ever involved with an asshole.” Does she have that little faith in me, too?
“Morgan, you think I’ll run back to him like a good little lap dog? No! Someday, I’d like to at least sit down and talk to him.”
“And that someday will be soon, and then you’ll take him back. I can see it. He has this unexplainable hold over you. He doesn’t love you like you love him!”
“He did love me!” The tears fall, and I angrily brush them away. I’m such a baby.
She drops her hand from the tree. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to upset you. I just don’t want to see you hurt repeatedly. And that’s what he’ll do. You’re such a forgiving person, and he knows that. He’ll take advantage of you and weasel his way back into your life.”
I whisper, “I love him, Morgan. I’m trying so hard not to, but…” …it’s impossible.
She irritably sighs. “He’s in your blood. I know.”
“He’ll always be a part of me. I’m just trying to live with this abysmal hole in my heart.”
“I’m only trying to protect you.”
“I know, but I have to work this out somehow. You’ve got to stop trying to fix me up with Shane. It’s annoying. I don’t like him enough even to pretend I do. Just don’t.”
“I’m not trying to fix you up. I’m just trying to loosen you up. Get your mind off things.”
“It’s not helping.”
Rod walks over. “Let’s go, Morgasm. I’m driving, anyway.”
“Go ahead. I’ll go with Ivan.”
Shane shows up behind Rod and asks, “Do you want me to come with you?” I immediately scowl.
“No, thanks. Greg’s with me.” I link my arm with his, and he pulls me toward Morgan’s car.
What a fine trip this is. I want to go home.
I want my Sparks.
He used to be my Sparks.