What’s a girl to do after being ditched at the altar by text message? That’s right. Text. Message.
How does she pick up the pieces and move on? I’m no Dear Abby but here’s a little free advice…
Advice #1 – First, purge your apartment of all things him—by tossing his belongings off the balcony.
Advice #2 – Do not, I repeat do not, throw anything out into the hallway because you’ll injure your hot new neighbor.
Advice #3 – When said neighbor brings over Chinese Food do not let him stay and keep you company. It’s awkward when you realize he’s your boss.
Advice #4 – Accept his offer to help you with your side business but think twice before using a date to his sister’s wedding as collateral.
Advice #5 – Investigate who your mystery neighbor really is. Don’t trust his word even if he’s the world’s best kisser.
If you listen to nothing else, pay attention to that last one. It’s the most important and will save you a lot of heartache.
LOVESICK IN LAKE STARLIGHT
Book 2 in the Baileys Series
All those words run through my head as my younger sister Juno shoves my puffy white dress and me into the back seat of my older sister, Savannah’s, SUV.
There had to have been signs that my fiancé, Jeff, wasn’t happy, but all I recall are the smiles and the kisses and the hugs and the laughs.
Well, there weren’t a ton of laughs, but Jeff isn’t a lighthearted or laughing kind of guy—the complete opposite of my brothers. Though they aren’t laughing or cracking jokes right this minute.
“Don’t do anything stupid!” Juno screams over the hood at the boys and climbs into the passenger seat next to Savannah.
“He obviously has a death wish,” Austin says, climbing into his Jeep with my three other brothers, their suit jackets stripped off, ties hanging around their necks.
His Jeep peels out of the small church parking lot, fishtailing before it rounds the corner, almost on two wheels, and disappears down Main Street.
They’re kind of protective, and my oldest brother, Austin, never liked Jeff.
“It’s going to be okay.” Juno extends her hand into the back seat, rubbing my knee through the million layers of tulle.
Savannah looks at me through the rearview mirror, a reassuring smile perma-plastered on her face.
She wanted to stay and inform our friends and family, but I think Juno was scared to handle me by herself, so we left the job of telling all the guests there’d be no wedding in the hands of our uncle, Brian.
My grandma Dori, my twin sisters Phoenix and Sedona, and Austin’s girlfriend, Holly, stayed behind to help remove the flowers from inside the church.
“I’m fine. I’m good.” It’s a lie. I know that. They know that. But I’m fighting to keep it together.
Falling apart and having a mental breakdown will only add to the level of humiliation I already feel.
I look out the back window of the SUV and watch as the church doors open. Guests walk down the concrete stairs, confusion and surprise laced in their expressions.
Thanks, Uncle Brian.
Juno straightens in the passenger seat and looks at Savannah. They’ve been doing their whole non-verbal talking thing since Jeff’s text came through.
That’s right—the asshole ditched me on our wedding day via text.
Don’t mistake my composure as a good sign.
I want to scream and rant, and if Jeff was in front of me, I might actually beat him with my bouquet like Carrie did to Big when he left her looking like the fool on their wedding day in theSex and the City movie.
Jeff’s not here though, because he’s a coward.
All I have is the text message he sent me five minutes before I was supposed to walk down the aisle. After my family spent a shit-ton of money on a huge-ass wedding I didn’t even want.
I would’ve been happy with a small affair, but nooo, Jeff wanted practically the entire town to bear witness to our nuptials, and now my humiliation.
A text… after I got up at the butt-crack of dawn to get my hair done. After I slipped into a pair of white silk panties, imagining him sliding them down my legs tonight.
After a nice Belgium lady ripped all the hair out from between my legs to give me a smooth Brazilian wax.
What a fucker! The fact I did that for him stokes the rage inside me.
“We’ll go back to the house.” Savannah flips the turn signal to head to the house I grew up in.
Yeah, I’m not going there. “No, go to the apartment.”
Juno glances at me, her eyes expressing her uncertainty. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. We’ll go to the house, wait for the guys.”
“Hopefully none of them get arrested,” Savannah mumbles. “The last thing Bailey Timber needs right now is one of us getting arrested… again.”
“Well, now that you’ve switched to those disposable coffee cups, we should be good.” Juno laughs, nailing Savannah with a dig about the time she threw a coffee mug at her enemy’s face and spent a few hours in jail.
Savannah flips her off.
Leave it to my family to bring up another sore subject right after my life has fallen apart.
Maybe it’s because we’ve dealt with so much tragedy that we search for anything to make a serious situation feel less severe.
Savannah turns toward the house, ignoring my instructions.
“Sav, the apartment.”
“I don’t thin—”
Her gaze shoots to mine through the rearview mirror. She’s never been afraid of me, and it’s hard to tell if she is now.
She’s had to play mama bear a lot over the years since my parents died a decade ago.
I soften my voice. “I need to see if he’s there. I want answers.”
I look at my phone still clasped in my hands. A damn text message. I’m not surprised he didn’t have the balls to tell me face to face. Jeff’s not a confrontational type of guy.
Still, I thought he loved me. That’s what hurts the most—I obviously had it all wrong.
“Screw the bastard,” Savannah says.
“If closure is what you need, then let’s go.” She squeezes my hand and flips back around, shooting a look to Savannah to saylisten to the girl.
Savannah huffs, forever the control freak, but she does a U-turn and heads toward the apartment I signed a lease for with Jeff only last week.
Why didn’t he say something then? Like, “Hey, this whole wedding thing? I’m not so sure I want to be a husband.”
We drive for ten minutes and pull up to the cluster of white buildings, each one bearing a small balcony, some overlooking Lake Starlight. We paid a little more money in rent for the view.
Jeff said he thought the app he’s been developing for the past year was about to sell and we’d be able to afford it.
“I’m going on record that this is not a good idea.” Savannah pulls the keys from the ignition.
The three of us sit looking up at where my future was supposed to start. When we signed the lease, I’d thought of the apartment as our starter place.
I pictured Jeff and me driving by years from now, after we could afford to move, our kids in the back seat while we pointed out where it all began.
They’d roll their eyes as though they couldn’t care less, then we’d make our way back to a single-family home with a large yard and a cute sign on the front door that said “The Brickles.”
What a crock of shit.
I open the vehicle door. I really should have thought about the size of my dress when I was trying them on, but then again, I wasn’t thinking I’d be making a walk of shame in it.
My eyes are set on that small balcony on the side of the building. The one where Jeff said he’d put a grill and a chair for me to keep him company as he cooked his famous burgers.
My sisters exit the SUV and murmur behind me. Savannah’s still going on about how this is the wrong call and Juno’s arguing that I have to do this sometime.
Digging into my purse, I find the keys. Two keys on a heart keyring. How naïve was I? I roll my eyes, inserting my key into the main door of the building and turning the knob.
The foyer smelled of flowers and a future when we moved our stuff in last week. Now it smells of loneliness and despair as I walk up the first flight of stairs.
“Watch your dress,” Juno says.
“Why? We’ll be burning it tonight,” Savannah says.
I pick up the front of the big skirt. Why did I decide on the Cinderella princess style again? What a waste of money.
When we reach the top floor, I look at the numbers on the outside of my apartment door. Three twenty-two. I thought it was a sign—my parents’ anniversary date.
They married on March twenty-second and that number was magic for them. I had hoped it’d be the same for me. Shaking my head, I insert my key.
Juno’s hand covers mine. “Are you sure you’re ready?”
I look at her. No one would imagine we’re sisters. Her auburn hair is contrary to my blond, her green eyes to my blue.
But if you look closely, our noses slope the same way and our lips hold the same smile. But that’s where our similarities end.
I nod. “I told you. I’m good.”
Juno steps back, and I open the door to what was supposed to be my future home. We all walk into the apartment, and the door shuts behind us.
The light in here isn’t nearly as bright as I remember. The space looks smaller and older.
“I’m going down to talk to the landlord. I’m getting you out of this lease,” Savannah says, and the door opens and closes with her departure.
“She’s in fix-it mode.” Juno’s hand lands on my shoulder, and I ignore the tingling in my nose. “Want me to go down to Liquory Split and get us something to take the edge off?”
My gaze veers to the couch we bought one another as a wedding gift before I smile at her. “That’d be great. Thanks.”
“Consider it done.” Her heels click on the hardwood while she makes her way to the door. Another selling point for the apartment. “Are you sure? I mean, you’ll be okay?”
I circle back around, keeping the smile on my face. “Yeah. I’m sure Savannah will be back soon.”
Appeased by my answer and my smile, she opens the door and leaves the apartment.
The silence that cloaks the room feels like nails on a chalkboard. I scour the small apartment. Jeff’s suit jacket from yesterday still hangs off the chair.
The coffee cup he drank out of this morning sits in the sink. Did he sip that while typing that text? I look at my phone again.
“Coward,” I say, my voice echoing through the half-empty apartment.
I pick up the coffee mug, inspecting it for lipstick. What other reason could there be for him to break every promise he ever made to me? There has to be someone else.
It’d be easier for me to handle this if someone convinced him to leave me, rather than thinking he came to some realization himself between the time he kissed me goodbye on my family’s porch last night and texting me this morning to tell me I’m just not what he wants.
But I don’t find the evidence I’m seeking.
I toss my phone on the table and blindly throw the coffee mug with no thought of direction. The smashing sound lifts my mood slightly. A piece of him. A piece of our promised future gone.
God, it feels so good.
I grab his jacket, pulling hard on one sleeve. It rips, and I throw the scrap of fabric to the floor.
I search his pockets for any evidence of a cocktail napkin with a woman’s name and phone number scrawled on it. Nothing.
After stepping out of my heels, I run down the short hallway into our master bedroom.
I pounce on the disheveled bed like a puma, burying my nose in the pillow, wanting to smell the perfume of a woman. I toss it, smell the other one, and toss that one to the floor as well.
I open every drawer, only finding the box of condoms we bought the night we moved our stuff in.
In the bathroom, I open the medicine cabinet; cologne and aspirin bottles crash to the bathroom floor.
I dig madly through the trash, finding nothing except a small piece of bloody toilet paper he must have used when he cut himself shaving. Is that when he decided I wasn’t who he wanted?
Coming up empty of any evidence that there’s another woman, I head into our closet, the main reason I decided to sign a lease on this apartment. His clothes are on one side, mine on the other.
I smiled like a fairy princess after we hung up our clothes. I’d dreamed of the whole his-and-hers closet since I was sixteen.
Star Wars T-shirts from the shelf.
Opening the built-in drawers, I pull out socks, underwear, and every other stitch of his clothing and throw them onto the floor. “Screw you, Jeff Brickle!”
Still without a sign of any other woman, I sit in the middle of our closet, looking at my neat and orderly side and the pile of his belongings on the floor in front of me.
My throat locks up, and I struggle to breathe as my chest constricts.
I pick up an armful of his clothes and stomp out of the closet and into the living room.
I open the patio door to our small balcony, throw the clothes over the banister, and head back inside for another load.
“I’m throwing you out of ~my~ life!” I toss another pile of his shitty wardrobe.
“Brook!” Savannah screams from below.
I ignore her and snatch up every other belonging of Jeff’s. His precious collection of Star Wars movies. His stupid alarm clock that blares his shitty music.
I’m heading back to the balcony when Savannah rushes in through the apartment door. Her hair has fallen out of her perfectly styled updo. “Brooklyn. Stop.”
The man to her right is the guy we signed the lease with.
I toss everything in my hands over the balcony.
“Please, Miss Bailey, you need to stop. You could injure another resident.”
I inhale a deep breath. “How could you let me sign this lease? Surely you have some sense of these things? I mean, he called off our wedding!
“You had no inkling of that happening when you pointed at that dotted line?”
“Sorry,” Savannah says to the man.
“I’m not sorry.” I point at the building manager. “You should let me out of this lease. It’s the least you can do!”
I pick up the sci-fi novel Jeff claimed was better than any of my romance books. Should have figured out then that we weren’t compatible.
The manager runs over and locks the screen door. “Please.”
He blocks it, but there’s fear in his eyes. If I step closer, he’ll move. Somewhere in my sensible brain, I know I need to calm down, but it feels impossible at the moment.
“What the hell?” Juno rushes in, a brown paper bag in each hand. Her hair has also fallen out of the pretty bobby pins with little flowers I glued to the ends. What a waste of fucking time!
I chuck the book at the open apartment door. Juno dodges it, thank God. Her reflexes always were stellar in our adolescent fights.
“Fuck!” a man yells from the hallway.
Savannah’s eyes widen, and she turns toward the sound.
I nibble on my lip, praying that was one of my brothers.
Juno places the two bags on the table and follows Savannah.
The manager slides along the wall so he doesn’t have to come close to the possessed bride as he heads toward the door.
“What the hell?” the same deep voice says.
Nobody has to leave the apartment though, because the person I hit walks in, holding Jeff’s book in one hand while rubbing his head with his other.
A small trickle of blood runs through the crease of his fingers.
Savannah takes the reins because she’s the one who handles any crisis in the Bailey family. “Oh, we’re so sorry!”
“Are you really?” His tall figure eats up the entire doorway. He’s in a pair of slacks and an untucked button-down shirt. You’d think he was a guest invited to my wedding.
His dark beard is scruffy, his hair neatly gelled—except one chunk that’s fallen loose, probably from the book hitting him.
“I’m sorry, really,” I say and step forward.
His gaze moves from Savannah to me. He blinks three times as though he can’t believe what he’s seeing. After a few seconds, he looks down at himself and chuckles. “Nope.
“I’m not naked or in a tux… thank fuck. For a second, I thought my worst nightmare had come true.”
I raise my arms. “Great, just what I need. Another man afraid of commitment!”
“Let me grab you some ice.” Juno breezes into the kitchen. “Oh, a broken coffee mug.” She picks up a piece and holds the evidence up to Savannah. “What does our family have against coffee mugs?”
The laughter Juno’s going for never arrives.
I disappear down the hall and slam my bedroom door. I know this is only the second worst day of my life.
The first was the day I lost my parents, but at the moment, it sure feels a hell of a lot like things couldn’t be worse.