“Just a minute,” I cal ed out, trying to sound calm, like everything was fine in bathroom land, and stuck my shoe under the dryer while I soaked up the inside with more paper towels. When it wasn’t as sopping wet, I put the shoe back on my foot, wincing at the cold, squishy dampness.
I took a step, the water seeping into my sock. Double ugh.
I unlocked and opened the door to see a patron looking at me strangely. She eyed the bathroom suspiciously before stepping inside. I must have been making some pretty odd noises in there. Also, there was a trail of water dripping behind me.
I walked careful y back to the counter, trying to lessen the squish, squish, squish of my footsteps. I smiled broadly at Ash and took my place beside him, ready to man the machines.
“Perry, what, uh…”
“Don’t ask,” I told him, and turned to face the rest of my shift.
The next morning was grey, dreary and mild, as per usual for the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t have to work, so I laced up my running shoes and hit the trails down by the Columbia River. Aside from the first few weeks of December, when I gorged myself on Christmas cookies and eggnog in order to restore some feeling of happiness in my body, I’d actual y been pretty active and working out almost every day.
Stil , the weight that I had shed from my bootcamp sessions in November came back on. It was only about five pounds or so, but on a short body like mine, I could tel the difference. My ex-trainer and one-date wonder, Brock the jock, cal ed me a few times wanting to go out again, but aside from my heart and mind being too fragile, I felt like I would have just disappointed him if he saw me. It’s such a girl thing to do, to not be interested in a guy but stil want them to be interested, but it’s the truth.
At least running cleared my mind and made me feel a lot more energized. Ever since Seattle I’d been dealing with the restlessness I used to get, that nagging urge to be anywhere but here. I felt lost and directionless and my mind always wanted to go back to the happier times, the times when I felt everything was possible. But it wasn’t that way and I had to keep my eye on the prize. I needed to move out, move far away, and start finding myself all over again.
My life had reverted to the way it was before I met Dex in that lighthouse. Though, perhaps I was a bit wiser.
After I left the river bank and hit the long street that led me back to my house, I slowed, then stopped and stretched my muscles by a row of roadside bramble. I was surrounded by bare oak and cherry trees and the dull, frosted mint color of grass in late winter. My neighborhood consisted of family homes and retirement ranchers with an overal Victorian vibe and almost everyone, my house included, had at least a half acre of land or more. My lot was simple since my mom wasn’t much of a gardener, but some houses had beautiful y intricate gardens, while others had swimming pools or even chickens. One neighbor had a bunch of pigs, thanks to the generous zoning laws.
I was bending over for my toes in a compromising position when the neighbor with the pigs walked past with Cheerio, her gorgeous chocolate lab. I smiled at the dog with my head between my legs and waved awkwardly at his owner. I was pretty sure the dog smiled back, looking as happy as ever. How could he not be happy; he lived with a bunch of pigs.
I straightened myself up slowly and walked along the road toward my house, watching for any signs of exercise- induced dizziness. It was when I was almost at the start of my parents’ long brick driveway when I noticed a car idling on the side of road, facing the opposite way. It didn’t look out of place, as it could have been someone waiting for Ada, or just someone who had taken a wrong turn down our street (people often got lost on their way to the mountains).
It could have been anything and anyone but my legs stopped moving and my heart slowed with a lurch. My body recognized the car before I did.
It was a little hatchback and though I couldn’t see who was in the car, I could smel the person, the cloud of pot smoke and perfume that emanated from the half-open window. The car turned off and my heart thumped anxiously at the sudden silence. The door opened and long legs clad in camel-colored breeches and black leather riding boots swung out and landed on the asphalt with a faint echo.
I stood there, red-faced, sweaty and confused, as Rebecca Sims got out of the car and gave me a shy smile.
I could only blink. So I blinked some more.
“Hiya Perry,” Rebecca said, shutting the car door, causing the cloud of smoke to dissipate in the damp air. I expected her to approach me but she just leaned against her car and looked around her at the sprawling acreages and spacious yards. “You’re almost in the country here. It’s lovely.”
I stil couldn’t say anything. Part of me wanted to throttle her, even though what happened with Dex and me wasn’t her fault. If anything, she had dropped hints that perhaps hooking up with him or tel ing him my unrequited feelings wasn’t the best idea. I’m glad now I only did the former, and not the latter. I would have never recovered my pride.
She smoothed her glossy black hair behind her ears, showcasing a row of diamond skul earrings that went surprisingly well with her elegant ensemble, and turned to me.
“I know I shouldn’t have just shown up like this,” she explained in her smooth British accent, “but I didn’t know how to get a hold of you. I tried cal ing you.”
“I changed my number,” I said, my tongue loosening.
“And I tried emailing you.”
“I got a new email.”
A small smile teased her magenta lips. “Wel , anyhow, Ems and I are here for the weekend just visiting her folks.
They live in Beaverton. I thought I’d escape from her mother and come see you. Hope that’s all right.”
I folded my arms and let out a short breath of air.
“No. It’s not all right, Rebecca,” I told her, looking her straight in the eye. “There’s a reason why I didn’t want anyone to get a hold of me.”
“I know. I figured. And I understand, I real y do. I’d do the same if Emily…wel , I just wanted to see you.”
“Wait,” I said, holding up my hand. “How did you know where I lived?”
She dropped her eyes to the ground. “A little birdie told me.”
A giant flame of anger erupted deep inside my chest.
“Is he here!?” I exclaimed, my voice shooting through the morning calm. My fists automatical y curled up into tiny, hate-fil ed bal s and I craned my neck at the car to see if anyone was sitting in the passenger side.
“No, no he’s not here,” she said, eyeing me nervously. I’d never seen her nervous before. I must have looked ready to punch her in her pretty face. “He’s at home. He’s in Seattle.
It’s just me. I promise.”
“So he sent you here?” I sneered.
“No,” she said and walked toward me. She stopped a few inches away, a sympathetic tilt of the head. “This has nothing to do with him. At all . I came here because I wanted to know if you were OK.”
“Oh, how thoughtful,” I said with a rol of my eyes.
“I was worried about you. all of us were.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Al of us? Who is ‘al of us’?”
She bit her lip, scraping off a tiny bit of lipstick from the surface, and looked at my house. “Perry, look, can we talk?
Maybe inside? You must be freezing your knickers off.”
I was only wearing my jogging tank top and pants and the sweat on me had cooled, but I’d never felt warmer. Stil , part of me did miss Rebecca’s company and did yearn to talk to someone different for a change. She also looked a bit awkward, standing on the side of the road like a jilted lover. It would have taken a lot of guts for her to just show up at my house, randomly, especial y when she knew I didn’t want anything to do with that life anymore.
I nodded reluctantly and headed up the driveway, hearing the clip clop of her boots as she fol owed.
Inside, the house was even warmer thanks to the stone- wrought fireplace in the living room that was giving off a cozy amount of heat. It was Saturday so my father was working in the study, grading papers probably, and my mother was out getting groceries. I didn’t feel like introducing Rebecca to my father though (it would have opened a can of worms), so we went upstairs to my room.
“Nice little room,” she said as she gazed at the posters on the wal s. I grabbed my robe from behind the door and told her to stay put while I had my shower. I didn’t need to impress Rebecca but I didn’t want to smel like a dirty gym sock either.
When I was done, feeling refreshed and more able to handle my unexpected visitor, I emerged from the steamy bathroom to hear a few strange squeals and giggles. I walked down the hal to Ada’s room and pushed her door open.
Rebecca was sitting on Ada’s fluffy bed, watching her bring out various amounts of clothes from her closet, an impromptu fashion show.
Ada swirled on the spot, the fringy dress she was holding swaying with her movement.
“Hey!” she said to me with an excited grin. “I was just showing your friend here my closet.”
I tightened my robe and leaned again the doorframe.
“Your entire closet? She’s not staying for a week, Ada.”
“Perry’s right, I just popped by to say hel o,” Rebecca put in.
Ada placed the dress in Rebecca’s hands, who in turn played with the silky fringes.
“Popped by to say hel o and check up on her,” Ada said knowingly.
Rebecca and I exchanged a look. Had Ada been listening to our conversation outside?
Ada shrugged, swung her bleached hair over her shoulder and went back to peering at her overflowing walk- in. “What? Rebecca’s your friend, right Perry? If I were your friend and I heard what...” she lowered her voice “...happened to you, I’d come check up on you too.”
“You’re not my friend?” I asked wryly.
She stuck her tongue out at me. “Only because I have to be. Bound by blood and all that.”
I couldn’t help but smile.
“So, thank you for showing me your clothes,” Rebecca said as she got up and handed the dress back to Ada. “But Perry and I have got some catching up to do and I real y can’t stay long. And I am checking up on her, natural y. But I just had to come visit her famous fashionista sister as well .”
She sure knew the right things to say because a pink flush appeared on the apples of Ada’s cheeks and she waved at Rebecca bashful y. Rebecca nervous, Ada bashful; what was going on with people today?
We went back to my room and I shut the door behind us.
I sat on the chair at my desk, feeling a little too exposed, while Rebecca perched graceful y at the edge of my bed.
My bedroom seemed incredibly juvenile with her presence in it.
She drummed her magenta nails across her knees.
“Your sister seems lovely.”
“She can be.”
“You told me you guys weren’t all that close, no?”
I cleared my throat, wanting Rebecca to get to the point, why she was real y here.
“No, we weren’t. But we’re getting better.”
She got the hint and sat up straighter.