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Authors: June Gray

Engage

BOOK: Engage
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ENGAGE
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, locations and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, and events is entirely coincidental.

 

Copyright © 2012 by June Gray. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from either the author or the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote a brief passage in a review. 

 

First Edition. Cover design by June Gray.

 

 

DEDICATION

 

 

 

To you, the reader, the lover of words.

 

 

 

 

 

1  |  CONTINUE MISSION

 

 

 

 

I walked into my apartment and locked the door, slipping out of my shoes before venturing into the living room. I collapsed onto the tan suede couch, the stack of mail still in my hand. The answering machine still blinked at me from the counter, weighed down by all the messages that had accumulated since August, messages that I hadn’t been ready to listen to yet.

Five months had elapsed since my disastrous trip to California, since Henry pulled the rug out from under my feet and made me question everything I’d believe to be true. If there was one thing I would have bet my life on back then, it was that Henry would never intentionally hurt me: but he had and in the most brutal, unexpected way possible. He loved me then left me, and the most infuriating thing was that after I listened to his therapy tapes, I kind of understood. His underlying anger stemmed from a case of not knowing who the hell he really was. It wasn’t from some deep dark secret from the past; it was just about a man with a serious case of identity crisis.

I understood his issue, which is not to say I liked it or had even come to accept it.

I had come home from Monterey to an empty apartment and a note from Henry saying he was staying with a friend and would give me the next day to recover alone. I had used that time to enlist the help of every single friend I had so that I could move out of the apartment as quickly as possible. Thankfully, Beth had allowed me to stay with her while I searched for a place of my own, and the situation had improved when she moved into Sam’s house after he proposed, leaving me with the apartment. It had all worked so seamlessly that I’d wondered if maybe the universe had finally decided to throw me a bone after screwing me over so much.

There, alone in my apartment, I cried myself to sleep and when I awoke to nightmares, I had nobody but myself for comfort. It was a truly miserable and lonely existence I would never wish upon my worst enemy. Not even on Nina-freaking-Yates.

Still, I liked to think I’d moved on since the breakup. We were in a new year now, and I decided I needed a new attitude. I’d certainly cried enough to last a lifetime. This new Elsie was going to be happy, damn it, and she was not going to hide from the past any longer.

I heaved myself up off the couch and walked over to the answering machine, pressing play before I could change my mind.

Henry’s voice filled the small apartment, instantly suffocating me with memories.

“Elsie, it’s Henry. Beth gave me your new number.” He sighed. “I wish you’d told me you wanted to live separately. I could have moved out. It wasn’t fair that you had to be the one to move all your stuff. Hell, I could have helped you.” He groaned. “I’m sorry. I just worried when I got back and you weren’t home; I freaked out. I haven’t seen you since you came back from Monterey, and I’m really worried. I hope you’re doing okay.”

I felt the familiar pressure behind my eyes but I was determined not to cry. I’d managed one entire month without tearing up and I wasn’t about to break that streak now. I took a deep breath and readied myself for the next message.

“Me again,” Henry said. “I just wanted to wish you a happy birthday. I bought you a gift, but I don’t know how to get it to you. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to come by and drop it off later, around six. Call me back and let me know. My number’s still the same.” I had come home that day to find he’d taped a blue envelope on my door. Inside were a birthday card simply signed,
Henry
, and a fifty-dollar gift card to Best Buy. He couldn’t have been more impersonal if he tried.

There were a few messages from my parents and friends in between before Henry’s voice came on again. “I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be coming to Monterey for Thanksgiving or Christmas, so you don’t have to worry about running into me. Merry Christmas, Elsie.”

And finally a weary, “Happy New Year.”

I took a deep breath. There. That wasn’t so bad.

I moved to the fridge and jumped when the phone began to ring. With a pounding heart, I picked it up. “Hello?”

The voice on the other was not Henry. I was disappointed it wasn’t Henry, then disappointed again because I was still hoping it would be. I thought I would have stopped hoping he’d call by now. “Elsie,” Beth said. “How are you?”

“Hey!” I tried to greet with enthusiasm. “Sorry I didn’t get to return your call the other day.”

“No problem,” she said. “Things have been busy around here too.”

I poured myself a glass of wine as we chatted. It felt good to talk about meaningless things without having to think about the man who broke my heart. Eventually, though, I knew his name was going to come up.

“So, I have news about Henry,” Beth said.

I sighed through my nose. “Do I need to know?”

“Well, I think so,” Beth said slowly. “He’s moving to Korea next week. A one year remote tour.”

I hardened my heart against the hurt. I’d finally started to get the hang of it these last few months. “Oh, that’s nice for him.”

“You don’t have to pretend with me,” she said gently.

“It doesn’t really matter if he’s here in Oklahoma or halfway across the world. Either way, we’re not together.” Henry concealing his move to Korea was not the worst in the long list of secrets he’d kept from me over the years. I really shouldn’t have been hurt by it. “Does it piss me off that he didn’t even tell me? Yes, but what’s new? That man never tells me anything.”

“I just found out through Sam,” Beth said. Sam was in the same squadron as Henry and the two were good buddies.

“Yeah, Henry’s moved on. That’s fine.” It really wasn’t, but what else could I say?

“I don’t think that’s true,” Beth said. “He’s been keeping tabs on you through Sam.”

“What would he know about—” I paused, knowing exactly where Sam was getting his information.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “You’re my friend. I talk about you. Henry just asks if you’re doing okay, if you’re dating. He asked about the apartment and the neighborhood, making sure it was safe.”

I refused to let that little bubble of hope float too high. I pushed it down into my stomach and drowned it with wine. “That jerk,” I said through my teeth.

“I think it’s kind of sweet,” Beth said.

“Well, he didn’t break
your
heart,” I mumbled. “So when’s he PCSing out?”

“The movers have already come. I think he’s leaving next week.” Neither of us said anything for a long time. Finally Beth said, “We’re having a party at our house this Saturday night for his send-off. If you wanted to say goodbye, maybe give him a piece of your mind, then that’s where he’ll be.”

“No thanks,” I said much too quickly.

“Well, the party starts at seven and ends when people start puking in the bathtub,” Beth said. “Just think about it.”

After the call I crumpled onto the couch and turned on the television, refusing to commit another brain cell to thinking about Henry and his impending departure. I decided I wouldn’t think about the pained look on his face the last night we spent together, when he’d told me he was scared he was making the biggest mistake of his life. I wouldn’t think about his tapes and what he’d revealed in them, that I had consumed him entirely and he’d lost sight of who he was. I would not even think about the fact that, if he came to my door and begged me, I would probably take him back.

No
, I thought as I rubbed at my eyes—stinging from exhaustion and not from tears.
I am definitely done thinking about Henry.

 

~

 

I ended up going to Beth and Sam’s house on Saturday night because I was a hopeless masochist—but if anybody asked, it was because I’d decided to be an adult and say goodbye properly.

I felt composed when I parked my car in the street and walked up to the one-story house because I’d prepared beforehand by coating my heart with a thick shell to protect from the hurt.

What greeted me when I walked in the door—Henry talking to a pretty blond woman—put a definite crack in my armor. They were standing together in the living room, their heads bowed together as they talked, noticing nobody else in the room. He threw his head back and laughed at something she’d said then murmured something that made her smile.

My hands turned to fists at my sides. He had no right to be that happy when I was so miserable. The urge to throttle him had never been stronger.

I was about to stalk over there and give him a piece of my mind when Beth touched my arm, making me jump.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you,” she said then saw where I was looking and gasped. “Shit.”

I fought to control my breathing, reminding myself that I’d vowed to act like an adult for the night. “I need a drink,” I said.

Beth wound her arm through mine and led me to the dining room with the makeshift bar. “He didn’t arrive with her, if that helps,” she said, handing me a shot glass.

I looked back over my shoulder, seething at the sight of Henry talking so casually, carrying on without a care in the world. “It doesn’t make one damn bit of difference. He could still leave with her.”

I took a shot of tequila and chased it down with salt and lime. I knew I needed to just turn around and leave, but I couldn’t bring myself to move to the door. Henry was like a beam of light and I was a weak little moth, unable to stop looking. Thank goodness there were walls and a table and a whole lot of people between us, otherwise this little moth would be going down in flames.

“I thought that was you,” a male voice whispered in my ear, making me freeze. I turned around to find not Henry but Dave Novak. “Haven’t seen you in a while,” he said with a friendly smile.

I took a sip of my Jack and Coke and smiled. “Yeah, I’ve just been doing my own thing.”

“I heard,” he said. “Sorry.”

I shrugged. “It’s not your fault.” He opened his mouth to ask, but I cut him off. “No really, Dave. It wasn’t about the kiss.”

“Happy to hear that,” he said then his eyes got wide. “I mean, not that you guys broke up but…”

“I know what you meant,” I said, glad that we were still friends even after Henry punched him because of me.

We stood around for a few minutes, looking around at the other partygoers and searching for something clever to talk about.

“So,” said, taking a large gulp of his beer. “Are you dating anyone?”

“No,” I said. “Wait, you’re not going to ask me out, are you?”

He barked out a laugh. “Not anymore.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean it to come out like that,” I said, feeling a tiny smile tugging at the corners of my mouth. “I just didn’t want you to get the wrong idea.”

“You and Henry..?”

“Hell no. That’s been over for a long time,” I said much too emphatically. “I’m just not in the dating frame of mind yet.”

“Well then we can be friends, right?” He held out his hand and I shook it.

“Friends is good. You can never have too many friends.”

Dave motioned to my drink with his head. “You need another drink,
friend
?”

I drained my glass. “Sure do,
amigo
.”

 

I managed to avoid Henry for another half hour. Every time I looked over, he was talking to another person. I was standing in the dining room the entire time hoping he’d notice me and finally come over, but he never did. It was as if I was invisible.

I needed to get out of there so when Dave asked if I wanted to play pool in the garage, I agreed immediately.

We walked out to the garage where Sam’s impressive pool table took up the entire space, and Dave promptly racked up. I chalked a cue stick and broke the rack, sinking two balls in the side pockets. Dave whistled.

“You’re a hustler, aren’t you?” he asked, standing by with his pool cue.

“I wish.” I walked around the table and hit the white ball but barely managed to strike the intended ball. “See? It’s all luck.”

Dave grinned and took his turn, sinking a ball into the pocket effortlessly. “Did I say you’re a hustler?” he asked. “I meant
I’m
a hustler.”

The smile dropped away from his face the same moment I felt a solid body looming over me. I didn’t have to turn around to know who it was; every cell in my body recognized him.

“Were you ever going to come over and say hi?” Henry asked. He was so close I could feel his breath on my neck.

BOOK: Engage
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