Authors: Rhonda Helms
by Rhonda Helms
2014 by Rhonda Helms
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner and the publisher of this book, excepting brief quotations used in reviews. Purchase only authorized editions.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, businesses or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Proofreading by Mickey Reed
2014 by Sarah Hansen, Okay Creations
Formatting by Polgarus Studio
To my family and friends. I <3 you soooo much.
And to my readers. I hope you enjoy this story!
There were moments in your life that stood out as life-changing experiences. Like the time you got the training wheels off your bike and flew down the street in a rush, legs pedaling as fast as possible. Or your first kiss, awkward and teeth-smashing but filled with the heady wonder of young love. Or when your dad called you because your mom had packed her bags and left him out of the blue.
It was that last one that currently had me rendered speechless.
“Are you there? Did you hear what I said?” Dad’s voice was strained.
“Yeah, I’m…here. Sorry.” I swallowed, leaned back against Steven’s bathroom wall and stared at the stretch of dark brown granite countertop. My heart hammered so hard I was sure it would beat its way out of my ribcage. “But are you sure? Like,
sure? Because what if she was forced to—”
“She left me a note,” he interrupted me. There was so much anguish in his voice that it made my chest hurt. “When I called her to demand an explanation, she told me she was done with our marriage and would be filing for divorce.” He was quiet for a moment. “She’s gone, Anna. Voluntarily.”
Oh, God. Tears burned my eyes, and I let them fall. My mom was steady, dependable. She didn’t do things like this—just sneak out and leave my father without so much as a conversation.
“In the background, I heard a man telling her that their flight was about to board,” he continued in a low tone threaded with anguished bitterness. “Then she told me she had to go, apologized and hung up. She hasn’t answered my calls since.”
My knees grew weak, and I slid to the floor. The cool tiles chilled the backs of my bare legs. What the hell—so she was cheating on my father, too? “What do we do now?” I whispered. My brain scrambled, but it was hard to focus.
Someone knocked on the bathroom door. “Hey, hurry up!” a guy’s voice groused. Sounded like Brett, Steven’s crabby roommate. “You’ve been in there forever.”
My stomach churned. I had to get out before I horked all over the condo’s beautiful designer bathroom. “Dad, I’m on my way over. We’ll talk more when I get there.”
We hung up, and I stood on wobbly high heels. Splashing water on my cheeks, I cleaned up the tear streaks. My eyes were red-streaked, so I dug through the medicine cabinet, dropped Visine in each eye and blinked out the moisture.
I could barely hear past the roar in my ears as I opened the door and offered a mumbled apology to the tall, redheaded Brett, who glared at me and ran inside the bathroom. I ducked into Steven’s bedroom, grabbed my purse from under his bed and made my way toward the kitchen, where I’d left him when I’d gotten my dad’s call. Steven was surrounded by several of our friends, and they listened raptly as he talked. With dark blond hair and a winning smile, he was magnetic. His brown eyes flashed, and his hands waved in the air as he showed the measurements for something—probably telling that one story again about the massive fish he’d caught this summer at his dad’s country club lodge.
When he stretched his arms out to something far bigger than realistic, a couple of guys burst into knowing laughter and shook their heads.
“Anna!” he said when he saw me then pushed his way through. About a foot away, he stopped, and his golden brow furrowed with concern. “What’s wrong?”
My pulse throbbed in my throat. I disliked lying. But what was I going to do—dump the truth on him in the middle of his party? I could barely wrap my own brain around it. Not to mention the mortification that was eating away at my stomach. “Dad got food poisoning. Sorry to leave, but I’m gonna go check on him.”
“Oh, that sucks. Can I do anything to help?”
“What’s wrong?” Fiona, my roommate, butted in. She squinted her hazel eyes and looked at me, and her bright red lips thinned. “You look like shit, girlfriend.” She crossed her thin arms over her chest. “Did you drink too much? I warned you my margaritas were strong.”
“Just…getting a headache,” I mumbled as I turned my attention to the ground.
Steven leaned toward me and brushed a gentle kiss on my brow, and the warm gesture made tears well in my eyes. “Let me drive you to your parents’ home. You look a little shaky.”
“No, really, it’s okay,” I managed to choke out.
Come on. Don’t you dare lose it now.
I could feel the panic surge again. “I’ll text you both tonight when I leave there. I’m sorry.”
With that, I darted through the front door, rushed to the elevator at the end of the hall and pressed the down button about fifty times. The elevator opened and I got in, fighting back the hot tears burning my eyes. I whipped out my phone again and tried to call my mom. I got a message that the voicemail was full, and my jaw tightened.
When the elevator dinged at the first floor, I kept my head down in the lobby and got to my car.
I ordered myself.
One thing at a time. First problem—get to Dad.
A tiny surge of anger started in the bottom of my gut and spread. I clung to it and let it drive out the rest of my emotions. Rage I could use. It wasn’t crippling like the intense anxiety that threatened to overwhelm me at any moment.
I gripped the steering wheel and made my way through slow-as-hell traffic. Stupid me, I should have taken a cab or the subway, but I hadn’t driven my brand-new Chevy SS in ages and had impulsively decided to take the sleek ride out for a spin. The traffic fueled my anger, and when I finally got to Chelsea and pulled into my parents’ condo’s parking lot, I was almost shaking with my emotions.
The walk into the building gave my brain time to fire more questions. How could she do this? What was going on in her head right now? I mean, Mom wasn’t a drinker and she didn’t use drugs, so she wasn’t on a bender. Dad didn’t think she’d been kidnapped or coerced into leaving. This was totally of her own volition.
Every time the brass-trimmed elevator dinged as I ascended another floor, the sick twist in my stomach grew stronger. I dragged in several deep, steadying breaths. I already knew my dad was going to be a mess; I’d have to keep my head and start planning out what the hell we were going to do.
was about to change.
I forced myself to get numb, pushed aside all my rampant emotions and put on my calmest face. My body was wound tight with tension. When I reached the condo door, I keyed it open and stepped inside the massive open room. Funny, it all
the same—pristine neutral-toned furniture, expensive art, sleek kitchen, massive throw rugs stretched across teak floors.
But there was an eerie silence that radiated from the very walls.
“Dad?” I called out.
“Back here,” he said quietly from his room.
I headed there and saw him sitting on the edge of the king-sized bed. His hair was messy, like he’d been combing his hands through the locks. He peered at me with bloodshot eyes, and in his hands was a piece of paper.
With a sigh, I took a seat beside him. “Let me see.”
He handed it over without a word. The paper bore a few sentences written in my mom’s smooth, distinctive penmanship. No signs of rushing, just her typical deliberate method.
I’m so sorry, but I can’t do this anymore. I’m not happy and I haven’t been for a long time. And if we’re honest, neither have you. Will be in touch soon after I’ve sorted things out. Sorry.
“There’s one for you too,” he said dully. “It’s on your bed.”
I darted into my old bedroom and saw a folded piece of paper on my pillow. The brief message was filled with apologies and a promise to call soon.
I trudged to his room. “Oh, Dad,” I said as I exhaled and sat. “What happened? Did you two have a fight or something?” It was on the top of my tongue to ask about the other man, but it didn’t feel right for me to do so.
He rested his hands on his thighs and stared dead ahead at the wide-open closet doors. Some of Mom’s clothes had been removed, and her suitcases weren’t in the bottom anymore. “It was just a regular day.” His voice was emotionless, like he was drained. “Nothing out of the ordinary. I went to the gallery this afternoon to ask them to host another party for me, and when I came back…” He waved toward the closet. “Well, she took her time packing. Everything she left behind is still folded neatly in her drawers.” His cheeks flushed, and he looked away, but not before I saw the hurt in his eyes.
I scrubbed a hand over my face as another surge of anger hit me. Of all the selfish, stupid things for her to do… I didn’t understand this at all, would never have dreamed she’d try something like this. But so help me God, I was going to find her and get answers.
A sense of resolve filled me.
I stood and pulled open her drawers, peered through her closet, anything to get clues on where she might be. Her winter coat was still tucked back in the corner, and it seemed like most of her warmer clothing had been left behind as well. Granted, it was only early September, but at least this meant she probably hadn’t flown to the frozen tundra.
Okay, that was a start. I’d just hire a PI to tail her, and when we found her, I’d threaten her with…something. I didn’t know, but it would be big and scary and it would make her regret screwing my dad over like this. All the apologies in the world couldn’t make up for the emotional pain she’d inflicted today.
“Anna, there’s more I didn’t get a chance to tell you,” Dad said and handed me a pile of unopened bills from the bedside table. “Your mom pretty much drained the bank account. We have around a thousand bucks left. And our monthly expenses total far more than that.”
When I saw an envelope from my college sitting on the top, full understanding about our situation hit me like a punch in the stomach. Mom was the main breadwinner in our family. My dad’s art job was sporadic at best, and I only worked in the summer so I could focus on my schooling during the semester.
After my massive shopping spree a couple of weeks ago with Fiona, I had about five hundred bucks left in my personal account. Between me and Dad, that was fifteen hundred total to float us. Not enough to hire a PI.
Not enough to pay the bills for this condo or half the rent on my apartment.
Not enough to pay the rest of my expensive tuition for this semester.
It was a herculean effort to shove away the panic swimming in my head and turn to him with a neutral face.
“What are our options?”
Dad stood and cupped my shoulders. His eyes radiated sadness. “Hon, we’re gonna have to sell off what we can and move.”
Somehow I’d known he was going to say that. But hearing it made tears well in my eyes. I sniffed and nodded, determined to be brave for him. “Okay. Where to?” We could find a cheap apartment. And if I sold my car and some of my clothes, that would get us cash to float a bit—
“We’re going to Ohio,” Dad said, interrupting me. “Edgewood Falls. Granted, my family’s moved away from there now, but it’s still home for me. You remember living in that town when you were little, right?”
He continued talking, and I could see him getting more enthusiastic about the idea as he did. But I barely heard him. Ohio? My stomach sank. “But my life is here,” I said quietly. School and Steven and our friends. How could I leave this city? I loved this place. The bright lights, the high-paced speed, the glamour.
He paused, eyes layered with emotion, and his silence said everything. We couldn’t afford to stay in New York. At least not right now.
I bit my lower lip and lifted my chin. “We’ll figure it out. It’s fine.”
Fiona was going to be pissed at me for bailing mid-lease, but I’d help her find a new roommate. Our high-rise apartment was in the Garment District and had a gorgeous view of the city. I was really going to miss it. My chest tightened.
Dad pressed a kiss to my forehead and sighed. “You okay? I’m so sorry to dump this on you. I know this has to be a horrible shock.”
I squeezed his hand. “No need to apologize. You aren’t the one in the wrong here.”
I left him and went to my old room. After stretching out across my dark orange silk bedspread, I stared at the ceiling. Part of me wanted to throw a small fit, yell and scream about how unfair this was. But what would that get me? Nothing but a migraine.