Authors: Shelly Davis
Toni had a horrible experience with her high school boyfriend. It ended up coming to a head all these years later when she finally stood up to him. She was strong, but even the strongest people broke down eventually.
Toni sighed, she probably wanted to say she was fine, but she knew better.
“Gettin’ better,” she said with a smile. “We’ve been busy at work, so that helps. I’ve also been seein’ Dr. Mathews again so I can work through some stuff. Jules has been stayin’ at the house with me a lot and of course Mia’s always there too.” She paused for a moment then smiled and said, “I must be doin’ okay, I didn’t freak when Jules kissed me on national television a few weeks ago.”
“Yeah, I’ve been wantin’ to ask. What the hell was he thinkin’?” I asked. It was a shock to see her boyfriend and the driver for the race team she worked for, Julius Fuller, stride across the winner’s platform and plant a kiss on her. It was even more a surprise to see her not panic and run, even though she looked like she wanted to.
She shook her head, but the smile betrayed any annoyance she was trying to show. “He was just hell bent on not hidin’ our relationship anymore. He said it was his way of lettin’ everyone know he’s spoken for, and so am I. Also he’s been tryin’ to convince me to move in with him. Mia thinks I should do it. What do you guys think?”
“Well,” Cade said. “How do you feel about movin’ in with him? Do you think you’re ready?”
Cade would be more cautious, he always was. But Julius was a great guy and he loved Toni, which was all that mattered to me.
Mia encouraging her kind of pissed me off though. Mia and Toni met in kindergarten and were instant friends. They were inseparable until Mia took off to go to Tennessee for college. She never so much as looked back. She wasn’t around when Toni would call freaking out because she heard something or thought someone was following her. Mia wasn’t there when Cade and I lived at Uncle Bobby’s and Toni would wake up with nightmares, screaming so loud she would wake us all up in the main house. So, Mia’s opinion meant shit where I was concerned.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know. I mean it’s only been a few months. It seems so fast.”
“He’s a good guy, Toni. But you have to be comfortable,” I told her. It was easy to give advice about other people’s love lives, even if I didn’t have a clue about my own. “But my opinion, if you’re ready, then you should do it.”
Sighing, she put her head in her hands, shrugged her shoulders, and didn’t say anything more for a few moments. Only to then say, “Let’s go work out.”
“Come-on, Mia. Let’s go out tonight.” Jen pushed as we both gathered our things from our desks Friday afternoon. My cheery classroom was the last place I wanted to be anymore, all I wanted was a bath and a good book. It had been a long week of tending to children and all of their special needs. I loved what I did, I loved my students, but by Friday, I was exhausted and just ready to get home. Jen, my teaching assistant and one of my closest friends, was always energetic, bubbly, and almost annoying with her plotting to get me out of the house. She’d been trying to get me to go out with her for a month now, but all I wanted to do was go home, drink a glass of wine, and pass out.
“I’m goin’ home, Jen. Aren’t you tired at all? I don’t know how you can go out after the week we’ve had.” Jen was a couple years older than me, but she was a partier. She loved to get dressed up in her skimpiest dresses and go to clubs. Jen was very pretty with a pale pink round face, kinky red hair, and big brown doe-eyes. Men seemed to love her small, plump, curvy body and she loved showing off as much of her body as was legal. Outgoing, confident, and incredibly sweet, she was a wild child. She loved to go out and find different guys to go home with every weekend.
“You know, for someone so young, you’re no fun,” Jen complained. “You need to loosen up and come out with me. We would make a great team, everything any man could want; me pale and curvy, you dark and thin. Men wouldn’t know what to do with us.”
Shaking my head, all I could do was laugh at her. So easy-going and fun-loving, you couldn’t help but laugh at the things that came out of Jen’s mouth. The problem? Going out with her would probably be all kinds of fun and I could get into all kinds of trouble, but I wasn’t interested in a one-night stand. Besides, I was sort of seeing someone.
Grant Carson was a marketing manager in Charlotte. His career was extremely important to him and kept him extraordinarily busy. There wasn’t anything real between Grant and me. He was just a deterrent from being alone. Maybe I wasn’t really with Grant, but at least he was good enough to give me something to do when he was around; and he wasn’t around often.
“I’m sorry, Jen. I just can’t. I need to get home.”
“This isn’t about Grant, is it?” she asked, eyeing me.
Jen knew Grant well. She was the reason Grant and I met. He kept an apartment in her building for when he was in Mooresville, and it happened to be right next door to Jen. We ran into each other so often and he seemed so nice, we just started talking. Jen wasn’t a big fan of Grant’s and she let me know it constantly.
“What are you talkin’ about?”
“Don’t play dumb with me, Mia Slone. I know you wait around for him when he’s supposed to come to town.” She paused, then said, “He’s a sneaky bastard, I wouldn’t trust him.”
“Grant’s nice,” I argued. “He’s just busy and can only come to Mooresville from time to time.” She was wrong about my intentions. I didn’t wait around for him, I simply used his schedule as an excuse to not go to clubs or bars. Even though Jen loved to party, it just wasn’t what I wanted. She enjoyed her life, but I preferred to stay home.
She sighed. “Honey he’s not a good guy. Grant and I went to college together. He was a player, a cheater; known to date a couple girls at a time. Hell, even now he makes no secret about having women here and in the city. He’s a dog, and what’s worse, he thinks he’s god’s gift or something.”
I listened to how she described Grant, but I couldn’t say I was at all surprised. I’d seen how materialistic and selfish he could be. It should’ve made me want to immediately stop talking to him, but I actually didn’t care much. He was easy, he wasn’t a challenge, and he definitely wasn’t a threat to my heart. He was just someone to be with, I doubted I’d ever fall in love him.
“But …” I started. Jen cut me off immediately. She probably thought I was going to defend myself or him, but I wasn’t. I don’t know what I would’ve said, but defending my relationship with Grant definitely wasn’t it.
“Look, don’t even go there. This time isn’t different. Nothing is different, except a different woman.”
I nodded my head. I wasn’t going to argue with her. Actually I wasn’t sure what I was going to say. She’d never understand why I didn’t care what Grant did. He was my escape from the plethora of assholes I’d dated for more years than I wished to admit. It would be my luck for him to be just like the rest. Apparently there was no escape from my horrible taste in men. It seemed I couldn’t even hang out with a guy without him being a jerk. “All right, I hear you. But I’m still too tired to go out. I’m just gonna head home and relax.”
Jen looked skeptical, but didn’t argue. “See you tomorrow for our coffee date then?”
I nodded, gathered my things, and left for the night.
Driving home, I welcomed the silence. The problem was, my mind tended to wander when I was alone. Questions raced through my consciousness while I went through the motions of driving. So focused on my thoughts, I’d sometimes end up home and wouldn’t remember how I even got there. The big question today being, why did I constantly set myself up like this? There had to be someone out there who understood me. Someone who recognized me for what was inside – not the outside packaging.
Who was I kidding, I knew there was someone out there who fit that description. Once there was a guy in who didn’t need me to explain myself, he knew me for exactly who I was. A guy I didn’t have to pretend with. I could just be me. And he liked me for me, maybe even loved me.
But it was so long ago.
Love me for who I am.
From behind, I noticed headlights coming through the parking lot of Bobby’s bar. The house I shared with my best friend, Toni, was located in a renovated garage next door to her Uncle Bobby’s house and just behind the bar he owned. I loved it, but sometimes it got lonely with Toni gone so much.
I knew the car coming toward me wasn’t Toni or her uncle. They both had trucks which were louder and much taller than what approached. Besides, it was Friday; Toni was out of town at a race and Bobby was in the bar.
A bright, cherry red BMW pulled just behind my car. I couldn’t hardly see who was inside, but I knew to whom this gaudy vehicle belonged. Grant was the most materialistic person I knew. He was so obsessed with impressing people, he would make a spectacle of himself with his garish car, his loud voice, and his ballsy attitude. He thought he was better than most people, and he made sure they knew it.
Grant sat there, staring out the front windshield. He didn’t move to get out or approach, he only sat and waited. He always expected me to go to him; he never came to me. Yet another thing about this man that drove me nuts.
Why do I even bother with this asshat?
At first glance, there was nothing about Grant that would normally attract my attention. He was average at best; average height, average looks, and slightly overweight build. His brown hair was messy and unkempt; he definitely needed a haircut. The stubble on his face was patchy and weird-looking. Definitely no sexy stubble look for him. His expensive-looking suit was ill-fitting and frumpy. He was a huge contrast to the tall, athletic guys I usually dated.
“What’s up, you comin’ in?” I asked, walking toward him. The look on his face said it all.
He sat there and waited for me to get next to the window before he responded. Why the hell did I go to him? I couldn’t figure it out.
He’s not worth it!
I screamed these things in my head all the time. He wasn’t worth it …
Why do I bother?
“I’m sorry, babe, I can’t tonight. I need to get back to Charlotte, my mother was admitted into the hospital tonight for a blood clot in her lung. I need to get home to help my sister. I’m sorry.” He didn’t look up at me as he spoke. He stared straight ahead, looking everywhere but at me.
I felt terrible for him. He must be so worried about her. “Is she okay?”
“She’ll be okay, they have her on blood thinners and they’ll watch her for a couple days. But then she’ll probably need to come to my place for a while to get better. It’s going to be a lot of work, taking care of my mom and working like I do. So I’m not going to be around a lot. Too bad I’m not a teacher like you, I’d get to go home at three-thirty every day, no work on the weekends, and summers off. That’d be the life.”
I tried not to get pissed, but I could feel the anger boiling in my gut. Hearing him constantly undermine my job and my students pissed me off. He truly seemed to think I never worked outside of my classroom. Like being a teacher was a worthless career. I hated it.
Why do I put up with him?
I just couldn’t figure it out. Maybe he needed to say such things in order to make himself feel better.
“Do you need any help? I could come to Charlotte and –”
“No, Mia,” he said abruptly, startling me with his sudden interruption. He seemed annoyed I even offered to help him. It wasn’t like I was trying to infiltrate his family or something, I just knew how much support people needed when a loved one was sick. My mother and I spent lots of time with Toni and her father when her mother was sick, and then after she died. We cooked, cleaned, and were shoulders to cry on. Our families were friends and that’s what friends did for one another.
“I need to get going,” he continued, still not looking at me. I found it strange when he didn’t make eye contact with me at all through the entire conversation. “My sister’s a mess so now wouldn’t be a good time to meet the family and all.”
I understood, but there was still something off about how he acted, starting with the fact that he was here talking to me. If it were my mother, I would’ve been in the car driving. I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to stop and talk to someone in person, I would’ve called. Something just felt wrong.
“Well, what did you expect?” Jen asked. We sat at Dollar Donut most Saturday mornings for coffee and donuts. Since Toni traveled so much and I wasn’t close to Cade or Jake anymore, my weekly coffee date with Jen was my only reason to get out of the house. “You blew me off for him when I could’ve at least gotten you laid.”
“I didn’t blow you off, Jen,” I sighed fidgeting with my napkin, ripping it into confetti-like pieces. “I was just tired.”
“Fine,” she conceded, pushing her napkin toward me so I could continue with my monotonous task. Jen knew me too well, she knew I needed to keep my hands busy. “So he showed up at your place, what did he say?”
“He said his mother is sick and he’d call me.” I sighed at the mountainous pile of shredded paper I’d created. When I looked up, Jen appeared to have something to say. “What?” I asked.
“He’s a lying sonofabitch,” she growled. “Mia, Grant and I have a lot of friends in common, especially on social media. The asshole definitely wasn’t at the hospital last night.”
“What’re you talkin’ about? I get a notification every time he posts somethin’ or someone tags him. I haven’t seen anything.”
“One of his buddies posted pictures at a strip club last night. Grant was front and center in every picture.”
For the first time, a real emotion started bubbling in my gut in regard to Grant. It wasn’t sadness or worry – it was pure anger. I’d felt horrible his mother was so sick. I’d prayed for her wellbeing and worried for him all night. Now I hear my suspicions were probably right? I was pissed; I despised liars.
So if I don’t trust him, what am I doin’?
But I knew the answer to my question. I was with him because he was easy. I was sick of being alone. It didn’t take any effort to be with Grant. I couldn’t have the one man I wanted, so I settled for a man I didn’t want. I just wasn’t sure if easy was worth it, especially if I was being lied to.
When I didn’t answer, Jen continued, “I’m sorry, honey. He’s an asshole.” Then she smiled and a light lit in her eyes. “We’re going out and we’re getting you laid.”
Ugh! Her answer was always going out and getting laid. I might not have known what the hell I wanted, but I sure as hell didn’t want to be anyone’s one night stand. What the hell was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just find one decent guy?
Jen sat and waited for me to respond.
“All right.” I gave in. “Maybe you’re right.”
“That’s what I like to hear. Now, we’re going back to my place, picking up my stuff and then we’ll go to your place and get ready. We’ll have a drink at the bar next door to your place and then head out on the town.” I started to grumble and complain, but she stopped me. “No bitching, Mia. You’re my friend and you’re going out with me. Look, Grant’s not sitting around, is he? No, he’s out having a good time and lying to you about it. Get your ass out there! Besides, you can’t make me go alone, I might get molested.”
I laughed. “Sure you will. More likely you’ll be doin’ the molestin’.”
I found myself sitting uncomfortably on a barstool in the tightest, shortest dress I owned. Out on the dance floor, Jen was all but naked, while she grinded her ass against some guy’s crotch. He held her hips as she moved, smiling like he had just found the tastiest cookie in the cookie jar. When Jen and I arrived at the club and started dancing, several guys tried coming up behind me for the same treatment, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Back in college, I might’ve been right there with her, but over the years I’d become more self-conscious. I couldn’t stand the thought of people thinking I was easy or a tease. I constantly felt like people were watching me, staring at my body, my hair, everything. I always felt like they judged me.