Choosing Henley

By: Anne Jolin

YOU KNOW THAT family… That family with the big house, the white picket fence, and the adorable dog. The family with the beautiful children, the parents with a happy marriage, and those permanent, perfect smiles constantly affixed to their faces. Do you know that family? Well, I did. I was part of that family for the first twelve years of my life—until the walls and the ceiling of that perfectly constructed lie came crashing down. I didn’t make it out of the rubble as the same hopeful little girl. I am jaded, I am closed off, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to trust a man again.

The girls Googled it once. They determined that I must have intimacy issues and likely abandonment problems. I laughed because who actually Googles a medical diagnosis? But the truth is that they’re right. I probably do. On the eve of my thirteenth birthday, my entire outlook on men changed—and not in a good way.

The hero of my world, my first love, and the man I looked up to left. He packed his bags, kissed me on the top of the head, and walked out the door.

People get divorced all the time. I know that. I could have stomached it if I’d known my parents weren’t in love anymore. Even at thirteen, I could have survived that. I would have wanted them to be happy even if that meant not staying married. It wouldn’t have mattered, because at the end of it all, I still would have had both my parents.

Well, that isn’t what this was.

My dad never abused us—physically or verbally—and he told me every day how much he loved me. He came to every lacrosse game and dance recital, celebrated every birthday, and supported every dream. My parents went on date nights and danced in the living room, and they were happy. We were happy.

That is why it was nearly impossible to comprehend that my perfect daddy left us for another family. He traded us in. He abandoned us. He never came back.

It’s been twelve years since my father broke my heart. Twelve years since the one man who was genetically programmed to love me left me.

I’ve been absolutely scared shitless of loving another man ever since.

YOU CAN DO this. You can do this. You can do this.

Oh great. I’ve resorted to giving myself mental pep talks. Good God. I seriously have to get my shit together.

I’m sitting in the driveway, white-knuckling the steering wheel and staring up at my best friend’s house. I love her to death and I’m beyond thrilled that she found her happily ever after, but why does she have to torture me like this every month? She has to know how much this royally sucks for me. It’s December and I’m trying to work up enough courage to go inside for our monthly super-fun friend dinner. What a load of crap.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my friends, but this fucking blows. I’m about to walk into my very own horror-themed version of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. At least no one’s emptying a shitter on the street. I raise my eyebrows at myself in the rearview mirror and let out a laugh. That really is a great movie.

Hannah and Greyson’s townhouse looks beautiful. White Christmas lights run along the roofline of the house, and there’s a brilliant wreath on the front door. I’ll hand it to my bestie—she really has good taste. If she ever wanted to give up the massage therapy thing—which I hope she doesn’t because Lord knows I love a free massage—she could totally do interior decorating. I’ve always hoped that, if I ever have my own salon, she’d help me decorate it.

The heat is blasting in the car, and I can see them all through the bay window of the living room. Looks like I’m the last to arrive. Typical. I turn off the engine, grab my purse from the passenger’s seat, and pull on the door handle. My black knee-high boots crunch in the snow, and I shiver as the wind blows a chill into my unbuttoned dress coat. Goddamn, it’s a cold winter in Rock Falls.

I’m just standing there beside my car door like a complete asshat. I would have called to cancel, but Hannah would have known it was a crock of shit. Then she’d have driven to my house and dragged me here kicking and screaming. So on the plus side, at least I salvaged some dignity by coming on my own. I give one last look at the safety of my Chevy Equinox and shake my head. Time to nut up or shut up, Lennon. You can do this.

I don’t bother knocking when I get to the front door; I just reach for the handle. Normally, if it were just the two of them home, I’d bang obnoxiously on the door before walking in. These two lovebirds are always going at it and, well, some things you just can’t unsee. Like your best friend butt naked riding a tattooed god of a man. Yup, that happened. I learned my lesson, but being that everyone else is here, I make my way inside, shutting the door to the cold night air behind me.

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