ROYAL(11)

By: Winter Renshaw



In my mind, that’s the kind of man he’s become.

I bet he doesn’t have a care in the world. I bet he doesn’t even think about me.

Truth is, I don’t know where he is tonight. All I know is . . .

I still love him.

And I hate him.

I hate him, I hate him, I hate him.





Chapter Two




Royal



I pull my cap down and duck behind my steering wheel when I see the flash of her Subaru headlights barreling down the road. The car veers, bouncing into the driveway and coming to a forced stop. In the dark and away from any streetlights, I watch as Demi Rosewood storms out of her car with a brown paper bag tucked under one arm.

My heart hammers the way it always does when I see her.

The twitch of my fingers threatens to lunge for the door handle.

Maybe this time . . .

Hurried steps carry her to the front door.

In an instant, she’s gone.

I pull in a lungful of dry, November air and start my engine. The seat beneath me vibrates and the heat kicks on.

Tonight is not the night.

Slinking back in my seat, I linger a little longer, watching the lights snap on and off as she makes her way through her suburban mini mansion. First the hall, then the kitchen, then an upstairs bedroom. Within minutes, her house darkens again. Only the telltale flicker of a TV screen from a bedroom window offers a cozy glow.

The tightness in my chest spreads, creeping up my neck. I force myself to look away. My foot rests on the brake, and I shift out of park and slam right back.

I can’t keep doing this.

For seven years, I’ve stayed away. For almost five years, I’ve watched her from a distance, promising myself that as long as she was happy, I would never intervene.

But she’s alone up there now.

And it’s all because of me.

I have to fix this.





Chapter Three




Demi



I chase four shots of cheap vodka with a glass of pulpy, bitter orange juice. The shit hasn’t even hit my bloodstream and already I want to puke. I’m a wine girl, but tonight called for something stronger, quicker. A quick fix to bandage the parts of me that hurt.

This stuff is like rocket fuel, burning through my veins and heating me from the inside out.

Damn. I knew it’d be quick, but not that quick.

Satisfied, I head up and change into an old t-shirt and cotton pajama pants with ironic little pink hearts up and down the leg and settle into my bed for some mind-numbing TV watching. I can’t fall asleep to the sound of silence and my own thoughts tonight. Canned laughter should do the trick.

Warmth blooms from my head and neck, spreading down my arms in real time.

My body relaxes for the first time in days.

The jersey sheets on our bed are freezing. This time of year, I usually insisted we switch to flannel, but Brooks always preferred sleeping naked in a bed that felt like old t-shirts, and I never argued because Mom always told me to pick my battles.

I hesitate before running my hand along Brooks’s side of the bed. Three nights ago, everything was on track, the wheels of our future as husband and wife set in motion.

Last weekend, he came home with a cookie dough ice cream cake for no reason other than the fact that I’d casually mentioned craving one the day before when a coupon came in the mail for my favorite ice cream shop in Glidden. I didn’t care so much about the ice cream cake as I did about the fact that he went out of his way for me.

And four mornings ago, he made me a banana protein smoothie on his way out the door for work because he knew my hair dryer went out and I was running late for work and wouldn’t have time for breakfast.

How could he be so sweet and then change his mind about me?

I lie in bed, questioning whether or not things were ever really that bad. I’m sure I have an entire stockpile of shitty things Brooks has done over the year, all tucked away in the back of my mind, ready for the plucking at just the right moment.

But I can’t seem to recall a single one right now.

It’s funny. The second someone’s taken from your life, you only remember the good.

Fear or guilt or the threat of an ominous God watching my every move keeps me from focusing on the bad.

If I sit here long enough, I could probably ruminate about all the times he came home late from work without so much as a phone call, the way he insisted on controlling our finances like I was some 1950s housewife. The way his clothes took up three-fourths of our closet. His spoiled, only-child temper when he didn’t get his way. His propensity for pretention at all the wrong moments, like the time he volunteered at a soup kitchen dressed in head to toe Armani and reeking of two-hundred-dollar cologne.

But if I dwell on those things too much, and Brooks leaves this world, I’ll never forgive myself.

He’s not perfect, and neither am I.

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