ROYAL(8)

By: Winter Renshaw



“What do you mean, he’s not coming back?” I stumble back until I hit a wall.

No one’s smiling. No one’s laughing.

Delilah and Derek stare at their empty plates. Daphne twirls a fork between two fingers.

“What happened? Is he okay? Did something happen to him?” My words come so fast my lips feel like Jell-O. “Where is he?”

Dad clears his throat and rises. “You and Royal are through, Demi. That’s all you need to know. He’s not to come back here. And you’re not to see him again. Is that understood?”

“Robert.” Mom’s voice breaks. From where I stand, I see her clutch her hand across her heart and shake her head, though her back is toward all of us. I’m sure she’s wishing Dad would’ve delivered his message with a little more compassion, but there’s no delicate way to drop a bomb like that.

“No. No, no, no, no . . .” My voice escalates. I repeat the same word over and over, until the back of my throat is raw and it hurts to swallow.

Thick tears trail my cheeks, and I find myself on the floor after a minute, my knees pulled up against my chest and my face buried. Someone’s arms are around me. Delilah maybe? No, feels like Daphne. I don’t bother looking up. I don’t have the energy.

“No . . .”

I close my eyes for just a second, and when I open them, I’m alone in my dark bedroom. Buried under a mountain of covers.

Alone.

Broken.

Abandoned by the only man I’m ever going to love.





Chapter One




Demi



{Present Day}



“You’re a saint, Demi. You really are. Brooks is so lucky to have you.” Brenda Abbott kisses the top of my head as I sit at the foot of her son’s hospital bed, massaging lotion into his dry, unmoving legs. “He’s going to wake up soon. I just know it.”

She pouts her thin lips, and I realize I’ve never seen my future mother-in-law without lipstick until now. Brenda wears mascara though. Layers of it. Thick and waterproof. Dark black that makes the green of her irises glow.

The gaudy, five-carat cushion diamond on my left ring finger glimmers beneath the low light above Brooks’s bed, catching my eye. I still think it looks fake, though I know it’s very much real and very much certified and very much insured. I thought Brooks was insane for buying it. I told him no one in Rixton Falls has a ring like this. I’d have been happy with a stone a fraction of this size, but he insisted.

Forty-eight hours ago, I took this paperweight off, returned it to its robin’s egg blue box, and tucked it in the bottom of a drawer. Forty-eight hours ago, I called the caterer, cancelled the band, and begged the photographer for at least some of our deposit back. Forty-eight hours ago, life as I knew it came to a screeching halt for the second time in seven short years.

Guess I have a penchant for picking the love ‘em and leave ‘em type.

Brooks called off our wedding the other night with some bullshit excuse about not being ready and peeled out of the driveway in his red C-Class. The one he crumpled and shredded when he ran off the road and hit a guardrail. The one currently reduced to a pile of scrap metal in some junkyard on the outside of town.

It was late. I still don’t know where he was going, but clearly he was in a hurry to get there.

I poured myself a glass of wine after he left and went to bed wearing an old t-shirt of an ex-boyfriend’s out of spite. Couldn’t sleep. Just laid awake beating myself up for feeling relief over anguish. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t more upset about him leaving. I even tried to make myself cry. The tears wouldn’t come.

“He’s going to be fine,” I assure his mom, though I’m not exactly qualified to give that kind of hope. I went to school to teach kindergarteners, not to diagnose the uncertain futures of trauma patients.

The steady gush and hiss of a machine that breathes for Brooks fills the tiny room.

A nurse knocks on the door. “So sorry, folks. Visiting hours are over. You can come back in the morning.”

Brenda slips a Prada handbag over her shoulder, refusing to take her eyes off her swollen and mangled son, as if she might miss a hint of a twitch. I don’t remind her that his coma is medically induced, and she’s not going to miss a thing until they try and bring him out of it.

“You going to be okay tonight, sweetie?” Brenda rubs a knot between my shoulder blades. Small, hurried circles. Comforting yet detached. I’ve been with Brooks since our senior year at Hargrove, so I’ve known Brenda for years. I always thought she was strong, but now I’m beginning to see that she just sucks at showing emotion deeper than surface level.

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