My stomach sank. Fuck.
After Philomena finally left me alone and went back inside, I just sat for the longest time not knowing what to do. Grabbing the flowers, I eventually got out of the truck, planning to just leave them at her doorstep.
As I approached, what I saw in clear view through the window nearly stopped my heart. Aubrey was sitting on the couch with Richard as she leaned her head on his shoulder. She looked content. At peace. It looked like they were watching a movie.
As much as it hurt to see it, I couldn’t look away. That vision was the essence of my dream. There was nothing more in the world that I wanted than to come home every night to her and do exactly that—just be with her. With each second that passed as I stood there, the seeds of doubt were growing. Suddenly, for the first time since arriving in Temecula—even with all the stalking—I truly felt like an outsider looking in. It really hit me. While jail had thrown me into a time warp, time had indeed passed. Aubrey had moved on.
She’d moved on.
You fucking fool, Chance.
This was why you did what you did, remember? It was what you supposedly wanted for her.
At least twenty minutes must have gone by after that realization, and I was still standing in the same spot on the very lawn I’d manicured to perfection. I knew why I was feeling sick.
I was mourning her.
Walking away from her the first time left her devastated. My walking away the second time now would devastate me. This time, I didn’t seem to know how to leave. I couldn’t not say goodbye. For now, I’d leave the flowers at the door, maybe send her a message or call her tomorrow to let her know about my plans to return home to Hermosa Beach.
Arriving at her doorstep, I knelt down to place the flowers over the welcome mat. A thump startled me. Pixy must have smelled me or something. He appeared at the dining room window, which was just on the other side of the front door.
He began to “baa” incessantly.
“Shh!” I warned.
Just as I started to walk away, the exterior light flashed on, and the front door opened. I turned around.
Aubrey was standing there. “Chance…”
Lifting my hand slowly, I said, “Hi.”
“What are you doing here?” She looked down and spotted the flowers, bending to pick them up. “You were leaving these at my doorstep?”
“That’s right. I wasn’t planning to come in.”
Dick appeared, placing his hand possessively around Aubrey’s tiny waist. My eyes landed on it then moved up to meet Aubrey’s frightened expression.
“Mr. Bateman,” Dick said. “How can we help you?”
Fuck you, Princess Fucker.
“I was just coming by with a little token of my appreciation for Aubrey’s assistance with my legal matter.”
“That was nice of you, but you should have stopped by the office instead of coming here.”
“Actually, I’ll be leaving early in the morning. So, this was my only opportunity.”
Aubrey had been looking down at the flowers. Her head immediately lifted, and her stare was now penetrating my own. “You’re leaving town?”
“That’s right. My business here is done.” I continued looking straight into her eyes, so she understood how serious this was. “I wasn’t going to leave without saying goodbye.”
She stood there speechless. Pixy was standing right by Aubrey’s legs. Knowing what he was angling for, I bent down, closing my eyes to let him lick my face for the last time. When I stood up, Dick, who seemed confused about my instant bond with the goat, looked back and forth between the animal and me.
Tightening his grip on Aubrey, he said, “Well, we wish you the best.”
“Thank you.” I started to walk away before turning around one last time. My voice was strained. “Take good care of her.”
I didn’t care how inappropriate that last comment was. It needed to be said.
Swallowing my pain, I walked across the grass without looking back at her. I couldn’t. After I turned the corner, I got into my truck and sped off.
I headed straight for my motel room. I’d wanted to go to the bar to say goodbye to Carla but was scared of drinking myself into oblivion. Someday soon, I’d write her a letter or something to let her know how much her friendship meant to me.
Aubrey hadn’t called or texted. That only solidified the fact that my leaving was for the best.
Tossing and turning, sleep wasn’t happening for me. Unable to rid my body of the excruciating physical ache of knowing I would never touch her again, I conceded to my insomnia. I sat up at the edge of my bed, pulling my hair in frustration as I looked over at my packed suitcase while checking my phone for what seemed like the hundredth time.
Looking down at my hand, I took off the fake gold band from Vegas and threw it angrily in the trash can. While a part of me never expected her to call, a bigger part of me was shattered that she didn’t. What bothered me the most was that I still couldn’t envision my future without her in it.
A knock at the door startled me.
The motel was in a seedy area, so I made sure to check the peep hole before opening. The view inside was a distorted version of a distraught Aubrey. My confused heart accelerated despite having been emptied earlier of all hope.
I opened the door but said nothing as she walked past me and sat on the bed. I stayed standing across from her. The silence was deafening as we just looked at each other. Then, she started to talk.
“I waited for six hours in the lobby that day…”
When a teardrop fell down her cheek, I grabbed her a tissue and handed it to her before sitting down next to her. My body tensed in anticipation of what she’d say next.
“I was so sure that you were coming back. I kept hearing in my head what you’d told me the night you came home late from getting us dinner in Arizona, when I got scared. You said, ‘I would never do that to you.’ So, I held out hope for a while. I felt like a fool because even though all of your belongings were gone, I still believed you were coming back. I know it was only eight days with you, but I felt closer to you than anyone. I saw a future with you.”
My chest constricted. “Tell me what happened when you got to Temecula. I need to know everything even if it hurts to hear it.”
“I was very depressed for a long while. I threw myself into the new job. A couple of months after the move, I met a guy. He became a really good friend. His name was Jeremy. He was so sweet and good to me. We were friends for six months before he became my boyfriend. He knew everything about what happened between you and me.” She laughed a little, looking over at me for the first time. “He hated you.”
I smiled even though that made me hurt on the inside.
She continued, “I put up a wall, wouldn’t let him in. I was still so wrapped up in you even though you were gone, and you’d hurt me. You were still all I wanted, all I yearned for. Everywhere I went, everything reminded me of you. Jeremy knew it. He wanted more from me than I could give him. He wanted my heart, and even though you’d broken it, it still belonged to you.”
“How did you end up meeting Richard?”
“After things ended with Jeremy, I decided I really needed help. Between my career, my relationships, even my family dealings…I felt…stuck. I started seeing a therapist. She helped me to make some changes and stop blaming myself for your leaving. She helped me move on somewhat from the trust and abandonment issues. I’m still working on them. She also made me see that I had to accept that you weren’t coming back. By the time Richard entered my life seven months ago, I was ready to let someone in again. He was hired as a partner at the firm. That’s how we met.”