The Exception(2)

By: Adriana Locke

Bile churned in my stomach, the sound of Decker’s voice fresh in my mind. My eyes forced closed, trying to block the memories accosting me left and right.

“You’ll be back.”

I shivered. Those were the last words he said before I left Boston.

He was wrong. I wouldn’t be back—not to Massachusetts and not to him. Too many years had been spent at his mercy. Years of worry, heartbreak, and agony were finally behind me.

I opened my eyes, feeling relieved to be sitting in my sister’s kitchen and 2,000 miles from my ex-husband. Kari had decorated her little house in the Phoenix suburbs a lot like our house growing up. It was cozy and warm, with a neutral palette accented with pops of turquoise and coral. Our mother would have loved it and it made me feel at home.

The uncertainty I had lived with for so long had begun to lift in the few days I had been back in Arizona. The drive to Tempe had given me ample time to mull everything over from a safe vantage point; there wasn’t anything else to do in a car for six days but think.

I had given Decker everything I had for so long. It was time I started to focus on me. I needed to start fresh and charge into the future with a clean slate and clear head.

As I lifted the cup of coffee to my lips, I ignored the unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach.

These things take time. Fake it ‘til you make it.

“Jada, stop this.” Kari made her way into the kitchen, tossing her light brown hair out of her eyes, bringing me out of my daze. Although a few years younger than me, Kari could have been my twin. The only real difference between us was our hair—mine was naturally much darker. “Just watching you sit there like that makes me want to smack you.”

“Stop what?” I smiled and feigned innocence. Kari’s question was completely rhetorical—we both knew exactly what she was talking about.

I sighed, gazing at the bougainvillea growing outside the window. Its purple flowers were a bit of happiness in an otherwise drab desert landscape.

That’s what I need—a pop of color in my life.

“We need to get you out of this funk, do something to shake you up.” Kari bit her lip before her green eyes lit up. “Maybe we need to go to Vegas again!”

“Now that was a good time! Do you remember when Lara tried to climb into the fountain at the hotel? And the hot security guard had to basically restrain her?”

“Well, I volunteered for him to restrain me! I would totally have taken that one for the team!”

“You know, I’m pretty sure he may have taken you up on the offer, had you not vomited into the bushes right after propositioning him! You completely ruined the moment,” I recalled, throwing us into a fit of giggles.

I wiped away the tears with the back of my hands. It had been a long time since I had felt comfortable enough to let my guard slip. Decker had kept me on alert; I was always waiting for the next argument, the next battle. I had almost given up hope of a happily-ever-after.

Sitting with Kari, laughing at memories I hadn’t thought about in years, made me feel like I could breathe again. I felt lighter, less suffocated. Hope for a better future started to seep slowly through the crevices, exciting me but scaring me at the same time.

“See? There’s the sister I used to know!” Kari tossed a turquoise towel at me.

“I’m trying to get there. It still hurts.”

“It only hurts because you lost a fantasy. Let’s be real for two seconds—he was never the man you thought he was.”

Her words, full of truth, pierced my heart. I braced myself for the onslaught I knew was coming. “Obviously, I know that now. But he was my husband and—”

“And if you had listened to me,” Kari began, narrowing her eyes, “I would have saved you from that mistake! I told you. Dad told you. The signs were all there.”

If she only knew the half of what I went through, she would really be lighting me up!

“I know. But don’t go there again. Not now, please.” I closed my eyes, trying to keep my emotions in control. “I thought I would be married once, you know? I did everything to make it work and look at me now! Do you think this is where I want to be?” I leaned forward, my elbows resting on the table. “I have nothing, Kari. I’m a lonely, unemployed, homeless girl living with her sister. It’s pathetic. I’m well aware. There’s no need to rehash it.”

Kari rolled her eyes. “Could you be a little more dramatic? The lonely thing is a temporary setback; you just need to meet the right guy. You will be officially employed as soon as you get your ass to the office, so stop the whining about that. But mi casa es su casa for as long as you need.”