The next morning as she walked down her driveway to get her morning paper, she noticed the Christmas lights which were still hung in the trees around her property. Ben had put them up after their two Thanksgiving meals and she just had not had a chance to take them down after Christmas. Most of the time she never paid attention to them and when she did, she just wasn’t in the mood to take them down. She knew she would need to get to that soon it was almost three months past Christmas. But maybe since she’d kept them up this long, she’d just leave them up for next year. It wasn’t like anyone came to her property. She had no family or friends around.
Lauren thought about the lonely life she lived. She had Daisy, but no amount of love from her dog could replace a real conversation with a human. She thought about the last time she had had a real conversation. A real, home-hitting deep conversation and not just a short one that she had when she ran her errands during the week. The last one was with her mom about Zoey right before her parents passing.
They had been talking about how she could move on from her “break-up” with Zoey. It’s what her mom called it. Lauren didn’t exactly think that “break-up” was the right phrasing for her friendship ending but she rolled with it.
“You’re allowed to grieve this as much as you are grieving your split from Ben, sweetheart.” She had said, setting a steaming mug of hot cocoa down in front of Lauren.
“I just don’t think I should be this upset about it.” Lauren said. She picked up the mug and took a small sip her tongue burned in the process and her mom gave her a look telling her that she should know better.
“You can be as upset as you want to. This is a breakup after all.” She said.
Lauren blew on the top of the mug, sending swirls of steam into the air, trying to cool it down so she could drink the delicious rich cocoa. “I don’t think I would call it that.”
“Well, why not? She was your best friend. You guys spent a lot of time together. A lot of time with each other’s families. The friendship ended. Sometimes those can hurt more than relationships with lovers.” Her mom sat down across from her with her own mug of hot cocoa.
Lauren wrinkled her nose. “Gross mom. Don’t say ‘lovers’.”
Her mom laughed. “Oh, don’t be such a prude, Lauren.”
Lauren blew on the steaming mug again. She loved her mom’s hot cocoa as she made it from real chocolate at home and didn’t use those powdered packages from the store with the tiny hard cereal type marshmallows.
“So, you’re saying it’s normal for my heart to ache at the thought of never speaking to Zoey again?” She needed to know she wasn’t crazy. It was the reassurance she was seeking more than anything. She felt weird about her heart being broken by a friend.
“Well duh. She was a big part of your life and now she’s gone. It’s no different. You loved her. Maybe not the same way you loved Ben, but you still loved her nonetheless.” She said.
She knew it was true. “Thanks mom.” She said with a smile that she knew would reassure her mom that she was okay, even though deep down she was not okay. She felt like she was starting to fall apart. First her boyfriend and then her best friend. At least she still had her parents.
Lauren drank her hot cocoa as her mom told her about all the gossip that was going on in town. And she put in her two cents here and there. The two of them had long finished their mugs of hot cocoa before their conversation had ended. They laughed about all the silly things and expressed shock at the unbelievable. And Lauren left that night feeling better than she had in a few weeks. She would allow herself to grieve the friendship she lost up until three days later when her parents died. She no longer grieved Zoey because everything regarding Zoey seemed so insignificant in comparison.
Lauren poured herself a cup of coffee, adding enough creamer to make it a caramel color and then sat down at her table to read the paper. There wasn’t a whole lot of exciting news. But she read it to at least keep up to date on big happenings in the tiny town. She used to have her mom for those things, but now she no longer had that connection.
Lauren felt the quietness thicken around her. She needed to get out of the house. She put the half-read paper down, got up and put her empty cup in the sink then she turned to her dog. “What do you say, Daisy, do we go for a walk?” Daisy instantly started wagging her tail around and went over to wear her leash was hung. Lauren grabbed the leash and snapped it in place, careful not to get her thumb again, and took Daisy for her daily walk.
It was much earlier than it normally was, but neither of them seemed to mind. The cool mountain air filled her lungs and she felt like maybe she could breathe just a little better out there. They walked the path they normally did and when they approached the same turn around point, Lauren decided to keep going. She figured she should make up for the short walk they had gone on the day before. Daisy was excited to keep leading the way up the path. They walked for fifteen minutes longer before Lauren decided it would be best to get back to the house. She needed another cup of coffee.
She walked down the steep mountain trail, at an exceptionally faster than normal pace and as she approached her cabin, she noticed a familiar blue truck in the driveway.
“What’s he want?” She asked out loud, Daisy didn’t respond but she hadn’t been expecting her to. Lauren silently thanked her dad for the way he built the cabin. The front doorstep could not be seen from the trail, meaning her unexpected guest couldn’t see her either.
She went in through the back door and took Daisy’s hung it by the front door just as there was a knock. She wondered just how long he had been there for and how long he had been knocking. She took a deep breath and slowly opened the door.
“Hey, I was just about to bust the door down and come inside to check on you” Ben said.
Lauren wanted to snap at him but her walk had left her feeling a little more calm than usual and so she took a nicer approach. “What do you want Ben?” She kept her tone flat as to not make him think she was happy to see him. She was not, but sometimes her voice would make a higher pitched sound when she was nervous and boy was she nervous to see him.
“I wanted to come check in on you. No one’s really heard from you or seen you lately.” He said, rubbing the back of his neck. It was a nervous habit that would come out when he had to file taxes or make an important phone call that he had been avoiding. She used to adore the way he did that, but now it was irritating her.
“I’m fine.” She said a little more harshly then she had intended but then again, he should have known better than to just show up out of nowhere. She had always hated surprises. Especially surprise visits from people she hadn’t seen in a while.
“Lo, how is anyone supposed to know that you are okay when you won’t return our phone calls?” He said.
She crossed her arms and glared at him. “Seriously, Ben? Now you care if I’m okay?”
“Can I just come inside. It’s kind of cold out here.” He half-smiled. The same half-smile that would have made her swoon a few months back.
“I just went for a hike. It’s not that cold. I think you can stay right there. Besides this conversation is pretty much over, isn’t it?”
“Look, I left her. Okay? I miss you.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” She couldn’t believe that he had shown up like this. Wanting to check in on her after everything that had happened. After the way he broke not just her heart, but her spirit too.
“Come on, please. I made a mistake. I’m human. We all make mistakes. Remember that time you put the caterer for the wedding on my credit card instead of yours?”
Her mouth dropped open and she glared at him. “I didn’t cheat on you, Ben. This is totally different.”
The audacity of this mother fucker. She thought.
“Lo, please just – ”
“Look, Ben,” She didn’t want to give him a chance to explain. “I don’t really understand why you’ve shown up here like this. You can say you were worried about me all you want, but I don’t have time for this. I’m dealing with a lot right now and I’m sure you’ll be surprised to hear this, but it has nothing to do with you.”
Ben looked so handsome standing there in his Carhartt. She could admit that to herself. He had dark hair, blue eyes and those heart melting dimples. But he had broken her heart. He wasn’t who she thought he was. She had been learning that about a lot of people as of late. More and more they were showing their true colors. And the more she saw, the less she liked humanity.
“Your parents’ accident was like two months ago. Don’t you think you should be getting your life back on track now?”
She couldn’t believe what he had just said. Out of all the stupid things that had come out of his mouth, that had been by far the stupidest. Lauren uncrossed her arms and closed the door without another word. There was nothing more to say. She stood by the door until she heard the door of his truck slam shut and the engine start. She looked at Daisy who had been sitting by her the entire time.
“I can’t believe he actually just said that to me, Daisy. People suck.” Daisy in response, licked her face. “Thank you, girl. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Lauren felt worse than she had before she saw Ben. It wasn’t fair. She had started feeling better until his stupid face had shown up there. Next, she’d probably run into Zoey in town. It was something she really didn’t want. She could handle seeing Ben, but Zoey was a different story. She had crossed the line and she could never see herself forgiving her.
Lauren pulled herself up off the ground and went into the kitchen. She grabbed a glass and promptly remembered that she was out of wine. The clock on her old black microwave said it was eleven. Sure, it probably was too early to drink anyways.
So, she did the only thing she could think of doing. She got into her car and headed into town for a brand-new bottle of wine.