It was too fucking hot that day. I was out in the peach tree orchard picking the ripe peaches. I had to keep stopping and taking my hat off to wipe away the sweat that kept forming on my forehead.
My family was a major supplier for a few grocery stores in the United States. It started with my great – grandfather in the 1960s- with a smaller plot of land than they have now – and they passed it down through my dad’s side of the family. My grandfather passed away when I was in middle school and left the operation to my father. We moved into the main house and when I graduated high school; I moved into their old house on the property.
Some days it was so exhausting to work out there with the 95-degree sun beating down on my back. But I would one day inherit it and needed to put in the hours working on it so my father could trust me with it. Our 2,000 acres sat on the outskirts of town. It was nice to be out there with no other houses around, but I knew the housing developments would come soon. I often wondered what the implications would be.
“Joshua! Stephanie is here!” I heard my mom call over the walkie talkie she wanted me to use, despite having a cell phone. I rolled my eyes. Stephanie was a girl I grew up with, in fact, she was my ex’s good friend at one point. We had started out going on a few dates here and there, then within a year, my father got very sick with a terminal cancer and I proposed to her. My father’s wish was to see me get married before he passed away.
The only thing was, I had no genuine feelings for Stephanie. She was whiney and demanding. And treated me as if I were some sort of trophy prize she had won because my family was rich. She talked down about my friends, the way I dressed, the music I listened to, and the list goes on.
I made my way to the main house and went inside. There was Stephanie and my mom sitting at the table, talking. My mom was telling her some ridiculous story about when I was a child. My mom had recently told me she felt nothing for Stephanie. Which was not the way she felt about Amber. I knew the feeling.
“Hey Joshy.” Stephanie said. She stood and puckered her lips. I kissed her hesitantly and then asked if she wanted to talk on the porch. She followed me outside and I sat down on the porch swing. She sat down next to me.
“We haven’t been on a date for a while. I was thinking we could go to Atlanta tonight.” She said.
“But tonight is the party at Cody’s. He’s just got out of the Marine’s.”
“I know, but I was thinking we could do something together. Just the two of us.” She whined.
She was already irritating me. “I’m going to that party, but how about we go out, just the two of us tomorrow?” I was hoping to placate her.
“I just was really looking forward to going out with you alone tonight.” She said.
“Stephanie, you knew that party was tonight, and that I was planning to go.” It bothered me she thought she could make plans for us and think I’d just go when we already had plans.
“I know, but I just think we need to have some alone time.”
I looked at her and shook my head and stood up to go back inside. But before I went in, I paused and looked at her. “I’m going to that party. You can go if you want. Or not. I don’t care, but I’m going.”
I didn’t wait for her to respond.
“What happened?” My mom asked when I walked back inside.
“She wanted me to take her out on a date tonight.”
“Isn’t Cody having a party tonight?” She asked.
“Yes, and she knew about this. Mom, I’m having second thoughts. What the hell do I do?”
“I know you are, baby. Be honest with her.”
She made it seem like it was so easy when, in reality, it was going to be hard. I didn’t really want to be alone and besides, Stephanie seemed like the type of girl that would slash my truck tires if I broke it off with her. Part of me hoped she would show up that night so we wouldn’t have to go on a date the next night, and another part of me hoped she wouldn’t show because I wanted to be with my boys and not deal with her drama.
I went back outside and got back to work, hoping that things would go faster. My dad walked over to where I was and I thought about getting advice from him, but I just didn’t even want to put in that much effort.
“Lookin’ good, son.” He said.
“Yep.” I looked at everything we’d done that day.
“I saw Stephanie a little bit ago. Everything okay with you two?” He asked.
I should have known that he was going to bring it up. Stephanie didn’t exactly pull out of our driveway slowly.
“Yeah, I’m just not sure how I’m feeling about her anymore.”
“Break it off with her and go sleep with that nice new girl that works at the grocery store.” He said.
I shook my head and laughed. “Really? That’s your advice.”
“I’m kidding, but I think you guys should sit down and talk. Seems like you’re having second thoughts. Don’t go through with it on account of me if you don’t care about the girl.”
“I’ll try it.” I said, feeling a little guilty for venting to my father about my trivial love life while he was sick with a disease that was about to take his life.
I put my earbuds back in and got back to work, and a few minutes later my phone rang. The music I was listening to paused, and I answered the phone call. It was Jacob, one of my best friends and the brother of the girl I was pretty sure I still wasn’t over.
“Hey. I just wanted to warn you about something.”
Great. Between Stephanie and whatever Jacob was going to tell me, I was not having a good day.
“Can it wait until Cody’s party tonight, Jake?” I asked.
“Actually no,” He said.
“Okay, what is it then?”
“My sister’s back in town.”
I froze. I didn’t know what to say or how to process it. “What?”
“My sister, Amber? Is back. Home. I don’t know how long she’ll be here for, but it’s pretty bad for her back in L.A.”
It felt like my entire world was shifting. I felt dizzy and sick. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah, I just thought that you should hear it from me first.” He paused. “She’s single in case you were wondering.”
“Cool.” I wasn’t sure what else he expected me to say. This was the girl I had been in love with for so long, and now she had returned for an unprecedented amount of time.
“You’re still going to come tonight, right?”
“Why wouldn’t I?” He paused again, and I took that as a bad sign. “Why, Jacob?”
“She’s going to be there.” He said.
“I kind of figured. Yeah. I’ll still be there. It’ll be nice to see her again.” I was trying to be both polite and manly. There is no way I could cry to Jacob about his sister. I had been at my lowest when she left me, and it had taken years for me to get over her. It was hard, at first, for me to be around Jacob. He looks a lot like his sister and I’d instantly think of her. My own parents were good friends with her parents and I often had to decline going to dinners at their house in the beginning. I think they all realized what my issue was, and that I wasn’t trying to be antisocial.
“That’s the spirit! Now get ready and let’s get shitty!”
“Dude, we’re almost thirty. I don’t think ‘getting shitty’ is supposed to be used by people in their late twenties.”
“I’m just excited. Don’t burst my bubble.”
“You sound like your sister.” I said.
“I know. You’re gonna be alright, right?”
“Yeah. Don’t worry about me.” I told him.
Then I went into my house and got ready for the evening.
I arrived at the party thirty minutes late. The first person I spotted was Stephanie. She yelled out my name and started walking over to me.
Fuck. I thought.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, and then she tried to kiss me. I gave her my cheek and kissed hers. She gave me a funny look when we pulled apart.
“I came to see you? Were you meeting another girl here? Why are you being so weird toward me?” She was beyond drunk and it irritated me.
“No, Jesus. I just thought you didn’t want to come.” I said.
“Are you sure about that one?” She asked in her valley-girl voice.
“Seriously? What are we, sixteen?” I walked away and headed for the kitchen to get a drink. She followed me.
“Just answer my question. That’s how it works in adult relationships.” She said.
“No, it’s not. In ‘adult relationships’ you don’t accuse your fiancé of wanting to meet up with another girl when he told you about the party in the first place.”
“So, you don’t want to be with me?” She asked.
“When did I say that in that sentence?”
“Well, you implied it, asshole.”
“I did not. Why are you acting this way?”
She threw her drink on me. “You’re a fucking cheater.” She added as she walked away.
People laughed. I felt pissed. I turned around to walk toward the bathroom and there, standing in the back sliding glass doorway, was Amber. Her blonde hair pulled back perfectly, so it was out of her face. She had makeup on, but not a lot. And I loved it. She was wearing tight jeans and a t-shirt, and I had to peel my eyes away from her body.
“That was harsh.” She said.
“Uh, yeah. Sorry about that.”
She walked over to me and grabbed some paper towels. “I was talking about Stephanie throwing her drink all over you.”
“Uh, yeah, I guess so.” I said, stunned. Usually such a confident person, I had crumbled. I didn’t know what to say to her. I hadn’t been expecting that to be the moment that I saw her. I had hoped to approach her with a nonchalance. Something that would say, “Hey, I’ve been great without you.” But instead, I was feeling nervous and all over the place.
“Do you know?” I asked.
“Know what?” The look of confusion on her face told me she had no idea.
She starred at me for a moment before shaking her head and turning around to walk back outside.
I followed, unable to stop myself. “Amber, wait.”
She paused and turned around. “What?”
“I was lonely. She was there. My dad’s dying and all he wanted was to see me get married.”
“Okay. But she was my friend.” There were tears in her eyes.
“Well, you’ve dated too.”
“NOT, your friend’s Joshua.”
I felt tense. I needed a drink. “You left me. Remember? I don’t know who you thought I was going to date, but you were friends with everyone. So that eliminated everyone. Did you just expect me to sit around and wait for you to come back?”
“No, Joshua. I didn’t think you needed to do that. I just thought you would have had enough respect for me to not date one of my friends.”
I didn’t understand why I was arguing with her and being defensive. It was none of her business if I was dating someone or not. It really wasn’t my fault. She up and left me in a small town. I hated she thought I should have been waiting around for her, and I hated it even more that it was true.
“That’s what I thought.” She turned back around.
She whipped back around. “Don’t. It’s too late.”
“Why are you here, Amber?” It was a bold question, but I needed to know.
“It’s none of your business.” She said, and then walked away.I didn’t see her the rest of the night and ended up leaving early. I needed to get out of there ASAP. Things did not go well. I wasn’t even sure how they were supposed to go.