From This Moment(5)


by Melanie Harlow

But I felt good, and my pulse was in the normal range. Rather than turn around and head back, however, I decided to take advantage of the empty strip of beach I was on and stretch a little. Looking out over the lake I’d grown up on, I caught the top of my right foot in my right hand and felt the pull in my quadriceps. After counting to twenty, I repeated it on the other side and then switched positions to stretch out my hamstrings.

Childhood memories skimmed across my mind like the rocks Drew and I used to skip across the calm surface of the lake. I remembered the day our dad had taught us to skip them, and how we’d both struggled at first. I’d caught on before Drew, but after seeing the crestfallen expression on his face after I’d successfully skipped three stones five times, I’d stopped doing it and instead helped him find flatter, smoother stones. Showed him exactly how I angled the rock—he kept trying to skip it completely flat, but that didn’t give him enough friction—and flicked my wrist for just the right amount of spin. Once he got the hang of it, we had endless stone skipping contests every summer.

There were other competitions too—sand castles and rock throwing, and later, kayak races and waterskiing tricks. Drew loved showing off daring feats on the water, especially if there were girls on the boat. I wasn’t bad, but I was too scared to make an ass of myself in front of girls to try anything really crazy.

Sometimes, after a day out on the water with friends, we’d have bonfires on the beach at night, sneaking beers and cigarettes and first kisses. I could still hear the crackling of the fire and the pounding of my heart as I leaned toward Cece Bowman, fueled by curiosity, two cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and a raging hard-on. She’d tasted like beer and bubble gum. Later we’d gone to my room—our parents must have been out—and made out on my bed, where I’d fumbled my way through removing her bathing suit top and feeling her up in clumsy disbelief. She’d put her hand in my shorts and I’d immediately come all over her fingers.

Shaking my head, I started jogging again, hoping that experience wasn’t as terrible for her as I imagined it. Drew, who’d already had sex five times with two different girls by the summer we were seventeen, couldn’t believe I hadn’t even tried to go all the way. “How could I?” I’d asked him. “It was over too fast!”

“Yeah, you have to think about other things, or else that’s what happens.” We were in his room, me on the floor and Drew on the bed tossing a baseball in the air and catching it again right above his face.

“What kind of other things?”

“Whatever will distract you. Hockey or baseball stats usually work for me. Or I say the alphabet backward. Shit like that.”

It wasn’t until college that I had the opportunity (and the nerve) to try again, and I’m pretty sure I recited at least the Preamble to the Constitution before losing complete control.

I liked to think I’d come a long way since then.

I’d never had the kind of feelings for someone Drew and Hannah had shared, but I’d at least learned a thing or two about sex during the short-lived fuck flings I’d had in the last ten years. Those kinds of relationships suited me best—physical gratification with little to no talking, especially about feelings.

“Don’t you want to get married? Have a family?” my mother would ask me any time I came home.

I’d shrug. “Maybe. If I find the right person.”

“Leave him alone, Mom.” Drew would always defend me. “It’s his life, and he’s doing important work.”

“Having a family is important too,” she’d insist. “And I know some nice girls who’d just love to meet a handsome doctor.”

Drew and I would exchange an eye roll and then he’d change the subject. But I wouldn’t have him around to defend me anymore. Or change the subject. Or commiserate about our mother’s meddling.

Fuck. I miss you, Drew. I should have come home more often. I should know your daughter better. I should have reached out to Hannah sooner.

But I knew why I hadn’t, and it didn’t make me feel any better.

When I reached the stretch of sand in front of my parents’ house, I slowed to a jog, then a walk, pacing the length of their beach as my heart rate slowed. Then I yanked off my shirt, ditched my shoes and socks, and waded into the lake. When I got deep enough, I dove beneath the surface of the water and stayed under for a long, long time.

Three

HANNAH

On Friday afternoon, while I was getting ready to leave work, I got a text from a strange number. My heart began to pound as soon as I read the first four words.

Hey Hannah, it’s Wes.

Fuck. I’d been on edge the last day and a half, expecting him to turn up on my doorstep unannounced. My stomach started to churn as I read on.

I wanted to come by and see you and Abby. Does this evening work?

“Everything okay?” asked Georgia Valentini, one of the two chefs and owners of Valentini Farms B and B. She was technically my boss, but I considered her a friend as well. “All the color just drained from your face.”

I looked up and blinked at her. Gave her the usual lie. “Fine.”

“You sure?” She cocked her head as she tied an apron at the back of her waist.

“Yes. It’s…” I felt dizzy and sweaty hot all of a sudden and had to close my eyes, take a few deep breaths.

“Hey.” Georgia took my arm and led me over to a chair. “Sit down. I’ll get you some water.”

“Thanks.” I lowered my head between my knees and waited for the uneasy feeling to pass, listening to the clink of ice cubes in a glass and the running faucet.

“Here.” Georgia placed the glass on the table and took the chair opposite mine.

Grateful, I took a few sips of cold water. “Thanks. I had a little dizzy spell there.”

“Have you eaten today? Did you have lunch?” Her eyes held concern.

I nodded, but I couldn’t recall if I actually had.

“Probably not enough.” She got up and went to the huge fridge, pulling the door open. “I’m getting you something.”

I didn’t have it in me to argue. Sleep hadn’t come easy the last couple nights, and exhaustion was catching up with me. “Okay.”

A moment later, she set a plate of chicken salad in front of me with two deviled eggs on the side. I wasn’t hungry, but I dutifully took the fork she held out and poked at a grape in the salad. “Thanks.”

She sat down opposite me again. “Want to tell me what’s going on? You’ve been sort of tense and quiet the last couple days.”

“Have I?” I frowned. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. You’re entitled to be quiet sometimes. Everything okay?”

“You don’t have time to deal with my issues. You need to prep for dinner.” It was Labor Day weekend, and we were fully booked with reservations.

“I have time. And Margot will be here shortly to help. Spill.”

I took a breath. “It’s Wes. He wants to come over later, and seeing him is really hard for me. I ran into him the other day, and it’s got me all messed up.”

Georgia nodded in understanding. Her husband Pete, who was the other owner and chef here, had grown up with Drew and Wes, and she’d met them both. “I bet.”

“And the thing is, rationally, I know I should just face the fact that I have to get used to seeing him. It’s not his fault he looks just like Drew or that being around him is a trigger for me.”

“But fuck rationally.”

I sighed. “Exactly.”

“So what’ll you do?”

“What can I do?”

“Tell him it’s a bad night.”

“Putting him off tonight only delays the inevitable, though. And it isn’t fair to him. Or to Abby.” I pushed some chicken salad around the plate.

“What if you dropped Abby off at your in-laws’? Then you wouldn’t have to be around him.”

I shook my head. “I thought about that yesterday, but I feel like I need to be there for Abby. At least in the beginning. I don’t want her to be confused.”

“So say yes. See how it goes. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Uh, I could have a seismic emotional meltdown in front of him?”

She shrugged. “At least he wouldn’t want to come over anymore.”

In spite of everything, I laughed a little. “Right.”

“Listen.” She scooted her chair in and put her hand on my forearm. “You don’t have to do anything you’re not ready to do, but you’re stronger than you think. That much I know for sure.”

I’m not, I felt like saying. I’m just fooling you all. I’m pretending so you’ll stop asking me how I’m doing all the time. I’m pretending in the hopes of fooling myself. I’m pretending because the alternative—the truth—is that I’m sad, scared, sick, worried, angry, guilty, lost, and alone. I’m so fucking alone I could scream.

But I didn’t say that.