“Sure you’re a single mom, but you have a prestigious job, and live in a house with a wraparound porch and a rose garden. And you have hanging baskets with ferns that you water and prune. In addition to all of that, you cook dinner every night, bake homemade cakes, are a member of the PTA, and you go to baseball games each week. You, Ella, are the epitome of what a Southern belle is supposed to be.”
“I also got pregnant at seventeen, swear, refuse to get dressed or wear makeup on the days I work from home, and the cakes I bake are from a boxed mix, topped with store-bought frosting. And while I attend the baseball games, I still don’t know when I’m supposed to cheer other than when a ball is hit. I have to watch the other parents to know when I’m supposed to clap or start one of their ridiculous chants.”
“Stop.” I clasp a hand to my forehead, laughing because saying it out loud sounds so silly.
“You can’t tell me you chant and not do one for me.”
“You’re being ridiculous.”
“And you’re being mean.”
It feels good to laugh with my best friend and share this banter. Some of the tension that had seemingly quadrupled in the past forty-eight hours releases, and I sit down because it almost makes me light-headed to feel the significance. Rachel isn’t just my best friend—she’s my only friend. I moved here with a background about myself that even after nine years, I haven’t been able to shake. I’ve never had the gumption to ask Rachel if she ever believed what she heard about me, or even if she still does. I prefer living in ignorance.
“What are your plans for next weekend? The devil is taking Hayden, right?”
“You have to stop calling him that. One day, Hayden’s going to hear you,” I tell Rachel, grabbing a magazine, filled with pages of summertime recipes from the table and flipping it open.
“Good. Then maybe we can pull the entire sheet off so he can see the whole picture.”
My attention shifts to the conversation. “It’s better this way. Kids are supposed to love and be loved by both of their parents.”
“When their parents are both good people, absolutely.”
I don’t know why I’m arguing with Rachel. A part of me feels resentful for having to defend Patrick. After all, it’s me who has been wronged by him. It is me who experiences anxiety attacks when my son is gone for entire weekends. It’s me who this town looks down upon.
“Hayden deserves to have a father though.” And that alone is the reason I will continue to defend my ex.
“Ella, you have to start hating him in order to get over him,” Rachel says. “It’s the only way.”
“I am over him,” I reply automatically.
She doesn’t argue. We both know I’m not. When you give your heart away, there’s no way to fully get it back. Pieces will be left behind, lies will drill holes, deceit will cause cracks, and the feeling of being unwanted will create a doubt your heart was ever whole. The only time I’ve ever felt as though my heart was entirely full was years ago when I thought a man loved and adored me more than anything or anyone. It’s a feeling I have missed for the past nine years—and one I find myself briefly waiting to experience on every blind date I go on. There have been moments where I’ve even wondered if I was possibly experiencing a small bit of it while out on a date. A private smile or a prolonged glance or finding something special in common like a shared love for French espresso have all had me believing and hoping I could feel that fullness I once felt. It was almost cruel to experience those dates at all because it didn’t feel fair to my feelings, let alone my heart.
Shakespeare believed there was always humor in tragedy and tragedy in humor.
My life proved his theory as fact.
At eighteen I was a single parent moving to this small town to be with the man I loved. The one who was supposed to love and cherish me in return.
Finding out he had a wife was tragic.
Remaining in love with him in spite of her was more tragic.
My mom and best friend setting me up on a long string of blind dates was an ongoing tragedy.
Nine years later, I’ve learned to see the humor in most situations.
My mom and best friend setting me up on disastrous blind dates.
My son’s jokes.
The fire alarm going off each time I cook.
My constant bright spot always adding to the humor was my son, Hayden. But when Hayden had a life-threatening allergic reaction, the man who came to help my little boy became my own savior. His laugh, his smile, and the way his eyes lit up when he spoke to my son made him a beacon of light in both our lives.
But I wasn’t the only one who noticed him.
When I began having feelings for the man my best and only friend had fallen for, I knew following my heart would once again lead to a fresh round of heartbreak.
Love led me to this town.
Lies kept me there.
Would history repeat itself?
Or had life just thrown me another Curveball?
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Mariah grew up in a tiny town outside of Portland, Oregon where she spent the majority of her time immersed in the pages of books that she both read and created.
She has a love for all things that include her sons, good coffee, books, travel, and dark chocolate. She also has a deep passion for the stories she writes, and hopes readers enjoy the journeys she takes them on, as much as she loves creating them.
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