Authors: Sophie Brooks
“That good, huh?”
“Even better,” she said. “But I’ll spare you the details because I know you’re going through a dry spell.”
“Yeah. Umm. A dry spell.”
“Oh, crap. What happened, Fee?”
I didn’t say anything, so she continued. “You slept with Jake, didn’t you?”
“No! There was no sleeping. And we didn’t—I mean, okay, we did some stuff, but not everything.”
“It doesn’t matter how much you did or didn’t do. What matters is you did something. And I bet you’re spending all your time thinking about him. And wondering if there will be a next time. You’re never going to get over him this way. You know that, don’t you?”
“Then why do this? You guys have broken up. It should be over, but you’re still pulling the breakup bandage off a millimeter at a time, making it hurt even more. Why do that to yourself?”
It was easy for Bree to say that. She had a perfect marriage. She and Alex were a team. When his company closed, they’d worked together and found jobs in a new city. They’d moved to Florida together and made a good life for themselves. And now they were discussing having children.
In short, they had an adult relationship. Jake and I … what did we have? Love? Definitely love. But also a whole lot of lust and a mutual appreciation for having naughty fun. But it was not a partnership. Not an adult relationship. Bree and I were the same age, obviously. Why did she and Alex work so well together while Jake and I’d fought about the same things over and over, never moving forward?
“Earth to Fiona.”
“Sorry. My mind wandered off.”
“In a Jakeward direction, no doubt.”
I rolled my eyes, then jumped as thunder sounded in the distance. I walked to the window and looked out at the darkening sky. “I’d better let you go. Looks like we’re getting a storm here. Tell Alex happy anniversary from me, too.”
“Will do. Take care.”
* * *
The next few days, the weather matched my mood. The sun made only rare appearances. I didn’t venture outside without an umbrella close at hand. And when I thought of Jake, my thoughts were gloomy and dim like the sky.
Even if Stacie was out of the picture, and she certainly seemed to be, I still didn’t see how things could ever work out between us. I just couldn’t see things changing with Jake. Sometimes I thought of him like a big kid. Yeah, he was a sexy, hot man, but when it came to relationships, sometimes he acted like a kid. He wanted the good times. The fun parts. He didn’t want to put any work into getting through the bad times.
And was I much better? Lots of times when we should have talked things out, I’d let him distract me, usually with mind-blowingly good sex. I should’ve tried harder. I should’ve made him sit down and have a real, grown-up discussion. And I should never have told him to leave. I wished more than anything I could take that back. But part of me still couldn’t believe he’d done it.
Why had he listened to me then of all times? If I told him to take out the garbage, nada. If I told him not to spend a week’s salary on a fancy dinner at a restaurant we couldn’t afford, nothing. If I told him we needed to talk, zilch. But I told him
that he should leave, and he did. I didn’t think I could ever forgive myself for saying that—or him for doing it.
On Saturday, I tried to pull myself out of my foul mood and get my act together. I would have to talk to Jake at some point. We’d had so much fun last time. He was probably wondering when something else around here was going to ‘accidentally’ break, and I’d be giving him a call. His texts were mostly along the lines of:
Can’t wait until next time—and I think you can’t either
. He was clearly expecting us to sleep together soon, and why wouldn’t he? We’d parted on good terms. Last time had been fun. Very fun.
But fun wasn’t enough. Not anymore.
I decided that if I couldn’t improve my mood, I could at least get the house in better shape. Another day of rain was the perfect excuse to stay inside and clean. I tackled the bathroom first. Best to get the most hated job out of the way. Then I did some dishes.
After a snack break, I gathered up an armful of things sitting at the top of the steps, waiting to be put away downstairs. I rarely went in the basement; it was so dank and musty. And with most of Jake’s stuff down there, it held painful reminders.
I opened the door and stepped down to the first step, trying to hit the light switch with my elbow since my hands were full. Then the load in my arms shifted, and I felt something drop—I think it was the ice bucket. It hit the stairs with a bang and rolled downward, hitting each step with a clunk. Clunk, clunk, clunk, clunk, splash.
I froze, hearing that last sound. That couldn’t be good. I finally managed to hit the light switch. Blinking, I looked down. The ice bucket floated at the base of the stairs in what appeared to be about three or four inches of water.
* * *
“We got the gas and the electricity off, so it’s safe to go down there,” Mike said. He and Lisa lived the closest, so I’d called them first. They’d come right over, followed shortly by Alison and Drew. Even though I hadn’t seen them in ages, they’d dropped everything and hurried over. It made me realize how stupid I’d been for not keeping up with them after Jake and I broke up. They were good friends, and I’d missed them.
I hadn’t called Jake. I’d thought about it, but I just—I didn’t know if I could handle that right now. I hadn’t yet worked through my feelings about him and about the way we’d been playing together lately. And now wasn’t a great time to figure it out, not with the lower part of my house underwater.
“What do we do?” I asked Mike. Lisa had told me that he’d grown up in an area where basements flooded a lot. He seemed like he knew what he was doing.
“Let’s get all your stuff up first. No point in setting up a pump until the water level in the surrounding ground goes down. Drew and I will move your boxes and such to the steps. You girls can take it to higher ground.”
“C’mon, Fiona. Why don’t you show us where we can start stacking things to dry out?” Lisa said.
The garage offered the most floor space, so I moved my car out to the driveway—which also involved Alison backing up her car. We both ended up pretty wet. Lisa gave the garage floor a quick sweep, and then we began carrying out the boxes the guys had set on the stairs.
“Shouldn’t we open them, let things air out?” Alison asked.
I thought about it, but then shook my head. “Maybe we should get everything we can out of the basement first and then worry about that.”
In a little less than an hour, most of the smaller items from the basement had either been moved upstairs or put up on tables or chairs. Mike and Drew came up, taking off their wet shoes and socks. I passed out towels and beers.
While the others took a short break, I cautiously climbed down the basement stairs. I wanted to take stock, to see what was left down there and what needed to be moved next. I’d had some boxes of stuff stored there, too, like books, old papers, and other stuff I probably should have gotten rid of long before. I hated to think what kind of shape all of that was in now.
I eased down the stairs past the remaining items Mike and Drew had set there. With the power cut, the basement looked even darker than usual. I fought back the wetness behind my eyes. I’d had so much trouble with this house. It was the first house I’d ever bought. There’d been good things about it, most of which involved Jake, but a lot of bad things as well.
After pausing at the bottom, I took a tentative step into the water. It came up to my ankle. I moved slowly through the water, looking around. There was an old dining room set in the corner. On top of it was a wooden desk of Jake’s. The guys must’ve put it up there to get it out of the water. Those should go up. The things on the shelving units along the back wall looked okay except for the items on the bottom shelf.
To my dismay, I spotted an old wooden bookcase that I’d always loved, its base covered in water. In college, I’d painted it with swirls of bright blue and green. I went over and moved all the books to the table. The ones on the bottom shelf were ruined, of course.
I hated seeing the bookcase standing in the water like that. If I could get it up on something, maybe it would dry out without too much damage. I stubbed my toe and looked down. Some bricks from a long-abandoned attempt to create a garden patch in the back yard were covered by water. I pushed the bricks over to the bookcase with my foot. Maybe I could lift it onto them.
I raised one end of the bookcase but couldn’t get the bricks under it. I bent down, repositioned the bricks, and lifted again. To my surprise, the whole bookcase rose into the air a few inches. Confused, I looked up. Jake was holding the other end.
His usually expressive face was a mask to me. His eyes were serious, his mouth was a straight line across his face. I couldn’t read any emotions in his expression, but I knew he wasn’t happy. That much was very clear.
I managed to get my side propped up on a stack of bricks. Then I moved over and did the same thing on his side.
“Thanks,” I said. “I didn’t know you were here.”
“Mike called me,” he said, his voice flat and expressionless. “Thanks for letting me know that my belongings were under water.”
“I—I was going to call you, but things happened so fast.”
“Yet you had time to call the others.”
“I … ” Yeah. There wasn’t much I could say about that. “We got most of your stuff up. It’s in the garage.” I made myself look at him. Now his eyes were cold, something I didn’t think I’d ever seen before. It made me nervous, made me start to babble. “As soon as we get everything out of the basement, we’re going to open up the boxes, start drying things out. Alison thinks that we can—”
“Why bother?” he asked. “You kicked me to the curb, why not just do the same to my stuff?”
“Jake—” I began. But he turned away, sloshing through the water. He grabbed two chairs and took them upstairs.
I stayed there, stunned. I leaned against the wall, though what I really wanted to do was to curl up in a ball and cry. Could this day get any worse? A few minutes later, Mike and Drew came down, ready to move things again. Jake wasn’t with them.
They took up the rest of the table set, the desk, and the bookcase. Mike explained that anything that remained behind would get moldy. He said the basement would be damp for weeks even after we got the water out. He knew where to borrow a pump, and he thought that by tomorrow the water level in the surrounding ground would be low enough for us to start.
I didn’t take in very much of what he said. I just kept thinking of that look in Jake’s eyes.
The two couples left a few hours later. I thanked them profusely, and they promised to come back tomorrow to help some more. Jake’s pickup was still parked on the road out front, so I figured he was in the garage, sorting through what was left of his things.
I took a slightly warm soda out of the fridge, opened it, and drank about half of it. I was exhausted. And I was also afraid of going out in the garage. But I knew I had to.
I grabbed a beer for Jake and opened the door to the garage.
He had half a dozen boxes open and had spread the contents out to dry. Clothes, papers, tools, books were laid out on every available surface. The garage door was open. It was still raining lightly, but it wasn’t coming in.
Jake didn’t look at me when I came out, so I set the beer on the workbench near him. “I’m sorry about your stuff.”
He bent down and picked up a soggy pile of paper out of a box. He carried the dripping mass over to the trash can. “Is that all you’re sorry about?”
“I should’ve called you,” I said.
“Yeah, you sure as hell should have.” He came over, took a swig of the beer. Finally, his eyes found mine, and I flinched at the anger in them. “Did you really think I’d fucking hold you to it?”
“What?” I said, tearing my gaze away from those blue eyes that usually looked so warm. So welcoming. I thought I’d seen him angry before. All those times we fought, all those times we’d both raised our voices. This was nothing like that. I was starting to see that when Jake got truly angry, he got quiet. He got cold. It was heart-breaking to see him look at me like that. And I still didn’t understand why. It couldn’t just be about his stuff getting ruined.