I hadn’t the best track record with dating. Actually, I might’ve had the worst track record to date. For some reason, I always found myself going toward the unhealthiest type of men. Yet the worst of them all was Alex—the therapist. When we lived together, he tried to help me through my personal issues. Even though I hated when he’d go therapist mode with me, I listened. Then, after one night of me crying about missing my mother, he thought he could help me through my issues by throwing out all the cardigans Mom made for me. He told me letting them go was a part of the healing process of grief.
I personally considered if killing him was worth the orange jumpsuit.
That day was one of the top five saddest days of my life.
“So, are you one hundred percent sure there’s nothing there between you and Greyson? Does your heart skip a beat when he walks into a room? Do you two randomly run into one another and he brushes against your arm? Do you trip and he magically shows up to catch you just in time? Do you casually take note of his biceps?”
“Oh, my gosh, Shay, stop it.”
“So, that’s a yes.”
“No, that’s me saying that you’ve been watching too much of Bachelor in Paradise and you have an unrealistic view of what reality is. Greyson is a widower and I am in no way looking for a relationship. There is definitely no chemistry between us. If anything, I’m pretty sure he goes out of his way to avoid me.”
“Oh, yes. Based on my knowledge, you two are right on track for a successful television series. Season one, episode one: ‘The Tale of Distant Lovers’.” I swore I could see her stupidly grinning from ear to ear, pleased with her cleverness.
“I’m going to hang up on you now.”
“Okay, but please keep me in the loop. I need to know when episode nine happens!”
“And what’s episode nine?”
“‘When Lips Slip and Tongues Twist’.”
I snickered. “Goodbye, Shay.”
“Okay, bye! Oh, wait! I’ll pay you five bucks if you growl back at the girl when you pick her up from school.”
I laughed even more. “Goodbye, Shay.”
As I hung up the phone, I still had a smile on my face. Leave it to Shay to make an uncomfortable situation into a comedy.
My father had been ignoring my calls.
I only knew because he wasn’t totally up on how calls worked on cell phones, and he always sent me to voicemail after the first two or three rings. I kept calling, though, because that was what I did. I kept checking on him even though he never did the same to me.
It was crazy to me how our relationship had devolved over the years, turning into something that was so one-sided. It was hard to believe there had ever been a time we were truly close. Sometimes that fact felt more like fiction, as if I had just made up the time when we meant the world to each other.
I hung up my phone after another failed attempt to get in touch with him, and then I sat down at the table for lunch on Thursday, waiting for Allison to arrive for our checkup date.
“Sorry, sorry, traffic is crazy on this side of town,” Allison said, hurrying into the café looking as perfect as ever.
“No worries. I just arrived about ten minutes ago.”
She took a seat and tossed her jacket off. “Well, I’m glad you weren’t waiting too long, but still, I’m sorry. So, how has it been going so far?” Allison asked.
“I think she hates me,” I said.
“Who hates you?”
“Karla. She hates me.”
Allison laughed, shaking her head. “She doesn’t hate you.”
“Well, she doesn’t like me very much, that’s for sure.”
“She’s just a hard one to crack, that’s all. She gets that from her father,” Allison remarked.
“Greyson is nothing like I remember. It’s chilling, actually, being around him. I mean, I get it, but still…when we were younger, he was a completely different person.”
“If you had met him ten months ago, he’d probably have resembled the boy you once knew. At first, I thought the coldness was just from grief, from dealing with such a tragic situation, but now I wonder if this is just the new normal, if he’s always going to be this way.”
“How do you handle it? The coldness?”
“I don’t take it personally, because it’s not about me. I’m good at disconnecting my job from my real life. Whenever Greyson is in a shitty mood, I remind myself that it has nothing to do with me, because I’m really good at what I do. I’m the best assistant he could ever have. His moods are his own, so I don’t take it to heart. You should do the same with Karla.”
I smirked. “That sounds amazing…if only I could learn to not take things personally.”
“Nothing in life is personal, not really. Some people will love you for who you are today, others will hate you for it, and none of their opinions matter either way—not the good or the bad. Only you can define who you are. No one else has that right.”
“How did you ever get to that point? To the point of not caring what others thought?”
“The three Ms: maturity, meditation, and marijuana.” She winked playfully, but I didn’t think she was kidding at all. “Seriously, though, a word of advice: if you want to survive your job, you need to not take Karla’s attitude to heart. She’s been through a lot these past months, and it’s made her hard. She will do her best to break you down to the point of you wanting to quit. Don’t let her bully you. Stand your ground. Also, understand that some things run differently in the East household. Think of it as more of a building that holds three individuals as opposed to being a home. That homey feeling left the day Nicole passed away.”
“She was their glue, their foundation,” I whispered, feeling a knot in my stomach. I knew how that felt—losing the backbone of one’s family. When Mom passed away, my house had come tumbling down, and Dad had been too exhausted to even think about rebuilding.
“Nicole was everyone’s favorite thing…” Allison took in a deep breath, then released it slowly. It was obvious that Nicole hadn’t just meant a lot to her family, but to Allison as well. “Anyway, just go into it knowing that, knowing the family isn’t the normal definition of family. If you do that, you can manage your expectations. I know you probably feel the need to try to fix things, but you can’t fix a home that isn’t seen as broken by the people who live within those walls.”
“It is, but it’s just their reality for the time being. Their hurts are still so fresh. The best advice I can give you is to stay in your lane and learn to bite your tongue. Stick to the to-do lists, and you’ll do just fine.”
“I guess you’re right. It’s their lives, and I’m just an employee.”
“Exactly. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s best that way. So, what else is on the agenda for this afternoon?”
“Well, I pick the girls up from school, then I drop Lorelai off at karate. Next I go to the physical therapy appointment with Karla. Then, I’ll toss in the dinner I prepped earlier today.”
“One more day of work tomorrow, and then it’s the weekend!” Allison smiled. “Any fun plans?”
“Oh, you know, an exciting weekend of Netflix and reading.”
“I love seeing women living their best lives,” she joked, glancing at her watch. “Okay, I have to get back to work. Enjoy every second of your weekend. Call if you need anything!”
Allison paid the bill then hurried off.
As the day went on and I picked up the girls from school, Lorelai talked and talked about her day and how great her teacher was, how great her friends were. She was a nonstop chatterbox, and when I dropped her for karate, she kept chatting even when I was on my way back to the car to take Karla to physical therapy.
I much preferred when Lorelai was around, because I dreaded the silence that came when it was just Karla and me.
“So…how was school today?” I asked Karla, glancing toward her through the rearview mirror. She looked up for a split second before looking back to her cell phone.
I’d been completely ignored, though that wasn’t shocking.
“Sounds wonderful,” I muttered to myself.
We pulled up to the physical therapy center and headed inside. The front desk receptionist checked us in, giving big smiles to us both, and then she had us go into a back room where Karla’s appointment would take place.
It seemed her physical therapy was to keep up her strength. They performed a lot of muscle exercises, and Karla was extremely good at almost every one that was tossed her way.
I waited by the door where chairs were placed for family members.
When the door to the room opened, I was a bit shocked when I looked up to see Greyson walking in. He had on the same hard expression he always did and was dressed in yet another tailored suit and tie, of course. He walked over to the empty chair beside me.
“Greyson, hi,” I said breathlessly, sitting up a bit straighter. “I didn’t except you to be here.”
“At my daughter’s physical therapy appointment? Of course I’d be here,” he replied dryly.
Right. Of course.
Uncomfortable silence. I wondered if it was uncomfortable for him, too, or if I was just overthinking it all.
I had a tendency to overthink certain subjects at times.
“She’s doing really great,” I commented, nodding toward Karla. “Both of the girls are really. Lorelai had a fantastic week so far, and she’s been talking about how she’s really looking forward to going to her grandparents’ house this weekend. I think it’s nice that the girls get to spend that much time with their grandparents.”
He didn’t speak a word.
So, I kept yapping, because the less he talked, the more nervous I became. “Lorelai seems to be really into art. I looked up some art programs in the area if you’d be interested in me forwarding the information to you.”