Ali lifted the hose again, and he squeaked and then ran off. “That’s what I thought,” she said, and dropped the hose.
Feeling a little better, she went inside and wrapped up the second omelet and put it in the fridge with a note to her tall, dark, and attitude-ridden landlord:
I made you a kick-ass omelet. Thanks for letting me stay the night.
P.S. I hosed the paparazzi scoping out your back deck so I doubt he’ll be back today.
It took her a moment to find her keys, since she’d thrown the key pot at Luke. They were under the table. Grabbing them, she headed out to her class. It was surprisingly hot already, which might have sent anyone else scampering back inside, but Ali was made of sheer, one-hundred-percent resilience.
Or so her mom always said.
Outside, her truck didn’t want to start. It was a morning thing, something the two of them had in common. “Come on baby,” she coaxed, patting the dash with love. “Do it for me.” The sweet talk worked, the truck roared to life, and they were off.
Lucky Harbor tended to roll up its sidewalks at dusk, and they hadn’t yet been unrolled. The sleepy town was just coming to life, with little to no traffic on the streets and the shops not yet open for business. The pier was quiet too, the arcade dark, the Ferris wheel still against the morning sky.
On the outskirts of town stood a large, one-story building that had once been a small Army outpost. The barracks had been converted to apartments and then into a senior center.
Inside, Ali was greeted by Lucille. She was somewhere between sixty and one hundred, had a tendency toward velour sweat suits in eye-popping colors, and had a heart of gold. She also had an ear for gossip. She ran the local art gallery and the town’s Facebook page with equal enthusiasm. Recently she’d expanded her social media platform to include Pinterest as well. She came out for all of Ali’s classes because she had a crush on the men at the senior center, at least the ones who were “still kicking” as she liked to say.
Lucille smiled sympathetically at Ali. “You okay, honey?”
“Sure,” Ali said. “Why?”
“I heard about your breakup. It’s on Facebook.”
Ali stared at her. “Who put it on Facebook?”
“Me.” At least she grimaced. “I’m sorry. I heard it from the grapevine, so I wanted to get Ted up on our list of eligible bachelors.” She patted Ali’s hand. “Don’t give him another thought. A man like Ted Marshall isn’t ready to be tied down is all. Not your fault.”
Ali hadn’t wanted to tie him down. She’d wanted…well, she didn’t know exactly.
Liar, liar, pants on fire. She knew.
She wanted to be loved.
They entered the big rec room for class and found the usual gang, ex-postmaster and currently a professional hell raiser Mr. Lyon, ex–truck driver and current geriatric playboy Mr. Elroy, and ex–rocket scientist and current ringleader Mr. Wykowski—all of them decades north of their midlife crises. Mr. Gregory was there as well because he’d just driven them back from the breakfast buffet and was helping everyone off the Dial-A-Ride van.
Ali had kept a few of the floral arrangements from the town auction. She unloaded them, setting them around the place so that the seniors could enjoy them. Then she started class. They’d been working on miniature animal statues. It was a thing of Ali’s. When she’d been a little girl, she and Harper had sometimes been left alone for long periods of time while Mimi had been at work, and it hadn’t always been safe enough to go outside to play. Ali would mix flour, salt, and water together into a homemade clay, passing the time creating palm-sized animals.
The seniors enjoyed it. Leah’s grandma Elsie was there, working meticulously on a cat. Mr. Lyons created a lump that he claimed was a grizzly bear. “Top of the food chain,” he said. “Like me. Why aren’t I on your list of eligible bachelors? I’d kick ass on that list.”
Mrs. Burland, a former teacher, smacked him upside the head. “Watch your language.”
Mr. Elroy, who’d been watching the exchange and sliding his dentures around some, grinned at Mrs. B. “I’m making an elephant,” he said. “Want to see its trunk?”
Mrs. Burland reached over and flattened Mr. Elroy’s elephant with one smack of the palm of her hand.
Mr. Wykowski chuckled. “No worries. His trunk didn’t work anyway.”
After class, Ali dashed to her truck beneath a sizzling sun. The temp had risen and so had the humidity, and it took forever for her AC to kick in. While she waited, she realized that Teddy still had a presence in her vehicle and that rankled. She ripped down his pic from the dash, yanked out his Coldplay CD, and grabbed his sunglasses from the console. She thought about how beloved Teddy was here in Lucky Harbor—of course no one knew that he was a two-timing jerk—and gave brief thought to tossing his stuff in the trash.
It would be extremely satisfying, but she just couldn’t do it. So she let out a breath and headed to Town Hall. Hopefully Gus was around today too, and she could drop everything off in Teddy’s office so she wouldn’t have to look at it—or him—ever again.
There were cars in the lot, but not Teddy’s Lexus. Others cleaning up from the celebration, probably, and maybe some hard-working government employees putting in overtime. Ali shoved Teddy’s things into her purse and took a moment to peek into the rearview mirror. Her hair had soaked up the humidity, frizzing into what now closely resembled a dandelion. Nothing she could do about that, because she’d run out of her drugstore defrizz a week ago. But she could wipe the mascara from beneath her eyes and apply some watermelon gloss, whose label promised to bring forth some serious shine and sexiness. After the past few days she’d had, Ali could have used some fortitude and strength to go with it, but she was pretty sure she wasn’t going to get that from a lip gloss. A good stiff drink, maybe…
Later, she promised herself. A glass of something strong, a bath, and a serious pity party for one. But for now, she patted down her hair the best she could and grabbed her purse.
Teddy shared an assistant with several other city workers. Aubrey, who was tall, willowy, and beautiful, was standing behind her desk, frowning at her computer while still looking beautiful. And on top of that, her shiny blonde hair wasn’t the slightest bit frizzy.
“Ali,” Aubrey said in surprise, “what are you doing here on a Sunday?”
“I was just going to ask you the same thing.”
“Work.” Aubrey gestured to her computer, where a Skype screen was open to reveal another woman.
Bree Medina, the mayor’s wife.
Bree was in her early forties, though she looked a full decade younger. She was an interior decorator to the rich and famous, and was one cool customer. Ali was glad Bree was not there in person, because in person she had a way of making Ali feel like a bargain-basement special. Plus, Bree’s perfume made her sneeze. In fact, just thinking about it made her nose itch.
“Sorry,” Ali said. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. But I’ve got some things of Teddy’s that I forgot to drop off yesterday.” She left out the part about stealing her pencil pot back. No need to present herself as a Level Five Crazy Ex. “Can I leave it all in his office?”
“I can’t let you in there,” Aubrey said. “It’s against the rules. But I can take it for him.”
“It’s not work related,” Ali warned her, leaving out details on purpose. People loved Teddy, she got that. But that’s not why she kept quiet about their breakup. She kept quiet because she didn’t want to be pitied.
There was an awkward silence.
“What is it?” Bree asked. “The ex-boyfriend box of crap?”
So they did know.
“Facebook,” Aubrey said. “Lucille knows all.”
“I have to go,” Bree said. She looked at Aubrey. “I’ll be in the office on Monday with the new office chairs we talked about.” And then she clicked off.
Aubrey quit Skype and looked at Ali. “I knew you two lived together, everyone did, but the general consensus was that you two were just friends. At least that’s how Teddy always made it sound.” She pulled out her keys. “You can leave everything on his desk, but I did not let you in there.”
“Never saw you.”
And so Ali found herself in Teddy’s office for the second time in as many days, which was two more times than she’d been here all month. Teddy had been far too busy for far too long. It burned deep that she’d let it happen, that she’d let him put her on the back burner without a thought.
Why had she done that? Why had she accepted less from him than she deserved? Because he was the golden boy? Because she’d gotten herself infatuated with the idea of a relationship?
She sat in his big, leather chair, set his things on his desk, and eyed the blotter scribbled with Teddy’s familiar scrawl. Call CPA. Order cards. Email reports.
Huh. No Screw over Ali anywhere on the list.
She grabbed a new sticky note and let out the beast:
She set the note front and center on his desk, next to the things from her truck. She studied her handiwork a minute and decided it wasn’t quite enough. She added a few more thoughtful sentences on what she thought of his skills as a boyfriend, and finally feeling marginally better—and grateful that Mrs. Burland wasn’t here to smack her upside the head for her language—she exited the office.
Aubrey was no longer at her desk, which was just as well. Ali wasn’t sure if she could muster a smile as she exited the building.
Of course it was still hot. Once again Ali made her way to her truck and cranked on the AC, which was making an ominous grinding sound. Today would be a great day for it to break.
She wasn’t sure where to go next. She didn’t want to crowd Luke in his own home after he’d been so generous by letting her stay an extra night. The flower shop was only a half block away. She could grab her paycheck. Russell would probably be in his office in the back, watching Bravo, yelling at whatever Real Housewives show was on. She could spend some time online and see if an available apartment had come up.