Page 3

My job.

My car.

My apartment.

The clothes.

The credit cards he lent me.

Anthony pushes off the desk and slips his hands into the front pockets of his tailored pants. “I can’t give you the spa. I’ll shut it down. It’s not that profitable. I’ll need both credit cards back. Your rent is paid through the end of the month, but then you’re on your own. I’ll need the car back. Better hope your old one starts. The rest of the stuff is yours. I’d suggest selling it to make ends meet.”

I peel myself from the chair. When we’re face to face, I let my emotions break freely. “You said you loved me.” I sniffle as tears race down my cheeks.

“I do. I love you for you. I love you in spite of your selfish needs. Why can’t you love me in spite of mine?”

Unbelievable.

I’m out of here.

I’m done with men.

Done.

Done.

DONE!

CHAPTER TWO

I miss my mom. She died when I was eight. I’m sure a shrink would say I’ve been trying to fill that void for years. Some voids cannot be filled. Some wounds won’t stop bleeding on their own either, but you don’t stop applying pressure to them.

Maybe there will come a day when I realize this void is an integral part of who I am, but right now, it just feels like an empty stomach craving something—anything.

My yearning for something leads me home. I call my sister to let her know I’m taking Swarley with me to Illinois to see Dad. There’s a little relief when she doesn’t answer her phone. I’d rather leave a message so she can’t talk me out of making the trip. It also helps that I wait until I’m fourteen hours into my twenty-seven-hour drive before I leave her that message.

And my dad? He has no idea I’m coming for a surprise visit. He’s had too many heart issues. I can’t stress him out with my impulsive venture halfway across the country in an old Honda Pilot, with an old dog and a gimpy hand.

“Surprise!” I put on my brave face and hope he ignores the bags under my eyes. I turned a three-day trip into two days with the help of coffee, energy drinks, and adrenaline-fueled rage.

“Avery …” Dad shakes his head. “W-what are you doing here?”

Swarley sniffs his way around the yard, pissing on everything.

I jab my thumb over my shoulder. “Why is there a moving truck in your driveway?”

He gives me an awkward smile then shakes it off. “Did you drive by yourself? From L.A.?”

“Yes. Are you going to let me in the house?”

He steps out of my way.

“But, I’m here now. I’m safe. So there’s no need to lecture me about—” I stop three feet inside the front door. There are boxes everywhere. “Are you moving?” I whip back around to face him.

He deflates. “Yes.”

“When? Why? Where? Were you going to tell me? Does Sydney know?”

“Calm down. I haven’t told Sydney yet either.” He frowns. “Sweetheart, what happened to your hand?”

I hold out my bandaged hand like I’m noticing it for the first time. “Nothing … Swarley…” I shake my head several times “…I don’t care about my hand. I want to know what’s going on with you. Oh my gosh! Are you moving to California?” The possibility chases away my fatigue and ignites hope in my broken heart. “That’s it, isn’t it? You were going to surprise Sydney and me? Dad … gah! You have no idea how happy that makes me. I need you right now. My life is a mess and—”

“Avery?” He grabs my face and forces me to focus, which is difficult with so much caffeine still racing through my body. “I’m not moving to California. I’m moving to Milwaukee.”

My nose wrinkles. “Milwaukee?”

“Yes.” He steps back, clasping his hands behind him and rocking back and forth on his heels. “I met someone.”

I lean forward. “Excuse me, what did you say?”

He grins like someone … No. No, no, no … he’s not in love. He’s not standing two feet from me looking all giddy and gaga. It’s exhaustion. I’m hallucinating. After a long nap, this will all make sense. The moving truck will disappear. The boxes will vanish. My hand will be healed. And I’ll have more than designer handbags and shoes to show for my two years with Anthony.

“Deedy.” He sighs while his mouth settles into contentment.

“What’s a deedy?”

“Not what, Avery. Who. Deedy is the woman I met online. She lives in Milwaukee. You’re going to love her.”

Wrong. I hate her already.

“She was in the Peace Corps for a little while, years ago. That’s where she met her husband. He died three years ago. We connected through her church’s chatroom. Now she organizes mission trips. I’m going to go with her after we get married.”

What. The. Actual. Fuck?

“Is it a brain tumor?”

Dad cants his head to the side. “Is what a brain tumor?”

I laugh. “This! The moving truck, the Deedy woman, church chatrooms? Really? Oh, and let’s not forget that you just said you’re getting married. MARRIED!” I bite my lips together, feeling overwhelmed with everything. “How long did the doctors give you?”

Massaging his temples, he stares at his feet. “Avery, I know it’s a lot to take in. Deedy and I wanted to tell you and Sydney together. But the house sold so quickly, and I didn’t want to tell you over the phone. It’s just been crazy, but you girls are grown and you have your own lives out in California. I only see you when I make the trip out there. And this relationship with Deedy just sort of happened. I really believe God brought her into my life.”

“You’ve had sex with her?”

“Avery Lynn Montgomery! You are out of line. No. I haven’t even met her face to face. I won’t have sex with a woman until it’s blessed by God.”

I stab the fingers of my good hand through my hair and tug at it. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh … this isn’t happening! You haven’t met her? You’re planning on marrying a woman you have never met? Dad! What is wrong with you? She may not even be a woman! You’re going to get a dick up your ass on your wedding night. How can you be so irresponsible?”

“Enough! I will not have you disrespect Deedy. I will not have you disrespect me in my own house.”

I blink away the tears. This is all too much. What the hell is happening to my life?

“Avery …” His voice softens. “Come with me to Milwaukee. I know when you meet her you’ll see what I see when I video chat with her every day. I’m leaving in the morning. Just …” He takes my good hand. “Please. I haven’t felt this way in many years.”

Deedy is a guy with a big dick who likes to wear women’s clothes. This won’t end well. But he’s my dad.

“Fine.” I sigh. “But my car is acting up. I fear it won’t make it to Milwaukee.”

“I’ll check it out. At least if you follow me, you won’t be traveling alone.” He shoots me an accusatory look. We’ve come full circle.

“No.” I roll my eyes. “I’ll just be traveling like a snail because you never drive the speed limit.”

* * *

The five-and-a-half-hour drive takes us eight hours by the time we stop every thirty miles for old-man prostate issues. As luck would have it, my Honda Pilot completely craps out two miles from Deedy’s house. Dad calls to have it towed to the nearest garage, and we grab some coffee before arriving at Deedy’s.

“I’m nervous.” As we walk to her door, he shoots me a stiff smile. He’s in love with a stranger, a stranger he wants to marry, and he’s nervous about meeting her for the first time.

Sounds about right.

“Does she like dogs?” I glance over my shoulder at Swarley.

“Loves them.” He adjusts his tie. When we stopped for coffee, he changed into a suit. It’s sweet—but still insane. He has to be drenched with sweat in this eighty-degree weather.

“What if she changes her mind when she sees me?”

My head and my heart are at war. I think this is a mistake, but I have never seen this vulnerability with my dad. I hug his arm, giving it a tight squeeze as I whisper in his ear, “Then she’s a fool.”

He kisses the side of my head as I release him and let him make the final steps to the door on his own. I pray that he’s everything she imagined and more and that she falls short of his expectations. Then he can walk away without feeling dejected—she’ll be the dejected one. Insensitive of me? Probably, but he’s my dad.

“Tommy!”

Oh precious lord of church chatrooms … Deedy is … well, she’s hot. And young. Wait, maybe that’s not Deedy, maybe it’s her daughter—oh, shit. They’re kissing. Clearly not the daughter.

“Well, praise Jesus we finally made it. You must be Deedy.” I walk up the porch steps.

Dear, God, make them stop!

My dad pulls away, breathless, with red lipstick smeared all over his face. “Sorry. Deedy, I’d like you to meet my youngest daughter, Avery.”

“Avery, I’ve heard so much about you. I feel like I know you.” She holds out her hand, and I shake it.

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