“He’s not going to see me. We’re all the way across the street. Besides, look at him—he’s totally spaced out.” Sean is the kind of guy who usually soaks up the details of everything around him with a flick of his eyes, but today, his gaze is downcast. The warm weather and the sun doesn’t melt the frost that’s formed on his shoulders, either. Sean looks every bit as dangerous as he did going head to head with Henry. Cringe, that was the worst mistake ever, Henry, I mean.

It’s really strange thinking about it, but Henry seemed like a nice guy on the outside. Meanwhile, Sean seems like he’s actively looking for a puppy to kick because it would amuse him. All this time I thought the happy-go-lucky people were the ones carrying their hearts on their sleeves, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. It’s the people with that ferocious I’ll-eat-you-alive look—the folks that scare the bejesus out of old ladies—those are the people with their heart on their sleeves. The barbs in their vacant stares aren’t animosity or hatred, but pain and brokenness. At some point it becomes impossible to hide how many pieces they’ve shattered into and you get this charred outer shell that’s brittle as hell, and impossible to fix.

When I look at Sean, that’s what I see. What looks like a bitter, arrogant man is actually just another guy trying to hold it together. Dad used to say that when things got rough, having Mom around was like having a brace. Even if they both tipped to the side, if they leaned toward each other, they wouldn’t fall down. Being alone means falling flat on my face.

Sean must sense someone is looking at him, because his gaze lifts and searches the parking lot, his face slowly scanning the people.

“Oh shit!” I squeal and slink down at the same time Mel smashes my head into the dashboard. I yelp, but she doesn’t take her hand off the back of my neck. Instead, she sits there, leaning against her door, and looks behind us, like she’s waiting for someone to come out of the store.

“And he’s still looking…” she says over her shoulder. When her hand releases the back of my neck, I can breathe a little better, but I don’t sit up. “What the hell is he doing out here, anyway?”

“Something with his brother, Peter.”

“Pete Ferro is here too? Shit, add one more and it could be a Ferro family reunion. I bet they’d all kill each other before we got to dessert.” Mel leans her head against her hand after propping her elbow up on the door. “He don’t know your license plate number, right?”

“That was so grammatically disgusting. Why do you talk like you took a brick to the head?”

Her foot gently kicks me, originally aimed for my side, but I turned my head and the tip of her sneaker goes into my mouth. Mel yanks her foot back as I spit out gravel, gum, and other parking lot nastiness. “Oh, that was foul. I didn’t mean to make you eat shoe. Sorry about that.”

I’m spitting and resisting the urge to strangle her. “The laughter kind of negates the apology there, Mel.”

“Well, you asked for it. All making fun of my intellectuality. I’m a smart girl. I can handle myself.”

“So, why do you flip between talking like an intellectual and a bag lady?”

“You don’t understand nothin’. I’m me and I let you see both sides of my life—the good and the bad. They mix together and fall out of my mouth in ubiquitous sentences that I got no control over. You think this mind can be reproduced? Hell no, and it won’t be tamed either, so keep your comments on my urban vernacular to yourself, thank you very much.”

“You’re welcome very much. Not that you make sense or anything, but is he gone? I didn’t hear the bike start up and my head hurts from getting slammed into the dashboard. Thanks for that too, by the way.”

“Psh, whatever.” Mel waves me off. “I’m helping you develop some character. All white girls need a little color here and there.”

“Not in the form of bruises. Come on, where is he, Mel?”

She smirks. “Oh, he’s gone.” Chuckling to herself, Mel continues, “He drove off a few minutes ago and went that way.”

I sit up and give her a girlie slap, the kind where hands are a blur of motion and it’s more annoying than anything. “You suck! We’re going to lose him.”

We pull out of the parking lot and follow Sean’s bike, leaving several cars between us. “Damn we’re conspicuous. The only way we’d be more noticeable was if your horn played La Cucaracha. It doesn’t, does it?”

“No.” I drop back further and hide behind a truck. Mel tells me where he turned and once we’re on side streets, it’s much harder to hide. “Where the hell is he going?”

“Beats me if I know.” But her voice is tight like she does know and it isn’t good. We’re in the middle of suburbia, complete with lawns, houses, and families.

“What do you think he’s doing over here?”

Mel doesn’t answer this time. Instead, she says, “Pull over and let’s find out. He stopped a few houses down.”

I slip over to the side of the road and park next to a minivan. I can’t see much, so I lean over to Mel’s side of the car. Mel is tense and it takes me a second to see why. After Sean parks his bike, he walks over to a woman standing on the front lawn of a cute house. A work crew is putting in a white picket fence, beautiful flower-filled gardens, and painting the little home so it looks like new.

The woman matches Sean’s height with inky black hair that’s tied into a neat chignon at the base of her neck. The dress she’s wearing fits her perfectly. The longer I sit and stare, the more I wish I had no eyes. The two of them seem comfortable together, like there’s a relationship there. This can’t be what it looks like. I slip back into my seat and glance at Mel. “Well, what’s he doing?”

The smug smile that’s usually lining Mel’s lips isn’t there. A crease furrows her brow as she stares down the street at the couple and the house. “It could be anything, Avery.”

“Yeah, but what’s your gut impression?” Mel’s quiet for a moment and that’s all the answer I need. “Yeah, mine too.” I manage to say before swallowing the lump in my throat.

I lean back over to get another look, hoping that it’s not what it looks like. Because, to me, it looks like that is Sean’s house and this woman is close to him, like in a relationship kind of close. I see it in the way they stand shoulder to shoulder, their bodies turned toward one another. She’s not a business associate. His body language is too personal, too intimate for that.

I swallow hard, looking at the white picket fence. That’s what I wanted, but it appears that he already has that with someone else. I wonder if the whole family thing was an excuse to take off, to come back here to this woman. But then what the hell was Peter doing? Why’d he come say those things to me. Sean’s actually smiling as he leans in close to her ear, closing the space between them. His hand slips around her waist and they stay like that, head to head, talking. Maybe that’s not an intimate pose for some people, but it’s a step past sex for Sean Ferro. No one is close to him like that. My heart is crumbling in my chest. I wait for them to separate, but they don’t.

Mel and I watch them for way too long. The woman touches his hand, arms, and shoulders, pointing and smiling at the house and the yard. Sean doesn’t shirk her off like he does with other people. Instead his hand finds the wrist of her hand, and he helps her through the messy yard.

I can’t watch any more.


Without a word, I start the car. The engine turns over on the first try. I sit there for a second. Running is for losers. I could get out of the car and stomp down the street like a jaded lover or I could leave and pretend that I never saw any of this—but I did. My stomach is so sour that it feels like I’m going to wretch.

Mel’s voice is soft, compassionate. “You want me to walk down there and take his balls off for you, honey?”

I laugh a little and shake my head. “I thought he loved me. How is he making the life I wanted with someone else? He said no to me and yes to her? I don’t understand.”

“Oh, Avery…” Mel is awkward for a second, like she’s thinking about hugging me, but then kicks the door open. “Fuck this. He needs his face rearranged.” Before I can stop her, Mel is walking way too fast down the sidewalk.

My eyes go wide and I freeze in place. Before I think, I jump out of the car and race after her. We’re in front of a beautiful colonial, two story, home with huge grass plants in the front flowerbeds. As soon as I catch up to Mel, I launch myself at her and we fall into the plants.

“Don’t,” I beg her, voice shaking as I roll off of her and onto my back.

“Avery,” she pushes herself into a sitting position. Blades of grass are stuck in her hair. “He’s a douchebag. Telling him so will make—”

“Will make me feel worse. You can’t go over there. He has a life with someone else.”

“No, I don’t.” Sean’s voice booms behind me. When I look up, he’s standing there with the woman two steps behind him, looking irritated beyond belief. Sean is wearing his dark jeans and a tight fitting sweater that makes me want to run my hands over his toned chest. A dusting of stubble lines his cheeks and that dark hair is messy, like he just had sex. “What are you doing here?”

“Looking for you.” Mel and I stand and brush ourselves off.

“Did you change your mind?” he asks, and, for a second, Sean looks hopeful.

My eyes glance between him and Mel, and then back to Sean. “Nooo.” What? Why does he think that? Confused, I ask, “I thought you missed me?”

Sean looks at the woman standing behind him. “Please, excuse us for a moment.” Then he looks at Mel and adds, “Don’t rob her while my back is turned.”

“Fuck you, Ferro.” Mel is tense, ready to fight.

Sean ignores Mel and takes me by my shoulders, trying to pull me away from the group, but I dig my heels in. I’m so confused and mad. How could he do those things with me last night and be like this today? It makes me feel used, so I second guess myself. The thing is, I’m totally sick of doubting everything I do and I won’t be handled with kid gloves this time. Screw it.

I muster up a civil tone and manage, “No, say whatever you have to say right here, right now. I’m not doing this with you. You can’t say you miss me at night and blow me off during the day.”

“Avery, I admit that I’m pleased to see you—a little surprised—but glad all the same. However, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He slips his hands into his pockets as a breeze rustles through his hair.

Folding my arms across my chest, I feel the anger about to burst out of my mouth like a geyser. “Of course not. Of course you’d do this. So who is she?” I flip my hand toward the woman watching me like I’m crazy. I probably look insane. I tackled Mel into a plant before Sean walked over. I’m wearing jeans and a ratty sweater with pieces of grass stuck in my hair.