Excerpt for The Truth in My Lies by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Truth in My Lies

By Ivy Smoak


Copyright 2018 Ivy Smoak

All Rights Reserved

Join Ivy Smoak's newsletter to receive a FREE short story and be the first to know about her new releases!

For my husband.

CONTENTS

Title

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

A Note From Ivy

Read More

Free Short Story

ARC Team

Also by Ivy Smoak

Copyright

Chapter 1

It was better when I had a routine. A routine kept my pulse even. Kept me sane. So I made sure every weekday morning was the same. At exactly 8 o'clock, I would go for a run. I glanced at the clock as I laced my sneakers. It was only 7:50, which was ten minutes too early. I finished tying my second sneaker and willed myself to stay still.

I was trying out this new thing. Long, slow, deep breaths. It was supposed to calm me. But my muscles wanted to move and I couldn't make my leg stop bouncing. The small movement radiated energy to all my limbs. Within seconds, I'd abandoned my slow, even breaths. I wanted to jump and run and scream. God, I wanted to scream. My fingers repeatedly tapped against the top of my thigh, one at a time, driving me slowly insane. I cringed when I looked back at the clock and only one minute had passed.

I clenched my hand into a fist so I wouldn't be tempted to grab something and throw it at the clock that wouldn’t speed up to the desired time. I looked back down at my bouncing leg. What would it feel like to scream at the top of my lungs? Would the neighbors hear? I shook the thought away. It didn't matter. I wasn't going to scream and wake the neighbors at 7:52 in the morning. 7:52? Are you kidding me? It was almost like time was standing still.

I stood up and started stretching to give my overactive limbs something to focus on. Sometimes change was okay. An adjustment to my schedule wasn't the worst thing in the world. But not today. Today was Thursday. My schedule couldn't change on a Thursday.

I smiled at the irony of it. Six months ago, my schedule changed on a Thursday. Not by choice. By destiny. It was like the universe knew what I'd needed at that exact moment. I used to run at 7 a.m. every day. Now I ran at 8. I was okay with it being a few minutes early or late most days. But not Thursday. Never Thursday.

My route was timed out perfectly. That way I got to run past the same spot twice within a half hour. Once wasn't enough. It had to be twice. I wasn't sure I'd keep breathing for another week if it wasn't twice.

Some people might think my fixation was unhealthy. But it was the only thing I looked forward to all week. My world revolved around Thursdays at 8 a.m. Because the rest of my world was bleak. If my life was the only thing I thought about, I'd lose my mind.

Although it was possible I'd already lost it.

I walked into the pantry and reached into the far corner of the bottom shelf. My fingers wrapped around the container of pills. It used to feel like I was swallowing guilt when I took one. Now? I plopped one into my mouth and shoved the container back into the corner. Now it was part of my routine. And I felt no guilt. If anything, I felt relief.

I grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and drank the pill down. Nope, definitely no guilt. My eyes lazily looked up at the clock and water dribbled down my chin as I started to smile mid-sip. It was time. I wiped off my mouth with the back of my hand and placed the bottle down on the counter, not even bothering to put the cap back on. Who had time for bottle caps on a Thursday morning at 8 a.m.?

I put my earbuds in my ears and tucked the end of the cord into my shirt. It didn't lead to anything. But it was better that people thought I couldn't hear them. It was better that no one tried to talk to me. My whole world was for show. My run couldn't be any different.

I opened up the front door and breathed in the scent of autumn. The fall leaves were wet from the rain the night before. And there was an unmistakable crispness in the air. I loved autumn.

The thought made me pause. My fingers stayed glued to the door handle. Love? What a preposterous thought. I didn't love anything. I didn't believe in love. But addiction? I believed in that. I understood that better than most people. How could I not? I was almost positive I was addicted to him.

Chapter 2

I usually kept my eyes on the pavement in front of me, not daring to let my gaze venture. But today, I couldn't seem to stop looking at the houses. They were all the same. Beige siding. Brown front doors. Perfectly inviting cookie-cutter houses. Designed for cookie-cutter families. I used to crave that. When I was a little girl, I dreamt of everything I didn't have. I wanted it desperately. Much like how I craved him now.

I was naive back then. Now I knew that the things I craved should be kept at arm's length. Fool me once, shame on you. But fool me twice? Not going to happen.

My head snapped toward the sound of a lawnmower starting. The timing was pure perfection. My feet slowed to a light jog, unable to keep my pace when I saw him. Somehow, he always seemed to take my breath away. And all my senses became overloaded. Sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound. My lips parted slightly, an involuntary reaction. We were a whole lawn away. This was the closest I'd ever been to him, and the closest I'd ever be. So why was it so easy to imagine him kissing my lips? Tasting the saltiness of his skin? Feeling the whisper of his breath in my ear?

A daydream. A fantasy so oversaturated that it felt real. More real than anything in my actual life. I wasn't even sure what it was about him that consumed my mind. The way his hair fell slightly on his forehead? The tan that somehow highlighted the cut of his muscles? The kind smile that was much too kind for someone like me?

He looked up as I passed, that same smile I dreamt about crossing his lips. No, it wasn't the smile that had captured me. Although the kindness behind it was part of the intrigue. It was the dimple on his cheek. Not one on each cheek. Just the one. On his left cheek. It was an imperfection. An imperfection on an otherwise perfect physic. It was the imperfection that drew me in.

He waved as he continued to push the mower with his free hand. The first time he had waved to me, I'd immediately snapped my eyes back to the pavement. I had felt the heat cross my cheeks. He had caught me staring. My heart had slammed against my ribcage like I had been running for five miles instead of five minutes. And when I had looked back over my shoulder, he was still staring at me.

But that awkward moment had been 6 months ago. Now we had a routine. He waved and I would wave back. It was less awkward if I waved back. Less abnormal. Most people didn’t have to try so hard to be normal. To me, it was excruciating work. I didn't ever want someone to see through my exterior to the torment inside of me.

I lifted my hand and waved. He smiled and looked back down at the lawnmower. Our exchange was over. And I kept running, refusing to look back. It was better if I dreamt of him staring after me. It was better if I didn't know whether he was or not. I'd never looked back ever since that first day. But it was hard to shake that feeling that his gaze would be on me if I looked over my shoulder.

I picked up my pace as I turned the corner. My obsession with him was ridiculous. I knew nothing about him besides for his appearance. And I knew how meaningless appearances were. I knew I was attractive. My mother always used to say it was the only thing I had going for me. I hated when she'd say that. Maybe that was when my insides started to become twisted and unrecognizable. A compliment turned sour. Morphed into an insult. My insides definitely weren't attractive. I wasn't sure they ever were.

It was hard to not read into his flawless looks, though. When I jogged back in the opposite direction, his shirt would be gone and his appearance would be all I could think about. Perfect timing had its perks. I picked up my pace again. The feeling of my muscles resisting thrilled me. There was no better feeling than pushing myself to the limit. Knowing that my body wouldn't break. That nothing would ever break me no matter how hard everyone seemed to try.

I'd started running because it was the only thing that made me feel alive. I was addicted to the wind rushing through my hair. I'd stopped using hair ties because they lowered the thrill. I needed the wind through my hair, not through my ponytail. It made the cookie-cutter wives stare at me with dissatisfaction. But I didn't care. They didn't know how badly I needed to feel alive. How badly I needed Thursdays.

Maybe that was something else I liked about him. The way he stared at me made me feel desired. Him staring lit something inside of me. Especially since I knew we'd never interact. Since I knew it would never be more than a wave. Or a smile.

I reached the dead end and placed my hands on my knees. The woods stretched out before me. I stared at the trees as I caught my breath. I used to want to run through them. I thought running so close to nature, tucked away from suburbia, would help ease my worries and fears. A natural trail made with my own footprints starting at the back of my house. A trail just for me. But the one time I ran through the trees, I had been more terrified than ever. Because it was tucked away from suburbia. And there was definitely no one there to hear my screams. Not one soul. The thought irked me so fiercely that ever since then I'd never been able to look at the woods the same. Not to mention how the branches had cut my skin. I had come back to the house looking like I'd just escaped from the set of a horror movie.

I took a step back from the woods. They were why all the blinds in the back of my house were always drawn close. The trees gave me an unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach. No, I didn't want to run through them ever again. I'd stick to the street. Worse for my knees, better for my mind.

Besides, my knees had never been fragile. But my mind was. That was basically what the doctor said when she'd prescribed me the pills. She ended up being right though. I felt better when I took them. They weren't helping anyone in the garbage disposal where I had originally put them.

Fragile yet stubborn at the same time. I ignored the inconsistencies and started running back the way I had come. I always ran faster on the way back to him, even though I was dreading my silent goodbye. Part of me always worried he'd be gone early. That he'd just disappear.

One day that might happen. He might stop cutting the lawn at that particular house. Or he might change the time he did it. I couldn't exactly camp out on the street and wait for him. When his disappearance ultimately happened, the one day I looked forward to would disappear. Every day would be exactly the same. And then what would happen to me? How had I existed without this one thing to look forward to? I couldn't even remember.

I turned the corner and saw him in the distance. His had stripped off his shirt. The sweat on his chest made his skin glisten in the sunlight. It made him look otherworldly. I laughed silently at the thought. Otherworldly? There was only one world. The current hell that I was living.

He lifted his hand and waved, that dimple appearing on his cheek. My world didn't feel like hell when I passed him. It felt airy like the breeze through my hair. Like anything was still possible, even though I knew in my gut that it wasn't. I lifted my hand to wave back.

I was completely distracted by his perfect imperfection on his cheek. It was all I could see. And I didn't want to look away yet. What if I couldn't wait till next Thursday? What if I was the one that disappeared?

The look on his face changed in a heartbeat.

I didn't understand the look.

I mistook it for anger. I always mistook expressions for anger.

Panic constricted in my throat.

What had I done? Had I stared too long at him? I had, hadn't I?

He called to me, but my mind blocked out his words. Something I was used to doing. A defense mechanism. The same doctor that had given me the pills had told me that's what it was. So all I saw was the supposed anger and his mouth moving fast. The words were drowned out by my own panic.

I crashed into something and my legs flew out from underneath of me.

Chapter 3

Leaves fluttered into the air as the bags deflated beneath me with a hiss. I reached my palms out to catch myself but my right wrist collapsed under my weight. I felt my hand skid across the pavement, ripping at my skin. Ow! I landed hard on my side as my wrist completely gave out. I tried to take a deep breath to access the damage. I'm okay, I tried to tell myself even though tears were biting at the corners of my eyes. I'm fine. I needed to run away. I needed to stop lying in this pile of leaves I somehow managed to explode everywhere. There didn't appear to be any leaves left in the bags. God. This was worse than the time that I didn't wave back. So much freaking worse.

The pain that seared across my ankle as I tried to stand was significantly worse than the pain in my wrist. No. I rotated my foot in a circle and the pain only increased. No, no, no, no, no! I needed to run. I had to be able to run. My Thursdays depended on it. My sanity depended on it! I turned to push myself up but the pain was blinding. Son of a bitch. I couldn't do it. My body betrayed me and collapsed back down on the bags. The air in them hissed again and a few more leaves fluttered into the air. I swallowed down the curses on the tip of my tongue.

I smelled him first. There was no doubt in my mind that he was standing above me. Because that smell could only belong to him. It was the only real sensation of him I had experienced beside sight. And God, he smelled better than I had ever imagined. Sweet cologne mixed with salty sweat and something else that could only be described as all man. Dirt and grass and everything that exuded sexiness and...strength. How could he smell like strength? That wasn't an odor. I bit my lip as I tried and failed to stand again. This can't be happening. He's not really standing above me. I'm just dreaming.

"Ma'am, are you alright?" If he smelled like strength, he also sounded like strength. His voice was gravely and deep. Something about it made my own throat feel dry. Or maybe I was just parched from my run.

The sensory overload was jarring. Wait. Did he just call me ma'am? I pulled out my earbuds even though they weren’t affecting my hearing. I had silently been pining for the man for months and the first time he talks to me he calls me ma'am? Did I look 80 years old? This was a mistake. I shouldn't have been here. I shouldn't have timed out my runs so perfectly. I never should have seen him, let alone been close enough for him to call me ma'am. My throat was definitely dry because I tried to speak and nothing came out. I awkwardly cleared it. "I'm fine," I grunted. Leave me alone in my misery.

Then it was touch. His palms were rough from mowing lawns and they slightly scratched my skin. I already thought I was experiencing sensory overload. But his touch was what sent shivers down my spine and goose bumps up my arms. His touch is what made me finally look up at him.

"You don't look fine," he said.

My lips parted. There were words floating around in my head, but none of them seemed like an appropriate response. He had insulted me. So why were my eyes fixated on his lips? His perfectly kissable lips. I should have been giving him hell. Telling him to get his hands off my shoulder. Screaming at him to mind his own business. Instead, I stared dumbly. Apparently I became mute at the sight of perfection.

"Let's get you to your feet," he said. He didn't wait for me to respond. He hoisted me off the bags of leaves I destroyed without a flinch. Like I weighed nothing. And my brain finally processed the fact that his touch excited me instead of frightened me. I looked down at his hands on my upper arms.

My sluggish brain quickly caught up to process the rest of the situation. Nosy neighbors could see this scene unfolding through their spotless windows. I needed to get home. People talked. And I did better when they were silent. I took a step away from him.

Ow. A pathetic whimper escaped my lips.

"Let's get you inside and clean up that cut." He stepped back toward me and wrapped his arm around my waist.

I should have stepped away again. Instead, I followed his gaze and looked down at my hand. There was blood on my palm that was already starting to cake. Just looking at it made me feel nauseous. I swallowed down the lump in my throat. Him offering to help me was something straight out of one of my fantasies. But going into a neighbor's house that I didn't know? Why did he even have a key? The members of my lawn service definitely didn't have a key to my house. There was absolutely no reason for that.

"No, I'm fine. I really need to get home." I cringed as I set my foot on the ground.

"You can barely walk. Come on." He started walking, forcing me to hop along with him.

"I'm not going in that house." God, who was watching us right now? Were rumors already spreading? As much as I loved his hands against my skin, they didn't belong there.

"That house? You're acting like something's wrong with it. It's a perfectly fine house, I assure you. And it contains Band-Aids and ice packs. Both of which you currently need."

"I'm not using their Band-Aids and ice packs." He was still pulling me toward the front door. It would have been a lot easier for my voice to sound demanding if I wasn't distracted by his skin pressed against mine.

He laughed. "Then you can at least borrow a pair of crutches so you can get home." He opened up the door like he freaking owned the place.

I pulled back. I wasn't going inside that house. It was like I could already hear the gossip. There was zero chance that this was happening.

"I promise I don't bite." The smile at the corner of his mouth made it seem like he was lying.

My words were gone again. He was standing there with his shirt off, practically begging me to come inside. How many times had I dreamt of this? But that's what dreams were for. This couldn't actually happen. I couldn't be alone with him. My eyes gravitated to his. For a moment, I was pretty sure I stopped breathing. I had never seen eyes the color of his. A bluish-green that put the ocean to shame. There was one other thing that made me feel alive besides running. Watching the waves crash against the sand. I loved the beach. But I hadn't been in years. I blinked as if I was trying to dismiss the memories.

His smile faltered when I didn't respond and his dimple disappeared. "At least come in so you can call someone to come get you."

Someone to come get me? Now I wanted to laugh. I had no one. Not one single person that cared about my wellbeing. So how exactly was I planning on getting back to my house? I couldn't walk. Was my grand plan to crawl home on all fours?

"Or you could tell me where you live," he said. "I can drive you home." He pulled his keys out of his pocket.

I didn't know what was worse. Going into that house or having him know where mine was. What looked worse? My mind was spinning, but I couldn't come to a conclusion. They were both bad. Really bad. Why were those the only two options?

He raised both his eyebrows like he was growing impatient as he waited for my response.

I put my hands on my hips, somehow managing not to fall over. "Look, buddy..."

"Buddy? Really?" He laughed again.

At me. Somehow I hated and loved his laugh at the same time. "You called me, ma'am."

His smile was back. And that dimple that I couldn't not focus on.

"That's why you refuse to come in? No Band-Aids or crutches from someone who calls you ma'am?"

"I'm not an old lady."

"No...I'm well aware of that."

Those ocean blue eyes scanned my body. They lit me on fire. No. The run had overheated me. That was all. And I was desperately in need of a glass of water.

"Stop it," I said. I kept my hands firmly planted on my hips. "I have neighbors. Gossipy, horrible neighbors that are probably staring at you staring at me right now. I have to go." Somehow.

He gave me a look that made me feel insane. "Stop what? I'm just trying to see how hurt you are. I'm trying to help you."

"Well, I...I don't know you." My rebuttal was pathetic. I wasn't a five year old outside a white van filled with candy.

"And I don't know you."

I had nothing left to say. He had to close this door that didn't belong to him. And we had to both go on our merry ways. Although, my way wouldn't be quite as merry. More like incredibly painful. "So, I'm just going to..." I pointed over my shoulder, like that meant anything. "Yup," I mumbled and started to turn around at the pace of a turtle.

"This is ridiculous," he said. He stepped forward and lifted me up in his arms. Like I was a freaking damsel in distress. If only he knew.

Chapter 4

Did he make a habit of whisking women off their feet and taking them into houses that didn't belong to him? I contemplated if this was something an axe murderer would do. Probably. So why wasn't I fighting him off? Why was I just enjoying being in his arms?

My bickering attitude had completely evaporated. I was already inside the house. The rumors were already spreading. For one moment, I wanted to just enjoy myself. I wanted to know more about him than just the way he looked and smelled. I wanted to be able to fill my fantasies with substance.

He deposited me on a pristine white couch. It didn't look like anyone had ever sat on it before. I was probably going to leave dirt and leaves on it. I pulled an offending leaf out of my hair as he wandered out of the room and down the hall.

I heard him rummaging through drawers, searching the owner’s possessions. We shouldn't be in here. There was something thrilling about that. What we were doing was wrong. I was breaking the rules. I was tossing out my daily routine. My watch started beeping as if it had heard my thoughts. I quickly snoozed the alarm.

I heard his footsteps wandering back to me far too soon. It was almost like he had known where the items were. Maybe he was having an affair with the woman who lived here. Had I ever seen the couple in the yard? I internally shook my head. They had him to take care of their yard. I scanned the walls. They were completely bare. Not a single picture was hung. There was only a mirror above the fireplace. The reflection that stared back at me was horrifying. My hair was everywhere. There were more leaves than I even realized sticking out of it at odd angles. I thought he had been checking me out earlier. But his eyes probably were just scanning me to assess my condition. I looked like a maniac. My outside finally matched my inside.

I ran my fingers through my hair and tried to pull out the remaining leaves. All I really managed to do was smear blood on my cheek. I let my hands fall onto my lap as his steps drew even closer.

My eyes met his as he stepped into the room. The blue of his irises wasn't as bright inside. Maybe it was the sunshine that made them so intoxicating. The color almost looked stormy now, like when rain threatens the perfect beach day. But who was I kidding? His stormy eyes were just as addicting.

He pulled up a chair and gingerly lifted my ankle onto it. I didn't protest as he wrapped the ice pack around my ankle. He had even put a towel around it so that the coolness wouldn't sting. How many times had he done this before? Set traps for women and baited them into the homes of his lawn mowing clients?

"Here," he said and handed me a pill and a glass of water. "This'll help. It looks like a sprain. You should stay off of it for a few weeks."

I looked down at the pill. "What is it?"

"Advil. It's all I have."

It's all the owners of this house have. He was acting like he owned the place, which I knew he didn't. I ran by here every day during the week. His truck, touting his lawn care service, was only here on Thursday mornings between 8 and 8:30 a.m. Maybe this whole act worked on other women. But not me. I knew his schedule. I knew he was lying. The only question was why?

I was about to tell him off when he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and handed it to me.

I just stared at him.

"Call someone to come get you. Unless you want me to drive you. I really don't mind."

Neither option would work for me. Eventually, he'd have to move on to his next client. He couldn't sit here with me all day. I'd pretend to make a call. And then whenever he left, I'd hobble home. Easy. Option C it was. I typed in my house number and pulled the phone to my ear. I listened to my voice on the answering machine and waited for the beep.

"Hi," I said into the receiver. "It's me."

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him fumbling with something in his hands.

I turned away. "Everything's fine," I said, trying my best to make it seem like I was talking to someone who cared. Or anyone for that matter. "But you know how clumsy I can be." I laughed awkwardly at my own joke. "I tripped on my run and busted up my ankle. I'm sure it'll be fine in a few days but I can't exactly walk home." I paused for dramatic effect. "Mhm," I said into the receiver like I was listening to what someone else had to say.

I gasped when I felt his fingers on the back of my hand.

"I promised you a Band-Aid," he whispered. He wiped the disinfecting cloth against my palm like it was nothing. Like he didn't know his touch was making every inch of my body ache for the same attention.

I realized I hadn't said anything into the phone in a long time. "Mhm," I said again, forgetting the play I was putting on. My voice hitched on the word.

He looked up at me and smiled.

I was hoping he hadn't heard the quiver. But apparently he had. "Just come when you can, bye!" I ended the call.

He looked back down and smoothed the Band-Aid into place.

"All better," he said like I actually was a five year old kid. Which meant maybe he was a man in a white van offering free candy.

I bit the inside of my lip. He didn't look like he wanted to harm me. He looked like he wanted to make sure I wasn't in pain.

"Are they coming?" he asked.

"What?"

"Your friend. Are they coming to get you?"

"Oh. Yeah." I pulled my hand away from his. "She’s at a dentist appointment. She’s still in the waiting room but said that she’d be here as soon as she can."

"You didn't tell her where."

Crap. Had I really not? I guess I wasn't going to win best actress for that performance. I waved my hand dismissively. "I'll wait outside. She'll see me. She lives down the street from me. She has to drive by here either way, so..." I let my voice trail off. My excuse was pathetic. Also, I didn't want to sit outside. At least in here, the neighbors couldn't see what I was doing.

My watch started beeping again. I turned off the timer so it would stop.

"Somewhere to go?" he asked with a smile.

"Something like that." I needed to distract him. He was asking too many questions. "Do you think you could search for something stronger than Advil?" Really? My distraction was for him to pilfer their medicine cabinet for drugs? I wished I was speechless at the sight of him again. That was easier to manage.

He looked down at my ankle. "The Advil should kick in soon. I don't have anything stronger."

"You didn't even look."

He lowered his eyebrows slightly.

I needed a second away from him to clear my head. "Please, just..."

"There isn't anything stronger in the house. Do you want me to take you to the ER?"

"No." It came out faster and louder than I intended. I pushed my bangs off my forehead. Why was he so terrible at coming up with plans?

"Jesus." He sat down next to me and leaned in far too close.

Oh my God, he’s going to kiss me. My mouth suddenly felt dry.

"I didn't realize you hit your head,” he said. “Maybe we should go to the hospital."

"What?” It took me a second to realize that my fantasies were on hyperdrive. I touched my forehead. “I didn't hit my head." I leaned away from him. He was too close. His intoxicating smell was making me dizzy. "I don't need to go to the ER. My ankle is just killing me."

"You have a bruise..."

I caught my reflection in the mirror again. A small bruise was clearly visible above my left eyebrow. I pushed my bangs back in place. "Well, it doesn't hurt."

"You could have a concussion."

"I'm always this snippy. It has nothing to do with my head."

He laughed. This time I wasn't sure it was at me though. It seemed more like it was with me.

"Well, I'm glad you're always this snippy. I thought it was just your reaction to me."

No, it's definitely not you. Instead of speaking the words in my head I simply nodded.

"I'll go see if I can't find something stronger. Keep your eyes open for me, just in case." He lightly patted my knee.

Every time he touched me it felt like a spark coursed through my whole body. It made me want to rip off clothes and make buttons fly across the room. I swallowed hard as I watched him disappear down the hall again. I knew I shouldn’t have come in here with him. Surely I was going to do something stupid. In a stranger’s home. I looked around the room, searching for any hint at who it belonged to. The only thing I knew for sure was that they didn't have children. Everything was too white. Or maybe their kids just weren't allowed in this room.

Chapter 5

He came back carrying two glasses and a bottle filled with an amber colored liquid. Bourbon maybe. Or whiskey. I never drank. I wasn't supposed to mix alcohol with my pills.

"Will this work?" he asked and set the glasses down on the coffee table. He popped the cap off and started to pour some of the alcohol into the cups before I responded.

My ankle was killing me. I glanced to the left and looked out at the empty street. No one would know. The last time I drank was probably in college. I never liked the way it made me feel. Like I was completely out of control.

If I drank, I'd probably say something embarrassing. Most likely, I'd probably hit on him. I couldn't let my carnal needs take over. I turned back to him. I couldn't let anything about my life slip to the man who stared at me, patiently waiting for me to take the glass he offered me.

And it wasn't just my personal reasons. He had already used the owner's Band-Aids and Advil. What was he thinking?

"We shouldn't," I said. Saying the words made me want to accept the glass. I never did anything I wasn't supposed to. Well, rarely. I thought about the pills on the bottom shelf of the pantry. How was that any different?

"It's 5 o'clock somewhere," he said with a smirk.

That wasn't why I was protesting. Although, a drink before 9 a.m. wasn't exactly something most people did. I stared at him. He was a terrible lawn care employee. Really, I should have been making mental notes and been ready to report them back to the owners of this house. Instead, I grabbed the glass and took a big sip before I had time to change my mind.

It burned my throat. Ugh. It was disgusting. The last alcohol I had consumed in college was bad. It was some kind of cheap beer that only college students ever bought. This was worse if that was possible.

"Cheers," he laughed without clinking his glass against mine and took a sip from his.

The way I downed that, he probably thought I was an alcoholic. I had made assumptions about him. Maybe his assumptions about me were that I loved drinking before noon.

I took another sip. Not because of the pain in my ankle. But because, despite the burn of my throat, it calmed me. It made it feel like my heartbeat slowed. And I needed that around him. I needed my nerves to subside before I said something I regretted.

"Don't you have somewhere you need to be?" The words tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop them. "Another job, I mean." I immediately took another sip. I was unable to tell whether the alcohol made my social behavior better or worse. Maybe it made me worse. Be normal.

"No, not today."

Crap, what? How the hell was I supposed to go home if he wasn't leaving? I took a deep breath. There was no need to overreact. Just because this was his only mowing job today, didn't mean he could just stay here forever. He eventually had to go home.

"But you must have errands and other stuff to do. I don't want to keep you." I placed the empty glass down on the coffee table, trying not to cringe by the lack of coasters. If my lawn guy broke into my house, given that I would never willingly give him a key, and let someone put a glass down anywhere without a coaster, I would throw a total bitch fit. I'd sue. I'd call the police. I'd freaking lose it. I swallowed down the anger creeping up from my gut. Or maybe it was the alcohol threatening to come back up.

"Nope. My day is completely free."

Completely free. If this was happening in one of my dreams, I would have been thrilled. He'd already have me pressed against the wall. My clothes would have been shed immediately upon entering the house. I'd be relishing the taste of his tongue against mine. Stop.

"Do you run this early every day?" He refilled my glass but didn't add any to his. "Or is it just a Thursday thing?"

He was just making conversation. He clearly wasn't being accusatory. But for some reason, I took it that way. "I run every day of the week." My voice sounded too defensive, but I couldn't seem to alter my tone. "It has nothing to do with you." Oh, shit. God, the alcohol was definitely making me worse than usual.

"Well, I didn't think it did until now. Are you stalking me?"

I grabbed my glass and took another sip. I wanted to disappear into the burn.

"What is that old saying..." He tapped his lip in the most distracting way. "Silence is consent?"

I spit my sip back into my glass. "First of all, that is most definitely not the saying. It’s silence is not consent. And second of all, I am not stalking you. I run every day of the week at the exact same time. Like I literally just told you. It has nothing to do with when you mow this lawn. Whenever that happens to be."

The smile on his lips grew with each word that tumbled out of mine. His silence was unnerving.

"I mean, of course I've noticed you. And the fact that you mow this lawn sometimes when I'm running. Is it always Thursday that you do that? Huh. I'm surprised I didn't notice the pattern. Usually, I'm pretty observant. I guess it was just that unimportant to me. I'm always completely focused on my pace while I'm running." I pulled on the sleeves of my shirt. It was suddenly stifling in the room and I wished I hadn’t been so appropriately dressed for the brisk morning weather.

"So the fact that you were staring at me had nothing to do with you falling into a pile of leaf bags on the curb?"

My jaw had dropped. His forwardness was something that I was definitely not used to.

“It wouldn’t be the first time I caught you staring,” he said.

I snapped my mouth closed. "I wave at everyone. I was being a friendly neighborhood person. I wave to the trash man too when I see him. It doesn't mean I'm in love with him." It was a lie. I hid inside most of the time and had never once waved to a trash man. Not in my entire life.

"And I'm similar to a trash man because..."

"Well, you mow lawns. You make piles of trash for him to take. It's comparable."

He laughed. "I do more than mow lawns."

"Fine." He was exasperating. "What do they call you people these days? Lawn maintenance crew or something? I'm sorry I offended you." But I didn't sound sorry and I hadn't meant to.

"You people? Wow. Okay. You're awfully condescending."

"The company you work for has a truck that literally says lawn care. Grow a pair and stop being so sensitive about your line of work."

He smiled and set down his glass. "First of all, it's my company. And second of all, you didn't bother to read the rest of the sign. It's a landscaping company. We do more than just mow lawns. And I can assure you that I already have a pair."

I gulped. Stop thinking about his balls. I tried to focus on the rest of his words. Landscaper? Huh. How had I missed that? Probably because I was too busy staring at his abs.

"Well, I’m not the only one in this room with flaws," I countered lamely. "It's way too early to drink. Is this a habit of yours?"

He laughed. "No. I was just trying to keep you company until your friend came. No one should have to drink alone." He set down his glass that was still half full.

I glared at him. The word alone was bouncing around in my head. I was alone. My days were consumed by nothing but my own thoughts. Why was I snapping at him? All he had done was help me. He could have been a complete ass. He could have laughed at me when I crushed the bags and the leaves went everywhere. Instead, he had helped me to my feet. He had given me whatever was in that glass. Which made my head slightly fuzzy. No, it wasn't like all the times I had met him in my dreams. In my dreams he never called me ma'am. But at least he was a gentleman.

"Thanks for not leaving me out there." It came out as a whisper. I wasn't sure why.

He raised his eyebrows, probably as shocked by the change of gears as I was. "Of course I didn't leave you out there. What kind of person would do that?"

I bit the inside of my lip. I know one. I studied his features. "How old are you?" I said instead, hoping to change the subject. He looked younger close up. The whole model facade made him look older. Or maybe I was usually just not looking at his face. Plus I had never been fortunate enough to be close to him before.

"That's rather forward." He put his elbows on his knees and leaned closer to me. "You haven't even asked me my name."

"Okay, smartass, what's your name?"

He laughed. "Ben."

"Ben..." I needed to know his last name too. One syllable wasn't enough.

"Jones."

Ben Jones? His name was too average for his looks. I had imagined his name was Noah Hays. I had screamed that name in my dreams too many times to count. But as I stared at him, Ben Jones grew on me. Ben. Benny. Benny boo. What am I doing? "It's nice to meet you, Ben Jones." I liked the way his name felt on my tongue.

He put his hand out. "The pleasure is all mine..."

He was waiting for my name. I was tempted to lie. To tell him my name was something common like Jane. Jane sounded good with Jones. Jane Jones. I almost laughed at the thought. I knew him for a few minutes and I was already imagining us getting married.

I cleared my throat, trying to rid myself of the fake name that wanted to escape. "Adeline." It sounded harsh. It always sounded harsh when I told people my name. That was one of the many reasons I hated it.

He reached forward and took my good hand in his. "Adeline. Such a unique name. It's beautiful."

No, it was just plain odd. But I guess that suited me. "Not as beautiful as Ben." What is wrong with me? Had I really just said that out loud?

He laughed.

Yup, I had drunk too much. I was starting to be embarrassing. I could feel the alcohol as it spread to my limbs. My arms felt heavier. My mind felt...giddier. I laughed.

"What's so amusing?" he asked.

"It's been a long time since I've had anything to drink. And this bourbon already made my arms feel heavy." I laughed again.

"Made your arms feel heavy? I haven't heard that one before. Also," he said and leaned forward to snag my glass away, "it's scotch. And I think I should cut you off."

"Right." I dropped my voice and added, "We wouldn't want anyone to know we drank some."

He raised both his eyebrows. "Mhm. You've definitely had too much to drink."

Maybe. I leaned forward. I wanted to be closer to him. Just for a second. I wanted to smell him again. I wanted his hand to be back on my waist. He didn't realize how desperate I was. How much I truly needed this moment.

"You're right about me, Ben."

He didn't inch away from me as I leaned forward. If anything, he seemed to move closer too.

"That's why I'm cutting you off," he said.

"No, no." I waved my arm through the air. "The other thing." I shifted my butt on the couch, trying to get more comfortable. Or maybe I was just retreating. He was too close. He was supposed to be left in my imagination. The fact that he was right in front of me was too real. "God, my ankle really hurts."

"Here." His hands moved to my foot and he started unlacing my shoe.

He's undressing me.

"What other thing?" he asked.

"Hmm?"

"You said I was right about you. And then you said it was the other thing."

"Oh." I laughed. "I run every day at 8 a.m. because I know this lawn is on your schedule at 8 a.m. on Thursdays. And also it's better to run the same time each day because your body likes routine. It's scientifically proven."

"I understand the premise of the workout. But why do you time it so that you can see me?" He gently pulled off my sneaker.

I immediately felt relief. "Obviously because I'm madly in love with you." It came out as an exhale. I didn't even have any control over it.

His stormy blues danced with amusement. "Yeah, I figured that."

I laughed. "I was joking, buddy."

He sat back down in his seat. Even though I was begging him with my eyes to join me on the couch.

"We're back to buddy? I thought we were on a first name basis now."

I ignored him. "You never told me how old you were."

"Twenty three. And you?"

Only twenty three? He really was young. Of course he was. He mowed lawns for a living. He's a landscaper, I reminded myself. But wasn't that all the same? No wonder he had called me ma'am. "Older than you."

He smiled. "Well, I wouldn't have guessed that. What are you then, twenty five? Twenty six?"

I just turned thirty a few weeks ago. Thirty. I was officially a ma'am. I'd never speak to him again after this. What did it matter if he knew I was an old lady? "I just turned thirty actually."

He made this adorable whistling noise that put the smile back on my face.

"You don't look thirty. Not that it's bad that you are. I just would have assumed you were in your mid-twenties."

"Sure. You called me ma'am."

"I was being respectful."

"That's something you call old ladies."

He put his elbows back on his knees. "Trust me, that is not the way I intended it."

"Ben."

"Adeline."

"Oh, God, don't call me that."

"What would you prefer that I call you?"

"My friends call me Addy." A lie. I no longer had any friends. And when I was little, my mother forced me to go by Adeline. She said I'd never get ahead with a name like Addy and that she had given me the elegant name for a reason. And that reason wasn't to chop it in half.

"Addy, then, it was never my intention to make you feel old. Or demean you in any way."

“Then what was your intention? To get me drunk? And then what?”

I watched his Adam’s apple rise and then fall. That wasn’t in my head. It was an actual reaction to my words. He liked me too. Maybe we could still pop a few buttons.

“What do you think?” he asked.

He was saying all the right things. He was almost too kind. Too perfect. Especially for a twenty three year old male. He should have been out with his friends smoking reefer, not starting his own landscaping business. He looked young, but he acted mature. And I couldn't help but wonder how mature he'd be in the bedroom. Would he care about my needs? Or would he just get off as soon as possible? What am I doing? He's twenty three. He's not going to seduce you, you old hag.

I drank too much. And my libido was on too high of an alert. It was safer to go home, lock the door, and pretend this never happened. "I think that maybe it might be best if you could take me home?" Just because he knew where I lived, it didn't mean he'd stalk me. I was the stalker in this equation.

His smiled faded.

The expression made my chest ache. How could I already love his smiles so much?

"Yeah, of course. But what about your friend? I thought you wanted to wait for her?"

"She was still in the waiting room. She was going to be forever."

His smile faded even more.

He thinks you don't want to sit here with him. How wrong he was. This was the highlight of my month. My year. The past decade.

"Let me grab those crutches for you then."

"Oh, no need. I'll just stay off my feet until it's better."

He laughed as he stood up. "Don't be ridiculous." He wandered out into the hall and came back a few moments later carrying a pair of crutches. He was really helping himself to these people's possessions. I watched as he adjusted the height of them, lowering them to a position he thought would fit me.

Without asking permission, his hands were back on me, pulling me to my feet, arousing me.

Don't let me go. Don't send me back to my solitude. A horrible realization had just settled around me. I was hurt. I couldn't run next Thursday. And fall was ending soon. There wouldn't be any reason for him to mow this lawn in the coming weeks. When would I see him next? The panic was rising in my chest. How was I supposed to breathe without Thursdays?

Once the realization hit, everything sped up. Before I even realized it, he was pulling his truck into my driveway. No. I couldn't imagine leaving his truck. It smelled like him with a hint of more grass in the air. I was obsessed with the smell. Just as obsessed as I was with him.

He cut the engine.

My breath hitched. He couldn't come in. Why did he stop the truck? What was he doing? My mind was at war with itself. Come in. I wanted to beg him. I wanted to get down on my hands and knees and beg him to stay. It felt like I was seconds away from bursting into tears. The war in my mind was too intense. Especially when the choice was so obvious.

"If you want, I can swing by tomorrow or something?" he said. "I'll bring you lunch. It'll be too hard for you to move around."

Please. "That's not necessary..."

"Really, I don't mind. I did put those bags on the curb. It's my fault that you're hurt."

It was your abs' fault. "I'll be okay, Ben." I pushed open the door and managed to somehow climb out of his truck without hurting myself even further. I pulled out the crutches behind me without making eye contact with him.

"Let me at least help you get inside..."

"I'm fine." The words were harsh. Much too harsh. And even more untrue. I'm so sorry. But I needed him to hate me. I needed to make sure he'd never come back. It was for his own safety.

"Addy?"

My whole life, I had so badly wanted someone to call me that. And from his lips? The sound was too sweet. I didn't deserve sweet.

"Can I at least..."

I slammed the door closed to muffle his words. I didn't look back as I limped up the sidewalk.

Chapter 6

The sobs I had been holding escaped my throat when I closed the front door behind me. They raked my whole body. I would have been stumbling even if I wasn't balancing on crutches. I needed my medicine. That was the reason I was feeling this way. I was late taking it, and it was the only thing that could calm me down.

I hobbled into the kitchen and threw open the drawer where I kept my pills. At least, the ones I wasn't hiding. My fingers wrapped around the container I needed and I fumbled with the lid. Why do they make these so freaking hard to open? I knocked the container to the floor and the pills spilled in every direction. They rolled across the spotless tiles, under the table, under the oven. Damn it.

I crouched down to grab one off the floor and winced at the pain in my ankle. Down on all fours on the cold tile, I had an epiphany. I was in pain. Not just physically, but mentally. Anguish. My mind was full of complete and utter anguish.

I wiped away the tears under my eyes. It had been the first time in months that I cried. That I felt anything but fear. I didn't want to be numb anymore. I didn't want to take the pills. Why were they forcing me to take them? Why didn't I have a choice? I deserved a say in my own damned life.

This time, I didn't worry about the neighbors overhearing me. I screamed at the top of my lungs. I screamed and tore the drawer from its hinges, dumping the contents to the floor.

I let myself feel. I let myself hurt. I let myself remember.

Until I couldn't bear it. Until I couldn't shed another tear. Until my body was as exhausted as my mind.

My fingers wandered across the floor until I found a sleeping pill. I was done with the others. But I couldn't take any more pain today. I placed it in my mouth and swallowed it down without any water. And then I curled up on the cold floor and willed sleep to come.


***


The light shining harshly through the window woke me up. The setting sun always seemed to weasel its way through the closed blinds. I blinked and sat up off the floor. I had slept through the whole day. I couldn’t remember the last time I had slept so soundlessly.

But at what cost? My back ached and the pain in my ankle was throbbing. The combination of my swollen ankle and the pills scattered around the kitchen brought everything back to me.

I had been so close to him. Ben. I smiled to myself. Ben Jones. So close, and I pushed him away. Why? I wrapped my arms around myself. His touch had heated me. And now I’d never see him again. I couldn’t walk. Soon the air would turn cold and crisp, and the grass would stop growing. I’d have to wait until the spring. A whole winter without him seemed impossibly daunting.

I eyed the pills on the floor. It was tempting to take one. I was supposed to take one. Instead, I crawled around the floor, pushing all the pills along with me. When I reached the sink I stood up on my good leg and dumped all the pills in the sink.

My fingers flipped the switch and the garbage disposal churned to life. I took a long, slow breath as I watched my pills being ground to dust. My mind was clearer than it had been in months. I knew exactly what I was doing. My memories made sense. I had slept for once. I felt great.

I looked down at my ankle. And for the first time, I realized I had left my shoe at my neighbor’s house. Sitting in their pristine living room. A laugh escaped my throat. What on earth would they think about that? If Ben was having an affair with the woman that lived there, she’d be furious when she saw it. She’d think he was cheating on her. She’d break up with them.


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-29 show above.)