“I love it.” Tears filled my eyes as I stared at the paint job on the door. “This is even prettier than I expected.”
“Yeah, we do nice work. What’s next?” Sid stretched and grinned.
“Bed? I’m worn out.” I blew out a breath and scanned the room. Already we’d taken out several garbage bags of Milo’s junk. The place was cleaning up nicely, but I had so far to go before I felt as though I’d truly reclaimed it. “The house practically looks empty.” I rubbed my eyes, which still ached from tears I’d shed earlier. “I’m empty.”
“You won’t always feel this way. I mean it.” She covered her mouth with the back of her hand as she yawned. After glancing at her phone, she murmured, “I suppose I should go home and snuggle the kitties. Call me in the morning. We’ll grab lunch or something.”
“Sure.” I nodded absently. My mind was focused on the future. Fear had me reeling, unable to think about anything else.
“I recognize that look.” Sid frowned as she sat on the other end of the sofa.
I forced a laugh as I played with my long brown hair and avoided her eyes. “No look. Go on. I’m fine.” When I started to stand, Sid reached out and grabbed my arm.
“You can hide those gorgeous hazel green eyes from me, but I see through you, Randi. You’re scared. There’s no fear in building a new life. There’s hope and happiness. Give it time.” She wrapped her arms around her knees and drew them against her chest.
“Are you scared?” I bit my lip and watched her carefully.
“Sometimes. Not like I used to be. It gets easier…being alone, managing everything on your own.” Sid shrugged.
“I feel so undesirable. And while I know I need to think about survival, I need to feel better about myself too.” I huffed. “I know it sounds crazy, even to me, but I feel so broken, I don’t know how to even function until I get past this.”
Sid’s brow arched. “You know, you could try online dating.”
“That’s ridiculous. Milo barely moved out. It’s too soon, right?” In my mind, I could picture my mother judging me. I imagined receiving my father’s disapproval. Still, I hoped Sid would be on my side.
“You don’t actually have to go on a date. Sometimes, just finding out other guys are interested is enough.” She shrugged.
My eyes widened. “Did you do this? After Jayce?”
She shook her head sadly. “We had a tumultuous beginning. He was torn. We broke it off several times before it stuck. One time, I was so devastated at the loss, I turned to the Internet. It helped more than you can imagine.” Sid sank into the cushions. “I almost went on a date, of course by then Jayce had come to his senses.” She grinned, but I could see more than a hint of sadness in her eyes. “You should do it. After all, I’m a widow, but you’re getting a divorce. Happiness is the best revenge.” She smirked. “That and taking his money.”
“Right.” I tapped my chin. “Money.” I frowned. “Maybe I shouldn’t have been so hasty in kicking him out.”
“Hasty? You hung on one helluva lot longer than I would’ve.” Sid shook her head. “I can’t tell you how many times Jayce and I broke up because…well, I have standards.” She giggled. “Oh, the stories I could tell.”
“Go on. Tell me.” I curled up in the corner of the couch. “I need to have hope. You and Jayce were so happy, so in love, I need to know you struggled and I’m gonna come out on the other side of this bullshit life.”
Sid inhaled deeply. “Hm. Where should I begin? You want me to tell you about the time I popped over unexpectedly with dinner and found him hanging out with his ex-girlfriend on the patio?”
My eyes widened. “That sounds…well, how did you not kill him?”
“He wasn’t worth doing the time.” She chuckled.
I raised a hand in the air. “I hear that.”
“Listen, if I’m going to share all my deepest darkest secrets, I need alcohol. Whatcha got?” She stood up and strode into the kitchen. I heard the fridge open and though I couldn’t see her, I could tell she was scanning the contents. “No wine. No wine coolers. No beer. Of course, I can’t imagine ever being that desperate. Why is there no hard lemonade? Where are my margaritas?” Sid groaned and moved to the kitchen doorway. “You’re still wearing pants. Let’s go.”
“Where are we going?” I eyed her suspiciously. “The liquor store is closed.”
“I saw a Mexican restaurant down the road. We haven’t tried that one.” She was practically dancing in excitement.
“I’ve tried it. Mediocre at best. Their tacos were low on…contents. The damn shell was practically empty.” I shook my head. “I’m not leaving the house for that.”
Her brow arched. “You will if you want to hear this story. I bet I can order a margarita the size of my face. Please don’t ask me to talk about this sober.” She shook her head sadly.
“Fine. But you’re parking close to the door.” I stood with a huff.
Sid hooked her arm through mine. “And you’re my DD after I suck down that margarita. I’ll be crashing on your couch.”
“What about the kitties?” I eyed her curiously.
She shrugged. “They’re cats. They’ll live. Let’s go have fun.”
We’d reached El Patio in minutes. When we made it through the door, she squealed in delight. “Oh my God. They have a mariachi band. How did we not know this?”
“It seemed inappropriate. You’ve been in mourning and now I’m joining you. So there’s that.” I sighed and nodded to the hostess.
“Two?” The girl was maybe twenty. She looked so young and hopeful. I started to open my mouth to warn her about life, but Sid intervened.
“Yes, two. As far from the band as possible. We’re here to talk. And drink.” She giggled.
As we sat, the girl asked, “What can I get you?”
“She wants a margarita the size of her face.” I snickered. “And since I’m the designated driver…one coke, please.”
The girl grinned and turned to relay our order while Sid shouted after her. “Salt! I need salt on the rim!” She kicked me under the table and I winced. “How could you forget salt?”
“How could you kick me? I’m already injured,” I complained.
She smirked. “You’ll never forget the salt again, will you?”
I rubbed my shin. “Probably not.”
“It’s called behavioral conditioning.” She laughed. “This is pretty much how I trained Jayce.”
“How’s that? You kicked him in the shin? This I gotta hear.” I grinned.
“Stop with the pushing. We don’t even have my drink or our bountiful basket of baked chips with all the sauces and salsas.” Sid opened the menu. “I haven’t even decided what to eat.”
I laughed. “Enough with the pretense you’re actually going to eat a meal. Every time I’ve been to a Mexican restaurant with you, you order food. You fill up on your bountiful basket and then you make them pack the food. Every time.” I crossed my arms over my chest and leaned back.
“Truth. Oh, and so what? I love leftovers. One more meal I don’t have to cook.” Then her face lit up as she looked past me. “It’s like Christmas. My drink and our chips are being delivered all at once.” She clapped her hands together and held them to her chest.
“Look at you with the restraint.” I rolled my eyes while the waitress loaded our table.
“Are you ready to place your order?” The waitress glanced back and forth between us.
Sid sighed. “I’ll order food to go later, but for now, I need queso. Lots and lots of queso.”
The girl smiled and disappeared.
“We should do this more often,” Sid murmured as she took a sip of her margarita.
“Go out to eat?” My brow furrowed in confusion.
“Sh.” She waved at me. “I wasn’t talking to you. I’m having a moment with my margarita.” When she batted her eyelashes at me over the salted rim, I almost choked on my drink.
“You’re insane.” I grinned.
“Well, it helps. You’ll get there.” She shrugged, then pulled her enormous glass closer and wrapped her arms around the base of the stem. “We really do need to spend more time together.”
“Me, or the glass?” I asked with a smirk.
“You’re catching on.” She winked. “Eventually, Jayce did too.” She laughed. “Storytime.” Sid grabbed a chip, scooped up some salsa, and popped it in her mouth. She chewed thoughtfully for a moment and I leaned in, eager to hear some of her wisdom. I’d watched her and Jayce be happier than me and Milo had ever been. “You have to train people to treat you the way you deserve to be treated,” she began seriously.
I frowned. “It makes sense in theory, but clearly, I don’t know how to do this.”
“I got you.” She laughed as she took another sip from her enormous glass. “You know, it’s hard to look ladylike with a glass this big,” she noted.
“I hate to come between you and your alcohol, but teach me. Come on. I already ruined one marriage and I may actually date again one day.” I pulled up the hood on my jacket and clasped my hands under my chin while I channeled my inner Princess Leia. “You’re my only hope.”
Sid snorted. “Please.” After a sigh, she added, “But I will tell you how I trained Jayce to be the man I deserved.”
“Yes!” I fist pumped the air before I started scarfing down chips and salsa. “Whenever you’re ready,” I mumbled from behind the hand covering my mouth.
“Here’s the thing, people…and not just guys…all people, will only treat you the way you allow them to treat you. Some people will always be respectful. Some…won’t know better.” She grew serious and stared me in the eye. “Some need to be shown the line.” She sighed. “Jayce was one of those people.”
My brows arched. “Really? He treated you like a queen.”
“Yeah, he had to, or I was gone.” Sid shrugged. “I showed him time and again.” Her eyes had a faraway look. “We lived together while we were engaged. Once he kinda freaked about it. I guess he was missing his friends, missing going out drinking and getting stupid.” She reached for her glass and took several swallows while she closed her eyes. Sid opened them again as she spoke. “When he hadn’t made it home from work by midnight, I packed up and left.”
“Whoa. You left?” I wrapped my arms around my body as I tried to reconcile this with the relationship I’d seen.
“Yes, I left. All my big stuff was in storage. I owned a ton of luggage. Packing up took very little time. As angry as I was, I drove to my happy place.” Sid offered a half smile. “The beach.”
“That’s almost four hours from here.” My jaw dropped.
“Yeah, it was. It gave me a lot of time to think, decide what I wanted, where I wanted to be, how I wanted my life to look. I didn’t like where I was at the moment.” She swiped at her eyes and took another drink. “He called me shortly after the bars closed. Apparently, he expected me to be angry, but didn’t expect me to leave. I always did keep him on his toes.”
“I can see that.” I nodded.
“So, I ignored his call. In fact, I didn’t answer him until the next evening. He’d already tried to see me at work, only to discover I wasn’t there. He’d check with the friends he’d met and no one knew where I was, of course.” Sid dipped her chip in the queso the waitress had dropped off seconds before. After chewing quietly, she continued her story. “When we finally spoke, I explained that wasn’t how I wanted to live. He told me he didn’t think he was ready to marry. I told him I didn’t think I wanted to marry him anymore anyway. I added that I’d reach out when I returned to town to give him back the ring.”
My eyes bulged. “Holy shit. You don’t play.”
“No. This is my life. I own it. And if I have people in it who make me feel badly, it’s my fault. I was genuinely ready to walk away and Jayce knew it.” She held up a finger and ate a couple of chips. “Sorry. Margaritas make me hungry.” She ran a hand down the glass. “And this is why we can never be more than acquaintances.”
I laughed. “How long were you gone?”
“From our apartment or Charlotte?” Her head tilted.
“Um. Both? Duh.” I shrugged.
“Eh, I stayed at the beach for a good five days. So cathartic. Hey! We should do that!” She bounced slightly on her side of the booth.
“Let’s revisit this idea once I heal.” I kicked my leg out to remind her.
“Right.” She nodded. “Okay, so then I rented a room at an extended stay. I’d decided if he couldn’t be who I deserved in a month, he was shit out of luck and I was moving on.” Sid stared at me. “Remember this part. Never settle. It’s the first step to a miserable life full of regrets.”
“Got it. Never settle.” I nodded then shook my head. “I’ll try.”
She sighed. “Well, that’s something, I guess. As for Jayce, he didn’t believe me, thought I was going to beg to move back in. I showed up tan and calm to drop off the ring. He was shocked. He also was an idiot. He left it on the side table and Rex ate it.”
“We had a dog.” Sid snickered. “Jayce called me in a panic. I told him the dog would poop the family heirloom out. He thought I’d help, but I declined. Three weeks later when he wanted to lock me back in, I refused the ring. He had to go buy me a new one. Can you imagine? Ew. Just gross.” She shuddered.
“I don’t know…I might have taken it after it had been professionally cleaned. Memories and all. The ring had history.” I laughed quietly.
“No. It would have been a reminder that he thought he could shit on me. No way in hell would I ever let anyone do that to me again.” Sid took a drink from her glass. “Get it?”
I tried to digest her lesson, but digesting our snack was easier. Could I ever be that tough? I knew what Sid would say. I had to be stronger. Luckily, I’d have her here to help every step of the way.