It’s not an earth until it shakes
It’s not a love until it’s lost
It’s not a heart until it aches
It’s not a line until it’s crossed
I’m barely in it till I know
I won’t be done until I’ve broken every bone
This is real
This is really happening…
"There is no ‘us’ anymore. You walked out on ‘us,’ remember?"
"And it was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made."
"If you’ve got something to say, you best get on with it. I meant it when I said that you have until Dave comes back." You look over Craig’s shoulder at the sliding glass door, anxious for Dave to come hurrying out of it and back to your rescue.
"I still love you, Penny, and I know you still love me. I want us to be together again, starting right now. Let’s just forget that any of this ever happened and pick up where we left off. Before things fell apart."
"You have got to be kidding,” you gape at him, barely able to believe your ears. “Do you honestly expect me to believe that?”
"You know it’s true." He carefully reaches for you once again as if to try to pull you into his arms. This time, instead of shrinking away from him, you grab both of his wrists and forcefully push him away in disgust.
"I told you not to fucking touch me, you lunatic! I know exactly why you’re doing this. You’re jealous. Bethany got tired of you and dumped you, so now you’re getting a taste of what that feels like. You don’t like that I’ve found someone. You don’t like the fact that the tables have turned and that I’m happy while you’re lonely. And it’s killing you that it’s Dave who’s picked up the pieces you left behind. I know how much you admire and look up to him.”
"I could give a fuck about Dave. All I care about is you. Dave is just a phase, like Bethany was for me. You know the two of you could never have what you and I have. He doesn’t love you like I do.”
You throw your head back, laughing hysterically at the sky. “You’re right. He doesn’t.” You catch sight of Dave descending the deck steps, a beer in each hand and he eyes glued to you. “In the short time that I’ve known him, he’s loved me better than you ever did. He cares about me and he wants me to be happy. What’s important to me is important to him. He believes in me and because of him I am, for the first time in my life, starting to believe in myself. And he’s not a phase. I’m not with him because of who he is. He could bus tables at Mercer’s for all I care. He’s a good man with a huge heart and I am very much in love with him.”
You look over Craig’s shoulder again to see Dave standing within earshot, his small smile revealing that he’d heard at least some or all of what you were saying. After a moment of silence, he decides the conversation must be over and joins you once more. “Thanks,” you tell him as he hands you an open bottle. You stare at Craig, silently telling him that his time is now up.
"Penny, please reconsider this. We belong together. We have a history."
"You’re right. We do! And that history has taught me that we do not have a future. Now I would appreciate it if you would leave.”
"Can you just…" Craig begins.
"Come on, man. She asked you to leave," Dave interrupts. He’s polite but stern.
"I’m not giving up," Craig says to you. The look in his eyes frightens you a little, a familiar feeling you had hoped you’d never feel again once you had gotten divorced. There’s a smoldering rage behind his gaze, making his words feel as if they are more of a threat than a promise. You’ve seen this look of anger bordering on crazy many times before and while he’s never laid a hand on you, it’s always made you uneasy. Even with Dave here, you can feel an icy shot of fear run through your veins. "This isn’t over." He looks from you to Dave with a pure hatred you’ve never known him to give anyone. Dave stares back coolly. After a painfully long moment, Craig finally walks away without another word.
Dave watches him leave as you nearly inhale your beer. “You alright?” he asks.
You answer with a quick nod.
“You handled that beautifully. He wasn’t expecting you to stand up to him like that!”
As you start to speak, you become aware that you’ve been holding your breath. “It scares me to death when he gets angry like that.” You raise the bottle to your lips with a trembling hand.
“He didn’t… has he ever hurt you, physically?” His face screwed up with concern, he looks back after Craig who is disappearing down the public beach access boardwalk. You can’t help but smile at him, all puffed up in a protective boyfriend stance and ready to run after Craig if he doesn’t like the answer you give him.
“No, he never did.” Dave relaxes a little. “But he scares me when he’s angry. I can’t explain it. I really don’t think he’d hurt either one of us. He’s just trying to make things difficult. And he’s doing a fine job.”
“He’s not bothering me if he’s not bothering you. Are you ready for dinner?” He raises his beer in a toast and you meet him halfway. The bottles clink and he takes a sip. You turn yours upside down to show him that it is empty. He takes it from you and smirks. “This is the woman that didn’t drink beer a week and a half ago.”
“I blame you completely,” you smirk back.
After helping you lug all of the beach paraphernalia up to the cottage, Dave fires up the tiny charcoal grill stationed on the corner of the deck and you get to work in the kitchen cutting up potatoes and boiling water for the peas. Once everything is simmering on the stove, you begin setting the table, occasionally glancing outside at Dave who is carefully attending to his steaks. He looks perfectly at home, as if he has been a fixture here for years instead of just a few hours.
The hiss of boiling water spilling over the sides of a pot and turning to steam as it hits the burner sends you sprinting back over to the stove. In fear of ruining your side dishes, you stick by the stove watching, stirring and tasting until they are satisfactory. Frowning at the brown, starchy mess the boiled over potatoes have made all over the stove top, you transfer the food into your best serving dishes and set them on the table. It’s been forever since you’ve set the table and actually sat down to eat at it. Being on your own, you more often than not ate from a tray in your lap in front of the TV, at the tiny table on the deck or, depending on what you were having, simply standing over the sink using no plate at all. It looks very inviting and you’re actually a little excited about it.
As you start toward the door, your eyes fall back on Dave. He’s still standing next to the grill, leaning his left hip and elbow on the railing and looking down the beach, lost in thought. Out of the corner of his eye he sees you start through the glass door and spins around, his lower back now resting on the rail. You slide the door open and stick your head outside.
“What’s up?” he says quickly, as if startled.
“I was just enjoying the view,” you tell him, looking him up and down as you walk over and fall into his arms. He chuckles softly and kisses you on the forehead. “What’s got you so distracted? You look like you’re doing some serious thinking out here.”
“It’s nothing. These will be ready in about five minutes. How are things coming along inside?”
“My part’s done. I think I’m going to have another beer with dinner. What can I get you?”
“I’ll meet you at the table, then.” You smile sweetly and he kisses you softly on the lips. He lingers there for a moment before resting his forehead on yours and sighing. “Dave, are you sure everything’s okay.”
“I promise,” he answers before kissing you once more and spinning you around, playfully pushing you back inside. “I’ll be there in a minute.” As you close the door behind you, you notice that he’s staring down the beach again, the serious expression returning to his face.
As you retrieve two more bottles of Bad Penny from the fridge, you suddenly remember that you had promised that you’d call Alison back today. Deciding to send her a quick apology text, you unlock your phone to find a total of nine text messages, all from Craig. Reluctantly you begin reading.
I meant what I said today. We’re supposed to be together and I won’t give up…
You immediately stop reading and delete the whole series of texts without looking at any more.
“No. This has to stop,” you say out loud as you go straight to your contacts and delete all of Craig’s information. While you frantically try to figure out how to block him from ever calling or texting you again, Dave comes inside carrying two perfectly cooked steaks.
“Dinner is served,” he proudly announces.
“I’m so ready to get away from here,” you blurt out, causing him to stop in his tracks. “I don’t even care about the house or the car. I just need to get away from here.”
“What’s happened now?” He closes the door and takes the steaks to the table before coming over to you. “What are you doing?”
“Trying to remove this asshole from my life! He’s texted me nine times since he left here. NINE TIMES!”
Dave opens both beers, returns the bottle opener to the drawer and carries them to the table before focusing back on you.
“Pen, leave it.” He tries to take the phone from you and you pull it away.
“I really need to text Ali. I was supposed to call her today.” You’re still frustrated but want to let Alison know you haven’t blown her off.
“Text her and then turn that thing off.”
After sending a brief but apologetic message to Alison, you gladly power down the phone and slam it on the counter. Dave’s already seated at the table, watching as you stalk across the kitchen and have a seat across from him. With an irritated sigh, you spoon a small helping of mashed potatoes and peas onto your plate, pick up your knife and fork and begin cutting into your steak. You eat in silence, staring at your plate while your mind is racing a mile a minute with thoughts of anger, frustration and bewilderment with how Craig is acting.
“Is it cooked okay?” you hear Dave ask hopefully after a few minutes of silence.
“What?” you snap, looking up just in time to see his grin fading.
“I was just asking how the steak is. I was afraid maybe I’d cooked it too long.”
“Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry.” You drop your fork and cover your face with both hands for a moment before looking at him again. “I don’t know why I let him make me so angry!” You take a deep breath and make an effort to change your tone before speaking again. “It’s wonderful; cooked to perfection! When I cook them the always come out tough and overdone. What’s your secret?”
To your relief, he grins once again. “I’ll never tell.”
“In that case, you’ve just put yourself in charge of all future grilling duties,” you grin back.
You both laugh your way through the rest of dinner and, as usual, the more you concentrate on Dave, the quicker everything else in the world fades away. By the time you’ve done the washing up and retired to the sofa, you’re completely relaxed and happy.
“So I’m planning on talking to Annie first thing tomorrow morning.” Dave has his head in your lap and his eyes closed while you gently run your fingers through his hair.
“Good. I know you’re ready to get that over with.”
“Do you by any chance want to go in to work with me and be there when I do it?”
He smiles and looks up at you. “I will if you want me to. Do you want me to?”
“If you don’t mind.”
“You know I don’t… but can I ask why?”
“She’s not going to believe me. Plus, I could use the moral support.”
“Will you introduce me to Andy?”
“Absolutely! I’m actually looking forward to that.”
“Why don’t you try calling Alison? I know you really want to talk to her.”
“You sure?” You light up a little at the idea of talking to your new friend for a while.
“Yeah,” he says, getting up and fetching your mobile. “But before you do, let’s see about blocking those unwanted calls and texts.”
You frown at this as you wait for the phone to start up. “I’m really sorry I overacted earlier. This whole thing is just freaking me out.”
“I understand. I was a little freaked out earlier too. I didn’t want to tell you this… but Craig never left.”
“He came back out on the beach after you went inside. He was standing kind of far away, but I could tell it was him. That red shirt he had on was hard to miss. We had some kind of staring contest the entire time I was grilling. Apparently he sent you all those texts while he was out there.”
“WHAT?! So when I came out a little while ago, he was just… standing out there watching us?”
Dave nods solemnly.
“What the hell is the point of that?! Does he think that if he stares at you long enough you’ll go away?” A chill runs through your entire body at the thought of being stalked.
Dave doesn’t answer. You put your mobile in his open, waiting palm and continue to stare at him in disbelief as he blips through the settings to block Craig from contacting you. “He’s sent more texts. Can I just delete them?”
“Please,” you plead. With a few quick swipes of his finger he deletes all history of your ex.
“There. At least he can’t bother you that way anymore,” he assures you while putting the phone back in your hand and kissing you on the cheek. “Now, call Ali,” he instructs as he gets up. “I’m going to get a shower then borrow your iPad, if that’s okay. I’m going to get started on making arrangements for your trip.”