“They say love hides behind every corner.— Joe King
I must be walking in circles.”
Brindleton Bay Ragdoll Refurb
Rhys opened the door, a kiss later Sandy was following him into the dining room.
“Coffee?” he offered.
“Oh no! I just had my teeth whitened, are you crazy! I need to look perfect for the engagement shoot. I booked it for this weekend. Photographer usually doesn’t do Sundays, but it’s all a matter of the right words, and Auditore always seems to be it. Hee hee. So, Sunday at noon, remember that, my parents are still looking for the perfect location.”
“How about our park? I mean, that’s where we met up a lot, and where you actually proposed.”
“The dog park?!” Sandrine looked at him as if his face was melting.
“It’s not a dog park. It’s a park that allows for and accommodates dogs too, but it’s also for people.” Rhys defended the park.
“Yeah, if by people you mean screaming toddlers and mothers who don’t care what those do. Rhys, I don’t want someone else’s child photobombing us, that shoot is super-important and already part of my special day! Our wedding.”
“Isn’t it OUR special day?”
“Are you planning it? Do I hear you volunteer to call pages worth of caterers, confectioneries, wedding planners, bridal shops, flower shops, and that is barely scratching the surface. My brothers are using their business relationships to negotiate with some upscale hotels to get us special rates for all the guests. I have a list a mile long and would love your help! I mean, after all, like you said, it’s your wedding too.”
“Why are you planning already? We don’t even have a date yet. I mean, we literally JUST got engaged, so I get the engagement photoshoot thing, but why already plan a wedding?”
“What do you mean by ‘already‘? We’ve been a couple for two years, how much time does one need to know if you love the other or not? And FYI, we have three dates, which is one of my headaches, trying to narrow it down to THE one. I am waiting to hear back from one location, if they can do it, we definitely have a date.”
“We do? What? Uh … okay .. and when?”
“June next year. Historically June was said to be a lucky month for weddings, works for me, weather is usually amazing that time a year at the Riviera coast. I can see us, under the palm trees with the bright blue sea behind us, sand at our feet. No, wait, I’ll be wearing a stark white designer dress, sand is dirty. Nix that. We go to the beach for the honeymoon. Wedding will be on solid ground.”
“Back up for a minute here, Sandy! Next year?! We’ll be just 19 then!”
“Sandy, that is too fast! I was thinking we just stay engaged for a few years.”
“What? Why? I want us to be a young parents. Papa is heartbroken that none of his kids has given him a male grandchild yet, which is crazy considering how many of us there are. Everyone is having girls. I know you and I would give him a boy, I can feel it. That boy would be a main heir and get the main businesses, since he was the first-born grandchild. My oldest brothers were supposed to inherit, but Vitto dragged his feet getting married, he’s almost 40 now, finally got a woman but she’s just not getting pregnant, Giacomo fathered another girl. Giulia is having another girl too, but she took her husband’s name anyway, so it wouldn’t count either way. Meant to talk to you about that, how do you feel about taking my last name? Or maybe a hyphenated version, although, that would be a mouthful. I will definitely be keeping my last name for sure, no offense, but I need our child to be an Auditore and Cameron is too … pedestrian. I can’t go from being an Auditore to being some basic bitch like my sister did. Giulia Hanson even sounds stupid.”
“Sandy! We are 18! We are not having kids right now, nor in a year! And I am not changing my name, neither of us are! I like my pedestrian last name and don’t mind being a basic bitch! What the hell?!!”
“Rhys, I have permanent ringing in my ear from all the video conferences, Zoom calls and phone calls I have been on to plan this. You know how hard it is to get things accomplished in Italy, especially with the time difference working against us? Even with a dad like mine, he’s not only influential here, but our name also holds a lot of stock in Italy too. So yeah, I am too far invested by now, meaning we are getting married in June next year. It’s just the day that’s still not settled. If you don’t want to help, then don’t, all you need to do is show up.”
“No. No way. I am not getting married at 19. Absolutely not. And we didn’t even talk about it. You never once asked me what I wanted, cos I would have told you right away this is not happening.”
“I did too! I asked you – on one knee – to marry me. You said yes. The rest is just logical and subsequantial.”
“Not to me. An engagement is a promise, not an express lane. And if I were to get married – which I am definitely not – it would never be in Italy. Nobody in my family can afford that, including me! I am not getting married without my family there, which includes my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins! If they’re not there, neither will I be!”
“It WILL be next year! Everybody can afford it, they have over 6 months to save up! If they love you, they will somehow swing buying a plane ticket for your wedding, my brothers are working on a special fare discount too, same with the luxury hotel. So it wouldn’t be full price anyway, duh!”
“No. NO! Sandy, this is a giant mistake, and everyone warned me about this, I didn’t want to listen. I am not getting married. Not now, not next year and not to you!”
“What?! Excuse me?!”
“You heard me. I can’t do this. I WON’T do this. This is way too much; YOU are too much. My parents told me we are too different, they warned me this would happen. I thought they didn’t get it, didn’t get me, didn’t get us, but it was really me who didn’t get it. Now I do. We really are too different. This would never work. And to be perfectly honest, I am not even really sure I even still love you, you seem like a completely different person to me. I am so sorry, Sandy, but I am breaking the engagement.”
Rhys pulled off his ring and pushed it across the table over to her.
“You are making a big mistake! Apologize now, say you didn’t mean it, we’ll blame the pre-wedding jitters for your outburst, or we really are gonna be over. Forever! I will not forgive this. Not now, and not in a million years!”
Rhys shook his head. Fuming she glared at him, grabbed the ring and got up.
“Sandy, please .. understand. Try to.”
“Stronzo! You do not even know how badly you are humiliating me with this. I never want to see you again, hear from you again! Ma vaffanculo, te con tutto I’famiglia!” Sandy hissed, and without understanding much Italian, Rhys knew that wasn’t anything flattering.
Rhys felt like he should run after her, apologize, but he really didn’t want to, and as she almost reached the door, handle in hand, she unleashed another flood of Italian at him, Rhys didn’t have to understand a single word of it to know that it was the soundtrack of the end of their two-year relationship. Highschool sweethearts no more, and he was grateful not to have immediate neighbors and for living on a fairly low-traffic street. Yikes.
He felt bad, guilty, ashamed … but still couldn’t move. Not even turn to look at her, then he heard the door open.
The door shut hard and outside stood Sandrine for a moment, closing her eyes, then shaking her head, but she didn’t cry.
With another shake of the head, she left.
Rhys went up to his room, where he plopped down in a chair, trying to shake that ugly feeling weighing on him, the feeling of desperation and humiliation, plus a looming deep depression, when there was a knock on the door, before it opened and Sam walked in, straight to his bed, where she sat down.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
“I take it you heard the drama?”
“Your fight was impossible to miss, even with 2Dark 2C on loud in my headphones. And those guys can get noisy, but they are no match to the high-pitched screeches of your Italian harpy. I swear they could hear her clear out to Windenburg.”
“Yeah, I deserve the trophy for complete dickhead, Sam. Not only for me getting engaged when I should have confessed cheating, cos whether or not we actually did it, we were in bed together naked and you just don’t do that when you are in a relationship with someone else. To top it all off, I just broke off the engagement after only two weeks when Sandy turned into bridezilla on me without any warning. And you were right. As were mom and dad. Everyone was right. She has seriously been planning the wedding, in Italy, for next June. No joke.”
“Oh my god, that less than a year. That’s worse than I thought, and honestly, her picking out wedding gowns wouldn’t have surprised me. I could tell, she was ready to level up big time. But already planning the actual wedding without even running it by you, that’s seriously savage. Wow!”
“I know. She didn’t even waste a moment to consider how my family was supposed to afford that. And I have never even been to Italy, why would I want to get married there? Just because her father is Italian doesn’t mean I am, doesn’t even mean she is, since her mom is from here. Plus, Sandy and all her siblings were born in Oasis Springs, at the mansion her oldest brother inherited when her parents and the three youngest kids moved out here for her father’s health. None of that is in Italy last time I checked. All my life I never once thought about weddings, but guess if I were to get married, it would be somewhere meaningful to both partners. Maybe the place you and your significant other first met or proposed or someplace special. But as she pointed out, I am a basic bitch with a pedestrian last name, so what do I know, right?”
“Yeah, that’s rough. So, you two are over for real? I mean, you can break off an engagement I guess and just go back to boyfriend/girlfriend, right?”
“Oh no, we are 100% through. According to her till the dinosaurs roam again.”
“Yikes. But well, there are worse things, I guess, like if you had not pulled the emergency brake now, finally, and would have gone along with all that. I am sorry, but we both know it’s for the better. Maybe this taught you a lesson about NOT just doing what a girl tells you, but what you want to. And it means you can even officially sit next to me on your bed. Come here, you, unless you are too scared.”
“I am not scared. It’s my bed. I am comfortable here.”
“I think little Rhys is scared. You’re right, I could … maybe touch you … and you would get girl-cooties. Omergawd, scream!”
“I am not scared of anything. Fine. My god, what is it with women. You are so complicated.”
Rhys got up and sat next to a giggling Sam.
“No, we are not. And you still haven’t learned a thing. I crack the whip and Rhys jumps. It was a test, and you failed. We need to work on that. Ha ha ha.”
“Yeah, sure. Guess, beat-up-on-Rhys day isn’t over. I just need to face it, I just don’t have what women want. They don’t want me for me. They use me till they find something better. Or they try to mold me into what they really want, like Sandy. She was not listening to what I wanted at all. And if I am finally honest with myself, she never has, I just went along with it all, cos I didn’t care. I think I am just unlovable. Literally a tool.”
“Oh boo-hoo. Another Rhys Cameron pity party? If you are as great at throwing actual parties as you are at those, I can’t wait to have one. At least this time if we end up in bed together, it wouldn’t be cheating. Or presumed cheating, since we really don’t know what the hell we really did.”
“It’s not a pity party. I feel like shit, Sam. Isn’t that understandable?”
“Oh, it is. Breakups suck. I really feel for you, but the last thing you need now is me to sit here stroking that depression. So, what are you going to do about making yourself feel better again?”
“What do you mean? What can I do about it?”
“I don’t know. What makes you happy? You need change of scenery, that’s for sure. So, what is somewhere else and makes you happy? I already know the answer to that one. Pretty obvious, actually.”
“You sound like Sandy now. I can’t afford to travel.”
“You can afford to drive your butt to Granite Falls. Like you do and have done since you can remember with your dad and grandpa and cousins in all the stories you told me about all that till my ears bled.”
“Oh, that! Yeah. And wow, why didn’t you ever tell me you didn’t want to hear about that? Now I feel bad about that too.”
“Well, don’t. Who says I didn’t want to hear it? I like those stories; I get to live vicariously through you when you or someone in your family tells them again. Maybe I’m just jealous, I never had a dad or a brother who would do that with me. The only good memories of fun times I have are with my mom, and only ever when my dad wasn’t home.”
“All right, how about this: do you want to go camping with me, Sam? I can get Meaghan’s tent.”
“I would LOVE that, but I really don’t know the first thing about how to build tents and all.”
“I can totally teach you. That’ll be fun. And then we’ll go fishing, I’ll get Meaghan’s rod too, assume you never been fishing either.”
“Nope, I have not. And I wanna go on those hikes you always talk about, where everyone agrees they are soooo scenic and mind-clearing. I want the full experience.”
“We can do that.” Rhys smiled, which Sam acknowledged without saying a word about it.
Instead, she just seemingly randomly attacked him, tickling.
“What are you doing?! Stop! Sam … what the hell? STOP!” pleaded Rhys, unable to not giggle.
“Not happening. You need to loosen up again and realize life isn’t over.”
“Will you stop then? Okay, I totally realized all that now. Wow. Life is great. Amaaaaazing!”
“I didn’t ask for sarcasm. I want to hear you say that you are a great guy, just fell for the wrong girls. The right one is still out there. Say it!”
“You are going down!”
“No, please stop .. Sam seriously. Stop. I am begging!”
“Say the words!”
“Okay … I am a great guy and the one for me is out there. Now please stop or I will puke and pee my pants at the same time.”
“Why would I care, this is your room and your bed anyway?” Sam laughed.
“Sam – please stop! I will do anything, just please!”
Sam did stop and Rhys was still laughing, breathing hard from the attack, but no longer in the deep, dark depression he was about to sink into.
“It’s definitely gonna be rough.” he said.
“Are you asking for another round?”
“No, please no. I meant I now have to crawl back to my parents, tell them they were right all along, then tell all my family the engagement is off, and I am sure I’ll be getting at least one visit from Sandy’s father. He was a Grinch before; this is going to be harsh. I am sure he is bursting with things to say to me.”
“Well, Auditore Senior tried to pay you to dump his little girl, which if I were you I would TOTALLY bring up if he does give you grief. And your parents will just be happy and relieved. I didn’t get the impression that they would circle your grave chiming ‘told ya so’ when you fall. That’s what my father would do and has done. I only met the rest of your family a few times, but they all seemed cool, especially Meaghan. I know she’s not blood-related, but unless you point that out, might well be. Just like Lana and you are totally like mother and son. Wish my mom would have had a spine and left my sperm donor many years ago, maybe I could have had a cool stepdad like Meaghan got. Oh well, water down the river, too late now.”
“My turn to tickle you now, so you cheer up?”
“Nah, both our turns to go to bed. It’s super-late already and we both have to get up with the rooster for work. Adulting is crap, nobody tells you about all that when you are a in school, with a long list of things you want, but no money, making you wish you had a real job.”
“Actually, they did, we just blew them off. Well, okay then. Night Sam.” Rhys could barely hide his disappointment, even though Sam was right.
“Hey Sam?” he said now.
“Thank you. For this. It really helped, weirdly. I do feel better. Maybe not really like a ‘great guy’, but definitely better.”
“Well, you should. You ARE a great guy. And definitely lovable.”
Sam planted a gentle kiss on Rhys’ cheek, then left his room, leaving him totally surprised, with his heart beating fast, and a big smile. That smile didn’t wash off when he got ready for bed and was still on his face when he drifted off into slumber.
Maybe Sam really was right. Maybe he had been looking for love in all the wrong places, maybe he had bend too much for the girls he had been with, when they really wanted to shape him into someone else. His first girlfriend had been a lot like Sandy.
Maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy, just hadn’t found the right girl yet. Maybe he needed one who found him lovable. One who would just come into his room to cheer him up after a breakup, even if he had been stubborn. One who would spontaneously tickle him just to make him laugh. One who would just randomly tell him he was lovable and kiss his cheek. One who got excited about going camping and fishing with him.
Sam was in bed too, and while she slept in the usual position, facing the poster wall of her favorite band in the whole world, 2Dark 2C, whom she had been obsessed with ever since they released their first album years ago, but unlike normally, she didn’t blow kisses at Colton and Chase, imagining herself at one of their concerts, where they would pull her on stage and then Colton would just realize she was the one he always wanted.
No, this time she closed her eyes and imagined what a camping trip and fishing would be like with her sweet, sometimes goofy and clueless roommate, who had been the real reason she finally gave up on that dead-end relationship with the older, married former internship-boss, which she had been clinging to for dear life for too long.