Regan would never recover.
The line moved forward and she had one fewer person between her and the caffeinated concoction of syrups and espresso that started her day. Her Vanilla Strawberry White Chocolate Mocha was both the bright spot of her morning, and her final positive social interaction of the day. She shared a cubicle with a brute of a man who still believed that she had been hired to be his secretary and that her insistence that they were equals was nothing but pathological denial on her part. The few times their immediate supervisor had spoken to him about it, he had laughed as though at any moment Alan Funt or Ashton Kutcher would appear, and the laugh track would roll. Regan loved her work, sincerely. She loathed her workplace.
Not that it mattered at this point. Jason was back at her apartment picking out which Tupperware was his and which spices he had brought to the home. She should have known that any man who brings Tupperware and spices when moving it was not one that would be hers for the long haul. Four years of her life and she had been replaced over a long weekend by a second year undergraduate studying political science and environmental science. She wanted to say she had no idea what Jason saw in her but that was a lie. She was smaller, prettier, perkier, ate whole foods, and could identify the carbon footprint of everyday items without looking them up. The line moved forward again and Regan tried not to think about her own non-size four body coming home to an empty house.
She opened her phone and looked again. No new messages. She started tapping on the keys to dial Emma’s number and then began to work on a text for her. The shadow in front of her advanced and she followed without thought. She blinked a few times, stifling a sniffle as the words took slow shape on the tiny screen.
Regan’s only acknowledgement was to nod and continue to pound on her cell phone. She hated when people did the very thing she was doing: ignore the world with their new tech toys. She paused long enough to put a five dollar bill on the counter, wave her hand to indicate that the barista, as usual, could keep the change, and then returned her free hand typing. She did not look up as she turned and started to walk towards the other end of the coffee bar where she would be picking up her wake-up juice.
She was so sure Jason would be “it”, and not like she had been sure that Drew would be. She knew, now, what a loser Drew had been, at his core and was glad that Jason had come along when he had to rescue her from that morass of mediocrity. Jason was going somewhere. He had a degree he was actually going to finish within the year. She still did not believe that recreational management was going to be a growth field but at least it was a degree in a science. She could talk about her job and not watch his eyes glaze over. It was her own fault for letting him go alone to that sit-in protest of the water system merger. She should have been there with him, even if the event did last a solid forty three hours and probably would have cost her her job. At the least it would have gotten her away from the troglodyte she called a cubicle-mate.
Regan wiped her eyes on the back of her hand. It wasn’t fair. She should have been given more time to prove herself to him. She was a good match for him, and he for her. She just knew it was not fair. Her phone stopped taking inputs as she hit the maximum characters for her message. She sent it and started a new one, walking steadily into another body standing receiving his own morning drink.
“Thank you, and you have a-” he was starting to say as Regan walked right into his arm, knocking the hot beverage loose and sending it to the floor. It exploded on impact, spraying hot coffee in every direction.
She pulled her eyes from her phone, embarrassed at her own inattention. He was taller than she was, with perfectly managed brown hair and a smooth clean face. She could feel the blood rush to her cheeks. “I-I’m so sorry,” she stammered as she quickly closed the phone and started to reach for some napkins to help with the damage control.
He just shook his head and smiled back at her. “Totally my fault. I must have missed the markings that I was in the ‘text and walk’ line rather than the ‘get your coffee’ line.” He dabbed at his slacks with the rag offered by the barista before she disappeared in the back for a mop. “I still have time to change before I meet with any clients today.” He pointedly stepped out of the coffee puddle. “Now if I was heading right into a deposition I might be upset.”
Regan did not know what to say. She just looked back at his rich brown eyes and his natural smile. If she had been in his place she would have been a miniature volcano of rage prepared to blast frustration at anything within reach. “At least let me buy you another drink,” she managed, finally to offer.
“Fair enough,” he answered. “I’m Harrison.”
And in that moment, she knew she would marry him.
* * *
“Excuse me, but will there be two of you this evening?” The waiter’s polite inquiry brought her back from her memory and firmly in the present, again. Three weeks of dancing, clubbing, feeding, and having sex in as many different ways she could find had been joyously exhausting, she had to admit. Still, here she was, alone. She flashed the waiter a polite, if false, smile.
“My friend will be joining me shortly.” She tapped the wine list. “But you can bring me a glass of merlot while I wait for her.”
“Of course,” the waiter responded with a slight bow. He moved off to check on another table and leave Regan with her thoughts and nostalgia. She did not wait long before Emma came up to the table.
“Who died?” she asked as she slid into the chair opposite. Her short dark hair glistened with the dampness of a recent shower, and her cheeks still showed the residual flush of exercise. Regan could smell the alcohol cleaners of the gym, and the floral mixture of her friend’s prefered post-workout herbal shampoo.
“What?” As far as Regan knew, no one else had died recently.
“The last time you had me meet you at a steakhouse,” Emma explained, “you had just inherited a few thousand from your aunt, and the time before that was when your grandmother left you a small sum that you used to buy your townhouse.” She leaned forward on the table. “So I’m going to assume either someone’s dead, or you did something very, very illegal but profitable.”
Regan sighed. “I’m meeting Earl here later and I did not want to have to do any extra driving.”
Emma’s eyebrows shot up. “The Earl? ‘His darkness, the master of all villainy’ Earl?”
“Shhh,” Regan scolded looking around as though anyone would be paying attention to them. She dropped her voice. “The whole point of meeting him in public was to keep things on the quiet side. Talking about him like that isn’t going to do that.”
Emma rolled her eyes. “You’re paranoid.”
“I’m just trying to avoid getting killed. Again.”
“I can understand that,” Emma conceded. “So what have you been up to? I mean, of the things you feel comfortable talking about in public.”
Regan hesitated. Was she really ready to tell Emma about waking up with Jordan that morning and knowing she would never see him again? How else did she describe the last three weeks? “I’ve been busy.” That was the truth. “I started my own consulting business, so I could work at night.” Also truth. “It’s taken a lot of my time, you know, getting all the forms filed to register as a LLC and whatnot.” Slightly true. “Mostly just working and trying to get things in order.” Bold faced lie.
Emma spotted it. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure you were getting something in order but it wasn’t the company.” She too dropped her voice. “You have the worst poker face. But if you’re not ready to tell me, I won’t pry. Heck, I’m probably better off not knowing.”
Regan did not look back at her, turning instead to watch as the waiter brought over her wine. She took the glass, politely, and raised it to her lips as though to take a sip. It was a good vintage, and the aroma was a pleasant one. She said nothing as Emma placed an order for a steak salad and a glass of wine for herself. Regan declined to order any food. Once the waiter had gone, her excuse to remain silent went with him.
“I don’t know how to do this,” she finally said.
“Do what?” Emma picked a roll out of the basket and put it on the small plate before her.
“Be single. The last three weeks have been hell.” The words just kept tumbling out of her. “I thought that hitting the clubs with Stacy would solve everything, that it would help me forget him and move one and get my life in order and instead I just feel even more lonely than I did before. All I can think about is how to get him back.”
“Get who back?”
“Harrison,” Regan snapped back.
“The guy you left?”
“The guy you left at the altar.”
“The guy who helped finance the entire wedding with you, was there with a limo waiting and a non-refundable trip to Ireland as a honeymoon that you left at the altar?”
Regan chewed at her lip. “Yes?”
Emma paused her interrogation as the waiter appeared with her wine. Once he had left them alone, she took a long sip and studied her friend. Regan chewed at her lip.
Regan blinked. “What?”
“Why? Why do you want him back so badly? You humiliated him in front of everyone he knows and loves. Assuming he did want you back, and I’m pretty sure he would, why do you want him back?”
Regan considered that. What was it that she needed? She missed having another body in the bed with her when she woke. She missed coming home and knowing that someone would be joining her on the couch to watch television. She missed the little texts they would send back and forth on slow days to entertain and entice each other. She missed having a boyfriend.
Did she miss Harrison?
“See,” Emma said, as though reading her thoughts, “that’s what I mean. You miss having a someone, but not that one.” She pressed her lips together as she always did before she said something that would sting. “And Harrison deserves someone who wants him, not the idea of him.”
Regan could feel her anger rising. Emma was her friend of nearly twenty years. She was supposed to take her side in all things, right or wrong. Who was she to judge? Emma had not had a steady boyfriend in months, possibly years depending on the final ruling regarding Conner and if he was a boyfriend or not. Emma did not know what it was like to go from having a life partner to feeling like all life was gone in an instant. This had been a mistake. Emma could not understand. She pushed her wine glass towards the center of the table.
Emma was not going to go on the defensive. “Don’t be mad at me. I didn’t leave him at the altar. You did.”
“And I don’t need my best friend reminding me about that.” Regan’s teeth were clenched. Part of her wanted to reach out and bite down into the flesh of Emma’s neck, while the rest wanted to simply storm from the restaurant.
“No,” Emma corrected. “You need to hear it from someone and coming from someone who loves you should actually make you listen.”
“But you don’t understand,” Regan implored, her emotions running the range now.
“Understand what? That you’re lonely and scared?” Emma put her hands up. “Welcome to the last three years of my life. You had a fiance.”
“And you had your writing,” Regan shot back. “You loved every minute of it all, or so you said every few minutes on every social media outlet there was.”
“And that’s all I had to love. You don’t get a ton of page views whining on and on about how much you wish you had someone to share your life with when you’ve got thousands of strangers all flattered to think that they are your life companions.” Emma took a steadying breath. “Regan. I love you and you are my absolute best friend. We have been friends since before we knew what made boys different from us, so please do not play the ‘you don’t understand’ card with me.”
Regan blinked. “I just don’t know how to do this,” she confessed.
Emma nodded in response. “I have to admit, I have been wondering how long you would last. You were single for, what, four hours before you met Harrison?”
“It was closer to six,” Regan said under her breath.
“And how long was it between Drew and Jason?”
Regan did not answer. Technically she was still seeing Drew when Jason first asked her out.
“It will get better,” Emma said reassuringly. “It’s just a new skill set to master, that’s all.”
“What if it doesn’t? What if I made a mistake leaving him?”
“Then you made a mistake and your life goes on. Or, well, unlife as the case may be.” Emma reached across the table. “Are you ready to tell me what happened? At the church, I mean.”
Regan lifted the wine to her lips again, and inhaled the rich scent of it. She was.
Emma sat back in her chair, her salad mostly devoured when Regan finally finished recounting the stream of thoughts that had led her from dating, to engaged, to run-away bride. She was honest that there had been nothing between her and Harrison that had been objectionable. He really was a great guy from start to finish. But in her heart she knew something was missing. Shaking her head, Emma placed her napkin next to her plate. “I had a feeling things were a little too good between you two.”
Regan took another fake sip of wine. “This is the longest I’ve been single since tenth grade.”
“And somehow you’re surviving. I take it you’re not liking the club scene?”
“Not like I thought I would.” Regan rubbed her eyes. “I love the energy, and the freedom, and way it feels to just let go at night when we walk into a party. But it’s not what I thought it would be.” She paused. “I want to go on a date.
Emma laughed. “You and me, both.”
“Ms. Fairchild?” Regan turned to see a petite blonde standing next to the table. The blonde hair, brushed out to over her shoulders framed a face that Regan recognized as Klarissa Stephanowski, personal assistant to the Earl. Glancing around, Regan checked to see if Klarissa had come alone. It appeared that she had.
“Yes?” Regan asked politely.
Klarissa smiled at Emma first. “Please excuse my intrusion.” She hesitated a little before returning her attention to Regan. “Our mutual friend sends his regrets but he cannot join you here tonight.” She offered over a small box. “He did want to express his sympathy for his distance in the wake of your mother’s death and sends this token as his way of showing it.”
Regan took the box, slightly confused at first. Her mind made the connection that Klarissa had meant “maker” in the place of “mother”. “Thank you,” she finally said.
“Thank you for letting me borrow your friend for this moment,” Klarissa said to Emma, her smile wide again. Regan could feel a strange chill along her spine. Something was off.
Emma blushed. “Of course.” She smiled up at the blonde. “I’m Emma, Regan’s friend.”
“The pleasure is mine,” Klarissa answered smoothly. “How do you know each other?”
Regan started to answer, but Emma spoke first. “We’re just friends, have been for years.”
“Ms. Fairchild is lucky to have such a lovely friend. Have you finished eating?”
Emma only nodded a response. Regan glanced back and forth between the two women, unsure what she was seeing.
“I have not,” Klarissa sighed, brushing her blond hair back behind one ear casually. “I am quite famished. Would you like to join me for a late snack?”
“I’d love to,” Emma answered, her eyes still transfixed on Klarissa.
“I do hope I’m not being too forward as to take you away from Ms. Fairchild, but perhaps we might find something outside? I thought I saw a very fascinating vendor just down the street.”
Emma started to stand. “Regan won’t mind.” She did not turn from the blonde vampire. “Will you, Regan?”
Truthfully, Regan did mind. Any doubt that Klarissa was using some kind of vampire power faded as she watched her friend agree to walk out of their dinner with a total stranger and step into the night with her. But what could she do about it?
Our story continues into the Chapter 14 Addendum
Our heroine is at a crossroads. What, dear reader, shall she do?