She sent a simple response.
Aubrey: Thank you.
I was pretty damn proud of myself the first few days of that following week. I didn’t call or text Aubrey and kept occupied at home in Hermosa Beach, working on a new junk art project and taking care of some long neglected repairs around the house. Even though I was keeping busy, deep down, I was miserable.
It was hard not to contact her, but I’d been taking my sister’s advice, keeping my distance in the hopes that Aubrey would make the right decision on her own.
As the end of the week neared, I was starting to grow impatient. One night, while trying unsuccessfully to distract myself with an episode of Top Gear, I impulsively broke my vow and texted her.
Chance: You there?
Aubrey: I’m here.
Aubrey: Sorry I haven’t been in touch.
Chance: It’s fine. I’ve been intentionally staying away so you can sort your head out.
Aubrey: Are you back in Temecula?
Chance: No. There’s nothing for me there besides you, and I’m giving you space. My home is here. Although, now that you’ve been here, it doesn’t seem whole anymore without you.
Aubrey: I’m sorry that you regret taking me home.
Chance: The only thing I regret is not bursting through that shower door, Princess.
She didn’t immediately respond. A few minutes later, my phone vibrated.
Aubrey: Thank you for not doing that.
Chance: You would still be here if I had.
Aubrey: Is that right?
Chance: You might have trouble walking, but you’d still be here.
Aubrey: I see.
She never texted back, so I typed again.
Chance: Are you okay?
Aubrey: Yes. I can’t text much more. I promise to call you this weekend.
Chance: Is he there with you?
Jealousy hit me like a ton of bricks. There was that voice again that sounded awfully like Mum. “Get off your hiney and get your woman!” Suddenly, it just clicked. What was keeping me here? Pride? Fuck pride. She was all that mattered. Getting her back was more important.
I was not okay. This was not okay. I knew in my heart that she loved me. I could see it in her eyes. She was just scared of getting hurt again. Sitting back like this was only giving him the upper hand. If I was going to let her go, it sure as hell wasn’t going to be without a fight. I needed to be near her.
Change of plans.
Grabbing my keys, I got into my truck and hit the highway toward Temecula. The road was barren, so I was going about eighty-five miles per hour.
The plan was to spend the night at the motel and be ready bright and early for whatever the day held. I wasn’t sure what tomorrow would bring. I just knew that I was going to be there with her till the end, regardless of how it turned out.
I’m in for the fucking long haul, Princess.
I turned the radio onto an instrumental channel for the entire ride. My nerves couldn’t seem to handle anything else.
It was late by the time I finally got to the motel. By some miracle, I fell asleep. I wanted to be parked at Jefferson bright and early in the morning to get her breakfast. Tomorrow couldn’t come fast enough.
The next day started out normally. The hustle and bustle outside of Aubrey’s office building was just like usual. When I walked into Starbucks to place her breakfast order, it became abundantly clear that this was no ordinary morning.
“Chance. I thought you left town.”
“Why do you say that?”
“You don’t know?”
“Aubrey’s last day was yesterday. She came in to say goodbye to us.”
“She’s not here anymore?”
“No. I’m sorry. I thought you guys were friends now. So, I figured you knew she quit her job.”
“Friends. Yeah. We are. She must have neglected to mention that little piece of information, though. Did she say where she was going?”
“She just said she quit and wouldn’t be seeing us every morning anymore.”
Scratching my chin, I stared into space trying to absorb that news.
Melanie interrupted my thought process. “Can I get you anything?”
Without even paying attention, I said, “Sure. A nonfat three-pump vanilla latte, low foam and extra hot.”
“You’re getting Aubrey’s drink?”
“Uh…yeah.” I hadn’t even realized that I’d ordered it. “Why not?” I shrugged. “For old time’s sake.”
As I sat at the corner table, swirling the foamy milk around in my cup, I tried to convince myself that her leaving the job and not telling me didn’t necessarily mean that she’d chosen to move to Boston with Dick. I could have texted her, but a part of me wasn’t ready for the answer. Maybe she only decided to quit, seeing as though the firm was shutting down anyway. Either way, this would likely be my last hurrah at the Starbucks that served as the backdrop for my time here with Aubrey. I wouldn’t be spending any more mornings stalking her on Jefferson if she didn’t work here anymore. I emptied my wallet of the cash inside and stuffed over a hundred dollars in the tip jar.
“Thank you, Mates. Appreciate your help all these weeks.”
Melanie’s eyes widened. “Wow, thank you. You won’t be back?”
When I pulled up to Aubrey’s house, a white and blue sign on the front lawn was the first thing that caught my eye. My heart started to pound furiously.
What in the hell?
As I got out close enough to read it, I saw that it said, For Rent. My heart seemed to fall to my stomach. Taking my key out, I rushed to the front door and opened it. Mutton’s water bowl was still in the kitchen, but it was empty. No sign of the goat anywhere. All of the furniture was still in place, but it seemed all of Aubrey’s personal belongings were gone.
I was practically flying through the house. A sweep of her bedroom also confirmed the worst. Every last item of clothing in her closet was also gone. Sitting on her bed and looking around the room, reality was starting to sink in. Adrenaline pumped through me.
Calm down, Chance.
In a daze, I returned outside into the blinding sun. I opened the shed and started packing my lawn equipment into the back of the truck. That was when I heard a whistle.
Turning around, I realized it was Aubrey’s nutty neighbor, Philomena. She’d run outside to meet the UPS guy and was carrying a brown box.
She sauntered over to me, dragging her slippers on the pavement. She had rollers in her hair, and her lips were sloppily outlined with bright pink pencil but no lipstick. “Hey, hot stuff.”
Trying to act friendly despite my rotten mood, I said, “Nice to see you again, Philomena. What do you have there in the box?”
“Who knows? I order stuff in my sleep and don’t even remember.” She snorted.
“Ah, that’s right. The four Magic Bullets. You gave Aubrey one.”
“You want one? I’ll trade you for a ride on your mower.”
“That’s alright. I’m retired from the lawn care business as of today.”
“You mean now that she’s gone?”
My eyes darted toward hers. “You know where she went?”