It’s been a long time in the making, but it’s finally done.
When three’s company becomes three’s a crowd, what’s a girl to do?
Here’s a taste of what you have to look forward to.
© Adan Ramie
There was a time that Rachel could wake up leisurely, get ready at her own pace, and go about her day feeling refreshed and energetic. But that was over, and today, she was feeling the pinch of living in a house stuffed to the brim with people.
“Sweetheart, have you had a chance to check your email?” Sadie asked, the sleepy smile she sent out from behind the shower curtain almost concealing her annoyance.
“I haven’t,” Rachel replied. She grabbed her daughter, Polly, unwound a scarf from around her neck, and pushed it into the little girl’s hands. “It’s April, baby. It’s too warm outside for your scarf.”
“But I love it!” Polly moaned, squeezing the scarf hard between two little hands. “Giada’s mother lets her wear a scarf!”
“Giada’s mother isn’t here, and your mother says it’s already 80 degrees outside, so you can’t wear it.” She trained a hard look on the girl. “Your eggs are ready. Get to the table.”
The girl moaned, but stomped toward the kitchen anyway. Rachel went back to trying to cover up a swelling red spot on her chin with a makeup applicator that was starting to fall apart. Sadie peeked out again. Rachel tried to ignore her, but when she didn’t go back to her shower, Rachel had no other choice but to look her way.
“I haven’t had a chance, but as soon as things settle, I’ll look.”
She knew what was in that email and she didn’t feel like dealing with it, but she wasn’t going to tell Sadie that.
“If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been a little swamped.”
Sadie’s head ducked back in and Rachel listened as she opened a bottle of shampoo, squirted out what was close to the last of the product, then slapped the bottle back into the caddy.
“I promise I’ll look at it soon.” Rachel waited, but when Sadie didn’t reply, she had to move on. “I’m going to go see if Peyton is up. I love you.”
“You, too,” Sadie said from the shower.
Rachel walked out of the bathroom with her makeup half-applied down the hall and knocked on the second door to the left. No response. She knocked again and put her ear up against the door. When she didn’t hear any movement, she put her hand on the doorknob.
“I’m coming in, Peyton,” she called out in warning. The last thing she wanted was to come upon her pubescent son doing things best left for the dark hours again. He didn’t respond, so she twisted the knob and cleared her throat again. “Are you getting ready?”
He grumbled something from deep beneath his pillow. She walked in, crossed over a video game system left out from the day before, a board game he had begrudgingly played with his sister at the start of the weekend, and a pile of dirty laundry. She tapped him on what she assumed was his shoulder.
“Time to wake up, honey.”
“I’m not going,” he grumbled.
Rachel squatted down and pulled the covers off his pillow to leave a gap between it and the mattress for him to listen through. “This is not negotiable, Peyton. Get up and get ready now.”
“I’m not going,” he said more forcefully, then jerked the covers back up over his pillow and tucked them in tight.
She grabbed his phone from beside his bed, tucked it in her pocket, and gave him another nudge. “If you want your phone back within the next month, you’re going to start getting ready for school.”
He launched himself out of the bed and was on his feet almost before she could move back to make room. “You can’t do that!”
“I just did.” She walked back across the room and closed the door in his face. “Get ready, Peyton. Now.”
She ignored the sounds of him raging behind his door and walked down the hall into the kitchen. The bustle there was creeping up on house party levels, so she stuck to her mission and walked right to Polly, who picked at her eggs like they were inedible.
“What’s wrong with your eggs, Polly?”
“They’re eggs,” the girl said.
Rachel swallowed a sarcastic reply, then smiled at her daughter. “I know, sweetie. You like eggs.”
“No, I don’t.”
She gawked. The day before, the girl had been extolling the virtues of what made eggs a perfect food.
“Apparently,” her best friend, Haley, said from the refrigerator where she was pouring herself an iced coffee, “eggs are disgusting today.”
“Not just today,” Polly said. “All the time.”
“That’s not what you said yesterday,” Rachel said in the calmest voice she could muster.
“It’s how I feel.” The little girl finished her toast, got up, and scraped her leftovers into a trash can under the sink. “Time to brush my teeth!” she sang, then bounced away, leaving her dirty plate on the counter and her mother feeling confused.
“What just happened?”
Haley laughed. “Do you remember being that age?”
“Not really,” Rachel sighed. She walked around the kitchen island to the coffee pot and heaved a sigh of relief that it was ready. “Did you make coffee?” she asked Haley.
Haley shook her head and moved out of the way. Rachel poured herself a cup and was turning around to grab a piece of toast from the stack Haley had definitely made based on their color when a linebacker bowled her over. The two spun, the coffee spilled, and the man swore loudly.
“Watch where you’re going!” he snapped, and she stepped back out of his way with her half-empty cup.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t even know you were in here,” she snapped back. “I’m trying to get a cup of coffee between one kid on a hunger strike and the other not being able to drag himself out of bed.”
“Not my problem,” he said, stripping off his coffee-stained dress shirt. “I’m going to be late, and it will be your problem.”
“Are you saying that was my fault? I’m not the one running in the kitchen like a child!”
He snorted and mumbled something, but Rachel ignored him. She turned on her heel and marched out of the kitchen, but before she could get back to the hallway, Haley was walking with her.
“Yes?” Rachel asked.
“I was wondering if you had given thought to what we were having for dinner tonight.”
Rachel walked back into the bathroom and walked in on Polly putting on makeup.
“Polly!” The girl startled, dropped the powder brush into the sink on top of a pile of toothpaste spit, and screwed her face up to cry. “Oh, crap.” She grabbed a makeup remover cloth and started to work on the crying girl’s face. In another minute, she had her clean and red-faced, but not crying. “Go get your backpack. We need to leave for school soon.”
“Can I bring Mr. Flopsy?”
“For my book report.”
Rachel debated it, then decided it wasn’t worth the grief. “Sure, baby, but no playing with him in class, okay?”
The girl agreed and skipped back to her bedroom. When they were alone, Haley grinned at Rachel in the mirror while she cleaned up Polly’s mess and grabbed a spare powder brush from her makeup kit.
“What?” Rachel asked.
“Nothing.” Haley tucked her hands in her pockets. “So, like I said, I’m hoping Nat stays for dinner again tonight, and I was wondering if you had thought about what you were cooking.”
“It’s my night again already?” Rachel asked as she dusted her face and watched the makeup make her look even more overworked and underslept than she started out.
“Didn’t I just cook?”
“Three days ago. It’s your turn again.”
Rachel put down her makeup brush and picked up a tube of lipstick. “What does she want?”
“Oh, she’s not asking. I am.”
Rachel smeared on the lipstick, put it back into the makeup bag, and zipped the bag up. She hooked on the little lock, closed it with the key she rarely used, and tucked the key into her pocket to put into her bedroom again now that her daughter had shown an interest in the contents.
“What do you want, then?”
Haley leaned against the door frame and crossed her arms. “If you don’t want to, I’m sure we can go out to dinner.”
“No, you want her to eat here so you can trap her into living with you. I get it,” she said, and looked at Haley in the mirror while she brushed her hair. “What does she like? I don’t know what anyone likes anymore, apparently.”
“Can you make gumbo?” Haley mumbled with her chin tucked to her chest.
Rachel dropped her brush onto the countertop. “You’re joking, right?” When Haley didn’t answer, she swore under her breath. “What makes you think I have the time to make gumbo?”
“She’s been talking about missing her parents, so I thought it would make her feel more at home.”
Sadie walked into the bathroom, kissed Rachel on the forehead, and headed for the sink. “If you want her to feel at home, you should send her home.”
“No one asked you,” Haley said with a smirk. “I don’t want her to go.”
“That much is obvious,” Sadie said.
“Is that so bad?” Haley asked.
Sadie shrugged, popped her toothbrush in her mouth, and started brushing. Rachel scooted by both of them and out of the room. She walked a few doors down, knocked again, then called out, “Are you ready?”
“I said I’m not going!” the boy yelled.
She pushed open the door and found him on the floor in his shorts in front of the television with a controller in his hand. Without a word, she walked in, unplugged the little television set and the console, and walked back out with the TV tucked under one arm and the game system under the other. The controller stayed in his hand until she jerked it out with a tug of the console.
“What the heck?” he cried.
“Get ready. You are going to school, Peyton Fletcher!”
“I’m so sick of you!” he yelled, and slammed the door.
“Ditto,” she mumbled under her breath. She deposited the electronics – including his phone – in her closet and shut the door, then sat down on her bed and stared at her bare feet. “How is it only 7 o’clock?” she asked herself.
“Mom!” she heard Polly sing out. She dropped her face into her hands and tried taking a few deep breaths. She listened as Haley headed Polly off before she could make it into Rachel’s bedroom and led the girl back into the living room to wait, and Rachel thanked the universe for small miracles.
Her phone dinged, so she pulled it out and looked at the text.
Nat: “You don’t have to make dinner for me.”
Rachel: “I don’t mind. You like gumbo?”
Nat: “Don’t make that. It takes too long. Chicken and vegetable stir fry?”
Rachel: “No problem. Put the chicken in the fridge to thaw.”
Nat: “Sorry about this. Haley insisted.”
Rachel: “Don’t I know it.”
Rachel slipped her phone back into her pocket and pushed herself off the bed. She slipped on her shoes, took one last glance in the mirror, and left the room to see what else she needed to do before work.
It was a surprise to find both her children ready and waiting for her at the front door. Even more so once she realized that all the adults were laughing in the kitchen. She kissed the tops of both the kids’ heads, even when Peyton pulled away, then walked into the group of adults.
“What did I miss?”
CW pulled her into a hug. He had changed his shirt and had a full travel mug of coffee in his hand. “I’m sorry I barked at you.”
“Apology accepted,” she said, and hugged him back. “I’ll try not to be standing anymore,” she added with a grin.
He smiled back, but it was tight. He glanced at the wall clock. “I need to get to work before I’m late. I want that promotion!” he said as he walked toward the door.
“Good luck!” Rachel said.
“Break a leg!” Haley called.
“You’re ready, promotion!” Polly said with a little bounce.
He gave a little bow as he swept past the kids and out the door. Rachel, Haley, and Nat watched him go, then turned to each other.
“I took everything out for dinner tonight,” Nat said to Rachel.
“You don’t have to do that,” Haley said. “It’s no problem.”
Rachel rolled her eyes, but smiled at Nat. “Thanks, Nat.” She gave the woman she had only known for a few months a quick hug, then leveled her gaze on Haley. “We should talk later.”
Her best friend gave her a quizzical look, then shrugged. “Okay. After dinner.”
They hugged, then Haley walked Rachel to the door while Nat went back into Haley’s room to finish getting ready. Haley high-fived Peyton, hugged Polly, and turned the light on outside so the three could get to the car okay.
Rachel hustled Polly into the car, didn’t snipe at Peyton, and adjusted the music so that everyone was happy. Then she headed off to get the kids to school, herself to work, and finally start her day.
Haley flopped down onto the couch after Rachel and the kids left to watch the rest of a show she had been trying to finish for days. It was one of those series the trio used to watch together religiously, but it had fallen to the wayside as they had busied themselves with relationships and their careers. She was only a couple of minutes in when Sadie walked in the living room looking bewildered.
“What’s up?” Haley asked.
“Did Rachel really leave without telling me goodbye?”
Haley tried to stuff down a snicker, but it came out anyway. “Oh, shit, did she?”
Sadie gave her a suffering look. “Well, since I have you here, I wanted to ask: did you get a chance to go in for the dress fitting at She’s A Bride?”
Haley looked back at the paused television to avoid Sadie’s large, dark eyes. They were so honest and open, and it only made Haley feel worse. “No, I haven’t had a chance. I’ve been so busy, I still haven’t finished this, and I started it on Thursday.” She gestured at the television with the remote and kept her eyes on the screen. “I’ll do it. It’s not like the wedding is tomorrow or anything.”
Sadie groaned. “No, but it’s not exactly years away. We only have a few more months, and I need to get everyone on board if all of this is going to work for the date we set.”
“You need to relax,” Haley said, and pushed play on the remote. The show started back up and Haley assumed Sadie would walk away, but out of the corner of her eye, she could see Rachel’s fiancée stood where she was and watched Haley. “What?” Haley finally asked, and paused the television again.
“What’s the deal with you? I know you didn’t like Rachel and I being together at first, but I thought you were over that now.”
“I am,” Haley said, knowing she sounded defensive but not caring. “I want you guys to be happy, but don’t you think you’re being a little anal about this?”
“No, I don’t. Why won’t you go get fitted for the dress, Haley? You had a choice to wear a suit if you would rather. You can still change it. I need you to go get measured for whatever you want to wear so that we know it fits.”
“Oh my god, it’s not a big deal,” Haley groaned, then turned off the television and tossed the remote toward the caddy at the end of the couch. “It’s just a stupid dress. It will fit.”
Sadie waited a moment, then said in a softer voice, “Can you please go get fitted this week?”
“Thank you,” Sadie said, then walked back toward the bedroom she shared with Rachel. As usual, she stayed calm and in control, and left Haley feeling like a jerk.
She watched Sadie walk away with seething anger boiling up from her stomach like heartburn. The last thing she wanted to do at the end of a long work day was to go try on dresses in the shop of an old woman who smelled like camphor and cigarettes. She stared at the still television a moment more before scooting down, grabbing the remote, and turning the television back on. She started the show again with a frown so deep it felt like it was etched onto her face.
“Babe, we should talk.” Nat stood at the end of the couch and looked down at Haley with a sad, strained look on her face.
“Oh my god!” Haley said, then turned off the television, turned to Nat, and showed her palms. “What is it, Nat?” Her girlfriend of only a few months flinched, and Haley regretted her tone immediately. She patted the couch in front of her and softened her voice. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. It’s been a rough morning. Sit down and we’ll talk.”
Nat perched on the edge of the couch with her hands folded too carefully in her lap. She twisted the ring she always wore on her right hand round and round her thumb, a tell-tale sign that she was nervous. “I feel like you haven’t been listening to me lately.”
“Okay.” Haley’s heartbeat thumped in her chest and her eggs flipped in her stomach. This was worse than she thought. “What about?”
Nat let go of her ring and took Haley’s hands in her own. “I know we’ve been getting serious, and I love all the time we have been spending together.”
Haley’s heart crashed into her stomach. The words were nice, but they were leading to something ugly, and as much as Haley didn’t want to hear the words, she was ready for them to be out on the table so she could deal with them. “But?”
Nat sighed. “But I feel stifled here. There are too many people in this house.”
“I like this house,” Haley said. She pulled her hands away from Nat’s, stood up, and started pacing across the hardwood floor. She rubbed her leg; her not-so-old injury ached every time she got tense, and now it shrieked at her for how tight her muscles had seized. “I like my family.”
“And I like them, too,” Nat said, and stood up, too. “You know I like them, but I can’t live here with them.”
“So you don’t want to live with me.”
Nat tried to catch her as she paced back, but Haley pulled herself from Nat’s grasp with a firm jerk of her shoulder. “Babe, please, let’s talk about this.”
“It doesn’t sound like there’s a lot to talk about. I want you to move in, but you don’t want it. You’ve made up your mind already.”
Nat laughed mirthlessly and raised her hands in mock surrender. “Look around you, Haley! There is no room left for me here. There were already four adults and two kids living here before I came into the picture, and adding another wasn’t a great idea. I tried to deal with it, but it’s too much for me. I need a little more peace.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Haley said, even though she did. She just didn’t want to admit it. She especially didn’t want to admit that she felt it, too. It was a subtle shift at first, but after only a few months, the air inside was thick with tension and stifled her every time she walked in the house.
“I like quiet. I like the peace and the solitude of fewer people sharing a space. I like living in an apartment with a couple of people I almost never see. I like waking up on my own without someone else dictating what I do with my time.”
Haley stopped pacing. “Is that what this is about?”
“What?” Nat asked.
Haley knew if she stopped talking, they could figure this out later, but her pride forced her to keep going. “You want to be a free agent who doesn’t have to be on anyone else’s schedule. You don’t want any ties.”
“That’s not really what I said –” Nat started, but Haley cut her off, blood boiling up her neck and into her face.
“You don’t want to be with me because of my family.”
“I didn’t say that, Haley,” Nat said. She pulled away, shrunk against herself, and wrapped one arm across her chest to clasp the other by the bicep. “Don’t say that. You’re putting words in my mouth.”
“Then what? If not that, then why are you saying these things?”
Nat appeared to grapple internally, then finally looked Haley in the eyes. “You’re co-dependent.”
Haley gawked. “What?”
“The three of you: Rachel, CW, and you. The way you live is so co-dependent.”
“I don’t think you know what that word means,” Haley said.
Nat nodded her head, chin stuck out, and screwed up her mouth.
“You think Rachel, CW, and I are in some kind of weird relationship?”
“I do.” With it out, Nat visibly relaxed, but Haley knew she was still wound as tight as a snake ready to strike. “I don’t think it’s healthy for you, but I know it’s absolutely not healthy for me. I can’t live in the middle of it.”
“A couple of months is all you could handle, then?” Haley asked, her insides tight and cold and her teeth clenched. If she stopped now, she could avoid ringing a bell that couldn’t be unrung.
“I guess so,” Nat said, her voice almost a whisper.
Haley could see in her face that she knew it was coming, too, and was dreading it as much. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion, knowing what was going to happen, but not being able to stop it.
“Fine.” Even though part of her screamed at herself to shut up, reach out, and hug Nat instead of saying what was on the tip of her tongue, Haley kept speaking. “Then I guess you can leave when you’re ready.”
Nat’s mouth dropped open slightly, then rearranged itself into a pout. She looked wounded, and all Haley really wanted to do was hold her, but what she did was sit back down on the couch.
“Let me know if you need any help getting your stuff out to your car.” She waited a beat, kicking herself internally the whole time, then grabbed the remote to the television again and let her finger rest over the play button. “You shouldn’t need any help, though. There’s not much here. You never really intended to stay, anyway.”
“Haley, why are you doing this?” Nat let a tear drip down one cheek without wiping it away, and Haley’s insides squeezed harder.
“I’m not. You are.” She watched from the corner of her eye as Nat’s face went through several changes, then turned her attention forward and started her show again.
As much as it gutted her, it was easier this way. This way, she didn’t have to lose everyone and have her heart torn into a thousand pieces. She only had to lose Nat and have it cleaved in half.
<< Add it on Goodreads >>