by Gay Degani
A heavy rain scrubs Lily’s Chevy clean, a gleaming confirmation of her resolve. All her household goods, every jean, t-shirt, bracelet, book, and bottle of shampoo are stowed in the back seat, front seat, trunk. She leaves her apartment key in the mailbox.
Driving down the mountain through lush valleys and high desert heat, she lets her thoughts drift back to abandoned closets and empty cupboards. She pictures Jed yanking open doors, listening for a creak on the stair.
What had she said to him a week before, standing at the sink, watching him slice banana into cereal? ‘Come with me.’
He looked up, ‘Just stay.’
But she couldn’t stay.
Out of the high-altitude bubble, Lily initiates some kind of “real life.” She works hard at her new job—she’s smart, organized—but in October, when temperatures soar and the Santa Ana winds unleash, she begins to doubt, wonders if she’s made a mistake.
Still, she loves that her studio apartment is always clean—living alone offers this advantage—and her cupboards are well stocked because Target and Costco are no longer a three-hour drive away. She tells herself she’s settling in.
One by one, she begins to receive texts from up the mountain: ‘Jed’s at the Ski-E-Zee Bar getting drunk.’ ‘Jed’s a mess.’ ‘Jed got laid off.’ When an old friend call, she tells her, ‘Jed’s not my problem.’
She begins to make new friends. They want what she wants: a career, house, family. They do “Girls’ Night.” She scrutinizes the men at the bar. She dates, tries Match.com, but no one feels right, one too young, one too corporate, another likes his gin too much, yet persuades herself to patience. She’s lonely, especially now that Jed, she’s been told, has found someone else.
After Christmas with Mom, Dad, and little sister, Lily returns to her apartment and stops to watch an old woman paddle back and forth in the pool under the warm Southern California sun. A pang of loss follows her up the stairs and into her living room. She stands at her window, imagines snow sifting down.
When she gets the invitation, Jed to marry in late June, she takes up running, a hard-earned two-mile circuit past palm trees, coffee shops, the neighborhood vegetable garden.
She joins a softball team, claims second base, bats fifth. After the game, she goes out for barbeque and beers with her teammates. In her spare time, she haunts antique malls and shoe stores. Takes up painting, reads Gladwell, Thoreau, John Sandford. Gets promoted and most importantly, she’s there to help when her mother gets breast cancer.
Raindrops ripple the turquoise lake while guests huddle beneath pines, chat under umbrellas. Jed’s hair is flat from rain, gray jacket soaked as he jokes with his friends.
When the music begins, everyone pivots toward the cottonwoods where Jed’s bride emerges with her father, jaunty in their march through pouring rain.
Lily stands alone watching the light-hearted ceremony, taking in the deep earthy smell of mountains and after their kiss, Lily waits for him to turn her way. When he does, uncertain pleasure crosses his face. Lily smiles back, her outlook tempered by time and effort, surprised and relieved to feel no regrets.
Gay Degani has received nominations and honors for her work including Pushcart consideration and Best Small Fictions. She’s published a collection of eight stories about mothers, Pomegranate, a full-length collection, Rattle of Want, (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She occasionally blogs at Words in Place.