Are you ready to meet Abby? Keep reading for a sneak peek into chapter one of After Everything!
I touched the tip of my finger to the cool glass of the window and stared down at the busy street below. Drops of rain raced down the pane, chasing each other toward their final destination. As the heat from my finger transferred to the glass, the droplets diverted and created a new path, avoiding me altogether. Moments like this, I wished I were the rain.
“Abby,” my mother said and cleared her throat. “Are you listening to me?”
I nodded but didn’t speak. She, of course, couldn’t see this through the phone but I kept nodding anyway.
“How’s the ‘songwriting thing’ going?” If it were possible to hear air quotes, my mother would be the perfect person to narrate them.
“Great,” I replied. The lie slipped out far too easily. “Everything is great.”
Nothing was great, but I couldn’t tell her that. I couldn’t admit that my lack of planning combined with my impulsive decision to run away from my hometown, family, and husband had all been a mistake. She didn’t need to know the full extent of my failures. Otherwise, she’d never stop rubbing them in my face.
“You’ve always been a terrible liar,” she said with a snorted laugh. “How long do you intend to mope about your apartment? Have you done dishes this week? Last week? Do you have on clean underwear?”
Rolling my eyes, I bit back the sarcasm that bubbled inside my throat and said, “Yes, Mom, I’m wearing clean underwear. The apartment is clean. Everything is fine.”
Fine. The most loaded word in the English language. Fine wasn’t fine and neither was I.
“Don’t roll your eyes at me, Abigail Grace.” Never mind that she couldn’t see me. She knew me better than anyone. Just as I’d known she air quoted “songwritingthing,” she knew I was rolling my eyes as I said “fine.” I flinched at her tone and shook off the feeling it brought on. I wasn’t sixteen. She wasn’t in control anymore. My life was mine and mine alone to fuck up, and I was doing a mighty fine job of that all on my own. I didn’t need her meddling to make things worse. “Abby, are you there? I can’t hear you.”
“Sorry, it’s raining.” I yawned.
“Let me guess,” she said with a small laugh. “You’re staring out the window and wondering which raindrop will win the race.”
“You know me well,” I said. Niles, my cat purred and rubbed against my bare legs. I reached down and scratched his head. He climbed into my lap and curled himself into a tiny ball of black and white fluff. “Listen, Mom, I know you’re worried or whatever, but I’m fine. I can take care of myself. This is just a small setback.”
“You were fired, Abby, I’d call that more than a setback.”
“I wasn’t fired, I was let go. The agency downsized.” She was right, though, I’d been fired, but they were also in the midst of a downsizing after losing a big client. I might have survived the downsizing if I hadn’t shown up for the most important meeting of my life fifteen minutes late and with a hangover the size of my hometown—small, but invasive. My performance in that meeting is what lost us the big client. So, technically, we were both right. She knew me well enough to know I’d somehow managed to fuck up this golden opportunity. I’m nothing if not predictable.
“Have you told your—” she said, pausing to swallow her distaste before finishing her question. “Your father?”
“Do you really want to know?” I asked.
“Nope, I don’t.”
“Great, then I won’t have to lie.” I hadn’t called him, nor did I plan to. I’d missed our coffee date on Monday, being hungover and late and all. He’d called, but I’d never called him back. I wasn’t in the mood for a litany of “I told you so”s or “you just know how to let me down don’t you”s. The two things I’d recently learned that my father excelled at. Well, that and pretending he’d never had a wife or two daughters in Missouri.
“Maybe it’s time to tuck your tail between your legs and come home,” she said as if she were simply suggesting a small tweak. Her casual tone dug under my skin.
“And do what?” I asked without bothering to hide my annoyance.
“There are plenty of jobs here,” she said.
“I can’t come home, Mom, you know that.”
Mom sighed and then paused as if she were seriously debating her next sentence. As soon as she spoke it, I wished she thought harder and kept it to herself.
“You know he won’t wait forever, right?” she asked.
“I don’t want him to,” I said. As I said the words, the all-too-familiar tug of home pulled me away from the comfort of my cozy Nashville condo. I took a deep breath and said, “And what would I do for work? Ed at the radio station made it clear my old job wasn’t an option.”
“I’m sure there are marketing jobs here,” she said.
“In Wishing, Missouri? They don’t even know what marketing is.” Moving home wasn’t an option. I’d sell myself on Dickerson Pike before I moved back to Missouri. No, failure wasn’t an option. It didn’t matter that I was already halfway there.
“Or, I bet Rayna would let you come back and sing a few nights a week at Lace & Grit or bartend. She did you good when you got that hair up your ass to go to college.”
I bit my tongue. I’d sung at the tiny dive bar more times than I could even remember but I was fairly certain neither the town nor Rayna would welcome me back with open arms. Not after what I did to Jacob. Not after I left like I did. “Just, no,” I mumbled to myself.
“What was that?” she asked, her voice suddenly sounding a thousand miles away.
“Nothing, Mom.” I didn’t have the energy to defend myself or my move to Nashville anymore. I wasn’t coming home. Even if it meant groveling for more handouts from my father.
“Sorry, I’ve got to run. Your sister just pulled up with the twins,” Mom said. Her voice kicked up an octave. It always did that when Lindsey was around. My older sister was her pride and joy. I was her biggest disappointment.
“Give them hugs and snuggles from Auntie Abby.”
“Come home and give them out yourself.”
I sighed and said, “I love you, Mom. Talk soon?” She hung up without returning the sentiment.
I dropped the phone onto my lap and closed my eyes. The rain pelted the window. Each one hitting a new note and continuing the song no one asked it to sing. I laid my head against the window and waited for motivation to strike. I should be looking for a new job or heading out for a songwriter meet up or writing a song. Or anything other than moping around my overpriced condo in three-day-old pajamas. But I hadn’t touched my guitar in months, not once in the months since I’d left home. I’d moved to Music City and lost my will to write.
A knock at the door pulled me from my brief moment of reverie. Niles leapt from my lap and rushed to the door, eager to see what was on the other side. I’d gotten a cat because they were supposed to be chill and quiet. Somehow, I’d managed to adopt a lap cat that thinks he’s a dog. I slipped off the window seat and padded across the floor. Before I pulled it open, I swiped my hand through my mousy blonde hair. When was the last time I’d combed it? Monday? Had I even done it then?
“Abigail Rhodes?” a young man asked when I pulled the door open.
“You’ve been served.” He shoved an envelope into my unsuspecting hand, and I stepped back, refusing to touch it. I knew what was inside that manila envelope, and I had no desire to accept it. Though, I’d been the one to ask for it in the first place, I wasn’t ready for the finality. “Look, you’ve been served whether you take it or not. If you take it, I can go about my day and you can go take a shower or brush your teeth.”
“Rude,” I said and took the envelope. He offered a weak smile and turned to go before I could slam the door in his face. “Fucking perfect.”
The envelope wasn’t big. It didn’t weigh much but it held so much more than just the papers that would officially end the best worst mistake of my life. No, mistake wasn’t the right word. A mistake implies it was a simple oops. Not fourteen years of saying yes when I meant to say no. Not packing up in the middle of the night and leaving without so much as a goodbye. Not the single-word lie I brought with me. Those weren’t simple mistakes. Those were conscious, calculated decisions, and for the most part, I accepted the consequences. Even if I didn’t like them.
Jacob. His name buzzed around my head like a fly I couldn’t swat. It hovered just out of reach, taunting and teasing me. I tossed the envelope on the counter and vowed to deal with it later. I’d sign the papers, I knew I would, I just needed a few more days to clear my head. It didn’t matter that I was the one who left. I was the one who initiated all of this; I just wasn’t ready to accept full responsibility or finality.
Niles worked his way in and out of the spot between my feet. He meowed and stared up at me. I bent down to pick him up and caught a whiff of myself. Ugh. The guy at the door wasn’t wrong. I needed a shower. Badly. I picked up my phone and glanced at the date. It was Thursday. I hadn’t bothered to look in a mirror or change my clothes since Monday. I’d only talked to my mother on the phone, no one else. I hadn’t even left my condo. I wasn’t even one-hundred percent sure the rest of the world even existed. I’d somehow managed to stay off social media; unless playing Words with Friends with random people counted as social media. (It didn’t.) I’d sulked for three full days. It was time to rejoin the world. Maybe I could finally check out the bar that was on the first floor of my condo building. Just one drink, I vowed. One.
I slipped out of my clothes, cringing at the smell that wafted off of them, and tossed them onto the bathroom floor. Stepping over them, I reached into the shower and turned the water as hot as it would go. I’d need to boil the last few days off of me if I wanted a chance at a fresh start. Or, at least, a fresh scent. The start could wait until after I called my dad with the news that I’d ruined the shot he so generously gave me.
I reached my hand into the shower and yanked it back out. Flames rushed over my skin. The temperature was near perfect. Jacob would have hated it. I shuddered at the second reminder of him. There wasn’t a trace of him inside this condo or in this town, but I still felt his presence. Inside my eyelids when I blinked. On my skin when the sun or rain kissed it. In between my fingers when I reached for a beer; the shape of the bottle reminding me of the feel of his hand in mine. He was nowhere but everywhere all at the same time.
I hated myself for thinking about him and romanticizing our brief marriage. A year ago, I’d never have considered that I might miss the doldrums of our routines. I also didn’t assume I’d be living in a condo that my dad owned in downtown Nashville. A year ago, Jacob and Wishing, Missouri, were all I knew. Our relationship had survived high school, college, and our mid-twenties, but it couldn’t survive our very different dreams. The dreams we’d once shared had shifted as we grew up and apart. His involved buns in the oven and mine involved guitars and lyrics. I’d once been convinced that they could live together and become a shared future. Jacob hadn’t seen it that way. His home was, and always would be, in Missouri. I used to think mine was too; then one day it wasn’t.
I’d always felt safe and content with him and in the hometown we shared. But contentment wasn’t what I thought it would be. Safety wasn’t love, and it certainly didn’t inspire any life-changing songs. That came from leaving your high school sweetheart and packing up everything you owned into the back of a decade-old Toyota Camry and making the 500-mile drive to the city of music and begging your estranged father for a place to live and selling your soul for a paycheck.
Better than living and dying in the same small town I was born in. Just like all the small-town girls who came before me. Better than admitting my life was headed exactly where it started. Nowhere.