I remember the exact moment that Colin became an organ donor. We’d been standing in line at the DMV, at the tender age of eighteen, and he checked the box. Just like that, he changed the course of our history.
“Don’t do that!” I’d whisper screamed. “I heard they won’t revive you if you get in an accident or something.”
He’d only chuckled and even then, I was hopelessly in love with him. He was dating Molly Springer at the time, and so I hadn’t told him yet, but I was.
“If I’m gone, I’m gone. I’d want others to live on.” I had no idea that moment would changed everything.
“Ma’am.” The nurse brought me back to the present.
She was trying to hand me the bag of Colin’s clothes and shoes and wallet… and whatever he’d had on him at the time of the crash, but I didn’t want them. That made it final.
“Ma’am, are you sure you don’t want to me call counseling services?” Her face lined with worry.
A shrink? A stranger was going to tell me how to be at peace with the fact that my husband, my soulmate, was dead the day after our wedding? The love of my life? The man I’d been in love with since I was sixteen?
No fucking way.
I reached out and took the bag from her. “I’m fine. His parents are flying in. And…” I’d lost my train of thought, what was I saying? Why was this bag so heavy? “And I’m fine.” I repeated. They’d had to sedate me when they first told me about him. But that Xanax was wearing off now and reality was hitting like a ton of bricks. It was deep and heavy and earth shattering.
His parents had just left back to Phoenix this morning and we were set to leave for our honeymoon tomorrow night. How was this possible? He couldn’t be dead. We had shit to do. Like have kids, grow old together… be married more than a damn day!
My chest gave a sharp pang of sadness as a sob formed in my throat and I half wondered if I’d die of a heart attack right here.
The nurse was older, early fifties, and a deep frown pulled at her lips. “Look, I’m sorry about your husband but he saved a life today. The person who got his heart was a perfect match.”
One life. He checked that fucking box eight years ago and traded his life for someone else’s. They said that maybe his corneas could be transplanted but everything else tore or exploded on impact. Except his heart. His fucking heart miraculously survived, which was so Colin. And now someone else had it and they would go on and have an amazing life, while Colin went into the ground.
“Thanks.” I mumbled and turned to leave before I lost my shit again and they put me on a 72-hour-hold.
“Ma’am do you have somewhere to go?” Her voice trailed after me and I just raised my hand and waved her off.
I hadn’t called my best friend Julie yet. The police had showed up at my work and the first thing I did was call Colin’s parents and then my own, and then they sedated me because I’d lost my mind. I vaguely remember tearing a poster off the hospital wall when they had me ID the body, nothing felt real and yet everything was too real.
I didn’t want to tell Julie. I didn’t want it to be real.
But I was legitimately afraid to be alone right now. I just wanted to die, I wanted to die and be with Colin and those thoughts scared me.
I took off out the hospital doors and onto the busy New York streets and hailed a cab. I barely remember getting inside, barely remember giving directions to my best friend’s place. Julie was a nurse at the very same hospital I’d just come from. She had tonight off but in the morning my best friend would go to work in the same place that my childhood sweetheart, and brand-new husband, had died.
A sob formed in my throat and I wished I’d asked for a prescription of the Xanax. I didn’t want to feel anything right now. I should probably have called Julie and told her I was coming, or at least texted her, but my brain wasn’t working right and before I knew it, I was on her doorstep. The doorman knew me and just let me in, and time was weird. I wasn’t in my body. Nothing made sense. I was floating out in the universe searching for Colin, searching for anything that would make this pain stop. I just needed to wake up from this awful dream.
With a shaking hand, I rang the doorbell of her apartment and waited.
It was ten at night, she had seven a.m. shift tomorrow. She was probably asleep, or worse, screwing her boyfriend John at this very moment.
The door opened and Julie stood there, brows drawn together, brown hair messed from sleep. When her gaze fell on the hospital bag in my hand, her fingers came up to her mouth.
“Millie. What’s happened?”
Fucking nurses, they just knew.
I had also just realized that there was Colin’s blood on my fingers from when I’d tried to hold his hand, when they made me identify the body. That had been a world class mistake, his cold rigid hand didn’t squeeze back.
My fingers shook, I couldn’t speak, so I just handed her the bag like an idiot.
She took it, opened it up, peered inside at Colin’s wallet and shoes, and then sagged against the door.
That’s when I blacked out.
I came to in the hospital. The beeping noises, bright lights, people rushing all around me, it was chaos. There was a deep throbbing pain in my chest and I felt so lightheaded I thought I might float away.
Gran’s worried gaze swam into view as she clutched her purse to her chest.
“Ash.” She sobbed.
“Ma’am we need to get him into surgery.” A nurse held Gran back as they wheeled me past.
At the word surgery, I remembered the accident. The way the tree stump had impaled my chest, the way…
“Jenna!” I screamed trying to sit up as I remembered her flying across the road with no seat belt on. But moving had made the dizziness worse and now I felt like I was going to throw up on top of it.
“Gran! Jenna?” I looked at my grandmother as they wheeled me through the double doors and she just shook her head.
Everything inside of me died in that moment. It just went dark. I went dark inside.
When they put a mask over my face and started to sedate me for surgery, I had one wish.
Don’t let me wake up, I don’t want to wake up in a world without my twin sister.
One Year Later
Julie sat across from me in her nursing scrubs as we grabbed lunch at the Chinese place near the hospital. This place was loud and I wasn’t in the mood to ‘people’ today but I would never pass up a lunch date with my bestie. I wouldn’t have survived the past year without her. I could almost smell the MSG, but this place was so good it was worth the food coma I would get later on.
“So, John has been acting weird. I think he’s cheating.” Julie confessed. Her brown hair was tied into a top knot as she scowled down at her fork, twisting lo mien noodles onto the tip.
He wasn’t cheating, he was getting ready to propose. I’d helped him pick out the ring last week, but I needed to play it cool or ruin the surprise.
“John? Cheat on you? You’re crazy.” I assured her. John was so far from cheating on her it wasn’t even funny.
Julie leaned forward and lowered her voice. “He’s all cagey and secretive. The other day I went to look through his gym bag for my yoga mat, and he freaked out.”
Fuck. He probably hid the ring in there.
“John’s not cheating.” I assured her again, making my voice a bit firmer than I probably should have.
Julie crossed her arms, glaring slightly at me. “You can’t possibly know that.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “True, but I’m ninety nine percent sure.”
Let it go woman!
Julie furrowed her brow. “Now you’re acting weird. You’re normally super protective of me and would be offering to snoop on him. What’s going on?” She pinned me with a glare.
A grin tugged at my lips.
She was too smart to hide anything from. “You caught me. John and I are hooking up.”
Her smile grew wide as she giggled, knowing that wasn’t possible, for many reasons.
- I would never betray my best friend and
- the last man’s lips to hit mine had been Colin’s.
“Seriously thou—” Her face drained of color. “Ohmygod is he going to propose?”
I put my head in my hands. There was no surprising this girl.
She squealed so loud that everyone stopped their lunch and stared at her.
Pulling my head from my hands, I looked at her. “Dammit Julie, why can’t you just leave things be? Why do you have to play detective!” I snapped, tossing an edamame bean at her face. She dodged it and chewed her lip, bouncing in her seat, grinning.
“When is he doing it? Is the ring big? I mean I don’t care… I love him either way, but I’ll bet it’s big.”
A smirk pulled at my lips. “I’m not saying shit.” I crossed my arms.
Julie scowled behind her lo mien. “Excuse me? Best friend? You will tell me so I can make a waxing appointment and be sure to wear a sexy dress that night.”
She was right. No one wanted to have hoo-hah stubble on the night they got engaged.
I sighed, “Fine. Tomorrow night on your four-year anniversary and you better fucking act surprised.”
She bopped up and down in her chair, eyes alight with joy. “I totally will. Super surprised. So, it’s big right? Because these bitches at work all married surgeons and have rocks the size of cars on their hand.”
John was a corporate litigation attorney, junior partner at the firm, it was big. “It’s decent.” I fucked with her a little.
Her face fell. “Decent is fine. I just love him.”
Laughter peeled out of me. “Girl, it’s huge. You’re going to have to hire a bodyguard to walk you to your car.”
“Really!” Her face lit up again and for the first time in a long time, happiness exploded in my chest.
For like five minutes, I’d forgotten about Colin. I’d forgotten that I was a tragic twenty-seven-year-old widow. I’d allowed Julie’s happiness to make me happy. But then my fingers came around the chain at my throat, the place where Colin and my ring hung together right over my heart.
Julie noticed the shift in my face. “Mill, I know this must be hard for you. The one-year anniversary of Colin’s death is tonight and with my—”
I sighed deeply. “And nothing. We’re going to get shitfaced and watch Netflix and I’m fine.”
She nodded. “Yes, we are, but it’s okay if you’re having a hard time with me and John…”
I waved her off. “I’m not. I’m really happy for you. He’s amazing… for a republican.”
We both laughed at that, and then the conversation navigated to equally choppy but different waters.
“So… closing the cupcake shop?” She winced and looked down at the paperwork stack that I had perched at the edge of the counter.
We hadn’t really talked about my business failure much. I didn’t want to be that friend, The friend that constantly complained or cried or was depressed. No one wanted to hang out with that friend. John had been nice enough to get me out of my three-year lease agreement without having to get evicted for non-payment. For that I was grateful.
I waved her off. “It’s fine. A new restaurant idea was an ambitious choice after everything. I was able to get out of the lease without being in debt. That’s a plus.”
Colin’s parents had gifted Colin and I ten grand to open the cupcake shop. The problem was that Colin had gone to school for restaurant management and I was just the pastry chef. A Cordon Bleu, French trained, pastry chef, but still… I knew nothing about business. It was doomed from the start. I should have gotten out of it when I’d learned of his death, but his parents wanted to see it come together. Colin’s dream. We’d worked on it at the same time as we planned our wedding. We were set for our grand opening the day after we landed from our honeymoon.
Cupcakes and Whiskey.
A bar with desert that matched the drinks. The perfect pairing. Colin got the best bartender in New York City and I curated the menu inspired by my time in Paris. Chocolate croissant cupcake with Kalua mudslide or bacon maple scone with caramel rum.
If I hadn’t fucked it up, it would have been amazing. I missed more work than I attended. Shit fell through the cracks. The line out the door died down when they realized I hadn’t ordered or baked enough to feed them. One day I’d been so despondent, I just closed the place early and went home.
I had to hear about it on social media. Some bitches showed up to the closed shop and made a whole Instagram story about it.
Reputation was everything and the restaurant suffered after that.
“Are you thinking about that Instagram bitch?” Julie pointed an accusing finger at me.
I grinned. “Just a little. She had a million followers. A million!”
Julie waved me off. “She was a bitch who made a huge, nuclear, world war three big deal about a restaurant closing an hour early.”
I shrugged. “It was three hours.”
“The point is. Fuck her.” Julie was viciously protective of me and I loved her for it.
I held up my bubble tea and smiled at my bestie. “Fuck her.”
We clinked plastic cups before the beeping of Julie’s phone caused her to peer down. “Okay, I gotta get back. Eight pm, my place. I kicked John out for the night. You, me, getting hammered and watching Netflix!”
I gave her a quick hug and then watched her go, weaving in and out of the restaurant while still shoveling Lo Mien into her mouth.
She looked back at me in the doorway, “HOLY SHIT I’m getting engaged!” She yelled as a huge grin swept cross my face. The restaurant burst into applause and she left with a fist pump in the air. That’s when my mind wondered to the day Colin proposed to me. It was perfect, he was perfect. We were perfect.
Now that Julie was gone, I could let my fake smile fall, I could let my shoulders drop. I could ask myself on the one-year anniversary of Colin’s death… what the fuck was I doing with my life?
The blaring alarm clock cut into my sleep like an assault, I rolled over and slammed my hand down to shut it off.
Another fucking day.
Every night I went to sleep and prayed I wouldn’t wake up, but low and behold, that fucking alarm clock was there to remind me I was still in the land of the living.
Sitting up, I pulled a cigarette from my bedside table and lit it. Reaching out, I touched the picture of my twin sister that sat at my bedside table. I remembered the day I took that picture. We were seventeen and she’d been canning strawberries with gran, she was covered in a sticky mess. She had a crush on one of my buddies who was over, and I’d called her a sticky slob or something and she’d flipped me off. I’d snapped the pic right as she flipped me the bird and glared me down in a way that only Jenna could do.
She hated the picture, which of course made me love it.
Emotion tightened my throat and I reached out and slammed the frame face down.
Tomorrow was the one-year anniversary of her death. One year since the Universe decided to take her and not me. Peering down at the ten-inch scar on my chest, I shook my head and took another drag of my cigarette. I shouldn’t be smoking, or drinking for that matter, but I didn’t care anymore. I shouldn’t be alive, Jenna should.
My second back up alarm went off and I tore from the bed and yanked it from the wall, ceasing it’s blaring mid-stream.
After showering, smoking three more cigarettes, and tossing on a questionably clean shirt, I headed downstairs to open the bar. I was surprised to see my real estate agent Darcy waiting for me out front.
“Surprise!” She bopped on her heels, holding two Starbucks cups. “We got an offer!”
Darcy had been trying to sleep with me for months. She was a perky twenty-five-year-old blonde with a banging body. But she also had a big brain and cared too much about people. Not the kind of girl you had a one-night stand with, so I avoided her advances at all costs. Ya know, I was a gentleman like that.
“Shit, really?” Was I finally going to be rid of this shit hole? I looked up at the Wayne’s Place sign. The failing family business I’d been saddled with five years ago was falling apart, in every way.
Darcy handed me the cup of coffee and I thanked her. Just because I hated my life, didn’t mean I had to be rude to a nice young woman.
“It’s lower than we wanted.” She chewed on her plump bottom lip and I got distracted for a second.
Using my key, I opened the bar and held the door for her. “How low?”
Darcy stepped inside and took one of the chairs down from where it was turned upside down on the tabletop. I stepped in after her and then joined her. She sat, spreading out some papers for me to look at. “Half of asking.”
“Half!” I screamed, pulling up a chair next to her. “No way.”
Darcy nodded, her slick blonde ponytail bopping as she did. “It’s a laundromat, so they have no use for the bar. They plan to gut it.”
I sighed. Maybe that was best. Gut the memories from this shithole and I could move on with my life.
“You want a drink?” I asked her and stood.
She shifted uncomfortably. “It’s two in the afternoon Ashton.”
Darcy went to church every Sunday and dreamed about dating bad boys like me, but in reality, I wasn’t what she wanted.
“It’s five o’clock somewhere.” I winked.
Sometimes I went a few days without drinking just to prove I could. Just to prove I wasn’t like my dad.
When I returned to the table with a whisky on the rocks, I looked down at the papers. “Half my asking?”
She nodded, “But you get to keep the apartments above. They’ll do a property split. Half asking for the bar and you keep the apartments.”
That was decent. At least Mrs. Pennyweather in 1B wouldn’t be out on her ass and I’d still have somewhere to live. And once I finally rented out Jenna’s apartment across the hall from mine, maybe I could break even on the mortgage. But half asking… I did the quick math in my head. After paying the bank, personal loan from Gran and the 2nd… no. I couldn’t.
“I can’t do that Darc. Ask for more, okay?”
She frowned. “Ashton, it’s been on the market awhile and…if I ask for more, they might walk.”
“It’s half my asking.” I reminded her, reaching out to tap the offer.
She eyed my tattooed arm with a hooded gaze.
She nodded. “Okay I’ll see what I can do but just think about the offer okay?” She stood just as I poured my whiskey into the Starbucks coffee she’d brought me.
Her eyes fell to my chest and the top of the scar that peeked out of the top of my t-shirt. It was a hard scar to hide, especially in summer, and I knew she was dying to ask about it, but never did.
“You know some friends and I are going out tonight, if you want to close early and meet up?” She smiled and it only made her more beautiful, more tempting.
Darcy Becker was pure and I wouldn’t taint her. “Nah, you go on and have fun.”
She chewed at her lip again and I started to rethink my plan. Why the fuck was I passing up a night with Darcy Becker on account of attempting to be a gentlemen?
“Keep your cell on! I’m selling this place!” She called out behind her before I could change my mind and ask her up to my apartment.
It wasn’t good to mix business and pleasure anyway. But her ambition was almost as sexy as she was. Shaking Darcy and her bottom lip from my mind, I started to go through the motions of opening the bar, all while thinking about the offer.
Half of asking. If they could just come up a little bit. Another twenty five grand or so…
That would just pay off the loan my dad took on it twenty years ago, and the second I took on it to put him through rehab two times and the third personal loan I’d taken from Gran to put him through rehab a third time. It would leave me with nothing, but I’d be free. Free to use my business degree and get a decent job, something that didn’t require mopping up vomit or roughing up drunkards. But if I was being honest, I’d liked owning the bar. Well, maybe not this failing bar, but I liked being my own boss, having my own business, not working in a cubical.
A laundry mat.
To see my father’s lifelong dream get turned into a laundromat might be worth selling at half of asking.
The phone rang, snapping me out of my thoughts. “Wayne’s Place, this is Ashton.”
“Ash, it’s Cruise.” My fry cook only called before a shift to say he wasn’t coming in, he sounded hung over.
“No man. You can’t cancel. Maria left and I have no back up.”
“I’m sick bro. You want me to bring the flu in and get all the customers ill?” He didn’t sound sick, he sounded tired.
“Yeah, that’s fine. I don’t care.” I told him. I was selling this shithole soon anyway.
He let a big fake cough rip, “Bro. I can’t.”
When you worked in the restaurant business as long as I had, you learned the difference between a real and a forced cough. A girl suddenly giggled in the background.
“You lying mother fucker!” I shouted, losing my temper. Maybe Whiskey in the morning wasn’t a good idea.
“Hey, I have rights. I have rights to days off when I’m sick!” He snapped.
“Fuck you Cruise. You’re fired.” I slammed the phone on the counter and the mouthpiece cracked. This place was going to go down in flames and I didn’t care anymore. The fryer was on its last leg anyway. I just wouldn’t serve food for a few days until Darcy got me a better offer. I would need to convince my grandma to sell it anyway. She was co-signer on the bar for that third personal loan, so I’d have to run everything by her.
I glanced at my watch.
One hour until opening.
I should go for a walk, get fresh air, but it was too damned hot out for that.
My phone alarm blared, and I glanced down at it.
Heading behind the counter, I started to robotically pop off the lids of the four different medications I took to keep my body from rejecting my donor heart. Every day, every time I took these pills, it was a reminder of that night. A reminder that I was here, and my sister wasn’t. I held the handful of medicine in my palm for a second and considered not taking them. There was a darkness at the corner of my mind, lurking there ever since my twin died, and sometimes I wanted to fully let it in, to give into those thoughts.
Shaking my head to clear my thoughts, I popped the pills into my mouth.
Chugging them down with tap water, I searched for a grief support meeting nearby on my phone. Maybe I could get to one before I had to open the bar. They seemed to be the only thing that helped. Hearing other people’s recount of their shitty lives, was the only thing that made me feel normal, made me feel like I could keep going. I wasn’t suicidal, I didn’t want to kill myself, I just didn’t want to be alive. But I was starting to wonder if there was a difference.
I banged on Julie’s door like a cop, much more heavy and aggressive than indented, but with the amount of vodka rocking through my body right now, I wasn’t aware of my own strength.
Julie opened the door looking freshly showered and in cute pjs, holding a bottle of wine and popcorn. When she took in my clearly hammered and disheveled appearance, clutching an open bottle of vodka to my chest, she tried to yank the wine back, but I reached out and grabbed it. The two bottles clinked when I clutched them between my arms.
“I need this.” I slurred and stumbled into her apartment.
“So… you started early.” She observed.
I nodded, slowly, and the room spun as I did. “Right after our lunch, actually.”
Right after Colin’s parents had called to see how I was doing and tell me they would always think of me as their daughter. Then I’d told them I was closing the cupcake shop and things spiraled after that.
Julie sighed. “It’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling.”
I glared at her. “Don’t shrink me.”
She held up her hands in a sign of peace. “Honey, I think you’re doing great. It’s only been a year and… you’re great.” She fumbled over something to say.
I chuckled, taking a deep swig of the vodka before handing it to her. “Drink.”
She sighed and pulled a swing from the neck of the bottle before coughing. Her mouth puckered like she’d swallowed a lemon. “Geeze, let me mix proper drinks. We haven’t drank straight from the bottle since your power hour on your twenty first birthday.”
I took the vodka back from her as I stared at the polka dot wallpaper that graced her entryway, remembering when she and John had put it up two years ago. Colin and I had helped.
“It’s been a year and I haven’t kissed another guy, my career is over before it really began, and I’m still mourning the life that was taken from me. The future that was taken from me.” I said aloud and started to pace her apartment. “What if I never have kids? I’m twenty-seven, what if I am ready to date next year at twenty-eight? Let’s just say that I meet ‘the one’ right away, but he doesn’t propose until I’m thirty-one and we have a year engagement. That’s thirty-two. Then he wants to fucking travel, and just, ‘be a couple for a few years’ before we try to start a family. Suddenly I’m forty and my eggs are shit and I’ll never be a mother.”
Julie’s eyes widened as she reached for the bottles. “Wow, is this how you think all the time?”
I just nodded letting her take the vodka but I held onto the wine.
She tipped her head back, chugged the vodka straight from bottle and handed it back to me.
“Then you’ll fucking adopt or freeze your eggs. It will be fine. Stop being so negative.”
She was right. I was never like this before Colin died. I was the optimistic one, but my future was ripped away from me and I was a planner.
A planner without a plan.
“I just…” I stared off into space. “I never got closure. I mean we were going on our honeymoon the very next day. I never got to say goodbye or prepare or…” A sob escaped my throat. “Kiss him one last time.”
Julie reached out and grasped my hand, tears forming in her eyes. “Honey, I see tragedies every day in the ER. Life doesn’t give you a warning. You just need to make the best of it in the aftermath. Just yesterday we had a similar case where a lady lost her husband and he was a donor.”
She paused, checking for signs of distress on my face. I just nodded and she continued. “They had been married thirty-two years. It was a factory accident. Anyway, we told her there was a perfect match for his heart and she flipped. She wanted to know who was going to get the heart and meet his family and all this crazy shit. It’s like she—”
I reached out and grasped her hand, squeezing tightly as dizziness washed over me.
Why the fuck hadn’t I thought about the donor all this time? Maybe if I could meet them, I could get some closure.
“Julie, you’re a genius. Yes! The donor.” A lopsided smile light up my face.
“Oh God. No.” Julie shook her head. “That’s not what I meant—”
“Julie. It’s perfect. I can meet the donor and see that Colin has given someone else a chance at a new life. What if it’s like a twelve-year-old kid with his whole life ahead of him, or a mom with five kids?” I jumped up onto the couch and the room swayed. “This is it! This is what I need. My closure.”
I looked down at my best friend and her head was in her hands.
“No.” She mumbled in her hands.
“Jul, I need your help. I need the donor’s info.”
Julie looked up at me and sighed. “You can file a formal petition with UNOS and if the donor agrees, they can schedule—”
“No Jul. I want to meet this person without them knowing who I am. Otherwise it’s too much pressure on me and what if they say no? I need you to get the info for me without UNOS knowing.”
“Millie.” Julie chugged the vodka, wincing as is went down. “That sounds like stalking.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Not really. I’ll just walk into their place of work, or business, or school, and strike up a conversation. I just want that little bit of contact and then everything will be okay. I need to see that Colin is living on.”
Julie shook her head. “I’m not even sure that I have access to that shit. It’s all in UNOS. I could be fired for even looking.”
I nodded. “But wouldn’t it be in Colin’s file from that night? Couldn’t you try?”
I’d known Julie Anderson since middle school. She was my ride or die. There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for each other.
She grabbed the bottle of vodka and started chugging.
The night passed in a blur of vodka and tequila shots and me crying. We’d long abandoned the wine and went straight for the hard stuff. At some point I think Julie threw me in the shower, the memories were hazy.
The next morning when I woke, I thought I might actually be dead. Dead people didn’t feel pain though right? A raging headache slammed into me before I’d even opened my eyes, which felt puffy and swollen shut. My stomach churned as finally, I dared to crack my eyelids open.
“Ow.” Light crashed into my eyeballs and then into the back of my brain causing pain to flare in my skull. I went to rub my face and felt a piece of paper stuck to my cheek.
Peeling it off, I glanced at it with one blurry eye. I’d closed the other one in a survival effort to let in minimal light. In Julie’s drunken cursive script was a name and address.
Ashton Knight (28)
300 Broadway street, Nashville, TN 37208
My breath hitched in my throat at those two words.
Then my eyes flicked to a moving pile of clothes on the floor.
She sat up and grabbed her head, groaning.
“Oh God, I’m so going to get fired.” She said, looking at the paper in my hands.
“How did you get this?” Everything hurt, but I didn’t care. I knew who Colin Donor was, last night was a blackout drunk night, but I’d remembered the sense of calm that came over me when I’d decided to get closure and seek out the heart donor recipient.
“You don’t remember?” She stood and started to pace the floor, “Oh God, I can’t believe I called UNOS.”
My eyes widened while Julie pulled out her blender and then manically shoved different fruits and veggies into it.
“You what?” I screeched, I must have definitely blacked out, because other than the shower and lots of crying, I had no recollection of anything. I never drank, so it was stupid that I’d started the night off by pounding a bottle of vodka.
She nodded. “I said my hospital was doing a research study about heart donors and I gave her my badge number.”
“Oh crap.” I stood.
When she flicked the blender on, we both flinched, and she turned it off immediately.
“Maybe she won’t follow up.” I said. I would die if Julie lost her job over my drunken epiphany.
My bestie poured two chunky half blended shakes into glasses and held one to her lips. “If my boss asks, I’ll deny it.”
I nodded. “I’ll say I stole your badge and computer, and that I did it.”
She winced. “No, you’ll go to jail. I’ll report it stolen this morning. Say I lost it on the subway.”
I waved my hand, “I’m a grieving widow, what are they going to do to me?”
She raised an eyebrow, “Put you in jail for impersonating a medical member of the community and stalking a patient.”
I frowned. “I haven’t stalked anyone… yet.”
She sighed. “You’re right, and you’re not going to.” Stepping forward she yanked the paper out of my hand and shuffled over to the gas burner of her stove. In two clicks it was lit.
“Julie! No!” I tore forward. Was his name Ashland? Asher? I knew it was Nashville but I didn’t remember the address. My hungover brain hadn’t memorized anything yet.
She turned to look at me. “This is a dark path Millie, this can’t end well. It’s time to let Colin go.”
Tears filled my eyes as panic took hold of me. My chest tightened with fresh grief at the thought of losing this guys information. “I will. I promise. I just want to say hi to this guy, see him… one time. Julie, don’t you dare burn that paper.” My voice shook as tears rolled down my cheeks.
My best friend in the whole world looked at me and I knew I’d hit rock bottom. This was desperate as fuck and I didn’t care. I’d call my shrink later and deal with it, but for now, I needed that address like I needed air.
“Jul.” A sob formed in my throat. “I need it.” My hand shook as I reached out for the paper. “I just need to meet him. One meeting and I’ll let Colin go.”
She sighed, turning off the burner. “Promise? One meeting and you will move on?”
I nodded. “I’m ready.”
With one final look, she handed me the paper.
I prayed he would be the final piece to heal my heart and not my undoing.
I wasted no time in booking a ticket to Nashville, renting a car, and heading over to the address on the paper. Julie thought I’d lost my mind when I told her I wanted to head out of town first thing. I just needed this tightness in my chest to go away, I just wanted my closure so I could move on. I’d been parked outside of Broadway street in the downtown area, letting the rental car idle, for two hours now because…It was a bar.
300 Broadway street, Wayne’s Place, was a bar. Who listed a bar as their home address on a hospital record? Was it a joke? Did the lady Julie talked to know she was drunk and give her a fake address? I hadn’t even thought to check before coming out here.
Ashton Knight also didn’t have a facebook, Instagram or twitter. What 28-year-old was absent from social media? A serial killer, a social pariah, a fake name?
Peering out the window, I noticed that it looked like there might be an apartment building above the bar. Maybe Julie was too drunk to write down the apartment door number. I’d have to do some investigating, once I got my nerve.
My phone rang and when I saw who it was, I put it on speaker.
“Stop calling.” I told Julie.
“Are you still in the fucking car? Go inside!” She shouted, her voice filling the rental car.
“Stop babysitting me and get ready for your anniversary dinner!” I scolded her.
Tonight was the night my best friend got engaged and I’d ditched her to run to Nashville. Not my proudest moment but that’s what facetime was for right? I was wearing my nice silk floral dress and tan suede heels. I wanted to look nice for the man who got Colin’s heart. I wanted to show respect.
I’ll admit I borrowed Julie’s extra stethoscope and had a grand vision of me telling this guy who I was and then asking to listen to Colin’s heart beat before we both shared a long hug and went our separate ways.
“This is stalker level psycho. GO. INSIDE.” Julie yelled.
“Kay have fun getting proposed to bye!” I hung up.
Ashton. That was a nice name. And he was Twenty-eight. That meant Colin had given him decades on his life. This was going to heal me.
Reaching over, I grabbed my purse and smoothed my long blonde hair before exiting the car and stepping into the hot Tennessee summer. The July humidity clung to my skin making me feel like I was breathing in steam.
As I stepped towards the bar, I practiced what I would say in my head.
Hey Ashton, I’m Millie.
I’m with the Tennessee Census Bureau, can I ask you some questions?
Or maybe I would just keep it real.
Hey Ashton, I’m Millie and my late husband gave you that heart, can I listen?
Oh my God I was going to be sick.
I walked past the bar and saw a tiny door that looked like it led to the apartments over the bar. Reaching out, I tried the handle, but it was locked.
Okay, maybe someone in the bar could give me answers. Reversing my steps, I pulled open the door to Wayne’s Place and prayed they knew who Ashton Knight was.
The fucking AC went out in the kitchen again, and since I fired Diego yesterday, it was up to me to work back here. The customers didn’t like the no food idea, so I’d become owner, bartender and fry cook all in one. I took a long drag of my cigarette and growled.
“God dammit!” I punched the window unit that used to blast cold air into the kitchen and then I pulled off my shirt, balancing the lit smoke between my lips.
If one more thing broke, I was calling Darcy and telling her to sell the place to the laundromat, even if it left me with nothing. I couldn’t take working in this god forsaken place one more day.
Leaning down, I checked the trap on the fryer and then hit the ignition.
That’s it. I was done with this place!
I was calling Gran and telling her we needed to sell.
Blasting out of the kitchen in a rage, I reached for my phone just as the bell chimed to let me know a customer had walked in.
When I looked up, I was taken aback by the gorgeous woman who stepped inside. She wore some fancy dress with heels and a designer purse that told me she wasn’t from around here. It clung to her figure like plastic wrap, accentuating her curves.
“Hello.” She called out, walking closer as her eyes roamed over the dirty floorboards and her nostrils flared at the pungent smell of whiskey and smoke.
I suddenly didn’t like her. She was clearly judgey, probably from one of the suburbs and her car broke down. I took a long drag of my cigarette and blew it out in a large cloud in front of me.
“You lost?” I asked, wishing I’d grabbed my shirt from the back because now her eyes were peeled on my chest and the huge scar there.
Her mouth hung open, speechless, and she looked… horrified. “You smoke?” She sounded like she’d swallowed a frog.
Jesus, this woman really couldn’t help herself huh?
“Up here Princess. What’s your poison?” I ignored her comment about smoking, not really sure what it was all about.
She gulped. “No… uh. I’m not… I needed to see someone… in the apartment building? But it’s locked.” Her eyes were pinned on my scar and I really wanted to put on my dammed shirt now.
The apartment building? Mrs. Pennyweather didn’t have visitors, and I sure as hell didn’t know who this woman was.
It hit me then. I’d put an ad out online to finally rent Jenna’s place last week.
“You’re here about the apartment? The ad?”
She looked confused but then relief washed over her face.
“Yes! The ad. Of course. I’d like to tour the apartment.”
I took one last drag of my cigarette and let my eyes rake over her tight little body. “You wanna live above a bar?”
She wouldn’t last a week in this neighborhood. Probably didn’t stay up past nine a clock.
She squirmed, suddenly looking uncomfortable. “I’m on a budget. Recently lost my job.”
My eyebrows rose. “And you want me to rent to someone who is unemployed?” I crossed my arms. Seemed like she could sell those purse and shoes and pay for a couple months’ rent alone, but I wasn’t going to rent the place to someone unemployed. Was this woman crazy?
“You’re… the landlord?” She sounded confused.
I nodded, putting out my cigarette. “And to get the apartment, you need a job. Obviously.” I scowled at her and walked into the kitchen to grab my shirt.
I’d had enough crazy for one day. I couldn’t handle pretty girls down on their luck and looking for favors.
“I have a savings account you dip shit!” She snapped behind me, causing a grin to pull at my lips, damn she was feisty. Just my type. “I can afford an apartment over a bar.”
I grabbed my t-shirt and wiped the grin off my face before returning, fully clothed.
“Dip shit? Is that what you call your future landlord?” I queried.
Her eye twitched like she was ready to blow a gasket and it riled me up. A sick part of me liked women like this. All uptight and feisty. It was fucking hot. I just wanted to loosen everything inside of her.
“I’m sorry,” She smoothed her dress, “I think we got off on the wrong foot. I’m Millie.” She extended her hand.
I decided to fuck with her some more, just to test her personality. “Ashton. Dipshit extraordinaire.” I didn’t take her hand.
Her face fell, but not in the way I expected. She looked like I’d just killed her cat. Her eyes went to the ashtray and empty whisky bottle on the counter.
“You’re Ashton…” She gawked at me. “How long have you smoked?”
What in the? Who did this woman think she was? “Okay mom, we’re done here. Run along and go shopping with your rich husbands money or something.”
I gave her my back and stormed off into the kitchen to get the damn fryer working before Joe and my regulars showed up and decided to go somewhere else. Their sales were the only thing keeping me afloat right now and chicken tenders and nachos were part of the gig. Not to mention later tonight my family was coming by to ‘celebrate’ one year of me having my donor heart. But it was also one year of losing Jenna so fuck celebrating. I’d get hammered while they tried to tell me how to live my life. Still, I needed to cook up some decent food.
I leaned over the fryer, cursing Millie the uptight witch with the designer purse under my breath.
As I was checking the filter for clogs, she burst into the kitchen.
“Excuse me!” I yelled, completely aghast that she would barge in here like she owned the place.
She put up her hands in a sign of truce. “Okay. This went all wrong.” Her voice shook like she was going to cry or something, and suddenly I felt uncomfortable. “I just shut down my bakery, I’m in-between apartments and I really need a break. I’ve got money, can I please just see the apartment?”
Closed her bakery…
“You cook?” I raised an eyebrow, still mashing the ignition switch and jiggling the trap in the hopes this fucker would light.
She nodded, stepping up and peered into the fryer. “Oils too low. Add more and it’ll work.”
I followed her gaze and sure as shit it was nearly empty. Now I felt stupid. The wheels started to turn in my mind. Even if I sold to the laundry mat it would be forty-five to sixty days until close of escrow and that meant I’d have to feed myself for that long. Maybe this cook, or baker, or whatever, could help me out… Hadn’t she just said she was jobless? I’d put out a call to my cousin Richie this morning to see if he could help me out, if he said no, maybe I’d consider this annoying broad. Things weren’t boring around her that’s for sure.
“You got first and last months?” I asked.
I could use the extra money, especially since my truck needed new tires soon.
I walked over to the cupboard where Diego kept the fry oil and unscrewed the top.
Damn it was hot in here, even the girl was starting to sweat.
She nodded, a trail of sweat dripping down her neck and in-between her breasts. “Yep. How much is rent again? This is like the tenth place I’ve looked at today.”
“Six hundred for the studio, includes utilities.”
She laughed nervously, “Perfect. I’ll take it.”
She hadn’t even seen the place! What kind of woman lived above a bar without even seeing the place?
A psycho, that’s who.