I took a deep breath, confusion swirling through me. I knew she saw my art, or some of it, at least. But did she really see me? Did she see how I ached? How I felt incomplete? Empty? I turned to get two cups out of my cabinet and poured us both coffee and handed one to her.
"I didn't exactly plan any of this," I said. "It's just . . ."
Madison took a deep breath and then was quiet for a minute. "I know," she finally said, looking down at her coffee before bringing her eyes back up to mine. "I'm here to help, okay?"
I wasn't exactly sure what she meant by that, but I nodded. "Thanks."
Madison sighed and picked up her coffee cup, taking a sip. She looked away from me, back out the windows. "You sold every piece last night," she finally said softly, still not looking at me.
I took a step back. "I sold every piece? What?"
Madison looked back at me and let out a small smile. "Yeah, every damn one. Sold out. You left after the first couple sold, but the rest of them went soon after. And you leaving was actually a brilliant move. You're 'unattainable' now, a 'sensitive artist' who can't stand crowds. Brilliant. It's like I planned it myself." But hurt washed over her face. I knew it hadn't ended in a way she would have planned.
Madison shook her head and waved a hand in front of her. "I'm going to go now. Call me later, okay?" She looked at me gently, smoothing her skirt down her thighs. She stepped around the counter and kissed me on the cheek, then took a deep breath and turned.
"Wait, Madison," I said, setting my own cup down and walking quickly around the counter. She turned, the look on her face simultaneously hurt and calm. "Please know that I never, ever wanted to hurt you," I said lamely. "You've been so good to me in every way. I'll never stop appreciating all the ways you helped me, and I don't just mean with my art."
She closed her eyes and seemed to need the moment to work out her response. She then looked down at the floor. When she looked up, there were tears in her eyes and she nodded her head. "Talk to you soon." Then she turned on her heels and walked out my door.
I stood staring at the closed door, trying to sort out my mind. Was Madison right? Did Eden and I have a future? I had failed her once. I wouldn't do it again. I scrubbed my hands down my face and went back to the kitchen to finish my coffee and figure out my life.
I stepped into the hot shower, my mind focused on Calder the entire time. I didn't know what to think about the night before. My mind was a jumbled mess of confusion and I'd felt on the verge of tears since I'd left the gallery the day before, not entirely from sadness or despair, but just from the barrage of emotions that kept hitting me every other minute. It was overwhelming and exhausting and I'd stayed in bed until just a few minutes before. It was already past noon.
I had put my phone on my bedside table, expecting Calder would have at least texted me when he woke up. He hadn't. I didn't know what to think about that.
We'd had sex. I paused in the process of lathering my hair and bit my lip as the water rained down over me. He'd cheated on his girlfriend with me. Something about that thought made me scream inside. How on the gods' green earth could he and I ever be classified as cheating? But, technically . . . I groaned and resumed lathering my hair. It hadn't even felt like sex exactly. Or at least, it hadn't felt like the point of it was sexual satisfaction. It'd felt like a desperate clawing need to be joined in any and every way possible. Anguish gripped me when I considered the fact that that might be the last time we ever touched intimately.
I dried myself off and stood in front of the mirror in my underwear and bra, turning on the hair dryer and beginning to dry my long hair. I met my own eyes in the mirror. "He's alive," I said quietly to myself. "And that might have to be enough." I stifled a sob.
He had moved on with his life. And if he was happy, could I really ask him to throw it all away for me? We had loved each other once, desperately. I didn't doubt that. And for me, he'd always, always be the love of my life. But we were different people now. Fate had ended us. Could we pick right back up where we left off? Was it even possible? Grief hit me so intensely that I lost my breath for a minute and I set the hairdryer down and leaned against the sink, just drawing in one breath after the next.
Once I'd collected my emotions, I pulled my hair up into what I thought was a sleek ponytail and straightened my bangs. That humongous flower on the dress my mom had bought wasn't going to allow me to wear my hair down, at least not if I didn't want my hair to get eaten alive by it.
I heard a knock and called, "Come in."
Molly opened the door, beautiful in a deep blue, strapless dress, her hair curled and hanging loose. I jealously took in her simple, elegant beauty. I wasn't going to look quite as elegant in the little girl dress my mom had chosen. But I could hardly muster up any anger over it when my heart was so filled with confusion.
Molly hugged me, holding me away from her for a minute. "Are you okay?" she asked, taking me in worriedly.
I breathed out, but then my face crumpled and I shook my head, no.
"Oh Eden," Molly said, hugging me again. "I can't even imagine what you're going through. It's unbelievable." She pulled away, holding my arms. "But he's alive," she whispered, her eyes growing large in her face. "You were just telling me about him, and now you've found out he's alive."
I nodded, sniffling. "I know, I know," I said. "And that's what I have to focus on. The rest . . ."
Molly stepped away. "Yeah . . . the rest." She bit her lip. "That's going to be the hard part."
I nodded, taking in a big breath and letting it out.
"Do you think you'll be okay going to this party today?" She frowned. "I told Carolyn she should cancel it, but she thinks it will do you good." She shook her head and rolled her eyes. "Carolyn has a tendency to see things the way she wants to see them sometimes. She means well . . . mostly. I filled her in on what I knew about Calder."
"Thank you." I leaned back on my desk and crossed my arms over my chest. "And maybe the distraction of the party will do me good. The other option is to stay in bed all day. My emotions are such a jumbled mess. I don't even know what I'm thinking from one minute to the next."
Molly sighed. "Yeah." She furrowed her brow. "Do you think you'll talk to him today? What did you decide last night?"
Molly had picked me up from Calder's apartment, but I had been too weary to even speak. I'd gone straight up to my room and fallen into my bed. I had needed the escape of sleep.
"I told him I'd call him after the party." I frowned, trying not to tear up. "I thought he'd have at least contacted me by now though." I felt tears prick my eyes. "It's complicated, I guess. He has a girlfriend. He practically lives with her."
Molly's face fell. "God, Eden, I'm sorry. I heard the girlfriend part. I didn't know he lives with her. Still though, obviously he chooses you, right?"
I bit my lip, thinking about her question. "I don't know. I mean . . . I think maybe, but how will I know for sure I'm the one he really wants? I mean, he says he doesn't love her, but does he feel an obligation to be with me? We're both different people now. God, I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact he's alive, that he made it out."
Molly nodded, studying me. "It's a pretty unbelievable story," she said. "Jaw dropping, actually. And I haven't even heard all the details."
I opened my mouth to speak when Carolyn breezed into the room.
"Good morning, Eden sweetheart," she said, coming over to me and hugging me tightly. "Are you all right?" Her eyes moved over my face as if looking for damage.
I shrugged. "Not so much, Mom. But I think I will be."
"Well of course you will be." Her eyes were large pools of sympathy. "This party will be the perfect thing to get your mind off that boy."
I frowned. "I don't want to get him off my mind."
She waved her hand around. "Well you know what I mean, of course. As wonderful as it is to know that your friends survived that awful flood," she shivered, "he's involved with another woman and has moved on with his life." She frowned. "That must be awfully disappointing. But, darling Eden, you have your whole life in front of you. It's for the best that you move on, too, don't you think? Find a nice boy who doesn't remind you constantly of that terrible, terrible place?"
"Do you mean remind you of that terrible, terrible place?" Molly asked sharply from behind her.
Carolyn looked over at her, hurt registering in her expression. "I think it's best for all of us to look to the future, not to the tragedy of the past," she said.
Molly let out a breath. "I didn't mean to be harsh, Carolyn" she said. She frowned and glanced at me. "I just think we need to let Eden decide what's best for her life. We need to let Eden decide what she's ready to move on from and when."
I let out a breath, feeling thankful for Molly. In such a short period of time, she had become not just a cousin, but more like a very dear sister. Something I had never had. Somehow she knew me well even though we’d never met before a month ago. I knew she had my back and it helped me to be more patient with Carolyn.
My mom looked back at me. "Well, of course." She tilted her head and smiled. "I just hope that you'll let your mom help and guide you, too, my darling girl. I like to think I've come by some wisdom in this long lifetime of mine. And I've missed out on mothering you. Please, have it in your heart to let me do some of that now."
I let out a breath. "Of course I do. Thank you, Mom." I hugged her again and then turned to my dresser where I intended to grab the tights my mom had bought me.
My mom and Molly both gasped out and I turned back to them, startled. "What?" I asked sharply.
"What happened to you?" My mom cried out.
My mom led me to my mirror and turned me around. I looked over my shoulder, my stomach dropping. There were bruises and finger marks all over my back, my thighs, and my shoulders. "Oh, uh . . ."
Molly started laughing softly and when I glanced at her in the mirror she smacked her hand over her mouth.
My face felt hot when I turned toward my mom. Hers was as white as a ghost. "Can we just pretend you didn't see this?" I asked.
Her lips became a thin line. "Did he hurt you?"
"No!" I shook my head vehemently. "He would never hurt me. Mom . . . things just got . . . um, enthusiastic. There were a lot of emotions involved in our . . . reunion. God." I put my head in my hands. "Can we please just set this aside. Physically, I'm fine. I promise."
She stared at me for a minute and then let out what sounded like a resigned breath. "As long as he didn't intentionally hurt you," she said.
"No, I promise you. Never."
My mom seemed to consider something for a minute and her expression softened. "Eden, darling," she took my hand in hers. "You and I should have a nice, little mother/daughter talk." She smiled brightly. "Boys will want things from you, honey, and—"
I groaned. "Mom," I took a deep breath and gave her a smile. "I'm aware of what goes on between men and women when they're in love."
Disappointment clouded my mom's expression. "Oh. Okay. Well, we'll chat about that a little more another time. Get dressed and meet me downstairs. The guests should be arriving in a couple hours, and I have a few things I was hoping you girls would help me with."
Molly gave me one last sympathetic look and left the room, too. I checked my phone and my heart dropped to see there still weren't any messages. Did Calder regret the night before? Had he started questioning his feelings for me? Had he reconsidered what he'd said about always loving me? Anguish gripped my heart.
I retrieved the outfit my mom had picked out and started to get dressed. I pulled on the tights first—tights! As far as I knew, only little girls and ballerinas wore tights. Then again, I wasn't exactly up to date with the height of fashion. In fact, Marissa had bought every piece of clothing I owned. I frowned slightly and pulled the sheer white tights up my legs, doing a little jumping dance to get them up as high as possible.
Then I pulled on the dress and zipped the side zipper. The flower came right under my chin and I batted at it with both hands as it tickled my neck and jaw. I swear I heard it growl.
I slipped on the pale pink heels that were sitting by my bed. They were actually pretty, and not high at all, but I wobbled slightly when I walked in them. My mom probably hadn't considered the fact that this was my first pair of heels. I practiced walking around my room for a few minutes and when I felt competent enough that I wouldn't tumble down the stairs, I walked down to the kitchen where I heard my mom’s and Molly's voices.
When I walked in, they both looked over at me, my mom gasping out a smile and bringing her hands together and Molly gasping out in a different way and bringing her hand up over her mouth.
"Oh, Eden, you look beautiful," my mom said.
I smiled. "Thank you, Mom. Thanks for the dress."
My mom came over and took my hands in hers and then spun me around. "It's perfect," she sighed. She futzed with the flower, frowning slightly and then smiling when I assumed she got it to lay the way she wanted it to.
"What is that?" Molly asked, coming over to me.