3 | The Fiancé
Sienna almost didn’t go to the coffee shop to do her Saturday morning work. She tossed papers on her table and tried to shuffle through them, but her mind kept turning to Mark. She should’ve stayed and listened to what he had to say. No, screw that. She’d allowed her heart to have a little bit of hope once again, and he’d already squashed it. The relationship would end like all the rest.
Her high school sweetheart had left her after graduation to go on a religious mission to Africa. Her college boyfriend had joined Doctors Without Borders and fled to Iran. And, of course, her fiancé had broken their engagement to teach needy children in Argentina. All her former boyfriends had big hearts—just not big enough for her. Mark was bound to up and run away to freaking Habitat for Humanity in Asia. She needed to mask her heart from romance and enjoy a purely physical relationship.
But a student’s parent was not an appropriate fuck buddy.
She grabbed the folders, deciding she needed the caffeine and atmosphere of the cafe. If Mark showed up, he could say whatever he wanted to say, and they could go back to being parent and teacher. She’d find somebody else to screw for fun or just keep consoling herself with a vibrator.
When she arrived at the coffee shop she noticed right away that spiderweb decorations had been spun everywhere. Chloe bounced up to the cash register with a pointy witch’s hat on and said, “So, when are you seeing Mark?”
“Monday when he picks his son up from school.”
“Oh, come on. You guys seemed perfect together yesterday.”
She wanted to spill the whole incident at Happy Hour because she didn’t have anyone else to talk to about it, but it didn’t seem right. “It’s just tricky because he’s a parent,” she finally said.
Chloe slid a flyer to her about their Halloween poetry slam and concert. “Here, buy a ticket to this. I bet he does too, and then you can meet again in disguise. We won’t let anyone in who’s not in costume. Then you can see how it is with less pressure.”
“How do you know he’ll come?”
“I know all my customers,” she said with a wink.
Sienna couldn’t help but smile. At least the proceeds went to an abused children’s home. It’d be the first charity she’d helped since Glen left. “All right, one ticket and a Toil and Trouble, extra cinnamon.”
The couches were open, so Sienna dumped her folders on the coffee table before somebody else came in and took her spot. After she retrieved her latte, her pen filled in box after box of percentages and levels. She was about halfway through when she heard a voice that she hadn’t heard in months, though it still made her heart crumple into a wad. “I thought I’d find you here.”
She raised her head, seeing worn jeans that hugged muscular legs and an untucked tie-dye t-shirt that always seemed a little pretentious: Glen, her former fiancé, grinned down at her.
His mussed up blond hair topped his planned casual look, and his handsome face said that nothing had ever gone wrong between them.
Her heart pounded under the gaze of his brown eyes. She’d hoped she’d never see him again, but if she did, it would be while she was out with someone awesome. Alone and already frazzled from the turmoil with Mark, her emotions knotted up inside. “What are you doing here? I thought you were in Argentina.”
He looked suddenly grieved as he sighed and sat on the couch next to her. With his broad-shouldered build, he loomed over her even after sinking into the cushions. “My mom is really sick, so I took a job teaching here to be near her.”
His proximity worsened the knot, and she slid a few inches away from him, towards the fire place. “Carol’s sick? I’m so sorry. What’s wrong?”
“Breast cancer. She’s recovering from a double mastectomy. It’s going to be hard working full time. In a week or so, she’ll be starting chemo.”
Even though she felt almost as bad as if it were her own mother, she wanted to snatch back her next words as soon as she said them, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”
He took her hands in his, and her whole body cringed. He’d left her. He shouldn’t be sitting so close to her or, much worse, holding her hands. He said, “I knew I could count on you. Mom thought you wouldn’t talk to me after what happened, but you and her were so close, I thought you could set aside the incident.”
Sienna ripped her hands away and stared with wide eyes at his choice of words. The ‘incident’ he referred to was when he stood up to toast her at the rehearsal dinner and ended by saying, “I can’t do this. You’re wonderful, but I’ve had an offer to go teach in Argentina. I think I have to accept it.” The knot inside her stomach tightened so much that it snapped. “Don’t touch me. I’ll come by to see your mom. Not you.”
Undaunted, he put his hand on her knee and said, “I never should’ve just left. I should’ve taken you with me. You would’ve loved those kids.”
She pulled her knee away and smashed herself against the arm of the couch. Though the fire place was set on low, it felt like it blazed. She should stand up, but she feared her legs would shake if she tried. “We were teaching plenty of needy children as you recall. You didn’t just leave me, but a whole class of first graders who kept asking me why you didn’t like them anymore.”
“I know, I’m really sorry. Why don’t I buy you lunch to make up for it and tell you about Argentina?”
“Lunch is not going to make up for it…”
While she ranted, he pulled out his phone and brought up a picture of his ragtag class looking both charming and neglected and passed it to her. “I know you’ll love hearing about all the kids. They’re amazing.”
Her stomach growled and her heart wavered as she stared at the picture, but just as she was about to agree to lunch, Mark, dressed in khakis and a button up dark blue shirt, sat down on the couch across from them and said, “Hello, Ms. Carly.”