Sandra Cox Boji Stones
Bronwyn Green Ronan’s Grail
Heather Hiestand Cards Never Lie
Barbara Huffert Deal of a Lifetime
Amarinda Jones Mad About Mirabelle
Kelly Kirch Time for Love
Cindy Spencer Pape Cowboy’s Christmas Bride
Brynn Paulin Fallen
Jacquéline Roth Access Denied
KZ Snow Mrs. Claws
Lacey Thorn Earth Moves
Ben must have sensed my decision, because he came looking for me, just before I split for the night and found some quiet bar to hide in. He didn’t disguise his interest in my piercing when I answered the door. His eyes had darkened slightly when he finally managed to get his gaze to meet mine. “Dinner will be ready in a few minutes… I thought you might like to come over for a drink before hand. Non-alcoholic,” he added quickly. “A cola or something.”
“No alcohol? I don’t know…might poison my system.” I turned more serious. “Look, Ben…”
He grabbed my hand. “C’mon.”
He could cook, and he didn’t preach at me one time. Matter of fact, he was fun and he treated me like a real and valuable person. It was more than I was willing to do for myself. That night was the first of many dates—walks by the lake, late night dinners after his endless committee meetings, quietly watching a movie in one of our places… We talked a lot and every date ended with one hot kiss at my door. He never pushed for more and never settled for less.
Still, I suspected everything he did. What could he possibly want with someone like me? I knew he wanted to know more about my past, but I didn’t share. I knew he hated it when I drank. I tried to cut back. I didn’t drink around him. But I didn’t stop. I knew the day was coming…
I was going to need to get raging drunk when it arrived.
We’d been dating for three months, when the day I’d dreaded dawned. The pressure of the anniversary had been building for days, weighing me down to the point where I could barely get out of bed in the morning. That morning, I drank most of a six pack before I rolled from the covers. I spent the majority of the day sitting in a chair, staring at a blank wall and hearing the screams of my family as the semi bore down on our car.
When I started seeing their lifeless faces, I switched to whiskey. I didn’t bother with a glass. Straight from the bottle would drown out the impossibility of my walking away without a scratch while they’d all been killed. Nothing would ever erase my guilt.
I’d been driving.
Despite the proof that the truck driver had been at fault for the accident, I couldn’t release the guilt. The huge settlement I’d received for the accident only amplified the feeling. I should have been able to do something. I should have been able to avoid the truck even though it was bearing down on us so quickly. I shouldn’t have lived.
Even being drunk out of my mind, I remember the night of the accident’s anniversary with nightmarish clarity. I ignored the knocks on my door the first two times they came. The third time, Ben started calling my name. His frantic voice cut through my numbed mind. I didn’t hear his voice. I heard voices and cries from my past.
Ben broke into my apartment. He found me curled in a ball in front of the couch. I barely saw him when he knelt beside me. I didn’t miss the recoil from the air of whiskey around me—or maybe I’d switched to tequila by then, I don’t remember.
“Gaia, what have you done?” he whispered. Through a haze, I realized he was wearing a suit. I vaguely remembered I was supposed to go with him to some children’s charity benefit. The first time we’d be seen formally in public as a couple. I told him to go without me.
He shook his head. “If you didn’t want to go, you could have just told me. I would have understood.” He straightened to his feet, reminding me of some towering, unforgiving god. He gestured impatiently with his hand. “This. This I don’t understand.”
“It’s not about some dumb benefit,” I snapped. I struggled to my feet and shuffled a couple yards from him.
“Then what is it?”
“You’ll never understand. You couldn’t.”
“Getting drunk? Whatever your problems are? Why don’t you talk to me about it? See if I understand. You’re not going to tell me anything I haven’t heard before. Gaia, please. Let me help you. Let God help you. Alcohol isn’t the answer.”
“God?” I scoffed. “What would God want with me?” I deliberately scooped up a partial bottle of beer. “Is this the opportunity you’ve been waiting for? The opportunity to preach at me? If it is, you can just leave. Know what? Just leave anyway.”
He started to protest, then closed his mouth shaking his head, and to my horror he did leave. I wasn’t surprised. Despite what I’d been feeling during our times together, I wasn’t worth his effort. I wasn’t deserving of his kindness.
Tears blinded me as I stumbled to the kitchen to find something else to drink. If I died from alcohol poisoning, I didn’t care. Bottles clicked against one another as I rifled through my well-stocked cupboard for the strongest booze I had. My supply was dwindling, and I hadn’t restocked much while I’d been with Ben.
I was so intent on my sorrow—new and old—I didn’t hear Ben’s return. “What are you doing Gaia? Why are you doing this to yourself?”
“Oh look, Jesus-man returns,” I scoffed.
“Don’t call me that.”
“It’s who you are.”
“It’s not everything I am, and you know it.” He swore under his breath, something that made me giggle in horrible out of control spasms I couldn’t control. The anger on his face ground the reaction to a halt. “I don’t know why I bother. You’re drunk.”
“Yeah, a drunk. Not worth your time.” I ran a hand over the array of bottles, rattling them. “So, unless you can turn water into wine, get out of here. I don’t need you either!”
Ben flinched. He turned away. I thought he was leaving until he slammed his hand into the counter. “What do you want from me? You want me to say this is okay? You want me to stand by while you destroy your life? You want me to drink with you?”
Grabbing up a bottle, he violently twisted off the cap and chugged down several gulps, sputtering slightly as it burned down his throat. Undeterred, he grabbed another bottle. He watched me over the top of the it as he slowly drank. My toes curled into the carpet at the hunger and turmoil in those eyes. His look reminded me of everything I’d wanted from him, everything I’d fooled myself into thinking might happen, everything he needed to give the important woman who’d someday come into his life.
“Stop, Ben, please stop,” I pleaded. Tears flooded down my cheeks. It was one thing for me to destroy myself as he said. It was another to drag him into it. I couldn’t watch him. “Stop!”
Suddenly, he hurled the bottle into the sink, it’s contents exploding up the wall in a spray of glass shards and amber liquid. “It ends here,” he growled. The rage radiating from him dared me to get in the way as bottle after bottle from the cupboard was dashed into the sink. The beer from the refrigerator followed, and God help me, I couldn’t move to stop him. I sank to the floor as weak as if the booze was the very life blood that had kept me alive.