Vivian's List (Vol. 1), page 1
Copyright © 2013 Haleigh Lovell
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This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
When I’m with you I can eat pasta.
When I’m with him, I have to eat salad.
And if I’m being honest …
I want to eat pasta. Forever.
BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.
The bass of the dance music in the club thumped in rapid repetition, vibrating my internal organs.
“Vivian!” came a deep, familiar voice.
I turned at the sound of my name. “Garrett!” I said in some surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“C’mon,” he urged, placing a hand on the small of my back. “Let me buy you a drink and we can catch up.”
“Actually—” I stalled for a bit, looking over his shoulder, and quickly scanning the crowd. “Brody went to get me a drink. He should be back any minute now.”
Garrett gave a careless shrug and popped his collar. “We can chat until he comes back, can’t we? I haven’t seen you since, what? Graduation?”
“I know.” My face relaxed into a smile. And I noted that Garrett hadn’t changed much since high school. He was still the typical ’roided out surfer. Blond-tipped hair, puka shell necklace, wearing a pink button-down shirt with too many buttons left open.
Clearly, he still thought he was quite the stud.
“You still at UC Berkeley?” I asked.
“Yep.” He nodded, bobbing his head to the music. “I’m just back for the summer. Missed the ocean too much, you know. All I can think of is catching that next wave. Surfing is my life, the rest …”
“The rest are just details,” I finished. Yep, Garret hadn’t changed at all.
The club music switched to a faster tempo and Garrett began gyrating his hips and pumping his fists to the steady beat.
I stifled an urge to laugh. Even after all these years, Garrett was still giving me the douchebumps. But he was harmless, really.
Out of the left field, Brody came storming up to us and for a moment, I simply went numb. The music seemed to stop playing. Or perhaps I no longer heard the music because all I heard was Brody screaming in my face. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Dread pooled in my stomach as he caught my wrist and dragged me out of the club. “I saw you flirting with him.”
“Let go of me.” I struggled, digging in my heels, tugging at his fingers that held me like a vise. “I wasn’t flirting. Garrett’s an old friend. We were just chatting.”
“Chatting?” He drew the word out with deliberate intent.
“Let go!” I tugged again, but my attempts to break free from his hold barely even slowed his stride. Not until he dragged me out of the club did he slacken his grip. But even so, I could still feel his rage humming beneath his skin.
“So what were you chatting about?” he demanded.
My heart slammed into my ribs as he backed me up against his car. “Nothing really.” I drew a deep, calming breath. “We hadn’t even started when you were hell-bent on dragging me outta there.”
His eyes flashed angry sparks. “If you weren’t flirting like a damn whore, I wouldn’t have had to drag you out!”
“For Christ’s sake, Brody,” I hissed. “Will you stop yelling at me?”
This only made his voice pitch higher. “I am not yelling at you.”
“Why do you always do this, Brody?” The calm in my voice was strained around the edges. “Why?”
“Do what?” he barked.
I looked away, feeling a rising sense of frustration. “Yell that you’re not yelling.”
He grabbed me by the arms and shook me. “Look at me when I’m talking to you! Look at me! And quit trying to change the subject. I saw you making eyes at him, laughing with him.”
A few curious glances drifted in our direction.
“Brody, will you just stop.” My voice turned pleading. “You’re making a scene. Let’s just go,” I said as a half-dozen wide-eyed faces continued to stare. “Take me home now. Please.”
Brody studied me in silence for a long, hard moment, then seemed to make a decision. Reluctantly, he backed away from me and unlocked his car.
I opened the door and got in without another word.
Brody slid behind the wheel, switched on the ignition and floored it, leaving skid marks all over the road.
The tension in the car coiled within me like a living thing.
Meanwhile, Brody did over a hundred miles per hour on an open stretch of highway, keeping his foot heavy on the accelerator.
“Brody!” I gripped the sides. “Slow down.”
“I told you not to wear that dress.” He slammed the stick shift and pressed the pedal farther to the floorboard. “I told you it’s too short. Makes you look like a fuckin’ slut.”
“Brody, please.” A tight knot formed in my chest. “Don’t start this again.”
But he wouldn’t stop. His rage rolled off him in waves, and he carried on ranting even as he pulled his car into my driveway. “Who were you trying to impress with that dress anyway, huh? Him?” He slammed on the brakes, jerking the wheels. “If you didn’t dress like a fuckin’ slut, none of this would have happened.”
I turned to glare at him as I inched out of the passenger seat. “Don’t you turn around and blame this on me.”
“I can blame whoever the fuck I want and—”
I didn’t want to hear any more. Tuning him out, I got out of the car, slammed the door behind me with deliberate force and flew down the flagstone path.
Brody caught up to me as I was wrestling with the lock. “Good-bye, Brody.” I pushed open the front door and threw a pointed look over my shoulder. “You’re not coming in tonight.”
“The hell I am.” He jammed his fist against the door and leaned a shoulder against the doorpost. “I’m not letting you spend the night alone with lover boy.”
“Please,” I shushed. “Will you lower your voice?”
“I don’t trust him!” Brody continued yelling in a breaking voice. “And I don’t care if he’s your brother’s friend.”
“I’ve known Liam for years.” I kept my voice calm even though I was slowly unraveling on the inside. “He’s practically family to me.”
Brody raised one sardonic brow at me. “How well can you actually know him? Huh? I’ve never seen him around and out of the blue, he shows up on your front doorstep and you take him in like some stray cat.”
“It wasn’t out of the blue. I knew he’d be staying here. Julian told me about it.”
“Julian’s not even here,” he shot back. “Why the hell do you have to babysit his friend?”
“Will you stop making this about Liam and my brother? This is about us.”
“You always do this.” Brody’s voice was now magnified. “It’s always my fault.”
“Please, Brody. Please, stop doing this. Just do yourself a favor and go home.”
He folded his arms across his chest. “I’m not leaving without you.”
Squaring my shoulders, I stood my ground. “And I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“Why do you have to be so difficult?” His anger spiked and he turned even more spiteful. “That’s why your ex left you. And that’s why your parents left you.”
His words caught me sharply in the chest, driving a wedge between my ribs. I knew he’d be spiteful, but I hadn’t expected him to go this far. “Don’t you … don’t you dare bring my parents into this.”
“It was just a joke.” He laughed—a harsh, humorless sound. “God, you can be so sensitive at times.”
A lump rose in my throat and I swallowed hard around it. “It wasn’t funny, Brody. It was cruel.”
“Aw, c’mon, Viv.” He skewed me a glance that was both mocking and defiant. “You know I was just joking. Lighten up a little. You take things way too seriously.”
“I do not.” My words came out in a whisper.
“You do!” He pushed an envelope of air through his teeth, a sharp, disgusted sound. “All you want to do is argue with me.”
“I ... I’m not trying to.” I paused to gain control of my faltering voice. “I’m just trying to explain—”
“You are! You’re always making a big fucking deal out of nothing.”
At this point I was so exhausted that I could hardly think. And I most certainly didn’t have the energy to fight the fight Brody clearly wanted to have right now.
“Brody, please go home. We’ll talk tomorrow, all right? I’ll call you in the morning,” I said in attempt to placate him.
“No! We are going to talk now.”
Blood rushed through my veins, and every muscle in my body was taut with nerves.
“Is everything okay, Vivian?” The voice came from behind, rapid and insistent.
I pivoted. Liam cut purposefully across the living room, advancing on us like a sheriff with guns blazing. The rumpled state of his dark hair gave the impression that he’d just climbed out of bed. Even so, he had an air about him that showed he clearly meant business.
In several long strides, Liam covered the distance between us. “You okay, Viv?” he asked again.
“Yes.” I tried to keep my voice calm and steady. “Everything’s fine.”
Liam looked from me to Brody. Then his gaze lingered on me for a moment. “You sure?” he asked, and I didn’t miss the deep concern in his voice.
“Yes,” I assured him again. “I know we were being loud and I’m so sorry we woke you up. You can go back to bed now, everything’s all right.”
“Yeah,” Brody added insidiously. “Go back to bed, this doesn’t concern you. At all.”
Liam drew to his full height, and he stood nearly a head taller than Brody. “If it concerns Vivian, then it concerns me.”
The two men continued staring at each other as if neither was particularly impressed with what they saw.
I watched the exchange with nervous eyes, noticing the steely line of Brody’s jaw as he held his anger in check.
Light years later, Brody’s sharp gaze landed on me and I winced slightly. The look he gave me had all the force of a physical blow. “Viv, we’ll talk tomorrow.” Then he fixed Liam with a cold and slashing look before storming off.
“Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” Liam called after his retreating back. “On second thought,” he added, almost as an afterthought, “let it hit you.”
Brody slammed the door shut so violently it almost came off its hinges.
Seconds later I heard the sound of an engine starting up, followed by tires screeching on tar. Then there was nothing but silence.
Too disoriented, I stood rooted to the spot, staring blankly at the front door, wondering, “What the hell had just happened?”
I really didn’t know how to feel. Didn’t really know what to think.
I guess you could say I was in shock.
My head throbbed as I tried to process it all, to make some sense out of it, replaying in my mind what Brody had said, and what I had said to make him so mad.
Maybe Brody was right. If only I hadn’t worn this stupid dress then none of this would have happened. We would have had a perfectly lovely evening.
No drama. No outbursts. No fights.
This dress … I sighed again, then glanced down, smoothing out the creases and wrinkles.
Perhaps it was a little on the short side, but it was tasteful. Despite what Brody had said, I still thought it was a pretty dress … light, airy, ethereal.
In time, I felt rather than heard Liam come up behind me.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked gently. I felt the warm weight of his hand on my shoulder. It felt safe. Comforting. More than ever, it made me realize how much I’d missed his presence.
“I’m fine,” I said softly, feeling tears prick my eyes. “I’m fine,” I repeated to reinforce the notion, angling my head to the left so he couldn’t see the dark mascara tears that streaked down the length of my face like black rain.
I heard the quaver in her voice as she stood hunched forward, head downcast, and I knew she was crying.
“Vivian,” I hesitated before continuing. “Is it always like this? With Brody?”
She didn’t answer right away. “No.” I heard in her voice a hint of sadness that wouldn’t go away. “Not always.”
A heartbeat passed, then another. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not really.” She turned briefly, then quickly looked away, but too late. The pain I’d seen in her eyes pierced through my heart. She looked so defeated, and so tired. So very, very tired.
Though I stood there staring at her for a long moment, she wouldn’t turn again to meet my eyes. “If you change your mind, I’m here for you.”
After a long beat, she nodded then started down the hallway, headed toward her room.
I watched her shadow disappear behind the door, and the light in her room with it a few seconds later. For a long while, I remained standing in the dark, thinking about how much had changed in just three years. How much Vivian had changed. How much I’d changed.
With a deep sigh, I strode to the kitchen and grabbed a Bud Light out of the fridge.
Then I slid open the patio door and stepped out into the arid summer night.
The heat hit me like a furnace. I popped the tab and drank my beer in one continuous gulp. Leaning against the weathered railing, I cast my gaze up to the starry heavens.
Even with the full moon obscuring a good deal of the sky, I could easily spot Polaris—the North Star.
While all the stars moved in an arc across the sky, the North Star, one of the brightest stars in the sky, remained constant. It held still while the entire northern sky moved around it.
That used to be Vivian … as constant as Polaris.
In all of my inconsistencies in my childhood, the one thing, or rather, the one person who remained constant was Vivian. Even when she was only sixteen, she had this sense of permanence, and she exhibited the kind of grace, poise and confidence that most women didn’t gain until their mid-thirties. And she was always so upbeat, so playful, so full of life she blinded me with her cheeriness.
The brief flashbacks came … Vivian barely filling out her tennis shorts, holding a tennis racket that must have weighed more than her entire body, her long blond hair held back in a high ponytail, laughing even after she’d lost set after set.
Vivian sitting under the maple tree in the front yard, uninterrupted except for her own ruminations, daydreaming and enjoying the weather no matter how inclement it was.
Vivian smothering a giggle, teasing Julian at the endless barbeques her parents had in this very backyard.
Vivian—a veritable badass at paintballing—shooting at me over sixty times. I smiled at the memory. The next
It was embarrassing, getting owned by a girl. But that was Viv, never afraid to get down and dirty.
Vivian with her kind eyes and a face that always held a smile for me.
Vivian laughing at her own dorky jokes … her unbridled laughter warming the air.
Vivian walking into a room and lighting it up so much it felt as if I had swallowed a tiny piece of the sun.
These days, though, Vivian was a mixture of sunshine and showers.
I knew a lot of it had to do with the loss of her parents.
But tonight, my gut told me it was all Brody.
Abruptly, I heard a flutter of movement behind the patio door. Seconds later the door scraped open.
“Hey, you.” Vivian said, stepping out onto the deck. “Couldn’t sleep?”
“No.” I turned in her direction and shook my head slightly. “You?”
“Nah.” She smiled, but the smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Couldn’t sleep either,” she said and came to stand beside me. Gripping the railing, she gazed out into the distance.
I studied her carefully for a long, silent moment.
Her face no longer bore any trace of makeup, but red still rimmed her eyes as if she had been crying for a while.
“What are you thinking about?” she said at last.
“Funny you should ask.” I paused. “I was just thinking about you.”
“Me?” Surprise flickered in her eyes. “What about me?”
“Sunshine and showers,” I stated. “That’s you.”
“That’s you, too. Mister Moody,” she said, shoving me playfully in the arm. “Mister Grumpy Pants.”
I smiled. “I’m not that moody, am I?”
“You are, too,” she teased.
“I was also thinking …” I tipped the last of my beer above my mouth, dripping it dry. “About your boyfriend.”
All teasing fled her voice. “Oh, yeah?” she said slowly.
“I’m just curious,” I went on, “what you’re doing with a guy like that.”