I am now the new CEO (okay, I gave myself that title; I’m the majority owner and manager) of Bakker Bros. Sporting Goods store.
So. I’m staying in Iowa.
But not because of the disaster on the dance floor with Preston, whom I haven’t heard from since I spilled my guts and he looked at them and walked away. And not because I want to work things out with Jack. That’s pretty much completely over. Like, O-V-E-R. Over.
I’m staying here because this is where I want to be. These last nine months I’ve changed; my life – me – I don’t fit in Chicago anymore. My life is here. And for the first time, ever, I’m completely fine with that. More than fine. I feel like now I can finally stop waiting for the next big thing to get me out of here and actually start living here. Putting down roots, establishing career, my home, myself.
I’m freeing myself from Limbo.
And it feels great, despite the fact that I’m mostly a wreck. Devastated would be an understatement. Confused, angry. My feelings have run the gamut after Saturday, sometimes all at once. I’m not sure what to think about Preston’s reaction, but I do know one thing: I do not, for one second, regret telling him the truth. At least I can live with that. At least I don’t have to wonder.
Mostly what I wonder is what the hell he was thinking as he skulked off the dance floor.
Jack, of course, was the consummate gentleman about the whole thing, making sure I got to the hotel alright, giving me tissues. He never said a word to me the entire time, but he could have given me the finger and high-tailed it out of there. But he didn’t, and I will always respect him for that. I’m sure I apologized 100 times that night; he just nodded each time. I know I hurt him; I didn’t mean to, but it doesn’t matter. It was a shitty thing to do.
I hope at some point we can be friends again, even if it takes a while. I know this town is big enough for the both of us, but it would seem a whole lot bigger if I didn’t feel like I had to avoid him. He’s the mayor, and he’s everywhere now.
So much for that.
That’s the long and the short of it really. And I’ve been running a lot to fill in the blanks.
I went for a long, hard run Wednesday evening to clear my head and shake off the day. It was about dusk by the time I was done, the sun dipping low, the first hint of fall in the air –crisp and slightly cool. Despite the break in the heat, I knew my hair was still a frizzy mess; it always is when I sweat as profusely as I was sweating.
I was coming up my sidewalk, redoing my ponytail when I noticed someone sitting in the bench rocker on my porch (it still seems weird to say, my porch). I slowed my stride, slightly creeped out that someone would just be sitting there by themselves on my porch. (My porch). I started going over in my head the few self-defense moves I’d retained from the class Em made me attend with her when we first got to Chicago.
Then I realized it was Preston. With a bottle of wine.
I couldn’t decided whether I wanted to run up the steps and hug him or slug him. I settled on walking up the steps and standing there until he said something.
Preston: Hey, Pheasant.
Preston: Good run?
Me: Decent. I didn’t set any speed records.
Preston: Nice place you got here.
Me: Thanks. I like it.
Preston: Planning on staying in it?
Me: Yes. I am.
Preston: I see.
Me: Why are you here?
Preston: I came to apologize. Obviously. I brought wine.
Me: I don’t understand.
Preston: Apologies are generally offered when one behaves like a horse’s ass.
Me: That much I know. What I want to know is why you acted like a horse’s ass.
Preston: The real reason, or the one I’m using to make myself feel better?
Preston: Okay. If I didn’t walk away, Jack Seward was going to smash in my pretty little face.
Me: No, he wouldn’t have.
Preston: You didn’t see his face. When you said you loved me, I thought he was going to come unglued. All over me. I left out of self-preservation.
Me: And the real reason?
Preston: How do you know that’s not the real reason?
He sat for a moment, rocking. Then he stood up and came over to where I stood.
Preston: I knew if I didn’t walk away at that moment, I would fall apart. Completely. I had waited so long -- longer than I realized -- to hear you say what you said. It was, I don’t know. Too much. I didn’t want you to see me like that.
Me: So you just walk away?
Preston: I know. It’s a pattern of mine. I’m a coward.
Me: You always have been when it comes to real feelings and real commitment.
Preston: This is the only time I’ve ever come back.
Me: So now what, you’re staying put?
Preston: If you still want me around.
Me: I’m not moving back to Chicago. I’m running the store now.
Preston: Good. It’s where you belong.
Me: So what does that mean then? For us?
Preston: You never said whether you still wanted me around.
Me: Of course I still want you around! Don’t be stupid. I meant what I said last weekend, even if I am really pissed at you right now for leaving me hanging.
Preston: I really am sorry.
Me: I just need you to understand that I am here. I’m not moving back to Chicago.
Preston: Understood. And I need you to understand that I can work from anywhere.
Me: You’d sacrifice Chicago for me?
Preston: It’s not a sacrifice if it doesn’t hurt to leave it behind. Chicago’s not the same without you anyway, Wren. I’m not losing anything here. Wren, I love you.
He leaned into kiss me then, and I didn't move away. We stayed that way, kissing, for longer than was probably prudent on a front porch in a small town. So I pulled away. For reasons that had a lot less to do with prudence and a lot more to do with risking vulgarity. It was that good.
Me: I love you, Preston. Even though you have a lot to learn about relationships.
So did I for that matter.
Me: And you can’t live in the house with me, you know. At least not yet.
Preston: I’ll rent something until I can make an honest woman of you. It’ll be fine. I’m still going to be traveling quite a bit, too. ‘Tis the life of a freelancer.
Me: You’ve thought this through then.
Preston: A long time ago.
Then he uncorked the bottle of wine and pulled me toward the bench rocker. I realized then what I must look like, all disheveled, frizzy and very likely tear-stained. I touched my hand to my hair, wiped my cheeks.
Preston: You’ve never looked more beautiful.
Me: Oh please.
I sat down and took a healthy sip of wine. Preston put his arm around my shoulders and I settled into him. Sighed involuntarily.
Then, very softly, he started singing. Badly. Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman,” just like he did the first morning we met in Em’s kitchen when I came into the kitchen wearing my holey, faded Garfield night shirt and jungle hair.