106 Beaufain Street looked stately as ever from Keeley’s vantage point in the driveway. She knew it was just as magnificent inside as it was out. Possibly even more so, since she and Brent had put it on the market and stupid Grace Heatherton had hired an interior designer to remove all the personal touches and replace them with stoic white walls and stuffy furniture.
She took a sip of her coffee and sighed; thinking of everything she’d done to make this house a home for her and Brent when they’d been married. Years it took her, years. It took less than a week for the designer and his crew to toss all her furniture and not picked up possessions into the dumpster.
As a minivan pulled into the driveway behind her, Keeley tried to push those thoughts from her head and put a cheery smile on her face. Remember, you want to sell the damn thing. Then, you’ll never have to remember how it used to be ever again, she repeated to herself over and over as she went to greet the chaotic scene behind her.
“Hi, I’m Keeley Burns,” she said pleasantly, extending a hand out for anyone that would, to take it. She smiled as the four little boys, all looking to be under ten, raced up to the front door amid yells of “cool!” and “look at the staircase!” Their tired looking parents flashed her apologetic smiles. She liked them instantly.
“Chuck and Heather Smith,” the man said with an easy smile. “Thanks for meeting us so early today.”
“Oh, it’s no problem,” Keeley said waving a hand and leading them up the steps and into the house. “Thank you for rescheduling.”
But the Smith’s weren’t listening to her anymore. They were staring in awe at the circular staircase and grand foyer that greeted them. Keeley smiled ruefully, remembering the first time she’d entered the foyer with its black and white checked marble floor and high ceilings. Judging by the look at on the Smith’s face, they liked it. A lot.
But then the Heather Smith’s face drained of color as she saw one of the little boys sliding down the banister. She quickly went and snatched him up while their father apologized and the rest of the little boys were regaled to stand right by him for the rest of the day.
Keeley just laughed, wistfully remembering how excited she’d been when she’d seen the banister; she could just see the fun times she and Brent would have with their kids. She’d slid down it more than a few times herself, much to Brent’s dismay.
She would have had so much fun with her kids in that house; being a mom and a wife and everything else she had planned out. Well, that won’t happen now, she thought as she enviously watched the family explore her old house.
The rest of the morning went smoothly (no more mischievous boy escapades) and a few hours later the Smith’s were all but ready to sign on a dotted line, even though in Keeley’s opinion, Brent had set the price too high. But instead of saying that, she kept her mouth shut and informed them that someone would be in contact with them by the end of the week.
She left the appointment feeling like a smorgasbord of emotions at the possibility of having the old house sold. She thought that she would have been elated at the possibility of never having to deal with Brent and his bullshit ever again, but as it was…she only felt pissed off at the world and envious of those people. They were living the life she should’ve been. As Keeley drove towards her little cottage she felt her carefully constructed nonchalant, devil-may-care, hard-ass attitude crumble, exposing her raw emotions for everyone to see. Well, everyone passing her on the interstate, that is.
By the time she pulled into her driveway (after a good cry on the interstate) she thought she was done with being jealous and back to being happy to finally close the final chapter of her and Brent’s life together. Then she realized she’d have to see him again to arrange some final things before they sold it. She wanted to scream, but instead just called Jan.
“Why’d you let me marry him?” she asked with a sigh.
“I take it the house showing went well then?” Jan asked, knowing Keeley didn’t really want to hear an answer to her opening question.
“Fantastic. I think they’re going to buy it,” Keeley gave a sad laugh. “Four little boys. Poor parents. And they immediately took off down the stair banister. So of course, I think they’re perfect for the house. I just can’t even imagine some stuffy old couple living in that house.”
“Even though that’s who you bought it from?” Jan asked laughing.
“Yes,” Keeley joined in. Then she sighed. “But that house was totally meant for kids. That banister! Of course, I think it just should have been my kids…”
Jan clucked sympathetically on the other end.
“God. And she’s such a bimbo too,” she continued, referring to Kelli, as she unlocked her front door.
Jan sighed on the other end. “Well, as I recall, I did tell you to break up with him during our junior year of college. The first time he couldn’t keep his dick in his pants.”
Keeley tried to laugh, knowing Jan didn’t mean her comment as harshly as it sounded. “So, fool on me then huh?”
“Shame on you!” Jan corrected with an audible smile.
Keeley shook her head grinning too and already feeling better as the comfort of her own home surrounded her. She glanced at the business card on the fridge and her stomach fluttered again. Keeley let her mind wander and go back to the night before as Jan droned on and on about her evening plans.
Her best friend had agreed that it hadn’t been a disaster at all. In fact, she had proclaimed it an extreme success, as evidenced by the fact that he’d made the first physical contact and that said contact hadn’t taken place in a bed.
Keeley had thought so too. But as she glanced at the business card again she realized she was bothered by the fact that she hadn’t heard anything else from him since they’d said goodbye. And men said women were confusing. Pfft.
“Hey,” she heard Jan exclaim suddenly and she wondered what she’d missed while she’d been spaced out. “Why don’t y’all come with us?”
“Where’s that?” Keeley asked, trying to back track.
Jan snorted. “Uh-huh. I knew you weren’t listening to a word I said, Keeley Burns. I was telling you that Nate and I are going to the carnival that’s out at Mount Pleasant and was going to see if you two wanted to come with?”
Keeley silently weighed her options in her head before answering. Go to a travelling kids carnival with Jan and her fiancé or stay at home. Option one would entail a fun night and probably a good Brent bashing in there somewhere. But, she also have to be around an engaged couple, and while Jan and Nate were normally good about not being too lovey-dovey, Keeley had a sinking feeling that a carnival atmosphere would bring it out in them. And then there was the whole Clay-being-in-a-wheelchair thing that she hadn’t told Jan about yet. That’d be real fun to deal with.
Option two didn’t sound so bad. A night of being home, grading papers, trying to write a few of her own, and probably pathetically obsessing over why Clay hadn’t called yet. Eh…yep. Decision made. But first she curiously asked, “Who’s this ‘y’all’ you speak of?”
Jan laughed sighed heavily on the other end, as if not being able to understand why Keeley was asking. “Why, you and that dreamy guy of yours!”
Keeley’s jaw hit the floor. “Janelle McAfee, you’re not serious are you?”
“Don’t you dare call me Janelle again,” Jan said in a low voice, making Keeley snicker. “And yes, of course I’m serious!” she added in a brighter tone.
“Jan,” Keeley was shaking her head incredulously. “I can’t just call him up and invite him to go out with me and some friends!”
“Why not?” when Keeley didn’t answer right away Jan continued forcefully. “You know Keeley, any normal woman would invite him after such a wonderful first date last night. It shows that you are interested in him!
Keeley held the phone away from her ear. Jan’s voice had a tendency to get higher and higher the more worked up she got. “You know what? Jan, I can’t really hear you. I’m going through a tunnel and stuff and you’re breaking up—”
“Bullshit Keeley Burns! I know you’re at the cottage! You just know I’m right and—”
“—Bye Janelle!” Keeley said pleasantly and then hung up the phone before she burst into laughter. Jan was going to kill her.
Her phone beeped a few minutes later indicating she had a text message. From Jan, of course:
We’re leaving at 7:00. See you then.
She shook her head and went to run a hot bubble bath for herself, looking forward to a night of grading papers and doing absolutely nothing.
But by early afternoon Keeley was ready to absolutely pull her hair out. She’d thought that a relaxing afternoon and evening of a bubble bath, a nap, some housework, and some school work would be enjoyable.
As it was, for the first time since she’d started graduate school a little under a year ago, she was actually caught up on her house work, grading papers, and even had started on one of her own.
She groaned aloud as she looked at the clock. 4:17.
Four o’clock and she was already bored out of her mind. She glanced at the business card and then back at the clock. Surely three hours would be enough for a man to get ready. Surely.
Keeley snatched the business card off the fridge and quickly dialed the number before she could chicken out. She wished she had his cell number so that she could just text him instead. It rang four times and just as she was starting to freak out and decide whether or not to leave a message, she heard an unfamiliar voice ask “Hello?”
“Um,” she said, thrown off by the unfamiliar voice. She actually looked at her phone again to make sure she’d dialed the right number. She had. “You’re not Clay?”
Nice, really smooth. Keeley mentally slapped herself. The voice on the other end gave a hearty laugh. “No, and you’re not the man calling from Jefferson Granite that we were expecting.”
The man paused and she heard him yell Clay’s name in the background. She heard a little bit of furious whispering and then Clay’s familiar, but formal, voice came on the other end. “This is Clay Whitlow.”
She took a deep breath, not believing she was actually going to do this. “Hi, Clay, it’s Keeley.”
“Keeley!” his voice immediately lost the formality. “Sorry, about that. My dad commandeered my phone there for a second.”
“It’s okay,” she answered. Maybe I shouldn’t do this, he’s at work after all…
“Wait a second…”
“What?” she asked confused at the skepticism that had crept into his voice all of a sudden.
“I thought you didn’t call guys?”
She gave a nervous laugh. “Eh, well actually I don’t.”
“Oh? So what, I’m not a guy then?”
Keeley rolled her eyes. “Now, that is not what I meant and you know it.”
Clay laughed. “Okay, so we’ve been on a date once and now you can call me. Is that it?” Without waiting for an answer he went on in a teasing tone, “Keeley Burns, you are just too old-fashioned for your own good. Don’t you know guys get nervous when they always have to make the first move?”
“I can’t even imagine. I just know that I thank God every day I ended up with two X chromosomes so that I was spared that torture,” she said replied quickly.
Clay laughed lightly. Good job Keels!
“On that note,” she continued quickly before she lost her nerve. “I was wondering what you were doing tonight?”
Keeley heard Clay chuckle and then let out a low whistle. “Are you asking me out on a date Keeley?”
“No,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’m asking you what you’re doing tonight.”
“Oh, well in that case, I have plans tonight,” he shot right back. Keeley’s heart sank. “But if you were going to ask me out on a date, then my plans might disappear.”
She shook her head, now knowing that he was just messing with her. Feeling especially daring she decided to try her hand at playing along. “Well, then you better rearrange those plans of yours, because take it from someone who knows, Keeley Burns only asks men out like once a blue moon.”
Clay laughed. “What plans?”
She grinned, her stomach doing flips and her mind racing. Good grief, she’d forgotten how nerve-wracking that was. The parking lot thing had been fueled by pure adrenaline and desperation. But before then she hadn’t asked a guy out since her freshman year of college; she’d been drunk and at a party and it’d been a dare from her freshman roommate.
Three guesses as to who it’d been and how it’d turned out.
“Can you be at my house by six-thirty you think? I know it’s sort of short notice…” she asked, reverting back to flirtatiously retarded Keeley.
“I don’t think that’ll be a problem at all.”
Keeley smiled as she gave him her address and informed him of what the evening held in store. It would have been just plain mean to lure him there without forewarning him about meeting her friends and the carnival thing. Instead of skeptical though, he sounded strangely enthusiastic. They quickly hung up as Brent had a call coming on the other line. “Probably Jefferson Granite Company,” he joked.
“Har har,” Keeley replied as she hung up. Then she kicked it into high gear, her eyes lighting on the dusty shelves and askew pillows—everything she need to straighten up before he got there—you know, on the off chance that he ended up inside.