Valentine McCallister is still reeling from the stench of a rotten break-up when she finds herself face-to-face with the stranger of her dreams named Johnny. This excerpt is the Prologue to a book being published serially on JukePop here: http://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9693?chapter=0
Valentine mulled over the question of who first to tell about the breakup, slowing as she approached the bus stop. She cringed at the thought of telling her parents. Would it be inconsiderate to send a cab to take them home from the airport tomorrow? Valentine had curated their introduction to Roman with such care that it made the break-up seem like an even greater disappointment. She felt sick at the memory. She had presented her parents with a piece of Roman’s art and he had charmed them with an explanation of the style and nuance behind the piece. It had worked, and they had loved him, and now Roman’s “Interpretation of a Lost Soul” was hanging in her parents foyer. Nevermind that the drive home that evening had erupted into one of their uglier arguments. She clenched her jaw as she remembered Roman's use of the word "co-dependent" at her suggestion that they move in together. He had insisted that her presence would threaten his creative space. She should have known that Roman’s concern for his freedom was more than an artistic one.
Valentine surveyed the street, tapping one booted toe and then the other against the pavement. With the bus nowhere in sight, she decided she would walk home, hoping that the movement would save her from her thoughts. Tucking earbuds under her wool hat, she flipped through her phone. Otis Redding’s voice came through the headphones. I’ve been loving you too long to stop now… She put the song on repeat and allowed her heart to ache and heal and ache again.
Flurries floated at eye level, promising a cold afternoon and a colder evening to come. Valentine was grateful that Rex had noticed her sulking and sent her home as soon as the post-lunch shoppers had cleared out of The A-Trak. Rex was just that kind of boss. She did not think she could have managed stepping onto the sidewalk this particular Wednesday, only to be greeted by darkness. While she enjoyed middle-of-the-night, past-bedtime, true darkness, she sometimes found it unbearable to be alone in the kind of dark that came at four o’clock in the afternoon. She paused to appreciate the sunlight and her heart felt a slight lift at the distraction from the impending solitude waiting for her at home.
Her mind drifted back to the problem of tomorrow. Valentine had promised to give her parents a ride home when they returned from Hawaii. She had to follow through. Still, she had no intention of telling them the truth. She knew that she had every right to smear Roman, to make him sound like the biggest sleaze in the world, but something in her sunk, knowing that it would only make her feel worse. She could not imagine admitting that she had walked in on him pants-down with his assistant. Who was cliche now? The part that annoyed her most was how he had tried to excuse his way out of it. His stuttering defense still rang in her ears, “I didn’t plan on it. Echo just wanted to come by to see some of the new pieces... it just sort of happened.”
Valentine puzzled over his words. Had he expected her to extend her blessing to them for rutting on the kitchen table? She had spent the morning at work reliving that awful scene each time she closed her eyes. Her playing the role of the interruptress, feeling bracingly unwelcome in her own apartment. She had spat insults at both of them. She did not recognize the woman who screamed at them to leave. The entire evening had ended in a deep and discomfiting quiet. She had cried at first, and then just stared at the wall until she was able to fall in and out of consciousness, reinventing the episode in a myriad of distorted scenarios. None of them left her feeling dignified.
The reminder that Roman’s trust had helped to pay for half the rent rested heavy on her chest. He would be gone by the time she got back to the apartment. Valentine was sure that he did not want to salvage their relationship. It was clear to her that Roman had only offered an explanation as a defense, not as an apology. Rage rose in her as she thought about how little he seemed to care when she had kicked him out. She knew that he would be disappointed that she did not like him anymore, but only in the most basic way. Roman worked so hard to be liked. He had made the whole scene feel more pathetic by throwing empty empowering catch-phrases at her. She deserved better. She had so much potential. She would find someone new in no time. While Valentine had spent the day echoing those sentiments in her head, she knew now that Roman did not care enough about her to believe a word of them.
Valentine felt a mix of relief and exhaustion as she finally stepped onto her block. She waved through the window of Moll’s Pub on the corner, seeing Tom and Louie at the bar. Inertia made her feet keep moving. She was not yet ready to share her pain with her neighbors. At the center of the block, Valentine keyed her way into the door to the left of the post office. She climbed the stairs to her loft and breathed in the apartment’s emptiness. When dating an artist, even the walls are a lost battleground. She looked at the blank space above her bed and recalled the Tegan and Sara poster she had once taped there, where it had lived for less than a week before she found it replaced by an art print. Another sign she had ignored. It could have saved her two years of her life. She could have bedded that gorgeous DJ who had hit on her at the gallery party last month. She scoffed at the thought taken too far. Casual sex had never been her style. Valentine tended to fall deeply and dangerously in love before each first kiss. She threw her keys on the counter, hung her jacket and began rummaging through the cabinets for the bottle of red wine that she had bought to give her parents as a welcome home present. She poured herself a generous glass as Otis Redding's voice came over the blue tooth speaker by her bed. Please don't make me stop now...