The Trouble With Before
The Trouble With Before
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In a small town where childhood rivals clash, Lisa and Aiden find themselves thrown together under one roof when Lisa's world takes a tumble. Sparks fly as they lock horns, but there's more than meets the eye.
- Enemies to lovers
- Secret Baby
- Opposites Attract
Our history made things harder.
We were associates out of convenience.
We tolerated each other.
I never saw her that way.
She never saw me that way.
She and I were never meant to be friends.
You’re not supposed to fall for your best friend’s enemy, even if the enemy is YOUR ex-best friend.
This isn’t the story of falling in love with your best friend.
It’s about falling out of hate.
You ever woken up with the feeling that you were going to have a really shitty day? When everything goes wrong from the moment you open your eyes? You look out the window and the weather is crappy, and your grams forgot to wash your favorite pair of underwear, and instead of her making your favorite pancakes for breakfast, she’s out globe-trotting with her lover and you’re stuck eating old people cereal- the crappy flakes with no taste- that you can’t even make edible with sugar because you stopped buying it after her doctor suggested she use Splenda instead, and she’s never even here to not use the sugar she’s supposed to be avoiding… and you forgot to go grocery shopping to get cereal that’s actually worth eating?
Splenda sucks. It’s sugar’s ugly cousin.
I choke down the last spoonful of tasteless crap, and my stomach is still growling. The fridge is stocked with bacon and sausage, but it’s all frozen. At times like this, I question my bachelorhood and think it’d be really cool to have a girlfriend who could cook when my Grams decides to go all single twenty-year-old. That thought doesn’t last long though. It shrivels up and dies as my phone vibrates. It’s my sort-of-ex Hillary, the blond bombshell. I call her that because she’s hot and explodes all over the place, and she’s a sort-of ex because she acts like an ex, but we were never really together.
Why? Well, aside from the fact that having a girlfriend is like renting a house when you can live in a whole lot of hotels for free, Hillary pretended to be normal—like all girls do—then turned out to be bat-shit crazy—like all the girls who get on this ride are. That is exactly why I don’t do girlfriends. My track record is embarrassing.
My first g-girlfriend—I can’t even say the word without shuddering—was in middle school. Cassandra Beyers was a cute little redhead who was the first girl in our class to need a training bra, and I wanted to be the first guy to learn to take one off. I was successful and grinning from ear to ear after she let me touch what was then the Holy Grail, but afterward, for some reason, she thought I was her boyfriend and that she could tell me all her secrets. One of those secrets was that she liked to sniff her armpits.
Like, who the hell likes to sniff their armpits? I broke up with her the next day. It really wasn’t a breakup since we were never really together, but she slashed the tires on my bike, years before girls were supposed to go psycho on dudes. I had a woman before her time.
In high school, I was smart and made sure to date as many girls as possible, so my next girlfriend wasn’t until after high school. I met Shawna right after I graduated and before I enlisted in the army. Shawna was great. She was a singer, cute, didn’t want to smell any weird body parts, and had an amazing ass. But for some reason, she was intent on having a fucking kid. I hadn’t known her for more than four months before she wanted me to have a baby with her. I wasn’t even nineteen yet. After I caught her poking holes in my condoms, I got the hell out of Dodge!
Which brings us to Hillary. The moment I saw her, I knew I wanted to do her. She was one of the sexiest women I’d ever seen. She was like a potty-mouthed Kick Your Ass Barbie. I met her through my best friend Chris’s wife. We were at dinner, and Chris’s fiancée was giving his wife, Lauren, a bunch of shit. How Chris has a wife and fiancée is a whole other story, but anyway, Hillary practically attacked the fiancée, Jenna, over giving Hillary’s best friend, Lauren, shit. The way Hillary flew over the dinner table after throwing a pitcher of water in Jenna’s face, who really is a bitch who deserved it, I thought I was in love. Nah, just kidding.
I knew I was in lust though.
That night, Hillary was screaming my name louder than she'd been screaming at Jenna at dinner. It was the best sex I’d ever had, wild and passionate. She was like a fuckin’ porn star, and she got it! That I didn’t want anything serious. Well, she claimed to get it, until she didn’t. She started to want to go out all the time—which is fine, I’m always down for a good time—but then she started to get crazy jealous, which was not a good time at all. I wanted to cut her loose, but she’s my best friend’s wife’s best friend, and I didn’t want things to get ugly.
So I kind of kept sleeping with her because the sex was phenomenal.
Then she sort of started to act as though we were a couple, which was not supposed to happen. We were just supposed to be having a lot of fun. Hillary lives in Chicago, and I won’t lie, being with her there was a breath of fresh air from stale Madison, Michigan. I was going back and forth because Chris and I are opening a car restoration shop in Chicago, and it was kind of cool to have someone on speed dial there who got that sometimes good sex is just good sex. Well, until she started not to get it.
I’ve lived a lot of places. My dad was a sergeant in the army, so Mom and I followed him to so many different states: Arizona, New Mexico, Ohio, New Jersey, California, Ohio and even spent a little while in Paris. But Michigan always felt like home. For one, it was where my grams lived and was always kind of our home base, and two, it was the only place that I had real friends growing up. It’s funny how a decision like where you live can change your whole life. If my dad had chosen to live anywhere other than on Pine Circle, who knows who I could have become or how I would have turned out. But since he did choose Pine Circle, it was pretty easy for me and my next-door neighbors to become best friends.
I met Chris first. If there was a picture in the dictionary of an all-American family, it was Chris’s. He was like my generation’s version of Leave It to Beaver. He was a cute kid for a boy, I guess. A lot of girls liked him, almost as many as liked me… but we were complete opposites. He was nice, and not in the fake way most kids acted when adults were around. He was nice all the time. He followed the rules and did his homework and chores without having to get screamed at. He didn’t even swear much.
I don’t know if I believe in God after all the things I’ve seen while on tour, but if there is one, I believe he gives kids who don’t have siblings amazing best friends, because if I hadn’t had Chris as a best friend, who knows what all trouble I’d have landed in. He’s like the conscience that never shut up.
My phone rings again. This time, it’s a woman’s name I don’t cringe at seeing.
“Ms. Red!” I answer.
“Hi, Aidan, how are you?” she asks.
Her good mood is contagious, and I smile. Ms. Red is Chris’s mom and has been a surrogate mother to me since my own mom checked out after my dad died. She is one of the sweetest people I know, but she’s has had her fair share of shit dropped on her, including cancer and her husband being the biggest dick ever.
“I’m good. How about you?” I ask, hoping her happiness is genuine.
“I’m doing pretty well. Are you back from Chicago?”
I hear grease popping in the background, and my mouth waters. I glance at my phone and see it’s almost eight thirty, which is way past breakfast time at the Scotts’ house. They’re up with the roosters, literally. One of the only families I know that still runs a successful farm.
“I am, I got back last night,” I tell her.
“Great, I was wondering if you’ve eaten yet? Your grandmother mentioned you might need some breakfast since she was going to be gone for a while.” She laughs.
“Hell yeah!” I say, too excited. Not only is Ms. Red an awesome person, but she’s a freakin’ amazing cook. “I mean, yes, I’m starving.”
“Great, I’ll be done in about ten minutes if you want to head over.”
“Cool, I’ll be there in five!”
Before I’m even up the steps, I can practically taste Ms. Red’s famous homemade biscuits, rice, and gravy. If I’m lucky, she’s made sausage.
I steady my balance, ready for my favorite little person in the world to jump on me. She runs down the steps, her blond pigtails bouncing all over the place, and I brace myself as she jumps into my arms.
“What’s up, Willa bear?” I ask, lifting her over my shoulders.
“Guess what?” she asks sneakily.
“Let’s see… you’ve grown a tail?”
She smacks her lips. “No! I got A-plus on my spelling test,” she says with all the excitement of an eight-year-old on a sugar rush.
I set her down and give her a high five. “That’s awesome!” I take her hand as I walk up to the door, but she jumps in front of me with her hand held out.
“Remember what you said?” She laughs, her eyes twinkling, and I push the thought of her mother out of my head.
I let out an exaggerated sigh and pull the ten bucks I promised her out of my back pocket. “You’re breaking me kid,” I say with fake irritation.
She snatches it out of my hand and runs into the house. I follow her inside.
“Aidan, it’s so good to see you,” Ms. Red says, ushering me over to the sink after giving me a quick hug.
“You called me right on time. I’m starving.” After I finish washing my hands, I sit down at the table.
She sets a plate of rice, gravy biscuits, and score, sausage in front of me.
“Jackpot.” I rub my hands together before digging in.
She lightly swats my shoulder before frowning at me. I sigh and bow my head to say a quick grace, then I can stuff my face. I watch her pour me a glass of lemonade, and I notice no one else is eating.
“We all ate earlier. You know us.” She smiles with a quick shrug before sitting across from me. “So tell me, how is my little one?” She rests her chin in her hand as she watches me devour my food.
I swallow a spoonful of rice before rinsing my mouth with orange juice. “Chris or Caylen?” I joke, and she lets out a small laugh. “The big one is pretty much going crazy since Lauren just hit the six-month mark and he’s going to have three women in the house soon. Caylen is keeping him busy too.”
I reflect on the couple of days I spent with her son’s family. After visiting that household, I realize how calm my life is, which says a lot. My life is far from calm, but having a wife, a little girl, and twins on the way makes my friend’s life a circus.
“I can’t wait until I get there. I’m going next week to stay with them until Lauren has the babies.” She beams.
“I’m going to take care of Daddy and do all the cooking,” Willa sings, popping up beside me like a silent ninja.
“She is. I’ve showed her how to make eggs and oatmeal, and tomorrow she learns how to make my famous French toast.” Ms. Red winks at me.
“When the babies get here, me and Dad are going to help take care of the babies too,” Willa explains happily.
I smile widely at her, even though it still weirds me out to hear her call him Dad. He is her dad, through unfortunate circumstances, but after everything, fate or destiny has a funny sense of humor. A little person who almost destroyed their family has become such a permanent fixture in all of our lives. It’s as if she’s always been around even though she pretty much fell from the sky into our lives. Kind of like a bomb dropped, she was meant to destroy everything, but instead she fixed it… I can’t help but wonder sometimes if Ms. Red is a saint. I couldn’t have dealt with accepting and loving my spouse’s illegitimate child as my own, but if it works for them, it’s not for me to judge. I don’t think Ms. Red has loved anything in the world as much as she loves Willa, and that makes me admire her even more.
“Sweetheart, I have some towels in the dryer that should be stopping soon. Can you fold them up for me how you did last time?” she asks Willa, who nods happily before running out of the room. “So how are things with Hillary? I hear that you two are getting pretty serious?”
I instantly lose my appetite. Good thing I’ve already eaten most of what’s on my plate.
“Uh oh,” she says hesitantly.
I lay my head flat on the table. If Ms. Red thinks things are getting pretty serious, it’s because either Hillary told her we’re getting serious or Lauren told her we’re getting serious because she heard it from Hillary. Either way, that’s bad, bad, bad.
“I don’t know why everyone keeps thinking that.” I clear my throat, and she gives me a disbelieving look.
“What’s that face for?” she asks cautiously.
I lean back and stretch my legs. Ms. Red has always been like a mother to me and seems as though she could give some good advice. “Okay, things got really intense really, really fast…” I’m trying to sum up Hillary’s and my relationship in the best way possible.
She nods, seemingly understanding.
“I don’t know if the whole Chris and Lauren thing is getting to her, but she wants to move waaay faster than I want to move.” I shrug.
“When you say fast, what do you mean?” she asks.
I sigh. “She’s talking about moving in together, and when I went and visited her, she took me to this jewelry store supposedly to get earrings for herself, but we spent an awful lot of time at the ring section. It was more than awkward and completely weirded me out…”
Ms. Red nods thoughtfully.
“We’ve only been dating for, like, a year, and it wasn’t ever supposed to be exclusive,” I tell her, and she doesn’t look sympathetic but almost amused. “Well, it’s really been like a few months since we live in different states and don’t see each other all the time,” I say a little sheepishly.
“Do you love her?” Ms. Red asks, and I rub the back of my head.
“I’ve never really been in love. I’ve been in lust, a lot, with tons of women. I’ve liked girls, and I’m really in lust with Hillary to be honest. She’s cool, always willing to try things…” I chuckle.
“When you’re in love, you’ll know it,” Ms. Redd says, giving my hand a squeeze with a reassuring smile.
“I don’t know if I would.” I chuckle. “Most of the girls I’ve dated haven’t complimented me on being in touch with my feminine side.”
She shakes her head. “Love isn’t a feminine emotion. I understand why you’re afraid, but love, it trumps hate, anger, even un-forgiveness,” she says the last part quietly. A moment of awkwardness slips in, but if anyone can say that, it’s definitely her. She lets out a quick breath and flashes me a bright smile. “Love can be the single greatest thing that’s ever happened to you.”
I nod, my phone vibrates, and I pull it out and see that Hillary’s calling again. Is that a sign, or just a sign of crazy?
“I actually asked you here for a hidden agenda,” she says reluctantly.
I feel my eyebrow arch. Ms. Red has a hidden agenda? That’s actually funny.
“Do you need me to kick somebody’s ass?” I ask, and she laughs. Please be your husband’s, please be your husband’s. “I mean, do you need me to kick someone’s butt?”
She shakes her head. “No, nothing like that.” She sighs.
Shit, no such luck. I can tell by her demeanor change that she’s about to say something serious.
“Umm, I talked to Lisa this morning,” she says quietly, and her eyes narrow on me.
I slump back in my chair and let out my breath. I didn’t expect to hear Lisa’s name come out of her mouth, but then again, I would have never expected her to be raising Lisa’s daughter. I never expected Lisa would drop her kid off on their doorstep like an unwanted package. I can feel myself getting really pissed off. Ms. Red must be able to tell because she wrings her hands nervously together, so I shake my head to calm it.
“She’s calls every so often… to check on things…” she explains. I can tell she’s uncomfortable even mentioning her, at least to me. “I’m really worried about her, Aidan.”
I clear my throat. Wow. After everything Lisa did to this woman, she’s worried about her. “You really are a saint, Ms. Red,” I mutter in disbelief.
She shakes her head.
“She’s not someone you should be worried about. She obviously doesn’t worry about anyone or anything else,” I say, hearing the bitterness in my tone.
“She was your friend. Your best friend,” she says pleadingly.
“She was Chris’s best friend,” I correct her. I notice I’m pouting like a kid, and she frowns at me.
“I tried to talk to Chris about this…”
I can imagine how that went.
“If Lauren didn’t have two human beings in her…” she continues.
I roll my eyes, feeling disgusted. “I don’t know why you’re worried about her. She’s only ever worried about herself. She isn’t even worried about her own daughter.”
“I care because she’s Willa’s mother.”
“If you can call her that,” I mutter. “What’s the emergency? San Diego isn’t sunny enough for her? Brett didn’t get her the perfect gift for her birthday?”
The tone of Ms. Red’s voice makes my heart skip a beat. It’s funny how you can write a person off after they do so much crap and hurt so many people, but a small part of you still manages to care.
“And if anyone knows what hurting sounds like, it’s me,” she continues, her eyes locking on mine.
I nod guiltily. If anyone deserves to hate and refuse to forgive Lisa, it’s Ms. Red, but somehow she’s managed to.
“When she called me, she sounded terrible. Not in an obvious way; in a way only a person who has been there can recognize,” she continues. “I tried to call her mother, but that didn’t go so well.”
I roll my eyes. The only mother worse than no mother would be Lisa’s mother. We used to bond over that fact. She had Evie as a mom, and I didn’t have one at all most of the time.
“I know that… I appreciate that you’re so angry with her for me,” she tries to explain. “But if something happened to her, you and Chris would really regret not doing anything.”
I let out a long sigh. She’s right. Lisa’s like the stain you get on a shirt that you keep wearing because it was your favorite and the stain happened on one of the best nights of your life. “You think she’s really in trouble? What did she say?”
“She called and asked about Willa, then she just started crying, and when I asked her what was wrong, she said nothing and started to apologize for what she did. She said that she screws up everyone around her… and that it’d all be fixed soon.”
I roll my eyes. “Lisa’s too selfish to kill herself.”
“She sounded really drunk or high off of something maybe,” she says worriedly.
I think of the last time I talked to Lisa, how she pretty much told me she was shirking motherhood and escaping to California. I wanted to throw up.
When we were younger, Lisa and I were friends because of our best friend, Chris. We tolerated each other because of him, but somewhere along the line, we became close. She was one of the only girls who could put me in my place, who I could hang out with without any pressure or a hidden agenda. She was smart, funny, and could hold her own with the guys. And in some ways, we were alike. Chris was always the good kid, the Boy Scout with the perfect parents and perfect home. Lisa and I were kind of the outsiders, the kids no one expected to be much. We had it a lot harder than most.
When I found out what she had done with Chris’s dad, and how she hid a whole person from us for all those years, I couldn’t believe it. Still I stuck by her. I went off on her of course, but I didn’t abandon her. I would have never left her. So for her to abandon her daughter without a thought disgusted me. Even after she told me she was leaving to go to California, I hoped she’d change her mind. I knew if she went through with it, that would be it. I’d never be able to look at her the same way. She’d lose me the way she’d lost everyone else, so when she called me and told me she’d made it to California and she left Willa with the Scotts—who Willa had never even met—to find herself in California, I was done.
I told her to never call me again, and that she was a selfish bitch who deserved to be alone the rest of her life.
It’s been almost seven months since that call. Someone I used to talk to every day became someone I pretended didn’t exist for seven months. I guess humans are so resilient that someone essential to your life can so easily be wiped out of it.
“I don’t know where she is. I haven’t spoken to her since a few days after she left,” I tell Ms. Red.
“This is the address.” She slides a piece of paper toward me.
I look at her curiously. How the hell did she get Lisa’s address?
“She called me from this hotel. Last I checked, which was an hour ago, she’s still checked in,” she explains. “There’s a flight that leaves at four today I could book for you…”
I chuckle, and she smiles sympathetically. My phone buzzes again. It’s a text from Hillary saying she’s on her way to see me, complete with an angry face and a bunch of expletives. I throw my head back in frustration, then I text her back and tell her not to bother because I’m in California, bitch! Well, without the bitch part.