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Frannie thought she had life all figured out. Don’t get involved. No expectations means no disappointments. And that’s exactly how she chose to live her life with her four-year-old son over the last three and a half years. Safe and quiet.
But in the span of ten days, her safe, quiet life starts to fall apart. Corey, an ex-boyfriend, moves back in next door. He apologizes for breaking her heart, and wants another chance. He’s as good looking as ever, and their children pick up their friendship right where they left off. But Frannie can’t forget the agony she experienced when he left her.
Adam, her ex-husband and son’s father, also comes back into her life. He was her first love, and they had remained in each other’s life for their son’s sake – as friends. Now he’s forcing her to confront the pain of her past in the hopes of ensuring a better future, one that includes him. He’s different than the young man she married just out of high school. He’s confident and commanding.
Frannie has a difficult, life-changing decision to make. Give a relationship with Corey another try, or give Adam and their failed marriage another try. Or, is she better off alone following her safe and quiet life plan? Which man will step up to win her heart? Which man is strong enough to convince Frannie she is safe with him?
Publisher’s Note: This emotional romance is intended for adults only and contains explicit scenes, adult language, and elements of strict discipline. If any of these themes offend you, please do not purchase.
She thought she moved past it. She believed she left those days and nights of hurting unlike any pain she ever experienced in the past. That heartbreak returned to her with one look. One look at Corey Webb, and she became that weak, wounded woman once again. It prompted the memories she thought buried. Memories of excruciating hours, days, weeks, and months it took her to pick herself up, hold her head high and relearn to enjoy her life.
“Come on! In the house,” she yelled at Zach. Instantly remorseful for doing so, she walked around the car and rubbed his head, shutting the car door.
He looked next door, noticing the U-Haul and people moving about, but she averted her eyes. Getting to her door and the sanctuary of her home, her only focus. “Mom. New peoples is moving in.”
Anger built inside her. Angry that a glimpse of Corey could take her back to that dark, painful place she wanted to leave behind her. Forever. Unlocking the front door, she followed Zach inside. She needed a minute, a minute to regain her composure, be the mom Zach deserved. Setting her purse and keys down, she headed to the kitchen. Her hands shook as she grabbed a box of Cheez-Its from the cabinet, and a plastic bowl from out of the drain rack. Opening the fridge, she pulled out a juice box.
In her rush to get his snack ready, so she could retreat and give in to some of the emotions flowing through her, she spilled crackers all over the counter. This, too, made her angry. Snatching the bowl, she set it and the juice box at the bar. “Zach, your snack is ready. Eat your snack and you can have a little game time.”
Racing down the hall, his innocent blue eyes questioned hers as he climbed on to the bar stool. “Why do I get iPad time now? Does it mean I won’t get it after my bath?”
Sighing, she smiled. “Mom has a headache. I’m going to lay down for a few minutes. You just get extra computer time tonight.”
Shoving crackers in his mouth, his excitement obvious, crumbs blew out his mouth with each word he spoke. “Okay, Mom! Thanks. You’re da bestest.” She envied his true innocence, wishing she could protect it forever.
Rounding the bar, she kissed his forehead. “Thank you, baby. Just let me try to get rid of this. I love you.”
Making her way down the hallway, she struggled not to burst into tears before she had her bedroom door closed behind her. Once she made it, she went straight to her bed, laid down, and let it out. All the why’s and did’s ran through her mind. Why is he back? Why would he come back? Especially after what happened and how he left? Did he ever think about her? Did he feel bad and want to make things right? She cried harder and got angrier as these questions pervaded her mind.
She wasn’t that person any longer. She didn’t want to be. What did she think would happen now that he came back? What did she want to happen? Nothing. He hurt her. Deeply. The immense worry she lived with then, wondering if she was a ‘rebound’ girl. Her fears came to fruition in the worse possible way, killing her dreams and hopes of love. It wouldn’t happen again. And it hadn’t in the last thirteen months. She didn’t want it. She vowed to never feel that wounded and disillusioned again. She hated what Corey Webb did to her. He didn’t deserve any of her time; mentally, emotionally or physically.
* * *
Allowing herself a little time to experience and process Corey’s return yesterday afternoon helped. She withstood the initial shock of Corey moving back in next door. She found her strength again. It sat in the back seat making funny faces at her in the rearview mirror.
Turning onto their street, she saw Corey’s truck in his driveway, but she didn’t expect to find him and Max playing in the front yard with a puppy. Great! No avoiding him today. He knew damn well she couldn’t get inside with a four and a half year-old once he noticed a puppy, and his friend.
She wondered if he felt it necessary to break the ice now that they were neighbors again. She didn’t.
“Mom! Mom. Look at the dog. Can I go pet it?” Zach asked as they pulled into their driveway. Then he realized the dog’s owners. “Mom! I know them. That’s Max!”
Putting the car in park, she took a deep breath before responding. “I think it may be.”
Unbuckling his belt, his impatience and delight evident as he pulled on the door handle multiple times. “Unlock the doors, Mom! Please.”
Pushing the button, she heard him rush out, slamming the door behind him. She sat in the car, dreading this encounter. Only catching a glimpse of him yesterday, she hoped he got fat— and ugly. Hearing the boys’ laughter, she knew she needed to face the situation, and Corey. Reaching for her purse, her door opened behind her.
“Hey, Frannie. How’ve you been?” He addressed her in his deep, smooth, southern drawl. She didn’t want to turn around and see him.
She didn’t have a choice, and if possible, he looked better than ever. He wore his dark hair cut short and neat. Long eyelashes, any girl would die for, framed his honey brown eyes. His wide shoulders filled her door, and he topped it off by gracing her with a knee buckling smile.
Hurrying past him, avoiding looking directly into his face, she replied with more annoyance than she intended. “I’ve been very well, Corey. What brings you back to Windsor Drive?”
Keeping her back to him, she heard his footsteps following behind her as he answered. “So many things have brought me back here. Too much I don’t want to leave behind.”
Certainly, she read more into it than he intended. Either way, he should feel like a shit for the way he left. She couldn’t forgive him. She didn’t want to. “Come on, Zach. You need to get in and have your snack.” Ignoring her, he continued running with Max across the yard with the dog nipping at their heels.
“Listen Frannie…” Hearing him say her name still stirred a plethora of emotions within her, but now it didn’t consist of just desire and dreams of a possible future together. It irritated her. It forced her to put up her defenses. To preserve what she experienced, learned and gained. To not forget how far she had come.
She interrupted him. “I don’t want to listen, Corey. I don’t have anything to say to you, and more importantly, I don’t want to hear anything you have to say.”
Wrapping his fingers around her elbow, he tried to turn her around, but she jerked free of him. He offered a weak-ass apology. “I know how stupid I was. I was fucked up. I did everything wrong. Never, ever should I have just upped and left without even a word.”
“You got that right.” Rushing to the door, she hollered, “Don’t make me tell you again, Zach! Inside!”
“Frannie, you can’t mean to let our difficulties interfere with the boys’ friendship. You didn’t even look at Tsar. You love animals.” He beseeched her, but hearing his voice and his words made her sick. Her stomach rolled, and she ran inside and to the bathroom before he realized the effect he had on her. She vowed to remain aloof in any and all aspects involving him. For her own sanity.
* * *
A slow work day made for too much time to think. Replaying her morning with Zach, it seemed he held a grudge for having to come inside yesterday afternoon. He took his time finding his shoes, then putting them on. Frannie called to him three times stressing they needed to be in the car or she would be late for work. She shook her head at such a silly notion. He was four, almost five he would correct her. He couldn’t remember what he ate, even if only fifteen minutes earlier, so doubtful he held any grudge.
Giving in to a bogus headache two nights ago, and making Zach come in last night for no other reason than she didn’t want to deal with Corey, equaled unacceptable behavior. She needed to set an example for Zach, not demonstrate immature behavior, even if he didn’t comprehend the situation and her reactions. Leaving the past in the past, and dealing with today became her new, renewed focus. So, the man she didn’t think she could ever get over, moved back into the house next door, but making excuses to justify her behavior wouldn’t suffice, it was unfair to Zach. Zach didn’t understand her reasoning for not allowing him to play with Max and the pup. As his mother she didn’t owe him an explanation, but it felt wrong. He threw quite the tantrum, too. Time out is where he ended up. No television, no game time. Just dinner, bath, and bed.
To her relief, they arrived home before the neighbors. She breathed out the breath she was unaware she held, believing today she might be fortunate enough in avoiding any exchange, verbal or visual, with their neighbors.
Transferring some clothes from the washer to the dryer, the doorbell rang. Cursing under her breath as she opened the door, there stood Corey. He appeared hesitant, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, wiping his hands over his jeans.
Looking into her eyes, a shy smile started across his lips, before it transformed into a firm, serious line. “I’m not trying to bother you, or upset you.”
“Who said I’m upset? Bothered, yes.” Her retort came quick.
“Frannie, I know you.” He leaned with his right hand against the doorframe.
Her frustration mounted. “No, you don’t.” His voice conjured memories of words and phrases he spoke to her, before he crushed her. “What do you want?”
Moving towards her, he halted when she started to close the door on him. Throwing his hands up, he spoke fast, “I get it. Not now. But can Zach come over and play with Tsar and Max? Please. I’ll put them in the backyard, and keep an eye on them.”
Twisting her head, she hollered into the house, “Zach, get your shoes on if you want to go play next door.”
Within seconds, he bounded around the corner, shoes in hand. “Really, Mom? Thanks.”
Kneeling, she helped with his shoes, kissing his cheek. “Have fun, and listen to Mr. Corey.”
“I will, Mom.” Rolling to his knees, he bounced to his feet. “I’m ready.”
Patting his head, Corey smiled. “I see that, buddy. Come on.” He waited on the boy to pass before he turned to Frannie. “Thank you.”
She shut the door. As much as she wanted to convince herself she could remain unaffected by Corey, she couldn’t. She remembered how close they were. They spent every evening together talking, making dinner, spending time with the boys, for six months after Sheila left Corey and her son. Before it all blew up. She fell in love. He wasn’t ready. She knew this, yet her feelings for him shifted from just a neighbor friend into something much more, but how does one prevent the heart from wanting what it wants?
After her divorce, she didn’t want to think about getting into another relationship. Her belief in relationships faltered. She never imagined herself ever being with any man other than Adam, her ex-husband. Adding the whole debacle with her parents, she didn’t want to depend on anyone else for her happiness. That’s the thing with expectations, though, they carried disappointments.
She understood and respected Corey’s situation but, sharing and supporting him through that rough period, they grew closer. Once they moved from the friend zone and engaged in a physical relationship, she fell hard.
She realized her role in the demise of their involvement, but she couldn’t and wouldn’t understand his reluctance to confront or resolve it. He left without a word. After all they shared, she thought he valued and cared for her more than he did. And not only her, he and Max left Zach. Both she and Zach were left with so many questions, and broken hearts.
The longer she reflected on this, the more fired up she became. It was one thing to disappear from her life, but from Zach’s—it was unforgivable. Stomping her way out of the house, she crossed her front yard into Corey’s and banged on the front door.
It took him a few minutes to come to the door, when he did he wore a pair of workout shorts and running shoes, his body covered in a sheen of sweat. Lifting a towel to his forehead, he wiped it before flipping it over his shoulder. “Hey. Just working out, wanna come in?”
She didn’t think it possible, but he looked better than she remembered. Tipping his head, his lips turned up in a smirk at her admiring his solid physique, jolting her out of her appreciating stupor. “No, no, I don’t.” For the life of her, she couldn’t recall why she marched over. “Are the boys out back?”
“Yeah. You aren’t ready for me to send Zach home yet, are you? He hasn’t been here thirty minutes.”
Being this close to him stirred her up, she couldn’t formulate any coherent thoughts. It confused her. An onslaught of emotions and thoughts bombarded her, and she realized she lost her confidante when she lost him. Her pain and skepticism existed prior to him, he just added to it. He knew how she agonized over the difficult issues with her family, because she had confided in him. She needed to go home, so she hurriedly answered, “No, that’s not it. Get back to your workout.” She turned to leave.
“Frannie, what did you come over for?” He stepped outside after her. “Why don’t you just come in, and we can talk?”
Her heart, and her body, didn’t stand a chance being around him. Her firm resolve weakened just by the sight of him, recalling how she believed him a friend. She believed they developed a true friendship which evolved into a friends with benefits situation. “No, thank you. I had something I wanted to say, but I changed my mind.” Rehashing anything with him just cracked open the door, presenting him with an opportunity to enter. So, she wouldn’t.
“You really look great, Frannie. I’m so sorry for leaving like I did. I thought about contacting you every day. Then one day turned into another, and I felt like it was too late, but I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I’ve missed you.”
Halting her retreat, she kept her back to him, recalling the hundreds of times she heard a car outside and hoped for it to be him. “I stopped missing you some time ago. We can be neighbors, because, well, we are, and the boys are friends. And that’s it.” She used to love the way she felt being around him. Now, she hated it. She resumed her departure.
Hollering, not only did his words reach her, they touched her and it pissed her off. “Go out with me tomorrow night! A real date. We never had one.” All the heart wrenching days, thirteen months ago, she waited and wished for those words, any words, and now they only made her cry.
Without responding, she entered her home, shutting the door behind her.