Authors: Mia Carson
LOVE AND HATE
COPYRIGHT © 2016
All Rights Reserved
I first noticed the gold ring on the third finger of my left hand while leaning my head against the cool marble of the bathroom wall. I couldn’t remember the last time I'd had a hangover like this one… college? My head pounded and the bathroom lights seemed too bright. My stomach felt okay, but only because I'd thrown up gallons of casino drinks.
But the wedding ring.
I was certain when I'd left my room at the Flamingo yesterday, that finger had been naked. I was hyper aware of the finger's adornment because, until recently, it had showcased an engagement ring with a modest diamond. I know what you're thinking… engagement ring, wedding ring… logical progression, right?
I had thrown the modest diamond at Lucas Corta's lying, cheating face, hitting him in the forehead, and making a quiet clinking sound as it came to rest on the sunny, tiled floor of our breakfast nook.
I feel like I'm getting ahead of myself, though.
So, a wedding ring on my finger, a pounding headache, a satisfied soreness in my lady parts… I crept out of the bathroom, clinging to the wall for support. This wasn't the Flamingo. My room there was a bit of a dump—the Flamingo was probably the oldest hotel on the strip and hadn’t been renovated in quite some time.
Now that I realized I wasn't in my room, it dawned on me this bathroom was bigger than the suite I shared with my friend and coworker, Susie. Also… marble? My bank account does not allow me the luxury of hotel rooms with marble bathrooms. I could swim in the tub, and the shower was a glass cube with three, six, eight shower heads, if I could count right with this headache. Back at the Flamingo, one of the bathroom lights was out, and the shower curtain created a gloomy, shadowy experience.
I peered into the dark bedroom. Bright light cut around the edges of the drapes, stabbing into my eyeballs and making me wince. The glow illuminated a figure passed out on the bed, a white sheet draped across his ass, muscular shoulders and tattooed back exposed. I could see his left hand, and there, on the third finger, sat a gold ring very similar to mine.
I studied my hand again, staring at the damned ring.
I'd clearly stated, within the past twenty-four hours, that I never wanted to get married. Breaking up with Lucas had been hard enough with no lawyers involved.
Actually, let me back up. I want to start at the beginning.
# # #
Let's go back to the part where I threw the ring at Lucas, shall we? No wait, a little bit further. Before the infamous ring-throwing incident of 2016, I was Mackenzie Taylor and I had a perfect life. Lucas and I were set to get married in January of 2017. We already shared an adorable bungalow outside New York which drove our friends crazy with jealousy. My job as a tax fraud auditor was going really well, and I'd seriously begun to consider motherhood. Yes, we’d spent way too much on wedding prep, but every young couple did. Our day was going to be perfect.
My dress, hanging in the closet, was silk, crinoline, sparkly perfection. The venue would make our friends jealous as well. Our honeymoon to Costa Rica would be two weeks of eco-tourism bliss. I just needed to send in that paperwork for my passport. This trip would be my first time out of the country, and I couldn’t wait to share the experience with Lucas. The food for the reception would be flawless and delicious, our cake a full, three feet tall with custom figurines on top.
Everything I'd ever wanted, and Lucas was beside me to make it happen. I had good credit, so it made sense to put all the wedding stuff on my cards. We’d have a lifetime to pay off the debt together.
One stupid day I left my cell phone at home. If you're like me, leaving your phone behind is like missing an arm or a leg. I sat through meetings at work all morning, constantly thinking I could feel it buzz, reaching for it, basically pining over the absent hunk of metal and plastic. At lunch I told my boss what had happened; he laughed at me, and I headed home to grab my missing phone.
I saw Lucas' Ford Focus in the driveway, beside it a Porsche. The second car was odd, sure, but I definitely didn't expect to open the front door to a cacophony of sex noises rolling down the stairs at me.
I almost turned around and walked out. I strongly, strongly considered pretending I never saw anything. My feet were rooted to the spot on our hallway runner (“Bless this happy home!”), and I didn't know what to do. Then she, whoever she was, bellowed my fiancé’s name at the top of her lungs, and anger fueled me. Lucas used to tell me my Irish was showing, and boy was he gonna see it now. I slammed the door as loudly as I could and stomped up the stairs.
Lucas was a considerate guy, so they were banging in the guest room, which has the unfortunate placement of being right at the top of the stairs. Lucas's guest was riding him reverse-cowgirl, and I got a perfect view of her moment of surprise before she lunged for the sheet to cover herself.
I'm twenty-seven. I've never thought of myself as old. When I saw her fit body and plastic boobs, I felt like a hag. I recognized her. Monica, his personal trainer. I wish I could say I did something awesome and dramatic, but really, I just stood in the doorway and gawked at them. Lucas looked so happy in the split second before he realized I was there. When was the last time I’d seen ecstasy on his face? The engagement ring burned on my finger.
“Kenz, it’s not what it looks like.”
I laughed, a big, hearty belly laugh. Monica launched herself off the bed and tugged on some lacy red panties. I bet those underwear would be a bitch to work out in. She pulled on a pair of leggings that showcased her amazingly toned legs. Her hair wasn’t even snarled from the sex, and she managed to look gorgeous. How could I even have hoped to compete with that?
“Baby, I’m so sorry.”
All I could come up with was the not terribly original, “How could you?”
“It happened once. This is it, I swear.”
I wouldn’t have believed him even if Monica hadn’t given a nasty little snort-laugh.
She tugged on a sports bra and matching workout top. She plucked a hair elastic from her wrist and bound her hair up into an effortless, perfect, ponytail. “I’ll catch you later, Luke,” she said and left the bedroom. I heard the front door open and close, the purr of the Porsche’s engine.
What to say to any of this? “I forgot my phone today.”
“I wondered why you didn’t text me back this morning. I told you I loved you.”
“Lucas, please. Don’t bullshit me.”
“It’s just physical, Kenz. You know I want to get in shape for the wedding.” (Which, lest I need to remind you, is nine months away.) “She makes me feel good. Makes me feel like a man. It was so, so, so stupid of me. I was sewing my wild oats, and now it’s out of my system, and I’m all yours forever.”
He rambled on and on about how much he loved me. Reminded me of how he’d spent three months’ salary on my ring (but on my credit card—he didn’t say that), how he’d proposed in front of the Eiffel Tower in Epcot Center. Great things, sure, but they were from a time when I hadn’t seen my husband-to-be banging his personal trainer.
I raised my hand to stop him. “I have to think. I need to take some time.”
“What do you mean, time? I said I was sorry.”
I saw him in a new light. Afternoon sun streamed through the open windows. The curtains blew in the breeze. He wasn’t the best looking guy, had a little paunch. You’d think with all those Monica sessions he’d have a six pack by now.
“I’m going to Susie’s for the night,” I told him. I knew Lucas didn’t particularly care for my coworker and close friend, so heading to her for solace would add insult to injury. Susie was gay, and Lucas had this weird jealousy thing about her.
“Baby, no. Let’s talk this through.”
“I have to go back to work.” I was working on a case, a sleazy billionaire playboy suspected of tax fraud. The offense seemed really serious, and the office would have to send someone undercover to check him out. I looked at the clock. Already past one. I’d been gone longer than my allotted break. Dammit, I was going to have to stay late.
How could I think about going back to work?
I spun on my heels and headed to our bedroom, where I tossed a change of clothes and my toothbrush into an overnight bag. Lucas appeared in the doorway, shoulders slumped, paunchier than ever, having only put on his boxers. He wore the blue ones with the anchors. My favorite ones. Monica did seem to have good taste, at least.
I picked up my phone where I’d left it plugged in. One new text message, from Lucas:
I hope you have a great morning! I love you! We’re out of milk, can you get more on your way home?
It was the last bit, about the milk, that pushed me over the edge. “You asked me to get milk while you were screwing your trainer?”
“Don’t say it like that, baby.”
I took a deep breath. I was right in my first instinct to get out, to think before I said something I’d regret. “I’ll talk to you soon, Lucas. I need some time.”
Had he always called me baby this much, or only in times of duress? I didn’t like it.
“I’ll call you.”
I pushed past him. I expected him to do more to stop me. To reach for me, to sit me down and force me to talk it over. He let me walk right by him, down the stairs. I paused at the doorway, looking over my shoulder like Lot’s wife. Nothing.
Two days later, I returned and told him we were done. He was an ass about it. Reminded me if I wanted to throw it all away, the cost of the wedding was on my cards. He had no responsibility for the debt I’d accrued if I suddenly decided I didn’t love him anymore. I threw the ring, and it bounced off his forehead… but you already know that part.
My work needed someone to go to Las Vegas to meet billionaire Scott Creed and figure out what they could about his finances. Have a few drinks with him, see if they could get him to talk about the upcoming Creed-Hall merger, and figure out if it was legit or a paper corporation. Susie told me I should do it. Yeah right, they have people specially trained for this kind of thing. I’m an accountant. I… account.
Susie dragged me in to see Mr. Fallon—who’s kind of sleazy under the best of circumstances—and explained her idea, detailing how she and I should go together, just two girls having fun in Sin City. Mr. Fallon looked me up and down in a way I wasn’t entirely comfortable with and told me I was just the woman for the job. Have a few drinks, get him to loosen up, see what I could find about Creed-Hall. Meanwhile, the rest of the trip, Susie and I would forget about real life and enjoy the city. We booked a room in the Flamingo, got a great deal on airline tickets, and headed west.
As we flew over the Mississippi, I regretted my decision to throw the ring in Lucas’ face, wondering how much I could have gotten for it. How much money I could have won in Vegas with it. While Susie dozed beside me on the plane, I busted out my sketch book and drew cathartic drawings of murdering Lucas.
I’m making myself sound terribly callous, I know. I was hurting, trust me. I’d been with Lucas for four years, and I loved him. I pictured myself having his babies. I was still trying to decide if I wanted to send his mother a card—she was a lovely woman and I’ll miss her like crazy. I couldn’t trust him, though. He’d wrecked our relationship, and that could never be mended. My love wasn’t like a Kintsugi vase, broken and repaired into something more beautiful than ever, gold making it stronger. My heart was closed for business.