Authors: S. Walden
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
, S. Walden
Publisher: Penny Press
This work and all rights of the author S. Walden to this work are protected under U.S. copyright law, Title 17 of the United States Code. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, copied in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, photocopied, recorded or otherwise transmitted without written permission from the publisher. This ebook may not be circulated in any format, resold, or given away. This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the author.
Cover by Robin Ludwig Design, Inc
Proofread by Madison Seidler
A special thanks to Stephanie, who is a promo queen, and to my Summertime Girls for being so much fun. I couldn’t have met lovelier ladies. And I can’t forget Marsha, who was my very first beta reader. Thank you for your honest feedback and grammar lessons.
This is a work of fiction based in a real city.
Any similarities to real persons or events are entirely coincidental. Any similarities to real places may or may not be.
Ms. Walden will amaze you with
. She showcases that whatever genre direction she decides to write, her writing speaks for itself . . . The storyline is original, the characters were genuine and honest and the emotions were raw. ~ Michelle
(Give Me Books)
, comes my certainty that this author can and should write ANYTHING. She's diverse, and so talented and her writing is superb. In a book world filled with so many subpar writers, churning out a conveyor belt of unoriginal repetitive and redundant stories, Summer Walden stands apart in a league all her own. ~ Jessica
(Angie's Dreamy Reads)
I read so many books that they tend to all run together at times, so when I read one that is different it totally makes my day!
is witty, funny, romantic and so smartly written that it will make you believe that good, GREAT books still exist. ~ Stacy
A breath of fresh air!!! . . .
Thank you, Summer Walden for stepping out of the box and creating a story that had me engrossed—I devoured
and will read anything you write. You are ‘fablous,’ your book is ‘fablous,’ and I love you more than Reece’s pieces!! ~ Jennifer
(Schmexy Girl Book Blog)
I call that good writing.
I call that epic writing.
When an author can swoop me up and take me on a journey and make me, just for a while, forget reality...well they're just amazing in my book. ~ Adrienne
To Kelly, who encouraged me to write whatever I want,
to Ashwynn, who’s “fablous” (no “u”).
That’s your best friend and your worst enemy—your own brain. ~ Fred Durst
I didn’t give a thought to those rocks until I turned thirty-one. My best friend, Erica, threw me a surprise birthday party (because she’s fun like that), and I remember sitting at one of the VIP tables she reserved at the club
, staring at the ice in my glass of vodka. The cubes transformed into those rocks—the ones I lined up on the porch steps when I was six years old.
I collected them throughout the day, narrowing my search to the pebbly shore of the lake on our property. Since it was an all-day project, I could afford to be picky, and I inspected each rock carefully before placing it in my pail or tossing it out into the water. In the late afternoon, I lined them on the edge of the third step to the kitchen door. I embarked on Phase 2 of my project: organizing the rocks according to size and color and lining
them up from smallest to largest and lightest to darkest.
My mother opened the door with the wire egg basket hanging from her forearm and asked what I was up to.
“Playing,” I replied, sitting back on my heels to study my work.
I didn’t see her expression as she observed my little rock wall.
Years later, I learned from my father that Mom closed the door softly, dropped the basket on the floor, and ran to the bedroom to cry. She knew in that instant what the rocks meant—what was happening in my brain—and she couldn’t stop it. I was my father’s child, and my inheritance would prove to be the greatest obstacle to meaningful romance.
Thirty-one rocks. Thirty-one disastrous relationships.
Thirty-one years lonely.
Yeah. Thirty-one was shaping up to be my least favorite number.
Friday, 7:51 A.M.
Okay, Bailey. You can do this. Just remember Dr. Gordon’s words: “You are in control.”
I reached for the door handle—the tips of my fingers mere millimeters from the shiny metal—then froze at the sound of the other voice. Not the encouraging one. Nope. It was the trying-to-destroy-my-life one.
Bailey, get real. You aren’t opening that door until 7:58 A.M. sharp. You know it. I know it. The door knows it.
I thought angrily.
the voice continued.
You open that door early, and we all know what’ll happen. Your entire day will be ruined.
the voice insisted.
Ignore 7:58 A.M. and what’s next? Forgetting to count your steps to your cubicle? Not using your hand sanitizer at noon and 3:00 P.M.? Why don’t you just screw up your entire existence while you’re at it, huh? I mean, why do you do these things, Bailey?
I dropped my hand and shrugged—
—like I didn’t know. It was complete bullshit. But I shrugged anyway, the way a child does when she knows very well why she’s in trouble but doesn’t want to give her parents the satisfaction of saying it out loud. Confessing is, well, admission, and who wants to admit she has a mental disorder?
Oh God. I have a mental disorder.
Don’t pretend you don’t know,
the voice chided.
I didn’t answer. I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction.
Purpose, Bailey. They give you purpose,
the voice said patiently.
You need purpose. If you walk through that door early, you’ve got no purpose.
Will you stop saying “purpose”?
Hey, I’m just trying to drive it home. You rely on purpose.
the voice asked.
You’ve walked through that door every day at precisely 7:58 A.M. for the last five years, three months, and seven days.
Why are you cringing? Don’t be ashamed. How many people can operate with that much precision? That much control?
But Dr. Gordon said it
isn’t control—that I’m really not in control of anything. That it’s compulsion driving me to do these things.
The voice snorted. Yes, she actually snorted in my brain.
I glanced at the time on my cell phone: 7:53 A.M. I made a bold move and grabbed the door handle. I’d never done that before! It felt amazing and strange and wonderful and scary as hell.
“Oh. My. God,” I whispered, a bright smile spreading slowly across my face.
I felt powerful in that moment. I was in control. I could hear the voice screaming in the background, begging me to remove my hand. You’d think it were on a hot plate for all the racket she made. I ignored her, though. I buried her voice under an electric feeling of authority. It buzzed inside my veins, traveling at high speeds through my arms, setting my skin on fire.
In that moment, I truly believed I could do anything. I could rip open that damn door and march in, rebelling against my very nature—my brain that constantly tricked me into believing my routines were essential to my existence.
I am the author of my life!
I thought triumphantly. I ached to proclaim it out loud, but people were moving about the lobby.
The electric authority took over. My heart swelled. I gripped the handle tighter. Adrenaline. Delicious adrenaline pumping hard, turning the smoldering burn on my skin into a catastrophic fire. Wait. Catastrophic? I shifted uncomfortably. I realized I was sweating. Not good sweating, like gym sweat or that oh-so-hopeful first date sweat. No, this was anxiety sweat, and there’s nothing electric about that.
I am the author of my life!
This time I didn’t believe a word of it. Plus, I got distracted.
My fingers are slippery. Sweat on the handle. Gross. Move your hand, Bailey. That’s just gross.
“Hey, girly,” I heard
to my left.
I turned to see Marjorie, our firm’s receptionist, hovering over me holding a large, unwieldy box. She jerked her head at the door. “You
gonna help me out or what?”
“Sorry,” I mumbled, and pulled open the door for her.
“Thanks, love,” she replied, bustling into the office.
, holding open the door, unsure of my next move.
“You coming?” she called from the front desk.
I glanced at my cell phone: 7:54 A.M.
Ummm . . .”
Two more employees passed through the door I held open while Marjorie stared at me expectantly. It was obvious she had a story to share. It was also obvious she’d have to wait four more minutes before sharing. Why? Because I’m a loser, that’s why. Electric authority? Give me a break. How about fear. Flat-out fear. I s
hook my head and pointed toward the bathrooms. She nodded and started unpacking the box.
I released the door handle and backed away. With each step, I felt the tension melt, my heartbeat slow, my will sag heavy in my chest.
You did the right thing,
the voice said with hesitant relief, like she wasn’t entirely sure I didn’t still plan to betray her. But the door closed shut, and I was too much of a coward to touch the handle again.
You always win.
Well, now you’re making me feel bad,
the voice said.
I hid in the women’s restroom until 7:58 A.M., then emerged feeling sulky and defeated. I made my way back to the office, pulled open the door, and began my second work ritual of the day: counting my steps to my cubicle. I forgot all about Marjorie until chilly fingers slithered around my upper arm and pulled me to a halt.
“Real quick,” she whispered, leaning close to my ear. “Dan is pissed today. Totally pissed.
We lost that big account with Akers Pond.”
“Was that what you wanted to tell me before?” I whispered back.
Marjorie shook her head. “I wanted to tell you about my date. I just found out about this. Tread lightly.”
“What’s it got to do with me?” I asked.
“I’m just telling you to stay out of his way today so you aren’t inadvertently yelled at,” Marjorie explained. She released my arm.
“But I do everything perfec
tly at work,” I said, smiling sweetly.
“I know. And it’s disgusting,” she replied.
Just then, Dan rounded the corner. Marjorie grabbed her phone and pretended to look busy. I avoided his eyes and continued down the corridor to my cubicle—tucked in the back of the office in the far corner. My little nook where no one bothered me. It was nice. I had a window. And a plant.
Forty-seven steps. Every day. Every time. I only let it bother me the tiniest bit that it wasn’t an even number. I tried to make it an even number once. I took a long stride into my cubicle on Step 46 but knew it looked strange, like I was trying to avoid a large puddle. That wouldn’t do. I didn’t want people to know I was a freak. So then I tried slicing Step 47 in two. Two small steps into my workspace to give me an even forty-eight. But that looked stupid as well, like I was tiptoeing to my desk.
Yes, these are the thoughts that occupy my brain on a daily basis: How many steps to take. How many hairbrush strokes. Making sure I line up my proofreading pens just so. Making sure my make-up is just so. Sitting in my fucking desk chair just so. It’s exhausting living a “just so” life. And I don’t want to do it, but the idea of
tic-ing sends my heart reeling with anxiety.
I can’t live on the edge. I’m not a day trader. I don’t run my own business. I have a job that holds no real level of risk. I’m not a risk-taker, after all. I like security in my work life. I like precision. That’s why I’m a proofreader. It
goes hand-in-hand with my OCD: two little quirky freaks in love. I think they rub off on each other. My mother keeps insisting I find new work doing something that requires a different schedule every day to help with my “condition.” Like a sales job. Could you imagine? I’d be tic-ing all over town.
No one at work suspects I’m OCD. They just think I’m
uber organized and task-oriented. They seem to like that about me; they know I’ll never miss a deadline. I’m reliable. Trustworthy. Punctual.
Sounds boring. Hmmm. Am I? No, I don’t think a dull personality is the reason behind all my failed romances. I’m not b
oring. Buttoned up at work, yes, but not boring. My problem is that I can’t suppress my urges, and eventually they expose themselves the longer I’m with someone. The guy sees the tic and gets the hell out of Dodge.
“You want any coffee?” Marjorie asked.
I had just opened my email for the day and was about to start on the Blue Ice Water campaign portfolio that was due by ten.
I shook my head. “You know I don’t drink coffee.”
“Bleh. I keep forgetting. And who the hell doesn’t drink coffee?”
“Lots of people,” I replied.
“I don’t know how you can make it through the day without coffee. God, I’d die without caffeine.”
I didn’t need caffeine. I had anxiety. Anxiety was good for a few things: I exercised harder. I could lift things that were really too heavy for a woman my size to lift. I had no problem staying awake all day to do my job. Good stuff. The negatives? Well, the elephant on my chest that made it difficult to breathe. The rapid-fire heartbeat that made me believe I’d drop dead of a heart attack at any minute. The occasional shaking and sweating. Not good stuff.
I finally tore my eyes away from my email.
“You’ve got five minutes. And I’m serious. You know I’m timing you,” I said.
Marjorie’s round face lit up, and she plopped into a spare chair in my cubicle.
“I only have five minutes anyway,” she said quickly. “His name’s Rob, and he works in advertising at another firm—”
“Hold up,” I interrupted. “Another firm? No. That’s sleeping with the enemy.”
“No kidding,” Marjorie mumbled. She hung her head to hide the grin, but I saw.
“Already?” I said, just the slightest bit disappointed. “Didn’t we talk about this? You said you were gonna start waiting until the fourth date.”
“I know,” she replied, shaking her head. I watched her short, auburn curls bounce.
“What made you do it?” I asked.
“Three martinis and a
kiss.” She giggled.
I giggled, too. I couldn’t help it. Marjorie was so silly. Her favorite thing to do at work was regale me with stories of her
dating life. I think she assumed I was some lonely, pathetic girl who had no real life of my own, so she thought she’d do me the favor of sharing hers. Truth? I am lonely. Am I pathetic? Ummm . . .
“I suppose that’ll do it,” I said.
“That and these muscles that could make a girl come on cue,” she whispered.
” I laughed.
Marjorie grinned like a fiend. “Kidding. But why do guys think that’s all it takes?”
I shrugged. “Beats me.”
“Like their biceps are enough,” Marjorie went on.
“Or their words,” I added.
“Seriously. They honestly think saying, ‘Baby, come for me’ is all it takes to push us over the edge?”
“Maybe they think our orgasms are like trained circus animals,” I offered.
Marjorie laughed. “Have they seen what’s going on down there? Is there anything easy about that? Anything that looks like it could be trained?”
“I don’t even know what the hell is going on down there most of the time,” I replied. “And I own one.”
We burst out laughing.
“Well, Rob couldn’t make me come on cue, but he worked it out of me,” Marjorie said. “Took him a while to figure out where my clit was, but he got the hang of it.”