The summer breeze tickled my skin as I stood outside the small stone chapel. White cloud puffs floated like cruising ships in the blue sky while the sun beat down on my pale skin. I’d have to move soon or risk getting burned. My large, floppy hat protected my freckled face but my arms were exposed.
Rubbing my hands over them, I inched closer to my personal nightmare.
I thought coming back to the place it all ended would bring me some kind of comfort, but all I felt was despair. It had been just over a year since my best friend, Sarah, and I giggled our way up the stone path, my wedding dress draped across my arm. Giddy excitement had made us dance and act like schoolgirls. I was getting married. It was meant to be the most thrilling day of my life. And it was…until my mother opened the door to the dressing room.
“He’s gone, love.” Her eyes were messy with tears, her skin pale.
“What do you mean?” I gripped the bench seat I was sitting on, not wanting to match the words with her expression. It couldn’t be true. Blake wouldn’t leave me on our wedding day. We loved each other.
He was my soul mate.
“Justin and his father are heading to the crash site now.”
My heart went limp. It deflated to a flat pancake and slithered into my belly while a thick, pounding beat pulsed through my head.
Sarah gripped my shoulder, her voice coming out broken and wispy. “How?”
“Motorcycle accident.” Mum’s voice turned to white noise, the throbbing inside me drowning out anything other than one simple fact: the love of my life was dead and he wouldn’t be marrying me.
Not that day.
Tears burned my eyes as I gritted my teeth and glared at the wooden doors, the ones Blake and I were supposed to run through while people blew bubbles over our heads.
Sarah and I had planned the day to perfection.
The perfect wedding to start the perfect life.
Instead it had become my worst nightmare. One I couldn’t seem to recover from.
Turning my back on the chapel, I headed to my rental car. Mum told me I could have just borrowed one from Aunt Helen, but I didn’t want the family knowing I was there. She seemed to understand my reasoning. My return to England was not a catch-up.
I was looking for…
What? I still wasn’t sure.
I had to move on.
I figured out about a month ago that no matter how hard I wished for it, I was still waking up every morning, alive and well. It hit me like a mallet to the face that I could be doing that for the next seventy-five years. Was I really prepared to keep trudging away at life, acting like a robot so I didn’t have to feel Blake’s loss so deeply?
I couldn’t do it.
I had to find my way, figure out how to be a person without him.
Dumping my hat on the passenger seat, I started the car and pulled away from the church, heading back toward Rye. It was the cutest, most adorable town in southern England. Only a few miles from the ocean, with quaint, cobbled streets and pubs that were hundreds of years old. My mother had lived there for a short time as a child, and when I came to visit the summer before I started college, I fell in love with it. When she showed me the church she and Dad had gotten married in, I was determined to keep that tradition going. I didn’t know at the time that I’d meet the one only a month after thinking that…and I definitely had no idea I’d be burying him in New Mexico five years later.
A bitter scoff punched out of my mouth and I gripped the wheel. I was nearing the corner.
The dreaded corner.
My parents wouldn’t let me go to the crash site in my wedding dress. I was firing for the door when Dad stopped me, wrapping his arms around me and whimpering. “You won’t want to see. Please, baby, don’t remember him that way.”
In retrospect, I guess they were right. I’d never had the heart to truly investigate the accident. I didn’t know the other driver in the collision. Some woman who was speeding through the countryside, unprepared to find Blake on the wrong side of the road.
If I ever felt particularly weak-minded, I’d let myself imagine the crash.
Slowing the car, I pulled to the edge of the road and stared at the corner, picturing Blake on his bike. He’d always been so sexy on his bike. I’d never forget the first time I saw him, pulling up to the curb and taking off his helmet before catching my eye and grinning at me. His wild shoulder-length curls, that cocky glint in his eyes. It’d taken me all of a week to fall in love with him.
I sniffed and flinched as I saw the crash in my mind, heard the crunch of metal, watched Blake’s body fly through the air and land with a sickening thud in the ditch. Apparently he smashed his head on a rock. It indented his skull, making him unrecognizable.
Gripping my mouth, I closed my eyes against the burning sting of tears and turned away from the empty road. I wanted to hate him for not wearing a helmet, but I couldn’t. Instead I cursed the female driver for not obeying the speed limit, for not having enough time to brake and swerve away from my American sweetheart on the wrong side of the road.
Why couldn’t road rules be universal?
I slapped the wheel and then drove on, checking the road twice to ensure I was adhering to British law. The wheel was on the other side of the car, which helped. Blake had been on a bike though. He wouldn’t have had that same reminder.
He’d told me he had a surprise planned for right after the ceremony.
When I’d kissed him good night the evening before, he’d whispered in my ear. “I’m stealing you away before the reception, beautiful. Can’t be sharing our first married moment with a big crowd, now can we?”
The romantic smile on his face had made my heart swell so big I thought it’d burst.
Reaching Rye, I continued through the small village, heading out to the rolling hills on the other side. The cliffs were drawing near and I kept going, wondering what I’d find when I reached the isolated spot.
I couldn’t help wondering if this was where Blake had intended to whisk me off to…on the bike he’d secretly hired. My wedding dress would have been billowing behind the back wheel. I would have clung to him, no doubt worrying about dirtying the cream-colored tulle. Blake would have just smiled and told me to relax.
“Enjoy the moment, carrots.”
The only person on earth I ever let call me a nickname related to my hair. Funny how much I missed it.