Swallowing the anger rising in me, I bend down and lift Chloe into my arms. She doesn't make a sound as I make sure the door's locked before walking to my room. She doesn't let go of me when I start placing her on the bed, so I carefully sit down, holding her in my lap. I gently rock back and forth, not saying anything, and gradually her breathing slows down. It takes a while but she finally falls asleep.
Turning to my side, I gently lower her head onto the pillow. Reaching down I pull off her ballerinas, dropping them on the floor. Pulling the scrunchie from her hair, I leave it loose. Her clothes don't look that comfortable but I can't do anything.
As I lie down, Chloe moves closer and I pull the blanket over us, wrapping my arms around her, holding her close. If I ever set eyes on that bastard, he's really going to regret it. How can anyone make Chloe look like this? I move away strands of her hair that are sticking to her cheek.
Chloe moans, moving beneath my arm and yawning, I open my eyes. Where is that noise coming from? I glance at my night stand beside me but there's nothing there. Then realizing it's coming from Chloe, turn towards her. Lowering my hand, I pat her jeans pockets and find her phone. I slowly pull it out making sure I don't wake her and switch off the alarm.
Sighing, I watch her sleep. I don't want to wake her up. She doesn't look fit enough to go to work. I slowly slide out from under her arms and head out of my bedroom.
Who was looking after the bakery all weekend?
I close my eyes trying to remember who she'd told me it was.
Unlocking her phone, I go through her recent calls.
Ah yes. Claire.
Without another thought, I ring her.
"Uh hi. Claire, it's Ray."
"Oh hey! Is Chloe alright?"
"Yes, she fine." I glance towards my room. At least physically. "I just wanted to tell you she came in late last night and won't be coming in this morning. Is it alright? Or do you want me to come in?"
"No no. It's fine! I'll manage don't worry. Let Chloe get her sleep."
"Okay, thanks Claire."
"Any time honey. You just take care of her."
Hanging up, I walk back to my bedroom. Chloe's curled up into a ball on her side, facing away from me. Sighing, I get back under the covers. I can't imagine how she's going to be when she wakes up.
When my alarm rings at 8, I quickly lean over to switch it off, not wanting Chloe to wake up. But when I turn around, I see that my bed's empty. Quickly sitting up, I run a hand through my hair, blinking to clear my eyes of sleep and then get up. Her bedroom door is ajar but it's empty. Walking into the living room, I see her curled up into the corner of the couch, a cup of coffee in her hand as she stares out of the window. I watch her for a minute before walking in.
She looks at me, hearing me approach. "Hey. Your coffee's in the kitchen." She gives me a small smile.
"Thanks." I sit down on the other end of the couch.
Chloe takes a sip of her coffee and just stares down into the mug. I don't say anything, knowing that if I wait, everything will come pouring out. Three minutes later, when she looks up at me, that's exactly what happens.
"We're over." Chloe says quietly.
"What?" I ask, even though I know fully well what she's talking about.
She takes in a deep breath, closing her eyes. "Ben and me. We're done."
"How? I mean, what happened?" I ask gently.
She sighs, glancing outside for a second before looking back at me.
"He lost his last chance."
"Chloe." I move over closer, laying my hand on her knee. "What happened exactly?"
She then tells me everything. From the way she's greeted, which is something normal expected from Ben's mother, to every little smug expression and snide comment. I just don't get it. How can anyone treat Chloe like that? Sweet, loving, generous Chloe. And how can anybody just stand back and watch and then have the audacity to pretend there's nothing wrong? And then claim that he loves her!
I once again bite back my tongue, not wanting to say anything that would upset her and keep a blank expression, wanting her to go on.
She tells me then about what the argument led to and her answer. I actually smile, feeling a swell of pride when she repeats her exact words.
"Wow! I'm so proud of you Chloe!" I let out a small laugh. "The nerve of her to say such a thing! If I were there..." I shake my head, trailing away.
Chloe manages a small smile. "Yeah, that's what I thought. If you were there she'd have been a layer of slime on the floor by the time you'd have finished." She then sighs, "But my answering back is what's brought... all this to an end."
I open my mouth to disagree but then hold back. "What happened after?"
She then tells me about Ben and his father coming home, Erika and James' support and then the drive back. And what happened once they were home?
I grind my teeth, seething with anger, wanting to go and knock some sense into that prick. But when Chloe sighs again I look at her. My fist uncurls as I see her looking so vulnerable, so hurt and I quickly move over to where she's sitting. She needs me to comfort her, not get more angry.
"Chloe, don't blame yourself. I've been wanting to tell you this for a long time but..." I sigh, hugging her close. "Look I don't think Ben was the right man for you. I know he made you happy, very happy at the beginning but... you haven't been looking forward to your wedding day! Doesn't that say anything? Chloe," I hesitate as she looks up at me, eyes shining. "You deserve someone who'd love you fully, give you everything. Someone who would respect your dreams and make you happy. Who would put you first always. Yeah there are times when work or family get in the way, but he'll make sure you're fine with it and not completely ignore your feelings. You'll always be his number one priority. You deserve someone who'll love you completely, fully, 100%. No, he'll love you 101% just to be sure that you know how he feels."
I take in a deep breath, looking down into her eyes. "I know you love Ben and I'm sure he loves you too. But darling he needs to love you more because you deserve so much. I know it's going to be hard, whatever it is that you're going to decide to do, but at least now he knows that you will willingly leave him if you want. That he can lose you so easily. That is if you're thinking about making up." I say, ending it sounding like a question, yet not exactly asking.
"When were you planning on telling me this? You know the wedding is in a little more than a week."
"I know." I sigh, closing my eyes. "But I was scared. You convinced me you were happy, you convinced yourself that you were happy. I didn't want to say something and you listen to me and then sometime down the road start thinking about what ifs and blame me for taking something away from you. The last thing I want to do is lose you Chloe."
"Oh okay." I open my eyes and look at her when this is all the response I get. She's looking down, biting her lip. "What am I going to do?" She asks looking up.
"What do you want to do?" I ask gently, moving her hair back.
"I'm not going back to him Ray, if that's what you're asking."
I nod. "Okay, good."
"What will I do?" She murmurs and as her eyes move around the room, I understand what she's too scared to ask me outright.
"You'll move back home of course. I haven't touched your room, so all you need to do is get your stuff back here. And you'll continue living." I say gently, turning her face to look at me. Her eyebrows are knit together, worry apparent on her face. "I'll be over the moon to have you back. It'll be just like before, you and me facing the world together. You'll continue living your dream and this time you won't have anyone or anything to worry about. No one's going to stop you, make you put them before what you want. From now on, it's what you want that matters, nothing else."
My eyes widen as a tear rolls down her face, scared where I might have said something wrong.
"How is it that you always manage to say the right thing Ray? And mean it?"
"Because darling I know you so well," I answer, wiping away her tear, "and I always want the best for you."
She groans, dropping her head to my shoulder. "Why couldn't we have just fallen in love with each other?"
I always ask myself the same thing.
"Well maybe somewhere down the road we might. We could always start experimenting." I tease her.
She sits up, laughing softly and punches my shoulder. "Pervert."
Chuckling, I pull her into my lap. "I am a man." I say and bury my face in her neck just to tease her.
However, she leans back into me, letting me stay where I am, needing the support more than she's letting on. "That you are."
When she sighs, I pull back. "What is it?"
She turns her head to look at me. "Will you come with me to get my things?"
I nod and then lean forward and press my lips to her forehead.
It takes a lot of convincing but finally Ray allows me to go to work. When I tell him that at least I'll be able to divert my mind and not think about it. He watches me for a second and then nods. Although I have my car, he insists on driving me to the bakery and I give in, letting him enjoy whatever pleasure he's getting out of looking after me.
Our conversation replays in my mind and I see it from so many different angles. I know he's right, that walking away is the right thing to do but.. I just don't know anymore. I feel like curling up into a ball and letting Ray decide the rest of my life for me.
Once we've reached the bakery, I turn to him and ask him if he can come pick me up around 12 so that we can go and pick up my stuff. Ray's got to be at work by three and Ben will not be around at the time. He agrees, watching me carefully. I'm starting to think, he'll insist on spending the next hour and a half with me at the bakery but then he reaches over and gives me a hug and once I step into my bakery, he's gone.
I walk in through the front. There are a few customers sitting in the booths and I greet the regulars, my smile coming naturally.
I know my staff will have an idea of what's happened. After all I was spending the weekend with Ben's parents and then Ray calls up saying I came in late. Although I know Claire wouldn't have breathed a word.
I push the back door open and step inside. Claire literally bumps into me.
"Chloe! Sweetheart! How are you?" She engulfs me in a big hug and I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from tearing up.
"I'm fine Claire. How are you? I'm sorry I left the load for you this morning as well!"
She waves her hand, dismissing it. "I could play owner for a bit longer! I didn't mind at all! I'm fine honey."
She leaves me then, hurrying back to the front. I walk around the kitchen, greeting everyone.
He looks up from the salad he's making.
"Hey Chloe. How are you?" He shoots me a smile and I lean against the counter, watching him.
"Good, good. What about you?"
He nods, "Great thanks. It's been quiet around here without you."
I laugh, "Yeah right. You must have been happy, the boss wasn't around."
He stops chopping the lettuce and looks at me funnily. "What are you talking about? It's great having you around. You make up this bakery and it's not the same without you."
Embarrassed, I look away. "Um, thanks?"
He chuckles, "Yes Chloe. You're welcome. We missed you. I missed you."
I smile, emotion blocking my throat. I really need to get a grip. "I missed you too." When he raises an eyebrow, I smile. "Really Tarek, I did. Whenever I'm away from here, I feel incomplete. Not to mention when I don't see you, all of my staff, but especially you and Darren. It's like I'm constantly worrying."
He shoots me a small smile. "I'm fine Chloe. I'm a big boy now."
"Yes, you are. But still."
Tarek puts down his knife and turns to me.
Last year, Tarek went through a rough patch. He lost his mother and being the youngest and only child at home, it hit him hard. At first, he never said anything, he just started spending day and night at the bakery until I had to kick him out. But soon enough, he was in my office one day when I was handing him his pay and he blurted it out. Nearly gave me a heart attack.
At 28, Tarek is still a kid in my eyes, even though he's still the same age as Ray and me. I guess being the youngest in the family does it to you, but to me he still needs someone at times. Just like I need Ray and he turns to me.
Ever since then, I kind of took him under my wing, kept an eye on him. He's well off, his mother left him the apartment and he's got a pretty good car. His father died years ago and his eldest sibling lives in New York. His sister went back to their home country after getting married.
"What about you? I was all excited to see you welcome me today and all I got was Claire." He makes a face, grimacing and I laugh. "And she wasn't even her hyper-self so I knew something was wrong." He looks at me closely, his eyes locked on mine.
"Yeah, well it wasn't the best weekend ever." I answer slowly.
His mouth bends down. He knows I don't get along with Ben's parents.
"The wicked with of the west?"
"Why not try of all the world?"
He sighs, "What did she do this time? You do remember I said I'd kick her ass if she did anything ever again, right?"
I chuckle, "Yes Tarek. But it won't be necessary."
He stares at me. "Are you saying Ben didn't take the shit?"
I glance away and after a second of hesitation, Tarek reaches for my hand which I've unconsciously tucked into my back pocket.
In slow motion, he pulls it out and in front, his eyes dropping from mine to my bare finger.
I keep my eyes on his face though. His face hardens, his jaw taut, but his hold on my hand is still gentle.
"How are you?" He asks, his voice a bit rough.
"Fine. Gosh! Tarek! I promise I'm fine." As he glances at me, I see tears in his eyes.
"You know what Chloe? He's a complete idiot. How can anyone let you go?" His eyes, still glossy, are filled with anger. "if I ever get my hands on him, I'll show him exactly what I think of him."
"Tarek!" I exclaim, surprised and sort of pleased.
Shaking his head, he wipes his hands on a napkin before pulling me into a hug.
"You're sure, you're fine right?"
"Yes, Tarek. I promise." I mumble into his shoulder.
He pulls back and looks at me before nodding.
"You'll tell me right?"
"Yes I will. Didn't I just now?"
"Nope. I guessed it." When I pointedly look away from him he chuckles. "Have I told you I love the way you say my name?" He teases.
I roll my eyes, "Yes Tarek, you're forgiven."
He laughs loudly, "So now that..." He lowers his voice, "you're single, can I take you out?"
My eyes shoot up to his, shocked.
Replies to comments
Tamika - Exactly! Hahahaa every word you said is true lol. Thanks so much! I'm so glad you do! Haha I can't promise anything. Glad you like! Keep reading.
Jenifer - Hey! I know and his stupid mom got what she wanted. Hope she's satisfied. We'll have to wait and see! I'll try my best. Enjoy!
PH - Haha, I know! He's amazing! Lol I know right? Ben has a nice side to him. Too bad it doesn't come out often. Or when it should! Yeah it was about time Chloe stood up for herself from that woman! Yes, she does! Much much better! Hahah, yeaah I'll try my best! As soon as there are 15 comments, I'll post it up! It's all ready to go! I'm glad you do!
Macy - Yes, she does! Now THAT'S the mystery. I'm not telling just yet! Enjoy!
Lucy - Yeah, it was pretty obvious things were going downhill for them. We'll have to wait and see!
Queenie - Thanks! And you're very welcome.
Selena - Thanks! Yes, she does. Lol! Glad you think so! Enjoy!
Marie - My lips are sealed! You'll have to wait and see! Enjoy!
911 - Thanks!
MayJuneJuly - Glad you think so! Haha, he's real hun. I know right? She does! Lol, I'm not telling! You'll have to wait and see! Love you.
Jane - Lol, glad you're happy! Enjoy!
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Bookaholic - Thanks!