My whole life was a series of “What had I done?” The upcoming year loomed with the same mediocre expectations.
New Years was a drag when you waited on your parents for dinner. Being alone was never my thing and, there I was, a divorced adult relying on my parents for my New Year’s company. When had I stooped so low? Asking them, their answer would have been something along the lines of, I was born that low.
I leaned my chin on my hands, my elbow just barely resting on the edge of the table. My mother had decorated her home with an eye toward class and elegance. Well-polished mahogany furniture filled the lower rooms of their California split-level home. A California style home set in a small nowhere-town in Ohio. I snorted at the thought and pushed a stray piece of grated parmesan cheese back into the bowl.
The loud tick-tocking of the grandfather clock by the front door kept track of the time passing more accurately than I could myself.
Formal place settings held clear, glass plates filled with steaming chicken Parmigiana smothered in melting mozzarella and parmesan cheeses and buttery, crusty garlic bread. Caesar salad in a China bowl sat beside a pitcher of sparkling lemonade.
Less and less steam wafted from the plates with each minute that passed by. The lettuce began to wilt alongside my optimism that my parents and I would be celebrating a fun New Year’s Eve together. I wanted so badly for things to be different. Different between them and me, and different for me altogether.
Success wasn’t a feeling that I was familiar with lately. Everything had fallen around me and my dad’s continuous condescension only compounded my internal pain.
I picked up my fork at the forty-five-minute mark. A delicious parmigiana should never go to waste. My curves could be attributed to my reliance on food for comfort and the constant need to love others with food.
Cutting off a bite, I savored the lukewarm flavors of the marinara-covered chicken just as my mom and dad walked through the door. Guiltily, I wiped my mouth with the cloth napkins I’d set out and folded it again into my lap.
“I called for you guys a while ago. Are you okay?” I was genuinely concerned. If anything, Dad wouldn’t miss food on purpose.
“We were talking to your sister.” My dad sat down across from me and picked up his fork. He studied his plate, pushing food around like a bully on the playground. He curled his lip, his stubble creating a darker shadow than normal. “Pasta again?”
I swallowed the taste of dust that his comment left in my mouth. I hadn’t made pasta in over a month.
My attempts to apologize were cut off by my mother who cut the food into sections and placed them onto a napkin, probably for the dog. “We’re going up to your sister’s tonight. We’ll be there a week or more. She invited us up since her husband is going out of town.”
She spoke as if we didn’t have plans for two months to spend the night together. I’d come back to their place, depressed that I couldn’t make it on my own after my divorce. For the first time in – forever? – she’d wrapped her arms around me and said, “It’s okay. Now we can hang out for fun things like New Year’s and Christmas morning.” Maybe she’d been drinking at the time and confused me with my sister.
A glimmer of hope was all she’d given me and I’d survived on that since.
Picking at my thumb cuticle under the table, I furrowed my brow. “Tonight? We had planned on spending the evening together. I got some movies and made caramel popcorn.”
I don’t know why I was disappointed. Treating me like that wasn’t new for them. It’s not like it wasn’t something they pulled on me every day for the last twenty-eight years of my life. Some of my friends had come back into town for the holidays and asked me to hang out that night. I’d declined since I’d already had plans.
At that point, it would be too late to join the friends I’d ditched for my parents.
With my family, I always came last. The last child of three and my family made sure I knew it. I was the accident, the one they didn’t want, and they never failed to rub my excess in my face.
“We can do that anytime. It’s not like you’re going anywhere. I still can’t believe you gave up marriage to Derek. That guy is going somewhere. He already has so much of the town in his pocket. I wouldn’t be surprised, if one day he was mayor.” My dad shook some pepper and salt onto the salad and scrunched his lips while pushing the soggy croutons to the side of his plate. “It’s time for you to get out there and move on. Go to a party or something. Find someone to marry. It’d be nice to have my house back to normal.”
Dad pointed his fork in Mom’s direction and then at his own chest. “When things got tough when we were younger, I didn’t run to my mommy’s. You shouldn’t get to mooch off us just because you can’t keep your marriage together. If it was up to me, we would’ve told you no, when you asked.” His pointed glance at my mother brought a blush to her cheeks. “I’ve worked for what I have. You had it easy with him.”
He continued his almost-daily diatribe. “You need to face things when they go wrong. Maybe if you had done something different, Derek wouldn’t have left you.” He arched his eyebrows and twirled a mass of noodles onto his fork which he thrust into his mouth.
My stomach hardened and I struggled to hold in my frustration. I’d never be good enough. Not for him. Not for anyone.
Mom rolled her eyes, finally taking a bite of the limp salad. “That’s enough, Donald. She’s already heard it all from us. Harping on it isn’t going to change history. I already apologized for not asking you if she could move in. Let’s leave it alone, okay?” She wanted him to stop for her, even though she harped on me when it was just her and I in the kitchen or in the living room.
“I thought my house was empty of children. I thought I could move on, but nope, she’s back and disrupting everything.” He motioned his fork towards me as if I wasn’t in the room.
Normally I just sat there and took it, ate my meal and focused on something I would do the next day to find a job or make money to get out of there. The worst thing was I was in a town made of about fifteen-thousand people who pretty much knew everyone else. They all liked Derek and didn’t want to chance making him mad by hiring me.
A new year and a new me beckoned, though. I spoke rashly while holding my gaze on the plate in front of me. “Well, Dad, maybe this will be your lucky year. Maybe I’ll leave the house before you get home.”
Dad started coughing, laughter and choking making his face red. He finally regained his composure enough to wipe his mouth and answer. “I’m not that lucky, girl.”
“Rachel, your sister makes the sauce with parsley and basil. You might try that next time.” My mom picked up her still-full plate.
I knew exactly what they were doing. They would throw it away and not eat the rest of it, making a point to leave it on the counter for me to see. They would probably eat dinner later at my sister’s or on the way there to see her and their bratty grandchildren.
Suddenly, I couldn’t wait for them to leave. I didn’t want to be around them.
Hadn’t I seen somewhere that family should rely on each other? I think it was an insurance commercial. The slogan was, “You should be there for your family, let us help,” or something like that.
Why did I always feel like I was a burden to my family? How could a commercial for life insurance get a pretty standard value, and I was left feeling like I was the only one that understood it? I had stopped crying about the way they made me feel a long time ago, but that didn’t mean my feelings weren’t raw.
My tablet glowed dimly in the late-night darkness. The glowing screen competed with the TV for my attention. The house was empty with my parents gone for quite a while, but the lingering aroma of dinner hung on the air with the promise of delicious leftovers for the rest of the week.
I closed my eyes at the fourth or fifth round of premature fireworks booming outside. My neighbors had an overzealous streak that showed its ugliness during celebratory times. The fireworks would be gone and they’d start on homemade balloon bombs to blow in the street next. There weren’t strong enough earplugs for that.
“Well, it looks like it’s just you and me.” I tilted my wine glass back and drained the rest of my red Chianti. The movies that I had picked out lost their luster when it was just me, all alone.
Time was now counted in glasses, or maybe bottles? I’d lost count. I’d been sipping on it pretty steadily for the remainder of the night. The new year was almost there. I had only a few more minutes left to go.
Nothing had changed.
What was I doing? Why was I just sitting there eating or drinking my life away? I hadn’t meant to be where I was. I didn’t want to live in my parents’ house. I didn’t want to live in the same small town where people liked my ex-husband more than they liked me.
A voice over a black screen with pink text reading ClickandWed.com said, “Why are you sitting there watching TV and drinking wine?”
What? I glanced at my nearly empty glass and blinked blearily at the TV.
The voice continued. “Put down your loneliness and rediscover your purpose. Stop messing around; take the next step. Be with someone who isn’t afraid of commitment.” A picture of happily smiling couples began to zoom across the screen, like a badly designed collage. “Get matched with your ideal spouse.” Another shot of the logo with a nice white text beneath it said, all candidates are verified. ClickandWed.com. Find your forever.
I blinked as the commercial disappeared and returned me to my sappy blind date show.
Intriguing that they could guarantee someone who was seeking commitment. Usually online dating sites didn’t take such a bold stance as commitment.
Pretty sure I’d been single long enough to fulfill any mourning period, I lifted my tablet to check out the magical site that promised commitment-minded men. Curiosity was getting the better of me to know where all the men were hiding. Certainly, not in my small town. They’d all been scared off by Derek.
Using the touchpad, I typed the URL into the address bar and waited for the lag time to catch up. A beautiful red and white website with black accents popped on the screen. The only thing on the front was a quiz. No other information. Where was the about page? Or the sign-in box? Where were the profiles to see if I was even interested in taking the quiz?
The first question piqued my interest.
Are you looking for someone to move to you or do you want to move to them?
That was a simple question. One I knew the answer to without even having to think really hard.
Move to them.
I pushed the red button without thinking. I sure didn’t want anyone living in my town and possibly hearing all the stories about me and Derek and what happened between us… or his side of the story anyway.
All of it was hypothetical, anyway. It’s not like anybody really met their spouse on the Internet. If nothing else, the quiz might turn out to be fun.
I shifted on the couch cushion and focused harder on the screen. I could do this.
Are you male or female?
Another easy one; I liked it.
Start with the honeymoon or wait until you get to know each other?
I couldn’t help chuckling at that one. That almost sounded like a hooker set up.
Wait until I get to know them.
Another small sip of my chianti bolstered my courage.
You selected move to them, what seasons are you against?
I lived in Ohio. There wasn’t a season I hadn’t met – including hell frozen over. Too bad that wasn’t an option.
Hard work? Do you fear it or embrace it?
What a weird question, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.
As my Daddy always said, hard work was the only way to get out of your parents’ house. According to him, that was the most important goal a person could have. Well, if their name was Rachel, anyway.
I glared at the screen.
Are looks important?
I held my finger over the button. But wait, were they? My ex-husband was as hot as they came and he used his charm to get right into my pants and married in no time. I used the sliding scale to select 85%.
I tipped my glass back only to find it empty. Wrinkling my nose, I put the glass on the coffee table and glowered more at the tablet.
I sighed, leaning my head back, then stood, setting the tablet on the couch cushion. Rolling my shoulders, I asked out loud, “Are you seriously doing this? Why?” I pursed my lips and answered my question even louder. “Because I have nothing else to do.” That was good enough for me, so I didn’t argue further with my logic. It made sense and that’s all that mattered.
Children from a previous marriage or relationship – yay or nay?
Is that for me or for him? I would have to say no. I don’t have any, but I wasn’t opposed to him having any either. How about one? No, I really didn’t care. In fact, I kind of found it a way to increase my family count of people that didn’t hate me.
Are you faith driven or ambition driven?
How did I answer that? My family wasn’t really all that faithful, unless you counted Dad’s religious glass of 7 and Seven every night. I didn’t know how to answer that one. Thank heaven there was an option that stated either one was fine.
Do you need to have family nearby?
Thank you. Not interested in that mess.
What animal are you most like?
What the heck? I tapped my front tooth with my fingernail. Carefully, I typed in Canadian geese. They’re loyal and family-oriented, even if nobody else cares.
Blech, the wine was making me wallow in self-pity. I hated wallowing.
Do you need love in your life?
I stopped to think about that one. Did I need love in my life? I’d lived long enough without it. The most wistful part of my heart, however, whispered that I did.
I gave in and pressed, Yes.
Movie or book most like your life?
Studying the options in the multiple choice, I mouthed the titles, but didn’t speak. Certainly not It’s a Wonderful Life. Hmmm, not An Affair to Remember. I would agree with the option they offered of The Shining, minus the psychotic twin girls in the hallway.
The movie or book you would like for your life?
My Big Fat Greek Wedding or The Family Stone. I tried clicking both but ended up with The Family Stone.
Then, I was shuttled with the flashing red heart icon to answer an overall personality assessment filled with sliding scales and best matches. I think my eyes glazed over halfway through, but I did my best to answer them as best as I could. At one point a small popup shot out and told me to “slow down, all your answers were looking the same.”
Finally, I reached the end of the exhaustive questionnaire. My eyelids had grown heavy and I needed to use the bathroom. Come on, was it going to end soon?
I clicked submit. They were probably going to ask me for an email address, a newsletter sign-up, or something fun. So far, I hadn’t been asked for any money. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that.
A beautiful red heart popped up inside of a speaking icon. It flashed, then faded and then popped up red again, then faded…
A popup replaced the heart with the words, “You have two matches.”
Two matches? How in the heck did I have two matches? I was only supposed to be taking it hypothetically, but my stomach got butterflies at the thought that I might have a match – or two! Someone out there was compatible with me and that gave me more hope than anything else I’d done since filing for divorce.
Was is getting real?
A contract thing popped up asking for payment for membership blah blah. My eyes were getting tired. The $20.00 fee looked like $2000.
I read the entire contract deal thoroughly.
No, actually, I didn’t read a thing and instead scrolled down and clicked Read and accept and input my credit card information. I could always cancel in the morning after I got my results.
Two. I suddenly couldn’t wait to see who I had been paired with. After I put in my payment info, the site asked me to complete my own profile to send to the man that I chose to be my husband.
I had two matches. Two men I could marry to get out of the suffocating hometown I was locked in. That’s what I was supposed to be doing, right? Marrying them?
Did I take a selfie, or upload a professional headshot I used for my website?
Oh my-lanta, what if they didn’t like me? What if I submitted all this, accepted one or chose one, whatever, and they rejected me?
I don’t think there was enough wine in the house for that chance.
What was I doing?
I looked around the downstairs living room as if someone watched me. Was I on some kind of candid camera? Did my tablet’s camera have someone spying on me on the other end? How did I have two matches? There was no way that two men out there were anything like me or as perfect as the quiz suggested.
My profile was completed, and I might have put a little too much information in some places. The information didn’t seem very thorough to declare that someone was my match. Didn’t they need to ask me stuff like, what my aspirations are? Something like that?
A pop-up sprang in front of me with a different tone to the color and the font.
Are you interested?
I paused. Was I?
The two results couldn’t be more intriguing. Part of me wondered just what a guy looked like that signed up on a matching site like ClickandWed.com.
Come on, Rachel. Quit overthinking things. Just take a chance, for once. It’s not like you have to move in with them tonight.
My pep talk needed more wine, but I was out. I clicked, Yes. Of course, I was interested. While the results loaded, I swallowed and nibbled at my lower lip. Using the remote, I clicked off the television. I needed to concentrate.
The next click or so were possibly capable of changing my life. If it was real. I shook my head. Was the alcohol clouding my judgment? That was a given. From the second I’d started the quiz, I hadn’t been thinking clearly.
A soft bling sound drew my gaze back to the tablet, slowly. I didn’t want to look, but I had to.
Two men popped up: Jeremy Akers in Washington and he was 94% compatible with me. Logan Kyle in Idaho and he was 93.7% compatible. That was so close. How was I supposed to choose?
I scrolled through their profiles. They both had ranches in the northwest. Neither had children from a previous marriage, but it didn’t say anything about their previous marital status. I guess it didn’t matter in the whole scheme of things, but I was still curious.
Their similarities didn’t stop there. Both men were dark haired and equally dark eyed. Both were incredibly handsome. As I dove further into their profiles, I could see myself living in both places. Logan Kyle lived on a ranch in a small town in Idaho near a river. Jeremy Akers lived in the mountains with a ranch that nestled in the valley of a large mountain range.
Both seemed ideal. Both were far from Ohio.
Was it some kind of joke? I looked around again, and spied a little bit of wine left in the bottle. I tilted that sucker back, bypassing the glass, and drank the contents gone.
When you’ve made your decision, click I Do, but only when you’re ready to commit. The contract is binding – click here to read over it again.
I looked over the two profiles once more, and then looked around the living room that belonged to my parents, in the house that belonged to my parents, using electricity paid for by my parents.
I studied both men. All the company wanted was a down payment, or a deposit or something. If I remembered correctly, it even said something about being fully refundable, if some conditions were met and we wanted to back out.
What did I have to lose?
I took a deep breath. And clicked I do.
With this click, I thee wed. Out loud, to no one I particular, I said, “I do.”
Now I was married. I snort laughed. Well, technically I wasn’t yet. The guy still had to accept or reject me. I wondered if he would get an email, text, or something else. Oh, my goodness, what if he didn’t want anything to do with me? What if he was like, not interested?
I shook off my insecurity. No reason to worry about it when I hadn’t even had a chance to accept what I’d done. Once again, I wouldn’t have the proper wedding night, but I wasn’t alone. I had my chianti and some chocolate pie in the fridge. Almost exactly like my first marriage. Hopefully, it wasn’t an omen on how my second marriage was going to go.
I laid down and let the second bottle of wine and the wind outside the window lull me to sleep.
Happy New Year to you, my new husband. Whatever you’re doing.
I woke up cranky and hungover. Nobody else was in the house, so I didn’t bother getting dressed in more than my pajamas when I went down to force something in my mouth for breakfast. Catching sight of my hair in the mirror reminded me that I needed to go to the hairstylist.
It was New Year’s Day and Kathy, my hairstylist, usually had New Year’s specials going on. She never celebrated the holidays the same way as others. She always wanted to make money and she figured other people wanted to spend it to start the year right. I’ve been going to Kathy since I was eighteen. She was like my older sister by about four years.
I knew Kathy wouldn’t have any clients that early in the morning. What was it? Nine? I pulled on some jeans, a T-shirt, and my Sketchers and jumped in the car. I missed having my own place. Living with my parents was definitely hard, not just for them, but for me, too.
In just a few minutes, I pulled into a parking spot in front of Kathy’s Kreations. Just as I guessed, the lights were on, but there were no cars on either side of me. I walked inside the door, and called out, “Happy New Year! Kathy, are you in here?” I hadn’t seen her in about five months. The split ends on my hair testified to that. “I just need my ends trimmed. I was thinking maybe you could help me get some sideswipe thing going on, too. Maybe darken it?” With my blonde hair, I didn’t usually mess with colors, but Kathy kept badgering me. It might be something fun to do with her since I hadn’t seen her since the divorce was final.
Chemical odors mixed with a candle she had burning on the counter. The combined scents didn’t clash, but instead created a soft curious smell that was oddly pleasing.
Kathy entered from the side door that led back to her office. She saw me and shook her head. Picking up a broom, she swept around the salon space, wagging a finger my direction. “I can’t see you in here, Rachel. You need to leave.”
Disbelief pulled me up short and I blinked hard at her. “What? Why? Are you closed?” I had no idea what was going on. Her lights were on and the neon open sign glowed brightly beside the door. I double-checked to make sure. Yep, on.
I spun back to her and stared with my lips parted.
“I had to pick sides.” She stopped sweeping and stood there, one hand braced on the broom handle and the other on her hip. “You and Derek got divorced. I’m friends with his mother, his sisters, his cousins, his aunts, and his grandmother. You? It’s just you. Your mom doesn’t come to see me. She goes to your sister. I had to pick sides. And since more money comes with him, that’s what I have to do.”
“But…” I stepped back, as if I’d been slapped in the face. Her betrayal stung worse than I could explain.
Regret tilted her eyes at the corners under a lot of eyeliner and mascara. “Look, kid, I’m sorry. But, Derek is going around and telling everyone that it’s him or you. He’s threatening, no, promising, to make us regret our choice, if it leans toward you.” She shrugged and half-frowned. “I can’t afford to lose my business with Bob’s unemployment. I’m sorry.”
Kathy was the last one. Derek had taken everyone else and turned them to his side. I’m not even sure what rumors he was spreading, but I could only imagine.
“But I didn’t do anything wrong.” I blinked back the tears. I wouldn’t beg. It sucked that Kathy, the one person I’d just known wouldn’t turn on me, had turned. She showed her sleazy side, though, as she trashed a long-running relationship for money. “I expected better, but fine.” That’s not how family or friends should act.
She shrugged again, her expression belligerent. “It doesn’t matter what you think. It’s nothing personal. As far as I’m concerned, it’s business.”
I ignored her comment and turned around. I left her salon, my split and still-intact heart even more broken than I thought it could be. Derek had cheated on me, multiple times, and the entire town knew it. Now, they were turning on me because of the instructions from one insane narcissist. I felt like they were all cheating on me with him.
Fine. They could have him.
I blinked back the tears. I hate you, Derek. I hate Ohio. I climbed in my car and thrust the key into the ignition. January frost covered the inside of my windows. I inhaled the cold air. My breath before me fogged the dashboard glass and the rearview mirror. I didn’t start the car. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I didn’t have anywhere to go. It was painfully obvious even my parents’ house wasn’t my home.
Leaning forward, I rested my forehead on the cold vinyl wrap of my steering wheel. My phone dinged. Great, an email. Who was emailing me now? It’s not like I had any friends.
I swiped open the phone, clicking on my email icon. In the subject line a red heart said, “Reminder: Proxy files for your records.” The “from” section said ClickandWeb.com, Colin Davis.
A fuzzy memory from the night before surfaced. A fun quiz flashed in my mind. I narrowed my eyes and opened the email. I could have sworn I’d made half that up in my wine-induced state.
“Reminder! First, congratulations! Your proxy was filed for marriage using the online server. You are expected to arrive within the week at your new spouse’s home, or forfeit the deposit of two-thousand dollars. Thank you and good luck in love, Colin Davis, President of ClickandWed.com.”
Wait, what? Proxy was filed for marriage? I hated Ohio but what? I blinked, once, twice, super slow. A deposit of how much? I read the line again. Or forfeit the deposit of two-thousand dollars.
My mouth dried up and I stared at the number. I didn’t have that kind of money in my bank account. My limit on my credit card was about double that, but I wouldn’t use my card unless it was an extremely important emergency. I just wouldn’t. How much chianti had I drank the night before?
I faintly remembered the mention of a fee, but I thought all the zeros were just an extension of a twenty.
There had to be a typo. I wasn’t married. Twenty bucks had bought me my results to a fun little dating quiz. Right? Just to be safe, I pulled out my credit card and called the number on the back. I swallowed the bile rising in the back of my throat.
The credit card customer service representative answered with a professional friendliness. “Hello, thank you for calling Twice Check. How can I help you?”
“Yes, I made a purchase last night, apparently, and it says it was for two-thousand dollars? It was an online purchase, but I thought it was twenty dollars. What do I do to get out of it?” My hands shook and I tried ignoring the biting pain as the cold edged its way through my nerves.
“Yes, ma’am. I do see that purchase. There’s nothing you can do to dispute it. It looks like it was authorized with information you provided like a credit check. There is a contract reference number here and it’s attached to your purchase. Any attempts to dispute or refund it are supposed to be taken as a forfeit of expenses.” She spoke so matter-of-factly, like she had no idea what she was saying to me.
I sat there for a long moment, supposed to be a forfeit? What was this? Some kind of a game? I had already lost the first game of marriage. How many more would I have to lose?
What had I done?
“Is that what you would like me to do, ma’am? Indicate a forfeit of deposit?” The woman cleared her throat and waited, as if I had an actual choice. How was someone allowed to do that?
Crud. “No, no. I just had a little too much to drink last night, and I forgot what my charge was for. Thank you for reminding me.” I hung up before she could somehow misconstrue my words as confirmation to forfeit the two grand. The way my luck was taking me, it wouldn’t surprise me if it happened.
I didn’t want to dispute the charge. Not if it meant I would lose it all. Maybe I could appeal to the company or the president? Colin Davis had emailed me. We could be email pen-pals or something.
Where was the contract? I had a few emails in my inbox from ClickandWed.com. Account approval, confirmation on profile completion, congratulations on selecting my spouse.
Wait a minute, did he have to approve me? Oh, there it was, the next email said “Congratulations, your future spouse approved you!” That was good to know. How embarrassing to be rejected before I’d even met him.
I couldn’t find a contract, though. I scrolled, desperately scanning the small subject lines. Finally, amidst the many I had, one stood out. “Before clicking confirm, please read carefully.”
Wait! I didn’t read that. Well, I know I had clicked read and accept, but I hadn’t actually read it.
Oh, my goodness, Rachel! That’s not going to hold up as a convincing argument to get your money back. “Hi, Colin, I need my money back. You see, I was drunk and not thinking clearly, and I just clicked that I read it when I didn’t actually read it. Can I get out of the contract now?” I could hear it all now. She would scrunch her forehead on the other end of the line and roll her eyes. How many times had she heard that excuse? It was an online marriage site – she probably heard more excuses than Vegas.
I clicked on the email. Where was that fine print? The terms and services agreement thing? The thing that nobody reads, but apparently, they need to read. I was all kinds of stupid. They had attached the contract as a friendly reminder.
It wasn’t fine print, either. They had it as the body of the email and in an attachment. The font was at least sixteen.
Okay, so it wasn’t really a fee. It was more like a deposit. A two-thousand-dollar deposit. If all the steps they sent us were completed, all the rules were followed, and we still wanted out, they would give us the money back.
What happened if we wanted to stay married? We lost all that money? No, actually, it said that we would get something more meaningful, if we stuck it out and decided to stay together.
Probably a Hallmark value or something and not a tangible thing I could pay bills with. All the steps and all the rules. I already wanted out of everything. Maybe that guy would want out, too. He must’ve had to do a deposit as well. I couldn’t remember even what he looked like.
He’d approved me.
$2000. Wow, $2000.
It was a lot of money to spend on a quiz result and then click I do.
I started the car and waited for the front windshield to defrost. Then, I pulled out of the parking lot. The only thing I could think of was my drunken splurge of $2000.
$2000. In a fog of disbelief, I somehow got home. Or to my parents’ house, rather.
Parked in front of the garage door on the driveway, I stared at the house I grew up in. The place had never felt like home, even when I’d lived there as a child.
If I didn’t go through with it, I could lose the money. What was the big deal? I’d have to chalk it up to a stupid drunken mistake. I didn’t have many of them. Wasn’t I due one or two? I could go back into my parents’ house and be the loser that I was and live on the little bit of money I had left from my business.
I glanced at my phone as if to check that the emails were real. I could give it a shot. After six months, I wouldn’t be any worse off, and I could have my money back. Plus, it’d be a break from my dad. At least this way I wouldn’t be at my parents’ home when they returned.
Opening my email, I scrolled for the email that had the link to his profile. I just needed to see his face again. The one I’d chosen.
When his picture popped up with his dark eyes and even darker hair, I softened. Then I saw his smile and that was really all it took to push me closer to that side of the country.
The choice was already made. I just had to accept that my drunken-self was more hopeful and optimistic than my sober-self.
Hopefully, my drunken-self had a plan to get me there because my sober-self was irritated and a headache was growing.
One more glance at my husband gave me the motivation to get to work. I had a plane to catch and a husband to find.
The Spokane, Washington airport was classified as an international airport, but it left much to be desired with regard to size. As far as friendliness and cleanliness went, though, it was universally the best I’d been in.
When I thought “international airport”, large terminals that you could see for miles and tarmac that claimed more acreage than a bison farm usually came to mind. Airports like LAX or Heathrow, with their mazes of crisscrossing terminals and subway systems to get to the varying gates along with their small cities inside, were more in sync with the term.
The small Spokane airport didn’t seem to have more than two terminals. Maybe three and I just couldn’t see the third one because of the way it was set up. Maybe they hid fifteen more terminals in the back-parking lot.
Either way, as I walked off the plane, a humid chill wrapped around me and I could’ve been at home with the distinct similarity to the climate. Nothing was different from home. A looming noose seemed to tighten around my neck at the claustrophobic sensation that I was still in Ohio. The ground was covered in snow and a thick fog guarded the land from the sun.
Out of my depth, I couldn’t help the thoughts that I had made the wrong choice. I should’ve just forfeited the two grand instead of spending another eight hundred on plane tickets and whatever a car rental or taxi were going to cost me.
Thinking like that wasn’t going to get me anywhere but depressed. I had to stop. I was a burden and unwelcome at my parents’ house, even though it was familiar and safe. Rent there was non-existent, unless you counted the rudeness from my dad and apathy from my mom. The point was, I hadn’t paid all that money to live at their house, but I had paid a lot of money to go on an adventure and I was going to do just that.
If they had a survey of some sort at the end of the match-making quiz, I would have suggested that the ClickandWed.com service should’ve let me talk to my husband at some point. I hadn’t been given any information on him regarding a phone number or email address.
The only information I was given was his address and how long I had to get there. By the time a letter would reach, I’d already be there.
I wasn’t surprised to have to fork out money for an airline ticket, not with everything else.
Waiting in the baggage claim area, I studied the miniscule area while my belief in their small airport was confirmed with only two carousels in the whole place.
Arriving at seven in the morning was the cheapest flight I could find to that area. Not very many people had traveled to Spokane with me. A handful of us stood at the baggage claim carousel, staring at the rotating metal plates as we waited.
My lumpy pink bag slid to the silver metal carousel platform. It moved around the edge and headed towards me. I almost didn’t want to claim it. As if maybe I could leave it there and the airport personnel would pick it up and send it back to Ohio. They would think it was lost, and send it back to where it came from.
Would anyone do the same for me?
After rescuing my bag from potential return to Mom and Dad’s house, I found myself at a car rental desk. There were more rental desks than there were baggage claim areas, which probably wasn’t saying anything good.
A fresh-faced, young woman, who obviously hadn’t been on a plane all night, smiled at me. Shiny white teeth could have shared the gloss from her lips.
I tried not to glare as I pulled my lips back in what I hoped passed as a semblance of a smile. “Would it be cheaper to get a taxi, or to rent a car to go to Grangeville, Idaho?”
She held her smile, but blinked at me a few times. When she spoke, she did so with deliberate slowness, like I wasn’t quite right in the head. “I’m sorry. You want a taxi to Grangeville? That would probably cost you more than your return flight ticket would.”
“Why? Is it that far?” I pulled out my smart phone, swiping the screen to find my Google maps. “I swear it said it was only short distance.” But I hadn’t really been paying attention to the distance between Spokane and Grangeville, just the location of Grangeville on the map.
“You’re looking at about five hours. That’s if you know how to drive in the snow. It’s pretty backwoods out that way.” She smiled at me when I snapped my eye gaze to her face. “You’d be better off just saving the money with a taxi and just renting.”
“I’m from Ohio, sweetheart. That’s all we know how to drive in.” I heaved a sigh and jutted my jaw to the side. After considering her for a moment, I put my phone away. I pulled out my wallet and withdrew my favorite credit card. At least it was the one I used the most. Did that mean it was my favorite? Or was I abusive to it?
“Okay? Which one do I need to drive in this stuff. Do you have a Jeep or something with full wheel drive?” I tried not yelling the obvious question, but her condescension was close to getting her slapped.
The wattage of her smile brightened, if that was possible. I recognized the customer service smile when I saw one. As far as I was concerned, it was much more preferred than someone who argued with me or treated me like a child far from home.
“I’m so glad you asked. We just got a Jeep Wrangler in. There is a return port in Lewiston, but with the weather, I’ll let you have an extra twenty-four hours. No extra charge. We can have someone come out and pick up the vehicle, but that will cost you. Either way, you’ll have forty-eight hours to return the vehicle. We do charge for shuttles, if you’d prefer to be dropped off from the port in Lewiston.”
Of course, they had an extra charge. Everybody needed to make their money.
“It’s fine. I’ll take whatever I can get.” I held up my hands as she lifted her wide eyes to me. I narrowed mine. “Except I’m not taking the Humvee that’s parked out there. I can only imagine what the rental is on that, plus the gas.” I wasn’t born a sucker. There’s no way I was handling one of those just because they looked tougher.
Give me a Jeep any day.
Oh, my word, what I was doing? Every once in a while, the realization that I was headed toward my new husband and a new life slammed me in the face.
“So, what’s taking you to Grangeville? Not a lot of people travel there this time of year. Usually everyone is snowed in.” She glanced at me from the computer screen as she typed in information I provided on sheets and handed to her.
“I just got married.” I swallowed. The annoyingly perky girl was the first person I had said that to. I hadn’t even told my parents. All I told them was that I was going on a trip and that I didn’t know when I would get back.
That did bring her gaze up to me one more time. She smiled with real interest that time. She lifted her left hand in front of my face, a new engagement ring sparkling as she wiggled her fingers. “Oh, that is so exciting. How long have you two been together? Did he do a really special proposal? I was blown away by mine. What happened?” Would her interest wane when she realized I wasn’t one of the new blushing brides or new fiancées she was probably used to?
I signed my name to the bottom of the document she slid across the counter at me and met her gaze boldly with mine. “I haven’t met him. We got married on the internet. I don’t know if he proposed to me, if I proposed to him, or if the computer did the proposing. I’ll get back to you on that. Which way is the car?”
Silenced by shock with her mouth open and her eyes wide, I knew I had her full attention and she wouldn’t be able to top that – no matter how special her proposal was.
She blinked rapidly and pushed a button on the counter. “Ralph will help you out to your car.”
Ralph led me out onto the blacktop and down the row of cars.
My guess is she didn’t know if she should say congratulations or just leave it alone. I followed Ralph before the girl could decide.
Did I expect congratulations? Had I done something smart? Or was I just being stupid?
The wind tried to bite at my skin through my jeans and coat, but it failed in comparison to the Ohio winters. I felt like laughing and saying up into the white sky, “Bring your worst, because I’ve got nothing left for you to take.”
What if my husband and I didn’t like each other? What was I thinking to accept the challenge? I just had to click “I do.” Who in the world got married online beside me and my husband? Well, and the guy I didn’t choose.
What if the stupid computer chose the wrong person?
What was I doing?
Driving with the GPS on my phone giving me directions, I finally settled into my course. I could do it. I normally didn’t make rash decisions because once I made up my mind, I made myself stick to it.
I had printed off the contract print from the website which actually wasn’t fine at all. The email instructions I’d been getting throughout my trip reminded me to check in with the app I had to download. I was supposed to check in throughout my journey, so that both my husband and the company knew where I was at. Colin Davis’s emails stated my safety was first priority.
Checking in with my location was the only option I had so they could be sure I wasn’t just saying I was there and I’d actually flown to Cabo.
As I punched in the location agreement and then checked in on the drive time to confirm I was on the right path, my phone rang. My mother’s smiling face lit up the screen and replaced the road map with the blue line leading me to my new house. I groaned, grateful a sign leading to Grangeville said twenty-seven miles to go. I probably would lose reception again.
It was the first time they had tried calling me since I left. Actually, it was the first time they had tried calling me since they left on New Year’s Eve. If I didn’t answer, I could see my mother calling the cops, if for nothing else than to look like a good mother. Even though we all knew she wasn’t. At least, far as I was concerned. My bitterness was catching up to me.
Guilty at the direction my thoughts had taken, I hit answer and put it on speakerphone. I was a huge fan of hands free talking and driving. “Hi, Mom, how are you?”
“I’m fine. I had a terrific time at your sister’s. She really knows how to cook. You should go visit her, I bet you could help with her kids and she could teach you how to cook and do… other things. You know you aren’t very good at… things. I think she could help you. Why don’t you go do that? Where are you? You could probably be there in a couple hours.” She paused in her rush to talk.
I gritted my teeth for a moment, waiting for her to catch her breath. After I gathered my patience, I spoke. “Actually, Mom, I’m in Washington, right now. Oh, no, I’m actually in Idaho. I just left Washington. I’m not going to be home for at least six months.”
Her laughter tinkled over the line. I clenched my hands on the steering wheel, tossing glares at my phone. Why hadn’t I lost reception yet? Where was the mercy there?
“Honey, I know you’re trying to be funny, but you’re failing. Where are you? Do you need your father to come pick you up?” She pulled back from the phone and called out, “You need to go get Rachel, dear, she’s lost or something and too embarrassed to say.”
In the background my father yelled, “I’m watching the game. I can do it in two hours. Tell her to start walking.”
I sighed, my exasperation speeding up my breaths. “No, Mom. I’m serious. I got married and now I’m heading to my husband’s house. I left you all the information in a note on the table downstairs.”
She spoke over me, as if I hadn’t just said I was married and in Idaho, clear across the country. “Oh, I saw official papers from your ex-husband. I opened them because I didn’t know what they were and it looked like it was in the stack you left me on the table. He’s suing you for damages. Emotional damages that you caused by the divorce. Can you be back in time for that?”
I felt like I’d been sucker punched, and all she could do was say, “Are you going to be back in time to be sued?”
Spluttering, I pulled to the side of the road in the middle of snow-covered, rolling hills. “I emotionally damaged him? He cheated on me. How did I…” I pressed my lips together.
My mother didn’t care. She was already moving on.
“Yes, I know dear. I’ve been hearing about it for the last six months. Where do you want me to send this? Are you really going to be gone for six months? Don’t tease your father. I don’t think he can handle the excitement.” She pulled away again, her voice raised to reach my dad over the game on TV. “She’s not going to be home for six months.” She giggled. “Yes, I said you’d be excited.”
Before I could answer there was a shuffling as the phone switched hands and my dad’s deep voice came on, shaking with excitement. “Are you really doing this? Did you really get married?”
The sad fact was he wasn’t happy to hear I might be doing something for me or proud of me, but rather that I was out of the house. “Yep. I did, Dad. Told you I would be out of the house before you guys got back.” Maybe I had made him proud. Was that possible? I’d done something he’d hoped I would do.
He sighed in disgust. “Great, now I have to plan on you running home when you fail at this, too. Text your address to your mother. She needs to make dinner.” He handed the phone back to Mom who didn’t even say goodbye when she hung up.
They argued over what to have for dinner and it cut off as they disconnected.
“Well, I need to go anyway.” My words faded into the empty car as I pretended to still be on with them.
If I didn’t succeed, I’d be right where they all thought I was supposed to be. I wasn’t a failure. It wasn’t my fault I lost the last marriage. He cheated on me. He stole from me. Derek stole from me, even after I gave him everything.
If nothing else, I wasn’t going back to their house. I didn’t care if I had to sleep in a box in a field. Even if I had to stay married to a man I didn’t like. I would make it happen.
Grangeville was certainly not an easy town to find.
After the stench of Lewiston had faded from my car, I finally started to relax my shoulders. I was so tense with worry about something I couldn’t control. Wait, did that make sense? I shouldn’t be worried about anything I couldn’t control, yet there I was. Oh, my goodness, soon I’d drive myself crazy.
I tried to take stock of my surroundings, but it was hard with all of the black bark and dark green needles showing in patches from underneath blankets of white. Snow berms encroached onto the blacktop that was gray with ice. I wasn’t sure how often the plows ran that way due to the drifts that were piled against the southern part of the highway.
Along the north side of the road, the river wended its way through the valley like part of a braid, twisting and dancing with the highway like finely woven silver bracelets.
If a semi-truck came along, I would be pushed over into the water. That idea both terrified me and didn’t bother me at all. I think on the one hand, I was scared because I didn’t want to die, but on the other hand, I had nothing to lose. No one would miss me when I was gone. My own husband – that was so weird to say – didn’t even know who I was. Never even met me. As far as he was concerned, I was just another name on the screen. Maybe he would get his money back.
My GPS spoke to me like a drill sergeant. Directions spewed forth like, take a left in one-thousand feet, take the next right, until I became so lost in the myriad of Idaho roads that there was no way I was ever getting out.
Finally, in the middle of what seemed like miles and miles of snowy ocean, my GPS told me, “Stop. Your destination is on the left.”
I pulled to a stop, looking around me. There was no indication that there were any homes around there. A small road, that may or may not have been a drive, departed at an angle to my position. I could go straight into white or I could go left like the GPS told me.
Oh, the options.
Glancing behind me, out the rear window, as if maybe someone would tell me what to do, I squinted at all the white. Heaven knew I had already looked out the front window and found nothing. Another leap of faith. How many more of those would I have to take?
“Okay, here we go.” I locked in the four-wheel drive hubs and turned left onto the road that was certainly not a road. It hadn’t been plowed at least since the last snowstorm, and there were very faint tracks leading the way toward the hills.
I passed through a rundown fence with tumbled posts that listed to the side. Barbed wire sagged under the weight of snow and ice with rectangular chicken wire filling in the holes underneath. Large poles had been cut and used as the post for a fence that traveled as far as the eye could see. It was the only relief from rolling white within view.
Why would anyone want to live out there?
He obviously did. My husband. The man I had essentially paid to marry. I wonder if he would’ve taken goats or chickens, like the arranged marriages of long ago.
Where was he? Was he hiding under the snow? The road rose and fell as I drove further into the hills. I must’ve been in the foothills because somehow, I had gone from river and canyons to plains and back to hills again. Mounds of snow could hide bushes and brush. Trees began to dot the hillside. With all the evidence of trees and bushes surrounding me, Idaho would be one vibrant green home, come spring.
I climbed the hill in front of me and then slowly coasted down the other side. Spread out before me was a homestead like I’d only read about. Tendrils of smoke drifted from the chimney on a long, wide, Craftsman style home built like a large square.
The wraparound porch dressed the house with varying thicknesses and maintained the square-like shape. Outbuildings numbered more than my fingers and had their own size hierarchy like that of a family with the house as the mother, the barn as the father, and the rest of the smaller buildings would be the children, with a chicken coop, storage unit, lean-to for firewood, and more that I didn’t quite know what they were.
I would call them The Family. I didn’t have to be happy, but my home would. It would be happy in its own little family. Which child was me? Probably the outhouse. As far as my parents were concerned, anyway.
Snorting, I came to a stop in front of the house on what I hoped was the driveway. Dim lights glowed from within the home, but there was an air of emptiness about it. Not abandonment, but emptiness. As if the house gave off the impression that the owner wasn’t home, don’t bother knocking.
I had been given the brushoff before, but never by a house.
The Jeep seemed to welcome being turned off. I opened the door and slid from the seat, listening. Would I be able to hear anything out there? Were there birds around that deep into the winter? With the noises from the highway muffled by the blanket of snow, I was denied even that sound.
Where was I? I had read before I left on the Internet that the sunlight would fade between three and four in the afternoon in that part of the world. It had taken me so long to get down there, between having to pick up my baggage and then renting the car, and then of course not knowing the road down and nothing being familiar.
Darkness would descend soon, and I still hadn’t found my husband. That seemed to be the story of my life. I was always in search of my man.
I walked around the drive. The loop circled around a bundle of bushes and what may or may not have been a swing. Hopefully, its true identity would reveal itself when the snow melted. I pulled my coat tight around me and my hood up over my head.
As I wandered around the side of the house, a glow came from the barn and shined on the snow and pushed back impending shadows. All the lights were on in the barn with a warm, orange glow. I followed the sound of metal banging on metal, grateful to have a target to head toward.
If I had the right address, I was moments from meeting my husband. I was so nervous, I stumbled in my boots in the layers of snow.
Mild cursing filled the air as I got closer to the large doors. A man hopped on one foot in front of me and then disappeared again. “You daggum piece of —”
“Hello?” I didn’t want to hear any cussing. I left that at home with my dad. What had I married? A man intent on ruining the world? Doubtful. Would I recognize him? Was he one of those men who put fake pictures up on the Internet to lure unsuspecting women?
All my doubts and insecurities whirled around me with the chilly breeze. Flurries of snow crept up under my jacket, intensifying my doubt. I still had time. I hadn’t met him yet.
I could still run.
The cursing stopped, and it was decidedly still inside the barn.
I froze, as if we both waited for the other to do something, but I already had. I’d called out first. I flew all that way. Why was I the one that had to make the next move?
The man – no – my husband, Logan, poked his head out the side of the door with a sheepish smile on his face. “Hello. I’m sorry, I hope you didn’t hear that. I’m not normally a cursing man.” He came further out through the doors, wiping broad hands on a rag which he tucked back into his rear pocket.
A tightly knit, dark brown beanie hat fit the round shape of his head. His smile welcomed me with even and curved lines like a frame between his mouth and cheeks. His square jaw set off remarkably brown eyes that matched the deep chocolate hue of his hair peeking from beneath his hat by his neck.
I hated admitting it, because I wasn’t feeling my best, but he was even better looking than his pictures online.
Trying not to stammer, I adapted to the realization that I was seriously married to a hunk. “Hi, um, I’m Rachel O’Neil, or um, Kyle? Or… I’m not sure what I’m supposed to call myself.” I couldn’t hide that he’d struck me dumb. My attraction to him was instantaneous and more than a little idiotic.
He needed a flaw. A big one. Please, have a flaw.
We both laughed a little awkwardly, until he offered me his hand and I took it. His warm grasp enveloped mine, and I couldn’t help but think of the saying warm hands, warm heart. Could I have lucked out and gotten a good guy? One that wouldn’t cheat simply because he could?
“I’m sorry that I wasn’t at the house. I was planning on having dinner and everything ready. But, then the tractor broke down when I was trying to plow and now I can’t get it started. I’m still behind on chores, too.” He lifted his hand and dropped it back to his side, seemingly discouraged. He looked at me with a slight degree of desperation. “I’m sorry, this is not how I wanted to welcome you home.” He offered another shy smile.
I shook my head. “No, I didn’t know what to expect, so this makes it easy on both of us.” I took a step towards him hesitatingly. “Is there anything I can help you with? I’m not sure what’s on your chore list, but I’m a hard worker. I can learn.” It was hard admitting that I’d never worked on a farm before, but I was honest when I said I learned fast.
Since it’d taken me longer to get there than I’d planned, we should have been on track to have dinner within the next hour or so. I didn’t want to check my watch like an obvious hint that I liked to watch the time. Was he the type of man who planned that kind of thing out?
I had so many questions. I just wanted to sit down with him and get to know him, so I could settle into my new life easier. I didn’t know what was going on, but I did know that, as his wife, I should help him. If I could help him get his jobs done outside sooner than he would be able to by himself, then that was what I should be doing.
I hadn’t brought any gloves or any clothes to work in, at least that I had access to right away, but I could still try to help.
Logan offered me a side grin and his eyes scrunched at the sides. “That’s okay. I was thinking dinner in about an hour? What do you think of that?”
I sighed in relief. “Oh, that sounds great. Is it okay if I just take my things inside?” He did have something planned. He probably had dinner cooking already and was just waiting for me to get there. Maybe a crockpot dinner or something. Dinner at five was a lot better than no dinner at all. I was very relieved he was a planner and I was starving. “Are you sure I can’t help out here?”
“I’m sure. Just go on inside and make yourself at… home.” he shuffled his feet and then gave me a quick nod. Then he went in to the barn again. He looked over his shoulder and tossed back, “Rachel? Welcome.”
“Thank you.” But he’d already walked inside and didn’t hear me. I stood there for an awkward moment, the crunch of my boots in the snow when I finally moved was louder than I thought it would be.
My things had fit into the front seat of the Jeep, so I pulled them out and shut the door. Returning to the barn was hugely appealing. I wanted to see if the tingles would return when I saw him again. I couldn’t deny my excitement had surpassed my anxiety. My nerves over meeting him were squashed. He was a nice guy, and I had to say that I was definitely attracted to him.
I lugged my bags up the stairs to the large wood door. Pushing inside, I expected it to be warm and bright, but I was sorely mistaken. The temperature was similar to outside and it was dark. There was a small glow from the kitchen where a lamp had been left on, probably from that morning. The house was set up with a large living-style room at the end of the house, closest to the doors. The room was large and spanned the width of the home.
A fireplace with a rock mantle and hearth spread out like a skirt similar to the deck. The entire piece of art graced the center of the wall and disappeared up past the ceiling. There were no coals glowing in the fireplace.
How long had Logan been outside working in the cold? I felt bad for him. He would be outside for who knows how long and then he’d have to come inside to a cold house.
My luggage fell against my calf, and I stumbled forward. “Ow.” I was too tired to accept any disappointment. I had to make the best of it.
Closing the door behind me, so as not to let any of the meager heat outside, I pushed my bags to the side and wandered further inside. The kitchen was the first room off to my right, with an open layout, huge cabinets, and two pantries opposite the sink and stove. I scanned the room, noting the disheveled countertops and overall dusty appearance of every surface. Lots of dishes and other items to make a mental note of…
“But where’s dinner?” I spoke to no one, as if the answer would magically appear. Did he plan on coming in and making something?
Nothing was running. Not the stove, not a crockpot, nothing. I had a hard time believing Logan would be satisfied with a salad for dinner. He was a man that needed a solid meal and most homecooked meals needed more than a few minutes to prepare.
Had he meant for me to make the meal?
The state of the kitchen suggested that was exactly what he’d thought or hoped. With dishes piled in the sink and overflowing onto the counter beside it, some with dried-on bits of food. The garbage can over-flowed with boxes of frozen dinners and other single serving containers, much like my life had been with my ex-husband.
The table wasn’t even cleared enough to eat at. He must’ve eaten at the couch. or maybe even just stood at the counter and ate. Irritation tried to grow in my heart, but I shook it off. I was just tired, and we were two people that had never even met. We were going to try and share a home together. He’d been working outside all day. The least I could do was try to make it comfortable inside. Plus, it would be a good opportunity to get familiar with my new kitchen. I’d left Derek’s home and gone back to my mom’s house and I’d left behind the independence of my own kitchen.
I missed having my own space.
My travel fatigue would have to wait. I brushed the weariness and all the nervousness I’d been dealing with to the side. First thing was first, I had to get a fire started. We would never be able to make it in the cold without a fire. I was cold from my short time outside. I couldn’t imagine how he must be feeling.
I pulled off my coat and draped it over a chair which was probably the only place in the whole kitchen and dining area that didn’t have something on its surface. I pulled up the sleeves of my long-sleeve shirt and nodded twice to bolster my reserves of energy.
“Okay, come on, Rachel. Let’s be a good wife.” My words fell into the chilly air around me and I heaved a sigh. I could do it.
I only had an hour or so, and I could do a lot to make a good impression on my new husband.
What would he think of me?
What did he think of me? I suddenly wasn’t so sure of myself.
What if he didn’t like the way I cooked?