My feet slowed and I looked around, not sure where I was. It was twilight, and the growing darkness made it even more difficult to pinpoint my location. None of the shops looked familiar, and though a street sign told me I'd walked at least ten blocks, I didn't remember any of it. The only thing burned into my brain at this point was Kennedy's shocked face as I'd gotten to my feet, stepped over her outstretched legs, and walked out of the park. I hadn't spoken a single word to her as I'd left, though there were quite a few choice words echoing in my brain.
My heart was aching. Zach and Kennedy had been each other's firsts. Kennedy—tall, gorgeous, sophisticated Kennedy—was the first woman Zach had ever had sex with. Talk about setting a high bar. If I'd known about them, her, from the beginning, I probably wouldn't even have had the confidence to let him kiss me. Who could possibly compete with that?
And how could he not tell me? I mean, maybe it had made sense for him to keep it to himself before Kennedy was an actual presence in our lives. But once she showed up for real, when it was clear that they would be in the same classes, working together on the same projects, and basically attached at the hip, he should have said something. If for no other reason than to keep me from making a fool of myself.
In a park, for instance. On date night. While she sat on our blanket and nibbled our cheese.
I looked back at the street sign and tried to get my bearings. Before I'd even figured it out, I was walking again. I honestly didn't care where I ended up; it just felt better to be on the move, rather than standing still and remembering. The repetition of my feet on the pavement, left then right, over and over again, kept me from breaking down completely.
A few minutes later, the bakery appeared before me, and I almost burst into tears of relief. Home wasn't safe, wasn't even really home at this point, but this place was both. I could hide here, even drown my sorrows in baking.
I pulled out my key and hurried inside, grateful that Pierre already trusted me enough to give me access. It hit me that he'd probably want his key back if he saw me right now, but I swatted the thought away. If I baked some macarons in return for the refuge, we'd both come out okay, right?
My phone buzzed in my pocket, and I realized I'd been hearing that sound, over and over, since I left the park. I pulled it out and saw fourteen missed calls and an endless stream of texts from Zach. Shaking my head, I powered the phone down and put it back in my pocket. He was the last thing I needed right now.
I scanned the crowd for the millionth time, looking for any trace of Emma among the clusters of blankets, but everyone seemed caught up in the movie. When I'd gotten back with the corkscrew, I'd assumed she'd gone to bathroom, and then when it seemed like she'd been gone for way too long, I'd asked Kennedy if she knew if Emma had said anything before she left. Kennedy had just shrugged and shook her head, saying Emma hadn't really said anything at all, just stood up suddenly and walked off. But that seemed weird. That was when I'd started calling and texting, way too many times to count by now. I knew something was wrong.
"Nothing yet?" Kennedy asked. She scooted closer on the blanket, her eyes wide and concerned.
I shook my head. "She really didn't say anything at all?"
"No, nothing. I mean, we were talking, and then she just got up and ran off. I thought maybe she didn't feel well."
"She ran off? That seems strange. What were you talking about?"
She swatted the air like it was no big deal. "I told her I hoped she hadn't been upset when you didn't come home last night."
I leaned forward, shocked. Great. Now Emma knew where I'd really slept. "What else?" I asked, knowing there had to be more.
"I told her you were pretty drunk last night, and that I thought it was safer for you to stay at my place and sleep it off."
Shit. This wasn't good. "You weren't supposed to say anything about that, Kennedy."
She rolled her eyes. "How could I have known that? I assumed you told her."
"You assumed wrong," I snapped. "Anything else?"
Kennedy sighed and looked away.
"Tell me," I said.
Another big sigh rolled out and she looked back at me. "I may have mentioned that you and I were each other's first," she said. "But why would that be a secret?" Her eyes widened, and she raised her hands in the air, like I was the one missing the point.
Fuck. One of those reveals would have been bad enough, but all three? That was why Emma ran. Panic froze everything in me for a second. I couldn't think and I couldn't move. This was bad, really bad. I needed to find her.
"Should we go look for her?" Kennedy asked.
I glared at her. What the hell was she thinking? "We shouldn't do anything," I snarled. "You have done more than enough. Get up."
She gaped at me, but jumped up and stepped off the blanket. I turned my back on her, packed up the picnic stuff, and stormed away. I had to find Emma.
I set to work on the macarons, deciding to make a batch of lavender and one of rosewater. I hoped the beautiful colors and scents might calm me. There wasn't usually such a connection between what I was baking and my mood, but today the product seemed to mean everything. I gathered all my ingredients, and the rhythm of the work calmed me for a while, but then the tears started. How could Zach do this to me? I'd worked so hard to trust that he was the guy he seemed to be, but now our whole relationship felt like a lie.
The batter came together easily, making me feel like I had power over something, but my pace slowed as the tears came down harder. Afraid that they'd fall into the mixing bowl, I stepped away from the island and went to find a tissue. Knowing they'd slept together, that they'd lost their virginities together... it completely gutted me.
I'd never really had a chance with him, I realized. Kennedy was like him, part of the same world, a world with no place for me. Plus, she was beyond gorgeous, not to mention sophisticated and ambitious; so many things I just wasn't. I'd clearly been a detour for Zach—a little flirtation on the wrong side of the tracks. Man, I was dumb.
Once again, my dad's voice came back to me. The tears started up again as I thought about what he'd said, what he'd been worried about. It seemed like maybe he'd had it right from the beginning. Moving to New York had been about Zach, and Zach alone. I leaned over the bathroom sink, sobbing. I just should have stayed in Pine Falls. That was where I belonged.
I cried for a long time. And then I remembered my poor macarons. They were delicate little creations, and I could lose the lift in my meringue if I let the batter sit much longer. I rushed back to the island and got to work, clearing my mind of everything but what the macarons needed.
When I was done, I stared down at the beautiful pink and purple rows and smiled, thinking of how lovely they'd look in the bakery display case. At least a lot of people would benefit from my sadness. I gathered the macarons up and cleaned every inch of the kitchen, then looked around for something else to do. There was nothing. I'd hidden out as long as I could.
Lights out, I walked to the front door, digging my keys out of my pocket as I moved. They got stuck, and I stopped to free them, then gasped when I looked up and spotted someone on the sidewalk.
Zach was waiting outside the bakery door.
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