Excerpt: The Chaos In Me
Book 2, Beautifully Damaged: Julie Bale Books
The hardest thing about living is knowing that the mistakes you’ve made will never go away. They’ll always be there waiting, ready to slay you when you’re weak. Like when you’ve been on a bender for days and can’t seem to think straight. There is no easy win. There are only the frayed threads that make up a life not yet lived. A life not yet defined.
If you’re lucky you’ll meet that one person among the billions on this planet who can pick up those threads. The guy who can love you no matter what. And if you do? Take my advice and hold on to him. Keep him close, but more importantly let him love you. Because if you don’t the fall will be epic and there might not be a second chance. I should know. I met that person and I lost him.
As for the second chance? I’m working on that…
I ran into Ben Lancaster my third week back in Philly. I knew it would happen eventually but it wasn’t at all like I’d imagined. Mostly because that fantasy involved me looking like a million bucks, with shiny hair, exotic eyes and an ass that looked damn fine in a pair of jeans not meant for your mama.
He’d take one look at me, scoop me into his arms and kiss me like he was starving. He’d murmur words of forgiveness in my ear, words of love, and I’d finally be able to breathe again. After all this time.
Of course in my world there are no perfect scenarios—never have been—so why would I expect this to be any different? Because this here? This wasn’t anything like I’d imagined.
Stupid girl. Fantasies are about seeing things the way we want to see them, not the way they actually are.
So yeah, running into Ben Lancaster on a hot, humid June day, in the middle of an estate sale, with my hair tied back in a loose ponytail, wearing a pair of ratty jean cut-offs that looked like bad capris, and an oversized Muse T-shirt that belonged to my brother Matt, well, that was about as far away from fantasy as you could get.
I did not look anything close to sexy. Hell, I didn’t look anything close to acceptable. There was a time when I wouldn’t have gone to the corner store without full-on makeup and at least a cute pair of shoes. Today I looked like I’d just rolled out of bed and threw on the first thing I could find (which was about as close to the truth as you can get)
Ugh. I wasn’t even sure if I’d brushed my hair.
A quick glance down told me that the T-shirt was still as wrinkled as when I’d grabbed it from the pile on my chair. And, crap, was that maple syrup from my greasy breakfast?
This was so not my plan. I should just leave. Right now. And yet…
I snuck a glance his way and immediately felt things thrum and rattle, like the cells inside my body were finally waking up. Like they were infused with something long forgotten…something called life.
I suppose they were. I was starved for Ben Lancaster. He was my drug of choice and I’d been jonesing for months. Watching him play hockey with the Flyers on TV wasn’t enough. God, it wasn’t nearly enough.
I sucked in a huge breath and slowly let it out, my eyes on that profile, the proud nose, high cheekbones and the way his dark hair brushed across his forehead. It was shorter than I remembered and something about that made me sad. Like he was changing and I wasn’t there to see any of it.
He nodded, his eyes on a man who was showing him a piece of furniture. and my stomach rolled when he smiled. Even from the side it was devastating.
He bent low and whispered something to a girl with hair the color of blood. Not the kind of blood you see when you cut your finger, but the kind that’s old, like it’s been sitting awhile. Her hair was dark, shiny, sexy, and totally the opposite of mine, which though dark, looked like a limp rag tied at the back of my head.
This girl looked up at him as if he was her world. I recognized the look and my insides twisted. How many times had I stared up at him in the same way? I couldn’t blame her. Hell, I wanted to be her so badly it hurt.
Oh god. This was awful.
His arm was draped across her shoulders, casually, like it was meant to be there and for a moment I felt a whisper of memory slide over me, as if his touch was for me and not her. Startled at the intensity of emotion that clogged my throat, at the ache that burrowed so deep that I whimpered, I stepped back.
At least I think I did.
You know that moment when time stands still? When everything slows down even your heart? When the roaring in your ears and the pain in your chest fade to nothing? I was there for, one, maybe two seconds, and then everything came crashing down. And I mean everything.
A group of rusted steel milk cans crashed to the ground when my heel connected with one and the noise was so loud it made my ears ring. It seemed to go on and on and on, like an automatic weapon being discharged. Bang. Bang. Bang.
Every single head whipped up and looked my way.
Horrified, I saw Ben turn toward me, his arm still around the redhead and for one perfect moment that smile was all mine again. It was only for me.
Until it wasn’t.
Slowly his smile faded and we stared at each other from across the lawn, so much between us and a lot of it not good. Almost a year ago I’d broken this man’s heart and it sure as hell didn’t matter that mine was in pieces either. That just made it all the more pathetic and sad.
“Are you okay, Miss?”
I dragged my eyes away from Ben, shaking as I nodded at an elderly gentleman whose brows wrinkled so badly they became one unit as he watched me. He scratched his head, concern on his face.
“You don’t look so good. Are you sure you’re all right?”
No. Hell, no.
“I’m fine,” I managed to say. I needed to get away and I needed it to happen like yesterday. God, I was stupid. How in hell had I ever thought that I could handle seeing Ben? In what universe did that happen without me falling to pieces?
Scared, I took another step back. I couldn’t fall apart. Not now. Not after everything I’d been through.
Heart pounding, I pushed my way past the old guy and slipped through a crowd of people who were looking at the various pieces on display. The place was like a maze, filled with furniture of all kinds, tables, chairs, armoires. There were paintings, books, and personal items that had no business being on public display.
It was kind of sad. This was the past and history of some old lady who’d died with no one to take her belongings. No family to pass them on to. No one to pick up the threads of her life.
That’s gonna be me, I thought, chest tight as I skirted around a large dresser. Shit. Where the hell had I parked my car?
Palms sweaty, I ran them down the tops of my thighs, eyes darting all over the place because for the life of me I couldn’t think. My mind was blank. No that was a lie. My brain was filled with images of Ben and that redhead and along with those images came a whole lot of hurt.
Ben Lancaster was here with a girl. A beautiful girl. And selfishly I thought that he should be hurting as much as I still was. I mean, our love had been so….
Jesus. Get a grip, I thought. Ben and Georgia were nothing. Not anymore. And that was on me. I should be happy that he’d found someone. Happy that he wasn’t as sad and pathetic as I was.
I should be happy for him. But I wasn’t.
As I twisted my body around another large dresser, something erupted inside me and I realized that I was pissed. Not really rational, I know, but there you have it. It’s not like I was ever gonna be that girl. The one who owned her shit and dealt with it in a nice, calm, and collected manner.
I mean, that would be the adult thing to do right?
My hair had fallen loose from my ponytail and I swept it back. Think, Georgia. Car. Escape. Dark, lonely apartment. Carton of chocolate ice cream. I blew out a breath. Or two.
Shit. It was the older gentleman again.
“Your frames. I’ve got your receipt. Do you have anyone to help with their transport?”
Right. The reason I was here. I’d been on the lookout for antique frames for some of my artwork. I’d found a few here but they were large and I wasn’t sure I could fit them in my BMW.
“I’ll help.” His voice came from nowhere and yet it sounded as if he was right beside me.
I stared at the elderly gentleman. But there were no words. I had nothing. I think he asked if I knew the guy and I must have nodded because he smiled behind me. “Good then. I’ve got them wrapped and they’re over near the shed on the other side of the house. You can just pull up and we’ll help you get them loaded into your truck.”
I was frozen, cold as ice and yet burning up at the same time. I knew that I had to get my shit together or I’d fall apart. Falling apart in front of Ben would be the beginning of a long fall down and I wasn’t so sure I’d be able to pick myself up this time.
“Georgia.” It was him. His voice. It was him.
How many nights had I laid in bed, crying, remembering the sound of my name on his lips? The feel of his body next to mine? The way his eyes darkened when he was inside me?
Squeezing my eyes shut I exhaled. I thought of Seamus, my therapist, and pictured his gentle face, the way he would listen to me and tell me that the only one standing in the way of my happiness was me.
He’d take a sip of his Earl Grey tea, clear his throat and say that the only one blocking a future and a life was me. He’d told me that coming back here to Philly was going to be hard. That I’d have to make some choices. Mainly, was I going to keep running or was I finally going to accept me for who and what I was? Was I going to let myself be loved?
At our last session, Seamus told me that I was never going to be able to move forward until I faced my past. Until I owned my shit. And this man? This man who I still loved so fiercely, he was the past that I’d ruined. The past that I’d wanted and the one I couldn’t handle. He was the past that I needed to face.
Except I guess I’d always thought we’d end up together. Stupid I know. He’d already moved on and that wasn’t something I’d even considered. You know because I’d been living in a goddamn fantasy world. So yeah, I’d come home three weeks ago still living in that stupid world, but every single day had been borrowed time and apparently my time was up.
The thing is, there’s a certain amount of freedom in knowing that you’re out of options because there’s nowhere to hide. I knew that I couldn’t run anymore and even though it was going to hurt like hell, I owed Ben Lancaster the chance say all the things I’d never let him say almost a year ago.
It was the least I could do.
I exhaled, tucked that stupid piece of hair that always fell into my eyes behind my ear and slowly turned around.