It took two hours of me telling him to go before it finally sunk in. Two hours of me ignoring his pleas with a stony look on my face before he finally understood and began to pack his things. When a woman can look you right in the eye and tell you she just doesn’t care anymore and can do it without any emotion clouding her features, it’s time to take her seriously.

I didn’t care if he killed himself with his addictions. I didn’t care if I never felt the soft touch of his lips against my own again, I didn’t care if we never laid in bed together at night giggling about an old memory, I didn’t care if he was the only man on earth who had ever known my body and I’d never feel him inside of me again.

When the tears never came and all I could think about was that I just wanted him gone, I knew there was no turning back.

I was done.

Chapter 3—Slow Burn

“I CANNOT BELIEVE we are at this bar. I suddenly feel really old,” I complain, glancing around the small dive bar in town we frequented in college.

“Oh, shut it, Finnley. We are not old,” my best friend, Phina, scolds.

I watch as she flips her long red hair over her shoulder and scans the room. “Okay, so we’re a few years older than most of the people in this place, no big deal.”

“A few years? I’m pretty sure I used to babysit that guy at the end of the bar,” I tell her with a roll of my eyes.

The guy in question looks over at me and raises his bottle in my direction in a silent toast. I grimace and quickly look away, bringing my beer to my lips and taking a huge swallow.

“He’s hot. Did you seriously used to babysit him? Damn,” Phina says with a low whistle.


“That’s disgusting. The last time I saw him he was ten.”

She shrugs and takes a sip of her rum and Coke. “Well, he’s definitely not ten anymore. The things you could do to him would be completely legal.”

My best friend, Seraphina Giordano, is amazing and the closest thing to a sister I’ll ever have, but the stuff that comes out of her mouth sometimes makes me question her sanity. We’ve been friends since the first day of high school. When her name was announced and a few students chuckled at the unusualness of it, she put her hands on her hips and stated, “My name means fiery one. Don’t piss me off or I’ll burn your ass.” Her little outburst earned her an afternoon in detention, but there were no more giggles during roll call. Phina oozed confidence and assertiveness and I wanted to be just like her.

She has been by my side through every one of my joys and every one of my disappointments. In the month since Jordan and I separated, she has been my rock. Instead of telling me I-told-you-so and going on about how I should have left him years ago, she stood by me in companionable silence while I worked through my emotions. After four weeks of pouring myself into my job and ignoring every single text, phone call and voice message from Jordan trying to guilt me into letting him come back home, she finally convinced me to get out of the house and take my mind off of everything.

“So, I filed for legal separation today,” I tell her as she sips her drink.

She chokes on the liquid and I pat her on the back as she sputters and tries to cough away the shock of my news. When she finally regains control of herself, she sets her glass on top of the bar and looks at me with her mouth wide open.

“I think this is the first time in all the years I’ve known you that I’ve seen you at a loss for words,” I joke.

She immediately snaps her mouth closed and shakes her head. “Sorry, I’m just trying to process what you said. Are you okay? Fuck, that’s a stupid question, of course you’re not okay.”

I shrug and start peeling the label off of my bottle of beer. “The weird thing is, I am okay. At least, I think I am. I thought I would be upset, I thought I would feel something. Sadness, regret, anything. I just feel… numb. Like it’s happening to someone else. Like I’m looking down at some other woman ending her marriage without a second thought.”

Phina reaches out and puts her hand on top of mine, halting my label-peeling process. “Hon, you gave this more than a second thought. You’ve been agonizing over this for years. You just finally got the courage to do something about it. I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you for not giving in to his bullshit anymore. I’m proud of you for putting yourself first for once. God knows he never did that.”

I honestly wanted to feel bad about the fact that I went to the courthouse today and filed the separation paperwork without even talking to Jordan about it. I wanted to feel some sort of remorse that they would be serving him the paperwork within twenty-four hours and he had no idea it was coming. Even after kicking him out of the house and having no contact with him for a month, he still believes this will blow over, judging from the messages he’s been leaving me. He still thinks I’m going to forgive him and this is just a temporary setback.

I don’t really care that he’s probably going to be hurt and shocked, but I am concerned about how pissed he’s going to be that I’ve done something so drastic. My worry over his reaction is the only emotion strong enough to make it past my indifference. I can already imagine the messages he’s going to leave me when he receives those papers, and it forms a thick pool of dread in my stomach. I want this to end peacefully and just move on with my life, but I have a feeling he’s not going to make it easy. Jordan was a good husband for a lot of years. He was sweet and attentive and I know he loved me, but struggling with one addiction after another has turned him into a person I don’t even recognize anymore. He’s quick to anger and even quicker to pin the blame for his life falling apart on everyone but himself. I’m not looking forward to dealing with him when he realizes I won’t be his putting up with his roller coaster of emotions anymore.

“Can we change the subject? I don’t want to think about this right now. I just want to drown myself in cheap beer and hope I don’t run into anyone else I knew from my teenage years,” I tell Phina with a smile.

“Got it. No more talk about the king of the douchebags. How about we discuss how hot you’re looking tonight? Did you put extra effort into your appearance just for me?” Phina asks with a wag of her eyebrows.

I look down at myself and feel a twinge of embarrassment over the amount of time I spent making myself look good tonight. With a pair of tiny black shorts, killer black stilettos that bring my already tall five-foot seven frame up a few inches and a backless black and white tank top that ties around my neck, I feel good. My long, wavy chestnut hair is pulled up in a high ponytail, my bangs are swooped down over one eye and I added a little more make-up than normal, giving myself a smoky eye with black eye shadow and bold red lips. For the first time in a long time, I feel sexy. According to the courts, I’m officially separated, but I didn’t do this to attract male attention. I did this for me.

I’m not going to lie, though. Seeing a few men in the bar doing a double take when I walked in was great for the self-esteem.

“Come on, let’s head out to the patio and get some fresh air,” Phina tells me as she picks up both of our drinks from the bar and starts to head towards the front door that leads out to the wooden patio overlooking the parking lot.

When I told her that being here made me feel old, I wasn’t lying. We used to come to this place every Thursday night during college as soon as we were of drinking age. We live in a small town where everyone knows everyone else and you were guaranteed to run into a handful of people you knew every time you turned around. In college, it was wonderful. We got to see friends from high school who all went away to college and were home on break and people who moved to another state and came back for the holidays. I always came here with Jordan and it created a sense of pride to walk into this place with him and show everyone that we’d done it—we’d defied the odds and made a high school romance last. Now, walking through this bar that has the same green walls, the same old jukebox in the corner and the same rickety patio, I feel like a failure. Nothing here has changed and yet everything has changed for me. I’m embarrassed to run into someone we might recognize and have them look at me with that knowing look in their eyes that says ‘We knew it wouldn’t work. High school romances never do.’ The fact that I’m more worried about what people will think than I am about my marriage falling apart tells me that I did the right thing.

I follow Phina to the only table on the patio that isn’t currently occupied. The barstools have been taken by another table, so we make do with just standing next to it.

“Hottie at your six. Don’t turn around,” Phina whispers conspiratorially as she takes a sip of her drink and looks over my shoulder.

“How am I supposed to confirm his hotness if I can’t turn around?”

“Damn, he’s got a great ass. Come on, pretty boy, turn around so momma can see your face,” she mutters, completely ignoring me.

I shake my head at her and signal to the waitress at the next table that we need another round of drinks.

“Oh, shit. Oh, holy fuck. Oh, my God there is no WAY that’s him,” Phina swears.

I look at her in confusion and start to turn around to see what’s got her so riled up when her hand clamps down on my arm. “NO! Don’t turn around. I repeat, do NOT turn around.”

“What the hell is your problem?”

Phina quickly ducks her head and hides her body in front of mine. “Shit. You are NOT going to believe who is at the table behind you.”

At this point I’m a little nervous that she’s going to say Jordan. The fact that he hasn’t shown up at the house is a little disconcerting. Every night, I expect him to waltz through the front door like nothing has happened and every time I leave the house I’m afraid I’m going to run into him. I’m worried that if I see him right now, some part of me will regret the decision I’ve made and forget about all of the damage he’s done.

“Will you just spit it out? Quit being such a drama queen,” I tell her with a roll of my eyes as the waitress drops off another rum and Coke for Phina and a beer for me.

“Don’t be alarmed, but Collin McDaniels is standing five feet from you,” she tells me with a huge, fake smile on her face as she speaks through her teeth.

My heart starts thumping erratically and I can feel my face heating up. I haven’t heard that name in years. Granted, I’d thought about that name several times since I was seventeen-years-old, but I never expected to be in the same room with the guy.

Collin McDaniels: my first boyfriend and the guy who broke my heart in a note. It might seem silly that I still remember so much about him when I haven’t seen him in over seventeen years, but a girl never forgets her first boyfriend, especially when she was with him for two years during a very pivotal time in her life. Granted, it was a pretty tame relationship in the beginning, filled with trips to the movies that our parents had to drive us to and some heavy petting in each other’s living rooms while our parents made themselves scarce so we could have ‘date night.’ Once Collin could drive, however, we experienced a lot of firsts together in the back seat of his car. I wasn’t really ready to give up the old V card at that point, though, and I’ve always suspected that played a big role in his breaking up with me out of the blue

Collin and I both had a strange fascination with fire and I’ve always wondered if that was one of the reasons I was drawn to him. When most people think of fire, they think of the smoldering ruins of a house or a forest decimated by wildfire. Collin and I looked at fire and saw possibilities. He saw the opportunity to save a life and I saw a chance to make something beautiful. We understood each other’s peculiarities and it was a commonality no one could take away from us. I never thought it strange that he spent many weekends sitting on the curb in front of our local fire station, just staring at the building and he never thought it was strange that I spent mine playing with gunpowder and matches. I wasn’t some freaky, teenage girl with a death wish, I was an artist. Or so I thought.

From the time I was a little girl, I always loved to draw and I would use every medium at my disposal to do it: pens, crayons, food, my mother’s make-up or my father’s shoe polish. You name it and I picked it up and created art with it. I quickly grew bored with the usual tools and one day, I saw a show on television about a Chinese artist named Cai Guo-Qiang. The man was an artistic genius who created breathtaking pictures by sprinkling gunpowder onto Japanese hemp paper, using his fingers to mold it into a picture and then lighting the whole thing on fire in one big burst of an explosion. I was fascinated by what was left behind after the fire quickly burned out. When the smoke cleared, what remained wasn’t charred ashes, but the most brilliant designs I had ever seen in any museum or book.

My parents, being the loving people that they are, gave me the freedom to try my hand at this - on Sundays, as far away from the house as possible, when the neighbors were at church and the two of them were standing by with fire extinguishers and 911 on speed dial. They quickly realized that I had talent and ‘only on Sundays’ quickly turned into ‘only when your mother and I are home and your father always lights the fuse.’ My third attempt at creating one of these pieces is how I met Collin. He lived one street over and was outside washing his dad’s car when he heard the boom created by the gunpowder. He came running over, expecting to see our house up in flames. When he found my parents and I smiling like idiots in the backyard, he asked with wide, excited eyes if I could do it again so he could watch. From that moment on, we were joined at the hip.

When I wasn’t in the backyard exploding canvases while Collin stood by cheering as the final design made itself known, I was inside, curled up on the couch in Collin’s arms sketching out new designs for my next attempt.

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