SHE WANTED TO blame her parents for naming her Jolene. Who did that? Who named their daughter after the most notorious other woman in country music? Once she’d learned who she was named after, Jolene became Joey and there was no going back. And yet just two days ago she’d learned the ugliest truth of her life—she’d been sleeping with a married man.
For two years.
Joey sighed and reached under her sunglasses to wipe a tear from her eyes.
“Sorry,” Joey said.
“You don’t have to be sorry, babe.” Kira reached over and squeezed her knee. “We’re almost to LAX. You need to stop somewhere?”
Joey shook her head. “Keep driving. The sooner I’m out of here, the better. Thanks for getting me.”
“I can kill Ben for you, too. I’m willing to kill Ben. In fact, I might do it even if you don’t want me to.”
When Joey laughed it felt odd, and she realized it was the first time she’d laughed in over thirty-six hours.
“Isn’t murder maybe overdoing it?” Joey asked.
“Overdoing it? That piece of shit slept with you in Honolulu and with his wife in LA, and at no point in two years did he tell her about you or you about her? That is what happened, right? I didn’t make that up?”
“No, that’s right.”
“Then it’s not murder. It’s justifiable homicide. And don’t argue with me when I’m right. You know I am.”
Joey didn’t argue. She couldn’t because it was all true. For two years Ben had been her boyfriend. They worked together. They played together. They slept together. She believed him when he told her how much he hated living in LA. That he treasured his time with her in Hawaii. He’d move there permanently if he could, but work wouldn’t let him. Blah blah blah. Lies, all of it. Lies she’d believed, which is why she routed her flight through LA so she could surprise him. And surprise him she did. She knocked on his door and his wife answered. Quite a surprise for them all.
“So...murder?” Kira asked.
“No murder. Not yet, anyway.” She needed to fall out of love with Ben first. Hating him was easy. Not loving him was the hard part.
“Okay. But you just say the word, and I’m there. At the very least you should let me cut his balls off.” Kira grinned devilishly at her as she merged onto the I-105 ramp.
Joey swallowed hard, nodded. “Okay,” she said. “But just the balls.”
Kira dropped her at the terminal and helped her with her bags. Joey slammed the trunk shut and felt better. Slamming things, hitting things—she wanted to destroy all the things. Instead, she just rested her head against Kira’s shoulder.
“I wanted to marry him,” Joey said.
“I know.” Kira roughly patted her back. “I know you did.”
“I should have known. I mean, two whole years without him inviting me to LA?”
“I live in LA and I don’t even want to be invited to LA. This isn’t your fault.”
“What do I do?” Joey looked up at Kira. They’d worked together in the Honolulu office of Oahu Air, Oahu’s premier business-and first-class airline, before Kira had transferred back to the California office. They’d become fast friends and still were, even with half an ocean between them.
“Look. Here’s what you do. You go home to Oregon, you hang out with your family, you have the best time ever at your brother’s wedding and you bang the first hot guy you see the second your plane lands.”
“What if he’s the baggage handler? He might be a little busy.”
“Get your bag first. Then bang him.”
“I knew I could count on you for good bad advice.”
“I’m serious. Find a new guy. No guilt. No shame. No remorse. This isn’t about love. This is about you taking care of you. Sexually. It would piss Ben off, right? You jumping into bed with someone else right away?”
“If I burned his house down and threw his dad’s signed Gil Hodges home run ball in the ocean, it wouldn’t piss him off as much as me sleeping with somebody else right away.”
“Then go get it and get it good.”
“I don’t want to get it. The last thing I can think about right now is dating somebody else.”
“Whoa there. Nobody said anything about dating. This is sex. No strings attached. Speaking to you as a twice-divorced woman, you are not allowed to date somebody new for six months. Sex is fine. Sex is good. Dating’ll get you into trouble. Also don’t buy a car, a house, a Birkin bag, or go to Vegas with five thousand dollars in your underwear.”
“Did you do all of those after your divorce?”
“Everything but the Birkin bag. Those bitches are pricey. So no bags. Unless you get one for me, too. But sex, yes.” Kira pointed her well-manicured finger right at Joey’s nose. “Have insane, hot, totally meaningless sex until you remember what a goddess you are and you’ve forgotten Ben’s name because you’ve been too busy screaming some other guy’s.”
Joey took Kira’s finger in her hand and squeezed it.
“You’re a good friend. Thank you for enabling my bad behavior.”
“It’s what friends are for.”
The drop-off lane was clogged with cars. As much as Joey hated to be alone, she couldn’t put it off any longer.
“Thanks again. I’ll text you when I land.”
“Do it. And text me when you find a new guy.”
Joey grinned. “I will. If I find a new guy.”
“You will. I know it. Just remember—it’s Oregon. That’s hipster and lumberjack territory.”
Kira pointed at her inner thighs. “Watch out for beard rash downstairs. I speak from experience.”
* * *
JOEY BOARDED HER FLIGHT—a nonstop, thank God, which meant she’d land in Portland in under two hours. Being alone on a plane, cut off from the world with nothing but her thoughts to keep her company, was not what a woman who discovered she’d been inadvertently in love with a married man for two years needed. With no internet to distract her, all Joey could do was think about the signs she missed. Ben had been the seemingly ideal boyfriend—always attentive, always thoughtful. If he had to miss her birthday one week because he had to be in LA, he’d give her the belated birthday celebration of a lifetime the next week when he came back to Honolulu. Two nights at a five-star hotel. Room service. Wine. A helicopter tour the next day. And sex, so much sex, all night long. But no matter how much she tried to reciprocate, he wouldn’t let her. She’d offered to do her part, come visit him, even get a transfer to California. He’d have nothing of it. She was his “sanctuary,” he’d said. He couldn’t imagine Hawaii without her, he’d said. Someday he’d take over as president of the company and live in Honolulu with her, he’d said. She just had to hold on a few more years, and then they’d be set for life.
Wait a few more years? Yeah, she had to wait a few more years until he had the money or the guts to leave his wife. If that even was his plan. Maybe he’d been stringing her along. She would never forget that moment Saturday morning when she’d hopped a cab from LAX to his house in West LA. She had his address, of course. She’d seen it on his checks, on work forms, on his California driver’s license. She’d expected him to be home. And he was home. He was home and so was his wife, Shannon. Shannon answered the door with a confused smile and a “Yes? Can I help you?” Joey, equally confused, said, “I’m looking for my boyfriend. Is Ben home?”
That was the moment Ben stepped into the hallway, his Nikes squeaking slightly on the ocean-blue tile flooring. He was a handsome man, almost six feet tall, dark hair, dark eyes, a devilish grin but with a dimple that made a girl forgive the devil in him.
If she’d had any hope this was all a mistake, it evaporated the second Ben opened his mouth.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Ben had said with unmistakable fury. He’d never looked at her like that before, talked to her like that before. He’d always been happy to see her. If he wasn’t happy to see her, it was because that pretty lady holding the door open and looking at him, then looking at her and then looking back at him, wasn’t some well-dressed cleaning lady, but his wife. And Ben’s wife was having as bad of a day as Ben’s girlfriend was.
“Surprise” was the only word Joey could think to say. Shannon had a few other choice words to say and Joey heard them all as she walked to the curb where her cab waited just in case Ben hadn’t been home. As the cab pulled away, Joey had turned around to see Ben running toward her. She couldn’t read the look on his face—not fury, but not regret, either. She didn’t care why he ran after her. Didn’t care at all. She was numb with shock and grief. She felt nothing and would never feel anything but nothing again. At least that’s what she told herself as she fixed her makeup in a bathroom in the Portland airport. If she never loved again, she’d never hurt again and wouldn’t that be lovely?
After doing the best repair job she could on her face, she picked up her luggage and the rental car. It was nice doing normal things, nice to do boring human things. Life went on. Cars still needed renting. Luggage still needed picking up. Brothers still got married. Sisters still went to their weddings. The world didn’t end just because a man told a lie. That was good. The world would have ended a long time ago and many times over if it did.
The drive from the airport to her family’s old cabin near Lost Lake on Mount Hood was about two hours. Two beautiful hours once she was out on Highway 26 and heading west. She passed over a subtle ridge and what little was left of the city disappeared. There was nothing around for miles but the mountain, a billion trees and low-hanging clouds that brushed the treetops and rolled through the forest like gentle smoke. While Oregon was known for its evergreens, the forests had deciduous trees aplenty and they’d all gone wild with autumn colors—red and orange and lemon yellow. Even in her grief, Joey admired the beauty, took comfort in it. Hawaii was beautiful like nowhere else in the world, but damn, she had missed Oregon’s forests. The scent—there was nothing like it. Clean, so clean—pure pine and fir and all so light and airy that if you didn’t stop to breathe in deeply enough you’d miss it. But if you did breathe in on a rainy, windy day you might just smell what the world smelled like right after it was born. The trees lay so thick on Mount Hood they looked like an oil painting with the paints piled in heavy layers of emerald and black.
Finally she turned onto the winding gravel road that lead to her parents’ old Lost Lake cabin. Her phone vibrated in her pants pocket and she fished it out—carefully.
“Kira, you owe me five hundred dollars if I get caught talking to you,” she said when she answered.
“What? Five hundred dollars?”
“Five-hundred-dollar fine in Oregon for talking on your phone while driving.”
“Then why did you answer the damn phone?” Kira demanded.
“I’m on my driveway, actually, and the speed limit is five miles per hour. I think I got this.”
“Good. Found a guy to bang yet?”
“Do we really have to call it banging? Sounds so...violent.”
“Screwing? Fucking? Knocking boots?”
“Knocking boots? How old are you?” Joey asked.
“Just answer the question.”
“No, in the four hours since I last saw you I didn’t magically meet someone and screw, fuck or knock boots with him in the airport. And I’m probably not going to meet one in the next four hours, either. Or the next four days or the next two weeks. You know Lost Lake is mostly a retirement community, right? Retirees and summer vacation rentals. The only full-timers are the people who work at the lake and that’s, like...twenty people.”
“Twenty? About half of them must be guys. I like those odds.”
“Why are you staying way out there, anyway? You can go find a hot man bun in Portland.”
“The cabin is free. Mom and Dad gave it to Dillon as a wedding gift.”
“Nice gift. What do you get when you get married?” Kira asked.
“They’re paying for my wedding and honeymoon. Better deal than the cabin.”
“It was almost a dump when I was a kid,” Joey said. “Now it’s just a dump. Nobody’s stayed in it in ten years as far as I know. Dillon swears up and down he got someone to clean it up a little, but he’s been up to his eyeballs in wedding planning. As long as I don’t have to bunk with a raccoon, it’ll be fine. I can rough it.”
“Better you than me. Just let me know if you need me to come up and stay with you a couple days. I mean—in a hotel, but near you. I have some vacation days banked in case of emergency. Best friend accidentally fucking a married dude for two years qualifies.”
“It’s okay. But I appreciate it. I should go. I’m at the house.”
“How bad is it? Bad? Are there snakes? Don’t tell me.”
Joey could hear the wincing in Kira’s voice. Staying at a four-star hotel was her version of “roughing it.” She parked the car in the gravel parking spot and was pleased to see the exterior of the house was in better shape than she remembered it. Much better.
“Looks good actually. They painted it. It used to be this dull green but now it’s gray. Very pretty,” Joey said as she got out of the car. “Looks like cedar shingles.”
“And the landscaping is nice, too. Someone cleaned up the yard.”
The trees and shrubs looked well-trimmed. The old broken stone path leading from the driveway to the front porch had been repaired. Every stone fit neatly and perfectly into its place. She didn’t trip like she used to when she was a kid and not paying attention to the treacherous walk.
“And somebody decorated?” she said, clinging to Kira on the phone. “I don’t think this is the same house. Did I go to the wrong house?”
“No. It’s 1414 Cottonwood Way. This is it. There are carved jack-o’-lanterns on the porch. Really good ones.” She admired the mysterious carver’s handiwork. One scary face. One grinning face. One face that looked eerily like Eddie Vedder if Eddie Vedder were a jack-o’-lantern.
“Wait a minute...” Joey said.
“Something is definitely up.” Joey lifted the welcome mat—when did they get a welcome mat?—pulled out the key and opened the front door. She’d been expecting a bare-bones cabin. That’s how she remembered it, anyway. Her parents bought the place for a song when she was seven years old and never remodeled it, never refurbished it, but they’d certainly gotten their money’s worth out of it those long summers they’d spent here. Structurally, it was sound, watertight and well-insulated. But inside it had always housed yard sale furniture, squeaky metal cots and secondhand bunk beds, unpainted walls and a kitchen that made cooking on a campfire look inviting. But now...
“Wow,” Joey breathed. “Dillon must have decided to live here with Oscar after the wedding. Although I could have sworn he said Oscar hated nature.”
“Maybe he changed his mind? Love will do that to a guy.”
“Maybe...but still. This is like Architectural Digest gorgeous now. I don’t even want to think about how much this cost.” She turned in a slow circle in the living room. All the yard sale furniture was gone and in its place she found a distressed cedar coffee table, a large rustic leather sofa, a vintage oak rocking chair with what looked like a hand-knitted burgundy throw blanket tossed over the back. Someone had polished the floors to a high shine. The small woodstove had been replaced by a large stone fireplace with a rough wood mantel. And the kitchen had new tile on the floor, a fresh coat of rustic red paint, new rugs, new appliances—nothing but the basics but they were all high quality. Under the sink she found a recycling bin with the toaster box in it. It was that new.
“I wonder if they’re fixing it up to sell it.”
“Maybe. Still, nice of them to spruce it up before I came to stay in it.”
“Probably their way of making up for the fact that my lovely brother scheduled his wedding on my birthday.”
“Your fault for being born on Halloween. Perfect day for a Portland wedding.”
“Dillon and Oscar do love dressing up. It’s an ’80s movie theme. I have to pick a costume. Maybe I’ll go as Carrie.”
“You know—the girl with the blood and the prom and all the murdering—that Carrie.”
“You’re going as a mass murderer to your brother’s wedding?”