When he finally forces himself out the door, I run and lock it. I slide down to the floor and hug my knees, burying my face against them. I’m shaking so hard, I can feel my teeth chatter.
I can’t believe part of that man is growing inside me. And I can’t believe I’ll one day have to admit that to him.
After Ryle left me his keys this afternoon; I debated going back to our new apartment. I even had a cab pull up to the building, but I couldn’t force myself out of the car. I knew if I went back there today, I’d probably see Allysa at some point. I’m not ready to explain the stitches on my forehead to her. I’m not ready to see the kitchen where Ryle’s harsh words cut through me. I’m not ready to walk into the bedroom where I was completely destroyed.
So instead of returning to my own home, I took the cab back to Atlas’s house. It feels like my only safe zone right now. I don’t have to confront things when I’m hiding out here.
Atlas has already texted me twice today checking on me, so when I get a text a few minutes before seven o’clock in the evening, I assume it’s from him. It’s not; it’s from Allysa.
Allysa: You home from work yet? Come up and visit us, I’m already bored.
My heart sinks when I read her text. She has no idea what happened between me and Ryle. I wonder if Ryle even told her he left for England today. My thumb types and erases and types some more as I try to come up with a good excuse as to why I’m not there.
Me: I can’t. I’m in the emergency room. Hit my head on that shelf in the storage room at work. Getting stitches.
I hate that I lied to her, but it’ll save me from having to explain the cut and also why I’m not home right now.
Allysa: Oh no! Are you alone? Marshall can come sit with you since Ryle is gone.
Okay, so she knows Ryle left for England. That’s good. And she thinks we’re fine. This is good. That means I have at least three months before I have to tell her the truth.
Look at me, sweeping shit under the rug just like my mother.
Me: No, I’m fine. I’ll be finished up by the time Marshall could even get here. I’ll come by tomorrow after work. Give Rylee a kiss for me.
I lock the screen on my phone and set it on my bed. It’s dark outside now, so I immediately see the scroll of the headlights as someone pulls into the driveway. I instantly know that it isn’t Atlas, because he uses the driveway to the side of the house and parks in the garage. My heart begins to race as fear rushes through me. Is it Ryle? Did he find out where Atlas lives?
Moments later, there’s a loud knock at the front door. More like pounding. The doorbell also rings.
I tiptoe to the window and barely move the curtains over far enough to take a look outside. I can’t see who’s at the door, but there’s a truck in the driveway. It doesn’t belong to Ryle.
Could it be Atlas’s girlfriend? Cassie?
I grab my phone and make my way down the hallway, toward the living room. The pounding on the door and the chime of the doorbell are still going off simultaneously. Whoever is at the door is being ridiculously impatient. If it is Cassie, I already find her extremely annoying.
“Atlas!” a guy yells. “Open the damn door!”
Another voice—also male—yells, “My balls are freezing up! They’re raisins, man, open the door!”
Before I open the door and let them know Atlas isn’t home, I text him, hoping he’s about to pull in the driveway and deal with this himself.
Me: Where are you? There are two men at your front door and I have no idea if I should let them in.
I wait through more presses of the doorbell and more pounding, but Atlas doesn’t immediately text me back. I finally walk to the door and leave the chain bolted, but unlock the deadbolt and open the door a few inches.
One of the guys is tall, about six feet or so. Despite the youthful look to his face, his hair is salt and pepper. Black with a little bit of gray sprinkled in. The other one is shorter by a few inches, with sandy brown hair and a baby face. They both look to be in their late twenties, maybe early thirties. The tall one’s face twists into confusion. “Who are you?” he asks, peeking through the door.
“Lily. Who are you?”
The shorter one pushes in front of the taller one. “Is Atlas here?”
I don’t want to tell them no, because then they’ll know I’m here alone. I don’t necessarily hold much trust in the male population this week.
The phone in my hand rings and all three of us jump from the unexpectedness of it. It’s Atlas. I swipe the answer button and bring it to my ear.
“It’s fine, Lily, they’re just friends of mine. I forgot it was Friday, we always play poker on Fridays. I’ll call them now and tell them to leave.”
I look back at the two of them and they’re just standing there, watching me. I feel bad that Atlas feels like he has to cancel his plans just because I’m crashing at his house. I shut the door and unlock the deadbolt, then open the door again, motioning them inside.
“It’s fine, Atlas. You don’t have to cancel your plans. I was about to go to bed anyway.”
“No, I’m on my way. I’ll have them leave.”
I still have the phone pressed to my ear when the two men enter the living room.
“See you soon,” I say to Atlas and then end the call. The next few seconds are awkward as the guys assess me and I assess them.