Chapter 16

"…but love is blind, and lovers cannot see what petty follies they themselves commit." – William Shakespeare

I don't know how long I had been driving. All I knew was that I wasn't ready to go back to the hotel yet. Sookie left about a million texts messages on my cell, wondering where I was, but I couldn't find the strength to answer them. I needed time to think, to clear my jumbled up brain.

Since I was in the area, I drove around down town Wilkes Barre. It used to be a really happening spot with department stores and restaurants. It's mostly a college town now as well as an art scene. I passed an old dress making shop; the entire side had a mural of tulips painted onto it. The public square was lined cherry blossom trees. They were in full bloom; tons of petals littered the surrounding area.

I had spent most of my teen years down here. I used to call it my little Manhattan. That's silly, obviously, since Manhattan doesn't look a thing like this place, but the thought of it always comforted me. It held me over until I could see the real thing.

And then I saw it – Barnes and Noble, on the street corner. My heart exploded with delight. To me, a book store was like how crack was for a drug addict. I simply couldn't get enough.

Almost immediately, I decided browsing through a million books and maybe getting myself a vanilla cappuccino was exactly the kind of pick me up I needed. I parked my car in front and hurried inside. The smell of coffee beans and ink, from all the newly printed books, hit me as soon as I walked through the door. On the side, there was a café, where people quietly sat eating scones and working on their laptops. All throughout the rest of the store were rows and rows of books.

I swear if there was such a thing as heave, this would be it.

A worker soon asked me if I needed help with anything and while it always annoyed me when people asked me that, I smiled and politely declined. I started in the category of fiction and then moved onto some New Age books. The paranormal always interested me. By the time I had sifted through almost all of the categories and rows, I had a stack of novels in my hand that almost reached over the top of my head. I quickly headed to the café and laid the books on the table of a corner booth by the window.

After I went to get myself a cappuccino, I sat down and began browsing through a few of my books. I had a feeling that I would be spending a lot of money in this store. But I didn't mind; not one bit. I slurped my coffee, it's bitter taste mixed with a hint of vanilla ran smoothly down my throat. I loved it.

"Excuse me."

I looked up and almost died. It was Nichole. God, even when I try so hard to get away from my problems, they always friggin' find me. Well, Nichole wasn't really a problem of mine. She was just linked to one of my problems aka Joseph. I wondered if he had ever mentioned to her about our little midnight rendezvous at the Woodlands. Not that what he and I did was classified as cheating in any sense of the word. That would be reading way too much into it, which is something I'm trying to not to do. However, if I was Nichole, I'd still be pissed. Who wants their fiancé hanging about with his old girlfriend?

Then, I wondered, had he told her? Was she here to curse me out or something? My cheeks flushed, but by the sweet smile that Nichole's lips were twisted into, I figured that wasn't the case.

"Yeah?" I croaked.

"You're Stephanie, right?" she asked. "Joseph's friend from High School?"

Joseph's friend from High School.

"Something like that." I answered. There was no way I was going to be the one to tell Nichole, that he and I were much, much more than friends.

"May I sit?" she gestured towards the empty chair beside me.

"Sure." She sat down.

Now that I was seeing Nichole up close, it was becoming increasingly clear to me that she was absolutely beautiful. Her long, naturally blonde hair was pulled back into a high pony tail. Her face was free of any kind of makeup allowing her grey eyes to show through. Nichole had on short jean skirt that showed off her ridiculously toned legs, silver flats, and a light purple cardigan. Suddenly, I felt really self concision and envious. Of course Joseph would choose someone like her over me. Now, I felt a whole lot better about the fact that he was most likely dicking her over.

"You were at the award's dinner." I said. I realized that I honestly knew nothing about this girl. Joseph didn't mention her at all when we went to the restaurant. I was eager to size her up. "Were you getting an award?"

She nodded. Her cheeks blushed as though she was embarrassed. "I'm a swimmer. I made the state team."

A swimmer. How lovely. "Oh, that's great." I lied. On the inside, I wanted her to burn in hell.

"Yeah, but I guess its not as cool as being a celebrity." She laughed.

I took a sip of my coffee.

Nichole looked down at her hands. "So, Joseph's told me a lot about you."

Oh, I bet he has. "Really?" I asked innocently.

"He said you guys were pretty close back in the day." She looked at me, her eyes wide. She had this childlike quality about her with her huge eyes and sweet sounding voice.

"We were." I answered, honestly. Nervously, I bit the inside of my cheek. "He was like my best friend."

"I see." She muttered. Nichole began twiddling with the enormous rock on her left hand. "You know, we're supposed to be married." She looked up, almost laughing. "I can't believe I even said yes. We're so young."

I knew that feeling all too well. Joseph had a way with words. He knew just how to convince you of things you weren't even sure you wanted.

I scoffed. "Joseph knows all the right things to say." I couldn't believe I said something so honest and blunt. Especially to Nichole. I mean, I was pretty positive I hated this girl. Then, she looked at me. Her eyes told me she knew exactly what I meant.

"You know him well." She whispered.

"That's the beauty of knowing someone for so long." Suddenly, I was starting to feel bad about hiding my true relationship with Joseph. At this point in time, I don't think it mattered, but I couldn't help feeling like I was lying to Nichole. Truth be told, she was starting to remind me of someone. Someone I used to know a long time. Someone who was unscarred and happy go lucky.

She reminded me of myself.

"He's a good guy." She said suddenly. I filled my eyebrows. Yeah, besides his constant narcissistic tendencies, I thought bitterly. I mean, here he had this gorgeous athletic girlfriend at his side and he's sneaking out to meet me at midnight. That made no sense. I was starting to see that. I was also starting to see that Sookie was right.

Darn her.

"Yeah, he is a good guy." I agreed. "He's…good."

"Is it weird that I'm telling you all this?" asked Nichole. Then, she shook her head. "No, don't answer that. I know it's weird. I just…I want some reassurance that I'm doing the right thing." She shifted her weight so she was looking directly at me.

"I'm the last person you should be asking about this." I breathed.

"But Stephanie, you're the only person he ever mentioned from high school. You must have shared a great deal with each other. Just tell me if I should be doing this."

God, she was so blind. Couldn't she see right through me? I wasn't Joseph's friend at all. How could she not put two and two together? Was she so blindly in love that she couldn't see him for who he really was?
Then, I stopped because I remembered something. I used to be Nichole. I was the one blindly in love and I'm pretty sure I was blindly in lust the other night when Sookie and I fought.

I leaned forward. "Listen, all I can tell you is to follow your heart. Yeah, that sounds like a real bullshit advice, but it's true. I followed my heart and look what happened, I made it to Broadway. I may not always appreciate or even understand how lucky I am, but deep down I am grateful. I can't tell you who to marry. That's for you to decide."

Silence. Nichole chewed my words over carefully. "Thank you." said Nichole, finally. I smiled, proud of my little inspirational speech.

"Don't mention it." Then, I checked the clock on my phone. It was getting late by the few hundred texts messages Sookie sent me, she was obviously becoming very worried. "Listen, I have to get going. There's…something I have to do." I pulled my purse over my shoulder and grabbed some of the books I wanted to buy.

"It was nice talking to you." I said, sliding out of the booth.

Nichole remained seated. "Yeah, definitely. I guess I'll see you around." She waved.

I nodded and headed towards the check out counter and then to my car. I wanted to get to the hotel as soon as possible. There was a fight waiting for me that I desperately need to end.