“What did you just say?” she blinked, feeling the onset of tears in her eyes. “Say that again.”
Jaxson reached for her hands. “Jo, please. Just hear me out.”

She jerked away from him. “Say it again, Jaxson. What? You want to do what?”

“Three years is a long time. I think we’ve both changed as individuals. We don’t want the same things anymore.”

“Says who?” Joelle challenged. “How do you know that?”

Jaxson sighed and leaned back on his heels. “This is as hard for me to say as it is for you to hear, Joelle. Can’t you just try to understand me?”

“There’s nothing to understand. You basically said everything,” Joelle uncrossed her legs and lifted herself from the picnic blanket. “I guess we’re done here, right?”

Jaxson scrambled to his feet. “This isn’t how I imagined this going.”

“You really thought I’d be okay with ending our three-year relationship,” Joelle looked at him incredulously. “To think that I thought I was getting proposed to.”

His eyes widened. “Whoa. Why would you—” Jaxson stopped when he realized the setting. A romantic picnic on the highest hill in Governor’s Park. Candles, chocolate covered strawberries, music, and flowers. “I’m sorry, Jo. I didn’t mean to give you that impression. I just wanted things to go smoothly and thought a nice setup would help.”

“It doesn’t.”

Jaxson brushed a hand over his fade, not sure of what to say. Finally, he spoke. “I still care about you, Jo, and I always will. I hope we can be friends, or at least be cordial with each other.”

She didn’t say a word. Joelle turned her back to him to hide the tears that were falling from her eyes. “Sure, Jaxson. We can still be friends.”

Joelle awoke from her sleep with a start. Why did she have a dream about Jaxson?

“More like a nightmare,” she muttered, rubbing her eyes and stretching her arms to the ceiling. Her laptop lay on the floor, a Word document open and empty. A quick look at the clock told her that she’d been asleep for almost two hours. Two hours too long. Groaning, Joelle fell back against the couch. “Get your life together, girl. Get it together.”

—-

Across town, in a popular restaurant called the Hollow, drama was unfolding.

“Get it together, Leslie.” Colleen Tratelli watched as her sister sat stewing across the table. “You should calm down. You already made one scene.”

“Can you imagine,” Leslie hissed, “That my child has been lying to me for all this time? He said they’ve been broken up for two months!”

Colleen leaned forward and took her hand. “I understand that, Leslie. But you need to calm down. Think about your health.”

With her free hand, Leslie grabbed her glass of water and gulped it down. Slamming the glass down, she shook her head. “She seemed so happy…why didn’t she say anything to me? I’m her mother; she could’ve confided with me so I could’ve dealt with him.”

“She’s not a little kid anymore, Leslie. Joelle is a grown woman. There must have been a reason for keeping their breakup a secret.”

“Are you excusing her lying?”

Colleen sighed. “Put yourself in her shoes. She must have been so stressed with keeping it to herself. That’s so much pressure.”

Her sister frowned at her. “I don’t want to talk about this, Colleen. I should’ve known you’d say something like that.”

“Say something like what? Being empathetic with your daughter after the ordeal she’d been through?” Colleen laughed. “Are you angry because I’m right or because you never stopped to see why she lied?”

“I’m leaving,” Leslie pushed out of her seat and headed for the door.
Colleen stayed at the table, stirring her iced tea with a spoon. “Let me know when you want to act like the grown woman you are, baby sis.”

“Kim! Kim, wait, okay?” Jaxson Noland finally caught up with his girlfriend halfway down the street. “How do you walk so fast in those shoes? What are those, four inches?” He looked down at her high heels.

“Jaxson!” Kimberly’s exclamation got his attention again. “What was that in there? Who was that woman, and why did we have to sit there and take all of her crap?”

Jaxson wet his lips. “That was my ex’s mother and aunt. I guess she didn’t tell them that we broke up, so they were really upset.”

“Does that make sense? After two months, she doesn’t tell her family that her boyfriend broke up with her? How tragic.”

His eyes narrowed. “Don’t… don’t go there, Kim.”

She placed her hands on her hips and stared Jaxson down. “What? You don’t like me insulting your ex-girlfriend? Well, I don’t like being insulted by your ex-girlfriend’s family. Stop worrying about her and focus on me, the woman in front of you, the woman that you’re with now.”

“Look, Kim—” but the hand in his cut him off.

“You are not in a relationship with Joelle anymore. Don’t forget that.” Kimberly lifted her chin in the air and continued her stride down the street.

<<Part 4 || Part 6>>

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