Tag: first love

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 18

While I had seen and heard of the karaoke club, I was not in the least prepared for the experience of being inside. Generally, a bar has a rough clientele base: it’s a classy sit-down pub for the middle aged; it’s a bass-thumping dance club for the newly legal and almost legal to grind and shimmy; it’s a dark, seedy joint for ancient, lost souls to drown their despair.

This was a mixture of all of the above.

Currently, a 40-something brassy blonde with false eyelashes was belting out Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive like it was a church hymn. There was a scraggly eighty-year-old sitting at the bar, using his hands to conduct the music with enthusiasm. Men and women of all ages stood and sat and drank and talked and sang along. I’d never seen anything like it.

The club wasn’t very big, but I still had trouble finding the face that had lured me inside. As I was scanning the crowd Kelly elbowed me.

“Go get us some drinks.”

“What? Why should I buy? It’s your turn, Kell.”

“I’ll pay you back. And for god’s sake, do me a favor and just talk to him.”

My cheeks burned red and I scoffed. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

She grabbed my shoulders and forced me to look into her eyes.

“Don’t insult me. I’m not stupid. He’s standing at the bar, watching you, and has been since we walked in.”

That information made my stomach start doing flips. Still, I tried to lie to my best friend and hide the fact that I was already smitten.

“Maybe he’s a creep or a psychopath.”

She rolled her eyes and turned me around, pushing me toward the bar.

“I don’t for a second think that you believe that. Please put us all out of our misery.”

Sure enough, he was standing at the bar, trying to be sly about watching me. When our eyes met, he blushed a little but didn’t look away. To the contrary, he stood up taller and grinned a little wider.

Damn. I guess I was buying this round.

Not wanting to be too obvious, I didn’t try to squeeze into the space right next to him. I figured that if he was truly interested, he’d travel that extra three feet to me. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long.

“I was hoping I’d get a chance to meet you.”

Goosebumps. Immediately. Keep it together, Alexis.

I looked up at him with a half-smile. “You were?”

“Absolutely.” He held out his hand, even though we were basically pressed against each other in the crowd. “I’m Jamie.”

“Alexis.” When I shook his hand, the contact lasted longer than it should have. It seemed neither one of us wanted to be the first to let go.

“I feel like my whole life has been leading up to this moment, Alexis.”

My eyebrows shot up. “Wow. What a line.”

“Don’t you believe in love at first sight?”

“Is that what you think this is?”

He leaned in close so I could hear him over the noise. He smelled amazing. “I’m struggling to come up with a more feasible explanation for the way I’m feeling.”

“And how is that?”

He wasn’t touching me at all, but his breath on my ear and the side of my neck was oddly intimate.

“My heart is racing, I feel like I’m on fire, I can hardly catch my breath…”

“Maybe you have malaria.”

He cocked his head to the side and gave me a full smile. “Cute.”

“So…you’re telling me you DO believe in such fairy tales as love at first sight.”

Looking down at me, his smile softened. There was so much tenderness in his eyes my knees nearly buckled.

“I never used to.”

Kelly and I did not make it to the final stop that night.

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 17

By the time I got home, I had declined 12 phone calls and nearly 20 text messages. I switched the cell off.

The rest of the night was spent curled up on my bed, bawling like a child. I knew I had brought all of this on myself, but I had never felt so alone in my life.

Any time I felt this bad, my first impulse was to call Jamie. He was my rock and had been for over two years. Jamie always knew how to comfort me, how to help me work through my problems without making me feel worse. But somehow, I didn’t think he would be super sympathetic to my self-pity.

I held my hand in front of me, where I could admire the ring Jamie had picked out for me. He had spent more than a month shopping for the perfect style for me and, of course, he knocked it out of the park. Somehow, Jamie knew me so well he picked out the ring I never knew I had always wanted. He’d been doing things like that since the day we met.

Kelly and I were downtown that night to blow off steam after a long work week. The days of binge drinking and wild girl behavior were long past, so we were nursing drinks and hopping between bars on the square. We had challenged ourselves to have one drink at every bar before we called it quits. We’d been to the country/western bar, the martini bar, the Irish pub, and the sports bar. The only ones left were the video game arcade and the karaoke club. We were standing on the sidewalk debating which one would be the last stop for the night. That’s when I first saw Jamie.

He was at the back of a crowd of young men walking toward us, smiling at something the guys around him were talking about. He was wearing a Red Sox baseball cap, a white buttondown shirt with the sleeves rolled up to just below his elbows, and a pair of slim, dark jeans. I think his smile was the first thing that got my heart racing. Kelly was still talking, probably asking me questions, but her words barely registered.

As the group got closer, Jamie finally looked up and saw us. It sounds so cliché, but I was lost in that moment. A cartoon princess movie would show a montage of birds singing, and rainbows arching across the sky, and flowers blooming just so the butterflies would have somewhere to land. The neon lights and traffic and noisy music spilling from every doorway was, to me, just as sweet and just as romantic.

Jamie fell farther to the back, his steps slowing and stuttering, like he was torn about which direction to go, with his group or a few steps farther – to me. Our eyes stayed locked on each other even as his friends turned into the karaoke bar and he followed them with some reluctance.

“Kell, let’s go do some karaoke.”

“Really? Can you sing?”

I shrugged. “I sound great with the radio. Come on!”

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 16

Sunday dinner devolved quickly. Dad and I returned to my mom and sisters silently carrying on with food prep. None of them looked up when we came in, they all just kept on viciously chopping, peeling, and sautéing like those veggies had done something wrong, instead of us.

I attempted to apologize, as did Dad. Our pleas fell on deaf ears, however. My presence wasn’t so much as acknowledged, let alone forgiven. Since it appeared that we would, eventually, have a dinner to eat, I decided to sit in the living room with my dad.

Turns out that was the wrong decision. I could feel the piercing stares and waves of disgust washing over me the entire time it took for dinner to be served. Even then, not one of them invited us to join them. We simply saw that the food was done and decided to take our chances.

We were seated around the table, the only sound the clinking and scraping of silverware on plates. It was hard to enjoy the gourmet meal I was putting in my mouth because I felt so miserable. The air felt thick and heavy with judgment of what was seen as my horrible and selfish behavior. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I set my fork down nicely next to my plate and folded my hands in my lap.

“Can we please talk about this?”

There was an immediate lack of movement from anyone in that dining room. After an unusually uncomfortable pause, my mom was the only one to speak.

“No.”

“Judy…” My dad tried to smooth things out with her, placing a hand on her arm and speaking in a quiet voice. She was having none of that, though.

“Don’t you start with me, Jim! Don’t you dare. You’re as bad as she is! Sneaking out without a word to anyone!”

“There was no way to get a word IN, mom! You all were screaming at each other so loud a bomb could have gone off and you wouldn’t have noticed!” My resolve to be calm and contrite was beginning to unravel.

Lisa snorted. “Oh, right. This whole situation is OUR fault?”

“I didn’t say that. But may I point out that its nobody’s decision but MINE when or even whether I marry Jamie?!”

“Alexis, you wouldn’t!” Maggie gasped and stared at me with wide eyes.

I looked around the table at these people I loved – my mom, fuming at everyone around her; Maggie on the verge of tears at the idea that I might not get married; my dad looking like he was trying to figure out how to avoid sleeping on the couch that night; and Lisa showing zero emotion with her eyes glued to some imaginary spot on the wall – and I couldn’t be there one second longer.

I scraped my plate into the trash, thanked them all for a wonderful dinner, and slammed out the door without looking back.

Huh. Seemed I had developed a ‘modus operandi’ of running away from my problems. I made a mental note to see someone about that.

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 15

After my dad joined the conversation it got exceptionally loud in that little kitchen. Not because of him – my father was probably the calmest, most thoughtful human being I had ever encountered. Jamie was a close second.

No, my mom and my sisters decided that they each knew what my problem was. And they each knew exactly how to fix it.

My mother said I was being silly and overreacting to a case of cold feet.

“Everyone gets them! But that’s no reason to go traipsing around with ex-boyfriends!”

She felt that I should just quit messing around, put on my big-girl panties, and do what I was supposed to do. Judy then launched into a tirade about whiny millennials.

The fix suggested by Lisa was to just call off the wedding. It was glaringly apparent to her that I just didn’t want to get married. I was too young and shouldn’t rush into anything. She also felt I was being tremendously unfair to Jamie, stringing him along.

“The only decent thing to do is to cut him loose and stay single for a year or longer. Marriage isn’t for everyone.

Maggie, with her imagined wealth of experience in all things, said that Jamie and I had been together too long and that I was simply feeling restless. She thought that I needed to get away to Las Vegas for a wild and crazy weekend.

“What happens in Vegas, and all that! Imagine blowing off some steam with an anonymous stranger. Sow some wild oats before settling down – you’ll feel like a whole new woman!”

Not surprisingly, my mother lost her damn mind at Maggie’s suggestion, Maggie thought Lisa was bonkers to think that being alone was the best course of action, and Lisa couldn’t believe that our mother would blindly overlook my feelings and push me into some sexist expectation from the Dark Ages.

Each one was shouting louder than the next and ignoring me, completely. I watched silently from the far side of the kitchen until tears blurred my vision. While Mom, Lisa, and Maggie were distracted, my dad nudged me with his elbow and waggled his eyebrows.

The cavalry had arrived.

It was simple to escape the house. None of them heard anything but their own voices at this point. My dad and I kept quiet until we had turned the corner a few houses down.

“You know they’re going to think I just ran away. Again. Mom’s going to shit herself.”

Thankfully, Jim was not as shocked by foul language as Judy was, and he chuckled under his breath.

“I have a feeling you’re right about that. But don’t worry – I’ll tell them that this time you were kidnapped.” He slung an arm around my shoulders and grinned down at me.

I had so much on my mind, and I had no idea how to express any of it.

“Dad, do you think I should just call off the wedding?”

He squeezed my shoulder. My dad would take his time to answer, carefully measuring each word before it was uttered.

“Kiddo, it doesn’t matter what I think – or what your mom or your sisters think, either. The only people this wedding should really matter to are you and Jamie.”

I sighed and laid my head on his shoulder.

“I know, Dad. In my heart I know you’re right. But I can’t help thinking that Lisa has a point. Jamie deserves better. Maybe the fact that I’m hesitating is – is proof that this isn’t what I want. That I’m just going along with it because it’s what’s expected.”

“Is that how you feel?”

Was it? Everything was such a mess I couldn’t tell what I felt.

“Did I tell you I ran into Doug last week?”

Judging by the sudden tension in his body, I had not. It was no secret my dad had zero love for Doug. And that was even without knowing the whole story. Losing your virginity on a bathroom counter was NOT something you discussed with your father.

“Don’t worry, it was purely an accident. I know what went wrong there. And he’s still an asshole. Hopefully he was drunk enough that he won’t remember he knows me, much less that he saw me.”

Dad shook his head and grunted.

“That kid was a dickhead.” I couldn’t help laughing. “Sorry, Alexis, but he was!”

“Still is, Dad.” I frowned at the sidewalk. “But running into him made me even more worried about the future. I thought I was in love with Doug.”

My dad stopped cold in the middle of the sidewalk and turned me so he could see my face.

“Jamie is NOT Doug.”

“I know. But – ”

“It sounds to me like you’re trying to talk yourself out of getting married. Like you don’t trust your own feelings.”

I groaned. “At this point, I don’t, Dad.”

He tucked my hand in the crook of his arm and started steering us back home.

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 14

Every Sunday, my sisters and I descended on our childhood home to cook dinner for our parents. It became a tradition after my older sister, Lisa, moved to the other side of town for college. Maggie and I had missed her so much, and she came home every weekend to do laundry anyway, that we just decided it should be a thing. That was almost ten years ago.

This particular Sunday was about three weeks after the bridal shop ‘incident’. Once they all knew I was safe, they hadn’t pushed for more information. The last two weekends had slipped by in pleasant conversation and homemade pie without a scene.

But my mother had reached her limit.

My sisters and I were dancing around the kitchen, working together like a clunky, rusty machine, but still getting the job done. Dad was in the living room watching one of the news channels, giving them back his commentary. My mom was sitting on a stool at the kitchen island, trying to stay out of our way for fear of being trampled.

We were singing along to the radio as we worked, laughing at each other and lost in the music. Then Judy switched off the sound and slapped her hands on the marble counter.

“Okay, that’s about enough!”

Maggie nibbled at the celery she’d been chopping.

“We weren’t THAT bad, were we? I mean, Alexis was a little flat, but otherwise – “

“That’s not what I was referring to, and you know it.”

Tugging at her sleeve, Lisa steered Maggie to the far side of the kitchen. It seemed I was the only one not quite grasping the situation and I continued to root around in the fridge.

“Alexis Marie! I have been patient. I have tried to be understanding. But, by god, I deserve an explanation!”

There was complete silence following her outburst. I even heard my dad lower the volume on the television. That was kind of his thing; listening without obviously listening. Maggie and Lisa were huddled in the corner, well out of reach of our enraged mother – and me.

“Well?”

Well, indeed. Once again, I was faced with the task of trying to explain something I wasn’t sure I understood, myself.

“I am sorry for sneaking out on you like that. I don’t have an excuse. It was rude and selfish – ”

“And childish.” Mom gave me a glare that dared me to contradict her.

“And childish. I should have apologized a long time ago.”

That seemed to soften Judy’s resolve a bit. She raised her eyebrows, crossed her arms, and nodded.

“Thank you. We sat out there for a good hour before anyone realized you weren’t there. Poor Janice thought you had been kidnapped, or something.”

Shoving my hands in my pockets, I leaned back against the refrigerator. All I could do was stare at the floor and hope the words to make things better would materialize before me. Thankfully, my mom couldn’t stand the silence and the tension.

“Oh, sweetie. What on earth made you run away? Was it all just overwhelming?”

I shrugged. “A little. It’s just…I was looking at myself in that mirror and it was all so real all of a sudden. I guess I panicked.”

“Don’t you want to marry Jamie anymore?”

“Oh god Lisa, yes! I do want to marry him! Just not…yet.”

Maggie took the stool next to Mom and slung an arm over her shoulders.

“Can you believe this shit, Judy?”

We all snorted – all except Judy.

“Margaret! Watch your mouth! And since when don’t you call me Mom?”

“Since I am a grown, independent woman.”

“…who raids mom’s kitchen rather than go shopping for herself.” Lisa dodged her sister’s playful swat and wrapped me in a hug.

“I heard you were with Chris a couple weeks ago.”

Everyone perked up at Lisa’s statement, mouths round in shock.

I rolled my eyes.

“Oh my god, you guys! I wasn’t ‘with’ him in the Biblical sense! Is that what you think of me? We went to dinner. That is ALL.”

My dad, showing he was following along with the conversation just fine, thank you very much, piped up without turning around.

“How is old Chris, anyway? I always liked that kid.”

Turning on her stool, my mom was the one to reply.

“Jim, I’ve told you all this before. He’s divorced and lives with his little boy in the guest house on his parents’ farm. You’ve seen them.”

He waved his hand, lazily in the air. “Oh sure, sure. I remember that now.”

After a short silence, Dad hoisted himself from his armchair and wandered into the kitchen.

“Lex, what were you doing going out with Chris? Are things okay with you and Jamie?”

Well now. That WAS a question, wasn’t it?

Have You Met…Alexis

Sooo…It’s been rather a long time since I’ve introduced a character. To be honest, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything but chapters of my serial, The Path of Least Dysfunction. I wish I could tell you that’s because I’ve been deep in the throes of editing. Instead, I’ve been distracting myself with the aforementioned serial…as well as starting two others.

Have I mentioned I’m the queen of procrastination?

Writing Dysfunction is so much fun! I’ve been getting great feedback on this story so I thought I’d introduce you to the star!

Have you met…Alexis?

Alexis is twenty-five, the middle of three sisters, and newly engaged. She adores her fiance, Jamie, but is suddenly overcome with cold feet – not because she doesn’t want to marry Jamie, but because she’s afraid it won’t last.

You see, Alexis is a bit of a control freak. She likes to know exactly what she’s getting into, what to expect every step of the way. Lists are calming for her and she loves to research places and people and experiences before she dives in. The more she knows about any situation ahead of time, the better.

As the wedding planning gets into full swing, the idea of “forever” starts to terrify her. It’s a lot of pressure. She adores Jamie and the idea that their marriage could end at some point, that she could face life without him, weighs heavily on her. Alexis like to borrow trouble and tends to imagine every possible scenario – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Before long, she begins to fixate on the possibility that Jamie could fall out of love with her down the road, and that sends her into a tailspin. Her solution? To contact her previous significant boyfriends to find out what went wrong, why those relationships ended, and how to avoid doing anything that could come between her and the love of her life.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize that by doing that, she may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Writing Alexis has been so much fun! She’s just neurotic enough to make her life interesting without crippling her. The relationships she revisits are a road map of her emotional development and will, hopefully, lead her back to Jamie and her happily-ever-after. To be honest, I have no idea what’s going to happen…Alexis is on her own path and I just follow along!

Feel free to comment below with any thoughts about Alexis, about her story, or anything else you want to know about my writing and writing process! Thanks for coming on this journey with me and I look forward to hearing from you!

The Path of Least Dysfunction chapters are released each Wednesday on this website, or can be followed on my Channillo.com page.

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 11

“Wow. You kinda suck.”

I glared at Kelly. But her blunt candor was one of the things I appreciated the most about her.

We were sitting at one of our favorite pubs, unwinding after a hectic week. When I had finished filling her in on the last time Jamie had spoken to me, her jaw dropped open and she told me what I already knew.

I groaned, putting my face in my hands.

“I shouldn’t have called him. I know that now. But I missed him! I wanted to see him so badly. I mean, my feelings for him haven’t changed. But I’m just not ready. I need to see this through.”

Kelly swallowed the last of her wine and shook her head at me.

“Do you, though? What exactly do you think you’ll gain from this little journey?”

Heaving a sigh that carried all the heaviness in my heart, I grabbed our empty glasses and headed toward the bar.

“I’m gonna need at least a couple more of these to try to explain that.

I was lost in my own head while I waited for the fresh glasses of wine – my Moscato, Kelly’s Merlot. It hadn’t escaped my attention that my behavior had been pretty callous. I didn’t think about anything past my own selfish wants and, because of that, I had again hurt the one person I loved most in the world.

After he left, Jamie didn’t take my calls. I tried several times, leaving at least three messages. Finally, I got a text.

I just can’t right now, Lex. I need a minute.

I had cried when I read that.

I’m so sorry.

That exchange had been six days ago. I hadn’t tried to reach him again, and there was radio silence on his end, too.

Maybe I should just drop all of this. I loved Jamie, he loved me – what else did I need to know? I should just plan this wedding and settle into marital bliss with the better half of me.

But I knew I couldn’t do that. Not yet.

I wasn’t just being obstinate when I said I needed to see this through, that it was important to me. There were things in my life I had to face, things I wanted to iron out or tie up or resolve. If I was going to be the wife he deserved and start a life with Jamie that would be forever, I couldn’t walk away.

“Well, well…look what the cat dragged in.”

Shit.

Without looking up, I knew the face I’d see. I didn’t want to turn around. I wanted to will him away simply because he was one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

And because I didn’t have the energy to be civil rather than tell him to fuck off in the middle of a crowded club.

Dark hair and brown eyes leaned across the bar, forcing himself into my line of vision. I pretended that I hadn’t heard him and that I was shocked to find him staring me in the face.

“Doug! What in the world are you doing here?”

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 7

I lied to my mom.

The first lie was when I told her I had to leave so I wouldn’t be late. What I really meant was that if I didn’t leave right then I wouldn’t be half an hour early.

She was so worried about this, I went out of my way to make this dinner sound very casual and not any big deal – just food with another person in a public restaurant.

That was the second lie.

I recognized Chris’s old pickup as soon as it pulled into the parking lot. How was that thing still on the road? It was ancient when we were dating! But Chris was pretty handy, learning from his dad how to fix nearly everything, so that truck would end up outliving us all.

We hadn’t seen each other in more than five years. A lot had happened in that time. I wasn’t sure what to expect – or what he was expecting. I smoothed my crazy curls and straightened my blouse. Why were my palms so sweaty? I scrubbed them on my pants and waited.

I hated to admit that my heart skipped a beat – or two – when Chris finally climbed out of the truck. That face held so many good memories for me. The blond curls were still there, although cropped a little shorter. I watched him lick his lips once. Twice. Three times -before he had even locked the door. A nervous tick of his that I was honestly glad to see he hadn’t lost. He was wearing jeans and cowboy boots with a button-down pink shirt, the sleeves rolled up just above his wrists. Everything about him looked the same and a wave of old feelings washed over me.

This was going to be harder than I thought.

Leaning back in my chair, I watched in amusement as Chris stopped outside the restaurant, checking his reflection in the window. He tweaked a couple of curls, straightened his shirt, and checked his teeth. In the window directly opposite me.

God, he was adorable.

His eyes found me as soon as he stepped through the door and a big grin split his face. I stood when he started toward the table, clenching my hands in front of me to keep them from shaking. When he reached the table, he stopped abruptly.

“Hi, Lexi.”

He was the only one I let call me that name.

“Hi, Chris.”

We stood there drowning in awkwardness. I could sense the tension in him, and it matched mine. We were holding our breath, unsure whether we should hug or shake hands or just sit down. He finally chuckled and pulled me into his arms, kissing my cheek. He wasn’t much taller than I was, but my nose landed in the crook of his neck and I instinctively took a deep breath. Amazing. Just soap, a tiny splash of some nondescript cologne, mixed with his natural scent. And it was intoxicating.

Pulling back, he slid his hands down my arms until he had grasped my hands, giving them a quick squeeze. His green eyes searched my face and his smile grew even wider.

“You look fantastic. Even better than I remembered.”

He held my chair for me before sitting, himself. Head tilted to the side, a smile playing around his soft lips.

“I’m so glad you reached out, Lexi. It’s been too long.”

Our eyes locked and those damn butterflies in my stomach started their enthusiastic romping.

That was the exact moment I knew I was in trouble.

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 6

My phone dinged with a text message and I made the mistake of glancing at it.

Call me!!!

Damn my eyes. Just lost any semblance of plausible deniability.

“Hi Mom.”

“Hi sweetie!”

I waited, expecting her to launch into some tirade or another, but she said nothing.

“Three exclamation marks, mom. Is there something going on?”

A beat. “You tell me, Alexis. IS there something going on?”

Jesus. I was in the middle of getting ready to leave the house and I knew better than to let her bait me. But she was my mom, after all. She is a next-level pro at this and I didn’t stand a chance.

“What are you talking about, mom?”

There was an exasperated sigh on the other end, and I almost heard her rolling her eyes at me.

“Patty called me today.”

While this wasn’t shocking news, it wasn’t what I was expecting. Chris’s mom and my mom had become fast friends when we were dating. They lived in the same town and ran into each other periodically, so it only stood to reason that they’d stay on friendly terms.

What did surprise me was that Chris had apparently told his mom he was meeting me for dinner.

“She did, huh?”

“Don’t play dumb, young lady.” She was silent for a moment. When she spoke again, her voice was low and quiet. “What are you doing, Alexis?”

Well, wasn’t that just the question of the day? I didn’t have the first clue how to explain it to my mom when I didn’t quite know, myself.

“Have you talked to Jamie recently?”

This question that seemingly came out of nowhere, was just a set up for what would morph into a long and entertaining guilt trip.

“I talked to him last week, mom. He’s fine. He and I are fine. I still love him, we’re still getting married. Just not quite…yet.”

“But why are you going out to dinner with other men if you’re still marrying Jamie? How could you do that to him?”

I held the phone away from me for a moment, pressed against my chest, so I didn’t scream in her ear. Deep breaths, Lex. Think calming thoughts…

“Mom. I’m not going out with ‘other men’. I’m having dinner with an old friend.”

She scoffed. “You and Chris have never been just friends.”

“Mom…”

She wasn’t wrong.

After nine months of dating, we called it quits. It wasn’t ugly, it wasn’t messy, it just…ended. We didn’t see each other at all over the summer, but once school started, we kind of gravitated together. He took someone else to Homecoming, but by Halloween we were thick as thieves again, like no time had passed.

When we broke up the next time, it was harder.

“Lexi. This isn’t working.”

“I know.”

“We’re trying to get back to what we used to be, but it can’t be like that again. We’re not the same people.”

I had wiped the tears off my cheeks, nodding.

“God, I wish we were. I still care about you – I’ll always care about you – but…”

My mom’s voice was droning in my ear. I wiped the tears off my cheeks, nodding.

“I know, mom. I know this seems like a bad idea. But Jamie and I are fine. Chris and I are…just friends.”

She stopped talking. So did I.

“I have to go, mom. If I don’t leave now, I’ll be late.”

“Alexis.” She took a deep breath. “Be careful.”

romance story, romantic serial, short story chapters, sharon clark, Sharon L. Clark Author

The Path of Least Dysfunction, A Series: Chapter 5

The list was mocking me.

Smoothing the creases out of the paper, I stared at the names written there. And they stared back.

There were five names. I had dated others over the years, but these five were the ones I remembered the best. These were the ones who had the biggest impact on my personality – on my life – and the ones I needed some level of clarity from.

Should I start at the beginning with Chris, my first love? Or should I start at the end and reach out to Joey from college first?

I was still in social media contact with Chris. We were an item off and on through high school, staying close friends into college. I couldn’t help grinning whenever I thought about him. There was an old saying about how you never forgot your first love. That certainly held true for me. Chris would always fill a special place in my heart.

We were barely teenagers when we first became friends. To be honest, middle school – and genetics – hadn’t been kind to me. But there came a point when I was 14 that I decided to make a change.

I had been the quiet, nerdy girl with wild hair and glasses, afraid of her own shadow, ignored in the back of the room. But after a particularly harsh rejection from a boy I had liked, I made a conscious decision to be different. I started participating in class, only raising my hand if no one else would – I mean, boys didn’t like smart girls, after all. I made jokes under my breath that only the people close by heard, but I made them laugh. I talked to the people I was most intimidated by and pretty soon I didn’t have to work so hard.

While Chris was my first love, he wasn’t my first boyfriend. That was Jerry.

Jerry was two years older than I was, cute in a rough kind of way. I saw Jerry at a basketball game and we spent most of the night sharing surreptitious flirty smiles. Until Kelly had had enough. She simply marched over to Jerry, grabbed his elbow, and dragged him over to introduce us. She didn’t know him, she just was tired of my bullshit.

I loved that woman.

Jerry was shy and sweet. He was pretty decent at small talk and was always a gentleman. He’d walk me to class and walk me home after school. He called me every night and gave me daily compliments. Not bad for a first boyfriend! Jerry was not, on the other hand, a very good kisser. He was my first kiss, too, but even I could tell something wasn’t quite right.

Nice guy, Jerry. But it didn’t take long for me to realize there was nothing substantial in our conversations. I was 15! I had read Wuthering Heights, Emma, and Somewhere in Time more than once – I wanted romance. I wanted to be swept off my feet by a boy who could get my heart racing with his personality. Jerry was not that boy. So, I broke up with him after about six weeks.

There’s very little that will boost a teen girl’s confidence like having – and breaking up with – an older boyfriend. From this new self-assurance, I found myself talking to Chris.

He sat behind me in our history class. He was funny and adorable, crushed on by many, but with zero ego about it. He played football and basketball – good at both, but not a star in either. Chris got good grades, he was well-liked by everyone, and didn’t seem to get pulled into high school popularity politics. Chris lived on a farm and belonged to 4-H. He was respectful, got up to some harmless shenanigans with a handful of good friends, and loved his mom.

One day in history class, I turned around and just started talking to him – I must have been feeling a little flirty and full of myself. I don’t remember that first conversation being anything earth-shattering, but I know I turned around the next day, and the next. Then he started tapping my shoulder to get me to turn around. I do have a vague recollection of painting his fingernails one day in class. Why I had nail polish with me, I don’t know. But that adorable, blond, curly-haired boy sat there, listening to me ramble on about what I can only imagine was drivel, and let me paint his nails a fetching shade of pink.

The weeks we spent getting to know each other was exactly what I had always dreamed of. It was so effortless to talk to Chris. I never felt self-conscious around him. We talked about everything and anything. He was smart and funny, challenging me when I needed it but supporting me always. My mom would have to threaten me to make me get off the phone when he and I got going.

He quickly became my favorite person. We sat next to each other on the shuttle bus, finding little ways to touch each other: on the shoulder, or the arm, sitting close enough for our legs to touch. It was obvious to everyone around us what was going on, but neither of us had the gumption to pull the trigger. Until a girl from our class forced his hand.

She turned around in her seat on the bus, sitting up on her knees, watching Chris and me goof around.

“Chris!”

We both looked up and she waved me off.

“Not you, Alexis! Just Chris!”

I rolled my eyes and covered my ears. She pulled a fake whisper – we were on a bus full of high schoolers, she couldn’t have whispered to the person in the seat next to her, much less to Chris five seats back.

“You two are so cute together. Why don’t you ask her out?”

Even years later, that memory made my cheeks burn and my heart race. But that darling young man didn’t miss a beat. He turned to me with a smile.

“How about it? Want to be my girlfriend?”

It was a little blunt – he had been put on the spot – but it had worked on me. I smiled for days. And the girl made sure to take credit for getting us together.

After graduation, Chris’s life took a different path than mine. While we were flirting through emails in college, he and his girlfriend – still in high school – had gotten pregnant and they got married right after she graduated.  They weren’t together anymore, but from what I heard, he was a devoted and loving father and never had a bad word to say about his ex.

I traced my fingers over the letters of his name and frowned.

As Kelly and I were leaving the park the other day, she asked a question that had been scratching at the back of my mind ever since.

“Is there maybe another reason you want to talk to these guys?”

Brushing the dirt and grass off my pants I frowned at her.

“What do you mean? What other reason?”

She shoved her hands in her pockets and started walking. It took her almost a block before she answered me.

“You say you want to talk to them to make sure you don’t screw up your relationship with Jamie. But…” Kelly peeked at me from the corner of her eye. “But could it be that you’re scared you still have unresolved feelings for the names on that list? You’re afraid that you missed something with one of them and you want to just…” She waved a hand in the air. “Check?”

“No!”

My denial was loud and immediate. I had no doubt that I loved Jamie. I could see myself with him for the rest of our lives, raising a family, growing old.

Happy.

But ever since she brought it up, the idea had been burrowing deeper into my brain. Was that my ulterior motive? I mean, my recent behavior was crazy enough as it was. But to think that I was looking to rekindle something with one of these guys from my past instead of being ecstatic to marry Jamie…?

I laid my head on the table, groaning.

What the hell was I doing?

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