• Britt Leigh

Finding Lily - Chapter 1

Lily sat slumped over the pearly granite countertops at her mother’s kitchen island. Her right hand was cupped around a steaming mug of coffee, her left hand buried beneath a tangle of hair and smeared makeup. She wasn’t particularly keen on getting out of bed that morning, but her mind refused to allow her the respite. So, she forced herself from the warm sheets of her childhood bed, down the curved wooden staircase, and into the kitchen. She selected the mug that read ‘coffee makes me feel less murdery’ and started boiling water for the French Press. She felt the sickening dread of the past few days slip away as she moved through the routine on autopilot. It wasn’t until she had filled her mug and saddled up to her mother’s kitchen island that her emotions threatened to swallow her whole.

It had been two days. Two whole days since her entire sense of reality was cracked open to reveal a moldy, rotten core. Lies, deception, and uncertainty spilled through her fingertips as she held the shattered semblance of a life in her hands. She stared at the pieces, begging them to put themselves back together lest she fall apart at the seams. Instead, it refused. Sat in her hands like a stubborn child and played with the sharp pieces.


Shane didn’t seem to care that their one-year anniversary was only a few days away when he casually suggested the separation.


“A separation?” Lily spat. “What are we, thirteen? What the hell good is a separation going to do? We are either in this together, or we aren’t.”


“I guess we aren’t then,” Shane shrugged, collecting a few things into his black overnight bag. “Lil, this has been a long time coming, and I think it’s better for the both of us. I’m a little shocked that you’re so surprised by this.”


Lily, usually so full of quick comebacks and sharp wit, found herself searching for the words to convince Shane of his wrongness. They were perfect for each other. How could he not see that?


“What is this really about?” she demanded as Shane stepped out of their large walk-in closet. His stormy grey eyes fell on hers, assaulting her with a blend of pity and anger.


“Fuck, Lil. Why do you always have to do this? Pick everything apart until it’s just an oozing scab.” Shane ran his hands through his flowing dark brown hair and paced to the other side of the room. “We just aren’t working anymore. That’s it. There’s nothing more to it.”


“Not working anymore? What are you talking about? We’ve been together for eight years, Shane. We just bought this fucking house six months ago. This isn’t some high school romance that fizzled out because we both ‘wanted to experience college.’ We’re married now. And you want to bail without any explanation? Do you even hear yourself?”


Shane sucked in a sharp burst of air through his teeth, “I’m fucking someone else!”


His words ricocheted against the vaulted ceilings of their large bedroom and struck Lily in the chest. They seeped into her skin, crawled to her throat, and strangled her vocal cords.

He was cheating. They bought a home together, made promises to each other, built a life together, and it was all a giant lie.


“How long?” Lily’s breathing felt labored as she tried to tame the swarm of emotions building in her chest.


Shane laced his long, olive fingers together and placed them on his head, his eyebrows furrowed in frustration and regret.


“How fucking long, Shane?”


“Four months,” Shane replied. “We’ve been sleeping together for four months.”


The broken couple sat in silence for several long minutes, soaking in the relics of the picture-perfect life they tricked themselves into believing they had. Photos from their anniversary vacation to Hawaii littered the walls of their oversized bedroom, adding a splash of color to the stark white paint. A collage of love letters Lily had written him daily during her last year of law school sat above their headboard. A diamond pendant hung from her bedside lamp, a beautiful ‘just because’ gift Shane had given her a year ago. Truth be told, however, they had spent most of their trip to Hawaii arguing. Lily had written the letters only because she felt Shane pulling away from her during those final grueling months of law school. The necklace wasn’t ‘just because,’ but an apology for a particularly nasty fight that Shane had ended with a scathing review of Lily’s competence.


How did they both miss the signs of their slowly unraveling relationship?


“Listen, I’m going to finish packing and head to Danny’s house for the weekend.” Shane stood and threw his overnight bag over his shoulder. “You should think about finding a place closer to the city.”


And just like that, Shane walked out of Lily’s life for good.


~~~~~~


“Lil?”


Lily let out a heavy groan and rolled her head to the side to acknowledge her mother’s presence.


“Lil, that coffee is going to get cold if you don’t drink it,” Ruby said, pulling a travel coffee cup from the cupboard and pouring her coffee to the brim.


Lily raised her head and pulled a colorful box of tissues toward her. “It’s too hot.”


Ruby smiled and rolled her eyes at her only daughter, taking a large gulp of steaming coffee to express her comedic disagreement. “Seems fine to me.” She tugged her flannel robe around her shoulders, feeling a slight chill as she approached the broken mess that was her daughter.


“It still doesn’t feel real, mom,” Lily started, blowing her nose into a fresh tissue. “How could I not have seen this coming? How could I have been so stupid?”


Ruby set her coffee mug on the counter and slid elegantly onto the expensive leather stool next to her daughter. She opened her mouth to offer her thoughts but thought better of her decision. Lily wasn’t finished processing her own thoughts, let alone her mother’s.


“And then we just sat there. In silence. That’s when I realized that our life was never what we made it out to be. I was the one who planned our trip to Hawaii. He didn’t even realize that the dates overlapped with our anniversary until I explained it. I was always the one to make our plans and encourage us to go out together, especially during breaks from law school. Honestly, it was exhausting being the only one to put in any effort. And don’t even get me started on law school. The only reason I initially considered law school was when stupid Professor Marks let me know he didn’t think I could cut it. Did I go just to prove him wrong? Did I really want it for myself?” Lily paused to catch her breath and wipe away a slow stream of tears on her snotty tissue. Ruby noticed but decided not to point it out. “My head is swimming, and I can’t tell what I really want from what I think I want.”


Ruby’s lips stretched into the same pitiful smile she used when she was about to say something judgmental, but Lily didn’t give her a chance.

“Don’t judge me, mom. I know I’m a wreck. I get that this is pathetic.” Lily pulled away from the counter to demonstrate, donning the same sweatpants and hoodie she had been wearing since she arrived. Her light copper hair was greasy and unkempt. “But I think I’m realizing that I don’t know who I am – like who I really am.”


Lily hugged her knees to her chest as Ruby pushed her empty mug to the center of the island. She reached toward her daughter and gently pulled on Lily’s chin until their eyes met. “Lil, there is nothing wrong with feeling a little lost right now. Everyone questions the direction of their life at one point or another, especially when a divorce is involved.”


“Mom, I’m not some college student confused about their major. I made all of these decisions. Shane, college, turning down the art fellowship, going to law school. I’m twenty-eight years old and I haven’t even started thinking about children. That’s not an accident. I made those decisions, and now I can’t figure out if I ever even wanted them.”


“Well.” Ruby allowed her voice to trail off, uncertain if her thoughts were moving in the right direction. She surveyed Lily’s demeanor. Her fiercely independent girl, who never took shit from anyone, was falling apart, grasping at the fragile pieces of her life. It was only a matter of time before she cut herself on the shards and bled out of control. All she needed was a little bit of direction, a small nudge to point her down the right path.


“Don’t hold back on my account, mom. You’ve never been shy about sharing your opinion on my life before.” Lily slouched in front of her mother like a forlorn teenager waiting for another nagging scolding from her mother. Ruby pivoted.


“After I found out about your father’s affair, I was filled with similar thoughts. How could I possibly have built this life with this vile man? It was maddening, and I felt ashamed. Then, you called me from your college apartment to ask me how long you should microwave a baked potato.”

Lily laughed under her breath as Ruby chased a tear from the corner of her eye. She had spent hours cursing Lily’s father when Lily called that day.


“I know it sounds silly that I remember those details, but I felt so broken and betrayed until I heard your voice on the other end of the phone. I was reminded that even in his worst moments, I wouldn’t have you if he wasn’t a part of my life.” Ruby leaned toward her daughter once more, pulling Lily’s hands into her own. “Everyone makes choices, and those choices just lead to another set of choices. And each time you make a decision, you are altering the course of your life, even if only by a small degree. Marrying Shane had its purpose, even if he wasn’t meant to accompany you to your ultimate destination. Your dad wasn’t part of mine, but he had purpose. Great purpose. Because he gave me you.”


Lily dabbed her eyes with a clean tissue, a lump forming in her throat as she tried to hold back her tears. She had never considered the pain her mom experienced when her dad walked out. She had been so absorbed in college and Shane and her future that she was only able to feel her pain. Only able to watch the family fall apart from her perspective. She squeezed her mom’s hands as the shame and guilt trickled down her spine and seized on her stomach.


“What did you do, mom? After dad left. You were only a substitute teacher then. How did you pull yourself out of that so you could build your business?”


Ruby leaned back on the stool. Her brain played a highlight reel of sleepless nights spent business planning and those spent in the arms of a few handsome distractions. There were long days at the spa, hours spent journaling in the bathtub and countless appointments with her therapist and life coach. Her recovery from that betrayal was a novel waiting to happen, but not one that was going to be written today.


“Truthfully, I just focused on myself. Meg, my life coach, helped me focus on the things I really cared about in the moment, and Bri, my therapist, helped me heal from the things buried in my past. Once I started focusing on what it was that I really wanted out of life, things started to fall into place.” Ruby pushed herself away from the island and walked back to the coffee maker to pour herself a fresh mug. She turned to face her daughter, leaning on the kitchen counter to hold the space between them as she selected her next words. “If you want me to be honest with you, Lil, I think that’s part of your problem.”


“Problem?” Lily’s head snapped toward her mom. She scanned her brain for the defenses she might use should Ruby begin to pick her life apart.


“Lil, you always have something. In high school, you had a part-time job, played two sports, and were student council president. In college, you worked two part-time jobs, took a full load of classes, and joined as many clubs as your time would allow. Then you added Shane to the mix. Law school was no different. You immediately joined the peer-counseling program, first as a recipient and then as a counselor yourself. I know we’ve joked about this your whole life, but you truly don’t have an off button.”


“I always thought that was a good thing,” Lily reflected. She rose to her feet as well, feeling energy, albeit nervous energy, for the first time in days. “It was something that set me apart from everyone else.”

“It still is, love. But have you ever really given yourself a chance to breathe? To think? You’ve always been the first one to jump headfirst into incredible opportunity after incredible opportunity, but I can’t remember a time where you paused to reflect on whether or not it was an opportunity you wanted.”


Ruby brought her mug to her lips to keep herself from saying more. She was on the verge of sounding preachy, if she hadn’t already. Instead, she allowed the silence to massage her words into Lily’s brain. Let them permeate through her skin and into her heart and soul. What Lily needed was time to think, not an excuse to jump into action.


And Ruby really believed that. She really did. But she couldn’t help adding her final thought.


“You should take some time for yourself, Lil. Give yourself some space and do something just for you and no one else.”


If only Ruby had maintained her silence, maybe Lily would have taken a spa day or hired a life coach. But it was too late. Ruby’s words turned like gears in Lily’s brain, clicking into place one right after the other, turning over and over until her mind was made up.


And once Lily’s mind was made up, there was no changing it.


***


Check back next month for Chapter 2 of Finding Lily!

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