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Rumor Has It
Author: Jessica Lemmon

Present Day




The girl sitting across from me crying, that’s Beth. Her smooth, walnut-colored skin is half thanks to her Filipino father, the other half her Hawaiian mother. We’ve split up nearly a dozen times over the course of the last six years, the last time for good.

I hand her my napkin and she dabs at the tears streaking her cheeks. The massive diamond solitaire on her left ring finger is the one she said she always wanted, but it’s not from me.

“That’s the biggest rock I’ve ever seen. Bigger in person than in a magazine photo,” I say.

It is, which is unbelievable. She smiles sadly down at the ring. I take her hand—a hand I’ve held a million times in the past. A hand that has cracked across my face twice that I remember. She’s left-handed. Both times I’d earned those slaps. I rub my thumb over the diamond and then let her fingers go.

She’s not mine anymore. I’m not sad about it. It was headed there from the beginning, but both Beth and I had a serious case of “warm body” syndrome. Love the one you’re with and all that.

She sniffs and dabs at her eyes again. The café is pretty dead. Either the three people in here aren’t paying attention to us or have noticed and are being polite. Anyway, Beth isn’t a drama queen, so she’s not doing this for attention. She’s the stable one. The part of unhinged, irrational asshole has always been played by me.

“I’m scared.” Her tears are dry, her eyes on mine.

“Of getting married?”

She shakes her head, tucking her sleek black hair behind her ears. “Of ruining a marriage. You and I never figured it out, and we were together for almost six years.”

I tip my coffee mug and study the cooling black liquid for answers. They’re not there. I typically go with my gut, but at the moment my guts—along with my chest cavity—feel as if they’ve been scooped out. I don’t do heartbreak. Each and every time Beth and I bit the dust, or “took a break,” I began dating immediately. I was plenty okay with a one-night-stand that acted as a Band-Aid, and, not to sound like a dick, but there was always a woman around willing to patch me up.

This time my heartbreak can’t be credited to Beth, but to a woman by the name of Catarina. I haven’t so much as glanced at another woman—no Band-Aids for me—until this meeting with Beth. And I only showed up when she asked because, of all the roles we’ve played in each other’s lives, “friends” was the most legit.

“I mean this with sincerity.” I set my mug aside. “It wasn’t you. Ever. It was always me.”

This brings a sweet smile to her face. The one that dazzled me during my junior year at The Ohio State University. She was a cheerleader, and I was smitten so fast my head literally spun. We’ve been through a ton together. College. My being drafted for the NFL. Surgeries that were futile attempts at repairing a torn rotator cuff that took me away from the game. Us living in Miami. Living in Columbus. Us splitting up.

“It wasn’t all you, Bare.” She consoles me with her right hand. I wonder if she does it on purpose so as not to flaunt her new ring from her new beau. I wouldn’t feel slighted though. She deserves to be happy.

Bare is short for Barrett, by the way. Last name Fox. I have copper-colored hair like the aforementioned woodland creature, but with more brown than red. Still doesn’t keep the girls from referring to me as a “ginger,” which I used to mind until I realized how much tail it got me.

God. I’m a moron.

“Mostly it was my fault. Is my fault,” I correct.

A few months ago, I ran into Beth at this very café. She was ordering a coffee. I was picking up lunch. I mentioned that I met someone and she was hurt and happy at the same time. I knew how she felt. I felt the same way when she told me about Mark.

Now I suck in a breath and tell her the abbreviated, updated version of my relationship status. “I fucked things up with Catarina.”

“What? No.” Beth reaches across the table and grips my hand, comforting me when it should be the other way around.

Told you I was an asshole.

“What happened?” she asks.

So many things. Mostly, it was me being me.

“Where to start?” I let out a humorless laugh and then decide that the beginning makes the most sense.

So, that’s where I start.



Chapter 1



Where it Started




To keep from becoming antiquated, the Columbus Dispatch newspaper split into two parts five years ago. The Dispatch still “dispatches” print newspapers—the kind that line the bottoms of canary cages for our more senior readers—but its online presence has been growing steadily over those five years, thanks in part to new blood in the office.

Thanks, mostly, to me.

Columbus Community Chat, or the Chat if you’re an insider, is the online version of the Dispatch. Some of the articles I write also run in the actual printed paper, which is fun to see. Even though “seeing it” requires me to flip waaaay back to the relationships section of which I’m in charge.

Before you accuse me of writing “fluff”, let me assure you, I know my strengths. Much as I’d like to aspire to landing on the front page of the Dispatch, unless Ryan Reynolds becomes our next president, chances are it’s not going to happen.

I don’t attempt any feat that I’m not sure of achieving one hundred percent. That includes jobs, relationships, and every other nook and cranny of my highly organized life.

Mia Blakely, my boss, stumbles into our weekly meeting in her usual manner. Her curly hair is barely tamed, a pencil is jutting out of the brown locks just over one ear, and her brown skirt/peach blouse combo is outdated, though, honestly, not that bad. I’m not being unkind—just stating the facts. Mia doesn’t care about the latest trends or fads. What she does care about, and what she does best, is run this office, manage this newspaper, and keep her journalists paid. She’s entrusted me with more large assignments than she has anyone else who writes for the Chat, and for that I’ll owe her my firstborn son.

“Good afternoon, kids.” Mia eyeballs us over a pair of glasses with half lenses. She flips through a few scribbled-on sheets in her yellow legal pad, finds our agenda, and sits.

Megan, a young and plucky intern, dutifully places a mug of coffee at our boss’s right hand. Mia nods her thanks.

While Mia recaps the assignments for this summer, I jot notes into my planner—a black and white beauty with thick, luxurious paper and a posh striped cover—with a black gel pen, appreciating the precision of my handwriting in the “notes” section for June.

I can’t believe it’s June already. Seems like only yesterday I was huddling over the space heater under my desk in an attempt to ward off Columbus’s winter chill, which has the naughty habit of creeping through the walls of this very building.

“The last order of business is Catarina.” Mia smiles and peeks over her glasses again. I smile back. “I’m changing your ‘Fun in the Sun’ column this year to something more focused on relationships. A personal relationship. Your. Personal relationship.”

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