Home > The Relationtrip

The Relationtrip
Author: Elana Johnson

Chapter One






My mom once told me that to make a marriage work, one had to compromise. “You don’t get everything you want,” she’d said.

“Ooh, it has a pool,” she says now, as she sits at my bar, her plate of dinner long gone. I’ve washed all the dishes—pots and pans too—and a certain level of exhaustion invades my bones.

“What are you going to do with a pool in Pittsburgh?” I hang up the dishtowel that hasn’t seen this much action in months and turn to face her.

She doesn’t so much as glance up from my laptop. The one I need to call my best friend and find out the situation with our trip. He’d texted during my last showing, and my mother ambushed me literally at my car as I’d said good-bye to my clients. If my SUV had been unlocked, she’d have been lurking in the passenger seat.

Talking on the drive here. Me cooking something last-minute. More talking. Her going on and on about how the house she’s shared with my father for the past twenty-five years is too big now. It feels so empty, she’d said an hour ago. Wistfully.

Other times, she talks about Dad like he’s the devil himself. I don’t really blame her. I’d had no idea he wasn’t happy in his marriage of thirty-three years. I’ve said very little about Dad since Mom took me to lunch and told me the news.

Some of the things she’s said…

I can’t go there right now, so I paste a tight smile on my face. “Does it have a gym?”

Mom’s been looking at condos and fifty-five-plus communities, which I suppose I can’t blame her for. I wouldn’t want to do yard work and home improvement or maintenance—things she’s literally never had to manage on her own.

“Hm.” Mom’s eyes glaze over, and I turn, open the fridge, slide my phone off the counter in seemingly one motion. I’m the oldest of three girls, and I’m very good friends with my mother. I don’t entertain her nightly—usually—but we talk every day. Most days. I’ve always liked our close relationship, until this major bump in her life.

I feel thrown back in time five years, and I could say all the things she said to me then. I don’t, because I know how harshly words can slice through a person’s defenses. Sometimes those are as see-through as plastic wrap. Though it seems strong and can keep things fresh for longer, it can stick to itself, get twisted, and it’s actually very, very easy to poke holes through when already stretched tight.

I know the plastic wrap Mom bears is the stretched-tight kind, so I mind my tongue. I have to get her out of here, and as guilty as that makes me feel, I do have other things to do tonight besides entertain her.

411, I send to Logan. The text flips to read, and the tension in my shoulders fades enough to make them finally go down.

“Never mind,” Mom says. “It’s over by Tree Line.”

I turn back to her, Logan’s response to me nowhere to be found. “What’s over by Tree Lane?”

She doesn’t answer, and I’m not sure how much more I can take. “Mom—” I start, a loud, shrill trilling cutting me off.

Praise the heavens.

“Oh.” She jumps away from the computer, both hands flying up as if someone has a weapon pointed at her and she needs to show them she doesn’t have one.

“That’s Murph,” I say, doing my best not to grab the computer and flee for my bedroom. “I do need to talk to him about our trip.” To my own ears, I sound super sympathetic. My smile feels a bit too wide, but Mom slides from the barstool.

“I should go anyway.” She sighs, as if leaving my house—which she’s used some choice adjectives for in the past—is the worst possible outcome for her evening.

“Okay,” I say. “It was so good to see you, Mom.” I leave the call ringing, because a 411-distress call means I need Murph to call me, specifically on the computer, and if I don’t answer, to call my cell only two minutes later.

I’m hoping I can kiss-kiss Mom good-bye and be headed to my bedroom by the time he rings my cell.

“Thanks for cooking,” Mom says as she pauses at the front door to get her jacket. “The chicken was surprisingly juicy.” Her compliments aren’t always compliments, but I keep the smile hitched in place. It rides my face as she turns to me, steps into my embrace, and then leaves.

The moment the door closes, I feel like I’ve crossed the finish line of a marathon. I’d be one of those runners who put everything forth and then stumbles mere steps from that finish line. Tonight, I made it, and I spin back to the kitchen as my phone rings.

I’d managed to escape to my room for ten minutes to change my clothes and ditch my heels before making a gourmet feast for dinner—wherein the chicken was juicy and delicious, I’ll have everyone know—so I’m able to jog back to the kitchen.

Jog is a generous term. Maybe a bouncy power walk. Whatever. I know when I swipe my phone from the countertop, it’s about to go to voicemail and I shouldn’t have attempted any sort of bouncing, power walking, or jogging.

“Murph,” I say in a pant.

“There you are,” he says, as if I’ve missed a meeting. “Let me guess. The Smithsonians demanded you show them yet another colonial, you haven’t eaten since that gross pumpkin seed bar you have synced to a ten a.m. alarm on your phone, and you’ve just now made it back to your car.”

I start grinning at the mention of my clients. Not so much that he heard me huffing and puffing. I tell myself it doesn’t matter. He’s my best friend, despite the fact that we only see each other once a year—on this upcoming mid-winter tropical retreat.

I laugh, Logan Murphy’s deeper chuckles mingling in with mine. My heartbeat thrums in the vein in my neck, and I feel…happy. So, so happy, whenever I talk to Logan.

“First,” I say. “I’ll have you know I made dinner tonight. For my mother and I.” I raise my eyebrows and turn toward the master suite. When I’d bought the house, it didn’t have one. I worked with an interior designer, and now I have a fabulous master suite with a settee in my bay window, a walk-in closet any woman would die for, and more European glass than any single woman should ever own.

“Chicken or beef?” Murph asks, not even letting me get to my second point.

“Chicken.” My feet meet the luxurious carpet in my bedroom, and I further relax.

“I bet it was so dry,” he says.

“Totally,” I deadpan. “Secondly, my clients’ name is Smithson. Not Smithsonian.” I can’t erase the grin from my lips. Murph never gets names right. He gets close, but never dead-on. I grab my hamper of dirty clothes and continue when he doesn’t reply. “Third, I still have to prep the paperwork for that closing tomorrow, I haven’t started my laundry yet, and I have no idea where my passport is, so please tell me we don’t need it.”

He pulls in a breath. “You’re gonna need it, Sloane.”

I figured as much. “I’m starting my laundry. Start the story.” We’ve been traveling together every winter for the past five years. This is our sixth trip together, all of them stemming from that fateful day I showed up at the airport for my honeymoon…alone.

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