“So, are we solving the day’s problems with sugar or alcohol?”
It’s a great question. The same one I’ve been debating for the last eighteen minutes, standing on the exact spot on the sidewalk that is equidistant from the front door of Nana’s Old-Fashioned Doughnuts and the liquor store.
“You look better today.” My older sister, Kiersten, tucks a strand of strawberry-blond hair behind my ear. I’d argue that the hair wasn’t out of place, seeing as the best I could do this morning was an intentionally messy bun, but Kierst is used to acting like a mama hen, given our ten-year age difference.
“I feel good,” I lie. She knows it, I know it. But to be fair, today, I’m showered, dressed, and wearing clean underwear, a significant improvement from the last three stinky, wallowy, underwear-optional weeks.
“I think Nana’s is probably the right life choice.” I step toward the clear glass door of the doughnut shop. Kiersten follows behind me. As the door swings open, we are blasted with the sweet scent of sugar and yeast and happiness. Yes. This is the exact type of comfort I need.
We take our place in line behind a handful of other hungry Hamiltonians who have excellent taste in morning pastries and eye the double-wide glass case hosting dozens of artisanal doughnuts handcrafted with Nana’s love.
“What are you getting?” Kiersten nudges me with her elbow as her eyes lock onto a row of Coconut Dreams. Her question is more of a formality. A Wilde sister ritual. To say we come here often is an understatement. A gross understatement.
“Half a dozen Classic Fritters,” I tell both Kierst and the little old lady working the cash register, who is not the real Nana. It’s my order. The one I give every Saturday morning when we meet for our weekly walk-and-talks, or on a random July Monday when my life has fallen apart.
Beside me, my sister sighs.
“You could branch out, you know.” She points to a pink-frosted doughnut. “That one says Wine and Sunshine. Try it with me? I’m conducting serious doughnut research.”
She looks over at me with a hopeful raise of her brows. Still, I shake my head and take my doughnut box from the cashier, who gives me a polite smile before reaching for another box and filling it with Kiersten’s signature order of Surprise me.
The cashier hands the box to Kiersten, who doesn’t even bother to wait until we’ve paid to bite into a dark-pink one and moan. “Oh sweet baby J, this thing is better than an orgasm. You have to try a bite.” She holds the cream-filled confection up to my mouth.
“I’m good.” I hold up my doughnut box. “Team fritter, remember?”
She takes another big bite and, after yet another head-turning moan, rolls her eyes overdramatically. “I would never knock Nana’s fritters. But aren’t you ever worried you’re missing out on something incredible?”
Or at least not worried enough to order anything but my tried and true.
“Fritters are delicious,” I tell her. “They’ve never left me disappointed.”
My intention was not to use my doughnut-purchasing habits as a metaphor for my life. But at the word disappointed, something clicks in my brain, and the tears that I have managed to keep inside since the thirty designated minutes of cry-time I allow myself every morning make an unscripted appearance, rolling down my cheeks like midsummer raindrops.
“Stuart was supposed to be my apple fritter.” My heart squeezes at the mention of my ex. Why did I go and do that? Say out loud, he who shall not be named? It’s the catalyst that turns my cute summer tears into an ugly thunderstorm. And it takes all of my self-restraint to stand there, avoiding the pitying looks of the cashier while Kierst pulls out her Visa card and pays. The moment the receipt is in her hand, I bolt back out to the sidewalk, where a real-estate-flyer box gives me enough support to close my eyes, turn my head to the sun, and try to forget the clusterf*** that is my love life.
“You okay, Gems?” My sister’s hand finds the small of my back. This time, I don’t mind so much the motherly circles of her palm over my denim jacket.
“He was supposed to be my future,” I say between sobs. “We were gonna get a dog. Maybe a house. Or at least a really great condo with a walk-in closet. And now . . .”
Now he’s my ex. An ex that didn’t even have the common courtesy to give me the it’s not you, it’s me speech. In fact, he cited me and my dying enthusiasm for our relationship as the number one reason for ending the four years we invested in each other, surprising me in a way I didn’t think he was capable of.
“I know this part really sucks.” Kiersten wraps her arm around my shoulders and pulls my head to her boobs. “And aside from pumping you full of sugar, there’s absolutely nothing I can say or do to make you feel better. But when your heart has had the chance to heal a little bit, I think you’re going to see that Stuart was . . .” She hesitates for a moment. “Well, he kind of had the personality of a cardboard box, and you’re way better off without him.”
I’m about to defend my newly ex. Or maybe myself for staying with him for so long. But my phone vibrates in my pocket. And when I check the screen, the little dark cloud that’s been following me around for the past three weeks is cut by a bright ray of sunshine.
Dax: Cool if we push back our hangout by an hour tonight? Got someone coming by. Kind of a big deal.
My heart gives a weird twitch.
Me: Date with the vet?
There’s a long string of seconds before my phone pings back.
Dax: Nope canceled that so we could hang. Big client. At least I think it is. It’s all very vague. I’ve been talking to his people all week.
Me: Your client has people? Look at you go!
Dax: Yeah. Maybe after we wallow for a bit tonight we can celebrate
Me: You get enough wine into me, I’m up for almost anything
I watch as three dots appear in our conversation bubble, disappear, then reappear and disappear again. When he does finally message back, all I get is a party hat.
My sister leans in, resting her chin on the little dip of my shoulder.
“If you’re texting Stuart, so help me god, I’m taking back the pity fritters.”
I hold up my phone as evidence. “Not Stuart. Just Dax. We’re hanging out after work.”
At the mention of Dax’s name, Kiersten’s eyebrows hitch up a good inch. “I thought you told me Daxon had a date tonight. With the vet?”
“She’s a veterinarian’s assistant,” I counter. “And Stuart picked his stuff up today. Dax offered to cancel and hang out because he thought I might be upset.”
Kiersten responds with an mmmm-hmmm, and I prepare for some sort of follow-up comment. Instead, she turns away, and we walk in silence in the direction of my condo. By the third block, I assume the subject has been dropped. Then she stops and fishes out a second doughnut from her box, but before she takes a bite, she pauses. “It was the third date if I recall. That’s the sex date. He canceled his sex date for you.”
“It’s not that big of a deal.”
Kierst bites into her doughnut, watching me.
“Stop giving me that look.”
She holds up her hands. “This is how I look at everyone. If you are interpreting anything other than sisterly concern, that’s on you.”
My phone vibrates. It’s Dax again. I ignore Kierst and text him back, letting him know he can come over whenever he finishes. The entire time, I can feel her eyes on me.
“You know what I think you should do tonight?” she asks.
My text whooshes out into cyberspace. “I have a very good idea who you think I should do.”
Kiersten shrugs innocently. “He canceled his date for you. Plus, he’s a total babe. I’d be all over that if I wasn’t married.”
“Seriously, the man wears jeans that leave nothing about that ass to the imagination.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“It means instead of waking up tomorrow morning to your three alarm clocks, you could be waking up with whisker-burned thighs.”
I don’t know how to respond. So I stand, mouth still open in shock, as she licks a smudge of abandoned pink frosting from the corner of her lip and starts walking. Her extra three inches in height require me to run-walk to catch up.
“He’s my best friend,” I tell her, waving my hand in front of my currently non-whisker-burned region. “Doing that is not a friend activity.”
Copyright © 2023 by Kate Robb. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.