“Why are you going out with him?” Jake demanded.
“None of your business,” Ella told him. “We’re not married anymore and I can do what I want. And at least I waited until we were divorced.”
“So did I! But I’m still not getting to do what I want, ’cause what I want is— Oh, never mind,” he ended grumpily, and stomped off upstairs.
What had he been about to say? What did he want? What did it matter? Ella picked up her magazine and stared unseeingly at it.
Tiny came over, sat on the floor and laid his big head in her lap. “I know,” she said as she petted the dog. “It makes you sad when we fight.”
Tiny belched and licked his chops. The belch smelled suspiciously like chili.
“Has Daddy been feeding you chili again?” Ella asked.
Tiny whined and thumped his tail.
She frowned. Tiny had been gaining weight. There could be only one person responsible for that and it wasn’t her.
“He’s not supposed to give you people food. I’ll bet he’s been sneaking you cookies, too.” Tiny wisely kept his doggy mouth shut. Instead, he just looked at her with his big brown eyes.
“Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble,” she told him. “I know whose fault it is.” Jake O’Brien. He was a thorn in her side.
A sudden memory of the two of them picnicking up at Lost Bride Falls the day he proposed made tears sting her eyes. She’d thought she’d seen the ghost of the lost bride, who was a local legend. It was an experience everyone in Icicle Falls knew portended engagement. And Jake had been ready with her ring in his pocket.
“Marry me, El. Make my day, make my life. Say yes.” She’d said, “Yes, yes, yes!” and they’d sealed the deal with a kiss. That had been the happiest day of her life.
Now it seemed like a million years ago. Jake O’Brien wasn’t a thorn in her side. He was a thorn in her heart, and the sooner she pulled him out, the better.
Jake kicked his pile of dirty clothes across the floor. He’d meant to get that sink fixed before Ella got home and before Axel the twit came over, but he really had been absorbed in a new song. Ella knew how he got when he was busy songwriting. Why hadn’t she believed him? Hell, why didn’t she ever believe him?
The answer to that could be summed up in two words. Her mother. Lily Swan had never liked him from the start. Ms. America’s Top-Model-Who-Never-Was had obviously wanted her daughter to marry some jetsetter and not a country boy from Eastern Washington, so she’d immediately set out to break them up. And that was a downright sin because he and Ella had been happy together. They were meant to be together. He would’ve made it as a country singer in time and Ella could have lived that fancy life. He’d have been able to buy her anything she wanted.
She’d believed that once. She didn’t anymore. Now, in her eyes, he was nothing but a skirt-chasing, lazy loser. Thanks, mother-in-law, for poisoning the waters. Thanks for ruining our lives. Thanks for putting that stuckup nose of yours where it didn’t belong.
Too bad he hadn’t hit the big time yet. He’d have sent good old Mom on a nice long trip—to the edge of the world. And then pushed her off.
The thought made him smile. Then it made him think. Then it made him chuckle as he picked up his guitar. “Mama, I’m about to write you a song for Christmas.”
Merry Ex-Mas: Life in Icicle Falls