I glanced at the screen on my phone to double-check that I hadn't been stupid enough to answer a call from my ex.
"Slade, honey? Are you there?" he asked in that sweet, deep voice he thought still worked for me. It had, once upon a time, many times over.
"What do you want, Mike?" I tried to keep my voice flat. I knew he'd pick on up the slightest hint of emotion and latch onto it.
"Now, now, baby. That's no way to greet your husband—"
"Ex-husband, Mike. Ex. Husband," I said, failing to take the bite out of my voice.
"That's why I'm calling," he said.
"What do you mean? And make it quick, I have work to get to."
"It's our anniversary."
"I'm hanging up."
"Wait," he said. "Please…" His voice changed, and I knew I was going to regret it, but I waited until the silence became too heavy, even for me.
"I just…do you remember that day? Can you believe it was twenty-five years ago? It was so hot and sticky. The hottest day in Atlanta that summer. I was running late for work, but when I saw you, leaning against your bike wearing that leather jacket as if you were too cool to feel the heat…" he chuckled.
How could I not remember? It was the day my life changed forever, and not just for the reason he liked to remember.
"It was a good day," I confessed.
Mike's memory of the guy across the road from where he worked in his uncle's garage couldn't be further from reality.
I'd been scared and unsure. I'd wanted to cross the road and trust that the promises I'd been given weren't as empty as the tank on my trusted Harley.
Instead, I was given a job, and I'd met the man that taught me my life could be good, or at least better than it had been until then. That is until he broke my heart and my trust.
"You were always a mystery, Slade. It was exciting at first, but then…"
I sighed. "Why are we having this conversation? You were the one who left, and not before you took everything you wanted and more."
"Look, I don't know what you want from this trip down memory lane, but I've moved on. I live on Reality Avenue, where I have a business to run. I suggest you go back to whatever twink you're fucking this week and leave me alone."
I ended the call before he could say anything else.
These days, the only person I kept my mouth shut for was my bank manager, so it was definitely a good idea to end the call.
It was the hottest day of the summer so far, making the glass walls of my office feel like a fishbowl under a UV light, but Mike's interruption only delayed the work I needed to do today, so I grabbed a bottle of water from my small office fridge and drank it all in one go.
The satisfaction of closing my spreadsheets one hour later was only matched by the information they contained within. My business was doing well. So well, in fact, that maybe I could offer Liam a few more hours and consider finally taking the time to work on my bike restoration.
I stepped outside the office. Liam was in the garage working under a car and whistling a tune I didn't recognize.
The familiar smell of oil, grease, paint, and sweat calmed me down, and since there were no customers in the shop, I allowed myself the moment to enjoy the feeling of rightness whenever I was in my workspace. The garage, not the office. That was merely a necessary part of running a business.
When I'd seen this building only around the corner from the Chester Falls main square, I knew I'd found my perfect place.
The vintage bike shop with the adjacent garage had direct access from the main street, attracting curious passersby as well as my loyal customers.
Cars weren’t really my thing, so when Liam had walked in asking for a job, just a couple of months after I’d opened the shop, I hadn’t cared that I had no clue how to pay him.