Searching for Always
ARILYN MEADOWS LOOKED around the cheery bungalow that was now her new home. Boxes lay half-opened, clothes were stacked in piles, and her foster dogs, Lenny and Mike, were battling over her only pair of expensive shoes. Scarlet red. High heels. Strappy. She’d bought them last month to surprise her lover.
He’d been surprised all right. So had she when she caught him banging one of his yoga students.
The black-and-white rat terrier mixes tumbled over the floor in a challenge to see who’d make the first bite. With their floppy ears and white stripes dividing their faces, her new fosters were a bit too cute to live. They also got away with way too much because of their looks. She opened her mouth to discipline, then shut it. Yes, it was bad for the puppies’ training, but it felt kind of good to see them tear those heels apart. She’d never wear them again without that memory clocking her like a sucker punch. At least Lenny and Mike could have some rebellious fun.
The low hum of anger buzzing inside surprised her. She’d spent most of her days searching for peace, kindness, and harmony within the world. Last week, she would’ve announced to anyone she’d found that quiet place inside and had never been happier.
Not this week.
Arilyn held back a sigh and began hanging her clothes up. Organic cottons and linens wrinkled too easily, especially with no dryer. She smoothed her hand down the soft fabrics and lined them up neatly in the closet. At least her new place was sound. After discovering mold at her last rental, and weeks of dealing with bad electric and burst pipes, her friend Genevieve MacKenzie offered to let her rent the quirky bungalow. Thank goodness, Gen had found the love of her life and was now moving in with her soul mate, Wolfe. Even better, she had left an empty cottage to rent. It was situated close to her job, and two doors down from her other friend Kate, who she worked with at Kinnections matchmaking agency.
She tried to concentrate on the positive spin of finding a great place, especially one that allowed her to take in foster dogs on a regular basis, but her usual attitude had taken a hit. Besides anger, depression threatened like a nasty rumble of thunder before a storm. Dammit, she was supposed to be in Cape May on a romantic getaway. She was supposed to be making love and finally working through the kinks in their relationship. She was supposed to hear those magic words after five years of an on-again, off-again affair.
You’re the one.
Marriage. Maybe a family. Both of them teaching yoga together in his studio, on a quest for higher peace and satisfaction while they loved each other with open hearts and souls.
Her fingers clenched around the gauzy cream blouse. Instead, she’d walked into that studio and watched her life crumble before her.
The woman bent over, hands on the floor, naked ass in the air. Her lover pounded her from behind, his long gorgeous dark hair streaming down his back, fingers gripped around her hips, driving in and out of her while she moaned and groaned, and he gave tiny grunts of satisfaction.
The woman screamed. He laughed darkly, lifted his hand, and smacked her naked ass. She yelped. Then he did it again, and again, until her rear turned red and she was coming and screaming . . .
Arilyn turned from the closet and pushed her clenched fists against her eyes. The image burned like acid.
He’d never made love to her that way, with a violent, dirty need combined with lust. He practiced tantric sex, a slow-moving, spiritual, gentle swell of need that climbed gradually. Their lovemaking took place in many locations, but it was always completely controlled, quiet, deeply satisfying. He worshipped her body with his. Never bent it to his will or ripped crazy orgasms from her.
She’d never forget his face. So deeply satisfied, like he was surrendering in a way he never could with her. Was this what he’d wanted the whole time? Had he believed she couldn’t handle his sexual desires? The almost violent, possessive, hungry primal instincts inside him?
Fighting a shudder, she began to unpack her crystals and meditation supplies. How long had she made excuses for his inability to truly commit to her? Yes, he revered his privacy and followed a spiritual path without conventions, societal role plays, and sexual expectations. That was what she’d loved about him.
They viewed the world similarly and wanted to make a difference. He was a workaholic, but in a good way. Always driven to help others in their journey. Another reason he was afraid to commit to a long-term relationship. He feared she’d become demanding and force him to quit his beloved career.
But after years of being hidden in the background, while he refused to meet her friends or family, and conducted their affair after hours and in secret like a torrid affair, she’d finally given him the ultimatum. The idea that no one ever uttered his first name faded from being a thrilling secret to a quiet humiliation.
Thirty approached. She craved permanence and a chance to have a family. Was that too much to ask? She didn’t want to pigeonhole him, only to grow and change by his side. After his first indiscretion, she forced herself to trust him again. After all, he apologized, confessing his fear that love would overpower his spiritual path. He promised never to cheat again. As the in-house counselor at Kinnections matchmaking agency, Arilyn advised clients many times that a relationship couldn’t work halfway, so she forgave.
Things finally changed. They’d been happy for a few months, and he even agreed to meet her family.
Humiliation cut through her. The fire crystal shook in her hands. She breathed deep and tried to absorb the healing powers meant to relieve sharp anxiety and induce calm. Stupid. His face when she opened the door haunted her.
Those gorgeous dark eyes widened with shock. Her gaze swept over his beloved face, taking in the high brow bone, long, sharp nose, square jaw. He stared at
her, not moving, not speaking, while the silence beat around them in angry waves of energy.
Her name on his lips made her shudder. The musical, lilting quality of his timbre usually hypnotized her, whether in yoga class or the bedroom. The hurt rolled over her in waves, and she longed to curl up in a ball in her bed and try to make sense of it. Instead, she just stood there like an idiot, waiting for him to say something.
“I’m sorry, Arilyn.” His voice deepened with grief and regret. His eyes filled with sadness. “I broke my promise. My body is weak, but my heart still beats for you. It always will. You must find a way to forgive me.”
No. For the rest of her life, she’d remember him grunting and coming in another woman’s body. And for the first time in five years, the box deep inside of her finally locked. She’d never let him back into her heart or life again. She’d closed the box many, many times before, but never locked it.
A tiny click echoed in her ears like a gunshot.
It was finally over.
Her heart withered in her chest, drying up any tears that she might have shed. All that was left was a shell and a burning emptiness she’d never get over.
Arilyn studied the man she’d loved for the last time. Her voice came out like a winter’s storm. Cold. Brutal.
“It’s over. Don’t call, text, or contact me ever again.”
Arilyn placed an amethyst stone next to the fire and began setting up her meditation corner. Lenny and Mike collapsed on the wooden floor, temporarily exhausted and exhilarated. Pieces of red straps and
a chewed heel lay around them in destructive glory. She envied them. Her emotions bubbled beneath the surface worse than a witches’ brew. Maybe a grueling session of ashtanga yoga would help her sweat out some of the mess. Arilyn studied the crystals before her and plucked the dark red stone from its perch. Definitely garnet. Used for balancing overemotional stakes and stuck anger.
She twisted it onto a cord and slipped it over her neck. Maybe work was the key. Keep busy. Two weeks had passed for a solid grieving period, and now it was time to focus. She needed to get the cottage in order, plant her herb garden, run the dog shelter fund-raiser, and work on the new computer program for Kinnections. Since she quit her ex-lover’s yoga studio, students had been asking her when she’d be teaching on her own. Maybe she’d rent the firehouse and give classes there. No reason for her own students to suffer just because she refused to set foot in the Chakras yoga studio.
She placed the fat purple cushion in the center of the woven mat and set up the variety of candles around her spot. Two wide bamboo screens kept it private from onlookers and the pups. The incense sticks went up on the circular table, since Lenny seemed to like them better than the organic treats she regularly purchased. Nothing like pooping out incense. That had been a fun vet visit.
Finally, her sacred spot was complete. Her stack of meditation CDs lay next to her ancient stereo, but she disliked wearing pods or headphones when she meditated. Arilyn rolled to her feet and grabbed some matches and the bunch of dried sage she’d brought
with her. Final task before making dinner. Each time she set up residence in a new place, she cleared all the old energy to start fresh.
God knows she needed a new slate.
Her throat tightened as she began to light the sage. All of her best friends were now in strong, healthy relationships leading to marriage. As the final single of the bunch, her heart squeezed with envy. When was it her turn? She’d worked so hard in all aspects of her life to be a good person, to open herself to love, to become spiritually sound to engage in a relationship that would bring her joy. Dammit, while others squandered their time partying, being selfish, and giving in to their ids, she did the hard work trying to transform herself. She did everything . . . right.
Guess not. She’d wasted the best years of her life stuck with a man who consistently lied and manipulated in the name of soul-searching. How could she have been so far off with her instincts? Was she just a chump after all? Was she even worthy of the kind of love she dreamed of, the kind that her friends had found?
She blinked furiously to clear her vision. Stop. She was being whiny and ridiculous. She had a great, satisfying life filled with goals and surrounded by plenty of people who loved her. Arilyn lifted the bunch of sage in the air, closed her eyes, and envisioned a home filled with love, peace, and light. The smoke trickled in thin wisps as she moved from room to room, including the closet and bathroom, paying particular attention to the bedroom and kitchen where most intense emotions were expressed.
Finally, the cottage was properly cleansed. She blew out the flame, moved the small pots containing her herbs to the windowsill for proper light, and grabbed the bottle of celebratory wine in the refrigerator. She deserved alcohol tonight. It would go nicely with her veggie burger and steamed edamame. First, she’d complete her asanas, do some pranayama, and then eat. Tomorrow, things would look better and she’d feel stronger. Peaceful. Back in control.
Arilyn was sure of it.