The One: A love story by Tana-Marie McCarty
The One: A love story by Tana-Marie McCarty

Introduction

Love. It's what we're all so desperately searching for, isn't it? The other half that will make us whole. The person we're going to spend the rest of our lives with. "The ONE'. Love makes life worth living. Love helps to take away the pain we all go through. Love is the glue that holds your broken pieces together--as long as you can find someone to help you pick them up and piece them back together.


Love is stupid.


You can't control it at all--love is so unpredictable. You go your whole life looking for it and sometimes never find it. And just when you think you've finally found it, something messes it up. Love tends to get me into trouble.


I'm not really all that good looking. I suppose you could say I'm average--5'6'', blond hair, blue eyes, average build--nothing special. I've never been the popular type. I have a few good friends--including Hayleigh Mae, my best friend and roommate--but I mostly keep to my self. I can't even fathom why, but people seem to have a habit of falling in love with me. It's the most bizarre thing I've ever experienced; it's like they're all just drawn to me--my high school boyfriend that won't let me go, my best guy friend who's really more like my brother, even that jerk I dated in college for a while. They all found their way into my life and never wanted to leave. It's baffling, but up until now, it's never been a problem. Now I've got a choice to make. I can choose to live the comfortable--albiet boring--life I'd idealized since I was a kid. Or I can choose the new and unexpected and exhilirating, and terrifying path before me. But let's back up a bit to before it all started.


My name is Peyton Lilly-Rae Wilson, and this is my story.
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Chapter 1


The day began just like any other. I step out the door into the chilly October morning air, pop in my headphones, get lost in the music, and start my 2 mile run. Any other time of the day, my mind is so all over the place, but when I'm running, it all just disappears. The feeling of my feet striking the pavement, the smell of the lake I run next to, the sweet sounds of music coming from my little mp3 player--it's all so clearing. I don't have to think out here. Don't have to stress about work or money or life. Don't have to worry. I can just be. For those precious morning moments, I'm truly free.
I usually round the lake and then hit the little bakery on the corner by our house, but today, when I get there, it's closed. There's no note on the door, no sign of the owners that live in the apartment above the store, no lights on in the building. It's odd. I don't think I've seen this place closed a day in the 5 years I've lived here. I just shrug it off, but Hayleigh will shoot me if I don't bring our doughnuts. It's tradition. Every morning, I stop at the Ashwoods' bakery for doughnuts--Or cinnamon rolls, danishes, whatever sounds good that day, really--and we sit around the table and eat them with coffee. There's another bakery just down the street. I've never been in, but I've driven by it plenty, and I hear good things, so I decide to give it a shot. I turn around to start the 10 minute jog and next thing I know, I'm on the ground.


"Whoa, watch where you're going there, eh?" My head is spinning, but I manage to get my bearings and look up to see what I ran into. The first thing I see are his eyes: deep blue, with a hint of green, staring into mine. Then a big, sarcastic grin.


"Excuse me?" I ask, a little offended that he would be so direct with me. I mean, I'm a total stranger, and one he just knocked down at that. Shouldn't he be apologizing, not insulting me?


"I was only joking sweetheart. You gonna get up or not?" There's that cheesy smile again. He offers a hand to help me up, a friendly enough gesture. I decide to excuse his earlier faux pas and accept it. His hands look a bit calloused, but they're surpisingly soft. I find myself holding on, even after I'm on my feet. His face is just inches from mine, still smiling, still staring at me with those beautiful eyes. They have a gentle, almost concerned look in them, and a familiarity I can't quite place. I start to notice the rest of his face, taking it all in--tousled, sandy brown hair that glistens a bit in the sunlight; a small scar on his left cheek, just above his jaw line; freckles; and those eyes. I keep coming back to them. I don't know why.  "Quite a meet-cute we got going here, isn't it?" His voice snaps me back to reality and I realize I'm still holding his hand. I pull away, suddenly uncomfortable with how close he is, but I'm a little dizzy and I stumble a bit. He grabs my hand again. "Maybe not so fast.", he says, offering his hand again.


"I'm fine, thank you." I try to walk away, refusing his help, but I feel like I"m falling again. He catches me before I hit the ground this time.


"I don't think so. You hit your head?" he asks. Now he looks even more concerned. I feel the back of my head and realize there's a large lump forming, but I don't want him to know that, so I just shake my head and start to walk off again. "Geez, you're bleeding."


I felt that too, but I just want to be done with this awkward conversation and get home. "I'm fine, really." I say, not looking back so he doesn't see me cringe with each step; It seems I've twisted my ankle too. Now I'm in the air. He's scooped me up along with my now busted mp3 and the small book bag he was carrying. Now I'm just mad. "Put me down, I can take care of myself." I try to wrestle from his grasp, but he just holds tighter.


"I've seen you around. You live around the corner from the Ashwoods right?." Right, I think, but I don't want some random stranger knowing where I live. I don't answer. "Look, I work at the music store across the street. I see you come out every morning as I'm opening up. You might as well give up the stubborn act now." That's where I recognize him from. That's my favorite place to buy CDs. I know no one uses CD's anymore, but I like the feel of something in my hand. I still read real books too. I must've seen those eyes looking up at me from the register, or peeking out from behind a shelf full of old records, but how is it I don't know who he is? I guess it's because I'm usually in my own world. You know, with all that mind racing I talked about earlier. I nod and give him my address, deciding it's not worth the fight since I'm starting to get a little drowsy, and the dizziness is getting worse.


The walk to my little townhouse is a short one--about 5 minutes--but it feels like the longest trek of my life, and I don't know if it's because I'm enjoying the current situation or if it's because I'm not. We make it to my door after what seems like forever. I move to get down from his arms but before I have the chance to stop him, he's turned the handle and let himself in. He just doesn't care at all does he?  He's so rude...who does he think he is? , I think. "HayMae!!" I call our usual greeting, knowing that Hayleigh will be waiting upstairs for me with our coffee.


I don't have to wait long for her response. "PayLiRae!!" I hear her squeal. She's always so excited to see me. It's one of the things I love so much about her.


"Bad news, Hay, no donughts today." I'm still in the rude, handsome stranger's arms. He smirks at me. Gah, I hate that cheesy grin of his. So why do I love it so much? I smile back for a second before I realize what I'm doing. Get it together, Peyton, geez... I think to myself.


Hayleigh rounds the corner from the kitchen and starts down the stairs. "What? No doughnuts, I should beat you, missy." Told you she'd say that. "I mean come on, I slave away at the coffee pot for 10 minutes and you can't even-- Well, hello! Who's this handsome stranger?" She's finally paid enough attention to see why I don't have our pastries.


"Connor Ryan Blake, at your service." He flashes Hayleigh a smile. "I'd offer my hand, but as you can see they're full."


We're still standing in the doorway as she eyeballs Connor. "Hayleigh..." I say, trying to get her attention. I can tell what she's thinking. I also know that as soon as he leaves, she'll squeal at me to tell her all the "juicy" details, even though there aren't any.


"Huh? Oh, right!" Come on in!" She leads us into the living room and Connor sets me down on the couch. "Holy hell Peyton, what happened to you?" She just noticed my mangled head and crumpled, dirty track suit, and immediately runs to the kitchen. When she returns carrying a makeshift ice pack and a kitchen towel, she looks worried. She may be a little ditzy, but she cares. "What'd you do, get hit by a car?"


"No, nothing that dramatic--" I start.


Connor suddenly looks embarrassed. "I kind of knocked her down." he says, nervously wringing his hands.


Hayleigh doesn't look worried anymore. "You WHAT?!" she scowls through gritted teeth. "What kind of rude, inconsiderate jerk are you, knocking someone over like that?! You should--"


"Hay.....Hay....HAYLEIGH!" I finally get her attention. "It was an accident. I was standing in front of the Ashwoods' bakery and turned into him. He apologized already. Then he carried me home. Chill. Don't you think he feels bad enough without you yelling at him?" I raise my eyebrows at her, noticing how surprised Connor looks at my brutal honesty with her. We've always done that. We don't sugar coat things just to spare each other's feelings. We tell it like it is. I then realize that I should also be scolding myself at how rude I was to him earlier. I guess I can't blame her for jumping to conclusions when I did the same thing not 20 minutes ago. I turn to Connor now. "Thanks for bringing me home. I appreciate it."


"Oh, not a problem. It was the least I could do after nearly giving you a concussion. We should do it again sometime. Get together I mean, not injure you on the street corner." He flashes me that smile again.


So much for my "tough gal" persona. I practically melt as I smile back. "Definitely." I say. I catch Hayleigh looking between the two of us with a very large, mischevious smile on her face. Don't. Don't even think it. I silently beg her to leave it alone and try to snap myself out of this odd state I find myself in.


"Well, I should go. Work awaits." He waves, turns to the door, and is gone almost as quickly as he appeared.


He's barely out the door before Hayleigh turns to me. "Ok, dish!" she squeaks. "You like him don't you? What else happened? Did you guys kiss? I would've, I mean, he's gourgeous! C'mon tell me everything!"


I shake my head and roll my eyes at her. "Hay, there's nothing to tell. I already told you all that happened is he knocked me over and then carried me home. Nothing else." She looks disappointed, but then suddenly perks up. I realize I'm blushing and turn my eyes from her.


"Bull! There's more, I know there is!" She pokes me in the stomach like she does every time she's teasing me.


"Well, there was one second when I thought he might try to kiss me. But I stopped it."  She gives me a look. "What? Hay, I have a boyfriend already. But you're right, he is pretty easy on the eyes." I'm hoping that will satisfy her. "Can you help me up so I can get ready for work now?"


She reaches out and lifts me off the couch. "Speaking of your asshat...I mean boyfriend....He called while you were out running. He should know by now that you're not here in the mornings, but apparently he's an idiot. Or he does remember and he wasn't actually calling to talk to you.." Hayleigh doesn't care for my most recent boyfriend, Alex. She says she doesn't trust him and doesn't like the way he treats me. She doesn't really understand though. He may be a bit...abrasive...at times, but he has a good heart and we have fun together. Other people just don't get to see the side of him that I do.


By now I've limped up the stairs to grab a cup of coffee before I head off for the shower. "Hayleigh, he's not an idiot, and he wasn't calling to hit on you, maybe he just forgot." I say. She's not convinced. It doesn't help that he tried to go out with her first and she turned him down. She still thinks he's trying to get with her. "I'll call him in a little bit. You don't have to talk to him you know, we do have an answering machine."


"I know. But you know I hate just letting the phone ring." She whines. I do know. She's a receptionist, so answering phones is pretty much her whole life. Sometimes her work carries over into her home life. I understand. We all have our little quirks.


 I put my empty cup in the sink and head down the hall, stopping in my bedroom first to get my clothes. I let my hair out of its tightly wound bun and brush it out in front of the mirror on my dresser. I stare at my reflection as painful memories flood my mind. "It's time to cut it again." I hear from the doorway. Hayleigh's followed me in and is leaning against the door frame with her coffee cup in her hands.


She's right. It's down to the small of my back now. I don't look at her when I answer. It's all I can do to fight back the tears threatening to spill. I sweep my hair over my shoulder and run my hands though it instictively. "Not yet. I'm not ready."


"Peyton, honey..." she starts, but she sees the blank stare on my face. She knows I'm somewhere else. She looks at me with sad understanding in her eyes, and decides not to push it. "Ok. Maybe next month then, eh?" she prompts.


"Yeah, next month. Then it'll be long enough. Then I'll just, um...." I trail off.


"Hey, so what's for dinner tonight, huh?" She asks and nudges me with her elbow. "What culinary adventure are you taking us on tonight?"


"Well I was thinking Italian." I say, thankful for the subject change. She did that on purpose, I know. I'm able to work up a small smile.


"Sounds delicious." She hugs me and leaves the room, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I try hard to shake the overwhelming sadness I'm feeling, but it doesn't work. I know I have to get away from the mirror, so I run into the bathroom and turn on the shower, not worried about my clothes anymore. It's not like there's going to be anyone else in the house when I get out anyway. I just have to do something. Anything to distract me from the memories I usually keep so tightly locked away. Almost as soon as I'm under the water the tears begin to flow.
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