Good Girl Complex: Chapter 44


On my way back to Steph and Alana’s house from the hotel, I stop to grab takeout from their favorite Chinese food place. It’s only been a few weeks since Levi’s guys started work on ripping out all the old carpet and drywall, tossing the damaged furniture and fixtures and anything too far gone to salvage, yet the place is almost unrecognizable on the inside.

A blank canvas.

Already I’m rethinking much of the interior design aesthetic. I still intend to preserve the original look as much as possible, but with an eye toward editing. I want to open the place up more, bring the outside in. Brighten it with natural light and greenery. Reflect a sense of luxurious relaxation. My architect is about sick of me with all my phone calls and emails tweaking the plans. I’m sure I’ll calm down once the new construction begins. I just want it to be perfect. This is my legacy I’m building, after all. With any luck, it’ll be standing for another fifty years.

I pull into the driveway in the used SUV I purchased from the local dealership last week. I finally caved and got a car after realizing I can’t spend the rest of my life in this town in the backseats of taxis and Ubers.

I’m killing the engine when I receive a text message from my mother.

Mom: Mackenzie, I’m forwarding you the name of my designer, as promised. If you insist on continuing on with this little project, then you must do it right.

My snicker echoes loudly in the vehicle. That’s the closest thing to a stamp of approval my mother is currently capable of providing. After months of playing the silent treatment game with my parents, I ended up contacting them a week after I moved out of Cooper’s. I blame it on my highly emotional state. But honestly, despite their overbearing, condescending personalities, they’re still my parents. The only family I have. So I bit the bullet and extended the olive branch, and to my surprise, they accepted it.

A few days ago they even made it out to the hotel—for about ten minutes. Long enough for my dad to grimace a lot and my mom to give me an earful about linen patterns. I can’t say they were entirely enthused about the project, but they made the effort anyway. A small step toward normalizing relations.

I send back a quick text.

Me: Thanks, Mom. I’ll give her a call tomorrow.

Mom: If you need another set of eyes once you enter the interior design phase, contact Stacey and she’ll add you to my calendar if I have the time.

I roll my eyes at the screen. Classic Annabeth Cabot. But nothing I can do about that.

I’m barely in the door of the house before my roommates pounce and tear the takeout bags from my hands. We set the table and start digging in while Steph turns on her nightly paranormal investigations marathon on TV. Six straight hours of grown men in night vision goggles, running through an abandoned mall and screaming about a rat kicking around an errant food court cup or something. But whatever. It’s her thing.

“So what were you saying about some shit that happened at work?” Alana says, picking all the pork out of the lo mein before anyone else has gotten their hands on the carton.

“Oh, right.” Steph talks with her chopsticks like she’s conducting an orchestra. “So Caitlynn tells Manny that his ex blasted him on BoyfriendFails. Everyone’s on it now at the bar,” she tells me with a grin.

“How’d they know it was about him?” Alana demands.

“Oh, ’cause we were all there when the original incident happened. Long story short: Manny met some girl at a bar last month and took her home. Few days later, he sees her again and asks her out. They’re dating for a few weeks when a group of us are out bowling, and he apparently calls her by the wrong name. I don’t know how he’d managed to go all that time never calling her by name, but turns out he’d slept with her older sister that first night, then met the younger sister and confused the two.”

“Ouch.” Every time I think I’ve heard it all, there’s a new twist on an old favorite.

“Anyway, fast forward to tonight. Caitlynn’s showing Manny the BoyfriendFails post when this teenage kid walks in. He marches right up to the bar. And it’s the middle of the lunch rush so we’re pretty slammed. The kid shouts something at Manny in Spanish, then grabs some dude’s drink, splashes it on the bar, and throws a match.”

I gasp loudly. “Oh my God, is he okay?”

Steph waves away my concern. “Oh, yeah, he’s fine. Joe’s been watering down the wells for decades.”

And this is why one of the first things I did after the money started coming in was get a lawyer to write up a liability disclaimer for the website.

“When the bar doesn’t ignite, he’s furious and jumps over it,” Steph continues. “Kid isn’t more than five-foot-nothing and can’t be older than fifteen. Must not be the first time Manny’s been chased because I’d never seen him move so fast.”

Alana snickers.

“He ducks out from behind the bar and hauls ass. The kid’s diving over tables. Takes a swing at him with a chair until Daryl picks him up and tosses him outside. Daryl has to barricade the doors until the kid finally gives up and leaves. Manny sneaks out the back.” Steph starts cracking up. “Turns out it was those girls’ little brother come to beat Manny’s ass. It was adorable.”

“You know,” I say, trying not to choke on my food, “good for the kid.”


I swallow my lemon chicken and reach for a can of Diet Coke. “Speaking of bitter exes, I ran into Preston today when I was having lunch with Bonnie on campus.”

Steph lifts a brow. “How’d that go?”

“Not terrible,” I admit. “He was with his new girlfriend. Cute, typical Garnet girl whose father is some hedge fund guy and mother is an heir to an electric fan fortune or something. They’ve been together for a couple months now.”

Alana makes a face. “Poor girl.”

I shrug. “I don’t know, far as I can tell, she worships Preston. Which is all he really wants, I guess. Someone to smile and thank him for making the decisions.” I pop another piece of chicken into my mouth, talking while chewing. “If it makes them both happy, then who am I to judge?”

“Oh, hey, did you see this?” Alana shoves the last bite of an eggroll in her mouth, then wipes duck sauce from her fingers before handing me her phone. “From today.”

I glance at the screen to find a new post from BoyfriendFails. Except it starts with a caveat. This isn’t from a disgruntled girlfriend anonymously blasting her ex—it’s from the boyfriend confessing his misdeeds to the world.

I’m the #BoyfriendFail

You read the title right. I’m the boyfriend fail. As in, I failed. Big-time. I failed the woman I love, I failed our relationship, and I failed myself.

I raise my head to shoot a suspicious look at Alana. She pretends to be overly focused on her food.

I messed up the best thing that ever happened to me. Let my perfect girl slip through my fingers because I was a selfish asshole. The night I met her, I had revenge on the brain. I had a beef with her boyfriend. I wanted to punish him for getting me fired, for stirring up all my insecurities about being a loser townie, being stuck here without prospects for anything better. Anything more.

But then I got to know her, and something happened. She inspired me. She showed me there’s more to me than this anchor around my neck weighing me down. She made me believe I’m capable of greatness.

She was right. But also wrong. Because I don’t want greatness, I don’t want a bright sunny future—if she’s not by my side to enjoy it.

A pit grows in my stomach as I read on. It’s sweet and sincere. My fingers go numb and my eyes sting.

She doesn’t owe me a second chance, I know that. She doesn’t owe me anything. But I’m still going to ask.

Give me a second chance, princess. And if you do, I promise you this—I will never lie to you again. I will never take you for granted. I will never, for the rest of my life, forget the goddamn treasure you are.

I almost can’t see by the time I finish reading, my vision completely blurred by tears. The post closes with a plea to meet him at six o’clock this Saturday at the place where we rescued our dog.

“Damn it,” I mumble when I put the phone down on the table. “I thought we had a deal.”

Alana hands me a napkin to wipe my face. “We did. But he’s a mess. You’re miserable. Neither of you are coping. I’m sorry I resorted to a sneak attack, but come on. What’s the harm in hearing him out?”

“I’m not miserable,” I say in my defense. “I’m moving on.”

Steph gives me a look that begs to differ.

“You’re in denial,” Alana corrects. “Spending ten hours a day at the hotel and another five holed up in your room on your websites is not the sign of someone who’s moved on.”

So it’s been difficult. Fine. When everything else is spinning out of control, work is where I find my center. It’s a distraction, and the most effective way I’ve found to keep my mind off Cooper.

Truth is, he’s a hard man to get over. Hardly a day passes without me waking up and expecting to feel his arm around me in bed. Ten times a day I almost text him some funny joke or exciting update about the hotel—until I remember he isn’t mine anymore. Daisy still searches for him. Picking up his scent here and there. Lying at the foot of his side of the bed. Waiting at the door for someone who never comes.

Nothing about being in this town feels right without him.

And none of that changes the fact that he lied to me. Repeatedly. He took away my power to make my own decisions. He tricked me, and I can’t so easily disregard that. If I can’t have respect for myself, no one will.

“Meet him,” Alana urges. “Listen to what he has to say. Then go with your heart. What’s the harm in doing that much?”

Irrevocable damage. A small crack in the levee that gives way to insurmountable anguish. When I left Cooper, I built my walls sturdy, made to last. I wasn’t designed to open and shut at will. More than anything, I fear that if I let myself see him, I won’t ever stop feeling this terrible ache. That if I forgive him, I’m setting myself up to be ruined again. Because I don’t know how to walk away from Cooper Hartley twice.

I might not survive it again.


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