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Hey, Whiskey
Author: Kaylee Ryan

Sitting on the edge of the mattress, I survey the room. Boxes neatly labeled surround me. I saved this room for the end; I didn’t know how to let her go. I still don’t. The pain in my chest from losing her is unbearable. She was the only family I ever knew. My phone rings from its place on the dresser; I stand, rushing to grab it before it goes to voice mail.

“Hello,” I say my voice rough from tears.

“Say.”

I sigh at the sound of my best friend’s voice. “Hey, Tara,” I greet her.

“You should have let me come over and help you,” she scolds me.

“I’m good, really. It’s just so final, you know?”

“Yeah, are you sure you want to do this? This is a big decision, and it’s only been a month.”

One month—thirty days since the only mother figure I’ve ever known passed away. Elaine Phelps saved me from a world unknown. One of pain, hunger, and fear. When I was twelve years old, she became my foster mother. “It doesn’t feel right being here without her.”

“That’s your home, Say. The only real home you’ve ever known,” she says gently.

“It’s not home without her. I’m sure this is the right choice. Besides, Pete and I have talked about this. Our life is in West Virginia now.”

“I know, and I’m happy for you guys. I just don’t want you to make a rash decision that you’ll eventually regret.”

“No regrets. It’s not home without her. She was what made this place home. I was lucky to have her for eleven years. Her memory and everything she taught me, gave me, is all that I need to remember her. Not this house. Besides, I have a few mementos that she insisted were mine in her will.”

“Is the sale final then?” she asks.

“Yeah. I have until Friday to be out, but I’m leaving here in a few hours. They offered me more time, but it’s a young couple expecting their first baby. I’m sure they’re eager to get settled before the baby comes. I’ve donated the furniture and most of her clothes to Goodwill. There are a few things I’m keeping other than that, just my clothes and a few personal items.”

“If you need me, you call. I wish you would let me help you.”

“I’m fine, really. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see you before I left. This was just something that I needed to do on my own.”

“I get it. I just worry about you.”

“I’m doing as well as can be expected. Pete and I have dinner plans, so I’m loading up my SUV and heading back.”

“Drive safe. We need to plan a weekend, and soon,” she insists.

“I agree. I’ll call you in a few days.” Ending the call, I start the heavy lifting, moving my remaining boxes into the back of my SUV. I don’t have much, just some clothing I left behind and a few personal items of Elaine’s. My heart aches at the thought of what life is going to be like without her.

I do one final walk-through of the house, making sure there is nothing I’ve missed that I want to keep and take with me. The house is almost empty, but it’s like a final goodbye as I make my way through each room. I let the memories of my time here wash over me. The first night she brought me home, our first holidays as a family. Although she never adopted me, Elaine was adamant that I was her daughter too. She always said I had two mothers who loved me more than anything. She saved me, made me who I am today, and I will forever be grateful for her.

“Goodbye, Mom,” I choke on the words. “Thank you for all that you did for me. I miss you so damn much.” I pick up the one final item that I plan to take but couldn’t pack away. Her old gray sweater, the one she wore practically every day. Bringing it to my face, I discover it smells like her. Sadness tears through me. Life is so unfair. Why of all people did it have to be her? Why did I have to lose her too, the only real family I can remember?

With one final fleeting look, I close the door, making sure it’s locked, and head home—my new home, the one I’m building with Pete. He and I met sophomore year, both attending the University of Cincinnati. I was working at a local pub, putting myself through school, against Elaine’s wishes of course. It was illegal for part of the time I worked there, being underage and all that. She offered to pay, but I couldn’t let her. She’d already given me so much. We compromised with me living at home rent free and hot meals each day. I busted my ass working full-time and earning my education. My time at the pub was worth it. I made great tips from all the drunk frat guys. Pete hated it, but he didn’t have a say in the matter. It could have been worse; I could have been stripping—not that there is anything wrong with that, it’s just not my thing.

The three-hour drive home feels like an eternity. I don’t bother with any of the boxes, deciding to do it later. Instead, I grab my phone, keys, purse, and the gray sweater and head inside our house—well, Pete’s house. Sure I live here, but it doesn’t actually feel like home to me. Not yet. These last six months since graduation have been a whirlwind. I don’t feel like I’ve had the time to settle. I took a job at Pete’s families real estate firm as the human resources manager. I’ve been learning the ropes, and I was just starting to feel like I was getting a grip when I got the call that they were rushing Elaine to the hospital.

Heart attack.

Since that day, I’ve been reeling, trying to find something, anything to ground me. Pete’s been extremely patient with me, but even I’m getting fed up with myself. I need to snap out of it and move forward. She gave me opportunities, which I would have otherwise never been given. She would be devastated to know that I’m drowning in my sadness and not embracing life. I know that, and still, I can’t seem to shake this feeling, this loneliness that has seeped into my bones. It’s just like the years pre-Elaine, where I bounced from foster home to foster home, never feeling grounded, never feeling safe. Of course, it’s ridiculous. Pete and I have been together going on four years. I have security in him, I know that, but there is this nagging feeling that says things will never be the same.

Rushing up the stairs to our bedroom, I strip out of my dusty clothes and hop in the shower. Pete will be home within the hour, and if I know him, he has already made reservations. He’s a planner; every move is thought out, calculated. With my hair pinned on top of my head, not having enough time to wash it, I rinse off the grime of the day. Pulling a pair of leggings and a sweater from the closet, I quickly dress. I’m tempted to wear Elaine’s sweater, but I’ll save that for another day. She wore it around the house, just lounging. I can feel the smile tilt my lips as I picture her curled up on the couch, sweater wrapped around her, throw over her legs as she read. Along with the smile, a ping of sadness lays heavy on my chest. I miss her. Shaking out of the thought, I let my hair fall free and run a brush through it. Glancing at the clock, I see I don’t have time to add a few loose curls, so straight it is.

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