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When Life Happened
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Parker Cruse despises cheaters. It might have something to do with her boyfriend sleeping with her twin sister.
After a wedding day prank involving a strong laxative, that ends the already severed relationship between the twins, Parker decides to grow up and act twenty-six.
Step One: Move out of her parents’ house.
Step Two: Find a job.
Opportunity strikes when she meets her new neighbor, Gus Westman. He’s an electrician with Iowa farm-boy values and a gift for saying her name like it’s a dirty word.
He also has a wife.
Sabrina Westman, head of a successful engineering firm, hires Parker as her personal assistant. Driven to be the best assistant ever, Parker vows to stay focused, walk the dog, go to the dry cleaners, and not kiss Gus—again.
Step Three: Don’t judge.
Step Four: Remember— when life happens, it does it in a heartbeat.
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The smallest room belonged to the biggest loser. Nothing said pathetic like blue polka-dot bedding on a white trundle bed surrounded by four walls pinned with rock-band posters and famous volleyball players.
“Take the bed, Parker. You can put it in one of the spare rooms.”
“I don’t want the bed, Mom.”
“Why not? You’ve slept in it since you were four.”
Parker turned off the light and carried the last of her belongings down the stairs. “Do you see how you just answered your own question?”
There was no pride sleeping in her childhood bed at age twenty-six, just like there wasn’t any pride in the string of temporary jobs and a useless college education. Parker Cruse hadn’t planned on wearing the boomerang label, nor had she planned on her high-school sweetheart cheating on her with Piper—her twin sister.
“Once a conniving slut, always a conniving slut.” She wore the devil’s smirk, scrutinizing the photo of the happy couple.
The day the cheaters exchanged vows, Parker stopped planning. She also stopped talking to her sister. Piper’s choice, not hers. Mixing a strong laxative into the bride’s coffee the morning of her wedding irreparably damaged their relationship.
“Your sister is not a slut, nor is she conniving. It’s been two years since the wedding. I think it’s time you call her.”
Ignoring her mom’s peace efforts and biased assessment of her twin, Parker made a final inspection of the silver-framed, eight-by-ten wedding photo on the dark-stained mantel. She ran her finger along the wood.
“When’s the last time you dusted?”
“Mom,” Parker mocked, brushing the dust off her finger.
“I’m serious. Piper is your sister. I hate that you both can’t put the past behind and start anew.”
A month’s worth of dust covered the photo as well.
“I’m serious too. You used to scold us for not helping out around the house, but now that I’m willing to help out, you feel ‘judged’ every time I pick up a dust cloth or vacuum.”
“Stop changing the subject.”
Parker traced her finger along the mantle again.
S h a m e
“Parker!” Janey Cruse smacked her daughter on the butt and erased the graffiti with her hand. “Now I’m going to have to take everything off the mantle and dust it. You’re worse than those idiots who write ‘wash me’ on the back windows of dirty cars.”
Worse? Not really. She was one of those idiots who wrote “wash me” on the back windows of dirty cars.
Parker took the wedding photo from the mantle and inspected her sister’s light brown hair styled in long waves down her back like their mom’s. Scorned and unforgiving, Parker had cut hers off to shoulder-length, flattened the life out of it, and dyed it three shades darker because she was done being an identical twin.
“The photographer did a superb job of photoshopping the train of her dress.” Parker shook her head and whistled softly. “We must have worked for over an hour trying to get all that shit off the satin and lace.”
“Parker, it’s not funny.”
“No.” She turned toward her mom, wearing an exaggerated toothy grin. “It’s really not.”
“You ruined her wedding.”
With a shrug, she traced her finger along the dusty photo.
T r a i t o r
“Well, nobody died.”
“Mom.” She drew out Janey’s name, thwarting her mom’s effort to have a serious conversation.
Three quick honks echoed from the drive. Janey frowned at the photo when Parker returned it to its spot. She grabbed the gray wicker laundry basket and made her way to the back door across the patterned linoleum scuffed and scratched from years of heavy traffic.
“That’s what she said to me.” Dropping the basket at the door for her dad to load into the truck, she faced her mom again. “When I walked in on them, in my bed, naked—”
“Parker, I don’t need to know—”
A bit of laughter fell flat into simmering, painful amusement. The dishwasher clanked and gurgled, jabbing at Parker’s nerves as much as her mom’s peace-making attempts.
Even then, years later, it still stung. “What? The details? You don’t need to know that sweet, innocent Piper had her mouth around my boyfriend’s—”
“Parker!” Janey clenched her fist at her chest like reaching for an invisible string of pearls.
With absolute certainty, Parker knew her parents had had sex once in their married life. They’d slept in separate bedrooms for as long as her memory could recall. Janey never understood what “the big deal” was about sex. On the rare occasion that she even said the word, her face contorted with disgust.
“Yes,” Parker replied to her dad without turning away from her mom’s sour-grapes face.
He grabbed the basket. A few seconds later a gust of wind whacked the screen door shut.
“Fine. No more details, except this one. When I told Piper she ruined my life, that I turned down two different volleyball scholarships so I could attend the same college as Caleb … she said, ‘Sorry, Parker, I really am, but nobody died.’”