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Valen
Author: Jessica Gadziala

 

 

VALEN

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

The Day He Left…

 

 

“What is with you and that phone today?” Layna asked, shaking her head at Louana as they sat on the padded floor in the gym, their gym clothes damp with sweat that had soaked their dark hair as well, leaving them exhausted still even after the rest of the class had recovered and filed out.

They’d been a bit over their heads, going up against more experienced and mostly male classmates in intense sparring battles.

But if there was ever a challenge, Layna and Louana were never ones to shy away from it.

“What? Nothing,” Louana had insisted, flipping it facedown. As if that would stop the urge to check it once again.

“Oh, bullshit. I saw you pull it out and check it when that Bear guy had you pinned to the ground,” Layna insisted.

Louana couldn’t deny that.

She’d done it.

In fact, she’d checked her phone so chronically since the night before that she’d almost drained the battery already.

There was no denying the lump in her stomach, something heavy and insisting she acknowledge it while she did her best to just try to make excuses for it.

Her current favorite was that it was there because she skipped breakfast before the gym.

Without letting herself admit the reason that she’d skipped breakfast in the first place.

He hadn’t called.

He hadn’t texted.

It had been complete radio silence for almost a full day.

A part of her wanted to scoff at that, at how needy and pathetic that was of her. Especially because she hated to think of herself as needy or pathetic when it came to the opposite sex. She’d been raised better than that, hadn’t she?

Never love a man more than you love yourself.

Those had been the sage words of Lo during one of the all-girls self-defense classes. It had been something she’d said before launching into a speech about that was how so many women ended up broken down from breakups or even possibly abused. Because they hadn’t been given the tools to learn to love themselves, to put themselves first, to never accept anything less than what they truly deserved from partners.

The problem was, Lo hadn’t said those words until it was too late.

She already did.

She loved him.

She even loved him more than she loved herself.

His joy was her joy. His pain was her pain.

And his silence?

It was the most deafening noise.

That pit in her stomach was growing by each passing moment without word from him.

She’d even caved right before class and texted him first. As much as she hated to seem that needy.

It was just… he always texted her. All day. All night. They hardly went an hour without some sort of exchange when they weren’t together.

A part of her, as sick as it was, was almost hoping that he had, like, broken his hand or something. Because that she could understand.

Radio silence?

For no reason?

No.

She couldn’t accept that.

“I just have plans with someone later, and they haven’t confirmed,” Louana said, shrugging, then quickly getting up off the mat even though every inch of her objected to the movement after too hard of a workout.

She needed to get up.

She needed to shower.

Then she needed to go to his house and make sure he was okay.

It was the only way that pit was going to stop growing, stop threatening to explode inside of her at any moment, leaving nothing in its wake.

She’d never been to his house expressly to see him.

Things were relatively new between them and she hadn’t wanted to be too public about things, given the circumstances.

But she knew where he lived.

Of course she did.

She was friends with his sister, Violet, after all.

And it was Vi who happened to answer the door, standing there in hamburger-printed pajama pants and a black tank top, holding a whole gallon of ice cream wrapped in a kitchen towl in her hand, the spoon still in her mouth as she pushed open the screen door.

“Lou, hey, what’s up? I didn’t miss the class today. I told Layna I wasn’t coming. PMS and men do not go together. I would have strangled one of those guys today.”

“What? Oh, no. It’s not that. It was a good class, though,” Louana told her, not wanting to seem too desperate to get to the point, knowing how bad it was going to make her look.

“Okay. What is it then?”

“Well, ah, I was actually here to see Valen,” Louana admitted, voice squeaky.

“Valen?” Vi asked, brows knitting. “He left.”

“Oh. Alright. Well, ah, when he gets back, can you tell him I was looking for him?” Louana asked, already moving back a step, feeling every bit the fool for showing up, for looking so desperate for a guy’s attention.

“Wait. No. Lu… did he not call you?” she asked.

“No. That’s… that’s why I came by. I thought something was wrong maybe.”

“Lu, he left. Like town. He packed a bag and he took off on his bike. He said he wants to travel. He said he doesn’t know when he’s coming back. If he’s coming back.”

Louana didn’t really hear much after that, not through the sounds of her heart shattering in her chest.

He was gone.

He wasn’t sure if he was coming back.

And he hadn’t even said goodbye.

She was pretty sure at that moment, and the many after as she toppled into her bed, crying so hard and so uncharacteristically that her parents were scared about her well-being, that she would never get over it. Or him.

But in the weeks that followed, as grief slowly but surely transitioned to something she found more comfortable, more familiar, she knew another thing.

She was never, fucking ever, going to forgive him.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

 

Louana

 

 

I missed Navesink Bank for a multitude of reasons when I went away on my almost never-ending trip across Europe, searching for something—or some part of myself—though ultimately not quite finding what I was looking for.

But I really, really missed She’s Bean Around.

Part of it was the coffee. Which was some of the best I’d ever had. Which was saying something because I had the best espresso that Italy had to offer, and strong cups from Turkey, France, and Norway.

But there was just something special about She’s Bean Around’s blend. Or maybe it was simply the nostalgia of it. Each cup felt like a warm hug because that was what it had always been for me.

Got a bad grade at school?

Go for a cup of coffee at She’s Bean Around.

Had a fight with a good friend?

She’s Bean Around.

Horrific break-up that you never saw coming?

Yep, you guessed it, She’s Bean Around.

It was more than simply the coffee, though. It was the atmosphere. And the people.

Even if, over the years, the interior of the shop went through many design changes, each more distinctive than the last, there was just something so warm and welcoming and familiar about the place.

After I stopped to see my parents when I got stateside again, She’s Bean Around had been my first stop.

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