Circle in the Sand, Chapter 1

Circle in the Sand by Tracy Krimmer
Releases June 17, 2019
Preorder for 99¢ here.

Chapter One

Besides my Shavasana, the only thing my body required to make it through any day was a large iced coffee with extra ice and six pumps of caramel. The extra calories more than likely made my hot yoga class counterproductive, but I preferred to tell myself they balanced each other out. Maintenance. Sure, I sweat my ass off for an hour a day, a puddle of my hard work all over my mat, and for what? An iced coffee?

I swooshed the straw around in the plastic cup, sliding it against the opening and letting out a loud squeaking sound.

Mmm. So worth it.

“Isla, come on! Do you have to do that with your straw? It’s the worst sound in the world. Well, that and when Inga tells us to hold eagle pose for five more seconds. She counts like she’s a damn sloth.”

My best friend, Charlotte, set her mocha on the saucer, a small amount spilling over the side. She never ordered hers in a to-go cup, always an oversized mug as if we were on the set of Friends. This coffee shop was a tad reminiscent of Central Perk with its oversized couches and chairs. We chose it because of its convenient location next to the yoga studio.

“Sorry. It’s not like I did it on purpose.” I didn’t care for the sound either, but I didn’t feel the need to make a big deal out of it like she did. I swept my hair out of my face and took another drink. Even though I loved my new haircut, I hated that sometimes the angled side fell over my face and into my eyes. It was too short now to pull back into a ponytail. At least I didn’t have any grays. Yet.

“I can’t believe that class.” Charlotte yanked the band out of her ponytail, her light brown hair dropping well below her shoulders. She readjusted her hair, pulling it tight to ensure no ends fell out. She stood, tucking her toned left leg behind her, touching her butt, and repeated with the other leg before sitting down again. “How long did she have us hold that chair pose? My quads are going to be killing me tomorrow. My legs are already Jell-O.”

“Oh, Utkatasana is the worst.” I pressed my palms into my thighs, knowing I’d feel it too. Even with three years of consistent yoga classes, the pose still challenged me. I loved pushing myself, but my legs often hated me the next day. No results without pain, right? I certainly knew the answer to that.

“Why do you always insist on using the official pose name? You’re not the instructor, you know.”

“I know.” I sipped my iced coffee, careful not to squeak the straw and risk being scolded by Charlotte again. “Maybe someday, though. I want to familiarize myself with the names. I’d love to teach part-time in the future. Maybe if Inga ever offers a training program I’ll take her up on it.”

Inga classified herself as one of the best hot yoga instructors this side of Milwaukee, and she deserved the title. As an instructor for over fifteen years, she understood how to teach beginners to advanced students and not make anyone feel incompetent. I admired that.

“I forgot to check the cruise line for yoga classes. I want to take it with a group if I can.” I tried not to miss any days without practicing.

Charlotte and I planned this cruise along with our friend Asher months ago. We all deserved a vacation, and after hearing about Oceanic cruises from a coworker, I suggested it to my friends. They jumped at the chance, and finally, departure was upon us.

“Oh, yeah. About that”—Charlotte pressed her lips together and averted her eyes from mine—“it turns out I can’t go.”

“You can’t go?” My stomach dropped, and I let out an awkward laugh. “What do you mean you can’t go? We’ve been planning this for months.” This had to be some sort of joke. What kind of a person canceled a trip this long in the making, not to mention only a few days before they left?

“Please don’t be mad.”

I wanted to take my straw and force it up and down the hole in the cup just to annoy her. “How can you expect me not to be mad? We’re going to celebrate my birthday. When did you decide not to go?”

Charlotte crossed her legs back and forth and readjusted herself on the couch. “I didn’t decide not to go. I can’t go.”

“It better be something really important. And it better not be because of a man.” She’d done it before. Charlotte loved to get laid, and she took almost any opportunity to do so. I didn’t judge her—she had every right to do what she wanted to do—but if it meant canceling plans with me, then I had something to say about it.

“It kind of is.”

I practiced my yogi breathing as the temperature in my body rose. My eyes closed, I took a deep inhalation, and I exhaled loudly. I set out to say a few words and hoped she’d forgive me for what I was about to say.

“Isla, before you get in a tizzy, let me explain. Wayne is coming home.”

I opened my eyes at Wayne’s name, and everything I planned saying left my mind. “What? He is?”

“Yes. The day after tomorrow.”

Wayne was Charlotte’s brother, and he served in the army. He’d been deployed for the past two years. The two were very close, only eighteen months difference between them, Charlotte being the older one. Everyone often joked that the two were twins because of their similarities.

She missed her brother terribly, and him coming home was a big deal. I couldn’t be upset.

“Charlotte, why didn’t you tell me? You should have called me the second you found out!” I leaned over and gave her a hug.

“I don’t know.” She shook her head, and I could tell she held back tears. “Mom, Dad, and I were so excited, and it slipped my mind. Then I kept thinking I had told you, until you just mentioned the cruise.”

“Can you get your money back?”

“No. It’s too late. That’s okay, though. Asher is still going.”

Asher. The three of us went to college together—Asher, Charlotte, and me. We were like The Three Stooges, always goofing off. We managed to avoid getting into any trouble, which really surprised me. If this were high school, we’d be in detention all the time. Asher actually attended high school with me, but we didn’t really know each other at the time, only having a few run-ins.

“Just me and him, then? I don’t know if we’ve ever spent time alone together. Will that be weird? I don’t want to listen to him go on and on about his latest girlfriend. What’s her name? Susie? Stacy? Shannon? It starts with an S, that much I know.”

Asher never seemed to be without a girlfriend. It didn’t surprise me. With his hazel eyes and dark hair, he caught the attention of a lot of women. I thought he was cute, but we were only friends.

Charlotte shifted in her chair. “You’ll be fine. Besides, aren’t there singles events going on? Asher can be your wingman. You need this. It’s been almost a year since you and Tim broke up.”

“You mean since he dumped me?”

Charlotte sighed. “Do you really need to put it that way?”

I leaned back against my chair and crossed my arms. “That’s pretty much the truth, though, isn’t it?”

I remembered the day like it’d happened only yesterday. I’d just returned home from my shift at the library, which I usually loved after five years of working there. Once a year the local school brought the kindergartners in to learn about the library and everything it had to offer. By the end of the day, my head pounded, and that day was no different. I’d wanted to open some wine, soak in a relaxing bubble bath, and enjoy the silence.

When I opened the door to the apartment I shared with Tim, he was on the couch with his bags beside him. His head was buried in his hands, and when he looked up at me, his red hair was a tangled mess, and he stared right through me.

“Hey, honey,” I had said with an extended tone. “What’s going on? Do you have a business trip you forgot to tell me about?”

Traveling for his job wasn’t uncalled for. As an account representative for a dental supply company, he often took short trips for a few days at a time. But this was more luggage than needed for a few days.

“In a way.” He stood from the couch and folded his hands behind his back. “Isla, I’ve been doing some thinking.”

The word thinking in that context didn’t sound good. I swallowed, a lump catching in my throat. His freckled face that usually brightened when I entered the room dimmed. As my legs shook at the prospect of what words may leave his mouth, I took hold of the table next to me.

“About what?” I couldn’t speculate. I didn’t want to. I wouldn’t believe a thing my mind told me until he said it.

“You want to get married. That’s just not in my life plan. After my parents’ divorce, I swore I’d never sign that piece of paper. It’s not fair to you if I stay with you when we don’t have the same relationship goals.”

His words echoed in my mind. Was he breaking up with me? “What? Where is this coming from? You’ve known from the beginning of our relationship that I eventually wanted to get married.” I’d never been shy about it. I loved weddings, romantic comedies, and being committed to another person. I thought he knew that.

“Not really, Isla.”

“How can you say that?”

“I think we may have joked about it once or twice, but it never went beyond that. We’ve been together for eight years. Eight years! Don’t you think if I planned on marrying you that I’d have done it by now?”

His words sliced through me like a knife on canvas. If I planned on marrying you. He said “you” as if I were a piece of moldy bread he didn’t want to touch. As much as I tried to hold back tears, they found their way down my cheeks.

“I don’t have to get married, Tim. I want to be with you.” I squeaked out the words in a solemn tone. I didn’t need the piece of paper either, did I? All that matter was that we spent our lives together, married or not. So what if I’d dreamed about my wedding day since I was a little girl.

“Don’t say that, Isla. You want to walk down the aisle. I see the way you look at the screen whenever you make me watch a chick flick and a couple gets married. You imagine yourself there, being the one walking down the aisle in that white dress.”

Make him watch? The last time we snuggled on the couch to watch a rom-com he suggested it. None of this added up for me. None of it.

“Is there someone else, Tim?” I asked the question that I didn’t want the answer to. I swore I’d never be that woman. That woman. “Is there?”

“Isla . . . I . . . no.”

I didn’t believe him. His denial didn’t come fast enough. Suddenly, I couldn’t stand to look at him.

This man I’d spent so much of my life with broke my heart into a million pieces. I wanted to beg him to stay, tell him that I could make him want to marry me. Give it more time. He’d come around.

But for what? Why should I have to beg for his affection? I wanted him out of my face, out of the apartment. I struggled to find the words, to say them to him. I closed my eyes as I took a deep breath. “Get out.”

My legs found their balance again as I directed him firmly and without the least bit of struggle. His face made me sick. His words made my stomach twist into knots and pull every which way. I wasted eight years—damn near a decade—on a relationship that never had a future from the beginning.

He left my life that night, and I hadn’t heard a word from him since. His best friend, Colin, came and retrieved the rest of Tim’s belongings from our apartment. As soon as the lease came up for renewal, I took his name off.

We broke up almost a year ago, and I hadn’t found a relationship worth holding on to. It wasn’t as though I hadn’t tried. A handful of dates led me nowhere. I hadn’t lost my faith in men. Maybe I’d lost faith in myself.

“Okay,” Charlotte said and startled me out of my recollection of the crappiest day of my life. “You are going to go on this cruise with Asher, and you are going to meet a stunning man who makes your panties melt off with a simple smile. You’ll go back to his cabin, show him the time of his life, and if you’re lucky, do the same thing the next night with a different guy.”

“Excuse me? I am not sleeping my way through this cruise. A new man every night sounds like something you’d do, not me.”

Charlotte curled her lips into a perverted grin. “Do you want to hear about Darren?”

“Who the heck is Darren?”

She fluttered her eyes as she took a drink of her mocha, drawing out the explanation as long as possible. “I met Darren at the supermarket the other day. We both reached for the same avocado.”

“You and your damn avocado toast. I swear you’re going to turn into an avocado one of these days.” No matter what time of day, she always made sure to include it in her meal.

“Anyway, we started talking, and would you believe that we both have a turtle named Aristurtle?”

“No, I wouldn’t believe it because not only do you not have a turtle named Aristurtle, but you don’t even own a turtle!”

“He didn’t know that. We went out for a drink and ended up back at his place.”

“You’re terrible. You know that, right?” I slurped down the rest of my iced coffee, knowing how much she despised that noise, maybe even more than the straw sliding against the opening.

“I’m not terrible. I’m horny.” She laughed.

I stood up. “I have to finish packing, unlike you.”

“I’m sorry. I really am. I feel terrible. How can I make it up to you?”

“I’ll think of something.” I winked at her knowing very well I wouldn’t come up with anything. I hated that we couldn’t celebrate my thirtieth birthday together, but she was my best friend, and Wayne coming home was a big deal. I couldn’t make her feel bad about that. What kind of friend would that make me?

“Who knows? Maybe you’ll find true love while you’re on this cruise.”

“True love? Please. I thought I had that with Tim.”

“Tim’s an asshole. We both know that. You’re coming home from this cruise at least having hooked up once.” She held a finger up in front of me.

My eyes rolled back in my head. “I have a much better chance of contracting norovirus.”

I hoped not, though. I preferred Charlotte’s take, thinking it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if I met someone. But how would I ever meet someone who compared to Tim? He was my life for so many years, and we shared so much together. What was wrong with me that he refused to marry me?

I honestly didn’t know if I was ready to move on, or even if I deserved to. Lately I’d been stuck in a rut, unable to find myself attracted to anyone.

Maybe this cruise was just the thing I needed.

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