Neil Sedaka has a song about how hard breaking up is, but I don’t think he has any idea just how hard it really is.
I’d only called out from the library once in all the time I’d been working there, but after breaking things off with Seth, I’d gone home and back to bed, burrowing under the covers. I was still there when Dad got home from work and he peeked into my room.
“You okay, Nova?”
“I have a headache,” I lied. “I just want to lie here in the dark.”
He hesitated but then nodded and slowly backed out.
I’d had broken hearts before, but never like this. Never with someone who meant everything to me. And never one that hurt so much I felt physical pain. My stomach was off, I had a raging headache, and I couldn’t even imagine what I looked like after crying so much. Not that I cared right now. I’d go to work at the library tomorrow, but I was calling out for the game tomorrow night. I couldn’t be on the ice with Seth now that we weren’t together, and anyway, I was probably going to quit soon.
I could easily get a waitressing job, which would bring in a lot more money, with the added bonus of not having to see Seth at every home game.
I barely remembered the rest of the week. I basically went to work at the library and then came home and went straight to bed. My body felt like I’d swallowed a brick of lead because just getting up required a Herculean effort. No amount of makeup hid my puffy eyes and I was operating on autopilot. Even the kids noticed I was out of sorts.
“Are you sad, Ms. Nova?” Peter asked me during Story Time.
“I am a little sad,” I told him. “But I’ll be okay.”
He’d given me a big hug, holding me as tightly as his little five-year-old body could, and then smiled up at me. “You feel better now, right? Mommy says hugs make everything better.”
“I do feel better,” I lied, smiling down at his sweet innocence. “Thank you.”
“You look like hell,” Peter’s mom murmured to me as the kids went to pick books. “Are you sick?”
“No.” I shook my head. “Just some personal stuff going on.”
“Boyfriend being a dick?”
“No.” I dipped my head. “I’m the one being a dick.”
She arched a brow. “How come?”
“Love always is.” She paused. “Peter’s dad and I are separated. He’s a great guy, but just not the right guy for me. I wish I’d figured that out before we had a family, you know? Maybe you dodged a bullet.”
“Maybe.” I didn’t know what else to say because I hadn’t dodged anything. Seth wasn’t just a great guy, he was the best guy. And a thousand percent right for me. I was the one who wasn’t right for him. But I didn’t know this woman well enough to tell her that.
“I’m pretty sour on love right now,” Peter’s mom continued. “Especially since I let my college sweetheart go, thinking life married to an artist would be hard and we’d always be broke. Now, I’m still broke, but not in love either. Go figure.”
“I’ve always been broke,” I admitted. “So money isn’t a thing for me. But sometimes you have to do what’s hard because it’s right.”
“Is it right, though?” She cocked her head. “You’ve been moping around here all week. Is he miserable too?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen or talked to him.” I got up. “Anyway, time to read to the kids.”
Peter handed me “The Pigeon Finds A Hotdog” and I smiled because that was the book he chose every single time. It was his favorite and one of mine as well, but today I didn’t feel like reading anything. Not even a favorite.
Somehow, I made it through the day without breaking down and was startled to see Dirk waiting by my car when I got to the parking lot.
“Hey, Dirk. What are you doing here?” I asked warily.
“I, uh, well, I wanted to talk to you.” He pushed his glasses up on his nose and stared at me.
“Look, if you’re here because Seth—”
“No! He would murder me if he knew I was here. I just, uh…well, you hurt him and I’m kind of pissed.” He lifted his chin a notch, as if steeling himself for something, but I just sighed.
“I know. I hate that I had to hurt him, but it’s better for him in the long run. He’ll eventually see that I was right.”
Dirk stared at me, his face scrunched up in confusion. “But if it was such a good decision, why do you look like you’ve been crying?”
“Look, I appreciate what you’re trying to do but I did what I had to do. I’m sorry I hurt Seth. Really.” Tears were threatening and I hadn’t cried in twenty-four hours, so I had to get out of here before I broke down all over again.
“Nova, wait…” He called after me, but I didn’t stop.
I got in my car, started the engine, and pulled out of the parking lot without looking back.
Since I didn’t work on Saturdays, I stayed in bed until noon. I probably should have gotten up and eaten something, but I hadn’t been hungry in days. In fact, I hadn’t eaten anything but an apple yesterday and I couldn’t keep doing that.
I padded into the kitchen, glad that dad was out, and made a cup of coffee. I stuck two slices of bread in the toaster and leaned against the counter, trying to figure out where to start with applying to restaurants. I also had to resign from the Mavericks, which was going to suck, because I loved that job.
It would be easier not to see Seth, though, and hopefully I’d get some good shifts at the restaurant so Dad and I could get back on our feet.
I opened my laptop hoping to see if any of the restaurants I was familiar with were hiring, absently nibbling my toast even though I barely tasted it. A few places allowed you to fill out online applications, so I did that first, and then made a list of a couple of places I could just walk in to and ask if they were hiring.
I’d just closed my laptop when Dad came in.
“Hi.” He looked at me intently. “How are you?”
“Okay.” I got up and started washing my coffee mug.
“Can we talk?”
“Sure.” I washed the butter knife and then dried both the knife and my mug, putting them away while Dad just stood there watching me.
“Isn’t there a game today?” he asked after a moment. “Shouldn’t you be at the arena already?”
“I’m quitting,” I told him. “I’m going job hunting today.”
“What?” He frowned. “No, you can’t do that, Nova.”
“I don’t have any choice but to do it,” I said. “Look, I need to shower and—”
“No. You need to sit down over there and talk to me.”
“There’s nothing to talk about. We have bills to pay and there isn’t enough money in the account to pay them.”
“Yeah…we have to talk about that.” He sank into his recliner and looked at me. “You know your Uncle Paul and I have been friends since high school.”
“I know.” Uncle Paul was Dad’s best friend, we well as the owner of the shop where he worked.
“When your mom left, I couldn’t afford after-school care for you, so Paul let me bring you to the shop. For three years, I brought you to the shop after school.”
“I know. I remember.” I’d loved hanging out at the shop with him, watching him work under the hood of all the different cars. I’d done my homework and then I either read, colored, or hung out with dad. I’d loved those days.
“So when the shop started losing business and making less money, I stayed.” He scratched his chin. “And when Paul had to cut my pay in half, I stayed out of loyalty. And maybe a little bit of laziness because it’s hard to put yourself out there at my age.”
“He cut your pay in half?” I asked, shocked. “When? Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because I thought if we just tightened our belts, it would be okay. Things will pick up again, they always do.” He paused. “But I’ve been thinking and I realize that I can’t keep doing this. It’s not fair to you, and honestly, it’s not fair to me either. You were right the other night, when you mentioned that I’m getting older.”
“Dad, I’m sorry. I was upset and—” I began.
He held up a hand, cutting me off. “Maybe. But you were right. Between us we work three jobs, and our bills are nothing compared to most people. Yet we’re barely surviving and it’s not right. I was trying to be loyal to Paul, after all he did for us, because without me I don’t know that he can keep his doors open. At the same time, my decision to be loyal to my friend has impacted you in ways I never considered. So this morning I interviewed at the Ford dealership. They’re looking for a supervisor in the service department. There’s benefits and good pay, occasional overtime, and I won’t be bent over an engine all day, though there’ll be some of that too. For me, it’s the best of both worlds.”
“Oh, Dad.” Tears puddled in my eyes. “Why didn’t you just tell me something was going on with Uncle Paul? Instead of letting me think you don’t know how to budget.”
“Because he’s my best friend and it shouldn’t have impacted you. I figured we’d be okay. Until we weren’t. That ends now. If I don’t get the job at Ford, there’s a position at another garage downtown and I’m applying for that one too. One way or another, things are going to be okay.”
I sniffled, swiping at my eyes because nothing was okay in my world right now.
“Now tell me why you’ve been so sad all week. Did something happen with you and Seth?” Dad was watching me intently and I sighed.
“I broke up with him,” I whispered.
“Why would you do that?”
“Because marrying up is as bad of an idea as marrying down. Someone is going to wind up unhappy, and I love him too much for it to be him.”
“Geez, Nova, you’re not your mom. I’m sorry we even had that conversation.”
“Even if we hadn’t had the conversation, I still knew the story. And I don’t want to do to him what she did to you.”
“But she married a guy with nothing; Seth has a brilliant future ahead of him. It’s not the same.”
“So what happens when he gets tired of me having nothing? No education, no career, nothing.”
“You work at the library.”
“He’s been offered a job at NASA, which means he’s moving to Houston.”
“He doesn’t want you to go?”
I frowned. “Who are you and where’s my overprotective dad? No, he didn’t ask me to go because we broke up.”
“Then un-break up.”
“Go wash your face, put on some makeup, and get your behind down to the arena.” He got up and pointed toward my bedroom.
“Dad, I already called out.”
I rolled my eyes. “The game starts in like ten minutes.”
“Then you’d better hurry.”
“I don’t…” My voice trailed off. I didn’t even know what I was arguing about anymore.
“Nova.” He came over and put his hands on either side of my face. “I didn’t raise a quitter. We don’t give up in this family. Sometimes we stumble, and we’ve both done a bit of that lately, but I’m on my feet now and I’m pulling you up too. Go to the game. Go talk to Seth.”
“What if he doesn’t love me anymore?” I whispered, sniffling.
“Then he’s a dumbass.” He winked. “And we both know he isn’t.”