November 9 Fallon
I wonder what kind of sound it would make if I were to smash this glass against the side of his head.
It’s a thick glass. His head is hard. The potential for a nice big THUD is there.
I wonder if he would bleed. There are napkins on the table, but not the good kind that could soak up a lot of blood.
“So, yeah. I’m a little shocked, but it’s happening,” he says.
His voice causes my grip to tighten around the glass in hopes that it stays in my hand and doesn’t actually end up against the side of his skull.
“Fallon?” He clears his throat and tries to soften his words, but they still come at me like knives. “Are you going to say anything?”
I stab the hollow part of an ice cube with my straw, imagining that it’s his head.
“What am I supposed to say?” I mumble, resembling a bratty child, rather than the eighteen-year-old adult that I am. “Do you want me to congratulate you?”
My back meets the booth behind me and I fold my arms across my chest. I look at him and wonder if the regret I see in his eyes is a result of disappointing me or if he’s simply acting again. It’s only been five minutes since he sat down, and he’s already turned his side of the booth into his stage. And once again, I’m forced to be his audience.
His fingers drum the sides of his coffee cup as he watches me silently for several beats.
He thinks I’ll eventually give in and tell him what he wants to hear, but he hasn’t been around me enough in the last two years to know that I’m not that girl anymore.
When I refuse to acknowledge his performance, he eventually sighs and drops his elbows to the table. “Well, I thought you’d be happy for me.”
I force a quick shake of my head. “Happy for you?”
He can’t be serious.
He shrugs, and a smug smile takes over his already irritating expression. “I didn’t know I had it in me to become a father again.”
A loud burst of disbelieving laughter escapes my mouth. “Releasing sperm into the vagina of a twenty-four-year-old does not a father make,” I say, somewhat bitterly.
His smug smile disappears, and he leans back and cocks his head to the side. The head-cock was always his go-to move when he wasn’t sure how to react onscreen. “Just look like you’re contemplating something deep and it’ll pass for almost any emotion. Sad, introspective, apologetic, sympathetic.” He must not recall that he was my acting coach for most of my life, and this look was one of the first he taught me.
“You don’t think I have the right to call myself a father?” He sounds offended by my response. “What does that make me to you, then?”
I treat his question as rhetorical and stab at another piece of ice. I skillfully slip it up my straw and then slide the piece of ice into my mouth. I bite into it with a loud, uncaring crunch. Surely he doesn’t expect me to answer that question. He hasn’t been a “father” since the night my acting career came to a standstill when I was just sixteen. And if I’m being honest with myself, I’m not even sure he was much of a father before that night, either. We were more like acting coach and student.
One of his hands finds its way through the expensive implanted follicles of hair that line his forehead. “Why are you doing this?” He’s becoming increasingly annoyed with my attitude by the second. “Are you still pissed that I didn’t show up for your graduation? I already told you, I had a scheduling conflict.”
“No,” I reply evenly. “I didn’t invite you to my graduation.”
He pulls back, looking at me incredulously. “Why not?”
“I only had four tickets.”
“And?” he says. “I’m your father. Why the hell wouldn’t you invite me to your high school graduation?”
“You wouldn’t have come.”
“You don’t know that,” he fires back.
“You didn’t come.”
He rolls his eyes. “Well of course I didn’t, Fallon. I wasn’t invited.”
I sigh heavily. “You’re impossible. Now I understand why Mom left you.”
He gives his head a slight shake. “Your mother left me because I slept with her best friend. My personality had nothing to do with it.”
I don’t even know what to say to that. The man has absolutely zero remorse. I both hate and envy it. In a way, I wish I were more like him and less like my mother. He’s oblivious to his many flaws, whereas mine are the focal point of my life. My flaws are what wake me up in the morning and what keep me awake every night.
“Who had the salmon?” the waiter asks. Impeccable timing.
I lift my hand, and he sets my plate in front of me. I don’t even have an appetite anymore, so I scoot the rice around with my fork.
“Hey, wait a second.” I look up at the waiter, but he isn’t addressing his comment at me. He’s staring intently at my father. “Are you . . .”
Oh, God. Here we go.
The waiter slaps his hand on the table and I flinch. “You are! You’re Donovan O’Neil! You played Max Epcott!”
My father shrugs modestly, but I know there isn’t a modest thing about this man. Even though he hasn’t played the role of Max Epcott since the show went off the air ten years ago, he still acts like it’s the biggest thing on television. And people who recognize him are the reason he still responds this way. They act like they’ve never seen an actor in real life before. This is L.A., for Christ’s sake! Everyone here is an actor!
My stabbing mood continues as I spear at my salmon with my fork, but then the waiter interrupts to ask if I’ll take a picture of the two of them.
I begrudgingly slide out of the booth. He tries to hand me his phone for the picture, but I hold up my hand in protest and proceed to walk around him.
“I need to use the restroom,” I mutter, walking away from the booth. “Just take a selfie with him. He loves selfies.”
I rush toward the restroom to find a moment of reprieve from my father. I don’t know why I asked him to meet me today. It could be because I’m moving and I won’t see him for God knows how long, but that’s not even a good enough excuse to put myself through this.
I swing open the door to the first stall. I lock it behind me and pull a protective seat cover out of the dispenser and place it over the toilet seat.
I read a study on bacteria in public restrooms once. The first stall in every bathroom studied was found to have the least amount of bacteria. People assume the first stall is the most utilized, so most people skip over it. Not me. It’s the only one I’ll use. I haven’t always been a germaphobe, but spending two months in the hospital when I was sixteen left me a bit obsessive-compulsive when it comes to hygiene.
Once I’m finished using the restroom, I take at least a full minute to wash my hands. I stare down at them the entire time, refusing to look in the mirror. Avoiding my reflection becomes easier by the day, but I still catch a glimpse of myself while reaching for a paper towel. No matter how many times I’ve looked in a mirror, I still haven’t grown used to what I see.
I bring my left hand up and touch the scars that run across the left side of my face, over my jaw and down my neck. They disappear beneath the collar of my shirt, but underneath my clothing, the scars run down the entire left side of my torso, stopping just below my waistline. I run my fingers over the areas of skin that now resemble puckered leather. Scars that constantly remind me that the fire was real and not just a nightmare I can force myself awake from with a pinch on the arm.
I was bandaged up for months after the fire, unable to touch most of my body. Now that the burns are healed and I’m left with the scars, I catch myself touching them obsessively. The scars feel like stretched velvet, and it would be normal to be as revolted by their feel as I am by their appearance. But instead, I actually like the way they feel. I’m always absentmindedly running my fingers up and down my neck or arm, reading the braille on my skin, until I realize what I’m doing and stop. I shouldn’t like any aspect of the one thing that ripped my life out from under me, even if it is simply the way it feels beneath my fingertips.
The way it looks is something else. Like each of my flaws has been blanketed in pink highlights, put on display for the entire world to see. No matter how hard I try to hide them with my hair and clothes, they’re there. They’ll always be there. A permanent reminder of the night that destroyed all the best parts of me.
I’m not one to really focus on dates or anniversaries, but when I woke up this morning, today’s date was the first thought that popped into my head. Probably because it was the last thought I had before falling asleep last night. It’s been two years to the day since my father’s home was engulfed by the fire that almost claimed my life. Maybe that’s why I wanted to see my father today. Maybe I hoped he would remember—say something to comfort me. I know he’s apologized enough, but how much can I actually forgive him for forgetting about me?
I only stayed at his house once a week on average. But I had texted him that morning to let him know I would be staying the night. So one would think that when my father accidentally catches his own house on fire, he would come rescue me from my sleep.
But not only did that not happen—he forgot I was there. No one knew anyone was in the house until they heard me scream from the second floor. I know he holds a lot of guilt for that. He apologized every time he saw me for weeks, but the apologies became as scarce as his visits and phone calls. The resentment I hold is still very much there, even though I wish it wasn’t. The fire was an accident. I survived. Those are the two things I try to focus on, but it’s hard when I think about it every time I look at myself.
I think about it every time someone else looks at me.
The bathroom door swings open, and a woman walks in, glances at me and then quickly looks away as she heads toward the last stall.
Should have picked the first one, lady.
I look myself over one more time in the mirror. I used to wear my hair above the shoulders with edgy bangs, but it’s grown a lot in the last couple of years. And not without reason. I brush my fingers through the long, dark strands of hair that I’ve trained to cover most of the left side of my face. I pull the sleeve of my left arm down to my wrist and then pull the collar up to cover most of my neck. The scars are barely visible like this, and I can actually stomach looking at myself in the mirror.
I used to think I was pretty. But hair and clothes can only cover up so much now.
I hear a toilet flush, so I turn quickly and make my way to the door before the woman can exit the stall. I do what I can to avoid people most of the time, and not because I’m afraid they’ll stare at my scars. I avoid them because they don’t stare. The second people notice me, they look away just as fast, because they’re afraid to appear rude or judgmental. Just once it would be nice if someone looked me in the eyes and held my stare. It’s been so long since that’s happened. I hate to admit that I miss the attention I used to get, but I do.
I exit the bathroom and head back toward the booth, disappointed to still see the back of my father’s head. I was hoping he would have had some kind of emergency and been required to leave while I was in the restroom.
It’s sad that I’d rather be greeted by an empty booth than by my own father. The thought almost makes me frown, but I’m suddenly sidetracked by the guy seated in the booth I’m about to walk past.
I don’t usually notice people, considering they do everything in their power to avoid eye contact with me. However, this guy’s eyes are intense, curious and staring straight at me.
My first thought when I see him is, “If only this were two years ago.”
I think that a lot when I come across guys I could possibly be attracted to. And this guy is definitely cute. Not in a typical Hollywood way, much like most of the guys who inhabit this city. Those guys all look the same, as if there’s a perfect mold for a successful actor and they’re all trying to fit it.
This guy is the complete opposite. His five o’clock shadow isn’t a symmetrical, purposeful work of art. Instead, his stubble is splotchy and uneven, like he spent the night working late and actually didn’t have time to shave. His hair isn’t styled with gel to give him the messy, just-rolled-out-of-bed look. This guy’s hair actually is messy. Strands of chocolate hair sweep across his forehead, some of them erratic and wild. It’s like he woke up late for an appointment and was too hurried to bother with looking in a mirror.
Such an unkempt appearance should be a turnoff, but that’s what I find so odd. Despite him looking like he doesn’t have one iota of self-absorption, he’s one of the most attractive guys I’ve ever seen.
This could just be a side effect of my obsession with cleanliness. Maybe I so desperately long for the kind of carelessness this guy exhibits that I’m mistaking jealousy for fascination.
I also might think he’s cute simply because he’s one of the few people in the last two years who doesn’t immediately look away the moment my eyes meet his.
I still have to pass his table in order to get to my booth behind him, and I can’t decide if I want to break out in a sprint in order to get his eyes off me, or if I should walk in slow motion so I can soak up the attention.
His body shifts as I begin to pass him, and his stare becomes too much all of a sudden. Too invasive. I feel my cheeks flush and my skin tingle, so I look down at my feet and allow my hair to fall in front of my face. I even pull a strand of it into my mouth in order to block more of his view. I don’t know why his stare is making me uncomfortable, but it is. Just a few moments ago, I was thinking about how much I miss being stared at, but now that it’s happening, I just want him to look away.
Right before he’s out of my peripheral vision, I cut my eyes in his direction and catch a ghost of a smile.
He must not have noticed my scars. That’s the only reason a guy like him would have smiled at me.
Ugh. It annoys me that I even think this way. I used to not be this girl. I used to be confident, but the fire melted away every ounce of my self-esteem. I’ve tried getting it back, but it’s hard to believe someone could ever find me attractive when I can’t even look at myself in the mirror.
“That never gets old,” my father says as I slide back into the booth.
I glance up at him, almost having forgotten he was here. “What never gets old?”
He waves his fork toward the waiter, who is now standing at the cash register. “That,” he says. “Having fans.” He shoves a bite of food in his mouth and begins speaking with a mouthful. “So what did you want to talk to me about?”
“What makes you think I wanted to talk to you about something in particular?”
He gestures over the table. “We’re having lunch together. You obviously need to tell me something.”
It’s sad that this is what our relationship has come to. Knowing that a simple lunch date has to be more than just a daughter wanting to see her father.
“I’m moving to New York tomorrow. Well, tonight, actually. But my flight isn’t until late and I don’t officially land in New York until the 10th.”
He grabs his napkin and covers a cough. At least I think it’s a cough. Surely that news didn’t make him choke on his food.
Beloved No. 1 New York Times bestselling author Colleen Hoover returns with an unforgettable love story between a writer and his unexpected muse.
Fallon meets Ben, an aspiring novelist, the day of her scheduled cross-country move. Their untimely attraction leads them to spend Fallon's last day in LA together, and her eventful life becomes the creative inspiration Ben has always sought for his novel.
Over time and amidst the various relationships and tribulations of their own separate lives, they continue to meet on the same date every year. Until one day Fallon becomes unsure if Ben has been telling her the truth or fabricating a perfect reality for the sake of the ultimate plot twist.
Can Ben's relationship with Fallon - and simultaneously his novel - be considered a love story if it ends in heartbreak…?