She couldn't breathe. It was three weeks ago, and she had finally found the courage to break up with Clifford. The words hadn't come easily. That wasn't due to any kind of tongue tied-ness. Her mind was fed up with his lazy attitude when it came to pulling his weight, instead putting all his effort into dragging around a blonde big busted bimbo, hiding her in the closet when she came home early from work.
It was her throat closing from the peanut butter kiss he planted on her. He knew it was lethal. His mistress had made them for lunch, being obsessed with pbj, and it had been too late when he realized what he had done.
A series of expletives and a dose of epinephrine later, she was breathing. It was tough, but she had enough wind in her to say "we're through" before scooping his keys off the hook, shoving him out the door.
His things had been cleared out by the next night. He carried on fine, happy that he wasn't a murderer, leaving the shambles of a broken relationship behind.
She'd wasted three years on that fool.
As much as it pained her to know that he was taking advantage of her, it hurt more to know that she was alone. She'd forgotten what it was like to come home to an empty house. She'd also forgotten how to flirt, because he was the jealous type, afraid that she was going to cheat on him.
Two weeks ago, her best friend Rachel had suggested taking a vacation. She had said it would be good for her to clear her mind. That, and something about flirting with a foreign boy, and getting laid, because she needed to get back in the game.
Tallulah had agreed to the vacation, not the boy.
Fate had agreed to both.
Last minute travel plans can be expensive, and she had mentioned this to Rachel, who had promised her she was going to get half price, because she had found the ultimate coupon code.
She wouldn't necessarily call this a coupon code.
This, or rather he, was a human. One that she was supposed to be sharing her vacation with.
He had sprung up from his seat in the lobby when he saw her. Worse yet, he had called her by name, her full name, and followed her up to the front desk.
"Do I know you?"
"Did Rachel not tell you? I'm your date for this trip." He stuck his hand out. "Milo Johnson, pleased to make your beautiful acquaintance."
"I told her I wasn't ready to date again."
Milo pulled her aside. "It's not a romantic date. Just a charade so that we could get the couple's discount for some activities. Kind of like a tour group, but we're the only ones touring."
"I knew there had to be a catch."
"Look, we don't have to hold hands or anything. You just have to stand next to me, maybe call me a pet name or two. I'll call you Lu."
She pushed her hair behind her ears. It was a nervous habit. Here she was, out of state with some stranger that her best friend had set her up with, from goodness knows where, about to share a vacation. This was insane.
"My friends call me Tally."
"But we're not friends."
After a brief call with Rachel, who had found this guy online, promising she had thoroughly scoured all of his social media, and had gotten drinks with him last week, she conceded. It wasn't like she could jet back out of there, with her plane ticket booked for five days later.
He offered to carry her things for her.
"The suitcase has wheels."
"I'm being a gentleman." He pulled both of their suitcases down the hall, stopping in front of their door. She took the keycard from his shirt pocket, noticing his cologne.
Dang, this man smelled good.
Dang, there's only one king sized bed.
She sat on the edge of it, smoothing out an itinerary from her pocket. Rachel had planned the whole trip, claiming that Tally wouldn't have to worry about a thing. Which was technically true. Milo was a human, not a thing. A human with a very charismatic smile, and enough decency to tell her that he'd order extra pillows to sleep on the ground that night.
As it turned out, he had an exact copy of the schedule. They'd both read that she had planned some candlelit dinner for them at a fancy restaurant a few blocks over. They were supposed to have the best crab cakes in town.
"You want to get a burger instead? I passed this place on my way her, and man, it smells like heaven."
Burgers or a candlelit dinner with a near stranger?
"I could go for burgers."
She did, and they conversed over the sounds of wailing children flying through the ball pit. The ambiance was terrible, but the food was fantastic. They'd even agreed to get milkshakes. She had opted for strawberry.
"This is the best peanut butter shake I've ever had. You have got to try this," he said, spinning the straw in her direction. She jerked back, recoiling from the glass.
"Sorry, I am allergic to peanuts."
"No, I'm sorry. You should have mentioned it sooner. I can toss it."
She shook her head. "It's fine. As long as I don't ingest it, we're good."
"I guess that means you don't kiss on the first date then, huh?"
Day two, they had gotten tickets for the botanical gardens. Rachel knew that Tally loved flowers. Clifford had never bought her any, and she deserved three years worth to make up for it.
"My mother was a florist," Milo explained, catching her surprise when he gushed over a plant. "I grew up surrounded by flowers. It was terrible trying to choose the right ones for her funeral, because she was such an expert, and you didn't want to let her down, y'know?"
He narrated the gardens for her. There was something magical about his voice, lulling her into a world of beauty. She hadn't felt this way since, well- she wasn't going to finish that thought. This trip was to forget about that troll.
They'd gone for ramen afterwards, and while waiting for the broth to cool, she had asked him about his mother. He babbled on, and hadn't even noticed the time pass until the waiter returned, asking if there was something wrong.
"Yes, my date is far too distracting."
That night the pillows moved to the bed, building a wall between them.
On day three, Rachel had sent them hiking. There was a breathtaking and he cupped his hands round his mouth to disrupt the peace.
"I'm insecure about my weight!" he shouted into the skies.
"What are you doing?"
"Shouting my troubles into the world. Try it. It's very cathartic."
She thought for a moment, shrugged and cupped her hands. "I hate my crooked smile!"
They shouted until their lungs grew sore. Then there was one last shout, voice cracking into the clouds.
"I'm ashamed that my boyfriend cheated on me."
That night the pillow wall came down.
On the fourth day, they were going to go shopping. There was a farmers market open, and they strolled through with steaming cups of coffee and freshly baked muffins.
Her coffee spilled, scorching her arm. He had helped bandage her up, and the feeling of his hands on her skin sent a shock through her system.
It was more electric when they kissed.
They'd returned to the hotel early that night, due to a heavy bout of rain. It had since stopped, but they didn't want to leave the comfort of the bed. One of them had turned on a movie, not that she could recall which, nor what it was about. They were moving quickly, buttons coming undone, layers being shed with the urgency of two people knowing that they'd be leaving the next night. They'd both be on the same plane home, with taxis headed in two separate directions from the airport.
Still, she knew that she'd get buried under the reality of her workload, and even if they tried, he'd end up leaving her for some blonde bimbo with straight teeth.
"I love your smile," he said, almost as if reading her mind.
He didn't give her time to respond.
It was the fifth and final morning, and he had gotten up early to get yet another milkshake from the diner. The plan had been to brush his teeth, vigorously, until his mouth bled, of any trace of peanut butter before she got up. He'd wait to kiss her until all traces went away, even if it meant hours of not caving in.
When he got back, she kissed him.
A panic arose in him as he tugged away. "Where is your epi pen?"
"I got another milkshake, and I wasn't going to kiss you, but Lu, please tell me you have an epi pen." He held onto her shoulders for dear life, eyes imploring.
Had she remembered to pack it? It was always in her purse, but Clifford had used that one, and when she had gone to the pharmacy, had she taken it out of the bag? Had she put it in her purse? She couldn't remember.
Her mind raced as he searched through her bag. "Lu, where is it?"
"Lu, I can't lose you. I should have never gotten that shake. You're way more important than some nut." He had responded to some half priced internet ad looking for a cheap vacation. He hadn't been looking for love. Then again, neither had she.
He found the pen.
He found love.
So did she.