I stood frozen in my spot, watching as Claire angrily threw her suitcase into the car trunk before getting in the driver's seat. After igniting the engine, she quickly backed out of the driveway then turned at the corner of the street, disappearing from my sight.
But the worst part was, the whole time, I had seen tears streaming down her beautiful face. And it tore me apart knowing that I was the one responsible.
What the fuck had I done?
After all of these months, I finally figured out the reason behind Claire's distant behavior towards me ever since she moved in. This marriage of ours had shattered her dreams that she'd worked so hard to achieve.
What made me angry with myself was the fact that I had never even attempted to get to know who my wife truly was. Instead, I'd been so engrossed with my work and completely oblivious to the way I had treated her at home.
In all honesty, I did care about Claire. I just tended to not show it because most of the time, I acted like a total douche.
Just yesterday, she and I had gotten into a huge argument over her chocolate cake because my executive staff, including me, had thought it'd tasted horrible. But that wasn't the point.
The point was, Claire had been terribly sick and instead of taking care of her like a normal husband would, I'd ordered her to bake me a cake for work, not to mention that I had told her it tasted like shit the previous night.
I'd become outraged when she had called me an asshole during our fight, but now, I realized that she'd been right all along. I should've just bought a cake that night instead of putting my poor wife through all that trouble to bake me one.
As I headed upstairs to my room, the image of Claire storming away in the rain last Friday suddenly popped into my head. To this day, I still hated myself for just letting her go like that.
What if something terrible had happened to her? For god's sake, some crazy guy could've kidnapped her, or she could've been hit by a drunk driver. I'd never be able to live with myself if a situation like that had occurred.
I had planned on yelling at Claire for being such an idiot once she got home, but the moment I saw her at the top of the stairs, any trace of anger I had previously felt instantly vanished.
The sight of my wife soaked to the bone in water had just been too pitiful, and the last thing she'd needed was to have someone giving her a hard time. So, I had remained quiet. I was just relieved that she'd made it back home in one piece.
To be honest, I'd had no idea why she'd just left my car like that in the first place. I thought she'd been angry that I hadn't defended her in front of my parents.
It was then that I suddenly realized the reason for Claire's behavior that night. I had said that she was "just another money-loving woman".
That had to be it.
I also recalled her saying something about how she didn't want me to have to sit next to a 'money-loving bitch' when I'd scolded her for getting out of the car the following afternoon.
And just now when Claire was yelling at me, she had mentioned that she wasn't the 'money-loving woman' that I thought she was.
I couldn't even imagine how hurt she must've been when I'd said those words to her because clearly, my wife was anything but a money-lover. No wonder she had left the car and gotten herself sick.
I wished she had talked to me about everything sooner so that I would actually know how much she'd been enduring ever since we got married.
The truth was, Claire wasn't just any average woman. No, she was much more than that. She was strong-minded and independent.
All these months, she'd kept her own emotions and hatred for me buried deep inside, and yet, she still managed to go on with her daily life as if everything was perfectly fine.
But how could she possibly be fine when she had a husband that treated her like crap? And did I not mention that she had also lost her father?
I hated to admit it, but even though I was aware that Mark Delaney had passed away last December, not once had I ever bothered to talk to Claire about it to see if she was still grieving or offer her my condolences.
God, I felt like such a dick.
I'd wanted to get closer to my wife, not push her away. But I did, and the guilt was eating me alive.
Now Claire was gone, and I had no idea where to find her.
At first, I had no clue where I was going. I just drove around and thought about what was in store for me now that I had finally left my husband. I felt relieved, but on the other hand, felt extremely lost at the same time.
Where was I supposed to stay?
Charlotte immediately came to mind, but then I decided against it since Derek would most likely assume that I'd be at her house. After all, she was my closest friend.
Whether or not he even knew where she lived, I had no idea. But I wasn't going to take the chance and have him find me.
There also was Lexi, Hannah, and Stacy. However, the three of them had gone on vacations and wouldn't be back until next week at the earliest.
At this point, it looked like a hotel was my best choice. Before checking into one, I decided to drive to Seaport Village because it was an absolutely gorgeous day, and I wanted to enjoy it. I'd been stuck at home sick for too long.
I found a parking spot for my car then walked towards the shops. Most of them sold souvenirs, but there were others that sold clothes, shoes, and candles.
My father used to take my brother and I to Seaport Village all the time back when we lived in San Diego. We'd watch the boats as they cruised in the harbor then eat ice cream at Ben and Jerry's.
The moment I strolled past San Pasqual Wine Tasting Room, I immediately thought of my dad. Sampling different kinds of wine was something he had always taken pleasure in. That's why we had a huge collection of liquor in our basement at home in Minnesota.
After buying a pair of flip flops and sunglasses at one of my favorite shops, I headed over to Sports Headquarters just to see if there was anything I could add to my small collection of San Diego sports team apparel.
As I was looking through the rack of baseball jerseys, I heard an awfully familiar voice say my name.
"Well, if it isn't Claire Weston in the flesh."
I immediately spun my head around to see none other than Dustin Coleman- whom I'd danced with at the nightclub back in June- standing there with a huge grin on his face.
"Dustin! Wow, I thought I'd never see you again!", I greeted, giving him a hug.
"Well, I did say 'see you around' that night, had I not?", he remarked with a wink.
"You did," I replied, nodding my head.
"So, what are you doing here all by yourself?"
"Um, it's kind of a long story," I said as my fingers played with the tag on a Padres jersey.
"Well listen, if you want, we can talk about it over some lunch. I'm currently on break right now," Dustin offered.
"You work here?"
"Yeah, during the summer."
"Cool. And yes, I'd love to have lunch. I'm absolutely starving."
He chuckled and then the both of us walked to Village Cafe. Running into Dustin had definitely lifted my spirits. He had this chill personality that made it easy for him to get along with anyone.
When we got there, I ordered a salad, and he ordered a chicken wrap for himself. He had a baseball cap on, and it made him look even hotter than he already was. I also noticed that his hair had gotten blonder, too, from being out in the sun.
"So, this story of yours. Where does it begin?", Dustin asked as he leaned forward in his chair, resting his elbows on the table as he laced his fingers together.
"Well, it started when my father passed away last Christmas."
"Wow...I'm so sorry. And on Christmas, too? Dang, that must've been terrible," he said with genuine sympathy.
"It was," I admitted.
As the both of us ate, I told Dustin everything- from when I was forced to drop out of college to marry Derek- to the events this morning that had led to me leaving his house.
The only detail I had left out was my relationship with Nick and his death because it was just too personal. Even Charlotte didn't know about him, and I told her everything.
I knew that I'd only met Dustin once before today, but there was just something about him that allowed me to spill all of my thoughts and emotions without feeling the least bit hesitant or uncomfortable.
I guessed it was because he was so willing to hear whatever I had to say. To me, he already felt like a friend I could trust.
"So, let me get this straight, you've been sitting at home all these months? Don't you ever get bored?", he asked.
"I usually have things to do around the house, but yes, it does get awfully boring."
"Why don't you get a job?", he suggested.
"Who will want to hire me? I have no college degree, remember?", I reminded him, thinking about how all of the hard work I'd put into college had gone to waste.
"But you attended freaking Stanford! And of course there will be companies that would want to hire you. I may not know you that well yet, but I do know that you're a very intelligent person."
"Thanks, Dustin," I said with a warm smile.
"I'm just telling the truth. Have you ever thought about going back to college?"
"I have. Many times, in fact. But I can't," I replied, sighing heavily.
"Stanford is all the way up in Palo Alto which is, like, an eight-hour drive from here. And if I go, Derek won't have anyone to clean up the house or cook for him. It's my responsibility to do that as his wife since he already supports the both of us financially," I explained.
"Why can't he hire a maid or something? Based on what you've told me, the guy barely even treats you like his wife," Dustin commented, taking a huge gulp of water.
"I know...but believe it or not, Derek can be a really nice guy. It's just that most of the time, he isn't."
"Wait, how long do you guys have to stay married?", he asked.
"Until either his company or my brother's decides to end the partnership, which will probably be never seeing how much they depend on each other financially," I replied.
"Man, that sucks. Do you plan on going back, though? To Derek's house, I mean."
"Not for a while. I'm thinking about buying a plane ticket to Minnesota soon to spend some time with my mom and brother."
"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. In the meantime, you can stay with me in my apartment," he said with a grin.
Let's just say I was caught off guard for a moment.
"Um, that's really nice of you, Dustin, but I don't think it's necessary," I politely declined.
"Oh come on, it'll be fun! Besides, you sure could use some cheering up right now. I've got a spare bedroom you can sleep in," he insisted.
"You can also watch me train for college football season coming up," he added, his lips curled into a smirk.
"Oh, alright," I finally consented with a laugh.
"Thatta girl," he teased, playfully punching my arm.
Dustin wasn't leaving for UCLA until another week, so for now, I guess it'd just be me and him in his apartment. Then soon, I'd be off to Minnesota.
A/N- It's about time Derek realizes how terrible of a husband he's been to his wife. Is he going to try and get her back? Anyways, I hope this chapter gave you guys a little more background information about Claire. And let's not forget good ol' Dustin(; Were any of you guys expecting him to show up again?