Royal Games by T.K. Leigh



I open my mouth to argue yet again that I don’t blame Jeremy, but her hand shoots up, cutting me off.

“But this isn’t a sad occasion, friends. It’s a momentous one. One in which we celebrate not the separation of two people who never should have been together in the first place, but Nora’s freedom to live the life she was meant to live. To be the person she was meant to be. Even if she doesn’t quite know who that person is just yet.” She offers me an endearing smile, then picks up a yellow rose petal from a nearby bowl.

Closing the lid on the casket, she places the petal on it. “Today, Nora Jean,” she continues, love in her gaze, “may you be happier than a bird with a french fry.”

Everyone erupts in laughter, including myself, even as I wipe the few tears tricking down my cheek. Not from losing Jeremy, but at the length my friends went in order to make sure tonight isn’t marked with regret and sadness but hope and laughter.

“May you be happier than a fat cat in a small box,” one of my co-workers, Claire, says, tossing another yellow rose petal on the casket.

“May you be happier than Daryl Dixon with a crossbow,” Gretchen, another woman from work, offers. We chuckle, all too familiar with her obsession with The Walking Dead.

“May you be happier than a dog chasing a squirrel,” Marcy, one of the women who works with Evie and Chloe, states as she tosses her own petal.

I smile in thanks, watching as each one of the dozen or so women steps up to offer their own wish for my happiness, all of them amusing. Finally, we reach the last few people in the circle. Evie steps forward, grabbing a rose petal.

“May you fly high and never let anyone clip your wings again.” The tone shifts from fun and humorous to sincere and earnest as she places her rose petal on the overflowing pile.

“May you find the strength you need in the people who love you,” Izzy encourages, then glances at the two women at her side — Evie and Chloe. “In your friends. In us.”

I nod, swiping at the tears escaping.

“May you dream big,” Chloe begins. “Sparkle more. And shine bright.” Then her grin turns conniving. “And have some mind-blowing sex, even if just for a night.” She waggles her brows as the room erupts in cheers and whistles.

Once they settle down, Chloe picks up the bowl and extends it toward me. I grab the sole remaining petal and place it on top of all the others.

“May I find the happiness I deserve.” I close my eyes, as if making a birthday wish, allowing my hope for the future to fill me with peace.

When I open my eyes, Chloe’s standing in front of me, holding out a shot glass, as Evie makes her way around the room with a tray, offering everyone a shot, as well.

Once everyone has one, Izzy holds up hers. “To Nora,” she toasts. “Never forget that walking away from something unhealthy is incredibly brave, even if you stumble a few times as you make your way out that door. Trust me.” She laughs under her breath. “I’ve stumbled more than a few times. But I’ve also learned that it’s never too late to find your happily ever after.”

“It’s truly not,” Evie joins in. “Sometimes you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find the prince you deserve.”

“Now, say it with me…” Chloe lifts her shot glass. “Fuck Jeremy.”

“Fuck Jeremy,” I laugh, my voice barely audible.

“Louder,” Chloe instructs. “With meaning.”

I roll my eyes, then quickly say, “Fuck Jeremy.”

“Is that the best you can do? For once in your life, stop bottling it up and let it all out. It’s okay to be mad.”

Licking my lips, I square my shoulders, about to inhale a deep, calming breath.

“And none of that ‘positive energy in, negative energy out’ bullshit, either. Breathing exercises only mask the problem.”

With determination, I level my eyes on Chloe. “Fuck Jeremy,” I say firmly, my tone icy.

She grins in satisfaction. “Louder.”

“Fuck Jeremy,” I repeat with more tenacity and strength.

“Again.”

“Fuck Jeremy!”

“Again!”

“Fuck Jeremy!” With each repetition, my voice grows louder, more fevered, more excited, more animated. This is the most emotion I’ve shown in ages. This is the most I’ve allowed myself to feel in ages, too. Even when I walked in on Jeremy with another man, I kept myself in check, refusing to show even a hint of weakness.