Who I Am With You(2)

By: M. Lynne Cunning



“I’m not into all the pop crossover stuff—”

“That’s what country music is right now.”

“Not all of it, Liz.”

“That’s what’s popular right now, Chad.”

“It’s not real country. Not my kind of country, anyway.”

“You have to play what will sell.”

“I am. Take Me Home did pretty well—”

“You got lucky!” Liz blurted out. The sharp gasp that followed confirmed she hadn’t actually meant to say the words out loud, but the damage had already been done.

Chad’s eyes narrowed, and he searched her eyes as though really looking at her for the first time. Words flooded his mind, things he could have uttered just to have a hurtful retort. Instead, he squeezed his eyes shut for a brief moment and took a step backward.

“I guess you’ve said all you need to say then,” he breathed, unsure if he’d managed to harness the bitterness and anger that was quickly overshadowing the hurt and pain he had initially felt. Knowing that Liz no longer loved him was hard enough to fathom, but the idea that she no longer believed in him or the dream he was committed to chasing, that was a pill too tough to swallow.

She stayed silent as she padded toward the door in her socks, sending flickering glances his way through her bangs as she bent to pull her cowboy boots on. Her favorites, a pair of Justin boots with turquoise and yellow stitching he’d bought for her on Valentine’s Day two years ago. At least, she’d said they were her favorites. Chad didn’t know what to believe anymore.

“We’re too different now,” she repeated, standing tall again to face him. He got the feeling she was trying to convince herself of that as well.

“So you’ve so blatantly pointed out.” His words were meant to be cold, expressionless.

“I’m really sorry, Chad.” Liz’s hands were already on the handles of her luggage bags.

“You’ve said that, too.”

He watched as she nodded curtly, an air of finality in her movements as she swung her guitar case up onto her shoulder. His gaze lingered where the case met the small of her back. The woman he’d loved since he was old enough to know what love was, the inspiration for every lyric he sang and every chord he played, was walking away from him. From the us they’d been for so long.

Liz reached for the doorknob and let her fingertips touch the burnished metal. She hesitated, her spine suddenly rigid and straight when she turned back around to face him.

“Chad?”

She said his name as a question, but he was out of answers. Words failed him, and the sad humiliation in her eyes tore through the remnants of the broken pieces she was leaving him in, so he said nothing. Chad met her gaze, one last desperate thread of hope that maybe she’d changed her mind.

“His name is Jonathan.”

***

KATIE

Katie slid the last cardboard box off the tailgate of the truck and set it on the front porch steps with the others. A bead of sweat trickled down the side of her flushed face and she wiped it away with the back of her hand, taking another glance around as though to familiarize herself with her surroundings again. A sigh reverberated through her, knowing too well that nothing had changed.

Yet, everything was different.

Her father was gone, therefore, the vast acres around her that housed so many fond memories and warm thoughts could no longer hold the appeal and magic they once had for her. The property may look just as it had when he was alive, but it wasn’t the same. It just wasn’t. This was his property, his sanctuary, and no matter what his legal will or the property deed said, she would never be able to view it as her own.

Enough already, she scolded herself silently. She couldn’t undo her father’s death, and she couldn’t go back on her promise to herself to make this farmhouse and acreage her home. She’d have done anything for her father while he was alive, and that loyalty would not waver just because he had passed away. She sniffed back the sobs that were forming at the base of her throat and forced herself to go inside, plucking one of the boxes from the porch steps as she passed by it.

Inside, the faint scent of cedar mixed with lavender invaded her senses. The entire interior of the spacious farmhouse had been done in tongue-and-groove cedar planks. For weeks, she’d watched the rooms of the house transform from outdated and in need of repair to comforting and rustically modern, all done by her father’s bare hands and painstaking meticulous attention to detail. Sometimes, on her days off from the hospital, she’d even lent a hand, passing boards one by one to him as he worked on his final masterpiece. Now, as she inhaled the scent of those boards that lingered together with the floral aroma of the lavender candle she had burning, she was overcome with gratitude for the days she’d been allowed to spend with him working on this old place, realizing she’d never once thought for a moment that their days together had been numbered.

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