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End of Summer SALE

24 Aug

Digital ThumbnailFor the final week of August, “Flight Risk” is $1.00 OFF (33%) the original price on SMASHWORDS! Download your copy today for only $1.99 using the following Coupon Code: WU42C

CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE

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Premature Resurrection

31 Jul

3475000It is hard to believe two whole months have passed since I’ve posted anything new on my blog.  Since the end of May, it appears as though the only visits to this site have been spam bots!  Ah, that’s what I get for leaving things go for so long.

The better part of the past two months I’ve been in America visiting my family and friends.  Since my return to Ireland I’ve been getting things ready for the baby due in only a few weeks.  Guilt has plagued me for leaving this well of words and ideas go dry.  However, as evidenced by my title, I feel as though I’ve prematurely resurrected this blog.  Something tells me that if I’m this distracted by decorating the nursery and cleaning my home NOW, then I’m going to be infinitely more distracted once the baby arrives and I can just stare at him in wonder–which means even fewer posts.  (I know what you’re thinking: Fewer posts than zero?  Not possible… So, how about LESS FREQUENT posts?  Perhaps only one every quarter? :))

Still, I couldn’t put my blog out of my mind today.

I’ve been thrilled by the enthusiastic reception “Flight Risk” has received from readers everywhere.  It seems as though my third book really was “the charm.”

People keep asking me what I’m working on next.  The truth is: I’m working on growing a baby!  It’s amazing how priorities shift.  Still, there’s a 3/4 “finished” manuscript beneath my bed.  If I can find the energy my goal is to finish the draft BEFORE baby’s arrival so the words have time to meld with the paper.  Then I can go through it with a fine-toothed comb and throw out the wretched ideas my “baby brain” forced me to write down.

 

Happy reading, writing, and… resurrecting.

-Jenny

 

 

Meet The Author- Oakland, MD

28 May

Hatch Cover3I am proud to announce that The Ruth Enlow Library in Oakland, MD will be sponsoring a book signing on SATURDAY, JUNE 1, to celebrate the release of my third novel Flight Risk.   There will be copies of all of my books for sale at a discounted rate as well as a raffle for FREE copies!

Be sure to stop by the library between 11:00 am – 1:00 pm to say “HELLO!”

 

-Jenny

Flight Risk- Chapter 6

24 May

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“What are you going to have people call you when you’re famous?”

“Your highness?”

“Very funny.  Seriously, your last name makes me think of soda pop.”

“I guess I could take the Gary Allan approach,” he mused.

“Jaxon Lee.  I love the sound of that.”

* * *

Chapter 6

“You are going to love this place.”

“We’ll see.”  Will had been promising that all day, and yet I was still convinced otherwise.

“Stop being such a skeptic.  I’m telling you that after being here last night I’m convinced bars in Memphis can’t hold a candle to this place.  You’ll probably be thanking me for bringing you here and want to camp out for the next two weeks.”

“I doubt that,” I said under my breath.

My words were lost in the music. Walking through the tight doorway was like taking a step inside of a time machine.  All of my long-forgotten memories funneled through my subconscious and collected within the confines of the doorframe.  They hit me with the intensity of a brick wall as I emerged into the timeless room.

No one knew the original paint color on the walls; every spare inch was covered by mismatched frames.  The photos engulfing the space were yellowed with age; layers of nicotine and melodies had coated the murky glass.  The walls would make the patrons feel claustrophobic in another hour or two when the hordes of tourists emerged from the air-conditioned comfort of their hotels.

Nothing seemed to have changed—except for me.  This time I wasn’t eagerly looking for employment, a young woman with high hopes and stars in her eyes.  And the entertainment wasn’t as impressive as it had been the last night I had ridden into town.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the ten-gallon hat; the cliché look had never been his style. After the way Will had gushed over last night’s band I hadn’t been able to sleep for fear of seeing a familiar face on stage.

“It’s great, isn’t it?  You can just feel the excitement in the atmosphere,” my boyfriend gushed from my right, reminding me of his presence.

“Yeah, it’s wonderful.  Can we leave now?”

He chuckled, unaware of how serious I was.  “You’re hilarious, honey.  Come on!  I’ve been waiting all day to bring you here.  Let’s get a drink.”

Will pulled me toward the over-crowded bar.  Instead of causing a scene, I urged my feet to follow him into the heart of the mob.

“I’m still not feeling up to par.”  Which wasn’t a lie; my stomach rolled, fighting sickening memories.  “I don’t think a night out is in my best interest.”

“Just one drink, Evelyn.  Standing around empty-handed makes you look awkward.  You don’t even have to finish it.”

“One drink?” I qualified, scanning the bar for recognizable faces, thankful to see only strangers.

For the most part, the bars on Broadway were for tourists, hopeful musicians, and service professionals who slaved away nightly only to escape with a pocketful of cash after three each morning.

The locals would be haunting the bars at Five Points on the East side of town, on West End near Vanderbilt, or in Hillsboro Village.

“One,” he promised.  “And if you want to leave after that then I’ll go willingly.  But I’m telling you, you’re going to change your mind.  I wouldn’t be surprised to have you begging me to bring you back again tomorrow.”

“Want to put money on that?”  Because for once in my life I’d win a bet.

“Well, well, well.  Look who is back in town.”  Her husky voice was just as I remembered, thick and warm as Tennessee whiskey.  “I’m not so sure I believe my eyes right now, boys.”

I turned to face my old friend, feeling mildly embarrassed that I had silently prayed for today to have been her day off or that she had sold the place altogether.

“Hey, Mags.”

Hey?  You say that to someone you barely know, like a creepy cousin who tried to tongue-kiss you at the family reunion.  Get over here and give me a hug, sugar!”

“Wait a minute.  You two know each other?” Will asked from behind me, his voice mystified.

“Know each other?” Mags started, acknowledging his presence with surprise and only a hint of irritation.  “Evie here used to practically run this place for me.”

“She did?  You did?” he asked.

I forced a smile.  “Yeah, back when I used to live here.  I’m not sure I’d admit to running the joint though.  It seems a good bit shadier than it was back then.”

“No, it’s still equally as shady as always.”  My friend twisted to address Will’s confused expression.  “Don’t let her play shy with you.  She used to be quite the local celebrity.”

“She was?  You were?”

I shrugged.  “That’s what they say.”

I wasn’t nearly as proud of that fact as I used to be.  In my advanced years I realized there were many more respectable ways to gain public recognition; the ability to down copious amounts of liquor and still walk a straight line wasn’t one of them.

“What a small world,” Will said.

“You have no idea,” I remarked to no one in particular.

“I’m Maggie O’Farrell, proprietor,” Mags said, extending her arm toward my boyfriend.  “This is my bar.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.  Where are my manners?  Mags, this is Will.  Will, this is my old boss, Mags.”

“Pleasure,” Mags said, shaking my boyfriend’s hand.  His smile of appreciation was likely in response to her unexpectedly manly grip.  “And you’d better watch who you’re calling, old boss around here, Evie.  You’re not so young yourself.”

“I’m younger than you,” I reminded her.

“I like to say that I’m in my prime.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Will allowed, interrupting our exchange.  “I’ve met very few people who knew Evelyn before I did—beyond her family, of course.”

Mags’ grin widened; the look in her eyes made my stomach tighten.  “Well, you’ve come to the right place, Will.  I know just about everything there is to know about this pretty girl in front of us—or at least I used to.”

“Too bad you’re not willing to share any of that information,” I warned gravely.

Mags arched her eyebrows but didn’t push the issue much further.  “We’ll just have to see about that, won’t we?  Everything has its price.  What do ya say?  Ya’ll staying for a few drinks?”

“No, we really need to get going.”

“Oh, no!” Mags cried, pushing her full lower lip into a pout no man could resist.  “Ya’ll just got here!”

“Don’t listen to her, Mags,” Will said, moving to take a seat on one of the rarely empty stools by the bar.

“We could be here for up to two weeks and there are no appointments to be kept.  Come on, honey.  You know, Mags, I was here last night and just had to come back again today.”

She moved to the back of the counter, assuming the role of bartender.  “That’s the nicest compliment a girl can get from a man.  Thank you.”

“It’s funny though,” he continued, thoughtful now.  “When I mentioned this place to Evelyn she didn’t tell me she used to work here.”

“You never said the name of the bar, Will,” I explained for both of them, irritated by the assessing look Mags was throwing me.

He shrugged and turned to peruse the list of drink specials.  From what I could tell, the menu hadn’t changed in nine years.

“Have a seat, Evie.  Stay a while.  Drinks are on the house.”

“Whatever happened to no free drinks, no exceptions?” I asked, reciting our creed from back in the day.

“One of the perks of being the owner is that I can change the rules to suit my own purposes.”

As if being the owner had anything to do with Mags feeling entitled to changing the rules.  She’d been altering the game in her favor ever since I had known her.

“No, Mags.  Really, that’s too much,” I protested.

“Oh, hush,” she scolded.  “What’ll it be, Will?”

“Bud Light, please.”

“Draft or bottle?”

“Draft.”

“Evie?” Both Mags and Will looked at me expectantly.

“I’ll take the same,” I said, resigned to my fate.  The least I could do to help increase my chances of survival was get drunk and blackout.

* * *

“So… it’s been a while, huh?”

“Sure has,” Mags accused.  “Wonder why that is?”

“You know why,” I shot back.

“Maybe I do; maybe I don’t.”

If I were a betting woman I’d go with the first.  The bartender knew everything that went on within a two-mile radius of this place, down to the most miniscule, CSI-worthy detail.

“How’s business?”  Work was usually a pretty harmless topic.

“Really?” Mags asked, offering me a sardonic frown as she let two pints of Guinness settle.

We both watched the foamy head disappear, allowing room for more of the dark chocolate brown liquid.

“How’s life?” I tried again.

“Really?” she repeated.

“What about men?”  That was a scandalous topic she had always loved to brag about.  “Have you found someone who is willing to put up with you for more than one night at a time?”

“I got married a few years back,” she confessed.

What?  I hadn’t heard.”  And if the news hadn’t come from the source itself I would never have believed it.  Even so, I was still skeptical about her sincerity.

“If you wouldn’t have cut off all contact then you would have been invited to the ceremony.”

I accepted the jibe because she was totally justified in her irritation.  “Who is the lucky guy?  Do I know him?”

“His name is Jimmy.”

“Not Jimmy Smith?”

“Please, Evie.  You know I have better taste than that,” she said, disgusted.

“From what I remember, no one was ever good enough for you.”  She went through more men in a day than pint glasses—and she had been less inclined to break the latter.

“Exactly.”

“Did you really get married?” Ten years ago, Maggie O’Farrell had professed that she hadn’t believed in the institution of marriage, as if the holy sacrament had been the Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy.

“No!  Of course not.  Look who you’re talking to!”  She gave me a saucy smile.  With a roll of her eyes, she offered a rush of flippant answers to the backlog of questions I had asked.  “Business is good enough for me to still be in this bar.  Life is good enough for me to still be on earth.  The men are good enough to be here, at least for a little while.”

“Please, spare me the details,” I muttered sarcastically.  There was nothing like giving me the edited version.

“Don’t heed your own advice.  Tell me about you, what are you doing now?”

“I’m a high school English teacher,” I disclosed, slightly uncomfortable. She snorted as I knew she would.  “What was that for?”

“You are a teacher?”

“Yeah, I am.”

“Of kids?” she pressed.

“Can’t get anything by you.”

“Please, tell me you’re joking!”

“No, I am not joking.  For your information, I’m a very good teacher, Miss O’Farrell.”  At least I was when I wanted to be; nobody could operate at one-hundred percent all of the time.

Mags snorted once more and moved closer.  “Don’t start that formal crap with me, Ryan.  Where the hell have you been hiding out?”

“I haven’t been hiding anywhere.”  At least not anymore.  “I’m living in Russell, Kentucky, right now.”

Kentucky?  We’re practically neighbors.”

“Hardly.”  Before this trip, I had maintained a self-imposed restraining order  requiring a minimum of three-hundred miles in between where I was and where I used to be.

“Certainly not too far for a visit every once and a while,” she challenged.  “At least once every five years.  Nine is pushing it.”

“I know.”  Now that I had been forced to return I could admit to myself that nine years had been too long.  Still, even knowing that, I wouldn’t have come back any sooner.  “You could have come and visited me.  Last I checked they make most roads with two lanes.”

“And I would have if I had known where you’d run off to.”

“No, you wouldn’t have,” I said with confidence.

She grinned.  “You’re right.  But I would have thought about it.  Who knows?  Maybe I would’ve sent you a Christmas card or something.”

“Lying again.”

“You know me so well.”

I knew her as well as I had known myself ten years ago; it was a relief to see that at least one of us hadn’t changed.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been so long.”

“I still haven’t forgiven you for missing your shifts, by the way.”

“That’s a bit long to hold a grudge, don’t you think, Mags?”

“I have a good memory.”

“Sorry about leaving you high and dry.”  In the end I had turned out no better than the faceless girls who hadn’t lasted through their first week under Mags’ reign.  In eleven months of employment I had seen my share of Houdini-bar backs; now you see them, now you don’t.

“You should be even though I can tell you’re not.  The girl I found to replace you didn’t even last through the second shift!”

“That’s because you probably threw her to the wolves.”

Mags grinned.  “I prefer to call it on-the-job-training.”

“Right.”  My on-the-job-training had involved two slaps on the butt, one drink to the face, three hundred in tips, and too many broken glasses to even attempt to count.

“You survived.”

“I know.”  I had done more than survive; I had thrived in the chaos.  Sometimes, when the monotony of my life became too predictable, I missed the alcohol-infused madness of bartending. One could argue that there were bars in Russell but working in those places wouldn’t be the same. There was only one Maggie O’Farrell.

Since Will and I had arrived at the bar it felt like no time had passed since I was last in Tennessee.  Mags wasn’t the kind of girl to keep a safe distance and punish an acquaintance for non-contact.  No, my friend was still in the business of ball-busting and she wasn’t pulling any punches or feigning manners tonight.

“Hey, Mags!  Can I get some service down here or what?”

“Serve yourself, Rick,” Mags shouted back.  “You’ve been here long enough to know where the taps are.”

“Do you see how they treat me?” Rick whined sarcastically to the stranger beside him.

Mags and I both knew that he secretly loved the abuse he received here.

“I can’t believe he still comes in.”

“Every night,” Mags confirmed. “You’d think he’d be divorced by now.  At this point I figure his wife likes it better when he’s not around.  I know I wouldn’t miss him,” she said, raising her voice so that Rick could eavesdrop.

“Don’t you start lying to the girl, Mags,” Rick said, unabashedly inserting himself into our conversation.  “You wouldn’t know what to do with yourself if I didn’t show up one night.”

“Feels just like old times, doesn’t it?” she asked me with a wink, ignoring Rick’s claim.

“Almost.”

Mags smiled, knowing exactly what I had been referring to.  “You should really stick around.  We’ve got a decent lineup tonight.”

“I can’t.”

“You sound pregnant when you use those contractions.”

“Very funny.”

“What’s stopping you?”

As if he was answering her question, Will leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder.  “Hey, Evelyn!  I’m going to run to the men’s room.”

“Okay, Will.”  Did he need my permission?  Maybe he was worried that I would make a run for it and leave him behind, which wasn’t entirely unfounded.

“This place is great, isn’t it?” he said for the hundredth time.

“Yeah, it is.”  I had forgotten how great it was.

Mags chuckled after Will was out of earshot.  “Okay, I’ve gotta ask.  Who is that guy?”

“Mags…” I warned, anticipating the forthcoming snide remark.

She ignored me.  “He seems… nice.”

“Don’t start.”  Although I knew she’d already begun and had no intention of stopping.

“Start what, Evelyn?  He seems genuinely nice.”

“Uh, huh.”

“What?” she asked, feigning innocence; the look was foreign in her mischievous eyes.

“I heard the way you said nice.”

She gave me a wicked grin.  “And how was that?”

Mags already knew the answer; however, I decided to play along.  “Like it was a disease of some sort.”

“It is.  Nice tends to be contagious.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that.”  Mags was too far beyond saving.

“Thanks,” she said, accepting my words as though they were meant as a compliment.

“Anytime.”

“You’re not nice now, are you?”

“Do you really think I’d be stupid enough to be nice to you?  I haven’t forgotten that lesson.”

“Good girl,” she said proudly.  “At least I taught you something.”

“You taught me more than I’d admit.”  And not all of those lessons had been about serving drinks.  After a few weeks in the company of Maggie O’Farrell, a girl learned how to take care of herself.

“With the way you run I’d say I taught you too much.”  The bartender chewed on her lip as she mulled over what she was going to say next.  “Will’s definitely not the person I thought you’d end up with.  I always thought that maybe—”

“I know what you thought,” I interjected, unwilling to allow her to voice the fictional scenario aloud.  Hers wasn’t the only mind that had wandered along those lines.

“But he’s nice.  And he’s so damn happy.  You’re not happy too, are you?”

“Nice try.”

She shrugged as though she hadn’t been intentionally setting me up.  “He’s cute too, in a… clean-cut way.”

Will had short-cropped blonde hair and flat brown eyes.  He was attractive the way Barbie’s Ken was attractive: generically.  When a person pictured a good ‘ole American boy, Will’s face would come to mind.  He was very different from other men I had dated.

Back when Mags had met me I had been attracted to more flamboyant personalities and men who were not as… refined.  But it hadn’t worked out with those guys so I had changed my tactics.  Now I found myself in a successful five-year relationship with the same guy—if five years could be considered successful.  To Mags it’d be a jail sentence.

“I know.”

“I guess he’s safer,” she allowed carefully.

Her snap judgment annoyed me.  The way she said safer was almost as bad as nice had been.

“I like safe,” I said with a confidence I didn’t feel.

“Are you trying to convince me or yourself?”

She had me there.

“Safe is good.”  Safe was certainly easier than the alternative.

Mags laughed darkly.  “If by good you really mean boring then yeah, safe is good.”

“I’m back!” my boyfriend announced proudly.  I resisted the urge to cover my face in shame.

“Welcome back!” Mags greeted with false cheer.

“Can I get another drink, Mags?”

“Sure thing, Will.  More of the same?”

“Of course,” Will confirmed with an open grin.  “There’s no need to change a good thing.”

“Amen,” she agreed.

“Alright, folks!” the man on stage announced over the microphone.

I had forgotten that a band had been playing the entire time.  Tonight’s entertainment had been background music at best, not the usual up-and-coming headliners who had frequented the stage ten years earlier.

“You’ve been a great audience.  Remember, we’re here every Tuesday from seven to midnight.  I’ll be comin’ round with our tip jar here in a minute.  This is how we make a livin’ so be generous.  Now, we’ve got something special for you tonight.  Legend has it this man got his start right here on this very stage.  Let’s give a big Nashville welcome-back to Jaxon Lee!”

My eyes shot to Mags’, and she raised her eyebrows in defiance against my silent accusation.  No wonder she had been feeding my boyfriend drinks and had begged us to stick around.

A decent lineup indeed; I should have known better than to have trusted her motives.  The only thing Mags missed about me was the way I naively allowed her to play puppeteer with my life.  Nine years later and she was still pulling the strings.

“You knew he was coming?” I scolded under my breath, hoping Will wouldn’t hear me over the deafening roar of approval from the crowd.

“Knew?  Sweetheart, I arranged.”

* * *

Need to know what happens when Evelyn has a run-in with the man on stage?  Click HERE to order your copy of Flight Risk!

Flight Risk- Chapter 5

17 May

Evelyn is back in Nashville… I wonder what’s going to happen??

New to the story?  Click HERE to start from the beginning.

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“Let’s go do something!”

“It’s three in the morning, Evie,” he whined, even as he grabbed his hat and keys.

“Exactly.”

 

* * *

Chapter 5

“We should go somewhere.”

“We are somewhere, Will.”  We were right where I didn’t want to be.

“Very funny.”

“Are you wanting to leave already?” I teased.  If that was the case then I would willingly follow him to wherever his heart desired.  I’d even feel generous enough to let the space calculator navigate for us.

“No way!  I mean, we should go somewhere besides the hotel,” he clarified unnecessarily.

“We did.”

“We ate dinner at the Texas Roadhouse before we even got downtown, that’s it.”

“It wasn’t the hotel,” I pointed out.

“Come on!  Let’s just get out of here.”

“Tonight?  It’s nearly nine o’clock.”  Which meant it was really ten o’clock back home, making it well past my school-mode bedtime. It hadn’t registered that I didn’t have to go back to work until September.  There were nearly three months of blissful, student-free nothingness to look forward to.  All I had to do was endure this vacation.

“Of course tonight.”

“Aren’t you tired from the road trip?  After all, you insisted on driving the entire time.”  I may not have been behind the wheel but assuming the role of co-pilot had been equally as exhausting.

It hadn’t helped that our adventurous road trip had ceased to be adventurous one hour outside of Russell.  Will had stopped in Bowling Green to run an errand for work that had ended up taking over three hours.   The rest of the drive had been tedious, and the cars had been grid-locked for the thirty miles between White House and Nashville.

The traffic in this city was one of the many things I didn’t miss.  I had forgotten how discourteous Tennessee drivers were—and that turn signals were a foreign concept in this state. My weariness had been compounded by my dreading our arrival and constant worrying over the outcome of the next two weeks.   But we were here now so there was nothing more I could do besides pretend to enjoy myself.

“You’d think I would be but I’m not.  It’s like the road gave me a shot of adrenaline.  Or maybe it’s just the energy in this place.  I mean, look at it!”  He gestured toward the brightened window that constituted the entirety of our eastern wall.

The neon lights on Broadway lit the night sky, drawing tourists to the strip like a miniature Vegas.   Here people gambled their lives away on stages instead of inside over-the-top casinos. I took in the familiar view, understanding the affect Nashville had on its first-time visitors; the city held possibilities and dreams.

“I’ve already seen it.”  The place had haunted me ever since I turned my back on it.  There had been tiny changes I noticed on the drive in—new establishments replacing the outdated ones and vacant businesses with ghostly windows, mere memories of the thriving tourist traps they had once been.

But the cityscape as a whole was the same as it had been ten years earlier.  The self-proclaimed world-famous honkytonks were still thriving on Broadway, their flourescence drawing people in like moths.

“Right.  I forgot.  Let’s go out and see the city together. You can show me around your old stomping ground and brag about how great life was back when you were in residence.”

“Not tonight,” I begged.  I wasn’t ready to face the outside world just yet and had contented myself with a birds-eye view for the time being.

“There’s no better time than the present,” he protested good-naturedly.

“As much as I’d love to, I have a wicked headache.”  It wasn’t a complete lie; I could feel the seed of a migraine taking root and growing in the base of my skull.  With any luck, I’d be incapacitated for the entirety of our time in music city. “Why are you making that face?”

His frown grew more pronounced and his eyebrows drew together.  “Don’t get mad, okay?”

That particular disclaimer indicated that I was probably going to get angry.  “What is it?”

“Are you P-M-S-ing or something?” he asked warily, moving one step closer to the door.

“What did you just say to me?” I seethed, attempting to keep my voice even.  The effect was more menacing.

“Nothing.  I said nothing.”  He continued back peddling.

“Did you just ask me if I was P-M-S-ing?”

“I told you not to get mad!”

He may have told me, but I had never agreed.

“How can you ask me something like that and expect me not to get mad?”

“What am I supposed to think?  You disappeared into the bathroom every time we stopped to get gas in the car.”

“Why were you keeping tabs on my bladder?  Maybe you should have paid attention to my liquid intake.  I drank six bottles of water!”  Ever since I was little, even the shortest trips left me dehydrated.

“Fair enough.  But you have been in a mood lately, and you’ve had a pretty constant headache since Friday night.”

His legitimate reasoning was lost in the face of my annoyance.  “Don’t even pretend to know what it means to PMS.  You’re a guy; you have no clue.”

Will held up his hands in surrender.  “It was just a question, Evelyn.  There’s no need for you to jump down my throat.”

“For your information, I am not P-M-S-ing—not that it is any of your business, Will.”

“Maybe it’s the stress,” he amended.

“That’s a much more appropriate guess.  It would have been smarter to start off with that one, don’t you think?”  Was it that obvious that my nerves were wound tighter than a redneck’s Wranglers?  Apparently not.  After all, Will’s first hypothesis had dealt with my menstrual cycle.

“I know that even though I tried to alleviate some of the stress, you were still pretty worried about this trip.”

“True.”

He took a cautious step closer to me, sensing that my anger was subsiding.  “I told you not to worry.”

“Easier said than done.” Much, much easier.

“I had everything under control, didn’t I?”

“Yeah.  You’ve done well.”  But the factors he couldn’t regulate were an entirely different story.

“Not good enough since you’ve been pulling out your hair ever since I told you I had time off.”

“That’s just me.”  It didn’t used to be, but worrying and a generally pessimistic outlook on life had become commonplace since the last time I had been in Tennessee.  There were too many unknown variables in my life these days, so many things that could go wrong with just a word.  Most were uncontrollable, but that fact didn’t keep me from stewing over the possible outcomes.  If I knew what could happen then I’d be prepared for anything.

“You really don’t look like you feel very well.”

“Thanks,” I muttered.

“Do you want me to run to the front desk and see if they have any Tylenol?”

At least he hadn’t asked if I needed Midol or a box of tampons.  “No, that’s okay.  I probably have some medicine in my purse somewhere.”

Ever since he had mentioned the destination of our relaxing vacation I’d kept a hefty supply of painkillers on hand.  Right now I could use something stronger, tranquilizers perhaps; it was doubtful that the front desk had those in stock.

“I hope you’re not coming down with something serious.”

“I don’t think that’s it.”  I wouldn’t be that lucky.

“Are you sure you don’t need anything?”

“I’m sure.  Now it’s your turn to stop worrying.”  That was my job.

“Okay.”  Will moved past me to sit on the edge of one of the double beds in the room.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I accused, unable to withstand the deflated look on his face.

He dropped his hands and stared at me.  “Taking off my shoes?”

“No, you’re not.”

“I’m not?”

“No.”

He pursed his lips as he tried to follow my broken logic.  “And why am I not taking off my shoes?”

“Because you should go out.” Why hadn’t I thought of this brilliant idea beforehand?

“Really?” he asked, as if the thought hadn’t crossed his mind.

“Yeah, of course.  Go out, have fun.”  Leave me be.

“Without you?”

“I have faith that you’ll survive on your own.”

“I haven’t been out without you in years.  It wouldn’t feel right,” he said.

“Lighten up.  I’m not telling you to go make out with the entire female population of the city, but you hardly need me as your chaperone.  Explore, have a few drinks, and come back when you’re tired.”

“I’d feel guilty leaving you here by yourself, bored out of your mind.  This trip is for you,” he said, falling back on his overused defense.

“Don’t even start that crap.  If I hear you say that one more time you’ll be sorry.”

“But—”

“Do you know what I’m going to do when you leave?”

He shook his head, likely afraid to speak for fear of incurring my wrath; Will was a smart man who learned his lessons quickly.

“I’m going to take a bath, wash the travel off of me, and then go to bed.  There’s no need for both of us to be stuck here.”

If he was gone that meant I would be able to wallow in pity by myself and not be subjected to any more probing questions for the night.  Who knew?  Maybe he would be out late and not get enough rest.  That would afford me a minor reprieve when I graciously allowed him to sleep in come morning.  At this point, even the smallest blessings were much appreciated.  Maybe he’d have too much of a hangover to go out at all.  One could only hope.

“You’re sure?” Will asked off-handedly, re-tying the laces of his Sperry’s and grabbing his jacket off the back of the sofa.

“I’m sure,” I responded woodenly.

“Are you positive?”

“Yes!  Go!  Just be careful though.  We’re not in Russell anymore.”

“I’ve been to Chicago before; I think I can handle myself in Nashville.”  He pulled me close and kissed my forehead tenderly.  “I love you, Evelyn.  Get some rest and feel better.”

“I will.”   Eventually.

* * *

“Evelyn?”  The voice calling my name was muffled but familiar.  “Evelyn?  Are you awake?”

I groaned as I opened my eyes to peer into the murky darkness.  The haunting shapes of the serviceable furniture lining the wall of my hotel room slowly came into focus.

“Oh, Evelyn!  I’m so glad you’re still up,” Will slurred as he stumbled toward his bed.  He caught his shin on the nightstand; there was a loud crash then a curse.  The lamp that had been sitting on top only seconds earlier was no longer visible.

“It’s really hard to stay quiet in the dark,” he added.

If that entrance had been quiet I would hate to have witnessed a loud one.  “Okay,” I mumbled, still half comatose.

“It’s too dark in here.”

“That’s because it’s nighttime.”  And most people were sleeping, reveling in the blackness of unconsciousness.

“I wanted to talk to you all night, but you weren’t there.  It was horrible.  I thought more than once about calling you but I was afraid you were asleep.”

“I was asleep.”  It had taken ages for my mind to stop reeling from my arrival, but I had blessedly succumbed around midnight.

“Well, I’m glad you woke up.”

“Is it really important?”  There weren’t any topics I could think of that couldn’t wait until morning—save one.  And I highly doubted that Will had schmoozed with any rock stars tonight.

“Yeah, it is.”

How important?”  As soon as the question was off my lips I regretted the words. Will’s internal calculator began computing a figure to accurately convey the exact importance of his story.

“Um…”

It was necessary to take a simpler approach, for both our sakes.  “Can it wait until morning?”

Again, he considered my question with a comical intensity.  “No, I don’t think it can.”

“You didn’t get arrested, did you?”

“No, I did not get arrested.  Seriously, Evelyn?”

What had I been thinking?  Will was too controlled to do anything crazy like get arrested.  I was actually shocked that he had consumed enough alcohol to be considered intoxicated.  “I was just making sure.”

“If I had gotten arrested I’m pretty sure I’d be calling you from jail.”

“Good point.  So, besides the fact that you did not get arrested, what did you need to tell me?” I asked, placating the tipsy man.

“I wanted to tell you that I had a great night.  Probably the best night in… well, in forever!”  His arms flailed as he attempted to use hand gestures to indicate forever.

“And I wasn’t even there.”

He surprisingly caught my insinuation.  “That’s not what I meant.”

“I know.  I’m very happy that you had a great night.  Now go to bed.”

“How can I sleep when I’m so excited to be in Nashville?  I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep the entire time we’re here!”

Something about the way his words ran together made me think that sleep would come easier than he predicted.

“Just try to close your eyes for five minutes,” I suggested.

“Nashville is such an awesome city.”

I sighed, knowing I was destined to be an active albeit unwilling participant in this conversation.  “Yeah, it’s great.”

“I can’t believe I’ve waited this long to visit.”

“Me either.”

“And it’s so close.  We could have come here on a long weekend if we wanted to.  We still can!”

“Maybe…” not.

“To be honest, if the vacation hadn’t come as a packaged deal I would never have thought to come here.  Originally, I had been thinking Jacksonville or Orlando.”

“I like Florida,” I confessed miserably.  Most of my affinity for that state was based solely on the fact that it wasn’t Tennessee.

“What made you leave this place?”

I was fairly confident he wouldn’t mind if I decided not to answer that question.  “Go to sleep, Will.”

“If I moved here I think I’d stay forever.  There’s so much to do.”

“It’s a city,” I reminded him.

“There are so many people!” he continued.

“Again, a city.”

He remained oblivious to my condescending tone.  “I’ve visited cities before, but Nashville is different somehow.”

“Yeah, it is.” Nashville was unlike any other place I had ever been.  It was almost as though the people, the businesses, and even the buildings shared the collective dream of making it big.  That dream and the music were palpable in the balmy air.

“But it’s weird though, too.”

“Weird?  Why?”

“Because it doesn’t feel like a city at all.  It feels like Russell, but with more people.”

“That’s because there are more people,” I explained for the second time.

Even as I teased him over his description, I understood what he had been attempting to convey.  Nashville was a small-town city where residents knew each other by name but things actually happened.

“Everyone is so friendly.”

“That’s the south for you.”

“Yeah.  I smiled and everyone around me smiled back.”

“Maybe they were all drunk.”  Very few sober individuals milled around the streets at this hour.

“No, I think they were just friendly.  Like me.”

“What time is it?”  Surely the blurry numbers on the digital clock were wrong.

“Four o’clock.”

“You were out for a really long time.”  And he would definitely be feeling the plague in the morning.  My evil plan couldn’t be going smoother.

“Sorry about that.  I didn’t even realize what time it was till I heard last call.  Although I figured it didn’t matter what time I got home because I knew you’d be asleep anyway and wouldn’t notice.”

“I was asleep.”  And then he had stumbled back and decided to rearrange the furniture.

“I found the greatest spot—and on a Monday night.  Go figure.”

“Really?”  He would probably be cursing the very same establishment in the morning, vowing never to return.

“Oh, yeah!  I thought I’d be out for an hour at most, get tired, and turn in.  But that didn’t happen.”

“I can see that.”

He continued as though I hadn’t spoken.  “In Russell every place is dead on Mondays.  Not much to see there besides alcoholics and bartenders.”

“I know.  I live there too, Will.”

“Of course you do.  I mean the place tonight was wedged with people from everywhere!  I met someone from England.  Isn’t that crazy?”  His voice was mystified by the mind-boggling events of the night.

“So crazy.”

“And there was live music—on a Monday night.”

“I told you they love their music down here.”  The name music city was warranted.

“Yeah, you were right.  Of course you were right.  I mean, you lived here.  Apparently they have live music all day every day!”

“I’m pretty sure I told you that too.”  So much for effectively communicating with one another.

“Yeah,” he said, preparing to skip to the next subject.  “Anyway, this place I found is on Broadway Street.  Broadway—just like New York but different, better.”

“How would you know it’s better?  You’ve never been to New York.”

“I just know,” he dismissed.  “Anyway, I started out at a purple bar then it got too crowded so I went next door.  I stayed at that place for most of the night.  None of the other bars even compared to this one.”

“Oh.”  Oh, no.

“I mean the others had entertainment, but those bands were mediocre at best.  I’m no connoisseur of country music but I really think the guy who played at this bar could go places.  You would have loved him.”

“What was his name?” I asked breathlessly, my heart in my throat.

“Adam maybe?  Or Anthony.  Yeah, that’s it… Anthony.  His last name was some sort of cookie but I can’t remember it now.  Anyway, the atmosphere was better there too.  I don’t know how to describe it.  I’ll just have to show you.  Maybe we can go there tomorrow night.  You have to see this place.  The walls were covered in dusty old pictures, which sounds dirty but it wasn’t.  And—”

“We can discuss it in the morning, can’t we?”  Pressing the snooze button on this conversation would afford me some time to formulate an excuse to avoid that particular bar.

“You’ll never guess what happened tonight while I was there.  This girl came up to me and—”

“Hey, Will?” I interrupted, sensing no end to his monologue if I allowed him to disclose more of the meaty details of his night on the town.

“Yeah, Evelyn?”

“Can we please talk about this in the morning?  I know you’re excited, and I am too, but my headache is only getting worse.”

He went silent before agreeing.  “Yes, of course.”

“Thanks.”

“Sorry for waking you up,” he said too loudly to be considered the whisper he was aiming for.

“It’s fine.  Goodnight.”

“You promise we can go there tomorrow?”

“I promise.” My sentence was met by a hiccup and then a snore.

At least the lie had sounded sincere to my boyfriend’s alcohol-muddled mind.  In reality, I didn’t ever want to visit the bar he had discovered and fallen in love with.  I didn’t need to hear how good the acoustics in the place were or about the fantastic drink specials. Will didn’t even need to tell me the name of the bar.

I already knew.

* * *

Swing by next week for a fresh installment of Flight Risk.  Don’t want to wait that long?  Click HERE to purchase a copy.

Flight Risk- Chapter Four

10 May

Can anyone say ROOOOOAD TRIP?!  Let’s see what happens when Evelyn and Will start their journey to Music City.

Digital Thumbnail

“Where are we going?”

“Away.”  Far, far away.

“In which direction?”

“It doesn’t matter.  Just drive.”

 

* * *

Chapter 4

“I don’t think you’re going in the right direction.”  I wasn’t Sacajawea, but I was pretty sure we had taken a wrong turn three miles back.  After all, when you were trying to get somewhere you followed the signs clearly designated for the proposed destination.  The reflective metal was there for that very reason.

“What are you talking about?  The GPS says to take this road for another sixty miles.”

“Yeah.  But the map…” and the signs, and my memory…

Map?” Will sneered.  “Honey, there are reasons why advances in technology make other, more primitive navigational methods obsolete.  I downloaded the most recent maps before we left.  We are definitely going in the right direction.  Where did you even find that thing?”

“I bought it at the store in Lexington.”  An atlas was a logical, vital purchase for any road trip.  My father would be proud of my preparedness.

“That thing was a waste of however much you spent.”

“Call me old fashioned, but I don’t entirely trust a magical space voice that just happens to know where we are, where we want to go, and when we’re going to get there.”

He didn’t need to look my way for me to know that he was rolling his eyes.  “It works on satellites, Evelyn.  When was it printed?”

“When was what printed?”

Will huffed a frustrated breath before explaining.  “Look at the date on the back of your atlas.  When was it printed?”

I turned over the booklet and searched for the information he had requested.  “It was printed three years ago.”

“Three years,” he mimicked with a condescending chuckle.  “The maps I downloaded—for free—are updated daily.”

How often those maps updated and how much they cost were completely irrelevant.  “I don’t care what your space calculator says.  We are going the wrong way.”

“We are already on this road, and I’m not turning around,” Will said solidly, allowing no room for negotiation. It was a tribute to my patience that I remained silent for another five miles before erupting.

“You’re wrong, and we need to turn around before you put us even more off track.”

“Evelyn…” he warned, preparing to obstinately defend his actions.

“Of the two of us, who has already been to Nashville?”

My boyfriend let out an exasperated sigh before reluctantly answering.  “You.”

I nodded.  “Exactly.”

Before he could register what I was doing, I popped the suction cup connecting the Garmin to the windshield and started scrolling through the menu.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he shouted, attempting to grab the screen from my hands.

I shifted to the right to keep the device just out of his reach.  “Quit it, Will!  Pay attention to the road!”

“You are so ignorant sometimes.”

I ignored the jibe because I found the settings I had been looking for.  When I returned the GPS to its holder I couldn’t help but laugh victoriously as the electronic voice commanded him to, “Make a U-turn.”

“What did you do to it?” he snapped, refusing to listen to our electronic navigator.  She recalculated each time he passed another intersection.

“And you call me ignorant.  I fixed it.  You’re welcome, by the way,” I said snidely.

Fixed it?” he screeched.  “Now I’m going to have to pull into a rest stop to see what you did to it.  That’s going to take away from time on the road.  I hope you’re happy.”

“I thought you said we had time for excursions, a lenient timeline,” I reminded him.

“We do but not because you are trying to sabotage my Garmin.  It was working just fine before you started messing with it!”

“Yeah, if you wanted our adventurous road trip to take three hours longer than it was supposed to.”

At the rate we were going we wouldn’t get there until next week.  Of course, that wouldn’t be a bad thing except this drive was delaying the inevitable.  At this point I just wanted to get it over with, to rip off the band-aid and hope the wound beneath had healed enough to keep from oozing.

“What are you talking about?”

“You had the thing set to shortest distance instead of fastest route.  We were going to be on twisted back roads with crawling speed limits for the entire trip.  We’re going to be back on a four-lane road in no time.  So, you’re welcome.”

“I’m not thanking you,” he said stubbornly.

“That’s because you’re childish.”

I’m childish?  I’m not the one who had a tantrum and ripped off the GPS in a huff.”

The snide exaggeration pushed me over the edge.  “Come on, Will!  What did you expect me to do?”

“I don’t know.  You could have held a conversation like a normal adult and told me that the settings were wrong.”

“You weren’t listening to me!  I’ve been telling you that we were going in the wrong direction for half an hour.  But no, we’re already on this road, and I can’t admit I’m wrong,” I imitated.  “Who sounds childish now, William?”

“Very mature.”

“Same to you.”

“I seriously can’t believe you’ve already been to Nashville,” my boyfriend said a while later, breaking the silence that had thankfully kept us from continuing to bicker like ten-year-olds.

Everything was back to normal between us.  We were on the correct road, and he had recovered from the fact that I had been right.

“Yeah, I know.”  At that very moment I didn’t even feel like the same person who had made the spontaneous voyage ten years earlier.

The rolling landscape shouldn’t have been familiar, but it was.  Didn’t things change anymore?  Where was all of the construction and expansion everyone was continually complaining about?

“When did you say you were there?”

To the best of my knowledge, I hadn’t mentioned that particular detail.  “Ten years ago,” I said.

He let out a low whistle.  “That’s a long time ago.  Way before I ever met you.”

“Yup.”  There had been a black hole spanning the three years between Nashville, Tennessee, and Russell, Kentucky.  By the time I met Will I had become a semi-normal person again.

“I bet you didn’t get to stay for two weeks though, did you?”

I tensed.  “Nope.”

“How long did you say you were there?”

I hadn’t mentioned that either.

“Woah!  Did you just see that?”

“What?”

“I think it was a fox.”

“Really?  Where?”  Will checked his rearview mirror for a glimpse of the creature along the tree line.

“It just disappeared into the woods.”

“It was probably a dog.  Seeing a fox in daylight is pretty rare.”

“No, it was definitely a fox,” I said adamantly.  I should know; I had been the one to make it up.

“Huh.  I must have just missed it,” he mused, checking the rearview once more.

“I guess so.”

My imaginary, furry friend didn’t deter Will for long.

“What was I saying before?”

“I don’t remember.”  And I prayed he didn’t either.  I was granted a three-minute reprieve while my boyfriend attempted to recall our pre-fox conversation.

“Oh!  I remember now.  How long were you in Nashville before?”

Crap.  “Um… eleven…”

“Days?” he guessed.

“No.”

“Weeks?”

“No.”

Months?” he stuttered, nearly colliding with the blue Sentra in front of us.  It was fitting that the license plate said Davidson County.

I grimaced at the dust insulating the dashboard but stayed silent.

“So what you’re saying is that you lived in Nashville?”

“You need to quit driving like a drunken maniac.  I’d like to survive this vacation, if possible.”  If the road trip didn’t kill me then the memories from the city would have their shot.  At this point I couldn’t honestly say which death would be worse.  A fiery car crash would be bloodier but the memories would be slower, more painful.

Will didn’t pay attention to my plea or my weak attempt to change the subject again.  He swerved onto the rumble strips, nearly hitting the remnants of a blowout.

“Evelyn?”

“Yeah.  So what?  I used to live in Nashville.  It’s not really that big of a deal.”

“I disagree,” he countered.  “It is actually quite a big deal to me.”

“I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree on this then.”  I wasn’t budging.

His face took on an odd grayish tint, and he gripped the steering wheel with enough force to leave an imprint in the leather. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It never came up.”  I had never allowed it to, but that part was irrelevant.

“What about when I told you we were going for a two-week vacation in Nashville?  What then?”

“What about it?” I asked petulantly.

“Don’t you think that I may have been interested in knowing that you used to live there?”

The way he said it made it sound like I had committed some grave sin instead of an inconsequential omission.

“No.”  He may have been interested in hearing, but I had not been inclined to share.

“But—”

“But nothing,” I interrupted.  “You said a minute ago that it was way before we had even met.  You know we don’t talk about everything that happened back then.”

“Yeah, I know,” he shot back, his voice as frigid as the air pouring from between the slats in the vents.

As irritating as it was, I felt guilty for keeping him in the dark. “Come on, Will.  I don’t see why this upsets you so much.  There’s still a lot of stuff I don’t know about you either.”

“Like what?”

“Like… I don’t know all of the places you’ve lived.”

“Yes, you do,” he countered.

“No, I don’t.  You have never talked about any other place beyond Russell.”

“I know.”

Wait a minute… “You’ve lived in Russell your entire life?”

“Yeah.  I was sure you knew that.”  He shrugged as though the fact should have been common knowledge.

“No!  I thought you had escaped at some point.”  How was he not completely insane?  Russell was okay, but forever in Russell?  No, thank you.  I had only been there for six years and sometimes I felt like my head was going to explode.  “Didn’t you go to college somewhere in West Virginia?”

“At Marshall University in Huntington.”

“Ha!” Escaping for a stint in college, although brief, was still an escape.

“Evelyn?  Huntington is twenty minutes away from Russell.  I lived at home to help save money on rent.”

“Oh, that Huntington.”

At thirty-six, Will had barely lived at all.  I found myself pitying him and his lack of life experiences.  I may have been younger than him in years but I’d had opportunities that most people would only dream of.

“I can’t believe you didn’t know that.  We’ve been dating for forever.”

It certainly felt like forever.

“I guess I never really thought about it.”

“Nice,” he said sharply, an accusation in the single syllable.

“Why does that annoy you so much?”

“It doesn’t annoy me,” he lied.

After five years together I could read him like a children’s book.  “Yes, it does.”

Luckily, he caved without much of a fight.  “Fine, it does kind of annoy me.”

“Why does it bother you so much?”  It hadn’t bothered me that he hadn’t known that I had lived in Nashville.  In fact, I would have loved it if he still didn’t know.

“It bothers me that you haven’t even thought about my past,” he confessed.

“I’ve thought about it.”  It just didn’t matter to me either way.  What I cared about was his present and future—the parts in which I could play some role, have some impact.

“You really have?”  His voice hitched with genuine surprise.

“Of course.”

“You know you can ask me whatever you want and I’ll answer.”

And I would undoubtedly be required to reciprocate.  “I know you would.”

We both fell silent; he waited for question I would never give, while I struggled to find a neutral topic.

“I’ve thought a lot about yours too,” he admitted eventually.

The confession sent chills down my spine.  He had never mentioned my past beyond a few questions I had dodged.  It made me uneasy to know that he had probably dwelled on the very unknown that I had purposely kept from him.

“I think it is human nature,” he continued.  “I’ve wondered what all you’ve done and where you’ve been.  It’s like we’ve been together for five years and you’re still a mystery to me.”

“Stop being dramatic; you know who I am,” I dismissed.  At least he knew the me who mattered.

“I guess.  But who were you before I met you?”

“That’s silly.  I’ve always been me.”  Although I used to be more spontaneous, and carefree, and fun, and…

“I guess.”

“It’s not as if I’m some sort of spy or secret agent,” I said playfully, imagining a Mr. and Mrs. Smith scenario.

“How would I know?”

“Don’t be dumb, Will.”

“Did you know I’ve even wondered about your ex-boyfriends?”

I nearly choked on one of the BBQ chips I had been munching on.  When I was nervous I developed hand-to-mouth syndrome.  The salty snacks I was devouring had taken the least amount of effort to reach.

“Why have you been thinking about them?”

“Because at some point they were an important part of your life just like I am now.”

How was I supposed to circumvent this particular subject?  Until now, Will had never come outright and said something about my previous love life.

“Yeah, they were.  But there’s a reason they’re not part of my future.”

“Don’t you want to know anything about me?  Like the women I’ve dated before you?”

“Nope.”  Case closed.  There really was no room for negotiation on this particular subject.  If he told me even the tiniest, most trivial detail then he would never let me live it down if I refused to reciprocate.

So I punctuated my sentence by turning up the volume on the radio and adjusting the station.  Will endured ten minutes with Dierks Bentley’s song Home and Gary Allan’s hit Bones before he turned down the music.

“Hey!  What do you think you’re doing?  There were no commercials.  You have to get used to this stuff if you expect to fit in down in Nashville,” I teased, attempting to ease the depressing atmosphere.  The heaviness in the space between us was no way to start a vacation that I was already dreading.

“I was just thinking,” he began.

Thinking was hazardous, especially when dealing with the list of topics previously covered.

“About what?”

“Of what we’re going to do when we get there.  Is there any place in particular that you want to go first?”

“Nope.”  Although there were a few establishments that I’d be more than happy to avoid.

“Is there anywhere at all that you want to visit?  Some old haunts perhaps?”

“Nope.”  Especially not those.  “I can’t even remember most of the places I used to frequent,” I lied blatantly.

“Well, you’re going to be my tour guide so I hope there are at least a few good spots that jog your memory.”

Something told me we wouldn’t have a problem finding those.

“Honestly, it was so long ago that most of them are probably closed.”  At least I hoped so.

He frowned, and I wondered if I had been too obvious in my attempt to close the subject.  “You know that we don’t have to stay in Nashville the entire time if you don’t want to.”

“Really?” I asked, afraid to hope.

“Yeah.  Especially since you’ve already been there before.  I don’t want you to get bored.”

“Me either. There’s really not a whole lot of stuff to do besides go out in the city.  And that gets old after a few nights.”

“I read something about the Yazoo Brewery. If that’s close maybe we could go there.  Oh, and the Parthenon.  I hear that’s pretty impressive.”

“I guess so.  Still, two weeks in Nashville is a long time.  I’d love to see Memphis.”  And any other part of Tennessee that kept me away from the country-music infested capital.  If I made enough excuses then maybe we wouldn’t make it to our destination at all.

“Me too!” he agreed.  “We can spend as long as you want in Nashville then go somewhere else.  I only need to give the hotel a twenty-four hour notice so we’re not out any money.”

So much for skipping town altogether.  “Oh, okay.”

“You know, I think that maybe it’s a good thing that you used to live in Nashville.”

“Why the sudden change of heart?”

“I don’t know.  I guess I keep thinking that maybe you’ll let me into that piece of yourself that you keep locked away,” he said quietly, holding his gaze toward the empty road ahead.  Our speed connected the white dashes into a solid line, guiding us south.

“What are you talking about?” I asked breathlessly.  Had I really been that transparent?  If so, why hadn’t this conversation occurred before today?

“I know you don’t want to talk about Nashville, among other things.  Maybe coming back will make you more willing to open up about your past.  It can only help us grow closer, Evelyn.”

He was wrong about the last part.  As optimistic as my boyfriend was, I knew my past would only drive us apart.  Instead of responding, I turned the music back up.  Will promptly turned it off.

“Oh, come on, Will!  I love that song.”

“I just thought of something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”

“What is it?” I snapped.

“Josh and Miranda got engaged.”

“They did?”

How had I missed this news?  Miranda was one of my colleagues; she taught freshman and sophomore math classes. We weren’t particularly close, but the school was a known breeding ground for gossip.  Teachers were worse than students in that respect.

“Yeah.  I think he proposed last week.”

“Huh.”

“You’re not surprised?”

I shook my head.  “They’ve been together forever.”

“Five years,” he confirmed.

“Is that all?”  It felt like a lot longer than that.  For as long as I had known Miranda, Josh had been in her life.

“Yeah.  I think they’re wanting to get married in the winter.”

This year?”  Nowadays it was rare to hear of a couple willing to undergo the ominous task of planning a wedding in less than one year.  The time frame he presented made the cynic in me think they were rushing into the decision just in case they changed their minds.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“I wonder why they’re rushing into it?”  They wouldn’t have a very long time for the honeymoon and they’d be battling Mother Nature for a snow-free event.  I suppose a more romantic individual would say they were probably in love and as a result, hurrying to make it official.

“You’re like no other girl I have ever met.”

“Um… Thanks?”  I guess I’d take that as a compliment seeing as the alternative would lead to another argument.

“I love that there’s never any pressure from you.”

“Pressure?”

“Yeah.  All of the other guys I know with girlfriends constantly have to dodge the big-question conversation after about six months.  You’ve never once brought it up.”

“The big question?”  There were a number of subjects I had chosen to never bring up, but none of them seemed that significant.

“Yeah.”

“Huh?”  I scowered my mind, no big questions coming to light.

“You know.  Engagement,” he said plainly, rolling his eyes at my slowness.

“Oh, that question.”  I didn’t share that the reason I’d avoided the topic was because that life wasn’t for me.  Marriage, kids, life-long commitment…  I’d given up on that avenue nine years earlier.  Even thinking along those lines sent me into the beginnings of a panic attack.  My stomach clenched and my breathing became shallow and labored.  This conversation was nearly as bad as the one involving ex-boyfriends.

“Yeah.  So, I just wanted to say thanks for being so cool and laid back about that stuff.”

“No problem.”  I’d be willing to avoid that particular conversation for the rest of my life.  “Am I allowed to listen to music now or is there more exciting news you wanted to share?”

“Go ahead.  I suppose you’re right.  I might as well get used to this shi—”

“Will!” I interrupted before he could defile one of the greatest country artists of all time.  “You need to watch yourself.  You could get lynched for saying something like that down here.”

He laughed, under the impression that I was kidding.

* * *

Come back next week for another installment from Flight Risk.  Can’t wait that long?  Click HERE to purchase a copy!

Flight Risk- Chapter Three

3 May

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“Is there a reason your bag is empty?”

“Of course.”

“And what’s that?” he asked.

“We’re going on an adventure.  Luggage will only get in the way.”

* * *

Chapter 3

 

 

The majority of the weekend had been tense and emotional.  One would think we had been preparing a funeral service for an immediate family member instead of a summer vacation.

When Will had asked me about my continued silence I had put it off to the stress of preparing for our trip.  I don’t think he believed the lie, but he had blessedly allowed the matter to drop.  The next time he asked me I would be sure to come up with a more plausible excuse.

My boyfriend was still annoyed that I had been to Nashville before.  Of course, having him know that I had visited the city wasn’t really a big deal to me.  If he wanted a list of the places I had been I’d gladly supply one.

Admitting that I had lived there for almost a year though… I shivered at the thought.

That conversation was definitely going to present a few issues.  With the way the past few days had been going, it was apparent no amount of praying would stave off further inquisition into my personal history.  I wasn’t looking forward to spending the majority of our time away fighting over something that had happened years ago.

Right or wrong, when Will and I had first started dating I had only one rule: no speaking about the past.  The people and events were not part of our respective futures for a reason.  Swapping sordid tales would only present problems.

At the time he had willingly gone along with the edict—and anything else I had suggested.  Now, however, his lack of knowledge was really taking its toll on our relationship.

The non-disclosure agreement still made perfect sense to me.  I didn’t want to end up spending what little spare time I had dwelling on the girls who had been with Will before me.

What if I found out that he had dated one of my co-workers?  Or one of my closer friends?   Ultimately, I would end up with insecurities I didn’t need.  Those insecurities would corrode the bonds of trust we had painstakingly built, leaving irreparable chinks in our relationship.

Instead of having another failed relationship under my belt, I had chosen to remain blissfully unaware of any baggage he carried.  In return, I hadn’t burdened him with my own.  Will had attempted to ferret information from me before, but I had remained stoic.

My rule was for the best—at least it had been before he came up with the brilliant idea to visit Nashville.  Now it just looked like I was being shady and mysterious for purely selfish reasons.  Maybe I was, but Will didn’t need to know about it.

“Well, if it isn’t Evelyn Ryan.”

When we had agreed that we wouldn’t discuss our respective pasts that didn’t mean that Will’s history hadn’t been brought up once or twice.

From what I had gathered through various trustworthy sources, the majority of Will’s past consisted of Krystal King, the queen of Russell, Kentucky.

“Hello, Krystal,” I returned with a dismissive nod.  Even from a distance it was hard to miss the bleached-blonde displaying the perky results of one-too-many “chest enhancements.”  Krystal had been pretty back in her prime but now she looked plastic and too top-heavy to stay upright.

Will and Krystal had dated in high school, the proverbial fairytale starring a quarterback and head cheerleader.  Their senior year, he had been prom king and she had been crowned his queen—a fact that Krystal had accidentally disclosed to me a number of times.

The worst part of living in a small town where no one moved away was that no one moved away.

“Wait up!” she called from the other end of the aisle. Her grating, high-pitched voice inched closer, making me think of French-tipped nails clawing their way up a chalkboard.

My first instinct was to run and never look back.  The travel supplies could be purchased at the other, less convenient convenience store in town.  The past few days had been stressful enough without having to deal with busty outsiders sticking their plastic surgery into my business.

Alas, my only escape route was barricaded by Mrs. Simon’s cart full of cat food and kitty litter.

I slowed my pace begrudgingly and studied the soup cans shelved at eye-level.  Another mark against small-town living was that even the most insignificant slight could do significant damage to a person’s reputation.  I didn’t really care as much about my reputation as I did my source of income; Krystal King’s father just happened to be the principal at my school.  Everyone in town knew the administrator had a soft spot for his only daughter, his precious gem.

“Did you need something, Krystal?”  Larger breast implants, perhaps?

“No, not really anything specific, Evelyn.  What have you been up to?”

“This and that.”

“I haven’t seen you around in a while.”

That wasn’t a coincidence.  Before I went somewhere in town I scoured the parking lots for Miss King’s baby-pink Volkswagen Beetle.  But in my haste to finish the shopping I had walked right into a trap.

“Yeah, I know.  I’ve been really busy with work.”  Something the spoiled little princess would know nothing about.

“But now it’s summer and you can just enjoy all of your free time.”

If only that was the way it worked.  “That’s what most people think.”

“Do you have any big plans for the next three months?”

Does avoiding you count?  “No, not really.”

“Are you going somewhere?” she asked snottily, nosing through the contents of my cart.

“No.  I just like buying my personal products in miniature.  They’re so much cuter than the bulkier containers, don’t you think?”

“I guess,” she said slowly, considering my statement.

“Krystal?  I’m kidding.”  How this girl had graduated from high school was a mystery.  That was until one remembered that her father had been in a strategic position of power at the time.

“Of course you are.  I knew that.”

“I’m sure you did.”

“Leaving anytime soon?”

Not soon enough.  “Tomorrow.”

“Where are you going?”

None of your business.

“On vacation,” I hedged.

“How long are you going away?”

“Two weeks.”  Two, King-free weeks.  That fact made the idea of going to Nashville almost bearable.

“You’re going with Will, right?”

“Yes, I’m going with Will.”

“Oh, I wasn’t sure if you two were still together,” she said, a little too interested in my response.  “You two never seem to go out anymore.”

“I was thinking the same thing about you.  We must be frequenting different places.”  And by different places I really meant classier places.  “Don’t worry, Will and I are still just as happy as ever.”

She tossed her over-processed hair to the other shoulder.  “Where are you two going for your vacation?”

“South.”

“Anywhere more specific?” she pushed, enjoying my reluctance to answer.

“Tennessee.”

“Memphis?” she guessed.

“No.  We’re actually going to Nashville,.”

“That sounds like fun.”

“Yeah.  It does, doesn’t it?”  Maybe to everyone else in the world.

“I’ve never been to Nashville but I’ve always wanted to go,” she confessed.

“Oh, really?  It’s a great city.”

“You’ve been there before?”

I’m not sure what possessed me to tell her the truth.  Maybe it was the way she was looking down her beak-like nose at me as though I should be kneeling in her presence.

Why hadn’t she used some of the implant money on rhinoplasty?

“I used to live there.”

“Oh.  I didn’t know that.”

Very few people were privy to that fact.  “Yeah.”

“If you lived in Nashville then what brought you to Russell?”

“My car.”

“Very funny.  You know, I’m surprised Will wants to go to Nashville.”

“It was entirely his idea.  He’s the one who surprised me with the trip.”

“But he hates country music.”

“Really?  He always listens to it on the radio and on CMT.  His preferences have obviously changed over the years,” I lied smoothly.

Krystal caught my insinuation that time.  She stood straighter and stuck out her chest, obscenely encroaching on my personal space.  “You two have been dating for a while, haven’t you?” she asked smartly, as if she hadn’t known the exact second we had our first date.  If I recalled correctly, dearest Krystal had been at the same movie theater we had gone to five years ago.

“Five blissful years.”

“Huh.  Will and I only dated for four years.”  Also a fact she had mentioned on numerous occasions, especially when the length of my relationship had been shorter than hers.

“You know, I forgot that you two were even together.  He never mentions it.”

Something told me the pout on her lips was meant to be attractive.  “Oh, really?”

“Really.”

Come to think of it, I didn’t know of any man who would willingly admit to dating Krystal King.

“You two must be pretty serious.”

“Oh, very serious.”

“I wonder if he’s bringing you to Nashville for some greater purpose,” she mused aloud, looking me up and down, judging me.

I could almost see her calculating our every difference; it was a long list, and I seriously doubted she could count that high.

“I guess we’ll have to wait and see,” I hedged, praying my panic at the direction of our conversation didn’t show on my face.  “So, what about you?  Are you doing anything this summer?”

“Nothing is planned yet,” she said.  “But it’s still early.”

“I’ll have to let you know how Nashville goes.  Maybe you can make the trip down later this summer.”

She arched her eyebrows speculatively.  “Maybe.”

“Are you seeing anyone now?” I asked, knowing full-well the man she had been linked to of late.

“Yeah,” she admitted flippantly.

“I hadn’t heard.  Do I know who the lucky guy is?”

“Johnny Bradfield and I get together from time to time,” she said.

Bradfield… Where have I heard that name before?”

“He’s Travis and Mary’s son.”

I continued feigning ignorance just to get under her spray-tanned skin.  “I still can’t place the name.  Does he work around Russell?”

Krystal crossed her arms in defiance.  “He’s a manager here at Kroger.”

“Isn’t that convenient?  I bet you get fantastic discounts.”  I continued to smile serenely as Krystal’s face turned the same shade as her too-dark lip liner.  “Have you two been together long?”

“A few months.”

“That’s pretty serious for you, isn’t it?” I shot meanly.

“Not as serious as I was with your boyfriend, Evelyn,” she spat.

Someday I would regret what I said next, but I just couldn’t help myself.  There was something about the way she was glaring at me, fully under the false impression that she was better than me.

“Yes, so you’ve said.  I suppose I have to take solace in the fact that Will is too embarrassed to admit it to me.”

She sputtered for a few seconds, and I chose to escape before I sealed my own termination of employment notice from the school.

“Oh, would you look at the time?  I had better get going.  Will and I have a lot of packing to do.  It was nice catching up with you.  I’ll see you later, Krystal.”

The drive home was short and traffic-free, just the way I liked it—one of the only saving graces in this industrial town.

“Hey, Evelyn.  Did you get everything on our list?” Will asked, moving around the bedroom like a mad man attempting to escape the ward with all of his belongings.

“Yeah, I did.”  And then some.  It was never a good idea to go to the grocery store on an empty stomach.  Krystal had probably been judging me based on the number of high-carb snacks I had thrown into my cart.  It wasn’t my fault I couldn’t survive on protein bars and Slim Fast.

“Excellent.  Although, I forgot to ask you to get me razors.  I was going to call you but figured you were probably on your way home already.”

“Don’t worry.  You mentioned during the week that you were out so I went ahead and picked them up.  They’re in one of the bags downstairs.”

Will had an obsession with shaving.  I had told him before that I didn’t mind a bit of stubble, but he considered an unshaven face unprofessional.

“That’s why I love you.”

“Because I buy you razors?” I teased.

“Only one of the many reasons, Evelyn.”

“Aren’t you just the luckiest man?”

“I think so,” he said seriously.

“You’ll never guess who I ran into at Kroger.”

“Who?” he asked absentmindedly, searching his sock drawer for a matching set.  I had attempted to explain that it was easier to put them away in pairs, but he had never heeded my advice.

“Krystal.”

The way his shoulders went ramrod straight made me smile.  “Krystal King?” he choked.

“The one and only.”

“Oh,” he said, trying to feign nonchalance.  A thin sheen of perspiration covered his forehead.  “What did she have to say?”

“This and that.  She’s seeing the Bradfield guy from Kroger.”

“Johnny?” he guessed.

“Yeah.”  I waited for his face to reveal some hint of jealousy but there was none.

“He’s a nice guy.  A little weird, but nice.  Did she have anything else to say?”

Krystal wouldn’t be Krystal if she didn’t have more to say.

“Yeah.  She also asked where we were going for our vacation.”

“Did you tell her?”

“No, I lied and said it wasn’t really a vacation at all but a secret honeymoon to Bora Bora.  Don’t worry, she promised not to tell anyone we had gotten married.”

Will stopped throwing shirts into his bag long enough to offer me a blank stare.  “You said that to her?

“No, I didn’t.”  It was too bad the tale hadn’t come to mind when I was talking to her.  The look on Krystal’s face would have almost been worth the inevitable rumors afterward.

“Okay, good.  My mother would be really upset if she had heard that you and I were married from Krystal King.”

“Something tells me she would be mad about more than just the source, Will.”

My boyfriend’s mother wasn’t my biggest fan.  When we had first started seeing each other she had said that I wasn’t good enough for her only son.  For her, the sole purpose of existing was to take care of her little boy.  When I politely shared my conflicting opinions on that subject she had ultimately decided that I didn’t deserve to sit next to Will, let alone date him.

“So true.  What are your plans now?”

“I guess I’m going to shower and get ready for bed.”  This journey called for eight solid hours of sleep and a clear head.

“Are you already packed?”

“Yeah.  I finished earlier this morning when you were still asleep.”

It helped that I had known what to expect from the weather in Nashville.  I had included the necessary items and then thrown in a few odds and ends to fill the vacant spaces.  Who knew when a girl was going to need her little black dress?  Although with the casual atmosphere in Nashville, it was unlikely that I’d be dressing that fancy.  LBD’s indicated tourists like a red bull’s eye on a target.   Technically, I was a tourist, but no one needed to know that.  Besides, I was still holding out hope that our plans would change at the last minute.

“Lucky.”  He frowned at his nearly empty suitcase.  The entire contents of his dresser covered the bed and floor and it looked like his closet had contracted the flu and had vomited all over the rug.

“Would you like some help, Will?”

“You don’t have to help me,” he whined.

“It’s really no problem.”

The relief on his face was comical.  “Do you mind?”

“No, not at all.”  I could have his bag fully packed in ten minutes and have the added bonus of being able to pick out his attire.  “But I’m not going to be your maid and clean up after you.  This room is a disaster.”

“I’ll take care of it before we leave.  I just can’t seem to figure out what to bring.  I put something in, change my mind, and take it out again.  Believe it or not, I’ve been at this since you left for the store.” I checked the digital clock on his nightstand.  “That was over an hour ago, Will.”

“Tell me about it.”

“One of the best things about driving is that you can bring as many bags as you’d like and not have to worry about weight limits or additional baggage fees.”

“I know that,” he said with a smile.  “But the more I’m allowed to bring the harder it is for me to decide.  I honestly think it would be easier to have maximum baggage requirements in the car too.  It’d help me focus.”

“Get out of my way and let me work.”

“Have I told you lately that you are absolutely perfect and that I don’t deserve you?”

“Yeah, yeah.  Now get downstairs and start loading the other stuff into the car.”  If we were really going then we may as well get it over with.  Anticipation of our arrival was going to plague me until I saw the Davidson County line.

As I allowed my hands to fall into the routine of packing, my mind was left free to wander.  Before our plans to get away, the monotony of my life had been starting to slip into the realm of dissatisfaction.

With summer upon us, I would be able to spend the majority of my spare time lying by the pool in the apartment complex.  That scenario probably sounded ideal to others, but one had to remember that I would be spending the better part of that time alone. My boyfriend would still be slaving away for the same long hours day in and day out.

Was this the future I wanted for my life?  A vacation once every five years?  Nine-to-five nothingness?  An evening-centered relationship?

And, if I decide to escape, was there even a way out?

* * *

Come back next Friday for another installment.  Can’t wait that long?  Click HERE to purchase a copy of Flight Risk!