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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!

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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.

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“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 Two

26 Apr

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“Tell me about yourself.”

“You don’t want to hear it.”

“Yes, I do.  Tell me your past, present, and future.”

“All of it?” I challenged.  “That could take a while.”

* * *

Chapter 2

“I’m sorry.  What did you just say?”

“Nashville!” he repeated with more zest.

“N… N… Nashville?”  The word tasted bitter on my tongue.

For years I avoided mentioning the place by name and repressing the memories I had made there.  When I left I told myself that I would never go back.  Yet here I was, discussing crossing beyond the city limits and visiting for two whole weeks.

“Yeah, that’s what I said!” Will responded, offering me a proud grin.

“Nashville, Tennessee?”  I prayed Will would pay no heed to my horrified expression.  Recognition would only lead to questions I had adeptly dodged for nine years.

“Well, yeah.  What other Nashville is there?”

“There’s one in Georgia, Arkansas, Ohio—”

“Alright, alright,” he interrupted.  “Are there really that many Nashvilles?”

“I think there are nine or ten.”  And I had no desire to visit any of them, least of all the one to which he was referring.

“I’m not going to ask why you know that.  Yes, we’re going to Nashville, Tennessee, on Monday!”

“That’s just one state down.”

The chosen destination made more sense as a weekend venture than a vacation—not that I’d be enthusiastic about either.

“Very good, honey.  If you ever get tired of English you could always teach geography.”

“We’re practically neighbors.”

He chuckled.  “Can’t pull one over on you, can I?”

“But there’s no beach there.”  Tennessee was as landlocked as a state could get.

“Come on, Evelyn.  Going to the beach is overrated.  It’s been done too many times before.”

“Not by us,” I contradicted.  The last time there was gritty sand between my toes and saltwater lapping gently against my ankles was back in high school—the first time around.

“I was trying to think outside of the box.”

Didn’t he know how much I liked the box?  It had worked for us thus far.

“But of all the destinations in the world, why Nashville?”  And why did God hate me?  What had I done to be punished so severely?  Was Karma finally making her rounds?

“Because there was a great deal online and…”

“And?” Because God hated me!

“Because you love country music!”

It was a sick coincidence that his reasoning mirrored my own excuse from the last time I had made the trek to Nashville.  The nonsensical logic had seemed a good enough reason to relocate back then; now I could see the fatal flaws.  Why hadn’t I listened to my sister all those years ago and turned around?

“Yeah, I love the color green too.  Why don’t we go to Ireland?”

The Emerald Isle was on my list of places to visit before I died.  The foreign country seemed infinitely more appealing just now because it was thousands of miles away from Tennessee.

“Oh, Evelyn.  This is why I love you.  You come up with the craziest ideas.  Ireland?  Seriously?”

“Ha.  Yeah, I guess.”

My stomach began to roll, protesting our proposed destination.  I had left Nashville nine years ago and never rarely looked back.  If I hadn’t felt compelled to return before now why would I want to after all of this time?  There had to be a way to put an end to this trip that didn’t include telling my boyfriend the truth.

“Do you realize how hot it’s going to be down there?”

“It’s summertime, honey.  It’s hot everywhere.”

“Not in Alaska.”

Alaska?” he repeated. “I don’t want to go there, Evelyn.”

“But we’re going to end up sweating so much in Tennessee that we won’t enjoy ourselves.  I don’t want to be miserable for our first vacation in four years.”

“Don’t worry about the weather.  I booked us a nice hotel on the main drag in the city that has a pool.  And it’s within walking distance of all the top-rated bars and restaurants.”

“Great.”  Little did he know, just about every downtown hotel was within walking distance of multiple bars and fantastic restaurants.

“There’s only one minor hitch.”

Only one?  I could think of a million that ultimately revolved around Nashville itself.

“What’s that?”

“We’re driving.”

“Oh, okay.”  The trip would take us a little over four hours—half the amount of time the drive had taken me ten years earlier.

He mistook my estranged expression for an aversion to highway travel.

“But don’t worry about that either.  Road trips are really fun and adventurous.  We’ll drive down the road and just see where it leads.”

“I bet it’s going to lead to Nashville,” I murmured bitterly.

The end of this was already predetermined—that is unless I sabotaged our GPS and Will allowed me to assume the role of navigator.  Circumventing the city would be considered an art form by the time I finished with our route.

“Well, yeah, Evelyn.  Eventually we’re going to make it to Nashville.  But we can stop wherever you want along the way there and back.  Our timeline is pretty lenient.  I’ve allowed plenty of leeway for excursions.”

“Great.”  Just perfect.

“I’ve found that when you fly somewhere you tend to miss a lot of the excitement and spontaneity that you encounter on a road trip.”

“Have you ever been on a road trip, Will?”  He didn’t strike me as the type to waste precious vacation time in a confined space; he was too efficient for that.

“Of course.”

“How many?” I pressed.

He grimaced before answering.  “One.”

“And where did you go?”

“I went to Savannah.”

“You drove all the way to Savannah in a car?” I scoffed.

“No, we took a space shuttle.  Of course we went in a car, Evelyn.  It was for a conference my senior year of college.  Our accommodations were covered by a grant but we didn’t have the money to fly,” he explained.

“But we have the money now,” I reminded him, more than willing to fork over the extra cash to fly somewhere else.  I’d finance the entire trip if that meant I could choose our destination.

“Come on, Evelyn.  Where is your sense of adventure?”

I couldn’t admit that my adventure had been left  in the same place he wanted to visit.

“I don’t know, Will.”

“Maybe we’ll find it on the way,” he said, forever the optimist.  “So I was thinking that when we’re down there we could…”

It took me a few seconds to realize that he had stopped talking.  “Keep going.  I’m listening.”

“No, you’re not.  What’s wrong, honey?  You look like you’re a hundred years away.”

Actually, I was only ten years away, mentally reliving a past I had attempted to forget.

“I’m sorry, Will.  I’m focused now.  What were you going to say?”

“Oh, no.”

“What?”  The revelation on his face immediately alarmed me.  Things were about to get a lot worse.

“Why didn’t I see this coming?”

“See what coming?” I pushed, growing more worried with each passing second.

“You hate it.”   Will pressed back into the cushions and searched his mind for reasons why I would hate his idea—reasons he would never find.

I pulled myself out of my own misery long enough to realize that his ever-present smile had faltered.

“No, I don’t,” I said quickly, a knee-jerk reaction.  This situation was my cross to bear, not his.

He was too perceptive to take my lie at face value.  “Yes, you do.”

“Hate is such a strong word.”  Accurate, but strong.

“I knew this was a bad idea.  This is the first time I tried to do something special for you and I completely screwed it up.”

“No, you didn’t.”  Our trip was still salvageable as long as there was a change in destination.

“We can fly down if you want but I don’t really see the point,” he said.  “By the time we’d get to an airport and wait around we’d nearly be there by car.”

“I don’t have a problem driving.  Like you said, it’ll be adventurous.”

“Even better,” he ground sarcastically, his frustration compounding.

“What?”

“If you don’t have a problem with our mode of transportation that means you do have a problem with something else.  You really don’t want to go to Nashville, do you?”

Dodging this question was vital to my survival.  “How did you pick Nashville, exactly?  It seems like a fairly random destination coming from you.”

Luckily, he took the bait and didn’t think twice about the change in subject.  “I browsed our options online after I had confirmed the dates with my supervisor and this opportunity presented itself.  So I snatched it up before it expired or someone else stole it out from under me.  You always have to plan everything, and I wanted to take that burden off your hands.”

This probably wasn’t the best time to explain that I enjoyed every aspect of the planning process, and that he had burdened himself unnecessarily.  It was important to remember the thought had come from a good place.

“I appreciate it,” I said.

“I guess we don’t have to go to Nashville.”

“We don’t?”  If he was willing to go somewhere else then there was still hope for this ill-fated vacation of ours.

“I’m sure I can cancel the hotel and incur only a minor fee.  I spent the extra twenty dollars on travel insurance,” he explained.

“You’d be willing to do that?” I asked, too brightly to appear indifferent.

His frown grew more pronounced.  “I guess so.”

“What I meant was, there’s no way I want you to do that.”

“Okay.”

“Unless…” I began cryptically.

Will took the bait.  “Unless what?”

“Unless you wanted to.”

“Why would I want to?  I’m the one who picked Nashville in the first place.”

“Oh, right.”

“Do you want me to?”

Yes.

“No.  I want you to do what you want.”  As long as that included cancelling the hotel, visiting some other state/country, and never mentioning Nashville again.

“Well, what I want is to make you happy.”

“I’ll be happy as long as I’m with you.”  And as long as we weren’t anywhere near Nashville.

“Same here.”

“I have a great idea!”  One that would make me happy and my boyfriend content with my appreciation for his efforts.

“What’s that?”

“Why don’t we get online to see if there are any other places we’d rather visit?  If not then we’ll just head for Nashville, determined to have a good time.”

I had enough confidence in my power of persuasion to know that I could make any destination seem more appealing than Music City.  Will would be purchasing two round-trip tickets to Afghanistan before he even thought twice about getting into the car and driving south.

“I guess we could do that if you really don’t like the idea I came up with.”

He just had to play the pity-card, didn’t he?

“It’s not that I don’t love your idea,” I confessed, hoping dishonesty didn’t seep through my words.  “It’s just that I’m a little worried about what’s going to happen when we get there.”

My admission brought the frown back to his lips.  “Worried?  Why?  I took care of this so you wouldn’t have to worry about a thing.”

Because there was a past in Nashville that I never wanted to revisit or share with anyone, especially my boyfriend. 

“Well, for one, you hate country music.”  Will had never voiced his opinion in so many words but there had been numerous signs that led me to that concrete conclusion.

“I wouldn’t say I hate it,” he hedged.

“Every time I play the country music station in the car you change the channel.”

“That’s because I can’t stand radio commercials,” he said.

There was more to his action than an aversion to advertisements.

“You tolerate my CD’s but turn the volume down too low to hear.  And you can’t blame the commercials for that one.”

“Come on, Evelyn.  You listen to those things so loud that it makes the windows shake.  I’m surprised we haven’t been issued a noise violation,” he countered.

“How about when I watch the music videos on CMT?  You constantly find some reason to shut off the TV.”

“This trip isn’t about me, Evelyn,” he protested, effectively changing the subject and ignoring my logical arguments.  “It’s all about you and what you want.”

“Like I said before, I just want to get away and enjoy myself.”  The latter would be impossible in Nashville.

“That’s my goal too.  I know I’ve been the sole reason we’ve been stuck here for the entirety of the past three—”

“Four.”

“Right.  Four years.  Anyway, I wanted to do this as a way of thanking you for putting up with everything.”

“You’re my boyfriend.  I’m supposed to put up with you.”  Sometimes I didn’t want to, but I did anyway.  That’s the way it was when you loved someone.

“You know what I mean.”

I shrugged.  “It was for work and ultimately out of our control.”

“Alright!  Enough of this depressing talk.  I want to see some of that enthusiasm from earlier.  You are going to Nashville, Evelyn!”

“You’re coming too, right?”

“Of course I’m coming too,” he scoffed.  “Do you think I’m going to let my sexy girlfriend strut around Nashville with all of those famous country musicians in the city?  One may try to snap you up!”

My laugh was a brittle, gasping wheeze.  “If you’re going then I want you to have a good time too.  Downtown Nashville is country music—it’s in every bar and restaurant, playing on every street corner and on every radio station.  You won’t be able to switch it off or turn it down.  And two weeks in Nashville?  We’re going to run out of things to do after a couple of days.”

He grimaced slightly, but the look was replaced by a dangerous realization.  “How do you know all of that?”

“Everyone knows that.”  Didn’t they?  Nashville was called Music City for obvious reasons.  Just about every tune on country radio paid homage to Tennessee’s capital.

“No, there’s more.  You’re not telling me something.”

Actually, there were a number of facts I had omitted throughout the years.

“Um…”

“Hold up.  Have you been there before?”

So much for avoiding more questions; I had recklessly walked straight into that one.

Now did I lie and delay the inevitable or face the consequences head on?

“Yeah.  Maybe once.”

Maybe once or definitely once?”

“Definitely once.”

My boyfriend looked ready to throw a tantrum worthy of any spoiled two-year-old; he crossed his arms and ground his teeth together.

“You’re going to give yourself a headache from doing that,” I teased with a false air of lightness.

“You never told me,” he accused.

A purple vein pulsed beneath the skin on his forehead.  His disappointment made me feel like a child being scolded by her father.

“That’s because it was forever ago.”

“I don’t care if it was forever ago or last week.  You should have said something when I first told you that we were going there for our vacation.”

“I know,” I whispered, ashamed by my dishonesty.

“No wonder you don’t want to go.  I can’t believe that of all the places I could have picked, you have already been there.”

“It’s really not that big of a deal, Will.  I’m sure the place has changed a lot since I was there the last time.”

Although in my experience, cities didn’t have a lot of room—or inclination—to change.

“Did you like it when you were there?” he inquired, placated for the time being.

“Yeah, I did.”  A decade ago I had spent the time of my life in Nashville.

Now, however…  Well, now was another story entirely.

I was a different person than I had been all those years before.

“Do you think I’ll like it?”

It was simpler to answer honestly.  “No.”

“Why not?”

“I just told you the music is—”

“Okay,” he interrupted.  “If I loved country music as much as you do, would I like it?”

“I’m still not really sure.”

“I think you’re wrong, Evelyn,” he said, moving closer to me and taking my clammy hands in his.  I resisted the urge to pull free of his grasp and wipe my palms on the pants I wore.  “I know I will like it if you like it.”

“I’m still not really sure.”

“I guess we’ll have to wait and see.  I might surprise you.”

“You already have.”  More than he would ever know.

“Good.  That was my goal, remember?”

“I believe you’ve surpassed that goal and brought surprise to an entirely new level.”

An uncomfortable, menacing level that did not bode well for my happiness.

“I guess the only question that remains is whether or not you would like to go back again?”

The urge to put an end to our trip before it began was overwhelming.  But I didn’t have the heart to dash his hopes with the truth.

“Sure.”

“Come on, Evelyn!  I know you can do better than that.  I saw the look on your face when I told you that I had taken two weeks off.  Let’s try this again.  Would you like to go back to Nashville?”

The broken smile hurt my face, but it made Will grin in response so it must not have appeared too fake.

I answered him with as much feigned excitement as I could muster even as I felt an odd foreboding for what was to come.  One thing was for certain: this journey was not going to end well.

“I’d love to go back to Nashville.”

* * *

Come back next Friday for the next installment of Flight Risk!  Don’t want to wait that long?  Come back on WEDNESDAY, May 1 for links to purchase a copy!

One Week Left

24 Apr

Digital ThumbnailATTENTION Country music lovers, Romance Readers, and all you literary folks:

Only one week stands between you and your very own copy of Flight Risk!  Digital copies will be available  on AMAZON for your Kindle for only $2.99 (other digital mediums will be available on August 1st) and print copies will be available on Createspace.com and Amazon.com for only $10.99!

Be sure to mark MAY 1, 2013 on your calendars so you can start reading ASAP!

Not sure if the story is for you?  Check out the synopsis:

* * *

Evelyn Ryan, scared of the aisle where her young spontaneity almost carried her, ran away from the only man she has ever loved to firmly set a more conventional course for her life. However, believing she could erase the past by ignoring it, she has trapped herself in lies–lies to her new boyfriend, lies to her friends, and lies to herself.

During her first trip back to Nashville in nearly a decade, Evelyn discovers that her escape route has become the cage she had been avoiding. In the muted light of the honkytonks on Broadway, she is transformed into someone who is no longer content with her conservative, safe life.

When she is unexpectedly reunited with her old flame, country music artist Jaxon Lee, he helps her come to terms with the woman she once was—a woman full of passion for life and love.

In the end, Evelyn realizes that the only real freedom is still waiting for her in Music City, with piercing blue eyes and a hit song to tell her, It’s Never Too Late.

* * *

Happy reading, writing, & anticipating!

-Jenny

Flight Risk- Chapter One

19 Apr

Here’s the much-anticipated first chapter of Flight Risk.  If you missed last week, make sure you take the time to read the back story.

Let me know what you think of the story so far!

Digital Thumbnail

“Why Nashville?” he asked.

“Because I love country music.”

* * *

Chapter One
(Ten Years Later)

The throbbing pressure in my head felt like it was going to squeeze my eyeballs from my skull.  Even though I had only worked for seven hours, my body was convinced it had been closer to seventeen.  Unfortunately, I had finished the bottle of Ibuprofen in my purse earlier this week and had forgotten to replace it.

When I finally pulled into my parking space I double-checked the time on the dashboard, believing my eyes were playing tricks on me.

My boyfriend’s car was in the driveway and it wasn’t even four o’clock.

“Hey, I’m home,” I announced from the doorway, abandoning my load of books and my briefcase onto the tiled floor just inside the foyer.  It didn’t bother me when my laptop case cracked against the rigid surface; I would deal with the resulting consequences tomorrow.

The trunk of my car was filled to capacity with end-of-the-year supplies; unloading could wait until tomorrow too—or the next day.  At this moment I was in no rush to do anything besides vegetate.

My boyfriend clamored down the steps like a kid on Christmas morning.  “Hey, honey!”

“What are you doing home now?”  My question emerged as an accusation.

The fact that he was here three hours ahead of schedule should have excited me.  It seemed like we rarely had the opportunity to spend quality time together.  One of us was always running somewhere or hauling work along with us.

By the time we were both in the same room we had time to say goodnight and pass out until our respective alarms woke us from the best part of our day.

Despite our mismatched schedules, I wasn’t nearly as thrilled to see him as he was to have me home.  All I wanted was to be left alone.  If I had to hold any more civil conversations or coddle anyone else for the next twenty-four hours I was likely to go postal.

“I took half a day off from work.”

“Why did you do that?”

“So I could be home to welcome you when you got here,” he explained, as if that fact should have been obvious.

“Did I forget some plans we made or something?”

No scheduled events came to mind.  He knew that Friday nights were forfeit for all activities that required me leaving the house in anything tighter than sweats.

“No.”

“Oh, okay,” I hedged, pretending to understand his absent reasoning and earnest expression.

“How was your last day of school?”

“Don’t ask.”  That way I wouldn’t have to relive the hell that was high school.  I hadn’t liked it when I had been enrolled the first time, how was it that I now found myself going there willingly?

“Was it really that bad?” he pressed unwisely.

A glare was the kindest response I could muster.

“Okay, fine.  I won’t bother playing the loving boyfriend, caring about your day and all that nonsense.  Wait!  Where are you going?”

Considering I was already on the landing, the answer to his question should have been obvious.  “Upstairs?”

My bed was calling me from just beyond the hallway.  It would be unforgivably rude for me to make her wait any longer.

“Are you coming back down?”

“Eventually.”

“Eventually?” he repeated, fishing for specifics.

“Tomorrow.  Or the next day,” I provided, unwilling to commit.

“You’re going to bed now?” he scoffed.

“I was planning on it,” I said carefully.

“But it’s still light out!”

“That’s why I invested in those black-out blinds a few months ago.”  They remained one of the best purchases I had made this year.

“Before you do that, can you come into the living room with me for a sec?”

The effort to infuse some life into my voice was wasted.  “Do I have to?”

Right now all I wanted was a bubble bath, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, and my pillow—the first two being optional.

“Please?” he begged.  The sincerity in his brown eyes broke me.

I dutifully followed Will, attempting to catch some of the enthusiasm pulsing around his thin frame.

I should have been excited; tomorrow was the first day of summer.  A few consecutive months away from school should have been enough to energize me.

I would plan to be excited tomorrow—or the next day.

My boyfriend led me to the couch and indicated that I should sit down beside him.  I collapsed onto the cushion and resisted the urge to yawn.

Whatever he had to say, it seemed important to him.  We didn’t need to get into another argument over my inability to share his priorities.  If this mattered to him the least I could do was pretend that it also mattered to me.

“So, you know how I’ve been working a lot of long hours lately?” he started.

“You always work long hours.”  Those hours were the sole reason I had decided to work toward a master’s degree in education.

What kind of person honestly wanted to be enslaved in a stuffy, windowless office with only a handful of paid holidays to look forward to for the next thirty years?

Then again, what kind of person wanted to take responsibility for a couple hundred hellions?  I had an answer for the second question: idiots like me.

“Yes, I know I do.  But lately they’ve been a lot longer.  I’ve been working overtime for the bulk of the past three weeks.”

“Okay,” I said with an unconcerned shrug.

It had been too difficult to resurface after dealing with my own issues: state testing and new legislation that would ultimately affect my chosen profession.  It was tough enough to show up on a daily basis without a pay cut and the possibility of having to go year-round.

Thankfully, Will and I weren’t one of those obnoxious couples who were joined at the hip for every menial task that came their way.

He had his life, and I had mine; that was why we had been compatible for so long.  I couldn’t imagine our relationship surviving any other way.

“I worked until after nine almost every night last week, Evelyn.”

“I’m sorry.  I’ve been preoccupied with my own issues.”

Now that I thought about it, the house had been eerily silent of late, and I had been eating dinners by myself for a indeterminable amount of time.  Had that been going on for three whole weeks?

“I understand.  That’s not what I want to talk to you about anyway.”

“What did you want to talk to me about?” I prompted, praying he would get back on track so we could resolve the issue, and I could go to bed.  If he took too much longer I’d end up attached to the couch for the night and wake up with a crick in my neck.

“Do you remember how we were supposed to go to Mexico last year?”

“You mean two years ago?”

“Do I?”

“Yes.”

He frowned.  “Oh. What was last year?”

“Jamaica.”

“Right.”  My boyfriend took a moment to re-group.  “Yes, well…  As I’m sure you’re already aware, all of these vacations have been postponed because of my job.”

“Canceled,” I corrected.

“Postponed,” he insisted.

“Indefinitely.”  On this issue I was intent on having the last word.

“Not indefinitely,” he contradicted with a sly smirk.

“What do you mean?”  Surely he wasn’t saying what I thought he was saying.

“I’ve taken some time off.”

If he had taken some time off, and I had some time off, and those times coincided, then that meant…

“You have not.”

“Yes, I have.”

I mentally reprimanded myself for getting so wound up, but I couldn’t help it.  A vacation was exactly what I needed to endure the next school year.  To get away and have a break from my tedious reality would be a blessing.

“Alright,” I allowed, still too skeptical to hope.  “When is your time off?”

With his schedule we could very well be planning our vacation two years in advance.

“Monday.”

He needed to give me something more specific; Monday happened every week.

“You don’t mean this Monday, do you?”

“Yes,” he said, reiterating the word with an exaggerated nod.

“You’re kidding!”

“Would I kid you about something as serious as this?” he asked solemnly.

That question was easy to answer.  “No, you wouldn’t.”

Will didn’t tease about much; I wasn’t even sure he knew how.  He was too straightforward, a no-nonsense kind of guy.

“Exactly.”

“So this is really going to happen?”

Only one weekend stood between me and a spontaneous vacation.  There was no way the firm would be allowed to interrupt our plans.  By the time his office opened at the beginning of the week we would be halfway to wherever we were going.  I would have to ask him to turn off his cell phone and limit his access to e-mail for the next few days, just in case.

“Yes, it is.”

“When did you decide all of this?”

His reluctance to answer my question bothered me.  “Last month,” he admitted.

“You’ve known for a month and didn’t think to tell me?  I could have been looking forward to this for four weeks?”

“Calm down, Evelyn.  I have a perfectly good explanation for keeping it a secret.”

“Okay.  Let’s hear it.”

Will drew a deep breath and steeled himself against my irritation.  “Every other time we’ve made plans I’ve ended up postponing the vacation.  So this time I thought I’d keep it quiet just in case something catastrophic happened.  I couldn’t bear to change another vacation on you.”

He had a valid, unarguable point.

“Alright.  I suppose I’ll have to forgive you.”

“That’s good news.  I’d hate to fight about the trip before it starts,” he said, his good humor returned.

“I can’t believe you actually kept a secret from me for an entire month.”

Secrets weren’t Will’s forte.  I always knew what I was getting for Christmas, my birthday, and our anniversary almost as soon as he figured it out himself.

“I know.  I’m just as shocked as you are!”

“So how long did you take off?”

That factor would seriously limit our destination options.  Even if it were only a few days we would still be able to go farther than we had in the last three years.  Or was it four years?  It had been so long that I couldn’t remember the last time I had been on a vacation with my boyfriend.

“Two weeks.”

The number stopped me in my tracks. “What did you just say?”

He grinned sheepishly.  “I took off for two weeks.”

Two?” I repeated, still not sure that I had heard him correctly.

Two whole weeks meant our possibilities were endless.  In that amount of time Will and I could go to the other side of the world!

“Yes.  One for every vacation I’ve had to cancel on us.”

“Actually, I think there were three.”

“What?”  He arched a skeptical eyebrow at the number I presented.

“I’m pretty sure you’ve had to cancel three vacations.”

“Really?  You’re certain?”

“Almost positive.”  He had moved into my apartment four years ago, in July.  I was sure I hadn’t packed for a vacation since then.  “There was Florida, Mexico, and then Jamaica.”

Our plans had grown more elaborate as the years had progressed (and as our bank accounts had expanded).  But, no matter the destination, conservative or exotic, the trips had never come to fruition.

A range of emotions played over his face as he mentally calculated my accuracy, ever the statistician.  “Alright.  Well, I will just have to make up for Jamaica the next time.  This is all of the time off I can get right now.  Another week would put us into July and—”

“Shut up, Will!”

“What?”

“I don’t care if it’s one week or five weeks!  We. Are. Going. On. A. Vacation.  We won’t be here on Monday.  That’s only two days away!”

There was so much to be done between now and then.  I needed to ask one of our friends to come over and check on the house and to water the flowers.  But first I had to let my family know our game plan so they didn’t worry when they couldn’t reach me on the landline.  My parents were going to be as shocked as I was.

Before we left I had to go shopping for some new outfits and get my haircut.  Perhaps Jessi could squeeze me in tomorrow.

“Yeah, I know.  It’ll be nice to get a change of scenery.  I’m so relieved that you are happy about this!” he gushed, pulling me from my mental To-Do List.

“Happy?” I repeated.  “I can’t even put into words how I’m feeling.  This is exactly what I needed to hear today.”

All of the stress from the semester began to dissipate as our plans became more concrete.

“Excellent.”

“How did you think I’d react?”

“I didn’t know.  You’re funny about these things.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked evenly.

“Nothing,” he diverted.  “I’m just thrilled that you’re happy.”

“Of course I’m happy, Will.  This is the best news I’ve heard in years!”

“That’s great, honey,” he said, relieved that he hadn’t inadvertently buried himself in a shallow grave.

“How in the world did you manage to get so much time off all at once?”  His boss had always been against taking more than a few days in a row, let alone two weeks.

“Do you remember how I covered for Arnold last month?”

“And the month before that?”

It seemed like Will’s co-worker was gone more often than he was in the office.  Of course, if I worked at Will’s company I too would attempt escape as often as possible.

“Yeah.  That’s how.”

“You mean he is finally returning all of the favors?”

It was about time Will was rewarded for his dedication and eternal flexibility.  My boyfriend had surpassed being taken advantage of three years ago.

“Yes.”

“Your boss didn’t mind that you were taking all of your hours at once, did he?”

“No, not at all,” Will mused, equally as astonished.  “He seemed… relieved.”

Relieved?  Why?”

“Rick told me he was beginning to think I was a robot instead of a human being.”

“You do have an uncanny work ethic.  I’d never be able to show up with your consistency, day after day, with nothing to look forward to.”

The promise of winter break, spring break, and summertime were typically the only things keeping me sane, the proverbial carrots at the end of the stick.

“Nothing to look forward to?  I get days off for holidays and stuff.”

“You get what?  Seven paid holidays?”

One week’s worth of time off in three hundred and sixty-five days; the concept was unfathomable to me.  And on top of that were the hours he worked.  Twelve-hour days were not uncommon, especially during tax season.

“Something like that,” he agreed readily.

“And you only get one day for Christmas.  One.”

That meant we couldn’t visit my family unless the holiday fell on a weekend.

“Christmas?  Can we please get back on track here, honey?  Don’t wish away the warm weather already.”

“I’m not.  All I’m saying is that—”

“I know what you’re saying.  But it’s what I have to do to keep my position.  There really is no other choice, I’m afraid.”

I hugged my boyfriend and pressed a hard kiss onto his smooth cheek.  “Thank you so much for working hard so you could get some time off!  I really appreciate everything you do, even though sometimes I forget to show it.”

“It’s no problem,” he said, a smile in his voice.

“We can probably get some really good last-minute deals online.  Orbitz is always running specials, but I’ve avoided clicking on the links because they only depress me.  Maybe Mexico or Jamaica like we had planned before.  Or the Dominican Republic! I had a friend from work who went there and she fell in love with it.  I’m going to go online right now and see what I can dig up!”

Hopefully my laptop was still working after its beating from earlier.  “I’m really open to anything as long as we’re not stuck in Kentucky.”

“Evelyn?”

“I think I still have our travel agent’s card somewhere in my desk.  Although she may not want to talk to us since we’ve had to cancel on her so many times before.  I’ll just have to assure Ashley that it’s really going to happen this time.”

“Evelyn?”

“Do you have any preferences?” I asked off-handedly, scrolling through my mind for places I had always wanted to see.

Will was easy going; if I found a location I truly wanted to visit then he would be content to follow along.

“Yes, I do.”

His admission brought me up short.

“Really?  What?”

“First, I want you to sit back down.”

“Bu—”

“There’s no need to look up anything online, or call travel agents, or do anything else,” he pressed, effectively halting my protest.

“What do you mean?”

How were we supposed to get away if we didn’t have a destination in mind?  My boyfriend wasn’t the type of guy to play things by ear.  He needed an itinerary almost as much as I did.

“I’ve already taken care of it.”

I didn’t like the sound of that.

“Of what, exactly?” I asked, preparing myself for his response and the inevitable argument brewing inside of me.

“Of everything for our vacation,” he explained proudly.

It was a struggle to keep the retort on my tongue from flying across the couch and slapping him in the face.  There was a reason I had always been the one responsible for making our plans.  Will was the accountant; he liked numbers.  I was the well-traveled one; I liked planning the trips that never seemed to happen.

“And by everything you mean…?”

“Of our destination, accommodations, and, well, just everything!”

“That’s… great,” I said tightly, trying unsuccessfully to regain my enthusiasm.

Will had unknowingly relieved me of the one thing I needed in life: control.

“Don’t you want to know where we are going?” he asked, oblivious to the way my smile had turned brittle and now threatened to break free from my face.

Not really. 

After all, he had already planned everything.  It was a little late for any input from me.  What more did I need to do other than pack and say, “Yes, sir?”

“Sure,” I lied.

“Are you ready for this?”

“Sure,” I repeated, allowing the dread to sink in.

“We’re going to Nashville!”

* * *

Come back next Friday to find out what happens next!

Free Giveaway Tomorrow

16 Apr

Digital ThumbnailHere’s a reminder that the drawing for the FREE Proof Copy of Flight Risk is TOMORROW!  If you haven’t already entered, GET TO IT!

Simply answer the following question: IN YOUR OPINION, WHO IS THE BEST LOOKING COUNTRY MUSIC ARTIST?

You can either:

1. Answer as a comment on this post.
2. Answer via my author Facebook Page
3. Answer via TWITTER with the following hashtag: #Flight Risk

Then stay tuned for the winners to be announced.

 

Happy Reading, Writing, and Giving.

-Jenny