Chapter One

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“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.


“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?” 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?”


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


“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.


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.


“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!”


“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.


“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.


“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.”


“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.”


“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.”


“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!”

* * *

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