Chapter Three

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“Is there a reason your bag is empty?”

“Of course.”

“And what’s that?” he asked.

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

* * *

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, if it isn’t Evelyn Ryan.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This and that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course you are.  I knew that.”

“I’m sure you did.”

“Leaving anytime soon?”

Not soon enough.  “Tomorrow.”

“Where are you going?”

None of your business.

“On vacation,” I hedged.

“How long are you going away?”

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

“You’re going with Will, right?”

“Yes, I’m going with Will.”

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

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

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


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


“Memphis?” she guessed.

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

“That sounds like fun.”

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

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

“Oh, really?  It’s a great city.”

“You’ve been there before?”

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

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

“I used to live there.”

“Oh.  I didn’t know that.”

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

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

“My car.”

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

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

“But he hates country music.”

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

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

“Five blissful years.”

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

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

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


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

“You two must be pretty serious.”

“Oh, very serious.”

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

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

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

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

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

She arched her eyebrows speculatively.  “Maybe.”

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

“Yeah,” she admitted flippantly.

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

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

Bradfield… Where have I heard that name before?”

“He’s Travis and Mary’s son.”

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

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

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

“A few months.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s why I love you.”

“Because I buy you razors?” I teased.

“Only one of the many reasons, Evelyn.”

“Aren’t you just the luckiest man?”

“I think so,” he said seriously.

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

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


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

“The one and only.”

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

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

“Johnny?” he guessed.

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

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

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

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

“Did you tell her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So true.  What are your plans now?”

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

“Are you already packed?”

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

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

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

“Would you like some help, Will?”

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

“It’s really no problem.”

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

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

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

“Tell me about it.”

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

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

“Get out of my way and let me work.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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