Country Love - Page 10

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I swallowed back the bile that rose in my throat, then clapped my hand over my mouth. A few deep breaths settled my stomach, and I felt even better once the light changed and we rolled out of sight of my old home.

I hated Holcum. I had erased it from my life, just one more place we lived and left with no marks made on us. Except the mark was there, a scar on my heart as black as the night we piled into the station wagon and just drove - silently - away.

I never saw my father again.

He was somewhere in Indiana, last I heard. Put away for a very, very long time. Turns out running from your crimes only makes things worse in the end.

My family all dealt with it in our own way. My mother moved in with her sister and seemed content to forget she ever was a wife...or mother. My younger sister still insisted on his innocence and joined the world of activism. Me, I became a journalist with the intent of finding out the truth of what happened but ended up running from my sadness into the shallow world of celebrities. But I honored my father by moving, always moving, still pathologically unable to put down roots. Perpetually the outside, no matter where I was.

We all cope in different ways. I erased Holcum from my personal narrative, but it was still here. At least the hotel was far enough away from the family place that I could pretend I wasn't here.

But when I got out of the car and saw LeeAnne Colfax talking to the woman at reception, my heart dropped all the way down to my muddy cowboy boots.

"Change of plans again," I rapped on the driver's window. LeeAnne hadn't spotted me yet, but I knew it was her. She still wore her trademark braid pulled back tight from her round, pale face. She looked exhausted and I thought I saw tears in her eyes, and a stain down the front of her shirt. The woman behind reception had the same round face - her sister? Her mother? I hadn't stayed long enough in Holcum to know for sure.

That strange longing snuck back into my brain. I stared at LeeAnne, swinging wildly between the desire to run away and the desperate desire to know if the best friend I could claim in Holcum would be happy to see me.

I shook my head. She seemed preoccupied with her own shit. She'd probably forgotten about me already. "Take me to the airport," I told the driver. "I'm going home."

Chapter Fourteen

Tanner

No amount of black coffee was enough to prepare me for Jimmy Hales bouncing around at six in the goddamned morning.

As I stepped onto the tour bus, I sniffed, grateful that the seeped in smells of booze and old feet were drowned out in a hail of disinfectant. Then I promptly sneezed on Jimmy as he maneuvered his big body in to give me a hug.

"Back in the saddle, right Tanner?" My big goofball of a bassist punctuated his greeting with a hearty back slap that misfired and knocked my elbow instead, sloshing my open coffee cup onto the just-cleaned floors of the bus. "Whoops, lemme get that," he said, whirling around and knocking over a few more things in his quest for the paper towels.

I pinched the bridge of my nose and caught the eye of Fitch as he slumped smirking in the corner. He silently raised his coffee in salute, and I raised mine in reply. My drummer was an old tour-dog, who'd backed countless other heavy weights over the span of his career. I could never quite shake the feeling that he still considered me a newcomer, even as we packed stadium after stadium. He remained relentlessly unimpressed by pretty much everything, treating world tours like another day at the office. It got under my skin some of the time, but today I appreciated his low-key approach, because I was feeling the same way. Punch my timecard, I'm back from vacation.

"I got it, Jimmy," I told my bassist. "You're taking up the whole aisle." I winked over his shoulder to Blake, who had just stepped onto the bus to find Jimmy's big body blocking his way.

"Oops, sorry Blake," Jimmy scrambled with all the coordination of a Great Dane puppy and we all instinctively ducked. Life in close quarter gives you a sixth sense about these things.

"Jimmy knocked something over. I'm home again," Blake smiled, spreading his arms. I went in for the proffered hug. "How you doin' brother?" I asked my best friend and rhythm guitarist.

"LeeAnne's a mess," Blake sighed. "Baby won't stop nursing. She's like, attached to the boob all day long."

"Sounds fun," Fitch piped up to Jimmy's ribald approval.

Blake shot him a look. "Ain't fun at all. My poor wife's about ready to drop from exhaustion. Whole time I was home, she was either cryin' or on the phone with her sister." He heaved a sigh. "It was kind of a shit show..."

"And you had to leave," I finished for him.

"And I had to leave," Blake echoed, his face showing the strain of new fatherhood.

"Ah shit, I'm real sorry, man." I wasn't sure what else to say. It was a big surprise to me when Blake up and married LeeAnne, a girl we'd grown up teasing mercilessly. Innocent stuff though, just yanking her pigtails and showing her gross bugs to make her squeal. LeeAnne was too nice to torture too badly. And I guess I could see Blake falling for her, I mean, she was pretty, in her own way, but she was always just...around. Like a little sister. When Blake showed me the ring he'd picked out, I nearly fell off my horse. And then she went and got knocked up on their honeymoon...it was all moving fast. My best friend seemed to be moving in the direction of family man, souring on touring more and more.

"Wanna see her?" Blake smiled, brandishing his phone with a flourish.

I obligingly looked down as he swiped through about fifty photos of a squishy newborn that looked exactly the same. But the last one, taken of the three of them on their back porch stopped me in my tracks. "Aw hell man, that's a beautiful thing right there," I said as I stared at the picture of his little family, pride written in every line of his body. "Congratulations."

"Thanks brother," Blake said with all sincerity. "I'm hoping I can bring LeeAnne and Maddie along for a spell in a few months."

"Sure, of course."

"What are we looking at?" Carter nosed his way over Blake's shoulder.

"Shit, where did you come from?"

"Been here the last five minutes, but no one noticed me because you were all cooing over baby pictures like a bunch of women," Carter grinned evilly and ducked out of the way of Blake's punch.

"Hey fuck you man, that's my daughter."

"Oh yeah? Poor thing. I hope she doesn't get your eyebrows." Carter laughed as he ducked again,

"Everyone here, Mr. Brock?" Gus, the driver, poked his bearded face into the doorway.

I took a look at my merry band of misfits. "Yeah, we're here."

Blake looked up from where he had Carter pinned on the floor. "Weird," he observed, while simultaneously directing punches at Carter's exposed ribs. "Feels different this time."

"Yeah?"

"I dunno, bigger. Like we're missing some people."

I looked out the window. Monique had left exactly two weeks and five days ago. In that time, I fixed every fence rail over fifty linear miles. I cleared brush, made some orders, and arranged for a tenant to keep up the place while I was away. And the whole time I did that, I was rehearsing angry confrontations with her, coming up with convoluted ways I could see her again. Never had a woman gotten so under my skin. I wanted to throttle her, kiss her, fuck her, and shake her right before I did it all over again. But there was no way I could make that happen…

"I know what you mean," I said, with more sadness than I intended.

"Ever notice this about starting a tour?" Jimmy piped up. "How weird it is?"

"What do you mean?" Blake said, apparently done with pummeling Carter. He stood up and hauled the keyboardist to his feet and both grabbed their coffee like nothing had happened.

"It's like, I dunno, have you ever gone skydiving? It's like that moment right before you jump. Anything could happen in that moment. You could decide not to do it and turn around. You could jump and your chute doesn't open and you're totally dead. Or you could jump and have the best damn thirty seconds of your life. The moment just hangs there as long as you do."

> Everyone was silent for a moment. "Jimmy Hale, I had no idea you were capable of such deep thoughts," Fitch deadpanned.

Jimmy eagerly turned to Fitch, knocking his bottled water over in the process. "That's more like it," Carter nodded. "Now the world makes sense again."

"But you guys know what I mean, right?" Jimmy pleaded as he mopped up his water. "I wish there was a way of feeling this anticipation...."

"Preserving it," I finished, and everyone looked at me. "Yeah Jimmy, I get it. And you just gave me an idea...."

Chapter Fifteen

Monique

Dayna said his name was Dennis. But in my mind I had already christened him "Finance Guy."

"A little trick I've learned, working in finance," he told me, in the tone of someone imparting great, rarefied wisdom on someone of much lesser intelligence, like an adult teaching a clumsy child how to tie a shoe, "is that you've got to jump on these type of deals when they come up, you know what I'm saying?"


Tags: Mia Caldwell Erotic
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