Kaylee was older than me by four years. Her father was my father’s brother, and it wasn’t often we got to see each other. But when we did, it had always been a blast. Once I got to college and lived closer to Kaylee, we grew closer. She was like a sister to me. I had told her all my fears and worries, and she listened to them and offered such amazing insight. She was my rock when I needed something strong and sturdy in my life. When she decided to move to Montana, I was heartbroken, but I had to hide it. The last thing I wanted to do was crush her dreams. Plus, I knew it would be good for her to leave behind her own demons. Her fiancé had killed himself a few years ago, and I hated seeing how sad and lost she had been through that. I knew the move to Montana was what she needed. So I hugged her goodbye and watched her follow her heart, knowing the only thing that would ever separate us was the miles. Watching her choose love spurred something in me, and I realized I needed to follow my own dreams.
But after visiting Kaylee, I knew Montana was a strong contender for my move. I never thought anywhere could be more beautiful than Park City. Boy, had I been wrong. Of course, I wasn’t sure I’d admit that a certain cowboy who had occupied my thoughts…and dreams…had something to do with me leaning more toward starting my new career in Montana instead of Utah.
I couldn’t help but smile at the memory of Tanner Shaw. He was handsome, with those pale blue eyes and dimples when he smiled.
“Timber?” Candace, my roommate and best friend, called out my name as she walked into the apartment.
“I’m in the living room,” I answered.
“Hey, sorry I’m late. How was your day at the hospital?”
I sighed and turned back to face her. “Awful.”
She frowned. “That bad, huh?”
With a nod, I walked over and dropped onto the sofa. “I simply wasn’t made to be a nurse.”
Candace smiled. “It’s okay if you don’t like it. But you are a damn good nurse.”
I shrugged. “I had to be.”
She gave me a confused look. “Why?”
With a roll of my eyes, I chuckled, not wanting to get into the details. “No reason.”
“You could always go back to school. Learn something new and then you’d have two degrees!”
I scrunched up my nose. Candace was always the optimistic one of our little group of two. I, on the other hand, always waited for the floor to fall out. In my almost twenty-four years of living, nothing had ever seemed to go right for me. I didn’t even get to pick what I wanted to do for a career. That decision was left up to my mother. My mother had put a letter in her will, telling me what career to choose in case she died before I started college. My father kept it until my senior year of high school and then gave it to me. He sat there while I read it, that same neutral look on his face he had perfected not long after my mother passed. It was the kind that showed zero emotion, so I never truly knew how he felt. About anything, including me. Before my mother died, my father made me feel like I was his everything. After she died, he slowly drifted away, leaving me to constantly wonder what had happened to his love. Did he resent the fact that I lived and she died? I knew my father loved me, but he had never showed it since that fateful day.
When I opened that letter and read it, I wasn’t even shocked. My mother asked for me to follow a career in nursing like she did, and like her mother before her. I knew I had to do it, not only for her, but for my father. I wanted to please him. Maybe this could be the one thing I got right, and he’d finally be proud of me. Maybe even make him want to spend more time with me. It had been years since my father had really paid me any sort of attention, other than the occasional moments he told me he was proud of me. The first few weeks after my mother died, he had clung to me as if he were afraid I would slip away from him like she did. We did everything together. He was the one who first introduced me to horseback riding at the suggestion of the therapists I talked to each week. After that day, I spent a few months hardly speaking at all. There was safety in my silence. I knew my father was worried. Once I sat on my first horse, though, it all came back to me. I remembered all the times my mother had talked about the horse she had when she was little. She was there with me. From that point on, horses were my life. Once I resumed talking and acting like a six-year-old, I noticed my father spending less time with me and more time at work. He also spent more time in our home office where he drank a lot. One night when I walked into his office he was crying. I quickly ran to him, and he held onto me so tightly, I thought I wouldn’t be able to breathe. He kept whispering that he was sorry. What had he been sorry for? That memory flooded my mind at random moments.
It wasn’t long after that that he met his first of many girlfriends. Women who were more interested in his money than him…or his young daughter. Daddy hired Rachel, my nanny, and from that point on she did everything with me and for me until I was able to do things on my own. I hadn’t realized until I was older how unavailable my father had been during those years. Every event I had with my horses, he promised he would show up, only to tell me he had an emergency surgery or an event that he couldn’t get out of. It wasn’t until I got to high school that I stopped asking altogether.
“Timber, did you hear me?”
I shook my head and let the memories go. “What was that?”
Candace slumped back on the couch, her light brown hair piled on top of her head in her signature messy bun. Her hazel eyes looked at me with a questioning gaze. “Why didn’t you change majors if you didn’t like nursing?”
With a humorless laugh, I shook my head. “You know why. I couldn’t.”
She stared at me with sadness in her eyes. “Timber, I know you did it because it was what your mother wanted you to do, but you could have changed it. Maybe if you had talked to your dad, he would have understood.”
I shrugged. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was a last-ditch attempt to win my father’s love. And like all the other attempts, I had failed. I simply wasn’t good enough in his eyes.
I remembered that day like it was yesterday.
“I’ll make you and Mama proud of me.”
He stood from behind his desk, walked around it and stared into my eyes. My heart had picked up, and for the first time in years, I thought I saw a spark of happiness. And it was there because I was doing something he and my mother wanted.
“I’ll be the best nurse, Dad. I swear it.”
He smiled, placed his hands on my shoulders and kissed me on the forehead. “Oh, Timber, I know you will, sweetheart. I know you will.”
It had been the first show of affection from him in years. In that moment I saw his acceptance and love. We had gone out to dinner that night to celebrate, and it was when my father kept mentioning how great of a nurse I would make that I realized I had sealed my own fate. I signed up for a future I knew I wasn’t going to be happy with, all to make my father happy. If I had told him I wanted to work with horses, maybe even own a horse rescue, he would have looked at me like I was insane. So, I pushed my dreams to the side. How foolish I had been. It had only pulled me further away from my father.
With a sigh, I looked at my best friend. “I did it hoping to make my father happy.”
She rolled her eyes. “He certainly doesn’t act happy about it.”
A rush of sadness swept over me. “It’s complicated, Candace, and I really don’t want to talk about it.”
With a forced smile, she nodded, and I decided it was time to change the subject. “Kaylee invited me back to Montana for Christmas. She said she has some news she wants to share, and she’d love to have family there.”
Candace smiled. “I wonder what it is? She can’t already be pregnant, could she?”
My own face broke out in a wide grin. “I think she is!”
Candace grabbed my hands and we both jumped around and screamed, acting like middle school girls. Candace had met Kaylee only a handful of times, but it was hard not to fall in love with my cousin. She had a way of making everyone her
best friend. I sure hoped Kaylee was pregnant. Plus, it would be another reason for me to pick moving to Montana over Utah. That and the blue-eyed man I couldn’t stop thinking about. But I refused to acknowledge that reason.
“How can her parents not want to be in the picture?” Candace asked, dropping my hands and taking a step back. “I just don’t understand it.”
I shrugged, a sadness coming over me. I had told Candace about how cruel Kaylee’s parents were. How they basically didn’t want anything to do with her unless they needed her for something, like a party where they could show her off or brag about her. Once I got into college and Kaylee told me more about it, it was strange to me how her father and my father were nothing alike, yet similar in so many ways. I sometimes saw the love in my father’s eyes when he would look at me; I simply couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t show it. That was so unlike Kaylee’s parents, who probably only had a child to give off the appearance of a well-rounded and happy family.
“If I ever have kids, I’m using your father and Kaylee’s parents as examples of how not to parent.”
I forced a laugh, but clearly missed what Candace said.
Candace regarded me closely. “Are you okay?”
I nodded. “Sorry, what did you say?”
She pulled her scrub top off, revealing a white tank top underneath, as she made her way toward the kitchen and reached into the refrigerator for a beer. “I said, were you able to get off work to go visit her?”
I glanced at my blurry reflection in the window. My blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail band, the hazel eyes looking back at me seemed so empty. It was a reflection I had seen for as long as I could remember.
I sighed and pushed away the sad thoughts and feelings. Tomorrow was my twenty-fourth birthday. The day my trust fund was finally mine. The day I could finally follow my own dreams.
“No,” I said to Candace, “they told me I couldn’t get Christmas off. I haven’t paid my time, apparently.”
She sank into the couch. “That sucks. Can no one pick up your shifts?”