Dear life, p.21
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       Dear Life, p.21

           Meghan Quinn
 

  “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he asks, looking out into a field of nothing. Thanks to the cool winter months, the ground is brown, no spring life in sight quite yet.

  “Beautiful?” I ask, confused. Maybe he’s seeing something I’m not.

  “The field. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

  Okay, so we are looking at the same thing. Seeing the beauty in everything has always been a trait of mine but this, this is a field of upturned dirt.

  “Uh, sure?” I ask as a question.

  He snuggles even closer and wraps his arm around my shoulder, pulling me into his side. Is this how he is with every girl? Being this close to him, having him touch me so easily as if he’s done it for years, is incredible. I’m trying desperately to not read anything into his tactility. Perhaps he’s just one who likes to touch. He speaks closely into my ear, and his breath tickles. “Sometimes, Daisy, you can’t see the beauty in something right away. Sometimes you have to sit back and hope it grows into what you know it can be. Life is a fucking funny thing. There is so much we want from it. We both desire freedom, but in two different ways. And even though I’d like to say there is a beautiful future ahead of me, it’s hard to see the potential in my situation. But with you . . .” he kisses the side of my head, his lips grazing my skin as he continues, “you have a field like this in front of you, with just as much potential. It may seem like a dirt pile at first, but when you let it grow, when you actively nurture it, it can grow into something of such beauty.” From the side, his arm lifts up, his phone in his hand, a picture displayed on the screen. When it comes into view, I see why he brought me over here. We are in the same spot the photo was taken, but instead of a brown field in the picture, it’s a field of sunflowers, spanning out for yards. Bold varieties of yellow against the bright blue Colorado sky enchant me. It’s one of the most gorgeous pictures I’ve ever seen. “You’re just like this field, Daisy,” he continues to whisper in my ear, “waiting to sprout and bloom.” Kissing the side of my head, he says, “Don’t let anyone stop you from achieving what you want. Got it?”

  My eyes fixated on his, I nod. “Got it.”

  “Good.” He sighs and looks back out at the empty field. “You’re special, Daisy. You have so much potential. I hope you know that.”

  If only he believed in his potential as well.

  HOLLYN

  Announcements about arriving and departing flights ring through the airport as I make my way down to passenger pick-up. The world stands still around me, family and friends celebrating and reuniting, kids running around, their parents trying to wrangle them in, but nothing fazes me. I look for Jace, his pained, yet angered voice still haunting me, but I don’t see him until I’m at the very bottom of baggage claim and moving toward the doors that lead to the street.

  There he is, leaning against the wall next to an elevator, his sweatshirt hood pulled low on his head, one of his feet propped up, the other balancing his large frame. Deflated, his shoulders are slouched, his gaze cast down, and in one hand, he scrolls through his phone until he looks up, instantly making eye contact with me, as if he knew I was in the same room as him.

  He shifts off the wall, pockets his phone, and swaggers over to me, little blond sprigs of hair poking out from his forehead, his blue eyes focused directly on me.

  I only have a small duffel carry-on bag that I have slung over my shoulder but when Jace reaches me, he frees me of my bag and links our hands together. Without a word, he guides me out to the temporary parking lot. Soon he unlocks a black Range Rover, places my luggage in the trunk, and guides me to the passenger side where he helps me in the seat but then turns me so I’m facing him. He lets out a strangled sigh and buries his head into the crook between my shoulder and neck. It’s as if he can finally rest, find peace. What on earth has happened since I last saw him?

  “Thank you for dropping everything to be here with me.”

  Pushing his hood down, I run my fingers through his hair, feeling the tightening in my chest from the intimate touch, but I move forward, knowing Jace needs the contact more than anything.

  “What’s going on?” His hair is soft against the pads of my fingers, reminding me of all the times I used to play with Eric’s hair. The memory creates a dull ache in my chest. I miss Eric, but . . . have I mostly missed being intimate with another human? “From the way you’re reacting, I’m going to guess your conversation didn’t go very well with Rebecca.”

  “Not so much.” Lifting his head, he asks me, “Can we just drive?”

  “Yes, we can just drive.”

  He stands up, pinches my chin with his thumb and forefinger, and says, “Thank you, Hollyn.”

  Starting up the car, he pulls out of the parking spot, navigates onto the road, turns up the music, and drives. The twangy sounds of a steel guitar fill the cab along with the smooth, yet very country voice of Alan Jackson. It’s soothing, calming, perfect for the drive.

  The city passes us, turning into the dark empty night sky, desert landscaping the sides, cactus standing tall, casting shadows under the moonlight. The only light on the road a distant shack up ahead, the moon, and bright beautiful stars shining in the sky.

  Not even bothering to strike up a conversation, I revel in the silence, letting my mind become clear. It’s not very often I get to sit back and let my mind be free, and now is the perfect time. Getting comfortable, I put my feet up on the dashboard just as Jace pulls up to the little shack I spotted in the distance. It’s a drive-thru ice cream shop.

  “Milkshake?” he asks, turning toward me, a boyish charm in his smile.

  “Strawberry, please.”

  He raises an eyebrow in question. “Strawberry? I would have pegged you for a chocolate girl.”

  “At least you didn’t think I was vanilla.”

  He shakes his head. “With that beautiful red hair of yours, there’s no way you’re a vanilla girl.”

  “Smooth.” I laugh and look out the window, listening to Jace put in our orders. Two strawberry shakes. For some reason, it makes me giggle knowing Jace likes strawberry shakes as well. It always seemed like a girl drink to me. I’m so wrong because Jace is anything but girly. In fact, he’s the complete opposite. Complete. Opposite.

  It doesn’t take very long for our shakes to be made and for us to be out on the road again, a cold cup in hand, and no destination ahead.

  After a few more minutes on the road, Jace pulls off onto a little lookout parking area and puts the car in park. Turning to me, he asks, “Want to sit on the hood with me?”

  “Do you have a blanket?”

  He nods to the back of his car. “Got you covered.”

  He’s thought of everything.

  While he grabs the blanket, I go to the front of the car where I contemplate how to get up on the hood. I always thought sitting on the hood of your car could dent it but from the way Jace approaches me, determination in his eyes, I don’t think he really cares.

  “Need help?” He sizes me up.

  “Um, I think I can handle it.”

  I assess my attack of the hood once again but don’t get a chance to finish because Jace has me by the hips and lifts me up on the hood effortlessly. In seconds, he’s sitting next to me, milkshake in one hand, blanket in the other. Scooting back to the windshield, we lean against the warm surface, and gaze at the dark sky. A light wind whips against us. Thank goodness for the blanket.

  Getting a little more intimate, Jace pulls me into his body so my head is against the crook of his arm and shoulder. He’s so warm that I don’t pull away and instead, relish in the comfort of another human.

  In silence, we sip our milkshakes, enjoying each other’s company in the dark depths of the desert. At least that’s what it feels like with no light in sight. It’s almost spooky but with Jace next to me, I know I have nothing to worry about.

  Knowing we can’t sit here in silence forever, despite how peaceful it is, I stare up at the stars and ask, “What happened with Rebecca?”
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  The feel of his fingers running through my hair sends shivers up my spine. It’s that touch—something I’ve been missing out on for so long. It makes me feel alive again. I lean into him some more, clinging to the spark of energy running through the tips of his fingers.

  “She’s been seeing my best friend, Ethan.”

  “What?” With a hand to his chest, I sit up to look him in the eyes. “Are you serious? For how long?”

  “A month,” he replies on a long breath and then runs his hand through his short, unruly hair. “I still can’t even comprehend it. Honestly, I couldn’t care less who Rebecca dates. It’s the betrayal by my best friend that is fucking gutting me right now.”

  Sitting up, Jace props his knees and rests his forearms on them, his head bent forward. Wanting to comfort him, I scoot close and entwine one of my arms with his.

  “He sat there, Hollyn. He sat there and watched me fucking cry over the fact that Rebecca wants to get the baby back and the entire time, he’d been fucking her. He just sat there, not saying a damn thing.”

  I swallow hard, my emotions in turmoil for Jace and the pain he’s feeling.

  “What kind of best friend is that?” He shakes his head. “Never in a million years would I have guessed Ethan would do something like this to me. He’s always been loyal, forthcoming about his life, and never once would I have guessed he could betray me. I don’t get it.”

  “Maybe he really likes her,” I suggest. “Sometimes when you find yourself falling in love you do stupid things. Just to preserve the connection you have with another human being.”

  “There’s a code, Hollyn. You don’t sleep with your best friend’s ex, whether they mean anything to you or not,” Jace hisses. “When Rebecca first showed up at my apartment to tell me she was pregnant, he was there. I mean, fuck . . .” he pauses and slams his fist on the hood of his car, startling me, “was he with her then? Did he pretend he didn’t know she was pregnant when she told me? And is he part of this whole plan to get Hope back? He was my family, Hollyn. My brother.” He pauses, as if the words are just too much to contemplate. “Is he encouraging her to ruin my life, Hope’s life, and the lives of two incredible women? Why? What’s his part in all of this? Why has he lied to me, Hollyn? I don’t get it.”

  I don’t get it either. Jace is one of the best men I’ve ever known. He’s kind, selfless, intelligent, and thoughtful. How on earth do I help him with this?

  “Maybe you should talk to him.”

  A sardonic laugh comes out of him as he leans back on the windshield and stares up at the dark sky. “And say what? Hey bro, why are you fucking me over? Come on, Hollyn. What’s the point? He’s just going to feed me a bunch of bullshit I don’t want to hear. There’s no use for reconciliation. I’ll never trust him again.”

  There is use for reconciliation. No matter how big or small the problem might be, you should always find a way to find peace with the people around you, because life will step in, grab you by the heart, and change everything in a matter of seconds. You don’t want to be the person living life full of regret, regret for what you said right before someone passes.

  I know from experience.

  “You know, Jace,” I stare down at my hands, trying to find the right words, “life is so much bigger than this, than us, than your friendship with Ethan. It flies by with just a blink of an eye, as if it’s a mere dream you experience rather than an entire lifetime. Don’t waste your time sitting in the corner, hating on the people who’ve done you wrong. Rise up and fix it, because if you don’t you’re going to regret it. You’re going to regret it more than you will ever know.”

  “Hollyn . . .” He presses his hand against my back but I shake him off, sliding down the hood and onto the dirt.

  “No, I don’t want to make this about me.” I take a deep breath and look out into the bleak desert. “This is about you. Just don’t throw away your friendship quite yet. Hear him out, as there may be a reason why he didn’t say anything to you. Is it fucked up what he did? Of course, I’m not going to devalue your feelings or emotions. You have the right to be mad, but be mad with a purpose. Be mad at the right thing.”

  The sound of the hood bending clues me into his approach. I can feel his heat before he wraps his arms around my midsection and pulls me in close, his head hanging over my shoulder, his voice low when he speaks. “Be mad with a purpose.”

  I nod, unable to speak. Memories of that morning playing out in my mind.

  That petty fight.

  Those hurtful words.

  The lack of goodbye.

  The loss of hearing I love you one last time.

  Tears stream down my cheeks. It happened all too fast. I was going to apologize that night. I had it all planned out. His favorite dinner, his favorite beer chilling in the fridge, our love playlist poised and ready to be played. I was going to say I was sorry, but I never got the chance.

  “Hollyn, talk to me.” Turning me around, Jace grips me by the shoulders, a slight shake in his need to get me to look at him. “We’re honest with each other, remember? Tell me what’s going on so I can help you.”

  With the heaviest and saddest heart, I say, “I told Eric I hated him before he died. That was the last thing I said to him, the last words he ever heard my voice say. I hate you.”

  “Hollyn, he knew you didn’t mean those words.”

  “It doesn’t matter if I meant them or not,” I shout back. “That was the last thing he heard from me. He went to training that day, thinking the worst of our marriage, of me. And then . . .” I choke on a sob that pops out of my mouth. “What if . . . what if what I said distracted him? What if I’m the reason he died, because he wasn’t paying attention, he wasn’t focused? I did that to him.”

  “Don’t.” Jace steps up and grips my jaw with his strong hand, forcing me to meet his eyes. “Don’t you dare take the blame for his death. You had nothing to do with that.”

  “But what if—?”

  “What if is a waste of time. Don’t ruin your life over a what if. Like you said, life is so much bigger than that.”

  “Life is bigger than that,” I confirm. He nods, his hand still gripping my jaw, his other hand finding my hip.

  “He knew you loved him, Hollyn. It’s hard not to know that. Just from the way you’ve spoken of Eric, it’s clear the passion, the relationship, the connection you had with him. Don’t throw that away on a few wasted words that were said in the heat of the moment but meant nothing. Like you said, don’t devalue what you had because of a mistake.”

  He pauses, allowing time for his words to sink in. Shaking his head, eyes cast down, he chuckles. “Fuck, I hate that what we are going through is so similar and yet, so different.”

  “Like we were meant to find each other. Help each other.”

  “As if we were brought together in this world, at the most difficult times in our lives, to be mad, but with a purpose.”

  There is something magical about his repetition of my words, like he’s actually hearing me, rather than just placating. Must be the creative listener that he is.

  “Exactly.”

  Sighing, he pulls me in closer. “He loved you, Hollyn, but I think it’s time you take some of your words to heart. Life is bigger than this, live it, love it . . . prove your existence.”

  I search his eyes, so full of sincerity, of understanding, of lust.

  He’s the first man to gain my attention on an intimate level since Eric’s death, and for the first time since I uttered those three miserable words to Eric, I feel like moving past it doesn’t seem so scary. Not with Jace by my side, guiding me. Eric knew I loved him. He knew.

  Feeling the need to jump all in like we talked about, I run my hands up Jace’s strong and chiseled chest and say, “Kiss me.”

  His eyebrows shoot up to his hairline, confusion in his expression. I don’t blame him, the request came out of left field, but I need this to move on. I need to prove to myself that I can do this, that I can for
give myself for my words. Deep down, I know Eric will always be with me, but I need to learn to live again. Because life is so much bigger . . .

  I don’t wait for him to make a move. Instead, I grip his jaw and pull him closer until our lips are a whisper apart.

  “I thought you weren’t ready,” he says, his lips dancing close to mine.

  “I’m taking one step closer. It’s time I take this program seriously and truly prove my existence. Kiss me, Jace. Make me feel again.”

  A brief smile passes over him before his lips connect with mine in the most intimate of dances. This time when we kiss, lust for this man eclipses the lingering and understandable guilt wrestling within me. Feeling free of guilt will take time, finding the will to move on takes time, and it’s been nearly two years. I’m moving on. I’m proving my existence, one kiss with Jace at a time.

  CARTER

  “It’s not a mansion, but it does the job.” I shrug my shoulders, feeling completely self-conscious. Why did I bring her here?

  She continues to look around, taking in every little spider web in the ceiling corner, every speck of dust I never bothered cleaning, and every rip, tear, and scuff on my dilapidated furniture.

  If I wanted to impress her, I’m doing a pretty shitty job of it.

  Is that what this is? My need to impress her? Is that why I brought her back to my place? If so, I need to be punched in the dick because bringing her here to impress her was a pretty stupid decision.

  Hey, Daisy, come see where homeless people pee on the side of my building, and while you’re at it, check out the mattress I sleep on, on the floor, and the broken-down kitchen I’m ashamed to cook in as a professional chef. And that draft you’re feeling? Yeah, that’s a winter special. It’s called come catch pneumonia. Yup, she’s a real beauty, isn’t she?

  Fuck me.

  “Wow,” she finally says, looking at me.

  Is that a wow I can’t believe you live in this shitty place? Or a wow . . . who am I kidding? It’s a wow I can’t believe you live in this shitty place. There is no other wow when it comes to my life, my living arrangements, my goddamn luck.

 
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