I’d made it three days without breaking down and going after her. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could wait her out. She’d run and I wanted her to be the one to come back. But dammit seeing her sitting there on that porch with her eyes on me so big and sad was more than any man could withstand.
I slammed my door closed and stalked over to slam my fist into the wall. I needed to get out my frustration somehow. I cared too much. Way too damn much. This was different than caring for Low. Completely different. Eva had me wrapped up in knots. I didn’t do commitment. I wasn’t a one-woman guy. I liked variety. I liked not having to give a shit. This caring stuff was bullshit. I didn’t need this.
A knock on the door startled me and hope soared in my chest. She’d finally come back. Two long strides and I was at the door jerking it open ready to fall on my knees and promise to do whatever the hell she wanted me to do in order to make her happy.
“Hey Cage,” Becca Lynn said cheerily as my excitement turned to bitterness.
“Becca,” I replied.
“Um, can I come in?” she asked. I looked behind her to make sure Eva wasn’t standing there waiting to talk to me. Where had Becca come from anyway? Had she been on the porch with Eva?
“I guess.” I stepped back. Hopefully the lack of enthusiasm in my tone would keep her from doing anything stupid.
“Um, so, how have you been?” she asked as she stepped inside and closed the door behind her.
She walked over and sat down on the edge of my bed. From the way she was sticking her tits out in my direction she was offering herself up for whatever I might want to do. A couple weeks ago I would’ve been all over that. Not now. Things had changed for me.
“I’m sorry I haven’t been around since the night at the lake. I guess I don’t take rejection well,” she cooed.
“Guess not,” I grunted and kept my distance from her.
Becca Lynn reached down to take the hem of her tank top and started pulling it up.
“Don’t. Becca. I’m not interested. I told you before that you’re a nice girl and real pretty but just not my type.”
Becca ripped her shirt off anyway and threw it back on her bed. Her bare tits were nice but after having seen Eva’s they paled in comparison.
“I know about your girlfriend. I’m not going to tell anyone,” she purred as she reached down and began playing with her n**ples.
“What girlfriend?” I asked, confused.
Becca Lynn smiled brightly up at me, “The one you’ve grown up with all your life. Eva told me about her. “
Eva had told Becca I had a girlfriend? She’d used Low as the “girlfriend” so she wouldn’t actually be lying. I couldn’t keep the grin off my face. She hadn’t wanted Becca to come in here. She’d been jealous.
I wasn’t waiting on her to give in and come to me. This wasn’t about any more games. I wanted to talk to Eva, now. I needed her to tell me everything. Even if I already knew it I wanted her to tell me. It was time she stopped running and faced her fears.
“Where are you going?” Becca Lynn asked and I glanced back at her now standing in my room topless and confused.
“Put your shirt on Becca Lynn and run on along.”
I didn’t wait for her to throw something at me or call me names. I’d heard all that before. I just wanted to find Eva.
Opening the barn doors, I looked back up at the porch and found her still sitting there. Our gazes locked and I motioned toward the lake with a tilt of my head even though it was a mile back on the land. I waited until she nodded in agreement then I headed for the truck. It was time we got this shit straightened out.
As soon as Cage pulled away in the truck, Becca Lynn came stomping out of the barn with a snarl on her face. Relief washed over me. When she’d gone in there I’d let one bad scenario after another play in my head until Cage had come out of the barn doors like he was on a mission. Knowing he wanted me to meet him down at the lake made the butterflies in my stomach act up.
“He’s a complete ass. I don’t know why I even bother.” Becca Lynn stalked past the porch toward her car.
“You leaving?” I asked just to be sure before I followed Cage.
“Yeah, I got crap to do. I’ll call you,” Becca replied.
Once she spun out of the driveway, I jumped up and ran for the truck but I stopped before I reached the door. Turning around I stared at the garage. My Jeep sat in there unused. I’d taken off my ring. It was time I drove my Jeep. Slowly, I made my way toward the garage. I wasn’t sure if the memories would prove too much for me. I pressed the code on the door and it raised and rolled back. My silver Jeep was nice and clean. I knew my dad paid Jeremy to take it out once every other week to wash it and make sure it cranked. I pretended like I didn’t know this just because confronting them about it would just make me remember.
The need to crumple to the ground and weep was gone. I only had fond memories to hold close. I walked around and opened the driver side door. “Guess it’s time to drive you again,” I whispered as I climbed behind the wheel and cranked it up. Country music blared from the radio and I smiled thinking about Jeremy blaring the music so he could hear it while he cleaned it.
I backed out of the drive and headed down to the lake without any problem. No moments of intense pain and loss. Just me and my Jeep.
I saw Cage’s truck as soon as I turned the corner behind the old maple trees. He was sitting on the tailgate waiting for me. His eyes widened in surprise as I pulled up beside him. He’d never seen my Jeep. All he’d seen me drive was one of dad’s old farm trucks. I smiled at his expression then hopped down and walked over to him.
“Nice wheels,” he said when I stopped in front of him.
“Thanks,” I replied, before pulling myself up to sit on the end of the tailgate with him.
“In case you’re curious, Becca Lynn stripped off her top after I asked her not to. I never went near her and I walked out on her. She’s probably pissed.”
I couldn’t hold back my laugh. “Yeah, she is.”
“You think that’s funny?” Cage asked trying to sound stern but the teasing tone in his voice was unmistakable.
“Yes. I do.”
Cage grinned then looked down at the ground. I knew he was waiting on me. He may have asked me to come out here but it was because he was still waiting on answers. He deserved them.
“I was engaged,” I started and couldn’t find the right words.
Cage didn’t pressure me but waited silently beside me.
“Josh died in Baghdad a year and a half ago,” I managed to say without choking up.
Cage didn’t turn his head to look at me. There was no pity and no empty condolences. I wasn’t sure what I expected from him but his calm acceptance of this wasn’t it.
“I know. Jeremy told me the Friday before your drunken escapade.”
Jeremy had told him? Why?
“But you never said anything,” I said, trying to wrap my head around the fact Jeremy had betrayed me. He’d broken a confidence. He had known I didn’t want Cage to know.
“I wanted you to be the one to tell me.” He finally shifted his gaze off the ground and turned his head to look at me. There was no pity in his pale blue depths, just understanding. “It was your story. If you wanted me to know you’d tell me. Then when you didn’t after that day in the lake I was angry. Hurt. I’d hoped you understood that this wasn’t a game to me.”
He’d known all along. Never once had he treated me differently. He hadn’t handled me with kid gloves. I reached over and covered his hand with mine. He flipped his over and threaded his fingers through mine then squeezed.
“When you came to my room upset the other night. I knew why. I wanted to be the one to hold up while you cried and dealt with the coming change. But you wouldn’t let me in. I’ve never wanted in, Eva. Not until you.”
Swallowing was hard with the lump forming in my throat. I needed to tell him more. If we were going to have a summer fling, just be friends or whatever we were going to end up being the next two months I wanted him to know.
“He was my best friend. We’d been inseparable since we were five years old. He was my first kiss. My first date.” I felt the familiar burn in my nose as my eyes filled with tears. I had to do this. I had to share this with him. “We were going to grow old together. But he didn’t come home.” Cage released his hold on my hand and slipped his arm around my shoulder pulling me up against his side. I laid my head on his chest and let the last tears I knew I would cry over Josh Beasley fall.
We didn’t talk. He didn’t ask me for more than I was willing to share. Instead, he just held me. His hand gently rubbed up and down my arm and he placed kisses on my head from time to time. Other than that, we just sat there in silence.
After I’d left Cage at the lake I came back up to the house and went to my room. The guitar in the corner sat in its case reminding me daily that it was once a part of me too. I’d managed to take off the ring. I’d conquered driving the Jeep. I wanted to play again. I closed my bedroom door and walked over to my bed directly across from the guitar case. The stickers that Josh had bought me over the years covered every square inch of the black case. I’d hated the black case when Daddy had brought it home. When I’d outgrown my first guitar he’d gone to buy me a new one. I’d wanted a cool case. The simple black case had been so boring. Josh had come over that night to see my new guitar and I’d told him how unhappy I was with the ugly case. The next day he’d shown up with a couple of funny bumper stickers and put them on the case. I’d laughed and told him it was perfect. Over the next couple of years he’d brought me stickers from places he went, or just random ones he’d come across and thought I’d like.
This was going to be the hardest hurdle but I’d lost so much when Josh had died. I wanted to get some of it back. My music was something I missed. Reaching for the case, I picked it up and laid it down on the bed beside me. Opening the lid slowly my heart picked up its pace as I took in the sight of the smooth wood and familiar pick stuck in the strings. The notebook where all my songs were written was tucked safely under the neck. I wouldn’t play those songs. Not yet. Small steps.
With reverence I took my old friend out of its velvet lined case. Tonight I would just tune it. That would be enough for now. Holding it in my arms, I closed my eyes at the familiar feeling. It was as if I’d come home. My eyes stung with unshed tears as the emotion that came with being able to hold it in my arms again sank in.
I began tuning it as I strummed each string. The simple melody surrounded me. The world around me fell away. Just like before, it was just me and my music. Every emotion I’d held inside over the past year and a half began to bleed out into the music. I played through my sorrow, my anger, my bitterness, my forgiveness and finally the hope that was slowly taking root inside me.
My out-of-practice fingers began to numb and I slowed to a stop. The wetness on my face surprised me. They weren’t sad tears. Not this time. This time they were happy tears. Maybe there would be a tomorrow after all.
The sound of clapping startled me and I opened my eyes to see my daddy standing in the doorframe. His eyes were watery and a smile tilted up each corner of his mouth. “That’s my girl,” he said in a husky voice thick with emotion. “You don’t know how good it was to come inside and hear that sound.” He pressed his lips together tightly and inhaled deeply through his nose. “I look forward to hearing more of that.” He nodded once in approval and then headed on down the hall to his room.