Two Months Later
I’d been unsettled since the debacle in Sunset Valley with Jeff’s family. My hurried departure created more problems than I’d cleared up. I thought of talking Jeff into eloping in Starlight Shores. That would solve a lot of problems.
A phone call early on a Monday morning, my only day off in three weeks, woke me. The exchange was local, but I couldn’t imagine who was calling me. My list of friends in the Shores was short; Jared, my boss, and Evangeline, a co-worker. I rolled over and answered the call on the third ring.
“Is this Destiny Farmer?”
“It is…” I said with hesitation.
“Miss Farmer, this is Marta at the Bridal Boutique on the Los Sueños strip. We have a package waiting for you. From the invoice, it appears to be a wedding gown. If you require adjustments, our on-staff seamstress will be delighted to alter it for you.”
Well, if this wasn’t the oddest phone call ever. “I’ll be down later to settle it. Are you in the shop across from the Flying V?”
“That’s us!” Marta said with a smile in her voice. “We’re open until four this afternoon.”
“Thank you.” I pressed End on the phone and flopped back into bed. I guess that settles my wedding gown problem.
After a shower and a quick breakfast, I hopped into the car and drove the short distance to the boutique. A bell on the door rang when I swung it open. An auburn-haired lady stood to greet me.
“You must be Destiny! The gentleman on the phone said to lookout for a gorgeous redhead.”
“I am,” I said and blushed.
“I’m Marta. We spoke on the phone this morning. I’ll get the gown for you!”
I nodded. “Thank you.”
She returned a few minutes later with a package, boxed up and ready to open. “Here it is! There’s no indication of the contents. We’ll find out together!” Marta removed the dress to reveal the form-fitting gown Audrey preferred, in the off-white shade I despised.
I stood staring at the gown, marked with a ‘Paid’ tag, in utter disbelief. “Oh, it’s that one…” I muttered.
“Is there something wrong?”
I gave a deep sigh. “I guess this happens when I leave my decisions to someone else.”
Marta cocked her head. “I’m sure I don’t understand.”
“My future mother-in-law liked this dress when I was up there a couple of months ago. However, this dress wasn’t the one I liked. She sent it in off-white to assert herself.” An assertion I didn’t much appreciate, either. “I can’t imagine Audrey would have paid for it. Do you know who did?”
She shook her head. “The invoice only says, ‘J Dean’.”
“That’s what I figured.” Jeff’s generosity knew no boundaries. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall for that discussion with his mother.
“Since you’re here, let’s see how it fits and check for needed adjustments.” She didn’t give me a choice; Marta ushered me back to the fitting room.
Getting undressed in front of strangers was becoming a habit, it seemed. Marta looked unfazed as I stepped out of my blue jeans and pulled my sweater up over my head. She had me step into the gown and shimmied it up around my hips. It fit the same as it did in Sunset Valley. The flare of the skirt around the knees was missing, however.
“It’s very plain,” I said. “I’m not fond of this in off-white.”
Marta fussed with the skirt, the waistline and the bodice. “It just needs a crinoline, or I can install a bit of tulle to make it flare. It’s not a problem.”
I pulled my necklace from under the dress and set it on the fabric. Not even diamonds and gold could dress this thing up. I hoped the bridesmaids’ dresses Audrey chose were more colorful. Then I had a crazy, devious idea. “Is it possible to change this for the winter white tone I saw in Sunset Valley?”
“It’s likely I could, yes. Why did she send it in off-white, do you think?”
I rolled my eyes. “Because I’m not a ‘good girl’, according to my future mother-in-law. She seems to think I should be punished. Joke’s on her, though, if I show up at the wedding in white.”
“Psh, people don’t wait for marriage anymore. That’s so archaic!” Marta said, and though I disagreed with her, I let it slide. “If you desire to wear white at your wedding, my dear, then we will make sure you have a white gown.”
“The white is more striking, but nothing could save this gown. It’s dreadfully plain.” My hands smoothed the fabric over my body. I wrinkled my nose and shook my head. “I wish this would have been the satin gown instead. It was much prettier.” The satin dress was about as close as I could have gotten to my dream gown. I couldn’t have afforded that one, either.
Marta moved in closer to me, placed her lips next to my ear, and whispered to me, “This gown is gorgeous on the right person. You’re the right person.” She backed away and straightened my posture. “I’ll call you at the same number when the white one comes in. Deal?”
“Mmhmm. But hang onto this one, just in case the white isn’t available.” I’m not sure why I told her that. It sounded like something Audrey would do. I’d learned to not underestimate a vengeful woman with boatloads of money at her disposal. She’d win hands down every time.
“I can do that!” She slipped the gown back down over my hips, and I stepped out of it. “By the way, who is ‘J Dean’?”
“That’s my fiancé, Jeff. I haven’t seen him for a couple of weeks. We were supposed to meet in Sunset Valley for his spring break. The spat with his family stopped all of that.”
Marta hung the gown back on its hanger and fixed it. “Far be it from me to stick my nose where it doesn’t belong…” she said. Very tricky! Fishing for an answer. I chuckled under my breath.
“It’s that whole ‘good girl’ thing. They humiliated me at the supper table when I was there. I said some unfortunate things, and I can’t face them again. Not yet, anyway.”
“Well, I doubt they’ll be angry for long, Destiny. You’re much too personable to dislike.”
“My future mother-in-law might disagree with you.”
“Well, then it’s her loss! Besides, you’re marrying her son, not her!” Marta smiled and flung open the curtain as I slipped my sweater over my head.
I ignored her comment. With Audrey’s attempts to control me from a thousand miles away, it was apparent I’d be marrying Jeff’s whole family. “So, a week for the white gown?”
“Yep! I have your number handy, so I’ll just jot it into your customer file. Someone will call you when we have it.”
“Thank you,” I said. I left the shop wearing a Cheshire cat grin. Destiny-1, Audrey-0.
Ten Days Later
I woke up in a cold sweat, nauseated beyond measure. On unsteady feet, I ran to the bathroom; I just made it before I vomited into the toilet. It was my third morning in a row of feeling terrible.
Though I wasn’t ready to stand, I made my way to the sink to splash some cool water on my face. I still felt queasy. My reflection in the mirror was almost unrecognizable. I grabbed my towel to pat my face dry when the nausea hit without warning, causing me to get sick on the floor. Just what I needed was a lengthy, disgusting cleanup when I was already ill.
An hour later, I crawled back to bed feeling weak and exhausted. This would be my third consecutive day calling out sick. Jared would not be pleased, and neither would my meager bank account. I dialed his cell phone, hoping to reach him before he left for the coffeehouse.
“This is Jared,” he said. The background noise suggested that he was en route to the coffeehouse. Drat!
“Jared,” I croaked out. “This is Destiny…” I begged myself to not hurl. It was a battle I was losing fast.
“Well, you don’t sound good. I already know why you’re calling. Take the day and rest.”
“I think I have food poisoning or something.” Though Jared couldn’t see me, I shrugged anyway. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Just get better, okay?”
As I was apt to do, I nodded, assuming he could see me. “Thanks. I’ll try to make it tomorrow.”
“If you’re sick, you can’t work with food. It’s okay, I promise. You’ll have a job when you’re well.”
A half-smile crossed my face, along with another wave of nausea. “I gotta go!” I said, hung up the phone, and ran for the bathroom. Puking was getting old.
After a shower a couple of hours later, I was feeling better. I was resting on the loveseat in the living room when my phone rang. It was Jeff’s cell number.
“Hi Jeff,” I croaked out. Was that really my voice? I sounded like I’d eaten ten pounds of gravel.
“Hi babyluv. Are you still sick?”
I groaned in pain. Every muscle hurt from my head to my toes. “Yes. I’m tired of barfing.”
Jeff muttered something under his breath, but I couldn’t make out what he’d said. “Des, is there any chance at all you could be—” He stopped short.
My heart stopped for a moment. Pregnant?! “Uh…” Please no!
“Oh my gosh, Des! Can you get a test? A lot would change if you’re pregnant.”
“What would it change? We’re still getting married, aren’t we?”
“It might change the when and where. I mean, I still need to graduate, but I’ll be coming to the Shores after grad if you’re pregnant, and we’ll buy a bigger house together.”
I remembered with clarity the burning handprint Barb left on my face. “No. I mean, I don’t think I’m pregnant. And you will not move here. Barb made it very clear—”
“Oh, screw Barb, honey. If you’re pregnant, you and the baby will need me. Are you getting a test, Des?”
I chuckled at his hopefulness. “I guess I’ll have to go get one now, huh?”
“Okay, okay,” I said, laughing. “I hope I don’t barf in my car.”
“In my nightstand, there are a few candies, Des. I keep peppermints near the bed for when I have a dry mouth. Take them and suck on them. Maybe that will dull the queasiness so you can grab a pregnancy test.”
He sure was persistent. “Okay, Jeff. You win. I just need to slip my boots on, and I’m out the door.”
“Be careful in the snow, babyluv.”
“I will. I’ll call you when I’m back home. We’ll do this together.”
“It’s a date! Talk to you soon.”
“Yes, you will. I love you, Jeff.” He sounded so excited, I almost hoped I was pregnant. For a moment, at least. A baby now would be disastrous for my non-existent singing career.
“I love you, too. Our lives could change today. I can’t wait!”
We ended the phone call so I could drive to the corner store, which was a short five-minute trip from the penthouse. The snow that had fallen just days before had already melted. The trek wouldn’t be as treacherous as I thought.
While I was at the store, I grabbed another bag of mints for Jeff to replace the ones I’d taken from his nightstand. With just a pregnancy test, a bag of mints, and a sports drink, the cashier eyed me, smiled, and winked at me.
“Congratulations,” he said.
“Oh, I’m not pregnant. I’m just doing the test to satisfy my fiancé.” I didn’t feel pregnant, so I decided I wasn’t. The clerk nodded, likely thankful I wasn’t his girlfriend. We completed the sale; I thanked him and walked back to the car. The drive home was quick and uneventful. I parked the car in the garage and pressed the button for the elevator.
Tiffany, the annoying neighbor across the hall, entered the elevator on the first floor. She eyed me, grabbed the sack I held, and removed the contents. She held the pregnancy test over her head, out of my reach. The amusement she wore on her face was obvious. I was in no mood for her games.
“So, that hottie boyfriend of yours got you in trouble, eh? I hope he sticks around, but he won’t. I wonder what your kid’s gonna look like?” She kept babbling while she fiddled with the box, which I snatched from her while it was within my grasp.
“My life is none of your business. I’d appreciate it if you kept your nose out.” She could keep the mints if she wanted them. But that test was mine.
“Well, well! Aren’t we being bitchy today?” She sneered at me. “You’re preggers, hillbilly. That, or you’re naturally bitchy.” She shoved me back against the elevator wall and got in my face. “Let’s get one thing straight, you redneck hick. I don’t want to hear your pathetic urchin bawling at two in the morning. So find a way to muzzle it, or I’ll file noise complaints!” She threw the bag at me, which still had Jeff’s mints inside, and hit me in the forehead. I bent to retrieve it from the floor when the elevator stopped with a jerk. The sudden motion nauseated me. Without warning, I vomited on her coat and shoes.
“I’m sorry!” I held back another wave and scrambled towards the door. She stood in the elevator, looking exasperated and covered in peppermint-scented puke. I locked the door behind me and ran to the bathroom to vomit again.
Ten minutes later, I felt a little better. I opened a mint and laid on the loveseat, waiting for my stomach to settle. My cell phone rang with a familiar tone.
“Hi, Jeff,” I said, and then snickered. “Don’t be surprised if the super calls you about the elevator needing to be cleaned.”
“That doesn’t sound good. What happened, Des?”
“Tiffany got into the elevator and started picking on me. Long story short, I barfed on her. I couldn’t help it, though.” Jeff howled on the other end of the line, and I giggled, too.
“I hope you ruined her day,” he said, gasping for breath.
“Oh, I’m sure I did. I won’t say she had it coming, but she took the bag with the test in it. After she finished threatening me about the baby, she threw the bag at me. I bent to pick it up, and the elevator stopped short. It made me sick. Jeff, I couldn’t help it.”
“I’ll happily pay that fine!” He continued to laugh. “How did she threaten you? She won’t do that when I’m around you.”
“She doesn’t want to hear a baby crying at two in the morning.” I wished Jeff could hear my eyes rolling.
“We won’t have to worry about that, honey. Before the baby comes, we’ll have a house in the western hills.”
“What’s so great about the western hills?” It wasn’t the first time he’d talked about relocating there.
“Again, prime location. That neighborhood sits in the mountain foothills, making it desirable for the well-to-do crowd. There are some properties along the shore that are nice. One is on the market now. I have my eye out, just in case.”
“You’re on the ball,” I said. The paper sack crinkled in my hands as I reached for another peppermint. “I replaced your candies, by the way. That’s what I was picking up when I got sick.”
“You have the test then?”
Once again, I nodded. “Mmhmm. Do you want me to go take it now, or should I wait?”
“What do you think, Des?”
“I’m going.” I stood and walked to the bathroom next to my bedroom, listening to Jeff chatter about a baby. He was so excited. My feelings were more mixed. I was too young to start a family.
Jeff stayed on the phone with me, listening to everything I was doing. He’d heard worse, but I was shy about peeing while I talked to him. He must have sensed it, because he excused himself for a moment, giving me the break I needed to do the test. I had it finished and capped before he returned.
“Did you get it done, babyluv?”
“Yes. Now we just wait five minutes.”
“How late are you? Your period, I mean.”
I hadn’t thought about it. My period came when it came. I never paid that close attention to it. “I don’t know if I am.”
“Really? I thought all women kept religious track of that thing and shared it with their girlfriends!”
“Not this one.” I guess I needed to find more female friends. Polly and I came of age together, and we never spoke of it once. I didn’t realize menstrual cycles were a common topic of discussion among mature women. Interesting. While he chattered on the other end, I read the box’s instructions. I was looking for a single blue line, but hoping for two, for Jeff’s sake. He seemed genuinely thrilled.
Much like I had in the hours before Jeff’s proposal, I fantasized about our first child together. Would I be a mama before I was a wife? I was trying to remember why I had an issue with it when I heard Jeff’s voice calling my name.
“Huh?” His voice roused me from my daydream. “I’m sorry. I was lost in thought.”
“It’s been six minutes. Why am I still waiting?!” His voice teased with excitement and anticipation.
I laughed at his impatience. “Okay, okay!” I picked up the test and took the cover between my fingers. “Are you ready?”
“I was ready an hour ago, Des. You’re killing me here.”
Nodding—as though he could see me—I snickered again. “Here goes nothing!” My hands gave the cover a gentle tug. Please be two lines…
My eyes popped open, ready for whatever news the test would reveal. It took moments for my eyes to focus and my brain to accept the reality.
One blue line. Oh no…
My breath hitched in my throat, and tears of bitter disappointment stung my eyes. Jeff heard my emotion and misinterpreted it. “Des,” he said, “we’re going to be okay. We’ll elope in the Shores when I graduate, and everything will work out—”
A single sob wracked my body. If I was praying for a negative test, why did it hurt so badly? “Jeff,” I said with a trembling voice, “I’m not pregnant.”
He sighed in disappointment, and then I heard his soft, loving words in my ear. “I’m so sorry, babyluv.”
“I’m sorry, too, Jeff.”
“Someday, this will seem like a blip on the radar. I can’t wait to see that first positive test with you, sweetheart.”
“Me too.” Tears were coming fast. “I wish you were here right now.”
“Me too, Des. I miss you so much, it hurts.”
“One day closer to our forever and always,” I squeaked out. Damned tears.
“One day closer,” he said in agreement. “I love you.”
Those words brought more emotion. “I love you back. Jeff, I gotta go. I feel sick again.” That was a lie, unless being heartsick counted. I only wanted to cry.
“Feel better, sweetheart. I’ll talk to you soon.”
“Yeah.” We disconnected the call. I got up from the loveseat, walked into my bedroom, and flopped onto the bed, heartbroken.
Three days later, I was still nauseated. My doctor did a blood test to check for an earlier pregnancy than the at-home test would detect. While we waited for the results, I sat at home sipping ginger ale and sucking on Jeff’s peppermints. I’d need to replace the bag if the nausea didn’t abate soon.
On the fourth day, I returned to work at the coffeehouse. All the time I’d taken was unpaid sick time. I couldn’t afford to sit out one more day, despite Jeff’s assurance that I wouldn’t starve to death. He said I was his responsibility. I wrinkled my nose at his inference that I couldn’t care for myself. In this case, however, I wouldn’t fight him.
I was still weak, so I took breaks more often than I should have. On one break, my phone alerted me to two new voice messages. I recognized the numbers; one was the bridal shop across the street from work, the other, my doctor’s office. I dialed my voicemail and listened.
Miss Farmer, this is Paula at Doctor White’s office. She wanted me to inform you the pregnancy test was negative. If you are still having nausea and vomiting, please call our office for an appointment. Thank you.
Great. It felt like insult on top of injury. I hoped the call from the bridal shop brought better news.
Destiny, this is Marta at the Bridal Boutique. I’m sorry to tell you I couldn’t get the dress you wanted in winter white. I checked every supplier I have, and each time I got the same answer. Let’s schedule you so I can get the off-white one fitted to you. I’ll see you soon.
Why was I not surprised? I hadn’t seen Audrey since January, and she was still getting on my last nerve. She was the only thing about Jeff that gave me pause about marrying into his family. I was finding out how petty and vindictive she really was.
Jared’s soft tap on my shoulder brought me back to reality. “Are you okay, Destiny?”
I wiped tears from my eyes. “Yeah. I’m just disappointed. The gown I was hoping for wasn’t available in white.” I left out the news regarding the pregnancy test. Jared didn’t need the details.
He pulled a chair out, sat down, and patted the one next to him. “Your wedding dress?”
“Yeah. Jeff’s mother is manipulating it, I’m afraid. It’s a popular gown. Why isn’t it available in white? I don’t get it.”
Jared laughed. “It isn’t scarlet red, is it?”
“No,” I said and snickered. “I suppose I should be happy it’s only off white.”
“It can always be worse,” he said with a smile.
I stared at my closet, searching for a suitable dress for Jeff’s graduation ceremony. He would be honored for his musical achievements with his grunge band, The Rock J Experience. Though he was a musician first, he somehow became the frontman of his band. Their music wasn’t my style, but Jeff was a talented musician and vocalist.
The rest of my bag was packed and ready to go. I was stuck on this one item I needed. I had a dress in mind, but I couldn’t find it. In the back of my head, I could hear Jeff’s teasing about packing my entire wardrobe. Today, he’d be close to correct, too.
The intercom rang from downstairs; it was my ride to the airport. I spoke into the voice panel, letting him know I’d be right down. What I’d already packed would have to do. I grabbed my backpack, the one suitcase, and locked the door behind me as I left.
I was excited about returning to campus. After Jeff’s graduation, I’d have no reason to return. The driver, who waited patiently for me at the sidewalk, put my suitcase into the trunk.
“Yes, Ma’am. Which terminal?”
I checked my ticket. “Terminal A, please.”
“I’ll get you there safe and sound!” the driver said, a smile in his voice as he took obvious pride in his vocation. “I’ve given rides to lots of folks, ma’am, but I’ve not heard an accent like yours before. Mind if I ask where you’re from?” He started the cab’s engine and shifted into drive, the cab lurching forward onto the Los Sueños strip.
“Appaloosa Plains. I’ve only been in the city for a year.”
“It’s a unique accent; it makes you stand out from everyone else around here.”
I was pretty sure he was flirting with me, and I felt my cheeks flush. “Thank you. Few people like it,” I replied.
He glanced at me in the rear-view mirror with a wink and a brief smile. “That’s their problem, isn’t it?”
“Well said. You’re awfully wise for a cabbie, Mister…?” I left my question hanging, wondering if he’d tell me his name.
“Atwood. Arthur Atwood at your service!” he announced. “And whom do I have the pleasure of driving today?” He peered back up at me via the mirror. His eyes were a penetrating blue, and his hair color nearly matched his skin tone. His accent was not local, either.
“Destiny. Destiny Farmer,” I said.
“Nice to meet you, Destiny Farmer. What brings you to our fair city? Or, perhaps, more correctly, why are you leaving it?” The cab stopped at a light next to the Hoi Polloi Center, a stadium and concert venue close to the city limits.
“Well, I’ve wanted to be a singer since I was a little girl. Living in the Shores is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. As for leaving it, well, I’m going to meet my fiancé. He’s graduating from Sim State University on Thursday. I’m so proud of him.”
“Ahh! That explains the rock on your finger, then!” Arthur chuckled. “All the good ones are taken! So—are you any good?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Singing. You said you wished to be a singer. Are you any good?”
I shrugged. “If my success in the city is any indication of my talent, I’d say no.”
“Why not belt out a note or two? Show off a little! Let me judge for myself…”
Oh, I don’t think so! I thought to myself. “Here?”
“Why not, ragazza?”
Ra-whatta? “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
Arthur chuckled. “It’s my native language. It means, ‘girl.’ I’m from Monte Vista.”
“Where is that?”
“A small town in coastal Italy. I remember little about it, but my papà spoke only Italian in our home. My sister and I are bilingual.”
I didn’t know what to say. I noticed the diamond and gold band he wore, and wondered why a married man was flirting with me. Or perhaps I was just imagining that.
“You got quiet, ragazza,” he said, breaking an awkward silence. “Was it something I did? Do you not appreciate de Italian man?” he joked, speaking in an Italian caricature.
That got a chuckle out of me.
“Oh, I appreciate the Italian man,” I joked back, trying to replicate his accent, “but I don’t know if the Italian man’s wife would appreciate what a flirt he is…”
That comment garnered a huge laugh from Arthur, far louder than I expected, but very infectious as it made me giggle, too.
“Oh, bella ragazza giovane, all Italian men flirt! It’s just a part of who we are! As for my wife, e, sì, lei non approverebbe, but she and I don’t see eye-to-eye these days. I’m an aspiring musician, like you with your singing, but she thinks I’ve played around long enough, and it’s time to get a ‘real’ job.” He slapped the cab’s steering wheel with the heel of his hand.
I had no idea what to say to him as a follow up—I understood little of what he’d uttered—so I just fiddled with my hair, a nervous tic I picked up from Mama. I turned the conversation back to music. “How come you’re not in Bridgeport? I hear musicians go there to start their careers.”
“Papà had business in Starlight Shores, so we immigrated here when I was a boy. I’d give anything to make a name for myself without his influence or help. Not to brag, but I’m a bit of a prodigy. I mastered Papà’s violin at four years old. I know I’m meant for more than existing here and working mediocre jobs. What will success look like? I don’t know.”
I knew his pain intimately. “This resonates more than you realize.”
“And what are you doing that is not your dream, Destiny Farmer?”
“I’m a barista at the Flying V Coffeehouse on the strip. There were some problems at the park—” I stopped short on purpose. I didn’t know Arthur from anyone.
“Ah, yes, the park. Every starving artist gets bullied there at least once. It’s almost a rite of passage into stardom.” Arthur mentioned it casually. To me, it was a much more traumatic memory.
“The mob attacked and threatened me; they took my guitar and destroyed it. They made it abundantly clear that I would be next if I went back.” I shuddered at the memory, which felt like yesterday. “As far as I know, it’s still in the pond broken into bits.”
Now Arthur was silent. “I’m sorry. I know not what to say, Destiny. The people at the park have never been aggressive towards me. That must have been horrifying.”
“It was. I’ve given up pursuing my career until after our wedding in October. I’ll be almost twenty-one then, and I can sign with Sing-A-Gram.”
We were at a stoplight on the outskirts of town; he turned and looked straight at me. “You’re only twenty years old? Wow! You carry yourself as a much older person,” he said, his voice filled with genuine amazement. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if he complimented or insulted me.
He gave a hearty chuckle. “It was a compliment, ragazza. Many, MANY girls—women—your age are immature and flighty, but you’re grounded and definitely know what you want.”
“I’ve been through a lot more than most women my age, Arthur. Both my parents passed away when I was only eighteen years old. I’ve been on my own since, but I’ve learned a lot.”
“I’m sorry to hear. My papà is getting older; I’m blessed he is still with me. My mamma stayed in Italy with my oldest brother. Since we left, I haven’t seen them. I don’t remember her.”
I couldn’t imagine growing up without a mother. “That must have been tough.”
Arthur shrugged his shoulders. “Papà always had someone around to care for me and my sister. He was what they call a playboy, living the life of a musician. He was always on the road, a new lady on his arm every week.”
“Is that—the life you desire?” I couldn’t help myself. Maybe this was what Jeff desired, but couldn’t reveal.
“Oh, no, not at all. Fame and the money would be nice; I don’t wish to be a playboy. Papà can have that.”
The cab veered off the highway onto the exit ramp. We were minutes away from the airport. It was the fastest ride I’d ever taken. I grabbed my backpack so I could fish out my plane ticket. “We’re here already?”
“Sì,” he said. “I enjoyed talking with you, Destiny Farmer.”
“And I with you, Arthur Atwood.”
He pulled up to the terminal and exited the cab, opened my door, and held his hand to me. This was new and rather unconventional. “Allow me.” I blushed and placed my hand into his.
“It was my pleasure, ma’am.” He flourished, placing a small kiss on the back of my hand. He then retrieved my case from the trunk and placed it on the sidewalk. “Would you mind if I—” he said, and then stopped. “No, never mind.”
“I was going to ask you for your phone number. It would be nice to talk to someone else from time to time who isn’t living their dream…”
I shook my head. “That’s not a great idea, Arthur, I’m sorry. My fiancé is protective of me, and I don’t want to cause problems.”
“I understand,” he said. He bowed to me as I stepped up onto the sidewalk that led into the airport. “I wish you luck on your marriage and your dreams. Perhaps the fates will be kind enough to allow our paths to cross again someday.”
“I hope so,” I lied. No, I don’t, I thought to myself. He was charming and very handsome. But Arthur, the cab driver, was not my type.
At the airport near campus, Jeff greeted me at my gate with a rose and a kiss. I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him back. How I missed him!
“Hi Jeff,” I said. “It’s so good to see you!”
“We aren’t going back to the dorm, Des. I moved out early so we could have some privacy before Mom and Dad arrive on Wednesday night.”
“Privacy is always good.” I kissed him again and took his hand.
“You’ve gotten more beautiful since I saw you last.”
That was usually his tell. I laughed when I nodded at him. He gave me a sly wink as we walked toward baggage claim.
The hotel he booked was a few miles from the airport, and forty minutes off-campus. It wasn’t extravagant, but comfortable and homey. Painted in pastels—which honestly looked out of place in a northern town—the room had contemporary furniture in light stains, brass fixtures, and Damask bed linens. Instead of having wall-to-wall carpeting, the floor was finished with wood laminate.
“I thought of you when I chose this one, Des. I wanted you to feel at home.”
“Thank you, Jeff. You didn’t have to cater to me, you know.”
“I never have to do anything.” He was undressing me with his eyes.
I walked to where he stood and gave him a passionate kiss. “Let’s not wait another moment.”
The next day, I met Jeff’s band members, all of them graduating with Jeff on Thursday. That was my first surprise on this trip. The bass player was a beautiful blonde girl named Valerie. Why didn’t he tell me about her? I swallowed hard when I shook her hand.
“So you’re Jeff’s girl!” she said. “Pleasure to meet you!”
I felt insecure. “Nice to meet you, too.”
“He talks about you ALL the time!” She acted as though we’d known each other all our lives. “I can’t wait to get to know you better.” Valerie had an annoying, twittery laugh reminiscent of a girl almost half her age. I suddenly understood what Arthur meant.
“Funny, he has said nothing about you.” I wasn’t happy that he waited until now to spring this on me. How did he expect I’d feel?
“Well, don’t worry about Jeff. He adores you. You’re so lucky!”
“Excuse me a moment,” I said and walked to the ladies’ room. Inside, I paced back and forth, angry that he said nothing about Valerie. I heard the others gathering outside while I stewed. What was I so worried about, anyway? I was confident that Jeff loved only me.
I fixed my hair and splashed some water on my face, patted it dry, and walked from the restroom. Jeff stood there with a smile brighter than the sun. “There’s my babyluv!” he said, beaming. I walked into his arms and held him close, ashamed of myself that I’d gotten bitter. “Are you okay?” he whispered into my ear.
Nodding, I answered him. “Yeah, I was just a little surprised by Valerie. You never mentioned you had a female bassist.”
“I didn’t?” When I shook my head, he held me closer. “Oh, honey, I’m sorry. I thought I had.”
“No, it isn’t, Des. I want you to trust me and I never want to give you a reason to doubt—”
“Break it up!” Vic said as he walked into the studio. “You need to get a room, Jeff.”
“Got one. What’s your point?” he said back. “Come, babyluv. Sing with us.”
It was the first time Jeff had invited me to sing with him and his band, and I was excited. “What are we playing?”
“I have a surprise for you, Des.” His face softened as he directed the band members to play. Imagine my shock when it was Daddy’s favorite song, the one I’d written years before. How did he know it? He took my hand and pulled me to the microphone. “Sing with me, sweetheart.”
His arrangement of the song was beautiful, the first time I’d ever heard it with full musical accompaniment. He’d rewritten the vocals as a duet; it was better than my original song. Jeff handed the sheet music to me and sang his part first.
Our voices blended together; his voice sang in harmony with mine, and it sounded so perfect, so melodic. Every part of the song was flawless. By the time the band finished, I was a mess, weeping with joy. What a beautiful gift Jeff and his band had given me!
Jeff leaned close and whispered into my ear. “I hope you don’t mind that I arranged this. I have the full song written with this arrangement, but you don’t have to use my lyrics. Yours are miles better than mine, anyway.”
“No, you did a fantastic job on that song, Jeff. It’s…” My voice caught in my throat again. “I love it.”
“Good. I was going to wait until our wedding, but I couldn’t.”
“I’m happy you didn’t. Are you going to record it? You should.”
Jeff shook his head and scowled. “We’re not stealing your daddy’s favorite song, Des. I arranged it for you to take back to the Shores with you. I want you to have your first break. We all think this song is your ticket to the big time.”
Jeff had rendered me speechless many times before, but never had he given me a gift of this magnitude. Granted, it was my song, but his adjustments made it so much better. “I think we should record this together, Jeff, when you get to the Shores next month.”
He pulled away from me, his eyes shifted away from mine. “That’s the thing, Des. I’m not going to the Shores with you. Not yet, anyway.” And there it was: surprise number two.
My eyes filled with tears. “You’re… what?”
“I’m sorry, Des. I didn’t know how else to tell you. The band is starting out in Bridgeport.”
“What about us?”
“I’ll fly as often as I can to see you, I promise. Des, we will make this work. You have my word.”
First Valerie, and now Bridgeport. I was almost afraid to see Audrey and Julian on Wednesday night. “I believe you,” was what I told him. In my heart, it felt like déjà vu.
Five Months Later
“Des, what are you doing this weekend?” Jeff’s voice was louder and happier than usual.
“I have Saturday off, then I work nine straight days at the coffeehouse. My final gown fitting is Tuesday.” The wedding was two weeks away.
“So, you need to be back in the Shores by Tuesday?”
I laughed. “That’s what you got from what I said?”
“I can’t help it. I have some exciting news, and I want to do it up right, Des. You’re coming to Bridgeport to meet me.”
“You’re going to get me fired, Jeff.”
“Nonsense, babyluv. Besides, you’re almost my wife. You won’t have to work at the coffee shop much longer.”
“You have a point, I guess. I like my job, though.” It wasn’t helping me further on the road to stardom, but it paid the bills. Barely.
“I’ll send the private jet for you on Saturday morning. I’ll have a hotel room, and you’ll come right here.” He ignored what I’d said about my job. “Then on Saturday night, we’re going to the most exclusive restaurant in Bridgeport.”
“What kind of news do you have, Jeff?”
“Oh Des, it’s life-changing! I can’t wait to tell you!”
“I guess I’ll let Jared know I’ll be back to work on Wednesday.” He would not be happy with me. I presumed he allowed me so much leniency because I was his star employee, though, more time off wouldn’t please him.
“I promise you, babyluv, it will all be worth it.”
“I can’t wait to see you.” For that reason alone, the trip would be more than worth it.
“We’ll meet on Saturday morning. I love you, Destiny.”
“I love you, too.”
Jeff’s private jet met me at the Shores’ municipal airport early on Saturday morning. I had one bag and a garment bag which held the ivory gown he bought for me in Sunset Valley. I half expected Jeff to be on the jet waiting for me, but I would make this trip alone.
“Good morning, Miss Destiny,” his personal assistant, Brooke, greeted me. “Mister Jeff is looking forward to seeing you. The flight will depart shortly; our airtime is almost two hours.”
“Thank you, Brooke.” I sat back in the posh leather seat and buckled myself into it. My backpack was in the seat next to mine. I reached into it and grabbed my notebook. The music to the song I wrote for our wedding was almost finished; I planned to sing it to Jeff during the reception. There were a few more parts to compose, and I’d mail the finished arrangement to his band members. We had just one rehearsal before the wedding. I hoped everything would go off without a hitch.
Two hours passed in what felt like the blink of an eye, but the time was productive. In my hands, I held the completed music score and lyrics for my song, and I was excited. It was a gift that Jeff would never forget, and one he’d cherish. Brooke let me know we were close to landing, so I stashed the notebook back into my backpack.
The jet taxied to a black stretch limousine waiting for my arrival. I walked down the steps to the tarmac to see Jeff’s smiling face waiting for me. I picked up my pace; by the time I reached the bottom step, I was running to meet him.
“Hi babyluv!” he said, picking me up and kissing me. “I’ve missed you.”
“I missed you, too,” I said back, enjoying the feel of his arms around me. It had been too long since I’d seen him.
“Oh, Des, you’re going to love tonight. I promise.” His blue eyes sparkled with mischief, something at which he excelled. “But no hints, so don’t try to pull anything from me!”
“Now, would I do that?” I glanced at him, a smile on my face.
Jeff kissed my nose. “You would, and I’ve seen you do it!”
The limousine brought us to a hotel with an elegant penthouse on top of the highest skyscraper in Bridgeport. The view was incredible. From the rooftop platform, we could see the city in its entirety. He wrapped his arms around me, pointing out all the landmarks and interesting facts about each of them. It was clear he was thriving in Bridgeport. Who was I to ask him to leave it?
“What do you think, babyluv? Isn’t this exquisite?”
“Jeff, it’s gorgeous.”
He pointed toward the bridge that went to the hills. “All the affluent people live there, Des. We’ll have a home up there someday.”
I was much less impressed with money than he was. We could live in a one-bedroom house and it wouldn’t matter, as long as we were together. “Are you going to let me in on your big secret?”
“In good time, sweetheart. What did you bring to wear tonight?”
“I only have one gown, silly.” I kissed him and stuck my hands in his back pockets. His surprised expression was priceless.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” he teased playfully.
“And why not?”
“Because now I need you.” He looked with longing, leaned in, and whispered. “Let’s go make a baby, Des.”
I bit my bottom lip. “He’s going to look like you.”
A few hours later, we were wrapped up in each other, engaged in sweet pillow talk, when his phone rang. He picked up his cell and looked at it. “I have to take this, Des. It’s my agent.” He got up and walked out into the suite’s main living area. I took my time getting dressed, a fresh, sweet memory in the back of my mind. I sure loved that man.
Twenty minutes later, he walked back into the bedroom, dressed and looking conflicted. He grabbed hold of me and held me to his chest; his grip was almost too tight. “What’s wrong, Jeff?”
He loosened his grasp and pulled away. “I’m not sure how to break this to you, sweetheart.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You’re here because I have life-changing news for you, and I wanted to tell you tonight at dinner. But I’m afraid that won’t happen, babyluv. I have this room until Wednesday. You can stay here until you need to return to the Shores.” He pulled his suitcase from the closet and plopped it on the bed. “I’m sorry.”
A sense of dread settled into the pit of my stomach. “Why are you leaving before supper, Jeff? What’s going on?”
He sat me on the bed and kneeled in front of me. With my hands in his, he looked into my eyes. “Des, we have to postpone the wedding indefinitely.”
“That’s what I was going to tell you at dinner, babyluv.” He kissed my fingers, reached up, then brushed a lock of hair from my face. “Destiny, the Experience has a record contract, and now a nationwide tour beginning next week. We’re opening for Acidic Tides. This is huge, babyluv.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A record deal? A nationwide tour? “How long have you known about this?” I tried so hard not to sound bitter, but venom dripped from my words. “I can’t believe you said yes to a tour. You have plans! What about me? Where do I fit into your schedule, Jeff? I have felt like an afterthought since January! First it was Valerie, then telling me you’re coming here instead of to the Shores with me. Now you’ve gotten your big break, and you’re going on tour without me?”
“You’re acting like I planned this, Des! I didn’t know about the tour until the phone call! I can’t turn down this kind of opportunity. This is great news for us! Isn’t this everything we wanted?”
“It’s everything YOU wanted!” I screamed at him. “Meanwhile, I’m still struggling to find my feet in the Shores.” I knew he didn’t realize how bad things were for me in Starlight Shores. He was about to find out. “I can barely afford to live there, Jeff. I’ve lost weight because I can’t afford food! Jared is generous and gives me what doesn’t sell at the end of my shifts. I don’t remember the last time I bought anything just for me. Me! Where is MY chance, Jeff? Where is MY good luck?” I pushed him away. “When is it MY turn to feel what it’s like to catch a freaking break?!”
Jeff stood with me, tears in his eyes. I was so furious, I couldn’t see the pain he wore, the complete shock of hearing me rant about HIS good fortune, which would have been ours. “I don’t understand why you’re so angry,” he said, almost whispering. Then, I doubled down on stupid and screamed the one thing I wish I’d never uttered, the three words that changed my life forever:
“I HATE YOU!” I spat.
By the time it had escaped my mouth, the wrecking ball had already ravaged his heart, and it was much too late to stuff the toothpaste back into the tube. I didn’t even mean the words that left my mouth. I sputtered them in a moment of total jealous insanity. Jeff’s face displayed a thousand different emotions as I watched in silent agony; pain, hurt, heartbreak, devastation, disbelief, and finally anger. His rage was more than warranted. I sank to my knees to beg his forgiveness; just as I opened my mouth to speak, he tore into me like a hound dog on an old bone.
“Shut it, Destiny. You know something? I didn’t need your selfish diatribe when I was out of my mind with worry about having to tell you about postponing OUR special day. You and me. But it was never ‘us’ with you, was it? Our life together has always been about you, hasn’t it? You expected ME to move to the Shores to be with you. You never ONCE offered to come here! Why is that, Des? Because you’re a narcissistic, entitled, self-centered little bitch, that’s why!”
“No! No, Jeff, that’s not it—” He pulled me to my feet and looked into my eyes. With all his strength, he pinned me against the wall.
“Oh, I’m not even close to finished with you yet. My family welcomed you into their home, not once, but twice, and you spat in their faces the last time you were there. My sister told me what an ungrateful little shrew you are, but I didn’t want to believe her. Mom was convinced all you wanted was my money. But it’s worse than that, isn’t it, Destiny? You suck the life out of everyone around you. Is that why that guy you were with in Appaloosa Plains left you, and why your best friend ditched you? Maybe it wasn’t his fault after all! Maybe you ripped his heart to ribbons like you just did to mine!”
“No! I didn’t mean it, Jeff, I swear! I don’t hate you, babe! I love you so much—”
“No, you don’t. You never did. I was such a fool. You’re a monster, Des. My mother was right about you all along. I was too blinded by love to see what you really are.” He started throwing his clothing into the suitcase he plopped onto the bed. I’d never seen him so angry. He was justified, too.
“No, I’m not a monster!! Oh, please, Jeff. Please don’t leave me… I’ll die without you.”
“You should have thought of that before you started your jealous tirade! We’re done.” He held his hand out. “My ring. I’m going to need that back.”
My fist clenched around the diamond ring I’d grown accustomed to feeling on my finger, the one I didn’t want to return. Returning the ring was an admission that we were finished, and I couldn’t let myself accept it. “No! Please, Jeff, I’m begging you—”
“Don’t make me pry it from your fingers. I’m not leaving without it, and I am leaving you. I’ll be generous and give you a month to be out of my penthouse. My attorney will ensure that you leave without incident. I don’t care where you go, but you’re done freeloading off of me. Leave your car keys on the counter when you move out.”
He finished packing his clothing into his case and almost flung it from the bed while I watched in stunned disbelief. “Stay here until Tuesday if you want, but don’t you dare come back. Forget my phone number. I promise you, I will forget yours.” He chose every word he spoke for its maximum impact, each one intended to inflict the most pain possible.
“Please, don’t go. Let’s work this out, Jeff. I’m so sorry!” My words were increasingly desperate. Jeff took me by the wrist and drove me to my knees. He caught my left hand and forced the ring from it, stripping from me any hope I had that we could fix what I had so recklessly destroyed. Then he ripped from his neck the chain I’d given him for Snowflake Day and threw it at me. I knew what was coming next. His fingers wrapped around my gold and diamond necklace. With a sharp pull, it broke away; the chain slithered across my skin like a golden snake. He slipped both into his pocket.
“Saying you’re sorry isn’t going to cut it, not this time. What you’ve done is unforgivable, Destiny.” He dialed his phone—I assumed he was calling for his limo—then looked back at me with that haunting pain on his face. “I loved you. I treated you like my queen, and this is how you repaid me? I won’t allow another woman to do what you’ve done to me. Have a good life, Destiny. Goodbye.” He flung the door open almost off its hinges and slammed it with the same intensity, his last farewell still ringing in my ears. Before his angry footsteps left the suite, I heard his cries of anguish and devastation. What had I done?
I hadn’t been in Bridgeport long enough to unpack my suitcase, but my vacation weekend was already over. I sat on the floor in emotional agony, weeping uncontrolled sobs. Everything I had known in the past three years was suddenly gone, including the love of my life. It wasn’t until Jeff told me goodbye that I realized how deeply I loved him, and how much, unfortunately, I took him and his love for granted. I assumed he would wait for my boat to dock, and for my career to take flight, and that he would be content riding my coattails. I never considered that he was more talented than I, and that he would walk into success more easily than I ever dreamed possible. Even then, crying in the suite’s bedroom, I wallowed in jealousy and envy, and I loathed myself for it.
In two seconds, with the utterance of three simple, careless words, I’d upended my future and ruined Jeff’s spectacular surprise. I threw away everything I loved and burned my life down to the ground. Never again would I hear his voice calling me ‘babyluv’. Never again would we make love on a whim, then hold each other until we fell asleep. I would never again look into his blue eyes and hear from his lips, “I love you, Destiny.”
I was shattered to my core.
Up Next: Chapter Four, Generation Two
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