G2 Chapter Six – Opportunity Knocks

Fourteen Months Later

Summer in the city was so much different from what it was back home in the Plains. In my youth, it meant playing outside in the dirt pile just on the border of Mama’s garden. To a girl of four, it sat like a mountain. Funny that as I grew, the “mountain” shrunk, but it was never small enough to be considered anything less than a hill.

I recall it clearly, as though the conversation was just yesterday instead of nineteen years ago. 

“What do you think, Desi?” Mama said. “I thought you’d like to play on it while I work in the garden.”

I remember being so excited. A place to play with my toy horses and dolls. It was the perfect combination of dirt, sand, and grass torn up and taken root in splotchy patches all over the mound. “I play here?” I asked.

“I made it for you, sweet pea,” she said. “It’s your hill. It’s Destiny’s hill.”

“Wow!” my four-year-old self squealed. “My hill! Desi hill!” I couldn’t get my toys outside fast enough. 

I spent entire summers soaking in the bathtub after a day’s play, covered head to toe in dirt and silt. Who needed the beach when I had Destiny’s hill in my own backyard? The memory made me smile, sitting at the desk of the biggest, most successful talent agent in town; Ernesto Gonzales. 

“Have you decided on a stage name Destiny?” he asked.

I nodded, a broad grin on my face. “I have.”

*****

Two Months Before

Following Daddy’s timely advice, I began singing around town. Wherever people gathered, I played for tips, but I avoided the park like the plague. Each time I’d been there for a festival, the same group of bullies dominated the front stage area at Verde Park. I had no desire for a repeat performance.

Leading worship at the chapel became a regular thing. When Tanya and her husband discovered they were expecting their first child, she stepped down as worship leader and appointed me in her place. I didn’t feel worthy of such a responsibility, but it gave me the opportunity to use some ‌songs I’d written as a teenager and compose new ones to sing. 

The Saturday evening before I would debut my first original songs, Stephen and I sat at our favorite pizzeria, combing through each musical arrangement for flaws. Though we couldn’t change much—as we’d rehearsed the songs for months—I still wanted to make sure they were perfect. We sat at our usual table near the karaoke stage, nibbling on pizza and sipping sweet tea.

“What are you so worried about, Destiny? The songs are fantastic, and the congregation will love them. I guarantee it.” Stephen patted my hand and smiled. “I know you’re anxious. Worship leaders use new music all the time.”

“But they don’t write their own stuff, Stephen. This is all my original work. What if they flop?” 

“Would you relax?” he said with a chuckle. “There is a reason Tanya promoted you to worship leader, Destiny. Besides, Pastor Tim adores you. He credits you with the chapel’s growth, you know.”

I blushed as red as the checkered cloth on the table. “You flatter me, sir.” 

“Nope. There’s nothing insincere about my compliments. You deserve everything you’ve achieved since you’ve been attending the chapel.”

Stephen poured another sweet tea for me from the pitcher and topped off his glass. As he set it down, the karaoke jockey called for the next singer. “Destiny. Well, that’s a pretty name. Where’s Destiny?”

Screenshot-168 I looked at Stephen like a deer in bright headlights. “What did you do?” His sly grin said everything.

“I snuck your name in while you were fretting over the songs. I thought it would do you good to show off a little.” 

“Thanks… Thanks a lot.” I glared at him as I stood. “I’m Destiny,” I announced. 

“Come on up, darlin’,” the KJ said. “You’re going to sing Katie Price’s ‘Baby, One More Time?’”

I nodded, then shot a dirty look at Stephen. “Sure…?” I shrugged. In my peripheral vision, he was laughing his head off. I gritted my teeth as I took the microphone. 

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I didn’t even need to watch the lyrics on the screen. I’d sung this song so often, the words rolled right off my tongue, in tune and with faultless pitch. Even I had to admit I killed it. When the song was over, everyone in the restaurant was on their feet cheering my name. Stephen sat at our table, beaming with pride. I waved, gave a sheepish grin to the crowd, and took my seat at our table. 

“I didn’t expect that,” I said. My cheeks once again matched the red in the checkered linens on the table. But inside, I was about to burst at the seams. It felt so good; no, it felt euphoric. I was flying on cloud nine in my ‌own ‌little world when Stephen’s gentle nudge on my shoulder brought me out of the stratosphere.

“Destiny!” He couldn’t contain his contagious laughter. “What do I keep telling you? You’re going to get noticed someday if you keep singing in public.” 

I pointed at the ceiling and shifted my gaze upward. “From your mouth to His ears, Stephen.” 

“Amen!”

*****

That night, I barely slept at all. Poppy was restless—I imagined she was reactive to my nervous energy—and her fidgeting didn’t help my nerves one bit. Every hour that passed was another opportunity to find fault with the songs we’d sing later that morning. I was moments away from scrapping the whole thing when my alarm sounded. 

“Alright, I’m up,” I growled at the clock, as though it were a sentient being instead of an inanimate object. Poppy didn’t stir as I flopped out of bed and stumbled toward the bathroom to shower. 

The warm water felt good, so I stood there longer than I should have, singing and warming up my voice. The acoustics in my bathroom were incredible; I could almost set up a recording studio in it. 

I wrapped up in my robe and walked back to the bedroom. Poppy was awake and grooming herself; when she saw me, she trilled and jumped down to rub against my ankles. “Is it breakfast time, sweetheart?” I bent down to scratch her head. My question was answered with loud meows and my resulting laughter. 

I walked down the steps with Poppy at my heels, her trills and cute little mews breaking the early morning silence. She waited, weaving through my legs impatiently, while I opened a can of food for her and spooned it into her bowl. While I prepared her breakfast, I started the coffeemaker, too. My first cup was brewed by the time Poppy’s meal was ready. I placed her bowl on the floor and padded into the living room to sit by the barren fireplace. 

Outside, the weather was blustery. I knew the forecast called for rain overnight, and Mother Nature didn’t disappoint. There was thunder in the distance, likely a storm coming in off the coast. I was happy I’d gotten my shower in before the lightning arrived. Poppy jumped onto the loveseat and took her place on my lap while I sipped my coffee. 

After my last mouthful, I plodded back upstairs to dress for church. My closet was filled with my clothes and some of Mama’s old dresses. I picked through the wardrobe, searching until I found an outfit that Mama wore to church years ago. The ensemble was perfect; a blue skirt with a leather belt and a matching sweater. She and I wore the same size, which was quite handy. Her pretty clothes were hardly used, some of them still with tags on them. At home, Mama almost always wore a pair of jeans and a shirt with her boots. 

The outfit lay on my bed while I sat at my makeup table. A smoky blue color shaded my eyes, with gray eyeliner, a cool color blush on my cheeks, and a warm, coral lip tint. Poppy sat on the floor watching with great interest until a moth in the window caught her attention. I pulled my hair back into a ponytail and secured it with a pink scrunchy. A few shorter strands of hair formed bangs. I wrinkled my nose as I tried in vain to tuck them into my hairstyle. No, Destiny, I thought. It will not happen today. Before I left the bedroom, I took Daddy’s prayer book from my nightstand and slipped it under my arm. 

My purse and keys sat on the side table near the door, so on my way downstairs, I stowed the book inside my bag. My song journal already stuck out of it; I really needed a bigger purse. I made the rounds to make sure everything was turned off and out of Poppy’s reach before I left her alone for the morning. She’d nap while I was gone, and then greet me at the door when I came home. If everything went like I imagined it would, I’d need her to cheer me up. 

The car sat in the driveway, slightly crooked. I wasn’t even drinking last night, and that’s how I parked it? “Maybe I should have had a glass of wine,” I muttered under my breath. I might have slept better, too. I opened the door and hopped into the driver’s seat. The engine fired with the turn of my key; I shifted into reverse and backed out into the street, headed toward the church in the western hills of Starlight Shores. 

Fifteen minutes later, I parked the car in the lot behind the church and walked through the back entrance. Just inside, another door led me upstairs to an all-purpose room the church used for just about everything. Stephen was on the sofa reading his prayer book when I opened the door. His bright smile put my jittery heart at ease like nothing else could have. He stood and walked to me, wrapped me in a hug, and kissed my cheek.

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“You look like you’re scared to death,” he said and hugged me tighter. “I promise you, everything will be fine.” 

Though Stephen and I had reviewed the songs until we were bleary-eyed, I doubted them. It was an enormous leap of faith to trust my instinct and his encouragement. It was too late to change the song list. Everything was ready to go, except for me; I was a nervous wreck.

“You’re as cool as a cucumber. Meanwhile, I feel sick.” I wiped my clammy hands on Mama’s skirt. “Are you sure those songs are good enough?”

He squinted at me and cocked his head. “I wish you’d have just a little more self-confidence, Destiny. You’re so much better than you give yourself credit for.”

“Thank you for your faith in me, Stephen. You’re the only reason I haven’t scrapped everything. I trust your opinion.” 

Stephen took my hand and squeezed it. “My opinions are solid gold. And so are you.”

One by one, other members of the worship team entered the common room, each of them giving me a pep talk and telling me how excited they were to play the new songs. Unexpectedly, Pastor Tim opened the door, wearing a wide grin. He seldom involved himself with the worship team; he spent most of his time in the chapel, meeting and greeting churchgoers downstairs. 

“Destiny,” he said, “I’ve been hearing great things about the musical selection for this week. I understand they’re your original songs? Stephen tells me they’re amazing.” 

I blushed and hid my face in my hands. “What you’ve heard is true, but I’ve been having doubts about—”

“Well, don’t. Church attendance is up twenty-five percent since you’ve become worship leader, Destiny. We might need to add a second service if we don’t stop growing! I’ve watched you blossom every week. Your ability to touch people with your voice is a gift from above, and I’m so happy you’re blessing us with it.” Pastor Tim hugged me and then stepped back. “I know you’ll succeed out there today.”

“Thank you,” I whispered with humble gratitude. He gathered the worship team around me; all of them laid hands on me while Pastor Tim prayed for us. 

“You’ve got this, Destiny. Make me proud.” He patted my shoulder once more and gave me a ‘thumbs up’ as he walked from the common room.  

Stephen and I walked together down the steps on the right side of the stage. The musicians filed in and descended the stairs that would lead them onto a riser behind the main stage. Stephen, a guitarist/vocalist named Frank, Tanya, Jorge, and I, would all be on the main stage. Everyone followed my lead; on my signal, we moved together into the packed auditorium. 

Behind us on the back wall sat two monitors that would display the song lyrics for the congregation to follow along. I noticed the first song was ready for us ahead of our arrival on stage. Darren sat at his drum set and watched for my signal. He tapped out four beats on his sticks, and the band played the first notes of the songs. It’s go time, I thought. Fake it till you make it.

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I couldn’t watch the audience for the first few lines of the first song. My eyes were closed while I concentrated on the words I knew by heart. When we reached the chorus, I noticed the congregation singing along with us. My heart soared! They loved the music! Stephen, that wonderful, lovable scoundrel, was right again. As usual, I was worried about nothing.

After services were over, a man—I guessed he was a little older than me—approached me. I recognized him immediately, though I didn’t recall seeing him in the sanctuary. It was Ernesto Gonzales, the biggest talent agent in town! A serene smile wore on his face as he drew near.

“Well, well,” he said, stepping onto the stage. “The rumors are absolutely true, I see.” 

“I beg your pardon?” I looked around to see if anyone else was near. 

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“I heard the buzz around town; a young lady of extraordinary talent who sings at the chapel in the western hills. I had to come see it for myself.” He reached for my hand to shake it, then chuckled at my bewildered expression. “Ernesto Gonzales. And you are?”

“Destiny Farmer.” His grip was firm, almost painful. My heart pounded in my chest, and my mouth suddenly felt like a desert. “I know who you are, Mr. Gonzales.”

“Destiny, I’m going to get right to the point. You’re an amazing entertainer, not only with your voice, but in how you command your audience. Anyone can sing well, in my opinion. But not everyone has what I call the ‘It Factor’. You have loads of potential. Would you be interested in doing a formal audition at the studio this week?”

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I couldn’t believe my ears. What?! “I-I’d love to!” I cringed right after I said it. The last thing I wanted was to sound desperate. “I mean, I’d be honored.”

He snickered and handed me his business card. “Give my office a call to schedule it whenever it’s convenient for you.”

It was difficult to contain my excitement, but I tamped it down long enough to speak. “Thank you, Mr. Gonzales.”

“Please, call me Ernie. We’ll be on a first name basis once we’re working together.”

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I acknowledged his request with a simple nod. “Ernie it is.” We shook hands one last time before he left me standing in front of the chapel, dumbfounded.

Stephen watched the exchange from a few feet away, and he couldn’t wait to hear what had transpired. He walked toward me with a huge grin on his face. 

“Was that who I think it was, Destiny?” 

I played dumb, just to be coy and puckish. “That depends. Who do you think it was?” 

“Ernie Gonzales is my first guess.” 

“Great guess!” I laughed. “He wants to see me this week for an audition, Stephen. He gave me his card!” I flashed Ernie’s card in front of Stephen’s eyes; he plucked it from my fingers and perused it. 

“Impressive! I know people who would kill to get their hands on one of these business cards.” He watched as I swallowed hard, then he winked. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep you safe.” He held the card over my head. I laughed while I jumped for it, snatching it back from his grasp.

“Gee, thanks!” He held his arms open for a hug; mine wrapped around him. Stephen stood strong and held me to him.

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“See? I told you!” he playfully teased me. “I’m so happy for you, Destiny. No one I know deserves this chance more than you do.” Stephen set me down on my feet. I hadn’t even realized I was hanging off of him.

“Thank you.” My thoughts went directly to Mama and Daddy; I wiped away the few tears that pooled and threatened to trickle down my face.

Stephen noticed, looking into my eyes. “Why are you sad? This is such an exciting time for you!”

“I wish my daddy and mama were here for this moment. We all wanted it so much.”

“That’s understandable. But I can assure you, Destiny, that they’ve never been prouder of you.” Stephen planted another kiss on my cheek. “Just like I am.” 

My face flushed a deep red. “Thank you, Stephen. You’ve had faith in me when I had none. I hope you know how special you are to me.”

“Of course, and you’re just as special to me, too. Why don’t we go to lunch to celebrate? My treat.”

How could I say no to that? “I’d love to.”


The weather was cooler than usual the next morning; the overcast skies remained from the previous day, trapping the dark, dank feeling in the city beneath the gray clouds. My alarm clock woke me at 4:00 AM. Poppy was already awake, ready to say good morning with her customary head butt and a sandpaper kiss on my nose. I never minded her grooming me, but a raspy lick on my face first thing in the morning was just the encouragement I needed to slip out from under the covers.

“Good morning, Poppy,” I said to her and scratched her chin. Her head nuzzled into my hand, trying to get the maximum amount of attention before I stood. She flopped over onto her back and bared her tummy for me to pet. Funny, she was the first cat I’d ever met that didn’t mind a belly rub. Her rumbly purrs always set the mood for a happy day.

I walked into the bathroom and ran the water for a shower. Though the warmth of the shower felt amazing, I stayed only as long as I needed, then stepped out onto the bath mat. I grabbed my plush robe and tied it around my waist, then gave my teeth a quick brush, gathered my wet hair into a ponytail, and turned out the light.

Poppy escorted me down the steps, talking to me the entire way. How did I ever survive without her company? I filled her bowl with kibble, prepared cereal for myself, and we sat together eating breakfast, albeit hers was served on the floor. I’d have my coffee at the shop when I arrived, which reminded me—I needed to tell Jared my news about Ernie. What would he think? I wasn’t sure, especially if it threatened my job at the coffeehouse.

If the weather had been clearer and less drizzly, I’d have walked to work. But I’d already taken a shower; I surely didn’t need another, colder one. I picked Poppy up and cuddled her, gave her a kiss on the head, and put her down at my feet. 

“Watch the place while I’m gone,” I said, as though she could understand me. I knew she’d go upstairs and watch the world outside the window from her perch, and fall asleep in the first sunbeam that found its way through the cloudy skies that morning. “See you soon, little one.” I grabbed my car keys and my purse and opened the door that led to the garage. 

Jared was already at the coffeehouse when I turned my key in the door. I swear he lived there‌. “Good morning!” I greeted him. “I thought you were coming in later?”

“Evie asked to switch shifts with me last night. Something with her mom.” He shrugged. “Who knows?”

“Oh.” 

He studied my face. “Is something wrong, Des?” 

I exhaled a deep sigh. “Yes, and no. It’s nothing.” 

He held in his hand the coffee drink he had crafted and walked to a nearby table; he pulled the chair out, turned it around backward and sat, patting the seat next to him. “Whatever it is doesn’t seem like ‘nothing’. What’s on your mind?” I sat at the table, my hands folded in front of me, mostly to keep them out of my hair. I still struggled with that nervous tic; it drove me crazy most of the time.

“Something happened at the chapel yesterday. I’m not sure what you’ll think of it.” 

“It couldn’t be that bad. I mean, it’s church after all. Just tell me.” 

“You know Ernie Gonzales, right?” 

He nodded and took a sip of his coffee. “Of course. What about him?” 

I took a deep breath and exhaled. “He was at the chapel yesterday, Jare.”

I watched as a smile swept across his face. “And…?” 

“He was there to see me. Apparently, there’s some scuttlebutt around town about some young lady of so-called extraordinary talent who sings at the chapel in the hills.” 

“Des, I’m dying over here. What did he say?!”

“Well, he wants me to do a formal audition some day this week…” I cringed, waiting with my eyes squeezed shut for Jared’s grunt of disapproval. Through one peeking eye, I caught his glowing smile.

“That’s fantastic news! I’m so happy for you!” His reaction was unexpected, though I wasn’t sure why. I knew how he felt about me, and that he always had my best interests at heart.

“Really?”

“Of course! I know how much you’ve wanted that break. Maybe this time, you’ll catch it.” He took my hand and squeezed it. “When does he want to see you?”

“Well, he said when it’s convenient for me, but I’m on the schedule all week.” I wrapped a strand of hair from my ponytail around my finger and flicked it. Nervous tic-1, Destiny-0. 

“Mondays are usually busiest, so probably not today. But any other day this week, we can work schedules around so you can get out of here.”

“I don’t want to be an inconvenience, Jare. I mean, you still have a business to run. Are you certain?”

“Yes, I’m positive. Go audition. You’ll excel there, just like you have here. But I’ll miss you.”

“I haven’t resigned yet!” I laughed. “You won’t get rid of me that easily, either. This isn’t a sure thing, you know. It’s just an audition.” Jared nodded, but had a weird, almost sad expression. “I’ll call on break and set up my appointment. Then I’ll let you know when I go.”

“Fair enough,” Jared said, glancing at his watch. “Are you ready for the morning rush?”

My gaze shifted to the waiting throng of people outside the door. “As ready as I’m going to be. Let ‘em in!”

At break time, I made a caramel macchiato and sat in the back room, my phone clutched in my hand. With this call, my life could change forever. Was I truly ready to grab the reins and take the ride of a lifetime? I dialed the number into my phone and pressed Send. A friendly voice answered my call.

“Gonzales Talent Agency, this is Kerry.”

“Hi Kerry, my name is Destiny—”

“Ooh!” she exclaimed. “Mr. Gonzales wanted me to let him know when you called. Just a moment.” The phone went silent, and then the music on hold played. Thirty seconds later, Ernie’s voice was on the other end of the phone. 

“Destiny! I’m so happy to hear from you. Look, I know your time is valuable, so I’ll get right to my point. I’ve reserved thirty minutes of studio time for you to sing your best song. It could be anything you’re comfortable singing. Now is your time to shine. How does 2:00 PM today sound?”

“I don’t mean to be trouble, but today doesn’t work for my schedule. I’m currently employed at the Flying V, and I’m working until close tonight.” 

There was a silence on the other end of the phone. Ernie cleared his throat. “You know, that’s not a problem. When’s better for you?”

“Let’s shoot for Wednesday around 3:00 PM. Is that suitable?” Giving Jared more than a day’s notice would certainly help him ‌cover my absence.

“Wednesday it is!”

“Do I need to bring—”

“Nope!” Ernie said, interrupting my question. “Just bring yourself and that perfect voice. We have instruments if you need them, or you can sing a cappella.”

“If you have an acoustic guitar, that would be great,” I said.

“I will arrange it.” Though I knew where his office was located, he rattled off the address of the building. “We’re on the twenty-first floor. You can’t miss it.”

“Thank you, Ernie. I’ll see you on Wednesday—” The call cut off in the middle of speaking, and without a proper end. It was odd, but Ernie seemed a bit on the eccentric side. I had a weird feeling I’d need to adjust to his quirks, and that was okay with me.

I washed my hands and walked back out behind the counter. “You’re okay to take a break if you’d like, Jare.” Instead of leaving, he followed me out to the coffee machine.

“So?! How’d it go? Come on! I need info! You’re not being very forthcoming!” Jared stood with his arms crossed, feigning indignation. The expression he wore made me giggle. 

“Patience!” I mock scolded him. “Good things come to those who wait.”

He groaned, rubbing his face with his hands. “Don’t make me fire you.” 

“Psh,” I scoffed. “You need me too much to fire me.” 

“Don’t test me!” Jared crossed his arms and tapped his foot, pretending to be annoyed.

“Okay, okay!” I laughed. “Wednesday, three o’clock. Is that okay?”

His demeanor softened. “Thank you for giving me some time to finesse the schedule. Maybe I won’t have to work an OC.” He meant an open to close—a fourteen-hour shift—something Jared had done way too many times. The long hours were what he called an occupational hazard. 

“That’s why I did it on Wednesday.”

“Evie owes me a big favor after today.” Jared sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “I need a vacation, Des, likely before Ernie takes my star employee. Wouldn’t you think so?”

I cringed. There it was; the pain my departure would cause. I knew it would come out eventually and drape a scratchy burlap shawl of guilt over my shoulders. “I don’t have to go to that audition, you know.”

“Yes, you do! Don’t worry about me. Besides, you and I will always be friends. You said so yourself, right?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Then don’t make me drag you kicking and screaming to that audition!” 

That made me laugh out loud.


Wednesday Afternoon

“I’m here, Des,” Evie called out, walking through the coffeehouse’s front door. “Go knock ‘em dead.” She caught me in the dining room wiping down tables; I looked at the wall clock. Noon?

“You’re… early.” 

“Jared and I decided you should go get ready for your audition at home.” She waved as she walked back to the break room; Jared stood behind the counter, beaming.

“When were you going to tell me this?” I teased, standing with my hands on my hips.

“Now…?” He laughed; I threw at him the rag I had in my hand and giggled. 

“You’re being way too cooperative, you know that, right?”

“Oh, don’t worry, Des. I intend to fight for you when the time comes.” He chuckled, but looked away. “I know it’s a fight I’m going to lose, but I won’t stand in your way, either. No one deserves this opportunity more than you. You realize that, right?”

I blushed a fiery red and nodded. “Thanks, Jare. I’ll come back later and let you know what happens.” 

“Psh,” he huffed. “Take the day and relax. I’m expecting your resignation tomorrow, anyway.” 

I took his hand and pulled him closer to me. “Hey… you’re not getting rid of me that fast. And even if I don’t work here, that means nothing for us.” I reached up to caress his cheek, staring into his hazel eyes. “Nothing.”

He gulped a breath; I never noticed he wasn’t breathing. “You promise?” 

With a gentle smile, I nodded. “You have my solemn vow.” I gave him a quick hug and a peck. “Thank you for letting me do this. I owe you one.” 

In an instant, Jared’s gloomy expression fell away, replaced with mischief and a bright grin. “Yes, you do!” We both laughed, but we realized, too, that the audition would change things. “You’re in my prayers, Des. Break a leg.” 

Why his statement brought tears, I couldn’t say. But I took his hand and squeezed it, unable to speak beyond the lump in my throat. No more words needed to be said. Instead, I flashed him a “thumbs up,” grabbed my purse, and left the coffeehouse.

At home, I jumped into the shower to wash the coffee aroma from my hair. Poppy sat on the toilet waiting for me to emerge from the stall. I opened the door and grabbed the towel that hung on the hook; Poppy trilled and rubbed her fur on my wet skin, followed by her raspy tongue on my leg. I giggled and hopped away from her. 

“I think I can dry myself, thank you!” I said, laughing. She reached up to my hand, begging for a chin scratch. And I, like a total sucker, obliged her. I sure loved that little cat.

I primped, applying makeup and styling my hair. I decided on an elegant updo, something I didn’t normally do with my hair. With enough hair spray, mousse, and the patience of a saint, I achieved my desired look. 

I raided my closet, looking for an appropriate dress. This was the most important audition of my life; I needed to look my best. Half my closet lay on my bed when I found one that Mama used to wear. Yes! I thought. This is the one. 

The dress was just below my knees, not unlike the bulk of Mama’s pretty things. The pattern was a green floral with a self-same patterned belt around the midsection. It fit me beautifully, as though it had been made just for me. It slipped on over my head, covering the lingerie that I normally wore under my gown. I stepped in front of the full-length mirror that once sat in Mama and Daddy’s bedroom and admired the reflection I saw.

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“Good enough, I guess,” I whispered. One last fix with my hair, and reapplication of lip gloss, and I was ready to go.

Poppy met me at the bottom of the stairs, wending her way through my steps. She had a keen sense of awareness, always knowing when I had something going on. I stooped to pet her head, grabbed my keys, and slung my purse over my shoulder. 

“I’ll be home before you know it, sweet girl. Wish me luck!” 

The car was in the driveway, so I walked out the front door and locked it behind me. With shaky hands, I opened the door and slumped into my seat behind the wheel. If ever I needed Daddy to show up in a big way, it was now. I started the engine and let it idle while I folded my hands, my eyes lifted to the heavens.

This is it, Daddy, the day we’ve all waited for. It’s “my make it or break it” moment, and I need you with me. Everything we’ve wanted comes down to this audition. I hope I continue to make you proud of me. I love you and Mama so much.

While I had my mind in the right place, I whispered a quiet prayer. Suddenly, I wished Stephen was with me for moral support. 

Twenty minutes later, I parked in the lot behind the building where Ernie’s office was located. I double-checked his business card and the address on the building. “Yep, this is it,” I said to myself. I took a deep breath and opened the car door. 

The building’s lobby was luxurious; marble floors, textured paint on the walls, and brass light fixtures hung from the ceiling. In front of the elevator, a young man sat behind a desk. He stood when I approached him.

“You’re here to see Mr. Gonzales?” he asked. I nodded, about to speak, when he opened the elevator door for me. “He is waiting for you. Top floor, Miss Farmer.”

“Thank you…?” The recognition flustered me. I stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the highest floor; twenty-one. I spent the entire ride talking myself up, trying to shake off the inevitable nerves.

Moments later, the elevator opened into a lobby, decorated in warm tones and contemporary furniture. A lady sat at the desk just outside an office door; I assumed it was Ernie’s office. She looked up from her computer when the elevator opened, smiling at me. 

“You must be Destiny. Have a seat. I’ll let Mr. Gonzales know you’ve arrived.” I couldn’t believe the personal attention I was getting here. Was Ernie really that impressed? I sat by the window and observed the city from the twenty-first floor. I was so lost in daydreams that Ernie startled me. HIs booming voice made me jump a foot.

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“Destiny! There you are!” He was genuinely happy to see me sitting there. He walked to where I sat and gave my hand a vigorous shake. I stood and blushed.

“Hi, Ernie,” I squeaked out, my mouth suddenly dry. 

“Come on in.” He walked to his office door and held it open, allowing me to pass through. “Superstars first!” he said with a chuckle, and then turned to his secretary. “She is my next ‘big thing’, Kerry, mark my words. Please hold my calls.”

She gave him a smile and winked at me. “If Ernie says it, it must be true! Welcome aboard, Destiny.” Kerry waved as I stepped through the door into Ernie’s office.

I wasn’t sure what I expected his office to look like, but it was nothing like what I’d imagined. Instead of wood paneling on the walls, there were light bricks, a couple of gold albums, and posters of their current clients. He directed me to have a seat at his desk; when I turned around, I glimpsed at an enormous poster. What the…? Ernie must have seen my distraught expression.

“Is there something wrong, Destiny?” 

“Did you sign…?” I pointed at the poster on the wall—The Rock J Experience. I couldn’t bring myself to finish my question. Wherever I went, there was Jeff with that pompous smirk!

Ernie laughed. “Oh, them. No, no, I haven’t been able to hook ol’ hardnose Jeffery Dean, despite my best efforts. Something about having ‘bad blood’ in the Shores. Personally, I think he is headed for a fall. He’s one cocky S.O.B.” I couldn’t wipe the smirk off my face, delighted someone else shared my opinion. “Enough about them. Let’s talk about Destiny. Where are you from? I know it’s not around here with that drawl.”

Argh! This accent, I swear, is going to be the death of me! I swallowed the renewed anxiety his comment brought, cleared my throat, and wrung my hands in my lap out of Ernie’s view. “I’m from a small town called Appaloosa Plains. It’s about two hours by airplane, a little south and west of here. Ever heard of it?” 

Ernie shook his head. “No, I haven’t. How small of a town is it?” 

“Its population was about five hundred when I left years ago. I can’t imagine it’s gotten much bigger. The township is mostly agricultural, except for the military base where my daddy was stationed all his life. My folks owned the farm where my mother was born; she was a third generation farmer.”

He crossed his arms and sat back in the chair. “Interesting! So, farm life wasn’t for you, huh?” I was about to speak when he continued. “What brings you to Starlight Shores, my dear? Why not Bridgeport?”

I smiled, thinking of Daddy and Mama. “I’ve wanted to sing since I was a little girl, and living in Starlight Shores has been my dream from my earliest memories. My folks did the best they could to encourage me, but their livelihood was back on the farm. My mother couldn’t leave the Plains and her birthright.”

Ernie scratched his chin. “So from a tender age, you’ve desired fame and fortune?” 

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“No,” I said. “It’s much more than that. Money has never impressed me, and fame can be fickle. Understand, Ernie, that music is my one true passion. I want to sing because I can’t envision myself doing anything else. I desire to make a difference, to affect people on an emotional level.”

He folded his arms across his chest and leaned back in his chair. “That is probably the best answer I’ve ever gotten from a potential client, Destiny. It’s pure, almost altruistic. So, do you sing mostly covers of other musicians’ material?”

“I write my own songs and music. Every song I sing in public, though, is a cover. I don’t want to sing my original songs until I can record them myself.”

“I understand the songs you sang at the chapel were your originals. Is that true? I’d never heard church music like that before.” 

I nodded and smiled. “They were. I am always writing songs, including the three that debuted on Sunday. My friend helps me to tweak them until they’re almost perfect.” I blushed and looked away. “I was nervous they’d flop, to be honest. With new material, you never know how it’s going to go.” 

Ernie nodded in agreement. “I have to admit, it takes guts to debut one new song in church, let alone three of them. They were astounding, Destiny. The crowd obviously loved them, too.”

“Thank you.” I didn’t know what else to say. Compliments always flustered me. Ernie seemed to sense this and changed subjects with his next question.

“Do you have any siblings? What was life like for a young Destiny Farmer? Tell me about your folks.”

I paused a moment, thinking of how to begin. “I’m an only child. My mama and daddy waited a long time to have me, so when I was born, I was their miracle. Mama worked the farm and ran a produce stand at the farmer’s market every year. Daddy was in the army and retired after his final deployment. Appaloosa Plains was really a great place to grow up, but it wasn’t where I wanted to spend my life. I’m more like my father in that respect. We had a shared case of wanderlust.”

“I can tell by your expression that you are close to them. Are they still in your life?”

“No,” I said. “They both passed away after my eighteenth birthday. I’ve been on my own since.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that, Destiny. You’re obviously resilient and mature beyond your years.”

“Thank you, Ernie. It was rough for a few years. But I know what I want, now more than ever. It’s time for me to pursue my dreams.”

“I agree with you. You’ve told me all I really need to know about you.” He stood and motioned toward a different door. “It’s time for me to meet the real Destiny Farmer. Are you ready?” 

I swallowed all my fear and apprehension. On shaky legs, I stood with him. “I’ve never been more ready for anything in my life.” Just keep repeating that in your head until you believe it, Des, I thought. 

Ernie showed me into his personal recording studio. It was nothing like what I expected. This was cozy and warm, with rugs, fly cases, music stands, and assorted instruments behind a wall of windows. The control room sat adjacent. 

He opened the door to the studio, allowing me to enter first. “There is a headset you can use here.” He reached up and retrieved it, handed it to me, and smiled. “Do you need anything else to be comfortable?” 

I gawked around the room with wide eyes. My surroundings here made me feel immediately at ease. “No, this is wonderful. Thank you.” He gave me a ‘thumbs up’, walked into the control room, and settled down behind the soundboard.

His voice boomed over the speaker inside the studio. “Can you hear me okay?” he asked. I nodded and picked up the guitar, put the strap around my neck, and checked the tuning on it. “Strum your guitar and let me see how the sound comes through on your end.” I did as he asked, and then his voice came back. “Sounds great! Whenever you’re ready, Destiny.” 

I plucked the guitar strings, playing the opening tune for “Maybe It’s Better This Way.” I was certain Ernie would love it. Every little sound in the room echoed in the headset; my nervous breathing aside, it sounded amazing.

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The acoustic arrangement of the song was simple but effective; it allowed me to showcase the lyrics and my voice. I drew from the hurt I felt the night I wrote it and let the emotion pour from my soul. My voice quivered on the last chorus; the guitar’s final chord reverberated through the studio until it faded to quiet. I sniffled and then looked at Ernie’s beaming face on the other side of the glass.

“Holy hell, Destiny. That was… did you write that one yourself? You were incredible.”

Hearing his compliments made me feel shy. “I did.” 

“I recorded this session to make a demo. I have connections in the recording industry here in town. Do you mind if I talk to my buddy over at Soundwave Records? He needs to hear this as soon as possible.”

Soundwave Records was the biggest name in the music business. I was dumbstruck. “Um… yeah,” was all I could mutter. A fog settled around the edges of my vision; at once, I felt lightheaded and dizzy. I had to get the guitar off my neck before I passed out and damaged it. 

Ernie noticed me teetering and sprinted to my side. A folding chair sat along the wall; in seconds, he had it ready for me. I sat on the chair and waited for the room to stop spinning. Did he really say he wanted Soundwave Records to hear my song? 

“Are you okay? Do you need some water?” I nodded my head, thinking that a sip might help calm the butterflies in my stomach. He left the studio and returned moments later with a bottle of water. He twisted the cap open and handed it to me. “There, maybe that will help?” 

“Thank you,” I whispered. “It should.” I sipped the water for a few minutes until everything settled down. “I’m sorry. Normally, I don’t feel faint like this. I don’t know what happened.” 

Ernie chuckled. “It’s okay. The studio gets stuffy. I need to get some better air circulation in here. I meant what I said, though. My buddy needs to hear this demo, and the sooner, the better. Are you okay with me doing that?” 

I nodded. “Yes, of course.”

“What inspired the song? Who could have caused that kind of emotion?” 

I gave him a sheepish smile. “None other than ‘hardnose Jeffery Dean’. We were engaged once upon a time. That song brought me some closure, but he was the inspiration behind it.”

Ernie nodded his head and laughed. “So, when Dean said he had bad blood in the Shores, he was talking about you?” I cringed and nodded. 

“I guess…? Our split wasn’t exactly amicable.” I wrung my hands while I sat. “I-I shouldn’t be speaking of him. It’s just that—”

“Don’t worry about it. For one, I asked, and second, what is said in this studio stays between us. No one will judge you, because no one will know.”

“Thank you, Ernie. I’ve never spoken about Jeff in public, and I don’t intend to start.” 

“You’re a wise young lady, Destiny. He’s so pompous, he won’t need anyone to slag him. He’ll be his own downfall given enough time.” Ernie motioned for me to stand, which I did. “Let’s go listen to your demo. You can have my seat in the control room.”

I was blown away by the quality of the recording Ernie had made, but I wasn’t sure why it shocked me. The studio, though comfortable and quaint, was still top-of-the-line. He toyed with the soundboard during the playback, changing effects and boosting my voice. Though I was familiar with soundboards, this one was miles different from the ones I used back home. It was overwhelming.

“There is so much I can do with this song, Destiny, but it doesn’t really need much tweaking. The quality of your vocals is astounding. Have you had formal voice training, or is that raw talent?” 

“I’ve had no training at all. What you hear is natural.” 

“Yeah, there’s no doubt in my mind. I’m going to make you a star.” He stood, and I did, too. “Let’s get you signed on here. We can start recording this song for your first single within the week.”

I swallowed ‌harder than I wanted to. “I’m still working for Jared McMurphy at the Flying V. Do I need to resign there first? He usually requires two weeks’ notice.” My jaw clenched, trying not to be so obvious.

Ernie smiled at me. “I can see it will be tough to walk away from your job, Destiny. If he requires two weeks’ notice, then I can allow that. From the time we record, to its eventual release, will be about six weeks. I’ll need you to consider something, though. You will need a stage name, because let’s face it. ‘Destiny Farmer’ won’t sell records, and I mean no offense to you or your family.”

I nodded, though I hated the idea of being anyone other than myself. “What would you suggest?” 

Ernie bobbed his head from side to side. “I think your stage name should be a part of you; you will have it for your entire career. So think about situations from your past. What was important to you?”

I bit my lip and sighed. “I’m drawing a blank.” 

“There’s no hurry. We have a few weeks to figure everything out before we go public with your first single. I’ll let you know when we’re getting close to a deadline.” 

“Thank you,” I said. “I’ll think of something.”

The rest of my visit was contracts and paperwork, and when I was finally done, it was already dark outside. Ernie walked me to my car, and I drove home, exhausted but hopeful. Poppy greeted me at the door when I opened it, just as I expected her to do.

“Hi, Poppy,” I whispered to her. “Are you hungry, or do you just want attention?” I walked to her food bowl, which was still half-full. The water bowl was filled and fresh, so it must have been my attention that she needed. I walked to the loveseat in the formal living room and sat; Poppy joined me immediately and curled up in my lap. 

“Things are gonna change soon, sweetheart,” I said as I stroked her fur. “I hope stardom is everything I wish it to be.” A sudden wave of emotion swept over me. It was happy, sad, and excited all at once, but it brought tears and a lump in my throat. I remembered Jared’s words from that morning. “I’m expecting your resignation tomorrow.” The memory brought more tears and a sense of dread, knowing I was going to cause Jared pain. I didn’t want to do it. 

I skipped dinner and walked up the steps to my bedroom with Poppy right behind me. Though I should have called Stephen, I wasn’t up for more conversation, except for the one I’d have with Daddy. I changed into my pajamas and washed up. 

Kneeling beside the bed, I closed my eyes and clasped my hands together. I had Daddy’s prayer book on the bed between my elbows as I relaxed and spoke in whispers to him.

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Daddy, it’s me. I finally did it! The biggest talent agent in the Shores took me on as a client today, and he was so impressed with my voice and my song. I wish that you and Mama could be here to celebrate this moment with me. I miss you both so much. There is something I’m struggling with, Daddy. Ernie wants me to take a stage name because he doesn’t believe I will sell records without it. I don’t know what to do. What should I pick? I’m so lost without your advice.

Everything else is okay in my life, but it’s going to be hard telling Jared that I’m leaving the coffeehouse. I’m not looking forward to tomorrow morning. I know I have to do it, because I’ll never achieve my dreams if I don’t take this leap of faith. Daddy, Ernie says he’s going to make me a star. I know I’m ready; I just wish you were here. Going to sleep now. I love you. I miss you. We’ll be together again someday.

Poppy waited patiently for me to snuggle into bed so she could assume her position on the pillow next to my head. The deep rumbles in her chest were so soothing, and so welcomed. It didn’t take long for her to lull me to sleep.


I didn’t see Jared at the coffeehouse the next day until my shift was almost over. I was stocking coffee beans into bins behind the counter when he walked in. He had a huge smile on his face when he saw me; he rushed to my side to help. It was obvious he had a question for me. 

“Hi Jare.” I couldn’t hear him over the rattle of beans flowing into the containers, but I saw his lips moving. “What?” I asked when the last beans settled.

“I said, how did it go yesterday?” He stood expectantly with his hands planted on his hips. Jared was too cute when he wanted information. “This has been killing me.” 

Me too, I thought. “It went okay,” I lied. “You know, the recording and stuff. I had a lot of fun.”

“You haven’t answered my question, Des. What did Ernie say?” 

I wiped my hands on my apron. “He signed me. And, he’s taking my song to the head of Soundwave Records…” I waited for the twinge of hurt on Jared’s face. Much to my surprise, none came.

“Destiny! You did it!” He hugged me so tight, I almost couldn’t breathe. “Tell me everything!”

“Well, I sang the song I wrote about Jeff, and I guess he liked it. I’ll be in the studio recording it in a couple of weeks, and that will be my first single.” 

Jared cocked his head. “A couple of weeks? Why so long?” 

I blushed. “You, silly. I know your policy is two weeks’ notice. I wanted to give you enough time to find someone else.” 

“My gosh, Des! I don’t care about the two weeks! What if we consider today your last day? Would that free you up to record your song? I can have your ending paycheck tomorrow.” 

My heart broke. I wasn’t counting on him being so willing to let me walk away. “So soon?” 

Jared’s face softened when he noticed my expression. We were close enough that he saw right through me. “You don’t want to leave here, do you?”

His question caused an immediate, emotional reaction. I shook my head and tried to swallow the lump that seemed to live there. “No, I don’t. But I know I have to if I want to chase my dreams.” 

He hugged me again and placed a soft kiss on my forehead. “Des, I was preparing my heart and mind for this. I knew the second Ernie wanted to see you, he would take you away from me. But I wanted to run something by you, you know, as my assistant manager.” 

“What’s that, Jare?” 

He smiled and brushed my too-long bangs out of my eyes. “I’ve been thinking about this day and the eventuality, even when you weren’t looking for a music career. What do you think about me promoting Evie to assistant manager? I won’t do it without your say so.”

I nodded with a gentle grin. “I think that’s a great idea. Evie deserves the promotion. She’s almost as dedicated as I am.” 

Jared blushed and looked away. “She’ll never be you, Des, just so you know. And I’m going to miss you like crazy.” 

I placed my trembling hand on his chest; my breath caught in my throat. “I’m always here. Whenever you need me, I’m here. Nothing will ever change that.”

He nodded in acknowledgement, then called Evangeline back into the break room. When she appeared, Jared and I stood side by side with grins on our faces. She crept in with her shoulders hunched. “What? Am I in trouble?”

Jared looked at me for assurance, and I nodded my approval. “Evie, Destiny is leaving us. Today is her last day, and that leaves me with a problem. I hope you can help remedy it.”

Evie looked at Jared and then at me. “You aced your audition, didn’t you?!”

It was a mixed bag of emotions. Thrilled because I was pursuing what I truly wanted, but devastated that I had to leave my best friends behind. “I signed a contract with Ernie Gonzales yesterday. My first single will be on the radio in a matter of weeks.” I cringed, waiting for the shriek of joy from Evie’s mouth. Almost on cue, she emitted a piercing howl. 

“Oh my gosh, Des! Congratulations!” She hugged me in between excited jumps. Evie always made me laugh. 

“Thank you!” I giggled. Jared nudged my arm with his elbow, wanting me to make the bigger announcement. “Since I’ll be gone, that leaves the assistant manager position open. Jared and I were hoping you’d take it.”

If I thought her shriek was loud the first time, she amplified it twice on the second go around. “Are you serious? Jared?!”

Jared nodded. “If you want it, the position is yours.”

Evangeline nodded slightly with a beaming smile. “I won’t let either of you down! I promise!” She sidled up to me and nudged my arm. “You know, this gives you freedom to date him,” she whispered in my ear. “He really loves you.” We shared a knowing look, and then she left the two of us alone.

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Jared took my hands in his. “I guess this is it.”

“Mmhmm. But you know where I live. Mi casa es tu casa.” 

He gazed into my increasingly watery eyes before he spoke, choosing every word carefully. “I know. It doesn’t stop the ache, though. Not having you here with me every day…” Jared’s voice faded to nothingness. 

“Are you okay?”

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“Yeah,” he said. His body language, however, said just the opposite. “Go.” He wrapped me in a hug and kissed my cheek. “Go be a star, Des, and when you reach the top, remember who loves you most.”

I wiped a tear from my eyes. “There was never a doubt, Jare.” I mouthed the words, “I love you, too,” to him. I couldn’t take another minute of goodbye. One last thumbs up to Evie; I blew a kiss to Jared and left as an employee at the coffeehouse for the last time.


The next few weeks were a flurry of activity. Each morning, I stopped at the Flying V for my coffee. Jared and I sat and chatted when he had the time, which wasn’t often. For the first few weeks, I welcomed the familiarity of the coffeehouse. It was as though I hadn’t really left. 

Ernie’s friend at Soundwave Records signed a contract for my first single, with the option to take me on full-time, contingent on record sales. The only catch was not recording “Maybe It’s Better This Way” as my first single. The label wanted a livelier, more upbeat song to break into the market. Being new in the business, I agreed, but only with Ernie’s encouragement. I took the demo of my first single home with me and learned it.  

That studio, though it had all the newest technology and the best equipment, wasn’t nearly as comfortable as Ernie’s personal one. They had musicians on standby, waiting for me. I spent the entire first week working with them on the song’s arrangement. When we had it perfect, we rehearsed the song together until it was flawless. 

Ernie produced the single and taught me how to use the studio’s sound board, though it would take more than a few times to learn it. Everything was so over-the-top fancy and complex. When he played back the raw recording, I’ll admit I cried, still in utter shock that everything was happening so fast. It sounded so professional; I didn’t believe it was my voice singing it. 

Every night, after a full day’s work in the studio, I drove home and almost collapsed into bed. I hadn’t seen Stephen in weeks, and if I didn’t stop at the coffeehouse every morning, I wouldn’t have seen Jared or Evie, either. Before I slept every night, I still talked to Daddy, asking his advice for things that perplexed me.

With a week to go before my single was released, Ernie and I were up against a deadline to decide on my stage name. I was still no closer to figuring it out. I got up earlier than usual that morning and headed to the coffeehouse. It was my time to relax and concentrate before heading to the studio. 

Jared was there that morning with Evie and a new guy I didn’t recognize. Jared’s face lit up when I walked through the door, like it did every morning. I sat at the corner booth in the back of the cafe with my laptop open, looking through pictures I had on it. Jared came over and sat across from me. 

“What are you looking at this morning, Des?” he asked. “I brought your favorite. My treat.” 

I blushed with a shy smile. “You didn’t have to do that, but thank you.” I turned my laptop around to show him. “These are pictures of me when I was little.” I pointed to a photo Jason had taken. “There’s Mama and me on that old dirt mound in our backyard.” 

“I didn’t realize how much you look like your mother, Des. She was beautiful, too. The more I learn about Appaloosa Plains, the more enthralled I am with it. What’s the significance of the dirt mound?” 

I smiled at the warm memory. “Our neighbor, Caleb, plowed our field every year, but when we started having problems with the plants, he suggested ‌Mama bring in some top soil to replenish what the constant planting had depleted. He dug about four inches of soil off the top before they brought in the fill dirt, so that mound was the product of the restructure. Jason and Mama worked so hard in the garden that year, and she had a bumper crop of everything. They piled all of that dirt for me to play on it. Mama said it was ‘Destiny’s hill’…” A light bulb went off inside my brain; I smacked my forehead with the heel of my hand. “That’s it!”

Jared gave me the most confused look. “Am I missing something?”

“I can’t tell you until I make it official, but you’ll be the first to know!” I took my last sip of coffee, closed my laptop, and stuck it back inside the backpack I carried. “Thank you for the inspiration!” I gave him a quick peck on the cheek and slung my backpack over my shoulder. “I promise I’ll call you tonight!” Jared still sat at the booth, looking bewildered, when I ran to my car. 

Ernie was already in his office when I greeted Kerry. “He’s in,” she said, still nursing her first cup of coffee. I walked right in and sat at his desk, grinning like a Cheshire cat. 

“Good morning, Destiny,” Ernie said. “Is there something wrong?” 

“Nope!”

“Something right?” 

“You could say that, yes.” 

He sat down and stirred the coffee he had in his hand. “Color me intrigued! So, what’s going on?”

“You know how I’ve been trying to figure out what my stage name should be?”

“Yes, I do. Have you decided on a stage name Destiny?” he asked.

I nodded, a broad grin on my face. “I have.” The anticipation was killing me, but I drew it out another moment before the big reveal.

“Well?” 

I took my laptop from my backpack and opened the photo I’d showed Jared back at the coffeehouse. “This is me when I was about three, maybe four years old, sitting on this big old mound of dirt, the one Mama made for me. She told me it was ‘Destiny’s hill’.” I breathed a content sigh. “Ernie, I want to be known as Destiny Hill. When I saw the photo this morning, I knew it was my only choice.”

A smile broke on Ernie’s face. “Destiny Hill it is, then.”

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Up Next: Chapter Seven, Generation Two


Pose Credits:

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Audrey – A Modeling Pose Set by k2m1too
Pomp And Circumstance by Heaven

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Casual Sitting Poses
Conversation Poses Set 2
Cuddle Sad Pose Pack
Death And Dying Set 1
Homecoming
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Blooming Room 4to3 Conversion
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Checkered Cloth Pattern
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Ernie’s Business Card (Anneke’s Bag Set)
Exhibition & Museum Shop
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Pizzeria Set
Recording Studio Set

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I appreciate your comments and feedback. Thank you SO much for reading!
-Wendy

G2 Chapter Five – Surprises, Stickiness, and Sea Scallops

Six Months Later

It had been fifteen months since Jeff and I broke up. Though I still thought of him and remembered with fondness the times we shared, I noticed the wound on my heart had healed. The vacancy his absence created in my life was slowly filling up with new interests, new friends, and different pursuits.

While unpacking what seemed a myriad of boxes settling into my new home, I discovered treasures I’d long forgotten. Mama’s recipe box—index cards covered with handwritten recipes, and the accompanying stains—was among my favorite finds. I spent weeks recreating some of the food she made ‌I loved. As I did, I made slight changes to some of the recipes, adding a new seasoning I’d discovered, or using a new technique I’d learned. I kept Mama’s original handwritten ones, but I bought new cards and added my creations to the box, too. One day, I pondered, my daughter or son may well be doing the same thing I’m doing with Mama’s recipes now. The thought of it made me smile. 

As I grew in my renewed faith, I started really reading through Daddy’s prayer book. Having something of his that was so deeply personal brought me back to his memory when I held it. I’d discovered little notes, and even doodles Daddy had made in the margins. Most times, they were idle thoughts and scribbles pertaining to his specific prayers, or his words of wisdom about faith, family and friendship. The worn leather cover smelled like the aftershave I remember him splashing on in the morning; the spicy, woodsy scent kept him closer to me in heart and mind. Little did I know that cover had another gift to give me. I just hadn’t discovered it yet.

Though an outsider would have thought me crazy—some days I would think their observations correct—I spoke with Daddy every night before I slept. I talked about my day, how my life was going, and, most importantly, I renewed the promises I made to him and Mama. When I’d told him everything I wanted to say, I ended my conversation with the same words; “I love you, I miss you, I’ll see you again someday.”

After Aunt Jenny’s letter saved my life, we reconnected via letters and phone calls. I was always so excited to see a letter from her in my mailbox; she had a knack of saying exactly what I needed to hear, and when I needed it most. In return, I’d send song lyrics and poems I’d written, some recipes I’d found that had been Grandma Farmer’s, or a snip or two of wisdom from Daddy’s prayer book. Her feedback on song lyrics helped me to polish them into much better versions, and while chatting on the phone, she’d hum the tune she envisioned to accompany the words. That was when I discovered my singing talent likely came from the Farmer side; Aunt Jenny had a beautiful voice. Mama couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. That isn’t to say she didn’t try, God bless her.

Jared was thrilled to have me back at the coffeehouse, so much so that he promoted me to assistant manager within my first week back. He was horrified to learn about the shady operation at Sing-A-Gram, but relieved that I left it in my past. My promotion brought a steady and decent income, plus the tips I earned on each shift. Yes, the position had longer hours and more responsibility, but I was honored to work with some of my best friends. I truly loved the atmosphere and closeness we had there at the Flying V.

I discovered, quite by accident, a chapel in the western hills of Starlight Shores and started attending. Walking into church that first Sunday felt like being home again. The pastor, Tim Cross, had the same vision as I did growing up in that little chapel back home. He was very approachable, as was the entire congregation; everyone I met was friendly, welcoming, and forgiving. Given the lifestyle I had just left, their unconditional acceptance amazed me. There was no judgment, only grace and warmth. 

I never realized how many believers lived in Starlight Shores until I found the chapel. Many of them were younger and, like me, career-minded and driven. A few of them had tried, without success, to break into the music business. When talented singers and musicians like them could fail, I realized how stacked the odds were against me. It didn’t matter, because my desire for fame, fortune, and everything that went with it faded away. What remained was a kinder, more compassionate version of me. I learned to love myself in a healthy way. I was someone everyone wanted to be with instead of the horrible person Jeff accurately described during our last fight.

It wasn’t long before I joined the choir at church and sang with them. There were only eight of us who would put in the time that the obligation required. Though everyone was friendly, I developed a strong, close friendship with a man my age named Stephen. He was one of many talented singers denied their opportunity for a music career. It was his failure that cemented my decision to abandon the dream that had brought me to the city almost three years before. We found closeness in our shared interests, though there was no romantic spark between us. I considered Stephen a male version of Polly.

The worship leader, Tanya, encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and lead worship. This would be my first time performing for anyone, with the spotlight on me, since I quit my job at Sing-A-Gram. Given my background at the chapel back home, I should have been comfortable with it. In reality, I was scared half to death. I wasn’t worthy to stand center stage after what I’d done. Stephen, however, had such faith in me, I agreed to it. In every way, he was a stunningly handsome man; blond hair, killer brown eyes that hid behind his dorky nerd glasses, a perpetual five o’clock shadow, with a tall, slender build. His wit was sharp and sometimes dry, but he always made me laugh. 

Stephen’s face lit up when he saw me walk through the door. He greeted me with a hug and a quick peck on the cheek. “There you are! I’m happy to see you didn’t chicken out!”

I chuckled at his wording; I might have been nervous, but I was no chicken. “Good morning, Stephen!” I wrapped my arms around him and returned the kiss. “You’re the one who should lead this morning. I’m not nearly as talented as you.”

Stephen huffed at me. “Nonsense! You’re a fine singer. I wish you would recognize that, Destiny.”

Well, I did. But after making terrible decisions for so long, my overall confidence took a tremendous hit. “Thank you.” We walked together into the green room; the room itself served multiple purposes, equipped with a full kitchen, sofa, makeup tables, and a coffee machine. I walked to the mirror to check my hair and makeup. “I can’t believe how nervous I am,” I said and held out my shaking hands. “This is unreal.” 

“Once you’re up there, it will all come back to you,” Stephen said. “I’ve seen you in ‘the zone’. It’s a sight to behold.”

“Oh, come on. I’m no better than everyone else here.” I shrugged and heaved a deep sigh. “I’ve been in some shady places in my past, Stephen. I don’t deserve to be on stage, much less leading worship.”

“I beg to differ.” He hugged my shoulders and placed a tender kiss on my forehead. “It doesn’t matter where you’ve been. It only matters where you’re going; I see you going places, Destiny.”

“I gave up that dream already.”

“But you shouldn’t have. Maybe you’ll find your dream when you aren’t seeking it. That’s how it usually goes.”

How did he get to be so wise at twenty-two? “You’re probably right. But I’m not counting on it.”

“Never count on anything, but be prepared to embrace your destiny.” He gave me a slight smile. “Why did your parents name you Destiny, anyway?”

I knew we didn’t have the time for the full story. The cliff-notes version would have to do. “I was their miracle baby, their legacy. My mama’s destiny.” As I spoke, Tanya flickered the lights; our time was short before the start of service. “The next time we catch supper together, I’ll tell you the long version.”

“It’s a date!” he said with a smile. “Are you ready? You’re going to crush this today.”

“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” He took my hand and squeezed it, kissed my cheek again, then led me to the door.

“Break a leg, Destiny.”

“Thank you.” I swallowed what remained of my confidence.

We walked into the sanctuary together. I took the lead spot, up front and center stage, with Stephen behind me on my left side, and Tanya, who was also a lead vocalist, behind me to my right. The others filled in around us. The band was poised and ready to play, and it was time to go. My mouth was dry, and I prayed that my first notes wouldn’t be raspy. I bit my tongue and made my mouth water a bit. There wasn’t much, but it was just enough to swallow before I sang the first words of a song I knew by heart.

My hand wrapped around the microphone, holding onto it for dear life. My heart was pounding in my chest. One last deep breath to soothe my anxious soul. The band played, and with the first words, I discovered ‌Stephen was right all along. I was ready for this, and I was at ease for the first time in years. What I had feared all at once felt natural. I could almost sense Daddy and Mama smiling down at me. The nervousness faded, and I was unstoppable, singing my heart out in worship.

When services were over, Stephen was the first person to approach me. He wore an ear-to-ear grin, his arms held open wide. 

“You did a fantastic job, Destiny!” he said. “I knew you’d hit a grand slam home run this morning.”

A what? I didn’t know what that even meant, but I was too embarrassed to ask him. “Thank you! It happened just like you said, Stephen. As soon as I started singing, I was home.” 

“I hate to be the one to say I told you so, but I told you so!” I nudged his arm with my shoulder and laughed along with him. Such a lovable brat. 

“I know, I know,” I giggled. “I’m glad you were right.” 

“Me too.” He glanced at his wristwatch. “Do you have plans this afternoon?” 

I shook my head and wrinkled my nose. “Nope. What do you have in mind?” 

“Let’s go for lunch. My treat. You know, to celebrate your victory today.” 

“Psh,” I said. 

“Don’t doubt me, Destiny. You’re going to get noticed one of these days. Talent like yours is begging to be seen.”

I tried not to roll my eyes. “You’re being much too kind.”

“Oh, stop!” Stephen scolded me playfully. “Just shush and let me take you for lunch. You can tell me the story of your name.” 

“Okay, you win.” He held his arm for me, and I entwined mine with his. Together, we left the chapel, headed for the diner on the strip.


The next morning, Jared was already at the coffeehouse when I turned my key in the door. He wasn’t scheduled until that afternoon, so his presence there was unexpected. He waved at me as I locked the door behind me.

“Good morning, Des,” he said. 

“Good morning, Jare. Aren’t you a bit early for your shift?” 

He nodded while he finished preparing his coffee. “Yeah, Evie is sick today. I’m covering her shift, and mine, too. I wish I could clone you.” 

I giggled at the suggestion. If only Daddy could have heard that. He and Mama always said they were glad I wasn’t a twin; they thought the world couldn’t handle two of me. “Well, if you need me to stay past my shift, let me know.” 

Jared started making another coffee drink. He already had his coffee, so I assumed he was making one for me. “I will, thanks. I need to find someone to fill your old spot. No one wants to wait tables at a coffeehouse, I guess.”

Though I could relate, I also couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. The coffeehouse wasn’t a career, but it paid the bills and allowed me to save a little every check. “Some struggling star will come in someday looking for work, just like I did.”

“I sure hope you’re right, Des. I wasn’t kidding when I said I wanted to clone you.” He handed the paper cup to me; the beverage contained within was hot and foamy perfection! “I made your favorite.”

“Thank you, but you didn’t have to.” 

“I know, but I wanted to.”

My first sip of coffee was smooth and sweet. “Are you busy this weekend, Jare?” 

He paused for a moment while stirring his coffee. “I don’t think so. What’s up?” 

“I have my last bunch of drywall coming to finish the living room, and I was wondering if you’d come help?” 

“For you, Des, I’d do anything.” His smile, though familiar, seemed different as the words left his mouth. “I know Sunday is good for you, right?” 

I nodded. “Mmhmm. After church, of course. Maybe about noon? With the two of us, it shouldn’t take but a few hours. I’ll treat you to supper afterward, too.”

“It’s a date,” he said. A customer knocked on the door and pointed at his watch, drawing Jared’s attention. “Oh, shoot!” He jumped up and ran for the door. That was the end of our casual conversation. 

Right after the lunch rush, I was cleaning tables in the dining room. I volunteered to stay on and help Jared after my regular shift. It was a long day, but as the assistant manager, Jared expected me to put in extra hours when he needed me. We didn’t normally have much foot traffic in the early afternoon, but a group of people walked in, laughing and chattering. 

“Have a seat wherever you’d like,” I said when I greeted them. “I’ll be with you in just a moment.” 

A big concert was scheduled at the Hoi Polloi that evening, a classic rock and roll band on a reunion tour. I overheard the conversation at the table; the group was attending the concert and staying in town for a few days. Tourism was good for Starlight Shores. It helped bring revenue into shops that catered to working class folks like me, and not the snooty, ritzy restaurants and nightclubs that littered the Los Sueños Strip.

I nodded at Jared, letting him know I’d take the table of concert-goers. He continued to wipe down the counters and clean the coffee presses. I grabbed my pad from my apron pocket, but I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t need to write the orders. While I waited for the group to decide, I glanced at their faces. All six of them were men, maybe Aunt Jenny’s age, some a bit younger. 

Each of them ordered a coffee drink and a pastry from the case. As I was jotting their orders onto my notepad, I noticed one man staring at me. Suddenly, I regretted my decision to take this table; his relentless glower made me very uncomfortable.

“I’ll have your orders in a few moments,” I said and walked away. Jared must have noticed my troubled expression, because he was right there to question me.

“Are you having problems with that six-top?” 

I shook my head and turned my attention away from them. “Not a problem, but one of them is just staring at me. It’s a little awkward.” Jared cast his gaze in their direction, noticed the guy still fixated on me, and nodded once.

“Hmm, I see that. I’ll watch them,” he said while I prepared their coffee. I nodded in appreciation.

Jared retrieved the food items, and we carried the order to the table together. I knew why he insisted on helping me; he didn’t want a situation in his coffeehouse involving his friend.

I placed the orders on the table in front of them, one at a time. The table was long, and I couldn’t reach everyone from where I stood, so I walked to the other side, away from Jared. I leaned in front of the man who’d been watching my every move. His eyes moved from the table up to my name tag as I placed his espresso down in front of him. Jared walked to where I stood, anticipating trouble.

“Well, I’ll be…” the man finally said. “I can’t believe my eyes.” His voice quivered a bit. “If you aren’t just the spitting image of your mother.”

The hair on my neck stood on end. How did he know Mama? “I beg your pardon?” 

“You have to be her,” he said, his eyes not shifting despite Jared standing right there. “The hair, the eyes, the accent. Your name.”

My name? Okay, this is just creepy! I looked at his face, searching for something, anything, that would give me a clue about this mystery man—nothing. “I’m sorry. I don’t know who you are.”

In my peripheral vision, I saw Jared standing at the ready to protect me if I needed it. The man smiled at me and winked. “I used to call you ‘munchkin’. Maybe that will help?”

I squinted my eyes and looked closer. It couldn’t be… “Jason?” 

“You do remember!” he said with a cheerful smile. “Destiny, you look so much like your mother, it’s astonishing!” He stood and hugged me; I couldn’t believe it. Mama’s one-time boyfriend… Jason Matthews. 

I blushed. Being told I looked like Mama was a tremendous compliment. “Thank you. How have you been—” 

“Who is this pretty little lady?” One of his friends interrupted me, eyed me, and licked his lips. Jason shot a scowl at his leering friend, shaking his head.

“Remember me telling you about Fran, Will?” The friend nodded while Jason spoke. “This is her daughter, Destiny. She would have been my step-daughter in much different circumstances.”

“Oh, is she that red-headed hot mama you was talkin’ about…? Damn, Jason, how many years ago was that now?”

Red-headed hot mama? Is he kidding me? Jason saw my angry expression and interceded. “Cool it, Will. That’s her mother you’re talking about.” He turned to me. “How is she, by the way? How’s your dad?” 

With his question, my heart sank, though I should have expected it. I took a deep breath. “They’re both… gone.” 

Jason embraced me again and held me to his chest. “Oh, Destiny, I’m so sorry. What happened?” 

“Daddy had lymphoma. Mama died of cancer, too. I just don’t know what kind hers was. She passed away ‌suddenly…” I blinked back tears and swallowed the growing lump in my throat. “I still miss them so much.” 

Jason’s arms squeezed me tighter. “Well, of course you do.” He released me from his grip and looked into my eyes. “We’re in town for a few days after tonight’s concert. Please let me take you for dinner, so we can catch up?” 

Nodding, I smiled. “I’d really love that.”

That was about the time Jared spoke up. “Is everything okay here, Des?”

“It’s fine, Jare. This is my mama’s ex-boyfriend, Jason. And Jason, my boss, Jared.”

They didn’t do more than exchange a passing glance, each suspicious of the other. Jared finally decided to be the bigger man and extended his hand for a shake. “Nice to meet you, Jason.” 

“The honor is mine. You should know this little princess is important to me, even if I didn’t marry her mother.” His gentle hand on my shoulders was comforting, like a piece of ancient history reborn. “I never forgot you, munchkin. What are you doing in the city, anyway? I didn’t think you’d ever leave Appaloosa Plains.” 

“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you at supper.” 

Jason smiled and hugged my shoulders before sitting down again. “I can’t wait, Destiny.”

“Me, too.”


Two Nights Later

I gave Jason my address before he left the coffeehouse that day. He showed up at my front door dressed in a custom-tailored tuxedo, holding a bouquet of beautiful pink roses. 

“Hello, Princess!” he said. Pink roses were Mama’s favorite. His sweet gesture wasn’t lost on me. 

“Come in!” I greeted him and swung the door open. He handed the bouquet to me once he was inside. He shivered as the house’s warmth enveloped him. “It isn’t much, but it’s home.” Though it wasn’t perfect, the house looked miles better than it did when I moved in last year. With the last batch of materials, and Jared’s help to install everything this coming weekend, the house would be finished. Only the floors and painting would remain. 

Jason looked around and gawked at the furniture. I know he had to recognize some of it; the loveseat and end tables were ones he and Mama had purchased together. “What a lovely home you have, Destiny. Your folks would be so proud of you!”

I was in the kitchen fussing with the flowers. “Thank you! I’ve come a long way since they passed away. Sometimes I can’t believe all I’ve been through.” I placed the last rose in the vase, took the baby’s breath that remained in the paper, and arranged it so it looked pretty. “Where are you living now?”

“I’m back in Twinbrook. I bought a house and fixed it up, and I’m living there with my Aussie shepherd, Kota. It’s just me and him, two guys playing bachelor.” He held his arm for me. “Shall we?”

I nodded with a smile. “Of course!”

Despite my determination to not wear the gown Jeff had given me, I decided to that night. In reality, I had nothing else that was appropriate to wear. Fancy dresses and gowns weren’t exactly a priority for a girl working in a coffeehouse.

A ritzy new restaurant on the Los Sueños strip had opened up a few months before; that was where Jason decided we should spend some time getting reacquainted. It wasn’t exclusive, but it was more than I could afford, except for special occasions.

Jason guided me down the icy sidewalk to his rental car. I almost stopped in my tracks when I saw it; a shiny black Camaro, just like the yellow one Jeff had at school. He held the door for me and helped me in without incident, and then walked to the driver’s side. 

Ten minutes later, Jason pulled up in front of the restaurant—a bistro called The Tower—and allowed the valet to park the car. He led me inside the front door with a proud expression on his face. “I’ve heard only good things about this place,” he said as we stood at the host podium. “Matthews, six o’clock.” 

“Ah, yes Mr. Matthews. This way, please.” The host ushered us into the dining room and sat us near the window overlooking the park. “Your server, Kimberly, will be with you in just a moment.” The host spoke with an accent I didn’t recognize. It certainly was not from the mainland.

“Thank you,” Jason said, then turned his attention to me. He pulled the chair from under the table and held it for me while I sat. “Do you indulge in adult beverages from time to time, Destiny?”

“I haven’t in a while, but I wouldn’t mind a glass of semi-sweet wine.” 

Jason walked to the chair to my left and sat. “That sounds good. So, tell me how you came to live in the biggest little city in the north?”

“You remember the Bradfords, right?”

“Funny you should mention them. I haven’t seen them in a long time, but Sunny and Caleb still live in Twinbrook with Junior and Lisa. Sunny still makes award-winning pies and cakes for the fair. I always see them covered in ribbons and awards. She and Caleb have always been very kind to me.” 

“The last time I saw them was at Mama and Daddy’s funeral. They traveled all the way back home to pay their respects. I’d sure love to see them again, before they’re gone, too.” 

“Maybe someday you can drive over the pass to visit. I’d love that.” The server stopped at the table and introduced herself; Jason ordered a bottle of red moscato. “So, you were saying about the Bradfords?”

“Oh, yes! Well, Maya sang to me when she took care of me. She and Sunny encouraged me to sing, and I found out I was rather good at it. A long story short, I wanted to move here and become a singer. It’s a dream I’ve had since I was a little girl, and now, a dream abandoned. I have my degree in fine arts, though there isn’t much here I can do with it. Maybe I’ll take courses at the local college, because I don’t intend to work at the coffeehouse forever.”

“A singer? Really?” Jason smiled at me. “I bet you’re a fantastic singer, too.” 

I blushed. “If my success here is a sign, then no.”

“So, do you have a boyfriend? What about that dude from the coffee shop? He looks like he’s sweet for you.”

“Jared?” I laughed. “No, he’s my boss. I was engaged to the frontman of The Rock J Experience for a couple of years. We met in college, but it didn’t work out.”

“Bah,” he sneered. “That group is trash, anyway. What on Earth did you see in a grunge singer?”

“He swept me off my feet,” I said. “He was there after Mama and Daddy passed away, and he took care of me. At one point, I didn’t think I could live without him. I’ve found, though, I’m thriving on my own.” Kimberly returned to the table with the chilled wine, opened it, and poured two glasses; the half-full bottle of wine went into an ice bucket, then she walked away.

Jason picked up his glass of wine and swirled it. “This is a wonderful vintage. Flowery with notes of berry. Sweet, but not cloying.” We clinked our glasses together for a toast. “To you, Destiny. What a lovely young lady you’ve grown up to be, and I’m proud of you.”

I blushed again. “Cheers!”

“There’s no one you’re dating? I find that hard to believe.” 

“Nope. I have a few close friends here, but no boyfriends. It’s okay, though. I’d been attached to someone since I was sixteen. It feels good to be single for a while. A little lonely sometimes, but I’m busy with work and worship team practice.” I took a sip of wine. Jason was right; it was slightly sweet and refreshing, and I liked it. “What about you? Where did you go after you left the Plains? Do you have a special someone?” 

Jason sipped his glass of wine. “Well, you likely don’t remember the circumstances of how or why I left. You were so little. But when I left, I traveled around for a bit, like a drifter. I didn’t stay in one place too long, but I ended up in Twinbrook a year or so later. I found a good deal there on a small bachelor pad and fixed it up.” 

He took the last sip of his glass and set it down on the table. His expression and tone of voice were suddenly downcast. “Fran had a choice to make, and I ultimately drew the short stick. Your dad’s return home, while good for you and your mother, ruined my life.” Jason looked away, I guessed, to compose himself. A tear welled in his eyes; his pain was still palpable after all these years. “I never dated anyone after your mother, Destiny. She was my one true love, and it hurt like hell to have her slip through my fingers. Now, she’s gone forever.”

His voice quivered when he spoke of Mama. Jason was not a topic of discussion between Mama and Daddy, so I never learned the truth of his sudden departure. I didn’t realize Jason had been so hurt, and I felt bad for him. “I’m sorry. I can’t imagine.”

He took a deep breath and exhaled with a soft sigh. “Oh, it’s okay. Pain lessens over time, and gradually I accepted the reality of her choice. I have survived for seventeen years without her. You’re still here, though. I’m so glad we’ve reconnected, Destiny.”

“I am, too.”

Jason ordered meals for both of us; blackened Mahi for himself, and steak tips for me. We ate while we sat and reminisced. I had so much to tell him. Just one night of visiting would never be enough. But we talked, laughed, and yes, cried a little together. I had so much fun with him, I hated for the night to ‌end. 

It was almost midnight when he pulled up in front of the house. “I really loved spending time with you again, Destiny,” Jason said, and placed a soft kiss on my forehead. “This isn’t the last time we’ll see each other, I hope. I’m only two hours away if you ever need anything.”

I leaned toward him to give him a hug. “It would be so much fun driving to Twinbrook to see you and the Bradfords.”

“Anytime, munchkin,” he said with affection. “I love you, Destiny.” 

It was no surprise to discover I still loved him, too. He could have been my stepdad, after all. “I love you, too, Jason. Let’s not be strangers.”

“You bet.” He got out of the car and helped me out, walked me up the icy sidewalk, and got me inside the house. “Remember, just call me if you need anything at all. I’ll be here.” 

“I will.” I kissed his cheek and hugged him again. “Thank you for supper, and for all the fun times. I missed you.” 

He nodded. “I missed you, too. I’ll see you soon.” Jason turned to walk to his car. I stood in the front door and waved while I watched him get in, start the midnight black Camaro, and drive away.


That Saturday, the hardware store in town delivered the last batch of materials I’d need to finish the living room; it was the only room in the house that still needed major repairs. Electrical work had all been done, and the insulation was placed; all it needed was the drywall, crown molding, primer, and paint. All the supplies I’d ordered were placed into the garage for me. This was a job I would be happy to see finished, and I was fairly proud of myself for coming in under budget by doing most of the work myself, only hiring contractors for the tasks I couldn’t do or that required licensed work.

The next afternoon after church, I was in the garage inventorying supplies when I heard Jared knock loudly on the door, and yell “anyone home?” 

“I’m out in the garage, Jare! Come on in!” I shouted.

Jared’s footsteps made their way into the kitchen, where I heard the refrigerator door open and close, and then the sound of a heavy bucket on the concrete floor. “Hey, Des, I put some wine in the fridge for later and I brought the tools we need.”

“Oh, thanks, Jare.” I said as I opened the door between the garage and the kitchen and placed a paint can in front of it as a doorstop. “All the other stuff we need is out in the garage. Would you mind giving me a hand carrying in the drywall?”

“Your wish is my command,” he replied and flourished as we walked back out into the garage. Jared positioned himself on one end of a drywall sheet and had me at the other end. “Now, lift it with both hands from the bottom edge, Des,” he gently instructed, “and we can carry it in easier.” With Jared walking backwards, we carried the sheet into the living room with ease. The other ones were just as quick to tote into our work area.

The two of us labored side-by-side, Jared giving me pointers on the fine art of hanging drywall. He showed me how to match up the seams and put the screws in the right places while he finished with the seam tape, corner guards and mud; his steady, experienced hands, and his cool temperament, did a much better job than I ever could have. By the time we had the last piece in place, the sun was setting in the western sky.

Jared collected the tools he had brought as I swept the floor, drywall dust swirling in the long, orange sunbeams coming through the windows. We looked at one another and laughed; we were both ghosts, sweaty and—except for where our goggles and face masks had been—covered with that self-same white dust. 

“I never knew putting up walls was such dusty work,” I said, pulling my hair out of the ponytail I had worn all day and shaking more residue out of it. Jared seemed mesmerized, staring at me as the hair fell down around my shoulders. I poked him in the shoulder, waking him from his trance. “Earth to Jared, Earth to Jared…”

“Huh? Oh, yeah, sorry ‘bout that, Des. Yeah, yeah, it’s dusty work, but it’ll be even worse when I start sanding.”

“Oh, joy.” I replied, my eyes rolling back in my head. “You, uh, okay, Jare? You were kind of zoning out there…”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m, uh, fine. I was just thinking about— you know, never mind…” his voice faded to silence. As we walked into the kitchen, he ran his fingers through his hair, knocking out the excess dust. “Hey, do you mind if I use the extra shower upstairs? I’d love to clean up before we eat.”

“Um, yeah. You know where the towels are. Help yourself.” I grabbed my laptop and plopped on a nearby chair. “What are you in the mood for, Jare? Where should I order from?”

“Let me get dinner, Des. My treat.”

“But I promised—”

“I know what you promised. Just let me, okay?”

I huffed, feigning indignation. “Okay. If you insist.” I put my laptop on the kitchen counter and started walking toward the stairs. “I’m going to hop in the shower, too. Meet you back down here?” Jared nodded, his gaze meeting mine.

“It’s a date,” he grinned as we started up the steps.

About forty-five minutes later, I walked downstairs; it was mostly dark save for the light in the kitchen and a soft, orange glow coming from the living room. “Jare? Jared?” I called out, thinking he may still have been upstairs. I walked into the living room to find a thick blanket spread on the floor in front of the fireplace, now filled with a nice, roaring fire. A bucket from the garage sat on the floor, filled with snow and a wine bottle, wine glasses and a set of candles burning nearby completed the scene. How cozy, I thought to myself. Almost… oh no—romantic? The thought struck me and I felt a sudden knot form in my stomach. But… this… this was Jared, my friend, my boss. Surely, he wasn’t interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with me, especially with his strict ethics policy. It must be in my head. Right?

Right?!

“Well, you certainly look less dusty than you did an hour ago,” Jared said with a smile, stepping into the living room from the kitchen. 

“I’m sure I do. Man, that dust goes everywhere, doesn’t it?” I answered with a bright, cheerful grin, trying to fight back the growing nervousness I was feeling. We had both changed into clean, casual clothing; I had on a pair of loose yoga pants and a tank with my cozy slippers. I felt underdressed, and suddenly wished I had thrown on a sweater or cover up, but I didn’t think being around Jared in only a tank top would feel so… awkward. Jared was wearing some dressy sweats, an “A” shirt, and a zippered hoodie. His feet were bare, a brave undertaking considering the floor was concrete and the temperature outside was freezing.

“I feel so much better,” I said to Jared, attempting to ignore anything in the scenario that could be considered ‘romantic,’ yet my heart was racing like crazy. Act cool, Destiny. Breathe. All in my imagination…

“Dinner’s in the oven,” Jared said, seemingly oblivious to my inner turmoil. “I made something at home last night and snuck it into the fridge when I got here.” He smiled sheepishly. “It’ll be a little while. I just put it in a few minutes ago.” 

“Ooooo!! Bachelor cooking!! What did you make?” 

“Lasagna. It’s my Nana’s recipe. One of the first things I learned to cook, being a bachelor and all. My Mom always called it ‘Love Me Lasagna’ because it’s so good, it makes people fall in love.” He winked and smiled. The knot from my stomach made its way up to my throat. I gulped, hard, and hoped he didn’t notice. “We have some time to kill; would you like a glass of wine?” He gestured towards the blanket and the fireplace. 

“Sure, Jare, that sounds… great.” I tried to sound as enthusiastic as I could. “This is such a cozy little setup,” I continued as we walked toward the blanket. “You shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble.”

“No trouble at all, Des. I thought we just might have a little pre-housewarming housewarming.” He smiled and sat down on the blanket, patting a spot near the fireplace across from him. “Come sit.” Was he being truthful about the “housewarming” comment, I wondered, or had he seen that the scenario made me nervous as hell and was now just backpedaling? 

I took a seat on the blanket and inhaled a deep breath, trying to pretend I wasn’t flustered. Any romantic overtones—real or imagined—aside, the flicker and warmth of the fire generated sweet memories of home, making me forget the surroundings and the feelings that accompanied. Jared noticed my dreamy expression and returned his own charming smile.

“Hope you don’t frown on screw cap wine,” he grinned as he opened the bottle.

“No worries, Jare. I don’t even have a corkscrew yet!” I joked back. He picked up one glass and tipped the bottle; I could tell it was a red wine from the darkness as he poured it. He handed the glass to me. I swirled it gently, letting my mind drift as I watched the firelight play off the spinning liquid. 

“A penny for your thoughts,” he said, picking up his own glass and taking a sip. 

“Oh. The fire reminds me of home. It’s the first time this fireplace has been used since I’ve lived here. I haven’t really had one since I left Appaloosa Plains.”

“Tell me about Appaloosa Plains, Des. What was it like?” 

“It’s about as small a town as you can imagine. Only about five hundred lived there, so we all knew each other. It’s mostly agricultural, but there were some other industries as well, mostly to serve the Army base where Daddy was stationed all his life. We lived on a farm with a half-acre garden plot. It’s amazing how much produce Mama and Daddy grew in such a limited space, and how it sustained us through some pretty harsh times.”

“So you were born and raised there, right? And your parents, I imagine, lived there all their lives, too? Married for forty years, I believe you told me one time. So where does that Jason guy from the shop come into the picture?”

“Jason… yeah, that’s a little complicated. Daddy served in the big war; he deployed when I was maybe a couple of years old. The Army declared him dead after his plane went down during a botched mission and they couldn’t find him, or a body, during recon. He survived, though, and wound up living in a little village not too far from the crash site. Shows you how hard the Army looked for him, yes? It’s a much longer story than I’m telling, but in short, during the time Mama thought he was dead—about eighteen months—she met and dated Jason. The two of them hit it off and fell in love. Then, Daddy came home.” 

My thoughts drifted back to the conversation I’d had with Jason and how much he’d been hurt. “Mama had to choose between her soulmate, and the man who loved and supported her when her life was crumbling; she loved them both. It was an impossible decision, because she knew the one she rejected would be devastated. Mama didn’t enjoy wounding people she loved.”

Jared sat his wineglass on the floor behind him and leaned back on his hands. “I would’ve loved talking to your dad about his travels. I’m a bit of a history buff, particularly military history, but I sure don’t recall reading about that story.” 

“I don’t think it was the kind of story the military wanted in the history books,” I smiled, then took another sip of the wine. It differed from anything I’d had; slightly dry, but not cottony, and I found I enjoyed it. It had just enough kick to give me a warm feeling inside. “Daddy had much to talk about, that’s for sure. Not everything was good, but he still found something uplifting in every tale he told. He was a man of incredible faith.” Jared studied my face intensely as I talked about home, his attention riveted by my words.

“This is the first time we’ve really talked about your hometown, Des. I’m so intrigued. Appaloosa Plains sounds like it was a great place to grow up. Me? I was born and raised here in ‘fabulous’ Starlight Shores. It might seem like an exciting place to the outside world, but nothing exciting has ever happened to me here.” 

“Nothing? Really? Nothing? Come on, something fun must have happened in your life. I bet you played football or basketball or something in school and drove the girls crazy, didn’t you? Don’t be shy, tell me about your girlfriends. After all, you know all about Jeff.”

Jared blushed and broke eye contact with me, but not before I saw—something—dance across his face. “Me? A high school jock? Nope, not at all. The only extracurricular stuff I was involved in was the Chess Club. Didn’t do much dating in high school.” He paused for a moment. “As a matter of fact, I don’t think I did ANY dating in high school. I didn’t really have my first ‘girlfriend’ until the summer after graduation, and that was ten years ago. I’m not really a ‘ladies’ man’, Des, and certainly not what most women call attractive.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s true, Jare. You’re a cutie pie! I know I would’ve dated you—” Did I just say that out loud? It was the worst thing I could have uttered.

Despite the darkness in the room, save for the firelight, I saw Jared blush a deep shade of red. “Well, thank you, Des. I think, outside of my aunts, that’s the first time anyone’s ever called me ‘cute’.”

My mind raced for an appropriate reply. I didn’t want to lead him on. “You’re welcome,” was all I could stutter. We sat in silence and stared at each other for what felt like an eternity. I took a long sip of wine, hoping a slight buzz would break the awkwardness. 

“I-I’m gonna go check on the lasagna,” Jared said, getting up from the blanket, definitely ending the tension. He stood, straightened his pants, then walked into the kitchen. I sat on the blanket, my face buried in my hands. What the heck was I doing? What did I want? The line between friend, boyfriend, and boss seemed to get blurrier by the moment. I took another hit of the wine, a gulp this time as opposed to a sip. I got up off the blanket and padded towards the kitchen. 

“It sure smells good,” I called to him. No answer. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead; I was unsure if it was the fireplace, the wine, or the situation that made me feel warm. “Jare…?”

He popped in front of me as I entered the kitchen, his face still ‌red. Had I embarrassed him that much? “Sorry, I had my head in the oven. Had to get the tin foil off so it could finish heating. I hope it tastes as good as it smells.” His answers conveyed no apparent discomfort.

“Jare…” I said with hesitation.

“Des…?” My name on his lips came quickly, with anticipation and maybe a bit of longing. Or was I hearing only what I wanted to hear? 

“I’m sorry if I made things awkward. I didn’t me—”

“Look, don’t worry. I’m not used to compliments, and I never know what to think. It isn’t you.” 

I bit my lip. “I just don’t want things to be weird between us, seeing as we work together. You know?” 

Jared nodded. “That’s one of the biggest disadvantages of owning that shop. Anyone I meet ‌I might have feelings for, I won’t pursue. I’ve let a few special ladies slip through my fingers, not that I ever had a chance with you, anyway.” 

My heart fluttered. Did I hear him right? “What?” 

“Huh?” he said. 

“What did you just say?” 

“Which part?” I wasn’t sure if he didn’t realize what he’d said, or if he was playing dumb.

“The part about letting women slip through your fingers.” 

“Oh, that. Yeah, I never had a chance with them, anyway. I don’t know why I even get my hopes up anymore. It isn’t as though I ever find, or deserve, something good.” His statements were self-deprecating, something I recognized in him as insecurity. “Why, Des? What did you think I said?” 

I shook my head. Perhaps I misunderstood him. “Nothing. It was nothing.” 

“You know, I cherish what we have together.”

“What is it we have, Jare?” I hung on his every word, not sure what I wanted to hear.

He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. So much hung on his reply. “We’re friends. Close friends, Destiny, and nothing more.” There was melancholy in his expression, in his voice. He meant me, after all.

I reached for his hand; his fingers closed around mine as he squeezed his eyes shut. It was as though he knew my next words already, and he was bracing for them. “You can count on my friendship, Jared. I’ll always be here for you.”

There was a brief wince of pain on his face. “Thanks, Des.” He poured another glass of wine from the bottle and offered to fill mine, too. “Our friendship means much more to me than a night of passion. I want nothing to change with us… you know?”

“I do.” I took another sip of wine. “What would I do without you, Jare? You have been the one constant in my life since I’ve lived in the Shores. Please don’t underestimate how much I need you.”

“I need you, too. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had.”

Now I was the one blushing.

An hour later, supper was ready. Jared made himself right at home in my kitchen, and I was glad he did, too. He was at the house so often, it felt right to see him here. Everything smelled good. I couldn’t wait to try it.

We both sat on the blanket by the fire; in my lap, I had a plate of the best lasagna I’ve ever tasted. Jared took my hand in his. “Do you want to pray, Des? I don’t mind.” 

It was the first time he’d ever suggested it; I was touched beyond measure. “I’d love it, Jare.” He bowed his head with me as I whispered a short, simple blessing over us. 

When it was time for him to leave, Jared left the lasagna for me to enjoy. He’d been there all day, and we both had to work at the coffeehouse the next morning. I walked him to the door. Though supper was friendly, there was still awkward tension between us. 

“Thank you for all your help today,” I said. “I couldn’t have done it without you.” 

“As always, it was my pleasure.” He took my hands in his and looked into my eyes. “Thank you for your company, Des.” He leaned forward and kissed my forehead. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” 

My eyes closed, relishing the tenderness of the moment. I almost hated to see him go. “Yes, you will.”

“Goodnight.” Jared stood at the door, hesitating. Please go? I thought. Please go before I do something stupid… Finally, he twisted the knob. The door swung open; with it came an icy blast, and a sense of profound relief.

“Goodnight, Jare.” He gave a half-wave; I stood in the doorway, watching him walk down the sidewalk to his car.

I hated when my emotions played with me, when they made me believe I wanted something I really didn’t. The door closed, and I leaned against it, so confused. I growled a frustrated groan which echoed through the entire house. Two and a half years in Starlight Shores, and I was still alone. 

The fireplace had long since burned out. I turned the lights out in the kitchen, plodded up the steps to my bedroom, and collapsed on the bed. I was so lonely it made me ache, but I was sure I didn’t want a boyfriend. At least, not yet. I kicked my slippers off my feet, pulled the covers up over my head, and wept until I fell asleep.


A few nights later, I dragged myself into the house after a double shift at the coffeehouse. I was dog tired, and all I wanted was to sleep. My shoes came off at the door, then I trudged up the steps to my bedroom. On the way, I turned on the television, which hung on the only free wall upstairs. 

The entertainment news from Bridgeport blared from the set while I undressed for bed. It was just noise until I heard the name Jeffery Dean; that caught my undivided attention. I sprinted from my bedroom and collapsed in Daddy’s old recliner, dumbstruck by the image on the screen, and the news anchor’s report:

Breaking news. Jeffery Dean, frontman for the popular grunge band, The Rock J Experience, is engaged to his longtime girlfriend and Experience bassist, Valerie Jennings. The couple, shown here in Bridgeport last weekend, finished their year-long nationwide tour with Acidic Tides last November. A June wedding is planned in Dean’s hometown of Sunset Valley…

I turned the television off, slumped over in the chair. Longtime girlfriend? Valerie?! Was she the real reason behind our break up? No… it couldn’t be! I felt the ache in my chest, the sensation of suffocating, when I realized I wasn’t breathing. A sharp inhalation broke the stark silence the television had created. Tears streamed down my face, but I wasn’t sure why. Jeff and I had separated well over a year ago. I shouldn’t still hurt like this, should I? All this pain certainly wasn’t helping the loneliness.

My phone rang and startled me; Stephen’s number was on the Caller ID. Drat! I was supposed to meet him for supper. I took a deep breath and answered the phone. 

“Hello?” Despite trying to hide my trembling voice, it came through with my greeting.

“Hi, Destiny! Are we still on for—” His normally friendly and peppy greeting was replaced with concern and care. “What’s the matter, sweetheart? Have you been crying?”

Stephen was always so shrewd. “Guilty. Have you seen the news from Bridgeport?”

“No, I haven’t. What’s wrong?”

“It’s Jeff…” Even though it was Stephen, I still couldn’t tell him without tears. “He’s getting married. I just saw it on television.”

“I’m so sorry, Destiny. What can I do to help?” 

I sniffled into the phone. “Can I take a raincheck for supper tonight, Stephen? I’m sorry.” 

“Maybe you shouldn’t be alone tonight, sweetheart. Let me come pick you up, and we’ll go for dinner as we planned. Please?”

“Are you sure? I don’t want to ruin your evening, too.” 

“Of course, I’m sure, Destiny. That’s what friends are for.”

“Give me about twenty minutes? I need to get cleaned up a bit.” As much as I didn’t feel like being social, maybe Stephen was right.

“I’ll just let myself in,” he said. I gave him a key to the house after I locked myself out one nightmarish evening. It was an event I didn’t care to repeat.

“Sounds good,” I replied and hung up the phone.

Forty minutes later, I walked down my stairs to Stephen’s bright, friendly smile. “You’re late,” he teased. “But the wait was worth it. You look beautiful.” 

I blushed. “Thank you.” He took my hand and led me from the house to his car.

He drove us to a small, informal restaurant off the Los Sueños strip near the Hoi Polloi. We had been there many times before; it was one of the few places in town where folks could relax without celebrities hanging around. 

The restaurant was a quaint Italian pizzeria decorated in rustic tones, red checkered tablecloths, sheer white window linens, and terrazzo tiles on the floor. There was a separate lounge with a karaoke stage, and a bar stocked with liquor and beer on tap. In the middle of the dining room, a small dance floor sat. Though there were few customers there that night, during the weekend, the lines to get in stretched around the building. It was a very trendy hangout among the working-class residents of Starlight Shores. 

The host sat us at a small table near the window overlooking the Hoi Polloi. The waiter, a young man who introduced himself as Cyrus, took our drink order—sweet tea for me, and a pop for Stephen—and left us to peruse the menu. He smiled at me and took my hand. 

“So, tell me, what had you so upset? I know it involved that self-important sea scallop.”

That self-important sea scallop? I giggled a little more than I should have, much to Stephen’s delight. His refusal to address Jeff by his name often brought unique, humorous, and sometimes colorful descriptions of him. “Well, you know the history I have with Jeff. It isn’t like I wanted him to be alone forever; I should be happy he’s found someone new. But he said he’d never be involved with another woman after what I did to him.”

“What YOU did to HIM? Oh please. Sweetheart, if anyone suffered in that relationship, it was you. He seems like he’s doing just fine.”

“That’s what he told me. Looking back, I think it was more a guilt trip than anything else.” Stephen nodded in agreement. “So, I should backtrack a bit to the part where he had a female band member, but he neglected to tell me about her. I learned about her on his graduation day. I was so angry.” 

“Rightfully so, in my honest opinion. Why didn’t he mention her, do you think?” 

I sighed. “Well, seeing how they’re engaged to be married now, I think it’s pretty obvious he was playing me long before we broke up. I see now how our marriage would have ended, and it wouldn’t have been pretty. Almost everything he accused me of doing, he was doing to me.”

“Ah yes, projection. Destiny, the scallop sounds like a grade A narcissist—” The waiter interrupted him. Cyrus placed our drinks on the table and waited for our food order, but neither of us had peeked at the menu, much less decided. “Can we have a few more minutes?” Stephen asked.

“Take your time, sir. I’ll be back to check on you shortly.” Cyrus bowed and walked away.

Stephen turned his attention back to me. “I know it hurts you to realize that idiot is moving on. But maybe it’s better this way.” 

A light bulb lit in my head with his utterance of those words. “Maybe it’s better this way…” I repeated, deep in thought. 

Stephen recognized the look on my face. “I just gave you an idea, didn’t I?” 

“You did. I need to write this down before it’s gone.” I pulled my journal from my purse—I always had one with me for such an occasion—but I couldn’t find my pen, of course. Drat! I feverishly looked through my bag for a pen and discovered one hiding in the depths of the black abyss. “Found it!” I declared, holding the slender, silver trophy in my hand.

I spent the next ten minutes writing the words to a song. They poured out of my soul and into my notebook with so little effort. When I was finished, I could barely read the chicken scratch—I’d apparently inherited Daddy’s atrocious penmanship—but my thoughts were there, saved until I could get home. Stephen read the words as I wrote them, nodding his approval. 

“Where did THAT come from?” he asked, wearing a grin. “That is sheer brilliance!” 

“That was your inspiration,” I said. “Thank you.”

*****

The next morning, the temperature was freezing outside. My breath puffed from my mouth in steamy plumes as I opened the coffee shop to begin my shift. That was when I noticed her; a skinny, dirty little cat meowed and caught my attention. She walked to me and rubbed against my ankles. I reached down to pet her; for a stray cat, she was friendly but obviously neglected and starving.

“Hello there,” I said to her. “You look like you could stand to eat, little one.” I reached down to pick her up. She didn’t fight me at all. “You poor little thing.” She purred as I carried her into the employee break room. Jared came in two minutes later. 

“I see you’ve met Poppy,” he said. “She’s been hanging around the shop for the last couple of days. I’ve been giving her some of the food that doesn’t sell. She seems to like the orange poppyseed muffins, which is why I started calling her Poppy. I can’t bring her home because my landlord won’t allow a pet. It breaks my heart.” 

“You’ve named her, Jare?” I brought a saucer down from the cabinet and filled it with some cream. I knew dairy wasn’t the best food for her, but it sure beat a poppyseed muffin. “It sounds like you’re already attached.”

He reached to scratch the cat’s head. “Well, I hate to see her in such terrible shape. Sometimes, I really dislike people. Who does that to an animal?”

The cat lapped at the milk I set down for her, purring all the while. I never got attached to the barn cats we had on the farm back home, but this cat was different. She had obviously been someone’s pet—a cat used to being cared for and loved—not a feral barn mouser. That she’d been neglected for this long tugged at my heartstrings. “She needs a suitable home, someone to love and care for her. Maybe I’ll bring her home with me today, since you can’t take her. I could sure use some company, too.”

Jared smiled. “I agree, and I think it’s a great idea.” 

Mama told me frequently about a barn cat she had as a child, one that used to sleep on her bed in the winter. Snugglebugg, as Mama named her, was more a pet than a barn cat, one that she spoke of often with fondness. I always wondered why she never took in a pet from the tamer barn cats. Perhaps she had too much to worry about with keeping the farm out of the red. At least in the barn, the cats had their fill of small vermin, and never went hungry. 

Poppy was on my mind as I worked my shift that morning. We let her out back into the fenced yard behind the coffeehouse, since the county ordinance prohibited her being inside. I had an old beach blanket in my car’s trunk. I lined a box with it and set it by the door for her as a temporary shelter. When my shift was over, Poppy was outside the door, pawing at it and yowling. Seeing her like that confirmed I was making the right decision. I hung my apron up in the break room and collected my purse. 

“Are you bringing Poppy home, Des?” Jared sat sipping a cup of coffee, keeping an eye out for Evangeline. She and a new hire would work the afternoon-to-close shift.

I nodded. “Mmhmm. First, a stop at the vet, and then the pet store. I need some things for her before I bring her home.” She rubbed against my ankles again, mewing. “You poor little thing,” I said as I scooped her up into my arms. She snuggled close to me, curled up inside my winter jacket. “Let’s go home.” 

The vet determined ‌Poppy was twelve to thirteen years old, about two pounds underweight with an upper respiratory infection. Dr. Hughes said that although she was ‌scrawny, her condition wasn’t dire. He gave her a shot of antibiotics, some subcutaneous fluid, and worm medication, just to be on the safe side. I’d bring her back at a later time for a normal exam and shots. At the pet store, I bought a new litter box, two different kinds of food, toys, and a warm, fluffy bed. She slept tucked inside my jacket while I walked around the store, shopping for the things I needed. 

How this poor cat survived outside in the harsh winter weather was beyond me, but she wouldn’t have to brave sub-zero temperatures and be hungry anymore. I talked to her while I opened a can of food, and she returned the conversation in meows and trills. She finally got to eat an appropriate meal instead of scraps that Jared fed her from the coffeehouse. Poppy devoured everything I gave her and drank a long time from the bowl I filled with fresh water. 

It took no time at all to fall in love with this sweet, affectionate little cat. Someone’s loss was definitely my gain. The living room was chilly, so I lit a fire in the hearth, and then sat in Daddy’s old recliner. Poppy took her place in my lap, settling down to bathe herself. She walked onto my chest and curled up there. We dozed off together in the early evening, curled up like old friends.


By spring, Poppy had filled out; her coat looked shiny and healthy, and her ribs weren’t visible anymore. She had energy like a young cat and was extremely friendly. And though she’d spent a good amount of time outside, she seemed to prefer the indoors. In every way, Poppy was content, and frankly, so was I.

Having Poppy to care for filled a need I didn’t realize I had; her constant companionship. And though I wasn’t ready for another romantic relationship, I was lonely. Friends couldn’t fill the void that Poppy did. She slept on my bed every night, greeted me at the door when I came home from work, and listened to my troubles without judgment. I needed Poppy, and she needed me.

I sat on the floor in the living room, enjoying the cool breeze from an open window. Poppy played with a toy nearby while I strummed my guitar. A knock sounded at the door; I was expecting Stephen to stop by.

“Come in!” I called out. Stephen stepped inside, greeted by my furry welcoming committee.

“Hi Poppy,” he said, reaching down to scratch her head. “Are you taking good care of our girl?” 

I smiled. “She is.” Her musical trills always warmed my heart; she was too darned cute. I set my guitar on its stand and stood up for a hug. “You’re just in time! I’m almost done with this song.” 

“Is this the one you started writing at the pizza place?” 

I nodded with a smile. “I think it could be a hit for someone.” 

“What about you? Why don’t you record it, Destiny?”

“I can’t afford studio time on a barista’s salary, Stephen. But believe me, I’d love to.” 

“What if I could make that happen? I know a few people in high places.” 

I felt uneasy, and I started making excuses. “I… I don’t have a band, or anything like that.”

“Why not do an acoustic demo? That’s all the rage these days. Everyone is remaking their big hits as acoustics.”

While what he said was true, those artists actually had established careers. No one outside the coffeehouse knew my name. “I-I don’t know…”

He put his hands on my shoulders and looked straight into my eyes. “What are you waiting for? Destiny, the world needs to hear you. You’re much more talented than you give yourself credit for, and that’s the biggest waste.”

I shook my head and stepped away from him. “I will not record it, Stephen, but I’d still like for you to hear it. The musical arrangement is almost finished, and I’d like your opinion.”

“Of course.” He came in and sat on the loveseat; Poppy jumped into his lap and settled down, demanding his attention. Stephen was all too happy to oblige her. I pulled up a chair, took my guitar, and settled down to play.

“This is still a work in progress, but the lyrics are finished. The name is Maybe It’s Better This Way.” A smile crossed Stephen’s face.

He stroked Poppy’s fur while I plucked the strings on the guitar, playing the opening of my new song. I got through the first verse and the chorus and stopped. In my peripheral vision, I noticed ‌Stephen had his eyes closed, his jaw clenched, and I detected the slightest sniffle as he choked back tears. 

“What do you think?” 

His eyes opened; the tears he’d been trying to hold dripped down his cheek. He wiped them away and tried to collect himself. Apparently, the song had hit a raw nerve, but it was just the reaction I’d hoped for. Finally, he shook his head and took a breath. 

“That song is so moving, Destiny. If you were trying to convey heartache and despair, you killed it.” 

A smile pulled across my face. “That’s exactly what I was trying to say.”

“Mission accomplished.”

“This song came from a deeply personal place. In a way, it’s helped to bring some needed closure.”

“Are you certain you don’t want to record that song, Destiny? It could be your first big hit.” 

I shrugged my shoulders. “It will be a hit for someone. I doubt it will be me, though. I gave up that dream, remember?”

“I’m telling you Destiny, you are going to be discovered. I don’t know when, and I don’t know where. But someday, the stars will align, and you’ll become one of them.” 

For months, I told myself I’d be content being a songwriter, making other people famous with my lyrics and allowing other vocalists to live my dream. But Stephen’s encouragement was reigniting a passion I thought had died—the longing I’d moved to the city to satiate.

That night, as I knelt beside my bed, I talked to Daddy like I did almost every night. This time, it felt different. I needed a sign, something that would tell me what to do. 

Daddy, I know you’ve heard my new song. I wish so much that you were here to tell me what you think, which direction I should go. I’m not content working at the coffeehouse, even though it’s a reliable income. Daddy, I want more. I want to pursue my childhood dreams. But it’s so hard here, I don’t know what to do. Please send me a sign that you hear me. You were always so wise, and I’d love your advice. I’ll wait for your timing, because I know you’ll send the answer I need. I will love you and Mama forever. Please tell her I said hi.

As I set his prayer book on my nightstand, an old, tattered piece of paper fell from its pages. I don’t know where it came from; I thought I’d been through that book cover to cover. The paper looked like it had been torn from a book, perhaps part of a journal. Maybe this was the missing page from his travel journal Mama always wondered about? With trembling hands, I reached for the paper and unfolded it. 

I don’t know how long I’ve been living in the village, about two to three months, by my best guess. My leg is still painful to bear weight, but I suppose it’s as good as it’s going to get. And as much I love it here, I’m desperate for home. I hunger for your arms around me, darling Frannie. I long to hear our daughter’s voice say, “Daddy,” one more time. Every day, I wrestle with making the journey home, because I know it will be on foot should I ever attempt it. I don’t look forward to it; the physical pain would be excruciating. Not having you and Destiny in my life, however, would be more than my aching heart could bear.

I have written most of this journal to you, sweetheart. Allow me, for a moment, to talk to our precious baby girl?

My breath caught in my throat, and goosebumps rose ‌on my skin. My hands went from a slight tremble to a full shake. I swallowed hard and continued to read.

Destiny, my sweet princess, how I miss your little voice and giggles. I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again, or watch you grow into the beautiful young woman I know you’ll become. So, if I never make it home, there are a few things I want to tell you.

If you’re like your mama, you’ll have a tender heart, sacrificing yourself for those you love and cherish. You’ll be a hard worker, and you’ll succeed in anything you do. Your family, friends, and everyone around you will gravitate toward you, much like they do with your mama. Her never-say-die attitude will be yours. You’ll be loved so deeply, you will never fail. I would be happy to see this come to pass for you.

But if you’re anything like your old man, you’ll want to do big things with your life. You won’t be content to stay in one place for long, and your dreams will be larger than life. I want to encourage you, Destiny, to do the things you dream of, because you know you’ll never be happy with anything less. Reach for the stars, my baby girl, and become one of them. 

A lone, salty tear dripped from my eyes and splattered on the note I held in my hand. How could he have known all those years ago what my ambitions would be? Wasn’t this the exact thing Stephen had told me? An eerie chill swept across my body; I wiped the droplet from the page and continued to read his words.

Finally, stay true to your faith, because if your mama raises you well, you will be a woman of great faith, just like her. Pray often, and love deeply. Follow the narrow path set before you, and He will never let you down. Put your trust in Him, and He will guide you. It is because of His grace and mercy that I still live. 

If my circumstances keep me from returning home, I hope you’ll forgive me. Know, Destiny, that I will never forget you. You and your mama will be forever in my heart, and always on my mind. Be well and do good in your life. I will see you again someday. If not while we live, then in heaven. I will love you and your mama forever. 

Hugs and kisses,

Daddy.

This was not the first time I’d gotten confirmation that I needed from Daddy, but it was the first time it had happened so quickly. So quickly, in fact, that I sat in stunned disbelief for a moment. His words were the warm hug I yearned for, and the gentle encouragement I sought. Peaceful tranquility washed over me; I knew exactly what path I should take. I wiped tears from my eyes, looked toward the heavens, and whispered to him, “thank you, Daddy.

I climbed into bed and pulled the blanket up to my chin. Poppy, who had been waiting for me to settle down, jumped onto the bed and rubbed her face on mine—her nightly ritual—before she bedded down on my pillow each night. I reached to scratch her head; she returned a trill and a content mew. 

“Sleep well, my sweet Poppy,” I whispered in the night’s stillness. “I love you.”

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Up Next: Chapter Six, Generation Two


Poppy’s story—her rescue from the cold, wintry streets of Starlight Shores—was inspired by Twiggy’s rescue story from “Balam Says” on Instagram. Twiggy, in her short time with her adoptive family, stole the hearts (mine and Chris’ included!) of thousands of followers. She crossed the Rainbow Bridge on March 9th after she suffered complications from Feline Leukemia Virus. Her legacy is one of love and hope, and it’s in her honor that we have the opportunity to help the Balam Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit. The Balam Foundation works to help impoverished communities with cat and dog sterilization programs, rehabilitation of wild cats, and other animal causes. If you don’t already follow Balam Says on IG, please check out Balam and Co., and the witty, wonderful, and compassionate Phaedra Barratt, cat mom and caretaker. If you are interested in supporting the Balam Foundation, you may do so here: The Balam Foundation.

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I’m Still Here!

Hello everyone!

I just wanted to let you all know that I’m still here, alive and kicking, and working on editing my latest chapter of the Legacy to publish. Hopefully, I’ll finish this soon, and get back on track.

Our year of challenges has continued, though not as badly as we started out. My hubby continues to have health struggles, but I think we’re on the right path to healing now. He’s had surgery on his foot, and he’s required much more of my time and attention. As it should, family comes first, and the blog… well, it loses out in situations like this. I’ve been struggling with increased pain issues since recovering from COVID, too. We’re quite the pair!

There are some exciting plans for the next five to six chapters in the works, so I hope you’ll stay tuned as we develop new storylines and revisit old ones from the original Gen Two text. I’m going to admit something I seldom do as a writer; I’ve had a terrible writer’s block since February, since Chapter Four was published. Five has been slow going, so Chris is dedicating some time to help me polish it into the story I want it to be. We’ll see some of Destiny’s character being developed in her narration, and a surprise I don’t want to give away until the chapter is released; I’m very excited about it! 

Now, I realize the Chapter Five teaser has been out for a while. I know I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I’m pretty picky about what I’m writing, and how it looks before it’s published. Content won’t go live until I’m at least 95% happy with it (there is always room for improvement!) so my chapters are slower than I’d like. Please bear with me just a little while longer? The wait will be worth it.

Summer brings warm weather, fun activities, and weddings! Oh, but who? (You already know!) Stay tuned!

G2 Chapter Five – Teaser

Six Months Later

A big concert was scheduled at the Hoi Polloi that evening, a classic rock and roll band on a reunion tour. I overheard the conversation at the table; the group was attending the concert and staying in town for a few days. Tourism was good for Starlight Shores. It helped bring revenue into shops that catered to working class folks like me, and not the snooty, ritzy restaurants and nightclubs that littered the Los Sueños Strip.

I nodded at Jared, letting him know that I’d take the table of concert-goers. He continued to wipe down the counters and clean the coffee presses. I grabbed my pad from my apron pocket, but I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t need to write the orders. While I waited for the group to decide, I glanced at their faces. All six of them were men, maybe Aunt Jenny’s age or close to it. 

Each of them ordered a coffee drink and a pastry from the case. As I was jotting their orders onto my notepad, I noticed one man staring at me. I was regretting my decision to take this table; his relentless stare was making me very uncomfortable.

“I’ll have your orders in a few moments,” I said and walked away. Jared must have noticed my troubled expression, because he was right there to question me.

“Are you having problems with that six-top?” 

I shook my head and turned my attention away from them. “Not a problem, but one of them is just staring at me. It’s a little awkward.”

“I’ll keep an eye on them,” he said while I prepared their coffee. I only nodded in acknowledgment.

To be continued…

Find out the rest of the story soon!


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G2 Chapter Four – The Aftermath

Author’s Note: This chapter contains adult situations and language. Reader discretion is advised.


Three Days Later

I curled into the fetal position, laying on the bed in the swanky hotel penthouse Jeff reserved for our special weekend together. Since Saturday—the day that my life fell to pieces—I wallowed in my self-inflicted misery. The scene played in my memory when I closed my eyes to sleep; each repetition ripped the bandage off the gaping, but not quite fatal, wound.

Our last moments together before the fateful phone call were so loving and tender. We had hopes that our first child was conceived from the love we made; now, that possibility invaded my thoughts. What if he had succeeded? A baby now, without its father, would be the end of my non-existent singing career. Every outcome of that scenario ended badly for me and a child. How would I raise it alone? And more importantly, how would I afford it? I could barely survive on my own. I couldn’t let myself think about it.

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My phone laid next to me on the bed, blaring the alarm I had set to remind me I had a flight to catch. Without blinking, I reached for it and turned it off. My arms wrapped around my chest to help ease the ache; it wasn’t working. When I squeezed my eyes shut, I could still see Jeff’s angry expression. I could still hear the heartbreak in his resentful words. Another tear rolled down my cheek and soaked into the already damp duvet. Is it possible to cry too much?

I dragged myself with a painful groan off the bed and into the shower. The water was as hot as I could tolerate, and I cried again in the steam. I needed to pull myself together. The last bit of soap rinsed from my hair, I turned the water off and stood there, dripping more than just the droplets from my shower. I reached for the towel and wrapped it around my long, red hair.

There wasn’t much to pack. One small carry-on suitcase only had my pajamas removed from it. The outfit I’d worn on the airplane still laid on the bed in a crumpled heap. Since changing clothes on Saturday night, I hadn’t been dressed again.

My taxi would arrive at 10:30 AM to bring me to the airport in Bridgeport. I had twenty minutes to finish packing and collect myself. My phone illuminated with the reminder; Jeff’s happy face smiled in the background. Seeing him felt like a sucker punch in the gut. With just minutes to spare, I left the suite with my suitcase and backpack. The garment bag containing the gown still hung where Jeff left it. I couldn’t bear to bring it home, and I knew the hotel would return it to him.

Jeff texted with information about my return flight before he left for his tour on Sunday evening. My fare home, which he had prepaid, waited at the ticket counter for me to pick up. I hoped he hadn’t rescinded that, too. I approached the ticket agent with my identification in my hand.

“Farmer,” I said. “There’s a ticket waiting for me.” I placed my ID on the counter and slid it toward her.

She typed my information into the computer, cocked her head, and smiled. “Destiny, right?”

“Mmhmm.”

“I have your ticket here.” She paused and shook her head with a confused expression. I felt my body tense. What had Jeff done now? “I’ve never seen this type of code on a fare before. Excuse me for a moment?”

What choice did I really have? “Sure.” With my answer, she stepped away from her computer terminal. I wondered if I could reach my investment contact at an odd time, and if he would release funds, should I need them. It would be just like Jeff to cancel my ticket.

I had waited about five minutes when she returned with a smile. “I’m sorry about the delay. You’re all set.”

“What was the problem?”

“The ticket was downgraded from first class to coach. I had never seen that code before. We usually see upgrades, not downgrades.” She handed the paper ticket to me with a friendly, but apprehensive, smile.

“Thank you.” I wasn’t about to complain. Jeff could have made my day even more difficult. I was thankful he didn’t. I checked my case and slung my backpack over my shoulder.

The walk to the gate seemed long. It could have been because I was anxious about my return home. Trying to contain my emotion was sapping my strength. I just wanted to curl up in bed and cry. Instead, I was walking through an airport, returning to the only home in the Shores I’d known. The first, and only home Jeff and I shared. The home I’d need to vacate within the month. Not to mention, I had to make a phone call I dreaded. Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul planned to attend the wedding. The news of our breakup would be excruciating to tell her.

The airline called my row for boarding after first class. My seat was in the back of the plane near the lavatory, and in front of the engine. Thanks, Jeff, I thought to myself. This would be a noisy ride home. Passengers filed into the seats in front of mine; I prayed no one would claim the seat next to me. I wanted nothing more than to be alone.

It seemed my prayer would be answered, but at the last moment, a chubby, older man hurried down the aisle, checking his ticket. Oh no, I thought. Not here! Sure enough, he stopped at my row, pushed his glasses up onto his nose, and plopped himself down next to me. He smiled and extended a hand. I wasn’t really interested in pleasantries, but I took his hand, anyway.

“I’m Gus.”

“Destiny,” I said with a feeble shake. I turned my attention back outside the window.

“Where are you headed?” he asked. Perhaps the question was innocent, just small talk. I wasn’t in the mood.

“Starlight Shores.”

“Me too!” Oh goody.

“Look,” I said, “I would like to be left alone. It’s not you…” There was that miserable glob of emotion in my throat again. “Please…” He watched a tear fall from my eyes and soak into my sweater.

“No offense taken, Destiny.” He turned away from me; I immediately felt guilty.

“I’m sorry, Gus. It’s just that—”

“You don’t need to explain. We’re just strangers on an airplane. It’s okay.”

Whew! “Thanks for understanding.” He shrugged and nodded my way, busying himself with a newspaper. I plugged my earbuds into my music player and tuned out of the world, if only for a couple of hours.

*****

The flight felt as though we’d been in the air for a day instead of two hours. Gus said nothing more to me during the flight and left without incident. I gathered my backpack and stood, waiting my turn to exit the plane.

I needed a cab back into the city; a part of me wished that I’d run into Arthur again. My bag was the last off the plane, of course. I grabbed it and walked toward the throng of waiting cabs outside baggage claim. A young man approached me. “Where are you going, Miss?”

“Starlight Shores,” I said.

“I’ll take you.” He grabbed my case and stowed it in the trunk, opened the door for me, and held it while I got in.

He drove thirty minutes back into the city and stopped outside the highrise building where I lived. Things were so different than they were when I left on Saturday morning. I was so lost in thought, I didn’t hear the driver when he told me the fare.

“Miss?”

“Oh,” I said with a sheepish grin. “I’m sorry. How much do I owe you?” 

“Twenty-five.” I peeled off two twenties and placed them into his hand.

“Keep the change as a tip.”

“Are you sure, Miss?”

I nodded. “Mmhmm. Before you go, can I ask you a question?”

He nodded with hesitation. “Yeah…”

“Do you know an Arthur…” My mind skipped. I forgot his last name! “I mean, is there an Arthur that drives for your company?”

He shook his head. “Not to my knowledge, no.” Drat!

“Okay, thank you.” It was worth a try. I took my case and pulled it inside the door.

On the nineteenth floor, Tiffany stood waiting for the elevator. She was the last person I needed to encounter. She must have noticed I was out of sorts, because she couldn’t help herself.

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“What’s eatin’ you, Ginger Snap?”

“Leave me alone,” I grumbled. I no sooner had my key in the lock when her hand was on the door, holding it shut.

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“What does that man see in you? You’re always so nasty.”

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“Last warning, Tiffany. Leave me alone.”

“Ooh!” she taunted me. “What are you gonna do? Cry? Call the cops?”

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I turned around and advanced toward her, pinning her against her apartment door. “I told you to leave me alone!” I growled through my teeth at her. My fist was clenched, and I was hot. I might have been shorter and weaker, but one more jab from her would have lit my fuse.

“Alright, alright. Geez, you’re a bitch, Destiny.” She pushed me away and walked toward the elevator. I took the opportunity to go inside and locked the door behind me.

The first thing I saw staring back at me from the living room wall was the huge portrait Jeff and I had taken for our engagement announcements. We looked so happy and so in love, I wouldn’t have thought anything could destroy it. But I did. The grief hit me like a sledgehammer; I ran to my bedroom, collapsed onto my bed, and bawled until I fell asleep.


I allowed myself an extra day off work to recover from the disaster. Jared understood when I told him there was a family emergency. Sitting in the penthouse’s living room, on the loveseat I brought from home, I held my phone in my grip. Aunt Jenny’s phone number was dialed in. All I had to do was press Send. Why couldn’t I do it? Why was life so difficult for me? And then I remembered… It’s my own damn fault.

I took a breath as my finger hovered over the call button. Whether it was a muscle tic, or I actually meant to press it, was a mystery. The phone rang twice before Aunt Jenny’s musical voice answered.

“Hi Desi!” she said. “Are you getting excited about next Saturday?”

“Hi Aunt Jenny,” my voice trembled. There was so much turmoil in my soul, from the old nickname to my awful news. I wanted to crawl into bed and sleep until my birthday. “I have something to tell you.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone for a moment. “Is everything okay, Destiny?”

My heart pounded in my chest; I sniffled back tears that wanted to escape. “No.”

I heard the concern in her voice. “What’s wrong? Is Jeff okay?”

“I don’t know.” That was the truth. I assumed he wasn’t, though. “The wedding is off. Jeff and I broke up…” My voice faded to ragged sobs. Through the tears, I heard Aunt Jenny’s quivering voice.

“What happened? You two were perfect for each other.”

“It’s my fault. He had life-changing news, and I ruined it.”

“I don’t understand, Destiny. What was his news? How did you ruin things?”

Her questions sought only to find answers. To me, they ripped open the wounds that had only superficially closed. I couldn’t hold the emotion back any longer. I sobbed on the phone with the only aunt I knew, the only family I had that remained. While I wept, her soft whispers of comfort came through the phone over hundreds of miles; it felt as though she was right there with me, ready to hug me as I cried. I heard a question in the background, and a ‘shh’ sound in reply, along with the words, ‘The wedding is off.’ That didn’t help.

What seemed an eternity later, I collected myself enough to speak. “Jeff brought me to Bridgeport this weekend to tell me his news. We were going to have dinner together at a fancy restaurant. He wanted me to know his band landed a recording contract. But before we got to dinner, his agent called.” I took a deep breath and held it. “They’re on tour with Acidic Tides, as of Monday.”

Aunt Jenny was very aware of my troubles in Starlight Shores, so she understood the impact his news had on me. Or so I thought. “Well, that sounds like a good thing…? Isn’t it, Desi?”

“It is…” For Jeff, I thought. I couldn’t believe the jealousy that still invaded my thoughts. I resented him, and I had no right to do so. “He told me we needed to postpone the wedding indefinitely. At the moment, Daddy’s temper took over what Mama’s tender heart meant to say. I was jealous of his instant success after I’ve spent the last year struggling.”

“That doesn’t sound like you, Destiny. Jealousy and anger are grave transgressions.”

I sniffled into the phone. “I know. It gets worse.”

“I’m listening.”

I took a deep breath and exhaled every bit of air from my lungs. What was I waiting for? “Jeff didn’t understand why I was so angry. Looking back, I’m not sure, either. But then I…” The emotion welled up in my eyes again; a tear rolled down my cheek and splattered onto my leg. “I screamed at him, Aunt Jenny.”

“What did you say?”

“I told him…” Breathe, Destiny. “I said I hated him.”

Aunt Jenny’s shocked gasp on the other end of the phone brought more tears. With her reaction, I was reminded how badly I’d screwed up my life. I wasn’t prepared for her next words.

“How disappointing, Desi. You were not raised to hate.”

I wanted to hang up the phone and throw it against the wall. But her words pricked at my heart; I knew she was right. “Mama and Daddy would be so disappointed in me, wouldn’t they?”

She hesitated, stumbling over her words. I don’t think she wanted to saddle me with more guilt or pain. “Oh, sweet pea, I don’t think you could ever disappoint your mama and daddy.”

You’re letting me off the hook? I thought. “You really think so?”

“I’m certain of it.” She switched back into comfort mode. “You must be heartbroken.”

To say I was heartbroken didn’t quite cut it. “I am devastated, Aunt Jenny. He was my soulmate.”

“Did he give you the chance to explain how you felt?”

I shook my head, as though she could see me. “No. I tried to apologize, but he wouldn’t hear it.”

“I can understand why he was hurt, but he didn’t give you the opportunity to make amends? That isn’t right, either. Couples fight, but in the end, they try to work out differences. It sounds to me, Desi, that Jeff wasn’t ready for the long-term commitment of marriage, especially with his career taking off.”

I hadn’t stopped to consider the possibility Aunt Jenny had presented. Maybe Jeff was looking for a way out, and I presented him with the perfect opening. “Maybe you’re right.”

“I think I am, Desi. There were other reasons behind his quick departure. If he loved you as much as he claimed, he’d have given you the chance to explain yourself.”

For the first time since Saturday, I felt better. “Thank you, Aunt Jenny. You make sense.”

“You’re welcome, kiddo. I’m always here if you need me, okay?”

“Okay. I love you and Uncle Paul so much. I’m sorry I won’t get to see you, though.”

“Maybe we’ll get a chance to come visit you soon. I’d love to see your new home.”

“I’d really like that.”

“I would too, Desi. We will talk soon, sweetheart.”

Again, I nodded my head as though she could see me. I really needed to stop doing that. “That sounds good.” We said our goodbyes and hung up the phone.


Two Days Later

The house I first considered when I moved to Starlight Shores over a year ago was still on the market. Its price had been reduced, and the listing changed to “as-is.” This was my chance to get a great deal on the home I wanted, one that was close to everything I needed.

I walked up to the door and knocked. Though the frame was bent and the door wasn’t plumb, the outside looked kept up with fresh paint and younger plants. However, that’s where the curbside appeal ended.

The real estate agent, a lady named Rochelle Watson, greeted me at the front door. A heavy aroma of decay and neglect assaulted my nose the moment I stepped inside. It took my breath away. The walls desperately needed new sheetrock, primer and paint, and I thought it couldn’t have hurt for someone to brush the cobwebs out of the corners. The floors were dirty and worn throughout the first level. In the kitchen were older, worn wooden cabinets, ancient appliances and countertops soiled with heavy dirt. I almost turned around and left, but I already loved the floor plan. Everything else could be fixed.

“You must be Destiny!” she said, her hand extended for a shake. “I’m Rochelle.”

“I am, and it’s nice to meet you, Rochelle.” I continued to look around at the house’s interior. Whoever lived here last did nothing to maintain it; its condition was revolting. “This is in really rough shape.”

“The owner had some problems come up and couldn’t spare the money on improvements. The price reflects its ‘as-is’ condition.” Rochelle ushered me into the kitchen. “They’re willing to give two thousand toward the appliances.”

I said nothing, taking mental notes on everything it needed, and how much it would cost to bring it up to my standards. Two things were certain; the appliance allowance wouldn’t pay for one new appliance, much less all of them, and the owners wanted WAY too much for this junk heap.

She led me on a tour of the house, covering every room on both floors. Though the second floor wasn’t nearly as bad, overall, it needed extensive repairs. “What do you think of it, Miss Farmer?” she asked.

The house was perfect for my needs, even if it was run down and musty. The location was ideal, close to work and the park. Once I got back on my feet, I could really sink some TLC into this fixer-upper. “It’s all the home I need. It’s just me for now.” I tapped my fingers on the kitchen counter. “I like it.”

Rochelle nodded, then continued her sales pitch as though the house was in perfect shape. “You can’t go wrong with this one, Miss Farmer. The central location will make it very convenient for you. You’re close to the park, the coffeehouse, and the Sing-A-Gram HQ is not far away.”

“What’s the list price again?”

The agent looked at her paperwork. “One hundred thirty thousand.”

This was where Jeff’s sage wisdom would come in handy. “I’ll offer one hundred even.”

“But Miss Farmer, homes are selling much higher than this everywhere else, and I can guarantee you that this property will—”

“Please don’t patronize me. I’ve researched this property extensively. I know it’s been on the market for over a year. It obviously needs work, which I’m willing to do myself. I’ve offered a generous price for it, considering all it requires.” I ran my hands over the hardwood carved fireplace. “Just because I sound like backwoods, it doesn’t mean I’m ignorant.”

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“Are you certain you’re only twenty years old?” Rochelle asked me. The look on her face was priceless.

I nodded. “I was valedictorian of my graduating class.”

“Oh, nice!” she said. “High School?”

I nodded again. “College, too.”

“Um, did you say ‘college too’?”

“Yes ma’am,” I said. “I graduated last spring with my BA in fine arts. Top of my class.”

“At nineteen?” Rochelle looked a little more than incredulous.

“Yes. At nineteen. I will be twenty-one in a few weeks.”

“You’ll be a force to contend with in this town, Destiny.”

“I haven’t found that to be true yet, but things can change!” I wanted to switch the subject back to the task at hand. “So, one hundred even is my offer. I’ll be ready with a counteroffer if I need it. I suspect I won’t.”

Rochelle jotted numbers down on a preprinted form. “Who is your lender, so I can send the paperwork?”

“I won’t be using a lender. This is a cash purchase.”

“Pardon me for being so forward, but where does an almost twenty-one-year-old woman get that kind of money?”

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I sat down on the ratty old loveseat in the living room. “Ms. Watson, my folks passed away almost three years ago and left the family estate to me. It had little acreage, but there was a sizable barn on the property with two stalls for horses and a greenhouse. Being in a rural town, a property like theirs was a turnkey investment for a young family just starting out, if they wanted to put in the time and effort to run a farm like Mama and Daddy did, that is. Me? Well, I never felt the call of being a farmer, despite my last name. My desires run bigger. Their farm sold for an acceptable price, which affords me my choice of starter homes here in the Shores. They saved and sacrificed my entire life to give me this chance. It’s a sacrifice I won’t take for granted, and I’m going to, as my daddy told me, ‘grab the world by the horns and give it hell’.”

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“Your parents must have been extraordinary, and so are you.” When I stood, she held her hand to me. “Let’s get this offer ready to submit to the seller. It would surprise me if they turned it down. Let’s face it, we’re trying to put lipstick on a pig here.” The comment made me belly laugh. She wasn’t kidding, either. “They’re motivated to offload this house.”

“That sounds like a great idea.”

*****

Two weeks later, Rochelle and I sat in the title company’s office and signed the papers to close on my new home. I couldn’t have been happier to get the purchase completed. It left me with just a week to move from the penthouse. Jared, Evangeline and her boyfriend, Trevor, helped me move in one evening. I discovered how little I had brought with me from Appaloosa Plains when we placed everything in the new house. What overcrowded the penthouse got lost in the square footage of my new home.

I spent a couple of nights cleaning the penthouse after I moved out. I was elbow deep in cleaning chemicals when I heard the front door open. “Tiffany, you’re not welcomed here!” I shouted out. My voice echoed through the empty apartment.

“Hello, Destiny,” a familiar, seemingly disembodied voice said. I spun around, and my heart fell through the floor.

Jeff.

“I… um…” I didn’t know what to say to him. I had the apartment for another couple of days. “I thought I’d clean it. You know…”

“I’m actually glad I caught you here—”

“I’ll go.” I turned to take my cleaning supplies when he grabbed my wrist.

“Des—”

“Don’t, Jeff. Let’s not say things we’ll regret later. OK?”

“I didn’t come to pick a fight with you. You left something in Bridgeport. I was hoping to return it in person.”

My heart pounded. I wasn’t sure I could handle seeing the item he intended to return. “Not the gown—”

“What am I going to do with it, Des? It’s fitted to you.”

“Please, no…” I felt the emotion returning. Seeing Jeff was difficult enough. Knowing he had the gown with him was more than I could take. “I will never wear it again.”

“If you do, fine. And if you don’t, fine; I don’t care. But I don’t need it anymore, and I’m not bringing it back home with me.”

“What did you hope to accomplish, Jeff? You made it clear that we’re done.”

“We are. But this is yours.” He handed me the dress, still in the garment bag. “I have no need for it.”

“Give it to your next girlfriend,” I said. I tried not to sound cold, but that’s not how it came out of my mouth. His hurt scowl triggered more emotional agony. “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t have a girlfriend. That will never happen again. Thanks to you, I’ll spend my life alone.”

“How’s the tour going?” I had to change the subject. It was killing me inside.

“The Experience is wildly popular. Everyone loves us.”

“I’m happy for you.” I hoped it sounded genuine. 

“Stop lying to me, Des. I know my success is eating you alive.”

“No, it’s not—” My emotions were getting the better of me.

“I see it on your face. I don’t even know why you asked. You really don’t care.”

That’s where you’re wrong! “I do care, Jeff. And I still love you.”

“I wish you hadn’t said that. I can’t reciprocate it. I won’t. I’m sorry.”

“I know it does nothing to say I’m sorry—”

“You’re right.” He stepped back and left the dress hanging on the door. “I need to go. I didn’t come to fight with you. My attorney will be here to walk through in a couple of days.” Before he left, he turned around and looked into my eyes. “Goodbye, Destiny.”

All the healing from the past month without him was undone by his last words. I sank to my knees in the empty living room and wept.


Four days after my twenty-first birthday, which I spent alone, I reapplied at the Sing-A-Gram company on the western Los Sueños strip. Based on my resume alone, they agreed to see me in the office the following day. The same man, Russ, did my interview. He greeted me in the lobby and showed me back to his office. Everything looked the same.

“Miss Farmer, I remember you,” he said, extending his hand for a shake. “You’ve decided to try your hand with Sing-A-Gram. You’ve made a wise move for your career.”

“Thank you for seeing me,” I said. “I’ve had a rough time by myself, so I’m hoping this will help me get my name into the city.”

“We will do everything we can to help you on your way.” He fiddled with my application, I supposed, perusing my work history since my arrival in the Shores. “You’re still working at the Flying V?”

I nodded. “Yes.”

“You’ll need to resign from that position before we can assign you to jobs within the city. That represents a conflict of interest with the proprietor.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “I will turn in my resignation tomorrow.”

Russ nodded his head. “There are two different costumes you’ll be required to wear. For most jobs, the standard singing telegram outfit will suffice. Some customers, however, will request a more risque performance. You’ll have a separate costume more suited for those types of jobs.”

“What will I be required to do?” I was almost afraid to know the answer.

“Do you know how to pole dance, Destiny?”

Pole dance? “Um, no.”

“Don’t worry. It’s an easy skill to attain. We have a three-day class you’ll take, and you should be ready by the end. Tawny is a skilled teacher.”

What was I getting myself into? I wondered. “Anything else I should know?”

“How comfortable are you with partial nudity?” Russ asked. I sat and stared at him like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car. He must have read my face, because he chuckled. “I’m guessing you’ve never done a striptease before. We’ll train you on that, too.”

“Are you certain this is necessary to get noticed, Russ? I mean, this seems a little over the top—”

“Miss Farmer, every singer in Starlight Shores pays their dues. The Sing-A-Gram is the fastest way to get yourself into the public eye. As I told you two years ago, you could choose to sign with an agent, but they can be expensive for someone who is just starting out. Or you can go it alone. That route is never recommended.”

I sighed. Everything about this gig seemed dicey, but I was a desperate woman. Eighteen months in the Shores, and I was no closer to being on stage than I was when I first arrived. “Okay,” I said. “Sign me up.”

“You’ve made a smart choice, Miss Farmer. I would recommend just using your first name. The name ‘Destiny’ is tailormade for a job like this one.”

If you say so, I thought. “Okay.”

*****

I was horrified to discover what pole dancing really entailed. No wonder it was an easy skill to attain. But I’d already resigned at the coffeehouse, much to Jared’s dismay. I was committed to making this job work to my benefit.

I worked extra hard to learn and master the dance moves I’d need for the night jobs. For the first three weeks at Sing-A-Gram, I was assigned to daytime work. Each time I sang for a client, I left my card with them, hoping for return business.

The first evening job I had was for a wealthy executive in town. I dressed in my costume, pulled my hair up into a ponytail, and gazed at my reflection in the mirror. I almost didn’t recognize myself. Who was I? I wondered.

Since the job site was poorly lit, I applied my makeup a little heavier than usual. My lipstick was a dark, blood red, which matched the satin material of my bodysuit. It had a deep, plunging neckline and it hugged every curve, leaving nothing to imagination. It almost looked like something I’d have worn in the bedroom for Jeff. Instead, I was leaving my house wearing it. I must have been out of my mind.

The job was on the twenty-sixth floor of a high-rise office building in downtown Starlight Shores. The temperature was frigid that night, so I stood in the building’s entryway for a few moments to warm up before taking the elevator. There was no one around; every business in the building was closed for the evening.

After taking a deep breath, I pressed the button for the elevator. I was confident in my ability to do the job I was hired to do, or so I thought. I wasn’t prepared for what awaited me in that office building.

The elevator opened up right inside the office. An older man, who looked to be in his late fifties, sat at the desk. He stood when I approached. “You must be Destiny,” he said. The man wasted no time, taking my hand in his and placing a delicate kiss on it. “You are stunningly beautiful. Just what I needed on a lonely, snowy night like this.”

I blushed and took one step backward. “Thank you.” My mind raced with everything I’d learned. Would I mess up the dance moves? Would I remember my script? I was worried about all the wrong things. “So, what is your pleasure tonight?” I asked, keeping to my script.

The man leered at me, licked his lips, and took a step toward me. “You are, honey.” Before I realized what was going on, he’d embraced me close to him and kissed me. I was certain THAT was not on the list of approved services. He released me, then took my hand in his. “Come with me.”

Every warning bell sounded in my head. “No, thank you,” I said, walking backward.

“I won’t hurt you, Destiny. Please? I hear you have a beautiful voice.”

“What is it you want, Mister…?”

“Fournier. Leonard Fournier.”

“Okay. What do you want, Mister Fournier?”

He took my hand again and tugged at me. “Come back to my office with me.”

My duty was to please my customer. But there were limits to what I would do, job or no job. “I’d rather not.”

“I promise I will not hurt you. Destiny, you’re my employee tonight. You’re compelled to obey me.”

Against my better judgment, I followed Leonard Fournier into his office. It was then I recognized the logo on the wall. Binder Clips Center?! “Wait…”

He wore an amused look on his face. “Yes, Destiny. I own the stadium. I understand you are the most talented young lady on staff at Sing-A-Gram.”

I blushed again, but his statement made me feel no better. “Again, Mister Fournier, what is it you want from me?” I knew I was in a precarious position. I couldn’t say no to him and keep my job. On the other hand, I had personal limits. How far was I willing to go? The very thought of it scared me silly.

He patted the seat next to him on the leather sofa where he sat. “My wife is out of town, Destiny, and I’m a lonely man in need of companionship tonight.” He put his arm around my shoulder. “I wanted the best singer in town, you know, to cheer me up.”

I stayed on script and in character, though I was no actress. I hoped my nerves would stay in check. The perspiration beaded on my forehead. My mouth was dry as sawdust. “What song would you like to hear?”

“What is your favorite song, Destiny? I want you to sing it for me, a cappella.” He leaned back on the sofa and stared at me.

“It Hurts Both Ways,” I blurted out. It was the name I gave to Daddy’s favorite song, the one I promised myself I wouldn’t sing anywhere until I recorded it.

“Who sings that one, Destiny? I have never heard of it.” Leonard ran his finger down the side of my face. This man was old enough to be my daddy. I was determined I’d never let him take advantage of me.

“It’s an original.” I winced and bit my tongue a little harder than I intended.

“I’d rather hear you sing something popular. Let me gauge your talent for myself.”

Though I was relieved he didn’t want to hear my original composition, I felt no better. “How about Katie Price’s big hit?”

I saw him wrinkle his nose. “If you must…”

I slowed my breathing and concentrated on the words to my favorite song. I hummed the first note in my head, then began to sing. The tune was spot-on; the lyrics came easy. I sang the whole first verse of the song when I noticed his unrelenting stare.

“Dance, Destiny. Show off your moves.” I knew what he meant, but I didn’t want to do it.

“Please, Mister Fournier…” Maybe by appealing to his human side, instead of the lustful man that sat in front of me, I could eke some grace out of him.

“Dance, Destiny. Dance like your job depends on it, because it does.”

The funny thing about exotic dancing I learned that night. Doing it in front of co-workers wasn’t difficult. But performing for the owner of the biggest show venue in town is a whole other thing. I walked to him, moved my body, and performed the dance moves I’d been taught. I closed my eyes, wanting to be anywhere else but in that room with him. He pulled me closer and kissed me again. “Strip for me, Destiny. Let me see that gorgeous, twenty-one-year-old body.”

I felt fear rise in my throat. It was something I’d rehearsed dozens of times without the striptease, though I knew the dance moves by heart. My skirt came off first, revealing my blood red bodysuit. My hips gyrated to music I heard only in my head. Mr. Fournier reached for the clasp on the back of my suit and, with the flick of his finger, he had it undone. One more move would cause the costume to slide down my body, exposing me.

Instinctively, my arms crossed over my chest, hiding from him anything he could have seen. “I’m sorry,” I cried, “I can’t do this.” I grabbed my coat and ran from the office and into the waiting area. His heavy footsteps were behind me. This can’t be happening! I thought. In a panic, I ran for the elevator door and pressed the ‘Down’ button. The door opened, and I stepped inside. I stood inside the lift, pressing the button for the first floor repeatedly until the door closed. He missed it by a second.

Safely in the building’s lobby, I ran to my car just outside the door. My hands shook with fear and shame fumbling with the lock. When I finally got it open, I flopped into the seat and locked my door. That was the moment I vowed to never take another night job. I wish I’d stuck to the promise I made that night. I would have saved myself considerable pain.


Six Months Later

Summer festivities were bustling in the Shores with the start of concert season. A multi-band event would play at the Binder Clips Center mid-summer. The tickets sold out in minutes; every band that would headline was well-known and very popular. Even if I wanted tickets to a rock concert, I couldn’t have gotten them.

Russ called me into the office the night of the concert. He wanted to discuss a job opportunity, one he said I would be wise to accept.

“Destiny, I have a rather large client performing at the Clips Center, and they want my best talent for a birthday party tonight after the show. You’re it. If you agree, I can assure you a bonus and a raise, assuming my client is pleased with your performance.”

I was excited. Maybe this would be my ticket to the big time. “I’d be honored.”

“They’ve requested an exotic dancer/singer for a birthday party. I don’t know who the guest of honor is, as they have kept everything on the down-low. Just remember your script, and for goodness’ sake, please don’t disappoint this client. They are my biggest account. I’m counting on you, Destiny.”

“I won’t let you down, Russ. You have my word.” He gave me a winning smile as I turned to leave his office. I would prepare for the party at the Sing-A-Gram headquarters, then drive to the Clips Center from there. My costume—a skin-tight, baby pink satin bodysuit with a fluffy bunny tail, and a set of rabbit ears I’d wear in my hair—was freshly dry cleaned and in my wardrobe. I applied a sheer base of scented powder on my skin. It helped to put my costume on with little struggle.

I gawked at my reflection in the mirror, dressed and made up. You really need to find a new job! I told myself. But the night contracts paid more than daytime jobs, so I tolerated it. I dabbed a glob of gloss onto my lips and straightened the costume before I walked to my car.

The lights emanating from the Clips Center were brilliant, almost as though the sun appeared overhead. Outside, I could hear the band onstage playing their set of rock music. It really wasn’t my cup of tea, but a job is a job. I parked my little car in the lot and walked to the side entrance.

A man dressed in a security uniform answered the door. “Can I help you?” 

He caught me putting the headband into my hair; I gave him a sheepish smile. “I’m with Sing-A-Gram. I’m working the birthday party tonight.”

He pulled a penlight from his pocket, grabbed the paper tacked to a clipboard, and checked. “Destiny, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

He pointed down the hall backstage. “Go down this hallway to the second right. Take the elevator to the second floor, then it’s the first door on your left.”

I smiled at him. “Thank you!”

His eyes scanned my costume; a crooked smile crossed his lips. “Break a leg, sweet thing.”

I ignored his comment and hurried down the hallway, following his directions. Second right, up to the second floor, and first door on the left. Inside the room, I could hear sounds of laughter and talking. I gave myself a quick pep talk, then knocked. The door opened a crack, and someone peeked out.

“You must be the entertainment,” she said. “The birthday boy doesn’t know you’re coming, but we’re going to walk him out blindfolded. When he sits down, we yell ‘Surprise!’, then you start your routine. Okay?”

I nodded. “I usually begin turned away from the crowd. Will that be a problem?”

She giggled with glee. “Oh, that will be perfect! He’s going to love this.” She tucked her head back inside the room, awaiting the ‘okay’ from the crowd. There was an uproar, and then a thumbs up. It was ‘go time’.

She guided me into the room, and everyone got quiet. It was a little odd, but I thought nothing of it. I took my place on the stage they had set up, ready to sing my opening line on her command. A commotion started behind me; I could almost feel the excitement in the room. I knew it would be a night to remember.

Boy, was that an understatement.

They situated the guest of honor, still wearing a blindfold, in a seat that was front and center in the room. I heard the go signal, took the mic, and spoke in the most sultry voice I could muster. After the first verse of the song, I turned around. My client sat spellbound by my voice, still blindfolded, until my first note of the chorus. When our eyes met, I froze, and I heard his audible gasp.

Jeff? What the…?!

I couldn’t stop the performance I had been paid handsomely to do, so I swallowed every bit of emotion that welled up within me. I closed my eyes and pretended, if only for a moment, that it was just Jeff and me back at the penthouse, and I was doing my level best to lure him into my bed. But when I opened them again, the only expression I saw was one of disgust and disappointment.

A young brunette woman bounded out from the back room, all smiles and giggles. She ran to Jeff and sat in his lap, confused by the look on his face. She whispered to him, and he shrugged in return. I tried not to think about it as I continued my act.

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I danced up to Jeff, winked at the young woman with him, and she giggled, left his side and went to sit with the group. Part of my paid routine was a lap dance, something I had only done once before. That it was Jeff should have made me more comfortable with it. Instead, I was nervous and felt more than a little dirty.

When I finished, he took my wrist and yanked my body down close to him. “I need to talk to you,” he said. His words were forceful and harsh. Suddenly, I was cotton-mouthed and I couldn’t sing the rest of my number. None of that seemed to matter to the crowd, who were cheering my name in a drunken clamor. Jeff’s hands on mine were firm as he pulled me from the crowd to a quiet backroom.

Though he’d never been rough with me before, he pushed me into a chair. His actions had every hallmark of a jealous boyfriend, without the boyfriend part. Jeff paced the floor without saying a word, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little frightened.

As he had done during our last fight in Bridgeport, his face displayed every emotion he felt. Anger was the one he expressed, and he did so right in my face. His breath reeked of stale beer and spirits. I suspected he might have been drunk.

“What the HELL was that, Des?! I mean, you tell me you hate me, and then you come on to me like a cat in heat?! Is this what you’re doing now?”

“I don’t see how my life is your business! You ended our relationship almost a year ago!” I spat back. “The last I remembered, I was on my own here!”

He knelt in front of me, took my hands, and wiped tears from his eyes. “Are you so jealous of me, Des, that you’re willing to sell yourself to find success?” Ouch.

“I-I…” I didn’t have an answer for him; the tears in his eyes confused me. Does he still have feelings for me? I wondered. “I don’t know—” He stood as I spoke, interrupting me.

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“How can you NOT know?” Jeff looked down his nose at me, wearing an angry scowl on his face. “I don’t even know who you are anymore! I’m so happy I dodged a bullet by breaking our engagement. You’re disgusting.”

His words ripped open old wounds, ones I thought had healed long ago. I sat in the chair, breathless and stunned by his hateful words. This must have been what I sounded like to him the day of our fight. Tears flooded my eyes and ran down my face. “I’m not jealous…” I whispered under my breath.

“Then what is it?”

I shrugged. “I’m tired of struggling, Jeff. You walked into fame and money so easily, and here I am, two years later, still trying to make my way…” It was then the awful realization hit me. I WAS jealous of him, and bitterly so.

“Be glad your folks aren’t alive to see you now, Des. I bet they wouldn’t be so proud to see you selling your body, and your soul, to the lowest bidder—”

My hand connected hard with his cheek. With shock and horror, my hands covered my face. My mouth opened to verbalize an apology; only an unintelligible squeak left my lips. Jeff said nothing. He only turned around and left me in the room, weeping bitter tears.


The Next Morning

An overnight letter arrived at the house with a familiar return address on it. I was excited to see it; the envelope bore Aunt Jenny’s beautiful penmanship. I signed for the letter and ran back inside and to my bedroom to read it. I opened the inside envelope, which bore her handwriting. It only said, “To Destiny” on the outside. My finger slipped under the flap and opened it.

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Dear Desi,

There are some things I need to tell you, but I never could say them in person. I hope you will understand and take these things to heart, with the love and affection they are meant to convey.

I got the strangest phone call tonight from Jeff. I couldn’t imagine what he wanted, knowing how he left you almost a year ago. But he had some things to tell me, things he was concerned about. It’s clear he still has feelings for you, and those feelings led him to call me tonight after his birthday party.

Is it really true, Destiny, that you’re working as an exotic dancer? You’re walking down a dark road, sweetheart. It is a life you will have a difficult time escaping if you continue down this path. I know you don’t see it now, because you’re so rooted in it. I pray that you see where you’re headed before it’s too late.

Desi, I never wanted to burden you with more pain than you already have, but I can’t leave my words unspoken. Sweet pea, you’ve lost your way. You’ve forgotten where you’ve come from, and where you’re going.

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I fell backward onto the bed, the letter still gripped in my fingers. I couldn’t believe what I was reading…

The truth is, Destiny, your mama and daddy would have loved you no matter what. But I believe, if they could see what you’re doing, they wouldn’t like it. You’ve gone somewhere they never wanted you to go, and you’ve become a woman you weren’t created to be. And yes, I believe they would be disappointed in the path you’ve chosen to take.

There IS good news, though. You don’t have to stay on the path that leads to destruction. Return to your roots, seek the wisdom that’s written in the prayer book your father gave you, and get back to attending services. You know in your heart that the answers you seek lie there, Destiny.

I wish your Daddy and Mama could be there to see you realize your life’s dream. Know that they will be watching over you and cheering you on. Always remember that you are so loved. Remember the promises you made to your mama and daddy. Never forget where you’re from, and how you got where you are. Be true to yourself and your family, Destiny, and you will never fail.

All my love,

Aunt Jenny

I crumpled the letter and threw it at the wall, crying bitter tears. Who was she to tell me which path was right and wrong? But her words repeated in my mind, convicting me letter by letter. The prayer book Daddy had given me was tucked into the nightstand next to the pistol I kept there. I opened the drawer and removed the book I hadn’t touched—much less read—in the years since his death.

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Its brown leather cover was worn from use; the pages inside bore Daddy’s notes and insights. Inside the front cover, his words were written with his own hand:

Destiny, take this with you. Read it often and let its wisdom guide you. Never forget where you’re from, and to whom you belong. Remember whose daughter you are. I love you more than words can tell you. Love, Daddy.

My fingers traced the letters he’d written on the page; a single, salty teardrop splattered on the thin paper. I knelt by my bed, my hands clasped together, and I talked to Daddy for the first time in a long time.

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I’m sorry for how I’ve acted, for what I’ve become. And I know, Daddy, I have disappointed you and Mama. I’ve lost my way, and I’ve forgotten my promise. But I swear to you now, from this day forward, I will do nothing if it doesn’t bring honor to our family name. I will work harder than ever to make you proud of me, Daddy. And if I never accomplish what I’ve set out to achieve, then let it be said that I took my last breath bringing glory to you and Mama. I will love you until the end of time.

I climbed up into bed with Daddy’s book still in my hands. I let the book fall open to a non-specific page and read the first thing that I saw.

“You will always harvest exactly what you plant. Bitter seeds will produce anguish and pain, while good seeds make an abundant harvest.”

It was almost as though Daddy was right there with me, speaking the words I read in his book. A chill ran down the length of my spine; my skin rose in goosebumps. I took a deep breath and exhaled. A peaceful calm washed over me, a serenity I hadn’t felt in a long time. My eyes welled with tears. “Thank you, Daddy. I hear you, loud and clear.”

*****

That afternoon, I walked into Russ’ office at the Sing-A-Gram headquarters. I didn’t even knock.  He sat behind his desk looking none too pleased with my performance the evening before. He looked as though he was ready to speak, but I put my hand up to stop him.

“Russ, I know what you’re going to say. I can’t continue my employment here. I’m so sorry—”

He never looked up from his desk. “Our client called me this morning about your subpar performance last night. It took some sweet talking, but I managed to keep the account.”

“That’s good,” I said. Did he even hear me?

“All of this said, Destiny, you are still the most talented young lady I have on staff. I can overlook your performance… this time. But you’re on probation for six months, and you’ll need to take more dance classes—”

Well, he answered that question. “Russ, I can’t do this anymore.”

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He finally lifted his eyes to meet mine. “I’m not accepting a resignation. I need you on staff.”

“Then I won’t resign,” I said. “I quit, effective now.”

“What about your singing career? You’ll be finished before you begin if you leave now.”

“That’s a chance I’m willing to take. I can’t continue to sell my soul for a quick buck and a little notoriety. I’m sorry.”

“You will be,” Russ said, almost as a warning. “You’ll go nowhere without us.”

“Then so be it.” I turned on my heel and walked away.

“Destiny, wait!” Russ called out. I kept going and never looked back.

My next stop was the Flying V coffeehouse. On my way inside, I grabbed the “Help Wanted” sign that hung in the window and brought it with me. Jared’s wide grin greeted me as I walked through the door. “It’s so good to see you!” he said.

“Hi Jared. I am hoping you still need someone to fill this position.” The sign I held in my fingers waved as I held it out. “I just quit my job at the Sing-A-Gram.”

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“I could hug you!” he said. “I haven’t been able to fill your position with someone trustworthy and hardworking.”

A smile crossed my face. “I’d love to come back, if you’ll have me.”

“When can you start? I could use you now.”

“Now is good.”

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Next Up: Chapter Five, Generation Two


Pose Credits:

Blogspot
Anger – 10 Poses by Zhippidy at Zhippidy Poses
Everyday TS3 by IMHO at Sims3IMHO
With Love by Lenina90 at Simaitseems

Mod The Sims
Bully by Spladoum
Dirty by Spladoum
Pomp and Circumstance by Heaven
Reading Pose Pack by Kurineko
Wake Up Pose Pack by JuBa_0oº

Poses By Bee
Casual Sitting Poses
Conversation Poses Set 1
Conversation/Emotion Poses Set 2
Don’t Die – Updated
Emotions/Body Language 2
Travel Poses 2

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Romantic Couple Pose Pack by Lexi at Simetria Sims
Sitting Poses by EchoSims

*****

Custom Content:

Around The Sims 3
Bible (Destiny’s Prayer Book)
Decrepitude
Eco Cafe Set
Medicine Bottle
Modern Art Cafe
Museum & Exhibition Shop (Russ’ Nameplate)
Notebook
Pen
Phone Decor Item

Blogspot
Sunny’s Love Letters & Envelopes by ShakespearesSunshyne at Secrets Of The Six Killers

Lover’s Lab
Destiny’s Bunny Costume by JoshQ

Mod The Sims 3
Beer Bottles by Spladoum (Included with pose pack)
Book by Kurineko (Included with pose pack)

Poses By Bee
Suitcase (Hosted by Bee)

The Sims Resource
Destiny’s Ponytail Hairstyle by SkySims
Jeff’s Tux (Cover Photo) by Lady Dane
Living Grace Rug by Ung999
Pointe Shoes by Shushilda
Rover Office Set by NynaeveDesigns

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Bunny Ears by Trae-lia
Smoking Ashtray by the77Sim3

Content not listed here is documented on the Custom Content page. Custom content and poses are not my property and are used in compliance with the TOUs.

 

Delays, Delays…

Hello everyone!

I definitely intended to post an update when the apartment repairs and upgrades were finished, to let you know when you can expect more new content. I’m sorry to say it will be at least another week before I can think about getting Chapter Four on the blog. We’ve had some unforeseen problems. I’ll explain.

Last Tuesday, my hubby and I took our two feline children and moved into a Marriott hotel for a few days while contractors repaired some of the structural problems in our home. I got a lot of writing done on Chapter Four, so the time away was productive.

On our last night in the hotel room, I discovered our room had bedbugs. Now, that’s a thing no one EVER wants to deal with. And as much as we’ve tried to keep our exposure limited, I guess it’s inevitable we brought home some extra tenants.

Now, we’re cleaning and packing AGAIN, but this time, it will be for bedbug treatment. On Friday, we’ll pack our cats and ourselves into the car and vacate our home for four hours minimum while our apartment is treated. I’m guessing PetSmart and Petco will see a LOT of us on Friday.

Tonight, I’m sending my draft of Chapter Four to Chris for his perusal, so hopefully, by the end of the week, I’ll have his suggestions in my hands, ready to complete this chapter of Destiny’s life. Meanwhile, the apartment needs my attention (again… sigh!) so I’ll be working my itchy fingers to the bone. Did I mention that I have no fewer than 30 bites all over my body? I’m wondering if all this mess was worth the upgrades. Extra pain, invested time and energy, and now bedbugs and the hassle it will bring to eradicate them. My gut says, “No.”

In reality, I’m shooting for Chapter Four to be up by the end of the month. Will I make that deadline? I don’t know. I’m going to try my best. Keep an eye on Facebook or Twitter for updates, as it’s easier for me to post there than here. This is a great time to follow me on social platforms! Just a click is all you need to ensure you get every update.

I will see you on the flip side of all this mess. And hopefully, I’ll be feeling better by then, too. As always, thank you for hanging with me here, and for reading my stories. I appreciate you more than you know!


Thank you for reading

Happy New Year! The Farmer Legacy 2021 Year In Review.

Happy New Year, everyone! Has this been a nutty, insane year or what?! Man, and we thought 2020 was bad with COVID. I think we can all agree that we need some return to normal here soon, right? Luckily, things here at the Farmer Legacy have been going well!

Since Chris has come on board with the Legacy, you might have noticed a stark improvement in the quality of the story posts. This directly results from Chris’ influence on my writing style, and his careful attention to detail. He continues to bless me and, by extension, this blog, with his insights and technical expertise. 

In September, the rewrites of Generation One concluded with the passing of Charlie and Fran Farmer. Those rewrites afforded me a long opportunity to fall in love with them and their stories, ones that had only existed in my mind before I got them in print and shared with you. The one thing I wanted to do with their story was to end it with dignity and a conclusion worthy of their journey. I hope I pulled that off, with Chris’ help, of course!

Mid-October brought the beginning of another generational story with Destiny Farmer, the daughter and sole heiress of the Farmer estate. This generation is unique from its predecessor and successors in that it will be told from Destiny’s point-of-view, with an occasional shift to Arthur as the story progression dictates. Composing these stories in her voice presents its own challenges. It’s one that I accept in an attempt to grow as a writer. 

The Legacy’s presence on social media continues to grow far beyond what I expected or imagined. Follows on Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter have increased, though I don’t have exact numbers. On behalf of Chris and myself, thank you!

Now for the really fun stuff! Fifteen new chapters debuted this year, spanning three different generations. Besides Generation One’s conclusion, Destiny’s story and a pair of chapters for Danae and Andy (Generation Five) made their way to the blog this year. Here’s how it breaks down:

Generation One had eight chapters—beginning with Chapter 15-5, and ending with Chapter 20-2—containing 219 pages, and 91,337 words (this is a full-length novel unto itself!) 

Generation Two had five chapters—beginning with the Generation Two prologue and ending with Chapter three—containing 150 pages, and 65,175 words.

Generation Five had two chapters—Chapter 35, parts one and two—containing 50 pages, and 19,237 words. 

This amounts to fifteen total chapters, 419 pages, and 175,749 words. In terms of what’s considered a standard length novel, I’ve written the equivalent of two full-length romance novels this year. Holy cow!! Compared to last year’s twenty-one chapters, 271 pages, and 114,028 words, I can conclude I’m getting a lot more verbose! (Thanks, Chris!)

Blogger stats continue to be tepid. For the twelve-month period ending December 31, 2021, I’m seeing 168 total views with no followers. I suppose this isn’t terrible, considering that I haven’t promoted the site at all over the past year. I’ll give Blogger another year to catch on, and I’ll decide next year the fate of that site. 

Now let’s get to the impressive stats: the WordPress site visits and views. In 2020, the WordPress site saw 374 visitors who viewed my stories and articles 751 times. In 2021, the visitor count spiked to 1,371 (a 367% increase!) with 2,053 views (a 273% increase!) My mind is blown. With your help, we’ve surpassed more than I ever thought possible on this blog, and I am humbled beyond measure. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!

Plans for the future? Well, I’m continuing the Generation Two rewrites into January and beyond, editing the manuscript that we’ve compiled for submission to an Indie publisher, and finishing the original prologue rewrite. If I’m able to finish the Generation Two rewrites in 2022, I’ll revamp and clean up Generation Three, though I don’t believe the St. John family needs a full rewrite. Some of their generation needs some polishing and tuning up. Overall, I’ve always liked their storyline, so I doubt I’ll change it much. I’d love to return to Danae and Andy in late 2022 to conclude their storyline and begin Generation Six with Elyse and Howie. We’ll see how it goes!

I would love to see the blog continue to grow in followers and reads, but I’ll need your help to do so. Please tell a friend (or two!) about The Farmer Legacy if you enjoy the stories. I would love your shares, follows and likes on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram if you feel so inclined. My email box is always open! Drop me a line to say “hi,” or to let me know how I can improve the site, or its content. 

I am grateful for each of you who comes and reads the chapters as they’re posted. I’m happy to see the reach we have all over the world, from the US and Canada to China and South Korea, and everywhere in between. Chris and I thank you and wish you the very best in the coming year. We’ll see you back in Mid-January with Chapter Four of Destiny’s story.

Have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

new-years-eve-3894621_640


Thank you for reading


Pose courtesy of Poses By Bee.
Christmas tree by Around The Sims 3.
Destiny’s dress and leggings by Ekinege and Alopex, respectively.

G2 Chapter Three – Destiny’s Big Mistake

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.

“Hello?” 

“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?”

Screenshot-420

“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.

“Be what?” 

“Pregnant.”

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?” 

“You think?”

“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.

“Des!” 

“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.


Graduation Week

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. 

“Airport, please.”

“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. 

“Thank you…?” 

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. 

“Thank you.” 

“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.”

“What, Arthur?”

“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.” 

“It’s okay.”

“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.”

*****

Saturday Morning

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.” 

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“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?

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“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?”

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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.”

“What?! Why?”

“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?”

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“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?!”

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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.

“Jeff, I—”

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“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.

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“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. 

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“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.

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“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?

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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.

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Up Next: Chapter Four, Generation Two


Pose Credits:

Bangsain
Lover’s Poses

Mod The Sims
On Display (modeling poses) by k2m1too
Bully by Spladoum

Poses By Bee
Adult Argument
Attack! Pose Pack
Couple Poses #2
Family Photo 1-14 and 19-21

Severinka Sims 3
Broken Heart by Addie

Sims 3 Modeli
Don’t Let Me Down by Sea

Tumblr
Agony by Annon-in-Gelydh

You Name It, I’ll Pose It
Request 12 by Blams

*****

Custom Content:

Around The Sims 3
Wedding Shop

Severinka Sims 3
Celtic Snake Pendant

The Sims Cars
Private Jet

The Sims Resource
Wedding Dress by BEO Creations
Jeff’s Hair by Cazy
Destiny’s Hair by WingsSims

The Sims 3 Exchange
St Georges Airport

Content not listed here is documented on the Custom Content page. Custom content and poses are not my property and are used in compliance with the TOUs.


A Deserved Christmas Break

Hello Simmers and story fans! It’s just me checking in with a quick update and an informative post.

First, I have two new posts coming. The first will be Chapter Three in Generation Two, and you will NOT want to miss it! Chris is ‘massaging’ some of my storyline to clarify and polish it; I hope to have that back soon! I am shooting for a Christmastime release, but it will definitely be here before the new year settles around us. The second post will be the annual Year In Review post, and though I haven’t begun compiling data on that yet, I’m pretty optimistic I will have some impressive numbers to share with you!! Stayed tuned for both posts.

The second item of note is an approximate three week break for me. This is to prepare our home for some significant structural repairs, which will be completed around the second week of January. I have much to do, and not much time to finish packing away valuables and breakables. After a close call in August with a tiny electrical fire outside our bedroom window, and a bigger, more serious fire on the property in November, the property management here is taking more seriously the issues present in these older apartments.

Those photos were of the structure fire diagonally across from our building. Our home was never in danger, but you can bet this event was stressful for all 100 families that call this place home.

Management is being proactive with repairs going forward, which is why we are being temporarily displaced. We have issues with stress cracking and leaking windows, wet rot and mold. These issues will be repaired while we are gone. I understand they will replace our old, worn flooring in the non-carpeted areas, too. This is a good thing!!

Writing will continue actively once we are in the hotel, and then another week off to resettle everything how it was before. In reality, this shouldn’t change how often I’m publishing chapters, but I wanted y’all to be aware of why Chapter Four might be a little longer than I’d like.

Thank you ALL so much for your audience to this blog, for loving and supporting my work, and for your comments, emails, and social media follows. The Sims community rocks, and I’m so humbled.

From my families to yours… I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy and prosperous new year. May 2022 be the year all your dreams come to fruition!!


Pose on cover photo courtesy of Poses By Bee. Custom Content by Severinka & Around The Sims 3. See my Custom Content page for items not credited here.

G2 Chapter Two – Dashed Dreams, Deception, and Doormat Destiny

This chapter contains adult situations and language. Reader discretion is advised.


Two Weeks Later

I’d sacrificed and saved enough money to buy a new outfit for performances, one that I’d planned to wear at the park. Though I’d gone back several times, Grant never again said hello. I guess I creeped him out. That was okay, though. I creeped myself out that day, too. 

My morning was free, so I got dolled up in my new dress to try my hand at the park. I took my time primping, taking special care to do my hair and makeup. My new dress, which I wore with a pair of lace leggings, was just above my knee. It was a black, sleek, long-sleeved sweater dress, perfect for the upcoming cold season.

I noticed the nip in the air as I took the elevator to the parking garage. The weather was turning, along with the leaves on the trees that lined the park’s border. My breath puffed from my mouth in a plume of steam. Yep, it’s officially fall. 

I parked my car at the coffeehouse, took my guitar from the trunk, and walked the hundred yards to the stage. The regulars weren’t out front. Yes! My guitar case was open and at my feet. I didn’t want to sing Daddy’s favorite song, but I had others that were just as good! I tuned my guitar and put the strap around my neck. 

Three songs in, an older woman approached me, dressed in a leotard and ballet slippers. She was one of the regulars; a mediocre acrobat whose routine I’d seen a few times. Trust me, I’d seen much better than her act. She was snapping a wad of foul-smelling gum, which she breathed into my face.

“Who are YOU?” she demanded, a long, bony finger poked into my chest. “You don’t belong out here.” 

I stopped what I was doing and extended my hand as a kind gesture. “Destiny Farmer. I’m new to town, and—” 

“You gotta earn the right to perform here, little girl.” She ran her hand through a mop of black, over-processed hair. I’m surprised a bunch of it didn’t break off in her fingers. “Newbies get the side stage, or up by the johns.” She pointed behind her to the public restroom outbuilding. 

I stood tall and took a deep breath. “You know, this is a public park. I believe I may stand wherever I want.” I crossed my arms in front of my body for effect. 

“You wanna play that game? Fine. You’ll find out the hard way how we play in the Shores.” 

“What does THAT mean?” I was probably too indignant for my own good.

“Keep encroaching on our turf up front, little baby,” she snarled. “You’ll find out real quick what it means.” She turned on her heel and left.

Now, I’d be lying if I said she didn’t rattle me. I recalled Grant’s words. “Be careful, Destiny. They’re ruthless.” I closed my eyes to fight the tears, the doubts, when I saw Daddy’s face, clear as day. “The world is yours for the taking. Grab it by the horns, baby girl, and give ‘em hell.” I could still see him saying that to me, as though it was yesterday. 

Even more determined, I grabbed my guitar and strummed the first note of another song. From the corner of my eye, I saw my antagonist chatting with a group of people, then pointing my way. I did a quick headcount of the group; they were fifteen strong against a nineteen-year-old, one-hundred-ten pound girl. I swallowed a mouthful of bile that crept into my throat as they approached. Aw, hell no!

Three young guys approached first. All of them wore scowls on their faces, ready to pick a fight. But instead of engaging me, they started booing and heckling me. I tuned them out and played louder, trying to sing over the commotion they were intent on creating.

Three more people walked over. There were five guys and a young girl causing trouble. One more woman strolled over to where they stood, but I recognized her; my neighbor across the hall. She took two gigantic steps toward me, grabbed the neck of my guitar, and whispered into my ear. 

“If I see your boyfriend again, I will steal him from you. And I’ll show him everything he’s missing, being with your sorry ass. Are you pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down?” Her left hand still held the guitar’s neck, her right hand flicked the tip of my nose. I swallowed another mouthful of bile. I was in way over my head.

“You know what?” I said. “This spot is all yours.” I took the guitar strap from around my neck, placed it into the case, and closed it up. “But if any of you touch me, I will press charges.” 

“If we touch you, you won’t know what hit you.” The tallest, heaviest guy stood with his fists clenched. “Leave here. You won’t come back if you’re smart. Next time, this will be you.” He ripped my guitar case from my hands and threw it at someone else. I watched, helpless, as they took my beloved guitar from its case and smashed it, taking turns at destroying it. I sank to my knees, retching from fear. 

Scraps of wood and wire were all that remained of my beautiful acoustic guitar when they threw it into the pond, spit on me, and left me shaken to my core. I ran to my car, got in, and spun the tires as I left.

Jeff would be in class, but I didn’t care. The mob at the park scared the hell out of me, and I needed him. The phone rang until it went to voicemail. My shaky, heavy drawl mixed with tears left a message that would be sure to panic him:

Jeff, call me. I was assaulted at the park, and I need you.

Though I knew my neighbor was at the park downtown, I backed into the elevator. I pressed the button for the nineteenth floor, praying it went straight up to the penthouse. I was lucky; the elevator seldom made that trip in one shot.

With shaky hands, I slipped my key into the lock on the front door, turned it, and stepped inside. Finally safe in my sanctuary, I fell against the door and slid down, heaving uncontrolled sobs.

*****

The light in the apartment was dim and purple, signifying the sun setting in the western sky. Jeff never called me back, which was odd considering the message I’d left for him. I faded in and out of sleep for hours, never truly resting. Each time my eyes closed, I saw them smashing my beloved guitar to bits. My arms wrapped around Angaloo, trying to self-soothe. It wasn’t working.

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I didn’t hear the front door open, the quiet footsteps in the living room, nor did I hear the latch clicking on the bedroom door. My back was turned away from it, and I was fighting sleep.

“Oh, sweetheart,” Jeff whispered as he laid down next to me, his arms encircled me and held me tight. “I’m here. You’re safe.” 

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I didn’t ask why he was there; I already knew. The tears I was weary of crying came fast. My body shook in his arms while he held me. His sweet kisses and comforting words whispered into my ear helped to calm my frazzled nerves more than anything else could have.

We laid together in bed until the room was in pitch darkness. Jeff never loosened his grip on me. I took a deep breath and sighed. One last sob echoed in the room. “I didn’t expect you to come running here to save me, but I’m happy you did,” I whispered.

“Have you been here all day, babyluv?”

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I nodded and sniffled. “Yeah. This is where I’m keeping Daddy’s pistol. I was praying I wouldn’t need it.”

He pulled back and looked at me. “You have a gun?”

“Mmhmm. Daddy taught me to shoot it. We did target practice together.”

“Do you have your permit yet?”

“Not yet, no. I shouldn’t have the gun out, but I dug it out of his lockbox this morning when I got home and set it on the nightstand.”

He nodded his head, then kissed me. “What happened at the park, Des? I want to hear everything.”

I explained the morning’s events in excruciating detail, the way they’d replayed in my head all day. His body stiffened, and his muscles tensed up when I told him about my guitar. It was the first guitar I’d ever owned, and now it sat in ruins at the bottom of the pond at Verde Park. 

“We’re going back there tomorrow. And you will point out the brutes that threatened a nineteen-year-old girl. If I have to fight each one of them, they’re going to learn to leave you alone.” 

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I shook my head. “No! I won’t go back to the park. I can’t…” I couldn’t take a chance my neighbor meant what she’d said about Jeff, nor did I want him fighting them. They were all bigger than both of us, and I feared they’d kill him.

He took my hands and kissed them. “Please come back to campus with me for a few days, Des? You’ll calm down a bit, and I’ll figure out how to protect you.”

“I can’t just take time from my job, Jeff. I’m a new hire there.” 

“How much do you make? I’ll pay your salary while you’re with me.” 

“That’s not really the point. I need to make my own way here.”

“Please, sweetheart? I’ll feel better knowing you’re safe until I figure this out.”

I considered his proffer. Even if it meant sleeping on the floor in his dorm, I loved the idea of being with him again. “I’ll pack light, I promise.”

Jeff laughed. He knew how difficult keeping that promise would be for me. “I’ll hold you to that!”


Two Months Later

After the incident at the park, I resigned myself to waiting tables at the coffeehouse until after our wedding. With my guitar gone, performing around town for tips was out of the question; a replacement would cost money that I just didn’t have. Sing-A-Gram was out of reach until my next birthday. There was only one talent agency in town, and they weren’t seeking additional clients. It wasn’t my year.

I’d worked a double shift at the coffeehouse, on my feet for fourteen hours, and I was tired. I didn’t feel like decorating the penthouse for Snowflake Day. My birthday was days away, and the holiday right behind it. How I longed for the family I missed, and my soon-to-be family in Sunset Valley. The trip up north wasn’t in my budget this year; I wasn’t looking forward to spending my birthday or the holidays alone.

Jeff had been out on winter break for two weeks already. His last holiday as a single man would be with his family and friends. He explained he was saving money for a spectacular honeymoon; bringing me there at his expense was not workable, and I understood. We were planning a fall wedding in Sunset Valley, outdoors, at his family’s mansion. I was scheduled to fly there in January to find my wedding gown, courtesy of Jeff’s mother Audrey. Despite my desire to have a small, intimate ceremony, it was turning into the social event of the year.

A co-worker had given me a basket of bath items during the Snowflake Day party at the coffeehouse, a gift I was planning on taking full advantage of when I got home. A soak in lavender-scented bath beads was just what I needed to unwind and relax. I trudged through the front door, locking it behind me, and set my keys and purse on the counter. 

I walked to the master bathroom and plugged the bathtub, ran the water a little warmer than I found comfortable, and threw a handful of beads into the cascading water. My towel and robe were in the bedroom; I grabbed both and walked back to the tub to turn off the faucet. The first step into the tub made me shiver, though the ambient air temperature wasn’t chilly. The water was hot enough to sting my skin as I sank into the bubbles; a sigh of relief hissed from my mouth.

I’d been humming some holiday songs to myself when I thought I heard a bang inside the penthouse. I sat straight up in the tub, my ears perked up. “Hello?” I called out. “Hello? Is someone there?” It occurred to me how stupid I must have sounded. If a burglar was in the penthouse, he wouldn’t likely answer me, anyway.

I got up and reached for my robe, wrapped it around me, and walked to my nightstand, where I kept Daddy’s old pistol. No one should be in the building without a code or call; that made me feel no better. “Hello?” I called out again. I stood behind my closed bedroom door, the gun in my hand. A deep breath and a step forward, I opened the door and lunged through it. 

“Well, hello Annie Oakley,” Jeff said with a grin, his arms open wide and ready to hold me. Boy, was he a sight for sore eyes!

“Jeff?!” I set the gun on the side table next to the loveseat and ran to him. “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to surprise you for the holiday and your birthday, sweetheart. That was quite the welcome!”

“I wasn’t expecting you. You startled me!” I stepped into his embrace and kissed him. His fingers caught my robe and pulled it open. 

He chuckled and then licked his lips. “Well, my view just improved!” His hands slipped inside, resting on my skin, caressing me as he held me close. “This is an invitation I can’t resist.”

“Well, not now,” I laughed. “I was in the bathtub, and I’d kinda like to finish up. I had a long day at work.”

“Mmm, that’s why you’re so warm and smell so pretty.” He kissed me again. “I still need to grab my suitcase from my rental car, and I’ll be back upstairs. Don’t point a gun at me this time, okay?” he said, laughing.

“You’re just no fun!” I teased him. “You know where I’ll be.” 

The water was a more comfortable temperature when I slid back into the bath. I let what remained of the bubbles surround me; it felt good, so I closed my eyes and let my body float in the tub. 

A few minutes later, the bathroom door flung open; Jeff stood there with an odd look on his face. “Who is the really pushy chick with jet black hair and brown eyes?” He’d just described my very annoying neighbor. 

“Ah yes, you’ve met Tiffany. She’s the one who threatened at the park to take you from me.”

He wiped a pale shade of lipstick off his mouth. “Yeah, we’ve met. Is she always that rude and obnoxious?”

“She told me you’d fall in love with her, and that I should be cognizant of that fact. I think she’s a few bricks shy of a load, to be truthful.” His horrified expression, and the remainders of lipstick on his skin, said all I needed to know. “Did she really kiss you?!”

“Oh my gosh, Des. I’ve never met anyone like her before. She’s crazy, that one.” He sat on the toilet, lid down, and reached for a towel. “You don’t have to worry about me, baby. I only have eyes for you.” He was thorough, rubbing every trace of her lip stain off his skin.

I smiled at him. “I knew that already, Jeff. She got under my skin the first time, but I realized she’s nuts.”

“Would you care for some company in the shower when you’re done soaking?” He winked at me. That would be a first; we’d been together just once. “I could get all the spots you can’t reach.”

“You know how to make me stretch my boundaries,” I said with a snicker. “Sure.”

*****

Jeff had brought groceries to make supper for us that night. Though the penthouse was roomy, the kitchen lacked space. He worked it like a professional chef, using every inch of counter to its fullest potential. When everything was in the oven, we joined forces to clean up.

“How did you plan on decorating? Do we need a tree? I think we should get a fresh one.” He uncorked a bottle of White Zinfandel and poured some into Mama’s vintage wine glasses. Handing me one, he raised his for a toast. “To us, Des. Our last holiday as an unmarried couple.”

“Cheers!” I said and sipped. This stuff was tasty and sweet, so much better than the usual dry, cottony-mouthed stuff he bought. “I was thinking of a fresh tree.” He sat on the loveseat and held his arms open for me to cuddle with him. “Mama and Daddy’s ornaments are in the crawlspace above the second bedroom. I was going to bring them down tomorrow. It’s my only day off this week.” 

“Do you work on your birthday? I was hoping to take you out somewhere fancy.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I told Jared I’d work the early shift. We should be okay by suppertime, though.” I took another sip of wine; it was delightful! “What did you have in mind?”

He nuzzled his face into my neck and kissed it. “I’m not telling you! That would ruin the surprise, silly.” 

“At least give me a hint?”

“You’ll need your gown.” Well, that narrowed it down to almost every restaurant in town.

“Not helpful!”

“Sorry, sweetheart, that’s all I got.” His fingers traced the muscles in my right arm, down to my waist. “Damn, you’re still so beautiful.” 

“You must feel frisky tonight.” When wasn’t he, really?

“You don’t miss a trick, do you?”

“Not usually.” I snuggled backward into his arms and then turned my head toward him for a kiss. “Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, I’ll go to bed with you tonight.” I kissed him again with much more passion.

“I didn’t ask—” he groaned.

“You don’t have to.”


We spent my birthday together, just the two of us. He took me to an exclusive restaurant in town, one of the oldest on the Los Sueños Strip. It was the first time I’d been inside such a swanky, posh, five-star restaurant like that one. The one in Bridgeport was elegant and refined, but this one looked like a million dollars. 

On Snowflake Day morning, Jeff woke up first. I didn’t feel him slip from the bedroom, but I smelled fresh coffee wafting in from the kitchen, and the aroma of bacon sizzling on the stove. The air was chilly, and I was wearing no clothes when I put my feet on the floor.

Jeff heard me awake and walked to the bedroom with a cup of coffee for me, prepared just how I loved it. “Good morning, sugarplum,” he said with a wink. “Did you sleep well?” 

“Mmhmm. Thank you for the coffee.” I put on my robe. In reality, it didn’t matter what I wore or didn’t wear. No one could see into our penthouse on the nineteenth floor.

“You’re welcome.” He leaned in for a kiss and then lingered there. “Are you hungry, Des?”

“I could eat,” I said. Breakfast smelled delicious. 

“The bacon is almost done. I’ll make eggs for you however you’d like, and your favorite whole grain toast.” He took my hands and led me out to the living room. The pile of gifts under the tree shocked me. I felt like a little girl!

“Jeff!” I set my coffee down on the counter and covered my face with my hands. “What did you do?”

“Wouldn’t you love to know?” He taunted me. “It’s been so hard keeping this secret.”

“Where did it all come from? You came in with nothing but your bag.”

“That’s true. I got busy while you were working.” His blue eyes sparkled. 

“I…” My eyes welled with tears. I had nothing for him. His visit was unplanned, and money was tight. “You caught me off guard, Jeff. I have nothing—”

He took my hands, his expression so full of love that I couldn’t comprehend why he adored me so much. “Don’t worry about it, Des. I have everything I need and want.”

“I worry about it, Jeff. You give me so much, and I seldom reciprocate. I should shower you with gifts and all—”

He placed his finger on my lips with a gentle ‘shh’. “Des, since we’ve been together, you’ve had one trial after another. You take everything in stride and you never miss a beat. I know you’re struggling here, that your bills are high. There is no reason for you to be facing difficulty when you’re under my roof. You’re my responsibility, babyluv. And I won’t let you neglect things you want because your needs are a burden.” He kissed me, a tender caress on my cheek. “Let me spoil you, because I love you.”

He wiped away my tears of joy as he explained the gifts. I still felt guilty, but when I was able, I’d make it up to him tenfold. “Thank you.” 

One last sweet kiss and he stood. “Breakfast is ready.” 

We worked in the kitchen together to finish up cooking eggs and toast, then sat at the small dinette table he’d bought for the space I had. Keeping Daddy’s tradition of praying for our meal, Jeff whispered a short blessing over us and our day together. He wasn’t a believer like me, which made his gesture more special.

The dishes sat in the sink while we relaxed on the loveseat, staring at the pile of gifts under the tree. Each one of them had my name on it. Without realizing it, Jeff had triggered fantastic childhood memories for me; I dabbed my eyes and sniffled.

“Are you alright?” 

“Yeah. It makes me nostalgic to see this. I haven’t had gifts like this since I was a girl.”

“There’s one or two I brought from home from Mom and Dad. The rest are from me, sweetheart. Happy Snowflake Day.” 

I wrapped my arms around him, holding him close. “Happy Snowflake Day, my sweet love,” I whispered into his ear.

Jeff sat on the floor in front of the tree, picking out presents for me to open. One by one, I opened his generous gifts; he saved one in particular, it seemed, for last. He held it behind his back and acted innocent. My interest was piqued, but I expected none of what he’d done. It could wait if that’s what he wanted. 

I pretended he didn’t have something hidden behind him. “I’m getting more coffee. Would you like a refill?” I asked.

He nodded. “Yeah, as long as you’re getting it, I’ll have one.” Jeff stood and stretched. “Nature calls. I’ll be right back.” I nodded and kept preparing the cups of coffee.

He was back in the living room faster than I could finish. I carried the mugs to him, retaking my place on the loveseat. The gift he’d been hiding now sat on the coffee table; a coy grin pulled across his face.

“Thank you for everything,” I said, taking a sip of my coffee. 

“I saved the special one for last, babyluv.” He placed the gift he’d held back onto the table. “This one is from me.”

Funny, he’d say it like that. The gifts were all from him, but I humored him. “Okay.” He watched me tear the paper, open the box, and my countenance fell. A guitar strap, a new capo, and nylon strings?! Was this his idea of a joke? “I-I don’t understand…” I couldn’t decide if I was bitter or sad. My guitar was long gone. 

“You will need those things, Des.”

“Maybe eventually. I haven’t been able to replace it yet, Jeff. And I don’t see how this is—” As I spoke my increasingly biting words, he leaned back to retrieve one last gift from inside the guest room. My hands trembled with emotion as he handed the box to me.

“I love you, Destiny,” he whispered. “Open it, babyluv. I can’t wait to see your face.” 

I knew what the box held; its unmistakable shape gave away the contents. I didn’t know the specifics, but I couldn’t wait to find out. I tore the paper from the box, clamping my jaws together so I wouldn’t cry. Jeff fidgeted, watching me reveal the one gift he knew I’d treasure for the rest of my life. My fingers removed the tape on the box and then slid it open. 

“Oh, my…” I set the box down on my lap and wept. My shoulders heaved as I cried. Jeff moved to the seat next to me and held me. It wasn’t any old acoustic guitar, but an Ovation guitar. This was not a cheap instrument; I’d had my eye on one of those at the music store downtown. It would have taken me over a year to afford one, maybe longer.

“Do you like it, babyluv?”

I couldn’t speak. All I could do was nod. My fingers plucked at the strings. The tone was vibrant and full—even with the standard strings—like no guitar I’d ever played before. He saw how emotional I was, how much I loved and appreciated this beautiful gift. He pulled my hair away from my shoulders and gathered it in his hands. 

“That was the big one,” he whispered into my ear. “I have had that picked out since the assault. It was specially ordered and shipped to the store here for you. This guitar is meant for stage performance, Des. It will be the perfect accompaniment to your angelic voice.” 

His sweet words, his tender love, rendered me speechless. I set the guitar back into the box and wrapped myself around him. “Oh, how I love you, Jeff.” I sniffled in his ear. “Thank you.”

“You just made my holiday, Destiny. You’re all I’ve ever wanted.”


Three Weeks Later

I’d only been to Sunset Valley once, and never without Jeff. It would be an interesting week. My music player was loaded with Katie Price songs, plugged into my ears as I settled into my first-class seat. The flight attendant took my drink order before we even taxied to the runway. 

Twenty minutes later, the plane was headed due north to Sunset Valley for an almost two-hour flight. I had a lot of inspiration for songs, so I sat with my notebook in my hand and a pen tucked into my ponytail. Before I got off this silver bullet, I hoped to have a couple of decent songs written. Jeff promised me we’d make a demo together during his spring break.

The attendant surprised me what seemed like five minutes later, asking for my drink cup and trash items. “We’re twenty minutes from the airport,” she informed me. I looked at the blank page in my notebook. So much for creativity.

“Thank you,” I said in return. I took one last mouthful of ice and threw my drink cup into the open bag she held. I returned my notebook to my backpack and slipped it under my seat. The landscape below us was a beautiful, wintry white. Snow fell at a decent clip, the flakes melting on contact with the airplane and patterning down the windows as water droplets. 

I watched outside for the rest of the flight. We landed as though we floated down on a cloud, despite the blustery weather. I supposed it snowed so often up here that the pilots and ground crews were used to the inclement conditions. The jet taxied to the gate, where I hoped Jeff’s mother, Audrey, waited for my arrival.

My eyes scanned the terminal as I walked down the jetway. I could see no familiar faces as I made my way off the airplane. I had no desire to drive in the snow in an unfamiliar city. Please be downstairs at baggage claim, I thought to myself. 

Audrey stood close to the bottom of the stairwell that led from the terminal into the baggage claim area. She held a sign that said, “Destiny,” on it; the sweet gesture made me smile. I picked up my pace and walked to where she stood.

“Welcome home, Destiny Grace!” she beamed. I laughed; she insisted Grace was my middle name. Nothing would convince her otherwise.

“Hi Audrey!” I hugged her. It was great that we got along well. It would make the week much less awkward for me. 

“How was your flight, dear?” She pulled away from the hug and planted a smooch on my right cheek. “You look stunning! I see the city agrees with you!”

If she only knew. “Thank you! I won’t lie. Things have been tough in Starlight Shores. It’s not as easy as I imagined it would be.” 

She patted my shoulder. “Maybe you should consider going with Jeff to Bridgeport, dear. His band is coming together!”

Bridgeport? “As far as I know, he’s thinking about the Shores with me after he graduates.”

Audrey shook her head. “Oh, no dear. Jeffery wants to perform in Bridgeport. His band is very popular at Sim State, and his prospects in the city look better than average.”

Why was I hearing about Jeff’s band from his mother? “Hmm. I thought it was only Jeff and Vic?” 

“It was, dear. But Jeffery met two talented musicians up there. They have an incredible sound.” Audrey spoke with obvious pride. But her information left me with more questions than answers.

“I see.”

“Destiny? You act as though you’re hearing this for the first time. Didn’t Jeffery tell you about his band, dear?” 

I shook my head. “No. He’s never told me.”

“Well, I’m sorry. I feel like I’ve let out a secret.”

“It’s okay, Audrey. You don’t need to apologize to me.” Jeff might, though, I thought.

The baggage carousel started up, bringing luggage from our flight into the claim area. Mine was one of the first ones off. I collected it, and together we walked to her expensive luxury car.

Audrey pulled up outside a new, bigger mansion. “I hope you don’t mind our remodeling dust, Destiny. Jeff bought this at the start of his winter break. We just finished moving into it. Julian and Jeff are going to refurbish and sell it. Then when Julian retires next January, we’re going to move to Barnacle Bay. The cold is too much here.” 

I nodded. “I understand.” She opened the trunk of her car; I took my bag and pulled it to the entryway of the mansion.

This house had a different character. Instead of fine linens and fancy furniture, it had a craftsman feel to it. Rustic, wooden paneling covered the walls on the entire bottom floor with exposed beams on the ceilings. The floors were worn with shoddy-looking carpet. It was ten steps backward for a family used to luxury.

“Your room is upstairs, Destiny. Jeff wanted you to be comfortable here, so he decorated it for you himself.” She led me up a narrow staircase, hidden in a hallway off the kitchen. The stairs opened to a vast living area with a fireplace, average-looking furniture, and a clunky old television set. “The house will be finished well before your wedding in October.” 

I gawked at the house’s interior. Everything was different from the older mansion; it was more relaxed and comfortable than the posh home they left behind. She stopped at the door to my room and opened it. “Here it is. Please make yourself at home.”

I stepped inside to find a four-poster bed with a silk scarf wrapped around a wooden canopy. A coordinating down comforter adorned what I assumed would be a top-of-the-line mattress and sateen linens. On a solid wood dresser, a bouquet of fresh red roses awaited me. I’d come to expect Jeff’s loving attention to detail. 

“This is beautiful!” I said. “Thank you.”

“We’re meeting Ana at the dress shop in the morning. Though there are several shops in town, Ana’s place can get any dress you desire. We’ll be shopping at her store first.” 

“That sounds good. I liked Ana.” Her style was eclectic, but I supposed with Dragon Valley to the north, it wasn’t uncommon for this area.

“Why don’t you get unpacked and come join me in the kitchen when you’re finished? We can talk over a glass of Chardonnay.” 

“Sure.” I didn’t care for Chardonnay, but it was okay. I knew I’d need to develop a tolerance for things, and people, I found distasteful.

*****

After supper, I was alone in my bedroom when I heard a knock. “Who is it?”

“It’s Barb.” Barbie was Jeff’s snooty twin sister. We’d gotten off on the wrong foot the last time I was here. Time to mend fences, I supposed.

“Come in.” I sat up on my bed and set my notebook down as Barb walked into the room. The last time I saw her, she had almost platinum blonde hair. Now, it was colored a cerulean blue, shaved to her scalp on the bottom, and longer on top. It looked ridiculous on her. “How are you?” I asked. I tried to sound sincere, but Barb was the last person I needed to see.

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“Look, I’m not interested in pleasantries,” she snapped. “I want to make sure you don’t interfere with Jeff’s plans after graduation. What are your intentions with him?” 

I swallowed a bit harder than I wanted to. “I don’t see where that’s any of your business.” Yikes. Did those words escape my mouth?

“Well, when it’s MY brother you’re going to be hitched to, you bet it’s my business. I won’t allow you to hold him back. He has such great potential, and you… well, you don’t.” 

“Excuse me!” That ticked me off. I stood from the bed and held my position. “You don’t know a thing about me, Barb. How do you know I don’t have potential?”

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“I didn’t until you just admitted it, hillbilly.”

Ooh! “That’s not what I said. You’re twisting my words!” 

“If you ruin his shot, I will be your worst nightmare.” Her icy blue-gray eyes pierced through me, as though she could see into my soul. It was disturbing.

“What makes you think I want to ruin anything for Jeff? I love him.”

“Well, I know you’ve got him wrapped around your finger, and I know he will do anything for you, including wasting his untapped potential in Starlight Shores. You know he needs to be in Bridgeport, and yet you’d lure him away.” Barb stood her ground, her hands on her hips and an angry snarl on her face. Her scrawny lips exaggerated her expression; she resembled a bulldog with a snaggletooth. It was all I could do to keep from laughing at her.

“You realize Jeff is a grown man with his own free will, don’t you?” I twirled a length of hair around my finger. “If he wants to come to Starlight Shores, that’s his choice.” 

“You’re asking too much of him! Since we were toddlers, he’s wanted this. I’ll be damned if I let some two-bit rube take his dreams away!”

“It’s not your decision—” I said until Barb cut me off with a backhand across my cheek.

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The impact caught me by surprise and knocked me off my feet. I sat on the floor, stunned; a hot, crimson handprint burned my face. 

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She looked horrified at what she’d done. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“Please leave me alone,” I croaked out. She stood there, watching to see what I would do. I needed her to leave before I lost my cool and cried in front of her. The last thing I needed was to show weakness. “Get out!” I stood and pointed toward the door.

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“I’m going.” She turned on her heel to leave. “Please, don’t tell Jeff? He will beat me into a pulp.”

“I won’t,” I lied. He was the first person I was calling. I couldn’t believe she came into my room and assaulted me, first with words, and then with a physical attack. Barbara said nothing more before she left my bedroom.

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Jeff would be back in his dorm unless he had a gathering with his band. I dialed his familiar number, expecting the answering machine. His cheerful voice surprised me.

“Hey, babyluv,” he said. “How’s things up north?” 

“I wish I could say they’re good.”

“What’s wrong? Is Mom treating you well?” 

I sighed. “Your mom is wonderful. Your sister is another story.”

Jeff huffed on the other end, as though he expected my words. “What did she do this time?”

“Well, for one, she came into my room and picked a fight. And then she backhanded me.” 

The line was silent; I thought the call had dropped. “She’s a dead woman,” Jeff said with obvious anger in his voice. “My sister has no right to touch you.”

“She surprised me, that’s for sure. I promised her I wouldn’t tell you. I lied to her.”

“Good! Oh Des, I’m sorry you’re having problems with her. I’ll fix it.” 

“I can fight my own battles. She just caught me off-guard.”

“Consider it handled, babyluv. I’ll call her tonight.”

“Thank you, but you don’t need to. I can take care of myself.” 

“She’s my sister, sweetheart. We have a history.”

“If you insist.” I wrestled with bringing up what Audrey had mentioned about his band. Should I open a potential can of worms? Mama’s words repeated in my head. “Desi, once you say something, you can’t take it back.” Wise advice, Mama. 

“Is everything else okay?”

I bit my tongue. “Yeah, I’m just tired.”

“You’re sure, Des? I want you to be comfortable in my home.” 

“I’m sure. Listen, don’t worry about Barb. I’ll just be the bigger person and forget it happened.”

I could tell he wasn’t okay with my decision, because he huffed again. “Call me if she gets out of hand, Des. I’ll talk her straight.”

“Okay, that’s a deal. I love you.” 

“I love you more. Goodnight, my sweet princess.” 

“Goodnight.” I pressed End on my phone, feeling better about my exchange with Barb. It was late, so I changed into my pajamas and whispered a prayer before I got into bed, wishing for Jeff’s company. I fell asleep with him on my mind.


The next morning, we left the house early to make our nine o’clock appointment with Ana. I dressed in a warm peach sweater, blue jeans and my old, trusty cowboy boots, my hair in a ponytail. Though it wasn’t snowing that morning, the temperatures were below zero. The wind went right through my jacket and chilled me to the bone. I couldn’t wait to get inside somewhere. 

Audrey escorted me into the shop and to the front desk. “This is only the first bunch of plans we need to cement before you leave here next week, Destiny Grace. We need to pick out invitations, flowers, bridesmaid dresses, food and entertainment, and the decorations for the mansion.”

I took a deep breath. “Well, let’s concentrate on the dress today. I’m pretty overwhelmed with all this planning stuff.” 

Her expression eased, and she gave a warm smile. “Just enjoy yourself, Destiny. This is the fun part.” She rang the bell on the desk, calling Ana’s name.

Ana peeked her head out from behind the backroom door. “I’ll be right there, Audrey,” she said. “I’m gathering the gowns you wanted to see.” 

Audrey looked pleased. She walked to the mirrored platform and gestured for me to follow her. We sat together, waiting for Ana’s appearance. 

“Hi Destiny!” Ana greeted me, struggling with an armful of white tulle and satin. “Let me set these down… here.” She opened the dressing room door and set the dresses on the rack within. “It’s good to see you again! Do you still have that adorable southern accent?” 

Ugh. It’s not southern! I thought to myself. “Yes, I do. It’s not a real big selling point in Starlight Shores for my singing career.”

Ana waved her hand. “Psh! Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do. It’s up to you to sell yourself.” She gave me a quick hug. “Promote yourself in a city that size. You can do it! I have all the faith in you.”

“Based on… what exactly?” Now I was intrigued.

“Jeff tells me you have the voice of an angel. That won’t go unnoticed for long, Destiny. There isn’t much true talent anywhere. You need to find your niche, and go for gold.” Ana sized me up. “Still a size three?” 

“One,” I said. “I’ve lost a few pesky pounds.” Ana rolled her eyes. I could tell what she was thinking.

“So you weigh ninety pounds soaking wet now?” She gave me a mischievous grin.

“No, still one-ten. Not wet.” I winked back at her.

“Lucky girl!” She walked to the dressing room and pulled out a white satin gown. It was beautiful. “Let’s try this one first. I think it will look gorgeous on you. It’s a three, but this style runs a bit on the smaller side.”

“Okay!” Together, we walked to the dressing room. She unzipped the back of the gown, which hid a zipper behind tiny, white buttons in mother-of-pearl. The bodice was done with lace and tulle; the skirt was constructed of satin with lace appliques throughout. It reminded me of a fairy tale wedding dress, and I loved it right from the start. “This one is stunning,” I said.

“I agree! Let’s get this contraption on your beautiful self and show Miss Audrey.” I pulled my sweater over my head to Ana’s laughter. “We’re going to need a whole new set of sexy lingerie! That part is my specialty!”

I blushed a deep red, though I should have been used to her quirks. The dress slipped over my head, a perfect fit despite it being a size three. My hands smoothed the fabric over my body as she zipped the back. The gown had no train attached, but it didn’t matter to me. She helped me gather the ample skirt as we walked to the platform. Audrey sat forward in her chair, studying the fit and form of the dress. 

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“That looks lovely on you, Destiny,” Audrey said. “What do you think, Ana?” 

Ana fussed with the dress in back. “I think it’s perfect!” 

“What do you think, Destiny? You’ll knock his socks off in that dress.” Audrey continued her penetrating stare.

“I love it.” I turned around to see myself in this beautiful gown. The fit and the style were perfect. Where is Mama when I need her opinion? “I know I shouldn’t take the first one I try on, though.” 

“That’s true,” Ana said in agreement. “I have quite a few here for you to try, and you’re my only client scheduled until late afternoon. We have all day.”

“Let’s see the next one,” Audrey said. “We’ll keep that one on the short list.” 

Ana nodded and gathered the skirt. Together, we walked back to the dressing room. She helped me out of the gown, and I stood there in my unmentionables while she unwrapped the next dress. This one looked to be form-fitting. Not my style, but I’d try it for Audrey’s sake. Ana slipped it over my head; she fastened a series of hooks to close the back. 

The gown was a stark, winter white made from a fabric I’d never seen before, let alone wore. The lace detail was intricate, and I’ll admit the dress was pretty. Had it been crafted from a softer material, it would have been slinky, hugging every curve of my body. The skirt flared at the bottom, starting at the knee. We walked to the platform; Audrey stood and walked to me.

“Destiny, this looks gorgeous on you! It’s elegant and understated. It makes you look like a movie star.” She hugged me and stood right behind me. “I’m favoring this one.” 

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I looked at every angle in the mirror, checking out the fit. It wasn’t what I liked, but it was beautiful just the same. “You think so?” I asked. 

“Oh, absolutely, dear!” Audrey turned to Ana. “Do you have this one in an off-white?” 

“Off-white?” I said.

“You’d have to be dead to resist Jeffery for so long, Destiny. I know you’re not a ‘good girl’. Sure, we like to keep up appearances, but let’s be honest—” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How could she possibly know that?!

Ana looked at my face, twisted in utter humiliation, and clicked her tongue. “Every bride deserves to wear white at her wedding, Audrey. No matter what.” She leaned forward and hugged me. “I have your back,” she whispered. I wanted to crawl under the rug and stay there.

*****

When we returned home from the train wreck dress appointment, I excused myself to my room. I was fuming about Audrey’s accusations, but more so about the wording she used. I’m not a ‘good girl’?! What the heck did THAT mean? Well, I knew what it meant. And I believed Audrey liked me. I think Jeff was the only one in his family who did.

The supper hour came, and the house smelled good. I almost declined having supper with the family. But to salvage the day, I joined them. The thought of Jeff’s dad, Julian, being my sole ally in the family, when it was he who didn’t care for me to start, amused me. However, I wasn’t counting on my assumption being true.

Audrey cooked a beautiful meal, likely big enough to feed three times as many people. We all sat together with no prayer spoken before supper. I needed to accept that Jeff came from a family of non-believers. 

Barb sat across from me; Audrey and Julian opposite one another at the table’s head. Barb was quiet and reserved until the discussion turned to the dress disaster.

“Barbie, we need you to come with us to the next dress fitting. Destiny could use your fashion sense.” Audrey gazed at me with a crooked smile. Was she kidding? Barb’s sense of style was no style at all. Whatever she wore never coordinated. I thought Audrey was losing her marbles.

“Why would I want to help her? She’s going to ruin Jeff.” Barb swiveled her head toward her father. “Why are you letting this wedding take place, Pa?” 

Julian looked over his glasses at me. “She’s suitable.”

“She isn’t a ‘good girl’, Julian,” Audrey stated, her slender fingers forming air quotes.  

“Well, that’s surprising.” He looked right into my eyes. “Aren’t your parents believers? You must be a disappointment to them.”

I am a pretty tolerant person, and I’ve always been taught to turn the other cheek. Mama, despite being red-headed, was always even-tempered, and I could never remember her and Daddy disagreeing, never mind fighting. And most times, I was like Mama. 

But Daddy had a wild streak and a case of wanderlust until his retirement. He’d uttered more than a few salty words, though they were never directed at Mama. Daddy could trade barbs with the best of them, and his temper often got him into trouble.

Today, I was my daddy’s daughter—a red-headed spitfire raised to stand up for myself. “Doormat Destiny” ceased to exist at that moment. The Dean family awakened a hornet’s nest, and I was hot and ready to sting.

“What did you just say to me?” I spat back at Julian. 

“Your parents must be so disappointed—”

Did he really just repeat that? Doesn’t he know what rhetorical means? “Let’s get one thing straight, Mr. Dean. My parents adored me, and I, them. They were very proud of me, and they would be to this day, especially with everything I’ve endured since they passed away two years ago. So don’t you ever, EVER, tell me my parents would be disappointed in me!”

Audrey gave me a surprised look. “Where is all this coming from?” 

“Don’t. You. DARE!” I snarled. “You started this!”

“Isn’t what I say true?” Audrey doubled down. 

“What Jeffery and I do in our private time is NONE of your business! Do you understand me?”

“Chill out, hillbilly,” Barb stood and raised her voice. “We don’t disrespect our elders in this family! You’re such an ungrateful little bitch after Mom invited you into our home! You should be ashamed of yourself.”

That was the end of my civility. Barb’s words struck the match that lit my fuse. My daddy’s temper took over as salty words poured from my mouth. What I had said was a mystery; I was too angry to care. When I got up from the table, I kicked my chair so hard that it almost fell over. I was shaking like a leaf while I walked up to my bedroom. My first phone call was to the local cab company. I needed a ride to the airport.

No one appeared to smooth things over. I had my case packed in record time. I walked down the front stairway with my pride intact and the future of my engagement with Jeff hanging in the balance. The cab was there minutes after I called for them. I didn’t say goodbye when I walked from Jeff’s mansion.

“Airport, please,” I said as the cab driver placed my bag in the trunk. My hands still shook opening the back seat of the car. I dialed Jeff’s number after I climbed inside.

“Hi babyluv!” His cheery voice greeted me. But when I heard him, my voice quivered. My breath caught in my throat, and a sob choked me. “Des? What’s wrong?”

“I’m on my way back to the Shores. Things got ugly, and I lost my temper.”

“What? Why, Des? What happened?”

“We were having supper together, and your mom suggested to Barb that she come with us on our next dress shopping trip. Barb was her usual miserable self, but your parents said some pretty awful things to me. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I guess they don’t like me after all, Jeff.”

“That doesn’t seem right, Des. Mom adores you! She was looking forward to spending time with you.”

“Does she know we were intimate, Jeff? Did you tell her?”

Silence. I thought the call had disconnected. “No. My personal life isn’t their business. They don’t care what I do, anyway.”

“Well, my virginity, or lack thereof, was up for discussion at supper. Your dad implied my parents would be ashamed of me…” Just repeating the words angered me again. How DARE he?

More silence, and then a distraught sigh. “Oh, babyluv, I’m so sorry. I promise to make it up to you.”

Talking to Jeff, I wept in the back seat of the cab. “I can’t go back there. That bridge burned down to the nubs.”

“Let me talk to Mom, and we’ll get this all straightened out. I promise. Don’t fly out angry, sweetheart. Just sit tight, okay?” 

“I’m sorry. I need to get back home.” Though he couldn’t see me, I shook my head. “I can’t face them again.”

“I can’t talk you into staying there?” 

“Why, Jeff? So they can insult me some more? I can’t let them talk to me this way. I’m no fool.”

“Oh Des, I understand,” he said. Finally.

“Do you mind if I use some of the renovation funds to change my flight? I’ll replace it when I can.”

“Use whatever you need, sweetheart. Don’t worry about replacing it. I’ll just replenish it in the morning.”

His gentle tone was just what I needed to ease my anxiety. “I wish you were here. Jeff, I need you.”

“I was going to fly home this weekend to surprise you. Maybe I’ll change my destination and come to the Shores instead.”

“I would love that.” 

“I know you would.” That made me laugh.

“We’re pulling up at the airport terminal, Jeff. I’ll call you when I’m home safe.”

“Okay, Des. Remember, I love you.”

“I love you, too.”


— Jeff — 

Destiny’s phone call that night was a shocker. Mom never gave me any sign that she didn’t like my sweet fiancée. So when she hung up the phone, Mom’s number back at the house was the first one I dialed.

“Jeffy!” 

“What did you do, Mom?”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Why did Destiny call me all upset? What did you do to her?”

“Oh.” Mom didn’t answer me right away. What was she waiting for? Her delay was just making me angrier. “Well, you know, Jeffery, that girl… she’s not right for you.”

“It doesn’t matter what you say, Mom. We’re getting married, with or without your blessing.”

“Do what you want, Jeffery. It’s your life, but think long and hard about it. She has a hot temper, and she is very disrespectful!”

Well, that didn’t sound right. Destiny wouldn’t insult anyone, not even the ones who bullied her at the park. “I don’t believe she’s capable of disrespect.”

“Until it’s YOU she’s fighting with, Jeff. I don’t trust a girl with red hair. They’re flighty and devious.”

Mom was making me angry. “Hair color has nothing to do with temperament. Des is sweet as they come!”

“How does she get along with her folks? I can’t imagine they’re very proud of her now.”

“You realize her parents died, right? Both of them, within 24 hours of each other. You can’t imagine how close she was to them, and how much she misses them.”

“Well, that’s not healthy, either, Jeffy. A girl shouldn’t be so close to her mother. It’s not right.”

Mom was just talking in circles. “Are you quite done?”

“I’m telling you, Jeff. She’s not the person you think. When she’s with you, maybe she’s different. When she’s by herself, she’s a monster.”

“I’m sure you did nothing to provoke her…” Could she hear the sarcasm in my voice? I hoped so, because I knew differently.

“Why would I do that, Jeff? You’re my son. Why would I lie to you? She has plenty of reasons to lie, like saving face or making your family look bad.” I heard Dad chattering with her in the background; I couldn’t make out their conversation in its entirety, but what I heard seemed to mesh with Mom’s account. Why would Destiny lie to me?

“Maybe she’s after your money. She wouldn’t be the first little minx to target you, Jeff.”

Impossible! It couldn’t be true. “No. Destiny doesn’t care about the money.”

“Isn’t she from a poor family?”

“She is. What’s your point?”

“When you shower her with gifts and spoil her, don’t you think she will come to expect that? Try withholding money and see how she reacts. I bet you’ll see her for what she really is, Jeff. Please, be careful.”

“I trust her.” 

“Maybe you shouldn’t. That’s all I’m saying.” 

I huffed in frustration. “Look, Mom. I need to go. I have to get up early.” It was a lie. I needed some time to process my feelings and everything Mom had thrown at me. It was overwhelming.

“OK, Jeffery. We love you, son.” 

“Yeah.” I hung up the phone, cursing under my breath. My brain was working overtime, trying to figure out what had gone on, who was telling me the truth. I took Mom’s advice and tested Destiny. A quick phone call later, the credit card she used for emergencies was frozen. According to the bank, she hadn’t attempted using her bank card yet. I knew she would try when she got to the airport. Her reaction would tell me who was telling the truth—Destiny or Mom.

As expected, the phone rang twenty minutes later. I acted cool when I answered her call.

“Hi, babyluv!” I said.

“Is there something wrong, Jeff? The airline declined my card!”

“It should be okay,” I lied. “What did they tell you?” 

“They didn’t give me a reason, just that the card was declined.” I heard her put her hand over the phone, and she mumbled to someone. “They won’t give the card back! What’s going on, Jeff? How am I going to get home?!” 

Her reaction was just what Mom had predicted. “Don’t you have your money from the house?” I tried to be smooth and helpful, but she was growing more agitated. 

“I have no access to that now! It’s all tied up in investments. You know that!” she huffed and cursed, something I’d never heard her do before. “What am I going to do? I don’t really want to sleep in the airport!”

Thanks to me, she was in a tight spot. I wasn’t expecting her reaction. I thought she would have handled it like she did every other crisis she’d been given. “Let me call the bank and see what’s up. Can I call you back?” 

“I guess.” Her voice cracked. “Please hurry? I’ve had a rough day.” 

I heard the emotion in her quivering voice. Now I felt terrible for testing her, but Mom was right. “I’ll put you on hold, Des. Just a sec.” One more phone call to the bank, and her privileges were restored. As a precaution, I called the airport in Sunset Valley, determined who had kept her card, and told them it was a misunderstanding. The agent assured me he would return the card to Destiny. Sure, it would cost me a few hundred dollars, but she would get home safe and sound. The experiment revealed what I needed to know, and it was depressing as hell. 

Mom had done the unthinkable; she planted the first seed of doubt into my head about Destiny. 

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Up Next: Chapter Three, Generation Two


Pose Credits:

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Phone Poses

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Couple Fight – Updated
Cuddle Bed Pack 1
Cuddle Sad Pack
Family Fighting – Updated
Punching Poses
That’s My Girl!

The Sims Resource
Sit In by Shokobiene

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Simetria Sims — Romantic couple pose pack by Lexy 

Zhippidy Poses
Anger 10 Poses

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Custom Content:

Around The Sims 3
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Pen

Mod The Sims
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Glock Handgun by XanKriegor
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The Farmer Legacy
Destiny & Jeff’s Engagement Photos (Requires Master Suite Stuff)

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