Author’s Note: This chapter contains scenes with adult situations. Reader discretion is advised.
The funerals were held on the same day, a combined celebration of Mama and Daddy’s lives together. The entire town showed up, and much to my surprise, so did the Bradfords. Aunt Sunny and Uncle Caleb hadn’t changed a bit—older and grayer, but the same nonetheless—and it was good to see them.
Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul took Sweetie onto their farm and promised me she would live the rest of her days being spoiled and pampered. Jenny helped me close up the house and vowed that she would take care of it until I came back from school that summer. Two weeks after I’d flown home, I was on my way back to Sim State.
I carried one suitcase full of photos, more clothes, and some small personal items back to school. Jeff waited for my flight at the airport. I was relieved to see him there. I walked toward his open arms, which enveloped me. He kissed the top of my head and held me, saying nothing. We stood like that for a few moments as other passengers brushed past us.
He finally took my suitcase, and we left the airport. That night, we spent time together. He let me cry on his shoulder, both literally and figuratively. I fell into bed exhausted, but at peace. I was back in familiar surroundings with an established routine.
Catching up on missed schoolwork was difficult, though every professor showed me grace and allowed late assignments with no penalty. By the time midterms came around, I’d caught up. I was on track to make the Dean’s list again.
Jeff and I became inseparable after my return to school. He wanted to keep my mind occupied and my heart focused on anything but my grief. We did fun things together on the weekends, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fall in love with him.
Jeff never asked me out on official dates. We did things together as naturally as Mama and Daddy used to do. We were bowling one Saturday night after grabbing supper at the all-night burger joint. I’d bowled a turkey, which is three strikes in a row. Jeff walked up behind me and slipped his arms around my waist. He planted his chin on my shoulder, a kiss in my favorite spot.
“That was quite the feat. Congratulations!” he whispered into my ear.
“Thank you, kind sir!” I said. I turned around in his arms and smiled.
“Damn, Destiny, you’re so beautiful.” He kissed me and pulled me close. “I think… I’m falling in love with you.”
I pulled back and peered into his eyes. “Did I just hear you correctly?”
He laughed at my proper speech. “You did, Miss Grammar Wonk.”
I gave his shoulder a gentle smack. Should I? I wrestled with my inner self. “I have a secret,” I teased.
“Mmhmm,” I said. “Come closer and I’ll whisper to you.”
He pulled me closer to him, kissing my neck. “Is this close enough?”
“Mmhmm. Wanna hear my secret?”
More kisses and a whimper. “Of course, beautiful.”
I leaned into his personal space, my lips next to his ear. “I already know I’ve fallen in love with you.”
He looked at me with a sly grin. “I knew it.”
“So much for not wanting a relationship,” I chuckled.
“Yeah,” he said. “Let’s get out of here.”
He nodded his head. “Oh, yeah.”
Jeff took my hand, paid for the games, and we left the bowling alley together.
Now, I know what you are thinking; we never brought our relationship to the physical realm that night. Jeff knew ahead of time what my feelings were on that subject, and he respected me enough to honor it. What happened was a night of romance; cuddling, kissing, sparkling cider and fresh fruit we bought on the way back to the dorm. It couldn’t have been better. Austin? Austin who?
Spring term ended with finals and graduation ceremonies, but not for us. We each had two years remaining. I locked my room when the dorms closed for the term. We stood in the common area on the first floor. I paced, dreading my return to an empty house. There was so much to do. Would I be able to get it done in just three months?
Jeff’s watch chimed with the alarm, telling us it was time to go. I packed very little for the trip home; most of my clothing was still at the farmhouse. He took my hand, with my suitcase in his other one. “Are you ready, honey?”
I nodded. “Not really, but I have to face it.”
“Are you sure you don’t need help? I can change my ticket and come stay with you for the summer. It’s not a problem.”
“I appreciate the offer. And maybe, if I didn’t have so much sentimental stuff, I’d welcome it. But the pain is still too fresh…” I felt that familiar lump rising in my throat. “I don’t want you to see me like this.”
“Like what? Human?”
“Vulnerable,” I said. “My entire world back home is different. I don’t know which end is up, Jeff. I need to figure that out before I invite anyone else into it.”
He looked at me with a hurt expression. “I thought I was already in it?”
I smiled. “Of course you are, Jeff.”
“I sense some hesitation there…?”
“No,” I said. “I just have a lot to do. I want to take my time sorting stuff. There are three generations’ worth of memories in that house.”
“Okay. You know where I am if you need me, though. I can be there within a day. Just say the word.” He opened my car door and helped me in. The trunk popped open, and he put my case and his backpack into it. The car shook when he slammed it closed; he walked to the driver’s side and got in. “What time is your flight?”
“Five something. I don’t remember the minutes. We have plenty of time.”
“Mine leaves at six something. I’ll walk you to your gate and then catch mine.”
“I’d like that, Jeff.”
He gave me a wry smile. “I know you would.” He started the car and began the half-hour drive to the airport.
Aunt Jenny picked me up at the airport and brought me to their ranch for the night. I appreciated it more than they realized. I didn’t look forward to being home without Mama and Daddy. We all expected Daddy’s passing; Mama was a total shock I was not ready to face. I still wasn’t, and I wished Jeff had come back with me. Why was I so stubborn, anyway?
Once I was settled down, I put on my boots and wandered outside. Sweetie grazed about thirty feet from me, and when I whistled for her, she perked up and whinnied. I didn’t share Daddy’s bond with Sweetie, but I knew she had to be lonely. “Come on, girl!” I called her. Sweetie pranced around, making happy nickers and whinnies. I couldn’t imagine what she thought or felt. She didn’t understand. She only knew that things were different. It was a reunion I hadn’t counted on, but I loved it just the same.
After I was finished with Sweetie, Aunt Jenny sat down with me in their rustic, homey living room. I had my shoes off my feet, my legs tucked up under my bottom. She had a cup of chamomile tea, which she offered to me, but I declined. The evening air was crisp; a fire flickered in the hearth.
“So, Destiny, tell me about school. Are you adjusting up there okay?”
I nodded, unsure how much I should disclose. “I’ve made a few friends. My dorm room is enormous, and I have it all to myself.”
“Oh, so that went through for you! I’m so glad!”
Now I was confused. “What’s that, Aunt Jenny?”
“Uncle Paul pulled some strings for you to get a single. I hope you don’t mind the interference. Your daddy asked him if he could. You know that’s Paul’s alma mater, right?”
“Yeah, I knew that. Daddy set that up?”
“He did.” Aunt Jenny beamed with joy. “He wanted to ensure you had the best room in the best dorm, so you’d have the privacy and quiet to practice your songs. You have to know how much they both adored you, Destiny.”
“I know I was their miracle baby.”
“Oh, Desi, you were so much more than just their miracle. Everything they did, every decision they made, was ultimately for your benefit. They went without, providing what you wanted and needed. I know your Mama worked on the farm much longer than she had planned because she so desired to see you succeed. They wanted you to have the opportunity your mama didn’t, more so after your daddy got sick.”
I didn’t know any of this had gone on. The guilt was overwhelming. “They did all of that for me?”
Aunt Jenny nodded. She must have noticed my expression, because she came and sat next to me. “Oh, sweetheart, I didn’t tell you that to make you cry. They did it because they loved you. You are their legacy, and they both live inside you. Desi, as long as you remember them, they’ll never be gone.”
There was that nickname again, the one I disliked when I was younger. It was amazing how much I longed to hear ‘Desi’ one more time from them. “They will never be forgotten as long as I draw a breath, Aunt Jenny. Thank you for letting me stay here tonight. I wasn’t looking forward to being in their home without them.”
“It’s your home now, Destiny. I know you’re intending to sell it. However I can be helpful, I’m there for you.”
“I’m relieved you understand why I can’t stay here. I’d be disappointing them now if I did.”
Aunt Jenny nodded and sipped her tea. “Your daddy wanted you to see the world, to live your life to the fullest, and be what you’ve dreamed of becoming since you were a little girl. You have that opportunity. There’s no shame in that.”
My cell phone signaled a text message, and I recognized its tone: Jeff. I peeked at its three simple words and smiled.
“I know that look,” she said with a grin. So much for my poker face. “You have a guy at school, don’t you?”
“Mmhmm,” I said, returning my own lovesick grin. “He’s been there for me in ways I never expected or asked. Jeff made loving him so easy.”
“Do you have a photo? I’d love to see one.”
I nodded and showed her my favorite one, taken right outside my dorm room door. “That’s us.”
“Ooh! He’s handsome! You two make a beautiful couple.” She handed my phone back with a Cheshire cat grin.
I blushed. “Thank you. I don’t know where it’s going, but I’m having fun with him in the meantime.”
“No judgments here, Desi,” she said with a snicker and a wink. “I’m not your mama.”
“Not that kind of fun, Aunt Jenny.” Now I was really blushing. “But he’s very romantic. He always considers me first when we do things.”
“As well he should!” She yawned and stretched. “I’ll help you at the house in the morning if you need it. I’m going to bed. Do you need anything, sweet pea?”
“No, but thank you. I’m heading to bed myself.” We hugged for a moment before she walked up the steps to their master suite. The room where I slept was Joshua’s old room. Seeing all of his computer equipment and tech books made me miss Polly, and I wondered what she was doing these days. Rather than let her invade my thoughts, I opened the text app on my phone.
Hi Jeff, I’m here and settled in for the night. Heading to the house in the morning. I love you, too.
I changed into my pajamas, whispered a prayer in the evening’s stillness, and turned out my bedside lamp.
In the months that followed my arrival back at the farmhouse, I got the barn cleaned out, the greenhouse refurbished, the garden plot plowed, and the remaining manure incorporated into the soil. Jeff helped me do some of the heavy work. He arrived after I called him for help. He was all too happy to oblige.
Two weeks before I needed to be back at school for the fall semester, Aunt Jenny and I held a garage sale. I didn’t want to clutter a new home in Starlight Shores with a bunch of trinkets or knick knacks. There were things I couldn’t part with; those we packed into boxes and placed in the sitting room.
The sale did well, and with proceeds from it, I financed my books and supplies for the school year. Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul helped me to cover furniture to keep it clean while I was gone. This year, I would spend the Snowflake Day holiday with Jeff. I wouldn’t see Appaloosa Plains again until next spring.
The morning of my flight back to school, Aunt Jenny and I stood on the house’s front porch. I handed her my key for Daddy’s pickup truck. She looked at me with an odd, but surprised, expression.
“What’s this for?” she said, the truck key dangling off her finger.
“I can’t take it with me to school, and I don’t want to drive it to the city. I’m afraid it wouldn’t make it. Maybe Uncle Paul can fix it up and use it?”
“But it was your daddy’s truck. Are you sure, Destiny?”
I nodded. “I know it has some life left. If he can fix it, maybe give it to a needy family? Mama would have wanted that.”
Aunt Jenny smiled. “You’re a good kid, Destiny. Never change.”
“I’m going to try.” I looked at my watch. “My flight leaves in two hours. I need to get going.”
“Do you have everything you need, sweet pea?”
“Mmhmm. Thank you again, Aunt Jenny, for everything. I love you.”
She wrapped her arms around me and squeezed tight. “I love you too, kiddo. Let’s go.”
I opened the door to the residence hall to see Jeff standing in the common area, waiting for my arrival. We’d only seen each other a few weeks before, but it surprised me how much I missed him. By this time, his pet names for me had grown in number and intimacy. “Babyluv” was now my favorite.
“Hi babyluv,” he said with a kiss. “How was your flight?”
“Uneventful,” I said with a return kiss. “How did you know I was coming?”
He laughed and gave me a sly grin. “I have my ways, and I bet you’d love to know them!”
“Yeah, I would, actually!” I hugged him again and kissed him. It was so good to be together.
“It’s quite scientific.” He took my luggage in one hand and led me upstairs, talking all the while. “You see… are you sure you really want to know my secrets?”
I rolled my eyes and giggled at him. He excelled at the tease. “Yes! Please tell me?”
We arrived at the top step on the third floor. He took my hand, spun me around into a dip kiss, and stared into my eyes. He said it with a straight face, but I could tell he was having a tough time stifling his laughter. “You told me your flight number.”
“You’re such a brat!”
“But you love me, anyway!” He held his hand open for my key, which I gave to him. “Miss… your room,” he said with the flick of a wrist. Even though it was late August, the temperatures were brisk. The fireplace would get used tonight.
“So, what’s up your sleeve for tonight, sir?”
“You can read me like a book,” Jeff teased. “I thought we’d go off campus and have a quiet dinner together.”
I looked at him, my head cocked. “We missed the dinner hour already.” To me, dinner was what most folks call ‘lunch’.
“Well, what do you call it, Miss Country Bumpkin?” I had to laugh at his choice of words. I’d never been called that before.
“The evening meal is ‘supper,’ where I come from.” I walked to my closet to pick out an outfit he would like. “What should I wear?”
He walked up beside me and wrapped his arms around my waist. “How about this one?” He chose my favorite casual dress; a denim jumper I usually wore with lacy leggings. “I bet you look sexy in that one.”
My cheeks flushed red. “I never noticed, to be honest. I don’t choose clothing with that quality in mind.”
“You’re so beautiful when your cheeks match your hair,” he said, pulled me into a passionate kiss, and left me breathless. “Are you sure you want to wait, babyluv? I need you.”
He always made it difficult to say no to him. But I’d promised my mama that I would keep myself pure for the man I’d eventually marry. “Jeff, you know how I feel about this—”
I knew he was frustrated. He huffed and pulled away from me. “Well, I need a little extra time to get ready for our supper date.” He winked at me. “Let’s meet downstairs at six?”
I needed to freshen up a bit, too. “Sounds good.” We kissed once more, then he walked toward his room. I heard the door open and close; a frustrated growl emanated from his room. I felt like I’d made a mistake in telling him no.
With the fall semester in full swing, Jeff’s attention was sporadic. I had assumed it was because our schedules were full. My course load was extensive, but I was committed to graduating in three years instead of four. We seldom passed in the hall, and by the first month into the semester, I worried about us. I walked across the hallway and knocked on the door.
Jacob, the unfriendly roommate, answered it. “Oh, you must want Jeff.”
I nodded. I certainly wasn’t looking for him. “Yes. Is he here?”
Jacob hemmed and hawed. Something was wrong. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. “He’s… um… out.”
“Where is he?”
“Is he around?”
“Is he in class?” I thought I’d ask, even though it seemed unlikely at 9:00 PM.
I was getting irritated. “Jacob, just tell me!”
“He’s on a date.” Jacob could have punched me in the gut and it would have hurt less.
I stumbled backward into a chair and fell into it. Tears stung my eyes. Jeff was cheating on me, and I was too stupid to notice? Jacob watched me, then closed the door, emotionless. When I collected myself, I trudged to my room and slammed the door.
Two hours later, a soft knock sounded on the door. I couldn’t have looked worse; puffy, swollen eyes, tear stains on my cheeks. A headache that would make a Marine cry. I heard Jeff’s voice calling my name outside.
“Go away, Jeff!” I yelled.
“Des?” He sounded confused, and at that point, so was I. I walked to the door and opened it. I must have looked horrible. His face wore a look of pure shock. “What’s wrong, babyluv?”
I wanted so badly to hug him, to have him tell me everything was okay, that my insecurity was unfounded, and he still loved me. “I went looking for you. Jacob told me something unbelievable, Jeff.”
He sat down on my bed and patted the spot next to him. “What did he tell you?”
“Jacob told me you were on a date. Is this true?”
His reaction was anger; not at me, but Jacob. “Understand something about Jake, Destiny. He hates that we are so close, he hates that we’re happy because he’s such a miserable person.” He put his arm around my shoulder and hugged me. “I love you, Destiny. Sometimes I wish things were different for us, but I’m willing to wait for you, if that’s what it takes.”
That made me feel better. “I love you, too. And thank you for understanding my sitch. I made a promise…” Grief choked out my words. I could still hear Mama’s voice in my head. “And I’m sorry I doubted you. My last boyfriend lied to me, not just once, and not insignificant lies, either. He broke up a longtime friendship with my best friend. I still can’t forgive him for that.”
“Oh, honey,” he said. “I’m so sorry you’ve had so much to deal with. I never want to cause you pain. Goodness knows you’ve had more than your share of it.” Jeff always had the right words. That’s how I knew our relationship was strong.
“So we’re good?”
He kissed my forehead and held me close. “Of course, we’re good.”
“So, where were you tonight, anyway?”
“I had a study date with some classmates.”
We had some of the same classes; our majors were the same. “Oh? Who with?”
“You know Jerry, right?” Jerry was an upperclassman who wanted Jeff to form a band with him.
“And Vic, and Bob. Jerry wrote some new music, and he wanted a four-piece band to try it out. I’d have asked you to come, but I don’t know your schedule, babyluv. We’ve hardly seen each other this semester.”
“Why didn’t you just ask me, anyway? I’d have told you.”
“Next time I will, especially if it includes some fun. I know you could stand to have a little fun.”
Oh, he had no idea. I was on the verge of burnout. “Let’s go bowling again on Saturday?” I said.
“It’s a deal.” He hugged me again and gave me one of his signature passionate kisses that made me question everything I believed. “I can’t wait, Des.”
Finals and winter break arrived, as though the semester was weeks long instead of three months. Jeff and I had plans to stay with his family for the Snowflake Day holiday, and my birthday would fall during that time, too. The week before break, I got a message from the admissions office. On my way back from the lecture hall, I stopped in to respond.
I sat in the corridor in an uncomfortable folding seat. I’d never been in that building. It felt like forbidden territory for us students, but others were there, too. Seeing them made me feel more at ease. I couldn’t imagine why they needed to see me.
I’d been waiting for about ten minutes when an older woman appeared in the doorway and called my name. She led me back to her office, held the door for me, and allowed me to enter first.
“Please, Destiny, have a seat.” She sat behind her desk and opened a file folder with my name on it. “I have some good news for you.” I sat and listened with great interest. Good news was welcomed after the year I’d had. “The course load you’ve taken over the past three semesters here has put you on track to graduate in the spring; that is, if you continue with your planned schedule for spring term.”
I nodded my head with a huge grin. “Yes, I was planning on doing the full credit load, plus sixteen work credits.” What she had told me hadn’t sunk in… yet.
“Assuming you pass all the courses with at least a three point GPA, you’ll be eligible to walk with the senior class this spring.”
My mouth fell open. Flabbergasted didn’t describe the surprise I felt. “You’re serious? I only have one semester left?” She nodded and smiled. “This is incredible news. Thank you!”
“Congratulations, Destiny. It’s very unusual for a student to excel under the strain of a heavy load like you’ve taken.”
I blushed. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Well done,” she said. “Enjoy your winter break with your family. We’ll see you back in January.”
Hello lump, my old friend. Why are you in my throat again? I thought and then chuckled through the tears I tried to swallow. They sounded like words to a song. “See you in January,” I said, choosing to forgo the story of how my family was gone. But I had Jeff to share my news with. I hoped he would be as happy as I was.
Jeff and I met to study that night. I toyed with how to tell him my good news. If all went well, I’d graduate at nineteen with a bright future in Starlight Shores. Because my room was bigger and more private, we studied in my dorm. I laid on the bed, and Jeff sat at my desk.
We were quizzing each other, but it was obvious my mind was somewhere else when I incorrectly answered three questions in a row. He stopped and looked at me; I was lost in thought. I don’t know how many times he said my name before I finally heard him.
“I’m sorry, Jeff…” I twirled some hair around my index finger. “I got some news today from the admissions office, and I’m trying to figure out when I should tell you.”
He winced. “Is it good news?”
His expression was pure mischief. “When are you going to tell me?”
“I guess right now!” I patted the spot on the bed next to me, and he took two giant steps to me, plopped down, and faced me. “Ready?”
“Yes, and you’re killing me.”
“I’m graduating in the spring!” His cheerful smile turned to a confused frown almost instantly.
“I’ll have enough credits in the spring to graduate, Jeff. Isn’t this exciting?!”
He looked more than a little hurt. “What about us?”
“I’ll wait for you.”
“Des, I was planning on moving to Bridgeport after grad. The nightclub scene is hot there, and it’s where aspiring musicians go to pay their dues.”
I hated myself for what would come out of my mouth next. “Well, then I’ll wait here for you to graduate, and we’ll go to Bridgeport together.”
“That still solves nothing, Des.”
“How so? I thought it was perfect—”
“You’re not giving up your dreams for me. I’m not worthy of that.” He took my hands and held them. “I love you too much to let you do that.”
“We don’t have to decide now, do we? I mean, graduation isn’t until May…”
“No, you’re right, Des.” He stood and knelt in front of me, his head on my lap. I ran my fingers through his hair. “I’m getting ahead of myself.”
“Hey,” I said, and stroked his cheek. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, Destiny, more than you know.”
“Do you still need to study?” I already knew the answer.
“Oh, hell no.” He got up and pulled me to my feet, laid me down on my bed, and we kissed all night long, snuggled up together like we were one person. We stayed that way until we fell asleep.
“Are you sure you have everything, Des?” Jeff helped me zip my luggage. “I mean, you have your whole wardrobe in that bag.” I detected his sarcasm and returned it with a stuck-out tongue. The suitcase was jam-packed full of warm clothing. Sunset Valley was frigid this time of year, its name deceptively cruel.
“I have everything I need, and a few things I don’t.” He took my case and set it with his. I turned to Angaloo, who would sit sentry on my bed while we were gone. “You supervise everything here, Anga. I’ll be back before you know it.” I hugged the kangaroo to my chest, then set him back down. Jeff walked to Anga and booped his nose.
“Take good care of the place, Anga,” he said. I was impressed. Either he loved me that much, or he was as crazy as I was. I smiled at him and the warm gesture. “Are we ready, honey?”
“We are,” I said. He carried his backpack over his shoulder, and my case in his other hand, while we walked down the steps.
Our flight was quiet, but long. He paid for my ticket in first class, which I probably shouldn’t have let him, but his family was wealthy and he said he wanted to spoil me for our first proper holiday together. I knew he couldn’t wait for me to meet his folks.
It was after 1:00 AM when the flight landed. He woke me with a kiss and a gentle caress. “We’re here, babyluv.”
I stretched and yawned. My hair was messy, sleep heavy in my eyes, but Jeff looked at me like I was the most beautiful creature on earth. “That’s good. I need to stretch out in an actual bed.”
“We’ll stay at the hotel inside the airport, and then drive into town in the morning,” he said. “I already have our room booked.”
“Mmm, awesome,” I said with a dopey grin. As I awakened, I fantasized about a life with Jeff. Would it be so terrible to be his wife? I could get used to being spoiled.
He took my hand, and we left the plane together. Our luggage would make it to our room within the hour, so we walked down the concourse toward the hotel, whose lobby sat just outside of security. He checked us in. “Dean,” he said.
“Yes, Mr. Dean. Your suite is on the ninth floor. Take the elevators ahead, your room is on the right. Enjoy your stay.” She handed him two cards that looked like a driver’s license with no photo on it.
“Thank you,” he said, and took my hand again. “This way, my princess.”
The hotel was fancy and expensive, and I was overwhelmed. “Jeff, this is…”
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Extravagant. I don’t know how you can afford this.”
“Don’t worry about that, Des. This vacation is on me. Just enjoy it, okay?”
How could I argue with that?
Jeff picked me up and carried me across the door’s threshold. Suddenly, I felt like a young bride without the wedding, and I sincerely hoped Jeff didn’t expect me to fulfill the duties of said young bride. I loved him with everything I had, but I wasn’t ready for that next step. We weren’t even engaged.
He set me down on the floor near the bed. The lights were on inside; the decor was elegant and refined. There were two beds, both of them bigger than Mama and Daddy’s bed at the farmhouse, a dark wooden desk and dresser, a small table with four chairs, and a sink outside a bathroom. The bathroom had a shower, a tub, a toilet, and something resembling a toilet. I found out later it was a bidet. I couldn’t guess what it was used for. The room cost more than my entire house. I was sure of it.
“What do you think?” he asked. I know he saw my wide eyes taking everything in. I felt like a fool, a backwoods hick in the city for the first time. Because in reality, that’s exactly what I was.
I walked to the bed and touched the fabric on the spread. It felt smooth, like silk. That’s when I spotted the single red rose on the pillow, along with a foil-wrapped chocolate candy. “This is…” I sat down on the bed; the mattress felt like a cloud. “So much… Jeff, I’m not used to such luxuries. The most expensive thing I own is my senior prom dress, and I’ll never wear it again.”
He sat beside me on the bed and snuggled up with me. “This will be your life should you choose me, Destiny. All the fine things you’d want; you’d never need to clean if you don’t want to. Just stay home and raise our babies.” He kissed me again; I melted into his arms, so in love with him.
“Stay home and raise… How many children do you want, Jeff?”
“As many as we can make, sweetheart. You’d have all the help, too! Just say the word, and everything is yours, babyluv.” He unbuttoned my sweater and slipped his hand inside it, over the shirt I wore underneath it.
“Jeff,” I tried to wiggle out of his grasp. “Please don’t.”
“Don’t you love me, Destiny?” He reached to undo the buttons on the shirt; my hands caught his and stopped him. His anguished look surprised me.
“Of course I love you, Jeff. But we agreed—”
“Shh,” he put his finger over my lips, then kissed my neck. “Make me the happiest man in the world tonight, babyluv.”
You’re making this hard, Jeff, I thought. I heard Mama’s voice in my head, that first talk about sex:
Destiny, that gift is something sacred. Only give it to the man who promises you his life and follows through. Once you give it away, it’s gone forever.
My will was faltering, despite Mama’s voice on a constant loop. I closed my eyes as I felt his hand touch my skin in places where he’d never seen, let alone touched. I jumped; he held me tighter. My mind’s eye saw Daddy’s face, staring at me with disappointment in his eyes. I only saw it once; it was enough. I pulled away from Jeff’s grip and stood up.
“Destiny, come lay down with me.”
I choked up; so much emotion, so much confusion muddling my thoughts. “I need some time to think, Jeff. I can’t do this right now.”
He was frustrated. I knew he was close to that point of no return. I hoped he hadn’t crossed it yet. He sat up and sighed. “You’re right, babyluv. When we met, you stated your case, and I agreed with you. But you’re so damned beautiful, it’s easy to get carried away.” He held his arms open for me, and I walked back to him. Jeff embraced me; he kissed my belly, then laid his head on it. “I respect you. So I will pull back.”
I ran my fingers through his thick, black hair. “I love you, Jeff. Thank you for understanding.”
“I owe you an apology, Des. I’m sorry I’ve been so pushy. You make it difficult to wait for you.”
I understood that. “You’ve made it pretty tough to say no, too. But I…” I fell short of telling him my thoughts, my promise. He’d already heard that ad nauseam. “I’m just not ready yet.”
“I know. Good things come to those who wait. And I’m willing to wait for the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” He kissed me again. “That would be you.”
The love I felt for him swelled inside me. Maybe with him, I’d found the relationship I desired. That unbreakable bond. I sure hoped I had—I already had names picked out for our first two kids. Premature? Probably, but I didn’t care.
“I love you, Destiny, more than anything or anyone else in my life.”
“And I love you, Jeff. You’ve been just what I’ve needed, when I’ve needed it. You’re my soulmate.”
He sighed. “If you’ll excuse me, there’s an icy cold shower with my name on it.” He chuckled, but then grimaced. “I’ve had more than my share of those since I met you.”
I giggled, but I didn’t know what he was talking about. He opened his suitcase, removed a pair of long pajama pants, and walked toward the bathroom. After I heard the water running, I did a quick search on my phone. I needed to understand; it was an eye-opener, but I found it flattering that he got so disturbed by me, he’d need an ice-cold shower.
I took advantage of the chance to get undressed, so I slipped into a warm, fuzzy pair of pants and a shirt that I wore to bed at school. I was at the sink, washing up, when he opened the bathroom door, already in his pajamas. He filled them out rather nicely.
“I hope I make it through the night without needing another one of those,” he said and laughed. “The water is freezing cold up here in the winter.”
I blushed. “I hope so too, for your sake.”
“Since we’ve already been there tonight, we’ll take separate beds. I can’t guarantee your desired results if we share a bed, Des.”
“Do I turn you on that much?”
He looked at me as though I’d uttered the most ridiculous statement in the history of ridiculous statements. “Tell me you’re kidding.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Destiny, you’re every man’s dream woman. Beautiful and sexy, but unaware of how beautiful and sexy you are. Smart and funny, with a charming, child-like naïveté. Not to mention, that accent of yours drives me out of my mind. You’re the total package, Des. I’m so lucky that you’re mine.”
My accent? I found that amusing. Most people poked fun at it, or made me the butt of their jokes. But Jeff found it alluring. Interesting. “Well, I’m pretty lucky myself.”
“How lucky is that?” he teased.
I giggled and kissed him. “Pretty darn lucky.” I admired his shirtless body. He wasn’t muscular, but what he had was well defined. There wasn’t much fat on his body at all. For a fleeting moment, I wondered what he’d be like in bed. I shook my head and tried to forget what I’d just entertained.
“Well, morning comes early, and it’s approaching fast. Let’s get some sleep.” He took my hand and led me to the bed opposite his. “Goodnight, my sweet babyluv.” He wrapped himself around me one last time for the night and kissed me.
“Goodnight, my handsome prince.”
Jeff’s parents were friendly and so kind to me, opening their home to a complete stranger. Jeff gushed all over me when he made the introductions, telling them how much I meant to him. His mother embraced me and planted a peck of a kiss on my right cheek.
“Welcome to our home,” she said. “I’ll let Jeff give you the nickel tour.”
The entryway was grand. An enormous chandelier hung in the foyer from the second floor ceiling. The floors were polished hardwood—rustic and beautiful—with rich-looking wallpaper on the walls. Crown moulding and fancy baseboards finished the look, and that was just the entrance. The living room was decorated with expensive furniture and an ornate fireplace. A tall, slender tree adorned with heirloom ornaments sat in the magnificent picture window. Plush rugs, oak accents, and house plants dotted the room. The living room was larger than the entire ground floor of the farmhouse.
Jeff looked at me and smiled. He saw how overwhelmed I was because he took my hand and kissed it. “This is your home for the next four weeks, my babyluv. I hope you’ll be as comfortable here as you made me in your home.”
I felt inadequate for him. My parents were hard workers, but they were always struggling to make ends meet. We had what we needed, but never any excess. Jeff’s life had always been abundant. How could I measure up? I was dumbfounded, but I followed him around, taking everything in. Every room he showed me made me crawl further into myself.
He opened the door to a beautiful bedroom. The bed was much larger than the ones at the hotel and sat in a four-poster frame. The linens were beautiful and soft; the sheets had to be satin. I’d never felt anything so luxurious in my life. There was a dresser, a desk, and a walk-in closet bigger than Mama and Daddy’s bedroom. He pulled me to him and kissed me.
“Do you like this room, babyluv?” I nodded, still looking around and admiring everything. He kissed me again, then whispered into my ear. “It’s your room. Make yourself comfortable.”
“Really. You can unpack your clothes into the dresser or closet. Your laptop on the desk. I have a guitar you can use while you’re here. Maybe you’d like to sing for us? I know my pop would love that.”
I turned around in his arms and kissed him. “Where’s your room?”
“Right next door,” he said. “That’s my next stop.”
He took my hand and led me to the room adjacent. When he opened the door, I gasped. The room was twice the size of the one he’d shown me, and full of instruments; a keyboard, drum set, guitar, bass, a violin, and cello. “You play these, Jeff?”
“Not all of them. I’m best at the drums, but I can play bass and keyboard, too. Everything else is for my jam sessions with my buddies. There’s a studio in the basement where I can make demos.” His face lit up. “Des! You should record a demo of that one song you love so much while we’re home! I can call my buddies to play, and I’ll play drums for you. It would be so much fun!”
A demo? I still remembered what Katie had told me about that song in particular. I trusted Jeff, but I didn’t know his friends from Adam. “Maybe,” I said with a coy grin.
“Well, I know this is overwhelming for you, babyluv. Why don’t you get settled and unpacked? I will check on you soon. How’s that?”
I nodded. A little quiet would do me well.
Most of my clothes hung on satin-covered hangers in the closet, except for my pajamas and other unmentionables. In my case, I had a small, wrapped gift I bought Jeff for Snowflake Day, though it seemed so insignificant now in comparison. It was a necklace with a Celtic snake pendant; masculine but not overstated. I could see it around his neck. I knew he’d love it.
A knock on the door startled me as I lay on the bed, daydreaming. “Come in?”
Jeff peeked his head inside the door. “There’s my babyluv.” He wore a wide grin on his face. I couldn’t remember seeing him this happy. “My mom loves you, Des. I knew she would. My pop, though…” he paused for a moment. “Don’t be surprised if he’s a little rough around the edges. He can take a while with someone new.”
Somehow, that made me nervous. “Will he be okay with me staying here, Jeff? What if he doesn’t like me?” I wrapped a long piece of hair around my finger and twirled it. He grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes.
“There is nothing about you to dislike, Des. You’re perfect.” He stroked my face with the backs of his fingers. “Damn, you’re so beautiful.”
I blushed a deep red. “I’m far from perfect.”
“You are to me.” His eyes danced with mischief. “I can’t wait until your birthday!”
“What’s going on then?” I asked, being flirtatious.
“I bet you’d love to know.” He kissed my cheek and darted away from me. “I know, I’m being a brat. You’ll find out in good time.”
I loved surprises, but I was especially good at reading people, and sometimes I could predict what was coming. However, Jeff had me stumped. For this, I was thankful. “I can’t wait!”
“We can hang out by the fireplace. I’ll make some cocoa and we can snuggle.”
He knew the way to my heart. “That sounds so romantic. I’m game.”
The house backed up to a wooded area, rife with woodland creatures, from deer to small bears. The family room, where a second fireplace stood, was rustic and charming, much like Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul’s ranch house back home. An overstuffed sectional sofa made a partial “U” shape around a large coffee table. The seating looked toward the fireplace.
Jeff’s mother, who I learned was named Audrey, made two piping hot mugs of cocoa and brought them to us as we settled onto the long section of sofa. He laid on his back; I snuggled up with him on his right side. I felt so cozy and loved. My head on his chest, I closed my eyes.
I must have dozed off, because I awakened to Jeff talking with a young female with blonde hair. His fingers traced the curve of my body; it tickled, and I stifled a laugh, not wanting to disturb them. Instead, I wrapped my arms around him tighter, and snuggled much closer.
“You’re awake, babyluv,” he whispered. “Barb, this is my girlfriend, Destiny. Des, this is my twin sister, Barbara.”
I knew Jeff had a sister, but I didn’t know they were twins. “So you’re the one who’s enchanted my brother? Nice to meet you.”
Enchanted, huh? “Nice to meet you, too,” I said.
“She’s an heiress, aren’t you, babyluv?” He rubbed my back, and I closed my eyes again. All this attention was amazing.
“Heiress? Of what? A horse farm?” Barb looked down her nose at me and gave me a condescending smile.
“That’s what my family home is. A horse farm, a field of award-winning fruits and vegetables…” I didn’t want to choke up and get emotional in front of Jeff’s snooty sister. My voice quivered, and a tear dropped onto Jeff’s shirt. “This is my first holiday without them…” A single sob shook our bodies, and then a deep sigh. “I’m sorry.”
Jeff looked into my eyes and caressed my cheek. “You have no reason to be sorry.” Then he lowered his voice and side-glanced at his sister. “Just ignore her. She takes after my pop.”
Barb got up from the sofa. “Enjoy your hillbilly girlfriend, Jeffy.” She walked out of the room.
That didn’t make me feel better. “I’m going to turn in, Jeff. I don’t feel well.” It was a small lie. I felt fine, but I couldn’t take any more. I had been thinking about Mama and Daddy. Being bullied by his sister was the last straw.
“Are you sure, babyluv? Mom is making a big dinner… I mean, supper.”
I wiped tears from my eyes. “I’m just tired, I think.” Though I was relaxed, I needed to be alone. “Goodnight, Jeff.”
“At least let me walk you there?” I got up and stood on shaky legs. He didn’t miss a beat, lifting me into his arms and carrying me back to the bedroom. He set me down on the bed, then curled up next to me. “I won’t leave you until you fall asleep, or tell me to leave.”
He always knew just what I needed. “Thank you.” I laid my head on the softest down pillow with a satin pillowcase. Jeff’s body spooned next to mine, his warm breath in my hair. I was tired, so it wasn’t long before I felt the gentle tug of slumber calling me back to its realm. Before he left me, I felt him cover me with a blanket, a tender kiss on my cheek, and his whispered confession of love in my ear.
I’m not sure how much later it was when shouting woke me from sleep. The male voice was Jeff’s, but I didn’t know the female with whom he argued. Though I knew I shouldn’t, I laid quietly, eavesdropping on a very personal, very heated discussion.
“… she shouldn’t be here, Jeff! What about Pamela? What is she going to say?” the female voice shouted. My heart leaped into my throat. Who was Pamela??
“What about her, Barb?” Oh… well, that made sense. I kept listening. “Pam and I are done, over! She’s the one who ended it, not me! So ask me again ‘what about Pam?’ Barb! I don’t care!” I heard angry footsteps, and then a door slam.
“Don’t you walk away from me, you overconfident ass!” Barb screamed at him. Jeff never answered the jab. Instead, I heard heavy footsteps approaching my door, and then walking past it; the door next to mine slammed shut.
Guilt overwhelmed me. I assumed their spat was my fault. I mean, who wouldn’t make that same assumption with what I’d overheard? But I had nowhere to go. I was stuck in a house where a brother and sister fought like cats and dogs, and I was their subject of disagreement. I pulled the blanket over my head and wept, desperately missing home and the family I loved.
The next morning, I felt like death warmed over. My eyes and face were puffy from hours of tears. My head pounded. I felt like I hadn’t slept a wink all night. Jeff’s quiet knock on the door came moments later.
I pulled the blankets up over my body and settled back down into bed. “Come in, Jeff.”
He couldn’t have mistaken my puffy face and tired eyes. “Are you okay, babyluv?”
There was no sense lying about it. He’d find out, eventually. “I… I heard you and Barb arguing last night. Jeff, I shouldn’t be here—”
“Oh honey,” he said and sat on the bed next to me. “I’m sorry you heard that. My sister and I don’t see eye to eye on most things.”
“Who is Pamela?” I couldn’t help it. I had trust issues. Thanks, Austin.
He took a deep breath and exhaled. “Pam is my ex-fiancée. We were engaged for all of five minutes before she had enough of me. In her defense, we were too young to be engaged. I was stupid, and I thought I loved her. But it wasn’t meant to be. Barb is her best friend, so that should tell you something.”
“How young were you when you asked her?” I knew he was barely twenty-one.
“It was prom night, senior year. We dated through most of high school, from freshman year until, well, graduation. I went to Sim State with a broken heart. I had no intention of falling in love again.” He kissed me and stroked my cheek. “That was, until I met you. Des, you made it so easy to love you, I couldn’t help myself.”
“Barb is right, Jeff. I shouldn’t be here; I’m interfering with your life—”
“No, honey,” he put his finger to my lips with a serious look. “You’re not interfering with my life at all. You are my life.” His words brought tears, though I wasn’t sure why. Happiness? Guilt? Relief? It didn’t matter. He kissed each one of them away, then hugged me close. “Do you realize, Des, how much you mean to me?”
I gave him a teary half-smile. “I think I’m getting the hint.”
“Good. Babyluv, please don’t believe you don’t belong here. As long as we’re together, you belong here, too.” He eyed my choice of pajamas and snickered. “Is that your ‘Jeff-repellent’ outfit? If so, it won’t work.”
That made me laugh. “Good! I don’t want it to work, because I need you in my life.”
His radiant smile made me happy, too. I couldn’t believe how much I adored that man. “Let’s go for breakfast.” He picked me up off the bed amid my squeals of protest and carried me to the kitchen.
My nineteenth birthday was three days before Snowflake Day. Jeff had plans for us, but he was being tight-lipped about it. His mom, who I adored, took me into town to shop for a dress. “Jeff’s treat,” she said, but divulged nothing else. I was so curious about everything. He was a master of the tease.
We stopped at a boutique that carried evening gowns and cocktail dresses. He’d given her specifics about what he wanted. Her job was to make sure that I was properly outfitted, according to what he desired.
A jingle bell on the boutique’s door rang as she pulled it open. “Hi, Mrs. Dean!” the shop owner said. “And who is this lovely young lady?”
“Hi, Ana,” Audrey said. “This is Jeffery’s girlfriend, Destiny.” She covered her mouth with her hand, as though she was telling a secret. “They met at college! Isn’t she just the cutest thing? And wait until you hear her talk!”
There’s that accent thing again. I never even knew I had an accent until I left home for school. Now, it’s as though no one’s ever heard a country drawl before. I was a little self-conscious about it. But Ana walked to me and held her hand out for me to shake. “Pleasure to meet you, Destiny.”
I smiled at her. “The pleasure is mine,” I said, and then cringed. Destiny, you sound like a hick from Hicksville, I thought.
Ana giggled and nodded at Audrey. “You’re right! She’s just adorable.” They whispered, and though I couldn’t discern what they were saying, I surmised it was about the dress we were there to buy. Ana looked me up and down. “I’m guessing she’s about a size… three?”
I couldn’t believe it. “Yes,” I said and nodded. “That’s right.”
“Let me see what we have that fits Jeff’s requirements. You stay right there, beautiful!” Ana said; she turned on her heel and excused herself to the stockroom.
Audrey walked up to me and put her arm around my shoulder. “You seem a bit out of place, dear. Just relax and enjoy yourself.” She gave me a quick hug and then whispered in my ear, “I’ve never seen Jeffy this happy before. You’re very good for him.”
“I adore him,” I said with a smile. “He’s made it very easy to love him.”
Ana had brown hair and a smile that reminded me of Polly back home in the Plains. Her eclectic clothing style was almost medieval with a corset that cinched her waist, a bulky necklace with a huge pendant, and distressed black jeans. Adorable ankle-length boots finished her odd, but somehow coordinating, look.
Ana came back with a handful of beautiful evening gowns, all of them with no visible price tags. Drat! She held a baby blue gown up to me with a smattering of sequins around the skirt, and nodded. “Let’s try this one first!” She ushered me into a dressing room, and she stood there with me, ready to offer help. Well, this was awkward. No one had ever seen me undressed before except Dr. Jordan, when I had a physical for school. And Mama, of course. But Ana nodded at me in expectation. I sighed. Here goes nothing…
My sweater came off over my head, and Ana clicked her tongue at my bra. “We’ve gotta fix that!” she said with a chuckle. “You can’t wear something this elegant with that brassiere!” I couldn’t wait to slip off my jeans. Maybe she’d suggest I wear a thong. I rolled my eyes.
The gown was simply beautiful. Had it been up to me, I’d have stopped looking with this one. But Ana looked at my image in the mirror and consulted with Audrey. They twirled me around until I was dizzy, inspecting every fold and tuck in the dress. On my last turn, I stumbled toward the chair sitting nearby. Enough with the spinning already.
“What do you think, Destiny?” Audrey asked. “It’s perfect for what Jeff wanted. There are others, though. Ana?”
“It wouldn’t hurt to try another couple of dresses, sure!” Ana concurred.
Next up was a purple, strapless number. Right off the bat, I hated it. Purple is not my color. I have blazing red hair. Let’s be real about this. But, to satisfy Audrey and Ana, I stepped into it and let her zip the back. Not my favorite, and Audrey seemed to agree. Two down, fifty gazillion to go.
Ana held the next one up, and my heart skipped a beat. This is the one! I thought. Now, if Jeff approved, albeit through his mom, I was golden. It was a beautiful, creamy off-white with lace cap sleeves and a plunging back. I’d need a plan for a new bra with this number. The fabric was silky, and as Ana slipped it over my head and let the fabric fall around my body, I fell in love with this gorgeous gown. I imagined myself attending elegant dinner parties on Jeff’s arm, feeling like royalty, with flowers woven into my braided hair and wearing this dress.
Audrey’s mouth dropped open when I stepped onto the platform in front of the mirrors. She bobbed her head, and I thought I saw her wipe a tear away. If Mama could see me now, I thought. My eyes welled with tears.
“Destiny, you’re a picture of grace and beauty in that gown. I think we have a winner,” Audrey said. “Ana, wrap this one.”
Ana looked at me, inspected the gown; she noted everywhere it touched my body, how it accentuated every curve. “This doesn’t need a stitch. I seldom see gowns like this fit right off the rack.” She spun me around once, inspecting how the skirt flowed, and whirled with me. “The length is perfect, the fit is phenomenal. I’m blown away.” She stood next to me and hugged my shoulders. “You’ve made my job easy. Now, for the fun part! Let’s get you what you need!”
She took the time to measure me. She came out with a set that almost perfectly matched the gown’s color. The bra had clear straps and no back. I’d never seen such a contraption before. I was surprised at how comfortable it was. The panties were, as I suspected, skimpy but soft, and a garter belt held up real silk stockings. A pair of high-heeled shoes looked a lot better than my bare feet under the dress. I didn’t want to know the price tag on that shopping excursion. I bet it was more than Daddy paid for his truck.
Ana winked at Audrey. “Shall I have this delivered?”
“Yes, please.” She handed Ana a card, signed a slip of paper, and took a shopping bag with my unmentionables inside. “Thank you, dear, for your help. I’m sure we’ll be back.”
On the morning of my birthday, I awakened to a dozen long stemmed red roses on my nightstand, and a card. I sat up in bed and sniffed one flower; for a rose, it was surprisingly fragrant. The card was enclosed in a scented envelope. My fingers slid under the flap, removed the card, and opened it.
Destiny, I wanted to give you all my love for your birthday, but there’s no box big enough to hold it. Besides, it’s already yours. Happy birthday, my babyluv. – Jeff
I wept, and I didn’t feel bad about it. How lucky was I that I had someone who loved me so much? I was already feeling melancholy. A year ago, Mama and Daddy were celebrating my eighteenth birthday with me. They’d already been gone almost a year; it didn’t seem possible.
I was trying to collect myself when a knock sounded at the bedroom door. “Come in?”
Jeff peeked his head in and waved. “Happy birthday, babyluv.” he said.
“Thank you, Jeff, for the beautiful roses.”
I was confused. “And… what? Oh, the card. I loved it! Thank you.”
Jeff smiled and walked to my bedside and the vase of roses. Hanging on a prong inside the bouquet was a gold necklace. The chain had a gold heart pendant with diamonds, and it was exquisite.
“This, babyluv. You didn’t see it, did you?” He took the necklace from the flowers and placed it in my hands. “It’s not as beautiful as you, but it’s close.”
The necklace took my breath away. “Oh, Jeff…” I didn’t know what to say.
“Let me put it on you, babyluv.” He took the delicate chain from my hands and placed it around my neck, secured the clasp, and spun me around. “Its beauty only enhances yours.” He drew close to me and embraced me. “I can’t wait for tonight. It will be unforgettable.”
I rested my head on his shoulder, completely overwhelmed. “I love you,” I whispered.
“Des, I will love you forever. Believe me when I say it.”
“I do,” I said.
“Mom is making breakfast for you. Get your robe and slippers, and let’s get some coffee.”
I nodded my head, still in a complete daze. “Okay.” Jeff held the robe for me, then I slipped my fuzzy socks on my tootsies. We walked to the kitchen together.
Audrey had cooked an impressive spread—pancakes, sausage, bacon, omelettes, toast, bagels, and French toast. Was she feeding all of Sunset Valley? I wondered. “This smells amazing, Audrey,” I said.
“Happy Birthday, Destiny Grace,” she said and gave me a hug. As many times as I told her my middle name was Penelope, she told me ‘Grace’ fit me better. Who am I to argue with someone who can cook like that?
“Thank you,” I said, blushing.
“Help yourself. Jeff, don’t let her be shy.”
He loaded plates for both of us while I sat at the dining room table, our coffee waiting for us. I sat stirring my cup when he returned. He had a stack of pancakes, eggs, and bacon on his plate. On mine, he had placed a ham, swiss and asparagus omelette, wheat toast, and a wedge of honeydew melon. I’d never seen asparagus before—I had to ask him what it was!—but I discovered I liked it.
We ate together, not saying much. When I’d taken my last bite of omelette, I was stuffed. Audrey brought some bacon and sausage into the dining room and placed a couple links onto my plate, despite my protests. Jeff looked at me, struggling to put one more morsel into my mouth, and he chuckled.
“You don’t have to eat that, Des. Mom is a feeder.”
“Whew,” I said. “I can’t fit another bite in there.” I sipped the last of my coffee; Jeff stole the sausage from my plate with a mischievous smile. “I’m good until supper.”
“Well, save your appetite, babyluv. You will want to eat where I’m taking you tonight.”
I studied his face, trying to read him. What did he have planned? He was a master at hiding his emotions. I couldn’t glean one clue from him. “Any hints?”
He clicked his tongue at me. “Nuh uh uh! No hints! In fact,” he began, and then reneged. “Nope! No more tricks either, you cheeky girl! You almost got one out of me!”
I stuck my tongue out at him and giggled. “You can’t blame a girl for trying, can you?”
Jeff kissed my cheek, leaving a wet print on my skin. “Nope.”
After breakfast, he strongly encouraged me to shower, which I did. At noon, he took me downtown for what he called ‘extreme primping.’ The car he kept at the mansion in Sunset Valley was much nicer than the Camaro he had at school, and I was pretty impressed with that one. He had a Mercedes Benz, whatever that was. It was jet black and shiny, and it felt like driving on a cloud.
My appointment was at a local day spa, where they would do my hair, nails, and makeup to complement the gown he’d bought me for our special date. He showed them a photo of the dress, and the stylist showed a couple of basic styles by twisting my hair into shape. We decided on a classic updo, neutral shades of makeup, and skin care they said would make my face glow. Jeff kissed my cheek, left his phone number, and said he’d be back to get me when they were finished making their masterpiece.
My hair stylist, a young man not much older than Jeff, was fascinated with my accent. Wayne—as I learned he was called—washed, dried, and styled my hair into a beautiful setting. When he was finished tucking every stray lock of hair, he handed me the mirror and spun the chair around. “What do you think, love?” he said.
I gawked at the elegant style, overwhelmed by how much Jeff was willing to do for my birthday. The gown, shoes, the unmentionables, the necklace, and now a full makeover? How was I worthy of it all?
“It’s stunning, Wayne. I love it.”
He fiddled with stray locks of hair and then froze my style in place with at least half a can of hairspray. When he finished, it was clear I was stuck with that hairdo for a few days.
“I’m done with you here. Over to Kat for your nails, and then Tammy for a facial and makeup!” He gave me a quick hug. “You are drop dead gorgeous, girl. Knock him dead.”
“Thanks Wayne,” I said, blushing.
Kat welcomed me, and we sat down at her table. Mesmerized, I watched her manicure my fingernails, then apply acrylic nails over my natural ones. She painted them a blazing shade of red and affixed tiny rhinestones into the polish. When she finished, I gawked at them. I’d never be able to type on my laptop or play guitar with these things on my fingers. But if Jeff wanted them there, I’d work with it.
“Over to Tammy now,” Kat said. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Miss Destiny. Enjoy your evening.”
“Thank you,” I replied. Tammy was ready for me, so I walked to her station, which was set up like a professional makeup studio, probably because it was. Tammy applied cleansers, moisturizers, and a base foundation to cover up what she called minor imperfections. So minor, in fact, that she almost didn’t bother with concealer.
She asked me what color blush and eyeshadow I preferred. I only owned one color of each, so that’s what I wore. But Tammy explained each color she chose and what it would do to complement my natural complexion. I almost didn’t recognize myself when she was finished.
“What do you think?” she asked.
I chuckled and said, “Who am I?”
“You’re beautiful. That’s who you are. Mr. Jeff is going to love this.”
“You know Jeff?”
Tammy nodded. “We went to school together. I don’t think you realize what a catch you have in him, Miss Destiny. He’s the most eligible bachelor in the Tri-City area.”
“Sunset Valley, Dragon Valley, and Midnight Hollow.” She snickered at me. “I guess you’re not familiar with the area, judging by your accent.”
I was growing to despise my country drawl. “Not at all.”
“Well, you hang onto him. Every woman in this town wants him.”
If how he treated me was any sign, I had little to worry about. “I think we’re good.”
“He’s worth millions. If you marry him, you’ll never need to worry about anything.”
I shrugged. “I’m not interested in the money.”
“Honey, you’d be the first one who isn’t. Maybe that’s why he adores you so much.” Tammy nudged me. “Here he is now.” The door opened and Jeff walked through it.
“Where’s my gorgeous babyluv?” he said with a broad grin. “Hi Tammy. I hope you dolled her up all pretty for me.”
“She needed very little. She’s a knockout.” Jeff signed a slip of paper, took my arm and kissed my cheek.
“That’s true. She’s beautiful right out of bed.” I blushed a deep red and elbowed him. “Oof, Des,” he whispered. “You’ve got quite a kick.”
“Please don’t imply we’ve been intimate. I’m not comfortable with that,” I whispered back.
He kissed me again and stroked my cheek. “You’re right, and I’m sorry.” He walked to Tammy and whispered into her ear. I saw her nod, then wink at me. “Ready to go, sweetheart?”
Yes! Please get me out of here! “Yes, Jeff.” He took my hand, and we left the spa.
When we got back home, he hugged me and gave me a long, passionate kiss. “I need to get ready for tonight. Be out here by five. You have an hour to dress and finish primping. Please wear this necklace? I bought it to go with your gown.” He fiddled with the heart necklace he gave to me that morning.
“Of course. I’ll see you in an hour, right here.”
“On the dot. We can’t be late.”
“I’ll be here, Jeff.” We walked hand in hand back to our rooms.
The gown had arrived the day after our visit to the dress shop, packaged and draped on a satin hanger. I removed it from the plastic bag and laid it on my bed. The bag of lingerie still sat on the dresser where I’d placed it when we came home that day. I carried it to the bed and began dressing.
Underneath, I wore a matching bra and skimpy panty set, a coordinating garter belt, and silk stockings. I observed myself in the mirror, and what I saw shocked me. I was a woman; little girls don’t wear this kind of clothing.
The gown was more elegant than I remembered it, silky to the touch and perfect in fit and style. I walked to the full-length mirror in the bedroom. The flood of emotion that came with it was unexpected. If only my parents could see me.
With fifteen minutes to go, a soft knock sounded at my bedroom door. “Who is it?” I called out.
“It’s Audrey, dear.”
I walked to the door and opened it. She walked right inside and inspected my dress, my hair, my makeup. She had a small box in her hands, wrapped in gold paper. “This is for you, Destiny.” She sat on my bed and patted the spot next to her, so I joined her. I took the box from her hands and unwrapped it. A long, beautiful scarf-like object was inside.
“Thank you, Audrey. This is… gorgeous.” What do I do with it?
“It’s a pashmina,” she said. “You wear it over your shoulders.” She took the item from me and draped it over my body. I fell in love with the luxurious fabric on my skin. “This will be all you need to keep warm tonight.”
I couldn’t think straight. Why was I deserving of so much pampering and spoiling? I’d never want to return to Appaloosa Plains, not even to sell the house, if he didn’t stop spoiling me. “This is… I’m speechless, Audrey.”
“My son loves you, Destiny. He wants tonight to be perfect.” She kissed my forehead and stood. “He will adore this. Have a lovely time tonight.”
“Thank you, for everything.” What else could I say? At every turn, Jeff’s family treated me as their own.
“You’re welcome,” said Audrey. “He’s waiting in the breezeway.”
I took my small satin purse, wearing my elegant gown and pashmina, and I walked to the foyer where Jeff waited for me. He wore a black tuxedo with a vest underneath that matched the color of my dress. A single red rose was pinned to his lapel. His mouth dropped open as I approached him.
“You…” he said. It was almost as though he couldn’t speak. “You look elegant tonight.”
I felt so shy and intimidated. “You look handsome in your tux,” I finally squeaked out. He held his hand to me.
I nodded. He led me outside, where a stretch limo awaited us. He whispered to the driver, who held the door for me, then slipped a tip into his fingers. The driver nodded as Jeff climbed into the limo after me.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Oh, babyluv, you’re going to love this.” He took my hands and kissed them. “Everything will be revealed soon.”
Twenty minutes later, we pulled up outside a gate at what looked like the airport. The driver showed credentials, and the guard allowed us to pass. The limo pulled up beside an airplane.
“What’s this?” I asked, more nervous.
“This will take us to our dinner reservation tonight, Des. We’re going to Bridgeport to dine at their most exclusive restaurant. The flight will be about an hour. Our reservation is for seven.”
I couldn’t handle it anymore. My emotions overtook me, and I wept. I didn’t want to ruin my makeup, so I dabbed my eyes to keep the damage to a minimum. “Jeff, this is way too much—”
“Nonsense,” he whispered. “This is just the beginning.”
Almost ninety minutes later, we were on the ground at Bridgeport’s municipal airport. You’d think with a city as large as Bridgeport, it would have an international airport. And maybe it did. Another limousine took us from the plane into the city.
If I thought Sunset Valley was a big city, then Bridgeport was a metropolis to me; a far cry from my hometown of Appaloosa Plains. Wide-eyed, I looked out the limousine’s window. I couldn’t imagine what Jeff thought with me gawking. All these things came naturally to him. I felt like a misplaced hillbilly.
The car stopped outside a venue with crowds of people lined up. The driver opened the passenger side door. Jeff stood with a hand to help me out. The temperature must have been cold, but I don’t remember feeling a chill in the air. A dusting of recently fallen snow blew around on the sidewalks. I put my hand in Jeff’s and stood. With a confident stride, he led me past the throng of waiting would-be patrons and inside the establishment.
“Dean,” he told the host. “Party of two.”
The gentleman looked down at his book, found the name, and nodded. “Right this way, Master Dean.” Jeff looked at me, took my arm, and we walked together about five paces behind the host.
“Your table, sir.” He led us to a corner table away from the main dining room; just a few tables surrounded ours. A vase with another dozen long-stemmed roses sat on the table. What he’d spent in flowers alone must have been astronomical. Jeff held my chair until I sat, then took a seat to my right.
The dining room was elegant. Dark wood paneling adorned the walls, which made the crisp, white linens on the tables pop. Each table was set with golden flatware and two glasses. One for water, I assumed, and one for wine. Nearby was a fireplace burning with gas logs. It radiated an impressive amount of heat, too. I could see why Audrey was certain the pashmina would be suitable.
Jeff looked at me with pure love on his face. He took my hand and kissed it. “What do you think, Des?”
I shook my head, but smiled. “How am I worth all of this fuss, Jeff? A year ago I was with my daddy, watching him die day by day…” I swallowed that old familiar lump. I couldn’t cry now. I had nothing to touch up makeup if I did.
“You’re worth it because I love you.”
They were words he’d said a thousand times, but hearing them in that place made my heart flutter and butterflies swarm in my stomach. “I love you, too. You have outdone yourself.”
“Never,” he whispered. “For you, nothing is too good or too expensive. Destiny, you are my queen.”
The waiter came by in the middle of our exchange. Jeff ordered a bottle of champagne; the waiter didn’t ask if I was old enough to drink. He simply nodded and walked away, then returned with two chilled flutes and a bottle of champagne. He popped the stopper from the bottle and poured two bubbly glasses, then placed the bottle into a bucket with ice.
Jeff picked up his glass and raised it. “To you, my sweetheart. Happy birthday.”
“Cheers.” I said. “And thank you.”
In the middle of the dining room sat a grand piano with a pianist playing romantic songs. I recognized quite a few of them from music appreciation classes. Jeff stood and reached for my hand. “I’d love to dance with you.” He pulled me up and into his arms with just a gentle tug.
“I can’t dance very well,” I said. “I’m sure line dancing and two-stepping isn’t quite appropriate in this setting.” He must have seen me blush, because he pulled me close to him.
“Just follow my lead,” he whispered. “You’ll be fine.”
Jeff led me to the dance floor; he held me in his arms, and at first we swayed to the music together. As we danced, I wondered how different my life would be if I married him, if he ever asked. Could I give up my dreams and ambitions to be a kept woman? I knew I wanted children eventually. Would it be enough for me to sit at home while Jeff lived my dream? I couldn’t answer that question.
We danced together for three songs; when we walked back to the table, he stopped two feet from my chair, took my hands, and stared into my eyes.
“Destiny, I never thought I’d meet someone like you, so perfect for me in every way. And I can’t imagine a moment of my life without you in it.” I saw him reach into his jacket pocket. I watched as he knelt before me, one knee down. He opened a clamshell box and inside was the biggest diamond ring I’d ever seen. My entire body trembled.
“Destiny Farmer, would you do me the honor of being my wife?” By now, everyone in the restaurant was staring at us. He stayed there on one knee, tears in his eyes. I was fighting my own; my head bobbed. I shocked myself when I spoke.
Jeff placed the box on the table, stood, and picked me up into the air. He let me back down, my arms found their way around his shoulders, and he kissed me. “You’ve made me the happiest man in the world, Destiny. I love you.” He took the ring from the box and slid it onto my left hand. Immediately, the ring sparkled and dazzled me. I hadn’t even noticed the applause and commotion our moment had caused.
“I love you, Jeff.”
He took my hand and led me back to my seat, held the chair for me while I sat, and took his place next to me again. My thoughts, my head, were muddled. Though it should have been a joyous occasion, I wanted to cry. “Order without me,” I whispered into his ear, choking on the emotion I bore. I excused myself and went into the ladies’ room.
How I hadn’t ruined my makeup was a mystery to me. I sat on a loveseat for a few moments to collect my thoughts and my composure. Jeff blindsided me with a marriage proposal; all my doubts about my future went out the window. I was going to be his wife. A huge part of me was excited, but the dreamer in me believed I was disappointing my parents by giving up on my plans and ambitions. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, I reasoned to myself. Maybe I could join his band and sing with him. That was the answer my restless soul needed. Yes! That was my plan.
A few minutes later, I walked from the ladies’ room and rejoined my fiancé in the dining room. Boy, did that feel weird. I had a fiancé.
“Are you okay, babyluv?” he asked.
“Yes, I am now. I just needed some time to compose myself.”
“I’m surprised you said yes.” His confession stunned me.
“I know you feel out of place, with all this extravagance and luxury. I promise you, it gets better.”
“There’s plenty to discuss, but not tonight.” He kissed my hand while I spoke. “We can do that some other night.”
“What do you want to do tonight, my love?”
I smiled at him. “I want to enjoy everything.”
He cocked his head at me. “Everything?”
“Well, not that.” His disappointed look made me laugh. “Just because you gave me a ring, it doesn’t mean I forget my promise.”
“Damn,” he said, feigning sadness. “I was hoping for the mile-high club.”
I didn’t want to know what that was.
It was past 3:00 AM when our limo pulled back into the mansion’s driveway. I slept most of the way back, curled up in Jeff’s arms. He woke me with a soft kiss and a gentle caress.
“We’re home, babyluv,” he whispered. He got out of the limo and lifted me. With ease, he carried me in his arms through the front door, down the hallway, and into my bedroom.
“Mmm…” I muttered. “I’m not ready for the night to end.” I heard Jeff laugh.
“Des, you’ve been ready since we left the restaurant. I guess the champagne went right to your head.”
“Well, I’m underage. I’m not supposed to drink.” I felt him unzip the zipper on my dress.
“Do you need some help to get ready for bed?”
I forgot what I was wearing under my gown, nor did it occur to me it might cause an issue. I nodded my head. “Yes, please.”
He slid the gown off my shoulders, and it fell to the floor quicker than I could process it. I stood in front of him in the sexiest lingerie I’ve ever owned. I must have still been tipsy, because I didn’t seem to mind it.
“Oh, Des,” he mumbled. “Are you sure you want help? I’m not sure I can keep my hands off of you.”
“Mmhmm,” I remember saying. “My pants are in my drawer…”
I can’t imagine how difficult it was for him to take the lingerie from my body. I have to give him credit; he got my clothes changed and me into bed. I felt him curl up behind me, and he kissed my neck and shoulders before I fell asleep.
The next morning I woke up with Jeff beside me, and a sinking feeling in the pit of my gut. What happened that I didn’t remember? I gazed at my left hand, where the enormous diamond engagement ring sat. Yeah, I remembered him proposing, and me saying ‘yes’. Everything after that was a blur.
I wiggled away from him and noticed I was in my pajamas. How did I get undressed and into my jammies? I needed to remember; I made a mental note to stay away from champagne. He must have seen me—on my birthday, ironically—in my birthday suit. A part of me wanted to vomit.
I stumbled into the bathroom attached to my bedroom. The good news? My panties were still on my body. While I was busy in the bathroom, I heard Jeff calling my name. “Just a sec,” I yelled to him. That wasn’t a good idea. My first lesson in overindulgence: alcohol causes headaches.
“Des?” He was there in seconds. “Are you okay? You were pretty tipsy last night.”
“Yeah, I’ll be right out.” I splashed some water on my face and patted it dry. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what happened.
The door swung open to him sitting on the bed where we’d slept together. I hoped that was all we did. “There’s my beautiful fiancée. Come here babyluv.” He held his arms open for me and wrapped me in a hug. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I have a headache, but I’m alright. Please tell me we only slept in that bed, Jeff.”
“We only slept, Des. You were too tipsy, and I want you to remember our first time, honey.”
A tremendous wave of relief washed over me. “I don’t want to sound like a prude—”
“Shh, Des.” He put his finger over my lips. “You’re not. It’s refreshing to have a woman like you. You’re not after me solely for sex or my fortune.”
I shrugged. “I don’t care about the money. And the other part? It’s a thing back home. It’s very unheard of to see teenage pregnancy or premarital sex. I want to honor my parents, Jeff. It’s what they expected of me.”
He kissed the top of my head and snuggled me closer. “And I respect that, Destiny. Your innocence is precious to me. I’ll never jeopardize that. You have my word.”
That… that was exactly what I needed to hear. Our next kiss was tender and passionate. “I love you so much, Jeff,” I whispered into his ear.
He brushed my hair out of my eyes and smiled. “I love you, too.”
For Snowflake Day, I met his whole family; cousins, aunts, uncles, his brother that lived in another city. I didn’t even know about him. Our engagement was the topic of interest. Everyone congratulated us and told me I had snagged the most eligible bachelor in the city. Somehow, though I’m not sure why, that made me uncomfortable.
Jeff loved the necklace I bought for him, but it seemed like such a token, a mere trinket compared to what he had done for me. But I reminded myself, too, that I’m not rich. Not yet, anyway. Someday, I’ll wear a wedding band in front of my diamond ring, and I’ll fit that description.
Audrey and Barb made a huge supper, and the best pecan pie I’d ever had. Gathering around the fireplace in the family room, we sang together all the holiday classics. Jeff stayed with me the whole day, doting on me with a display of true love and affection.
At 7:30 that night, I was tired, and I needed to call Aunt Jenny back home. Though I loved them, I didn’t look forward to the call because it would only serve to remind me that Mama and Daddy were really gone. I said goodnight and excused myself to my room.
Aunt Jenny answered the call right away, her sing-song voice on the other end greeted me. “Hey Desi! Happy Snowflake Day, sweet pea!”
Hearing Mama and Daddy’s nickname for me ripped my heart in two. “Hi Aunt Jenny. Happy Snowflake Day!” I hoped my happy greeting covered the emotion I felt.
“How’s it going up there in Sunset Valley? Are you having a good time with Jeff’s family?”
Where did I start? “You could say that. Jeff and I are engaged.”
“What?!” she shrieked with joy. “Oh Destiny, that is wonderful news! When? How?”
I smiled, remembering the night. “On my birthday, he flew me to Bridgeport to this fancy, exclusive restaurant. It was amazing and SO romantic!”
She didn’t speak for a moment. “A private jet, Desi?”
“Yes! His family is very wealthy, judging by the mansion I’m staying in. The formal living room is bigger than the whole farmhouse.”
“Your mama and daddy would be very proud of you!” she said. “Did Jeff like the necklace?”
I nodded, even though she couldn’t see me. I had a bad habit of doing that. “He loved it! Though, after he gave me the ring, the necklace seemed so trivial.”
“Psh,” Aunt Jenny said. “Anything you give him, Desi, he’ll cherish. I’m so happy for you! Are you moving to Starlight Shores after you get married? Where do you think you’ll get married? Goodness, I’m so excited for you!”
“That’s the thing, Aunt Jenny. We’re not moving to the Shores. Jeff wants to go to Bridgeport and promote his band. He says all aspiring musicians live there and pay their dues in Bridgeport.” I bit my lip.
“Well, that’s surprising, Desi. I never thought you’d give up Starlight Shores for anyone.”
I didn’t think so, either. “Well, there’s a chance I can sing with him in his band, so I won’t be giving up much.”
“We haven’t discussed it yet, and we’ve made no concrete plans. But a wedding is over a year away, after graduation.” Nice segue.
“Well, keep me up to date on everything, sweetheart. Are you still graduating in the spring?”
“As long as I keep up the course load I’ve been doing, yes. I’ll have a year to spend in the Plains getting the house ready to sell.”
“Isn’t Jeff graduating in the spring, too?”
“No, he’s a junior this year. He has one more year left.”
“I’m surprised you’re not staying on campus with him, Desi. Can you bear to be apart from him?”
I sighed. “That doesn’t matter. I have work to finish back home. Maybe if the house sells quickly, I can go back sooner. But I want to at least visit Starlight Shores before I surrender my dream.”
“You sound a little sad about that, Destiny. Be sure you want to abandon everything you’ve longed for and worked for.” Her smile came through the phone. “I love you, kiddo.”
“I love you, too, Aunt Jenny. When we’re back on campus, I’ll call you. Happy new year!”
“You too, Desi. Be safe, and have fun!”
The emotions I’d hid all day came when I disconnected the call. The pain of missing Mama and Daddy, missing the familiarity of home and family, overcame me. Only a year ago, we were still together. I wept into my pillow until I fell asleep.
Jeff partially moved into my dorm room with me once we were back on campus for the spring semester. I made a spot for him in my closet, despite him still living with Jacob. We spent all our free time together, studying and planning for our future.
That February, Love Day was upon us. Jeff told me to keep the date open, that he had something special planned. He was secretive about it, but I didn’t question him. He loved to surprise me, and I found I loved when he did.
His big surprise was an elegant restaurant about twenty miles off-campus. It wasn’t as exclusive as the one in Bridgeport, but it was cozy and romantic. I wore the gown he bought for my birthday, and he dressed in a tailored suit. We drove in his fancy sports car to the restaurant, parked in the lot, and he escorted me inside as though I was royalty.
The hostess sat us by the window, overlooking a lake with a waterfall. Snow still blanketed the ground outside; the scene was idyllic. He held my chair as I sat, then took the seat to my right. “No champagne for you tonight, I’m afraid. They will card you here. My family has influence in Bridgeport, which is why they didn’t ask you.” He took my hand and kissed it. “I’m sure you won’t mind, though.”
I laughed. “Nope! I might never drink again.”
Jeff looked at me with love in his eyes. “Damn, Des, you are so beautiful. You make me ache for you.”
I blushed. “You always have a way of rendering me speechless,” I whispered.
“What would you like for supper tonight?” he asked. I was impressed that he called it ‘supper,’ too. He was proving to be trainable.
“You choose for me, Jeff. It doesn’t matter. You haven’t disappointed me yet.”
The waiter came to get our order. Jeff ordered a glass of wine for himself, and a sparkling cider for me. Our meal orders were a secret. After the waiter left, he stood and pulled me to my feet.
“Care to dance, beautiful lady?”
“Of course, my handsome love.” He led me to the dance floor; we swayed together for a few songs and then returned to our seats.
We chatted about nothing of consequence, which to me was odd. Plans needed to be discussed, and yet we were talking about mundane things. I took his hand and held it. “What will we do after graduation, Jeff?” I asked him. “We have to plan our wedding, and pick a date for it. Not in that order, of course.”
“I’m not sure,” he said. His demeanor had changed from sweet to standoffish. Something was wrong. “I mean, you’re out of here in May, and I’m stuck for another year.”
“Is that an issue?”
He shook his head, but his face told a different story. “Not at all.”
“What’s wrong, Jeff?”
“Nothing, Des.” His answer didn’t sit well with me.
“Are you sure—”
“Drop it!” he snapped at me.
I wasn’t sure why, but he was preoccupied. Was he angry with me? I couldn’t tell, but if he was, I didn’t know what I’d done. Though I wanted to excuse myself to the ladies’ room, I stayed. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “Whatever I did, I’m sorry.”
His expression softened. “It’s not you. I don’t mean to take it out on you, either.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
He shook his head. “No. It’s okay. I’ll just figure it out when we get back.”
So it was me, and he didn’t want to say it.
The rest of the evening was lackluster. The meal came, and we ate together, but it wasn’t the occasion I’d expected when we began. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d done something he didn’t like.
Turns out, it was something I didn’t do.
On the drive back to campus, he was back to his loving, sweet self, and I just assumed everything would be normal. He parked his Camaro in the lot behind the dorm, opened my door, and helped me out. We walked hand in hand up the steps to my dorm room; I turned the key in the door and opened it for us.
His friend came and placed a bottle of wine with two glasses, roses, and strawberries. That was a shock, a welcomed one, especially after the uncomfortable evening we’d had. “Surprised, babyluv?” he asked.
A smile crossed my face. “This is lovely,” I said. I had qualms about the wine, but I let it go. We would be the only ones drinking it, and I committed to just one glass. He uncorked the wine and poured two glasses.
“A toast. To the love of my life.”
“Cheers!” I said, and took my first sip. The wine was dry, almost undrinkable. I took another sip. Yep, hated it.
“Babyluv, I’m sorry I’ve been distant. I didn’t mean to be a grump through dinner. I’m just so…” He didn’t finish his sentence.
I looked at him, trying so hard to figure out what was bothering him. “It’s nothing. You’re perfect, Des.” He took a deep sip of his wine; almost half of the glass was gone in one gulp. He went back to fill it, and drank half of that glass, too. Surely, he couldn’t like this stuff. It was terrible. “I could kiss you forever,” he said.
“Then why don’t you?” I winked at him, patting the spot next to me on the bed. That might have been my first mistake.
He took another gulp of wine, emptying the glass, then set it down and joined me on the bed. I felt like he was undressing me with his eyes. His kisses were forceful but passionate… different. “Damn, you’re gorgeous,” he whispered into my ear. He laid me back on the bed, something we’d done many, many times before. But something felt unusual.
He sat up and straddled my hips, trapping me under his body. Jeff took my hands in his and pinned them down to the bed. “Jeff…” I started, but he kissed me hard. It happened so fast, I didn’t have time to react.
“We’re doing this tonight. I need you so bad, I can’t see straight. Please, baby, let me make love to you.”
I tried to sit up, but I couldn’t. “Jeff, no…”
“Yes, Des. It’s time, and I’ve been more than patient with you.”
“We’re not married—”
“We’re good as married! Dammit, Destiny, you owe me this!”
I don’t remember what came next, but before I knew it, I was standing, and my hand stung. On Jeff’s left cheek was a bright red handprint, courtesy of my right hand. His face wore a look of hurt and betrayal. “Jeff, I’m so sorry—”
“I need some space,” he said, gathered his coat, and left my room. I collapsed, weeping on my bed.
An hour later, I decided Jeff was right. I was being unreasonable, and selfish, and prudish. I dressed in the lingerie he’d purchased and then slipped the gown over my head. My hair looked okay, a quick fix on the makeup, and I looked presentable. I swallowed my worry and gathered a healthy dose of courage, straightened myself up, and walked across the hallway to his room. I knocked before I turned the doorknob; it was open, so I peeked my head in.
“Are you busy, Jeff?”
He didn’t look up from his homework. “No.”
I walked in and sat on his bed. “I’m sorry. For everything. I don’t need to be so uptight and prudish—”
“Shh. Des, what happened wasn’t your fault. You were absolutely right to stop me. I’m not being respectful of you and your promise when I act that way. So in every way, I’m the one who owes you an apology.” He walked to the bed and sat with me. “Baby, I’m so sorry. I promise you one thing from this day on. I won’t put you in a position like that ever again.” He kissed my fingers. “I don’t want to push you away, and I’m afraid if I keep pressing this issue with you, I’ll end up doing that.”
Trying to dispel the emotion I felt, I shook my head. “I’m ready, Jeff. I came here to tell you—”
His gentle, charming smile put me at ease. “I’m not, babyluv. If you say yes now, it’s because I’ve pressured you. That’s not how love should work.”
I couldn’t believe what he was telling me. The evening’s emotions overtook me; I broke down in his arms. He rocked me as he held me, whispering words of love and comfort to me. When I collected myself, I kissed him. “I love you, Jeff.”
“I love you more than anything else in my life, Des. Let’s finish our date. What do you say?”
I nodded. “I would love that.”
Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul couldn’t make it to Sim State for my graduation. Without them, I almost considered skipping the ceremony and having my degree forwarded to the farmhouse back home. But I dressed up anyway in the nicest dress I owned. The off-white gown was overkill for graduation, so I chose one I’d brought from home.
My BA degree was in fine arts with a concentration on vocal performance. The university honored me for my proficiency in writing, art, and instrumental performance. The dean, who presented the special honor, explained that no other student in the school’s history had accomplished what I had done. It should have been a proud moment; I only thought of Mama and Daddy. How I wished they were there.
After the graduation ceremony, I packed up what I was taking home with me, and labeled other items to ship them. Jeff helped me carry boxes and bags full of stuff to the common room downstairs. Jacob stood there watching us with his usual condescending look. In the two years I attended Sim State, he never took a step to befriend me. I supposed what Jeff had said of him was true: Jacob Salaman was indeed a miserable person.
Jeff drove me to the post office to mail three boxes back home, and then we left for the airport. He had offered to come help me clean and get the house ready to sell, and I accepted every opportunity to be with him as our college days together came to an end. We were no closer to figuring out our future, either.
We waited together at the gate where we would board the plane, talking and laughing. He bought us both a coffee while we waited. He handed mine to me and plopped down beside me.
“There you go, babyluv,” he said. “Just how you like it.”
I took a sip and smiled. Was there anything he didn’t know about me? “Thank you, Jeff. It’s perfect.”
I snickered. “Hardly.”
“Psh. You’re your own worst enemy, Des. You’re more than perfect. You’re mine.”
I couldn’t argue with him on that point.
Not long after, the attendant called our flight to board. Jeff paid for my first-class ticket again; we walked on board, our fingers clasped together. He took my carry-on bag for me and stowed it. And being a gentleman, Jeff gave me his window seat.
I slept most of the way home with Jeff wrapped around me. He later told me he loved watching me sleep, that he could see my happiness even in my slumber. It would be our last summer together, but I was looking forward to having him there.
Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul loved Jeff and were so impressed with how he treated me when we were all together. We spent our first night back in Appaloosa Plains at their home; they welcomed Jeff into the family like he’d always been part of it. Aunt Jenny drew me aside to say what an excellent match he was, and that Mama and Daddy would have approved. That made me weepy, but in the best possible way. I realized how much I loved them, and how important they’d been in my life.
Jeff and Uncle Paul worked to landscape the front yard and the pastureland we had on the property, and Aunt Jenny and I painted the whole inside in three days. The house was ready to show within a month; I accepted an offer at the end of the first week. With a contract and a closing date, I had my timeframe to move.
Jeff left for home a week before closing on the house. He needed to prepare for his upcoming senior year at Sim State. I drove him to the airport in Mama’s little old car, the one Daddy bought for her when I was born. We said little, despite my growing need for clarity and resolution.
We walked into the airport together. The elevator took us to the terminal level; we made it through the security checkpoint together. He took my hand as we walked toward his gate.
“You doing okay, Des?”
I shook my head. “Not really. Jeff, I don’t know when I’ll see you again. That’s not okay with me.”
We sat together at the gate. “I’m sorry we haven’t talked about our future together. I’m struggling with being away from you. Now that I have you, I fear losing you.” He brushed hair out of my face and stared into my eyes.
“I’m afraid of that, too. How will we make this work? I’m leaving for the Shores in a week. What happens if we can’t make it back together?”
“Babyluv, we’ll figure it out. I love you too much to let you go.” He played with the diamond ring I wore on my left hand. “This ring means something, Destiny. It means that you’re mine, and we’re going to be married someday. It will happen, I promise you.”
I believed his heartfelt words, but inside, I still had doubts. I hated the unknown and the uncertainty of two people who refused to budge on their dreams. To me, our relationship had ‘failure’ written all over it. “I will trust you, Jeff.” What choice did I have?
“That’s my girl.”
Ten minutes later, they began calling passengers to board. Jeff, being in first class, was among the first. We stood together; that familiar but detested lump in my throat grew to the size of a grapefruit. He saw the tears welling in my eyes and embraced me. We shared a tender but passionate kiss.
“We’re going to survive, Des. I won’t let this go any other way.”
He’d already promised, so begging would accomplish nothing. Nodding, I stared into his blue eyes. “I believe you.”
Jeff took his suitcase and walked toward the gate. This was the moment I dreaded. I needed one last kiss, one last touch. I grasped for his hand. “Don’t go…”
He embraced me one last time. “You know I have to go, Des. I need to finish my degree. But I’ll call you tonight, I promise.”
I stepped back from him and nodded. “Okay.”
The attendant at the doorway took his ticket, then he walked through. He didn’t turn around or look back as I watched him walk down the jetway to his airplane until he disappeared from my sight. My heart broke into pieces as he left.
I couldn’t drive, not when I was this emotional, so I sat at the gate trying to collect myself, feeling like a fool. I despised being emotional in public. His plane sat at the gate for a while; I stared out the window at it, wishing he’d come running back down the jetway and into my arms. It was a fool’s errand wishing for it. Jeff was going home, whether or not I liked it.
The plane pushed back from the gate after the jetway door closed. I stood at the window, my face nearly pressed against the glass, watching… wanting. All the times I had denied him were now heavy, endless regrets. Why am I so stupid? I stood there until the plane taxied away from the gate, my heart heavy with sorrow. I wept all the way home.
Four months from when I graduated, I sat at the title office in downtown Appaloosa Plains with Aunt Jenny by my side. We closed on the house, and I handed over the keys to its new owner. The sale, of course, was bittersweet. Mama was born in that house, and her mama before her. Three generations of Hutchins women lived in that home, myself not included. For the first time since its construction, the farmhouse belonged to someone besides a family member.
Aunt Jenny and Uncle Paul both brought me to the airport. I knew it would be the last time I’d ever see them. I hadn’t planned on returning to the Plains except on tour someday in the future. Aunt Jenny wept when we hugged, planting a kiss on my cheek.
“Remember, Desi, what you’re going to Starlight Shores to accomplish. Work hard, do good, and remember where you’re from. That’s all your daddy and mama wanted for you. Do them proud, baby girl.” Aunt Jenny wiped tears from her eyes. Uncle Paul said nothing, but hugged me close to him and patted my back a little harder than he probably intended.
Inside my backpack, I had a surprise for both of them. I reached in and removed an envelope addressed to them. “I asked the title company to cut a check for you, as a thank you for all the help and hard work you’ve done on the farm.” Aunt Jenny took the envelope from me. “I couldn’t have done everything we did without your help. Please, do me a favor and go on a vacation somewhere warm and tropical, for Mama and Daddy?”
Aunt Jenny hugged me and rocked me in her arms. “We’d be so honored to take that trip in their memory, sweetheart. Thank you.” It was time for one last hug. I had to walk away, because if I didn’t, I’d never leave. Taking the handle of my suitcase, I turned to go. A few steps away, I turned around. They stood, weeping and waving the same way Mama and Daddy were when I left them standing at the mailbox.
“Thank you again! I love you!” I shouted at them. It was so hard to leave them, but I needed to go. I walked the jetway to the airplane that would take me to Starlight Shores, the first step toward fulfilling a lifelong dream. Look out, world, I thought. Here comes Destiny Farmer.
Up Next: Chapter One, Generation Two
Aperille’s Couple Poses
Wedding Ceremony Part 2
104 Degree Fever by Spladoum
Save The Last Dance by Lenina90
Butterfly Sims (Site defunct)
Female Adult Hair #085
Wedded Bliss by Purplepaws
Sims 3 Modeli
Boeing 707 by ilana
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