Tomorrow

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Don't Close Your Eyes

Jackson

I kept looking into those wide, round eyes. They still sparkled like diamonds, even when they were filled with fear.

Her hand gripped the back cushion of the sofa, her body stiff and straight. She didn’t even blink, just watched me, all while taking these small, quick breaths.

It made me push back the anxiety of the evening, the chaos that invaded my brain when I went tearing out into the fairgrounds looking for her.

Now I know I could have stopped that bus right there. Make the driver turn around and take us back to the grounds, I knew that was the right thing to do, the right choice to make, but my life so far had been filled with so many wrong choices that this one was easy to make.

“She’s just trying to keep us safe.” I was talking about Cheryl, not sure where to start, trying to meet her eyes. The thumping of my heart was making it hard for me to say anything else.

“Uh…” A small noise escaped her lips, she was still looking at me in disbelief, shaking her head in alarm, “I…I can’t stay on this bus. I don’t have any of my stuff. I don’t have my phone. I don’t have my clothes. I can’t go anywhere.”

I nodded at her in agreement, tried to ease her panic, “I don’t have anything either. I left all my stuff back in my dressing room. Cheryl is really good at that, I’m sure she will have all our stuff collected for us when we get there.”

Her eyes were full of doubt, and she slumped back into the sofa in defeat, turning her head away from me. Her hand flew up into that beautiful hair as she tried to sort things out in her mind.

I wanted to erase her apprehension, but I was having a hard time controlling my own uncertainty, how was I going to be able to restrain my heart with her sitting right next to me, knowing she wanted nothing to do with me anymore?

“It’s part of her job,” I’m sure I was just rambling, “To make sure we don’t get hurt. This isn’t the first time I’ve been locked up in my bus. I should be more careful, I know I make it harder than normal for her. I do things I shouldn’t.”

Her head snapped up towards my face, tilting slightly, she was listening, I’d captured her interest.

“I acted like an ass tonight, got me, us in trouble out there. I owe Cheryl an apology, and you too, Miss Ara.”

Her head shook slightly all on its own, and I could see the last of her fear fade away as we talked, “Me? What for?” Her voice came out soft and sweet. It was like music to my ears. I could hear the emotion, the concern.

“Cheryl told me you didn’t want to see me.” I decided to be honest, “But I forced her to tell me where you were, it was wrong of me, to do that her, and you.”

She moved back sharply, taking a deep breath. I caught her off guard; she didn’t know that I knew.

She looked down into her lap quickly, her cheeks turning just a hint of pink, “I…I just didn’t think it would be a good idea, that’s all. I just wanted to finish the photoshoot and go home.” Her words were quick and choppy; her eyes flew up to my face and then around the room as if she were looking for somewhere to hide.

“I completely understand. I know your husband’s waiting for you to get back. This is just a job.” I tried tell her that I wouldn’t cross any lines tonight. I wouldn’t be the old Jackson.

But all she did was frown at me, a little grimace streaking across her face. She didn’t say anything to me, and I figured I was just angering her more. I tried to change the subject, not wanting this bus ride to feel endless, although I was beginning to get a nagging suspicion that it might be.

“My plane is in New Mexico. I’ll have it ready to leave to second we get there. It’ll take you back home, I promise.” I didn’t want to say those words, it was so far from what my heart wanted.

But Ara just kept shaking her head at me; I don’t think she was even listening.

“I shouldn’t have let Cheryl convince me to stay. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m the one who should be sorry Jackson. If it wasn’t for me, none of this would have happened tonight.”

I could feel my body jerk to attention at her words, torn and hopeful at the same time. I didn’t want her to think this was her fault. I knew it wasn’t. But her tone was still soft and comforting, with just this hint of affection, it kept me spellbound, kept me wanting to hear more.

“So I apologize. I’m sorry you got dragged out into the middle of the fairgrounds. I should have left when I said I was going to.” Her eyes finally met mine again, and while her words were strong, there was a certain yearning to them, she stayed quiet for a second, I was ready to argue again, take the blame for everything, when she took this big breath, looking at me with those soft, sad eyes, “And I think I will take you up on your offer, the plane ride.” her voice trailed off, taking part of my heart with it.

“Of course.” You could hear the cracking of my voice, I was trying to hide it, but didn’t do a good job at it, “And no need to apologize to me, you didn’t force me to do anything I wouldn’t do again in a second.”


Ara

It was killing me, entangling me in such a web of emotions. I kept hearing that accent mixed with sincerity and tenderness, and I was struggling to keep my own voice neutral.

I did blame myself for this one. It was my fault that he got caught in the middle of crazy down on the fairgrounds. I knew I wouldn’t ever be able to erase from my mind, that look I saw on his face.

His words weren’t making it any easier; it kept common sense and logic from taking control. So when he offered me a way out, a way I wouldn’t have to stay there in New Mexico with him, I took it.

His body moved away from me after I accepted his plane ride home. His voice caught in his throat, and he half rose from the sofa.

“I uh…I usually spend my bus rides going over the concert tapes and tuning my guitars.” He glanced around him quickly as he spoke, “But I didn’t get a chance to pick up the tapes, or the guitars.”

I wasn’t sure what he was getting at…what he was trying to say. I could tell he was uncomfortable, even hurt, it puzzled me. I just kept looking up at him, waiting.

He gave out a little sigh. “Would you like to see the bus, Miss Ara? I don’t think you’ve ever been inside here before.”

His question startled me, that was the last thing I expected to hear, not knowing how to answer or what to do, I forced myself to stand up on wobbly legs and give him a slight nod.

We walked all the way to the back, he didn’t say much. He didn’t point out the kitchen area, or what I suspected was a shower. I got the impression he was trying to get rid of me. I followed silently behind him, my hands limp at my sides, trying not to read too much into his actions. I studied his backside as we kept walking, tried not to let my eyes go below that tan leather belt.

When we reached the only door near the end, he turned slightly and twisted the knob open. “There’s only one bedroom here, you can use it if you get tired, I’ll sleep on one of the sofas. The guys travel in our RV. It has three bedrooms, much bigger than this one, sometimes I travel with the guys instead of my bus, but there are times when it’s better to be alone.”

The room was small, but magnificent all the same. Rich browns and reds, a touch of yellow here and there. There was a notebook on the bedside table, and a deck of playing cards. A pair of navy flannel pajama pants lay across the perfectly made up bed, and a small white towel hung on a brass hook over the door.

“It’s very pretty.” I tried to smile up at him, but I’m sure it came out shaky and lopsided. Everything felt so intimate and inviting. I was surrounded entirely by him.

“Thank you.” Those green eyes of his met mine, he kept my gaze only for a second before tearing his eyes away, “There’s a television behind those wooden doors there,” he pointed, “and a radio.”

I kept nodding, forcing my lips to turn upwards, making my eyes focus on anything besides those wide shoulders and strong arms.

“You can use anything in that closet if you don’t want to sleep in your clothes.” There was a familiar gruffness in his voice; it was starting to shake my control.

“I appreciate it, thank you Jackson.” That was all I could say without revealing what I was feeling inside.

“Yes Ma’am.” He took a step back, starting to pull the door closed behind him; he still wouldn’t look at me, “I’ll see you in the morning.”

And then he was gone.

I stood staring at that door for the next few minutes, trying to get my emotions in order, trying no to let his sudden coldness affect me, wondering what he was thinking about out there. Resisting the urge to open that door and go to him, or worse, invite him back in.

I let myself wander about the small room, trying not to be too nosy, but giving in to the urge to touch everything around me.

I opened the door to the closet, letting my fingers run along all the shirts hung neatly on their hangers. There were several pairs of jeans folded and bundled on the top shelf, and next to them were more flannel pajama bottoms along with some running shorts and tank tops.

Just because I could, I grabbed a white cotton tee from its hanger, clutching it between my hands, and turned back towards the bed. Like a drug I couldn’t escape from, I peeled off my clothes and stepped into the soft flannel and oversized tee shirt. They were obviously too big for my frame, but I felt warm and cozy, almost like being wrapped up in his arms.

Settling down onto the bed, I reached for the remote control to the television, the notebook catching my eye again. Leaving the remote for later, I grabbed the notebook off the bed stand and opened it carefully. I expected to see songs, lyrics to something maybe he was working on, but it wasn’t anything like that at all. It was more of a scrapbook, or a photo album.

It held lots of scribbles and pictures. I poured over the first page; fascinated with young boy I could see standing between what looked like his parents. The boy was grinning happily, and both parents had their arms around the back of his shoulders. Their happiness radiated off the page, making me smile. The warmth of the picture pulled at my heartstrings.

The second page showed three young teenage boys. They were standing in a garage, instruments strewn around at their feet. Large grins overtook their faces, and you could clearly make out Dustin’s goofy stance and he tried to make bunny ears behind Brett.

Lost in Jackson’s childhood, I flipped through page after page, sometimes giggling out loud at the boy’s antics. I saw a few of Cheryl’s and Dustin's wedding. A couple of poses that looked like professional shots of Jackson and the guys with Rascal Flatts. Several concert photos.

And then, little by little, I could see it, the change in Jackson’s face. Gone was that beautiful, genuine grin, the happiness in his eyes. He no longer had his arm draped around behind Dustin’s shoulder, or anyone’s for that matter. His expression was flat, his eyes blank, the only time I could see a hint of life in those eyes again was when he was holding Colt, his son.

It puzzled me. Made me wonder what had done this to him. What had made him this way? It was easy to see that his childhood had been happy, that he had parents who loved him.

I turned the page again, there were more pages after this one, but they were blank, this was the last one with a picture on it.

My hands slid down the page with a small gasp. The last picture caught me by surprise.

I could tell it was a random shot, nothing professional about it at all, it even had a slight blur to it, but I could see why he kept it. Why he liked it.

Because I was sitting on a stool, up on stage, my eyes all lit up, a happy smile spread across my face. My head was tilted, looking up at him in delight. He was holding his microphone in one hand, the other spread out in front of him. He was looking right at me, singing to me. His eyes twinkled, his face held a boisterous grin. His guitar hung between us by his shoulder strap.

There were a million tiny lights coming from behind us, all around our figures and floating up above our heads, they reflected off the big screen, part of the set. It made us look so tiny, just a small spec in a great big universe.

I found myself fighting back the tears, forcing my fingers to close the book and place it back exactly as I found it. Everything I kept seeing from him was mixing me up inside, filling me with doubt and undeniable longing.

Somehow thinking I could solve this, figure out what was missing from his life and reaffirming to myself that I wasn’t it, that I meant nothing to him, I scooted off the bed and plucked open the door, forgetting that I was wearing his clothes, forgetting my resolve to stay away.

“You still awake?” It was a dumb thing to say really, I could see he was awake. Wide awake, all gorgeous and beautiful, sitting on that sofa, a television remote in his hand pointed directly to the screen.

He jumped so high at my words; the remote fell from his hand and rolled down near his feet as he jerked towards me.

He stuttered and mumbled a few unintelligible words, his eyes blinking sharply in surprise as he stared at me.

It dawned on me that I was wearing his clothes, and even though he had given me permission, I shuffled my feet awkwardly, “I hope you don’t mind.” I tugged at the hem of my too big tee shirt, what the hell was I thinking coming out here?


Jackson

She was a goddess in pajamas, my pajamas. She made a tee shirt and baggy flannel pants look sexy as hell, her hair pulled up into a messy ponytail. I could feel my crotch tighten just looking at her.

She twisted the ends of her shirt in her hands, moving one bare foot behind the other, “Watching television?” she asked in that soft, angelic voice.

I just nodded, hoping she didn’t notice that despite the remote I had been holding in my hand, the TV screen was blank. “Just the news, it’s over now.” I glanced down at the remote on the floor, not bothering to pick it up. My brain didn’t have control over my body just yet.

“Can I sit down? Just for a minute?” She looked ready to bolt, complete opposite of what she was asking me.

“Of course.” I finally caught my breath again, and I motioned her to sit, “Is everything okay with the room? Do you need anything else?”

She gave me a small, shaky smile, “The room is fine, it’s really nice of you to let me borrow it.” her voice faltered, her fingers stroked the soft flannel of her pants absentmindedly. “I just wanted to ask you, well, a question if you don’t mind.”

“Of course.” I found myself saying again, lowering myself down, trying not to grab the ends of the sofa too tightly, “I don’t mind.”

“Did you…” She glanced away from me for a second, before letting those haunting brown eyes rest on mine again, “Did you always want to be a singer, Jackson?”

Her question threw me off guard; I was expecting something more along the lines of how much longer our drive was going to be, or some random question about New Mexico.

“Me?” I was trying to shake the surprise, and figure out where this was coming from at the same time.

“Yes,” she nodded at me, her eyes were serious, her voice low.

“Well…yeah…I guess. I mean after I got my grandfather’s guitar and learned to play a few songs, yeah, sure.” I shrugged my shoulders, wondering if my answer would suffice.

“So when you were a little boy, you imagined a great big stage with thousands of people all cheering for you?” She leaned toward me, her voice growing a bit stronger.

“Uh…well no, not that. I just saw myself singing, is all.” My hand automatically reached up to fiddle with my baseball cap, my fingers gripping the rim nervously.

“You wanted to be a big star?” Her head tilted, her gaze noticing my fingers then resting again on my face.

“No.” There was something about her voice that made me start traveling back in time, “Not a big star. When I was seventeen, Dustin, Brett, and I entered a contest. I was really excited about it, convinced the guys for us to try out. But not because I wanted to sing in front of anybody, but because one of the rules was that we had to perform an original song, something we written ourselves. That’s what made me excited.”

“Did you win?” She tilted her head, the corners of her mouth turned up all on their own.

“Yes Ma’am, we did.” I smiled back at her, a little bit in awe on how a simple smile from her instantly brightened my day.

Her eyes lit up when I told her that, it made my smile get bigger even though I tried to stop it.

“Of course you did, your talent is undeniable.” Her eyes stayed bright and beautiful as she kept talking, “I bet your parents were so proud.”

“They were pretty happy. They let me fly to Nashville right after that. They come to my shows whenever I’m in West Virginia.” Once she got me talking about my family, I stopped trying to figure out why she was asking all these questions, felt myself relax as I told her the stories. “I try to visit my parents a couple times a year, and during the holidays. Christmas is my Mama’s favorite holiday, so I try to make it out there for Christmas.”

“So they let you go to Nashville. What happened after that? What happened in Nashville?” She was still smiling, her voice never skipping a beat to my answers.

“A lot of stuff, it was like a hurricane at first. We recorded tons of songs for Rick. He kept trying to find the right one, the right flavor for us so to speak. We got to play at some clubs downtown, go see some great concerts and attend a few festivals. It was pretty cool, and fast.”

“When did it stop being cool?”

Her eyes held me captive, I was so lost in them, I found myself answering her without even thinking about it. “Right after we headlined our own concert.”

I never said this out loud, never even acknowledged it myself, yet telling her was easy. I wanted to tell her, “I wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I was doing it for them, all of them, and they depended on me.”

“You ever do anything for you anymore?”

“Hardly ever.”

She fell silent, studying my face, digesting my words. “If you could do anything, just for you, right now, what would you do?”

I’d take you in my arms, I thought to myself, looking back into those brown eyes, kiss you long and hard…take you to my bed and ask you to forgive me… to stay here with me…ask you to leave him.

“I don’t know,” I avoided her gaze, looking up past her while I lied, “Maybe watch a little racing, go out and do some fishing, hunting season will be here soon.”

“Uh hmm…” she could see right through me, I was sure of it, and I knew if those sweet brown eyes kept asking me questions, I would keep right on answering them.

“I know I’ve been blessed.” I tried to explain, “I have been given so many gifts, and am fortunate to be surrounded by so many talented and loving people, they’re the ones who belong on stage, I don’t want to sound like I hate it or anything. I like what I do, and I’m glad my friends are living their dreams.”


Ara

But you aren’t living yours.

It made sense at that moment, at least to me. It also made me sad, made my throat tighten and my heart lurch.

He was wrong about one thing though. He did belong on stage. Even if he didn’t realize it, he had the ability to reach the hearts of thousands of people just by singing. He could take one platform, one microphone, one guitar, and create magic, pure, amazing, magic.

I didn’t press him further. Wasn’t sure of what to ask him next. I didn’t want to go back into that little room and be alone again either, not yet.

“So what do you do?” his voice broke through the silence, making me look back up at him. “That’s just for you? I know you don’t have this problem.”

I suppressed the urge to chuckle sarcastically at him, how little he knew.

“I…I don’t think I’ve done anything for me in a long, long time.” I struggled with facing the truth, and hiding from it all the same, “I told you once, I think, my fear of not knowing where I am, or what’s going to happen next, it keeps me from trying anything new. Nothing new happens unless I’m forced into it.”

He was quiet, all we could hear were the tires of the bus moving endlessly over the pavement and the humming of the motor, fluid, faint.

“You got lost once? Right?” He reached up and scratched his jaw, rubbing his palm along that tantalizing jawline.

I nodded, “When I was seven years old.” my eyes hadn’t torn themselves away from his hands. I wanted to push his hand away, replace it with mine. “It was my fault really, I was playing in the snow somewhere out behind my house, making snowmen and such, my dad told me not to stay out after dark, but I was so engrossed in making everything just right, trying to create the perfect snowman, I didn’t listen to him. When I got cold, and it was dark, I was finally ready to head back home, it dawned on me that everything looked the same, I didn’t know which direction to head in.”

I could tell he was imagining it, my story. His eyes were resting on my face but they weren’t really looking at me. I kept going, not sure why I wanted to keep sharing this with him. I just did.

“Being seven, I didn’t realize that I should’ve just sat tight and let them come to find me. I decided to try and make my way home. That was a big mistake. I lent up walking in the wrong direction, further out into all that darkness. All the trees looked alike, there was snow falling everywhere. I kept calling for my dad, hoping he would hear me, come find me, but he didn’t. I was lost for about five hours, might not seem like much now, but for a seven year old out in the cold dark, it was more than enough.”

He frowned, not an angry frown, more of a sympathetic frown, and it sounded like his breath caught in his throat.

“I was just this curled up little mess in the snow when they found me. Crying my eyes out, thinking I wasn’t ever going home.”

He exhaled sharply, his hand moving across the sofa between us. He stopped it before it reached me, “You must have been so scared.” he said softly.

“My dad told me there were about seventy-five people out looking for me that night. Seventy-five people, and it still took them five hours to find me. I shudder when I think about what would have happened if they hadn’t.”

“I can’t imagine them not finding you, or giving up on you.” His voice grew a little thicker with his words, serious and raw. “You don’t give up on someone you love.”

“You don’t?” I cocked my head to the side, losing myself in those green eyes. Just the way he talked, the way he sat, so serious, leaning into my every word, it just pulled me in.

“No you don’t, especially someone like you.”

There was no denying that familiar want, it coursed through me like a million streams, whispering to me, promising me. “My parents didn’t allow me to be by myself for a long time after that.” I almost whispered, half hoping he would come closer.

“I don’t blame them, they didn’t want to lose you again.” Now he was coming closer. I was sure of it. I could feel my heart start racing, my brain start buzzing, his voice wishful and warm.

“They made sure someone was always around to take care of me.” I was already rattled beyond sensibility, not paying much attention to what I was saying, “All through middle school they made sure it was Jolene, and then in high school it was…”

That’s when everything stopped. My words, when I realized what I was about to say. The buzzing in my brain. The look in Jackson’s eyes. It all stopped. I saw it. That quick, startled look he gave me, the blinking of those aching green eyes, and the blankness that fell over them almost instantly, shielding him from me again. “I’m…I’m glad it all worked out…” He had to force those words out, choppy, tortured.

He was gone again. And this time I hated it, wanted his familiar, warm look back. I was determined to find it in him again, and bring it back out.


Jackson

I was glad when our conversation shifted from me to her. I wouldn’t have to answer any more questions. I was still shook up with my own revelation about not wanting to be a big singer, still reeling from hearing myself say that out loud. I never paid much attention to that little voice inside my head, at least not until tonight.

But as I listened to her story, it dawned on me how alike we were, and how different. I ached for that lost little seven-year-old girl, thinking that no one was looking for her, no one cared. I knew that feeling all too well.

I wished with my entire soul that I could have been out there, been the one to find her, never mind that I would’ve been seven myself at the time, that it was an impossible dream. Because if only, if only I found her first.

And it twisted and turned inside of me. Forced me to see how wrong my life was out there, and how right it was in here.

I just kept inching closer and closer to her, without thinking about it, or realizing it. Just kept hanging on to her every word, lost in her story, in her eyes.

I could tell when she let her guard down. When she opened herself up to me. I started feeling like her man again, like someone she connected with. At least up until she mentioned high school.

Because once those words were out of her mouth a whole new story played out in my mind. She didn’t have to tell me this one. I already knew it. I could already see him entering her life. Making her feel safe. He was the one who rescued her, he changed her life, never left her alone. He never gave up on her, I did.

I just couldn’t quite understand why my life was turning out this way. Why this woman was sent to me, yet I couldn’t have her. Why she kept making me feel like this was home, only I couldn’t ever go there.

“I’m glad it all worked out.” What else could I say? That her husband threw me in a fucking jealous rage? That it sickened me when I prayed almost every night that he would find out what she’d done with me, and want to leave her? From the story she was telling me, being lost and alone, that would be her worst nightmare.

Something flashed in her eyes at my words. Her features changed, she looked almost defiant. “I don’t know if you’d call it working out.”

It made me take a second look at her, try to read her face better. “What would you call it?”

She sat up straighter, a few ringlets of hair escaped her ponytail and fell around her face as she moved. “I’d call it, settling.”

And for some reason it made me feel like she was talking about me.

“I’m pretty sure I settled in a lot of areas in my life.” I confessed. That, I wouldn’t deny.

Her breath seemed to leave her at my words; her fingers started tugging at her shirt again. She blinked rapidly, her voice tearful as she spoke, “Yeah, me too. But that’s life, right? It’s what we have to live with.”

I could see she was getting mentally tired; she pressed her eyes closed, and her chin lifted up, almost in despair, that alone instinctively made me want to take care of her, protect her. It had been such a long, hard day for her, for the both of us.

I reached down with my free hand and grabbed the remote off the floor. “Want to take a break from it?” I was serious, but my voice was teasing,“I won’t tell, if you won’t.”

Her head snapped back upright and she opened her eyes; she hesitated, watching me carefully at first. But then she smiled; “From life?” she asked, it sent relief flooding through me.

I nodded, letting a grin take over my face, “There’s a gaming system attached to this TV, wanna hit a couple of targets, Miss Ara?”

“Like boxing?” Her head tilted to the side innocently, causing me to chuckle.

“I don’t know how to box, sounds interesting though. I think some ducks or deer sound better, don’t you?”

“Deer? You mean shooting them?” Her face scrunched up, feigning dismay, and I chuckled some more.

“I bet you’re a natural.” I started pressing a few buttons on the remote, setting up the console to the right channel. The television came to life, throwing bright colors all around the darkened room.

She watched me fascinated as I talked her through the first few screens. Her face lost the worry and ache as she listened. I could feel my own heavy weight lift away as I settled comfortably next to her, handing her the extra game remote so that she could play with me.


“I think you were lying to me.” I joked. We hadn’t noticed the hours that passed, engrossed in a game that had taken a turn from friendly sparring, to a full blown challenge.

She was winning.

No, I’m wrong.

She wasn’t just winning.

She was kicking my ass.

She just giggled, waving her arm around in the air as she tried to level the make believe pistol to her target. “You made it sound like it was hard.” she joked, giving me a wink at the same time. I tried to pretend my heart hadn’t felt that.

“It took me several seasons of hunting with my Granddad and my Dad before I could shoot like that.” I kept up our playful tone, shaking my head, “Only to have my ass handed to me on a platter by a girl.”

She just laughed some more, unaware that her shoulder was now brushing against mine, I felt it though. “Girls are just as good as boys,” she wrinkled her nose at me, “They’re smarter, more polite,”

“Prettier.” I added, half cursing myself for flirting. I couldn’t help it; her laugh always brought it out in me.

She giggled some more quietly and looked up at me, she didn’t move her shoulder away. Her eyes shone a little bit as she watched me, then she looked back at the screen, “You ever teach anyone how to hunt?”

“Well I’m teaching you, on a screen, albeit, it looks like you should be teaching me. I haven’t taught anyone in real life, no. I plan to take Colt out one day, when he’s a little older.”

“Well thank you for teaching me Jackson.” she smiled up at me again, “and thank you for letting me take a break from real life…”

“You don’t have to thank me, Miss Ara” I was trying to smile back at her, but every nerve in my body was urging me to lean down and kiss her, she was right there looking up at me, inviting me. “I’m in no hurry to get back.”

Her last giggle sounded more like a sigh, and she turned to look back at the television screen again.

It was nearly three in the morning when I could tell the game had lost her interest. Her eyelids drooped and she kept trying to suppress her yawns with her free hand.

“Why don’t we call it a night Miss Ara, get some rest.” I was still wide-awake, not wanting to miss one second of my time with her.

“I’m not tired,” she shook her head slowly, she hadn’t shot at any of her targets in the last fifteen minutes, the game remote dangled loosely from her hand. Her feet were tucked underneath her, her body half twisted towards me as she leaned against the sofa.

“One more game?” I offered, ignoring the guilt, I should push her to get some sleep, not keep her up.

“Yes, one more.”

But she didn’t play. She watched me for a few minutes as I aimed at the little yellow ducks on the screen. “Don’t shoot the baby one.” she said sleepily.

“I won’t.” I promised, feeling the warmth of her body as it relaxed and leaned closer into the sofa, closer to me.

Her breathing leveled out and her eyes fluttered close at the same time. I didn’t move for several minutes, held the remote frozen in my hand, kept looking straight ahead. I liked her there next to me, didn’t want her to wake up and leave.

When I was confident that she was sleeping peacefully, I carefully took the remote from her hand, putting it next to mine on the other side of the sofa. I switched off the TV; the only light in the room was coming from the two wall scones near the kitchen.

Behind the sofa, on the end table were two fleece blankets. I always kept them there on the imaginary chance that Colt might be here with me one day. Reaching behind me, I grabbed one of the blankets, draping it over Ara gently, then grabbed the other one, spreading it out around my lap and up near my shoulders.

I looked down at her one more time. The soft glow of the light floated and danced along her hair, casting these tiny sparkles of light across her cheeks. Her head was still turned up to me, in my direction.

Maybe our real lives weren’t what we thought they’d turn out to be, and maybe we had both settled when we shouldn’t have, but right now I was glad that I’d been able to break her free from it even for just a little while, and glad that I had broken free too.

Tomorrow, we would face reality.

Tonight, she was mine.

I lowered my head down pressing my lips softly to her forehead.

“Goodnight, Beautiful.” I whispered, before closing my eyes and drifting off to sleep…

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