“You love me.”
I stare at him for a few seconds, realizing that I don’t love him. I care about him as much as a person who cares about nothing can, but that’s the extent. We established the ground rules from the beginning—no attachments, our careers come first, don’t get in each other’s way.
“I’ll be in touch.” I avoid his eyes and step on the gas, forcing him to step back from the truck. I don’t even look in the rearview mirror as I pull away.
I hit the road, grateful for the one thing my dad gave me besides my blue eyes that earned me my middle name—my truck. It’s small, only two seats, but it has four-wheel-drive and even though it’s the color of baby shit—the dealership calls it champagne—it’s been the most reliable thing in my life.
The highway stretches out before me, and talk radio blares static through my speakers. I punch off the obnoxious noise and force myself to sit in my own silence.
Stupid, stupid, Shyann.
Five years of college for what? I worked my butt off to get where I was, got handed the opportunity that would catapult my career, and killed my chances in a few seconds of live newsfeed. Now there isn’t a broadcast company in this country that will touch me. And I’m broke.
I know better than to let my personal feelings interfere with my work. As much as I regret what I did to end my short career, I can’t say I’d do anything differently. There’s no way I could exploit that young girl’s suffering.
The girl’s mother had a heart defect and the severe beating put too much stress on her heart and killed her. Not a painless death, I’m sure, but at least it was quick.
Unlike my momma’s.
No, she had to suffer for over two years, her body giving up at an agonizing pace, leaving her mind for last so she’d be completely aware of how she was dying. The memories slice through my mind’s eye, my dad holding her limp body, roaring his anger at God.
It was sitting in that cold church, watching every person in our town filter past me with words they hoped would ease my pain. That was when I decided I’d get out of Payson the second I graduated and never go back. I was angry, starving for a fight. Desperate to have my dad back rather than the empty man with the dead eyes who she left us with. He hated that I was leaving, never understood my need to run, to do all the things I promised my momma I’d do. We fought. Hard. Unforgivable words were exchanged, and we haven’t managed to patch our relationship since.
Now I’m crawling back to beg for mercy, the prodigal child, broke, jobless, and with debt hanging off me like dead weight. If there’s one thing I know for sure, Nash Jennings will never let me live this down.
He might be a proud man, but I’m just as proud. I’ll need time to save money, figure out my options, and the second I do I’m out of there. Yeah, this is my best option.
I’m meant for big things. This is simply a speed bump.
I jerk my head up from my tape measure to see Stilts struggling to secure a rafter to a tie beam.
“Mind helping me out?”
A quick nod and I climb up the ladder, taking two rungs at a time, the red on the middle-aged man’s cheeks getting redder like an alarm that’s about to blare. “Got it.” I hold the beam steady on my end while he levels and secures it into place.
Sweat drips off the tip of his bulbous nose. “Thanks, kid.”
Kid. The word grates along my spine. I’ve lived through more in my twenty-five years than most guys twice my age. Not that he’ll ever know that.
“No problem.” I jump down and head back to working on the partition wall that will eventually be a kitchen. This type of work has always come easy to me. Cuts, angles, levels, everything in construction is a math equation with only one right answer.
Easy, predictable, and safe. At least, safe for me.
Carving is what I love most. Taking a salvaged piece of wood and turning it into something new and beautiful, giving it a new purpose. A different life.
My mind works through the project before me, my hands securing lumber with every pop of a nail gun, but in my head I’m somewhere else. Creating, always imagining. The wood’s grain patterns twist and swirl, inspiring intricate pictures that I try to remember so I can sketch them later. It seems stupid, but even the simplest inanimate objects hold fascination when I look at them long enough. Maybe it’s a vivid imagination or maybe my brain doesn’t work like most.
I peer up at Chris, my foreman, who’s checking my levels. “Thank you, sir.”
He regards me with very little concern, the same passive nonchalance he always does. “Nash is looking for you.” He tilts his head toward what will eventually be the garage of this home, then turns away.