Authors: CeeCee James
he July morning
was clear and quickly warming. A breeze lifted the leaves in the trees all around them and ruffled Cassie’s hair. She swept a strand away from where it had blown across her mouth and adhered to her lip gloss. “You ready for this?” she asked, looking up at Luke.
Luke rolled his shoulders and rubbed at his shadowed jaw. She felt his nervousness as he shifted next to her.
Back to his once-a-week shave job, I see.
That was okay, she preferred him a little scruffy.
“Don’t worry.” She stretched to her toes to kiss his cheek. “You know I’m—Ow! Dangit!”
“I know! Don’t move!” Slowly, she disentangled herself from the seam of his neckline. With a deep breath to compose herself, she continued, “I mean, it’s a big deal.”
“I’m not worried, but how about you?” he finally answered, the green in his eyes appearing darker than usual as he watched for her response.
“I think it’s time.”
They had a new easiness between them. After the hospital, they’d both spent a week at Cassie’s house before returning to Freymere. Cassie continued to stay in the duplex, under a six-month lease agreement with Jared. The taxidermy room was still avoided at all costs but, thanks to Goodwill and elbow grease, she was personalizing the rest of the place and making it feel homey.
She needed that time alone, to be able to stand on her own two feet.
And Luke needed time, too. Every day, he worked out his recovery and had already earned the gold token for sixty days of sobriety. He was doing well, but they both knew it was a day-by-day choice.
They stood next to each other now, his arm slung over her shoulders, a new beginning ahead of them.
An engine rumbled. They watched the bulldozer tremble on the pile of debris before charging forward.
Slowly, the remaining beams of the house collapsed under a giant cloud of gray dust.
“You okay?” Cassie tore her gaze from the house up to him.
“Yeah, I’m fine, Principessa. I’ve had peace about this for a while. She’s no longer here. Time for a new life.”
“Did you call your sponsor?”
Luke squeezed her close. “I did. I’m good, boss.”
They watched the construction crew for a few more minutes. A contractor yelled directions to the demolition crew. The bulldozer backed over the wreckage with a thump and began to push the pile to one side.
An excavator lowered its bucket into the pile and took a big bite of the fire-stricken remains in its metal claws. It maneuvered the full bucket to the waiting dump truck.
Bucketful by bucketful, the house’s remains began to disappear.
Luke exhaled loudly. He buried his face into her neck. “Something beautiful is going to rise from these ashes,” he whispered. “I know it.”
She swallowed as a lump grew in her throat. She cuddled closer, breathing in the spicy scent of his cologne.
“A new house,” he continued. “One with a wide porch and a huge kitchen. A house for a family, full of life. A place where little kids can play with their Tonka trucks and Barbie dolls.”
“You’re thinking about our kids?” Cassie gave a double blink and looked at him in alarm.
The dump truck crashed as it received another load, bouncing on its huge wheels.
“Not ours, Principessa. I’m going to sell it, and we’re using the money to explore the California coastline. There’s a beach somewhere that’s calling our names.”
“For real?” Cassie’s eyes widened. “You’re kidding me.”
“And after that, we’ll pick our favorite place out of everywhere we visit, and I’ll apply for a job transfer. It’ll be a fresh start for the two of us.” He smiled.
Tears blurred her eyes, and she nodded. All words left as her thoughts spun.
Luke wiped under her eye with his thumb, catching her tear and bringing it to his mouth. “One thing I’ve learned is when you get a chance at love, real love, you have to grab it with both hands and never let go.” His mouth kissed her bottom lip, whispering into it. “I’ve fallen in love with you and I’m not ever going to let you out of my sight again.” He pulled away as a tiny expression of concern flickered in his eyes. “Tell me you feel the same way.”
Cassie covered her mouth, completely overwhelmed.
It’s here. The moment I never thought would come. I’ll always remember it. The moment I began my life again.
“Yes, Luke.” Cassie took a deep breath in. “I love you, too!”
She leaned in close and pressed her lips against his. Gently, she exhaled into his mouth. “You feel that?”
He inhaled, kissing her back. “Yes.”
“That hollow place inside….It’s not empty anymore.”