Authors: Dena Rogers
“So you didn’t love him?”
“In the way I love Maggie? Yes. But like I love you? No.”
The hard edge around Tyler’s mouth softened. “You love me?”
He asked as if he didn’t know the answer, but his soft smile gave him away. He’d always known she loved him, even when she doubted it herself. Reassured that they were going to be okay, she climbed into his lap, pushing her fingers through his hair. “I have always loved you.”
He cushioned his head against her breast. “I’ve always loved you too.”
Despite Tyler’s encouragement for her to keep them, Sera threw every one of the letters away. He thought she was trying to make him happy, when really it was her way of letting go of the past and the guilt Rollins had over her head. The letters were painful and erratic. One minute, he professed his love and the next he hated her because she didn’t love him back. He accused her of being heartless and emotionally unavailable. He even described her lack of desire for intimacy as a personal flaw. Some of what he said was true. She hadn’t been able to invest her heart in their relationship, because her heart still belonged to Tyler and it was hard for her to be intimate with him when she knew they had no future together. She read the letters so often, she had most of them memorized and each time she did so, the guilt festered more, keeping it a permanent part of her. Moving on meant she had to let go. That was what Dr. Khazi had said anyway, and that was what she was trying to do.
It seemed their spat that morning was all but forgotten by the time they finished dinner—at least on Tyler’s behalf. Not that Sera let it interfere with enjoying the rest of the day, but every time she looked at Tyler, she wondered what he really thought or if he blamed himself like he said. With only a day left, she didn’t want to fiddle around and presume anything. And she wasn’t going to pretend it didn’t happen to avoid another argument. She was done with that.
Resting against the door of the living room, she watched Tyler scribble words in the notebook he’d been using to write his song. His brows furrowed when he flipped the pencil over to erase something, then his eyes widened as he reread the corrected version. Happy with the result, he tucked the pencil between his teeth and thumbed his guitar.
Hating to interrupt the beauty of his sheer concentration she cleared her throat, saying, “Want to go for a walk?”
Looking up, he cocked his head to the side with slanted eyes. “Is this a ‘we need to talk’
“It’s an ‘I need some exercise and yeah, we need to talk’ walk.” She smiled, hoping to give him the confidence that she didn’t want this talk to turn into a fight.
He nodded, sighing heavily. “Okay.”
• • •
Tyler intertwined his fingers with Sera’s as they headed across the yard. The silence between them threatened the resolve he’d come to about canceling the tour. The no-news-is-good-news theory wasn’t sitting well. No news meant the tour hadn’t been canceled yet. He was supposed to return to Nashville the day after tomorrow and wasn’t sure what he would do if he hadn’t heard anything from Bradley by then, and now Sera wanted to talk. He was pretty sure she hadn’t changed her mind about going. Once she made a decision about something that was usually how it went. So what she could possibly have to say now he didn’t know, but he hoped like hell it wasn’t more bad news, because he wasn’t sure how much more he could take.
They turned left at the mailbox; instinctively he knew they were headed to the train tracks. He abhorred the idea. He still saw it as a terrible coping mechanism, but Sera insisted it was a part of the healing process. He wondered if she’d ever be the same. The problem with trains was easily understandable, but he’d noticed other things too. She’d flinched when a gun went off on the TV the other night, and a couple of times when the screen door banged closed, he could see the startle in her eyes. She rarely looked at the road when they were driving. Instead her head would drop down to her lap or she’d stare out the passenger window. She downplayed her condition. Maybe she wasn’t as emotionally battered as some of the other soldiers coming back from war, but it didn’t mean she didn’t need help. He wanted to be that help.
“So, what do you want to talk about?” he asked when they were halfway there.
Sera angled her head to the side. “We’re not going to fight. Okay?”
“Is that a promise?” He squeezed her hand.
She nudged him back with her shoulder. “You’re the one who developed a temper. Maybe you should be the one promising.”
“For the record, it’s completely unfair that I have to talk when you’re ready to do so, but you get to run off and avoid me.”
“Hey. I’ve been better.”
“Yes, you have.” He threw an arm around her shoulder, kissing the top of her head. “So what’s on your mind?”
“I don’t want you to blame yourself, Tyler.”
“It’s kind of hard not to.”
“Listen to me.” She stopped, turning toward him. “You didn’t pay attention to what I said happened.”
Crinkling his eyes, he said, “I think I paid damn good attention.”
“The area was deserted. Subconsciously or not, I chose to ignore it. Rollins and I were talking. I was already distracted. I didn’t start thinking about you until I thought I heard the train whistle. By then it was already too late.”
Trying to digest that, he grabbed her hand and started walking again. “Did you ever blame me?”
“No,” she answered with a shake of her head.
“You were what I thought about when I realized my life might end. How could I blame you?”
He stopped walking when her voice cracked. “Babe, don’t cry.” Smoothing her hair back away from her face, he dried the tears with his thumb, then bent in and kissed her. “It makes me happy to know you were thinking about me.”
“Every day.” She sniffled.
“Yet you were mad as hell when you saw me,” he teased, taking her hand again.
“I said I didn’t blame you for the accident. I didn’t say I forgave you for breaking my heart. Leaving a voicemail was brutal.”
“We’ve been over that. You know I’m sorry.”
“I know.” The teasing curve was back in her lips. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t give you a hard time about it.”
“All right, I was an ass.”
“Yes, you were, but I didn’t make it easy on you.”
“Let’s not go over this again.”
“We’re not. But there’s something I want you to know.”
“I never believed you’d cheat on me.” Sera leaned her head over onto his shoulder. “I’m sorry. That was a horrible thing to constantly accuse you of.”
Tyler pulled her head closer, kissing the side of her face again. “Thank you. I needed to hear that.”
Seeing they’d made it to the tracks, Sera turned them back toward Roy’s.
“Now that we both agree what a jerk I was, can I ask you something?” he asked, taking the opportunity to get more answers to some questions he still had.
Sera kicked at a rock. “What do you want to know?”
“How bad are the nightmares?”
“They aren’t really nightmares. They say it’s anxiety. I have trouble falling asleep because my mind won’t quit obsessing over what happened.”
“So it’s not like they portray on TV where you wake up in the middle of the night, pouring sweat, thinking you’re back over there?”
“I’m sure some cases are. I’ve had a few bad dreams, but they’re sporadic.”
“But trains …”
“Always trigger the memories. Anything that sounds like a train or train whistle makes me think about it.”
“Do you think that will ever go away?”
She laughed. “Yes, it does, but my old therapist explained it to me like this: It’s like listening to a love song and it reminding you of a recent breakup. You’re always going to think of that person when you hear the song, but the more you hear it and the more time that passes, the easier the pain gets.”
“It makes sense when you put it that way. Can I ask what you obsess about? Is it the incident itself, or …”
Kicking another rock, she answered, “Mostly him and what he became.”
Tyler loosened his grip on her hand and hung his head toward the ground. Disliking someone he didn’t know wasn’t something he made a habit of doing, yet every time he thought of the man who Sera had shared so much with, he felt a burning in his gut.
“We’re not fighting, remember?” Sera reiterated, strengthening their grip.
“I’m trying not to hate him, but it’s hard after reading everything he wrote about you and knowing the two of you were together.”
“That’s really unfair since you slept with other people too.”
“I didn’t have feelings for any of them, though.”
• • •
Not seeing lack of feelings as a defense, Sera didn’t want to fight either. “He was a friend. That’s all. And you shouldn’t hate him. He’s the product of a terrible situation. It could easily be me in his shoes. In fact …” She paused. “I was headed there.” She left out the part that Tyler had been a saving grace to her, in a sense. If their reunion hadn’t come when it did, who knew the shape she’d have been in by the time Roy came home from Florida? Being alone and struggling wasn’t a good combination.
“So what happened exactly?”
“Are you asking about us sleeping together or—?”
Laughing, Tyler said, “No, please spare me the details.” Then, shooting her a jab with his elbow, he said, “I’m talking about the rift between the two of you.”
She had been joking about explaining their sexual relationship, but sleeping together was part of the rift. Not knowing where to begin or how to protect Tyler’s insecurities, she started from the beginning.
“We knew each other before Afghanistan, but for one reason or another we became closer when we got over there. Going through what we did together strengthened that bond.” She thought back to their first weeks back in the States and the time they spent talking about what happened. She’d told Rollins everything, including her feelings for Tyler.
“It helped having someone who understood what I was feeling, but after a while the constant rehashing kept the pain fresh and I knew it wasn’t helping. I tried making him understand that but by then he’d already started declining. Drinking, abusing his meds, and he missed work a lot. I watched him sink deeper and deeper, knowing he was pulling me with him and I needed to get away, but I was committed to helping him.”
“So how did you get away?”
“He was discharged.”
“Yep, except his was quicker because of his emotional instability.”
Tyler raised an eyebrow, questioning her further.
“I flat out refused to do my job.”
“How’d you guess?” She tossed him a grin, happy that they were able to talk about this so sensibly. It was so different than any of the other weighty talks they’d had weeks or even years before. “I’m just thankful they gave me an honorable discharge.”
“When was the last time you heard from him?”
She thought. “The last letter came about ten months ago. I never responded to any of them, so I guess he gave up. As far as I know, he doesn’t even know I’m out.”
• • •
Tyler remembered all the things he’d read earlier in the day. The first few notes were short with the guy saying he missed Sera and hoped she was doing fine. A few apologized for the way he’d acted before leaving the army. It was the ones that professed his love that Tyler started noticing his hostility. He wanted to punch the guy in the face for the names he’d called her. Yet, oddly enough, he also felt bad for him too. He knew what it was like to feel as if you’d lost everything and how easily it was to sink into a hole—because that was what it felt like when he lost Sera. Compared to what Rollins had endured, though, his problems were small, so he could only imagine the pain the man was going through. Anyone with a conscience would feel for him. Whether he’d hurt Sera or not, they’d shared something that Tyler couldn’t understand, and he could at least appreciate that she’d had Rollins to confide in when he wasn’t there for her.
Tyler threw his phone down on the bed. The call back from Bradley went much like he’d predicted. The label wasn’t happy about the tour being postponed. He was an up-and-coming artist. Promotion of the record was essential. Bradley relayed the message most likely just as it had been told to him. He’d been so brash as to let Tyler know he wasn’t anyone who would be missed if he fell off the radar for a few months.
Bradley was right. Tyler didn’t have enough hits under his belt to make a difference to the public. There might be a few diehard fans who followed his career, but if he took a break now, his chances of reclaiming his current status would be difficult. When you were at the top, you had to keep going; otherwise you fell away into no man’s land.
It didn’t help that Bradley reminded him of his place on the shit list from the release of “Box of Regrets,”
and that further damage to the relationship with his record label may happen if he didn’t quit pushing their buttons. Again, Tyler knew everything Bradley said was correct, but he asked him to plead his case again anyway.
Running his hand through his hair, he thought about what to do. Sera didn’t know about his decision. Knowing how she’d react, he kept putting it off, hoping Bradley would give him something positive to offer when he did tell her. Like,
Sure, canceling a headlining tour that embarks in four days is no problem.
Instead, it was more like,
Hey, honey, I’m about to be broke, unemployed, and possibly sued for breach of contract, but at least we have each other
. He’d be okay with that. Wouldn’t he? They’d make it. There were plenty of jobs and he could get his music fix playing weekends at Merv’s.
Who was he kidding? He loved being on Merv’s stage again, but in no way did it compare to the satisfaction he felt playing larger venues. He’d be content, but the craving for more would always be there.
• • •
Sera poked her head in Tyler’s room, asking if he was ready to go. Looking at cars wasn’t the way she wanted to spend their last day together, but anything to keep busy was a better alternative to wallowing in the worry of what his absence in the morning would bring.