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Authors: Shae Scott

Tags: #Romance

The Rise of Emery James (4 page)

BOOK: The Rise of Emery James
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I run my hands across the railing as I climb the stairs. The wood is rough beneath my hands and the paint flakes against the friction, but it’s perfect.

"Emery?" I hear Dad's voice and look up surprised to see him since his truck isn't in the drive.

"Daddy?" The front door opens and I see his familiar smile. He’s beaming, lit from the inside.

"You made it. God, it’s good to have you home,” he says as he gives me a hug. I take in the comforting scent of him. It's funny, we’ve spent years apart and now, after being away for just a month, it feels like I've missed him more than I did in all that time.

"I didn't know you were here. I didn't see your truck."

"I'm parked out back. I was clearing out some brush for you," he says absently. "You want to take a look at the house?"

"Okay," I agree. I swallow the butterflies that are fluttering through my stomach. This unease has been a constant for weeks. So much of my life is up in the air, filled with the unknown. I hope this house can be a place where I can finally be still.

I follow Dad into the inside. The front screen door creeks when it opens, its spring hinges wound tight. As I step in and look around a little of my unease begins to settle. It feels inviting. The floors are covered in a warm wood and the rooms are open. From the entry way I can see the kitchen off to the left and a large staircase straight ahead. Another few steps reveals an office and bathroom and a wide hall that leads into a large open living area. I wander in there first. It's homey, the light of the afternoon filtering in through the wood blinds. There is a huge fireplace and a mantel that would be perfect for pictures or Christmas decorations. Should a person feel the need to display those types of things.

"What do you think?" Dad asks. He's watching me curiously and I know he's just hoping that I like it. That it will feel like home. I can't go that far, but this house will fill in nicely while I redefine what home is.

"It's great, Daddy. Really. Thank you for doing this for me." He hugs me again before leading me upstairs to show me the rest. I take it all in as best I can, but I'm tired and I just want to sleep.

"You want to stay at my house tonight? Your furniture won't be here until tomorrow. Your old room is still there, just the way you left it."

After a quick consideration I decline. "I think I want to stay here. I have the blow up mattress in the jeep. It will give me a chance to plan out where everything goes before the movers get here." It's an excuse. I have no intention of planning anything, but I need the quiet.

Dad scowls, obviously unhappy with my decision. But he doesn't push me. I think he's afraid to. Maybe he's just happy to have me back and doesn't want to press his luck.

"Can I at least convince you to go get some dinner?" he asks.

"I'm not really hungry. Honestly, I'm exhausted. Maybe we can do dinner tomorrow after you get off work?" I suggest.

He nods, relenting. "That sounds good, Em. But call me if you need anything. I can't have you getting spooked in this old house," he teases.

"I promise to call you if I need any boogie men chased away," I assure him.

"Good. It makes me feel useful."

Once Dad is gone I set up the blow up mattress in the middle of the big living room. I don't even put sheets or a blanket down before I crawl on top and stare up at the ceiling. Exhaustion presses heavy against my body. There is so much to process.

I’m starting over.

Again.

I can't even begin to imagine what my life will be like come tomorrow. I only know it's going to be completely different.

Everything is different now.

Especially me.

My body jerks awake with a nightmare. Sweat covers my body, leaving my hair wet and stuck to my neck. I try and remember the details, but they are already fading. Only the racing of my heart remains. I feel chilled, even in the sticky humid air around me.

It's still early, the sun just beginning to peek over the horizon, casting a soft glow through the large picture window. I crawl out of my makeshift bed and shuffle to the kitchen to find the coffee pot, thankful that Dad thought to stock me up with the essentials.

Once I have a cup poured, I make my way out to the back deck and sit in one of the rocking chairs. The yard is big and filled with forgotten flowerbeds and an old garden that looks like it might have been quite impressive once upon a time.

It makes me think of my Nana. Being back home is a sharp reminder that she’s no longer here. It was easier to pretend otherwise when I was gone. Now the truth is unforgiving.

Nana and I used to garden together. We grew every vegetable imaginable. It was one of my favorite things to do as a little girl. I can almost hear her voice as she explained the importance of taking the time to pull the weeds.
You have to take the time to get rid of the bad pieces if you want it to flourish. The bad stuff will suffocate the good if you let it. We can't let it.
She loved to sneak in life lessons when I didn't expect them. That one feels especially important now. Maybe I'll have to find a way to bring that old garden back to life.

The quiet morning has me feeling hopeful. It's a small glimmer, but the sun pushing up from the horizon turns it a little brighter. It's a new day. I'm in a new place. It's time I get to know the new me.

I bite back a sarcastic chuckle at my thoughts. Like sunrises and gardens can change anything.

 

 

THE HOUSE NEEDS A
little bit of work, but I like that it’s not perfect. It feels perfect for me. It feels like a place I can settle into. Settle into or hide out in, whichever the case might be. At least for now I have an excuse for staying put. There are boxes stacked high, waiting to be sorted and put away.

With each box, I begin to realize that none of my stuff fits this space. Everything I unpack screams
Gabe
. It all feels too refined and too stuffy for this place and I end up repacking most of it and putting it back into boxes to deal with later. Maybe I'll have a big garage sale once I've gone through everything.

Or a bonfire.

It doesn’t feel like me. It's all just another reminder of the life I left behind and how much of myself I lost living it. The thought brings a surge of guilt with it. I should want to hold on to that life. My husband has only been gone for a month. I should be clinging to everything that reminds me of him. Instead, I only want to pack him away and forget. Sometimes I think if I could just forget the last six years of my life I'd be better off. If I could just erase it all away, starting over would be easy.

But that’s just a fantasy and a selfish one at that.

After unpacking a box of photo albums I can't decide what to do with, I decide it might be better to move to something less sentimental. Like the dishes. I could use a cup of coffee to motivate me to keep going anyway. I set the coffee pot and open a box marked plates and mugs and set to work.

I actually really like the kitchen. It's painted a soft buttery yellow with bright white cabinets and it just makes me feel cheerful. I might just stay in here indefinitely.

I hear the soft knock on the door and look up from the stack of dishes in my hand. I crane my head to try and scope out my visitor, but all I can see is a tall shadow at my screen door. I really don't feel like talking to anyone, so I sit still in the hopes that they'll just go away.

The knock comes again, this time followed by a deep voice calling out my name. My body tenses and my ears prick at the familiar drawl. I know that voice. He’s been locked away, shoved into a box with all of my other precious memories. That voice belongs to the best part of my past. The one person I’ve been too afraid to think about since coming home.

I can't help the smile that tugs at my lips, as I get up and walk towards the front door. My stomach is churning, a mess of anxious butterflies at what waits for me behind the door. Sure enough, as I open the screen I see the first boy I ever loved standing there looking all grown up in low slung jeans and a baseball cap.

My heart jumps in my chest. It recognizes him instantly.

"There she is," he says with a relaxed smile.

"Cole," His name feels foreign on my tongue. I almost want to say it again. Instead, I stand there speechless and staring. It’s Cole. I knew I’d see him eventually, but honestly, the idea scared me to death. But now that he’s here, I realize there was nothing to worry about. He puts me at ease instantly.

"Aren't you a sight for sore eyes? Come here and give me a hug," he says and his arms open in invitation. I step into him as I've done so many times before. I do it without thinking, without any concern for the years that have separated us or the potential awkwardness of seeing your ex after so long.

I can't help but notice how grown up he is now. Gone is the boy I'd known. In his place stands a tall, handsome man with an embrace that overtakes my whole body.

"What are you doing here?" I ask.

"Your dad sent me over. He said you might need some help with a few things,” he offers.

I step back and study him a little closer. I haven't seen him in years, but he still looks the same. Older, more defined maybe, but he's still the same Cole. His sandy hair is a little longer these days, but his dark brown eyes are still full of mischief and still the kindest I've ever seen. He's tall, he always has been, but now that he's filled out with the muscles earned with hard labor, his stature is almost intimidating.

He’s sexy as hell. I blush a little at my silent admission. Even in my current state I can appreciate it.

"You didn't have to do that," I smile.

He shrugs, "I wanted to see you anyway. When your dad said you were back in town I needed an excuse to stop by."

"You never need an excuse. I'm glad you're here,” I say, surprising myself. I haven’t wanted to see anyone. “Come on in. I've been unpacking. I just made some coffee if you want some," I offer.

Cole follows me into the kitchen and takes a seat among the boxes and scattered newspaper. "You have quite the collection going on here," he laughs, folding a stack of newspaper on the counter.

"I may never finish. I think I should have just sold everything or left it all behind." It comes out teasing, but I realize it's the most honest thing I've said to another person for as long as I can remember.

"I can help if you want. I may not know where you want stuff, but I can sure take things out of boxes and get rid of this mountain of cardboard if you'd like." He sits down on the barstool at the counter and opens one of the boxes there, proving his point.

He’s so relaxed, like we haven’t lived through six years and a lifetime of change since we last spoke. How does he do it? Doesn’t he hate me for never returning his calls? For never coming back? I watch as he removes serving bowls from the sea of newspaper and stacks them on the counter, like he’s been over here a hundred times before.

"Don’t worry with that. I'm ready for a break. We can catch up," I suggest. I pull out two mugs and fill them with coffee. He's still working on the box when I bring them over. He gives me a wink as I set them down and move to get cream and sugar. "I told you not to help."

"Just making room,” he says. I join him back at the counter and take a seat across the bar from him. I push the mug towards him and he relents letting the box go for now. He gives me a warm smile and I can't help but return it, suddenly struck by how nice it feels to have Cole Bennett sitting in my kitchen. A piece from my past that I thought was gone forever. I haven't seen him in years and yet it already feels like I'm sitting with a friend.

Then again Cole was my best friend. My first love. My first everything. He is so much a part of my history that I guess he could never really be a stranger.

"So, give me the scoop," I urge again, sipping my coffee as I study him further over my cup, trying to take in all of his details, all of the ways that he’s changed since I last saw him.

"What do you want to know? I'm sure Henry has kept you updated all these years," he smirks.

My smile fades instantly at the familiar tug of guilt and regret. "Not really," I admit without telling him I've barely spoken to my father since I left town. It saddens me to know that he has kept my bad behavior a secret. Probably making up excuses and stories to protect me.

Cole raises a questioning eyebrow, like he doesn't believe me, but I don't elaborate. "Well, I'm still working for your dad. He's been teaching me everything he knows. He even has me heading up quite a few projects. It keeps me pretty busy, but I love the work.”

Cole started working for my dad back in high school. I'm surprised to hear that he still does, but I don’t admit that to him. Obviously I would know this if I had any kind of real relationship with my father. I push down the sadness and work up another smile. "Careful or he'll having you running the place one day," I tease.

"That's the plan," he smiles easily. Dad always loved Cole. He was a part of our family from the start. He wasn't one of those boys that parents worried about sending their daughters out with. He wasn't loud or destructive. He wasn't mean or too wild. He just had a good head on his shoulders. He was raised in a good family and was a genuine good guy. People gravitated to him instantly. He had charisma and a spark that drew in everyone. He was
that
guy.

BOOK: The Rise of Emery James
12.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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