Gone But Not Forgotten
“She’s not gonna know what hit her,” Brady mumbled as he packed his laptop. His vacation was scheduled for next month when his sons arrived, so he took these next seven days as personal leave. Passing through checkpoint security he walked out of the office and into the hot Texas sun. In his truck, he maneuvered through the electronic gate then turned onto the highway with one deliberate stop in mind to set his plan in motion. Glancing over, the book sat on the passenger seat where he had placed it this morning. “No chickening out. This time you’re going to do it,” he lectured with a smile.
Looking up at the pictures of his two sons on the visor he felt proud that he was finally going to change things. Dylan almost fourteen, and Cody, twelve, were at an age when they understood a bit more. Both miniature versions of him, Dylan was most like Brady in his teens with that daredevil nature. Cody, the emotional one questioned life’s meaning, much like Brady had the past four years. He nurtured them individually, enduring the stress from Dylan’s antics as he tried to toughen his youngest to see the world wasn’t always fair, sometimes with no rhyme or reason.
The drive to downtown Garland flew by making him earlier than planned. Look how many cars are here, he thought as he turned into the parking lot of the town’s largest mall. “Sunshine, you’ve obviously touched more people than I thought,” he mumbled as he looked for a parking space. Not finding one, he maneuvered the truck to the lane at the side of the building to wait for someone to leave.
Checking his watch, he reached for the book and her faced stared back. I’ll have explaining to do. I’ll tell her the truth, no matter how hard. Won’t she be surprised?
Jade Prency, that name was burned in his brain. The most confounding, stubborn, pig-headed woman he’d ever met. Her laughter and wit drew him in, but her caring is what held him. If he’d only figured it out years ago he’d never have done it. Of all the women, he had hurt her the most.
He didn’t understand until the shrink explained. Building the connections made him feel wanted and needed. It came so easy. He knew the words to say and how to say them. He’d listen to what their lives had put them through then he’d make them smile again. That’s how it always started. Harmless conversations turned into their romantic illusions. There’d been so many women he’d forgotten most of their names, all but one, that crazy Canadian.
Driving to meet her that first time, he thought it’d be just like the others he talked to online. He’d done it so many times that he followed a polished routine. Building relationships with women all over North America was his definition of happiness. After a few months he’d move on and let conversations fizzle, but not her. No, he spent a year building the relationship right up to the day they met and the next two years trying to hold onto her before it all went to hell.
Jade had so much going on it was like watching a soap opera. The more he learned about her, the more she intrigued him with her thought process. He didn’t always agree, but saw a twisted logic to her decisions. More stubborn than a weed she laughed at life, despite it all. After all the time they’d spent on the phone and computer there was no way he’d pass up the opportunity to meet her in person. That way he could break the news gently. He even had the speech ready and practiced it on the long drive. Once he saw her, he couldn’t say a damn word.
He walked through that door with his resolve in place, but at first glance he stumbled. That doe-eyed, nervous woman seemed more like a girl than middle-aged. He thought for sure she’d lied like many did, yet she was everything he imagined, and more. No wonder his life changed in that moment. Her long dark hair swirled down past her breasts. Those bedroom eyes looked at him with every barricade in place as she smiled nervously. Keeping his sunglasses on, he scanned her from head to toe, a full-figured beauty, and then some. Tight jeans, the loose pink shirt, he tried to guess what lie beneath when out of nowhere she wrapped her arms around him. In that awkward embrace, her shape formed to his body with such perfection. Her generous chest crushed against him and he instinctively wound his arms around her waist drawing her near. I could barely think.
The first few hours in the hotel room, her shyness made her even more attractive. He wasn’t sure what would happen when he lay next to her, but she curled right up to him as he slid his arm around her shoulder. Her long hair teased his senses with the silk and smell of it. Tentatively, his fingers moved through the mass, needing to feel it slide between his fingers. He grew hard, wanting nothing more than to touch her, but he steeled his desire and enjoyed the heat of her seeping into him. It felt so natural. The need to protect her from all life’s hurts washed over him. Having talked over the year she’d been through enough in this lifetime. Hell, she’d been through enough for five lifetimes.
When she asked to kiss me, her eyes said it took everything out of her as her lips quivered. I should’ve said no, but I wanted it more than anything. I’ll keep it short and sweet, but when then her lips touched mine and all control vanished. Soft, warm, her tongue started a fire. It was like nothing I’d ever felt. He could feel the pulse she’d created even now.
A horn beeped and Brady snapped out of reminiscing to see a car right behind him. “Oh ya know, why couldn’t you go through the other entrance, you dumb-ass!” he barked as he set his truck in motion. A free space in the third aisle caught his eye and he made his way over then backed in. With a clear view of the store’s entrance, he squinted to see a line up through the front window and decided to wait.
A half hour later, he stood in the travel section and peered through the shelves to the store’s center. There she was at a table flanked by two women. The books piled high on one side, the flyer posted on the wall behind her said, ‘Meet Jade Prency.’ With a half dozen people standing waiting for her, Brady looked at his watch. This was supposed to end a half hour ago yet there she sits signing books. Good old popular Jade. He smiled.
He waited until the line was gone and the bookstore announced the shoppers had one last chance to meet Ms. Prency. Pretending to look at books the past half hour, pulling the odd one out, he never took his eyes off her. Now with her back to him was the perfect time to approach, she won’t see me coming. He walked to the table clutching his copy and when he announced his presence, the look on her face wasn’t what he expected.
The air stilled, her face paled. ‘“The signings are over,’” she snipped and left through the back with one person in tow. The lady still at the table offered him a pre-signed photo, but he declined and headed back to his truck, furious.
Never expecting to see a ghost, Jade paced the living area in her hotel room. Did he expect I’d melt with seeing him?
“What are you going to do?” Jackie asked, watching her cousin move back and forth across the carpet.
“Can you believe the nerve of him? I thought he was dead! It took years to get over him and he waltzed in and asked for an autograph? He’s got balls, I tell ya! How did he think I’d react?”
“I saw your face. I’m surprised you didn’t fall over.” Jackie paused. “Doesn’t it seem strange he shows-up when your life’s heading in the right direction?”
“I can barely think. Part of me wants to know what the hell happened, the other wants to slap his face.” Jade stopped and stared out the balcony door. At almost 104 degrees, people walked as if the heat weighed down their feet.
“Look, Jackie, your brother is waiting for you. Why don’t you head out and I’ll see you next week. Our flight leaves on Thursday, so as long as you’re back by then, take the time to enjoy with family.”
“I can’t leave now! This obviously has shaken you and I wouldn’t feel right just taking off,” Jackie refuted.
“Oh no you don’t, I don’t need looking after. Besides, Derek will be here Tuesday to look at the property. I’ll be fine.” Although the turmoil within pushed her to flee, she needed to remain on schedule. It took hard work to get this far and she didn’t intend to let his reappearance wreck anything.
“Are you sure?” Jackie asked hesitantly as she turned to leave, seeing Jade nod. “Don’t forget to go over the changes and I’ll send them off when I get back.”
“Get out of here. Say hi to the family for me.” Jade smiled as she playfully pushed Jackie out the door.
Alone in the suite, Jade mixed a very strong and much needed vodka to still her shaking. Taking a sip, she sat on the couch and shuffled through the script pages to divert her brain. The red ink on each page meant edits to agree or veto. For each thought portrayed in the book, the screen writers transformed it into a script. Her agent had retained the creative rights while negotiating a tidy sum for the studio to artfully bring the pages to life.
She’d been at it a half hour when the phone rang. Getting up from her comfy spot, she made her way to the desk by the door at the other end of the room.
“Hello,” she said vacantly.
“How is the brilliant writer today?” Derek’s voice brought her out of work-mode.
“I’m doing okay, how are things back home?”
“It’s boring. All I do is work. I miss having you to curl up with.”
“I’ve only been gone a couple months surely you can’t be starved for attention?” She playfully teased.
“You’ll be lucky to walk once I’m done with you.”
It’d taken a long time to believe his interest was genuine. He’d been patient with the way she kept him at arms-length that first while. Since they’re engagement, they’d spent nights at either her, or his apartment when both in New York.
“So what’s on your schedule tonight?”
“I’m done until Thursday when we leave for New Orleans. I sent Jackie off to visit her brother, Diane went to the airport to head home and she’ll meet us in Louisiana. I have the next few days to really dig into editing and I might even do a bit of shopping to find something special to wear for your arrival.”
“What color are you thinking? Let me twirl it around in my head for the next few days.”
“It’ll be a surprise.” Jade quickly used her laptop, only to find the nearest plus-sized lingerie store in Dallas. “Shit!” she mumbled.
“What? Why shit?”
“It’s nothing.” You’ll find your way to Dallas and back. “It’s just a minor glitch in the editing.”
“I knew it, working while we’re talking. You’re knee-deep in it as usual.” He chuckled. “I’ll call you when I land in Seattle Monday and settle in. I’m in meetings all day then again on Tuesday morning. My flight leaves Tuesday at three p.m., so I should be in Garland by eight.”
“I talked to the agent and booked our appointment Wednesday at eleven to see the property. That way we can drive out and take a good look around before he arrives. You know to scope it out thoroughly.” Jade picked up the print-out of the ranch Derek had found in the listings.
“Let’s cross our fingers that we’ve finally found our vacation home.”
“Let’s not get our hopes up we’ve been disappointed how many times?” They’d seen many over the months and he’d always found one fault or another.
“We’ll find out soon enough. Okay, don’t work too much and remember, red is my favorite color.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Hanging up the phone her stomach grumbled. This morning, they’d only had the continental breakfast offered before the car arrived to take them to the bookstore. Her publicist Diane didn’t want to risk going to a restaurant for a real breakfast. Grabbing the take-out menus she browsed her options, but nothing appealed. Deciding to head out, she called the front desk and arranged for a taxi in a half hour. Today’s humidity had curled her unruly long dark hair so she’d quickly shower.
Leaving the hotel wearing a purple cotton skirt, loose white blouse and silver strapped sandals, she was far more comfortable than the dress clothes from earlier.
“Where to ma’am,” the driver’s thick Texas drawl made her smile as he started to pull onto the service road.
“I’m craving a nice thick, rare steak, with a baked potato. Where would you suggest?”
“There is a steakhouse with buffets that has good eats, but I don’t reckon ya’ll like that type of place. Maybe I should take ya to the fancy place downtown. Don’t know if it’s any good I ain’t been.”
“The buffet place will do just fine. If you say it’s the best, then that’s where I’m going.”
After a twenty-minute ride to the other side of Garland, they arrived at a restaurant on the edge of a mall parking lot. “Perfect, I can eat then wander around the shops for a while,” she told the driver as she paid the fare.
Entering the restaurant she was greeted by a sea of cowboy hats. It’d been a long time since she felt nestled into cowboy territory and it tugged at her heart. Nothing said ruggedly handsome like a cowboy. The driver couldn’t have picked a more perfect restaurant.
A waitress led her to a booth in the back corner, took her order, then invited her to help herself to the several buffets. At the salad bar, she filled a plate then shifted to the warm buffet to find the deep-fried okra she hadn’t had in ages. Returning to her booth, the vodka and coke she’d ordered arrived. With no signings until the next stop I’m on vacation, she began her meal.