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Hearts on Fire

This is a story I wrote nine months ago for a challenge on Prose. Hope you enjoy!!

It was just another Tuesday at Firehouse 41. The rigs had all been washed and polished. Equipment checked and double checked. Dinner cooked and consumed. Kitchen cleaned. He was now six hours into a three-day shift and he had just taken his final rounds of the old brick-faced building that was his home away from home. His brothers had long since retired to their bunks as he took one last look around the bay holding the rigs, making sure everything was ready to go. The faint smell of carnauba still wafted through the air. Immense pride washed over him as he gazed upon the gleaming red engines. There was something about the firehouse at night that called out to him. The quiet. The peacefulness. It was like the calm before the storm. He liked to be the last one to turn in because the stillness of House 41 at night grounded his soul and helped him relax, which was not an easy task for an adrenaline junkie.

He turned out the lights and then made his way up the stairs to the bunks. The sound of sawing logs greeted him before he even reached the doorway. It was a wonder he got any sleep at all during his shifts, but somehow he managed. He sat down on his bed and pulled out the chain under his shirt revealing the cross his wife had given him as a wedding gift. He kissed the cross and placed it back under his shirt. It was his nightly ritual when he was working. When she had given it to him she told him that it was to keep him safe while he was away from her. She then asked him to promise he’d always come home to her. It was an unfair promise to ask of someone in his line of work, so she accepted his silence and didn’t push him, which he took as her acceptance of his job.

Recently though, his job was a great source of contention in their marriage. It was somewhat of a conundrum to him. He was a firefighter when they met. A firefighter while they were dating, and a firefighter the day they married. Why she was all of a sudden having a hard time dealing with that was something he couldn’t wrap his head around. Saving lives was in his blood. Something he couldn’t give up. He thought she understood that, but her constant badgering of him to retire told another story. He knew they’d work through it because they loved each other and that’s what married couples did. Life wasn’t always going to be a bed of roses, he knew that. He just wished that for once they could fight about something else besides his job. He always loved coming to work, but these days it was his only means of escape. It didn’t matter how busy they were or how much sadness and grief he witnessed because he’d get to spend three whole days not having to defend the only thing he loved as much as he loved his wife.

He leaned his elbows on his knees, put his head in his hands, and took a deep breath. He hated it when he let serious thoughts invade his mind before bed. It never accomplished anything except for a restless night’s sleep. He shook it off the best he could and leaned further down to untie his boots. He slipped his aching feet out of them and stretched his toes. He placed his boots neatly by the side of the bed and then sunk into the mattress. The tension of his earlier thoughts melted away as he closed his eyes. Just as the symphony of his snoring brothers started to lull him to sleep the alert system went off.

“Company 41. House fire. 221 Elm St.”

The once quiet firehouse roared to life as his brothers jumped out of their beds and into their boots. Their movements seemed as meticulously choreographed as one of the finest performances of the New York Ballet. It was a real-life performance that civilians never got the chance to witness. That was a shame because the speed and grace with which these muscle-clad men moved was astonishing.

Fueled by adrenaline, Rick quickly got into his gear and hopped aboard the firetruck. Since he wasn’t the driver he usually didn’t pay too much attention to the location. He never cared where the fire was, only getting to it as fast as they could. As the truck pulled out of the station, he heard the alert one final time.

“Company 41. House fire. 221 Elm St.”

Fear cut through him like a knife as the address registered in his mind — they were headed to his best friend’s house.

In all his years at House 41 he had never once been dispatched to the house of someone he knew. He prayed for the strength to be able to carry out his job without getting emotionally side-railed. He watched in anticipation as they sped through the streets of his town. Please God let Kyle be okay, he thought as he pulled his cross out and kissed it.

As the firetruck rounded the corner to his friend’s house he could see a lone figure pacing the front yard and relief flooded over him. He made it out. Angry flames bellowed from the windows and the roof. They were the most menacing flames he’d ever seen causing a chill to run down his spine. The flames were taunting him, foreshadowing an event that he’d never in a million years see coming.

The truck pulled to a screeching halt and the men jumped out and immediately got to work. When Kyle saw the familiar face of his friend he rushed towards him. His clothes and face were covered in soot. There were two lines running from each eye down his face where his tears had washed away the ashes. He tried desperately to talk but the smoke inhalation got the best of him and he collapsed right into Rick’s arms.

Rick passed off his friend to the paramedics and then headed for the burning house. He broke through the front door yelling, “Fire Department. Call out.” There was no answer. Since Kyle was unable to communicate, he had no idea if there was anyone else inside the house, so he had to clear each room. He repeated “Fire Department. Call out” as he cleared each room, but there was still no answer. It seemed as though there wasn’t anyone else in the house.

He sent up a silent prayer as he approached the last room of the house. He stood in the doorway of the master bedroom and he saw her right away. Despite the smoke-filled room, there was no mistaking who was lying on the bed. He’d know those curves anywhere. He had committed the delicate lines of her body to memory. He had traced them with his fingers. If that wasn’t enough to convince him, the fire-red curls that had taken his breath away the first time he laid eyes on her were a dead giveaway. Visions of their life together flashed before his eyes as he stood there paralyzed. Their first kiss. His proposal. The first time they made love. Their wedding day. It was his Captain’s voice echoing over his radio that finally brought him back to reality.

“Smith, I need an update!” he yelled.

“I’ve got a victim in the master bedroom, sir! Heading out now. The rest of the house is clear.”

He scooped his bride up in his arms and made his way outside. The EMT’s were ready and waiting with a stretcher as he emerged from the raging inferno that now engulfed his best friend’s home. He didn’t feel bad at all that the house was destroyed. Karma’s a bitch, he thought as he placed Megan on the stretcher. He stepped aside and let the paramedics do their job. He looked down at the woman he thought he knew and only saw a stranger lying there in a flimsy negligee. Kyle, now revived, sitting on the edge of a stretcher inside the ambulance caught his eye. He mouthed the words “I’m sorry” and it took all of Rick’s strength not to run over there and lay him out. Despite the fact that this situation was very personal, he was on the job. He had to act accordingly. There’s no way he’d be able to explain attacking a victim.

He continued to watch as they tried to resuscitate Megan. He felt guilty as he briefly wondered if he’d care if they couldn’t. Then she coughed and her big green eyes fluttered open. She looked around, dazed and confused, and then her eyes fell on him. Tears streamed down her face and she reached out for him. Her smoke-ravaged voice filled the air, “I knew you’d be my hero.”

By now word had spread as to exactly who it was that he’d saved and all eyes fell on him, waiting to see what he’d do. Humiliation, pain, and anger painted his face as he turned from the only woman he’d ever loved and walked away. It was just another Tuesday after all and he had work to do.

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Masquerade

She placed the contracts she’d spent the last two weeks reviewing in three piles on her boss’s desk. One for yes, one for make counter offer, and one for hell no. Her deadline for this assignment was still two weeks away, so she gave herself a pat on the back as she sat down in her boss’s chair. The soft leather felt good beneath her. She ran her hands over the smooth, mahogany desk. Everything in this office was polished and refined. Exactly what you’d expect from the Vice President of Wallace Holdings, Inc. Violet’s office was ten times nicer than hers. That is, if you could call a cubicle an office. For a brief moment she let herself believe that this was her office. This was where she belonged. This was what she had spent the past five years working towards.

Sure, she could have easily taken a position at her grandfather’s company – the rival of Wallace Holdings, Inc. – and had less stress, but she never was one for handouts. Especially when that handout was a slap in the face. Secretary. Her brother’s secretary. She graduated summa cum laude with an MBA from Harvard. None of that mattered to her grandfather, though. She spent her entire life in the shadow of her brother all because she was born with a vagina. Her grandfather had grown up in the era where women stayed at home to take care of their families. He expected her to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps. Marry a CEO, host fundraisers and gala balls, and pop out three or four kids. He humored her by agreeing to let her go to Harvard, and that was never as clear as it was the day she graduated. She was expecting the great Theodore Pattenson to be so impressed by her academic achievements that he’d eat crow and beg her to take a position at her brother’s side. As equals. Instead, he said if she was insistent on working she could be Teddy III’s secretary until she found a suitable husband. It was in that moment that she realized that all her grandfather saw when he looked at her was someone who would one day give him great grandbabies. And even then, her children wouldn’t measure up to the children that Teddy would have one day. Instead of feeling pride and excitement on one of the biggest days of her life, she felt disappointment. The only thing that disappointment did was fuel her passion to prove him wrong. To make him regret the day he ever doubted her abilities.

For once in her life, avoiding the public eye and keeping a low profile actually came in handy when she applied for the job at Wallace Holdings, Inc. The only good thing her grandfather ever did, as far as she was concerned, was keep her out of the limelight. No one had a clue she was the granddaughter of the infamous Theodore Pattenson, plus she used her grandmother’s maiden name. She wanted to work her way up, learn the ins and outs of this business from the ground up. From every possible position. Which she had done. From mail room clerk to her current position as Senior Executive Assistant to VP, Violet Hutchinson.

Violet was a wolf in sheep’s clothing and Lily couldn’t stand her. Every second she had to spend taking orders from her was torture. Violet was the epitome of everything Lily despised in a person. Rude. Conceited. Vain. Ruthless. Basically, her grandfather in a dress. She was certain Violet would sell her own mother to the devil himself if the price was right. But it was the very thing she hated most about her that would ultimately be Violet’s downfall. Rumor had it that the president of the company, the elusive Ethan Wallace, was looking to replace her. Loyalty, or lack thereof, was very important to Mr. Wallace. Violet didn’t have a loyal bone in her body. Mr. Wallace was a recluse that no one ever saw, but he knew everything that happened within the walls of his company. The only person in his employ that ever saw him face to face was the vice president. The rumor mill surrounding the reason for his reclusiveness was almost as large as the one circulating about Violet’s endangered employment status. Another rumor spreading around the company was that in order to save her own ass, she was trying to set him up with her daughter. Poor Mr. Wallace. Tiffany was almost as annoying as her mother.

Lily twirled around in the expensive chair one more time to face the magnificent view. Now this is something I could get used to. The city lights below twinkled like stars. Had she not been so distracted by the view, and her thoughts, she would have heard Violet enter the room. She hadn’t planned on spending so much time in here and she definitely hadn’t planned on getting caught. “Please, do make yourself comfortable in my office,” Violet’s irritatingly nasally voice bellowed from behind her. Lily shot up out of her chair, “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Hutchinson. It won’t happen again,” Lily apologized as she moved out from behind Violet’s desk.

“If you value your position here, see that it doesn’t.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Are these the contracts I asked you to review?”

“Yes,” Lily smiled proudly.

“You’re two weeks under deadline. Are you sure you gave this assignment the thoroughness it required? I’m putting my neck on the line by giving you this opportunity.”

“Of course I did. Have I ever turned in an assignment unfinished?” she asked, immediately regretting her boldness.

“There’s always a first time. You can go now.”

Lily quickly turned on her heels to leave, and almost made it to the door before she heard her name. She rolled her eyes to the heavens before turning back around, “Yes, Mrs. Hutchinson?”

“As I’m sure you know, the company’s charity gala is tomorrow night. I suppose you’ll need this invitation to get in,” she gritted out, handing her an envelope.

“Oh. I thought you said support staff weren’t invited?”

“Well, clearly, Mr. Wallace changed his mind.”

Yeah, that or you clearly got caught being a lying bitch.

“Thank you. It’s an honor to be invited.”

“It is. Please don’t embarrass me. The theme is masquerade, so please dress appropriately. None of the frumpy attire you normally wear, and for god’s sake, go buy yourself some makeup. As a matter of fact, take the day off tomorrow to prepare. You’ll need all the time you can get to fix….that,” she said, waving her hands in a circle in front of her.

Her words cut at the quick. Violet had an amazing talent for finding people’s weaknesses and using them against them. Lily had always thought that one of the reasons her grandfather kept her out of the public eye was because she wasn’t pretty enough. Her mother, Theodore’s daughter, had been gorgeous and Lily always felt like a troll in comparison. She found that trying to live up to the memory of someone so beloved was almost impossible. Hearing Violet’s words only confirmed her worst doubts about herself. That is why she normally steered clear of events like this, but there was no way she could turn down this invitation. The charity gala was the only event that Mr. Wallace actually attended. Hence, the masquerade ball. Even though she wouldn’t recognize him if she came face to face with him, he’d know if she wasn’t there. That would be a black mark on her otherwise spotless record with Wallace Holdings, Inc.

So she’d go, even if she hated every second of it, and she knew exactly who to call to help her get ready.

*****

Serena was the only person from Lily’s old life who she kept in contact with. She was an inheritance baby with a huge heart…not easy to come by in Lily’s former world. They had been friends since they both exited their mothers’ wombs. Along with her huge heart, Serena had a penchant for shopping. Her style was impeccable. The dress she picked out for Lily was stunning. Almost too stunning for me, Lily thought as she twirled around in front of the mirror. The black silk gown flowed over her gorgeous curves like it was hand-made just for her. The halter-style top with the low-cut front displayed her ample cleavage, tastefully, of course. This was a work function after all.

Lily’s favorite part of the ensemble was the mask. It, too, was covered in black silk with silver embellishments to match her shoes and clutch. Her jet black hair was swept up in a gorgeous up do, with soft curls framing her face. The blue sapphire earrings and necklace that Serena lent her matched her eyes perfectly. After Serena did her hair and makeup she almost didn’t recognize the woman she saw staring back at her in the mirror. There was no way she could have achieved these results on her own. Lily was no fashionista.

“You are a miracle worker,” she complimented her friend.

“Miracles had nothing to do with it. I had a great canvas to work with. You’re stunning, Lily. When are you going to start believing that?”

“Nice try. You’re just prejudiced because you’re my best friend. All the men knocking down my door to date me is a clear indication of how stunning I am,” Lily retorted.

“Maybe they would if you didn’t bury yourself in your work all the time. Not to mention, it’s probably hard for most guys to get past the huge Do Not Disturb sign you wear across your chest.”

“You were the last person I thought would hold my ambition against me. I don’t need a man to define me or make me whole. I’m fine on my own.”

“I’m not holding it against you, Lil. I’m not saying you need a man to make you complete. I’m just saying that it’s okay to live a little. Have some fun. We’re not living in the ’50’s. It’s the age of women and it’s okay to play the field a little, if you know what I mean.” A mischievous grin covered her face and she winked at her.

“Oh, god. You’re talking about sex again, aren’t you? You know I’m not a one-night stand kind of girl. Ew. You’re so gross,” she laughed, slapping her friend on the shoulder.

“It’s not gross, it’s human nature. You need to lighten up. Anyway, I hope you have a great time tonight and get out of that pretty little head of yours.”

Serena walked over to her friend and gave her hug, trying her best not to wrinkle her.

“I’ll try,” Lily whispered in her friend’s ear.

“No you won’t,” Serena yelled as she walked towards the front door and then left.

“I know,” Lily said to the now-empty room.

Her friend knew her all too well.

*****

Lily exited her two-story brownstone to find a limo waiting. “Good evening, Ms. Young,” the driver said as he opened the door for her, holding her hand as she got inside. Serena, she thought as he closed the door. She couldn’t think of anyone else who would do this. Certainly not her boss. She pulled out her phone and sent out a thank you text to her friend. A few seconds later she was staring down a text that left her stunned and confused.

It wasn’t me. Ooh! I bet you have a secret admirer!

Lily laughed. She seriously doubted someone was secretly pining over her. The more logical explanation was that all the employees had a car sent for them. Yeah, that was more believable than Serena’s ridiculous secret admirer idea. She pressed the intercom button, “Excuse me, sir. How many others will we be picking up?”

“Just you, miss. And please, call me Joe.”

“Thank you, Joe.”

“Certainly. Help yourself to a glass of champagne. Might ease your nerves a bit,” he laughed. A warm, hearty laugh that instantly made her like him. Maybe I do need a drink if the driver noticed I’m nervous. When they stopped at a traffic light, she reached over and quickly poured herself a glass of the pink, bubbly liquid. It was fruity and refreshing and by the time she finished it, she was surprisingly more relaxed. She poured herself another glass at the next stop. One more glass couldn’t hurt. She was about to pour a third glass but the next time the limo stopped, they were at their destination. Joe got out of the vehicle and opened the door so fast she didn’t have time to prepare herself to exit. The heel of her shoe got caught on her dress and she practically fell into Joe’s arms. He held tightly onto her until she regained her balance. “Maybe you should take it easy on the alcohol tonight, Ms. Young,” he laughed.

“You’re probably right,” she giggled.

She thanked Joe for his help and then started walking down the red carpet that was set out for tonight’s guests. Mr. Wallace pulled out all the stops when hosting his charity events. No expense was spared to make sure that the very generous donors they invited had a night they wouldn’t forget. The grand ballroom of the exclusive Wallace Hotel looked like something out of a fairytale. Huge bouquets of white roses adorned every table. Reams and reams of midnight blue silk were draped across the ceiling, twinkle lights hung just below the fabric, mimicking a night under the stars. Stunning ice sculptures of swans were featured at the huge buffet table. Waiters and waitresses floated gracefully around the room carrying trays of champagne the same color as the champagne she had in the limo. As beautiful as it all was, she couldn’t wait for the night to be over.

She pulled her invitation out of her clutch to see what table she was seated at. Table 15. As she made her way to the table she prayed that she wouldn’t have to spend her evening listening to Violet. The mere thought of the woman sent a tingle down her spine. She was relieved to see that her table was occupied by two other couples and since Violet was divorced and was bringing her daughter as her plus one, she was in the clear. It hadn’t dawned on her before, since she wouldn’t have brought a date anyway, but she was a little miffed that her invitation didn’t include a guest. How rude. Before she had a chance to wallow in her self-pity a pair of strong hands pulled out the chair next to her and a deep voice as smooth as silk invaded her space. “Table 15. Since this is the last seat, I’m going to assume that it’s mine.”

With his mask on the only thing she could see were his amazing deep brown eyes and a smile she was sure melted the hearts of women everywhere. That dimple hiding just beneath his mask looked kissable.

Still feeling a little tipsy from the champagne, she leaned in and whispered, “You didn’t have a plus one either? Sorry you got stuck sitting next to me.”

“I’m not,” he whispered back. She could feel the warmth of his breath against her ear. It sent electric sparks coursing through her. Heat pooled at her center and she felt herself blush. This guy was good. He hadn’t even touched her and she felt like molten lava. She had no idea how on earth he was dateless. Nor how she was the lucky woman sitting next to him. When the band started playing he got up out of his seat, stood behind her chair, and placed his soft, strong hands on her bare shoulders. He leaned in real close. The scent of his cologne made her mouth water. “Would you do me the honor of dancing with me?” he whispered in her ear again. She shuddered. If he kept this up he was going to melt all her defenses. She nodded and he pulled her chair out. She took his extended hand and then he led her to the dance floor.

A couple of years of dance lessons were no match for the ease and grace he exuded on the dance floor. His movements were flawless as he glided her from one end to the other. They left no spot on the floor untouched. For the first time in her life she felt like the beautiful princess who had won the heart of the handsome prince. All the women in the room shot daggers her way. Especially Violet and Tiffany. Surprisingly, the men looked envious too. “I need to keep you close. I don’t like it when other men want what I have.”

She laughed.

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about. I’m nothing special.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Ms. Young. You are smart, talented, and drop-dead gorgeous. You see all these men? They are wishing it was them holding you in their arms. If looks could kill, I’d be dead right now,” he laughed, the sound vibrating in chest. He was holding her so close, she felt it. It felt good.

“I don’t remember telling you my name,” she said, trying to loosen his grip on her. Suddenly, she felt trapped and a little frightened. Who the hell is this guy?

He pulled her closer, leaning in to whisper in her ear, “I make it a point to know all my employees, Ms. Young.”

Holy shit. I’m dancing with Ethan Wallace.

She looked up into his dark brown eyes. She saw a twinkle there, a fire she didn’t notice before. His lips formed a sexy grin.

“Did you send the limo for me?” she asked, not knowing how she found the strength to speak, “And the invitation, minus a plus one. That was at your request, wasn’t it?”

“Guilty.”

“Why? Why would you do that? You don’t even know me.”

“Like I said Ms. Young, I make it a point to know all of my employees. When I see something I want, I stop at nothing until I get it. One thing you should know about me, I don’t like sharing. I’ve been watching you. You’re the hardest working employee I have. If Violet thinks for one second that I don’t know that it’s you doing most of the work, then she’s deluding herself. I have big plans for you.” He finished his speech by planting soft little kisses on her neck. It took all her strength not to melt into a puddle right there and even more strength to tell him exactly what she thought of his “big plans.”

“If you think for one minute that I’d sleep my way to the top, then the rumors of you being a crazy recluse must be true,” she said, trying to loosen his hold on her, again.

He laughed. A deep belly laugh.

“Oh, sweetheart, when I get you in my bed, and trust me, I will, it will be because you’re dying to feel me inside you and it will have nothing to do with business. It will be all personal. Unlike some people, I know how to separate my business life and my personal life. Tonight, however, is just a sample of what’s to come. The business part is easy. A no-brainer actually. But when it comes down to you and me, personally, I’m going to take my time and sweep you off your feet. And you’re going to love every second of it.”

She practically choked on the golf-ball sized lump in her throat. She was trying to formulate a response when Violet walked up and tapped her on the shoulder.

“May I cut in? I’m so sorry my assistant has monopolized all your time tonight,” she whispered in Ethan’s ear, only loud enough that Lily could hear too.

Lily was about to step aside when Ethan said, “She hasn’t been monopolizing my time, I’ve been monopolizing hers.”

“You can’t seriously expect me to believe that you willingly spent all night with this…this…”

Ethan’s nostrils flared and his grip on Lily tightened.

“I wasn’t going to do this here, but you really leave me no choice. Violet, you’re fired. I know you’ve been feeding information to Pattenson Enterprises. If you leave quietly, I won’t press charges.”

Never had Lily ever seen Violet at a loss for words. She fought hard to suppress the giggle that was bubbling up in her throat. Violet flung her hair over her shoulders and stormed out of the room.

Ethan took Lily’s hand and led her off the dance floor and out to the balcony. The moonlight danced across his face, making the silver threads in his mask glisten.

“Now, back to those big plans. I wasn’t planning on doing this here, but Violet forced my hand. I had a whole meeting and a proper proposal lined up, but I think you know where this is going.”

Lily shook her head. “Actually, I have no clue. I’m really confused. Do you want to date me or promote me?”

“Both.”

“Oh,” she said, her lips forming a frown.

“What’s wrong? Don’t you want to be vice president?”

“More than anything.”

“Then what’s the…..oh, I see. You want the job, but not the relationship. Am I right?”

“I can understand the promotion. I’ve worked my ass off to get your attention. It’s the dating part that throws me for a loop. I don’t want people to think I slept my way to the top.”

“I do recall saying I wanted to take my time wooing you, right? You can’t deny our chemistry. Please tell me that what I’m feeling here tonight isn’t one-sided.”

“It’s not, but –”

“By the time people know we’re dating, you’ll have proven yourself. They’ll know without a doubt that you are the right person for the job. They will all just assume that we fell in love working so close together. And in case I didn’t mention it, we will be spending a lot of time together. I’m not taking no for an answer. You deserve this promotion, Lily. And you deserve a man who will treat you like the goddess you are. Let me be that man.”

Before she had the chance to respond he leaned in and pressed his mouth lightly against hers. A soft, sweet kiss. His lips felt like velvet. They were warm and soft, causing her legs to turn to jelly. Without warning, his kiss turned more passionate. His tongue flicked against her lips, asking for entrance. She granted his request. He moved his hands up her arms and gripped her firmly behind her neck, exploring her mouth like he was searching for a lost treasure. She closed her eyes, reveling in all the sensations that were wracking her body. She knew there was no way she could turn down his proposition. Forget the fact that she’d worked toward this VP position for the last five years, but now that she had a taste of this man, there was no way she could give him up. Anyone who thought less of her for it, could go to hell.

When he pulled away, she was breathless. Her body ached to feel him against her. She hoped that if she kept her eyes closed, he’d kiss her again. Instead he stood back and watched her. He brushed a strand of hair behind her ear and cupped her face in his hands. Without looking, she could feel the smile on his face. “What do you say?”

She opened her eyes to find him staring at her. Never in her entire life had anyone ever looked at her like he was looking at her now. She liked it. A lot.

“Yes. But I have one condition,” she smiled, a rosy pink color flushing her cheeks.

“Whatever you want, it’s yours.”

“Kiss me again.”

The End

Back to You (Emma & Luke III)

When she first got in her car after leaving Luke’s she was furious. How could he dismiss me so easily? His words I’m madly in love with you, followed by, I refuse to build a life I have to share with another man haunted her. They fueled the fire raging in her belly. If he truly loved her, he would share her — at least until she could figure out what to do. Until she could make sense of the mangled, screwed-up state her heart was currently in. Didn’t he understand that she needed him? It was no longer a simple matter of want, her body craved him and her heart was torn. The more she drove, the more she fumed. The more she fumed, the more she thought. It took almost running a red light for her heart to finally catch up to her brain. Guilt overcame her as the tears spilled onto her cheeks. Luke was right. She needed to fix this. Needed to try to make her marriage work. The fire raging in her belly now burned with a purpose. If she had to give up the one person in her life who made her feel like she mattered, then she was going to do what Luke asked. She was going to make Brad see her. Despite the fact that her legs felt like jello, she was going to march through her front door and demand he listen to her. There would be no more subtle attempts to try to get his attention.

She was so anxious to get inside she pulled into the driveway, put her car in park, and hopped out…forgoing the garage. It’s funny how small, insignificant choices can turn out to be huge, life-altering ones. Her car purred like a kitten, practically undetectable if you happened to be inside the house. The garage door, on the other hand, was not. It was in desperate need of repair and the sound of it opening was clearly detectable whether you were inside or outside. Had she taken the time to open it, this day would have turned out differently. Instead, she quietly slipped into the house. Her tiny frame made no noise as she walked up the stairs. As she was nearing the top, voices echoed down the hall, slapping her in the face. The sound piercing her heart. Voices? Brad was not alone.

Her first impulse was to barge in and cause a scene like she’d seen one too many times on the silver screen. Instead, her feet froze. She didn’t want to be the stereotypical jealous wife. One, because she had no right to be — she was just as guilty as he was. And two, because she was way too curious about the conversation that was happening inside her bedroom. Eavesdropping, while torture, might give her some much-needed perspective. She put her ear to the door, held her breath, and strained to listen. Whatever feelings she had left for the man she married evaporated at his words, “This has been the best year of my life.” A year? He’s been cheating on me for a year? Once again, tears spilled down her cheeks. The part of her heart that still belonged to Brad hardened when a soft, female voice said, “It would have been an even better year if it were just you and me.” She talked to him in that pathetic baby voice that some women still thought was sexy. Please. “When are you going to leave her, baby? You always say how much you can’t stand the sight of her. How pathetic her attempts for your attention are. Were you lying when you said those things about her? What are you waiting for?”

Bile rose in Emma’s stomach, her hands clenched into fists at her side. Still, she didn’t move. She was waiting for his response. She cringed when he laughed. A low, soft rumble that she hadn’t heard in so long. She closed her eyes. She could picture him tapping the tip of the bimbo’s nose with his pointer finger. The words he spoke next crushed the now-hardened part of her heart into dust.

“I would never lie to you. She is pathetic and annoying, but it’s not that simple. I love you, sweet cheeks, but I still can’t work yet and you lost your job. How would we live? I need a few more months of physical therapy and time to figure out what I’m going to do for work. I’ll never be able to do what I was doing. Plus, it’s going to take time to save enough money to get out of here without her realizing money is missing. Then we can be together.”

Pathetic? Annoying? Did I really just leave a man who thought the sun rose and set in my eyes for this? She mustered up the courage to move her feet. She placed her hand on the cold, hard doorknob and turned it, pushing the door open. “You won’t have to wait nearly as long as you thought to be together,” she managed to say, voice steady. She was greeted by two gasps and tangled bodies trying to wrestle apart and cover themselves. That mattress is so being burned.

“Shit! Emma! Ah, it’s not what you think, baby.”

“What I think is that sweet cheeks needs to get her ass out of my bed and let me talk to my husband,” Emma said as she bent down and picked up the pile of rumpled clothes on the floor. She walked to the bathroom, turned on the shower, and then dumped the clothes in the tub.  When they were good and soaked, she scooped them up and handed them to the now-trembling brunette standing in front of her husband. It was childish, yes, but she couldn’t help herself.

“Was that necessary?” Brad asked, his voice grating Emma’s very last nerve.

“Totally. Though, if you like, I could claw her eyes out instead. Would that be better, Brad? No? I didn’t think so,” she smirked then turned her attention to the brunette with the tiny waist, big boobs, and vacant eyes. Clearly there wasn’t too much going on inside that head. “You need to take your clothes and get the hell out of my house before I do claw your eyes out.”

“You can’t be serious, Emma. She can’t walk out of here in sopping wet clothes.”

“She can put on the clothes, not put on the clothes. I really don’t care. Either way, she needs to leave now,” she said as she gave Ms. Big Boobs one last menacing look. Before Brad could utter another word, the woman, whose name she hoped she never knew, ran. At the sound of the front door slamming shut Emma walked over to the bedroom window. She watched as the woman, who was just screwing her husband, ran down the street buck-ass naked towards a car parked on the corner. She won’t be showing her face around here ever again. She couldn’t help the smile that covered her face. Amusement soon turned to guilt. She shook her head, trying to keep her tears at bay. It didn’t work. Even though she derived immense pleasure from embarrassing his lover, she couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. That could have easily been her, had Luke been married. She was a hypocrite and she knew it. That reality left a bitter taste in her mouth, but the words she was about to utter tasted even worse. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”

“Shit, Emma. You shouldn’t be apologizing. I’m the one who cheated.” She turned around to face him and caught him running his hands through his copper-red hair. She couldn’t help but notice that he wasn’t wearing his wedding band. She may have been a cheater, too, but she never took her wedding ring off. It was something she just couldn’t bring herself to do….until now. The ring that once was weightless on her finger, now felt like lead as she slowly removed it. Never in her life had she felt this much pain and she wondered if it was easy for him to take his off every time he was with her. Even though she knew their marriage was over, it still hurt that he wasn’t wearing the ring she gave him. And even though she was guilty of the same crime, it hurt like hell knowing he cheated first. He pushed her away and straight into the arms of another man. She wasn’t playing the blame game, but if she were, he’d share an equal part of the guilt.

Brad’s eyes grew wide as she handed him her ring. Tears were streaming down his face and they were as much a welcome sight as they were a confusing one. Wasn’t he just planning how he was going to leave me for his mistress? Why is he crying?

“What are you doing? We can work this out, Emma.”

“No, Brad, we can’t. I can forgive the words I heard you speak to that…that woman, but I can’t forget. You called me annoying and pathetic. I need a man who values me, who sees me.”

“I can be that man again,” he pleaded.

“No, you can’t, because I’ve already found him,” she answered cautiously, “and besides, you told her you loved her. I can’t forget that either.”

“Wait. What do you mean you already found him? You cheated on me?” he asked, affronted. Emma had to fight the urge to roll her eyes.

“Yes, I did. I met him two months ago at The Rusty Nail.”

“Our Rusty Nail?”

“Brad, it hasn’t been our place in a very long time and now I know why.”

“What’s his name? I swear if I ever see him I’m going to kill him!”

“Seriously, Brad? I just caught you in our bed with another woman. Not even ten minutes ago you were laughing with her about how pathetic and annoying I was. I can’t believe you’re pulling this macho caveman crap now. Where was this jealous man months ago when I was practically begging for his attention?”

Brad strode across the room until he was only inches away from her. He gripped her upper arms, rage filling his eyes. “Tell. Me. His. Name.”

“It doesn’t really matter, because he left me today. Told me that if I couldn’t choose then I needed to give my marriage another try. He at least has a decent bone in his body, which is more than I can say for sweet cheeks,” she said, wrestling her arms out of the grasp he had on her, “I need to know one thing…”

“Anything. I will tell you anything. Do anything if you can give me a second chance.”

Two months ago she would have given anything to hear those words, but now they sounded forced. Like he was saying what he thought a man who just got caught in bed with another woman should say. She didn’t believe the words came from his heart or that he meant them.

“Why did you do it, Brad? I mean, I know why I did it. You made me feel invisible. You pulled away after your accident and nothing I did or said seemed to matter anymore. Your coldness towards me pushed me into the arms of another man and I just need to know, why? What did I do?” Her tears broke the damn that she was trying so hard to hold up. Sobs racked her body. For the first time in over a year, Brad pulled her into his arms. She was surprised that it felt more like hugging a friend than it did a man she was supposed to be passionate about.

“I blamed you,” he whispered, so softly she almost didn’t hear it, “If you hadn’t called and distracted me that day, I never would have been so careless. My career was ruined. I couldn’t support my wife. I felt like a failure and it was all your fault – at least that’s how I felt at the time. When I met –”

“Don’t. Please don’t say her name because I really don’t want to know it.”

“She made me feel whole for the first time in a long time. I was a man again, not some mooch living off his wife. I’m sorry for blaming you.”

“Guess we both made a mess of this, huh?” she laughed, even though none of this was even remotely funny. One of her little quirks was laughing during uncomfortable moments. She tried to control it, but often failed. Her cheeks flushed with embarrasment.

“Yeah. Think we could fix it?” he asked, eyebrows raised. For a split second she almost considered it, but the look she saw deep in his eyes confirmed the path they must take. He didn’t love her anymore. At least not the way she needed him to. If they tried to work things out it would only be because he felt guilty for the way he treated her, not because he was still in love with her. Right then and there she realized that there was a difference. You could love someone but not be in love with them. She would always have a special place in her heart for Brad…he was her first love, after all, but she wasn’t in love with him. The truth felt heavy in her stomach, like she swallowed a brick. It’s never easy letting go of the past but they both needed to if they ever had a chance of being happy. She hoped that he would understand. She stepped out of his embrace and looked up into the green eyes she once thought she’d be looking into forever. They once held so much love and happiness, but now all she saw was hurt and weariness staring back at her.

“Tell me the truth. You really do love her, don’t you?” she squeezed his hand, letting him know that whatever his answer was, it was okay. She understood.

“Yeah, I do. God help me, I do. I’m so sorry, Emma.”

“It’s okay. I love my guy, too. It’s not something I planned, but it happened. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry, too.”

“What do we do now?”

“Sell the house. Split the profits. Part ways as friends?” She held her breath waiting for his response.

“You always were the logical one. Friends it is. You’ll always be my first love. He better make you happy or he’ll have to answer to me.”

She laughed again.

“I don’t know if happy is in the cards for me, but I hope the same for you, too. I’m going to pack a few things and spend the night at Jenna’s. I’ll call my attorney in the morning.”

*****

“Explain to me again why you can’t call him?” Jenna asked as she passed Emma a piping hot cup of Joe. She ignored the eye roll she got and took a sip from her own cup. She glared back at Emma with a come-on-I’m-waiting look that earned her yet another eye roll. Emma had been bunking with her since the day she found her husband in their bed with another woman. Her divorce was finalized three weeks ago and she had been pining away for Luke ever since. Jenna couldn’t understand why she just wouldn’t pick up the phone and call him.

“For the hundredth time, I just can’t.”

The sigh that followed her lame response was so pathetic that Jenna felt sorry for her, but she wouldn’t be her best friend if she just let it go. “That’s not a good enough answer. Tell me why you can’t.”

“Because,” she answered and paused, placing her coffee cup in the sink. She braced her hands on the counter, keeping her back to her friend.

“Because why?” Jenna persisted.

“Because it wouldn’t be fair to him.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. Didn’t he make you promise him that if Brad couldn’t be the man you deserved, you’d go back to him?”

“Yes, but –”

“But what?” she questioned, her voice harsher than she intended.

“I’m embarrassed, okay? Are you happy now? I feel like a fool for walking out on him that day. I can’t go crawling back with my tail between my legs. Luke deserves better than that. Better than me.”

“Oh, honey. You have nothing to be embarrassed about and, trust me, there is no one better than you. So, don’t be talking about my best friend like that.”

Emma’s back was still turned away from her friend. Her shoulders were gently bobbing up and down. Jenna put her hands on her friend’s shoulders and turned her around. She grabbed a paper towel and wiped away the black tears running down her friend’s beautiful face. “You know as well as I do that Luke loves you. He would take you back in a heartbeat with no judgement. Don’t let your stubborn pride get in the way of your happiness. It would be incredibly stupid and my best friend just so happens to be the smartest woman I know.” She pulled her into a hug. Emma held onto Jenna like she was a life jacket and she was about to drown. “I feel so lost,” she whispered. “I know, sweetie, but I will help you find your way. It starts with you, me, and The Rusty Nail. Tonight is girl’s night out.”

Jenna could feel Emma’s head shaking. “I don’t think that’s such a great idea. I can’t.”

“Oh, you can and you will. I’m not taking no for answer,” Jenna fired back.

Emma acquiesced. The tone in her friend’s voice told her there was no getting out of this. She wondered why her friend always insisted on bringing her back to the one place that held so many memories. First of Brad. Now of Luke. She didn’t know how she was going to make herself even walk through the door. She was pretty certain that Jenna would have to push her to make that painful first step. But, maybe, just maybe, if she could get through tonight, it would be the first step in moving forward. She did have the rest of her life to get started — a life she wanted to start with Luke. Let it go already. You made your decision, now have the courage to stick to it. Luke deserves at least that much from you. He deserves to be happy and find a woman worthy of his love.

Emma gave Jenna one last squeeze and pulled out of the hug. She straightened her back and wiped away the remnants of her tears. From this moment on there would be no more tears. She was done pining. She was going to take her life back…starting right now. “So, why don’t we make a day of it? What do you say to makeovers, shopping, and lunch before our big night out?”

Jenna squealed with delight. “Now you’re talking!”

*****

No matter how many changes her life managed to go through, she could always count on The Rusty Nail staying the same. It was a both a comfort to her heart and a scourge on her soul. The first step over the threshold was painful, but she expected it to be. All day she tried to convince herself this was just a girl’s night out. I’m only doing this for Jenna was the mantra she repeated over and over in her mind. Her mantra failed her before she could even get to their table. Immediately she scanned the bar for signs of Luke. A mixture of anticipation and desperation clawed at her chest, making her heart practically skip a beat. She tried her best to appear cool, calm, and collected as she scanned the faces of the patrons, but she knew she was failing miserably by the look on Jenna’s face — worry and a little of bit of I-told-you-so played across her face. Before she could defend herself, Jenna grabbed her hand and headed for the dance floor.

Emma gave in and let the music take control. She didn’t know how, but Jenna always seemed to know exactly what she needed, exactly when she needed it. She pushed all thoughts of Luke to the back of her mind and let her body move to the rhythm. The vibrations of feet stomping and hands clapping drowned out all her worry and angst. Her feet glided across the dance floor with ease. She was so lost in the music, she hadn’t noticed that Jenna was no longer dancing next to her. She hadn’t noticed that the line-dancing stopped and the “club-style” dancing began until she felt a strong, hard body come up behind her. She closed her eyes and inhaled the familiar scent that made her go weak in the knees. Strong hands gripped her hips and she could feel his body sway with hers in time to the music. She kept her eyes closed. Reveling. Hoping. Praying. She was afraid to turn around because she didn’t want to be disappointed when she discovered the man behind her wasn’t Luke. Practically every guy in here wore Stetson, so what were the chances it was him? But oh, God, how she wanted it to be him. It felt like him.

She sent up another silent prayer, her eyes still closed.

Her arms were raised above her head, swaying to the music. His left hand moved from her hip and trailed up her arm. He stopped when he reached her hand and just held it. Rubbing the empty space where her wedding band used to be. He leaned in real close and whispered into her ear, “You promised me.” Those three little words and the familiar, deep southern drawl was all the courage she needed to open her eyes and turn around.

She turned to find that her prayer had been answered, but by the look on his face she couldn’t tell if she should be happy or scared.

“How long Emma?” Luke asked, his eyes burning with an anger she’d never seen before.

“Six weeks,” she answered, unable to look him in the eyes.

She wasn’t entirely sure what she expected him to do, but it definitely wasn’t what he did — which was turn around and walk away. He headed straight for the bar. She caught up with him in time to see him down a shot, then slam the glass on the bar. He did it with such force she was surprised it didn’t break. He kept his back turned to her.

“Why, Emma?”

“We weren’t in love with each other anymore.”

“Not why did you leave your husband. I know why. I knew before you did, but I let you go so you could figure it out for yourself. I want to know why you broke your promise to me. When you left I asked you to come back to me if Brad couldn’t be the man you needed…the man you deserved. You promised me you would. Did you think my words were just lip service?”

“No.”

“Then, please, tell me why?”

“I was embarrassed. I made the wrong choice that day. My heart knew you were the one, but I was a coward. I didn’t think you’d be able to forgive me. I thought you deserved better.”

He sighed, running his calloused hands through his hair. Her breath caught in her throat, waiting for him to say something. Anything. But he remained silent. Time stood still. Very. Uncomfortably. Still. Not being able to take his silence any longer, she turned to leave. He reached out and grabbed her elbow, spinning her around so they were face to face. Only inches apart.

“Do me a favor? Stop thinking so much…it cost me six weeks of not being able to do this,” he said before he leaned in and kissed her senseless. His strong hands cupped her face and then weaved their way through her hair to the back of her neck, pulling her flush against his body. Their kiss went on for an indeterminable amount of time and when he finally released her, they were both breathless.

“Luke, I’m so –”

“Shush, darlin. I know. No more talking,” he interrupted her, sweeping her off her feet, “we have a lot of lost time to make up for.”

She giggled as he carried her across the bar towards the exit, passing Jenna on the way. She waved and shrugged her shoulders. Jenna gave her a thumb’s up. When they got to his truck, he reached into his pocket to retrieve his keys. He unlocked the passenger-side door and sat her on the seat. She grabbed his shirt and pulled him close, “Three more words?” she asked. He nodded and she continued, “I love you.”

“Best. Three. Words. Ever,” he answered, before stealing another kiss.

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love Hurts 

Heartache….

It’s a vicious cycle that just won’t end

A broken heart that will never mend

Loneliness…

Sleepless nights alone in an empty bed

Questions of why running through your head

Bitterness…

You search for answers you’ll never find

Heartache is a pain that’s one of a kind

Agony…

Silent tears stain your pillowcase 

Unleashing the truth you’d rather not face

Broken…

Your heart is torn between love and hate

Playing a game of tug o’ war with your fate

Anguish…

They say time is a gift but it feels like a curse

You’d give everything you own to go back to better days but time doesn’t work in reverse

#PimpMyBio: PitchWars 2017

I wasn’t sure that I was going to do this. Talking about myself is probably  my least favorite thing to do, but if I’ve learned anything thus far on my journey to being published, it’s that you have to put yourself out there. So, despite my fears, I forced myself to become more active on Twitter and I started a blog. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the amazing community of people I’d find. Writers helping writers, giving their precious time to help, support, and give advice. Discovering and participating in various writing contests has both improved my writing and my confidence. If you’d like to learn more about the amazing opportunity that is PitchWars, you can do that here.  If you’d like to continue to learn a little more about me, please read on.

Excuse me while a take a deep breath.

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Okay. Here we go…..

First and foremost, the greatest job I’ve ever had is being a mother and a wife. My one true love has gifted me with two beautiful children; Justin, 17 and Samantha, 13. To date seeing the amazing young adults that they are turning into is my greatest accomplishment. As far as earning a living, I’ve done a few different things over the years from retail to court reporting. Yes, once upon a time I was a stenographer. You know, the person that sits in a courtroom or a deposition and takes down everything everyone says. Unfortunately, that job wasn’t the right fit for me which leads me to my current job in the medical field as a Medical Office Specialist. That is my 9 to 5. I love my job, love my doctors, the patients, my co-workers. But as much as I love it, it is not my passion. Writing is my passion and although I may have found it later in life than I would’ve liked, I don’t — and won’t — let that stop me.

My passion for writing came from my passion for reading. I love to read, always have and always will. I am a sucker for romance and happily ever afters, so naturally that is what I’m drawn to writing. It started with Danielle Steele in my teenage years and Nicholas Sparks as I got older. I love everything Sandra Brown.  Jojo Moyes is amazing and her Me Before You is one of the three books that actually made me ugly cry, the other two being The Last Song  and Two by Two, both by Nicholas Sparks. Kerri Lonsdale and Jodi Holford are new favorites of mine. Recently, I was blown away by J.P. Monniger’s debut novel, The Map That Leads to You. My guilty pleasure is erotica. Yes, I’ve read Fifty Shades…all of them….more times than I can count and I loved them, every time. Sylvia Day is another favorite. Her Crossfire series was addicting! I try to read 2-3 books a week, though some weeks I fall short.

Another thing you need to know about me is that I’m a huge Jamie Dornan fan. I mean, come on, he’s totally gorgeous, talented, and humble. He is the epitomy of a family man and the love he has for his wife is clearly written all over his face.

Baking is another passion that I sadly don’t have much time for anymore. My oreo-filled cupcakes and cake pops are always on request anytime there’s a potluck at work. I guess when it comes down to it, I just love to create things that make people happy, whether that be through food or my words.

So, that brings us to the portion of this blog post where I tell you about my MS. The premise of my book is broken promises. Everyday we all make promises to the ones we love. Promises we make with every intention of carrying out. The reality is that sometimes life happens and forces us to break the promises we always intended to keep. But what happens when life steps in and steals the ones you love? Forcing them to break the promises they made to you? Can you ever trust love again? Is it worth the risk of pain to put your heart on the line? When two strangers meet on a cruise — one carrying out her late husband’s last wish, the other still grieving the loss of his wife — all those questions will be answered. In Broken Promises: The Last Gift Isabelle and Ian will find out if love is greater than grief.

If you like what you’ve read, then I hope you’ll follow me on twitter. @meeschy is my Twitter handle.

Happy Mother’s Day

The definition of mother according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary is:

Definition of mother

1.     a : a female parent • She’s the mother of three small children.

b (1) : a woman in authority; specifically : the superior of a religious community of women • Mother Theresa (2) : an old or elderly woman •Mother Hubbard

This seems like such a simple black and white definition of a word that has so much more meaning. The words that come to mind when I think of my mother are:  loving, kind, generous, strong, beautiful, wise, creative, passionate.

I recognize the fact that I am blessed to be able to feel this way and have the relationship that I have with my mom. She’s my best friend. Not everyone has that. It is a gift I cherish.

I was lucky enough to be raised in a loving home with loving parents. I was blessed to have a strong woman to look up to. My mom was — and still is — the hardest working woman I know. She is an incredible nurse who touches the lives of her patients daily. As Diane Von Furstenberg said, “I didn’t always know what I wanted to do, but I always knew the woman I wanted to be.”  This rings true for me and even if I’m only half of the woman that my mother is, that would be a great accomplishment. They are big shoes to fill.

She is my mother, my friend, my biggest fan. She is the worlds greatest grammie and loves all her grandkids something fierce. She is the woman who taught me that there is no such word as “can’t.” She is the reason I pick myself up and dust myself off after each defeat. The reason I trudge along trying to accomplish my dreams.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!!! I love you more than words could ever say!

Oh, How Time Flies…..

Five years ago this coming June an event occurred that has had a major impact on my life. My cousin, Mallory, moved from New Jersey to Florida to go to college. There is a significant age difference between us..I’m actually old enough where I could probably be her mother. She was actually one of the flower girls in my wedding. See. Wasn’t she so cute?

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Like I said, there’s a big age difference. While she was growing up, I was getting married and starting a family. So, we didn’t really hang out like most cousins the same age do. Her moving to Florida gave us an opportunity to spend more time together and get to know each other in a different way.

We’ve had some pretty amazing times and I will cherish each memory created. From the concerts to the sleepovers with late night talks to the game nights. She is an amazing young woman who I am so proud to call my cousin, but even more proud to call my friend…one of my best friends. She has not only been there for me, but for my kids too.

I also had the honor of watching her bloom as one of my co-workers. She entered the medical field and proved to everyone what an amazing, capable young woman she is. She started a job in a field she never worked in before and killed it. Making friends and touching the lives of everyone she came into contact with.

The thing that has brought us so close is our love of reading and my writing. Mallory is my person. She is the first person to read everything I write — with the exception of this post. She has been a critical part of my writing process and I don’t think I’d be as confident to put myself out there if it wasn’t for her support. I’ve found myself through my writing and her support has been a big part of that. There doesn’t seem to be enough words, even for a writer, to express how much I will be forever grateful for the connection we have.

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When I got married almost nineteen years ago I never would  have imagined that the little flower girl who didn’t want to pose for pictures at the church and who cheered her father on after his reading would wind up being one of the most important people in my life. This amazing young woman is graduating this Friday and her journey is taking her out of the Sunshine State. I knew when she moved down here that she wouldn’t be living here forever but as the years rolled by I got so accustomed to her being here that the thought that one day she’d move on kind of floated to the back of my mind. As sad as I am to see her go, my heart is full of pride and happiness because I know that life has great things in store for her. I pray that she continues on her journey and follows her dreams. I will miss her more than words could ever say. I love you Mallory Sue. Always and forever. Always family. Always friends.