Adam was already asleep, but Tally Johnson couldn't keep her mind off what she realized now, if she hadn't earlier. I've been preparing myself for the inevitable all this time...I'm not sure how long, just like I always do when I suspect something's about to go hell and haywire all the way around.
Her attic loft bedroom in the resort host house her dad had built when he and her mother were first starting their married lives together was stiflingly hot in the dead of a July night. The fans that were positioned on both sides of the bed did little more than blow sweltering heat against their sweating bodies. Neither of them could tolerate even a sheet because of it. She wore a camisole and panties, both damp from perspiration and the effects of their lovemaking not long ago.
When her boyfriend since she was fifteen came home for a visit, they spent nearly all their time together having sex, no apologies. They were apart most of every given year and their time alone was precious. They could talk on the phone--once a week, no more, no less. That'd been Tally's insistence. If they talked every night, she was miserable every night, missing him. She had to have a semblance of a life outside him with once a week, and it was the best way. Only he's been calling a lot less frequently than even that this past year...
She'd always been so good at focusing her mind away from heavy emotions. After growing up in a family of eight brothers, she'd been a tomboy far longer than most girls and she'd learned how to separate herself from feeling too much. While her developing body and many sisters-in-law had eventually helped her at least look the part of a female, there were times she wondered if she'd been born a boy inside. She hated the ups and downs associated with having the tumultuous temperament and moodiness associated with nearly all the women she knew.
Without even a hint of tears crowding into her chest, throat or even her eyes, she made herself accept what she'd started to realize hours earlier, mainly because these were their last few hours together before he had to go back. Adam had only come home this time because she'd called him, miserable because they hadn't seen each other most of this year already, and she was sick of the separation. He'd come home in late January for barely a weekend, but it hadn't appeased the anger she'd been harboring because he hadn't made it to her dad's funeral during the holidays. He'd claimed he couldn't get off work. She wasn't sure she'd ever get over that he hadn't made coming home during one of her lowest periods a priority, given how close she was to her family.
Maybe that's what got me thinking about...things...between us. It's all I've been thinking about lately--for months. It's all I talk about to my best friend. I'm sure Donnie's as sick of hearing me moan as I am myself.
She lived in a house with her siblings, who all seemed to be in love and horny and planning weddings, having babies. "No one can even call us star-crossed lovers," she'd said on the phone, hating the feeling that she was being a hysterical female. "This can barely be considered a long-distance relationship. Even military couples see each other more than we do." But--when Adam had showed up nearly four days ago--she'd wondered if that was the key to getting him home more often. Dissolving like some pathetic teenage girl.
He'd be leaving at first light to get back to Chicago.
Adam had recognized his love of flying when he was in high school. He'd gone to Arizona to visit some relatives with his parents, and an uncle who had his pilot's license had taken him up in a plane, let him give it a try. That'd been all it'd taken.
Adam Schaefer was just plain good at everything he tried his hand at, a trait he'd possessed most of his life. Yet he'd never had a great love for any one hobby or subject, not until that pivotal flight with his relative. He'd decided there and then (but didn't bother telling her about it until a few months prior to graduation) that he was moving to Arizona to live with his relatives, planning to get his Bachelor's degree in aviation, and then going straight into the best aviation flight program his parents could afford--which literally was the best. His parents were bankers, the only in their small hometown of Amethyst, Wisconsin.
He'd been top in his class from the start, gotten a job as soon as his licensing, ratings, flight hour requirements, and certification were in hand. He'd been working for one of the top commercial airlines in the country, flying out of Chicago, and living in the "crash pad" with other male and female pilots and flight attendants near the airport ever since.
Despite that there was nothing consistent about his schedule or where he flew any given day, Adam loved the spontaneity and unpredictability of flying most of all. He could end up in three different cities in a single 24-hour block. He loved seeing the world from the air, never knowing where he might be at any given time. The pilot's life was designed just for someone like him, a lover of thrills. He'd even loved the few scares he'd had with stalls and unexpected spins and spoke about them as if they were cherished memories. He was an adrenaline junkie with the kind of confidence that bordered on conceit. He worked 60 to 80 hours a week, all but hating the time he had off because he was only allowed to fly a certain number of hours. He was the first to sign up for open time when trips were unassigned or someone called in sick so he could get back up there where he was happiest.
Tally sighed against the heat that was making her feel like she could burst out of her own skin and her own thoughts. For the last two and half years, Adam had been promising that once he put in his time, earned seniority and the rank of captain, he could start "flying the line". When that happened, he'd be able to bid on his schedule and be at home whenever he wasn't flying. His flight schedule would be what he wanted, what he needed to settle down, get married and start a family with her in Amethyst. He'd be home for holidays. His time off meant he was off the clock. But he'd have to commute and it was a long commute--over four hours each time by car, almost three hours by plane, since the closest airport was more than two hours away and he had to drive the last stretch no matter what.
They'd also be rich and could have whatever they wanted--as if that was an incentive for either of them. Tally worked hard on her family's resort and she also ran her own business. Her job allowed her to make ends meet even during long, dead winters because a resort town could barely sustain the handful of "lifers" trying to get through. But she didn't have any great financial needs. For the most part, she had what she needed. And, despite that she knew Adam made a good salary even as a junior pilot, he could never seem to remember her birthday or show up with flowers.
He loves being a pilot, regardless of what he says about doing the crap jobs as a junior. And he's never gonna get flying out of his system, like he claims he will. He's sure as shazam never gonna give it up and take over the bank where his dad is president, become fat and rich and a family man. Our little, long-held joke about that isn't funny. It's the opposite 'cause I know it's never, ever gonna happen.
Tally drew her breath in sharply through clenched teeth. I have to face it. I have to realize that this is the way it's gonna be, the way it's always gonna be. Nothing is ever gonna change, even when Adam becomes a captain and starts flying the line. And maybe I should just be happy that I asked him to come home last time we talked and he actually did it. But I'm not. Because this can't go on forever. It can't go on much longer. He's leaving in the morning, and either I get used to being alone for the rest of the year or I face facts.
Adam had promised he'd come to her youngest brother Bailey's wedding at the end of the month, but she already knew--because he'd come home now--he wouldn't know his schedule that week in advance and it was more likely he wouldn't get the time off then. He wouldn't make the effort anyway because of his recent visit.
Why do I have to love him so much? There wasn't a good enough answer to that, just acceptance that she did and couldn't imagine ever feeling any differently.
She'd known him all her life. They'd grown up together in Amethyst, exclusively a resort town that had a massive population in the summer and only a few hundred lifers the rest of the year. They were in the same class. Adam had been popular all his life, and not simply because his parents were some of the few rich lifers. Adam was good looking, funny, charming, smart, good at everything he did. Tally hadn't been and hadn't cared. Most of her friends were guys she hung out with, and maybe she'd been a tomboy as long as she could remember, but she'd noticed Adam even then. They'd only ever been in classrooms and in places where lots of people were gathered at once. But then she'd started dating Donnie Garner when she was 15, and Donnie and Adam were best friends, in part because they were cousins and had lived in each other's back pockets from birth. The first time she and Adam were in a room together that'd had only Donnie and his closest friends Nadia and Owen (a couple for so long, no one could remember anymore when they'd actually started dating), Tally had been breathless from the start. She'd been dating Donnie, even sleeping with him, but Adam's physical presence had literally left her breathless and loopy. Her lifelong crush on him had dawned on her then, and nothing could have stopped her from agreeing when Adam noticed her, too, later that year.
Adam wasn't like other people she knew. Although he was popular, he wasn't like most popular people. He genuinely seemed to like everyone. He was friendly and nice to everyone. He didn't care about popularity. He accepted everyone for who they were, regardless of "ranking".
I belonged to him long before that became official. I wasn't the most attractive girl in our class, let alone in town. Yet he noticed me. I still can't get over that. The mere thought of him puts me back under that breathless spell I've been in for so long where he's concerned. And when we're together--
Tally gritted her teeth harder. I should be on top of the world. He's here! He says he loves me, he shows it to me often. But why do I always have to beg him to come home before he's willing? He stopped sending me duty rosters like he did after he was first hired, ever since I asked him not to call me every night because it was making me miserable to talk to him so often when he never came home.
Lifting her head, she pulled her long, damp hair from under her because it was sticking to her neck. No, she knew the answer to that. He didn't come home more often because he couldn't bear not flying as often as humanly possible--as often as he was allowed by the strict regulations of his profession. If he had hours left and open time opportunities, he wanted in. Maybe he complained about the "s@#t shifts" junior pilots had, but he loved every second of it.
He couldn't wait to leave Amethyst when he was 17. Even though he was close to his parents, who treated their only child like a celebrity, Adam didn't like returning more than the two weeks out of every given year that he had legit vacation. He'd be happy if that was all he was ever forced to come back. If not for me, his parents would see him that infrequently.
And I don't care about flying. I've done it. Do it when I have to, when it makes sense to. Don't see the thrill in it. I don't care for travel in general. Maybe Adam can get me all kinds of discounts but, if I never see the world...pftt. So what? I'm where I wanna be. I love Amethyst. My family and friends are here. Johnson Family Resort. My cleaning business. My life is here. I wanna live here and die here, end of story. Except there's Adam...
Adam didn't want to accept it, but she wasn't cut out to be a pilot's wife. She'd tried to talk herself into trying it a few years ago. She'd gone to Chicago, to his crash pad, tried to be a full-time girlfriend to him. His schedule had been insane. He'd normally worked 80 hours a week, but he'd cut back to 60 for her. She almost never saw him even then. They'd had some times where they'd had a couple straight days together but, for the most part, she didn't see hide nor hair of the man.
Damn, I hated that place. I hated being there in that crash pad, like some big hotel family. If I'd been alone, I think I could've handled it for longer. But the other pilots, flight attendants, their families, kept trying to befriend me.
Why she'd resisted, she couldn't say for sure, but she'd been bothered first by how many attractive, young females worked for the airline he did. So many of them were unmarried, unattached, or just open-to-affairs types. Tally didn't fit in. Didn't want to fit in. She'd had some of her first doubts about his loyalty to her there, and she'd begun preparing herself to learn that he'd been cheating. So far, she'd let him convince her she'd been imagining things about that.
Beyond the crash pad, she'd been bored out of her skull. Even in the dead of winter, she worked hard nearly every day of her life. She wasn't the type who could be idle and sit around watching TV or, God forbid, Adam's suggestion that she "go shopping on him". That he'd said such a thing out loud had offended her almost more than anything else. Did he not know the first thing about her if he could actually suggest she do such an airheaded, superficial, selfish thing with money he was willing to let her mooch off him?
That's what bothered me the most those two weeks I was there with him on my trial, full-time, pilot's girlfriend attempt: That I felt like I didn't know the first thing about this guy I'm in love with. Like the people who lived in the crash pad with him knew him better than I did. Nothing I did convinced me they didn't either. And I didn't like that one bit.
"You still not asleep, babe?" Adam said in his huskiest, sexiest voice, dragging her toward him.
Tally hadn't realized he was awake, hadn't felt him looking at her in the darkness. When she rolled toward him, she saw his shiny eyes and knew he must have seen hers, too. In the deep shadows of early morning--just after midnight--with the moon streaming in through the window opened for any potential breeze, she loved looking at his face. Loved the strong jaw, the shaggy beard and moustache that fit his bad-boy looks so well. She loved his body, so strong and lean and masculine. She slipped her fingers into his thick, russet brown hair, not surprised when he kissed her and she couldn't help thinking she even loved his breath in the early morning.
Yet the part of her that'd been unconsciously preparing her for the inevitably of where their relationship was going used her mouth to convey everything that'd been keeping her awake. "Why would you have gone through all the trouble you have to be a pilot, Adam, if you're not gonna stick with it?" she asked quietly after breaking away from a kiss that she knew could so easily lead them back to where they'd been a few hours ago, when they'd woken hot and bothered, aware that their remaining hours were at hand and not wanting them to be wasted on sleeping.
"What are you talking about?" he asked sleepily, in the tone that told her he either wanted to be sleeping or loving--nothing else; certainly not what her question implied.
"Why can't you admit you love flying more than anything? Even if you don't say it, I know it. Everyone who knows you knows it. So why not just admit it?"
Tally's teeth clenched at his avoidance. "You don't wanna get flying out of your system. You don't even wanna have a regular schedule, flying the line. You want as many hours as you can get flying as you're allowed, and you don't ever wanna settle down or get it out of your system, let alone stop doing it. Why can't you just say the truth out loud?"
He groaned, turning on his back. "Why do we gotta do this now, Tal? It's barely one in the effing morning--"
Ever since Nadia had gotten pregnant in high school and they'd all trained themselves not to say their favorite word (by virtue of sheer usage) so their child wouldn't be inundated by it, they'd all continued to use the acceptable alternative along the lines of "eff" this or that, even Adam, despite how often he was gone.
"Your parents seem to realize you'll never get it out of your system," she continued relentlessly.
"My parents love you."
"And I love them. But I've been getting the 'poor Tally' routine from them for years now, just like I do from my family and our friends. Even if you won't admit it, they don't actually expect you to ever give up your life so you can come back here and get married, have kids and settle down." I'm sick to death of the routine. Lately, it's been worse because everybody seems to be getting hitched and knocked up. And I'm in this worse-than-long-distance romance.
She knew Adam wasn't going to admit any of this now any more than he ever had in the past. So she forged ahead on another area he needed to accept because it wouldn't change either. "My life is here, Adam. My job. The resort. My family. My responsibilities matter to me. You know I don't care for traveling, but I sure as hell don't ever wanna live a pilot wife's life. I know you believe I haven't really given it a chance, but I have. I knew in those two weeks I would never, ever wanna be there permanently. I love you, but you can't ask me to give up a rewarding, fulfilling life for that empty-hole existence."
He glanced at her, his hand pushing through the thick, damp hair on his forehead. "I already know all this. And you already know when I'm flying the line, I'll come home whenever I'm not flying."
"You'll be miserable. You'll wanna be there instead of here constantly."
"So what're you saying, babe? You wanna break up?"
"Then what is this? You don't love me anymore? You don't wanna wait for me anymore?"
The lump she'd been avoiding filled her throat so she could barely get out the words, "I love you."
Adam turned to her again as soon as the painful sentiment was spoken. "And I love you, Tal. You're the woman I'm gonna marry. When it's time."
"When is that?" she demanded, her throat hurting more.
"Why the hell we gotta decide everything now? For one thing, it's in the middle of the effing night and, for another, I'm leaving tomorrow. I don't have a choice."
With his job, it was a lot like being in the military. He had to report back well in advance of his next shift. She knew he didn't have a choice about leaving at first light. She always accepted that. But she was already talking before she could let herself become complacent again, the way she did always eventually in the past. "That's why. I'm so tired of being in limbo, babe."
"We're young. We're 25. Too young for marriage and whatever else. So it works out for us to be patient now."
"For you, Adam. You feel like you're too young. I don't. And 'whatever else' is kids. I want kids." She spoke the words sharp and loud in the dead silence outside incessant, noisy fans blowing hot air at them.
"I want that, too. Someday."
"I wanna get married. I want kids. Now. Soon."
Adam shook his head. "All your brothers and friends are getting hitched, babe. Everybody's pregnant. That's why you're going through this. Everything's coming up weddings and babies. What's the all-fire rush all the sudden?"
"It's not sudden. But how would you know that? You're never here. I don't feel young anymore. I feel like I'm getting old, and the only thing I've done with my life is start a profitable, successful business that I'm good at running. But it's not enough for me. I want a personal life. I wanna have sex a whole a lot more than a couple days here and there over the course of a year. I don't want a relationship that's only active two effing weeks out of any given year."
"You don't think it's just as hard for me to be away from you, babe?"
"Is it?" she asked.
He growled. "Don't start that s@#t again, Tal. I'm committed to you. I don't even see other women. They don't exist for me. I just spent the last few days proving that to you. How can you doubt how much I love you? How crazy I am to do you all the time?"
They had been going at it like frantic rabbits from the second he'd pulled up in the rental. She couldn't deny he'd seemed just as starved as she was for physical release. But what did that even mean? When she'd tried hard to be a pilot's girlfriend those two weeks at his crash pad, she'd noticed from the first time Adam introduced her to his co-workers that every single last one of them had seemed stunned at her very existence. Clearly, they didn't know the first thing about her. But had that been the only reason they seemed so shocked? Was it that these supposed friends of his knew he didn't live his life like a man pining for an exclusive fiancée?
I let myself be convinced he didn't like talking about how much he missed me. That's why he didn't tell them about me. I let him assure me he's faithful...
She closed her eyes tightly and forced out her arguments. "Are you hoping I'm just gonna give up and become a pilot's wife because I can't stand being away from you? Because I can't do that. It's never gonna happen. My life is here."
"I don't expect you to just give up."
But she recognized his tone. It was the same one he used when talking about her stubbornness. She'd never doubted her stance annoyed the hell out of him. A part of her had wondered at least a million times if he hated that she was a woman who knew her own mind, what she wanted and what she didn't want. More than that, he wished she'd be the appropriate, doormat wife who'd do whatever he wanted because he was the man. She knew his parents wanted to do that, too, and they'd "cooled" to her in the last few years as a result of her stubbornness. They didn't say that sentiment outright, but she suspected they believed she was holding onto Adam when they should both either give in or give up.
And they're absolutely right.
"I don't believe you're ever gonna either, Adam. Even when you can fly the line, it's not gonna be enough for you. You'll be taking all the open time you can get even then. And what's the point of being married with kids if you're never here--anymore than you are now as a junior pilot?"
He put his hand over his eyes, and she knew he wouldn't allow her to continue this much longer. "What do you want me to say? Right now neither of us is willing to meet each other halfway. Neither of us is willing to give up completely either. So this is limbo. It's what we can have. Better than nothing."
"This is halfway?" She went to see him in Chicago when she couldn't take it anymore, but she never stuck around for a full two weeks anymore. She stayed a few days here and there. He came home a few days every year. That was halfway. "I hate that crash pad. All those people acting like I'm one of them. I'm not. I can't be."
I don't wanna be. And what does that mean? What does it imply about my love for Adam? I hate everything about his life except the few hours he's around and we can be together. Being there makes me feel useless, helpless, worthless. Second rate in his life. Like we don't belong together. When we're together, I can't imagine not belonging to him. But...maybe I don't love him enough to make the commitment I should if he's the guy I'm meant to be with. And maybe he doesn't love me enough to do what I need him to.
Sighing again, he turned on his side and dragged them close enough to make the sweaty heat cringe-worthy. But she couldn't move away. She looked into his eyes so close. "Adam, you have to see this isn't working, no matter how bad we might want it to. We're just putting off the inevitable. And I don't know if I can do it anymore." Subconsciously, I've accepted every part of our breakup...except the doing. The finality of it.
"It is working, babe. It's working the very best we can possibly get it to now. Don't give up."
"I'm not giving up. I'm...accepting...that we can't continue this the way we have for so long. Neither of us is willing to compromise. You can claim otherwise 'til you're blue in the face, Adam, but when the time comes, you're not gonna be able to give up flying. You're not gonna be able to do it at minimum. We want completely different things. We need to face that." Her words shocked her because they were logical, even calm, rational, and reasonable. Cold.
"I want you. I love you. Just be patient, babe. Someday we're gonna have everything we ever wanted together."
Despite the stickiness, he wrapped himself around her, and she could feel her resolve--something that'd adjusted to the only option long in advance of the event she was dreading--crumbling with his fervency. Hot tears burned behind her eyelids. "It's not enough. It's not enough now. I can't go on like this anymore."
"It's enough for me. It's better than the alternative."
Tally shook her head, angry at the dilemma, that he couldn't see what she had so clearly in the last few months. The alternative: Breaking up. Letting go. Forgetting this. But how could she? Her love for him had always been so overwhelming. She almost felt choked by it sometimes, the way she had the day he asked her if she was in love with Donnie, if she wanted to go out with him.
"I don't wanna let you go, Tally. You're my girl. The one I want for my wife until death do us part."
She closed her eyes so tightly, the action hurt. She'd always loved it when he said that. But now it was just another knife. "I want more. Of you. Every damn day instead of a few days a year."
"Same. Someday we'll have that."
"I told you, I'm gonna come back here and we'll settle down after I make captain. We'll get married. Have kids. I'll fly the line and that's all I need. If it doesn't work...hell, I'll become a fat, old banker just like my old man."
The old dream. He laughed. She didn't. Somehow, he'd convinced her all this time that he could do that. Someday. He can't. He won't.
But he was kissing her, and she couldn't stop him. She recognized that hard barrier inside her that'd been blocking her since he'd arrived give way for the first time. It'd been firmly in place the whole time, while she went through the motions. Preparing myself for a breakup I'm not ready for. I'm not sure I'll ever be ready for that. Even when I know for a fact this can never, ever work out.
Despite the humidity that only got worse while they made love, their slick bodies moving together savagely, she didn't want to let him get away from her an inch in the aftermath, when he whispered, "Dammit, I forgot a condom. Why didn't you remind me?"
Tally swallowed, lowering her gaze as she panted. He forgot about half the time, maybe more, and she almost always had to remind him. He was all but mindless during sex. He didn't think about anything practical during that time. She had to be the practical one. But this wasn't the first time she'd chosen not to remind him before it was too late. She'd never gotten pregnant any of those times before, even when she scared-hoped she might.
When she didn't respond, he slid off her, murmuring, "Love you" and seconds later, he was asleep again.
Stupid idiot. What were you thinking, letting him go without a condom? Like I need that kind of worry. Because there's no way in heaven or hell that we can make this work, even when he's a captain. It's been over between us since he left after high school graduation. Neither of us has wanted to admit it all this time. And he still doesn't. But somebody's gotta be practical. Somebody...somehow.
When he got up a few hours later, he came back to where she was pretending to be deeply asleep, whispering he had to get back to Chicago. She harbored the distinct feeling he knew she was wide awake but didn't want to fight. He wanted to believe everything was same old, same old. "Love you, babe. I'll call you tonight."
The pounding on his bedroom door woke Donnie Garner, but he hadn't roused himself before the one doing the pounding entered the room and closed the door behind him. Blinking, Donnie saw Adam without any surprise. Tally had texted him late on Tuesday, when they were supposed to get together, saying simply, "Can't come tonight. Adam here." When Adam was in town--fortunately, almost never--Donnie almost never saw his best friend.
"You headin' back to Chicago?" Donnie muttered, putting his face back in his pillow and closing his eyes. He noticed then how hot and miserable it was, muggy even, and almost groaned out loud at how repulsively damp his sheets felt against his skin.
"Yeah. Tired as hell. Tally decided she wanted to fight in the middle of the night."
Donnie grunted. He knew everything there was about that pathetic relationship. He'd never been able to understand what held them together.
"That's how we left it. After we f@#d."
Donnie tensed at the crudeness. His cousin had little finesse when it was just the guys, shooting the s@#t. But he easily convinced Tally he was all charm and red roses. Rotten, lying SOB. If she knew what I knew, she'd break up him with a tomahawk instead of tears. But I don't wanna hurt her by telling her her Prince Charming's a big, freaking toad.
Donnie knew Adam had spun Tally some pretty fairy tale about happily ever after--he'd be flying more regular or, if he couldn't handle even that, become a banker--an idea that was about as hilarious and believable as a pig real estate agent. Adam didn't care about money or possessions. He loved flying, loved the excitement, the impulsiveness or always going somewhere new. New women to bang, too. He loved his life. As it was. He'd love being a captain, too. He craved attention, wanted to be worshipped. But he was just as happy as a junior pilot with a schedule that would make even a workaholic cry uncle for lack of downtime. He's never gonna be happy settling down in Amethyst with Tally, becoming a full-time husband expected to stay loyal to his wife and raising as many kids as Tally wants. He'll be miserable from start to finish.
So why the hell can't I get myself to believe he doesn't love her and actually wants to let her go?
Donnie rolled over, turning his pillow so it was halved and he could prop up with it. "What did she say?"
He already knew how Tally felt about Adam. Lately, she'd even been accepting the truth of the fact that their relationship was nearly impossible--now and in the future. But she hadn't reconciled herself with the end-game, the one where she never saw him again as the guy she loved and wanted to spend her life with.
"She was talking like she wanted to break up."
Hell, do I wish she would make that stick. Tensing, Donnie asked with forced casualness, "What do you think's gonna change in the future?"
"What do you mean?"
"You love flying. You're an adrenaline junkie. That's not gonna change. And she's never gonna be happy as a pilot's wife. She loves Amethyst, loves her family and her job. She works hard. She's too strong, too sure of what she wants. And I don't see you coming back here, settlin' down like Mike Brady to raise a family. Most of all, I don't see you givin' up all the other women."
Adam had taken a seat across from his bed on a footstool pushed up against that wall that he'd had to divest of pretty much all the clothes Donnie owned, unwashed, in order to sit on. He was bent over his knees, looking disturbed instead of easygoing, the way he usually did. Donnie understood his cousin could so easily tell himself everything would work out if he didn't stress about it. While Tally stresses enough for him, her, me, and the entire county.
"I forgot to get her flowers again when I got in town."
Donnie stared at him, his eyes bugging out at how little his best friend and first cousin faced reality on any given day. That was what he'd gotten out of Tally's "want to fight"? That he hadn't brought flowers and now he was in her doghouse? Tally wasn't the kind of woman who cared about stuff like flowers and tokens that didn't match actions. She was practical. For a woman, she was damn right dude-like in that regard. Not that Adam's ever noticed.
Donnie looked up at him when Adam spoke, his tone heavy, "I was thinking maybe I'd get her an engagement ring."
All but choking as he sat up even more against his bedframe, Donnie spluttered, "You effing kidding me, man?"
Adam's grin told him all he needed to know about what had prompted this monumental idea. He didn't have any intention of marrying Tally anytime soon. The sole reason he was considering this was because he believed it would make her put up and shut up for a few more years while he sowed his endless wild oats and kept persuading her he'd be a changed man just as soon as he made captain.
Donnie threw off the sheets and stood up, feeling like he might burst out of his own skin. And strangle the effing life out of his worthless a@s. "No."
"What, no good?" Adam asked, genuinely surprised by his violent tone, if not by the word he'd spoke.
"Terrible. What the hell, dude?"
"'Cause you think Tally won't agree to a long engagement?"
Donnie groaned, wanting to swear a blue streak, wanting to whale on the stupid, selfish bastard for not knowing the first thing about the woman he claimed to love and realizing how badly he treated her at all times.
When Donnie couldn't speak he was holding himself together so hard, Adam shook his head. "I need more time to think about it anyway. So what've you been up to?"
Aware his cousin wanted to hear pornographic stories about a private life that'd been filled with plenty of that already, Donnie shook his head. "Nothing," he all but spit out. His life never seemed to change. Don't love my life, don't even like it half the time. My job is what I do 'cause the old man rags on my a@s constantly about the business he built from the ground up only to have his moron son tear it down brick by brick.
Recently, Donnie had realized more than that about his life. The girl he'd assumed he'd be hung up on forever--Harper Marasek--had married what Donnie couldn't deny was the love of her life. Their wedding reception had been held on their orchard and vineyard for the entire town of lifers and long-distance relatives. Donnie supposed there wasn't a single person in town that hadn't been there other than him--and Tally. She'd realized how hard it was for him, and she'd stayed with him after putting in a token appearance.
That was the night I realized I live to see Tally every day. To be with her is what makes a day worth living. Even if we're just friends, she's the light in my life, my reason for going on. When I can't see her or talk to her, I don't feel like I've got a damn scrap worth anything. There's no purpose.
He'd stopped dating altogether. Stopped having sex for the sake of easy sex. None of it helped. Tally was the one thing, the only thing, he truly cared about anymore. And he was sick to death of putting on a good face for Adam. Maybe they'd been friends all their lives because their mothers were sisters, but Tally was his best friend. She was the person he was loyal to. He was the one who had to hear about all the pain, the constant suffering she went through because of his SOB cousin. I don't know how much longer I can put up with it either--having to listen to him brag about all his conquests, prove with every word out of his mouth that he doesn't deserve her.
"What? You're not still thinking about Harper, are you?" Adam said in surprise. He didn't wait for Donnie's response. "She's gone, man. That's a done deal. You gave it your best shot."
Donnie's discomfort about exactly what Adam meant by his comment increased, the way it always did when he thought about how stupid he'd been. Adam had been the one to convince him a couple years ago that he wouldn't get Harper back by talking about it. He'd flown him up to New York, where Harper had gone to college and eventually gotten a good job working for her now-husband's family law firm. But Harper hadn't been in town the whole time Donnie went there to win her back. And, later, when she agreed to start up talking to him again through social media, phone calls, and even video calls, Adam had talked him into proposing to her and assuming she'd agreed to it. Donnie had gone around Amethyst telling everyone who'd listen that he was going to marry Harper, hoping she'd do just that when she came home for Christmas last year. Instead, she brought Clay home with her, and Donnie had looked like the damn fool he now realized he'd forever been, heeding his cousin's overconfidence advice.
Unlike Adam, Donnie had never gotten anything in life by being confident. The opposite, in fact. Everything he did, he had to work at like a stevedore to get. Even then, he'd barely gotten through. He'd hated school. Scraped a diploma by the skin of his teeth. A few years ago, he'd realized his dad's garage was close to going belly-up, and the biggest reason was because his old man refused to get with the times. He didn't know the first thing about computers or the new cars, so he had no way to repair anything that wasn't from a decade when artificial intelligence was nothing more than science fiction. He'd agreed to pay for him going through back-to-back training programs. Donnie knew if he didn't get through all eight specializations to gain his master mechanic certification, they might as well sell the business, accept the losses, and figure out how the hell they were going to make it through the full year financially in Amethyst. Winters were hard enough, but they hadn't even been bringing in enough in summer, when the tourist season exploded Amethyst into quadruple population counts. But he'd passed every class, almost gave up half a million times, but he'd done it, just barely, and business had picked up to the point where sometimes they had to turn away work if they couldn't fill a job in the time the customer needed it. They always had a backlog now, even in winter. Not that his old man gave him the slightest credit for pulling the flagging businesses' a@s out of the fire, then or now.
"Got nothing to do with Harper," he threw at his cousin, who'd slouched back against the wall now. "I'm over that."
"So what's the problem?" Adam said with a grin. "Never saw you hurting for female companionship."
Donnie couldn't argue the point. About the only area in his life he'd ever excelled in without needing to try had been with women. From the time he was 13, the female population had noticed him. He'd been the only guy in class with a full beard and moustache at the age of 12, and his physical physique required almost no workout beyond the manual labor he did every day of his life in his dad's mechanic's shop. He'd enjoyed every minute of his natural ability to get a woman to give him whatever he wanted most of his life. The only attachments he'd ever grown were to Tally, when they were 15, before Adam noticed her--in part because Donnie was dating her and obviously wasn't doing her because he didn't have any other options--and to Harper. He'd given up Tally, he supposed, almost too easily. He'd had long years of experience with his cousin at that point. Adam would purposely compete until he won. In any case, Tally had obviously wanted Adam more. She'd never said so much as a word to him in advance or in explanation. They'd been together one minute, and the next she was with Adam. Done deal.
You don't deserve her, you bastard. Even if I can't deny you love her and for some reason see her as the end-game to your playboy ways, you'll never be worth the pain she suffers because of how you treat her. Why string her along selfishly the way you do? Why not let her go? Let her find happiness, find somebody who'll treat her the way she deserves. Somebody like me...
"What about Callinda?" Donnie demanded without the slightest finesse or transition. "You still banging the former Playboy bunny turned stewardess and letting her show you the million sexual positions she knows?"
"Cassandra," Adam corrected without bite, not seeming to notice Donnie's growing fury. "Still seeing her. She's kind of staying at my crash pad. She called so often all the time I was here-- Damn."
"She know about Tally, since obviously I know Tally doesn't know about her?"
Adam laughed like he was crazy. "'Course not."
"Why not? If it's just f@#in' for the sake of f@#in"?"
"No kidding. So now you've got two semi-permanent girlfriends who know nothing about each other. I'd call that complicated. You know, Carrie Underwood writes songs about guys like you. They always end up in coffins at the hands of the women who're in cahoots to put 'em down like a rabid dog."
Adam laughed out loud as if there was any world Donnie could be teasing him about this s@#t. His teeth clenched; his fists followed suit. "What if Tally decided she wanted to string you along, man?" he said, his anger barely contained in the words.
"What're you implying?"
The look of shock on Adam's face was rich. Effing rich. "What if she got herself a boy-toy to keep her satisfied when you're not around to do her?"
"Well, she did mention she doesn't get enough sex to satisfy her two weeks out of any given year."
While you get enough for ten other cheaters. You creep.
Adam laughed his head off but ultimately decided, "Tally wouldn't cheat on me. She likes sex--no doubt about that. But it's mostly about love for her."
"Surprised you know that." Everybody knows that. Nobody has to be told that because it's who Tally is. How the hell can you do what you do without caring about how you're cheating the best damn woman on the planet? "How would you feel if she started sleeping around?"
Adam suddenly looked at him irritably. "I'm not stringing her along, if that's what this is about. I love her. You know I do. So why are you saying this stupid s@#t?"
"You're effin' some bimbo who's shacked up in your crash pad, and you plan to give Tally an engagement ring to shut her up for a few more lonely, messed up years. Why do you think I'm saying this s@#t?"
"Seriously, Donnie, what's wrong with you? Harper getting married's making you a prick."
One punch. It'll go straight through his skull into the wall behind. Least of what he deserves.
Adam stood up and walked out of the room, throwing the words, "Call me when you're in a better mood" over his shoulder before slamming his bedroom door after himself.
For a long, rigidly contained minute, Donnie fought against going after him or just putting his fist through the wall because he needed the release. More than anything, he wanted to call Tally and hear her voice because and despite that she was always depressed after Adam left. She'd take a few days to crawl out of the suffocating cocoon she'd been in and in the meantime she'd work her fingers to the bone. It was what she did when she didn't want to think too much. He tended to go to the other way. He couldn't function when his head was messed up, not enough even to do something he could probably do in his sleep.
He thought about going back to bed, but he'd never be able to sleep. He dressed, brushed his teeth, and went down to the shop they lived above, knowing his old man couldn't do most of the work without him.
What would happen if I told Tally the truth about Adam, what he's been doing behind her back since he left here after we graduated? The thought of how much hurt she'd experienced had kept him from doing it almost from the start. Any loyalty he'd felt toward Adam died when his cousin left town to start his life anywhere-but-here. Donnie and Tally had been close since they were 15, despite the time they'd been a couple. He'd never called her on the whole thing, not once. Just acted like it was no big deal, not worth talking about. Even when it hurt like hell to see her with his best friend every damn time for what felt like forever, even when he was getting laid on a daily basis to stop aching for her, he'd let it go because what was the point of anything else? They were friends. They'd always been friends. If that's all we'll ever be, it's better than the alternative. I don't wanna imagine my life without Tally. And I can't hurt her, even if she needs to know the truth about the bastard she loves. She deserves so much better. I'd never treat her like that. I'd treat her the way she deserves 'cause she's so damn amazing any man would be lucky to spend five minutes with her. I appreciate her. Adam doesn't. I do.
Nothing he did put Tally out of his mind for a second. He wanted to see her so bad, he didn't know how to stop himself from calling her immediately, rushing to the resort to see her, then and there. But the thought of her crying over Adam effing Schaefer kept him from doing what would be pointless anyway. He'd have to wait out the days until she could drag herself out of her misery.
I wanna talk to her. See her. Even if she cries her eyes out over him. If I call, she won't answer. If I go there, she'll tell me she'll call me when she's ready. I'll regret it and end up feeling worse--
Hell, I'm gonna do it anyway.