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Dear Everly, : a romance novel by London Casey, Jaxson Kidman, Karolyn James (1)

Chapter One

Rock, Paper, Scissors

(Jake)

You knew I didn’t need to mess with the engine on the car anymore, but you knew I couldn’t help myself. She was fast. She was loud. But there was always something to do to her. From the moment I spotted her in a junkyard, just a hunk of rust (as you lovingly put it) I knew I had to have her. You supported me. I gave up my half of the garage to work on the car. It took me a long damn time to get it back into running condition. Funny the way life moves along though. When I bought the car, I planned on fixing it up and taking you for a long ride. The windows down. Sun roof open. The wind blowing your hair everywhere as you sang along to those country songs I can’t stand.

Instead, the first time I took the car out on the road we had a car seat in the back. And I had to drive super slow.

“How’s she coming along?”

My head popped up from the engine. I loved the way you called the car she just like I did. You had no idea about the car, yet you went along with everything I said and did.

“Almost there,” I said. “Where’s Sadie?”

“She’s napping.”

You walked to me, that little nibble on your bottom lip to hint at something.

Right here? In the garage? On the car?

I’d slam the hood shut and throw you on it before you could make a sound.

You slipped your arms around my neck and moved to your toes. I loved that you had to be on your toes to kiss me. You made me feel a hundred feet tall yet your eyes could break me down in seconds.

We shared a kiss, the kind of kiss that got us into the whole we’re having a baby situation, because, face it, we didn’t plan for Sadie. And that was cool. Because miracles aren’t planned. They just happen.

My hands ran along your sides, feeling the curves of your body. You didn’t like your body, but I loved it even more. I already told myself I’d spend every waking day making sure you knew how beautiful you were.

I grabbed at your belt and picked you up like you weighed nothing. You threw your legs around me, letting out a groaning cry.

Now we were eye level.

“Jake…”

“Everly…”

“Want to hear something dirty?” you whispered.

Your breath hinted at coffee. I fucking loved that. All those late nights together with Sadie and early mornings with coffee and flirty glances. Dammit, woman, you always knew how to work things and keep me guessing and following you around with my tongue on the ground, panting, desperate for you to look at me one more time.

“I would love to hear something dirty,” I said. “The dirtier the better.”

You kissed me. You flirted with your tongue all the way along my neck to my ear. You bit my ear.

In my head I was already undressing you. I was going to put you in the back seat of the car and kiss you places that would make you blush. It wouldn’t have been the first time we fooled around in the back seat of the car.

“You ready, baby?” you said in a growly voice.

“Christ, Everly,” I said. “What are you…”

“Sadie shit in the last diaper,” you said. Then you giggled. “And someone needs to go get more before she wakes up…”

You pulled away and smiled.

I sighed and shook my head. “You’re serious?”

“Yeah. I thought we had more but they’re a different size. Forgot that they were a smaller size. My bad. Things have been so busy…”

“You don’t have to explain,” I said. “It’s not a big deal. We’ll get some diapers.”

“We’ll? Sadie is sleeping.”

“I’m working on my car.”

“I’m the woman.”

“You just got me hard for no reason.”

You laughed. God, it was such an infectious laugh.

“You’re not going to go?” you asked.

I put you down and held my fist out. “You just blue balled me.”

“But I’m pretty, right?”

“Oh, Everly, you are fucking beautiful,” I said. “But still… rock, paper, scissors?”

You laughed, clapping your hands together.

Anytime we had a decision to make, we did it through rock, paper, scissors. Taking a vacation, buying the house, to pick the date for our upcoming wedding, all of that shit, it was done by rock, paper, scissors.

“You’re on,” you said. “But I’m warning you… if I lose and have to go to the store, I’m feeling impulsive today. So I might just buy new clothes. New shoes. You never know what I’ll come home with.”

“As long as it’s not a new man, I don’t care,” I said.

“Replace you? Never. Nobody compares to you, Jake.”

“Yeah, yeah, don’t butter me up. Let’s do this.”

We both readied our fists. We studied each other’s eyes. This was serious business. Two grown adults with a baby sleeping and we were playing rock, paper, scissors.

The greatest moments of my life.

“Ready?” you whispered.

“Ready,” I said.

“Okay… rock… paper…”

“Scissors,” I took over.

Together, we both yelled, “SHOOT!”

I knew you would go for rock. You always did. It was a weakness of yours. I almost threw scissors as a giveaway win but then I thought about what you said. You wanted to go shopping. I’d clean up, go inside, and wait for Sadie to wake up. I’d make a sandwich, watch the baby monitor, shake my head that I had a daughter.

At the last second, I threw paper.

“Paper covers rock,” I said. “Make sure you get the right size diapers.”

“Jerk,” you said.

I grabbed you and spun you around, hugging you.

I kissed you.

I had the urge to just keep kissing you.

That instinctive urge proved to be scarily right because it was the last kiss I ever had with you.

* * *

I watched you leave the driveway. I wiped my hands with a towel and threw it at the car. I was thinking about selling the car. I could get a real nice check for it. Nice enough that I could pay for the addition on the house Everly wanted. A sunroom with lots of windows. A place to sit in the morning and drink coffee. And there would be enough money leftover that I could invest in Sadie’s college fund or maybe take us all on a vacation.

I loved the car but not as much as I loved my family.

Shit.

I had become a family man. Something I never thought would happen.

I turned around and tried to spot you in the car again.

But you were gone.

No, seriously, you were gone.

I heard a loud slam. A shatter. A thundering boom. It’s like metal being ripped apart by giant steel claws. I turned and turned and turned, but couldn’t find the sound. I ran to the front door of the house and ripped it open. Sadie sat there, on the welcome mat, her butt perfectly placed over the o. She had your keys in her hand, a rubber keychain jammed into her mouth, drool running down her hand.

I looked forward, confused, and saw through the entire house. Through the back sliding glass doors and off the deck. The deck that you wanted to replace, so I took some serious overtime at the auto shop to be able to surprise you with a new, expensive deck. You sat there every spring, summer, and fall morning with your thoughts and your beautiful smile.

Beyond the deck was the swing set. The wooden swing set that came with the house.

And it was on fire.

“Shit,” I yelled.

I reached for Sadie. I had to get her off the damn floor and get the fire extinguisher to get that fire out.

But there was no Sadie.

She was gone.

I looked down.

Gone.

“Sadie?” I asked.

I took a step forward and tripped.

I fell to the floor, smashing my right knee hard.

I jumped to my feet and looked back.

Sadie was still gone.

But now it was…

“Everly?” I asked.

You were in a peach colored dress. Your hands folded across your chest. Your hair done beautifully. Your skin…

“Everly,” I said.

I blinked fast.

I heard a cry.

To my right, Sadie was in the living room, sitting on the couch, in a black dress.

“Everly!” I yelled.

Everly…

* * *

My eyes popped open and I sat up in bed.

I no longer grabbed for the sheets because I knew I was alone in bed. The whole bad dream thing was my reality. I touched my forehead and wiped the sweat away. My heart pounded. Really hard. Really fast. I grabbed for the bottle of water I learned to keep on my nightstand. In the top drawer, tucked way in the back, in a small locked box (so Sadie could never get into it) were some pills. Pills that would help me sleep. Pills that would calm me. Pills that would make Everly’s memory go away.

Fuck those pills.

I rubbed my jaw and looked around the room.

I never understood the need for a guest room in the house… until now.

Almost right on damn cue, the bedroom door slowly opened.

I reached and turned on the light on the nightstand. I took a quick drink of water and watched as four-year-old Sadie walked into the room. Hugging a dirty white unicorn named Bo, short for Rainbow (“Jake! Look at this! We have to get this! It’s so freaking cute, isn’t it?! We’ll name it Bo! It’ll be our first pet together!”). She paused when she saw me staring at her.

“Hey, sweetheart,” I said. “What’s wrong?”

“I had a funny dream.”

“Funny? Like clowns?”

“Funny scary,” she said. “I don’t want to go back to my bed.”

“You don't?” I asked. “But you have a really nice bed.”

“No I don’t.”

She looked at me, her eyes wider.

I swore sometimes she just knew. That there was a sensor in her pretty little mind that made her know when I was having a shit time with life. Because right when I got to the edge, Sadie was there to pull me back. And how fair was that to her? Stripped of so much already in her young life.

I threw the covers off and got out of the bed.

I took two steps and crouched down.

How the hell could I shy away from my little girl? Especially when she was there for me. Not for herself. But for me.

“Come here,” I whispered.

Sadie hurried toward me and threw her arms around me. She smelled of sleep and the fruity kids shampoo I used in her hair for her nightly bath.

“You know that dreams are just in your mind,” I whispered. “That when you wake up, they’re over. Then you get to go back to sleep and have new dreams.”

“I know,” she whispered.

Her head rested on my shoulder. Her body limp, tired, desperate for sleep.

I knew the feeling.

Slowly, I stood up and turned so I could see our reflection in the mirror.

She had little curls in her hair. Some parts though looked straight, some parts curly, making her hair a mess to take care of. What the hell did I know about taking care of hair? I didn’t buy hair products. I was lucky if I washed my hair twice a week because I just didn’t give a damn. That, and I didn’t have time.

The last time Sadie had a haircut…

I swallowed hard.

My fingers touched the ends of her hair. It was a connection thing, okay? Those ends were ones that her mother had brushed. So in some way it was like she was still there with us. And it always seemed the smallest things like that got to me. Yet there was a master bedroom down the hall that had been untouched since…

“Daddy, can I just sleep here tonight?”

“Sure,” I whispered.

“Thanks.”

Sadie would throw out those little words or one liners that made me wonder just how old she really was.

I stepped back and sat down on the bed.

I reached for my phone and got the screen to light up. It was three in the morning.

I gently put Sadie down next to me and she tucked Bo to her chin, rubbing her nose against the unicorn horn. That was her comfort thing. That damned stuffed animal. The thing was old, dirty, and I washed it when it started to stink.

Me? I was awake. I sat up in bed. I was trying to think about the work that needed to be done at the garage. Keep myself busy. Work hard. Make money. Take care of Sadie. Rinse and repeat until… when? Until Sadie was eighteen? Then what?

I hated thinking about the future. I hated thinking about the past. I hated thinking about the present.

I looked to my left and looked at Sadie as she slept. I pulled the covers up to her shoulders. I touched her hair again. I touched her face. She was perfect. From the second I saw the little speck on the first ultrasound picture, she was perfect. She took my world and kicked it. She turned everything upside down. She made me understand what love really means. Between her and her mother, they forever changed the way I approached life.

I couldn’t stop staring.

Sadie.

(“I think I found the name. But I don’t want to tell anyone yet. I want to keep it a secret. I want to meet her first. I want her to be part of it. To hear her name spoken first between all of us. Okay? Please don’t get mad at me, Jake. Don’t look at me that way either. I’m serious. Why are you smiling? And don’t tell me I look beautiful either. I’m huge. I have stretch marks now. My ankles are swollen. I cry over the dumbest commercials…”)

I took another drink of water.

My alarm was going to go off at five. I thought about waking up then and going into the basement to work out. That was my sanctuary. Throwing weights around until my muscles hurt worse than my heart.

But Sadie reached for me. Whether she meant to or not, checking for me.

“I’m right here, sweetheart,” I whispered.

Being a single father was one thing. Having the story behind it was another.

The worst part though… something I could never admit…

Sadie was the spitting image of her mother.

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