This chapter contains adult situations and language. Reader discretion is advised.
Two Weeks Later
I’d sacrificed and saved enough money to buy a new outfit for performances, one that I’d planned to wear at the park. Though I’d gone back several times, Grant never again said hello. I guess I creeped him out. That was okay, though. I creeped myself out that day, too.
My morning was free, so I got dolled up in my new dress to try my hand at the park. I took my time primping, taking special care to do my hair and makeup. My new dress, which I wore with a pair of lace leggings, was just above my knee. It was a black, sleek, long-sleeved sweater dress, perfect for the upcoming cold season.
I noticed the nip in the air as I took the elevator to the parking garage. The weather was turning, along with the leaves on the trees that lined the park’s border. My breath puffed from my mouth in a plume of steam. Yep, it’s officially fall.
I parked my car at the coffeehouse, took my guitar from the trunk, and walked the hundred yards to the stage. The regulars weren’t out front. Yes! My guitar case was open and at my feet. I didn’t want to sing Daddy’s favorite song, but I had others that were just as good! I tuned my guitar and put the strap around my neck.
Three songs in, an older woman approached me, dressed in a leotard and ballet slippers. She was one of the regulars; a mediocre acrobat whose routine I’d seen a few times. Trust me, I’d seen much better than her act. She was snapping a wad of foul-smelling gum, which she breathed into my face.
“Who are YOU?” she demanded, a long, bony finger poked into my chest. “You don’t belong out here.”
I stopped what I was doing and extended my hand as a kind gesture. “Destiny Farmer. I’m new to town, and—”
“You gotta earn the right to perform here, little girl.” She ran her hand through a mop of black, over-processed hair. I’m surprised a bunch of it didn’t break off in her fingers. “Newbies get the side stage, or up by the johns.” She pointed behind her to the public restroom outbuilding.
I stood tall and took a deep breath. “You know, this is a public park. I believe I may stand wherever I want.” I crossed my arms in front of my body for effect.
“You wanna play that game? Fine. You’ll find out the hard way how we play in the Shores.”
“What does THAT mean?” I was probably too indignant for my own good.
“Keep encroaching on our turf up front, little baby,” she snarled. “You’ll find out real quick what it means.” She turned on her heel and left.
Now, I’d be lying if I said she didn’t rattle me. I recalled Grant’s words. “Be careful, Destiny. They’re ruthless.” I closed my eyes to fight the tears, the doubts, when I saw Daddy’s face, clear as day. “The world is yours for the taking. Grab it by the horns, baby girl, and give ‘em hell.” I could still see him saying that to me, as though it was yesterday.
Even more determined, I grabbed my guitar and strummed the first note of another song. From the corner of my eye, I saw my antagonist chatting with a group of people, then pointing my way. I did a quick headcount of the group; they were fifteen strong against a nineteen-year-old, one-hundred-ten pound girl. I swallowed a mouthful of bile that crept into my throat as they approached. Aw, hell no!
Three young guys approached first. All of them wore scowls on their faces, ready to pick a fight. But instead of engaging me, they started booing and heckling me. I tuned them out and played louder, trying to sing over the commotion they were intent on creating.
Three more people walked over. There were five guys and a young girl causing trouble. One more woman strolled over to where they stood, but I recognized her; my neighbor across the hall. She took two gigantic steps toward me, grabbed the neck of my guitar, and whispered into my ear.
“If I see your boyfriend again, I will steal him from you. And I’ll show him everything he’s missing, being with your sorry ass. Are you pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down?” Her left hand still held the guitar’s neck, her right hand flicked the tip of my nose. I swallowed another mouthful of bile. I was in way over my head.
“You know what?” I said. “This spot is all yours.” I took the guitar strap from around my neck, placed it into the case, and closed it up. “But if any of you touch me, I will press charges.”
“If we touch you, you won’t know what hit you.” The tallest, heaviest guy stood with his fists clenched. “Leave here. You won’t come back if you’re smart. Next time, this will be you.” He ripped my guitar case from my hands and threw it at someone else. I watched, helpless, as they took my beloved guitar from its case and smashed it, taking turns at destroying it. I sank to my knees, retching from fear.
Scraps of wood and wire were all that remained of my beautiful acoustic guitar when they threw it into the pond, spit on me, and left me shaken to my core. I ran to my car, got in, and spun the tires as I left.
Jeff would be in class, but I didn’t care. The mob at the park scared the hell out of me, and I needed him. The phone rang until it went to voicemail. My shaky, heavy drawl mixed with tears left a message that would be sure to panic him:
Jeff, call me. I was assaulted at the park, and I need you.
Though I knew my neighbor was at the park downtown, I backed into the elevator. I pressed the button for the nineteenth floor, praying it went straight up to the penthouse. I was lucky; the elevator seldom made that trip in one shot.
With shaky hands, I slipped my key into the lock on the front door, turned it, and stepped inside. Finally safe in my sanctuary, I fell against the door and slid down, heaving uncontrolled sobs.
The light in the apartment was dim and purple, signifying the sun setting in the western sky. Jeff never called me back, which was odd considering the message I’d left for him. I faded in and out of sleep for hours, never truly resting. Each time my eyes closed, I saw them smashing my beloved guitar to bits. My arms wrapped around Angaloo, trying to self-soothe. It wasn’t working.
I didn’t hear the front door open, the quiet footsteps in the living room, nor did I hear the latch clicking on the bedroom door. My back was turned away from it, and I was fighting sleep.
“Oh, sweetheart,” Jeff whispered as he laid down next to me, his arms encircled me and held me tight. “I’m here. You’re safe.”
I didn’t ask why he was there; I already knew. The tears I was weary of crying came fast. My body shook in his arms while he held me. His sweet kisses and comforting words whispered into my ear helped to calm my frazzled nerves more than anything else could have.
We laid together in bed until the room was in pitch darkness. Jeff never loosened his grip on me. I took a deep breath and sighed. One last sob echoed in the room. “I didn’t expect you to come running here to save me, but I’m happy you did,” I whispered.
“Have you been here all day, babyluv?”
I nodded and sniffled. “Yeah. This is where I’m keeping Daddy’s pistol. I was praying I wouldn’t need it.”
He pulled back and looked at me. “You have a gun?”
“Mmhmm. Daddy taught me to shoot it. We did target practice together.”
“Do you have your permit yet?”
“Not yet, no. I shouldn’t have the gun out, but I dug it out of his lockbox this morning when I got home and set it on the nightstand.”
He nodded his head, then kissed me. “What happened at the park, Des? I want to hear everything.”
I explained the morning’s events in excruciating detail, the way they’d replayed in my head all day. His body stiffened, and his muscles tensed up when I told him about my guitar. It was the first guitar I’d ever owned, and now it sat in ruins at the bottom of the pond at Verde Park.
“We’re going back there tomorrow. And you will point out the brutes that threatened a nineteen-year-old girl. If I have to fight each one of them, they’re going to learn to leave you alone.”
I shook my head. “No! I won’t go back to the park. I can’t…” I couldn’t take a chance my neighbor meant what she’d said about Jeff, nor did I want him fighting them. They were all bigger than both of us, and I feared they’d kill him.
He took my hands and kissed them. “Please come back to campus with me for a few days, Des? You’ll calm down a bit, and I’ll figure out how to protect you.”
“I can’t just take time from my job, Jeff. I’m a new hire there.”
“How much do you make? I’ll pay your salary while you’re with me.”
“That’s not really the point. I need to make my own way here.”
“Please, sweetheart? I’ll feel better knowing you’re safe until I figure this out.”
I considered his proffer. Even if it meant sleeping on the floor in his dorm, I loved the idea of being with him again. “I’ll pack light, I promise.”
Jeff laughed. He knew how difficult keeping that promise would be for me. “I’ll hold you to that!”
Two Months Later
After the incident at the park, I resigned myself to waiting tables at the coffeehouse until after our wedding. With my guitar gone, performing around town for tips was out of the question; a replacement would cost money that I just didn’t have. Sing-A-Gram was out of reach until my next birthday. There was only one talent agency in town, and they weren’t seeking additional clients. It wasn’t my year.
I’d worked a double shift at the coffeehouse, on my feet for fourteen hours, and I was tired. I didn’t feel like decorating the penthouse for Snowflake Day. My birthday was days away, and the holiday right behind it. How I longed for the family I missed, and my soon-to-be family in Sunset Valley. The trip up north wasn’t in my budget this year; I wasn’t looking forward to spending my birthday or the holidays alone.
Jeff had been out on winter break for two weeks already. His last holiday as a single man would be with his family and friends. He explained he was saving money for a spectacular honeymoon; bringing me there at his expense was not workable, and I understood. We were planning a fall wedding in Sunset Valley, outdoors, at his family’s mansion. I was scheduled to fly there in January to find my wedding gown, courtesy of Jeff’s mother Audrey. Despite my desire to have a small, intimate ceremony, it was turning into the social event of the year.
A co-worker had given me a basket of bath items during the Snowflake Day party at the coffeehouse, a gift I was planning on taking full advantage of when I got home. A soak in lavender-scented bath beads was just what I needed to unwind and relax. I trudged through the front door, locking it behind me, and set my keys and purse on the counter.
I walked to the master bathroom and plugged the bathtub, ran the water a little warmer than I found comfortable, and threw a handful of beads into the cascading water. My towel and robe were in the bedroom; I grabbed both and walked back to the tub to turn off the faucet. The first step into the tub made me shiver, though the ambient air temperature wasn’t chilly. The water was hot enough to sting my skin as I sank into the bubbles; a sigh of relief hissed from my mouth.
I’d been humming some holiday songs to myself when I thought I heard a bang inside the penthouse. I sat straight up in the tub, my ears perked up. “Hello?” I called out. “Hello? Is someone there?” It occurred to me how stupid I must have sounded. If a burglar was in the penthouse, he wouldn’t likely answer me, anyway.
I got up and reached for my robe, wrapped it around me, and walked to my nightstand, where I kept Daddy’s old pistol. No one should be in the building without a code or call; that made me feel no better. “Hello?” I called out again. I stood behind my closed bedroom door, the gun in my hand. A deep breath and a step forward, I opened the door and lunged through it.
“Well, hello Annie Oakley,” Jeff said with a grin, his arms open wide and ready to hold me. Boy, was he a sight for sore eyes!
“Jeff?!” I set the gun on the side table next to the loveseat and ran to him. “What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to surprise you for the holiday and your birthday, sweetheart. That was quite the welcome!”
“I wasn’t expecting you. You startled me!” I stepped into his embrace and kissed him. His fingers caught my robe and pulled it open.
He chuckled and then licked his lips. “Well, my view just improved!” His hands slipped inside, resting on my skin, caressing me as he held me close. “This is an invitation I can’t resist.”
“Well, not now,” I laughed. “I was in the bathtub, and I’d kinda like to finish up. I had a long day at work.”
“Mmm, that’s why you’re so warm and smell so pretty.” He kissed me again. “I still need to grab my suitcase from my rental car, and I’ll be back upstairs. Don’t point a gun at me this time, okay?” he said, laughing.
“You’re just no fun!” I teased him. “You know where I’ll be.”
The water was a more comfortable temperature when I slid back into the bath. I let what remained of the bubbles surround me; it felt good, so I closed my eyes and let my body float in the tub.
A few minutes later, the bathroom door flung open; Jeff stood there with an odd look on his face. “Who is the really pushy chick with jet black hair and brown eyes?” He’d just described my very annoying neighbor.
“Ah yes, you’ve met Tiffany. She’s the one who threatened at the park to take you from me.”
He wiped a pale shade of lipstick off his mouth. “Yeah, we’ve met. Is she always that rude and obnoxious?”
“She told me you’d fall in love with her, and that I should be cognizant of that fact. I think she’s a few bricks shy of a load, to be truthful.” His horrified expression, and the remainders of lipstick on his skin, said all I needed to know. “Did she really kiss you?!”
“Oh my gosh, Des. I’ve never met anyone like her before. She’s crazy, that one.” He sat on the toilet, lid down, and reached for a towel. “You don’t have to worry about me, baby. I only have eyes for you.” He was thorough, rubbing every trace of her lip stain off his skin.
I smiled at him. “I knew that already, Jeff. She got under my skin the first time, but I realized she’s nuts.”
“Would you care for some company in the shower when you’re done soaking?” He winked at me. That would be a first; we’d been together just once. “I could get all the spots you can’t reach.”
“You know how to make me stretch my boundaries,” I said with a snicker. “Sure.”
Jeff had brought groceries to make supper for us that night. Though the penthouse was roomy, the kitchen lacked space. He worked it like a professional chef, using every inch of counter to its fullest potential. When everything was in the oven, we joined forces to clean up.
“How did you plan on decorating? Do we need a tree? I think we should get a fresh one.” He uncorked a bottle of White Zinfandel and poured some into Mama’s vintage wine glasses. Handing me one, he raised his for a toast. “To us, Des. Our last holiday as an unmarried couple.”
“Cheers!” I said and sipped. This stuff was tasty and sweet, so much better than the usual dry, cottony-mouthed stuff he bought. “I was thinking of a fresh tree.” He sat on the loveseat and held his arms open for me to cuddle with him. “Mama and Daddy’s ornaments are in the crawlspace above the second bedroom. I was going to bring them down tomorrow. It’s my only day off this week.”
“Do you work on your birthday? I was hoping to take you out somewhere fancy.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I told Jared I’d work the early shift. We should be okay by suppertime, though.” I took another sip of wine; it was delightful! “What did you have in mind?”
He nuzzled his face into my neck and kissed it. “I’m not telling you! That would ruin the surprise, silly.”
“At least give me a hint?”
“You’ll need your gown.” Well, that narrowed it down to almost every restaurant in town.
“Sorry, sweetheart, that’s all I got.” His fingers traced the muscles in my right arm, down to my waist. “Damn, you’re still so beautiful.”
“You must feel frisky tonight.” When wasn’t he, really?
“You don’t miss a trick, do you?”
“Not usually.” I snuggled backward into his arms and then turned my head toward him for a kiss. “Yes.”
“Yes, I’ll go to bed with you tonight.” I kissed him again with much more passion.
“I didn’t ask—” he groaned.
“You don’t have to.”
We spent my birthday together, just the two of us. He took me to an exclusive restaurant in town, one of the oldest on the Los Sueños Strip. It was the first time I’d been inside such a swanky, posh, five-star restaurant like that one. The one in Bridgeport was elegant and refined, but this one looked like a million dollars.
On Snowflake Day morning, Jeff woke up first. I didn’t feel him slip from the bedroom, but I smelled fresh coffee wafting in from the kitchen, and the aroma of bacon sizzling on the stove. The air was chilly, and I was wearing no clothes when I put my feet on the floor.
Jeff heard me awake and walked to the bedroom with a cup of coffee for me, prepared just how I loved it. “Good morning, sugarplum,” he said with a wink. “Did you sleep well?”
“Mmhmm. Thank you for the coffee.” I put on my robe. In reality, it didn’t matter what I wore or didn’t wear. No one could see into our penthouse on the nineteenth floor.
“You’re welcome.” He leaned in for a kiss and then lingered there. “Are you hungry, Des?”
“I could eat,” I said. Breakfast smelled delicious.
“The bacon is almost done. I’ll make eggs for you however you’d like, and your favorite whole grain toast.” He took my hands and led me out to the living room. The pile of gifts under the tree shocked me. I felt like a little girl!
“Jeff!” I set my coffee down on the counter and covered my face with my hands. “What did you do?”
“Wouldn’t you love to know?” He taunted me. “It’s been so hard keeping this secret.”
“Where did it all come from? You came in with nothing but your bag.”
“That’s true. I got busy while you were working.” His blue eyes sparkled.
“I…” My eyes welled with tears. I had nothing for him. His visit was unplanned, and money was tight. “You caught me off guard, Jeff. I have nothing—”
He took my hands, his expression so full of love that I couldn’t comprehend why he adored me so much. “Don’t worry about it, Des. I have everything I need and want.”
“I worry about it, Jeff. You give me so much, and I seldom reciprocate. I should shower you with gifts and all—”
He placed his finger on my lips with a gentle ‘shh’. “Des, since we’ve been together, you’ve had one trial after another. You take everything in stride and you never miss a beat. I know you’re struggling here, that your bills are high. There is no reason for you to be facing difficulty when you’re under my roof. You’re my responsibility, babyluv. And I won’t let you neglect things you want because your needs are a burden.” He kissed me, a tender caress on my cheek. “Let me spoil you, because I love you.”
He wiped away my tears of joy as he explained the gifts. I still felt guilty, but when I was able, I’d make it up to him tenfold. “Thank you.”
One last sweet kiss and he stood. “Breakfast is ready.”
We worked in the kitchen together to finish up cooking eggs and toast, then sat at the small dinette table he’d bought for the space I had. Keeping Daddy’s tradition of praying for our meal, Jeff whispered a short blessing over us and our day together. He wasn’t a believer like me, which made his gesture more special.
The dishes sat in the sink while we relaxed on the loveseat, staring at the pile of gifts under the tree. Each one of them had my name on it. Without realizing it, Jeff had triggered fantastic childhood memories for me; I dabbed my eyes and sniffled.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah. It makes me nostalgic to see this. I haven’t had gifts like this since I was a girl.”
“There’s one or two I brought from home from Mom and Dad. The rest are from me, sweetheart. Happy Snowflake Day.”
I wrapped my arms around him, holding him close. “Happy Snowflake Day, my sweet love,” I whispered into his ear.
Jeff sat on the floor in front of the tree, picking out presents for me to open. One by one, I opened his generous gifts; he saved one in particular, it seemed, for last. He held it behind his back and acted innocent. My interest was piqued, but I expected none of what he’d done. It could wait if that’s what he wanted.
I pretended he didn’t have something hidden behind him. “I’m getting more coffee. Would you like a refill?” I asked.
He nodded. “Yeah, as long as you’re getting it, I’ll have one.” Jeff stood and stretched. “Nature calls. I’ll be right back.” I nodded and kept preparing the cups of coffee.
He was back in the living room faster than I could finish. I carried the mugs to him, retaking my place on the loveseat. The gift he’d been hiding now sat on the coffee table; a coy grin pulled across his face.
“Thank you for everything,” I said, taking a sip of my coffee.
“I saved the special one for last, babyluv.” He placed the gift he’d held back onto the table. “This one is from me.”
Funny, he’d say it like that. The gifts were all from him, but I humored him. “Okay.” He watched me tear the paper, open the box, and my countenance fell. A guitar strap, a new capo, and nylon strings?! Was this his idea of a joke? “I-I don’t understand…” I couldn’t decide if I was bitter or sad. My guitar was long gone.
“You will need those things, Des.”
“Maybe eventually. I haven’t been able to replace it yet, Jeff. And I don’t see how this is—” As I spoke my increasingly biting words, he leaned back to retrieve one last gift from inside the guest room. My hands trembled with emotion as he handed the box to me.
“I love you, Destiny,” he whispered. “Open it, babyluv. I can’t wait to see your face.”
I knew what the box held; its unmistakable shape gave away the contents. I didn’t know the specifics, but I couldn’t wait to find out. I tore the paper from the box, clamping my jaws together so I wouldn’t cry. Jeff fidgeted, watching me reveal the one gift he knew I’d treasure for the rest of my life. My fingers removed the tape on the box and then slid it open.
“Oh, my…” I set the box down on my lap and wept. My shoulders heaved as I cried. Jeff moved to the seat next to me and held me. It wasn’t any old acoustic guitar, but an Ovation guitar. This was not a cheap instrument; I’d had my eye on one of those at the music store downtown. It would have taken me over a year to afford one, maybe longer.
“Do you like it, babyluv?”
I couldn’t speak. All I could do was nod. My fingers plucked at the strings. The tone was vibrant and full—even with the standard strings—like no guitar I’d ever played before. He saw how emotional I was, how much I loved and appreciated this beautiful gift. He pulled my hair away from my shoulders and gathered it in his hands.
“That was the big one,” he whispered into my ear. “I have had that picked out since the assault. It was specially ordered and shipped to the store here for you. This guitar is meant for stage performance, Des. It will be the perfect accompaniment to your angelic voice.”
His sweet words, his tender love, rendered me speechless. I set the guitar back into the box and wrapped myself around him. “Oh, how I love you, Jeff.” I sniffled in his ear. “Thank you.”
“You just made my holiday, Destiny. You’re all I’ve ever wanted.”
Three Weeks Later
I’d only been to Sunset Valley once, and never without Jeff. It would be an interesting week. My music player was loaded with Katie Price songs, plugged into my ears as I settled into my first-class seat. The flight attendant took my drink order before we even taxied to the runway.
Twenty minutes later, the plane was headed due north to Sunset Valley for an almost two-hour flight. I had a lot of inspiration for songs, so I sat with my notebook in my hand and a pen tucked into my ponytail. Before I got off this silver bullet, I hoped to have a couple of decent songs written. Jeff promised me we’d make a demo together during his spring break.
The attendant surprised me what seemed like five minutes later, asking for my drink cup and trash items. “We’re twenty minutes from the airport,” she informed me. I looked at the blank page in my notebook. So much for creativity.
“Thank you,” I said in return. I took one last mouthful of ice and threw my drink cup into the open bag she held. I returned my notebook to my backpack and slipped it under my seat. The landscape below us was a beautiful, wintry white. Snow fell at a decent clip, the flakes melting on contact with the airplane and patterning down the windows as water droplets.
I watched outside for the rest of the flight. We landed as though we floated down on a cloud, despite the blustery weather. I supposed it snowed so often up here that the pilots and ground crews were used to the inclement conditions. The jet taxied to the gate, where I hoped Jeff’s mother, Audrey, waited for my arrival.
My eyes scanned the terminal as I walked down the jetway. I could see no familiar faces as I made my way off the airplane. I had no desire to drive in the snow in an unfamiliar city. Please be downstairs at baggage claim, I thought to myself.
Audrey stood close to the bottom of the stairwell that led from the terminal into the baggage claim area. She held a sign that said, “Destiny,” on it; the sweet gesture made me smile. I picked up my pace and walked to where she stood.
“Welcome home, Destiny Grace!” she beamed. I laughed; she insisted Grace was my middle name. Nothing would convince her otherwise.
“Hi Audrey!” I hugged her. It was great that we got along well. It would make the week much less awkward for me.
“How was your flight, dear?” She pulled away from the hug and planted a smooch on my right cheek. “You look stunning! I see the city agrees with you!”
If she only knew. “Thank you! I won’t lie. Things have been tough in Starlight Shores. It’s not as easy as I imagined it would be.”
She patted my shoulder. “Maybe you should consider going with Jeff to Bridgeport, dear. His band is coming together!”
Bridgeport? “As far as I know, he’s thinking about the Shores with me after he graduates.”
Audrey shook her head. “Oh, no dear. Jeffery wants to perform in Bridgeport. His band is very popular at Sim State, and his prospects in the city look better than average.”
Why was I hearing about Jeff’s band from his mother? “Hmm. I thought it was only Jeff and Vic?”
“It was, dear. But Jeffery met two talented musicians up there. They have an incredible sound.” Audrey spoke with obvious pride. But her information left me with more questions than answers.
“Destiny? You act as though you’re hearing this for the first time. Didn’t Jeffery tell you about his band, dear?”
I shook my head. “No. He’s never told me.”
“Well, I’m sorry. I feel like I’ve let out a secret.”
“It’s okay, Audrey. You don’t need to apologize to me.” Jeff might, though, I thought.
The baggage carousel started up, bringing luggage from our flight into the claim area. Mine was one of the first ones off. I collected it, and together we walked to her expensive luxury car.
Audrey pulled up outside a new, bigger mansion. “I hope you don’t mind our remodeling dust, Destiny. Jeff bought this at the start of his winter break. We just finished moving into it. Julian and Jeff are going to refurbish and sell it. Then when Julian retires next January, we’re going to move to Barnacle Bay. The cold is too much here.”
I nodded. “I understand.” She opened the trunk of her car; I took my bag and pulled it to the entryway of the mansion.
This house had a different character. Instead of fine linens and fancy furniture, it had a craftsman feel to it. Rustic, wooden paneling covered the walls on the entire bottom floor with exposed beams on the ceilings. The floors were worn with shoddy-looking carpet. It was ten steps backward for a family used to luxury.
“Your room is upstairs, Destiny. Jeff wanted you to be comfortable here, so he decorated it for you himself.” She led me up a narrow staircase, hidden in a hallway off the kitchen. The stairs opened to a vast living area with a fireplace, average-looking furniture, and a clunky old television set. “The house will be finished well before your wedding in October.”
I gawked at the house’s interior. Everything was different from the older mansion; it was more relaxed and comfortable than the posh home they left behind. She stopped at the door to my room and opened it. “Here it is. Please make yourself at home.”
I stepped inside to find a four-poster bed with a silk scarf wrapped around a wooden canopy. A coordinating down comforter adorned what I assumed would be a top-of-the-line mattress and sateen linens. On a solid wood dresser, a bouquet of fresh red roses awaited me. I’d come to expect Jeff’s loving attention to detail.
“This is beautiful!” I said. “Thank you.”
“We’re meeting Ana at the dress shop in the morning. Though there are several shops in town, Ana’s place can get any dress you desire. We’ll be shopping at her store first.”
“That sounds good. I liked Ana.” Her style was eclectic, but I supposed with Dragon Valley to the north, it wasn’t uncommon for this area.
“Why don’t you get unpacked and come join me in the kitchen when you’re finished? We can talk over a glass of Chardonnay.”
“Sure.” I didn’t care for Chardonnay, but it was okay. I knew I’d need to develop a tolerance for things, and people, I found distasteful.
After supper, I was alone in my bedroom when I heard a knock. “Who is it?”
“It’s Barb.” Barbie was Jeff’s snooty twin sister. We’d gotten off on the wrong foot the last time I was here. Time to mend fences, I supposed.
“Come in.” I sat up on my bed and set my notebook down as Barb walked into the room. The last time I saw her, she had almost platinum blonde hair. Now, it was colored a cerulean blue, shaved to her scalp on the bottom, and longer on top. It looked ridiculous on her. “How are you?” I asked. I tried to sound sincere, but Barb was the last person I needed to see.
“Look, I’m not interested in pleasantries,” she snapped. “I want to make sure you don’t interfere with Jeff’s plans after graduation. What are your intentions with him?”
I swallowed a bit harder than I wanted to. “I don’t see where that’s any of your business.” Yikes. Did those words escape my mouth?
“Well, when it’s MY brother you’re going to be hitched to, you bet it’s my business. I won’t allow you to hold him back. He has such great potential, and you… well, you don’t.”
“Excuse me!” That ticked me off. I stood from the bed and held my position. “You don’t know a thing about me, Barb. How do you know I don’t have potential?”
“I didn’t until you just admitted it, hillbilly.”
Ooh! “That’s not what I said. You’re twisting my words!”
“If you ruin his shot, I will be your worst nightmare.” Her icy blue-gray eyes pierced through me, as though she could see into my soul. It was disturbing.
“What makes you think I want to ruin anything for Jeff? I love him.”
“Well, I know you’ve got him wrapped around your finger, and I know he will do anything for you, including wasting his untapped potential in Starlight Shores. You know he needs to be in Bridgeport, and yet you’d lure him away.” Barb stood her ground, her hands on her hips and an angry snarl on her face. Her scrawny lips exaggerated her expression; she resembled a bulldog with a snaggletooth. It was all I could do to keep from laughing at her.
“You realize Jeff is a grown man with his own free will, don’t you?” I twirled a length of hair around my finger. “If he wants to come to Starlight Shores, that’s his choice.”
“You’re asking too much of him! Since we were toddlers, he’s wanted this. I’ll be damned if I let some two-bit rube take his dreams away!”
“It’s not your decision—” I said until Barb cut me off with a backhand across my cheek.
The impact caught me by surprise and knocked me off my feet. I sat on the floor, stunned; a hot, crimson handprint burned my face.
She looked horrified at what she’d done. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“Please leave me alone,” I croaked out. She stood there, watching to see what I would do. I needed her to leave before I lost my cool and cried in front of her. The last thing I needed was to show weakness. “Get out!” I stood and pointed toward the door.
“I’m going.” She turned on her heel to leave. “Please, don’t tell Jeff? He will beat me into a pulp.”
“I won’t,” I lied. He was the first person I was calling. I couldn’t believe she came into my room and assaulted me, first with words, and then with a physical attack. Barbara said nothing more before she left my bedroom.
Jeff would be back in his dorm unless he had a gathering with his band. I dialed his familiar number, expecting the answering machine. His cheerful voice surprised me.
“Hey, babyluv,” he said. “How’s things up north?”
“I wish I could say they’re good.”
“What’s wrong? Is Mom treating you well?”
I sighed. “Your mom is wonderful. Your sister is another story.”
Jeff huffed on the other end, as though he expected my words. “What did she do this time?”
“Well, for one, she came into my room and picked a fight. And then she backhanded me.”
The line was silent; I thought the call had dropped. “She’s a dead woman,” Jeff said with obvious anger in his voice. “My sister has no right to touch you.”
“She surprised me, that’s for sure. I promised her I wouldn’t tell you. I lied to her.”
“Good! Oh Des, I’m sorry you’re having problems with her. I’ll fix it.”
“I can fight my own battles. She just caught me off-guard.”
“Consider it handled, babyluv. I’ll call her tonight.”
“Thank you, but you don’t need to. I can take care of myself.”
“She’s my sister, sweetheart. We have a history.”
“If you insist.” I wrestled with bringing up what Audrey had mentioned about his band. Should I open a potential can of worms? Mama’s words repeated in my head. “Desi, once you say something, you can’t take it back.” Wise advice, Mama.
“Is everything else okay?”
I bit my tongue. “Yeah, I’m just tired.”
“You’re sure, Des? I want you to be comfortable in my home.”
“I’m sure. Listen, don’t worry about Barb. I’ll just be the bigger person and forget it happened.”
I could tell he wasn’t okay with my decision, because he huffed again. “Call me if she gets out of hand, Des. I’ll talk her straight.”
“Okay, that’s a deal. I love you.”
“I love you more. Goodnight, my sweet princess.”
“Goodnight.” I pressed End on my phone, feeling better about my exchange with Barb. It was late, so I changed into my pajamas and whispered a prayer before I got into bed, wishing for Jeff’s company. I fell asleep with him on my mind.
The next morning, we left the house early to make our nine o’clock appointment with Ana. I dressed in a warm peach sweater, blue jeans and my old, trusty cowboy boots, my hair in a ponytail. Though it wasn’t snowing that morning, the temperatures were below zero. The wind went right through my jacket and chilled me to the bone. I couldn’t wait to get inside somewhere.
Audrey escorted me into the shop and to the front desk. “This is only the first bunch of plans we need to cement before you leave here next week, Destiny Grace. We need to pick out invitations, flowers, bridesmaid dresses, food and entertainment, and the decorations for the mansion.”
I took a deep breath. “Well, let’s concentrate on the dress today. I’m pretty overwhelmed with all this planning stuff.”
Her expression eased, and she gave a warm smile. “Just enjoy yourself, Destiny. This is the fun part.” She rang the bell on the desk, calling Ana’s name.
Ana peeked her head out from behind the backroom door. “I’ll be right there, Audrey,” she said. “I’m gathering the gowns you wanted to see.”
Audrey looked pleased. She walked to the mirrored platform and gestured for me to follow her. We sat together, waiting for Ana’s appearance.
“Hi Destiny!” Ana greeted me, struggling with an armful of white tulle and satin. “Let me set these down… here.” She opened the dressing room door and set the dresses on the rack within. “It’s good to see you again! Do you still have that adorable southern accent?”
Ugh. It’s not southern! I thought to myself. “Yes, I do. It’s not a real big selling point in Starlight Shores for my singing career.”
Ana waved her hand. “Psh! Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do. It’s up to you to sell yourself.” She gave me a quick hug. “Promote yourself in a city that size. You can do it! I have all the faith in you.”
“Based on… what exactly?” Now I was intrigued.
“Jeff tells me you have the voice of an angel. That won’t go unnoticed for long, Destiny. There isn’t much true talent anywhere. You need to find your niche, and go for gold.” Ana sized me up. “Still a size three?”
“One,” I said. “I’ve lost a few pesky pounds.” Ana rolled her eyes. I could tell what she was thinking.
“So you weigh ninety pounds soaking wet now?” She gave me a mischievous grin.
“No, still one-ten. Not wet.” I winked back at her.
“Lucky girl!” She walked to the dressing room and pulled out a white satin gown. It was beautiful. “Let’s try this one first. I think it will look gorgeous on you. It’s a three, but this style runs a bit on the smaller side.”
“Okay!” Together, we walked to the dressing room. She unzipped the back of the gown, which hid a zipper behind tiny, white buttons in mother-of-pearl. The bodice was done with lace and tulle; the skirt was constructed of satin with lace appliques throughout. It reminded me of a fairy tale wedding dress, and I loved it right from the start. “This one is stunning,” I said.
“I agree! Let’s get this contraption on your beautiful self and show Miss Audrey.” I pulled my sweater over my head to Ana’s laughter. “We’re going to need a whole new set of sexy lingerie! That part is my specialty!”
I blushed a deep red, though I should have been used to her quirks. The dress slipped over my head, a perfect fit despite it being a size three. My hands smoothed the fabric over my body as she zipped the back. The gown had no train attached, but it didn’t matter to me. She helped me gather the ample skirt as we walked to the platform. Audrey sat forward in her chair, studying the fit and form of the dress.
“That looks lovely on you, Destiny,” Audrey said. “What do you think, Ana?”
Ana fussed with the dress in back. “I think it’s perfect!”
“What do you think, Destiny? You’ll knock his socks off in that dress.” Audrey continued her penetrating stare.
“I love it.” I turned around to see myself in this beautiful gown. The fit and the style were perfect. Where is Mama when I need her opinion? “I know I shouldn’t take the first one I try on, though.”
“That’s true,” Ana said in agreement. “I have quite a few here for you to try, and you’re my only client scheduled until late afternoon. We have all day.”
“Let’s see the next one,” Audrey said. “We’ll keep that one on the short list.”
Ana nodded and gathered the skirt. Together, we walked back to the dressing room. She helped me out of the gown, and I stood there in my unmentionables while she unwrapped the next dress. This one looked to be form-fitting. Not my style, but I’d try it for Audrey’s sake. Ana slipped it over my head; she fastened a series of hooks to close the back.
The gown was a stark, winter white made from a fabric I’d never seen before, let alone wore. The lace detail was intricate, and I’ll admit the dress was pretty. Had it been crafted from a softer material, it would have been slinky, hugging every curve of my body. The skirt flared at the bottom, starting at the knee. We walked to the platform; Audrey stood and walked to me.
“Destiny, this looks gorgeous on you! It’s elegant and understated. It makes you look like a movie star.” She hugged me and stood right behind me. “I’m favoring this one.”
I looked at every angle in the mirror, checking out the fit. It wasn’t what I liked, but it was beautiful just the same. “You think so?” I asked.
“Oh, absolutely, dear!” Audrey turned to Ana. “Do you have this one in an off-white?”
“Off-white?” I said.
“You’d have to be dead to resist Jeffery for so long, Destiny. I know you’re not a ‘good girl’. Sure, we like to keep up appearances, but let’s be honest—” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How could she possibly know that?!
Ana looked at my face, twisted in utter humiliation, and clicked her tongue. “Every bride deserves to wear white at her wedding, Audrey. No matter what.” She leaned forward and hugged me. “I have your back,” she whispered. I wanted to crawl under the rug and stay there.
When we returned home from the train wreck dress appointment, I excused myself to my room. I was fuming about Audrey’s accusations, but more so about the wording she used. I’m not a ‘good girl’?! What the heck did THAT mean? Well, I knew what it meant. And I believed Audrey liked me. I think Jeff was the only one in his family who did.
The supper hour came, and the house smelled good. I almost declined having supper with the family. But to salvage the day, I joined them. The thought of Jeff’s dad, Julian, being my sole ally in the family, when it was he who didn’t care for me to start, amused me. However, I wasn’t counting on my assumption being true.
Audrey cooked a beautiful meal, likely big enough to feed three times as many people. We all sat together with no prayer spoken before supper. I needed to accept that Jeff came from a family of non-believers.
Barb sat across from me; Audrey and Julian opposite one another at the table’s head. Barb was quiet and reserved until the discussion turned to the dress disaster.
“Barbie, we need you to come with us to the next dress fitting. Destiny could use your fashion sense.” Audrey gazed at me with a crooked smile. Was she kidding? Barb’s sense of style was no style at all. Whatever she wore never coordinated. I thought Audrey was losing her marbles.
“Why would I want to help her? She’s going to ruin Jeff.” Barb swiveled her head toward her father. “Why are you letting this wedding take place, Pa?”
Julian looked over his glasses at me. “She’s suitable.”
“She isn’t a ‘good girl’, Julian,” Audrey stated, her slender fingers forming air quotes.
“Well, that’s surprising.” He looked right into my eyes. “Aren’t your parents believers? You must be a disappointment to them.”
I am a pretty tolerant person, and I’ve always been taught to turn the other cheek. Mama, despite being red-headed, was always even-tempered, and I could never remember her and Daddy disagreeing, never mind fighting. And most times, I was like Mama.
But Daddy had a wild streak and a case of wanderlust until his retirement. He’d uttered more than a few salty words, though they were never directed at Mama. Daddy could trade barbs with the best of them, and his temper often got him into trouble.
Today, I was my daddy’s daughter—a red-headed spitfire raised to stand up for myself. “Doormat Destiny” ceased to exist at that moment. The Dean family awakened a hornet’s nest, and I was hot and ready to sting.
“What did you just say to me?” I spat back at Julian.
“Your parents must be so disappointed—”
Did he really just repeat that? Doesn’t he know what rhetorical means? “Let’s get one thing straight, Mr. Dean. My parents adored me, and I, them. They were very proud of me, and they would be to this day, especially with everything I’ve endured since they passed away two years ago. So don’t you ever, EVER, tell me my parents would be disappointed in me!”
Audrey gave me a surprised look. “Where is all this coming from?”
“Don’t. You. DARE!” I snarled. “You started this!”
“Isn’t what I say true?” Audrey doubled down.
“What Jeffery and I do in our private time is NONE of your business! Do you understand me?”
“Chill out, hillbilly,” Barb stood and raised her voice. “We don’t disrespect our elders in this family! You’re such an ungrateful little bitch after Mom invited you into our home! You should be ashamed of yourself.”
That was the end of my civility. Barb’s words struck the match that lit my fuse. My daddy’s temper took over as salty words poured from my mouth. What I had said was a mystery; I was too angry to care. When I got up from the table, I kicked my chair so hard that it almost fell over. I was shaking like a leaf while I walked up to my bedroom. My first phone call was to the local cab company. I needed a ride to the airport.
No one appeared to smooth things over. I had my case packed in record time. I walked down the front stairway with my pride intact and the future of my engagement with Jeff hanging in the balance. The cab was there minutes after I called for them. I didn’t say goodbye when I walked from Jeff’s mansion.
“Airport, please,” I said as the cab driver placed my bag in the trunk. My hands still shook opening the back seat of the car. I dialed Jeff’s number after I climbed inside.
“Hi babyluv!” His cheery voice greeted me. But when I heard him, my voice quivered. My breath caught in my throat, and a sob choked me. “Des? What’s wrong?”
“I’m on my way back to the Shores. Things got ugly, and I lost my temper.”
“What? Why, Des? What happened?”
“We were having supper together, and your mom suggested to Barb that she come with us on our next dress shopping trip. Barb was her usual miserable self, but your parents said some pretty awful things to me. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I guess they don’t like me after all, Jeff.”
“That doesn’t seem right, Des. Mom adores you! She was looking forward to spending time with you.”
“Does she know we were intimate, Jeff? Did you tell her?”
Silence. I thought the call had disconnected. “No. My personal life isn’t their business. They don’t care what I do, anyway.”
“Well, my virginity, or lack thereof, was up for discussion at supper. Your dad implied my parents would be ashamed of me…” Just repeating the words angered me again. How DARE he?
More silence, and then a distraught sigh. “Oh, babyluv, I’m so sorry. I promise to make it up to you.”
Talking to Jeff, I wept in the back seat of the cab. “I can’t go back there. That bridge burned down to the nubs.”
“Let me talk to Mom, and we’ll get this all straightened out. I promise. Don’t fly out angry, sweetheart. Just sit tight, okay?”
“I’m sorry. I need to get back home.” Though he couldn’t see me, I shook my head. “I can’t face them again.”
“I can’t talk you into staying there?”
“Why, Jeff? So they can insult me some more? I can’t let them talk to me this way. I’m no fool.”
“Oh Des, I understand,” he said. Finally.
“Do you mind if I use some of the renovation funds to change my flight? I’ll replace it when I can.”
“Use whatever you need, sweetheart. Don’t worry about replacing it. I’ll just replenish it in the morning.”
His gentle tone was just what I needed to ease my anxiety. “I wish you were here. Jeff, I need you.”
“I was going to fly home this weekend to surprise you. Maybe I’ll change my destination and come to the Shores instead.”
“I would love that.”
“I know you would.” That made me laugh.
“We’re pulling up at the airport terminal, Jeff. I’ll call you when I’m home safe.”
“Okay, Des. Remember, I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
— Jeff —
Destiny’s phone call that night was a shocker. Mom never gave me any sign that she didn’t like my sweet fiancée. So when she hung up the phone, Mom’s number back at the house was the first one I dialed.
“What did you do, Mom?”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Why did Destiny call me all upset? What did you do to her?”
“Oh.” Mom didn’t answer me right away. What was she waiting for? Her delay was just making me angrier. “Well, you know, Jeffery, that girl… she’s not right for you.”
“It doesn’t matter what you say, Mom. We’re getting married, with or without your blessing.”
“Do what you want, Jeffery. It’s your life, but think long and hard about it. She has a hot temper, and she is very disrespectful!”
Well, that didn’t sound right. Destiny wouldn’t insult anyone, not even the ones who bullied her at the park. “I don’t believe she’s capable of disrespect.”
“Until it’s YOU she’s fighting with, Jeff. I don’t trust a girl with red hair. They’re flighty and devious.”
Mom was making me angry. “Hair color has nothing to do with temperament. Des is sweet as they come!”
“How does she get along with her folks? I can’t imagine they’re very proud of her now.”
“You realize her parents died, right? Both of them, within 24 hours of each other. You can’t imagine how close she was to them, and how much she misses them.”
“Well, that’s not healthy, either, Jeffy. A girl shouldn’t be so close to her mother. It’s not right.”
Mom was just talking in circles. “Are you quite done?”
“I’m telling you, Jeff. She’s not the person you think. When she’s with you, maybe she’s different. When she’s by herself, she’s a monster.”
“I’m sure you did nothing to provoke her…” Could she hear the sarcasm in my voice? I hoped so, because I knew differently.
“Why would I do that, Jeff? You’re my son. Why would I lie to you? She has plenty of reasons to lie, like saving face or making your family look bad.” I heard Dad chattering with her in the background; I couldn’t make out their conversation in its entirety, but what I heard seemed to mesh with Mom’s account. Why would Destiny lie to me?
“Maybe she’s after your money. She wouldn’t be the first little minx to target you, Jeff.”
Impossible! It couldn’t be true. “No. Destiny doesn’t care about the money.”
“Isn’t she from a poor family?”
“She is. What’s your point?”
“When you shower her with gifts and spoil her, don’t you think she will come to expect that? Try withholding money and see how she reacts. I bet you’ll see her for what she really is, Jeff. Please, be careful.”
“I trust her.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t. That’s all I’m saying.”
I huffed in frustration. “Look, Mom. I need to go. I have to get up early.” It was a lie. I needed some time to process my feelings and everything Mom had thrown at me. It was overwhelming.
“OK, Jeffery. We love you, son.”
“Yeah.” I hung up the phone, cursing under my breath. My brain was working overtime, trying to figure out what had gone on, who was telling me the truth. I took Mom’s advice and tested Destiny. A quick phone call later, the credit card she used for emergencies was frozen. According to the bank, she hadn’t attempted using her bank card yet. I knew she would try when she got to the airport. Her reaction would tell me who was telling the truth—Destiny or Mom.
As expected, the phone rang twenty minutes later. I acted cool when I answered her call.
“Hi, babyluv!” I said.
“Is there something wrong, Jeff? The airline declined my card!”
“It should be okay,” I lied. “What did they tell you?”
“They didn’t give me a reason, just that the card was declined.” I heard her put her hand over the phone, and she mumbled to someone. “They won’t give the card back! What’s going on, Jeff? How am I going to get home?!”
Her reaction was just what Mom had predicted. “Don’t you have your money from the house?” I tried to be smooth and helpful, but she was growing more agitated.
“I have no access to that now! It’s all tied up in investments. You know that!” she huffed and cursed, something I’d never heard her do before. “What am I going to do? I don’t really want to sleep in the airport!”
Thanks to me, she was in a tight spot. I wasn’t expecting her reaction. I thought she would have handled it like she did every other crisis she’d been given. “Let me call the bank and see what’s up. Can I call you back?”
“I guess.” Her voice cracked. “Please hurry? I’ve had a rough day.”
I heard the emotion in her quivering voice. Now I felt terrible for testing her, but Mom was right. “I’ll put you on hold, Des. Just a sec.” One more phone call to the bank, and her privileges were restored. As a precaution, I called the airport in Sunset Valley, determined who had kept her card, and told them it was a misunderstanding. The agent assured me he would return the card to Destiny. Sure, it would cost me a few hundred dollars, but she would get home safe and sound. The experiment revealed what I needed to know, and it was depressing as hell.
Mom had done the unthinkable; she planted the first seed of doubt into my head about Destiny.
Up Next: Chapter Three, Generation Two
The Sims Resource
Sit In by Shokobiene
Anger 10 Poses
Samsung Right-Hand Phone Accessory
The Farmer Legacy
Destiny & Jeff’s Engagement Photos (Requires Master Suite Stuff)
The Sims 3 Exchange
Sweet Pea Flowers by Skyeseeker
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