G2 Prologue Arthur Atwood – A Character Biography


The small, rustic village of Monte Vista was located in a country separated from the Mainland by the Great Sea. Known for its fine wineries and rich food, the town, though sparsely populated, bustled with activity. The village center sat atop a large mesa, surrounded by the rolling hills of farmlands where crops and grapes were grown. Only the well-to-do villagers resided on the mesa; the farmers, laborers and townspeople who grew food and provided goods and services to supply the village lived in the homes nestled into the hillsides.

The historic Rossari farm had housed five generations of vintners and belonged to Luca and Bianca Atwood. Bianca inherited her family’s farm, as well as the legacy and responsibility that came with it. Their farmlands were rich with ancient, fertile grapevines that yielded spectacular harvests virtually every season. Winemaking—the art, the passion—was in Bianca’s blood. It was her way of life.

Luca, however, came from a family of musical prodigies. His father, whose family immigrated to Monte Vista from England, played violin and cello in the symphony orchestra. By age twenty-one, Luca had mastered most stringed instruments and was an accomplished concert cellist. 

Luca and Bianca welcomed three children into their home. Their oldest, Giorgio, was thirteen when their second son, Arturo, was born. The following year, they brought their only daughter, Daniela, into their family. Giorgio would become the sixth generation heir for the family farm; it was his birthright.

The summer Giorgio graduated secondary school, Luca received a job opportunity in a city located on the Mainland called Starlight Shores. For his children’s sake and his own, he needed to convince Bianca to leave generations of her family’s traditions to seek fortune in a new, foreign land.

One night after supper, he and Bianca sat down by their fireplace with a glass of rich, red Rossari wine. The younger children were sound asleep, and Giorgio was out with friends. The only light in the room was the warm, orange glow from the hearth; firelight played in the swirling liquid in Luca’s glass as he took a sip. The wine, though still flavorful, wasn’t as robust as past vintages of the same variety. All the more reason to give up this languishing farm, Luca thought to himself. 

He took another sip, made a face, then set the glass down on the table by his chair. “Bianca,” he said in a hushed tone, “I have something to discuss with you.”

Bianca, who sat knitting, never looked up from her work. “What is it, Luca?”

“My love, I have an opportunity that will take us from Monte Vista. An orchestra on the Mainland is interested in my talents. They will pay our expenses to move and our immigration fees. Bianca, the money they’ve offered me is substantial. We don’t need to stay here and labor needlessly on this farm anymore. Our future, and that of our children, will be secure.”

She set her yarn work down in her lap and peered over her glasses at her husband. “The Mainland? You’re either drunk, Luca, or you’ve gone mad.” 

Luca smiled and continued swirling the dark, dry wine in his glass. “I’m not drunk, and I assure you, I’m quite coherent. The city is Starlight Shores. You’ve heard of it, haven’t you? Everyone who is in the music business on the Mainland lives in Starlight Shores.”

She continued to stare at Luca over the top of the glasses that sat low on her nose. “Who hasn’t heard of Starlight Shores?” Bianca resumed her work with the knitting project in her lap. “Your sobriety and sanity are in question, however, if you think we’re moving there.” 

“Well, of course we’re moving there! Don’t you see what a fantastic opportunity this is, my love?” 

Bianca huffed. “It would be a great opportunity, Luca, if I was just a little bit interested. But, I’m not, so we’re not going.”

Luca growled under his breath. “Just like that, you say no? You didn’t even consider the impact your decision has on me or the children. Arturo would benefit from being in Starlight Shores, my love! His talents exceed my own. Don’t you see that?” At age five, Arturo mastered Luca’s violin, and though he was too tiny, he showed great interest in learning the cello and bass as well. 

“Giorgio is a farmer, Luca. Don’t you see that? Two can play this game of back and forth. My answer is still no.”

Luca grew frustrated with her stubbornness. “You won’t take this chance from me! I have worked hard to get where I am!”

“We are vintners! This farm, Luca… it is my legacy. I won’t leave it.”

He recognized that being obstinate with her was getting him nowhere fast, so he tried to appeal to her softer side. “But I am a musician, my love, and so is our son.” Luca walked to where she sat knitting, knelt in front of her chair and placed his hands on her lap, covering her knitting. His action paused the craft, and she scowled angrily at him for doing so. “Please, Bianca. We will thrive in the new country, I promise you.” 

Bianca bit her lip. “This farm is Giorgio’s inheritance. All he wants is to grow grapes and make wine. Surely you don’t wish to sacrifice his birthright for riches and fame! This is foolishness, Luca!”

“Giorgio is of legal age. Nothing stops him from staying behind, if that’s what he truly wishes.”

Being sensible wasn’t having her desired effect on the man who sat before her. She knew Luca was a pushover when she cried, often giving in to her whims and fancy when she inserted some tearful emotion into a situation. Though she didn’t do it often, it was imperative that she convince him to stay in Monte Vista. Almost on command, tears welled in her eyes and threatened to spill down her face. 

“I don’t believe you’re willing to sacrifice our oldest child for the sake of the little ones. Giorgio is too young to fend for himself. You know the wineries are competitive; he lacks the experience and tenacity to negotiate with them. He doesn’t even have a wife! Who will care for my baby?”

Luca rose and walked to where Bianca sat, placed his hands on her shoulders, and massaged them. “My love, Giorgio is not a baby. He is a grown man who is more than capable of running this household, with or without a mate at his side. Don’t you trust how we’ve raised him?”

Bianca twisted her torso and whisked his hands off her shoulders. Her attempts at emotional manipulation fizzled. It was time to stand up for herself, her heritage, and the apple of her eye. “How we’ve raised him?” she snarled. “Luca, you were always off playing that forsaken violin! You had no hand in that boy’s upbringing. Giorgio’s successes are my reward, not yours!”

Her words angered him. “If not for me and my forsaken violin, our children would be destitute! This farm never supported our family, Bianca, and it never will!”

“That is not true! The Rossaris are famous for their wines—”

Were, Bianca. The vines are dying, and the new buds won’t be ready for years. Face it, my love. This farm is a relic, a remnant of what it once was. It might rise again, but no one buys Rossari wines anymore. Giorgio will choose to remain a vintner, but he should know what lies ahead for this winery. His will be a life of hard labor and toil. You know this to be true.”

Bianca turned from him. “He doesn’t care. This is what he wishes to do. And I will not allow him to fail when I can help him. Luca, this farm, this winery… it’s my family legacy, and I won’t let it fall into ruin. I can’t leave.”

Angry, Luca stomped away, then stopped and turned to face her. “You can, and you will! Damn it, Bianca, we are going to the Mainland, end of story. You and I are a family, and we will act like one!” Bianca sat where she was, her shoulders heaved in sorrow, and she wept. He trudged up the steps, confident he’d won the battle. But unbeknownst to Luca, he had not yet won the war.

One Month Later

Giorgio, when presented with the option to leave Monte Vista, chose to remain behind, taking his rightful place in the family business. He’d studied at the wineries around the village since he was ten years old and worked the vineyard he now owned from an even younger age. Giorgio knew the business and its intricacies inside and out; he’d worked side by side with his mother, replanting the vineyard with budding grape hybrids he hoped would produce new, unique flavors. Her son’s vision for the winery impressed Bianca, but she still lacked confidence he could manage the farmstead and winery on his own.

The Rossari homestead, and all it encompassed, would remain with Giorgio. For the rest, Starlight Shores would be a fresh start. Their living room was filled with luggage and toys for the children, all packed for their trip overseas. Bianca awakened early the morning of their departure. Luca, who noticed her stark absence in their bed, awakened shortly afterward. He expected the sounds and smells of breakfast, their last in Monte Vista. Instead, he found Bianca hovering over opened suitcases, feverishly removing items from them. Luca cocked his head as his feet landed on the bottom step, his face wearing a scowl. 

“What’s going on down here?” he demanded.

“Luca, we need to talk.” 

A sense of foreboding enveloped him. “What is it, Bianca?” 

She stood her ground, arms crossed in an assertive stance. “I’m not going with you and the babies. Giorgio needs me here.” 

“We’ve discussed this until I’m sick of it. You are coming with us to the Mainland, Bianca.” 

Her gaze remained on her husband’s face. “I am not, and I’m not budging.”

Luca couldn’t permit her to stay behind, for the sake of his younger children, and his wounded pride. “What about our children? They need their Mamma.”

“I know, but I won’t leave Monte Vista. This is my home, Luca.” 

“I know you’re worried about Giorgio. He is a grown man, and he’s capable—”

Bianca shook her head. “No, I’m worried about me. I will surely die in a foreign land. I can’t leave, and I won’t.”

Luca, in exasperation, clicked his tongue at her. “You will not die, Bianca. What worries you?” 

“I’m too old to learn a new language. I’m too stuck in my heritage to pull up my roots here and lay them down elsewhere. You say I won’t perish in the city, and in some ways, you might be right. But my soul will wither away. I belong here in the countryside with my traditions, and our son.”

Her proclamation angered Luca. “You are always so resistant to change! Our entire life together has depended upon your willingness to comply, but not this time. I am the head of this household! This time, I will dictate our future, and we are going to the Mainland, as a family!”

“You take the children and leave. I will not leave Monte Vista; not for you, and certainly not for money! My decision is final.”

His expression softened. “Tell me you’re not serious! What can I do or say to change your mind?” 

“There is nothing that will influence my decision. My mind is made up.” She remained stoic in her stance, digging in her heels. 

He lifted her chin; their gaze met. Tears of heartbreak flooded Luca’s cerulean eyes and dripped down his cheek. “Please, don’t let this be over. I love you.” 

“I’m sorry, Luca. I’m staying.” She bowed her head and broke eye contact. “Sometimes, love isn’t enough.” 

“I see.” He stood and paced the floor. “What do I tell Arturo? Daniela is just a babe. How do I handle two young children and my work?”

“You will find a way, Luca. You’re resourceful. How do famous, wealthy families manage on the Mainland?”

Luca kicked the floor. “An au pair will never be their Mamma, Bianca.”

“Some day, you’ll be thankful I stayed here.”

“How can you say that? You’re ruining three lives with your selfishness—”

“MY selfishness, Luca? You’re taking my two babies from me, and for what? Money? Fame? This is your fault. Don’t you forget that. You are breaking up our home because you’re not satisfied living a life we’ve had since the beginning. So go, take our little ones and leave here. But don’t come back begging my forgiveness when you fail.” 

“I’m doing this for us, Bianca, not just me! For Arturo and Dani. For our family.” Luca fell to his knees and wept. “Why can’t you see that?”

“I am staying true to who I am, and so are you. But we were fooling ourselves, Luca, to think we could make this relationship work forever. Our dreams are too different. Love doesn’t fix everything.” 

“Love is a solid foundation. If we want it to work, it can, Bianca.” 

She turned from him. “You’re a romantic fool.”

Her words stung him like a thousand hornets. “Then it’s done?”

She nodded at him. “It’s done.” Bianca began her ascent to the second floor, blinking back her own tears. “I need to wake my babies for the last time, before you rip them from my arms.”

Luca winced at the harshness of her words. “What do we tell them?” 

She shrugged. “Say I am coming later. They will forget me soon enough.” 

Several hours later, with the bags, boxes and children loaded into Giorgio’s old pickup truck, Bianca waited outside their home, trying to stifle her emotion. She and Luca, after their last exchange, stood in awkward silence while Giorgio retrieved one last box from the house. 

“Bianca,” Luca said. “I’m sorry we fought earlier. I don’t wish to leave when we’re angry with one another.” 

“Angry or not, Luca, nothing changes.” 

“I really can’t talk you into coming with us? Not even for Dani? My love, she needs her Mamma.”

“We’ve already discussed this, Luca. This is my home.”

“I will never sign papers, Bianca. You made a promise to me.” 

“You made a promise, too, but you can’t be bothered to honor it. Fame and fortune are your new mistresses now.” She crossed her arms in front of her. “It’s your duty to make this separation complete. At least be man enough to release me.”

Luca lowered his eyes. She was exceptionally good at inflicting pain; this moment was no different. “It doesn’t need to be this way. You could choose to come, even after we’ve gone. You could keep your word to Arturo and join us.”

“How is it you still don’t understand, Luca? Must you make me say it?”

He swallowed hard. “Say what?”

“I love Monte Vista, this farm, and our children.”

“What about me, Bianca?” She turned from him to hide her tears, but his hands gripped her shoulders. He spun her to face him; the look on her face confirmed his worst fear. “You don’t love me, do you?” 


Her pregnant pause hung in the air between them as Giorgio walked from the house with the last box in his hands. “This is it, Papà. Should I put it in the back with the other things?” 

Luca nodded, swallowing the lump that grew in his throat, and hoping his son wouldn’t notice. “Thank you, Giorgio. You’re a good boy.” 

“Papà, I’m a man!” Both men laughed; Giorgio gave his father a warm smile. “I wish we were all going, but I know you understand why I can’t.” 

“Of course, son.” Luca hugged his oldest child; Giorgio was his mother’s spitting image. “We need to go, or we’ll miss our boat.” He walked to Bianca and held her for the last time. “Pretend for the young ones. Don’t let them know,” he whispered into her ear. She nodded and embraced him. 

“I will miss you Luca until we see each other again.” She gave him a perfunctory kiss and pulled away, then walked to the truck where the children waited for her. “Arturo, be a good boy for Papà, okay? And Dani, be a good girl. I’ll be with you soon.” She hugged both of them for the last time and stepped away from the truck. “Take care of my babies, Luca. Be prosperous and be well.” 

“I love you, Bianca,” he said with one last kiss. “We will see you soon.” She said nothing in return, but stood and waved as Giorgio drove away. Bianca stood until the cloud of dust from the truck settled, then walked back to the house and closed the door behind her.


At the dock, Giorgio parked the truck in the loading zone. A smaller ferry would shuttle the family to a neighboring village, a port town with the means to handle a ship capable of a trans-oceanic voyage. The two men worked to empty the bed while the children stayed in the car. As a dockhand retrieved the last bag and checked it onboard, Luca embraced his older son, fully aware this would likely be the last time he’d ever see him. 

“Take good care of your mamma, Giorgio. I know you realize she’s not following us to the Mainland.” 

The young man nodded. “I do, Papà. I know we’re pretending for their sake.” He turned toward his younger brother and sister. “You have to do what you need. Mamma will be okay.” 

Luca placed his hands on Giorgio’s shoulders. “You’re the only one who can breathe new life into that winery. You have much responsibility to shoulder, my son, but you will succeed. I expect to see Rossari Wines rise from the ashes someday. I will pray for you.” 

“And I for you, Papà.” The men hugged for one of the last times. “I love you.” 

“I love you, son,” Luca said, turning for the truck’s cab. “Help me with the babies?” 

Giorgio nodded. “Of course, Papà.” He grabbed Daniela from her seat and hugged her. “Addio, sorella.” She giggled as he kissed her cheek. “Be a good girl for Papà.” Dani, as the family called her, was just four years old, but she spoke little. She giggled as Giorgio tickled her tummy.

“Papà!” she chattered, holding her arms open and reaching for Luca. Giorgio passed his baby sister to their father and took Arturo from the truck’s cab. 

“Oh Arturo, you’re getting heavy!” Giorgio said as he lifted the boy from the truck. Of his younger siblings, Giorgio loved Arturo more. “I’m going to miss you.” He placed a kiss on the boy’s cheek amid a flurry of giggles. 

Ti amo, Giorgio,” Arturo said. 

Giorgio hugged him close, then placed him on the ground. “Anch’io ti amo.” 

Luca picked Dani up on his hip while Giorgio took Arturo’s hand. The family strolled over to the walkway that led to the ferry. A signal whistle sounded a last call for boarding. Giorgio reached for Dani for one last hug. 

“I guess this is it,” Giorgio said. “Addio, Papà. Call when you get settled.” 

Father and son hugged one last time, placing a light kiss on each other’s right cheek, and then the left one. “Addio, figlio mio. We will miss you. Take good care of yourself.” Luca took his younger children by the hand and walked with them onto the ferry. With their last farewells, he turned around to wave and to take one last look as the rolling hillsides of Monte Vista faded into the distance.

The ferry shuttled the family to the neighboring port city, where they boarded a luxury ocean liner. A first-class suite—two bedrooms, a bathroom, breakfast nook, and a grand living room with a wet bar and attached balcony—would be their home for the next eighteen days. Luca unpacked the children’s clothing into the closet and dresser in their smaller room, and placed their favorite plush toys on their beds. Each child had a special handmade doll Bianca had given them when they were born. Perhaps, Luca thought, it would help make the pain of separation a little less.

With the children preoccupied in their new room, playing with toys he’d brought from home, Luca carefully unpacked his suitcases, ones with items noticeably missing from them. His mind drifted back to the morning’s argument with Bianca. She should be here with us, he lamented as he hung his dress shirts in the closet. He wondered what she was doing, or if she even missed him the way he missed her. He imagined her pretty dresses hanging alongside his suits in the closet, and how they’d wear them to a special dinner on board the ship. Luca shook his head, closing the door and heading back toward the living room.

Though it was early in the day, Luca walked to the wet bar to peruse the selection of whiskey available in his private stash. Courtesy of the cruise line, he had a small collection of liquor bottles, each with about three glasses contained within. He picked up a bottle of scotch and checked the label. Not bad, he thought to himself. Luca opened the mini refrigerator under the counter and pulled out a few ice cubes to chill the drink. The ice clinked around in the otherwise empty glass as he twirled it in his hand. He loved the sound; it was much more satisfying to him than pouring a dull glass of wine. A half-smile pulled his face as he poured a shot of scotch into his glass.

He padded to the sofa and sunk into it, setting his drink on the side table. With his arms spread open, he rested his head back onto the couch and closed his eyes, already desperately lonely. “I miss you, Bianca,” he whispered to himself before he drifted to sleep.

Two Weeks Later

After more than two weeks at sea, the ship was due to dock in the port city of Roaring Heights on the Mainland’s eastern coast. The journey had, for the most part, been quiet and uneventful for him and the children. However, he couldn’t shake his melancholy mood or Bianca’s last words. They had been apart for only two weeks, but he dearly missed her.

The children had spent their day in the ship’s playground while Luca enjoyed some much needed time to himself. He tucked his tired little ones into their beds for their last night’s sleep on board the ocean liner, closed the children’s bedroom door and walked into his bedroom. He slipped out of his clothing and dressed in pajamas and a light robe, as the air temperature outside was chilly. 

There was just one bottle of spirits left in his wet bar that he’d saved for this night. As had become his ritual, he took a glass from the counter, plopped two ice cubes into it, and poured himself a shot of bourbon, stepping onto the balcony for a breath of fresh air. 

Luca settled into a cushioned lounge chair on the deck and placed the glass of whiskey on the side table. Though the ship was approaching the port, they were still at least one hundred nautical miles from land. In the open ocean, the sky was void of light and littered with what seemed a billion stars. The countryside of Monte Vista was dark at night, but he’d never seen a sky quite like this one. It made his longing for Bianca even stronger. Luca finished his bourbon, stood, and went back into the suite, heading for bed.

An hour later, Daniela’s crying awakened Luca with a start. Throwing on clothing as he walked, he hurried to where his children slept. 

“Daniela, Papà is here,” he said, lifting the little girl into his arms.  

“Mamma…” she cried out. “I want Mamma!”

“Mamma isn’t here, Dani,” he whispered, holding her little body close to him. “I’m here, and you’re okay.“

She sniffled and continued to cry. “I’m afraid!” she wept, speaking in her four-year-old voice. “I want Mamma!”

Fearing she would wake Arturo, Luca carried her to the living room, where she continued to cry for Bianca. He paced the floor for at least an hour with her in his arms, talking to her in hushed tones while she wept, still calling for her mother. At his wit’s end, Luca wrapped her in a light throw and settled down into the rocking chair on the balcony. He hoped the cool evening air would help to calm her as he rocked with her.

Whether she was comforted by the chair or the ship’s gentle sway, Luca didn’t know, but Daniela settled with each passing moment. Her soft weeping faded to whimpers, and eventually, the sounds of a sleeping child. Luca glanced at his wristwatch. It was 4:17AM.

His left leg was numb, and his back ached from sitting for hours in the hard wooden chair. His body shifted to relieve pressure from his left side, but doing so awakened Dani. He felt her fingers grip the neck of his robe and heard her congested sniffles. Luca turned his head to face her. The child’s jet black hair and brown eyes reminded him of her mother. “Are you okay, sweetheart?” he whispered. The little girl simply nodded. 

Her eyes were heavy with sleep, so he stood on his right leg, waiting for the left one’s blood flow to return, clenching his teeth and preparing himself for the agony of pins and needles. Luca sang to her as he held her, more to take his mind from the burning misery in his left leg than anything else. As the pain subsided, he took his first steps toward the bedroom. A heavy sigh of relief hissed from his mouth.

He walked to Dani’s crib and kissed her forehead softly. “Sleep now, child,” he whispered. She opened her eyes long enough to smile at her father as he laid her down. She cuddled the doll that waited, with its blank, sewn-on expression, for her return. He pulled the covers over her, kissed her cheek, and tucked her in. Luca checked on Arturo and kissed the boy’s cheek before turning to go. He trudged back to his room and flopped onto the bed, exhausted.

The phone at his bedside rang a few short hours later. He fumbled to pick it up. The message, recorded in Italian, spoke in a cheerful tone: 

Dear guest. We are scheduled for docking at noon local time. Please have luggage outside your suite for pickup no later than 10:00 AM. Please refer to your travel brochure for information on luggage claim, immigration procedures, and connecting transportation.

Luca slammed the handset onto its cradle and sighed. There was much to do, and very little time to do it. His wristwatch read 6:02 AM.

The children were still sleeping. Luca figured it was a good time to take a shower and get the remainder of his packing done while he had peace and quiet. Once Daniela was awake, she would require most of his time and attention.

The bathroom in the main suite was appointed with chrome fixtures and stark white tiles. He stripped down in the bedroom and walked, naked, into the open shower. The bath area opened up to a private balcony with a tub. Had Bianca been with them, he’d have made use of that amenity more than once. Being alone, he never saw fit to use a private tub meant for two. 

Once he was finished showering, he wrapped up in a thick, white towel and padded back into the bedroom. He had already laid out his clothing for the day, and an outfit for each of the children. Everything else, he threw into his larger suitcase. Those items would need to be laundered eventually, after they’d settled into their new home. He took his time getting dressed, savoring the last few moments of tranquility before Hurricane Daniela awakened. He loved that little girl, but wished he had a fraction of her energy.

Rather than take the children to breakfast at one of the on-board restaurants, he chose to order their meal for delivery to their room. It would save Luca some time to have breakfast with the children in their stateroom one last morning. He chose items from the menu he knew they would eat, and called for room service before he woke the little ones.

Arturo was already awake when he opened the bedroom door. “Good morning, Papà!” he said to Luca. “Are we going home today?” It was a question the boy asked every day for the last week. “I miss Mamma.”

“We are Arturo, but Mamma is coming later. We’re not going back to Monte Vista. We’ll have a new home very soon.”

“I can’t wait to see Mamma again, Papà. And Giorgio, too!”

Luca’s heart broke into slivers. He knew the children didn’t understand why they’d left the only home they’d ever known, or why their mother and brother weren’t there. He really hated lying to the boy, and he despised the position Bianca had placed him in to do so. With a lump in his throat, he fibbed to his younger son. “Mamma will be coming soon, Arturo. I miss her, too.” He needed to change the subject before he lost his composure in front of the boy. “We’re docking today, son. Do you need help with a bath?” 

“No, Papà.” 

“Then please get washed up. Breakfast will come soon, and I need to help your sister.”

“May I watch the box after my bath?” Arturo referred to the television that sat in the suite’s living room. Though he didn’t understand the language, he was mesmerized by the ‘moving picture box’. It was a luxury they didn’t have at the farmhouse back in Monte Vista.

Luca nodded and smiled. “Yes, you may. Hurry up, so you can watch longer. I have much to do today before we go ashore.” Arturo giggled and went into the bathroom by himself to bathe.

It was Daniela’s turn to wake up. Luca took a deep breath and exhaled slowly before placing his hand on her back. “Dani, sweetheart, it’s time to get up.” She opened her chocolate brown eyes and smiled at her father. Even though she had been awake part of the night, energy still radiated from her eager grin.

“Papà!” she squealed. 

He lifted her from the crib and hugged her close. “Are you ready for a bath, little one?” He placed a kiss on her cheek as she giggled.

“I’m hungry, Papà,” she said.

“We’ll have breakfast after your bath. We don’t have time to play this morning, sweetheart.”

“Why not?”

“Because, Dani, we’re going home today, and I need to get ready.”

“Mamma?” she said.

“No, little one. Mamma will come soon, though.” Another lie. Luca bit his lip and blinked back tears. His answer seemed to satisfy her, but he wished for Bianca to keep her word to the children instead.

After bathing Dani, Luca gathered the children’s pajamas and threw them into his suitcase. He dressed her in a summer outfit and put her hair in pigtails, saving her shoes to put on just before they left the suite. Daniela joined Arturo in the living room, watching television while Luca finished packing clothes. He put their favorite toys into a small knapsack he would have during the flight from Roaring Heights to Starlight Shores. He figured the children would be easily entertained playing together on the airplane. 

Breakfast arrived shortly after Luca finished Dani’s bath. The family sat at the dining table on the balcony; Daniela in a high chair, and Arturo beside Luca. It was the family custom to pray before each meal, so he took Arturo’s hand in his while Daniela folded hers in front of her. Luca smiled at his children, so proud of them. Bianca has taught them well, he thought as he whispered a quick prayer of thanksgiving for their meal.

After breakfast, Luca completed packing the suitcases and had them outside their stateroom in time for a bellhop to retrieve them. The only bag he kept with them was the knapsack with snacks and toys for the children, and their immigration papers. The family’s paperwork was already completed, expedited by the orchestra’s director. It was a bit unconventional, but considering the circumstances, Luca welcomed the simplicity. Keeping up with two young children had sufficient challenges without adding hours of waiting and paperwork.

An hour before dock time, Luca made one last pass through the suite, looking for items that could have been left behind. Finding nothing, he gathered his knapsack and picked Daniela up onto his hip. “Come, Arturo,” he said. “It’s almost time.”

“Five more minutes? Please?” The boy had been watching an animated show on the television.

“No, now.” Arturo knew better than to push his luck. Reluctantly, he turned the television off and grabbed the stuffed toy he had by his side. “Good boy,” Luca said. “We’ll be ashore soon. Let’s go.” With Dani on his hip, and Arturo’s hand in his, the family left the stateroom together and ventured to the upper deck. The city was nearby as the ship approached land. A small, six-piece orchestral ensemble played on deck, adding to the cheerful, festive mood.  

Right at noon, the ship docked in the port city of Roaring Heights. Luca had never seen a city as grand, and he looked around in amazement. A limousine waited for the family’s arrival at the dock. Luca approached an older gentleman holding a card with the word “Atwood” printed on it. 

“Are you Mr. Atwood?” asked the chauffeur.

Luca nodded. “Sì. Um, we need airport.” He fumbled for the words he needed to communicate, hoping he hadn’t said something odd or off putting.

“I’m Samuel. A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Atwood.” He walked to his vehicle, ushering Luca and the children toward it. “Make yourself comfortable, if you will. I’ll be right with you.” Samuel ensured Luca and the children were safely inside, then closed the door. For what seemed like an hour, the family sat in comfort while their baggage found its way to them. Luca felt the rear of the car open; all of their luggage was placed into the back of the car, and Samuel finally joined them, taking his place in the driver’s seat, and pulling away from the docks.

The children babbled to one another during the drive; Samuel spoke with Luca about the voyage across the ocean. Luca understood very little; instead of reciprocating the conversation, he only nodded and smiled, hoping the driver didn’t think he was being impolite.

The drive to the airport only took twenty minutes. The chauffeur parked at the terminal and unpacked the family’s luggage onto the airport’s sidewalk. Luca reached for the baby, but couldn’t undo her seatbelt.  

“Arturo, help your sister, please,” he said, pointing at the tether that held her in place. “I can’t reach her seatbelt.”  

Arturo unhooked the belt, following his father’s instructions. “All done!” he said.

“Dani, come,” Luca said, holding his arms for her. “Arturo, stay close. Hold onto Dani while I get our flight done, please?” He set Daniela down next to her brother. Arturo nodded and took his sister’s hand, whispering to her in their native language. The children didn’t understand any English at all, and they didn’t know where they were. Frightened, they held onto each other and stood close to their father. 

Luca stood at the ticketing counter, holding three tickets in his hand. The agent glanced at the paperwork. “Starlight Shores?”


The agent, a young man named Peter, circled the gate letter on their boarding passes. “Follow here,” he said, pointing at the tickets, and then to the signage. Luca understood, and nodded.

“De gate?” he said in broken English.

Peter smiled at him. “Sì.” He took every suitcase and checked them on board their flight. “Be safe,” he said. Luca smiled back and nodded once again.

The chauffeur was still standing there, watching the children while Luca had been busy with the ticket agent. Arturo and Daniela huddled together, still close to their father. Samuel reached into his breast pocket and retrieved two lollipops. “May I?” he asked Luca.

“Uh, yes… sì. Grazie,” he told the chauffeur and bowed. Arturo looked at his father; Luca patted his shoulder. “It’s okay, Arturo. Say thank you.” 

“Grazie,” the young boy said. Daniela reached for the candy and simply giggled. 

“My girl,” Luca said, piecing together as much English as he knew. “She not speak much.” The chauffeur winked at her, then extended his hand to Luca.

“It’s okay. Have a safe trip, and good luck.” The men shook hands. 

“Grazie!” Luca gathered his children, one on each side, and together, they walked to their gate. 


It was dark when the Atwood family arrived in Starlight Shores. The limousine pulled up to the door of an expansive estate that the family would call home. Luca woke Arturo while the driver removed their luggage from the back of the car. 

“Arturo, we are home,” he said. “Stay close, son.”

Arturo rubbed his sleepy eyes and yawned. At first glance, he recognized nothing. “Where are we, Papà?”

“This is home now,” Luca said. He reached in and picked up Daniela, holding her close and trying not to wake her. “Come with me.” The family approached the main entrance to what looked like a palace. It was a far cry from the humble farmhouse where the family had lived since he and Bianca were married twenty years earlier.

With Daniela asleep on his shoulder, and Arturo at his side, Luca pressed the doorbell on the large front door. It was constructed from a dark wood; Luca surmised it could have been mahogany, or maybe a wood native to the Mainland. The door knocker, hinges, and bolts—all original with the construction of the older building—were handcrafted of copper, but weathered, coated in a bluish-green patina that betrayed the mansion’s age. The rest of the building looked similarly grandiose and ornate. As he pondered his new surroundings, the door swung open; a full-charge butler stood to greet him.

“Buonasera, signor Atwood,” the butler spoke in Italian. “My name is Henry. Do you speak English?” 

Luca nodded. “A little. Nice to meet you, Henry.” The two men shook hands. “This is my son, Arturo, and my daughter, Daniela. She’s been asleep since our plane left Roaring Heights. I’m trying not to wake her.” Luca spoke in his native tongue, since Henry was fluent. 

Henry stooped over, bent to Arturo’s height. “Ciao.” He extended a hand as a friendly gesture. The young boy looked up at Luca, confused. 

“It’s okay, Arturo.” He grasped his son’s hand to demonstrate the Mainland custom of handshaking. “See, my son?” 

“Ah, sì!” Arturo nodded and took Henry’s extended hand. “Ciao!”

Henry looked at Luca with admiration. “Your son is very well-mannered. You should be proud of him.” 

Luca smiled with great joy. “I am. They are both my pride and joy, and the reason we are here. My son is a musical prodigy, aren’t you, Arturo?” He beamed at his son and ruffled his hair. “He’s already mastered my violin, and wants to play cello and bass as well.” He pulled Henry aside and whispered. “Arturo is a bit small for the larger instruments, but he tries.”

Henry marveled at Luca’s admission. Arturo didn’t seem to be much older than six. “Maybe you’ll follow in your Papà’s footsteps someday!” The young boy smiled at Henry.

“I hope so, signore!” Arturo replied.

Henry excused himself for a moment to use the phone. A female voice answered on the other end. “They’re here,” he said in English, and hung up the phone. In moments, the au pair—a svelte, young, red-headed woman named Maggie—collected the children and brought them to the nursery wing of the mansion.

Henry escorted Luca to the main bedroom. “This is the master suite. I see your luggage is already here, so you can relax and get comfortable as you please. Your personal assistant, Liza, will be here in the morning.”

Luca stood in the middle of his bedroom and looked around at the details. Fine linens on the bed. Luxury window coverings. Silk wallpaper and dark, rich cherry wood panels on the walls. From there, he padded into the bathroom to find brass fittings and porcelain bathroom fixtures in stark white. The backsplash behind the sinks was a bluish-gray ceramic, which contrasted the tiles throughout the rest of the washroom. 

“Is everything to your liking, Sir?” Henry said, gliding his hand along the marble countertop. He’d cleaned and polished every surface in the bathroom himself; it was spotless.

“Yes,” Luca said. “There’s no need for formality, Henry. Please, call me Luca.”

Henry nodded. “Yes, of course. If you’d like, you may meet me in the grand hall. We may as well get acquainted over a scotch whiskey.” 

“I’d like that. I’ll be down shortly, Henry.”

After unpacking most of his clothing, Luca found his way back down into the mansion’s grand living room to a wet bar, stocked with expensive whiskies and liqueurs. As they had discussed, Henry met him in the grand hall, then offered to pour a drink for each of them. Luca took the glass from Henry’s hand and thanked him; the two men sat by a vacant fireplace, sipping on scotch and talking like old friends. He never expected to find someone who he understood, or could understand his language, so soon after his arrival in Starlight Shores. It pleased him to feel so welcomed in their new home.

Shortly afterward, Luca retired to the main bedroom for the evening. A telephone sat on the nightstand by his bed. He looked longingly at it, wanting nothing more than to speak with Bianca. It would be his first opportunity to do so since he and the children had left Monte Vista nearly three weeks before. With the receiver in his hand, he looked at the dial; the tone droned in a monotonic thrum. He was about to dial the operator when he realized the time difference; it would be much too early for a phone call back home in Monte Vista. Luca took a deep breath and sighed, placed the handset back on its cradle, and dressed for bed, alone and forlorn.

“Bianca, my love, I miss you,” he murmured as he drifted to sleep.


In the years since the family arrived in Starlight Shores, Luca involved himself with his work. It helped to keep his mind focused on his music and off the heartbreak that remained in Monte Vista with their older son, Giorgio. Bianca’s request for divorce—though it was more a demand than a request—came within their first year apart. He begrudgingly signed the papers and released her from their marriage. This left Luca a single man, free to date other women. It was a decadent pleasure he enjoyed with little guilt.

Luca hired the most beautiful, desirable women, both for child care and as his assistants. More often than not, the young ladies gave themselves for his gratification in exchange for money and lavish gifts. When he grew tired of one, he would move onto the next eager groupie willing to surrender her soul, and her body, to a shameless playboy.

Arturo, known as Arthur to his classmates at the private school the children attended, continued to study and excel in the stringed instruments Luca mastered. Though he loved violin, for his father’s sake, Arthur also played cello and bass. In his senior year, he played with the orchestra at the academy as the first chair violin. It was an accomplishment with which he hoped to finally win his father’s affections. 

Daniela, musically competent in her own right, expressed her abilities in other fine arts. She was a skilled painter at ten years old, working with watercolors, oils, and acrylics. Dani’s true talent, however, was in pencil sketching. She showed an early interest in fashion design, drawing innovative clothing styles that were advanced beyond her years. Both she and her brother were fluent in Italian and English and spoke with a heavy Italian inflection.

Luca’s hard work with the symphony orchestra in Starlight Shores made him a wealthy man. It was money he intended to share with his offspring when he believed they were mature enough to manage it. Both Arthur and Daniela had fully funded trusts, ample savings accounts, and credit cards for emergency situations. Setting his children up for success was his whole reason for leaving Monte Vista in the first place. In this regard, Luca had already accomplished his life’s ambition.


Luca hunched over a well-used suitcase, preparing for a special performance in a place thousands of miles from home. The symphony orchestra would honor its senior members with a cruise, an exclusive performance, and an award ceremony; Luca would be among those recognized. He was deep in thought, arranging clothing when a sharp knock at the bedroom door startled him. 

“Sì?” he said. “Come in.” 

Arthur stood in the doorway with an incredulous expression. “What’s all of this, Papà?”

Though the family had been in Starlight Shores for twelve years, they only spoke Italian in their home. Luca growled under his breath. “You knew about this trip three months ago, Arturo. I don’t want your attitude now.”

Arthur grimaced, his hand covered his face, dragging down over his handsome, eighteen-year-old features. “You know this is my graduation from the Academy, Papà. You won’t be there?” It wasn’t the first time Luca had missed an important day for Arthur, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

Luca scowled at him. “You think I planned this trip during your graduation?”

“I give up!” Arthur returned Luca’s dire glower. “You haven’t been there for me once, Papà!” He shook his head, throwing his hands in the air. “You know what? I don’t care anymore!”

“Don’t take that tone with me, young man! I taught you better than that!”

“You taught me nothing! All I learned, I got from Henry!” Arthur walked from the bedroom and slammed the door behind him, leaving a bewildered Luca standing there in his wake.

Having overheard the heated exchange between father and son, Henry approached Arthur with concern. “You know, son, you should be more patient with your father. He does his best.”

Arthur flopped into a chair near his bedroom door. “Henry, maybe his best isn’t good enough anymore. Hell, you’ve raised me; I bet you’ll be at commencement. You deserve to be there. He doesn’t.”

Henry stood with his arms crossed. “Arturo, the only reason you go to that academy is the man in that bedroom. He’s afforded you this life of luxury and excess. Never take that for granted, son.”

“I know you’re right, Henry.” Arthur hung his head and buried his face in his hands. “But is it too much to ask for him to at least show his face? I will be the only one there without a parent. I feel like an orphan.” 

Henry walked to the young man, placing his hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “You’re never alone, not while I’m here.” Henry patted his back and rubbed it with a gentle touch. “I’d be honored to attend your graduation.” 

A smile replaced Arthur’s frustrated grimace. “Thank you. It means the world to me…” Tears formed in his eyes. “Thank you.” He took the keys to the classic speedster Luca had given him for his sixteenth birthday. “I’m going to Nicki’s house, if he asks where I’ve gone.” 

“Very well, Arturo.” Henry nodded. “Curfew is still ten. Don’t be late.”

“I won’t.”

Arthur drove to his long-time girlfriend’s house. Nicole Patterson, eighteen and thin with short, naturally wavy blonde hair, brown eyes, and a slender build, was Arthur’s first love. The pair had been dating since the eighth grade spring formal dance. On her left hand, she wore a diamond promise ring Arthur had given her for her sixteenth birthday; it was a promise he intended to keep as soon as he could. 

He approached the Patterson house and rapped on the front door. Inside, he heard Nicole announce that she would answer it. Arthur’s dour mood lifted when he saw his beloved’s face. “Surprise!” he said, grabbing her to him and laying a kiss on her cheek. “I needed to escape for a while. Wanna go to the beach, Nicki?”

Nicole turned around, looking for her mother. “Just a sec, Art.” She returned a quick peck on his cheek and bounded toward the kitchen. “Ma?” she called out. Arthur heard the friendly, familiar voice of Joyce Patterson, Nicole’s mother.

“I’m here, Nicki. Are you leaving?”

“Mmhmm. Is it okay?”

Joyce peeked her head around the corner. “Hi Arthur,” she said, greeting the young man. “Yes, but be home before dark. You have exams in the morning.” 

“Yes, Ma‘am,” Nicole answered. She walked to where Arthur stood waiting and took his hand. “To the beach?” 

Arthur nodded, flourished, and kissed her hand. “To the beach.”

He knew the day would come when he’d make good on the promise he made to Nicole. No better time than the present, he thought, sporting a smug grin. Arthur reached for her hand and held it while he drove them to their favorite secluded spot.

They exited his speedster and rejoined hands as their bare feet hit the cool sand. The scent of the salty air always invigorated Arthur, this time renewing his sense of purpose and determination. Tucked into a dry, barren cove, Arthur and Nicole stashed away an old, ratty blanket to sit on while they were at the beach. He pulled it from its hiding place and shook out the excess sand and brambles from their last visit in the fall. Nicole took it from his hands and laid it out on the soft sands just on the outskirts of the water line; the two of them sat together in the late afternoon sun. Though it was springtime, the temperature outside was still chilly. 

Nicole shivered with a strong gust of wind; Arthur dutifully removed his jacket and placed it over her shoulders. The chill in the air left a slight blush on her cheeks that accentuated her natural beauty. Arthur stared at her in awe; she giggled when she caught his lovestruck gaze.

“What are you up to, Art? I know that look.” 

He shifted his eyes from her and stared out over the water. “So, we have a week left of school, and we’re done for good.”

She reached for his hand and entwined her fingers with his. “Yeah?” 

Arthur nodded. “Yeah. It’s got me thinking about the future, Nicki. Our future.” He lifted her hand to his lips, placing a delicate kiss on her fingers. “I was thinking, you know…” he whispered, “there’s probably no better time to get started on it.” He sat up and got on his knees, sinking back on his heels. With her hand in his, he stared into her soft, brown eyes. “Nicole, will you marry me?”

A wide, exuberant smile spread across her face. “Oh my gosh, yes! Of course, I’ll marry you!”

“I don’t have a ring for you yet, but I thought maybe we could pick one out together? I’d hate to get you something you don’t like. You’re going to wear it forever.” Arthur caressed her cheek, pulling her toward him for a kiss. 

Her thumb spun the band she wore on her finger. “This ring is more than enough!” Nicole whispered. “I have loved you since the beginning, Arthur, and I always will.”

“Nicki, I’ve never loved anyone like I do you.” They shared another kiss, then sat side by side on the blanket, watching the sun slowly dip into the horizon. The sky was painted in brilliant hues of orange, purple and red in the afterglow of the sun’s setting when they finally picked up the blanket and placed it back into their hiding spot within the cove.

He walked her to the front door when he brought her home, just a little later than her stated curfew. Mitch Patterson, Nicole’s father, was waiting for her as she opened the screen door. 

“You’re late, Nicole,” he growled. “You’d better have a good reason.”

“It’s my fault,” Arthur said, interjecting. “We lost track of time at the beach. The sunset was breathtaking tonight, sir.”

Mitch’s countenance softened a bit. “It’s okay, this time.” He caught his daughter by the arm as she tried to sneak past him. “Is your studying done, young lady?”

“Y-Yes sir,” she stuttered. “I’m going upstairs now.” She didn’t even turn to wave to Arthur as he stood there. He watched her scurry up the steps until she turned the corner at the top, and disappeared into the hallway.

Mitch had Arthur alone in the foyer of the Patterson home. He was usually friendly, but as Mitch approached him, Arthur felt uneasy. Something was wrong. Mitch took one step toward Arthur and blocked him in, one hand on the wall beside his head. 

“I don’t know what you’re all about, Atwood, but I don’t like you.” Mitch spat his words into Arthur’s face. “I’d prefer if you didn’t come around anymore.”

“I-I don’t understand, sir. You’ve never taken issue with us before and—”

“Don’t act as though you don’t know what I’m talking about, wise ass. I’ve seen your old man around town with about five different women this month alone. You’re not doing that to MY daughter!”

Arthur broke eye contact with Mitch. “With all due respect, sir, I’m not my father. I love Nico—”

“If you’re a smart man, you’ll go now before I make you leave. You’re not to see her again. Do I make myself clear?”

Arthur tried stepping backward to escape, only to be thwarted by the wall behind him. “Of course. My apologies, Mr. Patterson.” Mitch stepped back, allowing Arthur the escape he needed. As he hurried from the house, he turned back to look into Nicole’s bedroom window. She stood looking through the pane of glass—her face pressed against it—watching Arthur run away from the house. 

Arthur arrived back at the mansion much earlier than Henry expected him. He hung the keys for the speedster and went, without a word, up the steps. He pounded on Luca’s bedroom door, waiting for his father to answer his call. Arthur was angry that his father’s indiscretions had the potential to affect his engagement with Nicole. Luca answered the door; Arthur pushed his way inside, standing by his father’s bed.

“What’s the meaning of this, Arturo?” an equally angry Luca sputtered.

“You know Dani and I don’t care what you do inside this bedroom, Papà. But when your reputation as a womanizer starts to reflect badly on us, well, I have something to say about it!”

“Who do you think you are, speaking to me like this?”

“Who do you think YOU are, Papà, chasing women all around the city and—”

Luca’s Italian temper flared with Arthur’s indignation. He took no issue with stopping his son’s line of questioning with a simple, but strong, slap across the young man’s face. “You will never take that tone with me again, Arturo, or you’ll get worse!”

Arthur fell back onto Luca’s bed, stunned at such a crude physical gesture. The handprint stung, radiating certain warmth. “I’m sorry, Papà.” He huffed a frustrated sigh and buried his face in his hands. “I’m so sorry.”

Luca took pity on the young man. Even as a young teenager, Arthur had never given Luca problems. Something had to be wrong, and he was going to find out. “What’s this about, Arturo?” He took the seat on the bed next to his son.

Arthur took a breath and held it, shook his head, and exhaled slowly. “It’s Nicki, Papà. Her father said he saw you in town with many women. He fears I’ll do the same with Nicole. But I’d never do that to her. I love her, and I’m going to marry her after graduation.”

Luca gritted his teeth. “I don’t want you marrying that girl, Arturo. Her father has a bad reputation as a hot head. He is a dangerous man, son. You don’t need to get mixed up in that family.”

Arthur shook his head. Does this man have any self-awareness at all? He thought. “You’re one to talk about reputations, Papà.”

Luca pointed his finger at the boy. “I’m telling you, Arturo. Do not marry her. I forbid it.”

“This isn’t your decision! It is my life, Papà, not yours.” Arthur stood and walked toward the door. “I’m sorry. I’m not budging on this.”

“Mio Dio, you’re stubborn, Arturo, just like your Mamma.” Luca scowled. “You don’t want to test me. You have much to lose.”

“I don’t care. I’m marrying Nicole, and that’s final.” Arthur stepped through the door and closed it behind him. 

Luca growled under his breath. “We’ll see about that.”

Arthur stood in front of the fireplace, dressed in his graduation cap and gown, in the mansion the Atwoods called home. Henry pointed the camera at him. 

“Smile, son,” Henry said and snapped a photograph. He walked to where Arthur stood and embraced him. “Your Papà wanted to be here. I hope you realize that.”

Arthur shook his head. “No, Henry, he didn’t. Papà cares only about himself and his flavor of the week.” He hated his father for the way Luca’s licentiousness affected his own life. He huffed, puffing a lock of hair from his face. “He couldn’t care less about me or Dani.”

Henry grunted his dissatisfaction. “You know that isn’t true. He loves both of you. It’s a shame neither of you see it.”

“He’d have made the effort to be here, Henry, if he gave a fu—.”

Henry pointed his finger at the indignant youth and snapped at him. “I don’t care how you speak when you’re with your friends, young man, but you will not disrespect me in this house!”

Arthur lowered his eyes from Henry. “I’m sorry. I meant no disrespect to you.”

“You’re forgiven, Arturo. Please be mindful of your language, especially around Dani. She’s younger than you, and she looks up to you.”

Arthur smiled, but bit his tongue. If Henry could hear how Daniela spoke with her friends, he’d discover she wasn’t nearly as sweet and innocent as he believed her to be. “Yes, of course.”

As if summoned by the mere act of thought, Dani appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. “What time is your graduation, Arturo?”

“Two-thirty,” Arthur said. “We need to leave soon, or I’ll be late.” 

“Are you ready, Dani?” Henry set the camera he’d been holding on the fireplace mantle.

“Mmhmm,” she said, nodding her head. She looked at Arthur and giggled. “Shotgun!”

“I’m driving, so I don’t think so!” Arthur shot back.

Henry smiled and chuckled at his young charge. “Why don’t I drive, and you can both sit in the back seat?”

Neither Arthur nor Dani spoke another word.


“Arthur Atwood,” the dean of students called. The teen stood side-stage, waiting for this moment. He took his walk with a spirited stride to where the dean stood grasping the paper scroll. “Congratulations, young man.” Arthur said nothing, reaching for the diploma and nodding in acknowledgment. He turned to where he knew Henry and Daniela sat and waved at them, sporting an accomplished grin. As he walked off stage, he flipped the tassel on his cap from the right side to the left. 

After the last student took their walk across the platform, the dean of students gave his closing remarks. A flurry of caps rose in the space above the graduating class, only to fall with gravity’s pull. Arthur picked up a random cap from the floor and reattached the tassel to it before placing it back on his head, and walking to meet his family.

Dani greeted her brother with a hug. “Congratulations!” she said. Next year would be her turn to walk the stage and gather her diploma.

“Thank you, Dani,” he said in reply, then turned to Henry. “Thank you again for coming. You’ve been there for me when Papà hasn’t.” The men hugged briefly, and Henry pulled away, wiping a tear from his eyes.

“You’re the son I never had, Arturo, and I’m so proud of all you’ve accomplished.” Henry leaned closer to Arthur and whispered, “Does your father know of your engagement?”

Arthur shook his head. “We’re eloping tonight. Papà doesn’t need to know until after it’s done.” Henry huffed at the young man, but nodded anyway. 

“You’re making a wise decision, even though I don’t agree with it. Be shrewd with your father, Arturo. He loves you, but he has little tolerance for things he finds distasteful.”

“I understand, but it’s imperative I get Nicole away from her father, Henry. I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure she is safe. I can protect her best when she’s with me.” Henry simply nodded, wearing a sad smile. 

“Art!” Nicole stood fifteen yards from where Henry and Arthur stood when she spotted him. She ran toward the two men, barely slowing down as she approached. “You need to get out of here.” 

“Whoa, sweetheart, slow down!” Arthur took her hand, which he felt trembling in his. “What’s wrong?”

“I told my dad about our engagement, and he’s not happy! You need to leave, Arthur, before he hurts you.”

Arthur stood tall, unshaken. “I’m not afraid of your father, Nicole.” 

She pulled his hand, urging him to leave. “You should be.” Tears rolled down her cheeks. “I might not make our rendezvous tonight. I’m grounded.”

Mitch Patterson’s furious voice bellowed in the corridors of City Hall. “He can’t ground you. You’re an adult now. Don’t worry, sweetie, we’ll figure it out.” Arthur kissed her hand and held onto it as he walked away from her. “I love you, Nicole.” 

“Go, Arthur! Hurry!” She pushed him away from her as her father’s footsteps grew closer. “I love you!”

Arthur turned to leave with Henry encouraging him. Just as he spun around to check the situation, he saw Mitch screaming at Nicole, red-faced and enraged. His fiancée cowered into a ball, shrinking away from this monstrous man hollering at her. Arthur turned and walked—fast and determined—back toward Nicole and her father. 

He knew their relationship was strained, that Mitch had tightened the proverbial reins with Nicole, though he didn’t know why. On that day, Arthur feared for her safety, and he would never allow that man to harm her when he was around! 

“Nicole!” Arthur yelled. Both turned their heads to see him standing in the hallway, surrounded by their classmates. He made quicker strides toward them; when he reached Nicole, he blocked her with his body. “With all due respect, Mister Patterson, you will NOT take my fiancée from me.” Nicole clung to Arthur, shaking in fear. 

“This ain’t your business, Atwood. Go home to your philandering father.” He tried to push Arthur out of his way, but the boy stood his ground. 

Arthur turned around, pulled Nicole to her feet and hugged her. “Go to Henry, Nicki. He and Dani will take you to my car,” he whispered into her ear. “I’m right behind you.” Daniela walked to Nicole, took her hand and led her to where Henry stood a safe distance away from the brewing storm.

“You ain’t taking her anywhere, boy.” Mitch stood taller, unaware of the sheer number of young men gathering around the two of them. “In fact, if I have my way, you’ll never see her again…” The group of Arthur’s peers grew, closing in around him. 

“That’s where you’re wrong, sir. I’m taking Nicole with me, and I’m going to marry her tonight.” Arthur’s voice was confident and strong. 

“You, and whose army, boy?”

“This army, sir.” The thirteen other young graduates stood with Arthur, ready to protect him and his fiancée. “My friends won’t let you keep her from me.”

Mitch Patterson knew he couldn’t take fourteen young men, some of whom were bigger and most were stronger than he was. He said nothing, instead turning back to where his wife waited for him, weeping in solitude. “You have guts, boy, but this isn’t over. Not by a long shot,” he spat at Arthur before joining his family.

Dani was running to meet Arthur as the crowd dissipated. “Arturo! Nicole is with Henry in the car. We’re waiting for you.”

He hugged his sister and turned to go, first checking his six, ensuring her father kept his distance. A heated discussion was underway between the Pattersons. Arthur thought it best to leave while he had the chance, though he would stand up to Nicole’s father alone if he needed to.

Nicole burst into tears when Arthur got closer. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her forehead. She trembled in his arms as he held her. “It’s okay, Nicki. We’re together now. We can leave right from my house in a few hours. Whatever you need, I’ll get for you.” 

“I have nothing except what I’m wearing. My dad said I’m not welcome back home if I go with you.”

Arthur held her tighter. Nicole had been close with her mother and younger brother, even if the relationship with her father had become strained over the past months. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.”

“I don’t understand why he’s so angry. This is my life, and I can choose whatever I want!” She took a deep breath and sighed. “I choose you.”

“Ah, my sweet Nicole! This is music to my ears. How I love you.” He kissed her and wiped the tears from her eyes. “It’s going to be okay.”

“I love you, and I trust you,” she said.

“Then let’s get out of here,” Arthur said, sliding behind the wheel of his speedster, and driving them away from City Hall.


Arthur and Nicole drove an hour to a neighboring town, one where he had made arrangements prior to that evening. A small, all-night chapel had their reservations for seven that evening, along with the honeymoon suite at the attached motel. It was cheap and seedy, but none of that mattered to Arthur and his young bride. His top priority was making Nicole Patterson his legal wife. Everything else would come in good time. 

Arthur pulled his speedster into the chapel’s parking lot. He got out and stretched. Nicole had dozed off in the passenger seat, but awakened when she heard the driver side door slam shut. She rolled down the window as he walked to her door.

“Is this it?” she said.

Arthur nodded his head. “Sì. Did you rest well, my darling?”

“Mmhmm.” Nicole rubbed her sleepy eyes. “I don’t have a dress.”

“It’s okay, Nicki. I’ll make sure you have what you need.”

“You’re too good to me, Arthur.” 

He opened her door and held his hand to her. “I’m just the right amount of good, baby,” he said, chuckling.

Together, they walked into the motel’s small, cluttered lobby. Neither of them had ever stayed in an establishment that was less than extravagant. By every metric, this place was the worst of the worst. Arthur’s wrinkled nose showed his obvious distaste. His focus, however, was the chapel that stood adjacent. In less than one hour, they would stand before a justice of the peace in a civil ceremony and exchange vows. The price of the wedding included the suite where they’d spend their first night as husband and wife.

A small clothing boutique was located next to the motel on the side opposite the chapel. Inside, they rented her wedding dress and purchased a few other accessories Nicole wanted. Since time was of the essence, she chose a short, lacy white dress with a halo of flowers that would sit atop her head. Arthur bought her a small nosegay of lilies and other tiny wildflowers that she would carry on her walk down the aisle. 

They strolled hand in hand to the chapel, with Arthur carrying her dress over his left shoulder. Instead of being nervous, the young couple was excited to begin their married life together. Neither one of them planned on attending college. Arthur already had a job lined up beside Luca as a fifth chair violinist with the orchestra, sitting in for them as needed. Nicole still worked part time at the grocery store in town. For the time being, Arthur’s salary with the orchestra, plus his trust fund, would be sufficient to get a newlywed couple on their feet.

“I need to go get ready,” Nicole said, taking her dress from Arthur and pointing at a door that said ‘Bride’s Room.’ “I’ll be out in five minutes.” She kissed his cheek and squeezed his hand in her firm grip before distance broke their grasp.

The small room was more a locker room than a conventional bride’s room, as it had small, locked compartments for clothing and other valuables the bride-to-be wished not to carry on her person during the ceremony. Nicole unwrapped the dress, which ended up being a size too large, and slipped into it without undoing the zipper in back. She straightened the skirt out and smoothed the fabric under her sweaty palms, stepping back to fix her hair. “Not bad, Nicki,” she whispered under her breath. In ten minutes, it wouldn’t matter, anyway.

When she was satisfied with her appearance, she took the key from the locker and slipped the band around her wrist. “This feels more like gym class than a wedding chapel,” she said with a chuckle. Arthur waited for her just outside the bride’s room. His sweet smile made her heart flutter.

“You look so beautiful, Nicki,” he whispered. “Are you ready?”

Arthur always dressed stylishly in slacks and Oxford shirts. His brown hair, which looked like he’d just awakened, stuck out in every direction as it did every day. In addition, he had a casual sport coat hooked over his finger. He swung the jacket around and slipped it onto his slender, but muscular, frame. Admiring his reflection in the mirror that hung in the breezeway of the chapel, he smoothed an unruly lock of hair only to have it spring back into place. He chuckled and rolled his blue eyes.  

“That suit looks good on you, Art,” Nicole said. “I’m ready.”

Arthur took her hand and they walked, side by side, into the wedding chapel. It was nothing fancy; rows of chairs set up, a small podium at the front of the room, and artificial flowers lining the table at which the bride and groom would stand. Nicole squeezed Arthur’s hand, feeling the slightest flutter in her stomach, though she wasn’t sure if she was excited or nervous. He placed a delicate kiss on her cheek.

“Atwood?” A voice called from the front of the makeshift chapel. “Mister Arthur Atwood and bride?” 

“That’s us,” Arthur said as he stepped forward.

“Would the bride stay back until the music plays, please? And sir, if you would, step this way.” The wedding director invited Arthur to stand at the table to await his young bride. 

The organist played the first chords of ‘Here Comes The Bride.’ Nicole stepped into Arthur’s view, carrying the nosegay he bought for her. He beamed, smiling from ear to ear as he watched her walk to him.

The officiant stepped in front of them after Nicole joined him. He took her hand again and squeezed it twice, their signal that everything would be okay. She returned the gesture, then turned to look at her handsome groom.

The officiant turned to them and spoke. “We are gathered here today to witness the union of Arthur and Nicole. Today is the beginning of a remarkable journey for this couple. Drawing on their mutual admiration, respect, and trust, they are ready to embark on the next chapter in their lives. We celebrate the love and light evident in their relationship, and wish them well on this joyous occasion.”

Arthur smiled at his bride as the officiant continued to speak. “I will now invite the couple to share their vows with one another. Arthur and Nicole, the promises you make today are sacred; they are the groundwork from which your marriage will grow and blossom over time. Arthur, would you like to begin first?”

Arthur cleared his throat, cocked his head and looked at Nicole with all the love he had in his heart. He took her hand, rubbing her fingers with his own as he spoke. “Nicole, my darling, my life is forever entangled with yours from this day on. My dreams are your dreams, and I’ll build it all around you. I love you.” When he finished speaking, he lifted her hand to his lips and placed a delicate kiss on her fingers. 

“Nicole, it’s your turn.” The officiant smiled at her and nodded. Nicole sniffled, overcome with emotion. She took a deep breath and exhaled.

“Arthur, my sweetheart, you are my every dream come true, and I can’t wait for the reality we get to build together. I love you.”

“Please, Arthur and Nicole, join hands as you state your intentions.” She looked at Arthur before she spoke. “Arthur, before these witnesses, do you take Nicole as your beloved wife, to have and to hold, through laughter and in sadness, through challenges and successes, so long as you both shall live?”

He smiled, reaching his hand to stroke her cheek. “I do.”

“And Nicole, before these witnesses, do you take Arthur as your beloved husband, to have and to hold, through laughter and in sadness, through challenges and successes, so long as you both shall live?”

Nicole grinned and nodded, affirming the gesture with a simple, “I do.” 

“Wedding rings are a traditional symbol of the strength of the bond between two soulmates. This bond is never broken, and continues in a perpetual circle, glowing with the warmth and eternal light of two souls in a perfect union. By wearing these rings, you will be always reminded of the connection you share and the vows you have made today. Arthur, please repeat after me. I, Arthur, present you, Nicole, with this ring as a symbol of our everlasting love. Let it never lose its luster, just as my love for you will never fade.”

Arthur slipped a simple golden band onto Nicole’s finger, repeating the words he’d been told. In similar fashion, Nicole did the same for Arthur, repeating the vow and placing a gold and diamond band onto his finger. The young couple gazed into each other’s eyes, drinking in the moment. Although the words hadn’t been said, the realization hit them at the same time; they were married. 

“Arthur and Nicole, by the power vested in me by the county of Fairhaven, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Arthur, you may kiss your beautiful bride.” The officiant clapped her hands together once and laughed with joy. “I present Mister and Missus Arthur Atwood!”

Arthur, though he wished to kiss her like he’d never kissed her before, kept it short and sweet. Immediately following the ceremony, they signed the legal papers, witnessed by two bystanders and the officiant. Then, they posed by a somewhat dusty arch of artificial flowers for their wedding photo. With the snap of the camera’s shutter, the ceremony was finished; their union was complete and legal.

“I have one more thing to do,” she whispered before they left the chapel. Nicole walked to the bride’s room door and pushed it open. She still wore the locker’s key around her wrist. A moment later, she had her street clothes and purse in her hands. Arthur waited for her outside the chapel.

“Do you have what you need, Nicki?” he said.

“Mmhmm. That’s all I have. There’s nothing else.”

“Not for long, darling. I will buy you whatever you need. But for now, we don’t need anything but us. Come, sweetheart. We’ve been waiting for tonight for a long time.”

Nicole bit her lip. “You have no idea.”

Hand in hand, they walked to their room. Arthur turned the key in the door, picked Nicole up and, amid her laughter, carried her across the threshold into their honeymoon suite. Arthur placed the “Do Not Disturb” sign outside their door on the knob, and locked it behind him.

Ten Years Later

Nicole opened the door to their tiny apartment only to find Arthur sound asleep on the sofa in the living room. The room, sparsely decorated and furnished, was cluttered with dirty dishes, glasses and empty soda cans, and smelled faintly of smoke. Angry, she slammed the door behind her. The clatter awakened Arthur from his restless sleep.

“What is all of this?!” She yelled at him. “It’s bad enough that I work all day while you do nothing! But when I come home to this mess…?” 

This was an argument they’d had numerous times over their ten year marriage. Arthur’s father kicked the couple out of the mansion and cut off his trust fund, savings, and credit cards when he discovered the couple’s marriage. Since then, they’d been scraping by on whatever Nicole made working at the diner on the Los Sueños Strip, and Arthur’s sparse gigs around town. His work was sporadic and unreliable, as his position at the orchestra ended when Luca disowned him. 

“We had a gig last night,” he grunted. “Then, the guys came back with me and we had a little fun. Where were you?!”

Nicole huffed a lock of hair from her face. “I had to stay at my mother’s house so I could sleep! Arthur, it’s time you got a real job and stopped messing around with a career that’s going nowhere!”

“I just need a little more time, darling. We’re picking up more gigs around town,” he said, though he knew what he said wasn’t entirely true. “Once we get our big break, our money troubles are over.”

“Enough! I’ve heard that for the past year, and we’re still barely making ends meet. How about you get off your ass and help me? And I mean really help me!” She picked up an empty can and threw it at him. “Start by cleaning up your own damn messes!”

Arthur clicked his tongue at her. “I do plenty!”

Nicole stared at him, pointing a finger into his chest. “Get a job by tomorrow, Art, or I’m leaving!” She flopped onto the sofa next to him, weeping. “I can’t carry the both of us anymore. I just can’t—”

Seeing her cry broke his heart, especially knowing that it was his shortcomings that made her weep. He scooted next to her and put his arms around her. “You’re right. You shouldn’t be the only one sacrificing. I’ll get a job, Nicole, I promise you. This will be the end of my hopes and dreams, but I’ll do anything for you. I love you.”

“I’m not saying to give up your dreams. But I can’t bring home enough to cover everything. My boss just cut my hours by half.” She looked at him, her eyes bleary and red from hours of tears. “Why don’t you just talk to your father and see if you can—”

Arthur shook his head. “Papà has disowned me. You know I can’t go back to him. I still talk to Dani, but if he finds out, she’ll lose what she has, too. I can’t ask her to do that for me. I don’t deserve it.” He took her hand and patted it. “I’m a desperate man. Whatever it takes for you to stay, Nicki, I’ll do it. You’re all I have left.”

Nicole sniffled, shaking her head. “This is your last chance, Arthur. Make something work, or I’m gone.”

“I promise.”

Nicole went into their bathroom to shower. While she was there, Arthur called a friend and former classmate, one who worked driving as a cabbie. Certainly, he could drive a cab on his days and evenings off. He dialed the familiar number of his buddy, Ezra Gantt.

“Hello?” came a sleepy greeting.

“Ezra!” Arthur spoke in a sing-song tone. Coupled with the heavy Italian inflection, he came across as especially friendly. “Hey, buddy, are you still working for that cab company?” 

A long, drawn-out groan accompanied a belch right into Arthur’s ear. “Um, uh… yeah, I am. Why? Gonna go slumming and pick up a shift or two driving a cab, are ya?”

Arthur chuckled, glad that the conversation was over the phone and not in person. “Actually, yes. Are they still hiring?”

Another burp, and a sniffle. “Huh. No kidding. I was just messin’ with ya.”

“Well,” Arthur said, “I’m not kidding. I need something steady that brings in some cash. Nicki is threatening to leave me if I don’t carry my weight. I can’t lose her, Ezra. That woman is all I have left in this world.”

Ezra had little compassion for his old schoolmate. He had the city in his grasp—the world was his oyster—and Arthur Atwood threw it all away for a dime-a-dozen girl. At least, that’s how Ezra saw it. “Um, come down to the garage later today. They’re in desperate need of night drivers. You get a shift differential, and the drunks usually tip better than the businessmen during the day.”

Arthur nodded. “Yes! Oh, thanks bud. I’ll make this up to you somehow. Thank you so much!” He hung up the phone and walked to the bathroom door. “Nicki?”

A wet, freshly shampooed mop of blonde hair peeked out from behind the shower door. “What?!”

“I wanted to let you know, baby, I’m going to see about a job. If they hire me on the spot, I’ll be working the night shift tonight.”

“You’re what?!” 

“Going to see about a job at the taxi company. Didn’t you hear me?” 

Nicole shook her head. “I can’t hear you. I have water in my ear.”

“Mio Dio, woman,” Arthur said. “I’ll call you later.”

“Wait!” she shouted after him. “Where are you going?”

He simply chuckled as he left the apartment and locked the door behind him.

Arthur got into the speedster he still had from his teenage years, the aging car he swore he’d replace when his ship came in. Though he’d promised Nicole he’d change, he wasn’t happy about it, muttering all the way to the garage where the cab company was located. He pulled the car around to the back of the building; the stark absence of cabs in the general vicinity confused him. If they were so desperate for drivers, why didn’t they have an abundance of empty cars waiting to be driven? This was the question on his mind as he stepped from the car toward the office door.

A bell jingled on the door, alerting the manager on site that he was there. The man peered over the desk and huffed; the name on his grease-soiled uniform said “Jack.” 

“Can I, uh, help you?”

Arthur stood tall and confident. “Yes. My buddy, Ezra Gantt, sent me here. He said you needed drivers for night shifts. Is that correct?”

“Ezra, eh?” Jack looked at his nails, soiled with engine debris and gunk, and started gnawing on his thumb. “Yeah, we need drivers. You got a car?”

“Yes sir, I do, though she’s not in great shape.”

“When can you start?”

Arthur looked at the chubby, middle-aged man that sat chewing on the most disgusting fingernails he’d ever seen, and wondered if this guy was for real. “I can start any time, sir, but I’m curious. Why did you ask if I have a car?” 

Jack peered around the desk, pointing to Arthur’s tan speedster. “Is that your jalopy outside?”

Jalopy? Arthur thought. “Yes, that’s my sports car. I assure you, it’s no jalopy. She might not be in her prime, but she’s likely better than most of the cabs in your fleet!” He cringed as soon as the words left his mouth. To his surprise, Jack just chuckled.

“I can appreciate a guy with a little boldness. You’ll fit right in here.” He picked up a dirty, scribbled schedule and pointed at an open block. “I have no one to cover these two shifts tonight and tomorrow night. Unfortunately, the cab that used to run that schedule was totaled last week in a wreck by the airport. I’ll pay you mileage on top of your base pay if you’ll run your own car for a few days. What do you say?”

Arthur breathed a huge sigh of relief for two reasons. First, his slip of the tongue didn’t have major consequences for the job he needed. Second, he would have a steady income if he could work enough hours to cover Nicole’s cut. He nodded, grinning. “I’d love to.”

In just an hour, while Arthur completed his new hire paperwork, Jack had a makeshift fare tracker installed in Arthur’s old car, along with an oil change and a minor tune up. He turned the key in the speedster; it purred like a kitten. He walked from the garage and tossed the keys back to Arthur.

“This sure is a beauty, Arthur. You maintain it very well. The tune up was so minor, I didn’t need to replace but one spark plug. You’re good for tonight’s shift and beyond.”

Arthur reached to shake Jack’s hand. “Thank you for the opportunity, Jack. I won’t let you down.”

“I should be thanking you. I was going to have to run that old piece of junk tonight if you hadn’t come along. This will be my first night off since the accident.” He pointed toward a broken down, worn old sedan that had seen much better days. “My wife thanks you, too. We haven’t slept in the same house in a month. I spend most of my time here, making sure everything runs like clockwork.”

“I will give this job my best,” Arthur said. “I’ll be on the clock ten minutes before my shift starts.” 

Jack smiled. “Have a good shift. Call the number on the console if you have problems.”

Arthur nodded, pleased with himself. He had a couple of hours before the official start of his shift, so he headed back to the little apartment he shared with Nicole. When he opened the door, the apartment was clean. All the trash had been collected and taken to the chute. The dishwasher was hot and clean, and Nicole was nowhere to be found.

“Nicki!” he yelled into the bedroom, but there was no answer. He went into the bathroom to use the toilet. It was on the sink that he found the note Nicole had left for him. 

Art, I took a job dancing at the club by the trailer park. I couldn’t trust that you’d keep your word, so I’m doing what I need to do to keep us afloat. I meant what I said, Arthur. You have one more chance to pull your weight, or I’m gone. Don’t disappoint me. 

– Nicole

“Mio Dio, Nicole,” he grumbled under his breath. “Thanks for your confidence.” He stepped into the shower to clean up, then dressed in the nicest business casual clothing he owned. After a shave and his best attempt to fix the cowlick on top of his head, he grabbed the keys for the speedster and headed to the club by the trailer park. 

Arthur knew the club was a seedy, risque establishment. He was shocked to learn Nicole was working as a dancer in this awful place. He parked the car and checked his watch; forty-five minutes before he needed to clock in with his driving job. 

He approached the front door, only to be greeted by a bouncer. “That’ll be fifteen,” the tall, very muscular man grunted. He opened his wallet to find just enough to pay the cover.

“Fifteen? I’m only going to be here a few minutes. My wife is dancing—”

“Listen, pal. Pay it, or you’re not going in. I don’t care how long you stay.” The bouncer crossed his arms and stood, blocking the doorway.

Arthur took his last fifteen dollars and stuffed it into the bouncer’s hand. So much for supper tonight, he thought. The bar reeked of smoke from cigarettes and pot, and though it was only six-fifteen at night, the place was packed with patrons.

Nicole was dancing atop a raised stage in the center of the bar, with seats surrounding it. Dressed in a pair of metallic shorts and a string bikini top, she paid careful attention to the man seated at the bar, stuffing dollar bills into her shorts. Arthur gritted his teeth and pushed his way through the crowd to where the mystery man sat. He formed a cup around his mouth and shouted her name into the din. 

“Arthur! What are you doing here?” she said. Nicole jumped down from the stage, only for Arthur to grab her arm and drag her outside. “Let go of me!” she screamed. 

“I don’t know what you think you’re doing, Nicki, but you shouldn’t be here! This is not a place for married women to work!” He paced the gravel parking lot, listening to the small stones crunch under his loafers. “You need to go home where you belong!”

“Excuse me! Where I belong? I suppose you want me to make you a sandwich so you can watch football all night, too, right?” Her posture displayed her annoyance with him.

“Nicki, honey, I’m begging you to go home. You’re in over your head here. What if someone takes advantage of you?”

“It’s more than I’m getting at home,” she snarled. “Just go party with your buddies tonight. I see that’s what you’re dressed for. If you do, don’t bother coming home.”

A lump formed in his throat. She could be cruel when she was angry, though he didn’t understand why she was. “Sweetheart, I don’t know where all of this bitterness is coming from.” He placed his hands on her shoulders, mostly to keep her from running away. “I’m starting work in a few minutes, until six tomorrow morning. Let’s talk about this when I get home. If you truly don’t want me to come home, though, I won’t.” 

“Working? Where?” Nicole rolled her eyes in disbelief.

“Ezra got me a job at—”

“Yeah? Your buddy Ezra is a mooching slug. Look, I gotta get back to work.” She turned on her heel to go, but Arthur caught her arm. 

“Nicki, don’t leave me like this when you’re angry. I really don’t want you working here, darling.”

“Tough. Goodbye, Arthur.” She yanked her arm out of his grasp and walked away, hurrying toward the bouncer. Arthur watched her whisper to him, then point in his direction. The bouncer peered around the wall at him, turned his attention back to Nicole, and nodded. 

Well, that didn’t go how I wanted, Arthur thought as he turned to walk back to his car. It was an awful start to his first shift of a job he knew he’d hate. Eleven hours of driving the city looking for fares was not his idea of a party. He sighed, got into his car and started it, heading for the airport.

One Month Later

Since their argument at the nightclub, Arthur and Nicole’s relationship was on shaky ground. He kept his promise to work as much as he could, but he hated the job. To Arthur, it was a means to keep his floundering marriage afloat, but he sacrificed his childhood dreams of breaking into the music business. 

One morning, the dispatcher at the cab company called and woke him. He’d finished a ten-hour shift just an hour before; he thought seriously about not taking the call. Remembering his promise to Nicole, he grunted and answered the phone. 


“Arthur, this is Candi. Hey, we have a call for a cab to pick up at the high-rise apartments on the strip. Jack is tied up at the airport and can’t make it back. I know you just got off work, but we’re in a bind.”

He sighed and ran his hand down his face. “Yeah, I’ll be there. Send me the address and the time.” 

“The time is ten minutes from now, Art. That’s why we’re so stuck. I know you live close. Jack’s offering time-and-a-half for this one run.”

“Ten minutes? Ugh. Okay, I’ll be there in a few to pick up the cab and the address.”

Candi squealed on the other end. “Thank you! I’ll let Jack know.”

Arthur walked into the bathroom and splashed cold water onto his face, then looked into the mirror. “You have a full set of baggage under your eyes, pal,” he muttered to himself, then pulled on the clothing he’d stripped from his body just an hour before. Nicole was asleep on the sofa in the living room, so he tiptoed out of the apartment, and pulled the door shut behind him.

He drove three minutes to the garage and picked up the keys for the cab. Candi greeted him with the paperwork. 

“Thanks again, Art.”

“Yeah, but remind Jack I’m taking tonight off. I have that gig with the guys at the private club.” Arthur grabbed the keys. “Don’t forget.” 

“I won’t. Be safe.” Arthur grunted and left the office.

He drove to a fairly new high-rise on the Los Sueños strip and parked the cab. A call box sat outside the front door; he checked the apartment number and called up. 

“I’ll be right down,” the disembodied voice said. 

Five minutes later, a young woman with flaming red hair exited the building, toting a suitcase in one hand, and a backpack slung over her shoulder. Arthur noticed her right away; to him, she looked like the proverbial girl next door, exuding kindness and charm. He put her suitcase into the cab’s trunk and held the door for her. 

It was the chance meeting that would change his life.


Arthur kept a journal since a fifth-grade project required it. Writing kept his worries in check, and helped him to remember the moments he didn’t wish to forget. The surprise fare earlier in the day struck him as an occasion to remember. He sat down at his desk, the only place in their apartment that he considered to be his, and opened his journal. With his pen at the ready, and a glass of scotch, he sat down to write the entry he’d waited all day to document:

Today started out like any other. I worked the night shift, came home, and collapsed into bed. Candi called me an hour later, and truthfully, if it hadn’t been for Nicole and my promise to her, I would have blown it off. 

That would have been the biggest mistake of my life. 

The last-minute fare was a feisty red-headed woman from a small town I’ve never heard of before. Her name was Destiny, though I can’t recall her last name off the top of my head. She had a non-local accent I didn’t recognize, but it only added to her allure and warmth. Our conversation flowed so easily, it was almost as though we’ve known each other forever.

One thing Destiny mentioned was about giving up her dreams, the ones that brought her to the city. That resonated with me, because Lord knows I hate driving this cab. I don’t want to live my life with regret that I didn’t pursue what I so desperately want, while I have the chance to do it. We had a gig at the Los Sueños Private Club tonight; they were seeking someone to fill their proprietor position. It’s not great, but it’s steady. This could be my foot in the door at long last. I’m applying the first thing tomorrow morning.

I know Nicki won’t be happy with me if I quit this job, but that’s a chance I’m willing to take. Maybe there’s more to life than just existing and doing menial work in a dead-end job. It’s time I started living my dream.

If I never cross paths with Destiny again, she will have touched my life in more ways than I can count, and I’ll always be grateful that I met her. I’ll say a prayer for her tonight that she will find her heart’s desire, whatever that may be.

Until tomorrow… ciao!

Satisfied with his entry, he tucked his journal under his arm, and walked back to the bed he shared with Nicole. When he slid between the covers, she awakened.

“How was your day?” she said, sleep heavy in her voice.

“It was fantastic.” 

“What happened?” 

Arthur closed his eyes, but all he could see was the beautiful girl with the red hair and unusual accent. A serene smile pulled across his face.

“I came face to face with Destiny.”

She rolled over and planted a kiss on his cheek. “That’s nice,” Nicole said, as she drifted back to sleep.

“Yeah,” Arthur said as he laid back with a smile, and rested his hands behind his head. “It was.”  

To Be Continued…


Up Next: Chapter One, Generation Two

Pose Credits:

Poses By Bee
Three Generation Portrait Poses


Custom Content:

“How Was Your Day, Dear?” dress by Anubis360
AA Ford by Stanislav

The Sims 3 Store
Monte Vista 

Cruise Ship (Crates) by KrisElizabethSims 

A special “thank you” to Southern Living for Arthur and Nicole’s wedding vows. 

Stay Tuned! The Legacy Returns Very Soon!

Hey everyone! 

If you’ve been around the site at all over the past few days, you might have noticed some minor changes taking place on the home page, and on the site in general. This can only mean one thing: I’m coming back! I know it’s been a while, and the past two months are ones I’d rather forget. But I’m finally writing again, and will be updating with a brand new chapter by the end of this coming week.

If you remember the old Generation Two stories (hopefully, you don’t!!) you’ll remember that Arthur is Destiny’s eventual life partner. You don’t know Arthur’s full story, but you will, because it’s coming first. I’ve only been writing and tweaking it since June 2022, so I think it’s time y’all met Destiny’s other half. 

Arthur Atwood is an interesting guy who immigrated as a child to the “Mainland” from Monte Vista. The store world of Monte Vista was one of my first purchases, but I’ve not really played in it until I created this backstory for Destiny’s beloved husband. In his biography, you’ll meet Arthur’s family; his parents, Luca and Bianca Atwood, older brother Giorgio, and his younger sister, Daniela. There will be no spoilers with this chapter, but the wait won’t be for much longer. I promise!!

What I’d like now is to thank those of you who prayed, or sent healing thoughts, light, or even just a kind word during an extremely difficult time. Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for sticking around until I felt well enough to come back. You have no idea how much I appreciate all of you. 

A special “Thank You” to Bee at Poses by Bee for the poses on the featured photo. You can find them here.

Happy Fifth Birthday, Farmer Legacy!

I can’t believe that it’s been FIVE YEARS since I first published The Prologue (Or, When Frannie Met Charlie) in all of its awful, poorly written glory. I’ve come such a long way since those days, but I’m thankful for those first few, formative months writing this blog. I’m thankful for the friends I’ve made along the way, and the ones I’ve yet to meet. Most of all, I’m thankful to everyone who comes to read this blog when a new chapter drops, or who responds when I just need to be candid with y’all. You’ll never know how much I appreciate all of you!

Happy birthday to all my girls and their families:

The Farmer family – Fran, Charlie and Destiny

The Atwood family – Destiny, Arthur, Bree-Ann, Isabella “Bella”, and Bianca “Bee”

The St John family – Bella, Rogelio, Charlotte and Christopher

The Jones family – Charlotte, Travis, Darcey, Danae, and Devin

The Murphy & Scroggins families – Danae, Andy, Elyse, Eamon, Emmitt II, Theodore, and Tessa Murphy; Darcey, Clint, Noel, and Shan Scroggins

I hope there are MANY more birthdays, and more generations to keep you busy!

Photo by Sener Baydar on Pexels.com

A Short Break, But I Will Return!

Hello Sim and romance fans. I so dislike needing to start the year off with an unplanned writing break, but I’ve had a bit of a dire family emergency that takes my time, and all of my concentration, away from this blog and my other one as well. It’s extremely personal, so please forgive me if I’m not exactly available during this difficult time.

Life is never so easy as just saying something, and it magically appears, which is why I should know better than to make promises I likely will not keep. The intentions are good when the promises are made. But things are messy, and life is unpredictable. I suppose we should be thankful that we don’t know what every day will bring ahead of time, or we’d never want to face the difficult ones, would we?

What I will ask of you, if you believe in a higher being, or even in just the healing powers of the universe (it really doesn’t make a difference to me what you do, or don’t, believe) if you could call on those things and pray for me and my family, whatever that prayer or intercession looks like. Someday, I might share these things with the community, but for now, I’d appreciate your thoughts, prayers, white light, or just a whisper that asks for favor somewhere from the universe, because I could certainly use anything you have.

I’ll announce the stories return when this crisis passes, likely with a teaser, or a promised chapter. I’m so close to completing Arthur’s introduction, but it’s just not ready yet. And to be truthful, I’m not in the proper headspace to finish it right now.

As always, I welcome thoughts and comments. Thank you for your never-ending patience. I sincerely appreciate it.

Happy New Year! The Farmer Legacy 2022 Year In Review

Happy New Year everyone! I can’t believe I’m writing another year-end summary for the Farmer Legacy. It seems like just yesterday I did the one for 2021. Where did this year go, anyway? 

The blog has done very well this year, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Some stats look a little on the low side, but there’s an excellent reason for that. Personally, this has been one of the roughest years in recent memory. 

We started with a major remodel and repair in our apartment home. Right after Christmas last year, I had two weeks to pack and clean our apartment as though we were moving. Now, with a healthy partner, this wouldn’t have been an issue. But, as you may (or may not) know, my husband and I both have major chronic health issues. I am a Fibromyalgia warrior in my 24th year, and Hubby, bless his heart, is struggling these days with Multiple Sclerosis. Neither of us are really capable of doing that kind of move project. Somehow, I met the deadline, and we had a four-day “staycation” here in town while they repaired extensive drywall issues. This is our youngest cat enjoying the view atop the fridge in the hotel room, a four-star Marriott.


We came home from our hotel excursion with me covered in bedbug bites. Luckily, we didn’t bring any extra critters home with us (just the cats!) but that same week was when I tested positive for COVID. And, as couples do, I shared it with my husband. Ultimately, we came through no worse for the wear, but he stayed in the hospital after falling and giving himself quite the goose egg over his left eye.

That’s been our primary issue this year; hubby’s falls attributed to MS. Overall, his health is on the decline, and that has ultimately required more of MY attention. The blog, unfortunately, suffers when he needs me; he comes first, as well he should. But I’m tired. I have a lot on my plate, and though I regret the blog has suffered as a result, I won’t apologize for it, either. 

All of that personal stuff aside, the blog has done really well despite the lack of content. I’m seeing new traffic to the blog every week, and our numbers are steady. Except for one month last year, the flow of readers had been rather organic. Those are the numbers I’m looking at when I determine how we’re doing. 

On their head, the stats this year seem a little lukewarm. For all of 2021—except February because I had a paid Facebook ad campaign that month—the visitor total was 527, with 1,062 views. This year, as of December 31, we have 451 visitors who have viewed the chapters 1,095 times. Overall, the trend is still slightly upward. All things considered, that’s good!

Last year, I stated the Blogger site, which currently only has Generations One and Two posted, has had negligible stats; the same is true for 2022. I don’t promote that site as much as I do this one, and the numbers show it. With life getting messier, and me really needing one less thing to do, I’m shutting down The Farmer Legacy on Blogspot as of January 1. Maintaining one site is work enough; two is just oppressive when time is at a premium. 

So, in 2022, I’ve published seven chapters and “teasers.” The teaser is something different and new that I started this year, and I might well continue to do so into 2023 and beyond. I also stress that I’ve published only seven chapters. However, I have much more actually written, which I’ve not published, and a few chapters in progress.

What made it to the blog this year? From chapter four to chapter eight, part one, the Legacy grew by 134 pages, not counting screenshots. Not impressed? How about 57,833 words? That’s almost two-thirds of a standard length romance novel. Considering the number of setbacks I’ve had this year, I’m happy with the progress I’ve made.

Our girl Destiny has had quite a year. The end of 2021 saw her making a mistake of epic proportions, and spending the first part of this year trying to find herself. She’s been lucky with her career, but her love life has been devastating. For all my fellow romantics, her life will turn around soon, I promise you! If you remember (hopefully you don’t!!) the first Generation Two stories I published almost four years ago, Arthur and Destiny have a history together, and so much more. As I continue to develop the main story arc, Arthur will find his place in Destiny’s life in a more profound, much sweeter way. 

I’ve been writing Arthur’s introduction since June, tweaking it here and there, and preparing it for his pending addition to the main storyline. Arthur Atwood is a complex man with an interesting past. His personal background makes him a complementary mate for Destiny, if only she would just realize it. Look for his story, and the chapter that introduces him into the main arc, by the end of January. 

In 2022, we met Stephen Connor, Destiny’s best friend from church, and Jared McMurphy, her boss at the coffeehouse, and would-be boyfriend. And of course, Arthur has been spotted with increasing frequency here and there around Starlight Shores. Who was surprised to find Stephen had secret feelings for Destiny? Who was shocked, maybe downright angry, with Jared after his big revelation? 

If you have played Showtime for any length of time, you have probably seen Ernesto Gonzales in town here and there. In the original Generation Two stories, Ernie had a slightly less impressive role. This time around, I’ve developed his character into a truly likable guy. A slightly less amicable fellow? Aiden Chandler, the CEO of “Soundwave Records.” Thankfully, we’re done with him. Or are we? That’s for me to know, and all y’all to find out!

We can’t, of course, forget the reintroduction of old friends back into the main storyline. Fran’s old flame, Jason Matthews, returned for a couple of chapters, and he will again in 2023. The Bradfords, Fran and Charlie’s longtime neighbors in Appaloosa Plains, will come back for one last chapter toward the beginning of the new year, as will one more gone, but obviously not forgotten, character.

The best of Generation Two is yet to come, so we invite you to visit again in 2023 and beyond! It is with our heartfelt and humble thanks that Chris and I both wish everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous new year! If you love the Farmer Legacy, please tell a friend. We’ll see you soon!

Lead Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

G2 Chapter Eight, Part One – Destiny’s Breakthrough

The weather had turned colder, the foliage at peak colors on the trees around the city. We were two weeks into preparation for recording “Maybe It’s Better This Way” under Ernie’s new label, Nova Records. I would be his groundbreaking artist. Ernie placed so much faith in my talent and songwriting skills; I was stressed out.

A temporary band was helping me to arrange the music for my new song. I’d lost count of when I last heard from Jared, so when his ringtone blared on my phone, it floored me. I hesitated to answer it, figuring maybe he had mis-dialed the number. 

Curiosity, however, got the better of me; on the fourth ring, I picked up Jared’s call to his surprised reaction. “Jare?”

“Oh, hey Des. I was gonna leave a voicemail, but—”

“Don’t worry about it. You have me now.” My heart, which previously occupied my chest, leapt into my throat.

“I need to see you.” His voice cracked, and his breath hitched. “Please, Des? I owe you some explanations.”

Yes, you do, I thought. You broke my heart, you jerk! “Yeah, I think I’d like that,” I said, going for the more civil approach.

“Pizza place, tomorrow night?”

I hadn’t been back to the pizza joint since Stephen left the Shores. That was our sacred place, our go-to hangout when we needed some silly time together, or I was working on a song and I wanted his input. “Um… yeah. Yeah, that’d be okay.” I really didn’t want to see Jared there, but he was making an effort to be cordial. I supposed accommodating him was the least I could do.

“Oh good, good. I’ll see you there?” His voice quivered. Was he nervous? He should’ve been. He put me through hell the night he walked out on me, and I was salty about it.

“Of course.” We both hung on the line waiting for the other to speak, but neither of us did. We were back to being super awkward together. Finally, I noticed Ernie’s disgruntled expression and waved to him. “I, um, I need to go. I’m at the studio and my band is waiting for me—”

“Oh, well then, don’t let me keep you. I’ll see you tomorrow night?”

“You will.” 

“Okay, good,” he said again. “Take care, Des.” 

“Yeah, you too.” I clicked the End button on my cell and slipped it back into my pocket.

Ernie gave me a stern look through the studio’s window and pointed at his watch. “We’re on a schedule here, Des.”

“I’m sorry, Ernie. That was Jared…” My voice cracked a little. “I know there’s no excuse for taking a personal call on your time, and I’m sor—”

He leaned forward and spoke into the mic. “Don’t worry about it. Are you patching things up?” I shrugged and mouthed the words, “I don’t know.” His concerned expression reappeared. “Do I need to go set him straight, Des, because I will. I can’t have you this scattered during an actual recording session.”

“No, I’m good. It will be interesting to see what he has to say for himself. I’m still angry with him.”

“I know you are. But I need you to focus on this song. Are you with me, Des?”

I shook out my limbs one at a time and hopped back and forth on light feet. “Yes, of course.” At least, that’s what my head believed. Despite everything, every beat of my heart hoped for reconciliation. Jared was all I thought about the rest of the day. 


The following night, I drove to the pizza place alone to meet Jared. His Mustang was already in the parking lot when I arrived. He really didn’t know how to be late for anything. It was a trait I both admired and loathed. I checked my makeup in the vanity mirror of my convertible and fixed my hair. Ready or not, I thought, here I come. 

Jared sat at the same corner booth Stephen and I occupied during our last evening together. Already, I had bad vibes about how the evening would go. He stood when he saw me approach, wearing a painted-on smile. 

“Hi, Des,” he almost whispered. “It’s so good to see you.” He pulled me close and kissed my cheek. I closed my eyes, relishing the tenderness of his gesture. “I’ve missed you. No,” he said, his voice shaky and muddled with emotion. “I’ve missed us.” 

Seeing him again, especially when he looked so weak and vulnerable, brought back every emotion I’d fought since his phone call. The tears I’d been fighting came, despite my best efforts. “I never thought I’d hear you say that, Jare. I thought we were finished.” 

We sat at the table together. He poured sweet tea from a pitcher he’d ordered for us to share. “Well, you might not want me after you hear what I need to tell you.” Jared took a sip of tea and grimaced. He never liked sweet tea; I knew he’d ordered it for my benefit.

“What makes you say that?”

“I don’t know where to begin. There’s much I’m sure you won’t understand. I want to explain myself without scaring you away from me.” He bowed his head in apparent shame. I couldn’t imagine what he needed to say.

“I won’t judge you, Jare. We’ve known each other too long for that.”

“You say that now, Destiny. I’m under no delusions here. You will likely hate me when I’m done.”

“I could never hate you.” Frankly, I was shocked he’d think such a thing.

“We’ll see about that. You don’t know what I need to say.”

I didn’t know how else to convince him he was safe with me. “Why don’t you tell me, and I’ll let you know.”

Jared slid to the edge of the booth as if to stand. Instead of rising to his feet, he pulled up the left leg of his slacks, revealing a secure strap with an electric monitor attached to it. “This,” he whispered, “this is my dirty secret.”

I knew what it was, and why most people wore them. But this was Jared, the most principled, upstanding man I knew. What the hell?! “I-I don’t understand, Jare.”

“I’m not the man you think I am, Des. I’m a monster.”

“No! You’re Jared, the man who gave me a job and took care of me when Jeff left me. You’re the man who selflessly gave himself to help me fix up my house!” I cried when I said, “You’re the man I fell in love with… You’re no monster!”

“I’ve only shown you the part of me I wanted you to see. Deep down inside, I’m a dangerous man.”

I sniffled and shook my head. “I don’t believe you.”

“You need to see this…” His breath hitched; he reached down to the floor and pulled a satchel from under the table. Tucked inside, he had journals and books, much like what I carried with me. He reached in and brought out a thick notebook with newspaper clippings stuffed inside. “This will reveal the real Jared McMurphy, the one I never wanted you to see.” Jared set the notebook on the table and pushed it toward me. 

“You don’t have to do this,” I said, choking back tears. 

“Please, open it…” He folded his hands, his eyes averted downward. “Please, Des?”

I swallowed hard and took the notebook in my hand. Before I even opened it, a newspaper clipping slipped from the inside cover, one I couldn’t believe. Grisly photos of a young woman covered in bruises and blood, with open wounds on her face. Next to her photographs was Jared’s police mugshot, sporting his own significant injuries. The headline read:

Local Teen Faces Assault And Battery Charges

“Jared Anthony Pritchard, 19, son of Rhys Pritchard of Bridgeport, and Veronica McMurphy of Starlight Shores, was charged last evening with aggravated assault and battery…” 

What the…? No! My eyes skimmed further through the gruesome description of the crime scene. Though some key phrases stood out, “hair caked with blood” was the most horrifying. It was worse than reading a crime novel, because this was real life. I scanned further down toward the end of the article: 

“The victim, Alana Hensley, remains at Starlight Shores Memorial Hospital in critical, but stable condition…” 

I stared blankly at the article, not believing what I’d just read. My stomach felt sick, but something didn’t add up. This couldn’t really be Jared… could it? Surely, he wasn’t capable of such savagery. 

“That isn’t you, is it?! Jared, please tell me this isn’t true!”

He sighed, not making eye contact with me. “Alana and I were at her graduation party on the beach. She was a year younger than me, so I was already out of school. I’d gotten in with the wrong crowd, and once we graduated, things escalated. We were getting drunk every night and causing problems in town. There’s a lot of mischief to be had for a bunch of young men with no jobs and no responsibilities. The gang leader, Wes, had a rap sheet a mile long, but somehow I’d kept my nose clean.”

“You were in a gang?” It just kept getting worse.

He nodded, keeping his gaze from mine. “Alana was my high school sweetheart, and I loved her like no one else. Though we’d been together for years, we’d been engaged only a month or two. She never approved of me drinking and being with the guys, and she sure didn’t want me coming around her family when I was wasted. She invited me to her graduation party on the condition I’d show up sober. And I did, but that’s where the promise ended. I had a flask of whiskey hidden in my jacket that I drank in the first half-hour of her party.” 

“The booze had me feeling no pain, and I was looking for more when I found Alana and one of her classmates kissing behind the outbuilding on the beach. He was a much bigger guy, and I knew I couldn’t take him by myself drunk as I was, so I…” Jared’s breath caught in his throat. “I went after her instead. She was weaker and smaller than me, and I was rip-roaring hammered; I knew it was an easy fight. I don’t remember most of what happened, only that her father heard her screams and likely saved her life.” He stopped to wipe tears from his eyes. “I didn’t know my strength, Des. I could have easily killed her.”

His confessions took my breath away and made my blood run cold. How could he?! “I-I don’t know what to say.” Jared refused to make eye contact with me, which really made me feel no better as I sat there with him.

“Her dad came after me, threatening to kill me after I’d hurt Alana. My drunken state didn’t help my escape, and he caught me after a short pursuit. He gave me a concussion, hitting my head repeatedly against the concrete outbuilding. It felt like I was going to die, and I wouldn’t have cared if he had killed me. I figured it would be better than spending time in prison. Her father was arrested, too, and convicted of attempted second-degree murder. He’s still in a high-security prison in Strangeville, serving a twenty-year sentence, but he didn’t deserve that. He was simply protecting his only daughter, the one I almost killed.”

I shifted in my seat, growing more agitated as he spoke. He took another sip of tea and continued.

“My mom was pretty famous and well respected here in the Shores. They didn’t publish her stage name in the newspaper to protect her from the fallout. Her influence bought me a reduced sentence; I accepted a plea deal for fifteen years of house arrest instead of doing hard time. The decision was wildly unpopular, especially after her father’s conviction. Public outcry demanded justice for her dad, but none came. Her parents divorced right after his conviction. Alana’s mother moved her across the country, so she’d never have to deal with me again.”

“As for me, I’m stuck wearing this damned ankle bracelet for another few years. My mother retired in disgrace after my plea deal went public. She bought the coffeehouse in secret for me to manage, which I’ve been doing to rebuild my life. Mom’s my silent partner in the business. The ‘V’ in the name stands for Veronica. When my dad disowned me, I took her last name. I nearly ruined my life, you know. Mom’s been a big help to get my future back in order.”

“You definitely ruined Alana’s life,” I said through gritted teeth. “You almost killed her, and her father’s in prison for trying to save her life?! Yeah… you screwed her up big time.” I tried not to sound bitter, but given the bombshell he’d just dropped on me, it was a big ask. “Who is your mom?”

“You’ve probably heard her name. Roni Dey.”

Daddy had a few of her records, and I knew a bunch of her songs. I was very familiar with the name. “I have,” I said. There was an uncomfortable silence between us as I sat staring at the man I once loved, one I no longer knew. Who was this stranger sitting across from me? How could I have misjudged his character this badly? How could I have allowed him to get this dangerously close to me? After Austin and Jeff, how could I have accepted his lies so thoroughly and without questioning him? That baffled me most of all. 

“So, all those times we spent alone together, someone could have been listening to our conversations?” My mind raced to all the suggestive banter we’d shared, and the secrets I’d confided in him, ones I thought were between just the two of us. The realization made me queasy; suddenly, I was fighting the urge to throw up.

He shook his head. “No? Yes? Oh, hell, I don’t know, Des. I mean, in theory they could’ve. I’m not sure if anything you ever said ended up as part of my permanent record.” 

His words made my stomach churn like the seas in a violent storm. “I can’t believe you did this to me…”

“I don’t suppose saying that I’m sorry would help?”

I grumbled, struggling to keep my composure. “No, it wouldn’t.” I couldn’t even look at him.

We sat longer, not talking or even looking at one another, until he finally broke the silence. “Say something, Des. Tell me what you’re feeling.”

The trouble was, I was so furious, I could barely form an intelligible thought. I took a deep breath and exhaled with significant force. “I can’t believe I never suspected what a—”

“Bastard?” Jared interrupted me. 

“—dirty, despicable liar you are! You knew my past, and you lied to me anyway?!” I picked up my almost-full glass of sweet tea and threw it in his face. “I trusted you! I loved you, dammit! You believed it was okay to hide this from me?! How dare you?!”

“Please, Des, don’t feel that way—”

“Don’t you DARE tell me how to feel!” I spat back at him. “But it all makes sense now. Why you don’t date. Why you were SO hesitant to tell me how you felt about me. It had nothing to do with ethics, DID IT?!” I screamed at him. He cowered from me, my raised voice drawing unwanted attention from other restaurant patrons. “I gotta go.” I stood on unsteady legs, shaking so hard I thought I’d fall. Jared stood and caught my arm.

“Please, let’s finish talking this out? I need to apologize for everyth—”

I spun around and slapped him—surprising both of us—but it produced my desired result. Jared recoiled from me, holding his face; the agony and shock in his expression was palpable, but I didn’t care. This entire evening had been a train wreck of emotion for me. His feelings mattered little. 

“Don’t you touch me!” I growled. I collected my purse and car keys, turned to face him, and looked straight into his eyes. “You’re right, Jared. You ARE a monster. Never call me again.”

I turned on my heel and didn’t look back, rushing toward the door. My car was parked out close to the Hoi Polloi; I trudged through the parking lot on wobbly legs, fighting tears all the way there. When I finally reached my vehicle, I flopped into the driver’s seat and allowed my emotions to run rampant. Heart-wrenched sobs wracked my body, grieved not only by the permanent loss of a once-wanted relationship, but by the lies I’d once again swallowed hook, line and sinker.

I reached into my purse and retrieved my phone. Ernie got a badly misspelled, poorly formed one-line text informing him I needed tomorrow off. Then I scrolled through my contacts—there weren’t many, and now there was one fewer—until I found Stephen’s number. He wouldn’t hear me if I phoned him, but he could certainly read a text message. I tapped on his handsome face and opened my messaging app.

Hi Stephen, I know I shouldn’t be contacting you, but I really need a friend right now. Are you available to text? Please let me know. – Destiny.

I wiped tears from my face and started the car. Poppy waited for me at home. Even if Stephen wasn’t available, I knew somehow she would make me feel better. The drive home felt like an eternity, but eventually, I turned down my street and navigated to my little house, the one Jared helped me to fix up and decorate. 

As I had predicted, Poppy sat at the kitchen door waiting for my arrival back home. I set my purse and keys on the counter, bent down to pick her up, and grabbed my phone before I walked into the living room with Poppy in my arms. It had only been a few seconds after I settled down before my phone signaled a text message. I fumbled with it, only to be disappointed. 

Destiny, Stephen has gone to the academy for the next two weeks. I’ll let him know you messaged him when we speak, which should be a few days at the most. He’ll be happy to hear you’ve contacted him. He misses you so. Fondly, Lorraine Connor.

“Drat!” I said out loud and scratched Poppy’s chin. “I guess it’s just you and me, sweetheart.” I walked back to the kitchen door and locked it, turned out the lights and headed for my upstairs bedroom with Poppy at my heels. Every single thing in my house reminded me of Jared, and it made me hate him more. All the times I’d been with him here alone, when he could have hurt or taken advantage of me, made me physically ill. Regardless, I hadn’t felt this broken since Jeff and I split up. As I cried myself to sleep, I promised I’d never let another man get close to me, and I certainly wouldn’t give him the power to hurt me like Austin, Jeff, and Jared had done. No, Destiny, I thought, you’re going to die alone and miserable. 

It was my last thought before the merciful tug of sleep claimed me that night.

I stopped frequenting the Flying V coffeehouse, but I missed seeing Evie every morning. It was a sacrifice I needed to make, though we still saw each other a few times a month. I couldn’t stomach the thought of seeing Jared, or giving him the chance to worm his way back into my good graces. I was still too angry, and too disturbed, by our last meeting. 

Much to my surprise, Stephen never texted back when he returned home from the academy, and I wondered how he was doing. Ernie remained one of my few friends, but above all, he was my agent. Lucky for me, he was a confirmed bachelor with buddies of his own. His best friend, Mithun, got most of Ernie’s attention outside of the studio.

As the weeks passed, I immersed myself in my work. Ernie hired a permanent band—after two weeks of exhausting auditions—to record “Maybe It’s Better This Way” in the studio, and play at local gigs. I nailed the voice track in just a few takes. During the song’s production, Ernie showed me how to use the soundboard to enhance my voice, the instruments, and to add artistic elements into the song. He loved my new musical arrangement, and he was especially pleased with the band’s rendition of it. 

Three weeks after my last session in the studio, Ernie had the finished song in his possession. Although Soundwave Records was no longer interested in my career, Ernie still gave the finished song to Aiden Chandler to hear. We were together, preparing promotional materials for the song’s release, when Ernie got Aiden’s response. He threw his hands in the air and growled in frustration. I glanced toward him in time to see him bang his forehead gently on his desk.

“Why do I bother with that know-it-all, Des?” He closed his laptop hard and pushed away. “According to Chandler, I shouldn’t have wasted my time with that ‘crap song.’ Who the hell does he think he is?”

I shrugged. “I dunno, Ernie. He’s the CEO of Soundwave for a reason. But they also don’t dabble in the country market. We’ve got this.” I sounded unusually hopeful, a complete about-face. He was usually the unshakable, confident one of the two of us. “The song is amazing. Let’s just concentrate on mailing it to radio stations and getting some air time with it.”

He nodded his head and smiled at me. “Well, look at you! Your calm composure is just what I needed today, Des. Thank you.”

“What can I say? You’re rubbing off on me.” I side-glanced at him and giggled. 

“Where are we on the promo stuff? Do we have enough hard copies of that single on hand?” He walked to where I sat; a pile of envelopes addressed to every country station in the Mainland, copies of the single, and my promo portraits were stacked on the table.

“I’m getting low on photos, but other than that, there’s plenty to go around.” I plopped on the sofa and rested against the cushions. My back reminded me I’d been sitting in one position for too long. “When is the official release?”

“Five days,” Ernie said. “That gives the radio stations plenty of time to receive the materials and spin the tune. I have a good feeling about this.”

“I know we’re not doing a big party this time around. What’s our schedule look like for release week?” 

“Meh,” he grunted. “The morning show on local television is interested, so keep the release day morning available. I haven’t heard from any of the venues in town, not even from the private club where we had your party last time, which surprised me. It looked like the prop was into you.” 

I blushed. “Even if he was, I’m not interested.” Arthur Atwood was charming, but I didn’t need another man who would eventually destroy my heart. I wanted to accomplish my dreams on my own, without a man to “help” me.

“Well, leave the venues to me. I know for sure we can get you an audition at Verde Park. Trice is a good friend of mine, has tons of influence in town, and he owes me a favor.”

I wasn’t sure how I felt about being a charity case. “Yeah,” I said in half-hearted agreement, and pointed toward his desk. “Does that box have more promo photos?” 

“Yep!” Ernie said. “I was just getting ready to open it. I’ll run to the post office when we’re done stuffing envelopes. How many more?” 

The stack of empty manila envelopes stared at me. “This many.” I held my fingers open about half an inch. “You know, more hands make light work.” I patted the seat next to mine. “We could knock this out in about ten minutes.”

Ernie pulled the chair from in front of his desk, the box of photos planted on the seat. “Let’s get to work, then.”

The morning of my song’s release, we appeared on the local morning show. Breakfast In The Shores was seen not only in Starlight Shores, but the surrounding towns as well. The host, Grayson Adams, had been the anchor of the morning show for at least two decades and was well-respected and loved in the entertainment industry. He was known for his accurate ‘first impressions’ of a new artist in town, which was why I dreaded our appearance on the show that morning. 

Grayson Adams spoke with Ernie about the launch of Nova Records and little else. He remembered the abysmal failure that was “Love Is A Wave,” treating me as though I was simply Ernie’s eye-candy. At our previous appearance, he correctly foretold my first single’s demise. He wasn’t about to let me forget it, either. 

“So, you’re launching your new record label today with Miss Hill’s brand new single. That’s a gutsy move, Ernie, all things considered. But I suppose you’re the expert here, and she’s the ‘artist’ you chose.” Yes, he formed air quotes with his fingers as he uttered the word ‘artist’. “I wish you all the luck,” he said, then turned away from Ernie, looked into the camera and muttered, “because you’re going to need it.” He crossed his legs with an arrogant smirk. Grayson Adams was never wrong, and I was nervous as hell. Ernie took it all in stride, sitting back into his seat sporting his own smug expression.

“Destiny Hill is the next big thing in this town, Gray, or my name isn’t Ernie Gonzales.” He smiled at me on the stage setup, gave me a ‘thumbs up’—which I returned with my brightest smile—then he gestured to the host that we were ready to go.

“What should I call you then, Ernie?” Grayson Adams said, disdain dripping from his voice. “I jest!” He winked at the camera with a snide grin. “Let’s go now to Destiny Hill with her new single, ‘Maybe It’s Better This Way’.” He pointed in my direction; I watched the cameras pan toward us. It was showtime.


With his insincere introduction, the band played the first notes of the song, and my voice filled the studio. The emotion in the lyrics was still raw, but my voice was strong and clear. Ross’ soulful guitar solo midway through the song amped up the intensity, giving us the momentum to finish with a bang. The band nailed it, and so did I. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the performance. Better yet, the show’s pompous host gawked at us, slack-jawed and looking astounded. Who is wearing the smirk now, Mr. Snobby Pants?

After the performance, the mood on-set changed. Grayson Adams was suddenly interested in my life. Where was I born? Where have I been hiding in the city unnoticed for so long? He raved on and on about how the Shores needed fresh talent, and I was here for such a time as this. The more compliments he heaped on me, the more I blushed. Ernie sat on the couch listening to the interview, not shocked in the least.

When our segment was over, the producer invited us back into the green room for additional interviews. The evening news wanted to do a feature story about “the red-headed girl from Appaloosa Plains with the small town drawl, and the big voice”—their words, not mine. They wanted us to do another performance of the song for a weekend feature spot. A one-hour obligation turned into an all-day “Des Fest,” as Ernie called it. His limo brought me back home late that afternoon.

“Are you okay, Des?” he asked. “You’ve been quiet since we left the studio.”

“I’m overwhelmed.”

“You left them speechless on that show, Destiny. Chandler was dead wrong about you. I have an eye for talent that he doesn’t possess. Luckily, the television station recognized that, though they’d have been blind if they hadn’t.”

I rolled my eyes. “I was dreading today, Ernie. Grayson Adams was ready to sink my career before I even got started. He couldn’t have been more patronizing if he tried.”

“But you blew his socks off, turned them inside out, and put them back on his cocky feet with the first verse of your song. I’ve never seen a more profound paradigm shift. You realize, Des, that you’re the first artist ever to prove him wrong. This is a huge deal! You showed them who you really are, and they loved you.”

“Yeah. I guess I wasn’t expecting the fawning today. It took me by surprise. That didn’t happen with the first song.”

“You know why, don’t you?”

I shrugged. “It was a terrible song, that’s why.”

“No, Des,” he said. “The song itself wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t yours. The song you wrote tells a story, but not just any story. It portrays heartbreak, sadness, and loss. Those are themes everyone can relate to. Anyone who saw that performance, Destiny, felt the emotion you put into those words. They sensed it in the arrangement you wrote. Your songs have something to say, and people will want to hear it.”

I blushed. “You really think so?”

“Des, I know it. I expect big things for this song, so be ready with more for an album. I know you have a bunch.”

“Yes, I do. Only a few people have heard my best ones. My daddy…” I wiped a stray tear from my eye. “I was singing his favorite song when he took his last breath. I haven’t played it since Jeff and I broke up.”

Ernie grinned and slapped his knee. “That’s the one I want to hear! What’s the name of it?”

“I haven’t officially named it, but I’ve been calling it ‘It Hurts Both Ways’. I wrote it as a child for a friend. Jeff rewrote it as a duet, but I always liked it as a solo.”

“We can’t sit on this album. I’m going to need you in the studio with the band to work on arranging these songs. We’ll take a few days to gauge the single, but it’s back to work.” He took my hand and patted it. “I’m really proud of you, Destiny. You enchanted everyone today, and you’re going to turn some heads. I guarantee it.”

“I’m still surprised by everything. This was so unexpected, especially after ‘Love Is A Wave’.”

Ernie put his arm around my shoulder and hugged me. “Well, I’m not shocked at all. You just proved what I already knew; you’re a star. The world just hasn’t met you yet.”

The days following my appearance on the morning show were like a dream. People waved at me when I was around town, gathering around me for autographs and photos. The experience was a one-hundred-eighty degree turnaround from the first single we’d released. It was surreal.

Ernie picked me up in his limo for a meeting with Phil Trice, the proprietor at Verde Park. Even though my name was out in the city, I was still fearful of the crowd of bullies that hovered near the stage. Phil wasn’t always at the amphitheater, and it wasn’t his responsibility to monitor the park anyhow. His job was hiring acts to perform on stage at regular gigs, and to run competitive events called SimFest.

I was jittery when we left the limo, even with Ernie at my side. My only security with him beside me would be his name recognition, if that even mattered to the brute squad that patrolled the stage. He gave me a reassuring pat on the back as we walked through a heavy rime of hoarfrost on the grass.

The chief antagonist from years ago—a truly mediocre acrobat named Priscilla—approached Ernie when she saw me with him.

“What’s she doing here?” she said. Priscilla scowled at me with pure hatred. My skin formed goosebumps, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I cowered before her, shrinking into myself; it angered me she still had this effect on me almost five years later.

Ernie ignored her caustic tone. “This is my client, Destiny Hill. We are both here to see Mr. Trice, so if you’d let us by—”

Priscilla stepped into Ernie’s path, snapping a wad of gum. “That baby is not welcome in our park!” she pointed to me, clearly noticing she intimidated the hell out of me. My discomfort only emboldened her. “We warned her not to return here.” She turned to me and spoke, glaring through my eyes, into my frightened soul. “How’s your guitar, little mouse? Oh, that’s right! It’s at the bottom of the lake, which is exactly where you’re going!” She looked over at the five burly guys that sat near the chess table on the left side of the stage and whistled for them.

I sidled up next to Ernie, trembling, as Priscilla’s henchmen approached us. I couldn’t believe I broke my promise to myself, having no desire to take a mid-December swim in the lake. Mostly, I couldn’t believe she was brazen enough to threaten me with him by my side; from the looks of things, they intended to make good on her threat. Though Ernie was a big man, surely he’d be no match for the brawny quintet. Against the odds, he put himself between me and my would-be attackers. He was usually unflappable, but the threat must have triggered his fight-or-flight response. I’d never seen him get angry as quickly as he did at that moment; he was utterly enraged.

“Enough!” Ernie growled. “This park is a public space, and Destiny has more right to be here than you, as she is a bigger deal than you’ll ever be. You want to know why no one hires you, Priscilla?” In stunned bewilderment, she stepped backward. Was that fear in her expression? I sure hoped so.

“Y-You know—?” Priscilla stammered, obviously ruffled.

Ernie continued his verbal attack. “Yes, I know who you are, you sorry excuse of a performer!” He took a step closer and got in her face. “Your act is tired and banal, doing the same handsprings and tumbles you’ve done since I was a kid. You’re an old has-been, Priscilla, and no one cares about you anymore.” Ouch! That had to hurt, I thought. Ernie could be savage when the circumstances warranted it. I was happy his fury wasn’t aimed at me!

“But… but…” she tried to protest. He was having none of it.

“If I hear that you or any of these punks have so much as looked at Destiny the wrong way, I’ll ensure your banishment from the park faster than you can say her name. I know what the park means to you, so think long and hard before you threaten her, or anyone else, again. Do we have an understanding, Priscilla?”

Priscilla kept her eyes focused on the ground, muttering under her breath. “Y-Yes sir, I understand, Mr. Gonzales.”

“Good.” Ernie turned to me and took my arm with a gentle grip. “Come on, Des. Phil is waiting for us.” I nodded and followed him, but inwardly, I was thrilled that Priscilla finally got her comeuppance.

The amphitheater at Verde Park was an outdoor venue; though the stage was covered from precipitation, the blustery weather and frigid temperatures in Starlight Shores would likely keep larger crowds from attending winter shows. The Shores wasn’t as numbingly cold as Appaloosa Plains was in the winter, but snow is still snow, and cold hinders outdoor activities that don’t revolve around winter sports. I doubted the public would come out for a December show, especially one that featured a relatively unknown act.

Phil had a warm office in an outbuilding just off the property, which was why he paid no attention to the goings-on at the stage. Ernie knocked on the door and gave me an encouraging pat.

“Ernie!” Phil, who I’d only met once at my Soundwave party, smiled warmly at me. “And Miss Hill, it’s nice to see you again.” He leaned closer to my ear and whispered, “I’m happy to see you with Ernie, honestly. Stick with him, and you’ll go places.”

I smiled back. “Thank you.”

The two men went a round of slapping each other on the back, followed by hearty chortling. “I’m glad you got her away from Chandler at Soundwave, Ern. She has too much talent to waste it there.” I was utterly stupefied. Soundwave Records, despite the character who ran it, was still the biggest, most successful record label in the Mainland. I supposed the disdain for Aiden Chandler ran deeper than I thought.

“We’re going to remind ol’ Chandler what a huge mistake he made, aren’t we, Des?” Ernie hugged my shoulder; I returned a humble grin. “So, when can we have her do a show? I know the weather won’t cooperate for a show at the amphitheater, but the city needs to hear this girl live. You have more connections than the telephone company. Surely, we can make this happen for her.”

Phil walked to the desk in his small office and invited us in. Ernie took a seat directly across from Phil, while I sat slightly off center. “I agree, and you’re in luck. I’m hosting a live Snowflake Day event at the Hoi Polloi on the twenty-third; the show will feature some of the newest, hottest talent around, and it’s already sold out. I’d love for Destiny to come and be part of it. The local network affiliates will film the national broadcast. This will get her name out there and into the stratosphere, don’t you think?”

Ernie’s face lit up. “That’s perfect!” He looked at me, trying to size up my feelings. Inside, I was ready to burst. A national broadcast?! “What do you think, Des?”

“I have plans to travel to Twinbrook for my birthday on the twentieth,” I said. “There’s family there I haven’t seen since my folks passed away. I will make sure, though, that I’m home in plenty of time.”

Phil wrinkled his nose. “An event of this magnitude needs to go without a hitch. I’m afraid rehearsals would require you to stay in Starlight Shores, Destiny.” My heart sank, but I’d already promised Jason and the Bradfords I’d visit. Aunt Sunny and Uncle Caleb were getting older. It might be one of my last chances to see them before they, too, were gone.

It seemed Ernie remembered our previous discussion about my requested vacation because he was right on top of it. “My mistake, Phil. She requested that time away before we signed her this year. I can’t back down on that. What’s important to her is important to me. Family always comes first.”

Phil eyed me with a friendly smile. “Don’t worry. This holiday show isn’t the only event coming up. They’re looking for entertainers for the annual New Year’s Eve show from Bridgeport. You wouldn’t have to travel there, as they can do a satellite broadcast. We can set her up at Mick’s, since that place has a decidedly country feel to it, and pack the place with New Year’s Eve partiers. The national broadcast will cut to her big song when she’s ready to sing it.”

New Year’s Eve? There wasn’t a soul in the Mainland that missed that broadcast every year. It was the official countdown show, featuring entertainment from around the globe while the world waited to bring in the new year. That show had the potential to vault me into the national—and possibly the international—spotlight. Just the thought of it made my stomach do full flip-flops. “Wow…” was all I squeaked out.

Ernie, however, was beaming. “I knew you’d take care of my girl here, Phil.” He looked at me—sheet white and feeling nauseated—and chuckled. “It looks like I might need to convince her, though. I know a gig like the New Year’s Eve party might be a bit much for her to consider without warming up to the thought. How about this?” Ernie sat back in his chair with his ankle resting on his knee. “Send me an email with the details, including compensation for her time, and we’ll get back to you by Friday.”

“Acceptable,” Phil said. “I’d love to stay and chat, but I’m meeting with Jesse about an upcoming SimFest that she wants me to help her host at MN8. I’ll have Gina email you everything you need. Deal?”

Both men stood; Ernie shook Phil’s outstretched hand. “Deal. Thanks for seeing us on such short notice.” He reached for my hand and helped me to my feet. “Come on, Des. Let’s grab some lunch. My treat, of course!”

After all Ernie had done for me, how could I say no? “Sure.”

My flight to Twinbrook left in two hours; I was running a bit late. Evie and her fiancé Trevor agreed to house-sit while I visited Jason and the Bradfords for my twenty-fourth birthday. She was the only person in town I trusted to care for Poppy in my absence. It would be the first time I’d left her alone since I rescued her, and my first time leaving Starlight Shores since Jeff and I parted ways. I desperately needed this time away.

I’d gotten Poppy a supply of her favorite treats, all the food she loved, and a few new toys for Evie and Trevor to use in play with her. I spent the day before cleaning and tidying everything, stocking the fridge with food for my house guests, and making sure everything was prepared.

Evangeline was reading the list of instructions I wrote out for her while I finished bringing my luggage downstairs. In my habitual manner of over packing, the suitcase I had was stuffed to the seams with warm clothes as though I was leaving for a month instead of a few days. Trevor jumped up to help me when he saw me struggling with it on the steps.

“Thanks, Trevor,” I said. “Someday, I’ll learn to pack lightly. Today isn’t that day!” The three of us broke out in giggles. “Thank you both for house sitting. I know I don’t have to worry about Poppy with you here.”

Evie walked to me and gave me a hug. “It’s our pleasure! We’ll have some good fun with her.” She looked around at the otherwise bare living room. “Aren’t you decorating for Snowflake Day this year?”

I shrugged. “I’m not sure. What’s the point if it’s just me and Poppy?” I had never been so utterly alone for the holidays. I certainly didn’t feel festive with the awful year I’d had.

“You know you’re always welcome at our apartment. It isn’t much, but it’s better than spending it alone,” Evie said.

“I know, and you’re sweet. I haven’t heard about that New Year’s Eve show yet. If I’m doing it, I’ll be working on Snowflake Day, anyway. I will let you know, though.” A horn sounded outside the house. “My cab is here, I guess.” I hugged Evie and Trevor one last time, and gave Poppy a scratch under her chin. “I’ll call when I get in tonight. Thanks again!”

“It’s our pleasure! Have a safe trip, and enjoy your family!” I took my suitcase and backpack and waved to my friends, who stood in the doorway of my house.

The short commuter flight to Twinbrook was only forty-five minutes from tarmac to tarmac, barely enough time to get comfortable. Jason waited for me at baggage claim, looking just as wonderful as he did the last time I saw him, albeit a bit more gray. I broke into a jog when I spotted him and squealed his name.

“Jason!” His muscular arms caught me in a hug. He kissed my cheek and pulled away from me.

“I can’t believe you’re here, Princess. You look amazing! City living agrees with you.”

“You haven’t changed a bit.” I kissed his cheek in return.

“Well,” he said, “I’m older and a lot more gray. But I’m trying to stay fit and young. Is it working?”

“It is! I see little difference. You look just as young as you ever have!” I gave him another hug.

“You’d better get your eyes checked!” he laughed. “Oh Destiny, it’s so good to have you here. I’ve really missed you!”

“Ditto!” I said. We walked to the baggage claim conveyor. There were only twenty of us on the flight, so it wouldn’t take long. Mine came off the plane quickly. Jason grabbed my bag, and we walked from the airport.

Twinbrook sat at a slightly higher elevation than did Starlight Shores, so the ground was already blanketed in at least a foot of snow, most of it fairly fresh. A lake sat in the center of town, which fed two smaller rivers leading out to the neighboring townships and villages. Jason’s house was right on the bayou, within the lake on a boggy islet that housed only seven homes. He had no problems navigating the snowy streets in town. His house, adorned with sparkling lights and festive decorations, was at the end of the dead-end road.

Jason took my suitcase from the back of his pickup and carried it into the house for me. From somewhere inside, I heard a faint dog bark. I assumed it was Kota.

“Welcome home,” he said, turning the key in the door and sliding it open. The barking became louder as I walked into Jason’s home. The first thing I noticed was a full evergreen tree, decorated for Snowflake Day, with several packages under it. As we walked further into the house, a distinct, citrusy aroma of cinnamon, cardamom and clove tickled my nose.

“It smells amazing in here, Jason,” I said. “What a lovely home.”

“There’s a better view in the back,” he said. “First things first, though.” He took my suitcase and carried it into a small room off the main living area. He swung the door open for me and let me step inside first. There was a rustic, four-poster bed with a feminine floral coverlet and silk draped over the posts. A dresser that resembled Mama and Daddy’s old furniture had random photographs on it, candles, and a vase of artificial pink roses that looked so real, I had to touch them.

“I decorated this for you when I found you in Starlight Shores,” Jason said, “hoping that someday you’d come visit me here.” Well, his confession melted my heart on the spot.


“I’m so touched,” I whispered. That’s when I noticed the large photograph hanging on the wall. Uncle Caleb took it when I was a little girl; I sat perched atop Jason’s shoulders in the farmhouse back home, with Mama by his side. I remember the day perfectly; a happy, peaceful day filled with love and laughter. Her presence surrounded me in this space. It was the moment that I truly understood what Mama meant to him, and the realization of it broke my heart. I wiped tears away, overwhelmed by the ambience he had painstakingly created for me; he rubbed my back to comfort me.

“I thought it might have been a long time since you’d seen that photo, if you even remembered it at all. It’s one of my favorite memories of Appaloosa Plains.”

“I absolutely remember it. We’d just come home from the summer festival across the street. You bought the cotton candy that Mama had to wash out of my hair.” I giggled at the memory. “She swore she’d never buy it again, but that was the first treat Daddy—” I stopped short, speaking before I considered how mentioning him would affect Jason. “I’m sorry, Jason, I wasn’t thinking.”

He hugged my shoulders. “Hey, it’s okay. I made peace with everything years ago. I always hoped that some day, though, you’d call me Dad.”

Jason had presented me with a quandary. It was true he would have been my stepdad at some point had Daddy never returned home. I thought calling another man ‘Dad’ would feel like I was betraying his memory. But this was not simply another man asking it of me; it was Jason. It was as natural as the sun rising in the east, and setting in the west.

“You would really like that?”

“Destiny, I’d love nothing more. I’ve never had a daughter of my own. You’re as close as I ever got to having an actual family. I’ve always thought of you as mine anyway, even after I left the Plains. I guess,” he took a breath and sighed, “I never really got over losing you…”

I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him as tight as I could. “You never lost me, Dad.”

Well, that was it. With one simple word, I’d caught him unprepared. Jason’s body shook in my arms as I held him. I directed him toward the bed, where we both sat as he continued to weep. After a few minutes, he collected himself.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “You caught me off-guard. As much as I’ve longed to hear you say that, I never expected you actually would.”

“Don’t apologize. I know how much it means to you. Don’t be surprised if I slip up, though. You’ve only ever been Jason to me. It will take some getting used to, but I’d be honored to call you Dad.”

“Are you sure, sweetheart? I don’t want to be an affront to your father’s memory. I know how much you loved him.”

I acknowledged his statement with a nod. “That’s true. But I love you, too. I would never want to erase that part of my past. You were so important to both of us. You have to know how much she loved you.”

“I do, Destiny. I have so many regrets, though. There is much I’d change if I could go back. I know I made her life harder after your dad came home. All I could see was my future slipping away from me, and in my selfishness, I wanted to protect it at any cost. I never meant to hurt her. My only hope is that she forgave my selfishness and stupidity.”

I didn’t know for sure, but telling him my doubts would serve no purpose other than to further wound him. “She did. I’m sure of it. Mama missed you—”

A sharp bark interrupted our conversation; Jason stood and flashed a smile. “I forgot about Kota.” He took my hand and led me from the bedroom. “Come see the rest of the house. We got side-tracked, didn’t we?”

We walked back out into the main living area. There was a smaller chef’s kitchen, and just past it was a dining room with a beautiful craftsman table and chairs. The room flowed to the left, where the living room was situated, furnished with a comfortable sofa and matching living chairs, a stone fireplace, and a decent-sized television. But the show-stopper was the view outside the enormous picture windows.

The house sat directly on the water at the end of the cul-de-sac, meaning his house was surrounded on two sides, and partially the third, by water. With the newly fallen snow, the frozen lake, and evergreen trees enrobed with a white blanket, the scene outside was truly idyllic and peaceful.

He directed me outside to a staircase that led to the second floor. “I’ve been meaning to close this in, but I just haven’t gotten to it yet,” he explained as we climbed the steps. “Eventually, I’d like to make this a loft area. This is my bedroom suite, though the bathroom up here isn’t attached. It’s a long, cold walk in the middle of the night this time of year. I’ve thought about moving downstairs, but Kota loves it up here.” Jason opened his bedroom door to the most gorgeous Australian Shepherd I’ve ever seen. Kota was a blue merle with a stumpy tail, and the bluest eyes I’d ever seen on a dog. “Meet Dakota.”

I crouched to greet an affectionate dog whose whole body wagged when he was happy. He slobbered dog kisses all over my face after giving me the once-over sniff test. “Hi Kota!” I said, giving him pets and hugs. “He must smell Poppy,” I said to Jason. “She’s my rescue cat.”

Jason laughed. “You’re definitely your mother’s daughter. She was always taking special care of the barn cats when she thought I wasn’t looking.”

That was something I didn’t know or remember about Mama. “Really?”

“Yeah, there was this pretty little calico that was born to a female out there. I think if money hadn’t been so tight for her, she’d have brought that kitten inside for you. I’d have encouraged her, and even paid for it, if she’d only wanted it or said she did. I don’t know why Fran never brought her in, because she sure loved that little cat.”

I remembered the cat of which Jason spoke. I knew her as an aloof, but beautiful, mouser with white fur and splotches of brilliant red—almost the same color as my hair—and black smattered on her body. On her face was a black smudge over her right eye, and a smush of that self-same red on her chin. Aside from being striking, she was unapproachable and quite feral. That Mama would have tamed her came as a shock. “I remember her. Mama called her Patches.”

“Yep, she named her when the queen gave birth to her. Patches was always Fran’s favorite barn cat, even after she turned feral. I wish now I would have just brought her inside. It’s a shame you didn’t grow up with a pet.”

“Well,” I said, “we had Sweetie.”

“Yeah, but you can’t sit at night with a horse in your lap.” Jason snickered, watching me play with Kota. “He likes you.”

“He sure seems to!” Kota knocked me backward onto my butt and overtook me, covering me in slobbery dog kisses. “Okay, Kota, I’m done.” I tried to get up, but the oversized puppy insisted I stay on the floor.

“Kota!” Jason called to him, followed by a sharp whistle. The dog went immediately to Jason’s side and sat. “Good boy.”

“Wow, he’s very well trained!”

“He needs to be. Kota watches this house like a hawk, but he needs to follow simple commands when he gets too assertive with someone who is supposed to be here, like you.” Jason reached his hand to me. “Need a hand up?”

“Sure, Dad.” An ear-to-ear grin spread across his face.

We walked down the steps back to the main floor of the house. Together, we cooked a simple meal and sat at the dining room table to eat. I was pleasantly surprised when he took my hand and whispered a prayer before we ate. Mama’s influence on him even now astounded me.

After dinner, I excused myself to call Evie and check on Poppy. When I turned my phone on, I had a message from Ernie. I dialed my voice mail and listened:

Des, it’s Ernie. I just got confirmation from Trice that you’re in for the New Year’s Eve special. We’re booking your show at Mick’s as we speak, which means we will only have a few days to do rehearsals with the band. Let me know as soon as you come home from Twinbrook. We’ll have to be in the studio on Snowflake Day. No rest for the wicked.

I heard him laugh, and he continued.

Okay, call me whenever you can. I need to confirm this ASAP. Congratulations, Des. I told you I’m going to make you a star. I meant it, too. Talk soon.

I hung up the phone and squealed more loudly than I meant to. Jason came running to check on me.

“Are you okay, sweetheart?”

My huge smile gave me away. “I just got the best news!”

“Did you make your phone call yet?”

I wrinkled my nose. “No, not yet. But I had a voice mail from my agent.”

Jason cocked his head. “Agent? When did you hire an agent?”

It occurred to me I hadn’t said a word to Jason about my career. I looked at my watch and back at Jason. “What time do you head to bed these nights?”

Jason scoffed. “I’m a night owl. Always have been, which is why the army was so awful for me back in the day. I’m sensing you have a long story.”

“I do! I can’t wait to tell you, either, if you want to hear it tonight.”

“Let me put on some cocoa, and we can talk all night if you’d like.”

“How about lighting the fireplace? It can be like old times back in the Plains.”

Jason nodded. “Can you handle the fireplace, sweetheart?”

“Of course! I can build a pretty mean fire, if I say so myself!”

“Okay then! We’ll meet in the living room in about ten minutes.”

By the time Jason prepared the cocoa, I had the start of a toasty blaze going in the fireplace. He handed a steamy mug to me and sat on the sofa opposite me. Kota curled up by the hearth, obviously enjoying the warmth. I took a sip and closed my eyes; I recognized Mama’s cocoa recipe. For the short time they were together, Mama was forever ingrained within him.

“So, young lady, tell me all about your agent and your career. Have things gotten better since I was in the Shores?”


Where did I start? “You could say that. I started attending a little chapel up in the western hills. It didn’t take long for me to join the worship team. Eventually, I was promoted to leader. The morning I debuted three new songs that I’d written, Ernie Gonzales was in the chapel. You know who he is, right?” 

A smile slowly pulled across his face. “Yes. Yes, I do. He’s a big name in entertainment. He’s your agent, sweetheart?!”

I nodded. “I guess he was there to see me, because someone told him about me. Long story short, he signed me after I nailed his audition.”

Jason’s face was beaming with pride. “Discovered at church, huh? I’m sensing there’s more to this story.”

I took another sip of cocoa and nodded. “That was only the beginning. I left the coffeehouse after Ernie took me on as a client; he sent my demo to Aiden Chandler at Soundwave Records…” I paused, watching his face.

Jason sat across from me, his mouth hanging wide open. “Soundwave?! Holy crap, Destiny! That’s amazing! Did you sign a contract with them?”

I wrinkled my nose. “Only for the first song; it was a cheesy pop tune called ‘Love Is A Wave’.”

“That was you?!”

“Yep. It flopped big time. But Ernie didn’t give up on me. I’ll give him credit for that. He wanted me to sing the songs I wrote, not a pop tune that Aiden made me record.”

“So, you’re Destiny Hill? Funny how I never made that connection.”

I took a sip of cocoa and smiled. “I am. You’ll never guess where I got the idea for the stage name.”


“Remember that big old dirt mound in the garden, the one Uncle Caleb made when you restructured the plot?”

“Mmhmm. I remember you, from early morning until dusk, playing on that hill…” Jason grinned. “Oh, I get it. Destiny’s hill. I remember Fran calling it that more than once.”

“Yes! It came to me while I was looking at photographs. I remember Mama being so happy I had a safe place to play, somewhere she could keep a close eye on me.” I hadn’t felt this close to her in years; it was almost as though she lived here with Jason at her side. Her presence was everywhere in his comfortable home.

“So, you have a record with your name on it. I’m so impressed!” He set his mug on the coffee table and moved to stand up. “Just a sec.” He went into a room he used for storage, and came back a few minutes later with an old guitar. “This was mine back in the day. It probably needs new strings, but see if you can’t make it sing. I’d be honored to have a live performance of your first single.”

I blushed a deep red. “You don’t want to hear that awful song, do you? I mean, it’s terrible.”

“Well, if not that one, sing one you wrote, Destiny.”

I picked up his old guitar and strummed it. I laughed, hearing the out-of-tune instrument. Using my voice and nothing more, I tuned the guitar as best I could to its proper pitch. Jason watched, fascinated. “That’s better!” I strummed it once more, playing the first chord of ‘Maybe It’s Better This Way’.

I watched Jason as I sang the song, unaware that his twenty-year-old heartache refreshed with every word that left my mouth. Halfway through the first chorus, I stopped playing and sat silent, deeply sorry I’d chosen to play that song. His shoulders heaved in sorrow, as though he’d lost her all over again. Destiny, you fool, I cursed myself under my breath. “Are you okay?” I whispered.

“You wrote that, Destiny?” he said, wiping tears from his face. I nodded in silence, grieved that I’d caused him such pain. “What caused that kind of emotion? It’s obvious those words came from a deeply personal place. The song is incredible.”

It was a topic I hoped to avoid, but it was inevitable my love life would eventually pop up. “Every man I’ve ever loved, aside from you and Daddy, has been an emotional wrecking ball. Remember my boss from the coffeehouse? He’s the latest in a string of guys who have broken my heart…”

Jason nodded, a solemn look on his face. “Do I need to go mess him up? Because I will, sweetheart. Just say the word.”

“No, it’s okay. Jared has enough problems of his own. He needs to make peace with the choices he’s made, and the things he’s done, but he’s going to do it without me. I’m afraid his depravity is beyond forgiveness, even for me.”

“Wow, Destiny. He really must have screwed up for you to say that.”

“He did.” A familiar lump of emotion rose in my throat. “He’s the worst kind of monster.”

Jason’s jaw clenched; I could see the irritation on his face as I spoke. “He didn’t hurt you, did he?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “But he nearly killed his ex-fiancée in a drunken rage. I couldn’t believe he was the same man I fell in love with. I want nothing more to do with him.”

“I understand. What an awful thing to hear from someone you loved.”

“I know. But I believed all of his lies without questioning. How could I have been so stupid, Dad?”

Jason scooted next to me and hugged my shoulders. “Love does funny things to people, Destiny. I’m relieved you’re not dating him anymore.”

“Never again. My blood ran cold hearing him confess why he beat her up.” I wiped the tears away I’d been trying to contain. “After all of this, my heart is still broken. I loved him for years before I even acknowledged it. It makes me question my judgment, because I suspected none of what he told me.”

“I’m so sorry, princess.” Jason placed a soft kiss on my right temple. “It’s a beautiful song, you know. I’m just sorry that you suffered from the pain that caused you to write it. I wish I could have protected you from it.”

“Well, they say pain causes growth. I could have chosen another song to sing for you, but we released that one a couple of weeks ago. It’s doing pretty well on the charts, too. We debuted at seventy on the top one hundred list, and it’s moving up. I’m pretty happy with it. If we break the top ten, it will have outperformed my highest expectations for it.”

“Have I told you how proud of you I am?”

I smiled at him and laid my head on his shoulder. “Yeah, you have.”

“Well, I’m going to say it again. I’m so proud of all you’ve accomplished under the most difficult circumstances. You’re more like your mother than you realize. You have her raw determination, Destiny. She was the strongest woman I ever knew until I found you again.” He took my hand and squeezed it in his iron grip. “I love you, Princess.”

I squeezed his hand in return, feeling every ounce of love and affection in his simple gesture. “I love you too, Dad.”


Up Next: Chapter Eight, Part Two, Generation Two

Pose Codes:

We Will Rock You! By IMHO

Mod The Sims
Guitar Pose Pack by ModernLover

Poses By Bee
Adult Conversation/Emotion Poses Set 2
Adult Worship
Casual Sitting Poses
Family Fighting – Updated

Player Pose Pack by ha2d/Eris Sims 3 CC Finds


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Around The Sims 3
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Mod The Sims
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The Sims Resource
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Content not listed here is documented on the Custom Content page. Custom content and poses are not my property and are used in compliance with the TOUs.



Spooky Day Teaser

— Destiny —

Ernie and I were in the studio preparing my new song for recording when his secretary, Kerry, brought the mail to him. Tucked inside the pile was an invitation to a Spooky Day masquerade ball in five days. Ernie was perpetually single, but the invitation included a “plus one.” Since I was closest to him in and out of the studio, he extended the invitation to me. 

At first, I wasn’t going to say yes. After all, I’d been put through the wringer with my love life, but I also knew Ernie wasn’t interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with me. We’d go as friends and nothing more. If nothing else, it was an excuse to dress up in a fancy gown, have my hair and makeup done, and have some fun for a change. Spending weeks in the studio was tiring for both of us. 

Ernie read the invitation out loud. “Dress is formal. Everyone must disguise themselves to the best of their ability, wear a masquerade mask of some sort, but,” he laughed and shook his head, “here’s the kicker; speaking is prohibited. The entire night is silent, excluding music, of course.” 

“Is this a normal thing for a masquerade ball, Ernie?”

“To be honest, Des, I don’t know. I’ve never been to one of these before.” 

“Who is throwing this shindig?” I cringed as soon as the word left my mouth. I really needed to stop talking like a hick.

Ernie chuckled at my pickled expression. “Oh, you’re going to love this.”

“Uh oh…” 

“Wanna take a guess?” 

I cringed. “Jeff?”

Ernie smirked. “No, he wouldn’t be caught dead in Starlight Shores. No, it’s none other than Aiden Chandler. At least we know he won’t be asking you to sing.” He gave me a deadpan stare; we both burst out into laughter.

“Wait… if this is a silent party, how do we communicate with other party goers?”

Ernie scanned the invite. “It… doesn’t really say. I guess we’ll find out together, eh?” 

I rolled my eyes. “I guess so.”


The day of the party, I went to the salon to have my hair rinsed with a temporary black dye, my makeup done, and my nails filled. I stopped on my way home to pick up the gown and shoes I’d purchased for the ball, and then went home to prepare for my evening of music and silence. Poppy must not have recognized me, because she hissed and bristled her tail when I walked in the door.

“Poppy, it’s okay. It’s just me.” My voice and scent were familiar to her, so it didn’t take long for her to settle down. I trudged up the steps, noticing the time on the wall clock. Forty-five minutes was more than enough time before Ernie’s limo would arrive to retrieve me.

When I was ready, I walked down the stairs to wait for my ride. I checked my hair and makeup in the mirror before I slipped my mask over my eyes; a horn sounded outside at the end of my driveway. Ernie, like Jared, didn’t know how to be late for anything; I smiled as I said goodbye to Poppy, locked the front door, and walked into the chilly evening air to meet Ernie.

He was standing at the limo, waiting to help me in as I approached. I knew he didn’t really recognize me by the look on his face. “Who is this raven-haired beauty, and what have you done with my red-headed girl next door?”

I blushed fiercely at his compliment. “I guess my plan for total disguise worked!”

“Yeah, if I didn’t know I was at your house, Destiny, I wouldn’t have known it was you. Watch Chandler be taken with you, not knowing who you are.” 

“Psh,” I scoffed. “Even if he did, I’m not interested in that pompous jerk.” I wanted no one but Jared, if he was even still an option. Somehow, I doubted he was. 

We got into the limo together and rode to a mansion in the western hills belonging to Aiden Chandler. The outside architecture was ornate, but garish and overdone. He had spotlights outside the house, making it feel like the huge social event it was. I slipped the mask back onto my face before we walked from the car. 

“I’ll have to introduce us to the host at the door, Des, but let me talk. I’m hoping they’ll explain how communication is done tonight. Though I like the guy, Chandler’s an odd bird.”

“That’s a nice way to say he’s kooky,” I said. Ernie chuckled under his breath before he knocked on the mansion’s front door. A butler dressed in a well-tailored tuxedo answered our call. 

“Welcome, sir, and ma’am. This way, please.” He showed us into a vast foyer, minimally furnished and adorned with festive decor. An old coffin with cobwebs stood at the bottom of a curved staircase, alongside a skeleton dressed in a sexy maid outfit. If that wasn’t creepy, I didn’t know what was. 

We approached a table with a young lady awaiting our arrival. Before her were dozens of place cards and objects that looked like paper ping pong paddles. Each one was printed with a common phrase, but none of them asked questions that needed anything but a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. So that’s how we were to communicate with other ball attendees. It sounded like fun, and I was delighted Ernie asked me to attend with him. 

“Mr. Gonzales and guest, you’re at table three. Each one is marked. You may choose whichever seat is empty at your table. Once you leave this foyer, speaking is prohibited. Do you have any questions?” 

Ernie shook his head. “Just one. How many of these paddles do we need?” 

She gave Ernie a crooked smile. “You each only get one paddle. You’ll need to figure out how to get your message across to another guest if your paddle doesn’t ask the correct question.” 

He rolled his eyes. “This is going to be a pain in the a—”

“Don’t say it!” I said, giggling madly. “I think it will be fun.”

He sighed deeply and turned to me. “Shall we?” he said and offered his arm. 

I nodded in response. 

A six-piece stringed ensemble played festive music in a small alcove. Waiters roamed the grand hall with platters of champagne and hors d’oeuvres while other waitstaff walked around collecting dirty plates and glasses. 

I hadn’t been in the music business for very long, so I didn’t figure I’d know anyone there, even if we could speak to others. I felt shy and a little out of place in such a fancy home, and I silently wondered if I’d ever have a home like it someday. If I did, it wouldn’t be anywhere near this flashy and swanky. 

Ernie and I were together for the first half hour of the party when he found someone he recognized. He excused himself as best he could and left me standing alone. I took a stemmed flute of champagne from a passing waiter and decided to roam around and admire some of the artwork hanging around the hall. A mirror hung amongst the paintings; I gazed into it, stopped dead and stood there, my mouth hanging agape. I didn’t even recognize myself with black hair, crystal blue contact lenses in my eyes, and the masquerade mask. 

The musicians announced the end of their set and took a half-hour break. One of them, a man wearing a top hat and matching gray tuxedo with an ivory scarf, approached me. The musicians were bound to silence as well, except for the leader, who made announcements for Aiden as requested. It was a bit awkward trying to greet someone with no formal introduction. However, my country twang would likely be offputting for an opener, so I was thankful I didn’t have to open my mouth to speak.

I hadn’t looked at my paddle before that moment to find what phrase it had printed on it. On one side, it had a standard question; on the flip side, it had either “yes” or “no.” Mine asked for a dance, with a “yes” printed on the reverse. Soft music played from a wired system within the house. In the eerie quiet of the party, the music’s volume was still rather understated. I gave this gentleman a sheepish grin and showed him my sign. He smiled and nodded in return, placed his glass of champagne on the fireplace mantle and, taking my hand, led me to the dance floor.

On the small parcel of floor around which other guests congregated, the mystery man took me into his arms for a dance. Without speaking a word to one another, it was clear there was chemistry between us. I hadn’t felt anything like it before in my life, but the timing was terrible. Until he told me otherwise, Jared was still my boyfriend.

The soft, classical music was barely audible from speakers set into the ceiling. The mystery man pulled me closer still, his hand on the small of my back. In his arms, it felt like home, but nothing like I’d ever known before. There was comfort there, a warmth I’d been missing since I left Appaloosa Plains. I rested my head gently on his shoulder; he, in turn, rested his head next to mine. His natural, musky scent mixed with his cologne —a delicious woodsy, spicy fragrance— was heavenly on him. Daddy wore something similar on occasion, but I couldn’t remember it smelling quite like this.

We must have spent his entire break together, because when the band leader announced their return, he gestured a smile with a frustrated look. He pointed at the alcove, then his watch, and made a breaking motion with his hands, as though he was snapping something in two. Understanding him to mean that he wished to spend more time together at his next break, I nodded. He gave a ‘thumbs up’ of approval, turned to walk away, and tripped over a chair on his way back to the alcove. I couldn’t help but giggle, excited for the next moments we’d spend together.

Ernie caught up with me about ten minutes later, tugged my arm and pointed to a balcony just beyond a set of French doors. I nodded and followed him outside; the crisp, fresh air was invigorating. He closed the doors behind him and let out a sigh of relief. 

“I know we’re not supposed to talk, but I needed to let off some steam. Des, we need to get out of here. Chandler cornered me in the hallway on my way back from the restroom, and he really ticked me off. Do you mind if we get going?”

No! I thought. “What’s going on?”

“He wanted to talk about you, naturally, because he thinks I’m wasting my time with your music. I told him to mind his own damned business, but of course he won’t. Then he started asking about who I brought tonight, since he clearly didn’t recognize you. Apparently, Des, he was interested. He has a better chance of flying around the moon tonight! Who does he think he is, anyway?!”

My mind went back to the mystery man. If I didn’t see him again tonight, how would I ever know who he was? Ernie was my ride, so I was obligated to leave with him. “Yeah,” I said. “Whenever you’re ready, we can go.” I tried to hide my stinging disappointment. He must have seen it because he patted my back. 

“I saw you dancing with that violinist. You looked like you hit it off.” 

“Any idea who he is?”

“Nah. Chandler likely knows, but getting him to tell me might be a moot point. Let’s just get out of here. We should be at the studio in the morning anyway.” 

I glared at him. “Tomorrow’s Sunday, Ernie. I have church tomorrow morning.”

“Oh, right. Well, it’s a good thing we’re leaving early, isn’t it? We can’t have our little songbird all tired out!”

“It doesn’t matter,” I reminded him. “I stepped down as worship leader a month ago. I can’t keep up rehearsals, singing, song writing and regular attendance with my new schedule. Work, unfortunately, comes first.” I winked at him, a coy grin on my face.

Ernie laughed. “Whaddya mean ‘unfortunately’?!” I side-glanced at him and giggled. “Come on, Des. Let’s get out of here.”

The ride back to my house was quiet, and I spent the time wondering the big ‘what ifs.’ What if this man was the one I was supposed to meet? What if he felt the same about me? Or worse, what if he thinks I left early because I wasn’t interested? The limo dropped me off at the house; though it was pointless, I wished I had a way to get back into the party. I thanked Ernie for a fun evening, walked to the door and unlocked it. Poppy was nowhere to be found.

I dropped my keys into the bowl I kept on Mama’s old side table, kicked off my shoes, and locked the front door. Though we’d only just met, the thought of not seeing this mystery man again gnawed at me. “It’s just an infatuation,” I muttered under my breath as I slipped out of the gown and into my pajamas. I knelt beside my bed to pray, asking God to allow me to see this man at least one more time. My heart needed to know if what I felt with him was real. Would our paths ever cross again? I sincerely hoped so.

— Arthur —

My position as the proprietor at the swanky private club where I worked — and my father’s connections with the Starlight Shores symphony orchestra — sometimes brought opportunities I wouldn’t ordinarily be afforded. It was no surprise to me when Aiden Chandler — the CEO of Soundwave Records — called with a job proposal. He wanted the best six-piece string ensemble in the city to play at a Spooky Day masquerade ball at his mansion in the western hills. If perfection was what Mr. Chandler wanted, he didn’t need to look further than our group. The offer came with generous compensation; after consulting with the guys, I accepted with no hesitation.

The confirmation email arrived a few nights before the ball. I didn’t know Aiden Chandler very well; I worked at a private party the night Soundwave Records introduced a new, up-and-coming artist. That night had been my first and only personal contact with the man. Chandler was well known in town for his music business acumen and his quirky, but entertaining, gatherings at his lavish mansion. The Spooky Day masquerade was no exception. Each guest and employee — myself included — had two rules to follow; the first was to take reasonable care to conceal their true identity, and the second was to refrain from all verbal communication during the party. Only Chandler knew the reasons behind the odd rules, but they were acceptable.

The dress code was formal, so I borrowed one of my father’s many tuxedos. I needed something more suave than my normal performance attire. The one I chose had a top hat that coordinated, though I’d never seen Papà with it on his head. He retired from the orchestra a few years ago, so he seldom wore such finery anymore. On a lucky break, I found a mask at a local shop that coordinated with the tux. 

The night of the party, I drove my sports car to the Chandler mansion, where I was met with a valet. It was something I didn’t expect, being private property and all. I should have, though, seeing as Aiden Chandler was one of the richest men in all of Starlight Shores. I handed the keys to the attendant and walked inside the mansion carrying my violin.

Chandler met with the sextet as a group once we had all arrived. We had just an hour to gather and practice; since we played together regularly, we needed little time. He led us to a small alcove where he’d set up chairs and a microphone for Dave, the group leader, to make announcements.

Once Chandler walked away from us, Dave started to laugh. “This is the weirdest arrangement I’ve ever seen, gentlemen. Who throws a party where there’s no talking?” 

“I know,” Ben said in agreement. “I guess this Chandler guy is eccentric, to say the least.”

“What are we playing tonight? Are we sticking with our original pieces, Dave?” I asked. I pulled the bow and violin from its case and tuned it. The acoustics in the hall were fantastic.

“That’s a yes on the originals, Arthur. We have about half an hour before we need to be set up. Let’s run through some of the shorter ones, just to make sure we’re on the same page.”

There was a certain advantage to having a set group of musicians that always played together. The biggest perk was knowing no matter what the circumstances, we’d be a good fit. We knew each other’s habits, play styles, and quirks. Master cellist Dave was the most outspoken and acted as the group’s leader. Ben, a brilliant cellist in his own right, was the shy one. Lee, one of two viola players, only participated in the group when we needed a sextet. Warren and I played the violin. Rounding out the group was our second viola player, Harry.

Ten minutes before they opened the doors to guests, Chandler dropped by to check everything one last time. He pointed at Dave as he approached.

“Do you have the script for the ball?” he said to Dave.

“Um, yes sir. I understand I’m the only one permitted to speak?” 

Chandler nodded, narrowing his glare at the rest of us. “That is correct, but only to make announcements that are predetermined, and to announce a break. During your breaks, your musicians must not speak to the guests, though they may interact with them. There are six conversation paddles for you. You only get one each, so choose your questions carefully. Any concerns or issues?”

“Um, no sir. W-We understand the rules and are prepared to obey them.” Dave, with good reason, stuttered when talking to our host; Aiden Chandler was an imposing, intimidating chap. 

“Good man,” Chandler said. “We open the doors in five. Begin your first set when you’re ready.”

We all settled down into our seats in the alcove, ready to play the screwiest gig we’d ever worked. The music was nothing famous or well-known, but original pieces we’d composed and practiced together. Guests filed into the great hall where we played, occupying tables that accommodated six guests each.

During one of the movements in our second piece, I noticed a familiar face. One could not mistake Ernesto Gonzales even with a mask. My eyes immediately went to the woman accompanying him; to my great disappointment, she was not the red-headed charmer I’d met twice before. Ernie’s newest client, Destiny Hill, was definitely on my radar. The woman by his side, with jet black hair, a burnt orange, fitted gown, and sparkling blue eyes, was certainly not her. Yet, something drew me to the mysterious lady like a moth to a flame. I couldn’t explain why if I tried. Finally, Warren’s gentle nudge returned my attention to our music. I, however, had a plan for our first break.

Dave called our pause in sets about an hour into the party. By the time I got a paddle, the rest of the guys had already picked them over. My paddle said, “Can I get you a drink?” on one side, and “No” on the other. I suddenly understood why they left it for me. No matter, though. I was determined to connect with the woman who had held my interest since I first spotted her. 

A waiter walked by with a tray of champagne flutes and offered one to me. I nodded my appreciation and took one. This particular vintage was beautifully dry and refreshing on the palate. Feeling confident, I strolled over to where the lovely, dark-haired lady stood. She already had a glass of champagne in her fingers when I approached, so my paddle would render me useless if I depended upon it alone. Perhaps I had flustered her as I walked to her; she smiled at me, her cheeks blushing lightly. 

This was actually when speaking would have been helpful. I wanted to know everything about the beautiful creature standing in front of me. Imagine my delight when she lifted the paddle she held, asking me for a dance. I nodded and placed my nearly empty champagne glass on the fireplace mantle. I took her hand and led her to the dance floor, miniscule as it was. 

Other party guests stood around in awkward silence. Music piped in from a built-in sound system was barely audible even in the quiet of the hall. It might not have been our stringed sextet playing, but the muted melody was still sufficient for a dance. She trembled when I held her close to me, but I couldn’t perceive if it was excitement or dread that caused it. Her perfume, floral and slightly musky, was heady and intoxicating. My hand slipped down to the small of her back, pulling her closer. I couldn’t get enough of her.

I held her as we swayed to the background music, wishing for the moment to last forever. She was so soft and delicate; she melted my heart when she rested her head on my shoulder. I interpreted that as a sign of being comfortable with me. Mine rested near hers, returning the gesture. 

Way too soon, Dave stepped back in front of the mic and announced another music set; that was my cue to go, though I could have held her all night long. I longed to kiss her, but I knew I shouldn’t. With regret, I pulled away from her before I did something so forward, I might get slapped for it. Instead, I tried to communicate the best I could that I’d love to see her on my next break. She giggled at my hand gestures, but I think she understood. I turned to walk away, and tripped over a chair that I swore wasn’t there moments before. This woman had me so flustered and feeling giddy, and I didn’t even know her name. Suddenly, I couldn’t wait for my next break. 

Our next set ran much longer than the first; every new arrangement made me more anxious to see the lovely lady I’d desired to hold again. In my distracted daze, I missed a cue and a couple of measures and cringed at the blatant error. Dave glared at me; I shrugged my shoulders and continued on as though nothing had happened. The guests were none the wiser, not even detecting the mistakes. Perhaps we were simply ambient background noise and nothing more. 

Dave finally announced the end of our set. I placed my violin back into its case and ventured off, sans paddle, on a mission to find the lovely young lady I’d met earlier. A brief visual search turned up empty. Finding her without the privilege of speech was a bit more daunting than I’d hoped. 

I searched high and low, making three circuits around the ground floor of the house when I gave up hope of finding her, at least for now. Ernie had been there, and I knew she had accompanied him. I just needed to hope that they weren’t romantically involved, though I suspected they weren’t. I made a mental note to contact Ernesto Gonzales the first thing on Monday morning. Who was this bewitching, enchanting lady? I had to know, and I was prepared to stop at nothing to find her, with or without his help.


Up Next: Chapter Eight, Part One, Generation Two

Pose Credit

Lenina90’s Moondance


Photo Credit

Halloween Background by QuinceCreative at Pixabay

Special thanks to Chris for putting the finishing touches on my cover photo. I’m so grateful to you for all you’ve done for this blog. You’re my unsung hero.

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G2 Chapter Seven – The Crucible

Author’s Note: This chapter contains scenes and situations of an adult nature. Reader discretion is advised.

Fire… chaotic and elemental. It cleanses impurities from a precious metal, or wickedness from a lost soul. Fire… it consumes everything it touches, swiftly, completely, and without prejudice. Will I be spared its wrath? Or will I be forced to bear the searing heat of the crucible?


Two Weeks Later

After a two-week production delay, my first single was finally scheduled for release. To celebrate, Ernie hosted a party in my honor at the Los Sueños Private Club the night before the song went public. The agency spared no expense for my official launch into showbiz. Ernie made arrangements with the club’s proprietor for me to debut the song that evening in the presence of record executives and other important industry figures. Anyone and everyone who mattered in the music business would be in attendance; I was scared half to death.

Ernie allowed as many friends as I wanted to attend the bash. As my date, Jared was my first and obvious choice. We’d been out together only a couple of times since I left the coffeehouse, fooling ourselves by saying we were still just friends. In our hearts, we knew better; somehow, we had still not taken that step into romantic partnership.

Stephen declined the invitation to my party, stating he would be busy. I was disappointed, but we hadn’t spoken much since the whirlwind began almost ten weeks before. I couldn’t really blame him; every bit of neglect fell on my shoulders. Even so, Stephen would always be my rock and my best friend. He knew I was good for it in the long run, and vice versa; in this, I was confident.

Ernie hired a stretch limousine to bring Jared and me to the private club, so Jared met me at the house. He let himself in the front door when I didn’t answer it. 

“Des?” he called out. I heard his heavy footsteps in the stairwell approaching quickly, but I couldn’t cover myself fast enough; he caught me wearing just my underwear. His eyes widened, and his face reddened to match the tint on my lips, but he didn’t look away.

“Jared!” I gasped. I stood there, frozen in place, while his gaze lingered. 

“Oh my gosh, Des! I’m sorry!” He was still gawking at me, which made things even more awkward.

“My eyes are up here!” I said, giggling. He looked like he was going to die from embarrassment; nevertheless, he continued to stare.

Jared shook his head in utter disbelief. “You’re so stunningly beautiful, I can’t take my eyes off of you, baby. Wow.”

As uncomfortable as it was, I shrugged it off. I figured he’d see me in less clothing eventually if our relationship progressed. “As long as you’re standing there leering at me, make yourself useful.” I stuck my tongue out at him, beckoning him into my bedroom. The gown I’d wear still hung on its padded hanger. “Help me with this contraption?”

“Y-Yeah, of course,” he stuttered, obviously flustered. “Need me to zip you up?”

“Mmhmm,” I said. “That, and I need help to make sure it’s straight. This dress has an odd fit.” 

The gown was gorgeous, a pale blue chiffon with a smattering of sequins on the skirt. A soft, silky scarf would rest across the front of my neck and shoulders, then drape down my back. This was what I really needed help with, and Jared’s offer was perfect. His lips brushed over my shoulder while he zipped the back and adjusted the scarf; my skin formed goosebumps under his touch.


“This is beautiful on you, Des,” he whispered into my ear.

Now I was the one blushing. “Thank you,” I whispered back.

He spun me around, allowing the dress to move with me. “It’s going to be an incredible party.” Jared’s eyes followed the flow of the skirt, then twirled me around into his arms. “I bet you’re excited, aren’t you? Singing your new song on stage for the first time.” He pressed his lips to my right temple and kissed me. My eyes closed, savoring the closeness of his face to mine. “How are you going to manage your guitar with these things?” My hand was in his; he placed a soft, tender kiss in the palm of it. If he wasn’t careful, I’d miss my own party.

“It’ll be hard to play with these daggers on my fingers. What in the world was I thinking, Jare?”

Dressed to the nines in a brand new tux, he was impeccably groomed and, I won’t lie, he smelled amazing. I’d never seen him so fancied up before, and it looked great on him. Jared wrapped his arms around me and kissed my nose. It was as tender a moment as we’d ever had; we hadn’t even shared our first romantic kiss yet. “I know you’ll figure it out.” My head rested on his shoulder and I held him close. “I love you,” he whispered in my ear. “Don’t forget it.”

He’d never been so blunt with his feelings before that moment; though I’d long suspected it, the spoken sentiment shocked the hell out of me. I fumbled for the words I wanted to say, the ones I yearned to tell him. 

“I-I… I love you, too.” I was surprised to realize how much I did, too.

“I didn’t say those words to hear them back. I just wanted you to know, with no lingering doubt, how much I love you.” He grinned ear to ear, pleased with himself. “Don’t you know how good it feels to be able to tell you that, Des? As much as I hated it, I think you leaving the coffeehouse was the best decision for both of us.”

Jared sure knew the right words to say to make me feel amazing. “I think so, too.” I was about to lean in for our first real kiss when I heard a knock at the front door; the chauffeur! “Um, Jare,” I said, “we need to go!”

The look in his eyes showed his very obvious delight. “Come on, beautiful. An adoring public awaits you!” I rolled my eyes at him and giggled. Jared held his arm out for me; I hooked mine around his and allowed him to escort me down the steps and to the limousine that stood by outside.

We pulled up in front of the private club ten minutes later. There were spotlights, balloons, a red carpet, and live music blaring from inside the club, muffled by the closed doors. A bouncer stood at the entrance, looking very much like he expected us. The chauffeur opened the door to let Jared out; he stood, then held his hand out for me. I stepped from the limo onto the sidewalk, feeling—and, I’m sure, looking—like a wide-eyed country hick in the big city for the first time. Jared smiled at me, noticing my spellbound gaze, and slipped his arm around my waist.

“This is it, my sweetheart. How are you feeling?”

“In a word? Overwhelmed. But this feels right, like I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

“Damn straight you are, Des. I’m so proud of you.” He kissed my forehead, then offered me his arm, which I took. “I really am the luckiest man in the city right now.”


My cheeks flushed, and I felt warm. His sweet sentiments always turned my heart to mush. A flustered “Thank you” was all I could muster. Security allowed us to pass through the front door and into the club. I looked around in wonder; my publicity photos were everywhere, along with promotional materials and pre-release copies of my single “Love Is A Wave (Wash Over Me)”. 

Ernie Gonzales stood talking with a group of important-looking people. One of them I recognized right away; Aiden Chandler, the CEO of Soundwave Records. Ernie spotted me and smiled, excused himself, and approached Jared and me.

“Destiny! You look like a star, baby!” Ernie hugged me and placed a friendly kiss on my cheek. He turned to Jared and shook his hand. “Jared McMurphy. How the hell are ya? How’s the coffee business going?” 

Jared grinned and returned a firm shake. “Oh, you know, it’s the same old grind.” Ernie burst out in raucous laughter and slapped Jared on the shoulder. “I’d like to be angry that you took my finest employee away from the Flying V, but seeing how talented she is, I just can’t be upset. Next time you’re close by, stop in for a cappuccino. It’ll be my treat!” 

Ernie nodded. “I’ll take you up on that soon!” He turned his attention to me. “I didn’t know you would be on McMurphy’s arm tonight, darling. He’s a lucky man.” Ernie winked at me and tugged me away from Jared’s grasp. “Come with me! There are some important, influential people here, and they’re dying to meet you!”

I looked at Jared and mouthed the words, “Help me!” He chuckled as Ernie dragged me away to a bunch of stuffed suits. He grabbed a glass of champagne for himself from a roaming server, rubbing elbows while I took care of business. 

Ernie had invited to this party the proprietors for some of the primary venues in the city, mostly so I could get acquainted with them. I met Phil Trice, proprietor at Verde Park, Erin Stratz from Rodeo-Go-Go, and Jesse Lu, the entertainment manager at MN8. A taller, darker man chatted with a group of people; Ernie excused himself and tapped him on the shoulder. When he spun around, I froze in place. 

“Destiny,” Ernie said, “this is Arthur Atwood, the proprietor here at the Los Sueños Private Club. Art, this is my newest star, Destiny Hill.”


Arthur flourished, took my hand, and placed a delicate kiss on my fingers. “Ah yes, la bella signorina! We meet again.” My face flushed red. He remembered me?

Ernie looked at me, totally bewildered. “Do you two… know each other?”

Arthur wasted no time with an explanation. “Sì! Sì, we’ve met before, but only one time.”

“I’m surprised you remembered me, Arthur. It feels like a lifetime ago.” Arthur was just about to speak when a voice sounded from over my left shoulder..

“What feels like a lifetime ago, sweetheart?” In a flash, Jared materialized seemingly out of nowhere and slipped his arm around me; his sudden appearance was surprising, to say the least. I took Jared’s hand into mine and introduced the two men.

“Arthur, this is my boyfriend, Jared McMurphy. And Jared, this is Arthur Atwood. He’s the proprietor here at the club.” I turned to Arthur and spoke. “Jared owns the Flying V Coffeehouse across the street.” Jared extended his hand for a polite, but cautious, shake. Arthur’s warm smile cut through the awkward tension that Jared’s abrupt arrival created.

“Ah, so you’re the man who owns the coffeehouse! Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir,” Arthur said. “You’re a lucky man to catch this beautiful lady.”

Jared smiled at Arthur’s compliment. “Thank you. I think so, too.” He kissed my cheek, almost as though he was marking his territory, then took my arm. “You should probably mingle a bit, Des.”

I nodded in agreement. “You’re right, Jare.” I turned back to Arthur. “It was good to see you again, Arthur.” We shook hands, then Jared led me away from him. When we’d gotten a good distance from him, Jared spun me to face him.


I gave him a wry smile. Was he really jealous? “Yes?”

“How do you know him? You know… that Arthur dude?”

I giggled. “He drove a cab that I took to the airport when I was still engaged to Jeff. I was nothing more to him than a fare. I promise.”

“And yet, you seem like old friends.”

I kissed his cheek and squeezed his hand. “I only have eyes for you, Jare. Please relax!”

Jared’s cheeks flushed a light pink. “I’m sorry, Des. It’s just that you’re so beautiful. Sometimes I can’t imagine why you’d want to be seen with me…” He kicked the floor with the heel of his shoe. “I don’t mean to be jealous.”

“I’ve loved you for so long, I almost don’t remember a time when I didn’t. So quit worrying, okay?” I pulled him close to me in a warm, tight embrace, just in time for a photographer to catch our tender moment. We turned toward the flash, smiled and posed. I figured I needed to get used to being photographed, anyway.


Jared’s posture relaxed again into his easy-going, cheerful self. “I meant what I said, you know, back at the house.” 

I stroked his cheek, and I met his stare with a starry-eyed gaze. “I know, and I meant what I said, too.”

Ernie swept back around toward us, ushering me toward the stage. “Arthur is almost ready for you, Destiny. Aiden will introduce you, and you’ll walk on stage from the left side. Your band is already up there waiting for you.”

I peered around Ernie and glanced at the stage. “There’s no guitar for me to play?” A part of me was relieved.

“Nah, you don’t need it. Just do what you do best, Des, and work the crowd.” He patted my back with a gentle touch. “Sorry, man,” he said to Jared. “I need to steal your lady for a few moments. This is her night, after all.” Jared nodded and shook Ernie’s hand, then kissed my cheek before Ernie whisked me away to the side-stage area.

Arthur took the stage and addressed the crowd, speaking in his heavy Italian accent. “Ladies and gentlemen, if I may have your attention! On behalf of the Los Sueños Private Club, please welcome the Chief Executive Officer of Soundwave Records, Aiden Chandler!” Arthur stepped aside as Aiden took his place at the mic. The room fell silent in the presence of this formidable, powerful man.

“Esteemed colleagues and honored guests! Thank you all for being here tonight to celebrate the launch of our newest singer. She hails from a small, midwestern town called Appaloosa Plains. She’s an especially talented singer songwriter, and I can’t wait to introduce her to you. Please, everyone give a warm, Starlight Shores welcome to Destiny Hill!”

Aiden’s introduction, though not out of the ordinary, made me nervous; I wished Jared was beside me to give me one last hug for inspiration. Instead, I said a quick, whispered prayer and stepped onto the stage. The band played the opening of my first single, the song I knew backward and forward, but didn’t really like. This was my real ‘fake it til you make it’ moment, for the successful launch of this song—and my ability to sell it as my own—would determine my future with Soundwave Records. 

The first person I looked for was Jared. Once our eyes met, a wave of calm swept over me. I was singing for him, and only him. I trained my gaze on his face; he blew a kiss as I sang the first words of the first verse. I was on stage beginning my career as a singer at long last. It all seemed so surreal.

Though I was jittery, my voice didn’t betray me. Each note was crystal clear and on pitch. The spotlight focused on me and followed as I worked a very receptive crowd. It was Ernie’s decision to have me just sing on stage and not play my guitar. That was when I saw the genius of his plan. It allowed me to interact with the audience instead of standing behind a microphone playing my guitar. If I had any chance of selling this song to the masses, Ernie picked the right strategy to help me accomplish that goal.

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Before I really wanted it to end, the song, and my moment in the spotlight, were over. An uproar of applause echoed from the crowd gathered around the stage; the only person I looked for was Jared. He stood center stage, beaming with immense pride, and mouthed the words, “You killed it!” Arthur returned to the stage, grinning widely, and gave me a hug.

“Destiny Hill! Wow,” he said, almost star struck. “Give her a round of well-deserved applause!” He escorted me offstage, where Ernie awaited me. Arthur continued to make announcements pertaining to the club and the remainder of the party. Ernie placed a kiss on my right cheek and pulled me into a warm, friendly hug.

“Destiny, you did exactly what I thought you’d do. You knocked their socks off!” Ernie gushed, heaping lavish praise on me. My eyes scanned the room for Jared. His opinion was the only one I really cared about, the only one that mattered. 

“Jare!” I called into the crowd. Instead, Aiden appeared in front of me, wearing a wide smile.

“Destiny, I want to congratulate you on your live performance. You sold that mediocre song better than I expected.” I wasn’t sure if it was his stature, or his position, that made him such an imposing figure. He made me more than a little nervous.


“Thank you…?” I said, feeling a bit insulted. Did Aiden really think that was a compliment? I was about to speak again when he interrupted me.

“I hadn’t realized Ernie didn’t use a vocoder in production. That voice is all yours, eh?”

I nodded, trying hard to keep my cool. “Yes, it was one hundred percent me on the single. Ernie said he didn’t need to work the song very much, that the vocals were pure.”

“Well, if you follow this up with robust record sales, we’ll talk about producing your first studio album with a couple of your own songs.” Aiden seemed to enjoy making me squirm. “I wouldn’t get attached to that song Ernie sent over as a demo, though. It’s much too serious and brooding to be a big seller in this market. I think you’ll do much better singing peppy pop tunes with flashy dance numbers. Concertgoers want to see a show, not just a singer standing on stage. I mean, what you did was okay for tonight.” His harsh stare gave me the jitters. “I’m surprised Ernie hasn’t sent you for dance training yet. That would be my first step if I were managing your career.”

I’m thankful you’re NOT, was my first thought. I couldn’t wait for him to turn his attention away from me. “Well, I promise my original songs won’t disappoint you—” He interrupted me again. I was starting to not like Aiden Chandler very well, despite knowing what he could do for my career.

“We’ll see about your original songs. In the meantime, enjoy your party. You deserve it tonight. Tomorrow, we’re on the beat promoting your new song. You have a hectic schedule for the coming week. Ernie should have already given you an itinerary for the next few days. I need you on top of your game in the morning; you probably shouldn’t stay out long tonight.”


I nodded. “Gotcha.” My answers were increasingly terse; I clenched my jaws together, trying to keep my composure. If Aiden was attempting to push my buttons, he was succeeding. Rather than allow him to continue to bait me, I excused myself, continuing my fruitless search for Jared. I needed him now more than ever.

“Jare!” I shouted into the din, only to feel a strong tap on my shoulder. I spun around to his embrace, already waiting for me. I walked into his arms and breathed a sigh of relief. He held me to him for a moment. “Thank God you’re here,” I whispered.


“Are you okay, Des? You’re trembling like a leaf.”

“Yeah. I had a run-in with Aiden Chandler, and I’ll just say it wasn’t pleasant. I’m starting to truly dislike that man.”

“He comes off as rather pompous. I don’t blame you.” He kissed my forehead and held me tighter. 

“So,” I said, trying to be nonchalant. “How was I?”

He loosened his hug and pulled back, peering into my eyes. “Oh my gosh, sweetheart. You are a total superstar.”

“I’m your superstar, Jare.”

He pulled me close and whispered into my ear. “I still can’t believe you’re all mine.” 

“Believe it,” I whispered back. “Thank you.” 

“For what?”

“For being here tonight. Thank you for being you, and for loving me even in my most unlovable moments. I owe you the world.”

His expression softened. “There is nowhere else in that world I’d rather be tonight, and with the most beautiful superstar in it. I love you so much.” 

My eyes welled with happy tears. “I love you, too!”

The week following the debut party was a flurry of radio interviews, local entertainment show appearances, live performances in venues around town, all scheduled by Aiden to promote my song. I hadn’t slept well in days, and I was nearing my breaking point. If this was what fame was about, I was rethinking my life’s ambition. I’d barely been home in six days; Poppy must have wondered what happened to me. 

It was almost nine o’clock when I pulled into my garage. I’d been out of the house since six that morning; I was exhausted. My phone was ringing when I walked through the garage door and into the kitchen. I ran for the handset that hung on the wall, nearly tripping over Poppy. 

“Hello?” My voice was breathier than usual, having narrowly avoided plowing head-first into my kitchen counter, courtesy of my fluffy, feline roommate.

“That’s quite the greeting, Des,” the voice on the other end said. Jared laughed. “Are you that excited to hear from me?”

My lips formed a smile, and my voice softened to a low growl. “So what if I am?” 

“That’s sexy as hell. I love when you talk to me like that.”

I needed to change the subject before we got carried away. I was frankly too tired for any flirty shenanigans with Jared. My voice dropped its sensual inflection. “So, what’s up?”

“You’re gonna do me like that? Really?” 

“Like what?” 

“Oh, don’t be so coy. You know what your voice does to me.”

I giggled. Jared might be direct, but I loved to tease him. “I have no clue what you’re on about!” His frustrated groan came over the phone loud and clear, and it made me laugh harder. 

“Okay! Uncle!” Jared joined me in laughter. “You’re such a tease.” 

“Why, thank you!” Our laughter died down; he still hadn’t told me why he’d called. “So, again… what’s up?” 

“I have a couple of days off. I thought I might spend them with my best girl.”

“You have my attention! What did you have in mind, Jare?” 

“Oh, a few things. First, maybe dinner at the Tower, a little dancing at the club, and then back to your house for a nightcap?”

“Those sound like very specific plans.”


“What did you have in mind date-wise?” 

“I don’t know. When are you free?”

“Tomorrow is wide open. Ernie makes sure I have one day a week to myself, and to be honest, I could use a day off.”

“I’ll pick you up at six. Wear something dazzling.” Jared blew kisses over the phone and hung up. This would be our first official romantic date since I quit my job at the coffeehouse months ago, one we were both aching to have. 


The following evening, Jared was at the house at 5:45 and let himself in with the key I gave him. I heard his voice calling up the stairs, then frantic paws and a sharp meow thundering down the steps. Jared laughed at Poppy’s enthusiastic greeting.

“I’ll be right down!” I said. “You’re early! I wasn’t expecting you for another ten minutes.” 

“It’s okay, Des. Are you decent?” I giggled at his question. There would be no uncomfortable repeat from the night of the party.

“Yes, I’m almost ready. Just grabbing my lip gloss to tuck into my purse, and I’m done!” The dress was one I’d gotten for publicity events. The bodice was strapless, encrusted with crystals, and an asymmetrical skirt. Though I wasn’t usually fond of black, this dress was the perfect style for the color. It was the first and only dress I owned that was tailored to fit me. I wore black, matte leather pumps, a pair of silk stockings, and a gold anklet I bought for myself as a treat. I knew Jared would love it. He watched as I descended the stairs, gawking at me like I was a beauty queen. 

“Oh, Des,” he said. “You are stunning. I’m going to be the envy of every man in that restaurant tonight.” 

“Well, I consider myself to be the luckiest woman in the Shores with you on my arm, Jare.”

“You… you don’t mean that. Do you, Des?” He gave me a bashful gaze, and then turned from me.

“Why wouldn’t I? Look at you! Blond, handsome, with beautiful eyes, and a heart of gold.” Jared slowly turned as red as my lipstick. “I know you’re not accustomed to compliments. Get used to it.” He held his arm out for me; I hooked my elbow under his. It felt good to have Jared this close.

“Shall we?” he asked.

“I’d love to.” 

We walked to his car, an older model Mustang. He opened and held the door for me, offering his hand to assist me. He was always such a gentleman; I never could figure out why Jared didn’t date that much. His charm was abundant. He walked to his side, got in, and started the engine. “It’s not as fancy as I’d like, but she gets me where I need to go.” He took my hand and held it as he drove us to the restaurant on the strip.

Jared let the valet park the car; with confidence, he took my arm and led me inside the restaurant. “McMurphy,” he said, approaching the host table. “Six-thirty.” 

The host nodded. “Your table is ready, sir. This way, please.” The place had changed little since I was there with Jason. The decor was the same as was the layout. He sat us near the fireplace, which burned regardless of the season. “Marcel will be your server this evening. Enjoy your visit.” The host handed the menu to Jared, turned, and left us sitting there.

“I’ve never been here,” he said, blushing. “This isn’t usually my kind of place.”

I smiled at him. “Mine, neither.” 

“I’m surprised, Des. You’re constantly doing things like this with label execs, aren’t you? Surely, you’ve been here more than just once.” 

I shook my head. “No, most of those things are held at the private club, which is also too snooty for my taste. Being here with you, though, is perfect.”

The corners of his mouth formed a smile. “I’m glad you think so.” He took my hand and kissed it, his eyes closed. “I’d thought so often of kissing you, never believing I had a chance. And tonight, that’s all I want to do.” When he opened his eyes, they met mine with a look of sheer love and adoration. 


“I’d like that,” I whispered, blushing fiercely.

“It’s good to hear you say that, sweetheart.” He placed another kiss on my hand before letting it go. “What’s good here? You’ve been here before.”

“You forget, Jare, it was only once.” I shrugged. “Choose something you like. It’ll be okay.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” He picked up the menu board and perused it. “So, question.” 

“Hit me.” 

Jared sat up straight and raised his eyebrow. “Are you into that kind of thing?” 

I laughed. “Not quite what I meant!” 

“Oh bummer,” he said, sounding maybe a bit disappointed. His expression softened into a genuine, warm smile. “I’m kidding. I wanted to see your reaction. So, my question is… surf, or turf?” 

My deadpan look made him chuckle. “Do what, now?” 

He reached across the table to stroke my cheek. “I forget sometimes you were raised in a landlocked town. Do you like seafood?”

I’d only tasted fish one time in my life, and I wasn’t a big fan. “Not particularly.”

“Then you’re a turf girl. So am I.”

I raised my eyebrow at him. “You’re a turf girl?”

Jared snarled at me playfully and winked. We both laughed, then he handed the menu to me. “Let me know what looks good.”

The waiter appeared just then and introduced himself. “Hi folks,” he said in a cheery tone. “My name’s Marcel, and I’ll be your server tonight. What can I get you to drink?”

Jared had no questions about my wine preference. “A bottle of White Zin, please,” he said.

Marcel bowed toward Jared and winked at me. “As you wish, sir.” He left us alone; Jared reached for my hand, rubbing my fingers between his. 

“A penny for your thoughts?” I said. His eyes never left mine, his gaze trained on my face. 

“I think the waiter recognized you, Des. I saw his sly wink.”

“Psh. My song hasn’t been out for more than a week, and early impressions are, well… they’re not good. I doubt he even knows who I am.” 

“Not good? Are you kidding? You’re the best singer in this market right now.” 

I brushed my bangs out of my face and plopped my chin into my hands. “Well, the song wasn’t mine. I did the best I could with it, but it’s not… me. You know?”

“Why didn’t you record your song?”

I shrugged. “The label wanted a peppier song for my debut. I guess they’re not wrong, but recording someone else’s stuff just seemed so disingenuous. Apparently, it comes across that way on the single. Aiden, the big cheese at Soundwave, wants to see better sales and more airtime, or they won’t break even. You know what that means…” 

Jared squeezed my hand. “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry, Des. Don’t worry, my dear heart. You’ll break through, eventually.”

“Can we talk about something else? I don’t want to be a downer on such a beautiful night.”

He brought my hand to his lips and placed a delicate kiss on my fingers. “Of course.” That was about the time Marcel showed up with the wine bottle. He popped the cork, poured two scant glasses of the blush liquid, and set the bottle on the table. 

“Are you two ready to order?” he asked, looking at Jared in expectation.

“I-I…” Jared stuttered. “We haven’t really looked yet. I’m sorry.”

“No worries,” Marcel said. “I’ll give you a few more minutes, yes?” 

Jared nodded. “That would be great, thank you.” He picked up the menu again and glanced at it. “What do you think? What’s your favorite meal?”

I bobbed my head from side to side. “One of my favorites was my daddy’s favorite, too. The steak tips are very good here, too.” 

“Have you ever had lobster?”

“Aren’t those the things that look like giant, red bugs?” 

Jared howled at my innocent question, wiping away tears from fits of hysterical laughter. “Yeah, that would be a lobster!” 

“What’s so funny?” I wrinkled my nose in disgust. “And why in the world would you want to eat that?”

“I’ve just never heard anyone call them giant red bugs before. That was hilarious!” 

I huffed at him, then cracked a smile and nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I guess it was kinda funny.”

“I think you’ll like lobster, even if you don’t care for fish.”

“Thank you, but I’ll stick with steak tips.” I shuddered.

“I’ll let you try a bite of mine. Please? You might be surprised.” His puppy dog eyes always got me, and I relented. 

“Okay, okay, but only because you asked nicely. I don’t have to eat it more than once if I don’t like it.”

He smiled at me. “That’s the spirit!”

Jared ordered our dinners when Marcel returned; steak tips for me, and lobster Thermidor for him. He topped off our wine glasses and sipped from his, peering over my left shoulder and out the window into the park. I turned my head and followed his gaze, but I didn’t see what caught his interest. He jumped when I touched his hand. 

“Is everything okay?”

He shook his head and smiled. “Yeah. I’m just thinking.”


He gave me a sexy, provocative half-smile. “Later. Do you have any idea what you’re in for tonight, Des?”

I blushed deep red, hoping no one was eavesdropping on our conversation. “I have an inkling.”

“Hold that thought for later and let me know.” He winked and gave me that same sexy grin.

The waiter brought our meals shortly afterward. Jared’s dinner—which I promised him I’d taste—looked like half of a giant red bug with some sort of stuffing. Mine looked delicious. Jared loaded a forkful of the stuffing with chunks of white meat in it. 

“You promised, Des. Close your eyes and don’t think about it. Just enjoy the taste.” He waved the fork in front of my face. I had to admit, though, it smelled enticing.

“Here goes nothing!” I said, opened my mouth and squeezed my eyes shut. The first mouthful was luscious beyond anything I had imagined, and I loved it. “Oh, my gosh! That is amazing!”

Jared winked at me. “I hope to hear you say that later, too.” I reached across the table and smacked his arm gently.

“Not here!” I said, giggling.

The clock ticked away as we were chatting and flirting, lost in the atmosphere at the restaurant. Finally, Jared stood to stretch; while he was standing, he pulled me to my feet. “Are you ready to get out of here, baby?” he whispered into my ear. He nuzzled into my neck and breathed in. “How are you so damned beautiful? And how did I manage to catch you?”

I bit my lip. I had a feeling his answer wouldn’t be what I anticipated. “Where do we go from here? You mentioned dancing—”

“Screw dancing,” he said. “How about that nightcap?” I knew what he wanted and what he expected. It had been a long time since I’d been with a man, and I was ready.

“Yeah,” I said in a breathy whisper. “Take me home.”

Jared left the check on the table with more than ample payment and held his arm to me. “Shall we?”

I bit my lip and nodded. “Mmhmm.”

The valet delivered Jared’s car to the door and handed him the key. “Thank you,” he said, handing the man a generous tip. He let me into the passenger side, a flirty grin on his face.

“What?” I gave him a sweet smile and looked away from him. 

“Nothing, Des. You keep looking at me like that, and it’s driving me crazy.”

“You make me blush, Jare.” 

“Pink is a suitable color for you!” he teased.

“You think so?”

He tipped my chin upward and looked into my eyes. “Baby, I know so. Let’s get going.” He kissed my cheek before he closed the door and then walked to his side of the car. As he’d done on our way to the Tower that night, Jared held my hand while he drove.

He parked his car in the driveway and turned to me. “You looked beautiful tonight, Destiny. I don’t deserve you.” 

I blushed and gave him a bashful smile. Jared seldom called me ‘Destiny.’ I was always ‘Des.’ “Thank you, Jared.”   

I unlocked the door with him right behind me. Poppy must have been sleeping somewhere, because she was nowhere to be found. Without warning, Jared scooped me into his arms and kissed me with so much passion, I melted into him. This was what I wanted so much from him, the kiss I’d fantasized about so often. I closed my eyes and let him explore. Damn, he was a great kisser, too. 

He pulled away from me, breathless. Jared set me on my feet and took my hand. “Come on,” he said, leading me up the stairs. At the top, we walked into my bedroom on the left; Jared closed the door behind us and pushed me back against it. One hand easily held mine above my head while we kissed, pressed up against the bedroom door. I sighed into the kiss; he deepened it, our tongues exploring each other. 

I bit my lip when we pulled away. His fingers fumbled with the zipper on my dress; I felt the garment slide off my body and crumple around my ankles. Then Jared stopped for a moment, standing there staring at me in my unmentionables. What was he waiting for? He pulled back a little and looked away.

“Is there something wrong?” I asked, immediately feeling self-conscious.

He stroked my cheek and shook his head. “No.” His expression, however, said something quite the opposite.

“Do you want to go further?” I said.

There was hesitation in his expression. “Yeah. Yeah, I do…”

“It sounds like there’s a ‘but’ there.”

“N-No,” he stuttered. “No, I want this.” He sounded as though he was trying to persuade himself.

“You don’t sound very convincing. Maybe this will help?” I reached around to undo the hooks of my bra, knowing I was about to cross a line I wasn’t sure he wanted me to breach. 

He pulled away from me fully and sat on my bed. “Give me a second? I need to think…” He stood again, walked into the bathroom, and closed the door. Seconds later, I heard a ‘thud’ against it. 

“Jare?” I took the opportunity to rehook the closure of my bra. I sensed our romantic evening was finished. Seconds felt like years as I waited for Jared to emerge from the bathroom. I didn’t really know what to do. Should I get dressed? Put my pajamas on? Instead, I grabbed my robe and wrapped up in it, pondering where the night had gone sour. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong.

The door finally creaked open, and Jared stepped from the bathroom. His eyes were red and puffy, his face streaked with the evidence of his emotional state. I patted the spot on the bed next to me, but he recoiled.

“I don’t bite,” I said, trying my best to salvage the evening.

A faint smile made an appearance. “I know.”

“What’s bothering you? Come sit, and let’s talk, Jare.”

“It’s just that…” Jared said, hesitating, “I’ve wanted this night for so long, but now I’m not so sure it’s a great idea.”

“What do you mean?” My breath caught in my throat; my heart pounded in my chest, waiting for his words.

“Des, please believe me when I say I love you.” He sighed and lowered his eyes from mine. “I’m just not sure about all of this.”

“What are you saying, Jare?”

He shrugged, continuing to avoid eye contact with me. “I can’t explain it. But I can’t do this to you. I can’t subject you to my mess.” He paused and sighed again. “I’m sorry, Des, but this isn’t right.”

“You… you don’t really want me?” My words brought emotion; rivulets of salty tears rolled down my cheeks and dripped onto my skin. In an instant, Jared gouged a wound of utter devastation into my soul. My body trembled on the edge of heartbreak. Why was he doing this?

“It’s hard to explain. This just seems…”

“Seems what, Jare? You say you love me, but I’m not feeling it right now. Did I do something wrong?” 

“No, it’s me, Des.” He kissed my forehead, and then turned away from me. “Believe me, it’s better this way,” he said, wringing his hands. “I should go.”

“No…” I fought the sobs that I felt building inside me. “Please, don’t go. Baby, don’t leave me, not like this.” 

“I’ll call you. I’m so sorry…” were his last words to me. He stood, hurried down the stairs, and then out the front door. I heard his car start, and his tires laying down rubber on the street outside the house.

Heartbroken, I sat alone in my bedroom sobbing, terrified I’d just lost my love, and worse, the friendship I strove so fiercely to protect.

It had been three weeks since my date with Jared, and we hadn’t seen each other, much less spoken. He told me he’d call, but I didn’t think he would wait this long. Every day apart was another day I’d lost hope for us. The wait was sheer torture, the loneliness, unbearable.

Stephen had been absent from my life for most of the past three months, including worship team rehearsals and my label kick-off party. It was a relief when he texted, asking to meet at the pizzeria. I sent a text back confirming our date that night. There was some ground to make up with him; he’d been ridiculously patient with me and my scattered life. I hoped our friendship withstood the neglect, and I was a little nervous about seeing him.

His car wasn’t in the parking lot when I arrived, but I went inside anyway. Stephen sat in the quietest corner of the restaurant, not at our usual table by the stage. I walked up to him and greeted him.

“Hi Stephen,” I said. He didn’t even look at me. Was he so angry with me that he wouldn’t acknowledge me? “Um… hi?” I touched his shoulder, and he jumped a foot. His reaction puzzled me.

“Oh, hi,” he said. “Sorry, I didn’t hear you come in. You startled me.”

“Is there something wrong, Stephen?”

He tilted his head, turning partially away. “You could say that.”

I sat at the table with him; he immediately faced away. I deserved the scorn he was throwing my way, and I couldn’t blame him for being angry. “I’m sorry it’s been such a long time since we’ve talked. The distance between us is my fault, I know that.” I continued my small talk, mindlessly chattering about my life and the crazy that now encompassed me. He continued to stare over my shoulder and out the window, not paying a lick of attention to a word I said. I reached for his hand and caught his eye. What was going on? “Stephen? Are you okay?”

I’d never seen him so downcast before. When he blinked, tears trickled down his face. “I’m sorry, Destiny. I should have picked a quieter place than here. I forgot how noisy it can be…” He fingered the napkin on the table, then shook his head and let out a deep sigh.

“What’s wrong, Stephen? You’re clearly not listening, and I don’t understand why you’re not talking to me. Are you that angry…”

He turned to look straight into my eyes; my words faded to nothing as his secret came into view. In his right ear, he wore a hearing aid. Now, I was really confused.

“I didn’t want you to find out like this…”

“I-I don’t understand. Find what out?”

He took my hands in his, rubbing my fingers with his thumb. “I guess I should start at the beginning, eh?” Stephen took a deep breath. “When I was a kid, I was gravely ill with a serious infection. They never determined the cause, but it was really unknown for a while if I’d pull through. Obviously, I survived the ordeal, but I had some nerve damage in my ears from the infection. At the time, I had no ill effects from it.”

I sat back in my chair. “This is a shock. I’m sorry, Stephen.”

He shook his head and broke eye contact. “It gets worse. Right after your audition, I came down with the flu, which is weird because it’s summer. But a high fever activated whatever remained in my ears. I woke up one morning not able to hear on the right side; it felt like having water in it. I thought nothing of it, but it never got better, even after I did.”

“What does this mean, exactly?”

“It turns out I have an autoimmune disorder that’s attacking my inner ear, Destiny. I will be totally deaf in a matter of months, and there’s no way to stop it. I won’t be able to live on my own anymore.” His face and his voice were riddled with emotion. “I’ve already lost my driving privileges until I learn…” Stephen sighed. “Somehow, I need to learn how to live my life without the ability to hear.”

His admission took my breath away. “Oh, Stephen…” Tears formed in my eyes, too. “I’m so sorry I haven’t been here for you when you’ve needed me the most!” My guilt multiplied tenfold. “I’ve been such a terrible friend.”

Stephen took my hands and squeezed them in his firm grip. “No, Destiny. You have nothing to be sorry for. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, so please don’t feel you’ve been neglectful. I just wanted to meet you here because…” I watched his jaw clench as he fought tears. “I needed to say goodbye.”

“G-Goodbye?! No! Stephen, why?!”

“I’m moving back home to be with my family, Destiny. I need support while I adjust to my new life. Believe me, this is not what I want, but I have to do it. And it kills me…” Stephen was quickly losing his composure. “I won’t be able to hear your beautiful voice. I can’t follow your career the way I dreamed I would.” He stopped and wiped tears from his eyes. “I’d hoped we’d be together forever. It was a fantasy, because you’re so obviously in love with Jared. But a guy can hope; at least, I did. Now, everything I’ve desired in my life is lost.”

I couldn’t hold back the tears. “Oh, no! Stephen, you’re breaking my heart! I’m so sorry you’ve been dealt this really crummy hand.” I didn’t know how to approach the other elephant in the room; his feelings for me. A part of me always wondered what he’d be like as a partner, but I had never seriously considered it. We discussed nothing romantic between us, so his confession came from nowhere and blindsided me.

“This was a conversation I never believed I’d have with you. I guess I was naïve that way. I just didn’t want to believe it could happen, even though the possibility always existed.” Stephen took my hands again. “I’m sorry I dropped this bomb in your lap. I didn’t want to.”

We both openly wept, unable to console the other. “How long before you leave?”

“My mom and dad have been helping me to pack my apartment, and we’re leaving in the morning. I wanted to give us more time, but I couldn’t bear telling you this awful news. You don’t know how it pains me to walk away from you…” Stephen buried his face in his hands and cried. “I’m so sorry to dump this on you and then leave. I know it’s not fair.”

Though I wanted to be angry with him, I couldn’t. None of this was Stephen’s fault. “I wish we had more time together. I’m going to miss you so much.”

“It will be better this way. At least, that’s what my family tells me. They say I need to forget the life I lived here and embrace my new normal, when all I want to embrace is you.”

His words, like a dagger, stabbed my soul; I couldn’t handle it anymore. He stood and pulled me to my feet, wrapped his arms around me, and held me as we both wept. “I’m so sorry,” repeatedly left my mouth in between sobs. Everything about this was so unfair!

When we calmed enough, we sat and continued to talk. “So, how is Jared anyway?” he asked. I should have expected the question. Stephen couldn’t have known that Jared and I had broken up. But with his admission, I wasn’t sure I should tell him. He must have seen the conflict in my distraught expression. “What’s wrong, Destiny?”

My breath caught in my throat. What good could come from telling him that Jared and I were done? “Nothing. He’s fine.”

“He’s… fine. That’s not what I expected to hear. Is everything okay?”

I nodded, trying in vain to stifle even more tears. “Yeah.”

Stephen reached for my hand and squeezed my fingers in his grasp. “I’ve known you long enough to recognize a fib. Things aren’t okay, are they?”

Raw emotion wrapped its slithery tendrils around my throat, threatening to choke me. Breathe Destiny, I thought to myself. “No…”

“Destiny, just say it before I start guessing.”

“Are you sure? I can’t bear the thought of hurting you…” More tears came in abundance, rolling down my face in what felt like record numbers. My shoulders heaved with intense sorrow that hit like a one-two punch coming from two distinct directions.

“How could you possibly hurt me, sweetheart?” Stephen got flustered with my non-answers, so he started to guess. “Let me take a swing at it. He’s asked you to marry him?”


“Foolish man,” Stephen said under his breath. “He hasn’t asked you to marry him, but you want him to?”

“No. It’s nothing like that at all.”

Stephen wiped tears from my eyes, staring into them intensely. “Then what made you all upset?”

“Stephen, Jared and I…” I swallowed the enormous lump that worked its way from my gut into my throat. “W-We broke up.”

“Oh, my g—” Stephen’s face turned pale. I think he finally understood my hesitation in telling him. “Why, Destiny? What happened?”

“I-I don’t even know. One moment we were doing great, and then something just changed. He left with no explanation, and right now, I’m not even sure if we’re still friends. I’m devastated.”

Stephen touched my cheek with a gentle caress. “Oh, sweetheart, of course you are. Shame on him for hurting you like this.”

I sniffled. “I never should have jeopardized our friendship, Stephen. He’s gone for good. And now… now you’re leaving, too.” I was quickly losing my cool. Grief welled up inside me, threatening to explode in mournful sobs.

“I really don’t know what else to say, sweetheart. I’m so sorry.”

“Hold me?”

Stephen scooted into the seat next to me and wrapped his arms around me, saying everything right and making the coming ache so much worse. I cried for the time we’d lose, the potential relationship that would never get the chance to take root and blossom, and for the friends that would be gone from my life at a vulnerable time. Stephen couldn’t have been sweeter, stroking my hair and whispering words of comfort in my ear.

All too soon, he got a text from his dad saying they were in the parking lot. The moment I dreaded since his announcement two hours earlier was upon us. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Stephen—my best friend, my inspiration, and my courage. How would I survive the onslaught of fame without him? He stood and pulled me to my feet; we walked to the parking lot together, hand in hand.

Just before we stepped outside, in the restaurant’s foyer, Stephen wrapped his arms around me and went in for a kiss, one that was filled with longing and sadness, passion and desire, and love I never realized he felt. I stepped closer to him, ran my fingers through his thick, blond hair, and deepened the kiss. Our first, by cruel happenstance, would also be our last. I wanted it to last forever.


As he pulled away, he looked into my eyes. “I’m sorry, Destiny, but I couldn’t leave you without kissing you at least once.” He stroked my cheek with the back of his fingers. “You didn’t seem like you minded.”


I chewed on my lip. “Not one bit.” I placed a soft kiss on his cheek and took his hand again. “You know, Poppy is going to miss you.”

He smiled for the first time that evening. “Oh, is that so?” He winked at me, catching the meaning behind my words. “Well, I’ll miss her, too. She’s a character, and I’m so happy you have her.”

“It won’t be the same without you here, Stephen. I’ll miss you.”

“I’m going to miss you more than you realize, Destiny.” He opened the door for me and allowed me to pass through first. An older couple, who I assumed were Stephen’s parents, waited for him outside. He led me to them and gave a brief introduction.

“Dad, Mom, this is Destiny. Destiny, my parents, Doug and Lorraine Connor.”

Doug stepped forward to shake my hand. “Nice to meet you, Destiny. Stephen has told us so much about you.”

I laughed nervously. “All good, I hope!”

Lorraine gave me a warm smile. “Nothing but praise. You’re a lovely young lady, Destiny. I can see why Stephen speaks so highly of you, and why he loves you.”

I felt my cheeks flush a fiery red. “Thank you, Mrs. Connor.” She nodded at me and turned to Stephen.

“We need to go, honey. We have a long drive tomorrow.”

Doug nudged Lorraine toward the car. “Let them have their goodbyes, dear. Stephen, when you’re ready.” Stephen acknowledged his father as they both walked away. He wrapped me in one last tight hug.

“You don’t have to say anything, Destiny, but I need you to know—”

“Please don’t,” I begged him. “It will just make your leaving even harder.”

“Then I’ll tell you a different way.” He pressed his lips to mine one last time in a sweet, tender kiss. We were breathless when he pulled away from me. His hands cupped my face, stroking my cheek with his thumb. “I will write to you, Destiny. I will follow your career, and I will pray for you. Please don’t forget me. I know I’ll never forget you.”

His words tore my heart to shreds and left me bleeding raw anguish. I clenched my jaws together, praying I’d hold my composure until he and his family had gone. “I promise, Stephen, that I’ll never forget you.” He grasped my hand and held it before he started walking to the car. Distance broke our grip; I swallowed the enormous lump that seemed to live in my throat.

I watched my best friend get into his parents’ car, put on the bravest face I’ve ever seen him wear, and wave as they drove him away from me. First Jared, and now Stephen.

I was a total wreck.

One Week Later

I walked into Ernie’s office one morning, responding to a message on my voicemail; he never even looked up from his laptop. “Hey Des. Aiden left me a message for you.”

I sighed. “Yeah? What does it say?”

“Are you sure you want to know? I’m aware you’ve had a really rough month…”

“Ernie, just tell me. Rip the bandage off already.” I plopped down in the chair in front of his desk, cringing as I waited for the awful news I knew he had.

“If you insist.” He took a deep breath, held it a moment, and exhaled forcefully. “The stats are in for your single. I’m afraid they’re not very impressive.”

Just what I needed; more bad news. “How so?”

“Well, you never made the Top 100, and it’s already sliding down the charts. Sales are tepid, and airtime is scant.” He crumpled up the paper and threw it into his waste-paper basket with disgust. “I should have never let them talk you into recording that sugary pop tune. It just wasn’t you.”

“Well, not every song can be a chartbuster, right?”

“You know what this means, right Des?”

I slumped in my chair. “Yeah.”

“Look, don’t worry about a thing. I have you covered, and I’m keeping my promise to make you a star.”

“This is all sounds like a big mistake. I can’t even go back to the coffeehouse to work. Jared and I aren’t speaking.”



Ernie scratched his chin. “Well, it’s his loss, Des.”

“Mine, too. We were pretty close before I screwed things up.”

“That kind of thing takes two, you know.”

“I should have known better, Ernie. It isn’t good to mix friendship and romance. I cherished what we had, but I let my emotions deceive me and I fell in love with him. No,” I said, shaking my head. “This failure’s on me.”

“Well, don’t worry about needing the coffeehouse. You’re still MY client, even if Soundwave doesn’t want you. I’ll produce your next single myself if I need to. I’ve been wanting to get my label off the ground, anyway. This just forces my hand.”

“Thanks.” I stood. “Hey, do you mind if I take the rest of the day? I need some time to gather my thoughts.”

“Nah, go ahead. Pamper yourself today, but tomorrow? Tomorrow, we’re hitting the ground running. We’re going to record ‘Maybe It’s Better This Way,’ and we’re going to kill it in the country market. That’s where you’ll shine. I promise, Destiny, we’ll make this better.”

I desperately wanted to believe him, so I nodded and gave him a weak smile. “Yeah.”

“Studio time tomorrow. I have some buddies who play that owe me a favor or two. We’re going to make this work.”

“Okay, Ernie. I trust you.” I took my keys from my purse and turned to go. “Tomorrow morning, I’ll be here.”

“See you then, superstar.” He gave a ‘thumbs up’ as I walked through his office door.

Even though it was eleven in the morning, I went upstairs to bed as soon as I got home. Poppy, who had been lying on my bed, perked up when she saw me. I flopped on the vacant side of the bed and draped my body off the edge. Poppy pressed her cold, wet nose to mine and cooed at me. I don’t know how she knew it, but every time I’d been sad in the past month, she was right there with just the right thing to cheer me up.

She and I snuggled on the bed for a while as I let go of the emotions from the worst two months I’d had in a long time. She curled up next to my head and nuzzled her face into mine. I scratched her chin and smiled at this beautiful little soul.

“Thank you for being here, Poppy. I saved you, but I guess you’re saving me, too, aren’t you sweet girl?” She chirped at me and gave a raspy lick on my nose. I smiled, feeling more at ease than I’d felt since the party at the private club weeks ago. Poppy cuddled up next to me, purring and kneading my arm.

This was a crossroads I never expected, and one I couldn’t have anticipated. The awful launch of my career, losing my relationship with Jared and Stephen’s devastating news and departure from the Shores. And yet, Ernie reassured me that everything would work out if I would just trust his instincts. I had to decide if I would believe him and continue to pursue my dreams, or if I would tap out and accept what I’d been given.

I hadn’t picked up my guitar in weeks; it sat in the corner of my bedroom, waiting for me. I sat up and padded over to it, picked it up, and strummed the first chord of “Maybe It’s Better This Way.” Considering the pain I had, the song’s lyrics carried a whole new meaning, and a deeper sadness. The song was no longer just about Jeff and the breakup; it was now the story of my tragic love life. Inspired by this new revelation, I took my songbook from my nightstand and jotted down new chords, starting a brand new, more fitting arrangement.

It was time to introduce the world to the real Destiny Hill.


Up Next: Spooky Day Teaser

Pose Credits:

On Stage Set #1 by Kilhain

Poses By Bee
Caught In The Act – Set 1
Convo/Emotion Poses – Set 2
Engagement Poses
Wedding Poses – Set 2

Sims 3 Modeli
Don’t Let Me Down – by Sea

Hand Kiss Pose Pack by Danjaley
Players Pose Set by ha2d (Eris Sims 3)
Live Guitar/Singing Poses by Toys of Dukeness


Custom Content:

Around The Sims 3
5-Star Restaurant
Guitar Player’s Den
Romantic Table Setting (Wedding)

BEO Creations
Cocktail Dress

Guitar Accessory by ModernLover

Misc Sites
Tears as Makeup by Bill at Just Do It!

Bass Guitar Accessory by ha2d
Sims 4 to 3 Hearing Aid Accessory by PurpuraSims

Content not listed here is documented on the Custom Content page. Custom content and poses are not my property and are used in compliance with the TOUs.

Thank you for reading

Short Hiatus (Hopefully!!)

Hello Sims and romance fans!

This coming week presents some genuine problems with Hurricane Ian’s arrival in the Central Florida area. As if I didn’t have enough on my plate, now I’m preparing for a hurricane I can’t afford, one that threatens our home and family. This year has been a humdinger of a mess. I know I shouldn’t wish my life away, but this year could not end fast enough.

That said, I have been working on Chapter Seven for publishing, and I’m hoping to get it on the blog and done before we lose power and/or internet services for a while. If I’m out of commission for any length of time, Chris will take over briefly here at WordPress until I am back up and running, no matter where or when that would be.

I know y’all are diverse and come from different backgrounds, but if I could ask just this one favor from you, I would so appreciate it. Please keep me, my family, and the entire state of Florida in your thoughts and prayers this week? Whatever that looks like to you—white light, healing light, prayers, thoughts—I know every Floridian in this storm’s path will appreciate it. Wherever Ian comes onshore, it’s sure to cause some havoc. I really hate to see anyone’s life upended because of a natural disaster, but when it threatens so close to home… it’s a bit unnerving. I’m trying to stay calm. That’s the best I have right now.

If you don’t already, now is a good time to follow the blog on Facebook or Twitter, as I will probably post updates there as I can. Stay tuned for more of Destiny’s story, coming as soon as I can get it out. I’m crossing my fingers that it will happen before Ian rains down hell and fury on us on Wednesday.

If you’re in the storm’s path, know that my prayers are going up tonight for each of us. Stay safe, and I promise to do my best to do that, too!

Cover image courtesy of Kanenori from Pixabay

G2 Chapter Six – Opportunity Knocks

Fourteen Months Later

Summer in the city was so much different from what it was back home in the Plains. In my youth, it meant playing outside in the dirt pile just on the border of Mama’s garden. To a girl of four, it sat like a mountain. Funny that as I grew, the “mountain” shrunk, but it was never small enough to be considered anything less than a hill.

I recall it clearly, as though the conversation was just yesterday instead of nineteen years ago. 

“What do you think, Desi?” Mama said. “I thought you’d like to play on it while I work in the garden.”

I remember being so excited. A place to play with my toy horses and dolls. It was the perfect combination of dirt, sand, and grass torn up and taken root in splotchy patches all over the mound. “I play here?” I asked.

“I made it for you, sweet pea,” she said. “It’s your hill. It’s Destiny’s hill.”

“Wow!” my four-year-old self squealed. “My hill! Desi hill!” I couldn’t get my toys outside fast enough. 

I spent entire summers soaking in the bathtub after a day’s play, covered head to toe in dirt and silt. Who needed the beach when I had Destiny’s hill in my own backyard? The memory made me smile, sitting at the desk of the biggest, most successful talent agent in town; Ernesto Gonzales. 

“Have you decided on a stage name Destiny?” he asked.

I nodded, a broad grin on my face. “I have.”


Two Months Before

Following Daddy’s timely advice, I began singing around town. Wherever people gathered, I played for tips, but I avoided the park like the plague. Each time I’d been there for a festival, the same group of bullies dominated the front stage area at Verde Park. I had no desire for a repeat performance.

Leading worship at the chapel became a regular thing. When Tanya and her husband discovered they were expecting their first child, she stepped down as worship leader and appointed me in her place. I didn’t feel worthy of such a responsibility, but it gave me the opportunity to use some ‌songs I’d written as a teenager and compose new ones to sing. 

The Saturday evening before I would debut my first original songs, Stephen and I sat at our favorite pizzeria, combing through each musical arrangement for flaws. Though we couldn’t change much—as we’d rehearsed the songs for months—I still wanted to make sure they were perfect. We sat at our usual table near the karaoke stage, nibbling on pizza and sipping sweet tea.

“What are you so worried about, Destiny? The songs are fantastic, and the congregation will love them. I guarantee it.” Stephen patted my hand and smiled. “I know you’re anxious. Worship leaders use new music all the time.”

“But they don’t write their own stuff, Stephen. This is all my original work. What if they flop?” 

“Would you relax?” he said with a chuckle. “There is a reason Tanya promoted you to worship leader, Destiny. Besides, Pastor Tim adores you. He credits you with the chapel’s growth, you know.”

I blushed as red as the checkered cloth on the table. “You flatter me, sir.” 

“Nope. There’s nothing insincere about my compliments. You deserve everything you’ve achieved since you’ve been attending the chapel.”

Stephen poured another sweet tea for me from the pitcher and topped off his glass. As he set it down, the karaoke jockey called for the next singer. “Destiny. Well, that’s a pretty name. Where’s Destiny?”

Screenshot-168 I looked at Stephen like a deer in bright headlights. “What did you do?” His sly grin said everything.

“I snuck your name in while you were fretting over the songs. I thought it would do you good to show off a little.” 

“Thanks… Thanks a lot.” I glared at him as I stood. “I’m Destiny,” I announced. 

“Come on up, darlin’,” the KJ said. “You’re going to sing Katie Price’s ‘Baby, One More Time?’”

I nodded, then shot a dirty look at Stephen. “Sure…?” I shrugged. In my peripheral vision, he was laughing his head off. I gritted my teeth as I took the microphone. 

Screenshot-153 (2)

I didn’t even need to watch the lyrics on the screen. I’d sung this song so often, the words rolled right off my tongue, in tune and with faultless pitch. Even I had to admit I killed it. When the song was over, everyone in the restaurant was on their feet cheering my name. Stephen sat at our table, beaming with pride. I waved, gave a sheepish grin to the crowd, and took my seat at our table. 

“I didn’t expect that,” I said. My cheeks once again matched the red in the checkered linens on the table. But inside, I was about to burst at the seams. It felt so good; no, it felt euphoric. I was flying on cloud nine in my ‌own ‌little world when Stephen’s gentle nudge on my shoulder brought me out of the stratosphere.

“Destiny!” He couldn’t contain his contagious laughter. “What do I keep telling you? You’re going to get noticed someday if you keep singing in public.” 

I pointed at the ceiling and shifted my gaze upward. “From your mouth to His ears, Stephen.” 



That night, I barely slept at all. Poppy was restless—I imagined she was reactive to my nervous energy—and her fidgeting didn’t help my nerves one bit. Every hour that passed was another opportunity to find fault with the songs we’d sing later that morning. I was moments away from scrapping the whole thing when my alarm sounded. 

“Alright, I’m up,” I growled at the clock, as though it were a sentient being instead of an inanimate object. Poppy didn’t stir as I flopped out of bed and stumbled toward the bathroom to shower. 

The warm water felt good, so I stood there longer than I should have, singing and warming up my voice. The acoustics in my bathroom were incredible; I could almost set up a recording studio in it. 

I wrapped up in my robe and walked back to the bedroom. Poppy was awake and grooming herself; when she saw me, she trilled and jumped down to rub against my ankles. “Is it breakfast time, sweetheart?” I bent down to scratch her head. My question was answered with loud meows and my resulting laughter. 

I walked down the steps with Poppy at my heels, her trills and cute little mews breaking the early morning silence. She waited, weaving through my legs impatiently, while I opened a can of food for her and spooned it into her bowl. While I prepared her breakfast, I started the coffeemaker, too. My first cup was brewed by the time Poppy’s meal was ready. I placed her bowl on the floor and padded into the living room to sit by the barren fireplace. 

Outside, the weather was blustery. I knew the forecast called for rain overnight, and Mother Nature didn’t disappoint. There was thunder in the distance, likely a storm coming in off the coast. I was happy I’d gotten my shower in before the lightning arrived. Poppy jumped onto the loveseat and took her place on my lap while I sipped my coffee. 

After my last mouthful, I plodded back upstairs to dress for church. My closet was filled with my clothes and some of Mama’s old dresses. I picked through the wardrobe, searching until I found an outfit that Mama wore to church years ago. The ensemble was perfect; a blue skirt with a leather belt and a matching sweater. She and I wore the same size, which was quite handy. Her pretty clothes were hardly used, some of them still with tags on them. At home, Mama almost always wore a pair of jeans and a shirt with her boots. 

The outfit lay on my bed while I sat at my makeup table. A smoky blue color shaded my eyes, with gray eyeliner, a cool color blush on my cheeks, and a warm, coral lip tint. Poppy sat on the floor watching with great interest until a moth in the window caught her attention. I pulled my hair back into a ponytail and secured it with a pink scrunchy. A few shorter strands of hair formed bangs. I wrinkled my nose as I tried in vain to tuck them into my hairstyle. No, Destiny, I thought. It will not happen today. Before I left the bedroom, I took Daddy’s prayer book from my nightstand and slipped it under my arm. 

My purse and keys sat on the side table near the door, so on my way downstairs, I stowed the book inside my bag. My song journal already stuck out of it; I really needed a bigger purse. I made the rounds to make sure everything was turned off and out of Poppy’s reach before I left her alone for the morning. She’d nap while I was gone, and then greet me at the door when I came home. If everything went like I imagined it would, I’d need her to cheer me up. 

The car sat in the driveway, slightly crooked. I wasn’t even drinking last night, and that’s how I parked it? “Maybe I should have had a glass of wine,” I muttered under my breath. I might have slept better, too. I opened the door and hopped into the driver’s seat. The engine fired with the turn of my key; I shifted into reverse and backed out into the street, headed toward the church in the western hills of Starlight Shores. 

Fifteen minutes later, I parked the car in the lot behind the church and walked through the back entrance. Just inside, another door led me upstairs to an all-purpose room the church used for just about everything. Stephen was on the sofa reading his prayer book when I opened the door. His bright smile put my jittery heart at ease like nothing else could have. He stood and walked to me, wrapped me in a hug, and kissed my cheek.


“You look like you’re scared to death,” he said and hugged me tighter. “I promise you, everything will be fine.” 

Though Stephen and I had reviewed the songs until we were bleary-eyed, I doubted them. It was an enormous leap of faith to trust my instinct and his encouragement. It was too late to change the song list. Everything was ready to go, except for me; I was a nervous wreck.

“You’re as cool as a cucumber. Meanwhile, I feel sick.” I wiped my clammy hands on Mama’s skirt. “Are you sure those songs are good enough?”

He squinted at me and cocked his head. “I wish you’d have just a little more self-confidence, Destiny. You’re so much better than you give yourself credit for.”

“Thank you for your faith in me, Stephen. You’re the only reason I haven’t scrapped everything. I trust your opinion.” 

Stephen took my hand and squeezed it. “My opinions are solid gold. And so are you.”

One by one, other members of the worship team entered the common room, each of them giving me a pep talk and telling me how excited they were to play the new songs. Unexpectedly, Pastor Tim opened the door, wearing a wide grin. He seldom involved himself with the worship team; he spent most of his time in the chapel, meeting and greeting churchgoers downstairs. 

“Destiny,” he said, “I’ve been hearing great things about the musical selection for this week. I understand they’re your original songs? Stephen tells me they’re amazing.” 

I blushed and hid my face in my hands. “What you’ve heard is true, but I’ve been having doubts about—”

“Well, don’t. Church attendance is up twenty-five percent since you’ve become worship leader, Destiny. We might need to add a second service if we don’t stop growing! I’ve watched you blossom every week. Your ability to touch people with your voice is a gift from above, and I’m so happy you’re blessing us with it.” Pastor Tim hugged me and then stepped back. “I know you’ll succeed out there today.”

“Thank you,” I whispered with humble gratitude. He gathered the worship team around me; all of them laid hands on me while Pastor Tim prayed for us. 

“You’ve got this, Destiny. Make me proud.” He patted my shoulder once more and gave me a ‘thumbs up’ as he walked from the common room.  

Stephen and I walked together down the steps on the right side of the stage. The musicians filed in and descended the stairs that would lead them onto a riser behind the main stage. Stephen, a guitarist/vocalist named Frank, Tanya, Jorge, and I, would all be on the main stage. Everyone followed my lead; on my signal, we moved together into the packed auditorium. 

Behind us on the back wall sat two monitors that would display the song lyrics for the congregation to follow along. I noticed the first song was ready for us ahead of our arrival on stage. Darren sat at his drum set and watched for my signal. He tapped out four beats on his sticks, and the band played the first notes of the songs. It’s go time, I thought. Fake it till you make it.


I couldn’t watch the audience for the first few lines of the first song. My eyes were closed while I concentrated on the words I knew by heart. When we reached the chorus, I noticed the congregation singing along with us. My heart soared! They loved the music! Stephen, that wonderful, lovable scoundrel, was right again. As usual, I was worried about nothing.

After services were over, a man—I guessed he was a little older than me—approached me. I recognized him immediately, though I didn’t recall seeing him in the sanctuary. It was Ernesto Gonzales, the biggest talent agent in town! A serene smile wore on his face as he drew near.

“Well, well,” he said, stepping onto the stage. “The rumors are absolutely true, I see.” 

“I beg your pardon?” I looked around to see if anyone else was near. 


“I heard the buzz around town; a young lady of extraordinary talent who sings at the chapel in the western hills. I had to come see it for myself.” He reached for my hand to shake it, then chuckled at my bewildered expression. “Ernesto Gonzales. And you are?”

“Destiny Farmer.” His grip was firm, almost painful. My heart pounded in my chest, and my mouth suddenly felt like a desert. “I know who you are, Mr. Gonzales.”

“Destiny, I’m going to get right to the point. You’re an amazing entertainer, not only with your voice, but in how you command your audience. Anyone can sing well, in my opinion. But not everyone has what I call the ‘It Factor’. You have loads of potential. Would you be interested in doing a formal audition at the studio this week?”


I couldn’t believe my ears. What?! “I-I’d love to!” I cringed right after I said it. The last thing I wanted was to sound desperate. “I mean, I’d be honored.”

He snickered and handed me his business card. “Give my office a call to schedule it whenever it’s convenient for you.”

It was difficult to contain my excitement, but I tamped it down long enough to speak. “Thank you, Mr. Gonzales.”

“Please, call me Ernie. We’ll be on a first name basis once we’re working together.”


I acknowledged his request with a simple nod. “Ernie it is.” We shook hands one last time before he left me standing in front of the chapel, dumbfounded.

Stephen watched the exchange from a few feet away, and he couldn’t wait to hear what had transpired. He walked toward me with a huge grin on his face. 

“Was that who I think it was, Destiny?” 

I played dumb, just to be coy and puckish. “That depends. Who do you think it was?” 

“Ernie Gonzales is my first guess.” 

“Great guess!” I laughed. “He wants to see me this week for an audition, Stephen. He gave me his card!” I flashed Ernie’s card in front of Stephen’s eyes; he plucked it from my fingers and perused it. 

“Impressive! I know people who would kill to get their hands on one of these business cards.” He watched as I swallowed hard, then he winked. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep you safe.” He held the card over my head. I laughed while I jumped for it, snatching it back from his grasp.

“Gee, thanks!” He held his arms open for a hug; mine wrapped around him. Stephen stood strong and held me to him.


“See? I told you!” he playfully teased me. “I’m so happy for you, Destiny. No one I know deserves this chance more than you do.” Stephen set me down on my feet. I hadn’t even realized I was hanging off of him.

“Thank you.” My thoughts went directly to Mama and Daddy; I wiped away the few tears that pooled and threatened to trickle down my face.

Stephen noticed, looking into my eyes. “Why are you sad? This is such an exciting time for you!”

“I wish my daddy and mama were here for this moment. We all wanted it so much.”

“That’s understandable. But I can assure you, Destiny, that they’ve never been prouder of you.” Stephen planted another kiss on my cheek. “Just like I am.” 

My face flushed a deep red. “Thank you, Stephen. You’ve had faith in me when I had none. I hope you know how special you are to me.”

“Of course, and you’re just as special to me, too. Why don’t we go to lunch to celebrate? My treat.”

How could I say no to that? “I’d love to.”

The weather was cooler than usual the next morning; the overcast skies remained from the previous day, trapping the dark, dank feeling in the city beneath the gray clouds. My alarm clock woke me at 4:00 AM. Poppy was already awake, ready to say good morning with her customary head butt and a sandpaper kiss on my nose. I never minded her grooming me, but a raspy lick on my face first thing in the morning was just the encouragement I needed to slip out from under the covers.

“Good morning, Poppy,” I said to her and scratched her chin. Her head nuzzled into my hand, trying to get the maximum amount of attention before I stood. She flopped over onto her back and bared her tummy for me to pet. Funny, she was the first cat I’d ever met that didn’t mind a belly rub. Her rumbly purrs always set the mood for a happy day.

I walked into the bathroom and ran the water for a shower. Though the warmth of the shower felt amazing, I stayed only as long as I needed, then stepped out onto the bath mat. I grabbed my plush robe and tied it around my waist, then gave my teeth a quick brush, gathered my wet hair into a ponytail, and turned out the light.

Poppy escorted me down the steps, talking to me the entire way. How did I ever survive without her company? I filled her bowl with kibble, prepared cereal for myself, and we sat together eating breakfast, albeit hers was served on the floor. I’d have my coffee at the shop when I arrived, which reminded me—I needed to tell Jared my news about Ernie. What would he think? I wasn’t sure, especially if it threatened my job at the coffeehouse.

If the weather had been clearer and less drizzly, I’d have walked to work. But I’d already taken a shower; I surely didn’t need another, colder one. I picked Poppy up and cuddled her, gave her a kiss on the head, and put her down at my feet. 

“Watch the place while I’m gone,” I said, as though she could understand me. I knew she’d go upstairs and watch the world outside the window from her perch, and fall asleep in the first sunbeam that found its way through the cloudy skies that morning. “See you soon, little one.” I grabbed my car keys and my purse and opened the door that led to the garage. 

Jared was already at the coffeehouse when I turned my key in the door. I swear he lived there‌. “Good morning!” I greeted him. “I thought you were coming in later?”

“Evie asked to switch shifts with me last night. Something with her mom.” He shrugged. “Who knows?”


He studied my face. “Is something wrong, Des?” 

I exhaled a deep sigh. “Yes, and no. It’s nothing.” 

He held in his hand the coffee drink he had crafted and walked to a nearby table; he pulled the chair out, turned it around backward and sat, patting the seat next to him. “Whatever it is doesn’t seem like ‘nothing’. What’s on your mind?” I sat at the table, my hands folded in front of me, mostly to keep them out of my hair. I still struggled with that nervous tic; it drove me crazy most of the time.

“Something happened at the chapel yesterday. I’m not sure what you’ll think of it.” 

“It couldn’t be that bad. I mean, it’s church after all. Just tell me.” 

“You know Ernie Gonzales, right?” 

He nodded and took a sip of his coffee. “Of course. What about him?” 

I took a deep breath and exhaled. “He was at the chapel yesterday, Jare.”

I watched as a smile swept across his face. “And…?” 

“He was there to see me. Apparently, there’s some scuttlebutt around town about some young lady of so-called extraordinary talent who sings at the chapel in the hills.” 

“Des, I’m dying over here. What did he say?!”

“Well, he wants me to do a formal audition some day this week…” I cringed, waiting with my eyes squeezed shut for Jared’s grunt of disapproval. Through one peeking eye, I caught his glowing smile.

“That’s fantastic news! I’m so happy for you!” His reaction was unexpected, though I wasn’t sure why. I knew how he felt about me, and that he always had my best interests at heart.


“Of course! I know how much you’ve wanted that break. Maybe this time, you’ll catch it.” He took my hand and squeezed it. “When does he want to see you?”

“Well, he said when it’s convenient for me, but I’m on the schedule all week.” I wrapped a strand of hair from my ponytail around my finger and flicked it. Nervous tic-1, Destiny-0. 

“Mondays are usually busiest, so probably not today. But any other day this week, we can work schedules around so you can get out of here.”

“I don’t want to be an inconvenience, Jare. I mean, you still have a business to run. Are you certain?”

“Yes, I’m positive. Go audition. You’ll excel there, just like you have here. But I’ll miss you.”

“I haven’t resigned yet!” I laughed. “You won’t get rid of me that easily, either. This isn’t a sure thing, you know. It’s just an audition.” Jared nodded, but had a weird, almost sad expression. “I’ll call on break and set up my appointment. Then I’ll let you know when I go.”

“Fair enough,” Jared said, glancing at his watch. “Are you ready for the morning rush?”

My gaze shifted to the waiting throng of people outside the door. “As ready as I’m going to be. Let ‘em in!”

At break time, I made a caramel macchiato and sat in the back room, my phone clutched in my hand. With this call, my life could change forever. Was I truly ready to grab the reins and take the ride of a lifetime? I dialed the number into my phone and pressed Send. A friendly voice answered my call.

“Gonzales Talent Agency, this is Kerry.”

“Hi Kerry, my name is Destiny—”

“Ooh!” she exclaimed. “Mr. Gonzales wanted me to let him know when you called. Just a moment.” The phone went silent, and then the music on hold played. Thirty seconds later, Ernie’s voice was on the other end of the phone. 

“Destiny! I’m so happy to hear from you. Look, I know your time is valuable, so I’ll get right to my point. I’ve reserved thirty minutes of studio time for you to sing your best song. It could be anything you’re comfortable singing. Now is your time to shine. How does 2:00 PM today sound?”

“I don’t mean to be trouble, but today doesn’t work for my schedule. I’m currently employed at the Flying V, and I’m working until close tonight.” 

There was a silence on the other end of the phone. Ernie cleared his throat. “You know, that’s not a problem. When’s better for you?”

“Let’s shoot for Wednesday around 3:00 PM. Is that suitable?” Giving Jared more than a day’s notice would certainly help him ‌cover my absence.

“Wednesday it is!”

“Do I need to bring—”

“Nope!” Ernie said, interrupting my question. “Just bring yourself and that perfect voice. We have instruments if you need them, or you can sing a cappella.”

“If you have an acoustic guitar, that would be great,” I said.

“I will arrange it.” Though I knew where his office was located, he rattled off the address of the building. “We’re on the twenty-first floor. You can’t miss it.”

“Thank you, Ernie. I’ll see you on Wednesday—” The call cut off in the middle of speaking, and without a proper end. It was odd, but Ernie seemed a bit on the eccentric side. I had a weird feeling I’d need to adjust to his quirks, and that was okay with me.

I washed my hands and walked back out behind the counter. “You’re okay to take a break if you’d like, Jare.” Instead of leaving, he followed me out to the coffee machine.

“So?! How’d it go? Come on! I need info! You’re not being very forthcoming!” Jared stood with his arms crossed, feigning indignation. The expression he wore made me giggle. 

“Patience!” I mock scolded him. “Good things come to those who wait.”

He groaned, rubbing his face with his hands. “Don’t make me fire you.” 

“Psh,” I scoffed. “You need me too much to fire me.” 

“Don’t test me!” Jared crossed his arms and tapped his foot, pretending to be annoyed.

“Okay, okay!” I laughed. “Wednesday, three o’clock. Is that okay?”

His demeanor softened. “Thank you for giving me some time to finesse the schedule. Maybe I won’t have to work an OC.” He meant an open to close—a fourteen-hour shift—something Jared had done way too many times. The long hours were what he called an occupational hazard. 

“That’s why I did it on Wednesday.”

“Evie owes me a big favor after today.” Jared sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “I need a vacation, Des, likely before Ernie takes my star employee. Wouldn’t you think so?”

I cringed. There it was; the pain my departure would cause. I knew it would come out eventually and drape a scratchy burlap shawl of guilt over my shoulders. “I don’t have to go to that audition, you know.”

“Yes, you do! Don’t worry about me. Besides, you and I will always be friends. You said so yourself, right?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Then don’t make me drag you kicking and screaming to that audition!” 

That made me laugh out loud.

Wednesday Afternoon

“I’m here, Des,” Evie called out, walking through the coffeehouse’s front door. “Go knock ‘em dead.” She caught me in the dining room wiping down tables; I looked at the wall clock. Noon?

“You’re… early.” 

“Jared and I decided you should go get ready for your audition at home.” She waved as she walked back to the break room; Jared stood behind the counter, beaming.

“When were you going to tell me this?” I teased, standing with my hands on my hips.

“Now…?” He laughed; I threw at him the rag I had in my hand and giggled. 

“You’re being way too cooperative, you know that, right?”

“Oh, don’t worry, Des. I intend to fight for you when the time comes.” He chuckled, but looked away. “I know it’s a fight I’m going to lose, but I won’t stand in your way, either. No one deserves this opportunity more than you. You realize that, right?”

I blushed a fiery red and nodded. “Thanks, Jare. I’ll come back later and let you know what happens.” 

“Psh,” he huffed. “Take the day and relax. I’m expecting your resignation tomorrow, anyway.” 

I took his hand and pulled him closer to me. “Hey… you’re not getting rid of me that fast. And even if I don’t work here, that means nothing for us.” I reached up to caress his cheek, staring into his hazel eyes. “Nothing.”

He gulped a breath; I never noticed he wasn’t breathing. “You promise?” 

With a gentle smile, I nodded. “You have my solemn vow.” I gave him a quick hug and a peck. “Thank you for letting me do this. I owe you one.” 

In an instant, Jared’s gloomy expression fell away, replaced with mischief and a bright grin. “Yes, you do!” We both laughed, but we realized, too, that the audition would change things. “You’re in my prayers, Des. Break a leg.” 

Why his statement brought tears, I couldn’t say. But I took his hand and squeezed it, unable to speak beyond the lump in my throat. No more words needed to be said. Instead, I flashed him a “thumbs up,” grabbed my purse, and left the coffeehouse.

At home, I jumped into the shower to wash the coffee aroma from my hair. Poppy sat on the toilet waiting for me to emerge from the stall. I opened the door and grabbed the towel that hung on the hook; Poppy trilled and rubbed her fur on my wet skin, followed by her raspy tongue on my leg. I giggled and hopped away from her. 

“I think I can dry myself, thank you!” I said, laughing. She reached up to my hand, begging for a chin scratch. And I, like a total sucker, obliged her. I sure loved that little cat.

I primped, applying makeup and styling my hair. I decided on an elegant updo, something I didn’t normally do with my hair. With enough hair spray, mousse, and the patience of a saint, I achieved my desired look. 

I raided my closet, looking for an appropriate dress. This was the most important audition of my life; I needed to look my best. Half my closet lay on my bed when I found one that Mama used to wear. Yes! I thought. This is the one. 

The dress was just below my knees, not unlike the bulk of Mama’s pretty things. The pattern was a green floral with a self-same patterned belt around the midsection. It fit me beautifully, as though it had been made just for me. It slipped on over my head, covering the lingerie that I normally wore under my gown. I stepped in front of the full-length mirror that once sat in Mama and Daddy’s bedroom and admired the reflection I saw.

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“Good enough, I guess,” I whispered. One last fix with my hair, and reapplication of lip gloss, and I was ready to go.

Poppy met me at the bottom of the stairs, wending her way through my steps. She had a keen sense of awareness, always knowing when I had something going on. I stooped to pet her head, grabbed my keys, and slung my purse over my shoulder. 

“I’ll be home before you know it, sweet girl. Wish me luck!” 

The car was in the driveway, so I walked out the front door and locked it behind me. With shaky hands, I opened the door and slumped into my seat behind the wheel. If ever I needed Daddy to show up in a big way, it was now. I started the engine and let it idle while I folded my hands, my eyes lifted to the heavens.

This is it, Daddy, the day we’ve all waited for. It’s “my make it or break it” moment, and I need you with me. Everything we’ve wanted comes down to this audition. I hope I continue to make you proud of me. I love you and Mama so much.

While I had my mind in the right place, I whispered a quiet prayer. Suddenly, I wished Stephen was with me for moral support. 

Twenty minutes later, I parked in the lot behind the building where Ernie’s office was located. I double-checked his business card and the address on the building. “Yep, this is it,” I said to myself. I took a deep breath and opened the car door. 

The building’s lobby was luxurious; marble floors, textured paint on the walls, and brass light fixtures hung from the ceiling. In front of the elevator, a young man sat behind a desk. He stood when I approached him.

“You’re here to see Mr. Gonzales?” he asked. I nodded, about to speak, when he opened the elevator door for me. “He is waiting for you. Top floor, Miss Farmer.”

“Thank you…?” The recognition flustered me. I stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the highest floor; twenty-one. I spent the entire ride talking myself up, trying to shake off the inevitable nerves.

Moments later, the elevator opened into a lobby, decorated in warm tones and contemporary furniture. A lady sat at the desk just outside an office door; I assumed it was Ernie’s office. She looked up from her computer when the elevator opened, smiling at me. 

“You must be Destiny. Have a seat. I’ll let Mr. Gonzales know you’ve arrived.” I couldn’t believe the personal attention I was getting here. Was Ernie really that impressed? I sat by the window and observed the city from the twenty-first floor. I was so lost in daydreams that Ernie startled me. HIs booming voice made me jump a foot.


“Destiny! There you are!” He was genuinely happy to see me sitting there. He walked to where I sat and gave my hand a vigorous shake. I stood and blushed.

“Hi, Ernie,” I squeaked out, my mouth suddenly dry. 

“Come on in.” He walked to his office door and held it open, allowing me to pass through. “Superstars first!” he said with a chuckle, and then turned to his secretary. “She is my next ‘big thing’, Kerry, mark my words. Please hold my calls.”

She gave him a smile and winked at me. “If Ernie says it, it must be true! Welcome aboard, Destiny.” Kerry waved as I stepped through the door into Ernie’s office.

I wasn’t sure what I expected his office to look like, but it was nothing like what I’d imagined. Instead of wood paneling on the walls, there were light bricks, a couple of gold albums, and posters of their current clients. He directed me to have a seat at his desk; when I turned around, I glimpsed at an enormous poster. What the…? Ernie must have seen my distraught expression.

“Is there something wrong, Destiny?” 

“Did you sign…?” I pointed at the poster on the wall—The Rock J Experience. I couldn’t bring myself to finish my question. Wherever I went, there was Jeff with that pompous smirk!

Ernie laughed. “Oh, them. No, no, I haven’t been able to hook ol’ hardnose Jeffery Dean, despite my best efforts. Something about having ‘bad blood’ in the Shores. Personally, I think he is headed for a fall. He’s one cocky S.O.B.” I couldn’t wipe the smirk off my face, delighted someone else shared my opinion. “Enough about them. Let’s talk about Destiny. Where are you from? I know it’s not around here with that drawl.”

Argh! This accent, I swear, is going to be the death of me! I swallowed the renewed anxiety his comment brought, cleared my throat, and wrung my hands in my lap out of Ernie’s view. “I’m from a small town called Appaloosa Plains. It’s about two hours by airplane, a little south and west of here. Ever heard of it?” 

Ernie shook his head. “No, I haven’t. How small of a town is it?” 

“Its population was about five hundred when I left years ago. I can’t imagine it’s gotten much bigger. The township is mostly agricultural, except for the military base where my daddy was stationed all his life. My folks owned the farm where my mother was born; she was a third generation farmer.”

He crossed his arms and sat back in the chair. “Interesting! So, farm life wasn’t for you, huh?” I was about to speak when he continued. “What brings you to Starlight Shores, my dear? Why not Bridgeport?”

I smiled, thinking of Daddy and Mama. “I’ve wanted to sing since I was a little girl, and living in Starlight Shores has been my dream from my earliest memories. My folks did the best they could to encourage me, but their livelihood was back on the farm. My mother couldn’t leave the Plains and her birthright.”

Ernie scratched his chin. “So from a tender age, you’ve desired fame and fortune?” 


“No,” I said. “It’s much more than that. Money has never impressed me, and fame can be fickle. Understand, Ernie, that music is my one true passion. I want to sing because I can’t envision myself doing anything else. I desire to make a difference, to affect people on an emotional level.”

He folded his arms across his chest and leaned back in his chair. “That is probably the best answer I’ve ever gotten from a potential client, Destiny. It’s pure, almost altruistic. So, do you sing mostly covers of other musicians’ material?”

“I write my own songs and music. Every song I sing in public, though, is a cover. I don’t want to sing my original songs until I can record them myself.”

“I understand the songs you sang at the chapel were your originals. Is that true? I’d never heard church music like that before.” 

I nodded and smiled. “They were. I am always writing songs, including the three that debuted on Sunday. My friend helps me to tweak them until they’re almost perfect.” I blushed and looked away. “I was nervous they’d flop, to be honest. With new material, you never know how it’s going to go.” 

Ernie nodded in agreement. “I have to admit, it takes guts to debut one new song in church, let alone three of them. They were astounding, Destiny. The crowd obviously loved them, too.”

“Thank you.” I didn’t know what else to say. Compliments always flustered me. Ernie seemed to sense this and changed subjects with his next question.

“Do you have any siblings? What was life like for a young Destiny Farmer? Tell me about your folks.”

I paused a moment, thinking of how to begin. “I’m an only child. My mama and daddy waited a long time to have me, so when I was born, I was their miracle. Mama worked the farm and ran a produce stand at the farmer’s market every year. Daddy was in the army and retired after his final deployment. Appaloosa Plains was really a great place to grow up, but it wasn’t where I wanted to spend my life. I’m more like my father in that respect. We had a shared case of wanderlust.”

“I can tell by your expression that you are close to them. Are they still in your life?”

“No,” I said. “They both passed away after my eighteenth birthday. I’ve been on my own since.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that, Destiny. You’re obviously resilient and mature beyond your years.”

“Thank you, Ernie. It was rough for a few years. But I know what I want, now more than ever. It’s time for me to pursue my dreams.”

“I agree with you. You’ve told me all I really need to know about you.” He stood and motioned toward a different door. “It’s time for me to meet the real Destiny Farmer. Are you ready?” 

I swallowed all my fear and apprehension. On shaky legs, I stood with him. “I’ve never been more ready for anything in my life.” Just keep repeating that in your head until you believe it, Des, I thought. 

Ernie showed me into his personal recording studio. It was nothing like what I expected. This was cozy and warm, with rugs, fly cases, music stands, and assorted instruments behind a wall of windows. The control room sat adjacent. 

He opened the door to the studio, allowing me to enter first. “There is a headset you can use here.” He reached up and retrieved it, handed it to me, and smiled. “Do you need anything else to be comfortable?” 

I gawked around the room with wide eyes. My surroundings here made me feel immediately at ease. “No, this is wonderful. Thank you.” He gave me a ‘thumbs up’, walked into the control room, and settled down behind the soundboard.

His voice boomed over the speaker inside the studio. “Can you hear me okay?” he asked. I nodded and picked up the guitar, put the strap around my neck, and checked the tuning on it. “Strum your guitar and let me see how the sound comes through on your end.” I did as he asked, and then his voice came back. “Sounds great! Whenever you’re ready, Destiny.” 

I plucked the guitar strings, playing the opening tune for “Maybe It’s Better This Way.” I was certain Ernie would love it. Every little sound in the room echoed in the headset; my nervous breathing aside, it sounded amazing.


The acoustic arrangement of the song was simple but effective; it allowed me to showcase the lyrics and my voice. I drew from the hurt I felt the night I wrote it and let the emotion pour from my soul. My voice quivered on the last chorus; the guitar’s final chord reverberated through the studio until it faded to quiet. I sniffled and then looked at Ernie’s beaming face on the other side of the glass.

“Holy hell, Destiny. That was… did you write that one yourself? You were incredible.”

Hearing his compliments made me feel shy. “I did.” 

“I recorded this session to make a demo. I have connections in the recording industry here in town. Do you mind if I talk to my buddy over at Soundwave Records? He needs to hear this as soon as possible.”

Soundwave Records was the biggest name in the music business. I was dumbstruck. “Um… yeah,” was all I could mutter. A fog settled around the edges of my vision; at once, I felt lightheaded and dizzy. I had to get the guitar off my neck before I passed out and damaged it. 

Ernie noticed me teetering and sprinted to my side. A folding chair sat along the wall; in seconds, he had it ready for me. I sat on the chair and waited for the room to stop spinning. Did he really say he wanted Soundwave Records to hear my song? 

“Are you okay? Do you need some water?” I nodded my head, thinking that a sip might help calm the butterflies in my stomach. He left the studio and returned moments later with a bottle of water. He twisted the cap open and handed it to me. “There, maybe that will help?” 

“Thank you,” I whispered. “It should.” I sipped the water for a few minutes until everything settled down. “I’m sorry. Normally, I don’t feel faint like this. I don’t know what happened.” 

Ernie chuckled. “It’s okay. The studio gets stuffy. I need to get some better air circulation in here. I meant what I said, though. My buddy needs to hear this demo, and the sooner, the better. Are you okay with me doing that?” 

I nodded. “Yes, of course.”

“What inspired the song? Who could have caused that kind of emotion?” 

I gave him a sheepish smile. “None other than ‘hardnose Jeffery Dean’. We were engaged once upon a time. That song brought me some closure, but he was the inspiration behind it.”

Ernie nodded his head and laughed. “So, when Dean said he had bad blood in the Shores, he was talking about you?” I cringed and nodded. 

“I guess…? Our split wasn’t exactly amicable.” I wrung my hands while I sat. “I-I shouldn’t be speaking of him. It’s just that—”

“Don’t worry about it. For one, I asked, and second, what is said in this studio stays between us. No one will judge you, because no one will know.”

“Thank you, Ernie. I’ve never spoken about Jeff in public, and I don’t intend to start.” 

“You’re a wise young lady, Destiny. He’s so pompous, he won’t need anyone to slag him. He’ll be his own downfall given enough time.” Ernie motioned for me to stand, which I did. “Let’s go listen to your demo. You can have my seat in the control room.”

I was blown away by the quality of the recording Ernie had made, but I wasn’t sure why it shocked me. The studio, though comfortable and quaint, was still top-of-the-line. He toyed with the soundboard during the playback, changing effects and boosting my voice. Though I was familiar with soundboards, this one was miles different from the ones I used back home. It was overwhelming.

“There is so much I can do with this song, Destiny, but it doesn’t really need much tweaking. The quality of your vocals is astounding. Have you had formal voice training, or is that raw talent?” 

“I’ve had no training at all. What you hear is natural.” 

“Yeah, there’s no doubt in my mind. I’m going to make you a star.” He stood, and I did, too. “Let’s get you signed on here. We can start recording this song for your first single within the week.”

I swallowed ‌harder than I wanted to. “I’m still working for Jared McMurphy at the Flying V. Do I need to resign there first? He usually requires two weeks’ notice.” My jaw clenched, trying not to be so obvious.

Ernie smiled at me. “I can see it will be tough to walk away from your job, Destiny. If he requires two weeks’ notice, then I can allow that. From the time we record, to its eventual release, will be about six weeks. I’ll need you to consider something, though. You will need a stage name, because let’s face it. ‘Destiny Farmer’ won’t sell records, and I mean no offense to you or your family.”

I nodded, though I hated the idea of being anyone other than myself. “What would you suggest?” 

Ernie bobbed his head from side to side. “I think your stage name should be a part of you; you will have it for your entire career. So think about situations from your past. What was important to you?”

I bit my lip and sighed. “I’m drawing a blank.” 

“There’s no hurry. We have a few weeks to figure everything out before we go public with your first single. I’ll let you know when we’re getting close to a deadline.” 

“Thank you,” I said. “I’ll think of something.”

The rest of my visit was contracts and paperwork, and when I was finally done, it was already dark outside. Ernie walked me to my car, and I drove home, exhausted but hopeful. Poppy greeted me at the door when I opened it, just as I expected her to do.

“Hi, Poppy,” I whispered to her. “Are you hungry, or do you just want attention?” I walked to her food bowl, which was still half-full. The water bowl was filled and fresh, so it must have been my attention that she needed. I walked to the loveseat in the formal living room and sat; Poppy joined me immediately and curled up in my lap. 

“Things are gonna change soon, sweetheart,” I said as I stroked her fur. “I hope stardom is everything I wish it to be.” A sudden wave of emotion swept over me. It was happy, sad, and excited all at once, but it brought tears and a lump in my throat. I remembered Jared’s words from that morning. “I’m expecting your resignation tomorrow.” The memory brought more tears and a sense of dread, knowing I was going to cause Jared pain. I didn’t want to do it. 

I skipped dinner and walked up the steps to my bedroom with Poppy right behind me. Though I should have called Stephen, I wasn’t up for more conversation, except for the one I’d have with Daddy. I changed into my pajamas and washed up. 

Kneeling beside the bed, I closed my eyes and clasped my hands together. I had Daddy’s prayer book on the bed between my elbows as I relaxed and spoke in whispers to him.


Daddy, it’s me. I finally did it! The biggest talent agent in the Shores took me on as a client today, and he was so impressed with my voice and my song. I wish that you and Mama could be here to celebrate this moment with me. I miss you both so much. There is something I’m struggling with, Daddy. Ernie wants me to take a stage name because he doesn’t believe I will sell records without it. I don’t know what to do. What should I pick? I’m so lost without your advice.

Everything else is okay in my life, but it’s going to be hard telling Jared that I’m leaving the coffeehouse. I’m not looking forward to tomorrow morning. I know I have to do it, because I’ll never achieve my dreams if I don’t take this leap of faith. Daddy, Ernie says he’s going to make me a star. I know I’m ready; I just wish you were here. Going to sleep now. I love you. I miss you. We’ll be together again someday.

Poppy waited patiently for me to snuggle into bed so she could assume her position on the pillow next to my head. The deep rumbles in her chest were so soothing, and so welcomed. It didn’t take long for her to lull me to sleep.

I didn’t see Jared at the coffeehouse the next day until my shift was almost over. I was stocking coffee beans into bins behind the counter when he walked in. He had a huge smile on his face when he saw me; he rushed to my side to help. It was obvious he had a question for me. 

“Hi Jare.” I couldn’t hear him over the rattle of beans flowing into the containers, but I saw his lips moving. “What?” I asked when the last beans settled.

“I said, how did it go yesterday?” He stood expectantly with his hands planted on his hips. Jared was too cute when he wanted information. “This has been killing me.” 

Me too, I thought. “It went okay,” I lied. “You know, the recording and stuff. I had a lot of fun.”

“You haven’t answered my question, Des. What did Ernie say?” 

I wiped my hands on my apron. “He signed me. And, he’s taking my song to the head of Soundwave Records…” I waited for the twinge of hurt on Jared’s face. Much to my surprise, none came.

“Destiny! You did it!” He hugged me so tight, I almost couldn’t breathe. “Tell me everything!”

“Well, I sang the song I wrote about Jeff, and I guess he liked it. I’ll be in the studio recording it in a couple of weeks, and that will be my first single.” 

Jared cocked his head. “A couple of weeks? Why so long?” 

I blushed. “You, silly. I know your policy is two weeks’ notice. I wanted to give you enough time to find someone else.” 

“My gosh, Des! I don’t care about the two weeks! What if we consider today your last day? Would that free you up to record your song? I can have your ending paycheck tomorrow.” 

My heart broke. I wasn’t counting on him being so willing to let me walk away. “So soon?” 

Jared’s face softened when he noticed my expression. We were close enough that he saw right through me. “You don’t want to leave here, do you?”

His question caused an immediate, emotional reaction. I shook my head and tried to swallow the lump that seemed to live there. “No, I don’t. But I know I have to if I want to chase my dreams.” 

He hugged me again and placed a soft kiss on my forehead. “Des, I was preparing my heart and mind for this. I knew the second Ernie wanted to see you, he would take you away from me. But I wanted to run something by you, you know, as my assistant manager.” 

“What’s that, Jare?” 

He smiled and brushed my too-long bangs out of my eyes. “I’ve been thinking about this day and the eventuality, even when you weren’t looking for a music career. What do you think about me promoting Evie to assistant manager? I won’t do it without your say so.”

I nodded with a gentle grin. “I think that’s a great idea. Evie deserves the promotion. She’s almost as dedicated as I am.” 

Jared blushed and looked away. “She’ll never be you, Des, just so you know. And I’m going to miss you like crazy.” 

I placed my trembling hand on his chest; my breath caught in my throat. “I’m always here. Whenever you need me, I’m here. Nothing will ever change that.”

He nodded in acknowledgement, then called Evangeline back into the break room. When she appeared, Jared and I stood side by side with grins on our faces. She crept in with her shoulders hunched. “What? Am I in trouble?”

Jared looked at me for assurance, and I nodded my approval. “Evie, Destiny is leaving us. Today is her last day, and that leaves me with a problem. I hope you can help remedy it.”

Evie looked at Jared and then at me. “You aced your audition, didn’t you?!”

It was a mixed bag of emotions. Thrilled because I was pursuing what I truly wanted, but devastated that I had to leave my best friends behind. “I signed a contract with Ernie Gonzales yesterday. My first single will be on the radio in a matter of weeks.” I cringed, waiting for the shriek of joy from Evie’s mouth. Almost on cue, she emitted a piercing howl. 

“Oh my gosh, Des! Congratulations!” She hugged me in between excited jumps. Evie always made me laugh. 

“Thank you!” I giggled. Jared nudged my arm with his elbow, wanting me to make the bigger announcement. “Since I’ll be gone, that leaves the assistant manager position open. Jared and I were hoping you’d take it.”

If I thought her shriek was loud the first time, she amplified it twice on the second go around. “Are you serious? Jared?!”

Jared nodded. “If you want it, the position is yours.”

Evangeline nodded slightly with a beaming smile. “I won’t let either of you down! I promise!” She sidled up to me and nudged my arm. “You know, this gives you freedom to date him,” she whispered in my ear. “He really loves you.” We shared a knowing look, and then she left the two of us alone.


Jared took my hands in his. “I guess this is it.”

“Mmhmm. But you know where I live. Mi casa es tu casa.” 

He gazed into my increasingly watery eyes before he spoke, choosing every word carefully. “I know. It doesn’t stop the ache, though. Not having you here with me every day…” Jared’s voice faded to nothingness. 

“Are you okay?”


“Yeah,” he said. His body language, however, said just the opposite. “Go.” He wrapped me in a hug and kissed my cheek. “Go be a star, Des, and when you reach the top, remember who loves you most.”

I wiped a tear from my eyes. “There was never a doubt, Jare.” I mouthed the words, “I love you, too,” to him. I couldn’t take another minute of goodbye. One last thumbs up to Evie; I blew a kiss to Jared and left as an employee at the coffeehouse for the last time.

The next few weeks were a flurry of activity. Each morning, I stopped at the Flying V for my coffee. Jared and I sat and chatted when he had the time, which wasn’t often. For the first few weeks, I welcomed the familiarity of the coffeehouse. It was as though I hadn’t really left. 

Ernie’s friend at Soundwave Records signed a contract for my first single, with the option to take me on full-time, contingent on record sales. The only catch was not recording “Maybe It’s Better This Way” as my first single. The label wanted a livelier, more upbeat song to break into the market. Being new in the business, I agreed, but only with Ernie’s encouragement. I took the demo of my first single home with me and learned it.  

That studio, though it had all the newest technology and the best equipment, wasn’t nearly as comfortable as Ernie’s personal one. They had musicians on standby, waiting for me. I spent the entire first week working with them on the song’s arrangement. When we had it perfect, we rehearsed the song together until it was flawless. 

Ernie produced the single and taught me how to use the studio’s sound board, though it would take more than a few times to learn it. Everything was so over-the-top fancy and complex. When he played back the raw recording, I’ll admit I cried, still in utter shock that everything was happening so fast. It sounded so professional; I didn’t believe it was my voice singing it. 

Every night, after a full day’s work in the studio, I drove home and almost collapsed into bed. I hadn’t seen Stephen in weeks, and if I didn’t stop at the coffeehouse every morning, I wouldn’t have seen Jared or Evie, either. Before I slept every night, I still talked to Daddy, asking his advice for things that perplexed me.

With a week to go before my single was released, Ernie and I were up against a deadline to decide on my stage name. I was still no closer to figuring it out. I got up earlier than usual that morning and headed to the coffeehouse. It was my time to relax and concentrate before heading to the studio. 

Jared was there that morning with Evie and a new guy I didn’t recognize. Jared’s face lit up when I walked through the door, like it did every morning. I sat at the corner booth in the back of the cafe with my laptop open, looking through pictures I had on it. Jared came over and sat across from me. 

“What are you looking at this morning, Des?” he asked. “I brought your favorite. My treat.” 

I blushed with a shy smile. “You didn’t have to do that, but thank you.” I turned my laptop around to show him. “These are pictures of me when I was little.” I pointed to a photo Jason had taken. “There’s Mama and me on that old dirt mound in our backyard.” 

“I didn’t realize how much you look like your mother, Des. She was beautiful, too. The more I learn about Appaloosa Plains, the more enthralled I am with it. What’s the significance of the dirt mound?” 

I smiled at the warm memory. “Our neighbor, Caleb, plowed our field every year, but when we started having problems with the plants, he suggested ‌Mama bring in some top soil to replenish what the constant planting had depleted. He dug about four inches of soil off the top before they brought in the fill dirt, so that mound was the product of the restructure. Jason and Mama worked so hard in the garden that year, and she had a bumper crop of everything. They piled all of that dirt for me to play on it. Mama said it was ‘Destiny’s hill’…” A light bulb went off inside my brain; I smacked my forehead with the heel of my hand. “That’s it!”

Jared gave me the most confused look. “Am I missing something?”

“I can’t tell you until I make it official, but you’ll be the first to know!” I took my last sip of coffee, closed my laptop, and stuck it back inside the backpack I carried. “Thank you for the inspiration!” I gave him a quick peck on the cheek and slung my backpack over my shoulder. “I promise I’ll call you tonight!” Jared still sat at the booth, looking bewildered, when I ran to my car. 

Ernie was already in his office when I greeted Kerry. “He’s in,” she said, still nursing her first cup of coffee. I walked right in and sat at his desk, grinning like a Cheshire cat. 

“Good morning, Destiny,” Ernie said. “Is there something wrong?” 


“Something right?” 

“You could say that, yes.” 

He sat down and stirred the coffee he had in his hand. “Color me intrigued! So, what’s going on?”

“You know how I’ve been trying to figure out what my stage name should be?”

“Yes, I do. Have you decided on a stage name Destiny?” he asked.

I nodded, a broad grin on my face. “I have.” The anticipation was killing me, but I drew it out another moment before the big reveal.


I took my laptop from my backpack and opened the photo I’d showed Jared back at the coffeehouse. “This is me when I was about three, maybe four years old, sitting on this big old mound of dirt, the one Mama made for me. She told me it was ‘Destiny’s hill’.” I breathed a content sigh. “Ernie, I want to be known as Destiny Hill. When I saw the photo this morning, I knew it was my only choice.”

A smile broke on Ernie’s face. “Destiny Hill it is, then.”


Up Next: Chapter Seven, Generation Two

Pose Credits:

Mod The Sims
Audrey – A Modeling Pose Set by k2m1too
Pomp And Circumstance by Heaven

Poses By Bee
Casual Sitting Poses
Conversation Poses Set 2
Cuddle Sad Pose Pack
Death And Dying Set 1
Worship – Adult

Animation Pack with Guitar by Daisy Sermech Studios
Live Guitar/Singing by Toys of Dukeness
Romance Poses 2 by Danjaley

Request 12 by Blams
Request 28 by Blams


Custom Content:

Around The Sims 3
Blooming Room 4to3 Conversion
Cargeaux Kitchen 4to3 Conversion
Checkered Cloth Pattern
Church Set
Eco Café
Ernie’s Business Card (Anneke’s Bag Set)
Exhibition & Museum Shop
Guitar Player’s Den
Pizzeria Set
Recording Studio Set

Guitar Accessory by ModernLover
Neon Open Sign by Simming In Magnificent Style

Mod The Sims
Wedded Bliss (Bouquet of Roses) by PurplePaws

Other Sites
Tears Makeup by bille

The Sims Resource
Round Tablecloth by LilyOfTheValley
Destiny’s Dress by SimDetails

Cruise Ship Picture by Kris Elizabeth Sims

Content not listed here is documented on the Custom Content page. Custom content and poses are not my property and are used in compliance with the TOUs.


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