Inspired by a Melody is a regular feature. The song changes.
Swaying gently to the slow, even rhythm of the orchestra, Tate held Lucinda close. He deeply inhaled, taking in her scent. So familiar. So comforting.
He knew her. Every movement, every gesture. The way she breathed when she was uptight—like that moment—and the way she’d crumple in his arms later.
His hand smoothed from her nape, down her spine, and over her rump. He squeezed her firm cheek in his palm as his other arm banded around her waist, pulling her against him.
She whispered, “We’ve been here long enough, yes?”
He nodded, tucked her in even tighter.
“Let’s go. No one will miss us.”
He murmured, “I’m not so sure about that.”
She inhaled sharply. “I fear you’re right. But, no one would blame us for slipping out.”
“You’re probably right. They’ll talk no matter what. At least we don’t have to avoid their whispers if we’re elsewhere.” He glanced from their table to the closest exit. It’s no use. We’ll have to talk to her before we leave. There was no way he could shield his wife from having to speak with Sheila.
She’d become engaged to Scott seven years ago. They’d been much too young to make such a commitment, but they didn’t see reason. When they’d left for college, Scott and Sheila had been happy. They spent every waking moment together—except when they were in class. Their second year, they shared a one-bedroom apartment. They lived there until after their graduation.
Tate and Cinda Stephens weren’t prudes, but they also didn’t condone the couple fucking under their roof. Apparently, neither did Sheila’s parents—Thomas and Eleanore Bradford—because there was a lot of driving back and forth between houses. It wasn’t going to be an ongoing thing, however. Even though both Scott and Sheila had easily obtained jobs in Central City, they wanted to still live in the suburbs. They thought about renting an apartment for a while, but decided there was no sense in throwing away their money—even if it meant they would spend nights apart.
As their only child, Scott was the light of their life. Cinda and Tate couldn’t have been prouder of him. They’d grown to accept Sheila as their daughter—which was convenient, because the couple had set a date.
Even the wedding planning was smooth-sailing with those two. Tate couldn’t recall a single argument they’d had, nor point Scott’d had to concede. They’d clearly planned the event before they even brought their parents into the mix and they stood united.
Which was fine. Whatever would make them happy is what Tate had wanted.
Seven years later, Sheila was marrying someone else. Travis something-or-other. This could have been Scott’s wedding. If Tate were having such thoughts, he knew Cinda was drowning in them.
Best to get away before it becomes overwhelming. As if every minute weren’t agonizing.
Drawing his wife from the dance floor and then to the beautifully adorned table—round mirrors scattered with rose petals and a spherical glass container with blue marbles, water, and floating candles at the center. Each centerpiece had the stem of a brightly-colored Gerbera Daisy threaded through a black ribbon.
Cinda said, “I have about ten more minutes here.” Her expression was blank as she spoke. Carefully schooled to not give away her deep need to flee.
“I know, love.” He picked up her wrap and slipped it over her shoulders and Cinda adjusted it to avoid the corsage Shiela’s mother had slipped over her wrist—even though their arrival to the church had been late.
Eleanore had whispered to them, “Sheila will be so glad you’re here.” She’d tucked a single daisy in the pocket of his suit jacket as the usher waited for her impatiently.
Tate had watched the warring emotions slip into Eleanore’s expression and had pulled Cinda a little closer. He’d swallowed down a lump that had formed in his throat.
Cinda had managed to keep her shit together. “We wouldn’t miss it.”
Tate had nodded. The only thing he could’ve done without losing his shit.
They’d avoided in-depth conversation with Eleanore and Tom…until Tate felt a tap on his shoulder.
Breath caught in Cinda’s lungs—a barely imperceptible hitch no one but him would’ve noticed. Then, she let the air out and turned, grabbing Tate’s hand. There was no mistaking the loss in her eyes. She hadn’t regained the joy once there. She—probably—never would. Tate knew it was likely he would struggle with the whole thing for the rest of his life. Accepting it wasn’t an option at this point.
“It’s a beautiful wedding, and Sheila looks so happy.” Cinda squeezed his fingers tightly, likely silently stifling the But, she would’ve been happier with Scott probably dancing on the tip of her tongue.
It was always there when they talked about Sheila.
Tom nodded. “She is. She thinks about him often, you know. Still talks about him in casual conversation.”
Tate’s eyes darted to capture Tom’s and the warning to stop was evident. He watched as Tom eventually tugged his wife under his arm.
Cinda gritted out, “So do we. Funny how that works when you love someone.”
Eleanore and Tom sputtered like fish struggling on land.
Tate twisted Cinda’s wrist slightly. A reprimand for pushing much farther than she’d needed to.
He saw the corner of her lip twitch upward.
“We need to be going. Give our best to Sheila.” Tate nodded to Tom and the Eleanore.
Eleanore gripped his forearm. “Wait. Sheila wanted to talk with you. It’s been a while since she’s seen you, and she just wanted…”
The warning in Tate’s expression must’ve staved her off. As her dialogue faded away, her grasp on him loosened, as well.
Tom spoke up. “Sheila and Travis mentioned stopping over to your house tomorrow before they leave on their honeymoon. Is that okay? I mean, I’d have Sheila call first…”
Cinda spoke. “Sheila is always welcome. You know that. She doesn’t have to call first.”
“I’ll let her know. She’d wanted to make it over earlier in the week, but with the last-minute things to be managed, she was a bit scattered.” Eleanore gripped Cinda’s free hand. “She had a lot to work through on her own because Travis was working.”
A cynical grin spread across Cinda’s face. “Scott would never have made Sheila manage things without him.”
While that was true, Tate covered her. “It’s been a difficult day, as you can imagine. We’ll just be going. Let Sheila know she’s welcome anytime. She knows how to get in.”
Tate ushered his wife out, narrowly missing the white lace-clad Sheila by ducking out a side door that would require they walk around half the building to reach their SUV.
“I know. I should’ve kept my mouth shut. I’ll have to call Eleanore and apologize.” Cinda’s shoulders slumped as she settled in the soft leather seat of the vehicle.
Tate turned the key in the ignition and sighed. “Ellie knows. If she’s any sort of friend, she doesn’t need your apology.”
She nodded. “You’re right. I still need to give it, though. It was really insensitive of me to say that.”
Tate turned in his seat to face her. He grasped her hands. “You have every right to feel however you want to feel. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently.”
“Let’s just go home. I don’t want to sit here in the parking lot and debate whether Miss Manners dictates that I need to apologize to our son’s former in-laws-to-be.” Cinda leaned across the console and brushed her lips against his.
They drove the three miles to their home in silence. After the garage door closed, the still sat in the vehicle.
“I don’t know how to tell him. I guess I’d hoped she wouldn’t actually go through with it.”
“Cin, she thinks he’s gone.”
“I know what everyone thinks. Sheila should know, though. She never really loved him—not as much as he loves her.” She rolled the edge of her wrap between her fingers.
“It’s been a long day. Why don’t we worry about that tomorrow?” Tate suggested.
She shook her head. “No, I think we should tell him instead of trying to hide it from him. He’ll know something is wrong.”
Tate laced his fingers through hers and squeezed. “Together.”
They simultaneously exhaled and then exited the SUV.
The den had been remodeled to house all the medical equipment necessary to keep Scott alive. A nurse sat with him 24/7, making sure his IVs were working and that he had good saturation of his oxygen levels. They moved his arms and legs to keep the muscles pliant. After two years of laying in a bed, Cinda believed Scott would need all the help he could get when he woke up.
Tate knew the truth. Scott was never waking up. The accident had left him brain dead—all they were doing was putting off the inevitable. He should have stopped Cinda’s delusion a long time ago—should’ve never entertained moving Scott home when the hospital said he had to leave.
They should’ve stopped his life support then. But Cinda hadn’t been ready—and, if he were honest, Tate hadn’t been ready to let go, either.
Together, they entered the den. Tate’s fingers were intertwined with Cinda’s, and he squeezed her hand.
“We’ve had a quiet night. We watched Law and Order and then we watched Logan.” Marta had been with them, working second shift, since Scott came home.
Cinda went to Scott’s side and immediately began fidgeting with his hoses and tubes, eventually just running her fingers through his hair.
Marta’s eyes met Tate’s, asking permission to leave the room. He nodded. No sense in Marta having to see Cinda’s brand of denial. Again.
“We’re back from Sheila’s wedding to that…man. I’ve pretty much lost all respect for her. And, can you believe she had the audacity to give me a corsage? Scotty, the centerpieces on the tables had Gerbera daisies with a black ribbon around the stem. I wanted to pick them all up and throw them in her face. I can’t believe—”
Tate put his hand on Cinda’s shoulder.
She took a deep, shuddering breath. “She did look happy, though. Not as happy as you made her, but still happy.”
The ventilator made Scott’s chest expand.
“Tom and Ellie said Sheila is going to stop by tomorrow, so I wanted you to be ready for that.” Cinda grasped Scott’s hand between both of hers. “It’ll probably be difficult for her because she knows she hasn’t given you enough time to come back to us—and she’ll probably leave that loser she’s with when you do wake up.” She fussed over his pajamas and blankets. “Anyway, I just needed to tell you so you could prepare. I’ll see you in the morning, son.” She kissed his forehead and walked out of the room.
In the midst of the lights of the monitors and the sounds from the machines, Tate said, “She’ll let you go soon, son. I’m sorry you’ve been made to hold on this long.” He squeezed the bony shoulder of his son’s body, kept alive by machines, and followed his wife from the room.
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