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Stay with Me
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Stay with me.
I’ve loved Allie McCallister for as long as I can remember. Her happiness and well-being mean more to me than anything else, which is why when the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself, I had to take it. Three months was such a short amount of time to be apart to provide the financial stability we needed to start our lives.
It wasn’t supposed to catapult my band to stardom, and it sure as hell wasn’t supposed to set off the chain of events that pushed my relationship with Allie to the brink. Our hearts were shattered, our love tested, and when everything fell apart she begged me to leave.
Eight years ago, tragedy broke us. Now we’re back in the same little town where we once dreamed of building our future.
She’s a divorced, single mom.
But all it takes is one look, one touch, one kiss to know our story isn’t over. Now I have to convince her to let me stay.
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I tug at my shirt. My bump is growing, and one day soon, I won’t be able to hide it the way I do now.
“Are you okay, sweetheart? You’re fidgety,” Mom says.
My eyes snap up, and I release my shirt like it’s on fire, because the last thing I want to do is draw her attention to my stomach. “Oh, uh, yeah. I’m just waiting on Jackson. He’s late.”
“I’m sure he’ll be here soon. Probably got tied up helping his dad at the garage.” She smiles but doesn’t probe and takes a bite of her sandwich.
She turns her attention to the magazine on the table. “What do you think of this?”
Her manicured finger taps a picture, and I lean closer to get a better look.
It’s a decked-out kitchen with stainless steel appliances and a fancy island in the center.
“We can’t afford that,” I answer honestly, knowing it’s the last thing she’ll want to hear.
“But you like it?”
I shrug, noticing the telltale signs. This is how it always starts. Mom flips through one of her favorite home and garden magazines, gets some big, bright idea about a renovation that she swears will pull the inn out of the red and into the green, when in reality all it’ll do is force us to eat ramen noodles and canned soup for the next year.
“Just because I think it’s cute doesn’t mean we can afford it.”
“What do you mean we? You don’t pay the bills around here. I do.” She tries to keep her voice light and playful, but I don’t miss the undertone of her words.
No, you don’t, I think to myself. You make payments on bills, and one of these days I’m going to be the one digging us out of debt.
The familiar sound of Jackson’s truck rumbles in the distance.
Saved by the boyfriend.
I jump up and hightail it for the back door. “Gotta go.”
I skid to a stop and turn around at Mom’s gentle request.
“Don’t I get a hug before you go?”
My mom might be running us into the ground financially, her dreams way bigger than her pocketbook, but she’s still a great mom—loving and caring and everything I hope I’ll be when I bring a kid into this world.
Which will be sooner rather than later. Much, much sooner. My stomach turns, and not because of the baby growing inside.
Walking back to her, I lean down and wrap my arms around her shoulders. She sighs, and I hug her a little tighter, knowing the next time we talk won’t end on such a good note.
“Be home early,” she says, patting my arm.
When I run out the back door, Jackson is standing at the front of his truck, the now-ratty baseball cap I got him two years ago for Christmas pulled low on his head. He looks up and meets me halfway across the yard.
Taking my hand, he smiles, and it’s the look on his face that makes me believe if we can get through today, we can get through anything. Jackson flips his cap around, and I push onto my toes and kiss him.
I pull back, take a shuddery breath, and squeeze his hand. “You ready to talk to your parents?”
Jackson swallows, kisses me again, and leads me toward the trails behind my house rather than his truck. “Yeah, but I want to talk to you about something first.”
This is it. He’s leaving me. I’m only twelve weeks pregnant, and he’s already bailing.
Jackson stops abruptly, and I look up at him.
“You’re biting your lip,” he says.
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are. You only bite your top lip when you’re nervous.”
This is what happens when someone knows you better than you know yourself.
“What do you expect?” I counter. “We’re about to tell our parents I’m pregnant, and you say we need to talk. Usually when someone says we need to talk, it’s not good. Are you breaking up with me? Because if so, just do it now. Get it over with.”
Jackson swears beneath his breath, yanks his cap off, and drags his hand through his shaggy blond hair. “No, I’m not breaking up with you. Christ, Allie, what kind of guy do you think I am? You’re pregnant.”
His voice softens as he pulls his cap back on and steps close to me. His blue eyes flit over my shoulder toward the house to make sure we’re safe from parental eyes before he rests his hand on my stomach. “We’re having a baby. You’re my family, Al, and I’ll never leave you.”
With his reassuring touch, I take a cleansing breath. I close my eyes to steal a moment for myself, and when I open them, Jackson is smiling, but it doesn’t reach his eyes, and he looks a little nervous. Maybe he’s scared to tell his parents?
“Come on.” I tug Jackson’s hand and lead him down the path we’ve worn at the back of the property.