Saving forever, p.14
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       Saving Forever, p.14

         Part #3 of The Ever Trilogy series by Jasinda Wilder
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  I'd hoped maybe I'd find some answers out here with Britt's likeness, but all I got was silence, and misery. No matter what I felt for Eden, our situation was next to impossible. I could be her friend, because I'd made that promise to her. And I'd keep that promise. But, truthfully, I wanted more. I wanted her to feel for me what I felt for her. But she couldn't...or wouldn't. Even if she did feel as I did, acting on it was out of the question for her.

  It all seemed so impossible. Yet I'd started the course, and I'd stay it, one way or another.

  nameday

  At the end of three weeks, Eden's house was finished. My brothers were bitching at my absence, but the bar was done, the tasting room was progressing, and the vines were in good shape. They'd survive a few weeks without me. Or so I told myself.

  I'd redone the hardwoods completely, since what was there was too roughed up to be salvageable. I saved a bunch of the old wood, though, since I had a few ideas for ways to reuse it. In its place, I put down dark cherrywood, stained it until it was the color of thick brandy, coated it until it shone like glass. The walls all got stripped of wallpaper and old paint, and Eden chose ivory paint to go on the walls. She helped me paint, which I only allowed if the windows and doors were all open to vent the fumes. The counters in the kitchen got polished slate to match the floors in the bathroom, with a backsplash using leftover tiles from the bathroom. The cabinets were in decent shape, so I sanded them down and repainted them a pale blue to match the tiles in the bathroom and backsplash. I pulled down the ceiling and re-plastered it, since most of it was ruined from the leaks. I even replaced the kitchen sink and vanity in the bathroom, as well as the toilet. By the time I finished, only the cabinets were original, and even those were unrecognizable.

  The last project was replacing the screens on her windows and on the front door. The screens were easy enough, but as I pulled the old screen door off the front door, I realized the main door itself was as outdated and inefficient as the rest of the house had been, so I took Eden over to the Home Depot on South Airport Road and she picked out a new front door. I made her pick out a storm door as well, even though she protested it was an expense she didn't need.

  On the way back from ordering the doors, Eden was quiet, lost in thought.

  I glanced at her, turned the radio down. "Dollar for your thoughts?"

  Eden snorted in laughter, shooting me an amused glance. "Isn't the phrase supposed be 'penny for your thoughts'?"

  "I figure your thoughts are worth a bit more than a dollar."

  "Oh, yeah? A whole ninety-nine cents more?"

  I nodded. "At least. I could probably go a full two bucks." I turned left onto Garfield, which would take us to Center Road and up the peninsula once more. "For real, though. I can feel you thinking over there. What's up?"

  She cranked the window open and closed her eyes as the wind tousled her hair. "Even if you're not charging me for labor, the parts alone of this remodel have to be costing you small fortune."

  "Eden," I started, "I told you--"

  "I'm not arguing. I'm just wondering how you can afford it. I'm sorry if this is nosey, but it just doesn't make any sense to me. I mean, if you were gonna flip this house, that'd be one thing. But I own the house with my sister. It was my parents' vacation cabin. So...obviously it's not a flip project for you. I told you up front I can't pay you, so you're not doing it as a contractor. I'm not even asking why anymore. I'm asking how."

  I sighed. "My parents have money, and my brothers and I have all been earning our own money since we were teenagers. I started working for my uncle when I was fourteen. He's a builder, and he taught me everything I know. I built houses with him for eleven years, and I'm part owner of his company, on top of my quarter share in the winery."

  "I don't know anything about wineries, obviously, but if you haven't finished your tasting room, how are you turning a profit?" she asked.

  "We've been selling the grapes for the past three years, for one thing. They're not mature enough yet to make wine from, but they're still valuable produce, and we have a lot of vines. Plus, we've been buying wine grapes from other local vineyards and making wine from those and selling it. We don't have huge distribution yet, but you can buy Haven Brothers wine throughout most of Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. Kirk is working on Illinois and Wisconsin as we speak, and we're hoping to get distribution on both coasts by the time we're harvesting grapes mature enough to make wine from, which will be this fall."

  I pulled over onto the scenic turnout overlooking Chateau Grand Traverse's vineyard, and the rippling, sunlit East Arm Bay with the Leelenau Peninsula in the distance. It was a gorgeous spot, a favorite of tourists. During peak tourist season, this turnout would be packed with cars full of tourists snapping pictures with phones and cameras. "I also sell some sculptures here and there, but that's more for fun than anything."

  "Sculptures?" Eden asked as she hopped out of the truck and leaned back against it, staring out at the bay.

  "Yeah. Woodcarving."

  "You must be pretty good, if you can sell them."

  I shrugged. "I guess. There's an art gallery downtown that displays my work for me."

  "So your point is, you're doing fine, financially."

  I nodded. "Yeah, that's my point. And not only that, since I'm a contractor, I can get materials for cheap. I grew up on this peninsula, and I know just about everyone in the building business for a hundred miles in every direction. I get discounts all over the place, in return for help on various jobs. So please, stop worrying. I enjoy the work, I'm not hurting for money, and it means I get to hang out with a gorgeous, funny woman in the process. I can't lose." My smile faded when I saw the expression on Eden's face.

  "I'm anything but gorgeous and funny, Carter." She scuffed at the dirt under foot.

  "To me you are."

  "We talked about this, Carter," she whispered.

  "I know. I know. But that doesn't change my opinion of you. We're friends, and just friends. But that doesn't mean I don't see what's in front of me. You're talented, intelligent, and beautiful. And yeah, you might be a bit of a mess, and in a spot of trouble, but that doesn't define you. Or at least, it shouldn't."

  "A spot of trouble?" Her voice was incredulous. "Is that what you call this?" She gestured at her belly, which was starting to pop, now.

  I sighed. "Okay, yeah, it's a little fucked up. But it's not the end of your life. I know there's probably a lot more to the story, but it's not the be-all and end-all of who you are. You messed up. Everyone messes up." I pivoted and stood in front of her, looked her in the eyes so she could see my sincerity. "You're a good person, Eden. You have to stop vilifying yourself."

  "I don't know how," she said, her voice faint, her eyes sliding away from mine and back to the bay, shining with unshed tears. "Every day that passes, the reminder of what I did gets more and more obvious. I don't know what I'm going to do, Carter. I don't know how to have a baby. How to be a mother."

  "One day at a time, Eden. That's how. One decision at a time." I leaned against the truck, beside her but not too close.

  She shook her head, a tear trickling unnoticed down her cheek. "Easy to say." She looked down, covering her face with both hands. "I couldn't...couldn't and wouldn't even think of having an abortion. It wasn't ever a choice. But...I don't even want to be a mother. Not yet. Maybe never. How horrible is that? I'm afraid I'll resent the baby. I know I will. My whole life is thrown off-course because of this pregnancy. I was gonna graduate from Cranbrook and be a professional cellist. The DSO first. Like Mom. I already have an audition lined up. Or...I did." Her voice broke on the last word, and she had to suck in a deep breath and let it out to keep going. "Eventually, I wanted to play somewhere exotic. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra, maybe. Or London."

  "Britt loved the London Philharmonic. She was a music teacher, eighth grade. She came from big money. Her dad owns a big tech company or something." Talking about Britt was hard. I had to force the words out. "She taught bec
ause she loved teaching. Music was her passion, though. She played the violin. She was good, really good, but she had major stage fright issues. Even a classroom was hard for her, but she managed it because she loved the students. A full orchestra, huge audiences...that was out of the question for her. God knows she tried, though. She just couldn't do it."

  Eden smiled sadly at me. "She sounds like she was amazing."

  I nodded, finding it hard to speak. "She--she was."

  We'd somehow moved closer and closer as we talked, until our elbows touched. Eden leaned against me, resting her head on my arm. "Losing someone you love is the worst fucking thing ever," she said.

  "You lost your mom?"

  Eden nodded against my bicep. "Yeah. When I was thirteen. Car accident."

  "I'm sorry."

  "Me, too. She was incredible. She was a cellist like me, played with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra until she had Ever and me. She was a painter, too, like Ever. Beautiful. Fun."

  "You miss her." It was a stupid, obvious thing to say, but I wasn't sure what else to say.

  "Yeah. I mean, it's hard to remember her. I have specific memories, you know? From childhood. Going to the park with her. Family vacations up here. Things like that. She died so suddenly, you know? If I'd known I was gonna lose her, I'd have tried to remember more."

  I choked. "God, I hate that feeling." I looked up at the sky, as if that could stop the burn in my eyes and the thickness in my throat. "I think that all the time. If only I'd known, I would've done things so much differently. I would've...appreciated her. The things she did, who she was."

  "We always take things for granted until they're gone."

  I could only nod in agreement.

  A pair of RVs rumbled onto the turnout. Eden coughed at the diesel fumes, and I jerked my thumb at the road. "Let's head out." I opened the passenger door for Eden, and closed it behind her.

  The ride back to her house was quiet, except for the wind blowing through the open window, and the radio turned down low, playing country. Neither of us was inclined to talk, lost in our memories of the past.

  When I stopped in front of Eden's house, she kicked open her door, and then paused. "Thank you, Carter."

  "Don't mention it."

  I caught a familiar chorus, and turned up the radio. "One Day You Will" by Lady Antebellum. Eden sat with one foot dangling out of the truck, the other on the floorboard, listening. By the end of the song, Eden was sniffling and tapping her toe to the beat.

  Her green eyes found mine. "Damn you, Carter. I'm sick of crying. It's all I seem to do lately." She slid across the bench seat, reaching around my neck with her arms.

  I held her, resisting yet again the urge to inhale her scent. "Sorry," I said, "I just thought you could use the encouragement."

  She let go after a moment, slid out of the truck, waved once she'd closed the door. "'Bye."

  I watched her go in, wondering how I was going to find excuses to see her now that her house was done. In just a few short weeks her presence had become an integral part of my day.

  I drove to the little marina on the opposite side of the peninsula, parked my truck with my tools locked in the cab. The boat ride home was a little over twenty minutes, if I went fast. Today I was loathing the silence of my empty house, so I took it slow. I docked at my pier, tied up, but didn't go inside. Instead, I sat on the bow of the boat and watched the sun go down, wondering yet again what I'd gotten myself into. Wondering if Britt would approve of Eden. It was a strange thing to wonder, since if Britt had been in any position to tell me, Eden wouldn't be part of my life. I wondered how long I could keep pretending to myself that I didn't have feelings for Eden that went past friendship, and how long Eden could pretend the same thing about me.

  I knew I couldn't fix her situation, and I had no desire to become an instant father-figure to a child that wasn't mine. Losing Britt had been bad enough, but knowing I'd also lost my child had nearly been too much. It was something I didn't often think about, but I found myself doing exactly that as I sat on my boat, watching the sun set.

  Britt had been sixteen weeks pregnant when she died. We'd been less than a week from the ultrasound that would have told us the gender of our baby.

  We'd decided on Brett, if it was a boy. Irene, if it was a girl.

  What if something was possible between Eden and me? Someday? When she had the emotional wherewithal to think about such things. She couldn't now, not yet. I knew that, and I respected it. But could she someday? And could I accept the things that would come with Eden, if such a time ever came? A child? The turmoil that would surely exist between Eden and her sister, not to mention the husband? I wasn't sure.

  I had no way to answer any of those questions. Even allowing myself to consider the possibility was inviting heartbreak. Eden might not ever be willing or able to be with me. She might not want to. She might just be latching onto me as the only source of comfort in her life. She'd done it once, with Caden. Why not with me now?

  I cursed myself for the judgmental nature of that last thought. But it was true, though.

  I understood the way things had happened for her, with Caden. When Britt died, I'd been desperate for any kind of comfort. I'd drunk myself stupid for several weeks straight. And if Britt had had a twin sister--one who looked exactly like her--with similar mannerisms and personality traits, would I have felt the temptation to seek some kind of comfort in the familiar? I probably would have.

  Unless you'd lost someone who was a huge, vital part of your life, you simply couldn't understand the agony, the desperation, the way that every day seemed impossible. Each breath hurt. Each second, each hour was an eternity of hurt. You'd do anything to stop the pain. To escape the torment, the ache inside, the gaping hole where that person should be. And if something or someone could offer some kind of comfort, even temporarily, you'd take it, just to find a single moment of peace. And if there was guilt involved, it was even worse.

  So yeah, I got it.

  But getting it, understanding how it had happened, and not judging her was one thing. But being able to weave the complications of her life into my own? That was something else. And I wasn't sure.

  God, if I was this confused about things, what must Eden be going through?

  I took a couple of days at home, cleaning up and finishing two sculptures I'd set aside. One was a life-size bust of an Arabian horse that needed a few coats of stain, and the other was a commissioned piece for one of Max's friends. It was a huge piece of driftwood that she had found while on vacation in Mexico. She had it shipped up here to me and had asked me to "do something with it." Basically, it was a case of making something pretty from the old hunk of wood. It was an interesting challenge, and I'd had fun with it. The piece of wood was almost eighteen feet long and four or five feet thick, twisted and gnarled, yet worn smooth as glass by the relentless movement of the ocean. I'd studied the wood for days before beginning to work, and even then it had been a process of discovery. Sometimes I started with an idea, and found a piece of wood to match the project I had in mind. Usually, though, I let the wood tell me what it wanted to be. This piece fell into the latter category. I worked a single stroke of the chisel at a time, scraping in one spot, carving in another, inch by inch, whittling away the wood slice by slice, always listening to what the grain of the wood and the twists and gnarls told me.

  It was an abstract piece, sort of. It resembled a female body, in a way, but one that was reaching for the sky, spine twisting in dance, arms tangled and fingers twined. That was what I saw in it, at least. I knew Sharon, Max's friend, would love it, and would probably pay any price I asked.

  I still had to finish the bar for the tasting room, and I had to check on the progress on the tasting room itself. But...I wasn't ready for any of that. If I went back to the winery, my brothers would want to ask me questions, talk to me. And inevitably, they'd ask about Eden, and I wasn't ready for that. I didn't have any answers. Even if I told the truth--"we're just friends"-
-they'd see the other part of the truth. That was the rough part of being thick as thieves with your brothers: they knew you inside and out, and could see past lies and omissions.

  So, to fill the time, I began a new project. I took the pile of floorboards from Eden's house and went to work. The pieces were various lengths, and some were broken from being pulled up, and others were fully intact. I fit six of the widest pieces together edge to edge, and joined them together with some iron bands I had left over from another project. Then I puzzled the other pieces together, using intact pieces as well as broken ones, splitting other pieces to get fragments to fill holes, and bound the whole together with the same iron bands. This created a vertical side-wall which I joined to the bottom piece with a wedge and short wood screws. I repeated the process several times, until I had all four walls in place, and then once more for the lid of the chest. I found a pair of hinges in a box of metal parts, black iron to match the bands around each wall and the lid. The actual construction of the seaman's chest took most of one day, and that was the easy part. I planned to artificially age the wood, which wasn't a difficult process, only tedious. First, I bleached the wood until all the original stain was gone and the wood was almost blond, and then I used a ferrous sulfate stain to create a weathered, gray appearance. The wood itself was already scratched and pitted and gouged from years of use, so I only had to exaggerate the effect in some places and then add another coat of the graying stain.

  When I was done, the chest looked like something that might have been rescued from a shipwreck. I was pleased with it, and hoped Eden would be, too. I hauled the chest from workshop to boat, and once I'd navigated over to the peninsula, I brought it to Eden's house.

  It was mid-morning when I showed up, another clear, beautiful summer day in Traverse City. The sun was just starting to peek above the tree line in the east, shedding splintered shadows and spears of light on the beach. Eden was on the beach, with her cello. She'd set a blanket on the sand, and had brought one of her second-hand kitchen chairs out to sit on. I knew she heard me arrive, but she didn't pause in her playing.

 
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