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A Beautiful Funeral (The Maddox Brothers #5)(8)
Author: Jamie McGuire

The mayor made sure I spent all weekend in a cell. Tyler and the guys tried to bail me out several times without success. Falyn wouldn’t answer my phone calls, and by the time I’d finally gotten home, she had packed up the kids and left.

I gripped the steering wheel. It whined under the pressure of my fingers, bringing me back to the present. The dread and utter fucking despair I felt coming home to an empty house were still fresh. The panic I felt after our first phone call, upon recognizing I couldn’t beg, demand, or guilt her into coming home resurfaced. Love was fucking terrifying, laying your heart out in the open for someone else to protect or trample. My happiness depended on Falyn’s forgiveness, and I still didn’t know if she was willing.

My phone rang, and I pressed the button on my steering wheel. The display already told me who it was, but I was caught off guard, worried she would tell me she’d changed her mind. “Falyn?”

“Dad?” Hadley said.

“Hi, pumpkin! How was the last day of school?”

“It sucked.”

“Again?”

“I got in trouble.” She sounded disappointed in herself, and I imagined hot tears running over her chubby cheeks. She would start middle school next year, and I knew she was going to sprout up three or four inches at any moment. She was already taller than Hollis was, but he would overtake her in high school. I wasn’t happy that she was growing up so fast, but at least she would be back in Estes with her friends.

She sniffed. “Hollis got into a fight today.”

“Don’t worry, Hadley. It’s going to get better. I promise, okay? Very, very soon. Daddy’s going to make sure of that.”

“How?”

“You’ll see. Put Mom on the phone.”

“Hello?” Falyn said. I was sure the conversation with the school about both kids hadn’t been easy.

“I’ll be there in less than an hour,” I said.

“Really?” she said, already sounding perkier.

I smiled. “Yes, really. I told you I’d be there, didn’t I?”

“Yes, but … I saw on the news about the fire. I assumed you’d be there.”

I thought about telling her there would be no more fires but decided it wasn’t the right time. “I was. I left.”

“Before it was controlled?”

“Close enough.” I could practically hear Falyn smiling, and warmth ran through my body. I’d won big points for putting her first, even though I thought I always had by working hard and making a good living. She’d clearly needed me to prove it.

“I … thank you, Taylor. That really … means a lot.”

I frowned, wondering why she was trying so hard not to love me. The things she’d said while I was being arrested cut me so deep I wasn’t sure I could recover, when just her leaving was agony enough. She could have tied me to the bed and lit the house on fire, and I would have loved her still. I didn’t understand the point of pretending, but maybe she wasn’t. Maybe she didn’t love me anymore. I cleared the emotion from my voice before I spoke. “Are you packing yet?”

“What I can without the kids noticing. I didn’t want to give away the surprise before you got here.”

“Good. I’ll be there soon, ba—Falyn,” I said, correcting myself.

“See you then,” she said. No emotion in her voice, no disdain or sentiment. Nothing.

I wasn’t sure what I would do if we couldn’t work things out. She was it for me. Falyn had been my life since we were practically kids. She was the only life I wanted. When she left, I was miserable, but there was still hope. That hope motivated me. The dashboard lights switched on just after the last bit of daylight slipped behind the mountains. A sign on my right read Welcome to Colorado Springs, and I shifted nervously in my seat. I still held on to the hope that this weekend was going to be our point of turnaround instead of the point of no return.

CHAPTER FOUR

TRENTON

I WAITED OUTSIDE THE DOOR, listening to Camille trying not to cry. Every month was an endless cycle of hope and devastation, and almost eight years into our marriage, she was getting desperate.

The lights were dim. She liked it dark when her soul felt black, so I’d pulled the curtains when the three minutes was up, and she didn’t say anything. Now, nothing was left to do but wait, listen, and hold her.

We lived in a small two-bedroom, just six blocks from Dad and Olive. The bedroom, like the rest of the house, was bright and minimally decorated with interesting art or my drawings. We’d repainted and laid new carpet, but the house was older than we were. Even though at the time of purchase it was a steal, the fixer-upper had turned into a money pit. The central heat and air and much of the plumbing system were new. At one point, we had to peel back the new—but wet—carpet to jackhammer the foundation to get to the pipes and replace them. The last ten years had been a long haul, but now we lived in a like-new home, even if we did have to deplete our savings four times to do it. We were in a good place, finally, and neither of us knew what to do with it but move to the next step. Infertility wasn’t something we could fix, and that made Camille feel broken.

“Baby,” I said, tapping on the door with my knuckles. “Let me come in.”

“Just … just give me a second,” she said, sniffing.

I leaned my forehead against the door. “You can’t keep doing this to yourself. I think maybe it’s …”

“I’m not giving up!” she snapped.

“No. Maybe try a different avenue.”

“We can’t afford a different avenue,” she said. Her voice was even quieter than it had been. She didn’t want to make me feel worse than I already did.

“I’ll figure something out.”

After a few moments of silence, the door clicked, and Camille opened the door. Her red-rimmed eyes were glossed over, and red blotches dotted her face. She was never more beautiful, and all I wanted to do was hold her, but she wouldn’t let me. She would pretend her heart wasn’t broken to keep me from hurting as she always did—no matter how many times I’d told her it was okay to cry.

I touched her cheek, but she pulled away, her painted smile fading just long enough to kiss my palm. “I know you will. I just needed to grieve.”

“You can grieve out here, baby doll.”

She shook her head. “No, I can’t. I needed to take a moment for myself.”

“Because otherwise, you’re worried about me,” I scolded.

She shrugged, her feigned smile turning into a real one. “I’ve tried to change. I can’t.”

I brought her into my chest, holding her tight. “I wouldn’t want you to. I love my wife just the way she is.”

“Camille?” Olive said, holding one side of the of the doorjamb. Her waist-length, platinum blond hair cascaded in waves from her center part down each side of her face, making her sadness seem to weigh her down even more. Her round, green eyes glistened, feeling every disappointment, every setback as deeply as we did because she was family, too. By chance and by blood, whether she knew it or not.

As I watched her lean the delicate features of her oval face against the wooden trim, I remembered being blown away by the truth: Olive, my neighbor and little buddy since she could walk, was adopted, and somehow, her biological mother had fallen in love with my older brother Taylor almost a thousand miles away in Colorado Springs. By chance, I’d helped raise my niece—involved in her life even more than my brother or sister-in-law.

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