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|Melody of the Heart(Runaway Train #4) by Katie Ashley|
The squeeze of Lily’s hand brought me out of the past and back to the present. I cleared my throat. “Yes, it is true that my life would be so very different and not for the better. But I don’t mean in the sense of not having the fortune or the fame.” I turned to gaze at Lily and smiled. “I might not have Lily by my side.”
She brought my hand to her lips and kissed it. “When I was seventeen, I told you I’d follow you anywhere and everywhere. If your life had taken you somewhere else, I would have been there.”
“Thank God,” I murmured.
“So was it love at first sight for you?” Giovanni asked, leaning in expectantly.
Lily tilted her head at me before giggling. “Not exactly.”
Giovanni’s dark brows knit together. “Oh?”
I couldn’t help the smile that stretched across my face as the familiar memory played in my mind. “I owe my marriage to my lovely wife’s penchant for apple thievery.”
Lily sputtered with outrage. “I was not stealing apples. We had just moved in, and I wasn’t sure where our property ended and your grandparents’ began.”
After winking at her, I focused my gaze on Giovanni’s amused one. “The first time I ever laid eyes on Lily she was wearing a blue sundress with a satin ribbon in her hair. She could have had the face of an angel, but I wouldn’t have noticed because she had the hem of her dress flipped up to cradle the apples she was picking from my grandparents’ tree. All I could focus on were her long, tanned legs and the brief glimpse I got at what was between them.”
“Brayden Michael Vanderburg!” Lily exclaimed. Just hearing her call my full name caused warmth to enter my chest. I loved her voice, I loved her outrage, and I loved that a woman as amazing as she was actually loved me.
“I’m just answering the man’s question, sweetheart,” I replied. Leaning forward in my chair, I then began the story of the day that changed my life….
With my guitar resting on my lap, I closed my eyes and began strumming the familiar chords. The peace I often searched for through the music hummed throughout my fingers and then spread throughout my body. I focused only on the music while the rest of the world faded into the background—the heave and sigh of the porch swing, the shrieks of happy children, and the soft snores of my grandfather who slept in a rocking chair across from me. In moments like these, I was one with my instrument. It became an extension of myself—the best and purest parts.
“Speaking words of wisdom, let it be,” I sang softly. Although I had been a Beatles fan all my life, the song had come to mean more to me in the last six months. Learning to let things be was the very reason I’d taken up the guitar in the first place. And like Paul, I’d had my own hour of darkness to which music pulled me out of and sent me to the light.
My foot tapped out the rhythm on the worn floorboards of my grandparents’ front porch. Even from my place outside, I could hear the faint laughter and chatter of my father and his siblings. The noise barely lessened even when I worked the strings of my guitar harder. My cousins, ranging in age from three to eighteen, roamed about the large two-story, plantation-style house as well as the massive front yard.
Sunday dinners held a place of reverence in my family. I suppose they did in every old-school Southern family. I couldn’t remember a time in my life when we hadn’t spent every Sunday around the antique table that overflowed with home-cooked food.
My fingers hit a wrong note, and I grimaced as I remembered the one time I was absent. It had been six months ago. While a colorful array of red, orange, and yellow leaves coated the ground, I remained a prisoner in a white-walled room. Even if I had been able to leave, I doubt I would have noticed the colors. My world had faded to black the moment a doctor in a white coat had held up an X-ray and started rattling off my prognosis.
“Intense trauma to the cerebellum.”
“Irreparable damage to the C1 and C2 vertebrae due to the cervical fracture.”
“Inconceivable to play contact sports of any kind. Ever. Again.”
And while the physical pain was bad, the emotional agony that clawed its way through me had me ringing the nurse for more medicine. I’d toddled out onto the Pee Wee football field at barely three. As a freshman, I was starting on the varsity team. The next two years, I racked up more titles and broke even more records. On that crisp, October evening, I had scouts from both Georgia Tech and Auburn watching me play. Unfortunately, they had a front row seat to the demise of my football career.
I’d spent a week in the hospital, and then three months doing physical therapy to repair some of the nerve damage I’d experienced. It was in the middle of therapy that a guitar was put in front of me. Before that day, I’d never even considered playing an instrument. But the therapist thought it might be good for me. While she’d explained that it would help rewire the parts of my brain that had become scrambled, I think she really suggested it because she thought I needed an outlet. The anger, the frustration, and the grief about what had happened to me were at a boiling point. I’d started lashing out at those around me—those who just loved me and wanted to see me get better.
But what neither one of us could have imagined was how easily learning the guitar would be for me. It was like a switch had been flipped in my brain. What had once looked like a bunch of jibberish on a sheet of music suddenly made total sense to me. The neurologist gave some name for it—acquired savant syndrome. While savants were usually geniuses, I was nowhere near being a Paul McCartney or Jimmy Hendrix. And even though reading and playing music came a lot easier to me, it didn’t hurt that all the time I’d once spent practicing football or watching it on television was now focused elsewhere. Any spare time I had, I was sure to have my guitar on my lap, just like today.