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|Music of the Soul(Runaway Train #2.5) by Katie Ashley|
I ducked my head under one of the low hanging oak trees as my feet crunched along the gravel pathway. The ache in my chest grew as I made the familiar pilgrimage through the garden of multicolored stones. Cool Springs Memorial Park was the last place on earth I wanted to be today, but my heart drove me there.
Close to the duck pond and beneath a massive oak tree was my mother’s final resting place. “Hey Mama,” I murmured, as I crouched down onto my knees on the grassy earth. The only reply I received was a few tweets from the birds nestled in the tree above me. “Brought you some flowers.” Although the sun had yet to fade the bouquet of silk lilies on her headstone, I had still brought new ones. A smile crept on my lips as I went about replacing the flowers. I could almost hear her chiding me while a perfect picture of her with her hand on hip while wagging a finger at me formed in my mind. “Jacob Ethan Slater, why on earth would you bring me new flowers when the ones I’ve got are perfectly good? Didn’t I teach you a thing about managing finances?”
“There. That looks better, doesn’t it?” Cocking my head, I surmised the deep reds, oranges, and purples of the silk flower arrangement that I had just placed in the bronze vase on her marker. “Hope you like the fall flowers. Abby picked them out. Of course, if she was with me, she would know exactly how to reshape them and all, but I have no freakin’ clue.”
Although I felt like a tool doing it, I always spoke aloud to her when I came to visit her grave. It wasn’t like I thought she could hear me—it was all part of my grief counseling. After her death when I had gone into a dark place, I had balked at seeing any professional therapists. I didn’t feel right sharing my deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings with a stranger. So Abby had volunteered her mother’s services. As the wife of a minister, Laura was used to consoling people. At times, I still felt guarded talking to her. She was the one who had given me the idea to talk to Mama to get my feelings out.
Rising to my feet, I wiped my dirty hands on my jeans. “I won’t be back for a few weeks, but Papa is going to check in on you. You know, make sure your flowers are okay if it comes up a bad cloud, as he would say.” Grinning at the thought of my grandfather and his Southern euphemisms, I brushed the back of my hand over my face. “Abby and I are leaving tomorrow for Mexico—we’re getting married on some private beach there. I can’t even begin to understand what she has planned. I’m just keeping my mouth shut and going along for the ride.” Shaking my head, I smiled when I thought of how the office in my old house—now mine and Abby’s—had been transformed into wedding planning central.
Gazing down at the marker, I sighed. “I know you’d be disappointed I wasn’t getting married in a church, Mama. Trust me, Abby’s parents totally flipped out that we weren’t getting married at her dad’s church. But this island is beautiful, and it gives us privacy from the paparazzi. We’ll have the whole place to ourselves for a week—they only bring meals and do housekeeping when you call, and then they come by private boat. After the last few months of touring, I’m stoked as hell to have all that time alone with Abby.”
I knew I was rattling on now to try and steady my out-of-control emotions, but somehow in some small way, it helped. A breeze rippled my clothing, and I shifted on my feet, fighting the tears that burned my eyes. “I’d give anything in the world if you could be there, Mama—for you to be sitting there in the first row wearing a beautiful dress.” I shook my head and then wiped my eyes. I brought my fingers to my lips and kissed them. Then I reached down to touch her marker. “I love you as high as the sky,” I murmured. With the familiar ache of grief burning in my chest, I turned and started making my way back to the truck.
It was hard to believe that almost two years had passed since my mother’s death. Sometimes it seemed like forever since I had seen her smile, held her in my arms, and kissed her cheek. Then other times, her memory was so strong that it was like I expected to turn a corner in the house and see her there. Through the dark cloud of grief, I hadn’t been the easiest person to be around or to love. Those first few months I drank too much, slept too much and generally acted like an ass**le too much. But somehow Abby held on and wouldn’t let go. Having proposed to her so many months ago, I couldn’t wait to make her my wife.
But unfortunately, life had gotten in the way. Just as I was dealing with the implosion of my personal life, the band experienced an explosion of popularity. More was expected of us than ever before. Our crossover tour with Jacob’s Ladder grew bigger and bigger, and we sold out more and more shows as we crisscrossed the country. Then came the Grammys eight months ago when we really found ourselves in the celebrity stratosphere.
Each and every time Abby and I tried to set a wedding date, another concert or appearance came up. I thought I was never going to get to make my angel Mrs. Jake Slater. But fortunately, we had finally found a one week window between the last leg of our tour and the holiday season, and in less than twenty-four hours, we would be exchanging vows on our own private beach in Mexico.
Just the thought sent a goofy grin curving on my lips. As I turned onto the road I’d called home for the last fifteen years, I threw up my hand to one of my older neighbors who sat on his front porch. While he waved back, I could only imagine he was grumbling about me and how I’d caused all the traffic on the one way, gravel road. Well, it wasn’t entirely all me. Abby was to blame as well since it had been her idea to have a pre-wedding party at the farm.