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|Strings of the Heart(Runaway Train #3) by Katie Ashley|
“With Allison?” Rhys asked.
Jake chuckled. “Yeah, why not?”
Glancing at him over my shoulder, I watched him shrug while giving me a shy smile. “Just surprised, that’s all.”
Focusing my eyes on the sheet music, I then reached out my shaky fingers to the piano keys. I began playing the melancholy chords. They echoed loudly through the practically silent auditorium. Jake came in with his part, “Say something, I'm giving up on you. I'll be the one, if you want me to…” The deep bravado of his voice echoed through my mind, momentarily making me forget about Rhys. I never tired of hearing Jake sing. As a child, it was a source of comfort to me when I was sick or hurt. But there was no comfort now—this wasn’t a wound or an ailment he could fix by singing.
Just as it came time for me to sing, I felt Rhys’s presence looming over me. He began to walk slowly around to the front of the piano. With my voice harmonizing with Jake’s, I refused to look up at Rhys even though I could feel his heated gaze singeing my cheeks. Instead, I focused on the black and white keys, noting the irony that there was nothing black and white about what had happened between us. It was the gray area that kept causing us so much grief and pain.
After singing a few more lines, I glanced up from the piano to meet Rhys’s intense gaze. I knew what line was coming, and since it meant something for me, I wanted it to mean something for him, too. As I held his stare, I sang the line directly to him because in so many ways it was the ugly truth. “You're the one that I love, and I'm saying goodbye.” And I was saying goodbye. There was no way around it—no other way to claw myself out of the suffocating pain that overwhelmed me than to say goodbye.
An expression of pure agony stretched across his face. It caused an ache in my chest so harsh that I had to look away from him. With my tears blurring the music to where I could no longer read it, I shot up off the piano bench. It clattered noisily to the floor. When I turned around, Jake stared at me in surprise. “I’m sorry. I can’t,” I whispered, before running past him into the wings.
I could hear both Jake and Rhys calling my name, but I ignored them. Instead, I just kept running until I got to the Runaway Train dressing room. After slamming myself inside, I stumbled over to the makeup table. The pain cut through me again, causing me to cry out. I doubled over at the waist. I would’ve collapsed onto the floor if I hadn’t gripped onto the sides of the table.
As I glanced up to gaze at my broken self in the mirror, I knew I had no other choice. I had to escape the torment. I had to get away from Rhys.
I was leaving.
When I had finally gotten back to the hotel, Allison had already left for the arena with Jake and Abby. I didn’t wait for the car to take me. After hailing a cab, I headed for the arena. When I got there, I searched everywhere inside for her, but I couldn’t find her. With a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the Runaway Train dressing room, I imagined she was inside with the twins.
With a defeated sigh, I made my way to the stage. I found Gabe and Eli sitting around on the stage while Jake stood at the piano. Then my stomach did a pansy little flip-flop at the sight of Allison seated at the piano bench. Trying not to let my emotions show in front of everyone, I quickly asked about when we were rehearsing. It wasn’t too surprising that rehearsal had been delayed for the twins’ naptime. But instead of having the opportunity to talk to Allison like I wanted, it was f**king frustrating that Jake had her working with him on some duet.
From the moment her fingers started floating over the black and white keys, her talent once again transfixed me. But once I realized what the song was, I felt an ache burning itself through my chest. I wasn’t too emotionally dense to realize the significance of the lyrics. If there was one song that epitomized our relationship, it was this song.
When Allison began to sing with Jake, the wildfire raged stronger in my chest. I desperately needed to see her face, so I began to slowly walk around the edges of the baby grand piano. When her face came into my line of sight, I closed my eyes in pain. Her expression read the agony she was feeling. It appeared she was trying to keep her emotions in check with every fiber of her being. Silently, I willed her to look up from the keys—to look into my eyes and see that all was not lost between us.
But when she did, it drove the knife even deeper into my chest. Staring straight at me, she sang, “You’re the one that I love, and I’m saying goodbye.”
When I started around the piano for her, the keys banged as she bolted from the bench, sending it crashing onto the stage floor. The next thing I knew she was sprinting away into the wings.
“Allison, wait!” Jake called, at the same time I shouted, “Allison!” When she continued running, he whirled around and pinned Eli with a death glare. “What the f**k have you done?” he demanded, his fists clenched at his sides.
Eli’s eyes widened as his face paled considerably. “Nothing, Jake. I swear.”
“Then why the hell did she just run out of here like that?”
Glancing from Jake to me, Eli shrugged. “I sure as hell don’t know, but I do know everything is good between us.”
With a gutted feeling, I turned and ran off stage. I started peeking in each and every one of the empty rooms. All the doors were open except two. I paused only momentarily at the Runaway Train dressing room before I flung open the door. Allison was bent over the makeup table across the room from me.