“You could stay with my parents. They have a place a few towns over. Very quiet. They’ve always had horses. They wouldn’t even notice Scooter. There is an in-law apartment they don’t use. I’m sure they’d let you stay for free.”
“I don’t mind paying rent. It sounds wonderful, but if it’s that great why don’t you live there?”
Melanie tried to make light of something she was clearly uncomfortable discussing. “Could you live with your parents?”
“Okay, good point.”
“I’ll call them now. They’re only a few hours away.”
“Is that enough notice?”
“I’m sure it is. I’ll run in and call them. Give me five minutes.”
Sarah nodded. “Mel, one other thing.”
Sarah swallowed painfully. “Could you pack up my stuff and bring it down?” Just the thought of doing it herself made her stomach twist and threaten to hurl. She covered her mouth with one shaky hand. “I can’t go back in there.”
Melanie smiled sympathetically and hugged her. “Sure thing, hon.”
Sarah hugged her back and marveled that their friendship had blossomed despite its rocky start. “I’ll miss you, Mel.”
“You’re only going a few hours away, not dying. Jace and I will come visit you. With you there, my family may actually behave long enough for me to survive a visit.”
After Melanie had gone back into the house, Sarah knew she couldn’t put the unpleasant off any longer. The limo driver opened the back passenger door for her as she approached and she slid into the air-conditioned domain of her brother.
Charlie pocketed his cell phone and said, “I can’t wait to get back to civilization. My cell phone works everywhere, but not here. Leave your vehicle for now. As soon as we’re on the highway I’ll send a driver for it. I have a private plane waiting in an airfield just outside Dallas. You’ll be home by tonight.”
It was obvious that Charlie still considered Scooter no different than a vehicle. Just another item to be shipped up North and another part of her life that he didn’t understand.
Bracing herself with a hand on either side of her, Sarah said, “I’m not going back to Rhode Island. Not today. Maybe not ever.”
Charlie gave her an impatient look. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course you are.”
“No, Charlie, I’m not. I came to Texas because I wanted to find out what was holding me back from writing—from being who I felt I should be.” He didn’t understand, but this time Sarah needed him to. “You know what I discovered? I was all locked up inside myself. We never really talked about what happened with Phil because that’s the deal we made that summer—we’d close off that chapter of our lives and pretend it never happened. But you know what living a lie does to you? It kills you slowly, Charlie. It’s not healthy.”
Charlie’s face hardened at the mention of the brother they’d lost. “What’s not healthy is thinking that embarrassing yourself down here with some has-been celebrity is going to do anything more than hurt Mom and Dad. Grow up, Sarah.”
Slapping the leather beside her, Sarah said, “No, you grow up, Charlie. Grow up and face that something awful happened to our family and none of us got over it. You’re not here to save me. Admit to yourself that the only reason you want me back in Rhode Island is so you don’t have to be. I’m done pretending I never had a little brother. I don’t care if it upsets Mom and Dad, I’m going to ask them to send me pictures of him—pictures of all of us together. I want to remember him. I’m going to remember him. And if you can’t handle that, go back to New York and hide.” When Charlie remained stone-faced, Sarah asked, “Do you blame me, Charlie? Is that why you can’t discuss it?”
A visible shudder betrayed how much her words touched him. His jaw was white with tension. “God, no. I never blamed you.” He didn’t say more and Sarah’s heart broke for him.
“It was an accident, Charlie.”
In a voice full of self-hate, Charlie said, “Mom and Dad asked me to watch both of you while they were cooking. I should have stayed with you, but I wanted to ask them something. I don’t even remember what was so goddamn important.”
“We were kids.”
“Maybe you can tell yourself that, but I was twelve—old enough to know better.”
Suddenly Sarah understood what had torn her family apart. She closed her eyes for a moment to gather her strength, opened them, and said, “I’ve told myself it was my fault every day since he died. Every single day. Guess what? It was my fault. And it was yours. And it was Mom and Dad’s. We can keep blaming ourselves and each other, but none of that is going to bring him back. None of it will make us back into the family we might have been.”
Charlie shook his head, refusing to hear what she was saying. Sarah thought about Tony and the pain he refused to let go of. In the saddest of ways, Tony and her brother had more in common than either would likely ever know. Maybe it was time to admit that both were beyond her reach. “I thought I could heal Tony, but I couldn’t. If you want to torture yourself for the rest of your life, I can’t stop you. But I’m not going to live like that anymore. I’m going to find a place where I can be happy. Good-bye, Charlie.”
Sarah opened the limo door before he could say anything and closed it behind her, raising her face to the cleansing brightness of the sun. She looked around and saw Tony standing in the barn doorway with Scooter. Melanie and Travis were putting her luggage in the back of her SUV. Melanie waved the notebook in the air, making sure Sarah knew it had made it to the vehicle, and gave her a thumbs-up regarding her parents. Sarah groaned. Only she and Tony knew the subject of her novel, and now she had to face him again to get her horse.
Tony walked Scooter to the trailer. Sarah took the lead line from him and stopped just before him, looking up into his eyes. She wanted to hate him. She wanted to storm away with some sophisticated cutting remark that would make him feel as badly as she did.
And she wanted to hug him and tell him that she understood.
Instead, she said softly, “Do you know how little it would take to make me stay? I love you.”
His face filled with a mixture of sadness and farewell. “I know.”
“I don’t regret any of it, Tony. Not one moment of it.”
His eyes glistened, then he turned and walked away, leaving her to numbly take directions from Melanie while one of the ranch hands finished loading Scooter. Sarah stopped at the turn in the driveway, waiting one last time, hoping to see Tony appear in her rear-view mirror.