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Chapter no 29 – Kenna

Reminders of Him

I’m leaning my head against the passenger window of his truck, watching him stride up to the snow cone stand with his tattoos and his sex appeal to order two rainbow snow cones. Why does he have to do nice things that make him so attractive?

I came here once with Scotty, but Scotty didn’t look out of place ordering snow cones. We sat at a picnic table that used to be to the left of the snow cone stand, but it’s a parking lot now, and the picnic table is nowhere to be seen. All the seating areas have been replaced by plastic tables with pink umbrellas.

I only texted Ledger and asked for a ride because of Amy.

She found me in the bathroom about to have a panic attack and asked what was wrong. I couldn’t bear to tell her someone had filed a restraining order against me. Instead, I just told her the truth. That I sometimes have panic attacks, but that it would pass, and I was sorry, and then I pathetically begged her not to fire me.

She looked so sad for me, but she also laughed. “Why would I fire you? You’re the only worker I have who actually wants to work double shifts. So you had a panic attack, big deal.” She talked me into finding a ride home because she didn’t trust me to have to walk all that way. I didn’t want to tell her Ledger is the only person I know in town, so I texted him, more to reassure her that I wouldn’t be alone. It felt good to be worried about by someone.

There’s a lot I know I need to be grateful for, and Amy is one of those things. It’s just really hard to be grateful when there’s only one thing I want in my life, and I feel like I’m just getting further and further from that.

Ledger returns to the truck with our snow cones. There are sprinkles on mine, and I know that’s a small thing, but I make note of it. Maybe if I acknowledge all the good things, no matter how small, they’ll add up to make the bad thing in my life less painful.

“Do you ever bring Diem here?” I ask him.

He uses his spoon to point down the street. “The dance studio is about a block that way,” he says. “I drop her off and Grace picks her up. She’s hard to say no to, so I’m a regular here.” He sticks his spoon in his mouth and then opens his wallet and pulls out a business card. There are tiny little snow cones hole-punched around it. “Close to getting a free one,” he says, tucking it back in his wallet.

It makes me laugh. “Impressive.” I wish I would have gone up to order with him just so I could see him hand in his snow cone punch card.

“Banana and lemonade.” He looks over at me after taking a bite. “That’s her favorite combination.”

I smile. “Is yellow her favorite color?” He nods.

I stick my spoon into the yellow part of my snow cone and dig out a bite. These little tidbits he gives me are something else I’m appreciative of. They’re tiny parts of the whole, and maybe if he gives me enough of them, it won’t hurt as bad when I have to leave.

I try to think about something to talk about that isn’t Diem. “What does the house you’re building look like?”

Ledger picks up his phone and checks the time, and then puts his truck in reverse. “I’ll take you to see it. Razi and Roman can cover us for a while.”

I take another bite and don’t say anything, but I don’t think he realizes what his willingness to show me his new house means to me.

The Landrys might have filed a restraining order against me, but at least Ledger trusts me.

I have that to cling to, and I cling to it hard.

 

 

Once we’re at least fifteen miles outside of town, we turn into an area with a big wooden entryway that says Cheshire Ridge, and then we begin to make our way up a winding road. The trees cover the road like they’re hugging it. The sides of the road are dotted with mailboxes every quarter to half a mile.

None of the houses can be seen from the road. The mailboxes are the only clues that people even live out here, because the trees are so dense. It’s peaceful and secluded. I can see why he chose this area.

We come to a piece of property that’s so thick with trees you can’t even see most of the driveway from the road. There’s a stake in the ground where I assume the mailbox will eventually go. There are columns that look like they’ll end up being a privacy gate someday.

“Do you have close neighbors out here?”

He shakes his head. “Not for a half mile, at least. The property is on a ten-acre tract.”

We pull onto the property, and eventually, a house begins to take shape through the trees. It isn’t what I expected. This house isn’t your average large manor-style home with a peaked roof. It’s spread out and flat and unique, built of some kind of material I don’t recognize.

I didn’t peg Ledger to want something so modern and unusual. I don’t know why I pictured a log cabin or something more traditional. Maybe because he mentioned he and Roman were building it, and I just expected it to be a little less . . . complicated.

We get out of the truck, and I try to imagine Diem out here, running around this yard, playing on the patio, roasting marshmallows in the firepit out on the back deck.

Ledger shows me around, but I can’t grasp this type of lifestyle, not even for my daughter. The countertops in the outdoor kitchen that overlook the backyard are probably worth more than everything I’ve ever owned in my entire life added up.

There are three bedrooms, but the main bedroom is the highlight for me, with a ridiculous closet almost as big as the bedroom itself.

I admire the house and listen to him talk excitedly about everything he and Roman have done by hand, and while it is impressive, it’s also depressing.

This is a house my daughter will spend time in, which means it’s likely a house I’ll never return to again. As much as I enjoy watching him show off his space, I also don’t want to see it now that I’m here.

And to be honest, it kind of makes me sad to know that he won’t be living across from Diem. I’m starting to really like him as a person, and knowing he’s a constant in her life is comforting. But he won’t be across the street from her when he moves out here, and it makes me wonder if that’s going to make her sad.

The back door to the huge patio overlooking rolling hills opens up like an accordion. He pushes it to one side, and I walk out onto the back deck. The sun is about to set, and it’s probably one of the best views of the sunset in this entire town. It lights up the tops of the trees below us and makes them look like they’re on fire.

There isn’t any patio furniture yet, so I sit down on the steps and Ledger takes a seat next to me. I haven’t said much, but he doesn’t need the compliments. He knows how beautiful this place is. I can’t imagine what it’s costing him to build.

“Are you rich?” It just comes out. I rub my face after I ask it and say, “Sorry. That was rude.”

He laughs and rests his elbows on his knees. “It’s okay. The house is cheaper than it looks. Roman and I have done most of the work by hand over the last couple of years, but I made good investments with the money I got from my football contract. It’s mostly gone now, but I got a business out of it, and now a home. Can’t complain.”

I’m happy for him. At least life works out for some people.

We all have our failures, though, I suppose. I’m curious what Ledger’s failures are. “Wait,” I say, remembering at least one thing that didn’t quite work out for him. “Weren’t you supposed to get married this weekend?”

Ledger nods. “Two hours ago, actually.” “Are you sad about it?”

“Of course,” he says. “I don’t regret the decision, but I am sad it didn’t work out. I love her.”

He said love, as in present tense. I wait for him to correct himself, but he doesn’t, and then I realize that wasn’t a mistake. He loves her still. I guess realizing your life isn’t compatible with someone else’s doesn’t erase the feelings that are there.

There’s a tiny flame of jealousy suddenly flickering in my chest. “How did you propose to her?”

“Do we really have to talk about this?” He’s laughing, like the subject is more awkward than sad.

“Yes. I’m nosy.”

He exhales and then says, “I asked her dad for permission first. And then I bought her the ring she’d been not so subtle about wanting. I took her to dinner on our second anniversary and had this big proposal planned in the park down the street from the restaurant. Her friends and family were there waiting, and then I got down on one knee and proposed. It was your typical Instagram-worthy engagement.”

“Did you cry?”

“No. I was too nervous.” “Did she?”

He cocks his head like he’s trying to think back. “I don’t think so. Maybe a tear or two? It was dark, which I didn’t take into consideration, so the footage of the proposal came out kind of shitty. She complained about that the next day. That she wouldn’t have good video and I should have proposed before the sun set.”

“She sounds fun.”

Ledger smiles. “Honestly, you’d probably like her. I keep saying things that make her sound bad, but we had a lot of fun together. When we were together, I didn’t think about Scotty as much. Things felt light with her because of that.”

I look away when he says that. “Do I only remind you of him?”

Ledger says nothing in response to my question. He doesn’t want to hurt my feelings, so he just chooses not to answer, but his silence makes me feel like I want to flee. I start to stand up because I’m ready to leave, but as soon as I begin to stand, he grabs my wrist and gently pulls me back down.

“Sit. Let’s stay until the sun sets.”

I sit back down, and it takes about ten minutes for the sun to sink down into the trees. Neither of us talks. We just watch the rays disappear, and the tips of the trees return to their natural, fireless colors. It’s dusk now, and without electricity, the house behind us is quickly growing dark.

Ledger has a contemplative look about him when he says, “I feel guilty.”

Welcome to my constant state. “Why?”

“For building this house. I feel like Scotty would be disappointed in me. Diem gets so sad every time we bring up the fact that I’m putting my other house up for sale.”

“Why did you build this house, then?”

“It’s been my dream for a long time now. I bought the land and started drafting the design back when Diem was just a baby. Before I knew how much I would love her.” He cuts his eyes to mine. “Don’t get me wrong, I loved her then, but it was different. She started to walk and talk, and develop her unique personality, and we became inseparable. And over time, this place started to feel less like my future home and more like . . .” He tries to come up with the word, but he can’t.

“A prison?”

Ledger looks at me like I’m the first person to understand him. “Yes. Exactly. I feel like I’m locked into it now, but the idea of not seeing Diem every day is really starting to weigh on me. It’ll change our relationship. With my schedule, I’ll probably see her once a week if I’m lucky. I think that’s why I’ve been taking my time building it. I don’t know that I’m really looking forward to moving out here.”

“Then sell it.”

He laughs, like that’s an absurd idea.

“I’m serious. I’d much rather you live across the street from my daughter than clear across town. I know I can’t be in her life like I wish I could, but there’s some comfort in knowing you are.”

Ledger stares at me for a long beat after I say that. Then he stands up and reaches out for my hand. “We should get to work.”

“Yeah. Don’t want to piss off the boss.” I grab his hand and stand up, and when I do, I’m suddenly way too close to him. He doesn’t back away or let go of my hand, and now he’s looking at me from just a few inches away with an intensity I feel slide down my spine.

Ledger threads his fingers through mine, and when our palms touch, the feeling that surges through me makes me wince. Ledger feels it, too; I can see it in the way his eyes fill with torment.

Funny how something that should feel so good can feel so painful when the circumstances aren’t right. And our circumstances are definitely

not right. But I squeeze his hand anyway, letting him know I’m feeling exactly what he’s feeling, and I’m just as torn as he is.

Ledger drops his forehead to mine, and we both close our eyes and just silently breathe through whatever this moment is. I can feel everything he’s not saying. I can even somehow feel the kiss he’s not even giving me. But if we slip back into the moment we shared last night, it would rip that wound open even wider, until that’s all I am.

He knows just as much as I do that this isn’t a good idea.

“What are you gonna do, Ledger? Hide me in your closet until she’s eighteen?”

He looks down at our hands still linked together and shrugs. “It’s a huge closet.”

There’s only a beat of silence before it’s sliced in two by my laughter.

He grins and then leads the way through his dark house and back to his truck.

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