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Snow Forest Road


The Caretaker (Infidelity #3)
Chapter 1 

“Haley Cove Tavern.” I read the sign above the stone facade multiple times but it meant nothing to me. I waited for a memory to come barreling through my brain, because between the receipt in my pocket and the way my body hummed with anxious energy, this place—this quaint town—should mean something to me. But…nothing. 

“Fuck!” I bashed the heels of my palms against the steering wheel repeatedly before gripping and jerking it in an attempt to rip it from the dashboard. To provide some semblance of control, even if it was only an illusion; even if the only thing I could control was the destruction of something. 


My phone chirped with an incoming text, snapping me out of my daily rage ritual. Rage. I was consumed with it. 


Heaving out a breath, I continued to stare beyond the manic swishing of the windshield wipers doing little to combat the heavy snowfall. I drowned out the sound of the whirring engine, of the heat blasting through the air vents, of the oxygen pumping at a fast clip in and out of my lungs. It all faded away as I concentrated on remembering—to no avail. 

The phone rang this time, and I screamed until my voice gave out, until a couple stumbling arm-in-arm to their Uber were startled out of their drunken stupors. I hadn’t realized I’d begun thrashing in my seat, or that the truck now rocked with my movements. This had been my last hope, and it was slipping away from me.


I yanked my hat off, my shaggy hair falling to my shoulders as I dragged aching hands down my overgrown beard. I was a wreck, and I didn’t care. I’d lost my wife, the only person who my love still burned bright for, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get my life back on track. I was beginning to not care, beginning to entertain no longer being here, no longer existing, and that scared me the most.  


Sometimes I wished I didn’t remember Stacey so vividly, if only so I could have a moment of peace from the pain of missing her. Not even in my sleep did I get a break. Her love haunted me there too. In some ways I was grateful for the unending dream. It conjured up this overwhelming feeling of love that saw me gasping awake in a cold sweat, and helped to keep that love front and center during the long months of rehabilitation and grief. 


The scene never changed. She and I passionately entangled, our bodies writhing on top of an unkempt bed, the love making untamed, almost violent, sweat licking down her spine as I wrapped her long hair around my fist. 


I could never quite make out her face, but the wild emotion that filled my heart and soul during those sleeping hours made one thing pretty clear: I would forever love my wife, with all of me. So I clung to that one dream with every useless scrap of my life.  


Another chirp, and I knew without looking that it was Leland doing his weekly check-in. If I didn’t reply, he’d keep trying to reach me. He used to be my best friend. Insisted he still was. Claimed we’d reconnected after having grown apart nearly a decade prior when I left Seattle for New York. The reconnecting years were gone for me, though. Lost amongst the two most recent years of memories that the accident had wiped away from me. Our history was incomplete on my end, which left me less enthusiastic about him than he was about me since the accident. 


Not even Stacey had escaped what I couldn’t recall from that time period. Those years were completely gone. Not a hint of them remained. 

I desperately wanted that time back, wanted every moment I’d spent loving her during those years back. It was what brought me to Haley Cove, and I refused to believe I’d driven hours to the tip of New York state for nothing. 


Cutting the heat off, I pressed my sweaty forehead to the steering wheel and focused on my breathing, like my therapist said I should whenever I sensed a panic attack on the horizon. It was the only good tip she’d given me before I fired her. None of them knew how to help me. Not her, and not the others before her.


Only once I’d calmed, could I check my text messages. 


Leland: Are you okay?
Leland: Hello?
Leland: Dammit, Noon. Just let me know you’re okay. 

Me: I’m fine. Stop treating me like a fucking child. 

I hit send, and his response came in immediately, as if he’d been watching the screen for my reply. 


Leland: I’m sorry. Just worried about you.


He cared, and that triggered my guilt, because all I seemed to do was make him pay for giving a damn about me. Sometimes my guilt weighed just as much as my grief. In moments like this it overshadowed it. I didn’t know whether to be thankful for the reprieve or to be upset by the momentary distraction from my sorrow. 


Leland stubbornly refused to give up on me, though, no matter how much I pushed him away. There were enough photos taken of us together to prove he wasn’t lying about any of it, but the truth didn’t matter if I couldn’t feel it, if I couldn’t see it in my mind’s eye. The man standing beside him in those photos wasn’t me. Not the version of me I’d been living for the past nine months, if what I’d been doing could even be called living. 


Tucking my phone into my pocket and grabbing my satchel, I exited the truck and headed inside the tavern. 

The interior of the building was reminiscent of an earlier time, much like what I’d gleaned so far from the town. I had my pick of seats at the bar—business looked slow tonight—but opted for one of the creaky leather and wood booths near the back instead. 


Pulling my camera from my bag, I snapped a few photos of the place to look over later on if nothing jogged my memory now. 


“What can I get for you?” a bubbly waitress asked, withdrawing a notepad and pen from the apron tied at her waist. Her name tag read Liz. 


“I’ll take whatever you have on tap,” I said, lowering my camera to the table. 


“Anything to eat?” 


I quickly scanned the menu slotted between the condiments and napkin holder. “Burger and fries. Medium well,” I answered, waiting for her to scribble it down. “Can I ask you how long you've worked here?” 


“It’s been two years today,” she said with pride.


“Have you seen me in here before? Would’ve been nine months ago to be exact. Actually, hang on a sec.” I pulled the folder I’d brought with me from my satchel, flipping past Stacey’s photos and withdrawing one of me. “This is how I look on a good day.” I hadn’t had a good day in a while. “Do you recognize this man?” I surely didn’t. That man had a fresh shave and wore a smile that said he was ready to take on the world. 


She gave me an odd look, probably not getting why it mattered whether or not she’d seen me in there before or why I couldn’t confirm that information for myself. 


“I was in a car accident. I’m having trouble recalling things that happened in the past, but I recently came across this receipt in some of my things that were salvaged from the crash.” I fished the battered piece of paper from my pocket and held it out to her. “It proves that I was here the night before the accident, but I don’t remember ever stepping foot in this town.” 


“I’ve never seen you before,” she said, studying both the photo and the receipt, “but we’re the closest restaurant off the highway and tend to get a lot of foot traffic in here because of it. Especially on weekends. Kind of makes it hard to remember faces.” 


“Thanks,” I said, slumping in my seat. 


“Maybe Trisha remembers,” she said, pity in her eyes. She called Trisha over, but she’d barely glanced at the image before confirming that she’d never seen me before either. 


I showed them both a photo of Stacey, feeling desperate now. “Do you recognize this woman? She wouldn’t have been here with me that day, but perhaps we visited Haley Cove together some other time.”  

Liz’s brows furrowed in concentration. Trisha didn’t even try to hide her boredom. I withdrew another photo. This one was a close-up of her. 


“Here’s a better one,” I said, but Liz shook her head. Trisha shrugged.  


“Maybe she came in before I started working here,” Trisha drawled, grinding away at her bubble gum.  


“Maybe,” I replied, feeling drained of energy, of hope, of everything. “Thanks anyway.” 


“Yeah, sure,” she said flatly, leaving me alone with Liz. 


“I’ll get your order in,” Liz said, tapping her pen against the pad of paper before sauntering off. 


Frustrated, I shoved the photos and the receipt into my bag, then closed my eyes and focused on my breathing again. Once centered, I picked up the camera, preparing to take a few more pictures but deciding to review what I’d taken of the tavern so far first. I meticulously went through each shot, zooming in on the woodwork along the bar top, and the exit sign above the back door. I didn’t take anything for granted. Studies showed that the most innocuous things could trigger an amnesiac’s memory. Maybe I tripped and fell under the restroom sign when I was here last. Maybe I banged my knee under the bar top. I was willing to do anything to regain what I’d lost. 


I scrolled to the last photo I’d taken and nearly fumbled the camera. My pulse quickened in unison with my spine straightening. I swung my head up to find the booth on the other side of the tavern now empty. I scanned the place frantically, but the man who’d been sitting there was gone, only an empty wine glass and cash for the bill remained. 


My breaths came in harsh, shallow puffs as I re-examined the photo with building hysteria. A blinding pain shot through my skull as I fought to latch on to…to something. I scooted out of the booth, turning in place, eyes flickering everywhere in desperate search of him. 


I rushed for the entrance, almost knocking a server down in the process. “Sorry,” I said absently, ignoring the cautious stares everyone now aimed at me. 


“Sir?” my waitress called. I vaguely registered her holding my drink as I tore through the door, coatless, the air billowing from my parted lips forming tiny clouds. I barely felt the blustering wind cutting through my shirt, nor the icy snow pelting my face and neck as I scanned the parking lot. 


He couldn’t have driven off that fast. How many cars were here when I arrived? I didn’t know, hadn’t thought to count. Why hadn’t I counted? I counted now, but the total of four cars, three vans, and my truck meant nothing to me when I didn’t know how many there were to begin with. How many were here? I spun in place, gripping the sides of my pounding head. How many? How many!?


Sprinting back inside, I grabbed Trisha by the elbow as she passed. “Th-the guy who was sitting over there. D-did you see him leave?” I stammered, too far gone to care about the flash of fear in her eyes. 


The restrooms. I hadn’t checked the restrooms. I released her before she could answer, hurrying to the rear of the tavern where the flashing restroom sign taunted me. Turning the corner, I collided with the man from the photo, and my headache escalated to a teeth-grinding migraine. 


Cornflower-blue eyes that were already too wide for his smooth, angular face, widened further. They glistened, like maybe he’d been crying, and suddenly my problems became secondary to his. 


“Are you alright?” I asked, forcing my panting breaths to slow while looking him over for signs of injury. He no longer wore his hair in a topknot, like he had in the picture. It now flowed down his back and shoulders, as if he’d yanked the blond tendrils free of their restraints. 


“No. I’m not.” His voice was gentle and a tad breathless. 


“No. I’m not.”


Those three words set off an alarm in me, and my blood rocketed through my veins as I tried to make sense of it. He slid his hands from mine. I hadn’t realized I’d been holding them. Shit. I had to get myself under control. 


He stood there waiting as I did, his own control seeming to hang in the balance while he continued to stare at me. He appeared more stable than I did. He was a deer caught in headlights, frozen by the moment, while my mind flailed with my confusion. 


“Have we…have we met before?” I asked, once I was able to speak. I tracked his every twitch, his lazy blinks, the rosy color rising in his cheeks. I followed the motion of his tongue swiping across his wine-stained lips. He was androgynous, beautiful, meek in a way that somehow complimented him, and the screeching in my brain grew louder.


“No,” he whispered, almost as if it pained him too. “I’d remember someone like you.”  


My shoulders sagged. Maybe the familiarity I’d felt came from his pain, which shot from those watery eyes to connect with mine. He was hurting, possibly even as much as I was, and perhaps that was what I’d recognized in the photo. 


His gaze swept all the way to my feet before rising again, and I became painfully aware of my disheveled state. At nearly seven feet tall and broader than most men, the wild hair and beard only made me more intimidating, gruesome even. And while he was taller than the average male height, I still loomed over him and was at least twice his size. I’d unintentionally cornered him, so I backed up a bit, fighting to form a smile I didn’t feel to put him at ease. 


“I’m sorry,” I said. “You just seem familiar to me.” 


He tucked his hair behind his ears, pulling himself together. “Familiar?” His delicate but husky tone was inquisitive. “How so?” 


“I don’t know,” I admitted, roughly combing my fingers through my hair until my hands intertwined at my nape. “None of this makes sense,” I said under my breath. 


“What doesn’t?” he asked, his irises swimming within an ocean. I wondered if those were actual tears or if he always looked like he was on the verge of them. I wanted to hold him, to assure him that everything would be okay, and the strange urge to do so baffled me. 


“This place, life, you,” I replied sharply, my agitation directed inward. 


“What about it doesn’t make sense?” He genuinely seemed to care about my answer. He’d taken a few cautious steps forward, eliminating the space I’d given him. 


“Nothing.” I shook my head to clear it. “It’s not your problem. Again, I’m sorry for barreling down on you.” 

We were supposed to go our separate ways now, but neither of us moved, and when I tried to move my feet they wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. It appeared as though he was struggling to do the same, and for the first time since waking up in a hospital bed to the news that I’d lost my wife, I felt something other than sorrow and fury. 


I felt seen and understood, like whatever pained me pained him, but that couldn’t be. Unless what we were feeling wasn’t as complicated as I was making it out to be. He didn’t need to have lost years of his life to a brain injury. He didn’t need to have lost the love of his life either. Maybe what connected us was something universal, an emotion brought on by any number of life’s various atrocities. Despair.


“Are you alone?” I asked. I knew the answer. I’d seen from the picture, and the solitary drink on his table, that he’d been here by himself. What I really wanted to know was if he was alone in general, alone in this world, or if there was someone he could turn to once he left here. According to his own words and the crushing look on his face, he wasn’t okay, and I wanted him to be. 


“Yes,” he said, almost gut wrenchingly so. “I’m alone.” 


“Me too.” Amnesia was lonely and isolating, especially when surrounded by people eager for you to remember. The pressure made it worse. But this beautiful stranger didn’t know me, didn’t have anything to gain from me remembering, and I felt a need to hang on to that for a while longer.   


“Are you a local?” I asked. 


“Ah, yeah, you can say that.” 


“I was involved in an accident that left me unable to recall some important details of my life,” I said, keeping it simple. “I was here before. In this town, this tavern. Nine months ago, to be exact. It’s likely that I was here for more than just one night. I know you said you don’t recognize me, but I would have looked different then. Would you mind stopping by my table and looking at a few photos? It’s right over there.” I pointed out my booth just as my waitress dropped off my food. My drink had likely gone warm by now.  


“And what if I still don’t recognize you? Or better yet, what if I do? What happens then?” he asked, his expression concerned. 


“I…don’t know.” I’d assumed I would show up and my memories would magically return. They hadn’t, and so what good would someone recognizing me do? Where would I go from there? 


“I know I was here, and not only because I have the receipt to prove it. I can feel it. I guess if someone recognizes me it might spark a memory for them of a conversation we might have had, things I might have said. Things that could help me remember or lead me to my next destination out here. It’s a long shot, but it’s the only shot I’ve got right now. This town matters to me, and I need to know why. Why was I here the night before losing the best thing that’s ever happened to me?” I’d asked that more to myself, and I felt the odd need to apologize for it when he braced a hand on the wall next to him. Had he lost someone too? 


“Okay.” He swallowed. “I’ll see what I can do.” 


“Thank you,” I replied before leading the way. 


I pushed my food and beer aside, reaching into my satchel again. “How long have you lived in Haley Cove?” I asked as he settled in across from me. Living in Haley Cove didn’t mean he’d have been in this tavern on the day I visited. I’d honestly have better luck badgering the rest of the staff. But maybe he’d seen me somewhere else in town. I doubted I’d come all this way just to eat. 


“Permanently? Almost a year. I used to live in New Jersey. Willowbrook to be exact.” 


“Willowbrook,” I repeated, hand stalling on the folder.


“Have you been there before?” he asked, tone careful. 


“No, I don’t think so,” I said, unsure of why the town name caught my attention in the first place. I lined the pictures up in front of him. He took his time looking at mine, which I appreciated. It showed he was taking this seriously, and not brushing me off like Trisha had. 

My optimism flared when his fingers traced my smile, like maybe it had triggered a memory for him. He barely glanced at Stacey’s photo before shoving both back in my direction. 


“Sorry, I’ve never seen either of you.” 


“Are you sure?” I implored. 


“I’m positive. Who is she?”  


“My wife,” I said, exhaustion taking its toll on me as I closed the folder. “She didn’t survive the accident.” I gripped the two wedding bands and the diamond engagement ring dangling from the gold chain I wore. My band was a replica. The original was absent from my finger when I woke up in the hospital. Likely removed before I’d been rushed into surgery. No one could account for it. They’d had to sedate me after I’d noticed it was missing. Stacey’s rings were sitting on her bedside table when I got home. She hated sleeping in jewelry and had probably forgotten to put them back on before leaving. It wouldn’t have been the first time.


I let go of the rings that hung close to my heart and glanced up to find him staring at them, a broken expression overtaking his face. Did he lose his wife? Or husband? He didn’t wear a ring on his hand, so maybe a lover? 


“Sorry for your loss.”  


It was a sentiment I’d heard one too many times, but I didn’t hate it when he said it. Our gazes locked and held, and a senseless sort of longing filled me. I attributed it to Stacey, to missing her. 


“She was pregnant,” I whispered.


“Did you say pregnant?” he breathed, like maybe he hadn’t heard me correctly. He’d leaned forward in his seat. 


“Yeah. I had my wife and my opportunity at being a father taken from me in one fell swoop.”  


“H-how far along was she?” 


“Roughly twelve weeks is what I was told.”  


He fell back as if the news were a blow, mouth slightly agape. I took his shock as sympathy. My gaze fell to his hands, which now gripped the edge of the table so tight they’d paled. I hadn’t wanted to invade his privacy with intrusive questions, even though I seemed to have no issue revealing my own problems to him. I couldn’t sit there and not care, though. Not ask. Not when it was clear that I wasn’t the only one at the table suffering. 


“Hey,” I whispered, laying a hand on top of his. At the contact, his eyes snapped to mine, the devastation there matched the reflection I saw in the mirror every day. 


“Did you lose someone?” I asked, pulling my hand back, the air around me becoming easier to breathe with the action. 


“Yes.” He’d said it so low it was no more than a hiss. “Someone who made me feel like I could do anything, be anything. So I understand what it’s like to wish you could get back the person you loved and lost.” 


“Did your person die too?” 


“No, he didn’t, but it feels like it sometimes.” 


“Maybe you should try and find him,” I offered. I would’ve given anything to have an opportunity to find Stacey. I would’ve paid any price to know she was alive and well, and that the only thing keeping us apart was the physical distance between us. I would’ve hunted her down and never let her go again.    


“Yeah,” he said, sounding unconvinced. “Maybe.” 


We sat in silence for a while, gazing at each other, that string of familiarity at the back of my skull tugging wildly. 


“Are the last couple years before the accident all you’ve lost?”


“No, but it’s the only part of my life I’ve lost so completely. It’s the only part of my life with her that I’ve lost at all.” 


“Oh,” was all he said. 


I leaned my forearms on the table, my fingers pressing into my forehead. “My estranged childhood friend Leland came back into my life during that time, and he brought with him his partner, Franklin, and Franklin’s sons, Jasper and Cole. Apparently, we’d all become one big happy family, except I don’t remember reconnecting with Leland, and I don’t remember Franklin and his sons at all. Well, that’s not entirely true. I remember Franklin. I lived in Seattle up until a decade ago. We’d met a couple times before I left for New York, but not under the best of circumstances, and we definitely weren’t friends. But now I’m supposed to care about him.”


I looked up, expecting to find him bored, to get some indication that he was ready to escape me, but the opposite held true. He was listening, truly listening like he had nowhere else to be but right there with me, and I didn’t even know his name. 


“Keep going,” he said, and so I did, because God knew I needed to. Needed to not feel so alone. And maybe he needed the distraction that listening to my problems provided. It helped to know that I may be helping him in return. 


“My childhood years aren’t forgotten completely. Best way to describe it is waking up after a night of excessive drinking. Most of what happened is a blur. You have to rely on the people around you to recount the events. Some of what they say you remember clearly, some of it’s a distorted haze that you kind of remember, but the rest is news to me. Thankfully, I have the years spent with my wife. All but those last two.” 


He nodded as though he understood me. “And that’s the missing time you want back.” 


“It’s the priority, yes. My wife is the priority.” 


“Not to minimize what you lost,” he started, “or who you lost…” His voice gave out then, and he turned away, only turning back once he’d regained his composure. “Not to minimize any of it,” he began again, “but shouldn’t the time spent with the people still here be your priority?” 


The question didn’t offend me. Not when his tone was gentle and searching, like perhaps he’d had to ask himself the same question a time or two and hadn’t known how to answer it. Did he have friends or family that he’d neglected because he couldn’t get over the person he’d lost? Could we really be that similar? 


“Not when it feels like my heart is still out there somewhere,” I said. Because it wasn’t with me, not really. It was with Stacey, with the time I’d get back, come hell or high water. Hopefully, my answer inspired him to not give up on his person too. 


“I think my wife led me here, and I need to know why. I need to remember. Nothing else matters until I do.” 


“Do your friends know you’re here?” 


“No. Most days I don’t even answer their calls. I avoid my sister as well. It’s easier with her. We live on opposite coasts. I’m angry and resentful and confused, and I want to be left alone to wallow in that. They all want me to be the person I used to be for them, but all I want to be is who I used to be for her,” I stressed, emotion clogging my throat.


“I’ve got this well of love in my chest, robbing me of breath most days, and sustaining me on the other days, and I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t want my memories returned to me because I can’t live without them. I want every second of what I lost back because I can’t live without her, and I want to remember every moment of the life we had together. Even the last seven-hundred and thirty days of it. It’s what my heart wants.” 


“That can’t be easy,” he said, voice strained. 


I scoffed. “Which part? The having to fend off the people in my life? The people whose eyes fill with hope every time I walk through their door, or every time they barge through mine, only for that hope to be snuffed out when they realize I’m still not the happy-go-lucky version of myself. Not the man they once knew. Or the never-ending obsession for someone who’s no longer here? An obsession that I’m sometimes not even sure belongs to her—” I shut myself up, wishing I could take the words back. I’d never voiced that last part out loud. To be honest, I’d never had words for the feeling until then, but there was a vast and all-consuming hole inside of me that I attributed to her being gone because…what else could it be? “Which part is the hard part?” I asked him, anger and shame now replacing dejection. 


“All of it,” he said, his big blue eyes filled with compassion. The validation took my breath away, leaving me deflated and having to reinforce my forearms against the table to keep from crashing face-first onto it. 


I returned to the topic of my friends and family, leaving my bewildering admission behind. “I’m just so sick of everyone trying to remind me of everything like it’s their goddamned duty to fix me,” I said, and he nodded again, as if he understood that too. I believed that nod. It had been a while since I believed anything, but I believed that. I believed…him. “It confuses me, makes me defensive. It doesn’t help, even though it should. I just want to remember. I want to feel something other than lost.” 


“That sounds reasonable to me.”  


“Thank you,” I breathed, because he was the first person to tell me that since I woke up in this new reality of mine. “Sorry to dump all this on you. You’re obviously going through something of your own.” 


“It’s fine,” he said, dismissing my apology. 


“I’m Noon, by the way. Noon Waters.” 


He hesitated before saying, “My name’s Solace.” He watched me from beneath lowered lashes, as if waiting for something. 


“Solace,” I said, tasting it, thinking about the comfort he’d given me without even knowing it. “It suits you.” 


Twin crimson blotches appeared on his pale cheeks, and he pointed one long, elegant finger to the camera on the table. “Photographer?” 


“Not my official job title, but it feels right.” I shrugged, holding up the bulky piece of equipment. “It was on display in the window of an electronics store I passed on a morning walk. Had a panic attack after spotting it. Figured it must have meant something. A clue, maybe. So I bought it. Turns out I’m good at it.” 


Solace smiled, this half grin that was both shy and alluring, and everything in me said he was oblivious to the latter. It registered in me as a fact, one that made me uncomfortable because of how vehemently I knew it, and because of how much I wanted to stay in the presence of this seemingly guileless man. I sat back in my seat, my own smile shaky from the force it took to maintain it. 


“What’s your official job title?” he asked, those shimmering eyes lighter now that we’d moved on to a simpler topic. 

“I freelance in property and estate management. Or at least I used to. I haven’t worked since the accident.” I hadn’t done much but grieve and lock myself away from the world. Thankfully, I could financially afford to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. 


“What if you never figure out why you were here? What if you never get all your memories back? Is that a possibility?” Solace asked.  


“Yes,” I said with a defeated sigh. “It’s a strong possibility. The head trauma I suffered was that severe.” I unconsciously sought out the scar tissue hidden by my hair.


“What then?” he asked for the second time, a hint of his melancholy returning. I found myself wanting to do anything I could to make it vanish again, because while he was lovely like this, sad and broken and in desperate need of care, he looked otherworldly when happy, even if I’d only caught a tiny glimpse of it through his boyish grin. 


I gave him an answer I’d never contemplated before because I’d never looked that far into the future. Not when so much darkness had blinded me to the road ahead. “Then I’ll have to settle for making new memories. I’ll have to try to,” I corrected, because it wouldn’t be easy, if at all possible. A sudden spark ignited behind those majestic eyes of his. “I booked a room at an inn across town.” 

That surprised him. “How long will you be in Haley Cove for?” 


“I don’t know. A few weeks. As long as it takes.” 


Liz returned, noting the untouched food with a frown. “Can I get you anything else?” 


“No, I’m fine. Thanks.” 


She turned to Solace. “How about you?” 


“No, thanks,” he said. “I’m heading out.” 


“I’ll take the check and a to-go box,” I told her, seeing no reason to linger any longer now that he’d be leaving. I snapped a few more photos of the tavern while he watched me, his expression thoughtful. 


He pulled a pen from his pocket, stealing a napkin from the small stack near my plate. “Here’s my address and phone number in case you need a tour guide. Or someone to talk to,” he added. 


“Your address? I could be a serial killer.” 


Solace chuckled, the sound throaty and warm. “Well, you certainly look like one,” he joked. “But I have a feeling you’re harmless.” He stood, gaze going to the coat rack near the entrance. “Cell service can be spotty up here, especially when the snow is this bad.” He jerked his chin to the napkin I now held. “Use either to find me, if you want or need to.” 


There was nothing duplicitous about him that I could sense or see. It was clear he had demons he wasn’t willing to share, but his intentions felt pure. 


“Okay,” I said, already planning to take him up on his offer. And for the first time in nine months, I felt like maybe there was something to live for. 


And with that, Solace was gone, but he’d left something behind. 


Hope. Solace had given me hope.

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Snow Forest Road

The Mind May Not Remember....

But The Heart



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