Hopeless: Chapter 3

Beau

Cade: You’re coming to the wedding, right?

Beau: It’s my little brother’s wedding. Of course I’m coming.

Cade: You’re not exactly reliable these days. You no-show. And when you do show, you’re a miserable asshole.

Beau: I’m only doing my best imitation of you.

Cade: I’m not miserable anymore though. Just an asshole. That’s why everyone voted and decided I had to be the one who sent this message.

Beau: Everyone voted? Very democratic.

Cade: Willa says you need to apologize to Winter. She’s in the wedding party.

Beau: Willa doesn’t run my show.

Cade: You must be new here. Willa runs everyone’s show.


A song I don’t recognize plays from the speakers, but I two-step anyway. I’m wearing a suit that feels fucking awful, and these dress shoes are rubbing my grafts uncomfortably. Winter Hamilton has one hand on my shoulder and her nose is tipped high as she stares just beyond me. Or possibly at the top of my ear. I’m not entirely sure which.

Dancing with Winter is more uncomfortable than anything going on in my shoes. And that’s saying something.

For an entire song, we dance like stiff pieces of wood, ignoring each other. I can see Rhett and Summer dancing too. They look so fucking happy it’s hard to watch, but I don’t know where to land my gaze. It seems like everyone is watching me. I’ve got my hands locked in place because I don’t want to slide too low or too high on Winter’s ribcage. Those are no-fly zones, and based on the way her baby daddy, Theo, is glaring at us, every inch of her might be a no-fly zone.

The music switches over to a slower song and Winter mumbles, “Thanks. That was the junior high dance blast from the past I’ve always dreamed of.”

“Good god, Winter.” My fingers tighten. “One more dance.”

“Why?” Her head tilts and her blue eyes home in on my face. I feel like I’m in therapy again. Something broken that needs fixing. A specimen for medical professionals to poke and prod and analyze. Between my burns and my brain and my insomnia, I’m like a shrink’s wet fucking dream.

I hate that feeling. That expression. Like I’m a big dumb goldfish in a bowl.

“Because I need to apologize to you.”

She just shrugs. “No, you don’t.”

“I blew up at you at a family dinner.”

I’d quit seeing all my doctors and wasn’t sleeping. I was sore and tired and just wanted to rest for a bit. Winter saw right through it when I dragged her down the hallway to talk. Right through my request for prescription sleeping pills—because over-the-counter ones weren’t doing the trick. Her knowing smirk and crossed arms, followed by a calm “no” pushed me over the edge.

I exploded. She didn’t deserve it. Everyone heard.

Winter’s lips form a slight curve. “Did you? I don’t remember.”

“Winter,” I bite out, annoyed that she’s making this so hard for me.

“Beau,” is all she responds with as we continue swaying on the wooden dance floor. Over her shoulder, I catch sight of Bailey. Her glossy hair shines like the top of the river, reflecting every light. She’s not a guest, but she’s tending bar for the reception, and that’s good enough for me.

“I shouldn’t have done that.” My eyes stay on Bailey as I speak to Winter. Focusing on her makes this easier. She’s become a calm spot in a mind that is a turbulent storm.

“No, probably not. But you know what, Beau?”

I finally glance down at Winter. “What?”

“We’re all human, and we all make mistakes. Especially when we’re struggling.”

“I’m not struggling.”

She snorts and then gives me an exaggerated wink. “Cool. Me neither.”

My molars clamp down and I glance back at Bailey. “Okay. Maybe I am.”

But I relax when I’m looking at her.

“You sleeping now?”

I roll my lips together and consider lying to her. But Winter is so no-nonsense—so not flowery and overly doting—it’s easier to be real with her than with the rest of my family. “No. Well, I’ve gotten on a schedule, and that seems to help a bit.” I don’t tell her that by schedule I mean planning my week around sitting at Bailey’s bar drinking chamomile tea. But the truth is, sitting there has given me a purpose, and it feels good.

“Seeing anyone?”

“Like a doctor?”

She nods.

“Nah.”

“Why see a professional when we can diagnose ourselves, right?”

I smirk but say nothing.

“A childhood filled with neglect means I learned to survive by not relying on anyone,” she says. “Boom. Diagnosed. Saved myself hundreds of dollars. You go.”

I curve a brow as I consider what to say next. “PTSD.”

“Yeah.” Her nose wrinkles as the song nears its end. “So generic. I can see why you wouldn’t want to talk to a professional about that.”

“Winter, are you making fun of me? I can’t fucking tell.”

She pats me on the shoulder. “You’re big and handsome, Beau. Some people might think that means you’re stupid. I think you let people think you are because it’s easier that way.”

“Wow. Thank you. I’m endlessly flattered, Dr. Hamilton.”

“But I know better. You know better. We both know therapy is good but we both don’t go. So we’re just doing the best we can.”

“What does that mean?” My brow furrows, and she steps away at the end of the song.

“Fuck if I know. I’ve had a lot of champagne to medicate myself through this family event. Have you tried it? It’s delicious. At any rate, no hard feelings. Water under the bridge, as they say. But if you need anything, you’ve got my number.”

We shake hands. Then she turns and walks over to Theo, who is eyeing her up her like she might be dessert. That’s hard to watch too. So I walk toward someone who isn’t.

I’m drawn to Bailey through the crowd like a magnet. Or maybe I’ve just become the new miserable regular who sits on a stool waiting for her to finish work. Like a sad puppy dog.

But she talks to me like no one else does. About inane things. And sometimes we’re just quiet together.

And that quiet is comfortable.

When I lean against the bar, she barely acknowledges my presence. She doesn’t need to. She knows I’m here.

“No chamomile tea. But you look like you could use a pick-me-up.” She slides a glass of Coca-Cola in front of me, not realizing that she’s the pick-me-up.

“Thanks,” I reply, hunkering down against the bar, preparing myself to emulate what we do at The Railspur. I told my family I’d be at the wedding, and I am. But the truth is, it’s overwhelming. It’s hot, and loud, and busy in this barn turned event space, and I don’t like it.

“How ya doin’, soldier?” Bailey asks, propping a hip against the ice well to face me. She crosses her arms and inspects me a little too closely, as if she can sense that something is isn’t right.

I stare back at her, absently wondering how many freckles dot her nose. Wondering if they only crop up in the summer or if they linger through the winter. I’ve never looked at her close enough to notice. There’s one just above her lip that I’m pretty sure is always there.

I tear my gaze away and glance at the dance floor, seeing all my family members together. It’s nice to see them happy. I put them all through so much. And yet, I take a deep swig of soda, peek back at Bailey, and say, “I’m struggling.”

She nods. “Trust your struggle, Beau.”

“What does that mean?”

“If we’re struggling, we’re still in motion, yeah? Heading somewhere better. That’s what I keep telling myself anyway.”

My chest tightens. I don’t want Bailey to struggle.

I’m where I am by choice. She’s where she is by birth. It seems profoundly unfair.

But I lift my glass to her all the same. “I’ll cheers to that. To struggling together.”

She laughs lightly and lifts her drink from behind the bar, clinking her glass against mine. “Less lonely that way, for sure.”

It’s a simple exchange. Probably nothing noteworthy to the average person beyond two fucked-up people commiserating.

And yet, knowing I have something in common with Bailey makes me feel instantly lighter.

I wish it was her I’d been out there dancing with.


Some people might find the blue sky and the chirping of birds charming. The smell of fresh mountain air and all that. And maybe I’m being ungrateful—that’s a distinct possibility—but the charm is all lost on me.

“Beau?”

My older brother’s voice cuts into my thoughts as I sit up on the back of a horse, staring over the ridge at a valley of cows who all look the fucking same. They look the same, they eat the same thing every day, they follow each other around almost blindly.

Everything about their existence seems very simple. Boring even.

And yet they all seem happy.

I wish I were a cow. Wish I could find some joy in the monotony of ranch life. Instead, I’m restless and writhing. Trapped beneath the surface of the perfectly manicured façade I slip on for the benefit of everyone around me.

They want me to be okay. And I’m not. Not really. I want them to think I am. But these days? These days, I suck at maintaining my cover.

“Beau!” Cade’s voice is real mad now, and I can hear the danger in it. If I were his son, Luke, I’d be trembling in my boots.

But I’m not.

So I turn my head slowly to glance at my brother. “You’re dressed like some sort of emo cowboy. Why are you wearing all black on such a hot day?”

He shakes his head in disbelief. “Did you not hear me talking to you?”

I heard my name, but not much else.

“Sorry, just kinda got lost in enjoying the view. Blue skies, the birds chirping.” I wave a hand over the horizon. “It’s nice.”

My brother blinks at me, clearly unsure of what to say next. His eyelashes are so dark, he almost reminds me of a cow with the slow, lazy way he blinks at me.

“Hey, why do cows have such long eyelashes?” I ask, abruptly switching the subject.

His brow furrows in my direction beneath the brim of his cap. “What?”

“Their eyelashes. They’re just so damn long. What’s the point?”

What’s the point of anything?

The words crop up in my head. But they’re immediately followed by Bailey’s wisdom from this past weekend. And that has my lips tipping up ever so slightly.

Trust your struggle.

So I do. I trust that there’s a perfectly good reason my brain needs to know about cow eyelashes.

Cade clears his throat. I’m clearly confusing the hell out of him. And he’s doing the thing my family does where they cater to me, no matter how ridiculous I act. Tiptoe around me like it helps me when they accommodate my every whim somehow.

Not like Bailey, who gives me shit at every turn.

“It’s just to protect their eyeballs. Dust, rain, insects. That kind of thing.”

“Huh.” I rest my gloved hands on the horn of my saddle and gaze down at the whole dumb herd of them. “I should have figured that one out. Seems obvious now that you say it.”

He hits me with a forced smile, and I stifle a laugh. Cade pretending to be all soft and sensitive is too fucking awkward to take. I wish he’d make a mean joke and threaten to kick my ass.

That would make me feel normal again.

“Ready then?”

Ready.

I stare down at the field. His question is one I’ve heard before. And yet, it’s monumentally different right now.

There’s no adrenaline, no thrill, no life-or-death repercussions.

“Oh shit, hang on.” I shift in my saddle and reach into my back pocket, pulling my phone out and staring at it like there’s a call coming through. All I see is the background picture, which features Luke grinning ear to ear after we threw watermelons out the window of my moving truck. The memory of speeding down a back road, watching them explode on the asphalt, and hearing him squeal with glee never fails to make me smile.

Especially since Cade told us not to.

“Jasper’s calling. One sec.”

Cade rolls his eyes and mumbles, “Catch up,” before urging his mare forward toward the path that leads down into the valley.

“Hey man!”

I’m met with silence. Obviously. Because I’m faking this call.

“Uh-huh.” I give Cade a firm thumbs up when he turns back to look at me.

“Right. Oh shit. That does sound important.”

Cade has started his descent. He’s begun to disappear behind the crest of the hill, but I carry on anyway.

“You sure Sloane can’t help you with that?”

Pause.

“Oh. She’s in the city, huh? Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”

I wait several more seconds before adding, “Alright, talk soon.” Then, with a light cluck, I urge my horse closer to the edge of the ridge. I can see where Cade has hit flat ground below and the other guys who work for him already waiting down there. I’m hit with a pang of guilt. Guilt that I can’t just suck it up and go do the job.

I know I need to stop bailing on everyone. I know I promised to work the family ranch with Cade.

But I can’t. I just … can’t.

That knowledge doesn’t stop me from feeling like shit when I call down, though. “Hey Cade!” He pulls up and turns in the saddle to glare at me. It’s like he knows what’s coming. “Just got a call from Jasper! He needs my help. I’m gonna peel out and then try to make it back to wrap up the day with you and the crew.”

All he gives me is a nod. He knows I won’t be back.

I nod in return before I turn my mount to walk away. Trying to keep my shame at bay.

Once I’m out of earshot, I lift my phone and call Jasper for real. He picks up on the fourth ring. “Workin’ hard or hardly workin’?”

I can always trust Jasper to crack me up, razz me a bit. He hasn’t taken to smothering me since I got back. In fact, he mostly lets me come to him when I’m ready. Jasper knows trauma. He knows when to push and when to sit back. And he knows how it is to have everyone staring at you, waiting for something to happen, like you’re an experiment in a Petri dish.

These days, I feel like I understand him better than ever.

“How’d you guess?” The thump of hooves on the dry ground beneath me rattles my bones, and I can already sense my body starting to relax as I head away from the crew.

“Well, Beau, the only thing reliable about you these days is how unreliable you are.”

“Harsh.”

He snorts. “But true. You’re a big boy. You can take it.”

“That’s what she said.”

He huffs out a laugh, and I can clearly envision the expression on his face—amused but sharp. We’ve known each other since we were fifteen, practically glued together since he came to live with our family. I don’t get much past him anymore.

“So I need you to do me a solid.”

He doesn’t even hesitate. “Alright.”

“If Cade asks, I need you to corroborate my story that you called me away from work because you needed help.”

“With what?”

“I didn’t say. You pick.”

“Okay, I’ll tell him I was missing Sloane and that you offered to come dance like a ballerina for me to make me feel better.”

“I would if you wanted me to,” I deadpan.

He laughs at that. “I know you would.”

“Let’s say your car battery died and you needed a jump.”

“I would never let my battery get old enough to die.”

So literal.

“Cade wouldn’t know that, though.”

He grunts his assent. “It’s like we’re teenagers all over again. Tricking Cade into thinking we’re totally above board.”

I chuckle. “The good old days.”

That one-liner strikes my friend silent for a beat too long. “There are still good days to come, Beau.”

“Of course, I know.” I sigh, wanting to end this call before it veers into territory I’m not ready for.

“Is there a reason we’re pulling one over on Cade? Planning on telling me where you’ll be if you aren’t dancing for me or giving my car a jump?”

“Thanks, man. Talk later.” I forge ahead quickly before hanging up.

And then I head straight for where the best part of my day always is.

The place that I’ve come to associate with both peace and purpose.

The stool at the end of Bailey Jansen’s bar.


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