Hopeless: Chapter 39

Bailey

My bar. My staff.

Shouts ring out around me and a dull song I’ve heard a million times plays over the speakers, but all I hear is the pounding of my heart, the blood rushing in my ears.

I stare at the polished wood floor. It used to be more scuffed. The chairs? They used to look dated. Brass chandeliers replaced dingy hanging lamps. The Railspur became country chic somewhere along the way …

Under new ownership was the town gossip, but I never cared much. I had a job that paid reasonably well. I kept my head down and worked. Management never changed, and the company signed my checks. The story was that there was a silent investor. Someone hands-off.

I pull my eyes back from the floor, catching on Beau. All I can do is shake my head. “No.”

His features are stone as he stares back at me, giving nothing away—except the vein that runs down over his temple is pulsing.

One, two, three.

His heart beats.

My heart beats.

He stares at me while I try to catch up.

“Since when?”

“A few years now.”

A few years.

God.

The ache in my chest has me gasping for breath. It could take me to my knees if I let it.

“Trouble in paradise, sissy?” Aaron taunts, the stench of his breath filling the air around me as he leans in close.

It’s the swat of my dad’s grizzled hand that pulls him back. My dad was always swatting us. Sometimes harder than others.

My own father says nothing to me as he passes by; instead, he mutters to my brothers, “You fools trying to get me sent back to the clink? Get out.”

I erupt.

“Yes! Get out!” My voice is loud and strong and brimming with years of frustration. My hand doesn’t even shake as I point at the door. “Go to jail. Go to hell. Go dig a hole six feet deep and stay there. I don’t fucking care. But go away. Far, far away from me and my life. I am done!”

I can feel every goddamn eye in the place on me. Like people are confused by the fact that I don’t seem chummy with my family.

“Done with all you assholes and all your shit! I am done being treated like garbage. I am done rising above it all with a polite fucking smile. I am done trying to be classy about it. I am done with being related to you when I hate you. Go. Away.”

A pin could drop, and you’d hear it. The bar is silent. All I can hear is my labored breathing and the blood rushing through my veins.

With a scoff, they leave. I doubt they even care about what I’ve said to them today. But it felt good all the same.

So I keep going.

“And everyone else!” I turn and face the other patrons in The Railspur. “Stop looking at me like I’m infectious. Stop watching me like this is entertainment. Stop treating me like you’re superior. You’re all cruel and shitty and bigoted and have made living here my entire life absolutely miserable.”

The vast majority of people in the bar look like deer caught in the headlights. I just ran my truck into them full tilt. There are a couple murmured “sorrys” and the odd clearing of a throat.

I just shake my head and prop my hands on my hips as I peer over at the table that my family just left. Dined and dashed, naturally.

I used to have to pay for those out of pocket.

But ever since “new ownership” took over, we haven’t been on the hook for walkouts. Or, well, I haven’t been. No one in this town would walk away without paying, unless I was their server—then it was a funny joke. I used to hear them laughing about it.

Until “new ownership” banned anyone who left without paying from coming back.

Fuck. Fuck. How long has Beau been looking out for me? And he let all this go unsaid while we …

While I started to feel …

“Beau, you get out too. I need to get back to work,” I whisper as I lift my chin and drop my shoulders.

I’ve held my head high through deeper embarrassments. This will be no different.

“I’m not leaving.” He crosses his arms and stares at me down his straight nose as if it’s some sort of challenge.

But I’m not strong enough to face off with him right now. Not with an audience. Not at all.

My eyes shutter and I suck a deep breath in through my nose as my hands prop on my hips. I press them in on my hip bones to keep them from shaking. “Then I quit.”

His rigid body starts like I’ve hit him. He didn’t see that coming.

I reach back and pull my swipe card for the computer system out of my back pocket and hold it out to him. “Here.”

He looks at the card but doesn’t take it. “Okay, Bailey. I’ll leave.”

“No.” I shake my head rapidly, tears welling, stinging along the sides of my nose as I struggle to keep them from falling. “I need to leave.”

“You can’t quit. I’ll come—”

“I can. And I need to be alone right now more than I need the paycheck.” My voice cracks and I purse my lips together. I shove the card toward him again, silently begging him to take it. The massive diamond ring he gave me sparkles in the warm light from the beautifully updated chandelier above us.

How did I never think more about who the silent investor might be? How did I never question things? How did I not see this?

“Bailey.” My name is a sigh on his lips as his broad shoulders sag in defeat.

An angry whimper lodges in my throat, and I drop the card on the perfectly polished hardwood floor before spinning on my heel and getting the fuck away from Beau.

The fuck away from my fiancé.

The fuck away from my boss.


When I get home …

I shake my head as I walk up the concrete front steps.

When I get to Beau’s house, I walk in the front door, enter the alarm code, swipe my Boler key from where all our keys—his keys—hang. I don’t even bother taking my shoes off as I walk straight through the main living space and out the back door.

He can wash his stupid clean floor with a toothbrush while he thinks about what he’s done, for all I care.

And what he’s done is lie. Lie so deeply, so thoroughly—even if it was well-meaning—he made me believe something was real, and it now feels as though maybe it isn’t. Now it feels like I was just a pawn in some stupid game for him. Like he got home and made my life his new undercover mission.

Except he failed to tell me about it and made me fall in—

“Ugh!” A tear spills down my cheek and I swipe at it angrily as I storm up to my trailer. Key in the lock, I yank the door open and shove myself inside, swiftly bolting the door behind me.

I need to be alone.

I need to think.

And I can’t think in a house where everything reminds me of him. Everything smells like him.

Tears fall freely now, and I don’t bother wiping them away as I plop woodenly down onto the bed at the far end of what used to be my house.

Maybe it’s my house again?

The thought of that, of leaving him, makes me feel like my bones are cracking under the weight of such a heavy burden.

I try to calm my breathing, but it just gets to the point where I feel like I can’t breathe at all.

I’m hurt.

I’m embarrassed.

I feel foolish that I let myself believe someone could love me so honestly.

And yet, I ache for him. I only want him. His arms. His words. His smell.

I know it’s the only thing that will make me feel better, but … I’m furious.

Moments pass and I watch the silent tears land on my jeans, staining the light denim dark as they soak in. The spots start small and seep out into bigger, rounder ones with softer edges.

Suddenly, I hear his panicked voice calling my name from the house. I close my eyes and listen to him.

“Bailey!”

His voice—it hurts. I can sense the pain in it, pain that would match my own if I could even find any words to say.

“Bailey!” He’s in the kitchen now, I can tell by how close he sounds, and I know that hiding from him like this is hurting him. It makes me feel like I could throw up.

But I need this moment. I need this space. This trailer may sit on his land, but it’s still mine. Simple and plain and run-down, but mine.

I thought the bar was mine. I thought that was the one place people appreciated me and my hard work. I thought I earned that place in the world.

The back door crashes open, and I know this man would tear the world apart to find me. To save me.

But I’m so tired of needing saving.

“Bailey!” His palm lands flat on the door of my trailer. I can hear it slap.

The childish part of me wants to keep hiding from him and not respond.

But the part of me that’s in love with him is being shredded, strip by strip, as I listen to him frantically search for me.

“Yeah?” I sniff.

There’s a thump on the door and I feel like I can perfectly envision him, forehead tipped against the plain matte-gray exterior of my junky little trailer. All golden and perfect.

“Bailey.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” The words are a sob. I thought I’d hold it together, but I’m not. I’m fucking crumbling.

He says nothing, and it infuriates me, so I get up and shove the fiberglass door open, sending him stumbling back. “Why didn’t you tell me? For a guy who desperately didn’t want our relationship to be founded on a lie, you sure doubled down on this one.”

He licks his lips, the golden light behind him glowing over the silhouette of the house. “I didn’t lie.”

I bark out a harsh laugh. Tears still mar my face, but I don’t care. “Oh, fuck off. It was a lie of omission, and you know it.” I shake my head, looking away at the yard. “And it came out in the most humiliating way. In front of everyone, Beau.”

“I know.” He braces his hands behind his head and stares at me, totally forlorn. “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t want your apology! I want an explanation. Have you spent all these nights sitting at my bar because you’re protecting your investment or because you wanted to be with me?”

“Bailey, how can you even ask me that? I’ve been totally hands-off with that place for years. It’s always been about you.”

My chest. It hurts.

“Explain.”

His hands scrub over where the hair is shorter at the back of his head, an expression of concentration on his face as he rifles through his head. He’s clearly trying to pick his next words carefully.

He paces. “One night when I was home and heading in there to meet Jasper for a drink, I overheard the owner and the manager talking outside.”

I prop a shoulder against the doorframe and cross my arms. A silent instruction for him to keep going.

“They were talking about how the place was getting run-down. There wasn’t enough money to fix it up. Fred, the guy who owned it, told Jake that firing you might bring more people down.”

I try to cover my flinch, but my cheek twitches and I know he sees it. I look away. Fucking Fred. That guy was such a creep.

“But Jake refused. Said you were a good employee and needed the job. He went to bat for you and lost his job for it.”

“Jake?”

Beau nods.

“But he’s still the manager.” Jake is from the city and has always been nice to me, didn’t know or care much about my background.

“I hired him back, but I’ve done it all through a lawyer to keep myself anonymous. I’m totally hands-off. Except when I go in and fix the odd thing. I fixed that tap for you the other day. But I still wanted to be able to go to my favorite bar with my friends and family and just be a regular joe patron. A regular small town guy in a regular small town bar.”

“I … I don’t even know how to make sense of this. Why buy it at all?”

The smile that touches his lips is sad. “I watched you that night. I saw how hard you worked. How nervous you were. And I … ” He scrubs his hands down over his face. “I don’t know, Bailey. I guess I’ve always been impulsive where you’re concerned. Because I walked into the back and made Fred an offer on the place that he couldn’t refuse. It just didn’t feel right. Knowing what he was going to do to you.”

“That’s insane. Of course it’s not right! For a man who’s been through some shit, you’re awfully idealistic, Beau. Bad things happen to good people. You don’t need to be a hero every time. You don’t need to save everyone.”

He shrugs. “You’re not everyone.”

I stare at him, slack-jawed. I want to hug him, and I want to hit him. All at once. He is infuriating. My teeth grind as I watch him. “I’m so fucking mad at you.”

His eyes drop, but not before I see the shame there. “I know.”

“Why didn’t you just tell me?”

“I wanted to. Fuck.” He wipes at his mouth and paces. “I wanted to. Jasper told me to. He’s the only person I ever told. But I knew we were too far down this path for it to not hurt you or make you feel like I was maneuvering behind your back. And, god, Bailey. The very last thing in the world I ever want to do is hurt you.”

My throat aches, constricts on itself until I’m almost nauseous.

“I actually felt like I was your partner, Beau. Like you respected me. I really felt like I was integral to you somehow. I wasn’t a project. Not some deep-cover mission. Not a pawn in you playing super soldier to scratch an itch or fool your family.”

“I do respect you. And you are integral to me. I fucking love you, Bailey.”

Love.

Whoever said love hurts wasn’t fucking lying.

“And that job? That job has always felt like proof I did something for myself, despite where I come from. Proof that I don’t need anyone’s pity. That I’m strong enough to rise above it all. That if I had the chance to show people how hard I work, they’d reward me. And you just tugged the one thing I thought I’d done with my life right out from under me. I’m utterly dependent on you, and that terrifies me. And it’s even worse because first you made me fall in l—you know what?” I wave a hand dismissively. “I need some time to get my bearings so I don’t say anything I’ll regret.”

Beau blinks rapidly, standing tall and proud. Like he’s prepared to face the consequences head on. He doesn’t tell me it’s okay, or that I’m overreacting. “That’s understandable.”

He takes all my frustration and swallows it. Like a man.

Like the flawed but good man that he is.

Like a flawed but good man who loves me.

Hold onto that.

I nod and go to close the door on him, but he stops me, stepping up and wrapping his hand around the edge of it, his fingers brushing against mine. “How long?”

My gaze bounces between the swirling metallic pools in his eyes. “As long as it takes for me to not be this mad at you.”

His lips press into a flat line as he bites down on whatever he was about to say. And then, after a beat, he repeats what he’s already told me. “Sugar, I am so sorry.”

I smile sadly and draw away from him. “I know,” is all I say as I lock myself into my lonely little trailer. And then I head back to the bed, where I lie awake all night long, analyzing my life from every angle and wondering how the hell I got here.

And how the hell I’m going to fix us so I don’t spend the rest of my life feeling like Beau Eaton’s pet project.

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