How can Dad be
thinking about so much when he doesn’t know if there will be a tomorrow? I
can’t believe he already hired someone to run the business. I can’t pretend
like I ever had intentions of taking over the shop, even knowing Dad wouldn’t
be able to run it forever, but the thought hadn’t crossed my mind because Dad
is supposed to live well past his retirement age. Nothing has gone as I have
planned since I graduated college, and while I have traveled along with the
bumps in the road, everything feels like it’s crashing down on me now.
Maybe I have no
business being in The Barrel House, pretending like I know everything there is
to know about running a bourbon distillery.
Brett. He’s calling after me. Doesn’t he know when a woman runs out a door,
it’s probably best not to follow her?
I turn back toward
the firehouse, watching him walk toward me. My instinct forces me to take a
step back, which causes me to trip off the curb. I catch myself on a car,
thankfully, but the car’s alarm beeps at me just to add an extra dose of
humiliation to this moment.
My heart is in my
throat, or maybe it’s my stomach. My head is spinning and … why did he have
to come after me?
“I need to get back
home. I should be with my dad,” I tell him, looking both ways to make sure I
don’t get creamed by a car on top of it all. The coast is clear and I cross the
street, finding my way to Mom’s car.
“Wait up for a
second,” Brett continues, following me across the street. He places his hand on
the door, preventing me from opening it and jumping inside. “Your dad wanted a
bottle,” he says, handing me the bottle of Red Apple that Dad did, in fact,
“How did you—”
“He called to warn
me that you were on your way down, flustered, upset, trying to be a hero, and
you’d most likely forget that he requested a bottle of Red Apple.” Brett laughs
sweetly, smiling benevolently. “I’m not trying to take over your family
business, despite what you might be thinking. My dad has been a barrel supplier
for your dad since before either of us were born. I was just asked to come help
you guys out.”
“I know.” In truth,
I don’t understand much of anything now. I’ve been going a mile a minute since
I got that letter yesterday. I’ve been awake since five this morning, and I’m
exhausted. “Thank you for coming to help,” I offer sincerely, wishing he would
move his hand from my door.
“I’m sorry for what
you’re going through. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.” The look in Brett’s eyes
triggers more pain in my stomach. I’m losing my dad.
“I don’t know what
else to do right now other than help him, and being in his shop feels like the
only way I can help,” I explain.
The backs of my eyes
burn. I’m supposed to be the strong one, but I’m falling apart. I stare up to
the sky, waning away the threatening tears. Keep it together, Melody. My
body doesn’t respond to my command. Tears trickle, one by one and I gasp for
air as my lungs feel like they are deflating. I place my hands over my face,
embarrassed to be crying in front of Brett Pearson of all people, but the pain
has been building, and though I let a few tears escape this morning at the
airport, it clearly wasn’t enough. “I’m sorry,” I mutter.
Arms envelop me and
my head falls against his firm chest. His embrace is tight and though I don’t know
the adult version of Brett well enough to feel comfort from a hug, the squeeze
is alleviating some of the pressure in my chest.
The rate of my
breaths slow and I’m able to stop the tears from falling. Brett must notice
that I’ve calmed down because his arms release from around me and he takes a
step back. I don’t know what else to say or do aside from searching his
worry-filled eyes as if I’d find the answer there.
He presses the pad
of his thumb beneath my eye and sweeps away a remaining tear. “Take some time
to process it all,” Brett says, sounding wise beyond his years. “I don’t know
how long you’ve known about your Dad becoming sick again, but I doubt there’s
any length of time that’s long enough to accept or adjust to that kind of news.”
“I’m going to—” I
point to the car.
Brett backs away,
slipping his hands into his back pockets. I close myself into the car, rest my
head back, and close my eyes for a minute before starting the engine.
A knock on the
window startles my eyes to reopen. Brett is standing outside of the car holding
up the bottle of Red Apple. I roll the window down and retrieve the bottle.
“Thank you,” I tell him. “For everything.”