Broken Heartland 01-Storm Warning

By: Elizabeth Lee & Caisey Quinn

For everyone who’s ever had to weather a storm. Life is unpredictable, sometimes you just have to ride it out.

She stared into his handsome face as she tried to find the words to say what she needed to. “For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m doing something right. Something no one else can judge or ruin. Or take away.”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he said so low she barely heard him.

Leaning into the hand he used to brush the hair from her face, she pressed her lips to his palm. “So don’t.”

Pulling back to give him the choice, she held her breath and waited. Both of their hearts beating fast, in time together, measuring the seconds that passed as they stood on the edge of the unknown.

“We’ll go slow. If you want to stop, at any time, just tell me, okay?”

She smiled as he submitted to her. Nodding, even though she knew what she wanted and that she’d never want him to stop, she leaned in and kissed him again.

“I’ve never wanted anything the way I want you,” he said between kisses. His words burned into her heart, imprinting themselves onto her soul—where she planned to keep them forever.

SUMMER. For most people my age, it was synonymous with freedom. Free from school, free from obligations, free from bells ringing telling us where to go and when. Long days and even longer nights. Parties. Drinking too much and hooking up. For me, it meant work.

For as long as I could remember, summer equaled busting my ass with my family’s landscaping business, Mason Landscaping & Lawn Maintenance. This summer would be a little different since I’d graduated and would only be working part-time. But I’d be working all the same.

I could still remember the day the letter came that held the key to my future. The one that determined whether or not I’d finally be able to get the hell out of Hope’s Grove, Oklahoma.

“Kyle, it came! It’s here! Open it!” My sister Ella Jane’s bright blue eyes shone in the sunlight as she practically mauled me by the mailbox.

“Jesus, EJ. Easy, girl.” I took the envelope from her and tucked it in the back pocket of my jeans. My best friend Coop grinned and shook his head. We both took serious pleasure in teasing my little sister damn near to death. Had since we were kids. In my mind, EJ was still a kid. Always would be. But I wasn’t blind. I had my suspicions that Coop was starting to see just how much of a kid my sixteen-year-old sister wasn’t.

“Kyle Ryan Mason! You are not serious! Get that envelope out of your pocket and open it right this second.” She glared at me with her hands on her hips and I had to work to keep from smiling.

“I think we should wait for Dad to get home. Don’t you?”

If I could change anything about that day, it’s that moment that I would do differently. If I had the power to go back in time, back before everything went straight to hell, I would’ve ripped that envelope—the one with the news of my full football scholarship to Oklahoma State University—open right that second.

I would’ve given EJ that last happy memory. Would’ve wrapped her in my arms and spun her around at the end of our dirt driveway. Would’ve let Coop thump me hard on the back in our “congrats, dude” sign of affection. I might have even let him hug EJ, though I would’ve been watching closely to make sure his hands stayed north of the equator.

But…I didn’t. I held out on EJ because I thought that would make it more fun. Build the suspense. I’d always enjoyed being the center of attention. It had always come easily for me. My little sister was the shy one. The one who stood quietly in my shadow, in my corner, cheering me on in whatever I did.

What I didn’t know was that my dad wasn’t coming home. I didn’t know that my mom would sit us down at the dinner table that night with tears in her eyes and tell us that he’d moved out while we were in school that day. That he’d checked out of our family for some city bitch named Valerie that he’d dated in high school or some bullshit. He’d been having an affair. Cheating on my mom. Cheating on our family.

I didn’t know that I’d be opening my letter alone in my room that night. Listening to Ella Jane cry softly in the next room as I did.

So this summer would be different. In more ways than one. I graduated from Hope’s Grove High School. Got into my dream college. And I’d be attending football camp pretty much all summer long. I only had one major lawn account to deal with—some family in Summit Bluffs was out of town for the summer so I had to take care of their lawn and their pool on the weekends when I was home.

When summer ended, I’d be leaving my mom and sister behind to handle the family business all on their own. I was getting everything I ever wished for, and yet…the thought made my entire world spin in the wrong direction. I felt like a linebacker twice my size was headed right toward me. And I was powerless to do anything about it.