Authors: Kathryn Thomas
Holly did not go downstairs for dinner that evening. In fact, in pure distressed princess fashion, she refused any food. Nobody came to hunt her down for it, something she suspected was probably her father’s idea. She could almost hear him: “She can come when she’s hungry,” Harry Springford would say, stern and adamant as always. Well, Holly would not come. Not tonight. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.
The more she thought about what had happened, the more she felt like a fool. It still felt surreal to her. She had always known her parents had fully bought into the socialite kind of lifestyle—after all, that was how they had met. Although Harry Springford was mainly responsible for bringing the Springford Ranch’s fame to a nationwide level, the family was still well-known, wealthy, and respected by the time Harry was born. When her father was born, Holly’s grandparents were already active members of the high-end social circles of the town of Lincoln, Texas. It came natural to her father to think within that box, a tight box made up of strict social rules and traditional expectations.
Still, Holly had always nurtured a glimmer of hope—a delusion, perhaps—that her father may be a slightly more modern man. He was a worldly man, after all. He traveled for business, he had seen…
…what had he seen, really? Other ranchers. Other small-minded realities. Holly should have known better. She should have known just how to-the-bone traditional her father really was. She should have known he wouldn’t have understood. In fact, she had somehow expected it. She had expected Harry Springford to refuse to believe that being an artist could be a serious path for anyone, let alone for his beloved and only daughter.
What Holly had not expected was the adamancy. The utter refusal to listen. The wall between them. The dead end. Harry Springford had refused to listen to reason or to any word she might have to say, and she had the feeling that would not change anytime soon.
Holly rolled off her bed, where she had been laying for the past hour and a half, staring angrily at the ceiling. She walked to the window and sat on the small bench underneath the windowsill. Outside, the night sky was lit with too many stars to count. That was something of Texas that she would miss—the bottomless, endless night sky.
Holly almost started when she realized where her train of thoughts had taken her. Leave, no matter what her father say. She simply could not spend any more time in this dead-end town.
Or could she?
Could she really leave, turn her back on her family? Could she leave everything and everyone she had ever known behind? And to do what? She couldn’t apply to any school without her father’s economic support.
A knock at her door stole her away from her reverie.
“Who is it?” she called out, making no move to leave her spot.
“It’s your mother.”
Holly sighed. She shouldn’t really be surprised about this, either. Whenever her father went a little too far, her mother always came along to smooth the edges. This time, however, Holly didn’t think even Eleanor Springford could breach the riff that her father had created between them.
“Mom, I’d rather not see anyone right now.”
“Come on, Holly. Let me talk to you.”
Holly hesitated. There really would be no point in sending her mother away; she would just come back later. Besides, if anyone could calm Holly down, it was her mother.
“Fine,” she said, reluctantly. “Come on in.”
Eleanor Springford was a petite but impressive woman. She had reached her fifties, but she didn’t look it. Her skin was smooth and pale as alabaster. She was tall and elegant, almost elf-like in the grace of her every move. She had long, almost-white blond hair that cascaded straight and breathtaking down her back and chocolate brown eyes that were said to be able to take a man’s soul away if one stared into them too long. She was just too beautiful to be real.
Holly had taken a few features from her—the blond hair, the petite figure. Her skin was tanned like her father’s, and her eyes were as gray as Harry’s. Holly herself, while not as outlandishly beautiful as her mother, was quite a sight, and she had lost count of her suitors since she had come of age. Of course, she wasn’t interested in any of them. She wasn’t interested in anything that had to do with her parents’ world—except horseback riding. But that one passion of hers wasn’t anywhere near strong enough to prompt her to stay and do her father’s bidding.
Holly watched warily as her mother walked up and sat next to her on the bench by the windowsill.
“Your father told me what happened,” Eleanor began carefully.
“Did he tell you he plans to marry me off to Tim Sutherland?”
Holly stared at her mother. She didn’t think she could handle another betrayal for the day, but she had to ask. “Did you know?”
Eleanor sighed. “I did.”
“And you didn’t think it might be worth mentioning it to me?” Holly cried in disbelief.
“Not yet,” Eleanor said. “Not until everything was sorted out. We would’ve told you then.”
“You sound just like Dad,” Holly said, appalled. “Don’t either of you care what
“Holly, Timothy is a good man. He could make you very happy.”
“No, Mom, he could not,” Holly said forcefully. “I don’t want to marry him.”
Eleanor sighed. “Yes, your father has mentioned that. I’m afraid you don’t have much choice.”
Holly stared at her mother in open dismay. She could hardly believe her ears. “What are you talking about? You can’t possibly agree with Dad on this. You can’t want me to marry somebody I don’t love.”
Eleanor smiled bitterly. “Honey, surely you don’t think your father and I married for love?”
Holly blinked. It had never occurred to her to ask herself whether or not her parents had an arranged marriage. She had somehow always assumed that it was not, that they had met within those sterile elite circles and fallen in love. How naïve she had been.
“I thought you loved Dad…” she murmured, trying to wrap her mind around the revelation.
“I do,” her mother said quickly. “
. Not so much when we got married. He was always kind to me, of course, but I didn’t love him. I learned to.”
“Mom, that’s crazy,” Holly said after a moment where she let her mother’s words sink in. “Come on, you can’t possibly believe this is the way things should be done.”
“What do you mean?”
There was genuine puzzlement on Eleanor’s face, and that drove Holly mad. “It’s 2015, mother!” She cried, feeling the anger come back in a rush. “We can’t possibly be
talking about arranged marriages!”
“Why not? It works.”
“Well, it doesn’t work for me!” Holly snapped. She took a few steadying breaths. She didn’t want another dead-end fight. She wanted her mother to see her point, to understand. She wanted her mother to be on her side. “Mom, I want to be an artist.”
Eleanor visibly cringed. “Yes, your father has mentioned
“What’s so wrong with it?”
“It’s not practical, honey. And even if it were, we need you here.”
“Why? I don’t want anything to do with the business. I couldn’t care less about managing a ranch.”
Eleanor grimaced. “Holly, this place has provided us with an amazing livelihood. It’s the product of your grandfather’s sweat and tears. We can’t just let it rot.”
“Who said anything about letting it rot? I told Dad he should hire somebody and groom them into becoming the right person to step in when he retires.”
Eleanor made a noise that wasn’t really a snort—she was too proper for that—but that very much resembled it. “Don’t be ridiculous, Holly, your father would never give this ranch to a stranger.”
Holly’s jaw clenched. “Well, that’s Dad’s problem, isn’t it?”
“No,” Eleanor said, her voice hardening. “It’s yours, too. You need to come into your own and take on your responsibilities.”
“I don’t have any responsibilities, Mom. I didn’t ask for any of this.”
“But you have it. It’s time to step up.”
Holly stared at her mother, at the determined glint in those brown eyes, and realization finally hit. She was alone. She was utterly, completely alone. She had no allies in this, and she never would have any. In her twenty-one years of life, her mother had always been the one to, if not fully support her in her choices, at least not act as an obstacle to them. Now, for the first time when it came to their daughter, Eleanor Springford was siding with her husband, and she had chosen the worst time to do it.
“I’m sorry, Holly,” Eleanor said. “But that’s the way it’s got to be. It doesn’t have to be all bad. Timothy is a good man,” she said again, “Your father and I would never give you to someone who wouldn’t treat you like a queen.”
You don’t get to ‘give me,’
Holly thought dejectedly.
I’m someone, not something.
She didn’t utter those words out loud, however; she didn’t have the strength to.
Eleanor reached out to push errand strands of white-blond hair behind her daughter’s ear, then she leaned in and pressed a kiss to her cheek. “Sleep on it, honey. You’ll feel better in the morning.”
Holly wasn’t so sure. In fact, she had never felt less sure of anything in her life. She watched as her mother walked out of her room, and as the door clicked shut, she realized that she really couldn’t stay. In a moment of stark clarity, she realized that she would never feel better again so long as she remained in Lincoln.
Nonetheless, she decided to sleep on it. She didn’t want to act rashly; she knew nobody made good decisions when angry. So Holly went to bed and closed her eyes, and she prayed for wisdom.
Matt lost his job at the garage three days later. He had begun to do what he always did whenever his feelings of inadequacy to everyday life kicked in; he began to avoid it. He would shut down completely and push away all responsibilities—from his job to his family. When he didn’t show up for work on the third day with no explanation whatsoever, Mr. Riggs called him on his cell phone. Matt ignored the shrill ringing, but he listened to the message that the man left on his answering machine.
“Matt, you can’t do this to me again,” the gruff voice of Mike Riggs all but growled in his ear. “We’re swamped here, and you know it. Call me back.”
Matt didn’t. He had pulled his disappearing act on Mr. Riggs a couple of times before and the man had been, if not completely understanding of a veteran’s issues, at least tolerant. He wasn’t hoping for another chance; he wasn’t even sure he wanted it.
Mr. Riggs called again that day, and then again, and then one more time. Finally, towards evening, he left one final message.
“Matt, I understand you have issues, but this can’t go on. We all have our problems, but I need employees I can count on. You’re a good mechanic, but you’re completely unreliable. I hate to have to do this, but if you don’t show up tomorrow, don’t bother coming back at all.”
And that was that. Matt didn’t show up the next day, and he kissed his job goodbye.
He didn’t tell Becky for another week. He would leave the house at his usual time and come back at his usual time. In-between, he just wandered about, feeling lost and foolish. He didn’t want to prove to his sister once again just how big of a screw-up he was, so he kept his mouth shut. It was only a matter of time before she either figured it out herself or found out on her own anyway.
Indeed, a week later, he was pretending to read a book in the living room when Joe and Becky both walked into the room. They looked tense and worried—well, Becky, at least. Joe mostly looked angry, and Matt figured he couldn’t really blame him. He put the book down and readied himself for an intervention that would solve nothing.
“Matt, we need to talk,” his sister said, her voice oozing tension.
“What is it?” He asked, as carefully as he could.
“Cut the crap,” Joe snapped. “You know exactly what this is about.”
“Joe,” Becky said sternly, turning briefly to her husband. “Please.”
Joe bit his lip.
Sitting on the armchair, Matt watched warily as they both took a seat on the couch.
“We ran into Mrs. Riggs at the grocery store today,” Becky began carefully. “She told us her husband is very upset about what happened. We asked her what it was that happened exactly.” She stared at him with dark eyes darkened even further by worry and disappointment. “Why did you do that, Matt? It was a good job.”
“It wasn’t for me.”
“Yes, it was,” Becky insisted. “Mr. Riggs always said you were an excellent mechanic. Perhaps, if you would only go to the garage and apologize, he would give you your job back.”
“I don’t want my job back.” That much was true. Matt wasn’t sure what it was that he wanted anymore, but he knew that it wasn’t to spend his days at a garage.
Becky sighed. “And why not?”
Matt hesitated. Why not? He couldn’t say. Or rather, he could, but he knew for a fact his sister wouldn’t like to hear it. “I don’t feel like myself there, trying to fit in to an ordinary life.”
Becky looked at him like she had been expecting that answer, but still hoping for something different. “Matt, you’re never going to feel like yourself again if you don’t try a little harder. I told you before, you
normal. You’ve just forgotten how to live a normal life. But you’re not going to remember how to pedal if you refuse to climb back in the saddle.”
Matt smiled fondly. Trust his sister to come up with some clever metaphor even during the darkest times. “I’m not going to find that normality again by working at Mr. Riggs’ garage.”
“How, then?” It was Joe who spoke now. He was glaring daggers into Matt, his whole frame taut as he sat beside his wife and listened to the exchange. “How are you going to do it? Are you even going to? Do you even want to?”
“Joe!” Becky snapped.
“No, Becky, this has to stop,” Joe said. “This is the third job he can’t hold on to in almost a year. How long are we going to allow him to keep this up? He’s living in our house—”
“And contributing,” Matt cut him off, a hint of pride pushing through the mud of his dumbed down emotions. “I’m not mooching off of you, Joe. My army pension is more than enough for me to chip in.”
“I’m not saying you’re taking advantage of us,” Joe clarified, calming down a little. “But I haven’t had any privacy with my wife in almost a whole year, and frankly, I’m getting a little tired of it.”
“I see.” Again, Matt didn’t quite feel like blaming the man, but that did not mean the words did not sting. “You want me gone, is that it?”
“No, that’s not it,” Becky said quickly. She turned towards her husband, watching him carefully. “That’s not it, is it, Joe?”
Joe sighed heavily. “It is,” he admitted. “I’m sorry, but it is. Matt, I’ve got nothing against you personally, you know that, but I haven’t been completely free in my own house for almost a year now.”
Matt nodded slowly. “I hear you,” he said.
“Still, we can’t exactly kick you out,” Joe continued. “I for one don’t want that. But I do want you to get your shit together. Find a job and keep it. Find a place of your own. Get back on your feet. How much longer are you going to drift?”
Matt thought about it. He couldn’t answer that question. He had been drifting for most of his life, and even more so since he came back from his latest tour in Afghanistan almost a year ago (eleven months, two weeks, and three days, but who was counting?).
“Joe is right.” Becky’s quiet voice took him away from his reverie. Matt looked up at his sister in surprise, and she paled. “I’m sorry!” She all but squealed. “But it’s true, you can’t keep this up much longer. It’s going to kill you. Frankly, it’s killing
to see you throw away your life like this. You need to d,o something, Matt. Go back to therapy, get your act together. Stop making excuses and get help.”
Matt was silent for a few moments, letting his sister and brother-in-law’s words sink in. “I’ll think about it,” he finally said.
Becky smiled sadly at him. “You and I both know that you won’t.” She shook her head and stood, too weak and disappointed to actually get angry. She left the room without another word, and Joe followed her a few minutes later.
Matt watched them go and felt nothing.
As it turned out, his sister was wrong; Matt
think about it. He thought about it for the next two days. For forty-eight hours, he did nothing but think about it. He thought about the spot he was putting his sister in, having to justify her no-good brother to the good townsfolk of Cartridge, Texas. He thought about all the worry he was causing her. He thought about that normality that kept eluding him and that perhaps always would.
Finally, after two days of thinking, he came to a decision. He decided that enough was enough. He couldn’t keep doing this to his sister any longer. He may not be mooching off of her physically, but he sure was being an emotional vampire in his own way—and that was about the last thing Becky needed.
He didn’t made the choice easily or rashly. He thought it over, and at the end he was sure there was simply no way around it. He had to go, for Becky’s sake. He wasn’t sure where he would go or if the journey would even help him find his lost bearings, but he knew for a fact he wasn’t going to find him in Cartridge.
On the morning of the third day after his discussion with Joe and Becky, Matt packed his rucksack. He did it at dawn, before anyone else woke up. He wrote a note to his sister, thanking her for all she had done for him and letting her know he would always love her, but that he needed to do this and put distance between them for both of their sakes. He walked downstairs and left the note taped to the coffee maker, knowing that was a sure place to leave it if he wanted it to be seen right away. He shouldered his rucksack and walked to the bus stop in the deserted streets of the small town. He took the first bus out and rode it for almost an hour to Austin’s bus station.
The heat in Austin was scorching, but Matt hardly felt it as he grabbed his rucksack and walked off the bus, into the busy station, and to the ticket counter. He asked the woman there when the first bus out of the city was due to leave, and where it was going. She told him it was going somewhere in Oregon. Matt had never heard of the town the woman mentioned before, but he didn’t care; anywhere was better than here, and Oregon was far enough to begin with. He bought a ticket, walked to the platform, and waited.
When the bus finally arrived, Matt didn’t get on it right away. For a few moments he struggled with his decision. Should he really turn his back on his sister? Should he really just walk away? He should, he decided. It was the best thing he could do for her.
By the time he finally brought himself to climb onto the bus, the thing was packed, so much so that when the bus lurched into motion, Matt hadn’t found a seat for himself yet. He took a moment to look out the window and watch as they pulled out of Austin’s bus station and then out of the city proper. He felt a shiver run down his spine. He had left for so many travels in his life that he had lost count, but this was different. This had a finality to it that he wasn’t sure he liked, but that he knew was necessary. Matt knew this was his last chance—he would either find himself again, or he would be lost forever.
, he thought dejectedly. He could only hope that, for once in his life, he was running towards himself.