Home > Out of the Ashes

Out of the Ashes
Author: Cara Dee

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

Kingsley Madden

 

 

What do you see in him, Tate? What makes him so special?

I pulled the truck into the spot about ten feet behind the bench where he sat with his daughter. Every day, same time, right after school, he took his daughter to a duck pond, where they chatted in their own way.

I didn’t know what was…different…with the daughter, but they used sign language sometimes, verbal speech other times, and plenty of touch—forehead to forehead, palms to palms, and even flash cards.

Does she remind you of your sister?

I rested my forearms on the wheel and released a breath.

The chest pain had to fucking go. I couldn’t take a deep breath without it feeling like someone was stabbing me right in the ticker.

I supposed the man was good-looking. The man… I knew his name. Franklin. Franklin Townsend and his daughter Lily.

For some reason, you could tell me all about your student Lily but nothing whatsoever about her handsome father. Because you felt guilty about what you were doing behind my back?

I clenched my jaw and leaned back.

I sipped from my lukewarm coffee, then pulled out my smokes.

How many times had I come home from work to be greeted with a kiss and a ramble about what Lily had done in school today?

“She can pronounce ‘r’ now, Master!”

“This week, she’s been mimicking the sounds from my guitar.”

“Now she’s working on tapping her feet to the beat—it’s part of her motor skills training.”

“Oh, Lily turned seven yesterday, and I missed it.”

I took another swig of my coffee and wasn’t sure if the bitterness came from that or from within. Lily this, Lily that. Every conversation about Lily was a reminder of how Tate and I weren’t going to last in the long run. And we hadn’t, had we? He needed more than I could offer. I didn’t have a submissive fiber in me; I couldn’t connect with him when he switched on his dominance.

Motherfucking switches.

I exhaled some smoke out the window and watched Franklin guide Lily down to the pond. She clutched a plastic bag with bread crumbs and crusts tightly in her hand.

I saw the draw in Lily. Tate had always wanted a kid of his own. He loved working with children, especially those who needed extra assistance. He’d introduced me to his baby sister before I’d met his parents. She was his biggest inspiration, the one who’d determined his career path.

Franklin was more of a mystery. Tate hadn’t mentioned him to me by name; he was always “Lily’s poor father.” Well, until I caught the preview of a text and I went through his phone and found their messages. Then I learned a whole lot about the man.

I didn’t know what hurt more, the fact that Tate had cheated on me or that he kept denying it. He was so good at lying that I’d doubted myself more than once. He had a way about him. He could unleash hell, all fury and desperation, to make me believe him.

Too many memories fucked with my head. Six years’ worth of moments. The good and the bad. His flirty little grin when we first met in that bar. His face pale with despair and eyes brimming with tears as he begged me to trust him—that he would never do me dirty. The utter devotion and surrender flitting across his face as I fucked him raw. Or the rage bleeding on his cheeks when he’d reached his limit on what accusations I could throw at him.

Nausea churned in my stomach, and I decided I’d tortured myself enough for one day. I threw my smoke out the window and drove home, hoping Tate was done. He’d asked for two hours after work every day for one week, today being the last day. He’d found a place to stay. He’d packed up his shit.

I didn’t care how he’d divided our things. I just needed every trace of him gone.

Jesus fuck, it hurt. I swallowed hard and rubbed at my chest.

I didn’t know how to move on. I didn’t know how to feel in my own home. We’d moved in to that loft apartment together. The first place I’d shared with someone else. My uncle owned the building and had turned the attic into an extra apartment. Slanted ceilings all over. Polished concrete floors that Tate and I had covered with mismatched rugs we’d found on sale. Had he taken any? Would I come home to find empty spots on the floor?

Maybe it would be for the best. Every goddamn rug came with a memory.

He’d been fresh out of school with a master’s degree, and I had just left the Navy. We hadn’t been able to afford to install a nice floor. And once we did…we just kept collecting rugs. It’d become a thing.

I parked in the underground garage and took the elevator up to the seventh floor, and I breathed a sigh of relief. No boxes out in the hall; the door wasn’t open. He must’ve left. Which meant this was my place now. Not his. But my relief was short-lived, because the door was unlocked.

He was here.

I braced myself and stepped in. Rugs were still everywhere. I didn’t know how to feel about that. Breaking up with the love of my life was turning into a tale of throwing out what I desperately wanted to cling to.

Worse was the familiar scent of home. His colognes, my aftershave, our body wash, the cleaning products we used, brick, books, and leather.

The living room came into view first, and I instantly hated it. Tate and I had been a messy couple. Not dirty, just untidy. My books and his music crap everywhere. Guitars, picks—picks all over the fucking place—strings, sheet music, textbooks, cases, two keyboards…

I’d throw my ass on the couch after a long day to watch TV, and he would sit in one of the chairs with a guitar and his notes.

I didn’t spot a single guitar in the living room now. The stands were gone too, same with his share of books. And the drawings his students had made him that he’d framed.

Our… I suppressed a sigh. My apartment was fairly large but didn’t have the best floor plan, considering it was designed to be an attic. We had a massive living room combined with a dining area, then a bunch of smaller spaces. Our plan had been to knock down a couple walls to create better-sized bedrooms, because we only had one where a king-size bed fit.

I had. Not we.

I scratched my head.

One by one, Tate had cleared his spaces this week. One tiny room for his instruments, another for clothes and boxes from his childhood home, a third that had been his study. The kitchen had become emptier yesterday. He’d evidently saved the living room for last.

My feet were all but rooted in place, because I knew if I rounded the bathroom to my right, I’d get to the kitchen where he was probably waiting for me.

Get it over with.

I pulled my hoodie over my head and threw it on the hallway table before I bit the bullet.

He sat at the bar, fiddling with his keys.

He’d shaved off his beard.

“You’re still here,” I heard myself say.

He didn’t look my way. He just nodded a little and placed the three keys next to each other on the bar top. We’d fucked on that bar. I’d pushed him up there, forced him onto his back, and wrapped his legs around my hips.

“My mom came by with her spare key,” he replied.

I reckoned I wouldn’t be seeing her again. That was a shame. Tate’s folks were good people.

The other two keys had been his. Home and garage.

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