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The Scars Between Us
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Emma Cooper is determined to fulfill her mother’s dying wish to scatter her ashes with Aiden Sheffield in Linx, Texas. Just one problem. Why Texas and who the hell is Aiden Sheffield? The only clue is a faded piece of her mother’s stationary. Emma imagines Aiden is a former love of her mother’s, but when she meets the beautiful, damaged stranger, she realizes her assumptions couldn’t be more wrong. He’s hot and young. And Emma is as confused as ever.
Aiden Sheffield would rather go to hell than Linx. Who does Emma think she is disrupting his carefully built life? The last thing the Marine needs is to slice open the sealed wounds of his painful past. Yet, as he gets to know the lovely Emma, a woman who manages to smile even though she’s lost everything, he changes his mind. He will not let her go to hell alone.
But neither is prepared for the devastating evil waiting for them at the end of the road. It might just destroy them.
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I look at Dad’s watch out of habit. It’s huge and clunky on me. I’ve made my own hole in the worn leather so it will stay on my wrist. Like me, it runs slow these days. It’s a JCPenney special with nothing special about it, but it makes me feel closer to him.
Tilting my face, I gaze at the house that had been my home. A flashy sticker covers the For Sale sign in the yard announcing the home is SOLD in obnoxious red capital letters. I want to kick the sign, punch it, or better yet, rip it from the earth and stomp on it until I’m standing on nothing but splinters.
But the time for action is gone.
I chose to leave early this morning to avoid neighbors and friends. They will offer up their homes to me again. They will try to give me money or suggest other options. I didn’t inherit my father’s wit or wisdom, but I have his stubborn pride.
I do a final check of the truck—my dad’s truck, which now belongs to me. I tug on the straps securing the tarp that covers all my possessions. I am literally carrying my world. Taking a cleansing breath, I climb into the driver’s side. Mom’s already in the passenger seat. I reach over and secure the seat belt around her.
“Get comfortable. We have a long trip,” I tell her, tugging on her seat belt once more. “It’s twenty-six hundred miles to the middle of Nowhere, Texas.” I flash mom a cheerful smile I don’t feel.
“Emma,” she says, her voice full of compassion with the slightest hint of admonishment—a feat only mothers can achieve.
“Sorry, I mean Linx, Texas. What kind of name is that for a town, anyway?”
But she doesn’t respond this time. She is very selective in her conversation these days.
Scrolling through the navigation app on my phone, I contemplate the strange journey for the hundredth time. “It’ll take us about a week to get there and back.”
Sorrow floods me with the realization that I won’t come back here. I’ll go to a new, permanent home in Los Angeles instead. I’ll move in with my boyfriend, Kenneth. Mom won’t be with me anymore. That’s the reason I’ve procrastinated until the final hour. I’m not ready to let her go.
As we make our way through the streets of Dunsmuir, California, she speaks again. “Sweetheart, is there something you’re forgetting?”
“Mom, you can’t be serious.”
I turn up the volume to tune her out. I made the playlist for this trip specifically. They are all songs from generations past. Sam Cooke sings about “What a Wonderful World” it is.
“Sam Cooke,” she says. “Your dad introduced me to his music. He’d sing this song to me all the time, and make me dance with him. I never danced before I met him.”
Yeah, Mom, I was there, remember? As a child, I would roll my eyes and fake a gag at their random acts of affection. Now, I wish I had just one of those moments back. Thanks, Sam. As if I’m not fucked up enough.
But even Sam’s smooth jazzy voice doesn’t distract Mom.
“You found his address, didn’t you? When you went through my memory box?”
I’d avoided the small wooden box until the very end of my packing. It contained Mom’s favorite photos, my first tooth, and the little love notes dad wrote over the years. All the usual stuff that has no value to anyone else but is invaluable just the same. I never imagined finding Aiden Sheffield’s address on a folded scrap of flowery stationary.
When Mom first mentioned her crazy request, I thought she was delusional. After all, I’d never heard his name before. For that matter, I’d never heard of Linx. In fact, the only thing “Texas” in our home was the bread she served with her cheesy spaghetti bake. Oh, and the Hold ’em games we played during Friday night poker.
“What? I’m just supposed to show up at his house? Hi, I’m Emma Cooper. You don’t know me, but apparently, you had a fling with my mom. She wants me to tell you she’s sorry. We’re going on this road trip to this tiny Texas town that I’ve never heard of. And guess what, Mr. Sheffield? Bonus, she wants you to come with. Yeah, ’cause that’s not crazy.”
“Oh, baby, this isn’t a normal road trip, is it? I’m sorry to put this on your shoulders, but I won’t be able to rest in peace until it’s done.”
I concentrate on Sam singing to us. Here I am, at this crossroads that’s not of my own choosing. We weave our way through the quiet streets of Dunsmuir, passing the sign that announces we have the “World’s Best Water,” a big point of pride. I will miss this town. We pass the firehouse with its large elm tree in front. I slow down, staring at the plaque affixed to the trunk, the one that details my father’s heroic action about a year back. He gave up his own life while saving two children trapped on the top floor of an apartment building.