Eight years ago Emma’s life is ripped apart when Charlie saves her life from a devastating tornado and walks away. Left with nothing, she moves from Glen Springs, Oklahoma to New York. She finds success, but the only thing that feels like home is M’s Place, the diner near her apartment.
A trip to Las Vegas changes everything. Things are looking up then tragedy strikes. Emma moves back to Oklahoma with more on her plate than she ever imagined. Can she finally get her life together and put the history between her and Charlie to rest?
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April 2008, Glen Springs, OK
“Goddammit!” Charlie shouted as he cracked his head on the open hood of the truck he was working on. Rubbing the sore spot through his dirty-blond hair, he walked over to the chair by the messy desk in his uncle’s office and reached for his old, worn black leather jacket. His cellphone was ringing with the familiar ringtone Emma had assigned to her number. His stomach was in knots. Not the normal kind of happy knots or the intense fluttering of butterflies that warmed his gut when Emma usually rang him, though. He felt it with every part of him and this was the call that was going to change everything.
He hit the answer button and with heart-wrenching resignation, raised the cell to his ear. Clearing his throat, he did his best to feign happiness. “Hey, sweetness, have you had a good day?”
“Oh my God, Charlie, I got the letter! It’s here, Blaze, it’s really here,” Emma answered, her voice laced with emotion. Normally hearing his precious girlfriend use her nickname for him would have warmed him to the core but not today. Today, for some reason, it just made him sad.
“So, you gonna leave me hanging or what?” He sighed. He was trying hard to be happy for her, but failing miserably. He knew once she opened the letter everything would have to change. Nothing good for them as a couple would come of this situation and deep down he knew it.
“I haven’t opened it yet. I’m scared. I need you here. I can’t do this alone.”
Charlie could hear the nerves in her voice and steeled himself for what he was about to say. “Okay, sweetness, give me five and I’ll lock up. Uncle Hank is away now with Mom for the weekend now so he won’t mind if I close up early. I’ll be there as soon as I can. We’ll do it together.” He closed his eyes and winced to himself as he realized just what this meant.
“Blaze, I love you so much! Please hurry up! This is killing me! Do you realize what it means if I got in? It means we could have a future away from here. This could be a chance to have a proper future for us. It’s our ticket away from this small town. But I need you here, too, because this is for us. I love you.”
He took his time finishing up on the truck in front of him and unhurriedly set about tidying the tools and sweeping the floor of the garage. It didn’t take an idiot to realize he was trying hard to delay setting off. As if delaying the inevitable would make the whole nightmare go away. As he reached for the switch on the radio his attention was suddenly drawn to the warnings for severe weather in their area. He wasn’t too worried. Although it was late spring and typically the height of the tornado season, it was fairly rare to hear of one in their area. Despite the rarity, the threats came once every couple weeks.
He silenced the radio after listening to the short alert and shrugging off his oily overalls and putting on his faded grey hooded sweater and jacket on over his shirt, he quickly headed out to close the workshop. Emma needed him and he was being a coward.
The garage was situated on the infamous Route 66, and although the bulk of the traffic flowing on the iconic route was mainly tourists now, the garage still had a good flow of mechanical work, owing to his uncle’s local connections. The garage also had a small shop adjacent to it, well stocked with the essentials that most passing tourists needed, as well as offering a pay at the pump gas filling service. So, for most of the time, motorists could fill up without needing to head into the shop and his uncle decided that they could manage with just the two of them manning both buildings. In the height of the tourist season they employed part-time workers to man the shop, but it was not worth paying the wages this time of year for the amount of passing trade they attracted. As he secured the shop by pulling the shutter, he noticed again the weather was looking pretty wild across the other side of town. Drawing his coat tighter and raising his hood, he headed to his truck.
As he drove the few miles across town to Emma’s parents home, he noticed that there was a huge storm brewing in the distance. The day had been hot and the moist air was suffocating. As he turned out of the parking lot of the auto shop and on the main highway, a huge shelf cloud had formed ahead of the thunderstorm and was heading towards town. It was almost as dark as the night during the middle of the afternoon and as he steered the pickup across town, the rain and then hail began to pelt down. The wind picked up, but it wasn’t unusual for them to experience storms like this regularly, especially when the heat increased like it had today. He slowed to a steady pace. As he neared Emma’s small home on the outskirts of town that she shared with her parents, the wipers were beginning to struggle to keep the windshield clear.
He was barely able to concentrate on the road and the worsening weather. His mind was drifting to the letter that had become so important. Pondering what would happen when they found out what it said, he really began to doubt himself and wonder if it could all work out for them. He was a high school dropout with few prospects beyond the pittance his uncle paid him for helping out at the auto shop. He wasn’t qualified and had picked up the basics from his uncle, but he was unlikely to be able to head to college to learn more without his high school diploma. He knew that it was doubtful that he could ever really take care of Emma and give her the life she deserved. He had probably known this for a long time, but had clung to the notion that everything would be okay. He hadn’t wanted to give any thought to how different Emma’s future could be if she took the opportunities that were available to her. But he knew now that there wasn’t a chance for them going forward, and Charlie felt selfish for clinging to his dream of a happily ever after with her.
He was proud of the fact that she had graduated top of the class. However, it took him as much by surprise as everyone else when she had announced she would not be applying to college. When she told him she didn’t want to move away and wanted to stay and build a life together, it blew him away. They worked together as a couple, and he had to admit that they had been blissfully happy these last eighteen months, but the guilt ate away at him more with each passing day. He didn’t want to hold her back. She appeared content to be working at the local law office in Edmond, a couple of towns over. She worked as an assistant to one of the lawyers and they had been saving enough to be able to afford a small apartment together. Emma was living with her parents and Charlie was staying in the trailer with his mom. It had just been him and his mom since he was born with only a little help coming from his Uncle Hank. Charlie had been caring for her for years, leaving her increasingly more dependent on his help so any plans he would make for the future had to include a way to accommodate her, too. But this was yet another burden that he felt Emma didn’t deserve.
One of the senior lawyers who worked closely with Emma had convinced her to apply to law school because he felt she was wasted as an assistant. She, of course, had resisted. Charlie knew she would put up a fight. It had taken a lot of persuasion by him and her parents for her to even consider applying. When she was then offered a generous donation from the law office and a potential scholarship, she warmed to the idea. He had eventually persuaded her to apply to a handful of law schools. They argued daily and she had only agreed to consider going to law school if he agreed to join her. He hadn’t actually committed himself, but during one of their heated discussions she had said it was non-negotiable. If she secured the scholarship, she would able to support him until he gained employment wherever she ended up. But Charlie felt without a shadow of a doubt that his beautiful, intelligent and sweet-hearted girlfriend would ace the applications and even hedged his bets on her getting the scholarship to Harvard. If she did, he was leaving. He had to. It was the only way she would ever have a chance at building herself a proper future. He did not want her to be stuck having to support a hapless loser like him. He had to find the strength to leave her to get on with her life, to be successful and happy with someone who could look after her and give her the support she deserved.
Even if it destroyed him.
It would shatter his heart, but that would be a small price to pay to ensure she got the life he could never give her. He knew she would be heartbroken, too, no doubt, but he had to cling to the thought that she would find someone who could offer her more than his heart and give her everything she needed. He would survive and maybe one day find himself lucky enough to be worthy, but until then, cutting Emma free was the only act of selfless love he felt able to consider.
Just as he stopped in his usual spot under the carport of the house the tornado-warning siren sounded and all hell broke loose. The wind whipped up, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw the huge shelf cloud had followed him and was heading across the fields behind the house and straight at where he was standing. The sky darkened almost instantly as the weather front passed overhead. The hail that had been hammering down on him in town was now unleashing its full force directly above him. The noise of the hail hitting the corrugated plastic roof of the carport was insane. He looked back across the fields toward town and saw that the dark sky was turning yellow as the clouds thickened and the wind picked up. The trees bounding the field directly behind the house were starting to sway frantically and were almost bending with the force of it all. Then the murky afternoon was set alight with ceaseless flashes of lightening followed by the deafening thunder that began to rumble almost constantly all around him. This wasn’t looking good at all.
Without a thought, he jumped from his truck and ran inside the house screaming for Emma. The telephone was ringing off the hook and he wondered where she had gone. He could see out of the kitchen window that they had seconds to react. The dark clouds were now a swirling mass of yellow, grey and white and he could see that as the storm was approaching the clouds were rotating majestically, mixing together in the turbulent air. Then he saw it, the tell-tale funnel of a tornado that was trying to touch ground. He had seen a few tornados in his time, not surprising as he was raised in the most tornado-prone areas of America. But this was a monster storm and in the few seconds he had taken to check what was happening he counted at least four separate funnel clouds that kept trying to touch ground and that meant one thing; complete disaster. The old, timber-framed house would be destroyed along with him and Emma if he didn’t hurry. He had to act fast. The weather was worsening by the second and with the intense hail that was now falling, they risked injury just trying to attempt to escape.
Charlie raced into the corridor, down the center of the house and straight into Emma’s room where he found her listening to the iPod, oblivious to the scene unfolding around them. Charlie and Emma were caught right in the middle of Mother Nature was unleashing weather on a scale neither of them had ever witnessed before. Wasting no time, Charlie grabbed the stunned young woman and as he ran from the house with her in his arms the earphones fell from her ears and he shouted, “Where is the nearest tornado shelter, Em? We need to get there now!”
The terror was clear on his face and he felt her stiffen as she clung on to him so tightly that her knuckles went white from the strain. He felt safer with her in his arms, despite the absolute carnage that was unfolding just a few hundred yards away from them now. He was trying his best to shelter her too from the huge hailstones that were hitting them both relentlessly. He could feel them ripping into the fabric of his jacket. He ran as fast as he could, holding her as if their lives depended on it. She must have realized she was hindering him and wriggled out of his grasp and grabbed his hand as she ran along side him.
“Over there.” He heard above the roar of the wind and thunder as she pointed to the old Fitzgerald place just opposite her parents’ house. It was a large log cabin style home, which had in the past housed a substantial and well-stocked tornado shelter in the grounds. She had often told him that the place always made her grimace. He agreed, though that it’s odd looking, two-toned wood construction made it was one of the least attractive buildings in the area. Thankfully, it was buried within a large forested plot and was barely visible from anywhere until the winter cleared the leaves from the surrounding trees. It wasn’t too long ago that sweet, old Mrs. Fitzgerald had moved into a home near the big city and the place was now empty. He hoped that the shelter was still there and open. He later found out that Mrs. Fitzgerald had always made sure that Emma’s parents knew to use the shelter with them being her nearest neighbors. Emma wriggled from Charlie’s arms and they ran for their lives toward the side of the property. The storm was almost on top of them. He cautioned a glance back towards the house and saw that the funnel had touched ground and expanded in the time that they had run across the road and to the shelter. The thunder rumbled on, each clap merging into the next as the noise of the hail on the tree branches and the asphalt of the road made it almost impossible to hear anything else.
Ripping at the overgrown foliage surrounding the doorway, he managed to ease the door open just as the full force of the tornado hit the neighborhood. Huge pieces of unidentifiable debris, along with pieces of farmyard machinery, large chunks of clapboard, and roofing that had been ripped from the recently destroyed houses were swirling around just meters in front of them. The noise was thunderous. The pressure changes were causing havoc with their ears and there was no way they could communicate effectively.
Charlie turned to grab his sweetheart to pull her into the safety of the shelter and he found she had vanished. His heart failed when he realized that she could be anywhere by now if she had been caught in an updraft because the power of this storm was terrific. He stood from his position near the entrance and glanced around in every direction. Even though it was pointless he started frantically shouting,
“Emma, Emma where are you? Emma!”
His voice drowned out by the relentless force in play around him. Seconds later he ran in the general direction of a muffled scream. The intensity of the wind had obviously dragged her several meters from the shelter. Because of the increasing force of the storm, she was clinging for dear life to a tree. Grabbing her with both hands and holding on with all his might, he managed to free her grip from the tree trunk and dragged her down the stairs into the cellar. He safeguarded her on the floor near the shadow of what looked like a small bed and then went back up and tightly secured the shelter door. He took a moment to silently thank old Mrs. Fitzgerald for her emergency planning.
As the relief hit him and the adrenalin coursed though his veins he fell against the dirt wall of the entrance tunnel with his back and his legs gave way. Letting out a long sigh, he realized he could hear the sounds of gentle sobbing coming from deeper in the shelter. The noise outside was phenomenal although he hoped that the storm would relent soon. He crawled slowly on his hands and knees towards his beautiful girlfriend, the love of his life, and took her into his arms and held on like it was all he could do to survive.
As Emma melted into him, he felt complete and he lost count of how many minutes they sat there in the darkness just listening to the sounds of the storm raging above them. The only other sounds were of their ragged breaths and thundering heartbeats. That had been too close.
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30 – something Mum of two from the North of England (Yorkshire to be precise AKA Gods own Country) who regularly seeks refuge in fictional characters minds. Prefers the hot and hunky men with a romantic side but not averse to a dominant man, nor ones with a dark side too!
She decided, after much persuasion from both her friends and especially her husband to pursue her dream of one day publishing her own book!
So after much deliberation (and nagging from him indoors), her first book Steeling my Haart is out now!