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Asher
Author: Carian Cole

Prologue

 

 

“You brought me all the way up here to my favorite place to distract me, didn’t you?” Ember squints against the rays of sun slicing through the trees.

I grab her hand and link our fingers as we walk along the steep, rocky path that runs the length of the waterfall. “Is it working?”

She mimics my playful grin. “You know it is, Valentine, and it isn’t fair.”

My wife only calls me by my last name when she’s teasing, flirting with me, or when we’re having a rift. Sometimes a mix of all.

When we reach the small lookout at the top of the falls, I pull her close, squeezing her hand so she can’t walk away to stare at the water. Her cheeks are flushed pink and damp from the hike up the mountain, her lips slightly parted as she catches her breath.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” She smiles at me with that twinkle of playfulness in her green eyes I’ve been crazy about since I met her.

“I just love you. That’s why.” I lean down and touch my lips to hers, lingering for a few seconds, sharing the same breath.

“I love you too.”

We sit on a boulder covered in soft moss near the ledge and admire the view of the falls and clear water in the river below. Autumn in New Hampshire is our favorite season, and this is our special place. It’s the spot where we said “I love you” for the first time. It’s where I asked her to marry me. It’s also where she told me she was pregnant with our daughter. We’ve written songs here. Made most of our life decisions here.

A lone cloud drifts across the sky, dimming the brightness of the sun, leaving us in a moment of unexpected grayness. Much like this morning when over breakfast she blurted out words that nearly made me choke on my coffee. Unfamiliar words like unhappy.

And lonely.

I told her I didn’t understand. And I don’t. I still don’t.

Her words seeped into my chest and settled there with a persistent burn. Now, hours later, that ache endures, plaguing me, and I want it gone. Stat. I know deep down that her words this morning weren’t merely words. They were stepping stones thrown down a path that would take us to a place we’d never been before.

A crossroads.

My hope was that she wouldn’t be able to think about being unhappy in a place that holds nothing but precious memories, which was why I suggested we get on my motorcycle and take a ride here.

“Ash, I don’t think I want to live like this anymore.”

The soft sincerity of her voice cuts through my thoughts like a dagger slicing a ribbon, leaving my hope frayed and tattered.

The cloud moves, and the sun’s warmth and light return, but it doesn’t diminish the chill of foreboding still rooted in my gut.

Is she thinking of leaving me?

“Define this.” I nod at a hiker who smiles in our direction as he walks by on the path a few feet away. My fingers twitch, itching to hold a cigarette and bring it to my lips, even though I haven’t smoked in more than four years.

“I don’t want this crazy rock star life anymore. I miss you. I’m lonely. I hate that we’re both constantly in a state of utter exhaustion. I’m worried about us. All I want is calm and quiet. Some normalcy. To be home more with Kenzi. It hurts me so much to say it, but I’m not happy with how things are. It’s too much nonstop stress. Too much time apart.” She stares at the water tumbling down the rocky mountainside. Her top teeth dig into her glossy lower lip, something she does when she’s worried or lost in thought.

Every word feels like a brick, each one stacking up to create a wall I’m not sure I can climb. I rub my hand across the stubble on my chin, hoping the noise of the rushing waterfall has affected my hearing and my wife isn’t telling me she’s unhappy with our life.

Our hearts and happiness have always been perfectly in sync. Our goals, our dreams, our desires have always been parallel. Solid and unwavering. We’ve been called a power couple in the music industry. The fans even gave us one of those smashed up stupid couple nicknames: Ashber.

We’re happy. Aren’t we? We send each other sexy and mushy texts day and night. We still kiss like lovestruck teens. We talk on the phone for hours when we’re apart, chatting about life, music, Kenzi, and our future. We can’t keep our hands off each other when we’re together. We live in a never-ending honeymoon phase.

“I thought you were happy with our life,” I say, terrified of where she’s going with this, and even more terrified to admit that I’ve been feeling the same way.

Because despite the fact that I’m still desperately in love with my wife, I’ve felt it too. Everything she just said, simmering under the surface. The loneliness. The ache for her. The never-ending race. The stress of always having to be “on.”

She tilts her head up to face me. “I thought I was. For a long time, I loved it, but lately I feel like what I want has changed. I want to have another baby—”

My heart jumps with relief, and a big smile takes over my face. “A baby?” I repeat. A baby I can do.

We haven’t talked about having another baby in years. Every time we have, it’s been in that “someday, it’d be nice to have another baby” way. If someday is now, I’m totally on board with that.

“Yeah. A baby.” She smiles. “I also want more time with Kenzi. I want you, Valentine. All to myself for once. Not sharing you with the band and the fans.” She swallows hard and reaches out to stroke my cheek, her eyes shimmering with tears. “I don’t mean to sound selfish. But we’ve been together for fifteen years, and I feel like we’ve never had time alone together as a couple and a family. I don’t want to be the famous rock star duo anymore. Trying to coordinate two insane schedules, traveling all over. Living out of suitcases. Being pulled apart in so many directions. Always rushing our time together because we have to be someplace else.” She lets out a big sigh. “We rode an amazing wave, and I’m grateful for all of it. But now? I just want us to be us.”

Truth is, all I know is the life she’s describing. I was conceived backstage at a concert by a musician and a groupie who turned a one-nighter into forever. I was born and raised on a tour bus. I’ve been singing and playing guitar since I was five years old. I didn’t just follow in my father’s footsteps, I completely surpassed them.

But suddenly the option of being with the love of my life more, spending time with my daughter, and adding a baby to our family is wildly appealing to me.

I’ve thought about it a lot, actually. When I’m sleeping alone on the tour bus, missing my wife something fierce. When I’m so exhausted I don’t know what day it is or what part of the country I’m in. More and more lately, I’ve wanted home and everything that’s there.

I love creating music. I love the fans. I love the high of being on stage. But it’s nothing compared to how I feel when I wake up in my own bed with my wife all snuggled up in my arms, and I can hear my daughter in her room down the hall.

Ember’s right. The demands of our careers have been taking over, slowly stealing our time together away from us. Eating away at our foundation like termites. For years, I’ve been telling myself nothing could ever come between us. As if our love is an unbreakable force. We never fight, we’re one-hundred-percent committed to each other. I thought that would keep us in a bubble of perfection forever.

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