The Bet

By: Rachel Van Dyken

Chapter Thirty-two





“Damn, she’s scary,” Jake muttered.

“Tell me about it.” Travis kept his eyes trained on the door, willing Kacey to come back through.

“So.” Travis felt air whoosh by his ears as Jake took a seat next to him. “We gonna have this out, right here? Right now?”

Why wasn’t she coming back? Why did he have to act like such an idiot? Why couldn’t he have just told her he loved her when she needed to hear it most. It was hard to remember that Kacey could be insecure. Hadn’t she just said nobody had told her she was beautiful since her mother had?

To sleep with her and then say nothing?

He hit his hand against the chair he was sitting in.

“So, no kiss and make up?” Jake asked.

“Sorry.” Travis swallowed the lump in his throat. “It’s not you…”

“It’s not you, it’s me? Are you breaking up with me, bro?”

Travis laughed despite the strong urge to strangle his brother. “No, and I’m not giving you the speech, though if I knew it would humble you, I’d damn well try.”

“I’m humbled after tonight. Believe me.”

Travis looked into his brother’s eyes, the same ones that usually reflected so much arrogance it made Travis want to become violent. Instead of their usual cockiness, all he saw was regret, and maybe a little shame.

Jake smiled sadly and shrugged. “I ruined the perfect girl. She wants you. She told me she wants you. Nobody else.”

“Not even the great Jake Titus?”

“God, I hate it when you both use my full name. I can’t even imagine how bad it’s going to be when it’s two against one.”

“Welcome to my childhood.” Travis slapped him on the back.

“I’m sorry, you know,” Jake said, shaking his head. “For everything. If I could take it back—”

“I wouldn’t want you to take it back. In your own sick way, you drove her right into my arms.”

“And the humility just keeps coming.” Jake laughed. “Go after her.”

“Didn’t you hear Grandma? We’re stuck in here for three hours.”

“Ten bucks says Grandma’s lying.” Jake nodded to the door. “Look for yourself.”

Travis got up from his seat and walked out the door. The guard nodded his head but said nothing. “Well, I’ll be…”

“Conniving little thing, our grandma,” Jake said, suddenly at his side. “Go get her.”

Travis wasn’t even sure which hallway to go down, let alone know where Kacey would be. “I have no idea where Grandma would take her.”

“Really? No idea? None at all?” Jake gave him a stupid look and frowned.

Travis searched his brain for any sort of recollection of where Grandma would take Kacey. Obviously, she’d want her to be able to relax and be happy and comfortable and…

“Home.”

****

“Are you sure he’d be okay with this?” Kacey asked, once she dropped her bags in the living room of the 6000 square foot ranch house.

“Oh honey, why else would he give me a key?”

“He didn’t give you a key. You lifted ten rocks to find the hide-a-key.”

Grandma shrugged. “Same thing.”

“Right.” Kacey looked around the room and wanted to cry. Everything seemed so familiar, yet different. It felt like home, even if it was someone else’s house entirely. After Grandma had taken Kacey away from the airport, she had told her about Travis as a little boy.

How he had watched her, tried to protect her. She said he’d felt like it was his duty to make sure she was always safe. So when her parents had died, he’d tried to preserve everything, even going as far as to put her parents’ belongings in the shed when Kacey sold off the house. He’d only kept a few things he knew she would want one day.

Some of those things, like her dad’s favorite hunting trophies and stuffed animals were mounted on the wall of his living room.

She swallowed the giant lump in her throat when she walked to the east end of the room and saw a picture of Travis and her dad, shaking hands and laughing on one of their hunting trips.

Funny, how she had forgotten how close Travis and her father were until now. They’d been hunting buddies for as long as she could remember. Jake hated hunting. He said it was cruel to shoot animals, and actually had gone as far as to tell Kacey that her dad hated the furry things for doing that.

It hadn’t mattered that her father had always eaten everything he’d hunted.

Jake had always thought it a stupid sport.

It hadn’t been stupid to Travis, though. Her dad had come home after every hunting trip with funny stories about what Travis had done and how proud he’d been of him.

Her eyes fell to the planked-wood floor. The moon shone in through the French doors that led to the outside balcony. Travis had done a beautiful job building the house.

“Shall I leave you?” Grandma said from behind her.

“You don’t have to.” Kacey’s voice shook.

“I think he’d rather I left.” Grandma nodded towards the door and gave Kacey one more hug.

Kacey’s eyes fell on Travis.

She wanted to run to him.

To throw her arms around his neck and beg for him to never let her go again. But at the same time, what he’d done was still so raw and hurtful. Especially the way he’d reacted at the airport.

Grandma walked by her grandson and mumbled something that made Travis laugh. The door closed behind her and they were left alone.

“Kacey,” Travis began to speak then walked purposefully toward her, gaining speed the closer he got. “Kacey,” he mumbled again as he pulled her against his body and kissed her across the mouth. “I’m so damn sorry.”

Kacey melted in his arms.

“I need to explain.”

“You do.” Kacey tried to pull away, but his arms locked around her body.

“I was scared…”

“Why do I scare all men?” she interrupted, frustrated and hurt.

“Let me finish.” He smiled and she became even more irritated that her stomach flopped at the sight. “Holding you in my arms, kissing you, making love to you. It was everything I’ve ever wanted and then suddenly I felt like such an ass because I got lost in it all without saying the one thing I’ve been dying to say for my whole life.”

“What’s that?”

“I love you.” His voice trembled. “You and only you. I love you so much that I can’t breathe.”

“You’re breathing right now,” she pointed out, still trying to be mad at him while her heart was thumping wildly in her chest.

“Well, that’s because I’m using your air. It’s because you’re in my arms. Kacey, I’m never letting you go.”

“Good.” She reached for his neck and pulled his head down so their mouths could touch. His lips parted. Home. “I love you too.”

She felt his mouth form a smile beneath their kiss, and then he lifted her into his arms and twirled her around the room. “Does that mean you’ll stay?”

“If you ask nicely and promise not to throw things or pull my hair.”

“You know I can’t promise those things. I’ll probably pull your hair, jump on you, and push you against the wall. And I’m pretty sure in a few minutes you’ll be screaming my name.”

Kacey felt her knees turn to jelly.

“But…” He placed her back on her feet “…I can promise to love you forever.”

“Are you asking me to live in sin with you, Travis Titus?”

“No.” His eyes darkened as he got down on one knee in front of her. “I’m asking you to be my wife.”

****

“Kacey?” Travis was still on his knee. “Aren’t you going to say something?”

“I thought a long pause was necessary after what you put me through tonight.”

“I don’t like long pauses.”

Kacey shrugged. “Too bad.”

Travis raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, I’ll marry you, …Satan.”

“Aw, see? We already have pet names!” Travis jumped to his feet and picked her up again.

“Where are we going?”

“To celebrate,” he answered gruffly.

“Where?” She giggled.

“The bedroom. Where else?”

“You can’t propose to a girl then sleep with her,” Kacey pointed out. “It doesn’t work that way!”

Travis paused and placed her on her feet. “Wine on the porch?”

Kacey nodded her head. She didn’t trust her voice not to squeak with excitement.

“You’re beautiful when you smile like that.” Travis touched her cheek with his hand.

“You make me feel beautiful.” She looked down.

“Don’t do that, don’t look down when I give you compliments.”

Kacey met his gaze. “I’ll try not to.”

“Come here, I want to show you something.” Travis grabbed her hand and led her into a room off the main living area. It looked like a study. Every wall was lined with books. In the middle of the space was a giant oak desk sitting on a circular rug. The room had a private entrance to the porch as well.

“I’ve kept this, for you, all these years.” Travis reached into the desk and pulled out a manila envelope.

“What is it?” Kacey reached out to grab it, but Travis pulled it back.

“Promise me you won’t be angry?”

“No.”

“Figures.” He chuckled and handed over the folder. “I’ll be outside when you need me, okay?”

She nodded as he closed the door behind him.

The envelope was thick.

Shaking, she poured the contents onto the desk in front of her. The first thing she saw was her parents’ will.

She hadn’t looked at it, nor had she been there for the reading. She’d just had Grandma tell her the specifics.

Good thing too, because it stated in no uncertain terms that Grandma was her legal guardian if her parents ever died before her eighteenth birthday.

No wonder Grandma never lost track of her.

Grandma really had been her Godsend.

Sighing heavily, she placed the will aside and pulled out a tiny envelope with her name on it.

The paper inside was college-ruled notebook paper, something she hadn’t written on for years.

The letter was addressed to her.

Kacey,



I don’t know why I’m even writing this. You’re probably going to think your old mom’s insane for putting something like this in our belongings, but I was sitting at school during my prep period and thought I should give you some words of encouragement.



I heard from another teacher that you and Jake broke up today.



I know it’s hard. Senior year is never easy.



But, honey, don’t you think he’s a better friend than boyfriend? The boy doesn’t even pass a mirror without looking in it! You know you’re smiling because it’s true! I know we pressure you sometimes, but goodness gracious, you could marry Travis, and we would still be proud.



That was me trying to cheer you up. I know how much you despise that boy, even though he’s been there for you without you even realizing it.



I guess what I’m saying is. It’s important to keep your options open. It’s important to live and not get so hung up on the past. The past is called the past for a reason. If you are constantly looking behind you, your eyes aren’t on the road ahead. You don’t drive a car that way, so why would you live your life that way? Isn’t life more important than driving that beat up Subaru?



I love you so much. As a mom I have to allow you to make mistakes, to learn and to grow, but you need to know that my love for you is unending. Regardless of what you’ve done, my love is unconditional. Where you’ve been helps you grow, and, my little treasure, I want you to grow!



Well, the bell just rang. I may not give this to you until you get married. I know you’re rolling your eyes right now, but let’s just say you probably aren’t ready to hear all this from me just yet. But one day, one day this letter will make sense, and I hope it finds you on that very day. In fact, that’s my prayer right now.



Love you,



Mom



Kacey wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand but cried harder when she saw several other letters in the same pile. Her mom had written her letters and never given them to her. Mom was always strange like that, writing down her thoughts, then forgetting that she wrote them down in the first place.

Kacey always saw her mom writing little things down in her notebooks, but she had no idea it was ever for her.

She tucked the letters back into the manila envelope and walked outside to the porch where Travis was sipping wine.

“You saved all of this for me?”

Travis looked into her eyes and nodded. “I don’t know what any of it said, Kace. I never looked. I just knew, one day, one day you would want all of it, and selfishly I wanted to be the man to give it to you.”

Kacey sat on his lap and leaned against his chest.

”I have a confession to make.” He laughed nervously.

“What did you do?”

“I got drunk.”

“Now?”

Travis laughed again. “No, not now. I got drunk a few weeks ago, and I complained to Grandma about how no woman would ever compare to you. I’m pretty sure I was feeling sorry for myself, and I never make a habit of doing things like that, nor do I make habits of drunk-dialing my own grandmother.”

“Do you think that’s why she faked her stroke?” Kacey asked, taking the wine out of his hands and sipping it.

“It’s possible.” Travis exhaled. “Either way, I don’t care. I’m thankful.”

“Me too.” Kacey nestled into him and sighed. “Me too.”

“Maybe now she’ll direct her attention to Jake while we enjoy a honeymoon far, far away from the family.”

Kacey laughed. “You mean you don’t want your mom, dad, Mr. Casbon, and Grandma to join us?”

“We’d get kicked off the plane in seconds, admit it.”

Kacey giggled. “I’d rather have you to myself anyway.”

“There’s one more thing.” Travis sighed heavily.

“What?”

“Jake owes us a million dollars.”

“Huh?” Kacey jerked back and looked Travis in the eyes. “What the heck? Why?”

Travis grinned smugly. “I bet him a million dollars when I was eight, that I would marry you.”

Kacey burst out laughing. “Shall we call him tomorrow?”

“We shall,” Travis agreed, then his mouth found hers, and immediately she stopped laughing, too distracted by what his mouth was doing.

She’d left home to escape the pain, not knowing that one day, this day, she’d return to find her own true happiness.

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