Status: Complete.

I Want You to Live

Chapter 18

Peyton rushed around the house like a chicken with its head cut off. She was having a very important guest over this afternoon and she wanted everything to look perfect. The entire house had been cleaned from top to bottom. Even Jimbo had been scrubbed clean. He was still pouting and looked a funny sight with his fur stuck out in every direction. Baths weren’t exactly a regular thing for the old ranch dog.

The doorbell rang, causing her heart to skitter around. Nerves attacked her stomach with a vengeance. She straightened the pillows on the couch as she walked past to answer the front door. After taking a deep breath and smoothing down her pale pink blouse, she opened the door. It revealed a tall man with leathered skin from working long hours in the sun. In one calloused hand he held a beat up suitcase. His other lifted to remove his weather beaten cowboy hat. He gave a slight nod to Peyton. It was obvious that he was just as nervous as she was. This helped calm her some. She stepped back, allowing enough room for him to come inside.

“Would you like to settle in first?” she politely asked, wringing her hands to relieve some tension. Instinctively, she smoothed her down, hoping it didn't look as frazzled as she felt.

“Not right now. Thank you, though. I’ve waited a long time for a call like this,” he trailed off as he nervously scratched at his nose. “I would take a cup of coffee if you have some.”

“Of course," she exclaimed, happy to have something to do. "There's a hook behind you for your hat, and you can set your suitcase down anywhere. Make yourself at home, please," Peyton called behind her as she scurried off to get the man his drink.

Once in the kitchen, she scampered around, scooping the coffee into the filter and then pouring in the water. She set two cups next to the maker and propped her elbows on the counter, impatiently waiting. As the dark liquid dripped into the pot, she thought of her soldier overseas. Ever since the funeral, she felt sickened when she thought of him off fighting. No wonder so many relationships crumbled under the pressure. She felt like the fear alone was going to crush her.

The loud hissing that signaled the drink was ready sounded out, causing Peyton to pull herself straight. She fixed her cup and took a tentative sip as she attempted to shake thoughts of Rusty aside. Guilt crept up on her and she struggled to keep it at bay. This was best for everyone.

She strolled back to the door separating the two rooms and asked about cream or sugar. Upon his request of straight black, she waited another second by herself. It was ridiculous how nervous she was. Rusty had been the only man to make her feel this unnerved. She took a couple deep, steadying breaths. After pouring the second cup, she carefully returned to the living room, balancing the overfilled mugs.

Wyatt was studying the picture of her parents, much like Rusty had done. She hesitated in the doorway, watching him. He wasn’t what she had pictured, but she could tell he was a strong and proud man. His features were strikingly familiar. He glanced back to see her standing there and smiled crookedly before looking back at the picture.

“I reckon these are your parents.” He said it more as a statement than a question, but she nodded anyways when he looked back at her. “You look like your mama.”

“Thank you. I take that as one of the highest compliments anyone could give me,” she answered before ambling across the room to hand him his coffee. She snuggled into the couch and pulled her legs up underneath her.

He took a seat on the loveseat opposite from her and the couch. He looked slightly awkward, sitting up pin straight with both feet planted on the floor. “They aren’t around anymore, are they?”

The question caught her off guard, but she recovered quickly. “No, they passed away a couple years ago. Car accident.”

The man nodded and took a gulp from his still steaming coffee. Peyton cringed, waiting for him to make some kind of face, but he acted as if the drink was no warmer than a bowl of ice cream. Ice cream actually sounded pretty good, so she made a mental note to pick some up at the store next time she went.

“Thank you.” she said quietly. He gave her a questioning look. “For not saying I’m sorry for your loss or anything. That’s what most people say.”

“That’s because most people don’t know what it’s like to lose someone close to them. And saying I’m sorry ain’t going to bring them back or lessen the hurt any. There’s no point in apologizing for something you know nothing about, or you had nothing to do with.”

His voice was gruff, but held compassion without pity. It was the most refreshingly honest answer she had been given in a long time. She liked this man that she knew almost nothing about. She knew they were going to get along just fine. And by the looks of Jimbo, who had jumped onto the open spot next to Wyatt, he was going to get along with him just fine, too. She just hoped Rusty would forgive her.

An awkward silence engulfed the pair, causing them both to feign interest in objects around them. Peyton picked at a string hanging from her top while Wyatt scratched Jimbo behind the ear. The dog sighed in contentment, earning a smile from her. He was in doggy heaven.

"Would you like to see some pictures?" she asked, not being able to stand the uncomfortable silence any longer.

"I would love to," he answered, voice soft and deep. The question had piqued his interest, eyes shining with anticipation.

Peyton stood and padded to the bookshelf in the corner of the room. She pulled a leather bound album from the second shelf and rubbed it lovingly. A tear pricked her eye, but she blinked it away. Hugging the book, she made her way to sit next to Wyatt. He scooted slightly to make room, but leaned close, eyes boring into the cover.

The photo book was exactly what was needed to break the ice. They pored over the pictures for hours, downing two full pots of coffee. Peyton gave a running commentary of every photo, explaining where it was taken and the silly stories behind some. Wyatt listened with careful attentiveness, eyes drinking in the scenery. He chuckled occasionally, but mostly just nodded with a small smile tugging at his lips.

Peyton pretended to not notice the tears swimming behind the older man's eyes. She stayed focused on the pages, but couldn't stop the grin gracing her face. This man was nothing like what she had thought. The old saying of people can change rang true with Wyatt.

Time slipped away as they spoke of the regrets of his past and his hopes for the future. Peyton did her best to comfort and encourage, but he seemed doubtful and anxious to see what would happen. Truth be known, she was just as wary. Neither knew how Rusty would react to the news.

"I suppose I should turn in," he finally said, a gentle smile curving his mouth as Peyton yawned.

"Oh, I didn't even fix dinner!" she exclaimed, horrified at her forgetfulness. Her eyes rounded and hand came up to cover her open mouth.

"That's okay, dear," he laughed, patting her knee, "I'm not hungry. Too nervous." His own knee jittered, proving his words to be true.

She smiled, sympathetically. "It'll be fine, I promise." She bit her lip, praying that wasn't a lie.

"Thank you again," he replied, gratefully, "for giving me this chance."

She only nodded as he stood and stretched. He limped slightly until the kinks worked out of his stiff muscles. His body straightened and gait grew steady again. Grasping his suitcase, he meandered down the hallway and to the guest room.

Soon the house was overtaken by silence again, but this time Peyton was comfortable with it. She snuggled back, propping her feet up on the coffee table. Jimbo roused long enough to wiggle his head into her lap before resuming his soft snoring. She flipped aimlessly through the album, studying each photo and wondering what thoughts had went through Wyatt's head. He had been so quiet and reserved, but open at the same time.

Despite the large amount of coffee she had consumed, her eyelids began drooping. It wasn't really even that late, but she was suddenly exhausted. The day had been eventful and all the stress surrounding it was catching up with her. Her stomach grumbled, reminding her of the missed meal, but she was too warm and comfortable to move. As she started drifting off, she made a mental note to call Sylvia and let her know how the meeting had went. That was the last thing she remembered before she floated off, still clutching the photo book tightly in her arms.


Peyton woke once before daylight, smiling drowsily at the feel of the fuzzy blanket tucked around her. The aroma of coffee tickled her nose, but her mind clouded back over with sleep. She noted the album had been placed on the coffee table in front of her. Squirming down, she rearranged the pillows and nestled back down to continue her slumber.

The next time she woke, the sun was beaming in through the windows. She glanced at her phone and realized it was mid morning already. The revelation caused her to scramble from the couch and snatch at her boots. The poor horses were probably starving by now.

Since Rusty had moved in, he had taken over the morning feedings, allowing Peyton to sleep in. She was extremely grateful, but it made it that much harder when he was gone. He was spoiling her too much.

"Sorry, babies," she cooed as she made her way to the first stall. "I overslept this morning."

She hefted the large bucket up, ready to fill the feeder. Surprise registered as she saw that it was already filled. Dropping the bucket, she let it settle next to her on the ground. Slowly, she traveled down the aisle, peeking in each stall only to be met with fresh food and water. A few horses nickered in greeting, but most eyed her with bored expressions as their jaws worked to grind up their meals.

She slipped back out into the morning sunlight and glanced around. Wyatt's truck was missing. Her heart dropped into her stomach. Surely he hadn't already left. He couldn't have let her down like that. Moping back to the house, she kicked her boots off and grabbed her phone off the coffee table.

She plopped onto the couch and hit her friend's name. Ringing filled her ear and she sighed, feeling dejected. "Good morning, lovely!" Sylvia chirped.

"Good morning," Peyton returned, not feeling nearly as giddy as her friend sounded.

"Why do you sound so cranky?" Sylvia questioned. "Is it because you haven't gotten any in a few weeks? Her voice held a teasing lilt and Peyton imagined her pouting.

"From the sound of it you've been getting enough for the both of us," she retorted, holding back her laugh.

A snort sounded over the phone, but she ignored the comment. "How did last night go?"

Peyton answered with a moan and sat up, crossing her legs. She grabbed a pillow and hugged it close to her chest before spilling the story. "Now he's gone, apparently," she finished, not being able to hide her aggravation.

"Really? It sounded so promising," Sylvia commented, sounding equally as surprised.

"That's what I thought, too," Peyton whined.

Sylvia was quiet a moment before asking, "What will Rusty say?"

"I don't know," she answered slowly, honestly. She released a loud sigh. "I'm hoping he'll see things from my perspective, you know?"

"I don't know, chica," she spoke hesitantly, "I think you've jumped the gun on this. He's going to feel pretty betrayed. I know I would."

The statement made Peyton feel ten times worse. She had actually started feeling hopeful last night, but now, in light of Wyatt's disappearance and Sylvia's opinion, she wasn't so sure. Maybe this hadn't been such a good idea, after all.

"I just th-" she stopped mid sentence when she heard the front door open. She turned to see Wyatt stepping inside, carrying a few grocery bags.

"Sorry I didn't leave a note. I just went to get a few things," he apologized, holding the bags up.

"I've got to go, Sylv," she spoke softly into the phone, "I'll call you later."

She hit end despite her friend's loud protests. Taking a deep breath, she composed herself before following the man into the kitchen. His return had put an extra pep in her step. This was going to work out perfectly.