Same thing. "A lot more of this. Is that okay?"
"Suits me." He reminds me of a dog lying on its back, getting a good petting.
"Going back to work will cut in on our together time." There. I said it.
"I'm not excited about that."
Neither of us has mentioned the tick of the clock, but that doesn't mean we should continue to act like it doesn't exist. "Two weeks," I sigh. "It's going to fly and be over before we know it."
"I know. What are we gonna do when that day gets here? Because it's coming sooner than we'd like."
He opens his eyes and looks at me. "It will kill me to leave here without you."
I put my hand on his face and stroke the scruff I've come to love so much. "It will kill me to watch you leave me."
"So that's where we're at?" he asks. "We want to be together but don't have a solution for how we'll make that happen?"
I don't answer because I don't want to admit the truth. I wish I hadn't said anything because it's too hard to face. I prefer to pretend I'm not looking at losing him again.
It's been days since our Vegas marriage talk incident. I add the term incident because it wasn't really a talk. It was me drunk and spouting off about how I wanted to marry Laurelyn and have babies with her.
Not cool, Jack. No woman wants a drunken proposal. I must think of a better way to do it—something romantic that she'll love and want to tell our kids about for years to come.
But the proposal is moot if I can't convince her to walk away from this life, spending three-quarters of the year riding on a tour bus with a bunch of dudes, performing in a different city every night. That's not the life she should have. She should be with me starting our lives together so I can give her the family she wants.
I bought an engagement ring for Laurelyn today. I thought it would be difficult—maybe I'd even find myself short of breath or close to passing out—but it was really easy. I guess when it's right, you know it. I have no doubt I made the perfect choice for her.
But it all means nothing if I don't have the perfect plan for asking her to be my wife.
And I don't have a plan today. Or the next day. Or even a week later.
And now we're down to eight days. Our time together is running out and I have to come up with something fast. It's Saturday night and I take her out for dinner to one of Nashville's finest restaurants—or so I'm told. I really have no idea. I'm out of my element here. This isn't the proposal I'd have for her if we were back home. I'd take her to the beach house in New Zealand and have it covered in candles and fresh flowers. And afterward, we'd make love in our favorite bedroom where the sheer fabric drapes around and separates us from the rest of the world.
I didn't think I would be nervous, but I am. Something about carrying this ring around in my pocket all week has shaken my confidence. I'm terrified of everything—afraid she'll say no, she'll choose this life over one with me, refuse to leave her dysfunctional mother and father. Maybe this doubt is natural, something all blokes go through when they're about to pop the big question.
I called ahead with instructions for seating and they did a great job of granting my request. We're seated in the perfect spot, isolated in a booth in an alcove. It feels like we're the only people in the restaurant other than the staff. I think this seating for two was created for such things.
Am I that transparent? "Nothing. What makes you think something's wrong?"
She reaches across the table and places her hand on my forehead the way my mum does. "You don't look like you feel well. Are you sick?"
"I feel fine," I lie. My stomach feels like it has bats for contents.
"If you don't feel well, we can go home," she offers as she moves her palms to my cheeks. "You look flushed."
That's her mothering instinct taking over, and it reassures me that she's the perfect woman to be my wife and mother of my children. I take her hand from my face and kiss her palm. "I'm fine. Stop worrying."
As we finish eating, I know the time for my proposal is approaching. I'm on my third glass of wine but warn myself to cool it because Laurelyn won't be accepting of another drunk proposal.
I don't want to just blurt out, "Marry me," like I did in Vegas. I want to ease into it and what better way than to bring up me leaving. "We only have eight days before I leave."
"I hate our stupid time restraints," she sneers as she pushes around the last bite of her dessert. "Our time together is always a ticking time bomb. I hate it so much."
"I don't want to leave without you."
She rests her spoon on her plate and leans closer to me. "And I don't want you to leave. Period."
"Have you thought about what it would take for us to not be apart again?"
"Me too. I think about it all the time. It consumes me night and day." And it does. I never stop thinking about it.
"What have you decided?"
I reach across the table and place my hand on hers. "I don't want to live without you."
"Me, either, but how do you suggest we make us work?" I can't tell if she's hinting for me to propose or if she truly has no idea.
I'm rubbing my thumb over the box burning a hole in my pocket. Is now the right time to tell her we'll make it work by getting married and saying to hell with all this other shit? That we'll figure it out as we go along? I have no idea, but I grasp the box in my hand and take it from my pocket. I'm holding it under the table, fidgeting with it. "I have something in mind."
I'm about to place it on the table in front of her when a man walks up to our table and interrupts. Dammit. I purposely waited until after dessert was served so this very thing wouldn't happen.
This is no server or restaurant employee. He wouldn't know her stage name. Laurelyn glances up at him. "Yes."
A light flashes in her face as he takes several pictures of her with an enormous camera. "Can you comment for Country News on how it feels working in the music industry with Jake Beckett as your father?"
Shock and horror—that's the expression she's wearing. "What did you just say?"
His camera is hanging around his neck and he holds a recording device in front of her face. "Miss McLachlan, did your father get you your job with Southern Ophelia?"
Laurelyn looks at me and then back at the man. "I don't know who you are, but I'm not answering any of your questions."
He continues holding the recorder out to her. "Do you think Southern Ophelia's success has anything to do with who your father is?"
I get up from the table and step between them. There's ultimately no space between us when I stare him down. "She said she didn't want to answer any of your questions. Leave. Now."
He leaves but not before taking several more photographs and commenting, "It's amazing how much you look like him, Miss McLachlan. The fans are gonna love that."
She doesn't say anything immediately. I think she needs a minute to absorb what this means, so I let her have her time. Once she seems to have sorted it out in her head, she looks at me. "This changes everything. No one will ever see me as Paige McLachlan again. As far as the world's concerned, I'm only Jake Beckett's daughter."
"Southern Ophelia isn't where they are because you used his name. You and the band earned your success without riding his coattails. People will see that."
"I don't think so. I need to call my mom and…dad."
Well, there goes any chance of popping the question tonight.
"Hey, Mom. Are you at home?" She pauses briefly. "I'll be there in twenty minutes."
I'm not looking forward to seeing Jolene Prescott again since we didn't part on the best terms. I can tell she feels the same when she sees me walk into her living room with Laurelyn. Her narrowed eyes leave no room for doubt. Jake Beckett, however, is welcoming and gets up from where he's seated to shake my hand. "Nice to see you again, Jack."
Laurelyn's mum gives me a curt nod before looking to her daughter for an explanation. "What's going on?"
"Jack and I were having dinner and a reporter—at least I guess that's what he was—came over to our table. He took pictures and asked me to comment on how it felt to work in the music industry with Jake Beckett as my father." She focuses on Jake. "He asked me if you got me the job with Southern Ophelia."
Jake looks at Jolene and then back to Laurelyn. "I guess I should've told you this already, but I filed for divorce last week. It looks like the digging has started already. I'm sorry. I know you didn't want it to be known publicly."
"You shouldn't worry about this, Laurie," Jolene pushes. "It's not going to hurt you at all. If anything, this'll only boost your career." She doesn't get it, and I don't think she ever will. This isn't the way Laurelyn wanted to achieve success.
"But that's the whole thing, Mom. I don't want a boost from being genetically tied to Jake Beckett," Laurelyn tries to make her mum understand. "I want to earn everything on my own."
"And you will. You have. The world already sees how talented you are. Southern Ophelia was already doing great before this got out," her dad says to reassure her, but it's in vain. I can tell by her face. "You should tell Randy immediately. And I think we should schedule an interview as soon as possible. It'll look better if it's us telling the world instead of people seeing it on the front of a gossip magazine."
She's about to cry. I can sense it. "This isn't what I want."