All the Little Things

All the Little Things

Heidi Sprouse

December 2013 $11.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-402-0

Book One of The Cordial Creek Romances

They’ve loved each other since childhood. Marriage has always been their destiny.

But lately they’ve lost a fragile balance between them.

Now he’s given himself a deadline to win her back or lose her forever.


 

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

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They’ve been soulmates, best friends, and sweethearts since they were kids living next door to each other. Twenty years. Everyone in Cordial Creek, Vermont expects thirty-year-old Sam, an architect, and twenty-eight-year-old Megan, a paralegal, to tie the knot. They were about to do that until the untimely death of Sam’s dad two years ago devastated Sam and settled him even deeper into the small town he loves. He threw himself into his construction company and took on new responsibilities as his mother’s shoulder-to-lean-on. Megan adores him but is struggling with the changes in their relationship—and with some doubts about herself that she can’t quite identify.

One small, reckless mistake on her part—a silly ploy to shake Sam out of his doldrums—explodes into a painful turning point. He sets out to remind her of all the special bonds they share and why they’re perfect together. If the memories don’t solve Megan’s crisis, all the little things that they love about each other may not be enough to keep them together.

Heidi Sprouse writes romances about ordinary men who become extraordinary through their actions and the women who love them. She lives in historic Johnstown, a small upstate New York town on the fringe of the Adirondacks, with her husband, Jim, and son, Patrick. Please visit her at www.heidisprouse.wix.com/heidi-sprouse or find her on Facebook at Heidi Sprouse Writing "All the Little Things" and More.

 


 

 

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Excerpt

Just Out for a Sunday Drive

IN RETROSPECT, Sam kept noticing all the little things about that fateful day. It was a Sunday. A beautiful, sunny, not-a-cloud- in-the-sky kind of Sunday in Cordial Creek, Vermont. The kind of day that made a person want to stop time, freeze it, stick it in a pocket to keep it forever. So bright that it stabbed at his eyes, made him squint and grab for his sunglasses. He always forgot his sunglasses.

Even though it was autumn, the sun took the chill off, settled like a blanket on the air, made coats fall off and short sleeves come out of the closet. It also begged for classic cars to come out of the garage. Sam put the top down on his vintage, cherry red, 1963 Corvette roadster. More little things—the long list of details about a car—but vital to a car enthusiast. It felt good to drive out and meet the day with nothing between him and the wind tugging at his hair and clothes, filling him with a sense of freedom.

MEGAN TAYLOR woke up early that morning, before the sun. Stared up at the ceiling with dry eyes. Watched the dawn creep in, splashing the walls in a wash of pink, red, gold. She climbed out of bed and made a pot of tea. Like she did, every single morning, work day or not. Scalded her tongue but drank it down with fingers that trembled. It was Sunday. People were supposed to look forward to Sunday, so what was the matter with her?

The newspaper remained on the kitchen table, unopened except for the comics, in search of something, anything light-hearted. Her shower stretched until the water ran cold. In a soft, terrycloth robe in hurt-your-eyes red, she stood by the mirror and dried her hair until it was a golden mass of curls gleaming down her back. Sam loved her hair, would run his fingers through it, press his face to it when they held each other close. Thoughts of Sam made her want to cry. It was no fault of his own; the problem rested in Meg.

She changed her clothes twice, three times, stood in front of the floor length, antique mirror that had been her grandmother’s. Stepped into heels that hurt her feet but made her legs look good; some insensitive man had probably invented the torture devices. Turned once, took one more slow turn, glanced over her shoulder. Blue eyes—cerulean; that was the color on the crayon box—stared back at her, shocking in their intensity. Questioning. It all hung in the balance, what she was doing today. It was a gamble, a chance she was willing to take. Still made her feel shaky, made her doubt her sanity.

Megan stood in the kitchen and watched the clock. Her heart hammered in time with its ticking. Today would be a first for her, something she’d read about, seen in the movies, but never had to do. Her stomach was flip-flopping. She closed her eyes and breathed in and out through her nose, striving to settle everything down when the purr of an engine made her eyes snap open again. She’d know that sound anywhere; Sam, come to pick her up, in the Corvette. She hadn’t warned him, couldn’t talk to him, didn’t know what she would say. Time to find out. She swallowed hard, afraid.

ONLY ONE thing could make this day perfect— spending it with his girl. Sam didn’t have to tell her he was coming; this was their Sunday routine. The sweet hum of the Corvette’s engine announced his arrival. Megan came to the door in a cute little dress that was a splash of fall colors, hues of orange, red, and yellow setting a fire in his veins. He wondered later, should the dress, on a lazy, Sunday afternoon when she usually wore jeans, have tipped him off? Or the forced smile as she slid in next to him and barely brushed his cheek with her lips? He started a conversation, had a few brief responses, and let the silence take over. Maybe she wanted to be quiet, enjoy the day, like he did. He only wanted to take in the sights... and her.

The road stretched out before them, filled with twists and turns—more foreshadowing of what was to come? When it came to their relationship, Sam saw one lane running straight into a blazing sunrise of a future. A little girl with sunshine in her hair and the sky in her eyes, like Megan. A tyke of a boy, a miniature Sam, with dark waves of unruly brown hair and coffee eyes, toddling to keep up. A cozy house that would reach out and tuck them in with two rockers on the porch to grow gray in...

They pulled up to a four-way stop at an intersection when Sam’s vision hit a dead end. In a blink, Megan was out of the car, walking away as fast as her high heels—she only wears heels to work or special occasions flashed through his mind—could carry her. Frozen until the beat of his heart started again, Sam jumped out, left the car door open and the motor running. Horns blared. People yelled and made rude gestures. Others stopped to watch the soap opera. Sam caught up with her, long legs easily closing the gap, and grabbed her arm. "Meg, what is this?”

She turned, tears in her eyes. "I can’t do this anymore—one more Sunday drive and I’ll go crazy. Sam, I care about you, but let me go. I don’t even know how to explain it. I’ll tell you later. Call me in the morning.” His arm dropped as his fingers turned numb; it felt like something had bitten him, sent a slow poison running through his veins. He remained in the middle of the road, while she continued walking away. Unbelievably, she stepped into a waiting cab. The only cab in Cordial Creek. She’d planned this. It pulled away before Sam could make himself move.

Traffic continued to flow around him, the wind of its passing pushing at him. "Hey, Sam! Out of the road!” a man called.

Red and blue lights flashed—they should mean something. A young officer, solid, with a crew cut and strong jaw, reminded Sam of a marine as he stepped beside him and touched his arm. "Sam, you need to get out of the road. Do you need assistance?”

Switch gears. Focus. Ignore the pounding in his head and stabbing in his chest. Was this having a heart attack? "Yes... I mean, no, I don’t need help. I lost something... out of my car. I’ll move my car.”

The officer directed traffic, keeping the shell-shocked man in his line of sight at all times. Sam moved as if underwater, in slow motion, and pulled his car to the side of the road. Once there, he didn’t move. He didn’t have any reason or inclination to go anywhere. He tipped his head back and stared, unseeing, at the clear blue sky trying to figure out what happened.

MEGAN SAT BY the window of the cab, face turned to the glass as the tears flowed. She didn’t look back at Sam, couldn’t look back at him. Now or never! Her heart was racing until it hurt. Her hands shook in her lap until she clasped them tightly together over her purse. Her eyes were squeezed shut but Sam’s face, the shock and the hurt when she got out of the car, told him no more, could not be erased.

She hadn’t meant for it to happen that way; her mind had raced for days—no, weeks—in an effort to find a way to tell Sam that she was unhappy and couldn’t figure out why. All of her life, she had done the right thing, the predictable, followed the regimented life of a military household. Her relationship with Sam, it had always been there, something that she fell into like falling into bed at night; it was that easy, moving from friendship to something more. Right now, she wanted something spontaneous, the unknown. Sam was the only boyfriend she’d ever had, an old pair of shoes, the only pair she’d worn, comfortable and familiar. She was the only girlfriend he’d ever had. They were on an absolute path to marriage; had been, for years.

What if she made a disappointing wife? An inadequate mother? She had to find out what was tearing her apart inside.

The cab pulled into a small town next door to Cordial Creek. Megan stepped out at a small café, paid the driver, and set up a time for him to return. She wiped her eyes and set her shoulders. Standing by the door was a tall man in a dark suit, eyes hidden by sunglasses, black hair slicked back. Mr. Classic, tall, dark, and handsome. He raised a hand to her in recognition. She returned the gesture. She’d only seen him in a photograph on the online dating site, but she knew it was him.

The road was clear. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach as she walked across, greeted him, and let him open the café door.

This is a mistake, a huge mistake. I hate his slick hair already. Her heart sank. Oh, Sam.

"Are you ready for anything?” His touch sent a chill up her arm, and she wanted to jerk away. New territory here; she wasn’t sure how to handle it. She smiled coolly. They set out for a simple get-to-know-you lunch that seemed as sad, mysterious, and terrifying as a trip to another country.

Oh, Sam. What have I done?


 

 

2

The Morning... Aftermath

IN THE EARLY morning hours, Sam’s life was divided into two photographs, sliced down the middle by a stop sign and the slam of a car door. Everything before Megan got out of the Corvette was alive and rich in brilliant color; everything after faded into black and white.

He sat in a chair, in the dark, eyes wide open. He hadn’t slept that night, couldn’t sleep. There was a painful knot in his stomach, twisting with a vengeance, bringing a bad taste to his mouth. That and a headache at the base of his skull made him feel like his head was about to explode. His blood pressure was probably through the roof, threatening a self-induced stroke. He should go to the hospital, get some drugs, or find oblivion in a bottle.

His mind wouldn’t let it go, kept the images rolling from the moment Megan sat down beside him on the white leather seat of his classic car to the instant her feet touched the ground, carrying her away. He couldn’t turn off the replay in his head. Time was a punishment, dragging by at a painfully slow pace, and the night wore on. Memory was most cruel, a video stuck in the same spot—yesterday afternoon. Made him watch it over and over, looking for answers.

It didn’t make sense to him. Megan had been in his life for twenty years; they’d met as children, grown up as best friends; becoming a couple had been as easy as breathing. Sam had thought the next step would be marriage. He’d often brought it up, but somehow Megan had avoided the topic. That should have been a red flag.

Instead, they would spend their spare time together at each other’s homes; Megan would come by in the morning with wake-up coffee then stop by after work, or Sam would surprise her at her place. The weekends were always something to look forward to, a time for day trips, to get away, to be together.

Was that the problem? Not forcing the issue of a commitment? Too much familiarity? Falling into a routine with no edge to it like two old people, nothing to make her feel alive? Had he made it too comfortable so that it was easier for her to walk away? His thoughts went in circles, sharks snapping vicious jaws. Dawn finally arrived, but he was at a loss as to what to do with the daylight. This really shouldn’t be so hard or dramatic. It happened all the time. Boy meets girl. Girl breaks boy’s heart. End of story. Tell that to his heart.

The ticking of the clock kept beating on his brain, reminding him that there was something that he had to do. He picked up the phone, dialed, and reached his secretary. Had to clear his throat at the sound of her voice, silently cursing its cracking. Heaven help me, don’t let me lose it. "Janet, it’s Sam. I’m feeling lousy today. When Michael comes in, tell him he’s in charge. I’ll try to be in tomorrow.” None of it was a lie—his voice proved just how lousy he felt. His secretary assured him she’d take care of everything and hoped he’d feel better.

His chair was his refuge, where he remained the rest of the day and into the night, moving only when the demands of the bathroom and thirst required it. No sleep. No food. No relief. He was waiting—for the phone to ring, the door to open, or for merciful sleep to come and erase the last twenty four hours. Being real life, none of those things happened. His eyes burned with the need to rest. His stomach protested with the need to eat. His heart ached with the need to beat again.

Cursing himself, unable to sit still any longer, Sam showered, pulled on jeans and a t-shirt, and peeled out of the driveway in his pickup truck. He went way too fast, kicking up dust on the dirt road, blind to the scenery around him. Destination—anywhere but here, as long as it was out of his mind.

MICHAEL FLANNIGAN pulled in early to the construction site of his latest project, an office building that resembled an old brownstone. He usually was the second one in after his workaholic boss, although he tried to beat him as a personal, daily challenge. He thought he’d finally managed the day before only to find out Sam wasn’t coming in. Odd—Sam didn’t miss work. Many a time, he’d come in dead on his feet, sicker than a dog. However, today the boss’s faded blue, beater Chevy was in its typical spot. Whatever had kept him home couldn’t be that serious.

Sighing deeply at having lost the morning race again, Michael sipped his black coffee in an effort to wake up. He tipped his head back and relaxed just for a moment more. Might as well savor the life-restoring properties of good coffee, take a few more minutes. What was the rush? The boss was already there; no chance for brownie points today. Not that he had to anyway. They were partners, and Michael pulled his weight; it was a matter of principle to get there first. Eyes closed to shut out the blaze of sunrise beating directly into his eyes, a loud pounding made its way into his consciousness and had him sitting up with a jolt. He bit his tongue as coffee spilled down the front of his shirt—what a waste!—and jumped out of his truck, a rusted, green monster to rival Sam’s in age and condition. His heart picked up the pace, matching the loud thudding that continued. What was going on? Was there trouble at the site? Vandalism had happened before, and no demolition was scheduled for today. Visions of trouble makers, bent on destruction, were supplied by a colorful imagination.

Michael broke out in a cold sweat as he covered his disheveled, black hair with a hard hat. Had to follow the Boy Scout motto, be prepared for anything, by picking up a sledgehammer. He held it down low, close to his side to provide the element of surprise. Just topping off six feet tall, and hard from being outdoors and working construction, he was a force to be reckoned with. That and the fear that Sam might be in trouble resolved Michael to center himself and step out on to the work site, unprepared for what he found.

Sam also hefted a sledgehammer. Not only did he hold it, he was wielding it, making quick work out of destroying one interior wall on their project building. They had been—key word being had—ahead of schedule. Sam’s voice was hoarse from yelling, torn with emotion as he shouted with each swing. "Damn it! How could you do this?!” A pause as he wiped dust—and possibly tears?—out of his eyes. "What the hell did I do? What the hell am I supposed to do now?” The force of his rage and anguish sent the hammer flying across the yard. He stood, head bowed, hands on his hips as he tried to slow his breathing. Large and formidable, covered in dust, most would not have approached Sam at that moment. Michael was not most.

"All you had to do was tell us if you weren’t happy with that wall,” Michael told his best friend, hoping humor would help salvage the pieces of whatever wreckage buried Sam. He had to look up; Sam topped him by a few inches and wouldn’t let Michael forget it.

Sam met his old friend’s gaze; a sea of pain crashed in his eyes, taking Michael’s breath away. Not the boss of anything at that moment, especially himself, Sam walked away into the shell of the building until he reached the opposite wall. He sank down onto the floor and pressed his head to his knees.

Completely at a loss, Michael did the only thing he could do—he followed. He had been Sam’s shadow since they were kids. They’d seen each other through all of the minor scrapes through the years and the big ones, the heart-stopping, bring-the-world-to-a-halt-moments; looked like this might be one of them. Nothing had changed with the years. His friend was in trouble; Michael was there. He sat down beside him and rested an arm on Sam’s shoulders.

It was like holding onto a rock, muscles clenched so tightly with tension he was shaking. Michael held on anyway. "Tell me. What happened?” Sam was strong, carried the load when others put it down. Michael didn’t like what he saw in his friend’s eyes.

Sam shied away from the comfort offered. He looked into deep, green eyes that he knew almost as well as his own and saw only calm waiting for him. Wished he could have one small piece of it. Sam looked away. "I can’t right now. I’m sorry, but I just can’t.”

They didn’t talk for several minutes; the sound of Sam’s harsh breathing was the only thing between them. Michael cleared his throat. "The guys are going to be here any minute, Sam. Why don’t you take off? I’ve got it covered.”

His friend barely nodded. "Thanks,” he whispered then stood up and walked out, head bowed. Michael was right to tell him to go. He wouldn’t be good for anyone.

MEGAN CALLED into work Monday morning. A brass band was blasting inside a head that weighed at least one hundred pounds. Too much wine. What had possessed her to drink an entire bottle of wine? Sam’s face and the hurt that bloomed in his eyes floated to the surface of her mind, and she covered her head with a pillow, tried to drown it out. She’d seen him every time the stranger at the café offered to fill her glass.

She didn’t know what she was looking for, and it was driving her crazy. Tossing and turning in a tangle of sheets, stomach pitching along with her pounding headache, she couldn’t escape the fact that all thoughts returned to the man she’d been trying to forget... her childhood sweetheart. Was it possible to meet your true love as a child and make it last? As a girl, that had been the fairy tale, but somewhere along the way, Megan stopped believing in pixie dust, Tinker Bell, Peter Pan, or happily ever after.

Flinging back the covers, she ended up on the bathroom floor, clinging to the toilet as her stomach rebelled. Everything made a return appearance, possibly every meal she’d ever eaten in her life. When it was over and she was reduced to a shaking, sniffling mess, Megan stretched out on the cold tile and did what every girl did when she’d made a mess out of her life... she cried her eyes out.

 


 

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