Hidden 11 mos ago 11 mos ago Post by Melbourne
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You’re going home.

McCormick blood ran deep in the roots of Hingham Valley, Montana, and Luke was the last of his generation above the ground. He shouldn’t have been. His constant quest for a death wish was so far unfulfilled, though not for lack of trying. Between his attitude and Aleppo, one of them should’ve killed him by now -- yet he was the one pouring out Macallan in the September sun.

“Scotch for a dead man,” Luke muttered, sitting next to his brother’s grave.

Samuel McCormick
03/12/1986 - 7/21/2019
Loving Husband & Brother

Sam’s last words to him had been while Luke lay in a hospital bed in Germany. If you die, I’ll pour you out a scotch. His death hadn’t sunk in yet. Until Luke saw the farm without him, it wouldn’t be real.

“I was supposed to be first, you fucking asshole.”

As far as burial spots went, Sam had a pretty good view. It was in the Valley plot, sure, but most of the family was there anyway. Luke sipped from the bottle as he remembered the last few family funerals he’d attended with his brother. First had been Matthew, the third McCormick boy. Car accident. Then there was their mother. Cancer. Then their father. Suicide. Three deaths in three years. It got the point where people started to treat Luke strangely, like he was a package without a label on the front steps. When horrible things happen, people tend to either spread out or close in.

Sam had spread out. He wasn’t supposed to go -- because he was the responsible one. When Sam spoke, people listened. He had been on such good terms with everyone in the town that he had a bartering system with most of the businesses. Free pastries at the bakery in exchange for raw milk. Beer for fence mending. Eggs for bacon. Sam was the one who would’ve made their mother proud, and Luke was the one who would’ve made his mother sigh and say, “Jesus Christ, what have you done this time?”

Granted, Sam had a lot to do with the success of the farm. It had been their mother’s dream, after all. His brother, however, was only one man. Charlie was the other half of the magical equation. She had just as much to do with the farm’s prosperity as Sam had.

Luke took a swig from the scotch bottle and lit up a cigarette. He rested his shoulder against the cool granite of Sam’s headstone and looked up at the sun, through the oaks that framed the graveyard. On the inhale, a sharp pain poked between his ribs. It happened every now and then, since Germany. Ignoring it, he took another drag and screwed the cap back on the scotch. “Short visit,” he told Sam’s grave, “I know. You’re dead, so I don’t have a lot to say.”

His first order of business back in town was to see Sam -- Charlie would understand. He stuck the bottle in his Army bag and slung it over his shoulder. Cologne to Hingham Valley was one international flight, two domestic connects, a bus ride, and a hitch. Somehow, the walk from Sam’s grave to the farm was much longer.

After two more cigarettes, he turned up Lawson Hill, one of many dirt-to-farm roads in the county. It was a half-mile to the property, mostly uphill. Dusty in the summer, muddy in the spring, and a total icy bitch in the winter. He’d abandoned many trucks at the bottom in Januaries past.

You’re coming home.

The house was the first thing he saw. The barn and pasture quickly followed. If Luke hadn’t known better, his brother could have been still alive -- his truck was in the driveway and sheets were hung out on the line to dry. He half expected dinner to be in the oven and football on in the background, Sam sharing a beer with one of the neighbors on the porch.

“Charlie!” Luke called out.

It had taken him weeks to get cleared for a flight back to the States. She knew he was coming back, but she didn’t know when. Mostly because he didn’t tell her. Talking to her was harder than he wanted to admit. There was no way to have an easy, simple conversation now that Sam was gone.

She could be anywhere, and if he knew her at all, then she certainly wasn’t in the house.

He stuck his thumb and index in his mouth and whistled. “Charlie!”

You're coming home.
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It was easy to forget that Sam was gone sometimes. Most of the time it was the absence of things that reminded Charlie; it was in the way that she didn’t smell coffee when she awoke in the mornings, the way he didn’t barrel through the door in the late afternoon when her dinner was waiting for him. The lack of his presence was suffocating, making it hard to breathe when she walked around alone in the barn or when the house settled at night and it sounded like a footstep.

But there were little things, too. Charlotte had never realized how much Sam had tidied objects away after she’d long forgotten and tucked herself into bed. Such a thing was what caused her to curse, her shin catching the edge of the pitchfork she’d hung up hastily the night before in just the right way. “Shit!” Immediately she slid to the floor, grabbing the area of injury and holding pressure as if it would take the pain away.

As if anything would take the pain away.

Tears welled in her eyes as she sat in the midst of the straw and animal shit that littered the barn floor. Sam had been the dependable one, the one who always did what he was supposed to and – what was more – he was good at it. He didn’t get attached to the animals he raised, understood that hard decisions often meant good outcomes, and that each piece of equipment had its own special place. He excelled at anything he set his mind to and it didn’t take him forever to get the job done… although that was, arguably, what had caused his death.

The white farmhouse became increasingly blurry the longer Charlie sat in the floor. It was only when she thought she was incapable of tears that more came and she wiped at them furiously. This stupid fucking farm. Stupid fucking Sam.

She could still see the way that his brown eyes crinkled in happiness when she got angry at him and the way they’d looked up at her, glossy and empty, when she’d found him trapped beneath Sadie. The poor cow had gotten out of the pen and meandered towards one of the muddiest parts of the farm, not that she had known that. The recent rain had caused the normally dry land to transform into a sticky, sloppy mess; a small rockslide from the hill had caused the animal to misstep, falling onto its side.

There wasn’t much else she knew. Charlie assumed Sadie couldn’t get up on her own and that Sam had attempted to help her stand again. She easily weighed 1800 pounds, thanks to the calf growing in her belly, which Charlie guessed had been why Sam had tried to do what he had on his own. She knew she’d woken up around two in the morning and turned over to grab onto her husband when her hands only gripped sheets. She knew she’d trudged out onto the land with a flashlight and boots, checking all the normal places before worry set in.

She knew that when she found him, she couldn’t do anything but stare. When she finally moved, she’d ran towards the beast that trapped him and pushed without any results. She didn’t blink or breathe for what seemed like hours but Sam hadn’t for even longer. When dawn broke, Charlie had made her way back to the house and called 911.

The neighbors had been kind. They’d brought her food, asked her if she needed anything. They were willing to help but Charlie couldn’t let herself take their offers for assistance. Instead she had thrown herself even further into the work of the farm, tending to the cattle that reminded her constantly of her husband’s death and the chickens that followed him around like dogs.

A wet tongue licked at her face, causing Charlie to refocus on the present. The perked ears of a German Shepherd tilted down and concerned brown eyes looked over the human’s features, searching for some sign of reassurance. Charlie sniffed, raising a hand to scratch at the dog. “I’m okay,” she said softly, as if to convince herself as well as the dog.

Jack’s ears perked and he moved away, stalking off towards a new sound that garnered his attention. The woman sighed softly and stood, bracing herself against the pitchfork that had caused her pain. Her brows furrowed as she heard a voice so familiar that caused her heart to begin aching once more. It wasn’t until the whistle started her into movement did Charlie bother peaking her head around the barndoor.

“Luke?” She’d known he’d be arriving at some point but had little idea regarding the details. Jack moved towards the man with a wagging tail, looking up and pleading for affection; Charlie did much the same, wrapping her arms around the man as soon as they closed the distance between each other. It was almost enough to cause her to cry again but Charlie bit back tears as her cheek found the solid plane of Luke’s chest. “It’s so good to see you!” she said when she pulled away, summoning a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“C’mon. Let’s get you into the house and settled. I swear, every year it gets colder earlier. No sense staying out here without anything to do.” Of course, there was plenty to do. She hadn’t seemed to have accomplished anything since Sam’s death but she had managed to keep the animals alive, if only barely. Jake yipped with excitement and moved towards the farmhouse, his tail continuing to wag playfully as he stood by the front door.

The house was old but tastefully restored thanks to Charlie’s decorative palate and Sam’s handyman abilities. Some parts still had a small amount of work but, as a whole, the home was cozy and livable. The old oak hardwood floors creaked as she stepped across them and into the kitchen, grabbing at two mugs. “You want coffee?” she asked, going through the motions regardless of Luke’s answer.

“How was the trip?”
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Luke had last been on the property the winter previous, and as he followed the sounds of Jack’s barks and Charlie’s voice, he found it hard to forget the way he’d left. The whole conversation sat malignant under his skin, flaring up every now and then to bother him. There had been plenty of phone calls and emails since then, but Luke hadn’t thought that Sam would go and get himself killed.

They were all well and properly greased from their holiday drinks. It was customary that the brothers share a bottle of something too expensive for Christmas, but for all of Sam’s merits, Luke could better hold his alcohol. He remembered that it was nice -- to just drink and sit and enjoy friendly company, until Charlie left the room. That’s when Sam’s smile faltered and he tapped his empty glass against the table. More bourbon? He tinkered with the bottle some, twisting it around and picking at the label before he topped them both off.

You doing all right? Luke asked.

Sam took a sip of his drink, rolled up his sleeves, and put his elbows on the table. Luke eyed his brother, wary, as he chewed on a hangnail. The house was silent for a few seconds until they heard Charlie’s voice in the hall. She was on the phone with someone.

Sam cleared his throat. When’d you fuck her? Like a dog clawing at the door, he insisted on getting a response. Last week? Last month? Or during any of the other dozens of times I put you the fuck up in my fucking house --

Charlie? Cut your bullshit. You’re drunk.

Answer me.

Get out of my face. And shut up, or she’ll hear you -- and you’ll have to deal with that fucking mess.

It was just bickering at first, but when Luke got up to end the conversation, he felt Sam’s grip at the front of his shirt. Everything happened so quickly. Tell me, or I swear to God, I will bury you under this goddamn house.

Luke shoved his brother back and hissed, Calm the fuck down. Listen to yourself. Enough. He carefully considered what he was going to say next. The words came out of his mouth slowly, as if against his own will. Did she tell you we had sex?


Jesus Christ, Sammy.

No --
He put up his hands. No, but listen. She was asleep and started touching me and saying your name and all this shit --

Oh for fuck’s sake,
Luke groaned. Give me a break. Stop. No. I don't care about your bedroom life. I don't give a single fuck.

She did it the night you came back. Last week.

What part of “stop” don’t you get? Huh? I need a cigarette. I’m done with this conversation.

Sam had started to come down, but now he was back at it with a freshly poured drink, playing surgeon with every word that Luke said. You never answered my question. His anger was a snakebite when Luke tried to leave for a smoke. Sit back down. You’re gonna say it to my face.

I did not fuck your wife. The chair creaked under his weight as he sat back, pushing his empty glass towards Sam. I will not fuck your wife. With a few clicks of his lighter he started his cigarette. Even if you’re dead I won’t touch her. He took a drag and went out onto the porch before anything else could be said. It was several minutes -- well after his cigarette was done -- until Charlie opened the door to let out the dog. She said something about how cold it was, that Sam got too drunk and went to bed, that he should have a cup of coffee with her, that she was so happy to have him home for the holidays.

Luke grabbed her waist and pulled her into him once she was close enough. Sam’s absence only sharpened Charlie’s presence, and he didn’t even know where to begin talking about it. So he didn’t. He only let the fact that she was there wash over him. Her weight, warmth, and smell hit him all at once. “It’s so good to see you too,” he said, squeezing her shoulders once she eased back. To say her spark was gone was an understatement, but her focus on behaving normally made him a little more comfortable.

The knot in his chest tightened as they walked across the property and into the house. Jake weaved through his legs, something he only did when he was excited and eager for attention, and Luke had to take a few minutes to pet him down before he calmed. Seeing all of Sam’s things peppered through the living room and kitchen made the knot bury further, somewhere far behind his ribs. If Charlie could keep existing in this house, then he could too.

The mug she gave him had a chip on the edge from years of washing, exchanging hands, and moving from counter to table. It had the state flag on it, faded blue and yellow letters. He traced the chip with his thumb, fixating on something so he wouldn’t keep looking around at all the things that reminded him of the man that was so very clearly gone.

“Trip was long,” he said finally. “There were no crying babies during any part of it, so that’s good. Decent weather. No delays. I, uh…” He closed his eyes, grasping at word straws. His brain pulsed, picturing himself as Charlie was probably seeing him. Most of it was his normal self -- short hair, clean shaven, no new tattoos (he was running out of arm space anyway). Some of it was abnormal -- bruised knuckles, the red edge of a fresh scar peeking out from the collar of his shirt, the dark circles under his eyes. Luke opened his eyes and started again. “I stopped to see Sam right before I got here. I’m sorry I couldn’t leave sooner. I would’ve fucking swam here if I thought that would be faster.”

I’m sorry that you had to do it all by yourself, was what he actually meant to say.

“Listen, I know I can’t do everything that he did. But you’re only one person and nobody can run this farm by themselves. Not even he could’ve. And I know people are gonna be coming around here soon -- shit, I mean if they haven’t already -- to buy parts of the land, or some of the equipment or animals. I’m here, Charlie. To help. I want to be here.”
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The vast majority of Charlie’s being leaned into Luke’s touch.

A small portion of her mind reminded her that being too touchy with the soldier had caused problems in her marriage. That Sam had mentioned in passing plenty of times how he was thankful that she got along with her brother, but she saw the way his eyes lingered on their easy touches, the conversations where her laughter was loud and drew a hint of a smile from Luke’s mouth.

Charlotte couldn’t remember how many Christmas’ it had been when she’d overheard bits and pieces of hissed words and raised voices from the boys in the living room. The house hadn’t been close to finished yet and she’d answered a call from her best friend, Camille.

“How’s it going? Any better?”

Charlie had laughed mirthlessly. “You mean is my husband any less pissed after I whispered his brother’s name in bed?” She’d been asleep, in the middle of turning over and finding a body under the covers. She could still remember the way Luke’s name had fallen from her lips in her sleep induced confusion, fingers running over familiar shoulders until she realized what she’d done. “I’m going to go with a hard no.”

“It’s not your fault, Char. It’s not like you knew what you were doing.” No, she hadn’t, but there wasn’t any way in hell that she could say that it was okay for her to say Luke’s name as her hands had continued down, down, down...

“It doesn’t exactly inspire trust and confidence, does it? You know he asked me if we fucked.” Charlie had initially been hurt through that quickly transitioned into being pissed.

“And you said?”

“I said no! Jesus, Milly, I didn’t fuck my brother-in-law! Don’t you think I would have told you that?” the woman hissed into the phone, her nose scrunching. She hadn’t slept with Luke, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t thought about it. God, what type of horrible person was she? Maybe it was because they knew they would never act on it and there was something tantalizing about wanting something that could never be had.

“Well, yeah, but you gotta admit it’s the first question that people would ask,” Camille said, and Charlie swore she could see the shrug that her friend gave her through the phone.

“I guess, but not from the man I married. You’d think he’d have some trust -- “

“Yeah, Charlie, but even I’ve seen you all together and it’s damn incriminating.”

Charlie knew that. She knew that plenty of people in town mentioned that she’d married the ‘better choice’, the ‘safer option’. All she could do was smile and act like she wasn’t offended, but when push came to shove, she had known that it had been very much a choice. The woman could still remember how safe Sam could make her feel, how he talked her down off of ledges and averted crises that were now laughable. That didn’t mean she could stop herself from thinking about Luke when he was on tour, or from being excited when he came back.

He was her brother-in-law. She was allowed to care, wasn’t she?

So when Sam was so angry and announced he was going to bed, Charlie went to let Jake out onto the porch. Her eyes had turned to Luke, who had just sat there in the goddamn dark. She said something about how cold it was, that Sam got too drunk and went to bed, that Luke should have a cup of coffee with her, that she was so happy to have him home for the holidays.

The house didn’t look like it had on that Christmas. Redecorated and rearranged, it was like any other house in a magazine. The palette was of mints, sky blues, and calming grays and whites, with dark wood accents… coupled with an ugly recliner that looked very lived in. Charlie had begged Sam more times than she could count to get rid of the damn thing but now she wasn’t sure she’d ever bring herself to pull it out of the house and towards the fire pit like she’d once threatened.

Her jade gaze flickered from the black coffee in her mug and up toward Luke, studying him as he spoke. He looked tired, like he hadn’t slept in months; neither had she. Ever since she’d called him, she’d worried about him; but what could she do from a country away? And even if he had been here, what would she have done differently? Charlie wasn’t exact fit for company, despite the attempts of neighbors to prove otherwise.

Sam had always been the friendlier one. He knew everyone. He’d grown up here, and he was the only reason she’d felt like she fit in. Now, every time she went to the damn store she was stared at, and whispered flooded her with grief and uncertainty.

“You saw -- “ God damn the hope that surged through her at the thought of just seeing Sam again. What she wouldn’t do to feel his fingers trail over her cheeks or push strands of sable hair away from her eyes...

“Oh, yeah. No problem. I, uh,” Charlie searched for the right words but all of them would hurt. “I wanted him somewhere pretty but, I’ve got to be honest, I haven’t been since everything. I just feel closer to him here, I guess?” It made sense to her; she knew Sam walking through the doors, laughing as she cursed after she’d stubbed her toe on the corner of the kitchen island. She took a sip of coffee as bittersweet memories rushed over her.

Sam McCormick had been 33 when he’d been taken by her incompetence. She should have been there, searching for him. Making sure that he came to bed safely. Never whispering his brother’s name as her hands went to slide underneath the band of his boxers.

“I can’t ask you to do anything of that,” came Charlie’s hoarse voice, emotions causing her tone to lower. She couldn’t accept Luke’s help on the farm, even if everything he said was true. Because, truthfully, she couldn’t feed all the animals, run any of the equipment, or fight off people who wanted to buy parts of the land she knew she couldn’t tend to. “You’ve got your own life, Luke. I can’t pull you away from that.”

I want to be here.

“Look, I really appreciate the offer. But you can’t uproot your life to help me here.” Charlie tried to offer Luke a smile, though she was certain it turned into a grimace and attempted to hide in the cup of Joe. “And, for what it’s worth, everyone has kept away so far.” That time, a genuine smile found its way to her features, the corners of her lips twitching upward. “You gonna run ‘em off with a gun? Tell ‘em to get off your lawn?”
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The mere prospect of anyone even attempting to get a fraction of McCormick property pissed Luke off. The Ambrose brothers had all but moved up Sam’s ass once their mother died to get a few acres on the sly. While arable land wasn’t rare in Hingham Valley, all of it was private property or protected by the state forestry service. When Charlie told him that nobody had bothered her yet about Sam’s assets, he was surprised, but he said nothing. All the property had belonged to Sam -- and Charlie by extension -- and that was for a very good reason. If this was ten years ago, Luke would’ve lost the deed in a card game.

But this wasn’t ten years ago. This was now, and Sam was gone. Luke was the last McCormick left. The lack of kids kind of baffled everyone, but it was Luke’s understanding that Sam wanted to wait until the farm and house were fully operational before adding another responsibility to the mix. However, every time Sam tried to talk about his sex life, Luke made it very apparent that was a no-fly zone. His responses ranged from “I don’t care” to “shut the fuck up.”

There had been a few times when Luke was home on leave and the thought of Sam shooting him in the backyard was the only thing that kept him from pushing Charlie against the fridge until all the magnets clattered to the floor. It would have been different if it was one-sided, if he was just making up this shit in his head.

The closest he’d come to crossing the line was a few summers back when Sam was gone for five days at a business conference in Bozeman. A huge fight between them ensued when Charlie insisted on looking for a missing goat that had gotten scared during a storm, and they both said some mean things to each other. Luke was furious that she was jeopardizing her safety for an animal, and she was mad at him for thinking he had any right to tell her how to run a farm when he was gone most of the time. When she came back, she was soaked to the bone and started to peel off her wet clothes in the mud room. He didn’t speak to her when he handed her a towel and one of his work shirts from the hooks on the wall.

She still had the shirt on in the morning, open at the collar and with the sleeves rolled up. Their silent apology to each other consisted of small touches while they moved around the kitchen -- her fingers on his elbow when she placed his coffee on the counter; his hand at her back when he moved around her with a hot pan.

I was worried about you, he said finally.

You went to Fallujah. Then Baghdad. Then Syria.

Charlie --

Fuck you. What you felt when I looked for a goddamn goat in the rain is not even a fraction of what I feel when you go on tour.

He stared at her, and she stared at him back, flush and bright-eyed. His gaze moved up each button of his shirt she wore, over her throat, and stopped at her mouth. She swallowed, jaw hard, and put their plates on the table. Even years later, he remembered what it was like to eat breakfast with her in silence, refusing to look when she brought her coffee cup to her lips. They both knew that fucking shirt should’ve been twisted in his fist, tight around her waist while he pushed her up against the fridge…

You’ve got your own life, Luke. I can’t pull you away from that.

Since stepping foot in the house, his memories clicked and slipped from one snapshot to another. The entire property was layered with the past. Each time he returned was like forcing himself to relive certain moments -- the good as well as the bad.

“You gonna make me stay in the motel?” he teased, trying to find a piece of levity in their haunted kitchen. “I dunno. It’s hard to stay, and it’s hard to go. But if you need space, I understand that too.” Jack nosed at his knee, and Luke bent down to the ground to pet him. “Wilson Ambrose has been after parts of the property for the last decade. He always listened to Sam, so I know he’d give two shits about me. He’s probably more inclined to take something with me here.” Luke’s slow, easy grin spread across his face. “It may even be better for you if I’m gone.”

It was all pleasantries, as there was a zero percent chance of him leaving. He knew she didn’t want him to feel obligated to stick around. The “life” she’d mentioned was years of him trying to inject purpose into his existence with the military.

He filled Jake's water dish, wiped his hands off on his pants, and took a long sip of his coffee. “I’ve got a few months of down time at least.”

What he had to say next was the hardest part. It was hard because he knew if he waited, then it would be thousands of times worse later. At this point he was only looking at her, eyes fixed on her every movement. “I’m mostly here to see how much you want it. The farm. Because right now, I think you should sell.”
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It was the first New Year’s Eve that Sam and Charlie had spent together in Nashville. They drank, socialized with her friends and family, and couldn’t keep their hands off each other; but as the clock’s hands finally passed 11:45, Sam became antsy, twisting the empty beer bottle in his hands as they had escaped to a quiet corner of the roof.

What’s wrong?


Charlie had scoffed, shaking her head. Her dark hair was pulled into a chic, low ponytail, conflicting sharply with the bright red of her slinky cocktail dress that hugged every curve. Something is clearly wrong, or you wouldn’t be acting like this.

Like what? Sam had shot back, his dark eyes roaming over her quickly before returning to the empty drink in his hands.

Like you’re ten and you’re pouting. Can we just go ahead and skip to the raucous make-up sex? She’d attempted to lighten the mood, flashing a smile and letting her breasts rub against his arm as she turned to face him fully.

Do you love him?


I’ve seen the way you look him, Charlie. Luke.
Pain flashed across Sam's handsome face. C’mon. Don’t do this.

Your brother? She’d asked with evident confusion, her brows furrowing. Luke was attractive, sure, and it was fun to bicker with him, but she’d been with Sam for a year and a half. She’d barely figured out she loved him, much less been able to develop a crush on anyone else.

Yes, my goddamn brother. Do you love him?

I barely know him, Sam!
Charlie laughed, shaking her head. Christ. It was true, though; yeah, she enjoyed the harmless banter she shared with Luke, but there was nothing past that except for a minimal amount of sexual tension. So, no. I don’t love your brother. Her green eyes flashed to find his honeyed hues. I love you, you idiot. So come here and let's ring in the new year.

It would absolutely, indubitably, unquestionably be easier for Charlotte McCormick if Luke wanted to stay at a motel.

But the last thing she wanted was to be in this goddamn house alone. It was huge, with four bedrooms and just as many bathrooms. Charlie hadn’t realized how suffocating so much empty space could be, or how cloying and smothering Luke’s presence would be without Sam’s to balance the scales.

Sam had been kind. Gentle. Loving. Patient.

Luke was none of those things.

It was amazing the contrasts she could draw now that one of them was gone. She’d cursed herself plenty of times for thinking that God had taken the wrong one but staring at Luke made her realize that it had been unfair for her to think that, too. That she didn’t really think that Luke would be the right one to have died, either, and that consumed the woman with guilt. He brought back a lot of damn memories, most of them shameful, especially as she leaned over the counter of the island they’d almost fucked on.

It’s hard to stay, and it’s hard to go.

That should have been his motto, and if Charlie had been more than a shadow of the woman who had fought over a damn goat, she would have told him that.

The Ambroses and the Addisons were giving her time to grieve. The brunette was well aware that the town was observing a mourning time for her, but with Luke’s arrival her peace would likely soon end. She knew that as certainly as she did that it would be better to have him gone, especially as that smirk found his features. Charlie’s jaw set, taking another drink of coffee as she watched Sam’s brother lean down to fill a bowl that she’d been neglecting.

She let a hand drop, her fingers brushing over Jake’s silky ears. The poor creature looked up at her with happy, oblivious brown eyes that had been the color of Sam’s and –

“You think I should sell,” Charlie said flatly, her eyes flaring with indignation. She could feel heat travelling up her chest, overcoming her neck, and advancing into her cheeks. “Why the fuck would I sell it?” This had been their family home. They’d sunk a fortune into the farmhouse, getting it up to her standards; they were going to start a family soon. One of the rooms upstairs had been painted a pretty, gender-neutral gray for when she got pregnant, another a sweet, creamy yellow that would suit the next baby.

Charlie knew she couldn’t take care of anything on her own. She didn’t know the first things about when to bale hay, what to plant, when to kill animals (not that she would), or anything else that had to do with a farm. Hell, she wasn’t even a fan of collecting the eggs from the fucking chickens, but she’d be damned if she didn’t give it a try. Didn’t she owe that to Sam?

She’d always had a terrible mouth when it came to Luke. He’d never held back, and she’d taken it as an invitation to do the same. “Wait. You’re ‘mostly here’ to see how much I want to keep the land and the farm that your brother restored? That my husband died while working on it?” She let out a mirthless laugh and shook her head, finally able to look directly at Luke. “You’ve lost your goddamn mind.”

The woman sat her coffee on the counter and stood, moving to lean on the refrigerator, before finally crossing her arms over her chest and deciding to play Devil’s advocate. “What exactly am I supposed to do if I sell it, Luke? Where the fuck am I supposed to go?” Charlie still had family in Nashville, but Hingham Valley had been her home for six years. She’d fought against her parents to come here, and they’d all but disowned her for throwing away the opportunities they’d lined up for her in the South. “I don’t have the luxury of running away when shit happens.”

The words flew out of her mouth before she could stop them and, instantly, she regretted them.
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The “your brother” and “my husband” shit Charlie sometimes liked to pull was another layer of guilt on top of the several he already had. Though Luke bristled, he didn’t take the bait. She knew damn well what Sam meant to the both of them. Sure, Charlie could have wet dreams all she wanted about the McCormick she’d never touched, but that didn’t hold a candle to the fact that she’d married the other one. Luke liked to remind himself of this whenever he threatened to get taken away by Charlie’s claims. As far as selling the property went, he supposed her reaction wasn’t the worst outcome -- but he was certain that saying “hey, you should sell” would have gone much more poorly if they’d played house together for a few weeks first.

He spread his arms wide and pointed at the ceiling. “Look at this place! It’s full of rooms for kids you’re never going to have with him. His fucking picture is on almost every fucking wall. His truck is still in the driveway, Charlie. You’re going to live here? Really? In this mausoleum of a house? Or say you do move on -- what’s the new guy supposed to do? Recreate your dead husband’s dream with you?” Luke couldn’t argue and sit still. He was moving, pacing, tense. Further, he was cagey from travelling for two days, and being in Sam’s space without him was odd. A stubborn part of him still believed that Sam was going to walk through the door. Maybe Luke’s lack of acceptance was why he wanted to force Charlie into selling. Or maybe it was because selling his childhood home had been the quickest way to get rid of his father’s memory after he’d finally, finally died.

I don’t have the luxury of running away when shit happens.

Luke wasn’t going to forget or ignore what had just come out of her mouth, but if they snapped at each other after each jab, then the rebuilding process was going to be incredibly difficult for the both of them. “I said I wanted to be here,” he reminded her, “and you’re not going to change my mind.” Hopefully the yelling, pacing, and pointing was over. As he started to cool, he went back to his coffee, feeling a slight headache build behind his eyes. The scotch he’d drank at Sam’s grave was wearing off.

“I don’t know. I’m sure you don’t know either. But selling is my opinion. I can’t make you. If keeping it is what you want, then maybe you can prove me wrong. I want to help you. I do. I really do.” Exhausted eyes found hers. “It’s just the hardest option.”
Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Serenia
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Serenia Cullenite

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Every word that Luke spit was a hammer that drove the nail of hurt and depression further into Charlie’s heart.

Kids that she’d never have with Sam.

A mausoleum of a house that would never feel right again.

Her jaw set and her arms crossed over her chest, green eyes still ablaze with absolute unhappiness; part of it felt like a betrayal, to hear Luke all but say she’d be living in the shadow of Sam’s memories, but it was true. Charlie watched him stalk around the kitchen like a caged animal getting ready to pounce, but she would hold her ground. That didn’t mean she couldn’t feel the ball of emotion building in her chest, beginning to claw its way up her throat with sharp talons.

It had only been a few months. She wasn’t even thinking about ‘a new guy’. She wanted her husband back, and she definitely wasn’t looking for a replacement any time soon… neither was she looking to use those upstairs bedrooms and fill them with bassinets and mobiles or baby monitors. Part of her knew that Luke was right: she couldn’t just stay here, keeping everything in the same, pristine condition Sam had left it in, but she couldn’t move on, either.

They’d built a life here. They’d had a plan. He’d wanted a working farm and they’d been damn close to it.

What’s the new guy supposed to do? Recreate your dead husband’s dream with you?

“Why even fucking ask, then, if you’ve already decided what to do?” Charlie muttered tiredly over the cup, shaking her head before taking another drink of coffee. She was too drained to keep fighting, and the outburst had left her spent. There were plenty of rebuttals she could have made, starting with it wasn’t any of his goddamn business how quickly she made a life that wasn’t centered around Sam.

“I said I wanted to stay.” Her eyes flashed back to Luke’s with renewed conviction. “I’m gonna stay. So, you can help me or not, I don’t care.” The brunette allowed a shuddered exhale to escape her, sipping the cold, black liquid again. “Christ, Luke. I don’t know what to do, or how to do it.”

She needed help, as much as it pained her to admit it. Luke had helped Sam around the land more than she had, especially when he spent his leave there. “I…” Charlie wet her lips, her fingers playing with the mug nervously. She should have offered some apology, but it would have only been half-hearted. She’d meant every word she said, just as much as he likely had, too. “There’s always a room for you here. You know that.” If he didn’t, he fucking should have by then.

Charlie knew it was going to be difficult; there wasn’t a part of her that expected to be easy to stay there, with Sam’s truck and the dreams of unborn children filling the house, but it was the right thing to do.

She would need help to do Sam’s job around the farm. She hadn’t exactly had a great income since moving to Montana, but she’d managed. The time she took away from illustrating meant that it was even less money, and -- The words were quiet as Charlie hung her head. “I need you.” She placed the mug gently onto the counter, burying her fingers in Jake's fur as he nudged up against her. "So tell me what you've been doing over the past few months and maybe we can catch up over some bad reality TV?" Charlie's head nodded toward the living room.
Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Melbourne
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That was it then. She was going to stay. And he was going to stay with her. Their only attempt to run the farm together still hung in the air -- hot for days, digging out a new fence, the damn goat running away --

Having a farm had always been Melissa McCormick’s vision, but she’d only started to buy land and get a few chickens before she got sick. Luke remembered what it was like to watch his mother, barely through her mid-thirties and so frail that it was a major accomplishment for her just to sit on the front porch. After everything, Sam was the one most likely to take up the mantle, then probably Matthew. Luke couldn’t and wouldn’t run a farm. He was too irresponsible and hot-tempered. Now, all of a sudden, he was the only one left. Just him, Charlie, and an entire business that depended on them. The truth was, he needed her too. She was his last connection to home, to his brothers, to his family. In many ways, she was all he had left.

I need you.

His jaw tightened and he looked down into his empty coffee mug. He made a noise that was something between a grunt and a sigh. “I don’t think you want to hear about my last few months. I was mostly in rehab in Germany. Bad food, bad TV, shitty weather.” The scar on his neck was small compared to the one that spiderwebbed closer to his chest. His shoulder, where there was more mottled tissue, had given him the most trouble in Syria. It was so bad that they threatened to send him back to the States to recover. This prospect made Luke furious, and the only way he got them to compromise was by taking care of himself. He had to prove that he could still use his shoulder and arm. The process had been complicated because they had to drill plates into a few parts of the bone. It’d more or less been crushed. He was in rehab when Sam died.

The skin and tissue damage far exceeded anything he wanted to show Charlie, so he didn’t talk about it. Ideally, she would never see it. He didn’t want to know what her reaction would be.

While Luke was attracted to just sitting and catching up, he knew that he couldn’t. He needed to check on the fences, equipment, and animals to see if anything had changed since he was last at the house. He needed to shower, change, and put his bags away. He needed to get used to being in Sam’s space without him. He needed constant things to do or he’d just drink and fuck off. If he sat down with Charlie, and they started talking, and she got going about Sam...Luke wasn’t sure what he’d do then.

“I can’t sit,” he said bluntly. One by one, he went through the fridge, pantry, cabinets, and freezer. “Do you want to eat? Dinner? Are you hungry? I have to go to town anyway. I have a few errands to run.”

One of his errands included stopping by the police station -- and he wasn’t very thrilled by that prospect.
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