Between Never and Forever by Brit Benson
A high-pitched scream wakes me,and I shoot upright in my bed.
My heart is in my throat and my breath is straining my lungs when I hear it again. Another high-pitched scream. Brynn. My feet hit the floor just as a chanted stream of oh my god begins, and I sprint down the hall toward her room.
I have never known fear like this.
For these few seconds, terror turns my blood to ice, and the need to protect overpowers everything else. Logic, reason, self-preservation—they all disappear in the seconds it takes me to cross the house. Only the primal instinct to protect, to defend, remains.
I shove through the bedroom door at the end of the hall with my fists raised, ready to fight. Ready to kill, if necessary. When I find Brynn sitting cross-legged on her bed, alone, my eyes immediately dart around the room to find the threat.
The closet door is open, displaying clothes on hangers. The second-floor window is closed tight. Everything seems as it was hours earlier when I hugged her goodnight.
“What’s wrong?” I say, my voice urgent. I glance back at her and find her staring at her tablet with her hand covering her mouth. She doesn’t answer.
“Brynn?” I say again, rushing to her bed and dropping to my knees, reaching for her shoulders while scanning her body for injury.
She jumps with a gasp as her eyes shoot to mine.
“Dad!” she shouts. “Oh my gosh!” Her hand splays over her chest. “What the heck? You scared the crap out of me!” She takes off her headphones and lets out a laugh, her eyes wide. “Oh my gosh, Dad, you look like a ghost. What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
My jaw drops, and I suck in a breath. Possibly the first one since being jarred awake.
“You screamed,” I say. “I thought something was wrong! I thought you were...that something...”
I can’t stop my eyes from scanning her features, my sleep-fogged brain still not grasping that fact that Brynn is fine. She is not hurt. She’s not in danger. I don’t need to beat the life out of an intruder. She’s safe in her room.
I consciously unclench my fists.
“Oh,” she says sheepishly. “I’m sorry I scared you.”
“Brynn,” I breathe out, dropping my head to her mattress and trying to get my heart to calm down. “Jesus Christ, Brynnlee.”
We sit in silence for a minute, and when my chest no longer aches with panic, I bring my eyes to hers and raise a stern brow.
“Why the hell are you screaming in the middle of the night? You know you’re supposed to be asleep, and you’re not allowed to be on your tablet after 7 p.m.”
“I know,” she says a smile stretching over her face. “I was asleep, I swear, but then Cameron messaged me and—”
“Cameron messaged you at—” I check my watch “—three in the morning?”
“Why were you screaming?”
“Ohmigod, Dad, I’m trying to tell you,” she says with a roll of her eyes. “Cameron messaged me because Sav Loveless is coming here!”
My shoulders tense again, but Brynn doesn’t notice. Her voice rises in pitch with each word as she bounces on the bed, speaking quickly.
“She’s coming here, Dad! Here! Here to our dumb, boring town. Nothing good ever happens here, and she’s coming, like, right here. Maybe I can meet her? Maybe I can actually get her autograph? Can you take me to meet her? And get a photo or a hug or—”
“I thought that band broke up?” I say calmly, trying to ignore the pain in my hands as my fingers curl back into fists.
I know that band broke up.
Brynn has been sobbing about it for two weeks, and I’ve felt terrible. I’d planned to let her go to one of their shows on the next tour, but now she won’t get the chance. They announced that their current tour will be their last, and there are only three shows left, all at the Garden in NYC. They’re sold out, and of course, now with the news, scalped prices have skyrocketed.
Brynn’s only just stopped tearing up every time one of their songs comes on the radio, and their songs come on the radio constantly.
“Actually, Dad, they didn’t break up,” Brynn corrects, a slight edge to her voice. “The Hometown Heartless is on a hiatus, and now I know why.”
Brynn shoves her tablet into my hand, tapping the screen to show me the news headline.
“Sav’s going to be in a movie,” she squeals. “The movie that’s filming here next month! Oh my god, Dad, I can’t even believe it. This is prodigious. This is...this is...immaculate!”
Brynn continues to chatter excitedly, but her voice fades into the background as I focus on the tablet screen. The headline confirms what Brynn said.
Sav Loveless, frontwoman for rock band The Hometown Heartless, has been cast as the lead actress in a new movie.I don’t scroll to read the rest of the article. I can’t. Instead, my attention is held frozen by the photograph of the woman staring back at me.
It’s the same woman whose face taunts me daily from the posters plastered on Brynn’s bedroom walls. The same face I avoid in every grocery store checkout, smirking or scowling from the covers of magazines boasting tell-alls about her various rehab stints, numerous Hollywood hookups, and scandalous on-again-off-again relationship with her bassist.
It’s the same face I’ve seen in my dreams. In my nightmares.
Sav Loveless is a lesson in contrasts.
Every detail about her directly contradicts another. Silver hair and soft, pale skin, with swirling, storm gray, depthless eyes. A heart-shaped face. A delicate jaw. Cupid’s bow lips. Her angelic features suggest innocence and kindness, but the stories that precede her prove the exact opposite. She projects this façade of fearlessness, as if nothing can hurt her, while her lyrics rage with pain. Her tongue slices as sharp as a jagged piece of glass, but I know from experience how plush the lips are that contain that tongue, and I know how gentle it can be when coaxed.
She’s ethereal and untouchable, yet she was so soft under my palms...
I close my eyes quickly, severing the invisible line of tension between myself and the woman in the photograph.
I’ll never forget the way I felt the first time I saw her photo in a tabloid. I almost crashed my car the first time I heard her voice on the radio. My gut still twists at the memory.
After years of nothing, she was everywhere overnight. Then, as if her global popularity wasn’t enough, my own daughter had to go and become a diehard fan.
It’s been a poetic sort of torture. Perhaps deserved.
Most people get to move on from their first love. Heal from their first heartbreak. Learn from their first big mistake.
But me? I can’t seem to escape mine.
I take Brynn’s tablet and tell her she needs to go back to sleep. She’s got school in the morning, and even though there’s only two weeks left until summer break, she still needs to be awake for class.
In theory, anyway.
I think Brynn might be a bit more advanced than the average seven-year-old. I had to download a dictionary app on my phone just to look up the words she uses on a regular basis, and the other day she spent an hour lecturing me on ways to make my business more environmentally friendly.
I’m proud of her intelligence, but it makes me nervous for the years to come. I can barely keep up with her now.
Once Brynn’s light is off and her room is quiet, I make my way out onto the back deck. The rhythmic sound of the water flowing from the ocean and the briny scent of the air, usually so relaxing, do little to calm my nerves. I have an early job in the morning, but I’ll never get back to sleep. I might as well make some coffee and enjoy the sunrise in a few hours.
I brace my hands on the deck railing, the cool band on my left ring finger glinting in the moonlight and drop my chin to my chest. I close my eyes, focus on the sounds of the water, and take a deep breath, letting reality settle over my skin.
It prickles uncomfortably, and I grit my teeth.
Savannah is coming here. Back into my life.
She’s occupied a space in my head for years. A space that I’ve tried like hell to avoid. To forget. But here, in my town, avoiding her will be impossible. I have to prepare myself for that.
Savannah may be coming here, but I can’t let her back into my heart.
And I can’t let her upend my life again.