“No one expects you to abandon the life you’ve made for yourself in the city.”
“What life? It’s been six weeks since I lost my job, and none of my interviews have panned out. Seems like perfect timing to me.”
“The holidays are a really bad time to be looking for a job. You’ll get an offer right after the first of the year. I’m sure of it.”
Hailey shrugged and set the beer can on the ground. She then stepped up on the bottom rail of the gate, and gripped the top rail, flexing her body and stretching out her back as she used to do when she was younger.
Rhonda began laughing again. “Do not get this thing swinging while I’m sitting on it.”
“What’s wrong with you? We used do this all the time. Are you too old now?”
Rhonda’s simple word rode an infectious giggle. Hailey couldn’t help but laugh too. It was always like this when they were together, as if no time had passed, and they were still carefree children. It was the first time in months she’d been able to
smile despite her problems and it felt good to set the weight of the world aside, if only for a few minutes. She hoisted her leg over, and joined her cousin on the gate, facing Rhonda. “But seriously, if I moved back to town, I could help take care of Dad. If it gave him an extra six months at home wouldn’t it be worth it?”
Rhonda frowned. “Of course it would, but you don’t know that it would give him even an extra day. You need to get all the facts before you make such a big decision. Stop avoiding the conversation with your brother and sister. Sit down and talk to them.”
Hailey nodded, gripping the rail in front of her. “I know, you’re right.”
“I always try to think of New Year’s Eve as a big reset button. You’ll see. It’s time to close the door on all the crap you’ve gone through the past year and try to face the new one with a bit of hope. You’ll get another job.”
“I hope your right.” Hailey paused and looked up toward the hayloft. “We had so much fun growing up here.”
“Didn’t your brother catch you up in that hayloft with Jimmy Johnson?”
“Nah! Not Jimmy.” Her giggle sounded child-like, even to her own ears.
“Who was it then? I know it wasn’t Nate Jenkins. No matter how bad you always wanted it to be.”
Hailey pressed her lips together. Some secrets were too precious to speak, even to Rhonda. The incident her cousin remembered wasn’t with Nate, but she’d had a moment here with him in the quiet of the old barn too.
It was the Fourth of July the summer before they were all to leave for college. Her parents had encouraged her to have a bonfire with all of her friends from school.
Late in the evening, Nate pulled her aside and asked her to go for a walk and right here—in front of the old gate—he’d asked her out.
“Seems like a hundred years ago.”
“You can’t go back in time.”
“But wouldn’t it be nice if we could?”
He’d been so nervous that night. Talked about the weather, the baseball game from TV the night before, and even how high the corn stalks were in the field before he rubbed his sweaty palms on the back of his denim shorts and asked if “she might want to” go out with him.
“What would you do? Not go to college and law school? Marry Nate Jenkins? Work with him in the diner?”
Hailey swung her leg back over the gate and jumped down. With a smooth movement, she reached down, picking up her drink. “Don’t say it like that. Nate’s a good guy.”
“Lighten up. Did I say he wasn’t? I’m just saying you made the right choices. That’s all.”
She leaned her arm against the wall and peeked into an empty stall. “I’m glad you’re sure. Sometimes I don’t know.”
“He has a daughter you know.”
Hailey nodded. “I heard. He moved home so his mom could help him take care of her when she was a baby. No one knows anything about her mother.”
“It’s hard to imagine any of us from school with kids of our own. What is she, five?”
She heard Rhonda’s feet hit the ground and then her footfalls. “Really? You’re still hung up on him?”
“I didn’t say that.” Didn’t mean it wasn’t true though. Hailey turned, leaning back against the wall and facing her cousin. “It’s a small town. Jake has actually become pretty good friends with him over the years. I hear things.”
“Sounds to me like you’re protesting too much.”
Hailey shrugged. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the choices I’ve made in life. Being out of work gives you a lot of time for introspection.”
“Sounds like you’ve spent too much time examining the past, if you ask me.”
“The decision to leave Nate behind and head to college early was huge. Things might have turned out differently if I’d let the rest of the summer play out.”
“And things might have turned out differently if my family had left fifteen minutes later or sooner to come over here for Christmas dinner. You’ll drive yourself mad thinking about all the ‘what ifs.’”
Hailey nodded, crossing her arms in front of her chest. It didn’t stop the questions from rolling through her mind. But Rhonda was right about one thing, she couldn’t make any decisions based on hypotheses. She needed to gather facts, and her dad’s health was a good place to start. “I guess it’s time to go have that talk with my brother and sister.”
The squeak of the barn door rolling down the metal rail cut through the silence of the night air. It wasn’t as heavy as Hailey
remembered, but then again her fondest memories of the barn were from when she was a lot younger.
Her cousin Rhonda laughed as she walked past her then went straight to the light switches, flipping them on. “Quiet or we’re going to get caught.”
“I think we’re old enough to be in the barn after dark.” Hailey pushed the door closed to block the biting wind. Still, it slammed against the walls, causing the aging building to moan and creak in protest, mimicking the mood of her heart as she remembered the events of the last year.
“Think fast!” Rhonda pulled a beer can from the pocket
of her coat and then tossed it in Hailey’s direction. “Uncle Bill isn’t going to ground us for sneaking beer?”
Hailey looked at the label a moment before cracking it open. A rush of memories accompanied the sound and scent. “What were we? Sixteen?”
“I think so. Wasn’t that the summer after my family moved to Saginaw? Your mom and Dad let me come and stay with you for a couple of weeks.”
“Thanks for coming out here with me. I needed a break from all the holiday cheer.”
Rhonda hoisted herself up on the gate separating the barn aisle from the open arena, straddling it as if it was a horse. Hailey leaned against one of the stall doors, and raised the can toward her cousin. “Merry Christmas.” She then took a long sip before continuing. “Jake and Kelly think Dad needs to be put in a nursing home, you know. They’ve been trying to nail me down to ‘talk about it’ since I got home yesterday morning.”
Rhonda exhaled and slid back on the top of the gate until she was leaning against the wall. “I thought he was fine at dinner, a
little tired maybe, but aren’t we all? My mom says he has moments, though.”
“That’s what they say too. I haven’t seen any signs.”
“On the drive up here Mom was saying she feels like she owes it to her sister to help Kelly, Jake, and you care for him.”
Everyone in the family had mourned her mother together,
but sometimes Hailey became absorbed in her grief and lost sight of the fact that Rhonda had lost an aunt and her mother had lost her sister. “She agrees with them, then?”
Rhonda’s gaze dropped to the barn floor. “I’m so sorry. This has got to be destroying you.”
Hailey took another long draw from the beer. “I know Dad’s taken Mom’s death really hard, but I haven’t seen anything that says diminished capacity. It can’t be dementia. Can it? He’s not that old.”
Rhonda let her foot sway back and forth. The heel of her boot occasionally clipped the metal of the gate sounding like an old church bell. The look on her face was one of empathy, but she had no words.
Hailey understood though, even took solace in the silent support of her cousin and best friend. “It is a lot on Kelly and Jake to care for him. Maybe it’d be easier on everybody if I moved home.”
Hearts, horses and healing...
Ms Phillips does an excellent job bringing her characters to life and making the reader fall in love, rooting for them to overcome their fears and try again for that happily ever after. -- Katie O'Sullivan
I liked the story - the characters were easy to relate to and the story was heartfelt. -- Sassy
Released Dec. 16, 2014
After eight years, Hailey is back in Caseville Michigan. Just months after her mother’s death, her siblings want to put their father in a nursing home and rent out the family farm. If that wasn’t enough, the prospective tenant is Nate, the high school crush she left behind the day after they acted on their mutual attraction.
After high school, Nate Jenkins planned to leave small town behind, but life dealt him a different hand of cards to play. He’s now back in Caseville, raising his daughter, and running his family’s diner. His daughter’s speech disorder has been improved by therapeutic horse riding and if he can lease the old Lambert farm, he can get her a horse of her own. The only standing in the way is Hailey, the same woman who left him eight years ago without even saying goodbye.
Can they get over all that’s unspoken between them?
All That's Unspoken was nominated for a 2013 Turquoise Morning Press Reader's Choice Award.