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“Since when am I most guys?”

“You’ve never been like most guys, but that mask you wore threw me off.”

“Masks are sexy, right?” He teases lightly and tugs at the waist of my jeans. “Mari, I’d love to be the guy who gives you the house, the cow, and oh my God, I would love to make babies with you. I’d try very, very hard—”

My face is on fire. Someone shoot me! Trystan laughs and lifts my chin when I try to look away, so I smack his chest. “You can’t say it like that!”

“What? Making babies is the fun part.”

“It doesn’t freak you out?”

“What? That you want a family? No, it doesn’t freak me out at all. In fact, I like it. I want to be so insanely in love with someone that I’d have a family with her.”

“Really?”

“Truly.” The way he smiles at me shoots excitement through my veins. I giggle like a crazy person and throw my arms around his neck, while kissing his cheek. “You’re my forever, Mari. Well get through this. I’ll be with you every second I get. And when I’m touring, you can meet up with me during your breaks. Or for a weekend. Or even a day. This will work out.”

“How do you know?”

“Because this is love, and I’m never letting you go.”

CHAPTER 10

~TRYSTAN~

Tucker waits until they’re in costume with their make-up finished before he pulls Trystan and Mari aside. “We can’t head to my office because the hallways are filled with people, so let’s just find a corner and I’ll tell you what I was able to work out.”

Tucker walks to the far side of the stage, and stops at the back corner. He checks the side door to make sure it’s locked and then huddles them together. Handing Trystan a packet of papers, he says, “As soon as you say the last line of the play tonight, you’ve graduated. I talked to the principal and a few of your other teachers to make sure you had passing grades, and they said you’re good. So, that’s settled. You don’t have to come back here tomorrow.”

“What about the play?” he asks, surprised to think that Tucker would let him off the hook like that. Besides, Trystan wanted to do all three performances this weekend.

Tucker shakes his head. “This is the only night. We sold out, like standing room only, so the department made more money from this one show than we usually make all year. It’s worked out and the school more than recovered the cost of the production. Having you here, and making the announcement this way is a huge help.”

Tucker is holding a large envelope in his hand, and smacks it against his palm lightly before continuing. “Listen, you need to look at these contracts and pick one. There are three offers in here for seven figures, Trystan. They want your songs and there are plans for tours. I made notations and altered things that needed to be changed, such as your lodging requirements, privacy—”

“Seven figures?” Mari gasps and touches her fingers to her lips.

Tucker smiles. “Yes, the smallest offer is seven figures. There’s one in here for eight. You’re a millionaire, kid.” Trystan stands there shocked, unblinking, and unable to speak. Tucker slaps him on the back and laughs. “You didn’t know, did you?”

Trystan’s shoulders creep up as his jaw drops. His voice is a squeak, “I didn’t know. I thought maybe they’d give me ten thousand bucks for the song.” He goes to rub his hands over his face and stops because he’ll smear his stage make-up. “Holy shit.”

There have been times when life snuck up and robbed him. It f**king stole everything, and it happened so often that Trystan just expects it. Fate was cruel, but this—he never expected anything like this. Staggering, Trystan takes a step back and hits the wall. Mari’s hand is on his shoulder. She’s speaking, but the only thing that he can think is that he won’t have to buy semi-perished food from Sam ever again.

His thoughts fall out of his mouth because the shock has disabled the filter between his mouth and brain. “I can buy as much peanut butter as I want.” A smile creeps across his unbelieving face as he looks up at them slowly, and laughs.

Tucker and Mari chortle with him. Tucker grabs his shoulder and says, “You can buy anything you want, Trystan.”

“Oh my God… Do you know?” His thoughts come out in jagged statements and grow louder. He finally slaps his hands over his lips to shut up. He sounds crazy. Is this how people react when they win the lottery? Trystan giggles behind his hand and then reaches for Mari, pulling her against his side with a huge grin on his face.

“I know it’s a lot, Trystan.” Tucker keeps talking in the low hurried voice he was using before. It takes a lot of effort for Trystan to stand and listen. Part of him wants to run up and down the school hallways, whooping at the top of his lungs.

Tucker snaps his fat fingers in front of Trystan’s face. “Pay attention. I know you’re excited, but there’s more. If you pick a contract and sign tonight, they’ll have a hotel room for you. You can stay there until you buy a house, all expenses paid. It’s part of the requirement to sign with them, so all of the contracts have that clause.”

Tucker looks at Mari next. “I have a dorm room for you. It’s all set and the key is in the housing office. Housing expenses and board are paid until school begins in the fall. And, I talked to the principal about your application for early graduation. It was denied.” Tucker tries to keep talking but Mari’s smile falls.

“What? Why?” She steps toward him with dread in her eyes.

“Wait. Don’t freak out yet. Listen to what I worked out first.” His voice is gentle, like he can tell that Mari is going to lose it. Her jaw is locked tight and her thin frame is practically shaking as she tries not to show emotion. “You’re short an elective, but it’s taken care of. You’re going to take a summer class that’s offered to high school students at the college. It’s a one week class, all day, every day. Finish that and you’ve satisfied the state requirements. The school will give you a conditional graduation, and you won’t get your diploma until after you finish the class. The college knows and has agreed to wait on your final transcript. Everything is already arranged.”

“They offered to pay my room and board over the summer, too?” Tucker nods, but his eyes flick away from hers. Mari doesn’t notice it, but Trystan does. She sucks in a deep breath and presses her fingers to her lips. “I’m going to college! Trystan, I’m going to college!” She takes his hands and jumps up and down before he pulls her into his arms and hugs her hard.

When Mari steps away, she turns to Tucker and throws her arms around him too. “Thank you so much. I can’t even tell you what this means to me. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Her voice is giddy, and he can tell she’s trying not to cry.

Tucker peels her off and smiles kindly. “It was my pleasure, Mari. Now, go on and have them check your make-up one last time. I think some of your lipstick came off.” Mari races off, skipping backstage and laughing. She’s happier than Trystan remembers seeing her. Like ever.

When she’s gone, he looks up at Tucker. The man is a better person than he’d originally thought. Tucker hides his kindnesses. Call it a gut feeling, but Trystan knows that Tucker did more than arrange for the college to let Mari into the dorms early.

Trystan leans his shoulder against the cinderblock wall and slips his hands into his pockets. Tilting his chin up, he says, “You paid for her housing, didn’t you?”

Tucker gives him a lopsided grin. Surprisingly, he doesn’t deny it. “She earned it, don’t you think?”

There are people who do good deeds in silence. They come and go like a whisper, and most of the time we think it was luck, but it’s so much more than that. Tucker isn’t a wealthy man—he’s on a teacher’s salary—and he just paid a massive bill for a student. Mari isn’t his daughter. He doesn’t owe her a damn thing, and yet he did this for her. It makes Trystan wonder exactly what Tucker’s done for him, and what kindnesses swept by unnoticed, because now he’s certain that there have been many.

The words knock around in Trystan’s head for a moment before he asks, “Yeah, but why not tell her you paid for it?” It’s not that he thinks Tucker should draw attention to it, but he wants to know why the teacher did it and doesn’t want credit for his actions. The behavior is so contradictory to everything Trystan experienced growing up that he can’t fathom the situation. What would compel someone, an acquaintance at best, to act so selflessly?

The large man doesn’t answer at first. Instead, he glances around to make sure they’re still alone before leaning in closer to Trystan’s ear. “Because ownership of the action devalues the kindness in some cases. It’ll make her feel indebted, and that isn’t the reason it was done. Well, not that I would know.” Tucker grins, and admits nothing and everything with his statement.

Having ideals is one thing, and acting on them is quite another. Trystan knows what kind of man he wants to be and sees a reflection of himself in Tucker. Or maybe it’s the other way around. It’s possible that the young teacher already rubbed off on him over the years.

Tucker is quiet for a moment and then points to Trystan’s packet. “The contract that I think you’ll be the happiest living with is on top. There’s a pen in the envelope. Congratulations, Mr. Scott.”

Trystan pulls the contract out and scans it. Just as Tucker starts to walk off, Trystan says, “There’s nothing in here for you.” There’s no notation of a commission percentage for Tucker. No flat fee. Nothing.

The teacher doesn’t stop, look back, or try to explain. He simply acts as if he didn’t hear and heads off toward the lighting cage to make sure everyone is where they need to be before the curtain goes up. Trystan watches as Tucker disappears around the corner. He looks at the contracts in his hands and knows what he’s going to do.

CHAPTER 11

~MARI~

I’ve never gone on stage before to do a live performance. Up until now, I was the girl who sat in the shadows, the person that no one knew was there. By intermission everyone knows my name. They’ll see me flooded in golden light, standing center stage with Trystan. I’ve always thought he had charisma. The way he says his lines makes the night feel surreal. It’s like we’re star-crossed lovers trapped in another time, in another life.

There are more people in the audience than I’ve ever seen. I peeked between the curtains from backstage before the play started. Now that things are underway, my heart doesn’t pound so frantically. Periodically, the glint of a camera lens catches my eye from somewhere in back, but I can’t see past the second row. The rest of the audience is swallowed in blackness, which is good, otherwise my nerves would choke me to death and I’d die.

The lights keep me from looking out into the audience. They’re blinding, and every time I feel the racing of my heart as I start to panic, Trystan seems to sense it. He touches me lightly—on my cheek or my wrist—and pulls me back to where it’s only the two of us. When he does that, I realize that I could go on like this forever. He anchors me, steadies me, and makes me a better person.

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