A hand wrapped around my waist, and Ian pulled me in close to his body. His mouth brushed against my earlobe, and he whispered, “How’s Mrs. Parker doing?” He kissed me gently up and down my neck.
I giggled. “I told you, you’re not allowed to call me that until after we actually get married.” True, the celebration we were watching wasn’t our own, even though Ian had proposed to me over a year ago in the shed as we’d stared up at the moon.
We were in the wedding-planning territory, but we still had a few years before we’d officially walk down the aisle. The Wreckage had just released their sophomore album, which had shot up the charts, landing them their first number one album. After the fallout with Max, they’d found a manager named Andrew Still, who understood their dreams and was willing to do whatever it took to make them come true. They were heading off for the first leg of their new tour in a week. I was going to miss him dearly, but Rosie and I already had plans to meet up with them for a few shows over in Europe during the summer once my classes were done.
I was two years into my business degree, and I couldn’t have been prouder of myself. I knew I couldn’t have done it without Ian’s family helping me through it all.
“Are you sure you don’t want to run off to Vegas and just elope? I hear Elvis is alive and well down there and willing to tie the knot for us,” Ian offered for the umpteenth time.
I laughed at the request and turned to face him. “There’s no rush. We have the rest of our lives to be together.”
“I know, but I want that,” he said, nodding toward the dance floor. The occasion of the night was Big Paw and Holly’s sixty-fifth anniversary. The two were out there swaying back and forth, giggling with one another as if they were teenage kids who were falling in love for the first time.
“We’ll get that,” I swore. “We’re going to dance at every wedding and be the last couple standing.”
“Speaking of dancing,” Ian said, holding his hand out toward me. I placed my hand in his, and he moved us to the dance floor. We began swaying back and forth, his hand resting on my lower back, my head sitting against his shoulder.
It amazed me how far we’d come. How we’d grown into a love so strong. I’d been nineteen years old when I’d known my heart beat for Ian Parker, and I’d be late into my nineties with my heart still beating for that man.
Even though we were young, I knew that the future was going to be bright for us. We were going to bring babies into this world; we were going to use our gifts for good; we were going to give to those in need. We were going to love each other and nourish that love year after year.
And no matter what, we were going to spend the rest of our lives dancing under the moonlight.
Three Years Later
“Are you sure you don’t want to work in the restaurant?” I asked, sitting at my desk. Across from me was my mother in her best clothing. She looked so much better than she had years before, and seeing her smiling across from me made me the happiest daughter alive.
There was a long time when I’d thought I’d lost her for good. A part of my life when I’d thought Mama was too far gone with her demons.
After she’d gotten out of prison, she’d been afraid she’d fall back into her old patterns, so when Ian had offered her a chance to go to an amazing rehab center, she’d taken him up on it. Mama had put in the hard work to turn her life around, and while she’d done that, Ian and I had always kept the porch light on, in case she ever wanted to return to us.
When she’d been ready, she’d come back, and now she was looking for work on the ranch.
“Oh no, no. You already know I don’t belong in the kitchen. I think I can do some of the work around here, even if it’s just cleaning up some messes. I mean, if you think there’s room . . .” She fiddled with her fingers and gave me a half grin. “I’ll do anything to just keep myself busy. Plus, Rosie said she wanted me to be working around the horses with her.”
“Sounds about right.” My little sister loved Dottie as much as I did. If she was ever missing, you could always find her in those stables. “We can get you started Monday. But don’t think I’m going to take it easy on you since you’re my mother,” I sternly stated.
She nodded. “I wouldn’t expect you to. I’m going to put in the hard work, Hazel. I promise you, I’m not going to let you down.”
“There is one more stipulation to the job, Mama.”
“And what’s that?”
“You go to college.”
Her face lost a bit of color, and she shook her head back and forth. “Oh no. No. I can’t, Hazel. I don’t even have a GED. College isn’t something I could do.”
“A long time ago, Big Paw told me you used to dream about going to college. Isn’t that true?”
She fiddled with her hands, and embarrassment fell across her face. “Yes, but that was a long time ago. I’m not smart enough for any of that, and I’m old and worn out . . .”
“You’re smart, Mama. You’ve always been smart, and I won’t take no for an answer. We’ll get you your GED and then work toward getting you into some college courses. You’re never too old to achieve your goals. You can do it.”
When she looked up to me, she had tears in her eyes. “You really think so?”