My grandparents and Hazel helped me load my suitcases into the bed of Big Paw’s pickup truck. When it was all said and done, I couldn’t help but feel a knot forming in my gut. I didn’t know how I was with goodbyes, mainly because I’d never had to deal with them before. I’d never had a chance to say goodbye to my parents before they’d run off, and ever since then, everyone I knew had a way of sticking around.

That was one thing about being in a small town your whole life—you never had to really say goodbye to the ones who meant the most to you, till death did us part.

But now, I had to do it. I had to say farewell to my family, and as it turned out, I wasn’t ready. It felt like hands were wrapped around my neck, forcing my breaths to become harder.

“Well, I’ll go first,” Grams said. Her eyes were already heavy with tears. She walked over and wrapped me in a hug. “Don’t forget to take your contacts out at night, all right? Otherwise you might go blind.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And floss. I know you probably don’t even though I’ve told you to your whole life, but if you want to keep that smile of yours, you better floss daily. If not daily, every other day.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And for the love of the Lord, please separate your whites from your colors when you do laundry. And please, please, please, do your laundry. Don’t let it pile up in the corner until you’re down to your last pair of boxers,” she ordered.

I snickered. “Yes, ma’am.”

“And one last thing.” She placed her hands against my face. “When you need us, you call. Day or night, you call home. Okay?”

“Okay, I promise.”

She leaned in and kissed my cheek before patting her hand gently against it. It was how she “locked the kisses in place.” “Okay, good.”

I turned to Haze, who was standing back a little.

I rubbed my left shoulder blade. “You sure you don’t want to ride with us to the airport, Haze? Or even come to LA?” I semijoked. I couldn’t get the thoughts of our night together out of my head. All I wanted was more nights like the previous one. In the perfect world, I’d come home from a day in the studio, pull her into the shower with me, and make love with her under the steaming hot water. I’d make love to her in the kitchen too. In the living room. Dining room. In every single place possible, I’d make love to her.

“Don’t tempt me,” she said. “If I went to LA with you, I doubt I’d want to come back.”

“All right, well, I guess we just say good—”

“Don’t, Ian,” she cut in, closing her eyes. “Don’t say goodbye, okay? Just hug me, and get it over with.”

I did as she said, and she held me tighter than she ever had before.

“Last night was perfect,” I whispered into her ear.

“Perfect, perfect,” she replied. She pulled slightly away from me. “You’re going to call me,” she ordered. “Whenever you get a chance.”

“Will do. And you can use my truck while I’m gone to get around if you want.”

I chuckled a little as I heard Big Paw ask Grams, “When did they get so close?”

“You’re always sleeping through things, Harry. Missing the things right in your face,” she said.

Big Paw grumbled a bit and scratched his beard. “We better get a move on if we’re going to make it to the airport in a few hours.”

It was a long, long drive to the closest airport, which meant we had to leave earlier than I would’ve liked.

A little more time with Hazel and Grams wouldn’t have been awful.

How was I already getting homesick when I hadn’t even left?

I nodded once toward Big Paw and then gave Grams and Hazel one last embrace.

I opened the passenger door of the truck and began to climb into my seat.

“Ian, wait!”

I looked to my left and saw Hazel come rushing toward me.

She leaped into my arms and pressed her lips against mine. I kissed her hard and deep, wishing I’d never have to let her go.

“I’m gonna miss you, Ian. When you make it big, don’t forget about us small-town folks, okay?”

“I couldn’t forget you if I tried. Besides, I’m going to be calling you each morning and every night,” I swore.

She bit her bottom lip. “I don’t know how that would even work, Ian. You’re going to be so busy with your life and—”

“We make time for the things that matter,” I said, cutting her off. “You’re a thing that matters.”

Her head lowered for a split second, and when she looked back up, she was wearing that smile I loved. I kissed her again. For the first time in my life, the music wasn’t the only thing I truly cared about.

“Thanks, Haze.”

“For what?”

“Teaching me how to feel again.”

“What in the damn hell was that?” Big Paw barked.

Grams waved off his annoyed tones. “Oh, hush, you old fart. Let kids be kids. I remember a certain boy who used to kiss me like that too.”

“Who was it?” Big Paw sneered. “I’ll kick his ass.”

Grams chuckled and shook her head. “Shh. Now, get a move on before you miss his flight and he’ll have to come back and kiss Hazel again.”