“What took ya’ll so long?” Jay asked when Gary and Calla rode up on their horse. “We’ve been waiting to head back.”
“Well, let’s go then,” Gary said.
Calla could feel herself nodding off on the horse ride back to the stables. When her arms dropped, Gary stopped the horse to make sure she was okay.
“Did she fall asleep?” Joe Don asked, galloping next to Gary.
Gary looked at her face and saw her eyes were closed and nodded. “I guess we wore her out.”
They all chuckled and rode up to the stables before two in the afternoon. Joe Don was saying how hungry he was and that they should’ve stopped for breakfast just like they had planned to begin with.
“Yeah well, things change,” Jay said with a shrug, handing the reins to a staff member.
Joe Don put his horse in its stall and watched as Gary gently woke Calla from a deep sleep. She opened her eyes and blinked.
“I fell asleep?” she asked, dazed.
Gary nodded with a smile as he and Jay helped her down. “It’s time to go for some lunch.”
On the walk back to the car Calla couldn’t help but think what would happen to her once they had to get back on the road. Her demeanor changed noticeably at this thought.
“What’s on your mind?” Jay asked, climbing in and sitting across from her.
“When do you guys head out?” she bluntly asked.
Jay and Gary looked at each other, both realizing they never thought about that till now. Gary felt a tug at his heart from seeing her sad facial expression. It appeared she had grown very fond of them.
“Don’t worry about that right now,” Joe Don said from the front seat. “I’m sure we can work something out with our manager.”
Calla nodded, unsure whether she should worry or not. She didn’t want to tag along if it meant she would become a distraction. But she also didn’t want to be alone, especially with her ex searching for her. Calla rubbed her face with her hand and chewed on the sleeve of her jacket. Gary watched her intently as the sun hit her face in a way that made her skin glow.
“Well, you and Gary could always get married,” Jay blurted out.
“What does that have to do with anything?” Gary quickly said, his face turning red with embarrassment.
Jay shrugged. “I have no idea. Just felt like saying it considering the amount of times you stare at her.”
“Jay!” Gary said nervously.
His friend shrugged and laughed. Calla just shook her head and continued to look out the window at the passing scenery. That statement didn’t seem to phase her, Gary thought. But little did her know she was thinking about that in the back of her mind. Calla could see herself marrying Gary and being happy. He made her feel safe and strong. She had fallen asleep in his arms twice already, so that meant she trusted him, right?
“Steakhouse!” Jay announced loudly, making Calla jump. “Sorry…”
She shook her head and smiled. “It’s okay. I have to get used to loudness, right. And loud people.”
“Did she just tell a joke?” Jay asked, pointing at her with his thumb and looking over at Gary who was smiling from ear to ear.
“I think she did,” Gary laughed. “I guess Jay is loud noise.”
“Hey, be nice to me, now,” Jay joked back, lightly kicking Gary on the shin. “I know where you sleep at night.”
“Sure, sure,” Gary laughed as the car came to a stop.
“Okay, children,” Joe Don chuckled. “Let’s get some food before I eat the seat belt.”
Everyone was all laughs and giggles when they sat at the table until Calla spotted an unwelcoming and familiar face at the front door. Her eyes widened when she noticed her ex searching the crowd of faces. She quickly ducked her face in Gary’s arm.
“What’s up?” Gary asked, patting the shaky hand that had a tight grip on his jacket sleeve.
“He’s here,” she said, muffled. “At the front entrance.”
Jay turned around in his seat and Gary kicked his leg and shook his head. He saw the man walking in their direction and held Calla’s hand under the table tightly.
“Aren’t you guys Rascal Flatts?” he asked, his voice rough and deep. “My girlfriend is a huge fan of yours. She had come down here to see you guys in concert yesterday and I seemed to have lost her.”
“Don’t know if we can help you there, bud,” Jay said, looking at Gary then at the man. “We get a lot of women at our concert and we meet a lot of faces to be able to keep up with them.”
“Oh, she’s not hard to miss, I assure you,” he said, taking his wallet out and presenting a photo of Calla. “Are you sure you haven’t seen her? Maybe your lady friend has?”
“She’s had a long day. We’re sure,” Gary said, feeling Calla’s hand grip tighter as he moved towards her.
“I’m sure you’ll find her soon. Perhaps she’s gone home?” Joe Don said, trying to redirect his gaze on him.
The man kept looking at Calla, trying to see her face. “Your lady friend has the same hair color as my girlfriend….”
As he inched closer, Joe Don stood up in his path. “I would recommend not bothering our friend here. She’s had a rough day and has a headache. And I’m pretty sure she’s fallen asleep.”
He raised his hands in front of himself and backed up. “Sure, no problem. But if that is Calla, I can’t wait for you to come home, baby.”
Calla shivered when he walked off. Gary watched him walk out of the restaurant and released her hand to rub her back. She shot up and ran to the bathroom without a second glance at her surprised friends.
“That was close,” Jay said, sighing.
“I’ll go check on her,” Gary said, rising and heading to where the restrooms were.
Joe Don turned to Jay and shook his head. “Are we in over our heads here? From what Gary has told us about him, he seems dangerous and unstable.”
“Joe Don, we can’t abandon the poor girl. And Gary has strong feelings for her, if you hadn’t noticed. And yes, maybe we are over our heads here. But we promised to protect her.”
“Gary did, not us,” Joe Don said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I guess you’re right though.”
Jay nodded. “She met us for a reason.”
Joe Don agreed and looked over at the restrooms. Gary was knocking on the women’s restroom door.
“Are you okay, Calla?” Gary asked. “We’re here for you. Take your time.”
He could hear her sobbing and breathing heavily. He closed his eyes, placed a hand on the door and pushed it a bit and it opened slightly. She was curled up in the corner of the restroom, her knees drawn close to her chest and her face hidden in her arms.
Gary knelt down in front of her and touched her arm. “We can move on to another city if you want.”
She looked up at him with her tear stained face. “Really?”
“Absolutely. We don’t have another show here anyway,” he said with a smile. “Let’s finish eating and talk to the guys about it.”
“Okay,” she said, taking his hand and standing up.
Without a second thought, Gary pulled her in and held her tightly. She took in his scent as she buried her face in his chest, the side of his cheek resting on the top of her head.
“Everything will be okay,” he whispered. “You’ll be okay.”
Calla tried blinking back tears but they soaked his jacket anyway. She drew him in closer by wrapping her arms around his waist and squeezing. Was it hard for him to love a broken woman? No, in fact it made him fall for her even more. All of her quirks, her flaws which he didn’t see any.