Authors: Jessica Katoff
WHAT YOU LEAVE BEHIND
BY JESSICA KATOFF
Copyright © 2013 Jessica Katoff
This is a work of fiction. All characters and other entities portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real persons, dead or alive, or other real-life entities, past or present, is purely coincidental.
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First Kindle Edition, 2013
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Author: Jessica Katoff
Editor: Charlie K. Brasher
Cover Design: Jessica Katoff
CONTACT JESSICA KATOFF
TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE HEARTS ARE STRONGER AFTER THEY’RE BROKEN & TO THOSE WHO TAUGHT ME THAT LESSON THE HARD WAY
TO KEN, ROBIN, & CARY
Thank you for believing I could do this and for dealing with the constant emotional breakdown I had during the weeks leading up to the release. Your support has meant so much to me. I love you.
TO CHARLIE, COFFEE, & ADRENALINE
Without you three, none of this would have gotten done in time.
TO CHRISTINA RAYNOR, KATY GRAHAM, MELISSA HAYES, LINDSEY HANSEN, MICHELE DEL ROSARIO, JOSH GORFAIN, ANGELA HELM, RICHARD DUNN, JANET ROMANO, ATHENA TZATHAS, & IRIS JURADO
Thank you for not thinking this was the worst idea in history.
TO THE ALBUM LEAF, THE AVETT BROTHERS, BAND OF HORSES, BIG KETTLE DRUM, BOBBY LONG, BUTCH WALKER, THE CIVIL WARS, COURRIER, THE DAMNWELLS, DAWES, THE DIRTY GUV’NAHS, ED SHEERAN, FOY VANCE, GARETH ASHER & NICKI THRAILKILL, GOOD OLD WAR, GREGORY ALAN ISAKOV, HOUNDMOUTH, INGRAM HILL, IVAN & ALYOSHA, JAMES BAY, JAMES VINCENT MCMORROW, JASON ISBELL & THE 400 UNIT, JOSHUA JAMES, THE KIN, LANGHORNE SLIM, MARCUS FOSTER, MATRIMONY, MATT CORBY, MATTHEW MAYFIELD, NEEDTOBREATHE, PASSENGER, PHOSPHORESCENT, RAY LAMONTAGNE, SAM PALLADIO, SEA WOLF, SETH ADAM, THE SHADOWBOXERS, ST. PAUL & THE BROKEN BONES, THE WILD FEATHERS, WILL HOGE, & ZZ WARD
You kept me (mostly) sane by serenading me through this project—beginning to end—whether you knew it or not. I can’t thank you enough for existing.
ALSO, TO JACK DANIELS & CHEAP RED WINE
I couldn’t have done it without you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Harper hoists herself up onto the railing that surrounds her mother’s front porch, mindful not to snag her dress on the aged and splintered wood. As the plank moans under the gentle press of her weight, she runs her hands over the fabric in her lap, loving the silken movement of it beneath the pads of her fingers. It’s so far removed from her typical wardrobe of jeans and sweaters, but that’s the point—an anniversary, especially one of such magnitude, deserves beautiful extravagancies. She tries to imagine what Liam will think of her wrapped in the delicate lace, and later, out of it. She marvels at the stark contrast between the midnight blue of the lace and the pale of her thighs, peeking through the spaces between threads, as she pictures his strong hands fisted in the fabric, clutching her hips and encircling her slim waist. Her fingers flex in response, the tips denting into her flesh, and her focus narrows, her gaze catching on the unadorned ring finger of her left hand. She slowly traces circles around the base of it—the exact spot where a ring would rest.
As her fingers still, Harper’s gaze lifts and she stares absently out toward the horizon. The sky is coated with thick, purple-hued clouds, the makings of a storm at sundown, and she anticipates being caught in a downpour that will leave her dress soaked through and clinging to her skin. The darkening sky blurs before her as her vision shifts to reveal the scene in her head—a slight variation of one she’s imagined a million times over. The rain filters slowly through the dense canopy of coniferous trees and glints dimly in the faint glow of the lantern at their feet. They are on the bank of the Rogue River, at the very spot where Liam first told Harper he loved her nine summers prior.
She watches as the rain soaks her and Liam in equal measure, gliding along the whole of their skin the way their mouths long to. She reaches for him, craving his touch and needing to touch him, but as she does, Liam drops out of her reach to bended knee on the rocky ground. Even though she’s thought of the hows and whens of it for so long, she still gasps at the sight of him bent before her as he takes her left hand in his. He kisses the back of it, his lips ghosting over each knuckle, and reaches for the ring in the inner pocket of his coat. The glimmer of the stone begs for her attention, but she can’t look away from Liam’s smile. There is nothing more beautiful than the way his mouth moves as he asks, in that simple way of his, “Will you?” just loud enough to be heard over the sound of the rushing river. She plays coy, with her lips pursed and her eyes narrowed, as if the question actually warrants deep consideration. But before even the briefest trace of worry can be found in his soulful blue eyes, she falls to her own knees, the rocks digging into her bare skin, and whispers, “Yes,” over and over into his mouth.
Headlights traverse the bend and shine into her eyes, and as they do, she is brought back to reality. She smiles at the sight of Liam’s car drawing near, and dismounts the railing with more grace than she anticipated possible. Her dress cascades into place, kissing her skin about mid-thigh, and sways softly with the movement of her body as she descends the front steps and stands beside the spot in the driveway where Liam has always parked. A small, dark stain lingers on the brick, years of dripping oil or grease or some other vehicular byproduct she’s unsure of, and it’s a little piece of their long history. She watches as it disappears beneath the cover of his car and smiles tenderly at him through the window as he comes to a halt beside her.
Harper’s smile dwindles slowly as she realizes that Liam’s appearance does not mirror her own. His brow is creased with deep lines, his oil-slick hair is disheveled and dull, and his naturally golden skin is sallow and marred with dark circles that rim his eyes as if he hasn’t slept in weeks. She notes these things, but they aren’t too unexpected. He recently started his internship at Ashland Community, on top of his regular hours at Barnes Drug and Beauty, and he’s been spread thin. He looks tired, as he well should, and when he steps out and pulls her close, she thinks she can almost feel him minutely collapse against her. His arms wrap strongly around her, using her as a crutch, and she’s nearly the only thing holding them both upright. She’s content in the crush of his arms, though, and cannot wait to feel the friction of his skin, slick against hers beside the river, those same arms pulling her down onto him. Liam doesn’t linger though, and she shivers after his arms leave her.
“Go on and get in,” Liam says softly, his voice a rough scrape. She nods and gives him an uneasy smile before following him to the opposite side of the car. He opens her door, always chivalrous, and she kisses his cheek in thanks as she ducks inside.
“Happy anniversary,” he says once he’s settled into the driver’s seat and leans over to faintly press his lips to her cheek, something he belatedly realizes he should have already done. Harper looks over at him as her hand goes to her cheek, to where the coarseness of his chewed and chapped lips scraped against it. Though he feels her watching him, he dodges her stare, his chest already uncomfortably tight with emotion. Instead, he diverts his attention to backing the car out of the driveway, his hand on her headrest as he turns to glance behind them. “Where did you want to go tonight?”
“You haven’t planned anything?” Harper asks with a soft note of disappointment, a hint of surprise coloring her tone. Liam catches it, but as if he hasn’t, stares blankly forward at the blacktop illuminated in the glow of his headlights as the car idles at her curb. He’s silent and Harper takes the opportunity to fully absorb his appearance—the carelessness of his wrinkled shirt, with the buttons misaligned, how his ink-black hair hasn’t been washed or combed, the almost-bruises that ring his bloodshot blue eyes. Liam aches under the weight of her scrutiny and hits the gas pedal harder than he intends to, jerking the car and Harper’s attention forward with the motion. Still, she glances over at him from time to time as they take to the road, and she begins to sense that something is off. He may be spread thin from too much work and too little sleep, but his presence and presentation are not those of a man celebrating a decade of loving and being loved, as he should be, and that worries her.
“Liam,” she ventures softly, her hand settling on his knee, thumb stroking gently over the fabric of his jeans. He glances down at her hand before looking back up at the road with the burn of tears cresting in his eyes.
“Are you okay?”
“I just didn’t—I’m sorry.”
The words sound heavy and thick and Harper knows there are more behind them waiting to spill forth, but he hems them in.
He doesn’t want to have the conversation that is approaching—at least, not yet. Despite his resolution to say the words, he’s not ready. He continues to drive, getting onto Interstate 5, and chews at his raw lips until he tastes the faintest bit of blood. The cruel taste is a welcome distraction from the way the feel of her hand on him burns his skin with guilt. He glances over at her and sees she is staring at the point where her hand meets his thigh, and it’s as if the contact is holding her together nearly as much as it’s tearing him apart. Distraught, Liam pulls the car off the highway, unsure of his direction in every sense, but he merges back into the lane and continues north. Harper looks curious, but she doesn’t question him and he’s grateful for the silence—his thoughts are loud enough already. It comes to an end all too soon, as he hears her let out a long sigh as she turns to look out the window at the bits of passing scenery visible in the streetlights.
“Harper,” he starts, but there aren’t words beyond that, and she nods slowly without looking over at him.
Liam drives until the silence is stifling and he feels like shouting at nothing and everything and mainly, at Harper, but she doesn’t deserve that and he knows it. He pulls the car onto the shoulder of the road once again, his hazard lights flashing, and unlocks the doors. Harper is out of the car before he is, already in tears and staring at him over the roof with her brokenhearted brown eyes. Liam pretends that he can’t see the tears flow down her cheeks in the shine of the passing headlights and instead, begins walking away. Distance. He wants distance. He needs it. That’s what this whole thing is about, after all. She follows though, her heels sinking into the rough gravel where the blacktop meets the embankment as she moves in quick half-steps to keep up with his long-legged gait. He slows when he hears her stumble and turns to run back to her, but she is already standing, her fiery hair falling over her face as she examines a gash on her knee and a rip in the lace at her elbow.