First Chapter: Song From the Ashes by Megan Whitson Lee

Song From the Ashes 2Title: Song From the Ashes
Author: Megan Whitson Lee
Publisher: eLectio Publishers
Pages: 350
Genre: Christian Fiction
Format: Paperback/Kindle

Purchase at AMAZON

Attorney Landon Kingsley craves order and normalcy, and aside from his well-hidden vice of smoking, he lives the life that everyone expects from him in his hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee. Recently engaged to beautiful nursing student, April May, Landon’s new fiancée is everything he could want in a wife. She is devoted to her faith and family and truly loves him.

April’s cousin, Ella Casey, has returned to Kingsport after ten years of pursuing a career as a country music singer in Nashville. Ella’s failed career and affair with a married music producer scandalizes her in the eyes of the town, but her legal troubles drive her to Landon for help. Landon finds himself increasingly attracted to Ella and more discontent than ever with the path he has chosen for his life. Amid a firestorm of family and town gossip, Landon is tormented by his past and the complicated decision of whether to listen to God’s voice or follow his own desires.

SONG FROM THE ASHES, a modern retelling of the classic Edith Wharton novel The Age of Innocence, explores the dilemma between the pursuit of dreams and personal happiness versus contentment in God’s plan for marriage and love.

First Chapter:

The snow was already forming crusts on the unsalted parts of the road that January evening. The weathermen had talked of a dusting, or perhaps even showers, but the severity of the precipitation was wholly unexpected.  It was only a high school event—a talent show held at the local civic center. Even so, Landon Kingsley was upset with himself and his late arrival. Landon always made a point of being on time, but tonight he had lingered over the reading of a brief. At least that was how he rationalized it. In all honestly, he hadn’t wanted to stub out his cigarette prematurely. He always enjoyed a smoke when his mind was preoccupied.

Landon knew his girlfriend and her parents would be waiting for him. He slipped into the rear of the auditorium and scanned the mass of people for April and her family. She had texted that they were sitting near the front, and he cringed thinking that would make his entrance all the more embarrassing—everyone would see him entering late.

April’s two younger sisters were both in high school, and although he had not heard them sing, Landon understood they were talented. In fact, April’s Aunt Julia informed him that the entire family possessed great musical talent.

“On her daddy’s side of the family, everyone tends toward musical talent in piano and guitar. On her mama’s side, nearly everyone has beautiful singing voices—especially that Ella—she’s out in Nashville right now, you know. She’s been out there for years singing country music. I guess she does all right.”

Landon had never met Ella, but he had heard about her, and he understood that through some circumstance or other she would actually be attending the talent show that night.

As he made his way down the sloping aisle, he saw familiar faces—many of them flashing him a smile and a wave. In a town of this size, people knew each other or at least knew of one another. Part of the tri-cities area in Northeastern Tennessee consisting of Kingsport, Johnson City and Bristol, Kingsport was the second largest of the three—a town of around fifty-thousand that had grown a little over the years but was no booming metropolis either. It retained a small-town feel, a place where people still smiled and greeted one another on the streets. A town where people spent their whole lives. Retirees from up north settled down there, and people who had lived there most or all of their lives called it home and heaven. The downside was that gossip spread like wildfire, and no one was ever free from the scrutiny of folks who wanted what you had or who didn’t think you had enough.

Mid way down the rows of seats, Landon glimpsed the face of Dora Feldman. He had represented her husband last year when he was sued for a property line dispute. A little further down, he saw the scowling face of Dawson McMurphy, who had never forgotten that Landon represented his arch rival in a nasty court case several years ago. Landon couldn’t even remember the specifics of the case now, but Mr. McMurphy had never allowed him to forget the outcome of it. Landon and his client had won—Mr. McMurphy had lost and exhibited sour grapes ever since.

Sitting at the end of the third row, craning her neck to see him and then waving wildly was the lovely, smiling face of April. She looked relieved when she saw him and rasped in a stage whisper as he fell into the seat beside her, “I was worried you’d forgotten.”

He shook his head, returning the whisper. “I got caught up with some business.” It was mostly true.

Her forehead and nose wrinkled simultaneously. “Have you been smoking?”

Desiring to avoid another half-lie, Landon simply smiled and patted her leg. “I haven’t missed your sisters have I?”

April shook her head. “No, but you almost did! They’re up next.”

Landon turned to the act finishing their pitiful version of an old Led Zeppelin tune, “Stairway to Heaven.” He couldn’t believe teenagers in this day and age knew and still appreciated the tune. The boy on the stage fumbled his way through an acoustic version of the song, interspersing his performance with “oops!” and “I’m sorry” and “I didn’t mean to do that.” Finally, the boy’s misery was over and the crowd applauded, more relieved than entertained.

Landon cast a glance down the aisle to the left of him. April’s sat beside her daughter, and she smiled at him sweetly. It had only been this week that Mrs. May had said to him shyly, “I know it’s not really my place,” her Tennessee accent drawing out the vowel of plaay-ce, “but I just want you to know that April has so enjoyed the last few months ya’ll have been dating.”

Landon had been contemplating asking April to marry him, but not before he was absolutely certain of her answer. He was quite a bit older than her–thirty-seven years to her twenty-five—and his past was much more checkered. April had taken great pains to let him know of her purity and plan to stay that way until she was married. He wished he could come to her in the same state, but his life had taken him other places and there had been many women. Therefore, he was concerned his past might have scared her away, and he said as much to her mother.

To this confession, Alissa May sweetly patted his hand and told him if he and April ended up together, the family would be only too happy to welcome him as one of them. “April’s father and I are ten years apart, and things have turned out good for us. And I know April is not nearly as concerned with your past as she is with the man you are right now.”

Landon looked over and smiled at the lovely dark-haired girl beside him. Beyond her he could see April’s father—a man of few words—quiet, but infinitely wise and well-read. Charles May had worked for Eastman Chemical Company his entire life. He rose up through the ranks to become an executive with the company—a career which had given him wealth and allowed him to approach his retirement with ease.

Landon noted a few other relatives that he had seen at various family functions over the past three months while he had been dating April, but then he noticed the new face at the end of the aisle. She, too, locked eyes with him and waved a stilted salute

“That’s my cousin Ella,” April told him. “She’s just come into town from Nashville.”

Landon nodded. “Oh yeah, that’s right. Your aunt said she’d be here tonight. She’s visiting with your family?”

“Well, sort of. It’s a long story. But basically, things haven’t worked out so well for her in Nashville. Mama told me she’s back in Kingsport to stay for now.”

“I see.” Landon thought Ella looked the part of the country singer. She was dressed in jeans and a suede jacket, but he couldn’t help his eyes being drawn to the top she wore underneath and all it revealed. Ella’s brown hair was highlighted with blond streaks and fell in soft waves over her shoulders. From the reflection of the stage lights, she looked like she had clear blue eyes and a straight, white smile. She reminded him a little of a country star he couldn’t put a name to at that moment. He could sort of see a family resemblance in the profile. Both April and Ella had straight sloping noses that turned up at the tip. They possessed strong chins and adequate cheek-bones, but the overall effect of their appearance wasn’t much alike.

“Oh, here they go!” April said, redirecting his attention to her young sisters appearing on the stage. The oldest one held an acoustic guitar and the other stood close beside her. It seemed to take the two girls a long time to begin. One was still fiddling with the tuners on the guitar, and the other one giggled nervously beside her.

During this tense interval, Landon considered the possibility of proposing to April. It was early on, he knew, but it was certainly not unheard of. She had, at the commencement of their friendship, conveyed to him that she felt ready to marry and start a family. April had graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee in some generic discipline that he couldn’t remember, but now she was pursuing a nursing degree at East Tennessee State University, having decided that she really wanted to be in the medical field.

Landon found it attractive that his future wife should have some sort of profession. It gave him respect for her—that she had something going on in her life besides him. His own mother had a talent for gardening and writing, and for years she wrote articles for the magazine Gardens of America. Occasionally she had traveled, giving seminars on landscaping, gardening and planting, and dispensing advice on what kinds of flowers grew well in what types of soil, etc.

Landon did wish that April was a little more conversational on the matters that interested him, but one couldn’t have everything. And he assumed that it was this sort of pickiness in the past that caused him to remain single into his thirty-seventh year. Landon loved books—especially classical literature; he loved music of all kinds, but especially old seventies music and country; he also enjoyed wine and the occasional cigar or cigarette. Maybe April didn’t share these interests, but she was a wonderful and stunningly beautiful Christian girl who wanted marriage, a home, and a family, and at the end of the day, that was all that mattered.

Finally the two girls on stage appeared ready to play. The oldest one spoke: “Hi, my name is June and this is my sister Summer. We’re going to be singing a duet to a song by Taylor Swift.”

The girls began to sing and Landon found their sweet, unassuming voices good, yet untrained, which was not an issue with music like this. The harmony was beautiful between the two young girls—one a freshman, one a senior, and he was genuinely impressed by their performance. At the end of their singing, he felt sure he applauded louder than anyone else, and he hoped April’s smile confirmed she noticed it.

Afterwards, the family gathered at the May’s large old home in Fair Acres. The house was large and impressive and had been in Charles May’s family for many years. Fair Acres consisted of old money, and those who lived in Kingsport considered the area very prestigious. The neighborhood, a combination of new and old homes (some of them dating back to the thirties) boasted housing costs well over those in the rest of the state.

Although they had considered moving their family to the newly established Grande Harbor area in neighboring Blountville simply to be closer to Boone Lake (one of their favorite places to boat and water ski as a family), Charles and Alissa May chose to remain in Fair Acres in their large, mansion-like home built in 1949, which had a basement as dark and dank and scary as one in any horror film, and plumbing that was as old and creaky as their Great-Grandma Addie.

April told Landon in secret—“The real reason Mama didn’t want to move to Grande Harbor was because she didn’t want June and Summer going to the county schools.”

The reasons for this had not clearly surfaced, but Landon could guess Alissa May saw the county kids through a prejudiced eye and did not want her girls hob-nobbing with boys who went out and shot their own food on Saturdays, nor did she want them influenced by the loose rural girls who drove out to fields with those same boys on Saturday nights. But Landon did not want to judge the Mays too harshly either. The Mays had been good to him, and he knew they were expectantly awaiting his proposal to their daughter, at which time they had insinuated she would accept him.

Landon stood in the May’s kitchen talking politely to April’s Aunt Julia. She was the sort of personality his mother might say was “a force to be reckoned with.” In her early fifties—April’s mother’s sister was as different from Alissa May as humanly possible. She was short and rather round with a mass of uncontrolled, curly reddish hair. Blue, twinkling eyes peered over her plump cheeks, and her pink-lipsticked smile was perpetually pasted on her white face. She had already caught wind of the intended proposal and wanted every opportunity to be involved with the wedding festivities. Having no living husband and no children of her own, she viewed April and her sisters as partial fruit of her own shaping and molding.

“I’ve told April I’m willing to pay for her wedding dress, her going-away outfit, and any other niceties she wants to buy for her costume or wardrobe. And I mean for her to buy her dress in Knoxville—in a boutique shop—I don’t want her wearing one of those dresses manufactured a dime a dozen in the catalogues. April’s special, you know,” and at these words, Aunt Julia leaned in, whispering in his ear. “She’s really my favorite, but I would never tell her mother or the other girls that, of course.”

Landon nodded and laughed politely. But before he could say anything, Aunt Julia assaulted him with a barrage of questions. “So where will you go for your honeymoon?”

“Well, I don’t know, ma’am. We haven’t done the actual proposal thing yet, so…”

“What are you waiting for then? Just ask her!”

Landon sipped from his glass of wine nervously. “I will …at the right time.”

Aunt Julia reached up and touched his hair. “Look at all that wavy black hair! I’ll bet your daddy still has all of his hair, doesn’t he?”

Landon, uncomfortable at her touch, conceded with a nod. “Yes, ma’am, he does.”

“How is your daddy these days?” she rolled on, referring to Landon’s stepfather. “Is he still workin’? Or has he retired?”

Landon bobbed his head back and forth. “He’s semi-retired I guess. He still takes on a few cases here and there, but for the most part he does more volunteer work these days.”

“Is he still writing those books on the history of the Tennessee Volunteers? I remember he loved Tennessee history.”

“Yes, ma’am. He’s working on another one right now. How did you know my stepdad?”

Aunt Julia giggled. “Well, you probably didn’t know this, but I actually worked for him for several years as his legal secretary.”

“Is that right? I didn’t have any idea you worked for him. When was that?”

She patted his arm, and her eyes turned upwards as she sought to remember the exact dates. “Oh, let’s see. I guess that would have been around ‘89 or ‘90. I worked for him until around ‘92. You would have been in high school then.”

“Small world,” Landon remarked.

She laughed loudly. “Yes, it sure is! You tell him I said hello, won’t you?”

“I sure will.”

April had told him that her Aunt Julia had made a very bad marriage in her thirties. Her husband had treated her terribly and died in a motorcycle accident just a year or two after they were married. He had, however, left her a very wealthy woman, and although she still did some work with an accounting agency in town to keep her busy, she had enough money to keep her well entertained for many years to come.

“Aunt Julia!” Summer, April’s youngest sister, grabbed a hold of her aunt’s shoulders.

“Yes, honey, what do you need?”

“June and I want to play Mexican Train—you wanna play with us?”

Aunt Julia’s face glowed. “Yes, of course, honey—I’d love to play with you and June! What did you say you’re playing?”

“Mexican Train.”

Aunt Julia grabbed Landon’s arm, her eyes imploring. “I’m so sorry. Would you excuse me? I just love dominoes!”

Landon nodded, only too happy to release her. “Yes ma’am.”

He hoped his relief wasn’t too evident as he watched her patter off between June and Summer, prattling away about her love of dominoes and poker and games in general.

Landon actually felt his shoulders relax as he turned back to his dwindling glass of white wine. He only ever allowed himself one glass, and he wondered if he should find April and perhaps tell her goodnight. It was probably time to head home.

As he scanned the room for April, his eyes suddenly caught sight of her cousin, Ella, standing by the bar area, sipping champagne from a fluted glass. She smiled at him. He made a move toward her, but she moved much quicker than he did, meeting him just outside the kitchen. Strangely, the sounds all around them seemed to dim. People bunched together, moving into the living room, and the kitchen cleared of people who had been chatting loudly only minutes before. Where they now stood, it was eerily quiet, as though everyone had gone out of the house, onto the balcony or into the basement.

“I don’t think we’ve properly met,” she said. “I’m Ella.” Landon could now see her face was nothing at all like April’s when viewed straight-on. In fact, she was strikingly different. Her blue eyes were widely set over a small chiseled nose and a rosebud mouth. There was no denying her age, and he thought he remembered April saying Ella was around thirty-five or so. He hadn’t paid much attention to the details at the time, so he was now more interested in finding out about this long-lost cousin and her unfortunate story at which April had hinted. He distinctly remembered the family had referred to this woman as “poor cousin Ella,” suggesting she had not only survived a rough life, but it had taken a toll on her looks as well. “She used to be so beautiful,” April had said. “But I haven’t seen her in years, so who knows what she looks like now. You know—with the whole Nashville partying scene and all…”

In fact, Landon found Ella extremely attractive, and she certainly didn’t strike him as a wild partier, although it was hard to tell those things about people after two minutes of conversation.

“Landon. It’s great to finally meet you. April has told me so much about you,” she laughed, and Landon was struck by the easy, charismatic nature of her smile and demeanor.

“And I’ve heard about you as well. I’ve heard you’re a wonderful singer.”

She looked uncomfortable suddenly, as though he had touched on a painful subject. “Well, my whole family has singing talent, actually. It’s a hereditary trait. I don’t really think I’m anything that special.”

Landon smiled. “I’ve never heard April sing—only June and Summer—“

“—who both have beautiful voices,” she nodded. “I hadn’t seen either of them since they were very little …until tonight. And wow! They definitely have grown up into beautiful girls and …yes, they have excellent singing voices. Hopefully they’ll have better luck in Nashville than I did.”

She followed her words with a strained, hollow laugh. Landon clearly glimpsed the sadness in her eyes.

Ella surveyed him then, biting her lower lip. “Actually, Landon, you won’t remember me, I’m sure, but I remember you from school.”

Landon was surprised, and he shook his head, as he could not place her at all.

“I was two years below you, but we were at Dobyns-Bennett together,” she smiled.

“Wow! I…um…I’m sorry I don’t remember you,” Landon ran his hand over his mouth, desperately trying to recall her face from his high school days. But those days were a blur to him. He had been so involved with swim team and debate club…and there had been a great many girlfriends and parties…

Ella shook her head smiling and motioning with her hand there was no reason why he should remember. “There was only one time we really crossed paths, and that was at Bobby Fallon’s party. I admit I did have a tiny crush on you.”

Landon saw the slightest blush crimson her cheeks as she said these words, and he was flattered.

“I went to the party with my friend, Tasha Reynolds.”

“Oh, I remember Tasha!” Suddenly Landon’s mind flitted back to an art room in the 9th grade where his table partner was Tasha Reynolds, an artistically gifted girl. He also remembered she was overweight and rather loud. “You were friends with Tasha Reynolds?”

Ella nodded. “Oh, yeah, I was. She came to Nashville with me. She lives with her husband in Brentwood now.”

Landon smiled. “Wow. I can’t believe I don’t remember you, though.”

Ella shook her head. “Please, really—there’s no reason why you should. I was so shy in high school. I …well, let’s just say I admired you from afar. But one time at this party, you were there with …uh…I think her name was Carrie Franklin?”

Landon remembered Carrie. He went to his senior prom with Carrie Franklin. He still saw her sometimes at the country club when he played golf. She was married with twins now.

He nodded and realized he was smiling with uncontrollable nostalgia. “Yes. I remember Carrie.”

“Well, Tasha and I followed you all over the Fallon’s house that night. I had high hopes of getting so much as a ‘hey’ from you.”

“And did you?”

“No,” she said. “But all I cared about was that I was in the same house with you. I lived on that for months.”

Landon couldn’t help it. He threw back his head and laughed, pleased.

Ella smiled and looked wistful. “Oh, to be young and innocent again.”

“Me? Innocent? Hmmm, maybe not. At that point the only way you could describe me was young and dumb.”

“I hear congratulations are soon to be in order,” Ella said.

Landon looked around, suddenly embarrassed at having this conversation with April’s cousin. “Well, nothing is official yet.”

“When will it be?” she asked, her eyes sparkling with sincerity.

He shrugged. “I want to choose the right time, I guess.”

Ella surveyed him for a moment. “I also hear you’re a lawyer.”

He nodded. “Yes, I am.”

“I may need one,” she said. “Actually, there’s no ‘may’ about it. I need one.”

Landon was intrigued. “What’s the problem?”

Ella flushed, her eyes downcast, and Landon couldn’t help but think how very attractive and vulnerable she looked. “It’s a long story, but it ends with this: basically, I was swindled out of the rights to my own songs.”

Landon frowned. “I see. I’m sorry to hear that.”

“I’m sure you know about my failed career in Nashville…I was also very stupid while I was there…in more ways than one. But in the way that affects my income—well, my songs were taken from me.”

“Honestly, I would love to help, but I have to tell you music, or entertainment law in general, is not my specialty. I deal with criminal cases and traffic infringements, and a few other simple cases like—oh, I don’t know—attempted murder…that sort of thing.”

Ella laughed. “Nothing complicated.”

“No. All very straightforward.”

“I get it.”

“But,” Landon continued. “I may know someone who could help you out. He actually does deal with entertainment law. Russell Previns. He’s in Knoxville, though.”

“Well, I’m just here for a few weeks to …recover from some things, I guess you could say. And then I’ll head off to wherever I can get a job. Maybe I’ll go to Knoxville… it’s not Nashville, but—“

Landon smiled. “Right. But I could see how Kingsport would be a little small for you.”

She nodded, her face growing serious. “People talk.”

Before he could ask her why she was worried about petty gossip, April was at his side.

“So I see the two of you have met,” April smiled, her January-white skin flushed pink from the heat turned up a little too high in the house. He assumed it also had to do with the excitement of the evening.

“Ella has the most beautiful voice,” April gushed, causing Ella to smile with embarrassment. “And she plays guitar and piano. She’s an amazing musician.”

Ella laughed. “Well, let’s not stretch it too much, April. I sing, I play a mediocre bit of guitar, and the only reason piano is part of my repertoire is because Mama and Daddy made me take lessons for years.”

Landon nodded. “Yes, my parents forced me into lessons as well. For years I took from Mrs. Pendleton.”

“Oh! Me too!” Ella laughed, grabbing his forearm as they shared the joke. “Mrs. Pendleton! She must have taught piano to every kid in this town. She had that little poodle—Needlemeyer—remember? She loved that dog, but otherwise she was mean!”

Landon laughed, momentarily enjoying the memory. “Yeah, she was not a warm and fuzzy—that’s for sure.”

“So you play piano?” Ella asked.

Landon shook his head. “No, not anymore. I was terrible at it when I did play.”

April stood by, her eyes darting back and forth between her cousin and her boyfriend. “I guess I was the one person in town who didn’t take lessons from Mrs. Pendleton.”

“Oh she was long dead by the time you came around, April,” Ella explained. “Remember I’ve got ten years on you.”

April smiled. “Oh, yeah. I guess that’s true.”

“You should sing for us,” Landon suggested.

Ella smiled, her eyes lowered with embarrassment. “Oh no. Some other time maybe.”

“I’ll hold you to that.” Landon set his empty wineglass on the counter and slipped his arm around April’s waist. “Well, Ella it was very nice to meet you. I need to be getting home, so I think I’ll say good night to your parents, April.”

April nodded. “Okay, and I’ll walk you out.”

“It was nice to meet you, Landon,” Ella said, her eyes surveying him. “And I’d like to talk to you about your legal contact.”

Landon nodded. “Sure. April has my information. Shoot me an email next week and I’ll see what I can do.”

Standing outside by his car, April and Landon embraced and exchanged a kiss. The snow had begun to fall again in soft powdery particles like sifted flour. The temperature outside continued to drop, and April slipped her arms inside Landon’s coat for warmth.

“That was a nice night,” Landon breathed against her cheek. “I enjoyed seeing everyone and meeting your cousin.”

April looked up at him, smiling. “Do you think you’ll be able to help her with whatever legal troubles she’s having?”

Landon stared off into the yard beyond where they stood. He could see the neighbor across the street slicing open a bag of salt and pouring it onto his driveway. The man made a slight waving motion to Landon. “I might be able to. At least I know someone in Knoxville who might be able to help her.”

April’s large dark eyes looked up at him pleadingly. She was such a tiny thing, and when she looked at him that way, he felt an overwhelming need to protect her. Her eyes told him she truly needed him, and he liked that feeling.

“I really hope you can help her, Landon. She’s had such a terrible time. I haven’t told you the half of what has happened to her. I don’t want to be a gossip, but she’s…she really needs some help. And her parents are away for six months in Florida, so she’s depending on us right now to be her rock.”

“Why didn’t she go to her parents, then? Why did she come back here?”

April shook her head. “That’s a whole other story. Anyway, let’s just do what we can for her.”

Her face was upturned and he took the opportunity to kiss her again. “You should go inside. It’s freezing out here.”

She continued to smile as she backed away from him, finally turning and walking briskly into the house, hugging her arms around her. Landon felt a rush of love for April and her sweet nature. She really did care for others and made a point of helping who she could. It was one of the many reasons he had been drawn to her.

Landon had first seen April helping in the nursery at church, and later they had crossed paths at an event to raise money to buy food for the needy in the area. Groups of workers were sent out to repair shutters on homes, paint fences, rake yards and do whatever household chores might be needed for whatever compensation the owners chose to contribute. That money was then used to buy food delivered to needy families in the area.

Landon and April had been paired on the same team. Together they serviced six homes where they cleaned a pool, mowed a lawn, swept out a garage and helped remove dog waste from a back yard area. Although there were eight on their team initially, by the end of the day, the only people still around to deliver the food were Landon and April. This gave him a glimpse of April’s heart. She loved people; she loved children, and she had a heart for service—all qualities he was looking for in a wife. And lately, Landon had been on the lookout for a wife. At least, he felt it was past time for him to be married.

He had spent so much of his life chasing after women for no particular reason. His dating ledger was longer than he had let on, but he was, frankly, ashamed of much of his past. When he thought back on the way he had treated old girlfriends, he cringed with regret. His faith was fairly new—only about three years old—but it had changed the way he viewed everything, including his relationship with women. There had been a time when he’d vowed he would not tie himself down—he would not get married. Even though his mother and step-father were still together after thirty years of marriage, he had seen too many casualties of the institution, and he couldn’t see anything really good coming from it. But that changed when God entered his life. Almost overnight he desired to make a life and a home with a godly woman.

Yes, April was young—twelve years was quite an age difference—but he felt she was ready to be a wife. Her family was well-off, and perhaps it didn’t warrant as much emphasis as he gave it, but he couldn’t shake the feeling he was meant to be part of a wealthy family.

Driving home that night, Landon cranked his radio and sang along to Rod Stewart’s song “Maggie May.” He thought of April’s face and smiled. He decided then he would ask her to marry him Valentine’s Day weekend. She would probably be expecting it then anyway—didn’t most girls? He imagined how her face would glow with happiness when she saw the ring and watched him drop to one knee.

“Oh, Maggie I couldn’t have tried anymore…,” he sang loudly as he crossed the railroad tracks, feeling good about the night and his interaction with April’s family. His thoughts trailed suddenly, remembering his conversation with Ella and her confession that she’d had a crush on him in high school. He loved that, he couldn’t help it—it was flattering. And suddenly he found his mind flooded not with April’s large dark eyes, but Ella’s blue ones. He felt sure he would have remembered a girl who looked like her in high school—her face was hard to forget. In fact, that night as he drifted off to sleep, it was Ella’s face that occupied his dreams.