Exclusive Excerpt from Of Sunlight and Stardust
by Riley Hart & Christina Lee
Cole woke up on the couch alone, his knee stiff, his mouth dry, and Tanner nowhere in sight. Panic rose inside him. Had he made Tanner uncomfortable by falling asleep beside him? His eyes had felt so heavy, along with his heart, after the journal entry.
He looked around and noticed that nothing seemed out of place, the coffeepot still empty, so maybe Tanner had simply gone up to bed.
He stood up by varying degrees, working the kinks out of his muscles and especially his knee before going to take a leak. He still felt clammy from the rainstorm the night before, so he changed into different jeans and reached for one of the newer T-shirts he’d purchased that were laundered weekly and folded for him on top of the dryer.
When he didn’t hear Tanner stirring anywhere in the house, he looked out the window and noticed that his truck was gone. Christ, had he scared him away, or had there been some errand that needed to be done?
Guess he’d find out when Tanner returned. He hoped it wouldn’t be awkward between them after all they’d shared yesterday. Maybe they had become way too chummy, and it was time for him to finish the job and be on his way.
The idea of that made his chest heavy and tight. He’d miss Tanner, and maybe a little of this town. And Tom and Charlie. Christ, what a strange thought. They were only men in a journal.
Before Cole made his way outside, he briefly considered making breakfast for Tanner, but his stomach protested the thought. If there was any awkwardness between them, that might make it worse.
He decided it was time to assess the roof damage from the outside, especially after that wicked rainstorm. He retrieved the ladder from the shed and positioned it against the side of the barn. He carefully climbed a few rungs until he was able to view the burned-out parts in the center of the roof. He imagined Tom and Charlie creating the fire, maybe with some bottles filled with rags dipped in gasoline. He shook his head because something felt off. Why not just leave town quietly and make a life elsewhere?
His fingers stretched toward the rotted wood, which immediately crumbled in his hand. The roof would need a new plywood foundation before nailing down shingles; in fact, he might need to do a complete tear-off, which would be time-consuming for one man, but he was up for the task, just like he was for repairing the back wall, though it helped to have Tanner’s assistance during some of it. He could almost picture the barn restored to its original grandeur. He’d ask Tanner about some new paint, maybe a more modern red. Or was he only stalling—finding more things to do around here?
Just as he was climbing back down, he heard Tanner’s truck pull into the yard. He stood frozen on the last rung of the ladder because Tanner’s driving seemed a bit haphazard, like maybe he was angry or in a hurry.
As soon as the truck was in park, Tanner stormed out of the driver’s door and pointed an accusing finger in his direction. “When were you going to tell me?”