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Fly Bye: Epilogue


A blue jersey runs into the end zone, and Emmett almost upends the entire table. Beer, peanuts, and all. I can’t stand watching sports with him. There’s a reason our living room is minimally decorated—because Emmett likes to celebrate or bemoan each play like he’s one of the players on the field. Unfortunately, there is plenty of furniture to knock over in this sports bar.

“Jesus, Baker! Watch it!” Harrison grabs his beer and sets it between his legs, obviously deciding that’s the safer spot for it. Noah does the same.

I check my phone. Nothing from Evie. I’m anxious to get out of here. I’ve been gone for the past week, and listening to Emmett cuss out the Bears defensive line is much less enjoyable than other things I’d prefer to be doing as soon as she’s off work.

The television flips to commercials—probably the fiftieth ad break since we started watching. Noah and Emmett start discussing offensive strategies. Harrison looks at me and rolls his eyes. He’s not a big sports fan in general, and I’ve never followed any besides basketball that closely.

“Your trip go okay?” Harrison asks. There’s some hesitancy in the question that’s my fault. I took my friends’ surprise at my career choice as personally as I took my father’s disapproval and made my job a topic we didn’t discuss.

“Yeah, fine,” I reply. “Long.”

“Long? You used to be gone for months.”

“I know.” I can’t imagine it now. The weeks I spent away from Evie were hard enough.

“Hey!” Suddenly, she’s here, sinking down in the booth beside me and sliding over so she’s almost in my lap.

I give her a quick kiss and a pointed look. “Tell me you didn’t take the bus here, Evie.”

“I didn’t take the bus here,” she parrots.

“I told you to text me!”

She rolls her eyes. “I knew you were already here. You can get up at four thirty and drive me to work in the morning, if you want to be my chauffeur that badly.”

“No news on your car?”

“Nope. The garage left a message earlier. It won’t be ready till Tuesday now.”

I push my half-full beer away. “Looks like I’ll be getting up at four thirty, then.”

Evie’s expression softens. “You don’t have to do that.”

“You’re not taking the bus, Evie.”

“Fine.” She caves. “Only so you stop making that face.”

“What face?”

“That pouting puppy-dog face.”

“I do not have a pouting puppy-dog face.”

“Yes, you do. I look at your face more than you do.”

I smirk before I lean down and graze my lips against her ear. “You’re usually looking lower, baby.”

She lets out a breathy, small gasp that immediately has me hardening.

Noah makes a gagging sound from across the table. I forgot he was here, honestly. Evie captures every ounce of my attention. “Seriously, you two?”

I don’t think he could actually hear what we were saying, but I’m guessing our body language didn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination.

“Calm down, Noah. We were talking.” I squeeze Evie’s thigh as she reaches out and takes a sip from my beer.

Noah has been far more accepting of our relationship than I ever expected he might be. I try not to push him.

She glances at me, smirks, and then takes another sip of my beer.

“You can order a drink,” I tell her when she settles back against the back of the booth.

“I have to work tomorrow.”

“I know.” I trail my fingers along her leg.

Evie usually stays at her place—alone—on nights when she has to work the next day. Both because her place is closer to Charleston General and because neither of us gets much sleep when we’re in bed together.

It’s part of the reason I’m so eager to move in with her. Not only is the house I found five minutes from the hospital and ten minutes from the base, but it’ll also mean we’ll be able to spend a lot more time together.

“I saw your dad today,” she tells me, tilting her head back to meet my gaze. The end of her blonde ponytail brushes my arm.

My parents are happy Evie and I are dating. Actually, that’s a massive understatement. They’re ecstatic.

It hasn’t thawed my relationship with them much, though. We went over there for dinner last month, and Evie did most of the talking. I like that she gets along with my parents—especially my father, who can find fault with practically anyone—but it also throws my dysfunctional relationship with them into sharper contrast. I didn’t realize quite how strained things had become between us until I watched them laughing and joking with Evie.

I knew my decision to join the Air Force would piss off my father. I underestimated how much—how it would become the defining characteristic of our relationship. How it would bleed into every conversation with my mother as well—become the burden that none of us could escape.


I meet Evie’s blue gaze. “Yeah?”

“Did you hear me? About your dad?”

“Yeah. I heard you.”

“About dinner?”

“Dinner?” I echo.

“We’re having dinner over there tomorrow night. I told you last week.”


Evie bites her bottom lip. “When you were in the mood to say yes.” She shifts, giving me the real answer. “He’s your dad. And my boss’s boss’s—”

“Boss’s boss’s boss’s boss. Yeah, I know.”

“You added too many.”

I roll my eyes at that. “You’re lucky I love you.”

“You’re lucky I love you.”

Something about this moment—the blonde hair spilling over her shoulder, the dark wood backdrop of the bar, the happy gleam in her eyes—makes my chest tighten with the realization that losing Evie is not an option. Ever.

“Yeah, I am.”

Emmett sets his empty bottle of beer down. Loudly. “Yep. I’m calling it a night. Happy for you two, but wow, is this hard to stomach.”

“Try being related to her,” Noah says dryly.

Harrison snorts before draining his own beer. “I’m ready to go too.”

“I’m going to run to the restroom,” Evie tells me. “I’ll meet you outside.”

I nod, and the rest of us head outside.

“Twenty-five-minute wait,” Harrison grumbles as we wait out on the sidewalk, checking for nearby cars on his phone. “Is there a concert or something happening tonight?”

“No idea,” Emmett replies. “Too bad we know no one who has a car and, in my case, happens to be headed to the exact same place.”

“I can’t give you guys a ride.”

Emmett groans. “Are you kidding me? You can’t wait an extra fifteen minutes to get laid?” He glances at Noah. “Sorry, Collins.”

Noah grumbles a response.

“That’s not why. I just—”

Evie reappears by my side. “Ready?”

“You don’t mind if we ride with you guys, right, Evie?” Emmett asks. “Rideshares are crazy busy tonight.”

“You could take the bus,” I suggest.

Evie elbows my side. “Of course not.”

I sigh. The temperature is hovering in the low fifties—chilly for Charleston. After living in Boston for four years, I doubt Evie is actually all that cold, but she snuggles against my side as we walk to the Jeep, and I’m sure as hell not complaining.

Emmett, Harrison, and Noah are all in high spirits as they climb into the back, happy to have a ride. But if they thought the bar was awkward…

It takes about ten minutes for the guys to realize we’re not headed to a destination where any of us currently live. Evie is oblivious, scrolling through social media on her phone. I watch them exchange looks in the rearview mirror as we stop outside the yellow bungalow with a For Sale sign out front, finally figuring out this was not the night to carpool.

“Ah fuck,” Emmett groans from the backseat. “Is this what I think it is? Am I going to have to find a new roommate?”

I ignore his griping and focus on the reason we’re here. Evie is staring at the house, saying nothing. “We already went car shopping together—twice—so…I sort of figured this is the next step.” Is it common for couples to go car shopping together? Is that a step? I have no idea. No sense of what I’m saying. I’m just trying to gauge her reaction to this.

I see the moment she spots the sign. Her phone drops into her lap, and her mouth follows suit.

“What do you think?” I ask nervously.

“Of the house?”

“Yeah. It’s close to the hospital than your place right now is, and—”

Evie cuts me off. “You want to live together?” She’s surprised, definitely. I can’t tell if it’s in a good way or a bad way. If she thinks it’s too soon or too fast. Maybe I should have broached this topic before bringing her to look a place.

I’m a lot of things, but I’m not a coward. I don’t shy away from the thick disbelief in her tone. “Yeah.”

“You want to buy a house together and live together?”

“Yes,” I confirm. “But it’s okay if you’re not—”

She cuts me off. “Can we look inside?”

“Uh, yeah.” I wave at the realtor patiently waiting in the driveway. “I made an appointment to tour it. But we don’t have to—”



“Shut up.” She unbuckles her seat belt and climbs out of the car.

Emmett snorts in the backseat.

I turn and toss him the keys. “Here. Take the car. We’ll Uber home.”

“You sure?”


I catch Noah’s gaze before I close the Jeep’s door. This was a conversation I was planning to have with him, but not now, like this. Before I know if she wants this and in front of two of our other friends. I’m guessing Noah saw this coming, to an extent. I’ve made it clear how serious I am about her. Reality is different from expectation. Sometimes better, sometimes worse. There was a recent time I couldn’t imagine settling down and buying a house here—tying myself to Charleston in any permanent way. Now I’m doing so willingly. Happily.

He nods. “I’m happy for you guys.”

I nod back. “Thanks, man.”

Evie is standing on the sidewalk, looking at the house.

“When I saw the listing, it reminded me of your parents’ place,” I tell her.

“You don’t want something…bigger?” she asks. “Like your parents’ place?”

“For the two of us?” I shake my head. “We can get something bigger when we have kids.”

Evie looks stunned. “When we have kids?”

“Yeah, I figured you’d want to finish your residency and fellowship first.”

“You want that? Marriage, kids, all of it?”

“With you? Yes.” I look at her as I say the last word, letting her see how much I mean it.

“Okay.” Evie says a lot more than that single word, holding my gaze for a minute before she turns back to look at the house. “Let’s go look inside.”

We head up the driveway to talk with the real estate agent. She lets us into the house, then begins spouting facts about the property and the surrounding neighborhood as we walk from room to room. I’m not absorbing much of what she’s saying. I’m more focused on Evie’s expressions as she takes in the honey wood floors and the big windows and the tile backsplash in the kitchen. The bedrooms and the bathrooms.

“I’ll give you two a few minutes to look around on your own,” the realtor tells us. “If you have any questions, I’ll be right outside.”

I nod and Evie thanks her.

“What do you think?” I whisper once we’re alone, resting my chin on the top of her head and wrapping my arms around her waist.

“I think it’s perfect,” she replies. “And that you’ll need to contribute more than a toaster this time.”

I chuckle and tighten my grip. “Deal.”

We stand that way for a few more minutes, soaking in our new home.

Fifteen minutes at my parents’ house, and I’m already past ready to leave. Outside of medicine, my dad’s main interests are golf and his garden. None of those three subjects are ones that interest me in the least. Pair that with years of animosity, and pleasant conversation is hard to come by between me and my dad. I nod along as he goes on about his hole in one earlier, paying more attention to the bird flitting past the living room window and resisting the urge to check my phone. We put an offer in on the yellow bungalow last night. If we don’t get it, there will be other houses. But I want this one. I’m ready to take the moving in together step now.

When I tune back into the conversation, my father brings up a topic that usually has me tensing.

He leans forward in his favorite armchair, abandoning his relaxed pose. “One of my department heads, Dr. Murphy, his son is applying to the Air Force Academy. He’s a close friend outside of work. I know his family well. I thought you might be willing to put him in touch with someone who might be able to put in a good word. If you are, well, I’d appreciate it.” My father has to force those last three words out. He hates asking for help or favors from anyone—especially from me.

The first time my father has ever brought up the Air Force without a lecture, and it’s to ask for a favor on behalf of someone else. He doesn’t seem upset by his close friend’s son’s career choice. I grit my teeth. “You can give him my number.”

“I meant—”

“I know what you meant, Dad. But you don’t know anything about my job. To beat around any bullshit, I’m damn good at it. I’m the youngest commissioned captain in my class. If I recommend this kid, it’ll carry weight with Admissions.”

I take a long sip of my beer, stand, and then turn to head back out onto the porch. I was sitting out there, waiting for Evie, when my dad lured me in under the pretense of a beer. To ask for a favor.

My mom’s chopping away in the kitchen, trying to stay oblivious to the tension. As always.

“Grayson. Wait.”

I pause, sigh, and look back at my dad. “What?”

“I’m sorry, son. You’re right. I don’t know anything about the Air Force, about your work, and that’s all on me.”

“Yeah, it is.”

He sighs. “I was disappointed, Gray.”

“I’m aware.”

“You’ve always been stubborn. Contrarian. I thought it was just a phase, that you would try it out and then come back. Stay close to us. Go to Duke.”

I feel eighteen again. “Most parents would be proud.”

“I was proud. I am proud. I just…it took some getting used to. And then you shut us out. Barely came home, never talked about work. I had no idea you were a captain. For all I knew, you sat around and tinkered with planes all day.”

“You could have asked, Dad. I’ll be outside.”

I’m still sitting out on the porch when a silver sedan pulls up a few minutes later. I watch Evie climb out of the car and bend down to say something to her friend Rose. After talking for a couple of minutes, she turns and starts up my parents’ front walk. I watch whatever is on my face register on hers. Evie drops her bag at the top of the stairs and plops down into my lap. I wrap my arms around her, pulling her flush against me.

She turns to look at me, skimming one hand along my jaw. “That bad, huh?”

I sigh and look at her. “I got into it with my dad.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

“There’s not much to say. He asked me if I knew anyone in the Air Force who could recommend the kid of one of his coworkers for the Academy.”

“Not if you would recommend?” She gets it right away, and it makes me want to abandon this conversation and kiss her senseless. It might show in my expression because she smiles a little, knowingly.

“Right. I said if I did, it would carry weight. I’m not sure if he believed me. He didn’t ask me to.”

She exhales. “He’s your dad, Gray. He’s best friends with my dad and I have to see him for my job. If you want, it can end there. We don’t have to do any more of these dinners or invite him over to our place. Or…”

“Or what?”

“You can be the bigger person,” she says softly. “He has regrets. I know he does. He asks about you every time I see him. Your dad wants things to be different, but he doesn’t know how to change them. You’re the most intimidating person I know, your dad included. You could go golf with him. Or invite him to the base with you and show him around. It’s pretty impressive. I’m not saying you need to show off, or that you should have to, but you could just show him. I hope he’ll surprise you. If he doesn’t…that’s on him. Not you.” Evie sits up and reaches down into her bag. “I was going to save these for after dinner, but it’s already getting dark out. And maybe it will make dinner more bearable.”

“Unless you pull a blowjob out of there, I doubt it.”

She smacks me on the chest, then places a long, thin box in my hand. “Here.”

I tilt the box, so I can read the letters on the side. “Sparklers?”

Evie nods. “Unless you made up the story you told Marnie and Scott…”

“I didn’t.” I could have listed lots more moments I’ve watched Evie Collins when she wasn’t looking.

She stands and takes the box from me. “Come on.”

I follow her down the stairs and onto the grass of my parents’ front yard. She pulls a lighter out of her bag, thinking of everything, like always. I slide two sparklers out of the box and hold them out for her to light. They take the flame instantly, burning bright and sending flares flying.

Evie takes one from me and leans against my side. We stand in silence, in the same spot I watched her all those years ago, as the sparks we’re holding burn down and fizzle out.

I know we’ll never do the same.


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