“Be cool. Be cool. Be cool.” My wife repeats the phrase over and over again as I zip up the back of her dress. Normally, I’d be a lot more interested in unzipping her dress, but tonight is special. Boone Thrasher and Ripley Fischer are playing one of Whitney’s newest songs at the Grand Ole Opry.
“Are you telling me to be cool, or are you talking to yourself again?”
Her long, dark hair sweeps over her shoulder as she looks at me. “I said that out loud?”
A smile tugs at the corners of my mouth. “Yeah. You did.” I lean closer to press a kiss to her bare shoulder. “It’s going to be fantastic, Blue.” I want to tell Whitney to stop worrying, but I know it won’t happen. She’s an incredible songwriter, and part of the reason she’s so good is she puts her heart and soul into every word. If she wasn’t stressing out right now, she wouldn’t be my Whitney.
Her lips, slicked with shiny red lipstick, compress into a flat line. “I just… This song is so special to me. Because we finally got our happily ever after, even when I didn’t think it would ever happen.”
“I knew,” I tell her, as I finish zipping her dress.
She turns on bare feet. “How?”
“Because I wasn’t giving up until we did. I didn’t care how long I had to wait. You were always the one.”
She lowers her lashes with a shake of her head. “We lost so many—”
“No,” I interrupt, brushing my knuckles along her chin. “We didn’t lose anything. We lived. We learned. Back then, we were too young to appreciate what we have now. Sometimes, fate knows better.”
Her blue gaze shines with unshed tears as she stares up at me. “I didn’t believe in fate before. I didn’t believe in much of anything.”
“And now?” I ask, circling her waist with my hands.
“Now I believe in you. In us. That we can handle anything life throws at us because we’re one hell of a team. I even believe I’ll be able to conquer my nerves and not pass out before we get in the front door of the Opry.”
“Good, because we’re due to leave in five minutes.”
Her eyes go wide. “Shit. I need shoes. Which shoes am I going to wear? Did I bring shoes?”
“They’re by the door,” I tell her, as I point to the tall black stilettos waiting for her to step into them. I release my hold on her after a quick squeeze. “It’s going to be amazing. You know how I know?”
“Because I believe in you. I’m so proud of you, Blue. Not just tonight, but always.”
She blinks twice. “Dammit. You can’t say that. I don’t have time to fix my makeup, and you’re going to make me cry.”
I ghost my lips across her jaw. “We can’t have that. I’ll have to tell you something else to take your mind off it… like the fact that Magnus and Commodore are going on a hunting trip next week, and I’m partly afraid they’re going to take pot shots at each other instead of the animals.”
A giggle escapes Whitney’s red lips. “Of course they will. It keeps them young.”
“She’s playing my song. Actually playing my song. At the Grand Ole Opry,” Whitney whispers as Holly Wix wows the crowd with “For Richer or Poorer,” her most recent acquisition from Whitney’s catalog.
When the last note trails off, the entire crowd rises to its feet for a standing ovation, and Whitney watches with her hand over her mouth and tears in her eyes.
“I’m so proud of you, Blue,” I tell her, loving the smile that strains her cheeks.
Holly waves to the audience and waits for it to quiet down before she speaks into the microphone.
“Thank you so much! I have a super special surprise for y’all tonight too! I’ve got a couple friends who want to play their newest single “Happily Ever After” for you. Would you give it up for Boone Thrasher and Ripley Fischer?” Holly stretches her right arm out to the wings, and the couple I recognize from the Fourth of July come out on stage.
Boone and Ripley wave as they stride out.
“Oh my God. They’re going to play another one of my songs.” Whitney turns to me wide-eyed, and her hand clamps over my arm.
But she doesn’t know that’s not quite it. There’s more.
“Thanks, Holly,” Boone says as he kisses his friend on the cheek. “We’ve got a little surprise of our own too. Tonight, we’d like to thank a very special person in the audience. Without her neither of us would be playing these songs. In fact, as of last month, she’s now responsible for writing twenty-five number one hits! Can we get a round of applause for Whitney Gable Riscoff? Whitney, would you come up here? We have a little surprise for you.”
Whitney’s head turns on a swivel from me to the stage with her mouth open in shock.
“Did they just say—”
“Come on, Blue. It’s time for your surprise.”
“Wait, you knew about this?”
I nod as I pull Whitney to her feet. “You’ll forgive me for not telling you someday.”
Her hand trembles in mine, and she shakes her head. “I might not. Really. Never. Ever.”
“I knew you’d never come if you knew they wanted you to come up on stage.”
“Too late now,” I say, as I lead her the short distance down the aisle to the stage and the crowd cheers even louder.
“There she is, ladies and gentlemen!” Boone Thrasher says as he holds out a hand to help Whitney up on stage.
I slip into a seat in the front row, camera ready to capture the moment. Holly wraps an arm around Whitney and hugs her.
“Thank you so much for coming tonight. It truly means the world to us that you let us sing your songs, and we wanted to show our appreciation.”
Boone strides to the side of the stage and returns carrying a framed silver record with a plaque below it.
“Whitney, we had a pretty big thing happen this week,” Ripley says with a grin. “‘Happily Ever After’ was certified platinum!” Whitney’s mouth drops open and she raises a hand to cover it. “We know this song has such a special meaning for you, because you know what it’s like to fight for your happily ever after. So we want you to accept this platinum record as a token of our appreciation.”
The crowd roars so loud the room seems to rumble.
Tears stream down Whitney’s face as she hugs Ripley, Holly, and Boone and then accepts the record.
“But we’re not done yet,” Boone says, as a man comes out from stage left with two guitars and hands them both to him. “We’d really like it if you’d do us the honor of playing with us. What do you say?”
“How could I possibly say no?” Whitney replies with a shocked smile. I rise and walk to the edge of the stage and she hands the framed platinum record down to me, mouthing Oh my God. Oh my God.
I snag her hand with my free one, and she crouches down so I can whisper in her ear.
“I love you, Blue. Go shine. You’ve earned it.”
Another tear tips over her lid as she rises. Boone holds out a guitar, and Whitney wraps her fingers around the neck.
I settle back into my seat and record every minute of the most incredible performance I’ve ever seen. When they belt out the chorus, the entire Opry is on its feet, singing along.
I didn’t know it when I stepped off that Greyhound bus,
But you showed me we could live our happily-ever-after.
They don’t know it, but the lyrics are wrong. Whitney is the one who showed me we could live our happily ever after. She still does. Every single damn day.