Unconditional, p.24

Unconditional, page 24



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Did you ever think that maybe things never worked out between you and Zed because God had something better in mind for you?

  Valerie recalled those words now, exactly as Kylie McCoy had spoken them. Her best friend had brought up that question the last time Zed had broken up with her, citing that he needed time to think about their relationship. The translation for that was that he had met another girl he was interested in, and he didn’t care if he jeopardized all those years he’d spent with Valerie or not. At the end, all Zed had wanted was a brief fling with the girl before pleading with Valerie to take him back.

  How stupid I was back then, she thought as she drove with Zed, who was sprawled out in the backseat of her car. Stupid and blind.

  Even more foolish because she hadn’t heeded Kylie’s words. Kylie had told her that Valerie saw herself as Zed’s “rescuer.” That he was self-centered and took advantage of both her love for him and her kindness, and that as long as she insisted on staying with him, God couldn’t bring her into a relationship with someone who would be her heart’s true desire.

  And with him, you will always have to compromise what you believe, things he has no right to ask you to compromise.

  That was also true. Valerie gripped the steering wheel tighter in both hands, biting back the urge to cry. In the rear seat, Zed sat up, steadying himself with a hand on the headrest of the front passenger seat.

  “Look, Val, I’ll pay for the violin,” he mumbled. “I broke it, I’ll pay for it. Okay?”

  “Doesn’t really help me right now,” she shot back. She made no secret of her anger.

  “Can’t you just use the old one?”

  “No, I can’t. I sold it to help me pay for this one. I have no violin at all now, Zed. I have nothing to play tonight at the concert. I can get this one repaired, but I’ve never done that before, so it’s something—oh, never mind.”

  Zed sighed. “I said I was sorry, Valerie. I didn’t do it on purpose. And listen, if it was in its case instead of there on the couch, it wouldn’t have broken.”

  She slammed on her brakes. He flew forward, catching himself with his hands on the seat in front of him. Before she could spout off a curse, she caught herself.

  “I had every right to leave my violin wherever I wanted to leave it!” She raised her voice, almost yelling. “You were drunk and you fell over and knocked it off the couch. And then you fell on top of it. It was your fault, Zed. I’m not going to make you pay for it, but at least take some responsibility for your actions!”

  That man never takes responsibility. It’s always somebody else’s fault. Always. Her mother’s words, which he’d repeated over the years, reminded her at that moment.

  More good advice she’d ignored for, literally, years.

  “Can you pull over, Val? Please. If you don’t, I’m going to be sick all over your car. And you’re mad at me enough already.”

  “Fine. I’m pulling over. Don’t you dare throw up in my car!”

  Later on—much later, when she was done grieving for her violin—she would laugh at that admonition over dinner with Mom and Kylie. It didn’t seem so humorous now, especially with the thought of having to tell Perry she was out of the band for a while. At least until she got the violin repaired or replaced it with a different one. If that time stretched out, he would probably replace her. Very highly probable. It wasn’t like she was that good a musician that he couldn’t find someone even nominally better.

  Or he could do without a violinist. They were essentially a rock/pop band that also did some alternative music. Perry had hired her on in the first place only because he’d found the violin an interesting addition that could be worked into the arrangements. He’d even incorporated a little bluegrass and country into the band’s repertoire, just to showcase her skills.

  Still, he could replace her. Where would she get the money to get her beautiful instrument fixed? Would it be more affordable just to buy another one? Maybe, in the meantime, she could rent one from the music shop.

  My violin. The one she’d scrimped and saved up to purchase. The one she’d been so excited to get.

  After pulling onto the road’s shoulder, she helped steady Zed on his feet. Stumbling all the way to a tree, he leaned against the bark, turning slightly to the side, and retched violently. Valerie made a face and looked away, feeling her own stomach churning. A strangled sound escaped her throat. She felt as if she, too, were about to be sick.

  Then she looked around. Cars were passing along Route 9 South. No one was really paying attention to them. She would have hated for Josh or his friend, Elliot, to be driving by and see her there with Zed. Even though it would be difficult for anyone to get the wrong impression as to what was happening, when he was very clearly throwing up.

  After a few minutes, Zed wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Slowly, painfully, he straightened up.

  “You okay?” she asked.

  “I’ve been better.” He cleared his throat.

  “Want a piece of gum?”

  “Eeeeeeeeewwwwww. No. Not right now.”

  “Okay, well. The mint helps me when I’m sick. If it happens and I can’t brush my teeth right away.”

  “Oh. Okay. Maybe you’re right. I’ll take one.”

  Discreetly, she consulted her watch. Even if she waited a few minutes, which she would do because she wasn’t hurrying him back into her car until she knew he wouldn’t throw up all over the backseat, she would still just be cutting it, time-wise. Maybe she could just show up and Perry would let her sing backup.

  Even though she wouldn’t have her violin with her. She bit her lip and tried to blink back tears.

  Compromise. You will always have to compromise what you believe, things he has no right to ask you to compromise.

  Her mom had said that about a year after Valerie’s high school graduation. She had then asked her the question, You’ve already slept with Zed, haven’t you? Honey, he will never commit to you. He’s the kind of guy who takes what he wants, with no regard to what you want or need. That boy is not in the least interested in marrying you. If you get pregnant, he’s not man enough to take responsibility for the child. And you don’t know who he’s been with or what he can bring back to you.

  She was nineteen at the time, and in fact had been sleeping with Zed since she was eighteen. His reasoning had made sense to her, but then he was always persuasive and smooth: When two people love each other, he’d reasoned, they took their love to “another level.” Those had been his exact words. A more intimate, physical level, where they loved and pleasured each other sexually. He’d also explained that, being a man, this was a basic need of his, and that he really wanted that need to be fulfilled by her.

  However, if she refused him, she would leave him with no choice but to have that need fulfilled by someone else. Again, the fault rested with her…not him.

  He’d said many other things back then, none of which mattered to her anymore. There’d never been talk of marriage unless she brought it up, and even less talk of starting a family. Zed had always assured her there’d be plenty of time for that, that they were both young and those things—marriage, kids, and he’d mockingly added the white picket fence and the dog in the backyard—would come eventually.

  Thank You, Lord, that Zed knew better than I did in that case, she prayed to herself. Thank You that those things didn’t come to pass with him. Thank You that Kylie was right. You did have something better in mind.

  Her mother had told her that, sometimes, human love is blind. Mom could say that because she’d once fallen in love with Valerie’s father, who had not brought her happiness. The man hadn’t even saw fit to stick around after his daughter’s birth.

  She had been so taken to Zed O’Neill, so devoted to him, that she hadn’t seen him for who he really was. Interestingly, that was a mistake he also had made of her.

  Valerie hesitated before getting back into the car. A gust of wind blew her hair into her face and she pushed it away.

Feeling better?” she wanted to know.


  When he chuckled, the wind tossing his hair, he looked so much like the old Zed, the one who’d stolen her heart. She smiled back at him.

  “I’m really sorry about your violin, babe.” That time she saw sincerity in those eyes. “I’d feel better if you let me buy you a new one. Or pay for that one to get fixed. Whatever you want to do.”

  “I don’t know. We’ll talk about that later.” Valerie hesitated. “I can’t rescue you, Zed. I never could.”

  He leaned against the car. “But you’re good for me, Val. You keep me flying right, like my dad would say. That’s probably why that other one wants to be with you. Because you probably keep him flying right, too.”

  “No, I don’t. His Heavenly Father is the One that does that. He does that for me, too.” She fidgeted with her keys, then looked him in the eye. “That’s the One you need in your life. That’s the only One who can rescue you. You’re expecting a woman to do something that only God can do.”

  The smile faded from his face, replaced by a crestfallen expression. “I don’t know God that well, but I think He wants me to let you go. That’s not what I want, but…I do want you to be happy. I may not be perfect, and I know I’ve hurt you many times, but I do love you.”

  That was one of those few moments when that other side of Zed would appear. It didn’t happen often, but that good part of him did exist.

  After some hesitation, she admitted, “I love you, too. A part of my heart will always love you.”

  He nodded. With a shaky voice, he told her, “I’m letting you go. Just want you to be happy.”

  “Me, too. That’s what I want for you, too.”

  A couple of steps forward brought her into his arms. He held her for a moment, crying quietly, as she cried also and prayed for him silently, with all her heart.

  And the cars continued zipping by along Highway 9 South.


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