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Heard It in a Love Song
Author: Tracey Garvis Graves

 


prologue

 

Layla


now

Layla Hilding smiled at the man standing next to her. He gave her a thumbs-up and she flashed the peace sign back at him. The room smelled of beer and fried food and sweat and cologne and she would always associate these smells with happiness. Underneath her shirt, she could feel the steamy dampness of her skin, and she knew her face would be glowing from the exertion of doing what she loved.

She had arrived at a crossroads, personally and professionally.

For years, she’d put the hopes and dreams she’d been chasing on the back burner.

Not by choice.

Not without resentment.

Now, she stood on the precipice of a whole new life.

Layla strummed the opening notes, and as she sang the words written by the man who stood beside her, it was as if she were hearing them for the first time. She’d been singing them for months, but she was finally paying attention to what they said.

She drew in a breath and her voice rose as she belted out the words. The lyrics were an anthem, one she would proudly sing whenever she could.

Her instincts were screaming by then. Layla pictured the words as if they were arrows pointing back at her. Toward the answer.

What do you love? What do you really want?

She’d finally figured out the answers, but what she hadn’t expected was that failing would feel so sweet.

She glanced his way again, and they exchanged a triumphant smile, his voice joining hers on the last verse in beautiful harmony.

She had to tell him it wasn’t working.

She had to tell him she couldn’t chase it anymore, and more importantly, she didn’t want to.

But that didn’t mean she couldn’t have it all, because she could.

Layla didn’t need the universe to send her a sign that the decision she’d made was the right one.

Layla didn’t need any help at all.

 

 

chapter 1

 

Layla


six months earlier

Layla Hilding-Cook stood on the curb next to the drop-off line on a mild day in early September, bracing herself for what she was about to endure. Drop-off and pickup frustrated the staff on the best of days, but that was nothing compared to the confusion on the first day of school. Every year, the district sent out detailed emails with instructions on how to navigate the process. Layla often wondered if the parents ever read them.

“It’s nice to see your face again,” Tonya said. “I’ve missed you.” Tonya Perkins taught art and Layla taught music and they had gradually evolved from coworkers who started teaching on the same day almost ten years ago to close friends who knew the innermost details of each other’s lives. During the summer months, when Layla’s split from Liam was still in that raw place that kept her inside with the curtains drawn, Tonya would send a text once or twice a week asking her to go to her front door and open it. Layla would comply and discover whatever Tonya had dropped off. Often, it was Layla’s favorite candy, which at the moment was Cinnamon Fire Jolly Ranchers. On especially hot days, there might be an iced hazelnut coffee. Sometimes, it was flowers from the farmers market or a bag of perfectly ripe peaches. Layla would smile, bring the items inside, and respond with a text of her own saying thank you.

Tonya was really into bullet journaling, and one day there had been a gift bag with a brand-new journal inside it sitting on the welcome mat. Layla had brought it inside, and it had sat on the kitchen counter, ignored, until mid-July, because it was going to take more than a bullet journal to put her life back together. She picked it up one day, more out of curiosity than anything. She’d thumbed through it and then put it back down. When she picked it back up again a few days later, she opened it to the first page and in the spot for the ten-year goal, she wrote, I want my life not to suck so much. The second time she opened it, she wrote, I don’t think this is going to help but whatever. The third time she picked it up, in the spot for daily goals she wrote, I’m going to write in this stupid journal every day, I guess, and then she poured out her thoughts for an hour straight. It was now part of her daily routine, and she had thanked Tonya profusely.

“The break was good for me,” Layla said as they watched the cars creep slowly through the drop-off line. “I did a lot of healing.” The divorce would be finalized soon and that would feel like another momentous milestone. When she left Liam last March, Layla still had three months of school to get through, and she limped her way through them with Tonya’s support, a spectacular poker face, and a truly astounding amount of compartmentalization. At school, she held it together. At home, she fell apart. And then finally June arrived, and Layla had never been so grateful for a job that allowed her three months off every year. Tonya knew all about the depth of Layla’s unhappiness and would have been more than willing to provide a literal shoulder to cry on as Layla navigated the separation process and eventual divorce. But Layla just needed to be alone with her thoughts.

“I’ll be fine,” Layla said. It was a sentence she’d repeated in her head almost every day during the summer. Most of the time, she actually believed it.

I will be fine.

Tonya smiled. “I know you will. And I, for one, am glad I don’t have to look at Liam’s stupid face at the Christmas party this year.”

“Comments like that are why I love you. Instead of telling me what an idiot I was, you simply pledge your support for Team Layla.”

“You weren’t an idiot.”

Maybe not now, but for many years she’d been living someone else’s life.

Annie Hakanson sidled up to them, travel coffee mug in hand. Layla had taught all three of Annie’s boys. Rambunctious hellions, especially the twins, but so charismatic and affectionate that most teachers, including her, let it slide. Layla had gotten to know Annie well enough over the years that she considered her a friend. She was also one of the few parents who knew about Layla’s marital strife.

“These parents will never, ever understand how this process works. Never,” Annie said.

“Is that why you park in the lot and walk the boys in?” Tonya asked.

“Partly. But also, I want an excuse to gossip with the two of you. I know it brightens your morning routine immensely.” Annie stepped forward and pointed at one of the cars, motioning for its driver to lower the window. “Move all the way forward. Then you can let your children out. Go on.”

Layla and Tonya stared at her. “What?” Annie said. “I’m helping you out.”

Layla laughed. “You sure are.”

“Oh, hey, hot-dad alert,” Annie muttered under her breath. Drop-off and pickup seemed to be primarily a mother’s task, so when a dad wandered into the mix, it was hard not to take notice. A handsome one was like chum in the water. It’s probably not him, Layla thought before looking nonchalantly in the direction Annie had indicated.

But of course it was him. And Layla already knew how handsome he was.

“I don’t see a ring,” Annie added in a low, singsongy voice.

“How can you possibly see that far?” Tonya asked, squinting.

“That’s because he’s separated,” Layla said.

“Wait,” Annie said. “How do you know he’s separated? Do you know him? Layla, is there something you want to share about what you did on your summer break? Or who you did?”

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