At the beginning of This Time For Us readers see Cole Hanson struggling with his commitment to the band. Paxton, the band’s lead singer, asks him about somethng he said on a radio show recently. This is that scene, followed by what happens when Mia hears about it.

Cole Hanson

The last thing Cole wanted to do at the crack of dawn was a radio interview. Okay, 8:00 wasn’t early for most people—he imagined both his brothers were up and at work by now—but when the band was on tour, nights didn’t end until the early morning and even travel days were exhausting. It didn’t matter how luxurious the tour bus or hotel was, he rarely slept well. When they’d arrived in New York last night, he’d gone straight to his room and fallen into bed, then tossed and turned for several hours before dropping into an exhausted sleep. It seemed as though no time had passed when his phone rang with a wake-up call.

As he got dressed and looked out his window at the expensive view and the people rushing below, he couldn’t help but wonder how many more months of this they had before he’d be home in Colorado. And more importantly, could he use the break in their schedule at the end of the year to visit with Theo, Nick, and the Sinclairs for the holidays?

Now that both of his brothers had moved back to the town where they grew up, Cole couldn’t stop thinking about seeing them. He considered the three of them close, even though their lives were in different parts of the country, but that hadn’t had more than a few hours together in years. They could ski, open presents on Christmas, maybe even ring in the new year as a family. That couldn’t count against his promise to never return, would it?

His thoughts were still on home when, less than a half hour later, he was piling into the black Chevy Suburban with his bandmates. Paxton Jones, Brian Flemming, and Hugh Walker. None of them appeared any more awake than he did, although Paxton managed to look picture perfect. He’d never understand how she could always do that. As their driver wove through traffic as though he were playing a live action version of Grand Theft Auto, Cole couldn’t help but wonder why the fuck were they doing this interview anyway?

Emporium was playing four sold-out concerts at Madison Square Garden starting tonight. The entire tour was sold out as far as he knew, even the added dates. Cole couldn’t understand how extra publicity was necessary when ticket sales were so strong, but he didn’t control what the label scheduled for them.

He didn’t have control over a lot of things.

When they got out of the car a few minutes later — and Cole had to wonder if it wouldn’t have been faster to walk — he took a deep breath that immediately had him coughing. The air was heavy with humidity and smelled like a combination of garbage and exhaust fumes. How the hell had Nick managed to love living here for so long? Cole had barely gotten himself under control when a young, excited assistant came to bring them into the studio. She introduced herself and he promptly forgot her name. When they got in the elevator, she asked if she could get them anything once they were in the studio. “Coffee. Black,” he mumbled. The others gave drink orders as well.

“And a pizza,” Brian said. “I’ve missed New York pizza.”

“Toppings?” the assistant asked, and Cole knew that by the time the interview was done, Brian would have his pizza. It didn’t matter how early it was.

They stepped into the studio, gave a nod to the disc jockey and were given headphones and shown where to sit. Moments later, his coffee appeared. As he took a fortifying sip, he got his bearings and was surprised to see a camera set up in addition to the microphones for each of the band members. “What’s that for?” he asked quietly, not wanting to be on air.

“We do a video recording of our special guests so people can watch the interviews later,” the assistant explained. “Gives our fans – and yours – something to enjoy and share.”

Cole closed his eyes and thought, Fuck, fuck, fuck. He had to hope they kept the focus on Paxton who was camera ready, smart woman. The rest of them looked like the rock-and-roll stereotype of hard partiers, even though Cole knew it was exhaustion. Oh well, may as well add to the myth. It’s what the fans wanted and that never hurt their bottom line.

When the interview started, the questions were what Cole expected. Questions about venues, any notable locations, unexpected mistakes, and what life was like on the road. Nothing problematic until the disc jockey asked Hugh what it was like to be away from his wife and new daughter. Hugh’s eyebrows dropped in a scowl, and Cole winced. Not fair. The tour been an extra piece of hell for Hugh. He’d flown home for baby Andrea’s first birthday, but he hated missing milestones and moments. If it weren’t for knowing that this work ensured his family’s financial future, Hugh might have left.

“It’s not easy,” Hugh answered, “and I’m grateful for whoever created Zoom technology so I can see my family daily, but I’m also grateful the fans want to see us. We’ve got a break coming for the end of the year holidays. I’ll be with them then.”

It was a good answer, but the disc jockey wasn’t done. “How do you think you’ll handle it for the next tour?”

“We don’t even know if they’ll be another tour,” Cole said, hoping to shut down this line of questions. “No group lasts forever.”

Dead air.

Fuck me. He was going to be in trouble for that. He couldn’t imagine what the cameras were picking up. Probably a room full of people staring at him. Their manager, Brett Searle, was going to rip him a new asshole for that comment.

Sure enough, as Paxton deflected by saying no one could predict the future and talking more about how great Emporium’s fans were, Cole’s phone buzzed. He didn’t have to look to know who it was.

Soon after, the interview ended, and the disc jockey came to shake hands while commercials played in the background. “Come back anytime. That was great stuff.”

Yeah, great that Cole screwed up. And there was video proof. Lucky him.

He avoided Brett’s calls for another few hours, then — unironically — faced the music. There would be no stopping the news and video from spreading, but Brett was already planning to counter whatever was said with some new footage of the band, which they filmed later that afternoon.

After creating two hours of staged footage of the band having fun together, Cole went back to the hotel. He grabbed food and a drink in the hotel bar where he thought he wouldn’t be noticed, but before he got through his burger and beer, he was recognized. Two women came up to him asking for autographs and pictures. And for some reason, they lingered. He wanted to excuse himself, but given his earlier mistake, he continued the conversation and did his best not to be rude.

Until they both asked if he wanted them to go back to his room with him. It had been a long time since he’d been in a situation where sex had been offered and almost as long since he’d been interested. As politely as he could, he turned them down, saying he needed a good night’s sleep before tomorrow’s concert. They promised him a good night – without the sleep.

He left as quickly as he could. Because not only did he not have an interest in sex with two strangers, but it reminded him of the person he did want and couldn’t have.

Mia Durant

Even though it was her day off, Mia was up early. She rarely added more than an hour of sleep to her schedule otherwise it threw off her workdays. Her schedule was typically three days of 12-hour shifts in the White Mountain Regional Hospital Emergency Room followed by two days off.  It meant she worked a lot of weekends, but at least she’d earned enough seniority to be able to be off on the major holidays she wanted.

She started her day having breakfast with her son, Dean. Sort of. He ate and scrolled through his phone while she drank her coffee and thought about what she needed to do. Neither of them were much for talking in the mornings. Before he left, she managed to tell him, “Chicken bake for dinner.”

“Sounds good. Tell Grandpap I said hello. I’ll visit him soon,” he said as she walked him to the door and gave him a quick squeeze before he headed out. The new school year had started recently, and she was still a little nervous about him adjusting to high school. It hadn’t been long since he’d had to deal with the death of his mother, learning that Mia was his legal guardian, and moving from Florida to New Hampshire. High school wasn’t easy under the best of conditions, but he was doing well so far.

When it was time to go, Mia grabbed her things, motioned for Bowie, her huge St. Bernard/Husky mix to follow her, and they got in her car. Their first stop was a visit with her father, Joe, at the Crawford Senior Center. He’d been there since early summer and was enjoying living close to his peers. Bowie, who had been used to having Joe around all the time, was having a harder time with the change. She usually brought him with her since he was always welcome at the Center and got lots of attention from all the residents. It made twice as much sense today since, after their visit, they were headed to the vet.

They arrived at the Center and the usual fuss was made over Bowie. The receptionist kept dog treats in her desk, and Bowie walked over to her to get his cookie. Then he and Mia walked to the Great Room where he went to Joe first and then got attention from the others in her father’s circle before settling at Joe’s feet. Mia sat beside her father, and they discussed the book they were both reading, Dean, and whatever other mundane topic came to mind. She’d had mixed feelings when he said he wanted to make this move, and although she missed him occasionally, she could see it was good for him.

A half hour before they were due at the vet, Mia went to find Casey Shaw, the Director of Activities, and her closest friend. They’d met in nursing school, and when Mia returned to the town where she’d grown up after graduation, Casey found work here as well. When Casey wasn’t in her office, Mia checked the kitchen, the next likely place. Sure enough, she found Casey getting coffee in the kitchen and chatting with the Center’s chef, Emilio Levin.

“Knock, knock,” Mia said to get their attention.

“Hey there,” Casey said, coming over to give Mia a hug. “I thought I’d be seeing you today. How’s everything?”

“Good,” Mia said, turning down a cup of coffee but accepting a bottle of water. Casey refilled her mug, and they walked to her office. “I still can’t get over how much dad loves it here.”

“He’s had one of the easiest transitions I can remember. Speaking of transitions, how’s Dean doing? High school getting any better?”

Mia had shared her worries with Casey the week after school started. Dean had been closed lipped about almost everything and getting him to share was almost as tough as it had been when he first moved in with her. Mia had called the therapist they’d seen when he arrived, and she told Mia to trust what they’d built together and give it time. She’d been right. In the last two weeks, he’d been talking more. “A little rocky at first, but he’s joined a few clubs, made some new friends, and doesn’t hate all his teachers. I’m taking the win.”

“From what little I know of parenting, you should take those whenever you can.” Casey had never been married and didn’t have kids, but she did princess parties on the weekends along with her work at the Center, so Mia knew she’d seen a lot of different family dynamics. When they got to Casey’s office, they sat on the couch and Casey said, “I feel like I should warn you about something I heard this morning.” Mia braced herself. Her father seemed fine. Was he hiding a problem? “Cole Hanson was in the news.”

Mia wished her heart didn’t flutter at the mention of her ex’s name, but Cole always had a hold on her, even after all this time. “Who is he dating now? Some king’s daughter?” It was rare for him to make the news, but when he did, it was almost always because of his social life. The first few years after she left the band, his named with often linked to one famous female after another. It had been hard to hear and from her reaction, it hadn’t gotten much easier.

“Apparently, he and the band did a radio interview yesterday, and he said something about the group not lasting forever.” Emporium was breaking up? Before she could say anything, Casey continued, “Their lead singer covered and made sure no one dwelled on it, but the interview was videotaped so clips from it are making the social media rounds.”

“Guess I’ll be staying off of those sites for a few days.” Still, it had Mia wondering what Cole might have meant. She certainly understood things not lasting forever, but Cole had created Emporium when he was in high school and, after over fifteen years, she couldn’t imagine him without it.

She visited with Casey a little longer before her friend had to get back to work, then drove to the White Mountain Veterinary Clinic for Bowie’s appointment. And tried not to think about Cole. She didn’t quite succeed, even though she stayed off her phone and put on a playlist rather than turn on the radio. No group lasts forever. What did that mean?

She shook her head to dislodge the thoughts and images swirling in her head. It didn’t matter. Cole wasn’t part of her world, and that was how she wanted it.

Bowie’s visit was quick, and when they were done, Bowie stood by Otis, Dani’s dog who frequently came into appointments, and gave a bark. Both women laughed. “I don’t have another patient for an hour. Do you have time for them to go out and play together?” Dani asked.

“I planned for it,” Mia said. Bowie was good with other dogs whenever they saw them at the local dog park or when out for a walk, but he had a special fondness for Otis, who was one of the few dogs bigger than him.

“Wonderful. Let me get my coat.” September had some of the best weather in New Hampshire, but even standing in the sun, it was chilly.

The minute they stepped into the fenced area next to the clinic, both dogs took off. Bowie was going to crash hard later. As they watched the dogs, Mia asked, “How are things with you and Nick? Has he officially moved back?”

“You heard about him, about us?”

“You know this town. Everyone hears everything.” Which meant Mia probably needed to avoid locals as much as possible for a few days so she wouldn’t get more comments about Cole.

Dani adjusted her ponytail and said, “He’s still in the process of finishing things in New York and finalizing a new consulting contract with his firm, but by the end of the month, he should be living here full time. Mia heard the joy in Dani’s voice. It amazed Mia that Dani and Nick found their way back to each other. She didn’t know a lot of the details of what split them up — Mia was four years older than Dani and they had only known each other tangentially when Dani came to visit her aunts in the summer — but she couldn’t imagine it was easy getting through the pain of the past.

They watched the dogs in silence for a while before Mia said, “If you don’t mind my asking, what’s it been like? Having Nick in your life again.” She probably shouldn’t have asked, but Cole was on her mind. The fact that both his brothers lived in town again made it likely she was going to have to face him in the not too distant future, if only at the weddings she knew would be coming.

“At first it was horrible, and everything I didn’t want. When he came into the clinic after finding an injured dog, we stood there staring at each other like idiots. He didn’t know I’d moved back. And then we ended up working together for the festival, which…complicated things.”

And by complicated, Mia understood Dani meant old feelings sneaking in. That was something Mia worried about. She didn’t know what Dani’s life after Nick was life, but Mia’s feelings for Cole had never gone away. She didn’t want to think about what it would take to protect her heart when she saw him again. “Was it hard to discuss what ended your relationship?”

“It wasn’t easy, and it took a while before we were ready to poke that bear.” Mia had to smile at Dani’s use of an animal in her metaphor. “We both had to admit where we screwed up, where we could have been more honest. But now I can see it was for the best that we split up when we did. We both had some things to learn, growing up to do.”

Mia nodded, even though for her it was the opposite. She and Cole split up because of the grown-up things in their lives. He’d made one decision to support his brothers, while she’d made another to support her parents.

Dani broke into her thoughts with a question of her own. “Have you ever wondered what you would do if Cole moved home?”

Mia gave a harsh laugh as a memory played in her head. I don’t want to see you in Fable Notch again. My life is here. Make yours somewhere else. Her last words to the only man she’d ever loved. “I may not be able to predict how busy we’re going to be on a Saturday night in the ER or understand why one patient responds to treatment while another doesn’t, but I can say with certainty Cole Hanson is never coming back to Fable Notch.”

Read what happens when Cole DOES come back to Fable Notch in This Time For Us