Jenny Boston couldn’t wait to get out of high school and out of Willow Grove. She was tired of the way people looked at her and judged her based on lies one boy told. She was tired of never being good enough, always being the second choice.
If only they knew her real story.
When the college scholarship she hoped for doesn’t come through, she has no choice but to stay where she is. Things couldn’t get worse, could they?
Then a mistake with a friend leaves a life-long imprint on her heart.
Her best friend shatters her trust and her heart, leaving her hopeless.
Determined to hold fast to her dreams, she tries again, finding a boy who seems too good to be true. She puts her whole heart into what they share, only to be left behind.
Damaged, with more scars on her heart than she can count, she gives up, losing the only person that truly matters in her life.
When Kevin and I arrived at the lake, someone had started a big bonfire, which I deemed completely unnecessary since it was ninety degrees. There were a number of cars there, most of which I recognized. Tyler’s truck was noticeable and my eye always looked for Sadie’s car, and of course it was there.
I started to feel uneasy and was pretty sure this had been a bad idea. “He’s not going to talk to me with her here.”
“Yeah, he will.” I wanted to believe Kevin. I followed him closely to the crowd and surveyed the group. Tyler sat near Ryan looking morose. Ryan was trying to play a guitar and everyone was laughing.
Sadie sat across the circle from them and stared at
or was she watching Ryan? I couldn’t be sure. Her long hair was down, hanging
around her shoulders like a cloak, and I wondered how she could stand that in
this heat and humidity. Tyler
“What the hell are you doing, Kevin? Why did you bring her?” He wouldn’t look at me.
“Shut up and stop being such an ass. She is your friend and you are treating her like crap. For what? On the hope that Sadie miraculously comes back to you? Dude, she’s going to college. She’s not hanging onto you. Get over it already.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Kevin shrugged. “Maybe not, but I do know that Jenny is one of your best friends and she has done everything for you and now you are treating her like this. Get over yourself.” I watched as Kevin turned to walk away, but he stopped.
“Jenny,” Kevin said, looking at me, “my brother is an ass and apparently doesn’t know when there’s a good thing right in front of his face. I told him that last night and he said he knows. He knows, Jenny. Don’t let him get away with this crap.” This time he did walk away, but not without telling me, “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be over there.”
I stared after him wishing he would come back and not leave me alone with Tyler, who was obviously angry at me.
“He did say one thing that made sense,”
said. I turned to
face him. “You should let go and stop hanging on because this will never
“What will never happen?”
“Us, Jenny. You’re nobody to me. I don’t even consider you a friend anymore. Haven’t you noticed I haven’t called?
His words cut into me like a knife, unleashing the anger that I kept deeply hidden. “Oh, I’ve noticed. And I wouldn’t have come here if Kevin wouldn’t have told me you wanted to see me. I don’t want any relationship with you, Tyler! You’re a loser and I’ve sat by and watched what you’ve done to Sadie! I’d be stupid to want to be any more than your friend!”
He studied me for a moment before he walked away. I watched him return to his spot next to Ryan. Kevin was nowhere to be seen. I made my way over to some picnic tables in the distance and sat atop one.
It seemed like hours passed before he came back to me.
“Where’s your brother? I’m ready to go,” I said as he approached.
“I’m sorry. I don’t want to lose you.”
I rolled my eyes. “Whatever. You know you’re not.”
He smiled at me; I looked away. “I know it’s my own fault,” he said, “what happened with me and her.”
I looked at him again, followed his gaze. His eyes were settled on Sadie. She lied in the grass, sleeping or passed out maybe. “There you go. Maybe she’ll wake up and fall in love with the first person she sees. It’s possible, her being a princess and all.”
He turned to me. “You wanna go for a walk?”
“Sure. She won’t see us through her sleep, will she? I don’t want to ruin your chances, you know.”
He laughed. “I manage to do that just fine.”
“I’m glad you realize that.”
I followed him along the shores of
in silence. The sun had set and darkness surrounded us, sans the dim light that
filtered from the bonfire. The air was still hot and humid, the lake as smooth
as silk. Willow Lake
The silence was comfortable. Things could be easy with
if I let them, if he let them. As long as I convinced myself I didn’t want
anything more than what we had right here, then everything would be fine. Tyler
“It’s gonna suck with Ryan being gone.” He threw a pebble into the lake and sat on the jagged rocks that lined the shore. “You been working a lot?”
“Just about every day.”
“You still seeing Roger or whatever his name is?”
“We’ve both been working a lot, so I don’t know.” I felt his eyes on me and glanced in his direction to confirm I was right. The moon glowed brightly and his eyes shone like two pennies.
He smiled sheepishly and looked at the ground. “I don’t know about this, Jenny.”
“You don’t know about what?”
He met my eyes. “This friend thing.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t think it should bother me that you’re seeing someone.” He threw another pebble. “It makes me want to kiss you and try to convince you not to see him.”
My heart skipped a beat. I laughed to cover my feelings. “It bothers you?”
“Strange, isn’t it?”
“Well, yeah it’s strange. Especially if you only see me as a friend.”
He sighed. “Maybe I don’t.”
I stood up. “Just stop. Friends, that’s it. That’s all I want. Don’t even act like it’ll be anything more just to get me in your bed!”
He stood too. “I know. I know. Sorry.”
“You’re always sorry.”
“It’s not impossible, you know.”
I walked away. He was trying to play with my mind and emotions and I wasn’t going to listen anymore. I told my mind to shut down, not let the words in, not let him get to me. He couldn’t get under my skin again, bend me to his will.
“Jenny, c’mon,” he called from behind me. “It’s not impossible. Maybe I do want you. I’m just having a hard time moving past this friend thing.”
I turned around and eyed him suspiciously. He was lying, I knew it. He only wanted one thing. “Fine. Hold my hand and let’s walk back over there. I’ll sit by you and you’ll acknowledge me and act like everything that’s been happening between us for two years is true.”
“That’s what I thought.” I turned away from him again, but he grabbed my arm, pulled me to him.
“Don’t walk away.”
“I have to,
. I have to go hide in the shadows again
until your brother takes me home, where I should have stayed in the first
He brought his lips down on mine and kissed me, a long, sensuous, perfect kiss, but it meant nothing. To him at least. To me, it was what I longed for everyday for the past two years. The best days were always the ones where he wanted me.
He pulled back and searched my eyes. “You’re always so angry. I wish you’d smile just once.”
“What would I smile about?” I whispered, unsure I had the strength to speak in an audible voice.
“This,” he said lowering his mouth to mine again. I tried not to relax and enjoy the feelings he gave me, but I did. He pulled away and smiled at me. I couldn’t help smiling back. “Thank you,” he said.
Ryan had called me at work the night he came home on leave. “Did you get my letter?” he asked.
“What letter?” I asked, honestly not remembering the nonsense scribbled on the little piece of paper.
“With the check?”
“I was hoping you’d write back.”
He sighed. “Because, Jenny, I miss you.”
“What is there to miss?” I let out a short laugh. “It was one night.”
“That’s all it’s been so far. It can be so much more.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Me and you. I’m home until Tuesday. Let me take you out.”
“I don’t think so.”
“C’mon, Jen. Gimme a chance.” He sounded desperate.
“Ryan, why are you doing this?”
He didn’t answer right away. “I can’t forget about you. Every day you’re on my mind.”
“You know why that is. If I would’ve never told you when I was pregnant you would’ve forgot about me a long time ago.”
“No, no. That’s not it.” He exhaled. “Ok, I’m gonna tell you something, but you have to promise not to think I’m nuts.”
“Too late for that,” I grumbled.
“I’ve prayed a lot for you. It started way back when, and even after I got the letter from Tyler and knew what you did. I was pretty mad and stopped praying for you, but you kept coming to mind when I would pray and when I’d be in church and whenever I had a quiet moment.” He paused. My heart was beating so hard in my chest I thought he’d be able to hear it over the phone. “So I started praying for you again. And I think God’s trying to tell me we should be together.”
I’d always known Ryan and his family went to church, so his spirituality was likely a big part of his life. And since giving my life over to Christ it meant a lot to me as well. But I’d never prayed about Ryan. Why would I? Should I have been praying for him?
“I know you don’t go to church or nothing,” he went on, “but this is a big deal for me. So if I seem like a psycho who can’t move on from a one night stand, I’m sorry. It’s just that if I don’t tell you the truth about how I feel then I think I’d be letting God down.”
My mind reeled with what he said. Apparently I’d missed something about praying for relationships, but since mine with
had always been
fine it never occurred to me. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll meet you tomorrow. But
somewhere no one will see us. If Tyler finds out--” Tyler
“No, no. He won’t.”
The next evening I met him at a park by the
Des Moines River. No one would find us here. For some
reason, I once again took extra time with my clothes and hair, wearing a little
makeup. I’d chosen to wear my favorite shorts. They were ’s favorite too; they showed off lots of
leg he said. I donned a navy blue tank top and let my hair fall around my
shoulders, despite the unbearable heat and humidity. Usually I pulled it up in
a ponytail. Tyler
He was already there when I arrived. I parked next to the familiar car he and Brooke had shared in high school. He appeared at my door and opened it for me. “You look beautiful,” he said as we walked.
I couldn’t answer him, or even look at him for too long. He’d grown to someone almost larger than life with muscles bulging in places I didn’t know there were muscles.
He looked good enough to eat.
Ryan obviously didn’t have these problems.
We sat on a bench, our knees lightly touching. There was a fishy smell to the air, but the sun was setting behind us, the light streaming from in between the downtown buildings and reflecting on the murky river. It was an interesting spectacle, but I don’t think he noticed. His eyes burned holes into the side of my head.
“Jenny, why won’t you look at me?”
“I didn’t know I needed to.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “I don’t want to be here.”
I finally looked at him. His eyes were dark and full of some emotion I wasn’t familiar with. He smiled at me and I noticed how soft his lips looked. My eyes went back to the river. I couldn’t look at him. My thoughts weren’t my own when I did.
“Because when I see you, or even hear your name, I think about, I don’t know, I think about what the baby would have been like, what he would have looked like. It’s like you haunt me or something.”
“How do you know?” His voiced was choked with emotion, his eyes still on me.
“Oh, I don’t know for sure.” I faced him. “It’s just a feeling I have, er, had, I mean.” I’d never shared that with anyone, even Tyler. “I even picked a name,” I whispered against the sound of the water flowing in front of us.
“A name? For our baby?”
I sighed and wished I’d never said anything. “Yeah.”
“What…what is it?”
“Yeah.” I faced him again. His eyes were distant now; no doubt imagining his son whose name would have been Mason. “Sorry. We can talk about something else.”
“No, I like this. What do you think he would have looked like?”
“You, I hope,” I said with a laugh.
He smiled. “You don’t see yourself the way others do.”
I laughed. “Yes I do!”
“No, Jenny. You don’t realize what a beautiful person you are.”
“Why are you with
“Why does everyone keep asking me that?”
“Why aren’t you asking yourself that?”
My brows pulled together as I did ask myself that. “He’s always been there for me.”
“Really? When Sadie jumped you at prom, where was he? When your car broke, how long did it take him to fix it? And did he ever give you a ride anywhere? He was there when it worked for him. And I’d be willing to bet it’s about the same now. Do you know where he’s at right now?”
I had no idea where
was; I never did. “It doesn’t matter. I
trust him.” As soon as the words slipped off my lips, I regretted them. Ryan
would turn them against me. Tyler
“So did Sadie.” His words stung and I thought about all the time
was gone and never told me where he was. There could be any number of girls he
was seeing. Or maybe just one. It didn’t matter; one or one hundred, he was
supposed to be with me. Tyler
“What’s your point?” I asked.
He stared into my eyes to the point I was uncomfortable. Again, I had to look away. He moved closer to me and pulled my arms away from me, holding my hands in his. “I’d want him to have your eyes.”
“Mason,” he whispered.
I pulled away from him, rolling my eyes. “There is no Mason.”
He took my hands back. “Give me a chance, Jen. I’ll be home in less than three years. And I’ll spend every moment of every leave with you until then. After that, it’ll be every moment we breathe. You’ll find out what it’s really like to have someone who’s always there for you.”
His words were so convincing, and I debated very seriously. But then when I thought of going home and telling Tyler we were over, that I’d chose Ryan, and packed my stuff and moved back to my mom’s, my chest ached. “I can’t leave him, Ryan. I waited three and a half years for him to be mine. Our relationship is perfect.”
He rested his hand along my jawline, rubbing my cheek with his thumb. “Give me a chance, Jen. Give me the next four days to prove to you all the ways I’m better for you than he is.”
There’d been a time in my life when this would have never seemed possible. But sitting by the river that night with one of the best looking, smartest, most perfect guys I ever knew, anything seemed possible. And as if there were some merit to Ryan’s belief that God wanted him to be with me, scripture came to mind.
Everything is possible if you believe….
I shivered and closed my eyes as the words went through my mind. This couldn’t be happening. My heart was being pulled in two directions, and the tug was definitely stronger in one direction than the other.
Spring hadn’t come to
winter jumped straight to summer. Alex disagreed with me, saying that this was
beautiful spring weather.
“It’s only eighty-five,” he argued. “You’re just used to that
Chicago weather. It’s warmer down here.”
“You’re nuts. This is
Central Illinois, not the deep south.”
He shrugged. “Well, this is nothing. Just wait until summer really gets here.”
Nonetheless, I turned on the air conditioning in his car as he drove me and Angel to a park near the lake. “Angel’s hot,” I told him when he looked at me.
He had packed a picnic lunch. Was there anything more perfect? I doubted it. Tyler would have never in a hundred years thought to plan a picnic at the park.
When we got to the park, I unbuckled Angel from her car seat while Alex got the picnic supplies out of the trunk. I followed him to a shady spot under a large maple tree. I watched tentatively as he pulled a checkered blanket from the bag and spread it over the grass.
Angel started to squirm in my arms and I let her down. She made a bee line to the playground. I followed her, lifting her to the swings and then to the slide. Alex joined us, and together we pushed Angel on the swings, he behind her, me in the front.
“You want to eat?” I asked her after a while.
She didn’t answer, but I was hungry, so I stopped the swing and plucked her from the rubber seat. But she reached out for Alex, who’d moved to my side.
He smiled his flawlessly perfect smile at my daughter and held out his hands for her. She wrapped her little arms around his neck and he squeezed her right back, planting a kiss on her pudgy, little cheek.
My heart swelled with love in the perfection of the moment. I almost wanted to cry, but a happy cry, thinking about how lucky and blessed I was.
The three of us sat on the blanket while Alex pulled sandwiches from the picnic basket. “Peanut butter and jelly,” he announced, obviously proud of his culinary skills.
Angel’s sandwich was cut in little squares and she eagerly shoved the first one in her mouth.
“Apple slices,” Alex continued, pulling the items from the basket. “Pretzels. Pudding cups. And for dessert, cupcakes.”
I raised an eyebrow at the homemade cupcakes. “Did you make those?”
He gave me a half smile. “No. My mom did.”
I chuckled. “This is nice,” I told him.
“Thanks.” He took a big bite from his sandwich. “How’s yours? Is it ok? I used apricot preserves.” He said apricot, ‘ape-ricot.’ I couldn’t help laughing.
“What did you use?”
He furrowed his brow. “Ape-ricot preserves. It’s like jelly, but made with real fruit.”
“You mean ap-ricot?”
He laughed now, understanding. “No, I mean ape-ricot.”
“So, do you like to-mah-toes, too?”
“No,” he said, still chewing. “To-may-toes are fine. So are po-tay-toes.”
Our eyes met over the sandwiches, apples and pudding cups. “I love you,” I said.
“I love you, too, Jen.” He gave me that half smile again. “But I forgot something for us to drink.”
“What? No, pop?”
He laughed. “I never would have brought pop. I would have brought soda, but not pop.”
“That’s ok,” I said. “I lived up there for seven years and I always said soda. It’s like it was ingrained in me.”
The two and a half hour drive between
didn’t seem like much, but they were worlds apart, both in dialect and the
overall way of life.
Angel stood up, looked at me with peanut butter smearing her cheeks. I dug in the diaper bag and found the baby wipes to clean her face. Then I gave her an apple slice. “Do you have spoons for the pudding cups?” I asked Alex.
His eyes went wide. “No.” He looked in the picnic basket, digging frantically. “I can’t believe I forgot spoons too!”
“It’s ok,” I said. “It’s the thought that counts.”
He snorted. “Well, apparently I didn’t think very much as I planned this.”
I opened one of the vanilla pudding cups, held it to my mouth and stuck my tongue in, pulling out a dollop of pudding. “Who needs a spoon?” I said.
He laughed. “You got a little…,” he said, brushing his finger at the corner of his mouth.
I ignored him, sticking my tongue into the pudding again. “A little what?” I tried to purposely get more pudding on my face.
Amused, he stared at me, a smile frozen on his beautiful face.
“Can you get it? The pudding?” I asked, pointing to my mouth. I handed Angel another apple slice. Alex had cut them thin enough for her to eat.
He reached into the picnic basket and pulled out a napkin. “Here,” he said, handing me the paper square.
“You remembered napkins, but not spoons?” I asked. He shrugged. I balled the napkin up and tossed it at him playfully. “I want you to get the pudding off my face.”
He picked up the napkin I had tossed at him and smoothed it out, and then reached across the blanket. I grabbed his wrist. “Can I have a kiss?” I asked.
His eyes grew playful as he took the pudding cup from my hand. He stuck one finger inside and scooped an ample amount of pudding out. I thought he was going to eat it, but instead, he went toward me, smearing my mouth with vanilla pudding.
“Hey!” I yelled.
He was laughing as I licked my lips and moved in to kiss me, pudding and all. My intentions for him wiping the pudding from my face were to get him close enough to kiss. I didn’t intend for there to be more pudding on my face, but it didn’t really matter.
I pulled him on top of me, lying back on the blanket as he kissed me. His kisses were so soft and gentle and full of love. The warmth that spread from him to me was like a wildfire that I doubted could ever be extinguished.
Angel plopped herself onto us, her lips making little kiss sounds. I pulled her to me, kissed her forehead. I took the napkin from Alex’s hand and wiped my mouth and his of the pudding.
Then I prayed. I prayed while I stared into his eyes as blue as the sky and asked for God to let Alex be the guy for me. The one who would love me forever and never let go. The one who would be a father for Angel. The one who I would spend the rest of my life with.