Thursday, December 4, 2014

Christmas Author Celebration December 4th! Rachael Duncan!

My author for today is Rachael Duncan! I absolutely love this girl! Her debut release Tackled By Love was so good! And I have beta read her current WIP and it is amazing! Scroll down to see the Prologue from Tackled By Love and some really hot teaser pics!

Stalk her:

Buy links for Tackled By Love

“Don’t fuck this up, Stone,” Coach says through the microphone in my helmet. “If the touchdown isn’t there, go for the short pass. We need this to tie the game.”
I hold back the urge to roll my eyes. I know we need this, just like I know what’s on the line here. We have to win the next two games to make it to the playoffs. It’s so close I can almost taste it. My whole life I’ve worked toward this, my only goal to lead my team to a Super Bowl. Now that it’s within my reach, I’m more focused than ever and determined to play the best damn game of my life.
I walk up behind center and call the play.
“Blue 22! Blue 22! Hike!” I yell out as the ball is snapped to me. Once the ball hits my hands, I take a few steps back before throwing the ball to Anton Andrews, one of my receivers. It’s a short pass, but effective since he’s wide open and manages to run the rest of the way to the end zone for a touchdown.
“Hell, yeah!” I pump my fist and run toward the end of the field to join the celebration. After a few slaps on the back, my eyes go to the stands in search of my beautiful wife, Valerie. With how tall she is, it’s impossible to miss her. She’s on her feet jumping up and down with her long, wavy blonde hair and big tits bouncing as she cheers me on. A smile crosses my face as I think that I’m one lucky son of a bitch. I’m a quarterback for a professional football team and I have the hottest wife known to mankind. If her big tits aren’t enough, she has these big blue eyes, luscious red lips that I can suck on for days, and a firm ass that I love to grab. But best of all, she was with me before all the money and fame. She loves me for me, not what I do.
Jogging back to the sidelines with my teammates, I pat their asses and give them high fives.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” I’m on an adrenaline high right now and can’t stand still. It’s happening. We’re going to go back out there to win this game.
It takes no time at all for our defense to crush the other team’s chances of scoring. I slide my helmet over my head and run back out onto the field. As we’re in the huddle going over the next play, I look each of them in the eye, “This is it, guys. This is what we’ve busted our asses for all season. Let’s go out there and show ‘em how it’s done!”
We break away and line up in formation. After the first snap is incomplete, I get the ball again and look around for someone who’s open. I see Andrews and throw it his way. It’s a perfect spiral through the air and to his hands, but before he can pull the ball in, he drops it.
You have got to be fucking kidding me.
I run over to Anton, or Andrews as I call him, and throw my hands up. “What the hell, man? I threw that right to you.”
“Sorry, dude. I was anticipating the hit before I caught the ball.”
“Next time make the damn catch and take the fucking hit. We can’t afford screw-ups like that. Understand?” I yell while getting close to his face. I need him on the same page as me. “We’ve got to lay it all out on the line right now. If we don’t, this year is over. We pack our shit and wait around for training camp next season.”
“Got it,” he replies. I pat him on the helmet in encouragement before he sprints off to his place in the formation.
I take my spot and close my eyes. Taking in a calming breath, I know this is it. I have to lead our team to victory with this play. And I will. Failure is not an option. If we don’t pick up a first down here, we’ll have to punt the ball to the other team and probably lose the game. And I’ll be damned if I let that happen.
Opening my eyes, I call out the play. “Red 57. Red 57! Hut, Hike!” This play is designed to pick up 10 yards for a first down. At this point, I’m not trying to score. We just need to pick up these few yards and live to make another play. Shifting my body to the right, my eyes seek out Jacobs, the receiver who should be there to catch this ball. But, he’s not. Son of a bitch. He missed his route and now I’m gonna have to do this on the fly.
I quickly scan the field to see if anyone is open. My best receiver is double covered and no one else is open enough to make a catch. The pocket is collapsing and defenders are closing in on me. Fuck. If I take a sack here, we’ll have to punt. I start scrambling around, running toward the right sideline to buy myself more time in hopes of making a play. I can’t see him, but I can sense a lineman right behind me, eager to knock the shit out of me.
I look toward the left side of the field and see Andrews has managed to get ahead of the defensive back. I’ll have to throw completely across my body, which is unnatural in itself, but to do it on the run doesn’t do much for accuracy. If I want to ensure this gets caught, I know I’ll have to stop running to throw it and risk taking the hit. But damn, I want this so bad I’ll have to suck it the fuck up.
Without looking behind me at the approaching danger, I plant my feet, pull my arm back, and throw the ball with all my might. For a second, everything seems to be moving in slow motion. I’m watching the ball fly slowly through the air, waiting to hit the hands of the guy who’s about to win it for us. But before I can see if the catch is complete, a 350-pound freight train crashes into my left side, knocking the air right out of me. The momentum from the hit jerks my head to the left as my body gets jarred to the right and slammed into the ground. I hear the pop before I feel the excruciating pain. It’s sending sharp jolts of what feels like knives stabbing me straight up my left leg. It’s so intense it instantly makes me nauseous.
I can’t hear anything as I roll back and forth clutching my knee in agony. This is bad, real bad. Gritting my teeth, I try to hold in the groans that want to escape my throat as I wait for the training staff to get to me on the field.
“What’s wrong, Landon?” one of the trainers asks while bending down to get close to me.
“My knee,” I moan out through clenched teeth.
“Okay, can you walk with some help?”
“I could probably hop toward the sideline, but I won’t make it to the locker room.” My mind is going all over the fucking place with the possibilities of what could be wrong.
“Alright, let’s go.” He nods at two of my teammates and each of them grabs an arm and helps me to my feet. A hiss passes through my teeth as I slightly move my left knee on accident. With all of my weight on my right leg and my arms slung over my teammates’ shoulders, I manage to hobble my way to the sideline where transportation is waiting for me. Once I sit down, a relieved breath emerges from me. I’m still in a lot of pain, but I’m glad I made it.
The cart starts moving to take me to the doctor, who I’m sure is waiting on my arrival. Before I’m taken away, I glance up at the stands to find Valerie. Her mouth is hanging slightly open and all the color has drained from her face. I give her a thumbs up and try to put a small smile on my face to let her know I’m okay.
I know I’m anything but.
Once I’m back in the locker room, the doctor injects my knee with pain medication to make me more comfortable while he examines me. The relief is instant and I can finally take a full breath and relax a little. The tightness in my stomach is still there because of the unknown, but at least I’m able to unclench my fists and jaw and actually listen to what the doctor is telling me.
Dr. Herpin bends my leg in different directions. As he concentrates and moves his hand and fingers around my knee and up and down my leg, he is very quiet, making him hard to read. I lean back and stare up at the ceiling to wait for the assessment. After he’s finished his examination, he starts writing notes on his clipboard. I’m trying to read his expression as he quickly writes. He has a deep furrow to his gray, bushy eyebrows while he looks through the glasses that sit at the end of his nose. I can’t tell if that’s a good sign or not, but everyone knows that you do not ask him questions until he is completely done. A few members on the team made that mistake and were quickly shut down, made to feel like a toddler who just pissed his pants. So I sit here and wait quietly until he’s finished. After what seems like an eternity, he sets down his clipboard and looks at me.
“How bad is it?” My eyes are slammed shut waiting for the bad news.
“I won’t know for certain without X-rays and an MRI. It could be a simple strain or hyperextension, but I’m thinking it’s a tear in your ACL.” He pauses for a moment and takes off his glasses before continuing, “And that could be bad.”
The way he says it, almost with hesitation, worries me and makes me wonder if he’s hinting at something worse. Something that could be life changing for me.
“Yeah, but athletes recover from this all the time, right? With a little rehab and hard work, I’ll be back out on the field in no time.” My tone is laced with determination to get back out there and do what I was meant for. Play football.
“Yes, a lot of players do recover,” he says in a calm, clinical voice, “but it all depends on the extent of the damage. I’m still not positive that’s what it is, but you know as well as I do, that the chances of recovering from something like this twice is not in your favor.”
My freshman year of college I tore the ACL in my left knee. Someone on the line missed a block and I got laid the fuck out by a huge defensive player. I never even saw the hit coming. It was probably the worst moment of my life. I knew my knee was fucked up and had it confirmed shortly thereafter. I was so afraid the school was going to cut me, since I’d be out most of the year. If I got cut, I’d lose my scholarships and probably have to drop out of school with no real way of paying for it. Luckily, my coach saw potential in me and kept me on the roster. I sat out the rest of the season, but came back strong and ready the following year. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I just didn’t think something like this would happen to me again. Lightning never strikes twice, right? Pfft, how fucking stupid could I be?
A sigh leaves my lips as I let the doctor’s words sink in. With the doc not sounding optimistic like I’d hoped, I’m almost desperate for him to tell me everything will be alright and I’ll recover quickly. That my dreams aren’t slipping away when I got so fucking close to achieving them. About that time, Valerie comes rushing through the doors. The sight of her helps calm my nerves and puts a smile on my face. She’s my rock, my support system, and I know I can get through this with her by my side.
Her hands cup my cheeks and her eyes search my face. “Oh my God! How are you? What happened? Are you going to be okay?” She starts firing off question after question. I gently grab her wrists and pull them down, away from my face.
“It’s okay, Val. I’m fine. My knee is just a little sore, no big deal.” I turn her hand over and kiss her palm.
“They kept playing the hit over and over on the jumbotron. It was horrible. I got down here as fast as I could.” She pulls one of her hands free from my grip and runs it through my light brown hair that’s damp with sweat.
“I’m okay, sweetheart, I promise. I don’t know for sure what’s wrong. I won’t know until we get some X-rays done.” I don’t mention the MRI. That’ll just freak her out more. She’ll think that the more testing I need, the worse the injury is.
Her eyes go wide before she shrieks, “X-rays?! I thought you said it was just a little sore. Why do you need X-rays?”
I pull her to sit on the side of the table that I’m laying on. “Listen, I don’t want you to worry if it’s nothing, okay? So let’s get the X-rays done and go from there.”
She stares at me for a few moments before nodding, “Okay.”
Dr. Herpin steps up and tells Valerie she can wait here while I get X-rays done. I give her a kiss and hold my breath as I’m wheeled down the hall and into another room. I’m trying to stay optimistic. I bounced back from an injury like this once, I can do it again. But for some reason, my gut tells me this time is different.
Val’s sitting next to me, holding my hand while I’m lying on the table in the locker room. I’m watching the game on the television that’s mounted to one of the walls, counting the seconds as they tick by. Finally, the clock hits zero and the game is over. We won and I hear the crowd go crazy. Turns out, Andrews caught that last pass I threw, so at least all this wasn’t for nothing.
The doctor walks in and his eyebrows are pinched together as he stares at the X-rays and MRI results that he’s holding up to the light. I’m starting to get the feeling that that little eyebrow movement means bad news and it makes me shift uncomfortably as I wait for him to speak.
“So what’s the verdict, doc?” I swallow the huge lump in the back of my throat. God, I’m so fucking nervous right now. My mouth has gone completely dry and I feel like time has stopped before he answers my question.
He sighs, shaking his head, “It’s worse than I thought, Landon. You tore your ACL and MCL. I’m sorry, but it’s not looking good right now.”
I feel the color drain from my face and start to internally panic as the reality of the situation crashes over me like a 30-foot wave that’s pummeling me to the ocean floor, refusing to let me up for air.
Valerie clutches my hand tightly, “What’s the prognosis? Can he make a full recovery from this?” I glance over at her and the worry is etched clearly on her perfect face. Fine lines that aren’t normally there mark the corners of her eyes. Her lips are pursed tightly together, like all the tension in her body is being directly transmitted to that one, small place.
“Like I said, it’s not promising. You had an ACL injury in college that took you a while to recover from.”
Swallowing hard, I finally find my voice, “Yeah, but I made a full recovery. I can go to physical therapy every day and bounce back from this again.” My words come out strained as I try desperately to put some confidence in them. I know I fail, because the doctor gives me a sympathetic look.
“Yes, you did, but you need to be realistic with your recovery. This injury is much worse than the last one. Plus, each time you tear it, your knee is never as strong as it was before. So, just because you recover now, doesn’t mean you’re not more prone to hurting it again later.”
This is worse than I could have ever imagined. As in, there-go-all-my-dreams-and-now-I-have-no-idea-what-I’ll-do-with-my-life, bad. My hands rake roughly over my face before I look back up to the doctor. I need to get my shit together. None of this feeling sorry for myself or panicking bullshit. It’s time to man up.
Sitting up trying to remain confident, I ask, “So what’s next?”
“Next, we schedule you for surgery. We’ll need to repair the tear, but only after the swelling goes down and you get some range of motion back to your knee. It looks okay now, but it’s going to swell a lot more in the next few hours. In a few weeks, we’ll do surgery and then begin your rehabilitation. We’ll see how it goes from there.”
I blow out a breath, “Okay, I guess that’s all we can do at this point.”
I lean my head back against the headrest on the table, feeling utterly helpless. And I hate every damn second of it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Christmas Author Celebration December 3rd! Vicki Green

My author for today is Vicki Green! This lady writes some amazing books and I can’t wait to dive into more then one of them!

Author Bio
Vicki Green grew up in Overland Park, Kansas and currently resides in Olathe, Kansas. Along with her husband and two teenage boys, they share their home with their fur babies. She enjoys spending time with her family. Vicki enjoys reading Romance books which is what inspired her to begin writing. As a reader, she loves being taken away, to some other place and time, falling in love with the characters. She has always admired Author's dedication and hard work. She had a dream that played out for over a year, came home one day after work and decided to put it on a word document to see how it read and that became 'My Savior Forever', the beginning of her Forever Series, her first book, and that's where it all began.

Stalk her at:
Twitter: @rileyks3

Have you heard about one of her newest books The Loss? If not check out the first chapter below! Once you read it and love it here is the buy link:

The Loss (Heartache Series #1)

The moment you left,
My world turned upside down.
You were everything,
You are everything.
You were always there for me,
As I was for you.
I loved you,
I love you,
Love never ends.
You plague me in my dreams,
And in my waking hours.
How can I go on without you?
Help me with the loss.

Chapter One

“Yo, Jase!” My head turns at the voice, then back at the treadmill, pressing the button to slow it down and my run turns into a jog, down to a walk and then stops. I grab my hand towel, wipe my forehead of the sweat and step down. Scott smiles as I meet him halfway and hands me a bottled water. My heart is pounding from the adrenaline flow and quick pace, but man, I feel awesome.
“Thanks, man.” I twist off the lid and down about half and then put the cap back on. I raise my chin at him. “What’s up?” He turns, and we start to walk towards the men’s locker room.
“Just wondered if you’re going to the reunion next weekend.” I look at him, dread filling me, and remove the cap again, downing the rest. “I heard Alena is gonna be there.” I ignore him and toss the empty bottle into the recycle bin as we walk by and hide my facial expression in the towel, pretending to wipe my face again. Scott is the one person who knows my true feelings for Alena. The only one. Not even my mom knows, and I used to tell her everything. Oh, I’m sure she suspects. She’s my mom after all. I round the corner and head straight for my locker, but stop when he jumps in front of me, putting a hand flat against my chest. “Hey, come on. You’re gonna go, aren’t you? I know it’s been awhile but that shouldn’t stop you. Maybe you guys can finally talk, put things out in the open. You’ve been a lovesick pup ever since she left. Don’t you think five years is long enough?”
I push him aside and walk down the aisle, twist the combination lock so hard I feel like I could snap it off. “Stop. Just stop.” The lock opens and I pull it off, opening the door so hard it hits the one next to it.
“All this anger,” he sighs as he leans against the row of lockers beside me. I shift my eyes to him and then back as I reach behind my back and tug my tank top off my head. “You can’t tell me you’re not curious about her. What she looks like now, how’s she been? You guys were inseparable for most of your lives. I know things got awkward when….”
I grab my towel and slam the door, relocking it and turn to him with a scowl on my face. “Don’t. I haven’t talked to her in a couple of years. She’s moved on. I don’t want to talk about it.”
I take off down the aisle and towards the showers. I feel him behind me, hot on my heels. Then he’s right beside me, all cheery and making me want to hit the wall with my fist. “Aw, c’mon. That’s a bunch of bullshit and you know it. You can’t tell me….” I turn quickly, fisting the material of his shirt in my hand and shove him against the wall, getting right in his face.
“I said don’t. I don’t want to talk about her. Now or ever. She made her choice. Leave it, Scott.” My breathing escalates as I look him dead in the eyes. His hands are up on either side in surrender but there’s no fear in his eyes, only sympathy. I release him quickly. His shirt still bunched up where my grip left it, and I storm off to get a much needed shower. I turn the shower knobs and close my eyes when I hear him yell out, echoing in the vastness.
“Yeah, yeah. We’ll talk later. Danny’s, after you get cleaned up. Be there.”
I step under the hot spray, my hand hitting the tile in front of me and lean my forehead against it, feeling the water cascade down my back. Fuck! I know he means well. He’s been through my hell, been my rock and my sounding board all my life, but I just can’t get him to understand. She left me. She stopped talking to me when I thought nothing would ever keep us apart. For my own sanity, he needs to let her go. Even though I’ll never be able to.

“Soooooo. Track scholarship to Northwest. I’m so proud of you, Jase.” I turn over onto my side. The blanket is not cushioning the hard ground much, but I don’t care as I look into her eyes. She mimics me, and I couldn’t be more comfortable lying next to her. Her long blonde hair blows in the breeze and I instinctively reach over and push some over her shoulder.
“Ha, well, you’re one to talk. You’re gonna do great at State with your graphic designs. You’re a genius with your art and your imagination, Alena.” She looks down almost shyly, and a small burst of laughter leaves her mouth. “Seriously? You have such a talent. You’re gonna go so far. I’m the one that’s proud of you.” Her eyes look up from her under long lashes, and my heart skips a beat as it always does when she looks at me. I look down quickly and with my fingers, I roll the blade of grass I’ve been destroying since we laid out the blanket. “Hell, you’re gonna own your own graphic design company before our first high school reunion.” I look back up when she stills, and her silence grows thick. Her light blue eyes have changed from showing excitement to a darkened state of sadness. “What? What did I say?” A gentle breeze blows some of her long blonde hair across her face, and I reach over again, moving it away. I notice her eyes widening with my touch but change back quickly. It’s so fast you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t paying attention. But I notice everything with her.
“It’s nothing. It’s just….” she hesitates, searching my eyes and then sighs. “I’m just being silly.” She smiles, but it doesn’t change the sadness there. “We’ve just always been together, all our lives. It’s gonna be strange, kind of scary, without you there all the time. Ya know?” I did know. I feel the same way. Well, not the scary part but I’ve been dreading the day we go our separate ways. Something hits me. I need to be the strong one for her. She was for me.
“I know it will be weird but we’ll stay in touch. Phone. Computer. Hey, vacations! We can meet back here or I’ll come there. Maybe we can even go to the cabin!” The corner of her mouth lifts and finally she relaxes a little. “I know it seems like a long time but we’ll make it work. We’ll figure out a way. Nothing will tear us apart.”

I tilt my head back and let the spray of the water slide down my chest. Yeah, that happened the first year we left then lessened the second and by the third we both didn’t talk but a couple of times, after that, nothing.  Shaking my head, I turn around, grab the shampoo, squirt out some in the palm of my hand and set it back on the tray. I quickly wash my hair then grab the soap and wash my body, then rinse. By the time I’ve dried off, thrown on a t-shirt and shorts, I’m ready to go meet Scott at Danny’s and have some much needed drinks.
“Bout time!” Scott yells as I walk in the door of the bar. He’s sitting at the counter, and I notice half his beer is already gone. I give him a nod and walk over, sitting down on a stool next to him. Tim looks at me with raised eyebrows behind the counter, and I nod then look back at Scott. “Took you long enough,” he smirks.
I laugh. “Yeah, well, I had to check on a few things at the gym before I left.”
He picks up his beer and takes a drink then sets it back down turning his head to me. “That’s what happens when you own the place.” I look down and smile. That’s one of the few things in my life I’m proud of. I flashback to the day the doors opened for the first time. How I wanted to call Alena and tell her about it, how excited I was but after two years of no communication, I didn’t feel as if I should. “Hey, so about the reunion. You’re gonna go, right?”
Tim sets my beer down just in time. I pick it up and down about half of it. When I look over at Scott, he’s still waiting for my answer. “I dunno, man. Part of me wants to see everyone and part of me dreads it.” Dread isn’t even a strong enough word. Actually, I’d love to see everyone, it’s her that I’m afraid to see.
“Hey, maybe she won’t even be there and you can just relax and hang out with the gang. There’s already talk about you coming. People are excited to see their star track runner,” Scott remarks in one breathe.
 I let out a chuckle just as my phone vibrates in my pocket and pull it out. “Tim! Another.” I look over as Scott slides off his stool and says, “Head”, and I raise my chin at him and then look at my phone.

Mom: Dinner tonight. Seven. Don’t be late.

I sigh again and take another drink of my beer. She knows I won’t go over there. I can’t. Yet she keeps trying. I’ve not heard the end of it since I came back to town after college, finding the perfect place for my gym and working nonstop to get it up and running. When I found out that the house behind it was for sale and totally run down, I bought it. She did come over quite a bit and helped me fix it up since I was almost at the gym from before the sun rose until I couldn’t hardly keep my eyes open at night. I may never be able to go home again. Doesn’t mean she’s not persistent in trying. She’s been begging me to come home, but it’s so hard for me to be there, seeing all the familiar surroundings, the neighborhood and where the accident happened. She thinks it would be good for me to see it, to be there, to help me get past it all. I almost drove there one day but got as far as the store down the street and panicked. I remember shaking so hard I could hardly drive back. Could I do it tonight? My heart is already beating so fast, and my stomach is in knots. I take another drink, hoping it will calm me, feeling the last drop slide into my mouth. I didn’t even realize I had drank the last half.
“Hey, Jase!” My mind comes back into focus, and I look at Tim. “Danny wants to see you before you leave. He has one of your running shirts for you to sign for him,” he shouts while he winks and nods at me. I swear he has a hard on. He’s a nice guy and all but makes me a little uncomfortable with his openness when he’s around me. I try to keep a calm face and nod back as my body shivers. I’ve never had a problem with anyone’s choice of sexual genre, but I’m a straight guy who likes women, and he knows it. He’s never tried any advances towards me, and we’ve been friends for a long time, but still he makes me feel a little weird. I laugh to myself. He’s always teasing me on how straight I am.
Scott returns and we have a couple more beers, and then he heads home. I walk back to Danny’s office and see him leaning over some papers on his desk and writing frantically. I lightly tap on the open door, and he looks up, a grin spreading across his face. “Jase! Good to see you, man!” He stands as I walk in, extending his hand, and I shake it as he pulls me in for a hug. “It’s been awhile. How are you?” I step back and sit in a chair in front of his desk as he sits back down and smiles.
“Good. Really, good.” He smiles, and I settle in the chair a little more. “It hasn’t been that long, just a couple of weeks. Things have been pretty hectic at the gym. How are you?” His head bobs as he nods while I speak, and then he clasps his hands in front of him on the desk.
“Good. Good. It’s a shame about your knee. You could have really gone far.” His smile leaves, and I get a feeling he’s trying not to say something, but he’s said this a lot over the years. “Oh! Would you mind signing this shirt for me? I have a frame to put it in and want to hang it up in the bar. With your permission.”
He’s always been so nice, so polite. He really helped me out a few times, getting so drunk I couldn’t walk after the accident, making sure I got home safely. Don’t know what I would have done without him. “Sure thing. You don’t need my permission. I owe you.” His smile leaves for a split second and then it’s back as he reaches into a drawer of his desk and pulls one of my old track shirts. “Where in the hell did you get that?” He hands it to me over the desk, and I hold it up in front of me. Man, I remember this one. It’s still all dirty, and I’d be afraid to smell it.  It was a cold and rainy day. The track’s dirt was packed firm at the beginning, but the more it rained the muddier it became. I was a wet muddy mess by the time I reached the finish line. “This was the first meet I ever won. How?”
He clasps his hands as he leans back in his chair. “Oh, I may have some connections still with the coach. I wanted your track shoes and shorts but he said he didn’t have them anymore.” I laughed. God, it felt good to laugh. He hands me a marker, and I set the shirt down on the edge of his desk and start writing my name. “So I know Battle Ground is doing well, but how about you?” My eyes dart up and my heart beats a little too fast. I know what he’s asking. I know he’s concerned. Being raised and living in a small town has its ups and downs. It can be great or it can be a hindrance. Everyone seems to know your life, yet they don’t really know you. They think they do, but they don’t.
I finish writing my name and try to smile as I hand it back to him. “I’m okay. Running helps. Better than drinking until I’m under the table.” I stand, not giving him time to respond and head to the door, stopping in the doorway. Turning my head, I look at him and give him a genuine smile. “Thanks, Danny. You’re a good friend.” He nods, his smile not as bright, and I walk out, feeling an overwhelming need to go running.


“Are you all packed?” I look up at Bill as he enters our bedroom and smile. He strides over and I stand as his arms wrap around me, his lips kissing my forehead and I try to relax. “Hey.” I look into his eyes that are full of concern, and I hate that he’s feeling that way because of me. “Everything’s going to be great. You’ll see all your friends. We’ll dance and have a few drinks and you’ll have a good time.” God, I hope he’s right. His hands move down to my hips and squeezes them. “Quit worrying. Maybe he won’t even show up.” He releases his hold and walks over to the closet, gathering a few shirts and then walks back to his suitcase. I watch as he folds them neat and crisp and places them in there gently. I get the strangest feeling. Shaking my head, I grab another pair of pants, fold them and put them in my suitcase. I can feel his eyes on me, and I quickly look his way. “Here, let me help.” He takes the two steps over to me, and I take two back. He starts rearranging and refolding my clothes until they’re all in there perfectly. Neat and tidy. My body shivers. “Why don’t you go finish packing up your cosmetic bag? We need to leave in….” He brings his arm up, looking at his watch, and shakes his head. “We need to get a move on. We need to leave in ten minutes.” He lifts his head and looks at me. “You know I like to be early at the airport.”
I nod, numbly, and turn. I walk to the bathroom and try to finish packing my small bag. I look up into the mirror and see the frown on my face. Tilting my head slightly I just stare at myself. After meeting Bill at the campus coffee shop over a year ago, he became such a good friend to me when I needed one so badly. I was a mess and having a hard time with all my feelings for Jase. Feelings I wasn’t sure I should have, and he listened to me, day after day, until I became so relaxed around him, my feelings changed for him. He suggested that I quit talking with Jase so much, thinking maybe that would help get over him, move on. I was scared to death. Scared of losing the one person who was always there for me growing up, shared everything with, but I knew he was right. After the accident, Jase was so different. We still hung out until we both went our separate ways to college, but it was strained. He wasn’t the same. I’m not sure he ever will be. When Bill asked me out on an official date, I was thrilled. Over time, he helped me to move on. But I’ll never forget.
I touch my hand to my face. I look so much older and so will Jase. Five years. I went home several times over the years, visited my friends and reminisced about good times. Jase never did, or so his mom told me. She emailed me sometimes. Tried to keep me up on all the neighborhood gossip, but she brought up Jase too much. I quit reading them and saved them in a folder on my computer.
“Come on, Alena. We need to go.” I startle at his voice. Quickly, I start throwing the last of my makeup into the small case and try to shake off my thoughts. It’ll be fine. Maybe Bill’s right. Maybe he won’t be there.
We get to the airport three hours early, and I’m restless as we sit in the waiting area. Finally, they announce our boarding and I sigh in relief. Of course, Bill travels in first class, so we get plenty of room to stretch out. We have champagne, a great dinner and soon he’s asleep next to me. I get bored and open my laptop. I do a few edits to one of my designs for a website I’m working on for a client when I hear the chatter of a couple behind us.
“It’s such a shame,” a woman’s voice says. “She was so young. What a tragedy to lose her life. I’m sure it will be a nice service.”
The feeling of loss overwhelms me, and I close my eyes tight.

“She had so much life to live. It’s such a shame.” Mrs. Birmingham sits across from me in the Briggs’ living room, sipping on her coffee on their couch. “I can’t imagine what Jase is going through, witnessing the accident and watching Olivia be struck by that truck. The poor boy.”
I stand quickly, not wanting to hear anymore, and walk to the front door. When I close it behind me, I take off in a run, down the front walk, down the sidewalk, and I keep running to where I know Jase will be. My body is full of sweat, the sun beating down on me. As I get near the playground, I look swiftly at the fort and head straight for it. I bend down, crawl into the small doorway and look up. There he is, sitting at the top, his legs bent in front of him, his arms setting on his knees and his head is laying back against the wall. Still. Eyes closed. If it wasn’t for the small rise and fall of his chest, I wouldn’t know he was alive. I climb the ladder, but he doesn’t stir as I sit down next to him. We sit there in silence for a long time. He doesn’t move. My hand pushes away from my leg, and I lay it over his. He flinches then relaxes again.
It was dark by the time I got home. As soon as I close the front door, Mom runs over to me and hugs me tight. “Oh, honey! I was getting worried.” She releases me but holds onto my shoulders and gives me a warm smile. “How is Jase doing? Oh, that’s such a stupid question. I’m sure he’s hurting.”
I look into her eyes, mine filling with tears, and she moves closer quickly, holding me again. “Mom. I don’t know how to help him. He blames himself. He’s closed off from me. He won’t talk to me, Mom.” I start sobbing into her chest as she rubs my back.
“Oh, no! It wasn’t his fault. I’m so sorry.” She moves back, and I wipe under my eyes. “Give him time, honey. Time won’t make it go away, but it does help heal the hurt. Come. I’m making a batch of my cookies to take over there tomorrow. Want to help?” I nod slightly and she takes my hand, leading me to the kitchen. I feel so helpless. I should have hugged him, told him something, anything. But I was at such a loss for words. How do you tell your best friend that everything will be okay when his sister was just killed, and he blames himself?

“Darling? It’s time to wake up. We’re touching down.”
Slowly, I open my eyes, and they focus on Bill’s face. I sit up in the chair and stretch my legs out in front of me. I had no idea I’d fallen asleep. I turn and look out the window. The familiar landscape below moves by quickly as we descend. My heart kicks up a notch as I realize that I’ll be home soon, seeing my mom and dad, the neighborhood, and all the sights I’ve missed in the last couple of years. The excitement of seeing everything starts to stir within, and I jump when the plane hits the ground.
Since we are allowed to leave the plane first, we head straight to the baggage claim and gather our two bags, and walk to the car rental place. Dad wanted to pick us up but Bill wouldn’t have anything to do with it, saying he wanted a car to drive while we’re here, even though we have an extra car we could have used at home. I stand there trying to be patient as he talks with the attendant. He’s annoyed because he didn’t get the SUV he wanted and refuses to drive the Buick car they offered him. By the time they get him the car he wanted, get our bags in the back and strap ourselves into our seats, I’m exhausted and feel a headache coming on. I give him directions on the way to my parents’ house and watch intently as we drive. I have so many emotions flooding me as we move through town and past the theatre where Jase and I spent so much time together. I watch the mall whizz by where my other best friend, Hailey, and I shopped so much. My fingers dig into the leather of my seat when I see the walking trail as we drive over the crosswalk in front of where Olivia was killed in our neighborhood, and I close my eyes briefly.
“Alena? Darling? Are you okay?” I feel his hand grab mine and squeeze it gently. I had no idea I was breathing so hard.
I turn to look at the worried frown on his handsome face and give him a small smile. “I will be.” He gives me a sad smile in return and looks back at the road, his hand keeping a firm grip on mine.
 My heart starts beating fast again but for a different reason. My smile lifts when we pull onto my street. I look around, the houses haven’t changed much. Same manicured lawns, same sidewalks I used to ride my bike on. The Anderson’s have changed the color of their house from brown to a light gray and all the new flowers blooming in various places. As we pull into the driveway, I look fondly at our house. So many memories that I feel a bit overwhelmed. It’s the same. It’s so different. I’m different.
When we get out and are getting our bags from the back, the front door opens and my head snaps to the sound. I drop my bag to the ground, hoping I didn’t break any of my makeup, and run up the drive, the small walkway and straight into my mom’s arms. “Oh, honey! It’s so good to see you!” She hugs me tightly. Her smell is the same as I’ve always remembered. Lilac. The warmth of her arms, her loving embrace, filling me with joy. God, I’ve missed her. She pushes me away but only at arm’s length. “Let me look at you.” My smile is so big that I feel like I’m going to bust as her eyes move up and down my body, and then she frowns. “You’ve lost too much weight. Are you not eating well?” I open my mouth but don’t get a chance to respond as she puts her arm around me and leads me into the house. “Well, good thing you’re home. I have a ton of things planned to cook. All your favorites. I’ll get you fattened up.” I close my mouth and chuckle to myself.
“No worries. I got all the bags,” Bill’s voice sounds behind us, and I turn my head to see the look on his face. Quickly, it changes from a small scowl to a small smile.
“Last door on the right, up the stairs,” my mom shouts back.
I give him a smile and shrug my shoulder. “No problem. Thank you, Mrs. Spencer.” He winks at me and walks away towards the stairs. I start to wonder how much all of this is bothering him or maybe it’s the tension I’ve been feeling from him the last few months.
“Nice man. It’s not Jase, but I guess he’s nice.” I stop and still. “Oh, honey. I’m sorry. And here I promised myself I wouldn’t bring him up.” Her eyes sadden.
I turn my head and try to smile. “It’s okay, Mom. Jase was always a part of our lives. You can’t not talk about our memories without bringing him up. I’ll be fine.” She rubs my shoulder up and down, and then we start walking to the kitchen again. I sigh as we enter. It’s going to be a long week. I wonder if I shouldn’t have come.