Home > This Time Around(7)

This Time Around(7)
Author: Denise Hunter

But soon Allie noticed he was texting her less. They went days between phone conversations, and sometimes he didn’t even answer when she called. But it was his last semester, and he wanted to finish well. Allie was proud of him for earning a bachelor’s degree in only three years.

Besides, he’d soon be home for spring break. And she was busy with senior activities, her own grades, and her job at the Mellow Mug. There was little time to sulk as prom approached. Two weeks before the big dance she bought a silver dress that made the most of her curves and complemented the “winter wonderland” theme.

But when she mentioned the dress to Luke on the phone one evening, he went quiet. She hadn’t brought up the prom before now, but he knew it fell during his spring break. She’d assumed . . .

A shudder of dread coursed through her at his sudden silence.

“Who are you going with?” he asked finally.

She blinked as her stomach dove for her feet. “I—I thought I was going with you.”

“Allie . . . ,” he said after a beat.

When he didn’t complete the sentence, she found her own words. “What, Luke? Aren’t we seeing each other? You knew my prom was coming up. You’ll be home that week and everything.”

“Yeah, but . . . we’re keeping everything low-key, right? Like we said?”

She gritted her teeth. “It’s my senior prom, Luke.”

“I know, but . . . can’t you go with your friends?”

She gave the phone a withering look, wishing Luke could see it. “My friends are going with their boyfriends.” And she’d turned down two offers from other boys.

Another long silence passed. Allie wanted to hit something. But the sting of tears behind her eyes warned her that if she didn’t get off the phone, she was going to embarrass herself.

“Never mind.” Her words were clipped. “It’s fine. I have to go now.”

“Allie, please understand . . .”

Feeling a sob rise in her throat, she said goodbye, disconnected the call, and promptly broke into a flood of tears.

She didn’t hear from Luke for two days. He sent her a text saying he wouldn’t make it home for spring break after all. Some school project. Over the next couple days a few stilted texts went back and forth, wherein Allie acted as if she were fine.

Then there was nothing. No texts. No calls.

Allie grieved the loss. She couldn’t eat. Couldn’t sleep. What had she done wrong? She lost six pounds and dressed in her old, sloppy clothes to hide the weight loss. She convinced her family she wasn’t feeling well and ended up at the doctor’s office (diagnosis: senior blues).

Jared Wallace, a mutual friend of Luke’s and hers who attended UGA, came home on spring break, and Allie ran into him at the Rusty Nail. In the course of their discussion he mentioned seeing Luke around campus, often with the same pretty girl.

Allie thought her heart would break in two. Luke had found someone else and dropped her like a hot potato. Luke had stayed on campus with her rather than coming home to take Allie to prom.

The night of the dance she dressed up in her silver dress, curled her hair, and applied makeup. She faked her way through pictures, then drove straight to a friend’s house, where she spent the night.

Clearly she and Luke were over, almost before they’d begun, and she didn’t even understand what she’d done to push him away. Senior year ended in a mixed fog of celebration and phony smiles.

Luke returned home and took possession of his mom’s house. He didn’t come around the house as often, but Allie saw him coming and going.

She couldn’t stand the awkward pauses and false cheer when her family was around. So when a sudden opportunity arose in Atlanta for a spot in a summer chef class (cooking being her newest interest), Allie jumped at the escape.

And when it was over, she stayed. She hated living so far from her family. Hated living away from Copper Creek. But she had to stay away if she was ever going to get over Luke Fletcher.

 

 

Chapter 6

 


The boppy sounds of Allie’s music were getting on Luke’s last nerve. He was a firm believer in a driver’s music privileges, but it wasn’t worth provoking her by claiming them.

Following her GPS’s instructions (and grateful for the brief interruption of “Tutti Frutti”), he turned onto a road that would take them deeper into the Blue Ridge Mountains.

He hadn’t blamed Allie for being upset when things had gone south between them seven years ago. He’d never forget seeing her with fresh eyes that Thanksgiving, all grown up. Time had stopped when he kissed her, and for weeks he could think of little else.

So, yes, he’d freaked out a little at the idea of her parents finding out. What if something went wrong between them? And didn’t something always go wrong eventually? How would that affect his relationship with the Adamses? That thought only made him more anxious since his mom had gotten married. And when she moved away, the thought of being alone brought a cold trickle of fear.

Maybe if he’d found the words to explain that to Allie . . . but he didn’t quite understand it himself. Besides, he’d been young and afraid she’d talk him out of his decision—it wouldn’t have taken much. One look into those brown eyes, and he would’ve been a goner. So he just kind of let the relationship drift away.

He’d thought things would return to normal when he finished college and moved back home. But Allie was furious. She hid her anger around her family. But when he caught her alone, she responded with withering looks and stubborn silence. When he went out onto his deck, she went back inside. When he ran into her at the Mellow Mug, she took his order as if he were a stranger—and he was pretty sure she’d done something to his drink.

His attempts to apologize were met with flinty looks and twisted lips.

He’d hurt her, and she was hurting him in return. If only she knew that the breakup had gutted him. That losing her had left a hollow spot inside. Why couldn’t they just try to get back to normal? He missed her rambling excitement over her interest du jour, missed the way she jumped from one topic to another without skipping a beat, missed the way her eyes went to half-moons when she laughed.

But he hadn’t found the words to tell her. And then she’d moved to Atlanta.

Luke still had his surrogate family. He wouldn’t trade them for the world—or apparently for the love of his life, who was currently staring silently out the passenger window due to the many years left on The Grudge.

A terrible, familiar odor filled the car, and he reached for the window crank.

“Ugh. What is that smell?” They were Allie’s first words in two hours.

Luke began rolling down the window.

“Don’t. It might be outside.”

Luke glanced back at Walter, who was sleeping through the outrageous stench. “Oh, it’s definitely not outside.”

Allie gave Walter the stink eye. “That is downright foul.”

“He’s got tummy troubles.”

“Does he have any redeeming qualities?”

“Yes, he bites animal haters.”

“I don’t hate animals—you know I was bitten as a child.” She sniffed, her chin notching upward. “Besides, I’m a volunteer at the zoo, and I do have a pet of my own.”

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