(Full edition available at Amazon.com)

This is not a love story. This is a loved story.

 

The past-tense version of love lasts infinitely longer than the present-tense. “He loves me” could end in the blink of an eye and be forever transformed into the inevitable “He loved me,” echoing forever into eternity.

 

Love always ends in loved.

 

 

Chapter One

Smiling is the most important thing she can do right now, and it’s the last thing she feels like doing. But it’s vital that she looks like she’s having the time of her life or else her dad’s career could be jeopardized.

That’s why Adelle Hitchens is playing it safe by hanging back with her mom, trying not to stand out. As usual, she and her mom are making fun of all the stiff and haughty people under their breaths and speculating whose hair and breasts are real or fake. She and her mom always huddle together during these political gatherings, and gossiping about the patrons helps to pass the time.

“When can we go?” Adelle asks, trying not to sound too complainy.

Her mom, wearing a casual floral summer dress to combat the Midwest July heat, answers with a dream-like distance in her voice, “I’m already gone. I’m sunbathing on a beach in Tahiti.” A small sigh escapes her mom’s unsmiling lips before she asks, “Where are you?”

“I’m in France,” Adelle answers.

Saint Veran, France, to be exact. Not that she’s ever been there, nor does she know much about it. In Saint Veran, there is a story unfolding about a city boy attempting to woo a country girl away from her sheltered life. This unfinished story is partly in Adelle’s head and partly handwritten in her pink “Write On” notebook tucked away in her brown Kate Spade slung over her shoulder.

Adelle would rather be there than on the Riverfront just yards away from downtown Louisville. The dirty-brown Ohio River drifts lazily by as she continues to do her best to look as prim and proper as expected. Even though this fundraiser is a casual affair, she’s still expected to look and act her best for her dad’s sake. But she knows she’ll never impress him, not even dressed in her aqua-blue midi dress and flip-flops with a blue Bohemian headband wrapped around her blond head. She also wears giant aviator sunglasses so that she can be seen by some but overlooked by most. Maybe her dad will be one of the few to notice her one day, if he’s not too preoccupied for once. Being a state senator doesn’t quite afford him much time to stop and observe his daughter very often.

Patrons stroll around with sandwiches from the Chick-fil-A cart and giant cups of dyed shaved ice from the Boudreaux’s Sno-Balls vendor. Some people are stretched out on the concrete steps that look out over the Ohio River and many more are casually standing around listening to a local band while children tear up the clown-themed bounce house or run around like wannabe Jedi warriors.

Somewhere in the crowd Adelle spots Chad Delgado crossing the freshly mowed grass toward the center stage. There, a crowd is gathered where the Louisville Crashers are playing their popular hit, “All I Need Is You.” As much as she tries to prevent it, her lips curl just slightly at the sight of him.

He’s by himself drinking out of a wet Pepsi bottle. As Chad bobs his head to the music, Adelle admires his broad, square shoulders as she recalls, through a little online stalking, that he plays football for his school. She also knows—thanks to a tip from her mom—that he’s going to be transferring to her school this year.

Like his shoulders, Chad’s chin is sharply angled with sexy dimples in his cheeks that pop out when he smiles. And when he smiles, his eyes sparkle. That’s how Adelle knows it’s genuine.

Adelle once observed that the U-shape of people’s mouths is not the sole indicator of a genuine smile. Crying people also have U-shaped mouths, so she decided it had to be something else, despite what preschool coloring books suggest.

Through many observations she discovered that smiles are actually detected exclusively in the eyes. They either sparkle or they don’t. Like anyone else, she’s never actually seen light dance off someone’s glassy irises just because they’re happy. But the sparkle is definitely there, like imaginary friends—you can’t see them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Adelle’s eyes never sparkle at these stupid political events, which is why she wears such large sunglasses. There’s no sense in some local blogger or paparazzi catching on that the senator’s daughter isn’t having the time of her life because someone happens to notice she’s looking a little too bored.

But it’s quite possible Chad is causing her eyes to sparkle right now.

Adelle met Chad at the beginning of summer at another event similar to this one. Some state legislators were giving speeches about poverty and crime in Louisville. Chad’s dad is a representative. As parents do, their dads introduced them to each other, probably hoping to set them up. It was one of those impromptu “This-is-my-son-Chad”/“This-is-my-daughter-Adelle” things. Always awkward.

They shook hands and that was that. Since then, they’ve locked eyes and smiled at each other at least once during every event this summer. Currently the total number of eye-locks is six. Maybe today will be the lucky number seven and then by the end of the first semester they can take it to the very provocative level of using words.

“He’s cute,” her mom says, pulling Adelle from her trance. “Haven’t you spoken to him before?”

“Yeah, I think so,” she responds, acting impartial.

“He’s transferring to your school this year.”

“I know,” Adelle says, still trying to sound disinterested. “You told me. Lots of guys transfer to lots of different schools. That’s the nature of the school system. It’s a wild and tumultuous world.”

“Know what you should do?” her mom asks, ignoring Adelle’s sarcasm.

“Yes. And the answer is no.”

“You should go talk to him.”

“I’ll pass, thanks,” says Adelle. Surely her mom can’t expect Adelle to put on her best girlish notions of romance while she’s watching and punching the air at every smile or giggle.

Adelle’s mom jumps to attention. “Can’t anyway. It’s show time.”

Adelle allows herself a brief groan and clenches her teeth in preparation for the next hour or so of her life.

Adelle looks up at her mom and sees her nodding toward her dad. She straightens and plasters her U across her face. The two of them take a deep unanimous breath as they push across the grass toward the group of adoring supporters who surround the great Senator Hitchens.

But in order to get to him they need to pass by Chad Delgado, who is now accompanied by a super skinny baby-faced brunette with a butch cut. She’s obviously got the sparkle. Compliment a la Chad, of course.

Luckily, walking past him proves to be less climactic than Adelle anticipates. She does see Chad give her the slightest of nods and her heart involuntarily jumps a little and her mouth gets all sorts of dry and suddenly he’s offering her his water-spotted Pepsi, and he’s sweaty and shirtless, and when he speaks his voice sounds like the perfect mixture of Benedict Cumberbatch and Vin Diesel.

It’s just a nod, she scolds herself, coming out of her lust dream. Just a nod from a regular guy wearing a regular shirt. Strangers nod to each other at Wal-Mart. And that’s how Adelle is able to slow her hormones back down to a steady gallop.

When they reach her dad mingling with a couple she’s never seen, he stops mid-sentence and gestures to them with his hand to step closer as though he’s allowing them access into his vicinity. It’s all part of the act that’s about to unfold.

Her dad is tall and slim. He’s a perfect, albeit predictable, picture of a successful state senator. Nice, full hair, a winning smile, the works. Adelle has very few memories of him dressed in something other than a suit with the top button of his button-down undone. She’s convinced he’s been doing that since before President Obama made it popular.

“Friends, I’d like you to meet my wife Sharon, and my daughter Adelle,” he says to the man and woman he’s engaged with. Adelle misses their names, but shakes hands with them anyway, forcing her U to go a little higher.

“I suppose you plan on following your dad’s footsteps into the world of politics?” the man asks Adelle. They all think they’re so clever when they ask this.

The question is so common that Adelle is duly ready with her answer: “Only if it means bettering the world in any way I can.” Her dad taught her to say that years ago, and the comment is always as fake as the smile. But anything rehearsed so often is, by nature, phony—not unlike her dad’s pithy slogans manufactured to suit each specific audience.

Adelle practically mouths her dad’s next words as he puts his hand on her shoulder. “She’ll have to run against me to get there first.”

Ha, ha. Laughs all around.

And now it’s her mom’s turn as she puts her hand on Adelle’s other shoulder. “Bet you can guess who I’m supporting,” she says, following the airtight script.

More laughs. Just one small happy family basking in the political limelight. Smiles!

Though the proper words are recited, Adelle notices that her mom’s voice is more hollow than usual. She’s never had the sparkle going into these encounters, but this time there’s not just a lack of sparkle in her eyes, there’s a certain…distance.

Adelle and her mom follow her dad around to meet and greet other elitist couples and dignitaries. The same lines, the same sparkle-less smiles. All the while Adelle’s mom grows more and more detached with each handshake. Adelle wonders if anyone else notices that her dad is the only one fully engaged with this little expedition.

It used to be that Adelle’s mom would smile and wave along with him, but now she just merely tags along and only shows signs of life when spoken to directly. This, Adelle has noticed, has been a gradual change. For the last year or so, she’s shown less and less pizazz at each event. Thus, Peter Hitchens has been forced to carry both the pizazz and the sparkle his little family lacks. Ever the opportunist, he carries it well.

Upon meeting the eighth couple, Adelle’s dad introduces her mom, but for once she doesn’t extend her hand. She doesn’t say hi or even smile. She just stares into nothing as though she’s a robot and her batteries are dead.

The world stops since there’s never been a breach in the script. Adelle wonders if she should say something to her mom or clear her throat to snap her out of it. Instead, Adelle offers her own hand in her mom’s place.

“And this is my daughter Adelle,” says her dad, trying to recover her mom’s fumble. “She’ll be running against me soon enough, I’m sure.”

Laughs. From all except Adelle’s mom. Not even a U.

Adelle looks up at her mom and sees a far-away look in her eyes. Not the kind of look where she’s sunbathing in Tahiti. This is more the look of loathing, like a prisoner scowling at her shackles.

In an effort to bring her mom back and pull her line out, her dad touches the small of her back and says, “Who’ll you be supporting, hun? Me or Adelle?”

With that same absent look, her mom answers lazily, “It doesn’t matter.”

This unrehearsed remark causes Adelle’s dad to snap his head toward her mom. Adelle’s heart skips a beat because she doesn’t know how she’ll be expected to follow up this disaster. Line, please!

Adelle’s mom breaks her trance to look at her dad. “I won’t be supporting Adelle, because she doesn’t care about politics,” she says dryly. “And I won’t be supporting you, because quite frankly, I don’t care about politics either. I never have. And that’s only half the reason we’re getting a divorce, so it would probably be in your best interest for me not to be affiliated with you, wouldn’t it?”

Wait, what? Adelle didn’t know anything about a divorce. She shoots her mom a startled look and she thinks she sees the slightest glint of regret flash across her mom’s resolute face, but she can’t be certain.

As for her dad, his smile is frozen, the sparkle has vanished and the pizazz has vamboozled. He tries to smooth it all over with a titter and says, “Sorry. We’ve been having a little spat. You know how these things can be.”

But Adelle isn’t aware of any spat. Unless you call their seventeen-year marriage a spat. She always figured that her parents would inevitably get a divorce just like everyone else, but she at least imagined this talk taking place in the privacy of their own home.

Adelle stares at her dad—who’s trying to keep his smile intact—and then looks back over at her mom who’s now looking apologetically at Adelle. She’s sure her mom can detect the pain and confusion in her eyes even behind her aviators.

Robbed of the privacy to cry at this earth-shaking news, Adelle is forced to muster the pain and bear it with dignity and dry eyes.

Because if she doesn’t look like she’s having the time of her life….

She has to leave. But Adelle is unable to simply dig a set of keys out of her purse and drive off in a fit of rage, because she only has her driver’s permit. So naturally, she does the next best thing: she storms off.

Adelle shoulders her purse and tells herself that she is literally storming off, even though it feels more like walking at an awkwardly flustered pace.

“Hey,” she hears by her side. She turns and sees that Chad has caught up with her and is trying to keep stride. Of all the moments for him to break the silence that has stubbornly lingered between them all summer, he chooses her lowest moment. Go figure.

“Are you okay?” Chad asks.

She has no idea how much he just saw or heard and she doesn’t care. She’s not in the mood to talk. If Chad wants to try and sweep her off her feet, he’s going to have to pick a better time.

“Yeah,” she answers. “I’m fine. I just have something to work through right now.” She wonders how one begins “working through” a parental divorce.

But he doesn’t let her go that easily.

“You’re upset,” he says, keeping on her heels.

“Yes. I am.” She doesn’t bother slowing down. Seriously, dude. Another time.

He grabs her arm abruptly and she spins to face him against her will. Her tears might come at any moment and she’d rather he not see her crying.

With his hand on her arm they face each other for a long moment. She would say something, but she doesn’t know what. Finally Chad says, “If you need to talk….”

This compassionate remark makes her lip quiver and her eyes moisten. “Thanks,” Adelle says, reclaiming her arm. She turns and continues walking. “I’ll be okay,” she adds over her shoulder so he doesn’t follow her. First dates are supposed to be dry-eyed and giggly. At least that’s what the movies preach. She’ll have to apologize and explain herself some other time.

A few tears coming out now, Adelle heads toward the street leaving Chad behind. She does her best to collect herself as she turns onto the sidewalk that leads into one of the several packed parking lots and begins the long trudge up the Big Four Walking Bridge. The bridge used to be called the Central Pacific Railroad that wound all the way up to Ohio. Apparently that was important many years ago, so Kentucky calls it a major landmark.

Eventually she slows her storm because stomping her feet so hard on the concrete is making her soles sore. No one can walk hard with an attitude for very long in flip-flops.

She can’t believe she’s been lied to all this time! Her parents have been making life-altering decisions without her input. No doubt because they’re the parents and she’s just the kid. Her opinion doesn’t matter because she’s only fifteen. Stupid fifteen, going on bitterly-sweet sixteen.

She glances over the railing once she reaches the top of the ramp and looks disdainfully down at the happy crowd below. The pain and confusion are so overwhelming that she can’t believe everyone is ignorant to it. They’re serenely swaying to the music, oblivious to her shattering world. She hates them for it and she hates herself for feeling this way. Not that she wants to be coddled. She just wants people to acknowledge she’s in pain, unlike the trail of bikers who glide past her, smiling and nodding. She wants to wedge a stick through their spokes.

Somewhere over the chocolate-brown river, she crosses the state line into Indiana. As she walks, her mother’s words keep echoing through her head: “And that’s only half the reason we’re getting a divorce…” So what’s the other half?

She jumps out of the way as a straggler biker passes her close enough for the handlebar to brush her arm. “It’s called a walking bridge, dummy!” she yells after him even though he’s already halfway down the ramp where the bridge dips into Jeffersonville.

The bridge ends beside a long, step-like fountain and Adelle watches as two kids splash each other. How great to be young again. Blissful, free, careless. She was not so different from them just a few moments ago. Life wasn’t perfect for her and sometimes it just downright sucked, but it was stable. Her parents were like a roof over her head; sometimes leaky but always reliable. She’ll never feel that secure again. The weight of growing up hits her with a finality that makes her resent those kids for being so happy.

But they won’t be happy and secure forever. Soon their parents will get a divorce, and then they’ll be forced to grow up, and these kids will have to deal with their own shattered worlds. Adelle wonders if she should pity them.

She rounds the four erect glass monuments that measure the height of the crest of some flood that destroyed Southern Indiana sometime during the Great Depression. Her steps guide her toward the street into the quiet little neighborhood. The warm sky is an endless blue without distraction. Traveling locusts chirp deafeningly from the trees and bushes. In contrast, the quaint, colonial-style houses line up on both sides of her in calm serenity. Calm serenity, what she thought her parents’ relationship was.

How could she not see it coming? Her parents hardly spoke to each other. Her dad never took her mom on weekend getaways. Ever since she could remember, her parents lived in separate worlds—her dad obsessed with his career and her mom busied with the house and being a mom. Her parents had nothing in common.

Why, Adelle wonders, did they even get married? With divorce being as inevitable as Murphy’s Law, why does anyone even get married?

Adelle pulls out her phone to text her best friend Heather, even though she’s somewhere in Italy with her dad for the summer. Heather’s dad is a schoolteacher and he travels the world during his summer breaks. When her parents divorced last year, she made it clear that she didn’t want to miss any of his excursions as a result of their split.

Adelle’s other friends practically grew up in broken homes, so they wouldn’t likely be as sympathetic.

Heather told Adelle one day, “When your parents give you the ‘It’s-Not-You-It’s-Us’ talk, text me the code word ‘BAD FISH.’ It’s an acronym of all the bad words. You’ll want to yell them all if this announcement ever happens. Repeatedly. I’ll be here for you to yell them at or text them to.”

“What does the I stand for?” Adelle had asked, clicking through all the bad words in her mind.

“That’s a freebie. It can be interpreted into anything you’d like.”

As Adelle types “BAD FISH” into her phone, she turns the corner onto River Road and meanders down the sidewalk. It takes less than thirty seconds for her phone to chirp, signaling Heather’s urgent call.

Adelle passes a fire hydrant and a street sign as she brings the phone to her ear. From behind her she hears an inflated POP! POP! of tires bouncing onto the curb. She spins her head around and finds her entire line of vision filled with the front bumper of an approaching car. She flinches, throwing her arms up protectively, waiting for the inevitable impact, but the car never makes contact.

At least not with her.

At the sound of metal compacting, Adelle lowers her arms and no longer sees the front of the car. Instead, in its place is a thick veil of mist, spraying Adelle with cold water, which is oddly refreshing in this late July heat. The air around her is filled with deafening static noise like the aftermath of an explosion. It all happens too fast for her to be scared or have any rational thoughts outside of, I’m dead. This is what it’s like to die. It’s…wet.

But when Adelle realizes she still has to breathe in and out in order to stay alive, she knows she’s not dead.

The pieces start falling into place as she looks around. The thick wall of mist is actually water shooting up from the ground and falling back to earth. When her senses start regrouping, she sees that the street sign she just passed has been mercifully spared but the yellow fire hydrant next to it has been smashed completely off its bolts, causing the explosion of water.

Adelle peers through the water to see the car that caused the upheaval. It’s a black Nissan Altima. As she observes the chaos before her, she realizes how close she had just come to dying. Her knees shake and she’s tempted to drop to the ground, but she can’t because the water is already up to her ankles.

As Adelle tries to collect herself, a passerby rushes around the gushing water. He’s soaking wet and excitable. He’s about Adelle’s age, maybe half a foot taller, with long skinny arms and wild hands flying all over the wet air.

He’s yelling something, but it’s inaudible because of the tumultuous water pounding the concrete all around them. Nevertheless, he continues to yell indistinguishably while pushing his wet hair back and bending over to catch his breath as though he has just completed a marathon.

He holds his phone up and begins taking pictures of the crash site. She crosses over to him to see if he’ll help her get the driver out of the vehicle, but the guy holds his finger out to ward her off.

Adelle yells over the thundering water. “Shouldn’t we help the driver?”

The guy leans forward, dripping wet, cups his ear with his hand, and leans toward her. She grunts in frustration and pushes him out of the way, her feet sloshing through the water so she can get to the driver’s door. But it’s already wide open, and there’s no one in the seat. She wonders if the driver ran off.

She turns back toward the guy and points toward the river, away from the downpour. The guy nods and follows her, but not before snapping another picture of the car with his phone, a big grin spread across his face.

They step across the street, away from the accident, rounding a large white pillar that holds up the walking bridge. There they find a bench facing the river. But before she can say anything, the guy speaks up first. “Did you see that?” he asks, as though spotting a deer from the highway.

“Um. I kinda had a front row seat,” Adelle answers lamely. She’s starting to wonder if this guy is the driver, but judging by his misplaced excitement, she doubts it.

“Good! You saw it, so you can testify to the police that I wasn’t drinking or anything. The cops will want your version, not just mine. I’ll need you to back me up.”

“Back you up? From what?” Adelle asks, wondering if she did in fact hit her head.

“From a felony, I don’t know,” the guy says. “I’m sure the car’s totaled. I don’t know what that means as far as a write-up goes. This is my first accident.”

Maybe his tongue is just wet and slippery from the water, but the guy talks incredibly fast, and it takes a moment for Adelle to catch up to what he’s saying. “Wait. You’re the driver? You almost hit me!”

The guy looks at Adelle quizzically, squinting his eyes as though trying to recall her. “Um. I’m not aware of almost running over someone with my car. That’d be kind of hard to miss, wouldn’t you say?”

Perhaps it’s because of her parents’ out-of-the-blue divorce, or because she’s suddenly soaking wet, or because she was just reminded of her frail mortality, but with everything compounded, she erupts like a zit long neglected.

“You’re a BAD FISH! You can’t just almost kill me and then not own up to it.  And you certainly shouldn’t ignore me by standing there taking pictures on your stupid phone! At least see if I’m okay, idiot!” She wonders for a brief moment if that should be her freebie, but throws it from her mind.

“Whoa,” he says, putting his hands up. “Did you just call me a ‘bad fish’? What does that even mean? Did I offend you in some other life?”

“Believe me, being offensive would be the least of your crimes,” Adelle says, scathingly.

The water on her sunglasses is drying up against the sun and collecting into obnoxious white droplets obscuring her vision. She pulls them off to clean them with her dress, and she hears the guy catch his breath. Adelle looks up and finds him staring at her.

“What,” she says, “choke on some water?”

He clears his throat and nonchalantly holds his phone up to his face, then lowers it.

“Did you just take a picture of me?” Adelle demands.

“Wait. What?” he says, acting confused. “I just needed to know the time.”

Liar.

For some reason he looks dumbfounded and it’s annoying her.

A car slows and the driver peers at them and asks if they need assistance. “We’re good,” the guy says, waving the driver on. “We’re good.”

As the vehicle crawls away, Adelle reaches into her purse in an attempt to fish out her phone. But instead of finding it, her fingers grope her pink “Write On” notebook and she discovers that it’s sopping wet.

“Damn it,” she says, pulling it out of her water-balloon purse, dripping it all over her feet.

“Is that your diary?” the guy asks.

“I don’t keep a diary. It’s not 1992.”

“Right. Sorry. Is it your little black book? Only, you’re a girl, so it’s pink. Want to add my number?”

“Yeah, actually. So I can turn you into the police.” She’s looking through the other pockets of her purse as she says this. “Now will you shut up? I’m looking for my phone so I can call the cops for real. You should never be allowed to drive again.”

“That’s kind of harsh.”

Adelle halts, shoving her notebook underneath her arm, and tries to decide if he really just said that. “Dude. You almost killed me. I’d say that’s pretty lenient.” His eyes go wide and he leans forward as if pressing her for more. “Did you seriously not see me?” she asks. “I was right in front of you. No, I take that back, I was on the sidewalk!”

“Yeah, I definitely didn’t see you. It’s hard to concentrate on the road when you’re rearranging your playlist.”

That’s why I almost got hit? Because you were playing with your stupid music?” Adelle can’t remember when she’s heard her voice sound this upset.

“Hey,” he says, suddenly defensive, “I wasn’t playing, I was rearranging. And besides, Coldplay is not stupid. Coldplay is something to be taken seriously as one of the greatest bands of the twenty-first century.”

“You nearly commit a felony and you’re talking about a stupid band?” Adelle asks, incredulous.

“Again. Not stupid. Because of Coldplay, there is life. Coldplay is baby-making music.” And then he adds with a smirk and an obnoxious wink, “If my iPod still works, I’ll show you what I mean sometime.” He waves another car on without taking his eyes off of her.

Not one to be cowed, Adelle throws her sunglasses back on and says, “Right. I doubt they’ll let you take your iPod with you to jail. And any baby-making will not be with me.”

“Touché.”

Remembering she was holding her phone when she almost got hit, she looks toward the geyser and realizes it must be submerged somewhere in the muddy flood.

When Adelle looks back to the guy, he’s holding his own phone out to her. “Here. Use mine.” He’s holding out his wet device for her. “It’s waterproof. Password is ‘J-Law,’ one word, no dash, no spaces. Can you call an ambulance first? I’m a little woozy from the accident. Possible whiplash.” He says this while rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand.

“Why are you talking so fast? Are you nervous or something?”

“No, this is how I normally talk. Life’s too short to take your time, and some people have a lot to say, so I talk fast. I click my tongue when I’m nervous.”

She glares hard at him before snatching the phone out of his hand. “Jennifer Lawrence, huh?” she asks coyly.

“Oh, yeah. Big crush. Totally hopeless. If I knew she was going to visit me in jail, I would not complain about being arrested.”

Adelle unlocks his phone with his password. His wallpaper is a picture of a slightly older, chubby guy with a backwards hat posing like an extra from Straight Outta Compton. “Is this your accomplice?”

“Nah, that’s my brother Eric.”

She wouldn’t have asked such a snarky question had she read the caption on the bottom of the screen first: “Rest in peace my friend.”

“He’s dead?” she asks.

“Yeah. Can you call the cops now? I’d rather not tell you my life story at the moment. Unless you’d like to come to my house and I’ll grill you a mean cheese sandwich while we talk.”

The fact that he offered her his phone so she can call the cops assures her that he’s no menace after all. But she wonders if her next move is very smart. She stretches her arm out, offering his phone back. No, she will not be calling the cops on him today. She’ll leave that to someone else.

“Why don’t you hold on to that for me for a while,” he insists. “Borrow it.”

“It’s fine. I’ll go look for mine and get it replaced,” she says, hating that the edge in her voice is dulling. “Besides, I’m sure you need to call your parents so they can pick you up.”

“You think I’m in a hurry to tell them about this?” He waves his hands in front of him as though fending off a threat. “I’ll be taking my time walking home so I can put together a well-rehearsed confession. I’ll be like the prodigal son coming home from his countryside escapades. Except, I doubt my parents will throw me a party and feed me suckling bacon.”

“You’re telling them in person?” Adelle asks, surprised, and kind of impressed.

“Why not? Better than over the phone.”

Adelle laughs, thinking he’s joking. “Right. But at least you wouldn’t be there for the initial shock and outrage.”

“But that’s the best part. That’s the whole point of the Affect.” The guy says this as though speaking of holy things in a church.

“The affect?” Adelle asks, scrunching her brow.

“Yeah. The Affect. Being present on purpose for the benefit of those tomorrow.”

“Present on purpose,” Adelle repeats, wondering if that would make a good slogan for some self-help gimmick. “That’s cool.” But then her tone changes to sarcasm. “I was afraid you’d be all nonsensical or something, so I’m glad you cleared that up.”

He laughs and suddenly he’s not talking at such a whirlwind speed. “What I mean is, yeah, it’s gonna suck when I tell my parents that I totaled their car. But I try to think in terms of tomorrow or next week if I meet new people, I’ll have an awesome story to tell. Or many years from now when I tell my kids about today, which I inevitably will because, let’s face it, today will be pretty hard to forget.” He’s not speaking so fast now. Each word is punctuated with importance and urgency as though delivering sensitive instructions, and he can’t afford to have his listener miss a thing. He crosses one wet leg over the other and continues. “So when I tell them about this, I want to be able to describe the looks on my parents’ faces. That’s the Affect you can’t get over the phone; that’s the Affect that will make this story worth repeating. For the benefit of those tomorrow.”

Adelle doesn’t have a clue how to respond to this except to say, “Gotta do it for the kids, huh.”

He flashes a smile that kind of affects her breathing. His eyes are sparkling blue and alert. They look like they don’t have the ability to show disinterest in anything. His cheeks are soft, but firm anyway. His dark hair is matted against his head, but Adelle can tell that if it were dry it would probably be brown and wavy. He’s wearing gym shorts and a white T-shirt, and she wonders where he was off to. The gym? His arms are skinny, but they’re toned; no strangers to free-weights, she suspects.

Adelle forces herself to look off to the side so as not to stare. Then he says, “Though, now I’m wondering if describing my parents’ faces will even be the big climax of the story.”

“Yeah,” she says, still looking away. “I’m sure your kids will be more impressed about the totaled car and the flooded street.” By this point the water has washed over the entire width of the street. Another car sloshes through the flood and pulls up next to the site. The driver is already on the phone.

“That’s certainly a good aside,” says Trill, “but I was thinking the biggest Affect could be meeting my children’s mother for the first time in the falling sewage water.” Adelle chokes a little and her eyes instinctively dart back to meet his. Thankfully he saves her from having to respond. “Forward, I know,” he continues. “Isn’t life too short to drag things out? But I don’t need to remind you of that, do I, Second Chance Girl?”

Adelle’s mind seems to be on pause and fast-forward at the same time. Either way, nothing in her brain is coherent as she tries to comprehend his words, and it’s not because he’s talking fast again.

“Anyway,” the guy continues, standing up from the bench. “You’ve got my number. Give me a call sometime. And don’t worry about your phone. I’ll fish it out for you. I know a guy who can replace it free of charge.”

“Wait,” she manages as he begins to walk back toward the accident. The other driver is getting out of his car now. Adelle’s voice comes out hoarse. “I have your phone, not your number.”

“Correction: You have my phone, therefore my number.”

“But how would I call you, then?”

“I expect to see several missed calls from my number when I get your phone fixed. My name’s Trill by the way.”

Trill walks away, back toward the flooded street and his smashed up car. Adelle stops him only to say, “‘Prim Forever.’ No spaces. Number 4.”

He raises her phone like he’s toasting and smiles. “Hunger Games. Good taste.” Then he continues on his way.

And that’s how Adelle meets her first love who will not live long enough to tell their story to anyone.


You can continue Adelle’s story by purchasing “These Great Affects” on Amazon. Click HERE to order your copy! (Available in Kindle edition only)

 

 

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