Read an Excerpt
Love is Grand
By Annalisa Daughety
Barbour Publishing, Inc. Copyright © 2010 Annalisa Daughety
All rights reserved.
I have no idea what to write in this journal. I am sitting here in the basement of my parents' house—the house I grew up in—and I have no idea what to say. I think I'll have to ease in to these "dear diary" moments. So here goes. Today is my niece's high school graduation. She's my favorite niece. Okay, she's my only niece, but I love her a lot. And I'm not going to the ceremony. I told my sister that Faith was getting a cold, but really I just don't want to go. Family events make me too sad.
Julie Wilson, still clad in her graduation gown, ran toward Heath Bowden's shiny red extended-cab truck. "Please don't be mad," she called to his retreating figure. "It was only a hug. Dave and I have been friends forever. Since preschool." Her breath came in ragged waves as she finally caught up with her boyfriend.
"You made me look like a fool," Heath growled, his handsome features twisted by anger. "Everyone in this two-bit town knows that he's crazy about you."
Julie reached a trembling hand out and touched Heath's muscular forearm. "And they also know that I'm crazy about you," she said softly. It was true. Even the cafeteria ladies in her high school knew how much she loved Heath. The cheerleader and the dropout had made waves since their first date more than a year ago.
In one swift motion, Heath flung her hand from his arm. He grabbed her upper arms, nearly lifting her from the ground, his thumbs digging into her tender flesh. "If I ever see you so much as speak to him again ... you'll be sorry." With that, he tossed her to the ground, limp as a rag doll.
She caught herself with her hands, wincing as the gravel from the parking lot came in contact with her palms.
"Julie, are you okay?" Claire Petty rushed to her friend's side and knelt down beside her. She glared up at Heath. "What is wrong with you?"
"Claire to the rescue, huh?" Heath pulled the last cigarette from the package and tossed the empty wrapper on the ground. "I guess you'll be telling her daddy." He lit the cigarette and took a long drag. "But you should really keep your nose out of our business."
Claire ignored him and helped Julie to her feet. "Why don't you ride with me? There's a graduation party at Remy's, and everyone would love for you to be there."
Julie shook her head. "We're going to dinner." She forced her mouth into a shaky smile. "I'm fine. Tell everyone I'm sorry to have missed it."
Claire bit her lip. "Jules." She put an arm around Julie, shielding her from Heath's sight. Claire lowered her voice to a whisper. "Please come with me. He still looks angry."
"I know how to handle him. Don't worry." Julie pulled away from her lifelong friend. "Don't tell, okay? Promise me?" The last time Claire had observed Heath's temper, she'd warned Julie that if it happened again, she'd tell Julie's parents.
Claire shook her head. "Hate me if you want to. I don't care. But you need help."
Julie watched her friend walk toward the west side of the parking lot. I'm going to be in a heap of trouble when I get home.
"You comin' with me or what?" Heath asked, climbing into the cab of the truck.
Julie walked around to the passenger side and hesitated for a moment before she opened the door. Heath wasn't a bad guy. She just needed to try harder not to make him mad.
Heath pulled the truck out of the parking lot and toward his favorite Mexican restaurant.
Julie leaned her head against the seat and tried to ignore the tight feeling in her throat. It would've been nice if she could've chosen the restaurant tonight, since it was her celebration. For a moment, she thought about all her friends at Remy's. Graduation night, and she was missing the final high school party. The buzzing of her phone pushed the thought away.
She glanced down at the incoming text message: CALL US IMMEDIATELY. LOVE, DADDY. Usually her daddy's habit of signing his name to his text messages made her laugh, but this time, she didn't even crack a smile.
"Problem?" Heath glanced over at her.
"Nope." Julie turned her phone off and stuffed it into her bag. "Everything is just fine."
* * *
As soon as Heath turned the truck onto Julie's street, they saw the glow. Every light in her house burned bright, a not-so-subtle message from her parents. There was no point in trying to sneak in unnoticed, as she'd hoped. "Ugh," Julie grimaced.
Heath put the truck in PARK and pulled her closer to him. "They'll get over it. It's barely after midnight. You're not even half an hour late." He leaned down and planted a kiss on her forehead, no sign of his earlier anger. Just as she'd expected, he'd calmed down as soon as they were alone, and they'd had a nice time together.
Except for one thing.
If it had been up to Heath, she'd have found a way to spend the night at his place. It was the one thing they fought over every time. "I'm tired of hearing about your virtue," Heath said through gritted teeth. "You're not daddy's little girl anymore. It's time for you to grow up and be a woman." And by grow up, she knew he meant stay the night with him. Julie wasn't ready for that step. She'd always believed in waiting until marriage. "Why rush into it?" she pleaded with him. "We have the rest of our lives together." The argument ended as it usually did, with him telling her to get in the truck because he was taking her home. Tonight, though, he added an ultimatum. "I waited for you this past year because you're underage, and I know your old man would like nothing better than an excuse to throw me in jail for taking advantage of his little girl." His words dripped with sarcasm. "But as soon as you turn eighteen, you can do whatever you want. And you'd better be ready to turn this into an adult relationship. Otherwise, I'm through."
The last sentence echoed in Julie's head as she tried to lose herself in his embrace. She didn't want to lose him, but her beliefs held her back from spending the night with him. Why couldn't he understand that she wasn't ready yet? So far he'd taken her no with only a little griping, only sometimes calling her baby and immature. After she turned eighteen, that would change.
She pulled out of his grasp and looked up at him. Ruggedly handsome, he'd shaved his normal stubble for her graduation and traded in his standard jeans and T-shirt for dress pants and a button-down. No tie, but that was okay. "I'd better go in. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"I love you, Jules." He opened his door and helped her out of the truck.
She leaned against his broad chest. Hearing him say those words made her heart melt. "I love you, too." Julie liked the way she was the only one who really understood him. Even his parents had written him off. But not her. She saw past his bad-boy image. Someday he would become the man she knew he could be. He just needed time.
The porch light flicked off, then on again, and Julie jumped back. "Get out of here before Daddy comes out." She gave Heath one last kiss and scurried up the sidewalk. Time to face the music.
"Well, well. Look who finally decided to come home." Her dad sat on the stairs in the entryway, a cell phone in his hand. "I was getting ready to call the police."
Julie glared at him. "Daddy, don't be ridiculous. I'm not even half an hour late."
"I'm aware of your curfew. After all, I'm the one who set it." He rose from the stairs and motioned for her to follow him into the living room.
Mama sat on the couch, aimlessly flipping through a People magazine. "Did you have a good night?"
Julie nodded, wondering if she'd walked into some kind of trap. "Yep." She leaned down and kissed her mother on the cheek. "Okay, good night." She started toward the stairs, hoping against hope that they'd just let her go.
"Not so fast, young lady." Daddy's stern voice stopped her in her tracks. "We need to talk to you."
Julie exhaled loudly and flounced down on the couch. "What?"
Her parents exchanged a glance. Finally, Mama put the magazine on the coffee table and met Julie's gaze. "Honey, we're worried. Claire called us on her way to Remy's. She told us what happened in the parking lot."
Daddy paced the floor like a caged lion but didn't speak. His frown, though, spoke volumes.
"It wasn't nearly as bad as it looked. Really." Julie was used to defending Heath to her parents.
Mama reached over and pulled up the cap sleeve on Julie's purple top. The bruises stood in stark contrast to her creamy skin. "It looks pretty bad to me," Mama said softly.
Unexpected tears sprang into Julie's eyes, and she quickly blinked them back. "It was just a misunderstanding. And you know I bruise easily."
Daddy stopped pacing and pulled the footstool in front of where Julie sat. He sank onto it and looked her square in the eye. "I know that you think you're an adult. But you aren't. Not yet. You still live under my roof. And I will not allow you to see that boy again."
Julie's heart pounded. She clenched her fists and stood. "What are you going to do, ground me for the whole summer? My birthday will be here in August, and then I'll be free to do whatever I want to."
"Actually, we aren't going to ground you." Mama raked a hand through her shoulder-length red hair. "As it turns out, we've found you a job."
"A job?" Julie asked, confused. She'd been looking for a job for the past few weeks but hadn't found one yet. She wanted to save some money before college started in the fall. "Where?" And what did a job have to do with her and Heath?
Her parents exchanged a look.
"It's time to start packing," Daddy said. "Because you're going on a trip."CHAPTER 2
The anniversary of my best and worst day is coming up soon. That's right. They happened on the same day. I wonder how many other people in the world can say that? On a random Tuesday morning, your dad and I found out for sure we were going to be parents. Best. Day. Ever. Hands down. We both agreed on that. Then later that same afternoon, he was killed in an accident. While I was at home deciding what color to paint the nursery. As you well know, I still haven't recovered. I couldn't reconcile my best and worst day then, and I can't now, close to two years later.
The words swam before Ainsley Davis's eyes. Her curly cursive handwriting looked just like it had in junior high. She reread the sentences and wondered how old her daughter would be when she read them. Of course, Dr. Sinclair said no one ever had to read the journal. But writing her story seemed pointless if no one ever read it. Where was the therapy in that? After a couple of days of aimless journaling, she'd decided to write each entry with Faith in mind.
Maybe this whole thing had been a bad idea. Anger and sadness warred inside her. She slammed the notebook shut and hurled it against the yellow wall. Her mom's idea of cheery.
Faith's startled cry sounded from the next room.
I am the worst mother ever.
Ainsley wiped the tears off her face and picked up the notebook. She tiptoed across the hall and peeked into her daughter's room. Faith's eyes were closed, and her gentle breathing caused her chest to rise and fall. It looked like she had lulled herself back to sleep. Thank goodness she hadn't inherited Ainsley's insomnia. Which had only worsened since Brad's death.
"What's the ruckus?" Patricia Garrett asked, stepping into the basement apartment Ainsley had lived in for the better part of two years.
Ainsley met her mother's inquisitive gaze. "Nothing. I'm nearly finished packing." She motioned toward the boxes stacked against the wall, each of them labeled clearly. "Brad's parents are coming tomorrow to go through the things that are in storage."
"Are you sure there's nothing there you want to keep?" Mom furrowed her brow. "Faith might want some of her father's things once she gets a little bit older."
Ainsley shook her head. "I've already talked to Sandra about it. Anything sentimental can be Faith's if she ever wants it." She shrugged. "They'll keep his things at their house in the meantime. You know they have that huge attic that's nearly empty."
Mom nodded and sank onto the lumpy, striped sofa. "Speaking of empty, this house is going to seem empty without you and Faith here." She patted the sofa cushion and motioned for Ainsley to sit down.
Ainsley perched on the couch next to her mother. If only she could curl up in a ball and let Mom play with her hair, like when she was a little girl. But instead, she had her own little girl. And it was time to start making their own life together. Past time, really. "It's going to be an adjustment for all of us. This is the only home Faith has ever known. She's going to miss you and Dad so much." She grabbed Mom's hand. "And so am I."
Mom reached over and smoothed Ainsley's long, dark red hair. "Are you sure about this, honey? No one is forcing you to go yet. You have all the time in the world."
If there was one thing that her husband's untimely death had taught Ainsley, it was that she didn't have all the time in the world. And no matter how unprepared she felt, the time had come to get out of the hiding place her parents' basement had turned into. "I'm sure."
"Your father is going to pick the moving van up in the morning." Mom rose from her spot on the couch. "He wants to be loaded and on the road by noon. It's going to be a long day. You should get some sleep."
Ainsley's mouth twisted into a tiny smile. "I wish it were that easy." When sleep did come, usually in random fits, her dreams were plagued with memories of Brad. Images of their wedding, life together, and his funeral flashed through her subconscious each night.
Mom paused at the steps that led up to the main floor. "Your dad says some of the pills on the market today have very little side effects. And they could help you a lot."
Ainsley rolled her eyes. "I've told you before that I don't like taking pharmaceuticals. I'll just stick to natural remedies. Maybe valerian root or some nice chamomile tea."
Mom snorted. "The fact that the daughter of a physician is so anti-doctor, anti-prescription drug is a mystery to me." She shook her head. "Not to mention how much it hurts his feelings. Good night, dear."
"Night." Ainsley's preference for natural remedies proved to be a constant source of conflict between herself and her parents. As soon as she'd been able to make her own decisions about her health, she'd opted for homeopathic care rather than traditional. But that was about the only thing she and her parents didn't see eye-to-eye on, and since Brad's accident, she'd been happy in their house. At least, she'd been as happy as her grief would allow. And tomorrow? Her friend Vickie had called it the first day of the rest of her life. But there was something no one knew. Not her friends, her family, or her therapist. Something that so far, she'd only confessed to God. Ainsley was pretty sure the biggest part of her had died along with Brad in that awful fire. And a change in location wasn't going to change the void she felt inside.
* * *
Ainsley couldn't shake the nerves in her stomach as she watched her dad and brother load her belongings into the moving van. With each box that went in, she realized there was no turning back. Today, she returned to her job as a park ranger at the Grand Canyon, ready or not.
"Here's Rachel and Julie," Mom said as Ainsley's sister and niece pulled into the driveway. "I hope having Julie stay with you for the summer is a good idea."
Ainsley hoped the same thing. But it meant Faith didn't have to go to day care right away. What a huge relief. "Hi, sis." Ainsley hugged her older sister Rachel. "Thanks for loaning me your kid for the summer." She grinned and watched as Julie dramatically lugged a suitcase from the backseat. With her long legs and strawberry blond hair, she was a dead ringer for a teenage Rachel.
Rachel raised an eyebrow. "I should be the one thanking you. Just wait until Faith is nearly eighteen, and you'll understand. If Julie and Dave had to stay under the same roof this summer, I'm pretty sure I'd have to be committed."
"Is she still upset?" Mom asked.
"She's fighting both of us tooth and nail. Julie's always been a good girl. That boy is no good for her, though. And she knows it, deep down. But she's too stubborn to admit it." Rachel sighed. "I don't know what we'd do if you weren't looking for a babysitter this summer. Julie needs to be as far away from Heath as possible. I think she'll have a good time once she's actually there."
"Don't talk about me like I'm not here." Julie dragged her stuffed pink suitcase over to where the older women stood. "I can totally hear you."
Excerpted from Love is Grand by Annalisa Daughety. Copyright © 2010 Annalisa Daughety. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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