THE FIRST NOVEL Allison wrote, published shortly after her graduating from university, was a romance fiction about a regular college girl named Alice Reed, her story of falling in love with an egocentric, preppy east coaster. Her second novel, also her most recent, was a sequel of the first, about the couple’s rocky newlywed life. It was put in print at the start of March this year, and since then she had been on a break.
Much praise to her new medication, for the first time in forever, she slept through last night. Feeling somewhat reenergized, as soon as she rose this morning, she was ambitious to put some ideas down for her next book. Although, an hour into brainstorming she was still just sitting, staring blank at the computer screen. The pad of sketch paper she laid out to use for scribbling notes was still plain white, with the four-thousand-dollar fountain pen her father got her one birthday lying on top, barely touched. With time, her mind only wandered further, overloading itself with anxiety to see Adrian, despite many mental attempts to try overcoming it.
At nine-thirty, she came to Anne Marie Bistro — a mom-and-pop restaurant she and her brother once held dear. The couple who owned the place were at one time acquaintances of their parents after the family moved to Ship’s Haven thirteen years ago. She used to babysit their son, Chris, occasionally, when he was still in elementary school.
“Ms. Allie! Long time no see,” he greeted her with a big smile.
“Chris? Is that really you?”
“You better believe it.”
“Wow. It’s been a while. You look… different.”
“I hope it’s good different.”
“Heh. Sit anywhere you like. I will bring over some lemonade.”
For a Tuesday morning, business was slow as usual. With all the empty seats to choose from, Allison aimed for a specific booth by the window and headed towards it. It had been years since her last visit. Not much of its interior had changed, nor had that sweet aroma from baking pastries combined with fresh pots of coffee brewing. The red hanging light was still in use, and the tufted-back, upholstered bench on which she sat felt to be the same softness. Even the menu on the table looked to be identical to what she remembered.
Speaking of change, the most obvious was Chris. Formerly a chubby boy, he had grown into a striking teen, with a killer face and height equivalent to that of a fashion model. He stopped over at her table, set down a tall glass of peach lemonade, and spoke to her with much enthusiasm.
“When you used to come over for breakfast at our house, you would specifically ask for lemonade. My mom always made sure we had at least one carton in the fridge ready for you the day before. I thought it was strange at first, the concept of drinking anything else besides milk at your first meal, but believe me, once I started to do the same, it drove my parents absolutely nuts.”
“I forgot how old you were when I first babysat you. It feels like such a long time ago.”
“I was six and you were twelve. I don’t believe I told you, but I had a huge crush on you for the longest time.”
“No you didn’t. But now that I know, I’m flattered.”
“Haha. You don’t have to always be so polite towards me. I know I was fat back then and I admit it, proudly.”
“You weren’t really that fat.”
“Come on! A six-year-old boy weighing 59 pounds. I wasn’t even tall for my age.”
His self-deprecating sense of humor got her to giggle. “I assume you are all done with high school. Are you in college now?”
“Nah. Dad is considering having me take over the business in two years. He said Nana would have loved me to if she were still alive. Plus, it will give him and Mom a good excuse to retire early.”
“That sounds like good news, but is that what you want to do?”
“Honestly, I’m not totally against the idea. I know it sounds crazy because I’m only nineteen going on twenty, and I definitely still have plenty to learn before I’m really ready for such a big responsibility, but I think I can manage. It’s better doing this than sticking to a path that I know I will hate. I was never much of a student, I’d prefer not to step foot into another classroom again.”
“Well, I believe in you, always have.”
His face lit up with gratitude. “You know what? I’m gonna bring you something on the house. What would you like? Anything on the menu, you name it.”
Even though she was not hungry, out of respect, she asked for a blueberry muffin. Meanwhile, four obese men arrived at the door. Chris excused himself and headed for them.
“Hello, Jeffrey. Up top,” he greeted one of them, high-fiving him.
“Is your dad in, Chris?”
“No, unfortunately. He went early in the morning to the farmer’s market.”
“So he left you in charge again?”
“That’s right. He said he would be back by ten…, which is now basically. In that case, I can only assume he’s gone home, sipping coffee, and left me slaving away here all by myself.”
“Don’t you worry son,” another man told him, “We’ll make sure to throw in a big tip or two for you at the end of our meals.”
“Heh. Thanks for the support guys. I was partially joking there. I do have Sheryl and two others here with me so I’m not totally alone. But I wouldn’t mind the big tip, that is, of course, if my service is exceptional.”
“This boy’s got his old man’s tongue, I tell you,” a third man said, and then they all chuckled. Even Allison smiled at his quick wit. One by one, she watched them follow him to their table.
After the last man moved on, another man, a rather skinny one, emerged. She got nervous at the sight of him standing there, head down with his hands tucked in his pocket. It was Adrian, in his usual long-sleeve Henley and straight blue jeans. When he eventually looked up, his eyes shifted to the booth where she was and his face beamed.
“I had a feeling you were going to pick this booth,” he said right when he got there, scooting onto the bench from across her. “We used to sit here like this, face to face, and just chat and laugh about anything and everything that came to our minds. Do you remember?”
He continued eagerly. “One day it was raining cats and dogs, I sat here for a long time thinking you might not show but then you did. As we prattled on, you couldn’t stop sneezing. I swear I saw snot and boogers just fly out of your nose.”
“No you did not!” she exclaimed, embarrassingly, barely abstaining her teeth from showing as a smile formed.
“Alright. I might have over exaggerated there, but then there’s this one other time…”
All the while listening, Allison traced over his pallid complexion, taking a long look at her brother. He might seem thinner than the last time she saw him, but those big, bright eyes of his were lively as ever.
He took to browsing through the menu. “I remember you always, always chose their blueberry muffins over their cheesecake. One time I asked you why, you said, or I should say, insisted, ‘Because blueberries are just healthier than cheese.’ And you were only serious. Man, I laughed so hard at that one.” Just when he was mimicking Allison’s voice on her part, Chris happened to bring over the complimentary blueberry muffin she asked for. Subsequently when Adrian saw it, he just lost it, bursting out cackling close to tears.
Allison was put at ease as the coincidence transpired, while Chris, unaffected by Adrian’s outburst, carried on to ask her, “Can I get you anything else?”
She looked to her brother and asked him, “Do you want something?”
Still very much caught up in his own bout of laughter, he could hardly respond “no.”
“I think we are fine here, thank you, Chris.”
Chris looked strangely at them for a second before moving on.
Adrian finally mustered the strength to calm down. Like always, he outright displayed keen interest in his little sister’s problems and intended to console her if not solve them for her.
“So, tell me. What happened yesterday?”
Allison’s momentary gaiety immediately returned to a serious mood. “It’s Dan. We had a fight.”
“Do I even need to guess? It’s about that Megan.”
She nodded, looking away shamefully.
“That will pass. I have no doubt.”
“I don’t know if I will ever get over what happened between them.”
“You will. Like all wounds do eventually heal, this one just takes longer. In the meantime, you must work on your relationship or it will rot away inch by inch before you realize it. You can trust me on this one.”
“Why? How are things between you and Miranda?”
“We fucked two days ago, forgive my profanity, but honestly, just one Molly was enough to get her rolling through the night.”
“I didn’t mean that… but at least it sounds like you guys made up.”
“You know her, she’s as crazy as I am. I can barely track down what she does on a daily basis anymore, or who she hangs out with. I do have my suspicions though.”
“What sort of suspicions?”
Suddenly uneasy, he planted his elbow on the windowsill and his cheek his fist, rubbing his bottom lip with his pinky. His eyes stared out at the street as he pondered over something on his mind before he finally let it out. “I think... I think she’s sleeping with someone else.”
“What? What are you basing this on?”
“One of my buddies saw her at a bar heading to the bathroom with a guy and coming back out together looking all flushed.”
“That’s not good…”
“You are right it’s not.”
“Are you sure your friend didn’t make a mistake?”
“No… It’s only a suspicion like I said. I might confront her about it later or I might not… In either case, let’s forget that bitch. This is about you. I came to talk to you about you. Speaking of which, how’s your sex life going?”
“What’s the big deal? We talk about that stuff.”
“I know, it’s just… can’t you bring it down a notch?” she asked him quietly, slouching into her seat.
Adrian turned to see a few alerted diners looking their way and chuckled. “Haha. I’m sorry, I should have been more careful with my volume I suppose. Anyway, tell me about it.”
“Well… it’s stopped.”
“Since… a few months ago.”
“That’s not saying much.”
“It’s not all his fault. Part of it is my insecurity.”
“Well, sometimes… sometimes when I think of them together, it makes me feel terrible, like I want to throw up all over again and I don’t want him to touch me.”
“Throw up? No, not since that first week after I found out about them, after Dan confessed.”
“And by ‘together,’ you mean sexually?”
She nodded. “Their kisses, bodies rubbing and so forth, everything that could happen during sex —”
“Then don’t think about those. You know you tend to overthink things.”
“I can’t help it. It’s not like I’m making it all up.”
“Screw them then! I say screw the past!”
“Isn’t she dead?”
“Has she been buried?”
“Yes, two days ago. But —”
“There’s no ‘but,’ Allie, don’t you get it? Whatever happened between them is over and done with. She’s gone forever but you, you are still here, and that’s what counts. You have to let one thing go in order to gain another. Do you understand me?”
Allison did not respond for a while and just sat there, down. Hating to see her like that for nothing, he was ready to hammer some sense into her for good.
“Look at me, Allie. I said look at me…”
But upon noticing tears coming down her cheeks, he softened up. “Don’t cry. There’s nothing worth crying for here.” He reached out to give her face an endearing stroke, wiping them off with his thumbs. “You are stronger than you think. If only you would believe in yourself more —”
“I have missed you, Adrian… a lot,” she blurted out.
He smiled. “I know.”
“Mom kept warning me to stay away from you. She said you got yourself into some serious trouble again.”
“Pah! What else does she expect from the black sheep of the family.”
“So, you did?”
He gave her a glance and looked out the window, replying sort of reluctantly, “If it’s not drugs it would be something else. I’m never gonna be good enough...”
“Oh, Adrian —”
“But you mustn’t listen to her!” he yelled, smacking his fist onto the table. “You have no idea what it’s been like for me not being able to see you. Without someone to confide in, someone who understands, is essentially like going through hell every day, not knowing you are dead and officially mean nothing to nobody anymore, and I’m not overstating it.”
“I’m sorry… I don’t know what to say.”
“I’m asking you to please, never dismiss me like you did again. You need me just as much as I need you. Deep, deep down you have to know that.”
“You know, I never meant to hurt you.”
“So promise me. It will make me feel better knowing it’s a promise.”
His bright eyes turned sad, changing from green to gray. She wanted to make this right for him and now before any distractions could deter her from doing so.
“Okay,” she began, wrapping her hands over his angry fist, pledging to him, “I promise.”