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He’d never seen Jeff so torn up.

“I take it the evening didn’t go as planned.”

“You could say that.”

“So she said no?”
 
Drew reached for the bottle and took a drink.

“She broke up with me before I even asked.”
 

That
was a shock.
 
Anna broke up with Jeff?
 

He handed the bottle to his friend, watching as Jeff took a long swig.
 

“Why?”
 

“She’s not in love with me anymore, apparently.”
 
Jeff took another swig from the bottle.
 

“Wow.”
 

“Yep.”

They fell silent for a long while, passing the bottle back and forth, each lost in their own thoughts.

Drew couldn’t believe it, even though the evidence was sitting right beside him.
 

Jeff and Anna were done—it just didn’t seem possible.
 
They had been together for so long, and even though Drew didn’t understand it, they had seemed happy.
 
What was the point of staying with someone that long if you were just going to break up?

It didn’t make sense.
 

“So what now?”

“I go back to Chicago, I guess.”
 

He wasn’t even going to fight for her?
 
Wasn’t that kind of stupid?
 
Shouldn’t he try to make a stand or something?
 
Wasn’t that what the guys in the movies did?

“What about Anna?”
 
Jeff shrugged.
 

“She said she’s going to drop my stuff off here.”

“Here?
 
Why?”
 
Jeff and Anna had broken up.
 
There was no longer any need for her to be in Drew’s life.
 
Right?

“I don’t know.
 
I guess she figures you’ll see me before she does.”
 
Jeff stared at the bottle on the coffee table in front of him for a moment before reaching out and finishing it off.
 
“I don’t know, Drew.
 
Maybe she’s right.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure you two aren’t going to be spending much time together—”

“No, I mean maybe she’s right.
 
Maybe something is missing.”
 
Jeff sighed, shaking his head.
 
“I don’t know.
 
I don’t even know what I’m talking about.
 
I don’t think I’ve been this drunk since college.”
 

“Halloween party.
 
Senior year.”
 
Drew remembered.
 
That
had been a fun night.
 

“You know the craziest part?”
 
Drew turned to look at his friend.
 
“I still love her.”

“It’s only been six hours since you broke up.
 
I think that’s expected.”
 
Drew sighed, rising to his feet.
 
“You should get some sleep, man.
 
It’ll be better in the morning.”

“No, it won’t.”

“Well, you’ll feel so lousy from the hangover that you won’t be able to concentrate on anything else.”

 

Chapter Two

 

 

It was the Monday following her break-up with Jeff and Anna was still having a hard time looking at herself.
 
It didn’t matter how much Alice told her she’d done the right thing.
 
It didn’t matter that she
knew
she’d done the right thing.
 

Nothing made it any easier.
 

She’d spent all day yesterday holed up inside her bedroom, headphones on, a sketchpad in front of her.
 
It was her usual method of distraction whenever she was upset about something.
 
She always made her best attempt at losing herself in the music as it poured through the headphones, trying to imagine a happier time.

Of course she hadn’t been able to draw anything.
 
Nothing worthwhile, anyway.
 

She’d made a few sketches of the cottage Nana lived in, but nothing turned out right.
 
The cottage looked too small, the trees too large, and the creek too far away.
 

Every time she tried to draw a line, she hated it.
 

That too was typical.
 
Anna was rarely ever satisfied with her own work.
 

She closed her eyes for a moment, forcing herself to take a deep breath.
 

What she needed to do was to relax.

When she heard a horn honking, she jerked her eyes open and felt her cheeks color as she realized the light had turned green and she was officially holding up traffic.
 
She pressed her foot to the gas quick and hard, jolting forward.
 

She needed a distraction.
 

Anna reached forward and turned the radio up, flipping through the stations in some vain attempt to find actual music instead of commercials or talking.
 

Finally, the soothing sounds of an alternative rock band filled the car and Anna smiled softly.
 
Yes, this was much better.
 

The peaceful feeling didn’t last long, however.
 
As soon as the song ended, Anna immediately regretted stopping on this station.
 

“I just don’t see it, Dave.
 
What is the sense in monogamy?
 
I mean, seriously—it isn’t even human nature.”
 
She wanted to turn it off the moment she heard his voice, but for whatever reason, she couldn’t do it.
 

“Oh, boy.
 
Here we go with another anti-love rant from the infamous doctor Whitman.”
 
Another guy
said,
his tone sarcastic.
 
“Okay, Drew.
 
Let’s hear today’s sermon.”

“I’m being serious.”
 
Drew told his co-host.
 
Dave and Drew in the Morning
was easily the most popular morning radio show in the Columbus area.
 
Everyone listened to the duo, bantering back and forth.
 

Everyone except Anna.
 
She usually made a point of avoiding the early morning talk show.
 
Not because she didn’t find them entertaining or even funny.
 
She even enjoyed the music.
 

She just couldn’t stand listening to Drew.

“Oh, I know you are.”
 
Anna could hear Dave’s quiet laughter in the background.
 

“It just seems like such a big waste of energy.
 
You put so much time and effort into making some girl happy—and for what?
 
For her to break up with you the very night you plan on proposing?”
 
Anna felt her cheeks flare once again, suddenly very certain to avoid making eye contact with other nearby drivers.
 

“That is kind of harsh, dude.”
 
Dave agreed.

“That’s what I’m saying.
 
Plus, I mean, imagine how many other girls this guy could have had.
 
I know all you ladies out there are probably calling me a pig right now, but it goes both ways.
 
I’m not saying that it’s only a guy’s right to play the field.
 
I say it goes both ways.
 
Monogamy, relationships…just such a waste of time.
 
Humans weren’t made for love.
 
They were made for passion.”

Well, Drew had one thing right at least.
 
“Pig,

 
she
muttered under her breath as she reached forward and stabbed at any button on the radio, eager to be rid of him.

He hadn’t changed a bit since
college, that
much was obvious.
 

She remembered their first meeting, once again blushing.
 
She quickly turned her blush into a scowl though, remembering how angry she’d been with him.

She was even more angry seven years later, no longer caught up in his confidence and charm.
 

That was Drew Whitman for you.
 
Always running his mouth.

Radio broadcasting had been the perfect career choice for him.

It was hard to believe that she and Jeff had met only because of Drew.
 
She remembered, after the night of the party, she and Drew had begun to bump into each other all over the place.
 
Concerts, campus, even the library.
 

Somehow, he had convinced her to meet him for coffee at a local café.
 
They had run into Jeff there, and the rest…

The rest had led her here, to this very place.
 
She sighed as she pulled into her normal parking place, running her hand through her hair.
 

Well, regardless of what had happened in her personal life, she could at least be thankful for her vocational life.
 
Even though the next few hours would be spent pouring over paperwork and budgets, she couldn’t deny the little thrill working it’s way through her.

This
she could be proud of.
 

The idea had come to her during her senior year of high school.
 
She had, as usual, been involved with the wrong guy.
 
They had been busted for underage drinking and she had been sentenced to community service.
 

Anna had found her way here, to this very community center, where she had begun working with kids much younger than herself—most of them forced to be here by their parents and very few there by choice.
 

It wasn’t as if she could really blame them.
 
The community center had been severely lacking in even the most basic needs for entertainment.
 
They’d had a few old, warped basketballs, a TV that only played VHS, and a pretty ragged library.
 
Outside wasn’t much better, with only one set of swings and a sandbox Anna was almost afraid to touch.
 
Not to mention the dark, dank décor…

As she breezed through the doors, she immediately felt her mood improve.
 

She had continued to work with the community center long after she’d completed her required hours, bettering things little by little.
 
She was proud to see all of the changes she had helped bring about the place.
 
At first, it had only been little things—like paint, a few new basketballs, an old foosball table she had talked a frat house into donating.
 

But eventually, she began to set her sites much higher.
 

An updated entertainment center had been next, including a stereo, DVD player with a library of DVDs, and a room of furniture.
 
She had scoured the campus then, begging for any and all donations.
 

Once she graduated college, the community center had brought her on as a full time employee.
 
Anna had by then decided that she was going to make the community center a place kids actually
wanted
to hang out.
 
Her neighborhood had been steadily declining since she was a kid, and things seemed to be at an all-time low.
 
She wanted to give kids an alternative to that lifestyle.

She smiled at the posters hanging on the walls, advertising various activity nights.
 
They hosted movie nights every Friday and Saturday night, some sort of a dance in the gym at least once a month, and basketball games throughout the week.
 
She’d also instituted a tutoring program and had
somehow
convinced the city to give her the okay for internet access—so long as she could come up with the computers.
 

The next battle was her biggest one so far.
 

She had already asked for a daycare to be added to the center—but in addition to that, she had decided that she wanted these kids to have the opportunity to find a creative outlet.

She had planned to build them a studio.

“Hey, Anna, how was your weekend?”
 
One of her co-workers asked as she passed through the employee lounge.
 

“Oh, it was great,

 
she
told the younger woman with a forced smile.
 
She could hear Drew’s voice sounding from the radio just a few feet away from her.
 
He was no longer talking about her, so that was a plus.
 
“How about yours?”
 

“Oh, you
know,
same
ol
’, same
ol
’.
 
Mikey’s
got an ear infection, so that’s a joy.”
 
The young woman, Crystal, rolled her eyes to show her sarcasm.
 
“But I finally printed some adorable shots of him playing in the snow with the puppy.
 
Remind me to show you them later on!”
 

“You know I can’t pass up on adorable baby and puppy pictures,

 
Anna
grinned and Crystal laughed, nodding her head.
 
She was at least five years younger than Anna, somehow managing working at the community center almost full-time, raising a toddler on her own, and still trying to finish her degree.

And she just got a new puppy for Christmas.
 

Anna couldn’t help but admire her.
 

“Oh, and I left those quotes from my brother on your desk.
 
He said that’s about the lowest he could go.”

“Thanks so much, Crystal!
 
I’ll take a look at them as soon as I get settled in here.”

She poured hot water into her mug and slipped back down the hall, finally sitting down at her desk.
 
The first thing she did was pull open one of the drawers and dig out a packet containing her usual morning tea.
 

Next, she turned on some music, this time opting for the mp3 player rather than risking having to listen to Drew Whitman rant about her again.

What business was it of his anyway?
 
Okay, so Jeff was his best friend.
 
So what?

And it hadn’t gone exactly the way Drew had made it seem.
 
It wasn’t as if Anna had ripped Jeff’s heart out and stomped on it.
 
As soon as Jeff calmed down and actually gave it some thought, he would realize that it hadn’t exactly come out of nowhere.
 
The distance between them had been growing for some time now, even before it became
literal
distance instead of only just figurative.
 

And what did Drew know about love anyway?
 
He was even worse than Alice when it came to having an actual
relationship
.
 

Anna took a deep breath and exhaled loudly before taking a sip from her tea.
 

Concentrate, Anna Marie.
 

She opened her eyes and set her mug aside, ready now to delve into business-as-usual.
 

 

~*~

 

Anna had always loved the arts.
 
Whether it was painting, drawing, music, dance…she loved it all.
 
She assumed she’d gotten it from her Nana, as she had lived her entire life as an artist.
 
Whenever Anna was upset or distraught over something, she could lose herself in a drawing or a certain song, and usually, it helped.
 

Alice was the same way, the two of them artists at their core.
 
It was what had always kept them so close, Anna had thought.
 
After she’d graduated high school, Anna had gone to school planning to major in art—until she realized what she actually wanted to do.
 
Alice had gone off on a cross-country trip, somehow ending up in Europe for almost a year before finally returning home with a purpose.

But now, with the economy such a disaster, Anna was devastated to see the arts disappearing from schools.
 
She and her sister had benefited so much from those programs, as broad as they may have been.

It was this decision that had led her to her latest, and largest, of goals.
 

The art studio.

She knew this was going to be difficult to get through.
 
The city had already eliminated the programs from the curriculum, which made clear to her where they stood on the subject.
 

But Anna knew that if she could only show them what a benefit to the community it would be—how much of a difference it could make for these kids, who had no outlet for their anger or frustration…

She knew it could make a difference.
 

Convincing the city…well, she would do whatever it took.

BOOK: Single, Available, and Completely Attached
11.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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