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Authors: Melanie Shawn

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BOOK: Sweet Reunion
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Mentally going through the
checklist of things that needed to be taken care of, Amanda noted that tomorrow
was the reading of her father’s will. She shuddered. Aside from the funeral
service, was there anything that made a death more final than the reading of a
person’s will? At least she would have Geoffrey there by her side.

Yes, she chided herself; she
still had Geoffrey, her boyfriend of two years. She had been going on and on to
herself about how alone she was in the world, but she still had Geoffrey. She
wondered briefly why he hadn’t immediately sprung to her mind when thinking
about the people she still had in her life, to take care of her, and for her to
take care of.

She supposed it might be
because he wasn’t what you would call soft and cuddly. He wasn’t emotive. He
was reserved, and patrician, and every bit as taciturn as his polished Upper
East Side appearance would lead one to believe that he was.

She conjured a mental image
of him – tall, lean, and with a golden, healthy tan. His features were even and
handsome, like the quintessential East Coast rich boy's should be. His blonde
hair fell perfectly in place, as if he were able to keep as tight a reign on
each individual hair as he did on his bearing and emotions. Gazing out from
beneath that perfectly coiffed hair were a pair of cool brown eyes, which for
all their objective physical perfection, sometimes unnerved Amanda because she
couldn't quite get a read on what was going on behind them.

Amanda passed the hallway
mirror and caught a glimpse of herself in it. It occurred to her that her image
contrasted in almost every way with Geoffrey's, she had never thought of it in
quite that way before. Where he stood an impressive six feet tall, she rose to
only five feet and two inches. Where Geoffrey's sandy hair was impeccably tame,
hers was a mass of golden waves, which she had neither the time nor the
patience to wrangle. Most days, it was hastily whipped up in a slapdash
ponytail, from which locks were constantly trying to escape.

While Geoffrey's skin had a
sunkissed glow to it, one that seemed to hint at a recent sailing trip or round
of afternoon golf, Amanda's skin was porcelain doll fair, with rosy pink cheeks
and naturally red, full lips contrasting with her creamy skin.

And, lastly, the biggest
difference – their eyes. While Geoffrey's brown eyes were cool and assessing,
Amanda's sapphire blue eyes were constantly sparking with fiery emotion, or
burning with bubbling joy, or freezing in icy despair. In short, any emotion
that Amanda felt, no matter how fleeting, was always on immediate display in
her expressive, bright blue eyes.

Geoffrey didn’t live in Hope
Falls, in fact, he didn’t even like it in Hope Falls. Amanda saw him once or
twice a month when he flew into Lake Tahoe, which was a 45 minute winding, pine
tree lined drive away. Of course, she always made the trip into the city to see
him. It was actually a somewhat odd experience for her to see him here in Hope
Falls, where he had been spending quite a bit of time since her father’s death,
to help her get his affairs in order. Of course, he still wouldn’t deign to
stay
in Hope Falls, but at least he’d been making the drive up to see her.

It seemed odd to Amanda that
her father’s affairs were all he ever mentioned helping her with. He never
asked her how she was doing, or if she wanted or needed to talk. She supposed
that was simply his reserved, unemotional way. But, damn, she could use someone
to talk to!

Maybe she had been spoiled
by her father, and his constant concern for her. There was nothing so important
that Parker Jacobs wouldn’t drop it at a moment’s notice if he saw his only
daughter crying. She had depended on her father all her life, but it had really
solidified after they had lost Amanda's mother to cancer when Amanda was 8, and
Parker had become all she had, the only stable figure she had in her life. When
she cried, she had  no one else to turn to, but she hadn't needed anyone.

He would fold her up in his
arms and utter the phrase that had been effective when she was 2, and had
remained so well into her 20s. “Tell me about it, baby,” he’d say. And she
would. There was nothing she could keep from her father.

Geoffrey, on the other hand?
He seemed singularly unmoved by her tears. “Amanda,” he had said stiffly on
more than one occasion this week when she’d lost control and broken down, “I
realize this is a difficult time but you really must make some sort of an
effort to keep yourself together.”

Yes, that was it. Maybe
she’d been spoiled. Maybe other men just weren’t like her father, as caring, as
pure-hearted, and as concerned for her. After all, she’d never met another man
like him. No other man she’d ever met had made her feel as safe, as loved, as
thoroughly understood as her Dad. Except, of course...NO! Amanda stopped
herself; best not to think of him now. There was enough on her plate without
adding him into the mix. Not to mention, she’d been a teenager then. Puppy
love! Infatuation! Not real.

This was real, Geoffrey was
real, and grown up love was not like fairy tales. Prince Charming was not going
to swoop in and wrap her in his arms and say, “Tell me about it, baby.”  No. He
was, apparently, going to look her up and down with a vaguely disdainful
expression on his face and tell her to pull herself together. But that was
fine. Maybe that’s what she really needed right now, a swift kick in the rear.

Still, she couldn’t help but
be wistful when thinking of her teenage years. They’d been so sweet. She had
her Dad. She had her three best friends - Lauren, Karina, and Samantha - and
they’d spent every waking moment either together or talking on the phone. The
Fabulous Four, Nothing We Can’t Accomplish! That was their motto. Of course,
looking back now through adult eyes, she recognized it as typical teenage
hubris - but when they’d pumped their fists in the air and yelled it together:

“THE FABULOUS FOUR, NOTHING
WE CAN’T ACCOMPLISH!”

A
nd then collapsed in
giggles and hugs...well, dammit, it had felt true! If she was honest, just
remembering it now was enough to make it almost feel true again.

And, of course, yes. In her
teenage years, there was...her thoughts trailed off into silence.

Amanda sighed. She couldn’t
even bear to think his name? That was silly. She needed to say it, to take away
its power. His power.

She closed her eyes and took
a deep breath.

“Justin,” she said aloud.
“There was Justin.”

Chapter 2

Just then, a loud knock
startled Amanda out of her reverie. As she moved toward the front door, Teddy
meandering along at her heels, she heard laughter. Not just any laughter,
though. Three very distinct laughs intermingled with one another, and they were
three laughs she hadn’t heard in over a decade. It couldn’t be. Could it?

Amanda opened the door to
find her three oldest and dearest friends standing on her front porch. She was
immediately transported back to a time when she felt safe, when she felt happy,
when she felt like the world held nothing but glorious possibilities, because
what else could it possibly hold?

She took a look at her old
friends, drinking in their appearances, reveling in the way that they had
barely changed since all three of them had been teenagers.

First, there was Lauren,
tall and statuesque, her platinum blonde hair swept back in a chignon, her deep
brown doe-like eyes sparkling with excitement at seeing Amanda. At five foot
eleven, she stood tall – the tallest of the four of them – and elegant, like
some gorgeous and enigmatic Greek goddess statue come to life. She was the most
pragmatic of the four friends, and it showed in her straight-backed bearing,
and the strong and confident way that she held her shoulders back when she
stood, even in the most casual of situations.

Next was Sam, short and cute
as a button, with a shock of medium length auburn hair and a spray of freckles
dotting her nose and cheeks. When the four were in high school, her hair had
been lighter, more in the neighborhood of strawberry blonde. Now that the color
had deepened into this darker and richer shade, it gave Sam a more mature
appearance. If you looked hard, you could still see shades of the adorable
pixie she had been when the girls had first become friends in high school, but
it was visible through the lens of the strong, capable and athletic woman that
she had grown into.

Lastly, there was lithe and
lovely Karina, the lone dark beauty among the bunch. Her long glossy black hair
hung down her back in waves, falling nearly all the way to her waist, and her
onyx eyes twinkled in the sunlight, setting off the golden tones in her olive
skin. There was natural grace apparent in her every stance and movement, and of
the four of them, she was the one that could most closely be described as
having a natural dancer's build.

The minute Amanda saw
Lauren, Karina, and Samantha standing together again on her front porch, she
did something that was a very UN-fabulous four-like thing to do. She burst into
tears. And then immediately began to laugh. And then started to sob again.

“I think I’m losing my
mind!” was all she could choke out as her friends swarmed around her and
hustled her over to the couch.

“You probably are!” Karina
intoned with her trademark dry delivery, “But look on the bright side. At least
we’re here to help you find it!”

Amanda chuckled ruefully,
“True! And it does seem like all I’ve been doing this week is crying. So maybe
laughing and crying at the same time is actually a step in the right
direction.”

“Well, of course you’ve been
crying. You’ve been through a trauma.” Lauren, always the matter of fact one,
added. “That’s nothing to be surprised about.”

Amanda shook her head in
amazement. “I can’t believe you girls are here! Give me a hug!” She squeezed
each of them in turn, and as the comfort of being in her old friends’ embraces
washed over her, it seemed like she simply couldn’t stop hugging them. Before
too long, all four of them were standing in Amanda’s living room, hanging onto
each other for dear life, and Amanda wasn’t the only one laughing and crying at
the same time.

“Well!” Samantha exclaimed
when they finally parted, “That was certainly quite a display. Maybe it’s an
indication that the Fabulous Four shouldn’t wait ten years before getting
together again.”

“Maybe it’s an indication
that we need some wine!” Karina added, and the other three agreed
wholeheartedly.

Amanda started into the
kitchen, but Lauren stopped her. “Hey, Mand,” she said, “You sit down and
relax, I’ve got this. I may not have been in your house since I was under 21,
but do you think that means I don’t remember where your Dad kept his alcohol?”

Amanda settled on the couch.
She breathed a sigh of relief, the first one in 6 days. Her friends were here.
They would help. Everything would be OK. The Fabulous Four. Nothing we can’t
accomplish. Nothing.

Lauren returned with four
wine glasses and a bottle each of red and white. As the girls poured their
wine, Amanda said, “First things first. Where are you staying? Are you at Sue
Ann's?”

Lauren shook her head,
“That's probably where we'll end up, but we wanted to come straight over here
and check on you first.”

Amanda said, “Well, thank
you, I appreciate that. And I'm really glad you did, because it's silly for you
to be staying at Sue Ann's. If you'd like to stay here, I'd love to have you!”

“Are you sure you're up for
house guests, Mand?” Lauren said skeptically.

“Oh, God, yes!” Amanda
exclaimed with relief, “I've been so up in my head, rattling around in this
house alone, you have no idea! You'd be saving my sanity, I swear to you!”

“Well, then, it's settled,”
Karina said decisively, “We'll stay here. We'll go get our bags out of the
car....after this glass of wine, of course.”

“Of course!” the other three
agreed with a laugh.

Amanda smiled disbelievingly,
“I really can’t believe you’re here. How on earth did you even know that my Dad
had died?”

“Well,” Karina said, “My
grandmother posted it on Facebook, believe it or not.”

“Wow, I never even thought
of that. I’m so technologically backward, it didn’t even occur to me.”

“Well, it’s a good thing
that my 71 year old Native American grandmother is more tech savvy than you,
Mand. Although it doesn’t surprise me. You’re such a romantic. I can much more
easily see you penning an epistle on rose-embossed stationary than sending a
text.”

“Sending a what?” Amanda
asked innocently.

Karina’s jaw dropped,
“Wow...I was just kidding!”

Amanda smiled mischievously,
“So was I, Kar.”

They all dissolved into
laughter, and Amanda felt like a teenager again. “Still, it does surprise me
that the very regal and reserved Renata Blackstone would do something like open
up a Facebook account.”

Karina shrugged, “Well, it’s
really the best way for her to keep up with me. I tour almost 300 days a year,
you know. So she can always know what city I’m in.”

“Oh, yes!” Samantha
exclaimed, “Ladies, I forgot that we are in the presence of Karina Black,
chart-topping sensation extraordinaire. Should we have asked for your
autograph? What’s the protocol?”

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