Authors: Melanie Shawn
He could remember it as
clearly as if it had happened yesterday. It hadn't been any kind of a special
occasion; it was one moment out of the thousands they'd spent together, one
ordinary morning, just like any other.
He had come down for
breakfast that morning, walked into the kitchen and seen Amanda, and for some
reason that he would never be able to truly pinpoint, had seen her that day as
if it was the first time he had laid eyes on her.
Something about the way her
lovely golden head was angelically bent over her cereal, the graceful way her
hand moved the spoon from the bowl to her mouth and the almost sensual curve of
her fingers as she held it. The way that her shoulders rounded, the shape of
her long and lovely neck. The sparkle in her blue eyes when she looked up and
saw him. The supple shape of her lips as they curved into a wide smile at the
sight of him.
All of these things that he
had seen every single day, hundreds upon hundreds of times, but never really
noticed before conspired as one to create a picture of Amanda that he had never
before allowed himself to be conscious of – that of, not a kid, but a beautiful
The crazy thing about it
was, much like one of those puzzles where your eyes must pick out a word from
what at first looks like a meaningless mass of squiggles, once it was seen it
could not be Unseen.
Justin knew that this was
true because he tried and failed to do just that many times. He didn't want to
be in love with Amanda. He had been perfectly satisfied with their previous
platonic relationship. The teasing, the kidding around, the being able to talk
to each other about anything, the always having each others' back. All of that
had been perfectly fine with him. But now, it was ruined. Ruined by her beauty,
or possibly ruined by his lack of ability to control his reaction to her
beauty. Either way, ruined.
He had fallen in love with
her in that moment 11 years ago, and there was no going back.
Obviously he hadn't acted on
it. That would have been inexcusable. Forget the fact that it would have been a
crime. More importantly, it would have been a betrayal. The one thing in the
world that Justin knew, even at that young age, is that he would rather die
than betray Amanda and Parker Jacobs.
So, every single day, he
kept his emotions locked down. He strictly monitored every facial expression,
every word, every tone, every gesture, making sure that his true feelings never
shone through. One would think that he could have luxuriated in the fantasy of
what could be between the two of them after they were both adults, on equal
footing, but that was a luxury he never allowed himself, not for one moment. It
would have been disrespectful, and moreover, dangerous. You can't maintain
iron-willed control over a passion as fiery as Justin's when you let your
dedication to the task slip for even a millisecond. The only way that Justin
could make it through day after heady day in Amanda's presence was to make
himself believe with his entire heart, soul, and mind that they could never be
If there were ever even a
tiny chink in the steel armor of that belief, armor that he spent every single
day and especially night fortifying, Justin didn't know if he could control the
flood of emotion that would come rushing through. Much like a giant dam held
back by a single wall, the entire structure needed to remain sound in order to
hold back the tidal wave of destruction that would result from even the
And now he was seeing her
again, for the first time in a decade, a long decade during which he had missed
her every day.
It wasn't like she was
he thought about, obviously. He had gone on to create a life for himself. He
had friends, a job, even relationships. But if he had said that even a single
day had gone by in ten years when there wasn't at least a moment - one small
moment - when something had reminded him of Amanda and he had felt a
bittersweet longing inside, well, that would have been a bald-faced lie.
And now he was actually in
the same room with her. His entire body thrummed with that knowledge. He felt
the electric reality of it sizzling through every cell of his being.
He had no illusions that
this was going to be some joyous reunion of childhood chums. No. She probably
wanted to kill him.
She had probably been
planning his demise since Henry had told her that he was coming to her father's
will reading. He deserved it.
She had only been a child,
only 17, when she had breathlessly confessed her teenage crush to him. What he
should have done was calmly explain that their age difference made it
impossible, but that he was immensely flattered, and that she was amazing, so
it was nothing to do with her, and sent her away with her dignity intact. In
short, he should have handled the situation with some maturity.
But, because of his own
powerful feelings for her and his yearlong campaign to keep them under strict
control, that was not what he had been able to do. No, he had yelled at her.
Yelled! Screamed, even. He, who would never want to hurt her - who would die
rather than hurt her - had sent her running away from him in tears.
And now that she was seeing
him again, the very next time she was laying eyes on him after that long ago
humiliation, she had gotten so upset that she dropped her tray, and didn't even
seem to notice. Damn, Justin, he berated himself silently. You just cannot stop
upsetting this girl!
He tried to imagine what she
would do next. Would she walk up to him and slap him? That was fine. He
deserved worse than that. Would she coldly and icily ignore him? He could take
that as well. He did, indeed, know that he deserved that.
Would she scream at him? It
would serve him right; she would only be repaying him in kind. He could deal
It was what would come after
the initial anger that scared him. A thousand years of ongoing resentment. Yes.
He could deal with that. Spiteful snipes. Yes. He could deal with that.
But the worst possibility,
too painful to even consider, was that once her initial residual teenage
resentment had burned out, she would treat him as someone whom she remembered
only vaguely. A passing acquaintance, ten years gone from her life.
What if, when all was said
and done, it didn't really matter to her if he was around or not?
What if, when it came down
to it, she didn't really care?
How the hell would he ever
deal with that?
--- ~ ---
Amanda felt her senses coming back to her, not slowly or
bit by bit, but rather in a rush of frantic fur flying past her. She felt a
warm, furry bulk bump her legs as a dark and distinctly canine form barreled
past her into the room, nearly knocking her feet from under her. She did a
double take. Was that - could that be – Teddy?
Her calm, mellow black lab
hadn’t moved in a way that could be described as faster or more frantic than
“ambling” in probably two years. Could this be the same pooch? The question of
what could have inspired this sudden burst of frenetic energy was not one that
was difficult for Amanda to answer. Justin. Of course, Justin.
If there was anyone in the
world who loved Justin even more than Amanda had, it was sweet Teddy. As a
puppy, for the entire first year of his life, he had followed Justin around all
day long, like a duckling trailing after its mama. As Justin went about his
daily duties, performing tasks which took him to every corner of the sprawling
property, Teddy had never been more than a few feet away. Amanda often joked
that he was more Justin’s dog than he was hers. But she hadn’t minded. It had
felt like just one more thread in the bond that wove them together.
But Amanda would never have
guessed that the pup’s devotion, or even memory, would span the course of a
decade. Yet here he was, graying muzzle and all, frolicking around Justin’s
legs like he was a puppy again. Amanda couldn’t remember the last time she had
seen so much joy in his eyes.
She found herself laughing
along with the girls and Henry, and just like that, the tension was magically
Henry walked over to Justin,
gave him a hearty handshake, and said, “Welcome home, son. It’s been far too
long. And I am happy to see you, although maybe not as happy as some people in
the room.” He bent down and scratched Teddy’s head as he delivered this last
quip, but the clandestine wink he made sure that only Amanda could see let her
know that his words had not been referencing Teddy alone.
Amanda, blushing, turned and
began picking up the mason jars, now empty of iced tea, and placing them back
on the tray. She used the quick trip back and forth to the kitchen to put them
in the sink as an opportunity to get herself back under control - as under
control as she could be, at any rate. She vowed to herself that, even if she
was a shaken mess on the inside, her face, voice, and gestures would not betray
her. She needed to be strong, so that as far as Justin or anyone else in the
room would be able to tell, the return of her childhood soulmate was nothing
more than a blip on her radar.
Amanda stepped back into the
living room and smiled at all of the laughing voices still raised in greeting.
Karina in particular seemed quite pleased to see Justin. Amanda remembered that
Karina and Justin had always gotten along. They had always appreciated one
another’s sense of humor, and enjoyed a playful rivalry. Amanda hoped that this
dynamic between them, still obviously fully in force, would serve as a buffer
for her own interactions with Justin, until she could get a better handle on
controlling her internal turmoil.
Geoffrey’s stiff voice cut
through the merriment in the room. “Now that this person,” he looked pointedly
at Justin, “has arrived - and with such fanfare - perhaps we can begin.”
Henry shook his head and
chuckled ruefully. “Yes, son, you...for whatever doggone reason...will be happy
to know that we can now get this show on the road.”
“Yeah, Go Free,” said
Karina, as she settled into her place on the couch, “it’s a good point. Why are
you so incredibly eager to start these proceedings? Do you think Amanda’s
father left something to you or what? It’s kind of weird,” she finished with a
Geoffrey looked properly
offended, “My anticipation springs solely from my concern for Amanda, I assure you,
and not from any self-serving agenda. I can merely see how much of a toll the
process is taking on her, and wish to discover the most expedient path to
selling this property and moving on, together.”
Amanda looked at Geoffrey in
surprise. “Selling? What? That's not what I plan to do! What gave you that
Geoffrey smiled an indulgent
half smile. “Well, we'll discuss that later. Right now you're clearly much too
emotional and overtired to think straight. You're even dropping trays of
drinking glasses,” he paused and grimaced slightly, as if feeling suddenly a
little sick to his stomach, “well..
...at any rate.”
He placed his arm paternally
around Amanda's shoulder and guided her to the couch. He spoke soothingly.
“Let's just get this started. Once we have heard the terms of the will, and
have talked about the concrete values of the property and the business, we will
have a much clearer idea of what we need to do.”
Karina, Sam and Lauren
shared a suspicious glance as they took their seats. “We?” Karina mouthed to
Lauren incredulously, and Lauren returned a slow shrug. This new attitude of
'togetherness' from Geoffrey was definitely something new.
As Justin settled himself in
the recliner opposite the couch, Teddy jumped up into his lap and curled up in
a ball. He chuffed contentedly as he settled his chin onto the arm of the
chair, as if he didn't even notice that his curled up form was almost twice the
size of Justin's lap.
Samantha smiled, “It's like
he thinks he's a chihuahua!” she exclaimed.
Amanda smiled sadly, “No.
It's like he thinks he's a puppy again.” She looked up, and her blue eyes
locked with Justin's brown ones. He continued to scratch Teddy's head as they
looked into each other's eyes, and a melancholy smile crept across his face until
it matched the one that Amanda wore.
Henry cleared his throat and
opened his briefcase. “All right, how about we get started then?”
Almost as one entity, every
head in the room swiveled to face Geoffrey. His tight face looked annoyed at
the attention, but he made no comment.
Henry took a handful of
papers from his battered briefcase and laid them out on the coffee table in
front of him. He shuffled through them and pulled out one thick, official
looking bundle. He looked around at the expectant faces in the room, and Amanda
could swear that she actually saw a sparkle in his eyes.
“Well, Manda Bear, let's
just cut to the chase. There are basically two main assets that your Daddy left
you. One of them is this house and the property it sits on, and one of them is
Mountain Ridge Outdoor Adventures. The house is straightforward, he left it
directly to you. The Adventure park is a little more...interesting.”
“I think it's interesting,”
Henry said with a small smile, “See, your Daddy left you 80% of Mountain Ridge
Outdoor Adventures, and 20% to Justin here.”