LOVE IS GRAND
A Walk in the Park, Book Three
About the Book
At least a full minute had passed since either of them had said a word. Ever since her husband’s untimely death, Ainsley Davis’s life had been filled with uncomfortable silences. It was like people didn’t know what to say to her. But today, she was the one without words. Ainsley shifted uncomfortably in her seat, avoiding eye contact with Dr. Sinclair. Not that she was counting on anything, but the ticking of the wall clock was hard to ignore.
“It’s okay. Take your time.” He finally broke through the silence and peered at her through wire-rimmed glasses. “Iknow it’s difficult.”
She wondered if his cardigan sweater was supposed to make her have a warm and fuzzy Mr. Rogers flashback. Even Fred Rogers and his theater of puppets couldn’t make discussing her husband’s death any easier. “I’m not sure what ‘moving on’ means to me.” She used her fingers to make quotation marks in the air. “Besides, how do know if I’m even ready?”
Dr. Sinclair rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “The first step was realizing that you needed help. know coming in to speak to me hasn’t been easy. But you’ve made lots of progress here.” He rose from his seat and pulled a book from his crowded bookshelf. “I’d like to give you an assignment.”
Ainsley wrinkled her nose. With a fourteen-month-old at home, she barely had time to change clothes, much less do homework. “What’s that?”
“Do you keep a journal of any kind?”
“I used to. In college.” She managed a smile. “But not since.” sighed. “meant to keep a pregnancy journal, but couldn’t bring myself to do so. And wish would’ve written things down this past year. You know, to document Faith’s first year.” Just another of her failings as a mother.
He nodded. “want you to take this and feel free to write in it whatever you want.”
“Whatever want?” She took the blue journal from him and flipped through the book. The blank pages filled her with dread, a reminder of the many unknowns in her future.
Dr. Sinclair sat back down and crossed his legs. “You might start out with things about yourself. Your life. Things that scare you or make you happy. If you like, you might journal about the transition you’re making back to the workplace and how it makes you feel.” He pressed his fingertips together. “Of course, returning to the Grand Canyon will likely flood you with memories. Feel free to jot those down, too.”
She bit her lip. “Will you read it?”
He smiled. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “No one ever has to read it. It’s for your eyes only. suspect this will be very therapeutic for you. Especially since you won’t be able to come here on a regular basis any longer.”
Even to her own ears, the words sounded hollow and uncertain. But she’d promised her friends and family that she’d give grief counseling her best shot. And she didn’t want two months of weekly sessions with Dr. Sinclair to be for naught. So she’d try and stick to his assignment. For a little while at least.
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 Ihave 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 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. “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 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, 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 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.” 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. “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, 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.” 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. “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 Ibruise 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. “know that you think you’re an adult. But you aren’t. Not yet. You still live under my roof. And 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 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.”
Excerpted from LOVE IS GRAND: A Walk in the Park, Book Three © Copyright 2017 by Annalisa Daughety. Reprinted with permission by Barbour Books. All rights reserved.
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