Prose Scene 39 – The Events of Tuesday, April 18

Once Zoe is up in the tree, she thinks, This is probably a bad idea. Because it probably is. There are so many ways this could go wrong. If he sees her as he approaches, this all falls apart. Gabe may have spent the day keeping her calm by asking her to come up with game plans for every what if scenario her brain could dream up, but Alex seeing her before he sees her letter and asking “Whatcha doing up in a tree, Zoe?” is not something they prepared for.

But if she hides anywhere else, she won’t be able to see him, which is not an option. The letter tacked to the tree trunk is the most important letter she’s ever written. She can’t not watch him read it. Also, climbing the tree is symbolic. Or something.

So she climbs the tree. She knows the direction he’ll approach from (at least, she thinks she does) and she tries to put the trunk between the two of them, and she trusts that he won’t look up, and that if she stays still, the branches and the leaves will block her from view. She wore green and brown today on purpose as well, for camouflage just in case, and yes, she knows how embarrassing the amount of thought she put into this is.

She hugs the tree trunk and watches through the branches and sure enough, he appears just where she thinks he will. He’s confused when he gets to the tree itself, and out of breath, like he ran from Cuppa Joe’s. He looks around the empty space, and peers around the surrounding area, and she holds her breath and thinks, Don’t look up, don’t look up, don’t look up as hard as she can.

He doesn’t. He kneels on the blanket, to read the tag on the gift — Don’t open without Zoe here, are you nuts? — and he laughs out loud. She grins; she can’t help it. Then he sees the letter, and pulls it down, and starts to read.

She worked so long and hard on that letter that she knows it by heart. She knows what makes him look around at the start. She knows what makes him gasp sharply and sit down on the blanket near the middle, and she’s terrified for a long moment that he’s going to stop, because he closes his eyes and doesn’t read on. Keep going, she urges him silently. Please, Alex, you have to keep reading. When he does, she knows exactly which line makes his breath catch in his throat. This close, she can see him swallow, see his hands shake, see his eyes move faster and faster across the page. She digs her fingers into the tree trunk and bites her lip and holds her breath, and she waits.

She knows when he finishes. She hears the heavy exhale, and her heart beats faster and she can’t remember ever feeling this nervous in her life — but she wouldn’t take a word of that letter back for anything.

She’s gripping the tree branch in front of her so hard her knuckles are white, and she’s just thanking God that this tree is here to help hide some of her nerves, and then he stands and looks up.

When their eyes meet, she can’t breathe. His face fills her vision, deep, dark eyes framed by long black lashes, the curve of his cheekbone sloping to the bridge of his nose. His skin is darker than she expected (neither his school photo nor the five second glimpse of him through the window of Cuppa Joe’s a couple weeks ago did him justice, or maybe she just hadn’t noticed), but it’s full of warmth. And his eyes – if eyes are the windows to the soul, then his soul is an old one, full of wisdom. She feels exposed, like he can see everything going on inside her head, but somehow, she doesn’t care.

Those eyes are piercing, and so dark that from this distance, she can’t tell the difference between pupil and iris. She could lose herself in those eyes and not even care, and that thought is so romance novel cliche that it snaps her back to the moment. Write sappy sonnets about his “fine eyes” on your own time, Ballard, she scolds herself, and returns her focus to him and substantial things, pressing her lips together to keep herself from speaking — this is his moment. She’s said her piece; she has to hear now how he’ll respond.

“Hi,” he says, and it’s good to hear that she’s not the only one of them who has apparently forgotten how to breathe. She’s about to offer a shaky, breathless Hi of her own when he grimaces and says, “Wait, no! I’m not supposed to start like that! I’m sorry!”

She laughs, and she loves him all the more in that moment, for being able to make her laugh now, in the midst of all this. She laughs, and smiles, and hides her nerves as she says, “Want to try again? I’ll give you a do over.”

“Thanks,” he says, then, “Zoe, I . . .”

That’s all he says for a long moment, and Zoe’s terrified of what’s coming next. There’s still a chance, after all, that she’s gotten this wrong. Not that he might not love her – she’s pretty confident after that recording that he does – but—

She lied to him. She misled him. On purpose. What if he can’t accept what she’s done? What if it taints what he feels for her, and he can never trust her again? What if she ruined all of this before it even had a chance to become anything?

“Of course,” he says in the next second. “Of course I want you. How could I not? You’re . . . you’re amazing.” The words bring tears to her eyes, and she looks up and away from him, blinking them back, unable to speak, and she can’t stop the thrill of those words any more than she can control the beet-red flush that takes over her face. “Can you . . . can you come down here?” he says then. “I mean, you’re rocking the sun-halo, but . . .”

Ah. Coming down. She realizes that she didn’t quite think this plan all the way through.

“Well,” she says slowly, willing her voice not to shake, peering around her at the branches, mentally planning the route to the ground (can she get there with any of her dignity intact? It’s not looking likely), “I’m afraid I actually made a tactical error.”

“. . . What?”

“See, I was gonna hide out in the picnic pavilion, but I was worried you might see me and mess up this whole plan. So then I thought, Oh! No one ever looks up in movies, so I can totally climb that tree and wait! Except that I forgot how completely awkwardly I dismount trees, so now I’m kind of stuck. Your first impression of me really ought to be one of grace.”

She’s babbling. And while the words are true, they’re covering something else. This tree is her security blanket. Up here, she can just be whimsical Zoe, who climbed a tree to confess her love, isn’t that adorable? But down on the ground, there will be nothing to hide behind. Her nerves will be on display for all to see.

But then he smiles at her, and he’s still looking at her as if she’s the most amazing thing he’s ever seen. “I don’t care,” he says, “I don’t care, and if you don’t come down here right now, I’m going to climb this tree up to you, broken wrist or no.”

He would, too, she’s pretty sure of that. And she can’t let that happen. “Ha!” she says with a grin. “I’d like to see you try!” But she pushes up off the branch and slowly, carefully, awkwardly makes her way down to the ground. The last drop is the scariest, both because it’s where she’s most likely to fall on her ass, and because this is it. This is the moment.

With the trunk of the tree still between them, she takes a deep breath and exhales, clenching and unclenching her fists to try and force herself to relax. And then she comes around from behind the tree.

And she can’t quite meet his eyes, because she’s terrified of what she’s going to see there. So she brushes dirt and tree debris from her clothes and straightens her shirt and smooths her hair and avoids looking at him as long as she possibly can.

Out of the corner of her eye, she sees him reach for her, then pull back at the last minute. “Are . . . are you okay?” he asks softly, and she almost kicks herself, because she’s doing it again. Letting her own discomfort and nerves get in the way of —

“Yeah,” she breathes out immediately, glancing up and meeting his eye briefly. “I mean, I’m stupidly, annoyingly nervous about what happens next, but – but I’m great.”

There. Honesty. Honesty is always best.

“Hey, come on,” he says gently, like he’s trying to make her laugh, but there’s a hesitation in his voice that she can’t place. “We said no being nervous when we met.”

Inadvertently, her lips quirk into a half smile. “When we had that conversation, this wasn’t exactly the situation I was envisioning, you know?”

He smiles in response, but he doesn’t say anything, and she doesn’t know what to say, either, and it just kills her, how she can still be so tongue-tied! What could there possibly be left to say? She said she loved him, he said he wanted her – why haven’t they fallen into each other’s arms yet? Maybe if she had hidden out in the pavilion, they could have had their slow-motion film sequence and gotten there already.

It’s driving her crazy, that they’ve come this far, crossed so much distance, and are still somehow separated, like these last six inches are as hard to cross as everything that came before. But she doesn’t know how to close that distance. Does she take his hand? Hug him? Kiss him?

When she planned this moment last week before she knew anything at all, she knew exactly what she, pathetic ninny that she was, was going to do.  She was going to tell him that she was a hugger, that she got it from her mom, and would that be okay? And she’d have hugged him (as a friend) and let that touch give her something to live off of for the next however long she could live off of it.

But — how does she do that now? And what the hell is stopping her?

She has to say something. She has to.

“I just want to—”

“So what happens —”

There’s an awkward laugh between them in which Zoe kind of wants to just curl up under a rock and die, because why is this so hard?

“You first,” he says.

She takes a deep breath. “I just want to say, I know I’m not supposed to apologize, but I am so sorry that I ever made you think — that I made you think on purpose —”

She promised herself she wasn’t going to cry. She promised herself that wasn’t how today was going to go. She looks at the ground, furious with herself.

But then, without warning, without having a chance to prepare, she’s in his arms. She hears him breathe, “Oh, Zoe,” and then he’s got her gathered up against his chest, and — she knows now with utter certainty that her initial plan for this weekend would never have worked. If she’d tried to hug him, as a friend, she’d have given everything away, because she would never have been able to leave the circle of his arms once she entered into it.

“Don’t cry, okay?” She feels the words as she hears them, a deep rumbling vibration under her cheek, and God, she never wants to leave. “It’s fine, I promise. We’ll . . . we’ll work this out.”

The words prompt a laugh – watery, hiccupy, but a laugh. “I cry all the time, remember?” she says. The words are muffled by his chest, and the comfort of his arms makes her reckless. “You’d better get used to it.”

“I hope to.”

It takes a moment for his words to register, but when they do, she pulls back, searching his face, breath caught in her throat. It’s those eyes again, and she might as well just accept now that this is her lot. She is going to personally refute anyone who says brown eyes aren’t beautiful, because the millions of different shades swirling through his…

But it’s more than just the eyes, it’s the way he’s looking at her. She pulled back to see if he was serious, if he really meant those amazing words he just said, and he did. It’s written across his face, clear as an open book, in a way she knows it wouldn’t be with anyone else. He meant it, and so, without consciously making the decision to do so, she stands on tiptoe and kisses him, her hands clutching at his shirt.

She doesn’t have to go far, he isn’t much taller than she is, and she therefore kisses him with perhaps more force than she intended, but he’s here, and she figures they’ve waited long enough. And with his lips on hers, soft and warm, she can’t understand why she even waited this long.

And then her brain catches up with the rest of her.

She rocks down on her heels, suddenly, pressing her lips together, and she can’t quite wrap her head around what she just did. He’s staring at her, stunned. She swallows.

“So, um . . . yeah, that was, that — I probably should have led up to that somehow, but I’ve wanted to do that for a really long time, so I thought I’d just go for it, and, uh, I hope you don’t mind—”

With his good hand at the side of her face, he kisses her then, cutting off her words, but she was babbling anyway, so with her last coherent thought, she figures this is probably better. She reaches up and wraps her arms around his neck, burying her hands in his hair as she presses herself closer to him. She will never have enough of this, never.

The arm in the cast wraps around her, his fingertips resting on her back, and she can’t wait to do this again when that cast is gone, when he has both hands at his disposal. But for now, she takes what she can get.

When he pulls back, resting his forehead against hers, her eyes remain closed as she tries her hardest to catch her breath.

“Does that, uh, answer your question?” he asks, breathless, and a grin breaks across her face. She drags her eyes open and looks up at him, not taking her forehead from his.

“Yeah,” she says, and she can’t keep the smile away now. “Yeah, that was pretty clear.”

She stands on tiptoe then and kisses him again, because he’s there. Because she can. Because while she knows they have things to talk about and discuss, none of them seem as important right now as they did even a few minutes ago. He’s here. He wants her. For the moment, that’s all she needs to know.

When they pull apart some time later, he asks, “So what happens next? If I know you, you have a full agenda,” and she laughs.

“I did,” she acknowledges, “before this weekend. This wasn’t on it.” He grins down at her.

“No?”

“Nope. And today, I didn’t plan anything beyond getting you here because I honestly didn’t know how that was going to go.”

“And now?” he asks with a smile that is threatening to take her breath away again.

“Oh, I’m a big fan of how today is shaking out,” she assures him with a grin.

“Me too,” he says softly, and leans down to kiss her again. Much as she’d like to lose herself in it, she forces herself to pull away after a moment.

“That being said,” she says, taking a deep breath, “there are things we should probably talk about.” She’s hesitant to bring it up because she doesn’t want to ruin the moment, but she knows that it’s true — they do need to talk.

She watches the smile fade from his face, not entirely, but he does grow serious, more introspective, as if he knew this was coming but had hoped it would be a little longer yet. “Yeah,” he says with a nod. “Shall we sit?”

“Sitting sounds good.”

He doesn’t seem to want to let her go. He traces his good hand down her arm, intertwining his fingers with hers. She squeezes his hand once, but then releases him so he can get down to the blanket more easily. When she sits beside him, her knee touching his, she keeps her hands folded together in her lap and tries to think where to start.  

“So . . .” he says, speaking when she doesn’t. “I suppose you want to know what happened this weekend.”

She hesitates, chewing the inside of her lip. There is no simple answer to that question. “Yes . . .” she eventually says, the word trailing off, halfway between a question and a statement. She can feel him shift position beside her. She sighs, resisting the urge to fiddle with her fingers. “I want to know,” she clarifies, “but I don’t need to. Awful and stressful as this weekend was for me, I know it was ten times worse for you. So if you don’t want to relive it, I get that completely. And I don’t need to know. Just — if you’re willing to tell me.”

She tries not to reveal just how badly she wants him to tell her everything. She is desperate to know the details, but not as much as she was this weekend, back when she had no idea what would happen to him. Now that he’s here, safe and solid and sitting beside her, she knows that’s all she really needs, regardless of what she may or may not want.

There is a long silence in which she holds her breath, waiting. Finally, he says, “She pulled you into this. So you deserve to know everything.”

It is not an easy story to listen to.

Emma convinced Alex to go to the mall with her on Saturday. Alex agreed, with the stipulation that they stay away from the Food Court, because he didn’t want to run into Zoe early (though of course, he didn’t tell Emma that). Unfortunately, she already knew about their planned meeting and that Zoe was working, and Alex’s stipulation had played right into her hands. She told him she was going to Victoria’s Secret, and that she’d meet him at the bookstore when she was finished. That was when she went to confront Zoe, though Alex didn’t know that at the time.

Afterwards, Emma was agitated and on edge, though she wouldn’t tell Alex why. She asked him to go accessory shopping with her, and though he didn’t wanted to, she convinced him. Once in the shop, she somehow managed to slip a pair of pricey earrings into his pocket and bribe the manager at the store to call in a robbery in progress. Alex only knows that, he stresses, because it came out at his hearing with the judge. Apparently the store manager had caved pretty quickly when questioned and admitted to taking the bribe. That testimony coupled with Zoe’s account and voicemail, and the fact that Alex’s dominant arm had been in a cast and sling, resulted in the charges being dismissed almost immediately.

“The judge threw the case out so fast I practically got whiplash,” he says, and Zoe tries to smile because she knows he’s trying to make light of it all, but the fact is, she’s too eaten up with anger at Emma and guilt toward herself to do much more than sit there, tense and preoccupied and trying to figure out what to say.

Despite all Alex’s protestations over text on Monday, this is her fault. Not all of it, obviously, and she’s not going to deny that the bulk of this is completely on Emma — what the hell was she even thinking? Zoe wouldn’t stop writing, so getting Alex thrown in jail was the logical next step in keeping them apart? “Apparently she thought you wouldn’t want to be friends with a thief,” Alex had offered as an explanation, which  Zoe doesn’t even have the words for — but the fact remains that Zoe could have diffused the situation if she hadn’t been so bent on proving herself above Emma’s threats.

The whole thing with Alex, that had clearly been Emma’s Plan B. Poorly thought out, irrationally motivated, something she’d laid hasty framework for in case Zoe proved to be uncooperative. Which Zoe had. If she’d just said she wouldn’t write anymore, if she’d just agreed, let Emma think she had won — She could have just lied and called Alex later and told him what had happened. She could have spared him everything he’d gone through this weekend.

She doesn’t realize how tense she’s gone until Alex lays a gentle hand over one of her balled-up fists. “Zoe, it’s not your fault,” he says, and she’s startled enough that she meets his eye. If he’d identified her anger at Emma, that wouldn’t have been surprising to her, but —

“How did you know I was . . .” She trails off, not finishing the question, but she doesn’t need to.

“I know you,” he says simply, and it occurs to her that she probably shouldn’t be surprised. This is Alex, after all. He’s been knowing her too well for months now.

She takes a deep breath and forces herself to relax. “Isn’t it my fault, though?” she asks. “At least in part? If I’d just told her what I knew she wanted to hear . . .“ She trails off, not sure how to put the enormity of her thought into words.

“It wouldn’t have done any good,” he says with conviction. “It might have stopped this weekend, but she was only going to be satisfied if you and I cut off communication entirely and I went straight back to her twisted, toxic version of friendship, which was never gonna happen. I — should have walked away a long time ago. I just couldn’t have before you.”

She blinks back new tears. “You’re gonna make me cry again,” she informs him. “Saying things like that.”

With his good hand, he reaches up and wipes an errant tear from her cheek. “Yeah, well. They’re true,” he says with half a smile. She catches his hand and threads her fingers through his.

“Are you okay?” she asks, and he shrugs.

“Yeah. I can survive a weekend in juvie, chica.”

She shakes her head, because that isn’t what she means. She’s not talking about being physically okay or being caught up on sleep. She’s talking about all of it. She needs to know that this isn’t going to haunt him, but how can it not? How can he not be adversely affected by this? That’s what she’s asking, but how does she even begin to actually ask that?

All she can do is shake her head and meet his eye and ask, with a slightly different inflection, “No, Alex. Are you okay?” and hope that he understands what she’s getting at.

He seems to. Something shifts in his gaze and when he speaks, his voice is serious and earnest and gentle. “Yes,” he assures her with a squeeze of her hand. “I’m okay. Are you?”

She lets out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. “I am now,” she tells him, and is rewarded with another one of those smiles that just might be her new favorite sight in the whole world.

Slightly embarrassed by the extent to which she is grinning like an idiot, she looks down at their hands, at Alex’s thumb running lightly and gently over the top of her knuckles. While her focus is on their hands, he speaks again. “Rachel said you came into the Book and Bean on Sunday?”

Zoe closes her eyes and groans, falling forward and resting her forehead very briefly on his shoulder. “Yeah, but we don’t have to talk about that encounter, like, ever,” she says. She feels him chuckle.

“She said you seemed very nice, and that you were really worried.”

Zoe sits up. “Your stepmother is being charitable. I was a wreck. I was a giant, embarrassing, emotional mess. I cried into a macaroon.” She smiles as she says it, to let him know she’s joking, and he smiles back, looking amused. Which is good — she’d much rather have him try not to laugh at her than pity her or worse, try to apologize for causing her to worry, or some nonsense like that. She shakes her head, grinning at her own expense. “Anyway, could we talk about really anything else?”

“Sure,” he says.

The afternoon passes in a blur. They sit in the shade of that tree, laughing and talking and sharing stories, holding hands and nudging shoulders and stealing kisses when the playground at the base of the hill is devoid of children and the path by the tree is free of joggers. She gives him his birthday present, which is as well received as she could have hoped for. He laughs out loud at her hand-painted “Save the Whales” tote bag, and he’s genuinely touched by “The Art of Letter Writing, A-Z” moleskine. He spends a lot of time looking over each of the photographs and promises to take pictures of his house and bedroom and send them to her.

They people watch and she does her best to prove her snarking ability and she spins the stories he’s expecting her to spin. And she pulls out her iPod and shares her headphones and plays some music for him that she wanted to watch him listen to. And they lay back on the blanket, facing the sky, and tell each other stories about the pictures in the clouds, each more outlandish than the last, each building on the story that came before.

It’s the best afternoon Zoe has had in a really long time, and she never wants it to end. But soon enough, the first alarm she set is going off on her phone, and when she looks at the screen, a notification from Gabe makes her frown.

i think i know why andi and jimmy and eddie have been acting so strange.

“Something wrong?” Alex asks, and she shakes her head.

“Gabe thinks he knows what Andi and Jimmy and Eddie have been up to. Permission to call?”

Alex has some trouble keeping a straight face at her overly polite request. “Sure.”

Gabe answers the phone with a “Sooooo, how’s your date?”

“I am calling to discuss exactly one thing with you, Gabriel,” Zoe informs him, “and my outing with Alex is not that thing. What do you have for me?”

“Does Alex have Twitter on his phone?” Frowning, Zoe passes the question on to Alex.

“Uh, yeah, but I barely use it. Except when you make me.” he says. Zoe grins at him before turning back to her conversation with Gabe.

“Yes, he has Twitter. I have Twitter, too, though, so…”

“Yeah, but I’m positive you won’t be able to access this. I actually don’t know if Alex will either, it depends on how thorough Andi has been.”

“Would you stop being cryptic and tell me what I’m looking for?”

“Search for a user named CuppaJsLoveGods. No apostrophe, capitalize each word. If Alex can’t find it, log in with my account. I think you’ll find it very enlightening. Enjoy your boyfriend, and call me later with details or I will hunt you down.”

“Shut up,” she says with a laugh, and hangs up the phone. Then she turns to Alex with fire in her eyes. “Apparently,” she says, drawing out the words, “there is a twitter user called CuppaJsLoveGods, and Gabe thinks it will interest us.”

As soon as Zoe sees the This User has blocked you notification, her jaw sets. She meets Alex’s gaze and sees the same look on his face. Another few seconds, and Zoe is logged in to Gabe’s account. This time, when she searches the user, the results are very interesting indeed.

When will Z and A get together? Your guess is as good as ours, so go ahead! Place your bets! proclaims the bio off to the side. Okay, continue to watch this space. Things ARE happening, but we’re waiting for confirmation. Soon, though, we should have a winner! – Agent E reads a recent tweet.

“Those rat bastards,” she says as everything clicks into place. Alex raises one eyebrow. She doesn’t answer the unspoken question; she only turns the phone toward him and allows him to read for himself. After a second, both eyebrows are raised.

“They’ve been running a betting pool on us?” he asks.

“They’ve been running a betting pool on us since . . .” It is the work of just a few seconds to flick through the account’s tweets and find the beginning. “. . . the end of October.

They both stare at the phone screen for another few seconds, and then they lock eyes, and if the look on his face doesn’t say willing partner in crime, well then, she doesn’t know what would.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” he asks her.

“That punishment must be both swift and merciless?” she replies, and his face breaks into a slow grin. “So. How do we start?”

“Complete silence,” is his immediate reply. “They’re waiting for confirmation? We don’t give it to them. Nothing on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, nothing. We tell no one.”

“We tell Gabe,” she amends, “since he’s already helping us and he’ll get it out of me, so we might as well preemptively include him.”

“Fine. Gabe. But no one else. Are you sure you can do this, chica? I know how you are about secrets, and you go to school with these guys. Can you keep a poker face?”

“With Andi and Jimmy?” Zoe asks. “About this? Hell yes I can. Let them sweat a little.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Like . . . showing up at Cuppa Joe’s at the same time, which they’ll expect to be a big deal, but we treat like it’s nothing. With my work schedule this week, I’d only have time for a ‘Hey Alex, Hey Zoe’ fly-by, but . . .”

“That sounds good. And we need to be careful not to be too happy. That would give it away. Could you, maybe, act like you’re having a bad day the next time you go in or something?,” he says.

“Ugh, that’s gonna be really hard, especially if we’re doing a momentary face to face. You’d better be the one staying. I won’t hold up to that kind of scrutiny.”

“True. I don’t suppose–”

“What?” she asks, jumping on his train of thought as soon as he pauses.

“Well, remember that first playlist you made me? The one you wanted to say was normal, but was actually, like, way depressing?” She sticks her tongue out at him and gives him a playful shove. “You publish those right?”

“Yeah, on Spotify. And I know Andi follows me. One Height of Disappointment playlist coming up.”

“Perfect,” he grins, and she can’t help but grin back.

“I like the way you think,” she says. “So. How long do we torture them?”

Their scheming lasts until the next alarm goes off on Zoe’s phone, which Zoe ignores, along with the third that sounds five minutes later, trying to delay for just a few minutes longer the time when she actually has to pack up her things and leave. But finally, her mom calls, and she can’t ignore how late it’s gotten anymore.

She gives him a ride home, and they linger in his driveway, neither of them wanting to be the first to say goodbye. But eventually, he kisses her one last time across the console and says, “See you soon, chica.”

“Thursday afternoon, at Cuppa Joe’s, right?,” she asks.

“I’ll walk in at four.”

“And I’ll walk out. And I’ll see you for real on Saturday. I’d invite you to my house tomorrow afternoon, but Jimmy lives three doors down, so I don’t think we should risk it. But we did seven months without meeting, we can handle another week, right?”

“Well, I can,” he teases, “I’m not so sure about you.”

“Shut up,” she says, laughing, and sneaks one last kiss (they’ve had a lot of one last kisses in the last five minutes, but this one might actually be the last one), and he climbs out of the car. She watches him all the way to the door, and he catches her eye and shares one last grin before slipping inside.

As soon as he’s out of sight, she allows herself one moment to melt giddily into the seat of her car before she pulls herself together and pulls out of the driveway. She’s going to get interrogated by her parents as soon as she walks through the door, and Gabe is going to demand details ASAP as well, but for right now, for this ride, she can relive the afternoon for herself one more time before she has to relive it for anyone else.

By the time she’s halfway home, she’s already started composing a letter in her head.

Dear Alex . . .

Previous Letter

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