Authors: Kimberly Readnour
Table of Contents
Copyright©2016 by Kimberly Readnour
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference.
Cover Art by: SwoonWorthy Book Covers
Copy Edited by: Patrick Hodges
To my wonderful husband. Without your hard work and dedication, this book would have never been brought to life. Love you always.
The people surrounding me are neither comforting nor reassuring. I’m all alone despite the preacher’s spiritual words. My lips press tight, and my hand clenches the long-stemmed rose. A thorn pricks my skin, but I don’t flinch—the pain doesn’t match the ache inside my chest.
I lift the petals to my nose and inhale. The sickening sweet scent churns my stomach. I suddenly hate this scent and never want to smell it again.
Thunder rumbles in the distance, and I stare at the gray, dismal sky that’s on the verge of erupting. My leg twitches and reinforces the urgency to leave. My best friend, Staci Benson, places a reassuring hand on my forearm, but every muscle tightens, forcing her withdrawal.
The preacher quits talking and looks directly at me. My cue. Bile threatens to rise as I stand and take a step forward. I lay the rose on the slick, shiny surface and pause, studying its placement. The first innocent rose lying on top, soon to be followed by many. I squeeze my eyes tightly, and a tear trickles along the side of my face before I turn to walk away.
Stay strong, Kayla
. Now isn’t the time to fall apart.
I walk along the flattened grass path and watch the tips of my black shoes leave behind the only life I had ever known. Why did this day come so soon? Each day passes without a thought of tomorrow’s sorrow. But does it matter? Even when knowing these dark days lay ahead, we still try to deny their existence.
A shiver rifles through me, and I clutch my stomach. This pain is too much. I block the murmuring sounds behind me. The whispers I’ve heard the last two days. The same people who question whether I’ll be okay. I cannot take any pity right now, genuine or not.
My gaze wanders to the tree line ahead and lands on a silhouette stepping from the shadows. My heart stops before pumping the first beats of life I’ve had in weeks. The image cannot be real. It has to be a sick, twisted mind-game my subconscious is playing.
I stay quiet, not moving a muscle as the figure nears—confusion lacing every facet of my mind. The guy approaches, and our gaze connects. He’s here; he’s really here. My lips part, and I’m barely breathing until he’s mere inches away. His arms reach for me, and my body releases weeks of built-up tension as I collapse into his strong embrace. He presses me against his chest, and I weep, no longer holding back.
Five Months Earlier
Something’s wrong. Mom’s way too excited for our unconventional Thanksgiving meal of homemade spaghetti and meatballs. She’s more animated than usual as if there’s an ulterior motive. My eyes narrow at her inability to sit still.
“Okay, Mom. What gives?” I slurp the remaining noodles on the plate and wait for an explanation.
“What?” she says, innocently. Her fingers spread against her breastbone as if she’s shocked. “I can’t be excited that my number one daughter is home with her momma?”
I shake my head and hide my chuckle behind the napkin. Wiping the remaining marinara sauce away, I raise an eyebrow.
“You know, as your
child, I love being home. But something’s up. You’re acting weird.”
Mom lets out a laugh and then winks at me. “I’ll get the dessert.”
I sigh, all too familiar with Mom’s stubbornness. I’ll have to wait. She won’t budge until she’s ready. I lean back against the chair and wait for her famous tiramisu. A nontraditional dessert she insists on serving, stating it correlates with the Italian theme.
. It’s good, so I never complain.
As soon as the last piece of heavenly creaminess melts on my tongue, Mom springs from her chair. I purse my lips and narrow my eyes at Mom’s receding backside. Not having any clue what she’s up to, I hold in a laugh when she bounces back into the room with a huge smile plastered across her face.
Mom hands over a manila envelope and then returns to her seat. I glance at her and notice the gleam in her eyes, which further heightens my curiosity. With the envelope secured in my hands, I hesitate before opening. Whatever is inside must be amazing. Mom yelps and bounces again as I slide the contents out.
I’m speechless, completely shocked to the point where my voice is unable to utter a sound. An itinerary, along with airplane tickets, lay within my grasp. I blink twice to see if I’m reading it right. Puzzled, I look at Mom for clarification.
“Merry Christmas,” Mom screams, jumping off her chair. She stands next to me, adding, “I thought we could use a break, maybe escape reality for a while. What do you think?”
Baffled, I stand there.
A three-week stay in Kauai
“Really?” I say at last.
I’ve never even heard of the place. I mean, sure I know about Hawaii, but never focused on the individual islands. Most people picture Oahu or Maui when referencing Hawaii. At least, that’s what I do.
“We’ll have so much fun.”
“Thanks, Mom. This trip looks awesome.”
I glance at her, and she smiles appreciatively, but there’s a distance to her stare. The faraway look only lasts a moment before she bats her eyelids a few times and refocuses.
“Let’s get these dishes cleaned up.” Mom steps to the table, and she lets out a slow breath as she stacks the plates together. “They won’t take long.”
“I’ve got this.” I swipe the plates from underneath her and turn toward the kitchen. “Why don’t you lie down? You look tired.”
“No, that’s silly. I’m fine. Just stayed up too late last night. Didn’t you hear Mrs. Jones’s dog howling?”
“Peaches at it again?” I laugh. “Seriously though, there aren’t that many dishes. Go rest. You’ve been cooking the entire morning.”
With a reluctant nod, Mom exits to the front room. I fill the sink with warm soapy water and load the dishwasher. After placing the last pan in the bottom cupboard, I head straight to the computer to research the possibilities this trip offers.
I pass by Mom sleeping on the couch. Thirty minutes ago, she was vibrant and full of life. I shake my head and giggle at her tiny snore. As cute as Peaches is, the yipping does get annoying at times.
Five minutes into the Internet search, I learn Kauai is arguably the most exquisite island out of the main four. With the annual rainfall the island receives and tropical temperatures, the greenery appears lush and vivid. Excitement bubbles inside me. Since I am somewhat of a naturalist, this trip is perfect.
There are breathtaking trails I hope to hike, and rivers—like the Wailua River—to kayak. God, I can’t wait to go. I lean back in my chair and smile. Bring on winter break!
I toss a pair of jeans into my duffle bag and zip it shut. I’ll get by with a small bag for now. Winter clothes are not a necessity where I’m going. My gaze strays to the alarm clock, and the corners of my mouth lift. Eleven-thirty. If I leave by noon, I’ll be back home by two-thirty. That will give me plenty of time to finish packing the summer clothes stored at home. The last final for the semester ended a half-hour ago, and I’m ready for a much-needed break.
“So, when are you leaving?” Staci asks.
I turn to look at her as she waltzes into our dorm room and plops on her bed.
“Soon,” I say.
I meander to the pathetic excuse of a closet and grab my favorite Boilermaker sweatshirt. I spin around and catch sight of Staci propped up on her elbows. Her head tilts to the side, and she eyes me expectantly.
. Hmm, she must not be asking about my trip home.
“You mean for the vacation?” I break eye contact and toss the sweatshirt by the duffle bag.
“Of course I mean your vacation.”
I smile at the annoyance in her tone, but my mind resorts to sunny beaches and flowing greenery. But then the thirteen-hour flight, along with my fear of flying, creeps into my thoughts.
“Friday. We fly out early in the morning,” I answer in a whiney tone.
“Don’t you dare complain,” Staci says. “You’ll be fine. Besides, it’s not like every semester break you get to relax in paradise.”
“I know. I know.” I raise my hands in mock surrender. “Flying scares me, though.”
“Please, it’s safer than driving. If my mom gave me an early Christmas present to Kauai, I’d be jumping all around shouting ‘
Yo, Bitches. I’m out of here
.’ Instead, I get to go home to my bratty brother and listen to him drone on about this zombie blowing up that zombie. Blah, blah, blah.”
I roll my eyes and grin. “Yuck.”
“I know. He’s a real treat. At least you’ll be able to be on a beach looking at naturally-tanned surfer guys. Ooh, maybe even a hot tour guide to show you around.” She smiles coyly and adds, “Who knows, you may finally get lucky.”
“Seriously? I’ll be there with my mom.”
“What? She’s cool. She’ll let you wander on your own. You could shack up with a local, have a little hana’ma’i,” she says, wiggling her eyebrows.
“Oh my God, I can only guess what that means.” I laugh, despite the fact I want to die of embarrassment.
“What? I Googled it. You need to know what the term means if you’re going to be getting-it-on with a local hottie. You know, speak the same language and all.”
“Whatever. They speak English, and
is so not happening.”
I ignore her and unzip my tote bag to add my curling iron. Honestly, I don’t foresee any “hana’ma’i” happening in my near future. Staci means well, and she’s just joking around, but she doesn’t realize how her words affect me. It isn’t like I enjoy being a senior in college, still hanging on to my V-card. And it’s not like I have some deep spiritual meaning to use as an excuse. The right guy hasn’t shown up yet. It’s that simple. Unlike Staci, I can’t have meaningless sex. To me, sex is something intimate shared between two people who care deeply about each other. My view won’t change, no matter how old I am.