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The Day He

Went Away

I had everything I never knew I wanted, until one day in June when fate broke all the rules. 
My best friend, my life, my love. Gone.
I live in the Valley of the Sun, but I’m the darkest storm cloud. 
“Heal,” they tell me. “Move on.” 
How? 
Wherever my best friend is, I want to join him there. There’s just one problem.
Nick Hunter. 
He has come to rescue me from myself. 
Of course, he never knew it would be this difficult. 
He's full of grief too, but he’s not dark like me. He’s bright and warm. 
I can feel his sunshine creeping in, chasing away my darkness. 
It doesn’t feel right that I should ever be happy again. But the scariest part of all? 
It doesn’t feel wrong either. 

Excerpt:

“Let’s go, hungry man.”

I peer out at the house. The sign on the white wooden front door makes me pause. Kate’s outdone herself this time.

We climb from the car. “Really?” I ask.

Her sigh is loud. “Whiners eat outside.”

“I gathered that from the sign.” I eye the big block letters written on a piece of poster board.

She pushes past me and bounds up the three stairs, impatient as always. Sometimes it’s annoying, but I secretly like that about her. Kate knows how to get stuff done.

She turns back to me. Her legs are tanned and toned in those white shorts. And that red tank top… Damn. She’s poised at the top of the stairs, watching me.

“Hungry here.” I try to look impatient, but mostly I’m embarrassed because she’s just caught me admiring her body. I’m usually much stealthier than that. Must be all the time we’ve spent apart. I’ll have to hone my skills while I’m here.

From where she’s standing at the top of the stairs, she’s only a little bit taller than I. And she’s smirking. She’s being playful.

No, she’s not.

Holy shit.

She’s flirting. Kate Masters is flirting with me.

I watch the spark fade from her eyes. Practical, rule following Kate has taken over. Whatever’s going on inside her, she has control over it again.

Disappointed, I watch her turn and grab the door handle.

“Come on, if you’re so starving. And seriously, don’t whine. Because I refuse to eat in the sun.”

I follow her into the brick house, halted immediately by the line that reaches back to where we’ve just entered.

Long picnic tables fill what I assume used to be the living room. Little wooden tables dot the room to our right. The walls are stuffed with memorabilia and newspaper articles from Arizona sports teams. I’m about to go to Afghanistan for ten months. I really don’t want to eat crappy food while I’m here. I should’ve asked Kate to take me back to her place and cook for me. I’ve been craving her chicken noodle soup.

I lean into Kate. “Are you sure about this place?” My voice is low. I doubt they’re serious about that whining stuff, but you never know.

“Well”—Kate cocks her head to the side—”I heard from a friend of a friend that this place is decent. And it finally passed its last health inspection, so we’re in the clear there!” She wipes her brow, ramping up the drama.

I look down at her, my eyes narrowed. A mistake.

The citrus and vanilla scent of her perfume rises off her skin, swirling into my nose and making her joke a distant memory.

Her freckles captivate me. They run across the bridge of her nose and fall off either side, steadily decreasing until they fade out completely. She thinks they’re a flaw, but she’s wrong. Those freckles are a beacon of hope.

Somewhere in there, childhood Kate still exists. The Kate who lay in the grass, devouring books and writing her own stories. That was before she believed being Master of Everything was the only way to make her dad proud. Her freckles are more than just a facial feature. And they’re incredibly cute.

The longer I stare at her, the more I lose my grasp on reality. Kate doesn’t put any distance between us like she normally would.

I want her.

Her face grows soft. Below her chin, her chest rises and falls, faster and faster. I’m not breathing at all.

We stand like that for what feels like a full minute, communicating without speaking. It’s something only couples who’ve been together for a long time can achieve.

But we have been a twosome for a long time. I know her on the most basic, barest level. I can pick out her mood just by looking into her eyes. Her favorite color is green, even though she tells everyone it’s pink. The tiny scar above her left eyebrow is a remnant from the night of our thirteenth birthday when she snuck out of her parents’ house. I cleaned her wound by the light of a street lamp. My Katie girl.

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