Into the Deep Page 54

“It’s official,” I sighed, easing back to stare into his handsome face. “My sister is creepy spooky.”

Alex took hold of my hand as I stepped back. “Missed you this semester.”

After Jake had left, I’d felt lost for the first time, not really sure where I fit in the town I’d loved my whole life. Alex had been feeling the same way after Brett’s death and we’d clung to each other, finishing out high school as best friends and heading off to Purdue together. From there things had gotten complicated until I’d uncomplicated them. “I missed you too. How’s Sharon?”

“She’s great. She’s home in Tampa with her family. We’re still not quite at the spending Christmas with one another’s family stage.”

Sharon was a sophomore Alex had met almost a year ago. She was tiny, cute as a button, loud, girly, the complete opposite to a now-reserved Alex. I thought they were great together. She loosened him up. “It’s been almost a year. Holidays-with-the-family time is approaching.”

He rubbed a hand over his close-shaven head and nodded. “She’s talking about coming here in spring, so I think you’re right.” His gaze flickered behind me to the parking lot before they returned to me, his study careful and perhaps a little worried. “So I’m guessing from everything you told me that you’re here because of Jake.”

Other than Claudia and Andie, Alex was my closest confidant. Despite the convoluted history between us, I told him everything because at the end of the day, he was one of my best friends. This meant I’d kept in close contact with him while I was in Edinburgh and he knew how messed up I was feeling over Jake being back in my life. Although he’d always been neutral in our conversations as he quietly advised me to follow my gut, I was braced to hear him tell me what everyone else was recommending: to get Jake out of my life.

“It’s gotten really hard to be around him and Melissa,” I confessed quietly. “He changes me, Alex. I become this neurotic, whiny girl, and I don’t want to be that person.”

“One: you could never be a neurotic, whiny girl. Two: just because he makes you feel weak doesn’t mean you are. Three: this whole time you haven’t been honest with him. I know you were close, and I know he thinks he knows you, but has it crossed your mind that he actually has no clue you still care about him? Char, he said some unforgiveable things to you. He took every bad feeling he had out on you. If I were him, I would presume a girl like you would’ve moved on from a guy who treated her like that.”

I shook my head. “He knows, Alex.”

“Maybe he does. Maybe he doesn’t. The thing is, you do. It’s your decision.”

I glanced back over my shoulder at the school, angry butterflies stirring inside me. I shoved them aside, determined to get myself back on track. When I looked back at Alex, I nodded. “I know what I have to do.”

Reading the decision in my wounded eyes, Alex yanked me toward him and curled me into his side. “Come on. Your mom was taking a pecan pie out of the oven when I stopped by, and I am not leaving town until I have myself some of that goodness.”

“It’s great to see you,” I snuggled into his side.

“You too.”

“How are your mom and dad?”

Alex snorted. “Annoyed I dropped politics.”

“You told them?” Damn, now I was the only coward between us. The Rosters had pushed politics on Alex since the moment he got into Purdue. He’d taken it as a double major with law to appease them but never had any intention of going into politics. I couldn’t believe he’d gathered the courage to tell them when I still hadn’t talked to Mom and Dad about applying to the police academy.

My friend scowled down at me. “Please don’t tell me you’re still considering the whole police thing?”

Unfortunately, Alex being Alex, overbearing but caring, like my parents he’d never wanted me to pursue a career as a cop. It was one of the many reasons I’d uncomplicated things between us.

“Don’t tell them,” I told him sharply. “I’m still working toward that.”

He shook his head. “Sweetheart, your head must be a whole bunch of mess right now.”

I made a pathetic face and nodded.

Alex huffed in sympathy, hugging me closer to his side as we made our way back to my parents’ house.

Pots, pans, trays, cutlery, foil, and scraps littered the kitchen. Smack bang in the middle of it was Rick and I. Since Mom and Andie had cooked Christmas dinner, Rick and I were stuck with cleanup duty. My parents and Andie were lying almost passed out in the sitting room watching a comedy while I was elbow-deep in dishwater and Rick was attempting to keep up with the drying so we didn’t have a pileup situation on our hands. Looking at the dishes, I couldn’t believe five people could eat so much.

“Are you surviving another Christmas with the Redfords, then?” I teased Rick.

His lip curled at the corner. “You know it.”

“My sister loved her gift.” And wasn’t that an understatement.

The two of them had been house hunting for months. Andie found a house in Beverly that she loved, but it was a little over their budget. Rick did okay as a detective but he wasn’t exactly a high flier, and Andie may one day make good money as a psychiatrist but they weren’t there yet. She’d been really disappointed when Rick refused to stretch the budget because she was a goner for the house and the area.

This morning she’d opened an envelope with documents showing he’d put a down payment on the house.

My reserved sister elbowed me in the face launching herself at him.

He smiled, his blue eyes warm with tenderness. “I got that.”

“Do you like the house too?”

“It’s a great house to raise a family in. Good neighborhood. I wouldn’t have put a down payment on it if I didn’t like it.”

“Still, it’s like a half-hour drive into the city.”

“Longer during rush hour.”

“Aren’t you going to miss it? You’ve lived in the city for years.”

He shrugged, still smiling. “Beverly is still the city—it’s just got more of a suburban feel to it. And I’ve got to grow up sometime. We make sacrifices, we compromise. That’s the way it works. You know that better than anyone, Miss Pre-law.”

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