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I nodded.

“Cody once told her he wanted you to be his mom, and Janice got all bent out of shape. She went into panic mode and decided she couldn’t let that happen.”

“I see.”

“I stopped loving Janice a long time ago.”

I didn’t feel qualified to comment.

“I had to try to make a go of the reconciliation for Cody’s sake. A child deserves a mother and a father.”

“I love Cody, too,” I cried, “and I understood why you did what you did. But you completely discounted my feelings.”

“Be angry with me if you want,” Brad concluded, quickening his pace. “The thing is, I’m sick to death of women and their demands. I loved Janice and she pulled every string she could to manipulate me, using my son.”

“And that’s my fault?” I was a second away from reminding him that he’d been the one to shove me aside. As I’d told him, I knew why he’d done it and I loved the way he loved his son, but I had a hard time getting past the pain it had caused me.

“Now you want your pound of flesh.”

“I beg your pardon?” I certainly recognized the allusion but didn’t understand how it applied to me.

“You heard me,” he said. “What you want is for me to come crawling back to you because Janice decided she needed her freedom, after all.”

I swallowed down my pent-up anger.

“I notice it didn’t take you long to find someone else.”

“What did you expect me to do?” I asked, even though it had been a lie. “Did you want me to sit at home and pine for you?”

He hesitated. “No, and you didn’t, which is just perfect.” He made a sweeping gesture with his hands. “You know what? I’ve had it with women and relationships. It’s just too damned hard.”

“I was the one you dumped,” I pointed out. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, Brad had hurt me badly. Now I was supposed to pretend nothing had happened? None of my concerns appeared to interest Brad.

He shook his head. “It’s over, Lydia. With Janice, with you, and with every other female on the planet. I don’t understand women. I never have and I doubt I ever will. Living the rest of my life alone would be easier than dealing with an irrational female.”

“I’m not irrational!”

“Whatever you say. But I’m not crawling back to you.”

“Well, I’m not chasing after you, either.” I wanted to make that clear right then and there.

He smiled sardonically. “I know, and frankly that suits me just fine.”



According to Grams, Courtney wouldn’t be able to ride her bicycle much longer. Two or three weeks at the most. The autumn rains would start in mid-October, and it wouldn’t be safe to ride on slick roads. Soon it would be dark by midafternoon.

Courtney would miss riding as part of her exercise and weight-maintenance program. It helped her vent her frustrations and stay out of the kitchen. She’d managed to maintain her twenty-five-pound weight loss, which was no small feat. Making better food choices had become easier, but her gaze often lingered on sweets and on the candy machine. That stuff was pure poison for her.

The best development since school started was that she’d made a few friends, including Mike, her chauffeur. That was what he called himself, and with great flair. He was shy but she’d discovered that he had a subtle sense of humor that seemed to come out of nowhere. Every now and then, always unexpectedly, he’d crack a joke that was hilarious. Until recently, she’d hoped Mike would ask her to the Homecoming Dance, but it was plain he’d set his sights on someone else.

She was only now becoming acquainted with the students in her classes. Most days, she hung around with Monica and Jocelyn, girls from her trigonometry class. Jocelyn and Mike liked each other and were perfect together, so Courtney played the role of matchmaker.

Annie was her closest friend. They talked on the phone often and saw each other at school, but they didn’t have any classes together. Courtney liked Andrew, too. A lot.

Taking a sharp corner on her bike, Courtney rolled onto her grandmother’s street and coasted to a stop. She climbed off, wheeling the ten-speed around to the garage. Helmet looped over her arm, she headed toward the kitchen door.

“Is that you, Courtney?” Grams called from the living room.

“It’s me,” she shouted back as she stopped at the sink to get a drink of water.

“You’ve got company, dear.”

Courtney set the glass down and tried to remember whether she’d noticed any cars parked out front. She couldn’t imagine who’d be visiting.

When she walked into the living room and saw Andrew sitting on the sofa, she nearly dropped her helmet. “Hi,” she said, hardly able to find her voice.

“Hi,” he said, grinning back at her.

“Look, dear, he’s wearing the socks you knit him.” Grams seemed utterly delighted by this. “Well, I’ll leave you young people to discuss whatever you want to talk about.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Pulanski.”

Vera hesitated on her way to the kitchen. “I have some oatmeal cookies in the freezer I can defrost if you’re interested, Andrew.”

He shared a look with Courtney. “Thanks, anyway, Mrs. Pulanski. Maybe another time.”

“You don’t need anything, do you?” Grams turned to Courtney.

“Nothing, thanks,” she said.

Her grandmother nodded and, good as her word, she left the room.

“What are you doing here?” Courtney asked. No need to beat around the bush. She was hot and sweaty, and if he’d let her know he intended to come over, she would’ve stayed home instead of riding her bike.

“I came to talk to you.”

“When did you get here?”

He checked his watch. “About ten minutes ago. I had fun chatting with your grandmother. You were a cute baby.”

Courtney rolled her eyes. “She showed you baby pictures of me?”

“Naked ones.”

“No!” Courtney would never forgive that.

Andrew chuckled. “Just kidding.”

“It isn’t funny.” Maintaining a suitable distance, she sat down on the ottoman and hoped she hadn’t perspired too much.

Andrew released a deep sigh and then sent a quick look in her direction. “Did you hear?”

She thought about recent gossip that had circulated around the school. Unfortunately, she didn’t hear many rumors, and even when she did, she rarely knew the people involved.

“Hear what?” she asked.

“Melanie and I aren’t going out anymore. We haven’t in quite a while, but it got a little complicated over the summer and—well, let’s just say it’s over.”

Andrew seemed to be waiting for a comment from her. Courtney wasn’t sure what to say. “I’m sorry,” was the best she could come up with.

“You are?”

Not really, but…“Breaking up is hard.”

“Not on my end. Melanie and I don’t have a lot in common.”

“What does this mean for Homecoming?”

Andrew shrugged. “Doesn’t mean anything. If I’m crowned king, I’ll have my date and if Melanie’s named queen, she’ll have hers. No big deal either way.”

Being new at the school, Courtney wasn’t sure how this worked.

“Are you going to the Homecoming dance?” he asked.

She shook her head.

He seemed surprised. “I thought Mike asked you.”

Courtney stretched the truth just a little. “I think he’s building up his courage, but he hasn’t yet.” She immediately felt bad for overstating the likelihood of his asking her, but she didn’t want Andrew to think she was entirely without prospects—which at this point, she was—or that she was angling for an invitation from him.

“It’s getting down to the wire, don’t you think?”

The dance was a week away, and almost everyone already had a date. Courtney was convinced Mike would ask Jocelyn. Monica agreed and suggested that rather than be left out, the two of them attend the dance together, dates or not. A lot of girls did that, and guys, too.

“Why are you asking?” she asked curiously. “In fact, why are you here?”

“Can’t a friend come by without getting the third degree?”

Suddenly Courtney felt a knot in her stomach. “Your mother put you up to this, didn’t she?” She got to her feet and started pacing. No wonder he was so vague! Courtney remembered that it was Bethanne who’d suggested Andrew find her a ride to and from school. She’d also coerced him into taking her to the Mariners’ game that first time.

“My mother had nothing to do with this.”

“Fine. Whatever.”

“Don’t go all psycho on me,” he muttered. He vaulted to his feet, raking his fingers through his hair. “Listen, there’s probably a better way to ask you to the Homecoming dance, but—”

Courtney’s head reared back. “You’re asking me to the dance?” She hadn’t dared to even hope for this. Was he serious? He wasn’t teasing her, was he? That would be too cruel.

He nodded. “But listen, there might be a bit of a problem with Melanie.”

“What do you mean?”

His shoulders rose in a sigh. “She’s the jealous type.”

“So the breakup wasn’t mutual?”

He shook his head sadly. “No. Not exactly. She’s pretty upset and, well—I felt I should warn you.”

Courtney frowned. “Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”

Andrew smiled apologetically. “I was afraid if I did, you might refuse to go to the dance with me.” He studied her, an expectant look on his face.

This wasn’t a joke. He was serious. Andrew wanted to take her to Homecoming. “Oh, Andrew,” she whispered, trying to keep her voice from trembling. “I’d be honored to be your date.” She didn’t have a thing to wear—oh, if she’d ever needed her sister, it was now.

Andrew brightened. “Annie said you would.”

“She put you up to this?”

“No way, but she did give me some advice.” Andrew grinned, raising one foot. “She suggested I wear the socks. Did it work?”

Courtney laughed. “Tell her it did,” she said, smothering a laugh.

Chapter 42


Bethanne was in the midst of party preparations for an eight-year-old boy. Todd was a fan of old-fashioned Western movies and TV shows, the cowboy and Indian shoot’ em up kind. Bethanne had developed a party for him revolving around his favorite hero, the Lone Ranger. The invitations were out, and everyone was asked to come dressed as a cowboy. Bethanne planned to bring her guitar and she’d made arrangements to have a few bales of hay delivered. The parents had agreed to a campfire in their large backyard, and after various games, the boys would eat sitting around the fire and then she’d lead a singalong. In order to get in the mood, she’d tie a red bandanna around her neck and wear her cowgirl boots. She’d even bought a tin sheriff’s badge to pin to her plaid shirt.