Matt motions us over.

He shakes my hand when I reach their table. "Caleb and Lenny, this is my girlfriend Becca and that's Robert, our physical therapist."

Robert holds out his hand and shakes mine, then Lenny's. I give him a strong, hard shake so he knows I'm not a dead fish. The guy is drinking beer, and he looks like he came out of a damn GQ magazine spread. Is that the kind of guy she's looking for, an older one who wears fancy clothes?

"What are you doing here?" Maggie asks, totally confused.

"I came back."

"Have you seen Leah and your dad?"

"I'm staying with them." I pause. "For now. Lenny had some issues with his mom, so he's staying at my house too.

I'm trying to read her, but I can't. The guy she's with seems amused that I'm here. Has she told him about me? Does she even give a shit that I'm back, or was all that talk about coming back to Paradise solely for my parents' and sister's sake?

"Why don't you guys join us?" Robert asks.

Nice way to shove it in my face, dude. He has no clue if he attempts to stick his tongue down Maggie's throat in my presence, I'll be on him like a pit bull. "No, thanks."

Lenny spots an empty booth across the way and heads over to it.

"We'll talk later," I tell Maggie. I follow Lenny and slide into the booth.

As if the night couldn't get worse, my old high school friends walk through the door. I spot my old best friend Brian Newcomb right away, the guy who was dating Kendra while I was still dating her. She was sleeping with both of us and I had no clue. Brian knew, but he was too chickenshit to tell me about it.

He's with Tristan and Drew. The four of us were on the wrestling team together. We'd hung out since grade school. After I was released from jail, Drew was a cocky asshole and Tristan's mom ordered me to stay away from him. Tristan didn't argue.

I try not to make eye contact with the guys, and instead attempt to concentrate on whatever nonsense is flying out of Lenny's mouth. I think he's reminiscing about tossing Trish in the lake, but I'm hardly listening, because out of the corner of my eye I see Brian walking toward us.

"Holy shit, it really is you," Brian says, leaning into the booth and slapping me on the back. "Where you been, man?"

I try to fight off the feeling of camaraderie with Brian, but I can't. We were best friends for too damn long for me to turn my back and pretend he doesn't exist.

"I was in Chicago for a while," I tell him. Brian nods as if he understands. I gesture to Lenny. "This is Lenny. Lenny, these are my old friends."

"Cool." Lenny nods at each of them.

"Hey, Caleb," Tristan says, shaking my hand. "You're back, huh?"

"Just for a little while," I tell him.

Drew has a sly grin on his face as he sits on the bench beside me. "Brian, give Caleb the good news."

If Brian tells me he got a wrestling scholarship to Notre Dame, I won't be surprised. He always wanted to be one of the Fighting Irish, even though he's German. It was one of our running jokes. Brian is a smart guy, and worked hard to get the grades so he could get in.

Brian shoves his hands in his pockets. "Yeah, umm, I'm getting married."

"To Kendra," Drew chimes in, as if he can't keep the salacious info off his tongue. Drew hates Kendra, but he loves gossip that's sure to ignite sparks between Brian and me.

He's not going to get those sparks, at least from me.

I reach past Drew and hold out my hand to Brian. "Congrats, man," I say. And I mean it. I thought he'd go the college route, but if this is what he wants, more power to him.

Brian shakes my hand. "Thanks, Caleb. That's really cool of you."

I nod, and I'm glad that's over. The ice is broken. Tristan slides in next to Lenny, and Brian pulls up a chair to sit on the end.

This is one cozy little group.

Speaking of cozy little groups ... I peer over at Maggie. She's having all sorts of fun with Matt, that guy Robert, and Becca. Okay, well not exactly fun. They're all just talking. I shouldn't give a shit. I don't give a shit.

How old is that dude, anyway? He's got a sports coat on as if he's about to broadcast the five o'clock news, and he's drinking his beer out of a glass instead of a bottle. The dude is a diva.

"So when's the wedding?" Lenny asks Brian.

"In two weeks," Brian mumbles as the waitress comes over.

After we order, Brian pulls out his cell phone and starts texting. For a guy who's getting married in two weeks, he doesn't look happy. In fact, he looks downright depressed.

I wouldn't put it past Kendra to manipulate him into marrying her, except for the fact that ever since sophomore year, Kendra has been obsessed with leaving Paradise and moving to California. She always wanted to be an actress or model and used to make fun of the people who graduated from Paradise High and stayed here their entire lives. She called them white trash losers.

Tristan tries to grab Brian's phone, but he pulls it out of his reach. "Stop it," he orders.

Our food comes, and I have to say thank God for Lenny. I don't feel like talking much, and Lenny can carry on a conversation about anything. When Lenny finds out Drew is into sports cars, he pulls all this random sports car knowledge out of his ass. Funny thing is, he sounds like he really knows what he's talking about.

When Tristan mentions the new Frisbee course that went up at the south end of Paradise Park, Lenny says he "loves frolfing" and that "technically it's called disc golfing because Frisbee is a brand name, yadda yadda."

Who knew Lenny was an encyclopedia of useless information? I'm just glad I don't have to carry the conversation, especially because I keep looking over at Maggie.

Oh, shit. I catch her looking back. Our eyes lock on one another.

"I've got to go," Brian says.

"Sit down, Bri," Drew says. "I drove you, remember? I'm not goin' anywhere until I finish my food."

Brian reaches into his wallet and tosses a ten dollar bill on the table. "You don't have to interrupt your meal, Drew. Kendra is picking me up."

Brian keeps looking at the door and holding his cell phone in his palm, as if he's expecting to be summoned by text any minute. Something's not right.

Apparently Kendra decides to come in rather than just text him, because she walks through the door and heads toward us. Her big blue eyes are focused on me and her long blonde hair is perfectly styled. Her makeup makes her look hard, not like the pretty girl I started dating when we were sophomores. She was my first serious girlfriend, and the one who I lost my virginity to. I used to think she was the sexiest thing alive.

"I thought you were going to text me when you got here, Brian says. "

Kendra doesn't break her eye contact with me. "I had to see if it was true." She wets her top lip and throws me one of her all-too-familiar sexy looks. "So ... Caleb Becker is back. Again."

"Hey, Kend," I say. "I hear congratulations are in order."

She looks down at her ring finger and the small diamond. "Thanks."

"You ready?" Brian asks, taking her hand.

Kendra removes her hand from Brian's grasp. "Can I talk to CB outside for a minute?"

I haven't heard that nickname in a long time. CB, my initials. She always called me that.

Brian looks at me, then back at her. "Yeah, I guess so. But I thought you said we were late for the cake tasting."

"It's fine," is her response. "I need to talk to Caleb first."

Drew rolls his eyes, but slides out of the booth to let me out.

"We'll be right back," Kendra tells Brian. "Wait here."

She heads for the exit, and doesn't stop until we're next to the gravel parking lot.

"I can't believe you came back," she says.

I tell her the truth. "I needed to tie up some loose ends."

"Am I a loose end, CB? 'Cause I swear, all I've done since you left is think about you and me. Do you think about me?"

I'm confused. Why is she bringing us up when she was the one who cheated on me? "Why are you marrying Brian? 'Cause neither one of you look happy about it. I know for a fact that after graduation you were dying to leave this town and go out to California, and Brian was dead set on going to Notre Dame."

Kendra crosses her arms around her stomach. "I'm pregnant, Caleb."

Shit. Pregnant? Didn't see that coming, although I guess the evidence is right in front of my face. Kendra isn't wearing one of her signature tight shirts that hug her body. She's wearing a loose shirt with a light jacket.

Tears start welling in her eyes, making her eyelashes sparkle. When she blinks and black mascara falls down her cheek along with her tear, I don't know what to say.

"Sorry," I say dumbly.

"Brian doesn't even want to apply for college, Caleb. He wants to take over his dad's butcher shop. Can you imagine me staying in Paradise and being the wife of a butcher?"

She wraps her arms around my waist. I keep my hands off her, because damn it, I don't want Brian coming out here and thinking we're about to get it on. And I don't want Maggie seeing me with Kendra, either.

It was a bad idea coming out here with her. I take her wrists and unwrap her arms from around my waist.

"Kend ... shit, why didn't you just use a condom or something? We were always careful."

"Yeah, well the next time a guy says he'll promise to pull out I'll remember that's not effective birth control."

She wraps her arms around me again. We dated for over two years, but she doesn't have a hold on me now.

I also know that Kendra can turn the damsel-in-distress act into the diva-with-an-agenda act in a matter of seconds.

She buries her head into my chest. "Take me with you," I think I hear her say.


She looks up with wide blue eyes and blinks her long lashes.

"Take me back, CB," she says. "I never stopped loving you.



saw Kendra and Caleb leave the restaurant together, but I didn't expect to find them in an intimate embrace in the parking lot. As we walk out of Dusty's, I can't help but stare.

Kendra is looking up at Caleb. He's looking down at her.

Suddenly, I don't feel good.

If he bends his head further, they're going to kiss. I look down at the gravel. If he kisses her, I might have to hurl a rock at them.

Stop it, Maggie.

Okay, I need to get a grip. Caleb and I parted amicably. We're friends, above all else. And I'm glad he's finally back in Paradise, because I know his family needs him.

We get back to my house and hang out for a while, until Robert starts yawning and Matt drives him and Becca home. While I'm saying good-bye to them, Kendra drives up in her little sports car and parks in front of Caleb's house. She tosses her blonde hair back with a flick of her wrist. The pieces fall in perfect waves down the side of her face and land in little curls at the bottom.

She doesn't even look my way when she walks up to Caleb's door and rings his bell in all her sexy glory. I try not to pay attention as he opens the door and lets her in, but I can't help it. Old habits die hard.

After Matt drives off with Robert and Becca, I have the urge to ring Caleb's doorbell and fight for him like Lou is fighting for my mom.

Instead, I sit on our front steps and think. And wait.