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Now and Forever

Author(s): Terri Mann, Kate Lane

Nothing could destroy their love, except the truth…

Separated by circumstance and distance, former high school sweethearts Lindy and TJ find their lives and passions once again entwined. For the past twelve years, each lived and worked in separate worlds, but yet held each other close in their hearts, one never sure what the other was feeling. The sudden and cruel death of their dear friend, Jack, brings them back together in Clarkson Grove, where their love had blossomed so many years before. Each is breathless at the thought of reuniting, hoping against hope that they can begin again. Can the love of their youth truly grow into an adult, lasting relationship or are their feelings just bittersweet memories of “the one who got away?” After so much time apart, do they still hold the same, small town values? How will they handle disagreements and disappointments along with extended family strife? Is each free to resume the relationship they once had, or have commitments to others been made, commitments that may even include a child?

Excerpt


 T.J.’s day had begun with the sound of his parents’ harsh voices. The familiar, relentless bickering made him angry, but it also saddened him to know that nothing ever changed in the house where he’d grown up as a lonely child. 

He spent the morning in the den, catching up on business emails and phone calls. Again, he had received many messages from Cassandra and chose to ignore them. When his work was done, T.J. wandered into the kitchen for lunch. Unfortunately, his parents were there too, so he grabbed a sandwich and cup of coffee and went outside to the old picnic table in the backyard. 
Whenever he stayed with them—as rarely as possible—he always felt like he’d fallen into a terrible time warp, and this visit was no different. As the day went on, tension stayed high and the sniping continued—his mother harping about his dad’s drinking and latest fling, and his dad complaining about her nagging voice. Why didn’t they have the decency to mourn Jack’s death, or acknowledge their own son’s obvious grief? 

Shaking off his thoughts, T.J. went inside to dress. He had packed lightly, purchasing what he needed the next day at the new Kenfield Mall. The Armani suits that hung in his Singapore closet had no place here. The new sports coat and dress slacks would blend in with everyone else. The Rolex watch would stay on the dresser. He’d wear the Timex, which had been a high school graduation gift, and the ring Lindy had given him that same June.

T.J. was furious when he realized all of the clocks were set incorrectly—and by default, his watch was behind too. He was even more upset when he realized his parents were taking their good old time getting ready, and expected him to drive them to the funeral home because his dad’s car was again riding on empty. When they finally were settled in his car, T.J. pealed out of the driveway. He sped through Clarkson Grove, ignoring their frantic shouts to slow down. Half-way to the funeral home, he finally lost his temper. Unable to listen to them any longer, T.J. roared into the nearest parking lot and screeched to a stop. He told them to get out. When they refused, he grabbed the keys from the ignition, and ran. 

T.J. would be hard-pressed to forgive his parents, as well as himself, for this disaster. No matter how fast he ran, he’d never be on time to help Becka when she stood in front of Jack’s casket for the first time, or to comfort the kids when they needed him most. 

By the time he arrived, long lines snaked around the parking lot and onto the sidewalk. T.J. strode past everyone, ignoring the voices that called out. Inside, the crowd parted when they saw him, allowing him to quickly reach Becka’s side. He took her hand, kissed her cheek, and whispered his condolences. He remained by her side, leaving her only when she asked for more water or fresh tissue. Although Becka refused to take a break, when the end of visitation hours approached, she insisted it was time for T.J. to have some refreshments. 

As he made his way through the crowd and headed to the lower level reception area, T.J.’s thoughts went to Lindy. He hadn’t seen her, although he’d searched the crowd trying to catch sight of her. Becka, even in her grief, had noticed. She told him Lindy was watching the kids in the other room and also making sure they took breaks downstairs. 

There, T.J. found Becka’s parents, who were now with the kids. He kissed each of the children and said he’d take care of them, just like he’d always promised their dad. He even managed to stop their tears for a while. No matter how old his trick was—no matter how often he made quarters appear from behind their ears—his magic never failed to bring smiles. 

After their grandparents escorted the kids upstairs, T.J. turned his attention to the many pictures and photo albums on display. In addition to pictures of Jack, Becka, and the kids, T.J. smiled sadly at the photos focusing on Jack’s high school achievements. The pictures of Jack, Becka, Lindy, and T.J. were the hardest to bear. He had to blink away tears when he looked at their young faces, always smiling or laughing into the camera. Even worse, after some point in time, Lindy was obviously missing from the photos, and that reality caused T.J. to fight back more tears and then walk away. 

Hearing the voices of old friends, he walked toward an open patio door. As he stepped outside, T.J. saw a beautiful woman in the shadows, standing apart from the rest. He walked toward her and called out her name. She turned. She smiled through tears. To his disbelief, she was at his side in a heartbeat, reaching out and then hugging him.
He stood there silently and accepted her embrace, relishing it. When they stepped apart, they looked at each other and waited, uncertain about where, or how, to begin.

“It...it’s good to see you, T.J.” 

“You too, Lindy.” 

He led her to a small bench that was tucked away in a corner of the patio. He sat next to her, not touching, but only inches apart. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Coming home to bury Jack is beyond my comprehension.”

“I know. This can’t be real.”

“I…I loved Jack. He was the brother I never had. I’ve lost my best friend.” 

Lindy took his hand. “All you can do is remember Jack as the wonderful person he was, and be there for Becka and the kids.”

“You’re right, of course. I’ll do my best. This can’t be easy for you either. Jack and your other losses. I was so sorry to hear about Rae Ann and Rick. I wish I could have been there, but it was impossible to get out of Hong Kong in time for the services. I want you to know I tried.” 

“Thank you. Yes, things have been pretty rough lately. James took his parents’ deaths very hard. That’s why I moved back to Indiana, to Kenfield, after I adopted him. We both need the support of family and close friends.”

“Becka tells me you’re working at Kenfield Memorial. That you earned your nursing degree on the west coast. I’m betting you’re a wonderful nurse, Lindy.”

“Well, I love my job. It’s hard sometimes, working in pediatrics—in the NICU. But it’s meaningful.” 

“James seems like a great kid. Reminds me of Rick.”

“You met James?”

“Sure. Your dad introduced us upstairs. Lindy? You’re shivering. Let me give you my jacket.”

“Thanks. Yes, James is a very special kid. He…” Lindy suddenly switched gears. “How long do you plan to stay in Clarkson Grove?”

“At least several months. While I’m here, I’ll be working on the farming co-op Jack started, and settling finances for Becka and the kids. I’m staying at my folks right now, but moving to the Old Stone Inn as soon as possible.” T.J. tried to catch her gaze, but she seemed preoccupied. “Hey Lindy, are you still with me?” 

“Sure. Sorry, T.J. I just realized I haven’t seen James in the last hour or so. But, please, finish your thought.” 

“I also plan to catch up with friends while I’m here. Take some time to revisit the past, I guess.” 

“That sounds like a great idea. I don’t mean to abruptly end our conversation, but I’d like to check on James.”

“I understand. Try not to worry. He’ll be fine, now that he’s with you. Always knew you’d be good with kids.” 

“I…I have to go, T.J. Like I said, I better check on James. On Becka’s kids too. This has been a difficult day for everyone and tomorrow will be even worse. I hope you’ll look for me at the cemetery. It would be helpful to have you at my side when we say our final good-bye to Jack.” 

“I will. I want you at my side too.”

“I’m glad you’re here, T.J. It means a lot to Becka. Goodnight. See you tomorrow.”

“Night, Lindy. Be careful driving.”

T. J. watched her walk away and disappear into the crowd. He picked up his sports coat from the bench and slipped it back on. He sat there alone for a long time, until the room emptied and the lights dimmed, and the familiar perfume that clung to his coat finally faded away. 

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Genre: Sweet Romance
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Publisher: Prism Book Group

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