Flash Fic Friday

**This week’s prompt is a first Thanksgiving for a new couple. Enjoy!**

“Maybe I shouldn’t go with you.”

Liam chuckled, and reached out to grab my hand. “I told you, Charlie. Its–”

“But we’ve only been together for six months. It’s our first holiday together. Real holiday I mean, and maybe it’s too soon.”

“Charlie.”

“I mean, maybe they won’t like me, and then I’ll ruin everything.”

“Honey.”

“Thanksgiving is a big deal!” I shook my head, nerves threatening to overwhelm me. I had to swallow fast, or else I’d throw up. “And your family does it right, and it’s important and I just–”

“Charlie!”

His shout startled me, and I turned to look at him. Liam’s expression was a mix of affection and exasperation. Which, if I was honest, was not that unusual when it came to me. He got me like no other person, and I was fortunate that I’d stumbled into him at the bookstore six months ago. Literally. I’d tripped over a low display table and slammed into him. He’d kept us both upright, and then asked me for coffee. The past six months had been amazing, and I loved him with everything in me. But this was a big step and I wasn’t sure I was ready.

“Baby. I know you’re nervous.” Liam leaned into my space, and cupped my cheek so I couldn’t look away.

“Nervous is an understatement,” I croaked.

He smiled sweetly. Then pecked my lips, and stayed close enough I could see the flecks of gold in his brown eyes.

“I know your family isn’t like mine. You’ve had to make your own way for a long time. But I swear to you, you won’t mess up. And my family will love you. Almost as much as I do.”

I melted, and some of the tension left my body. Not enough though, because I was still vibrating with it. Knowing he loved me helped, but I was still scared.

“Still,” I whispered. “Maybe I shouldn’t go. Christmas might be better.”

“Baby,” he said, laughing again. He used his hold to turn my head. “We’re already at my parents house.”

I gulped and nodded as much as I was able. “I’ll just stay in the car.”

He raised an eyebrow. “For four whole days.”

“Yup.”

Liam chuckled again, and the sound soothed me even more. He had a great laugh. It was the first thing I noticed about him.

“It’s going to be fine. I want you with me. Our first Thanksgiving together.” His eyes went dark. “The first of many right?”

I let out a swoony sigh as I nodded, because really, how could I not? After three weeks together, he told me he wanted exclusivity. He said the thought of someone else touching me wanted to make him commit murder. At six weeks he told me he loved me. It took me a little longer to say it back. But it was clear from early on that we were made to be together. And I loved him so much I couldn’t imagine a future without him.

“Okay,” I said quietly. My voice shook and I tried for a smile. “Okay. Let’s do this.”

***

Three hours later, I was sitting at the huge table between Liam and his younger brother. I swear, the table actually groaned with the amount of food piled on it. And there were at least twenty people squished around it. Liam’s parents and siblings, and their kids, and a few aunts, uncles, and cousins. Everyone talked too loud and teased each other. But the love pouring off these people was amazing. I’d never had anything like it, and I didn’t even know it really existed. Not outside of movies anyway. But here it was.

It was awesome and terrifying at the same time.

After everyone had eaten their fill, the noise quieted some. Full stomachs would do that. I’d eaten so much I had to discreetly reach down and unbutton my jeans.

“All right, now it’s time for my favorite part of he festivities,” Liam’s father Joe said. He smile widely, and I couldn’t tear my gaze away from him. I now had a good idea what Liam would look like in thirty years, and it was good. “Let’s go around the table and say what we’re all thankful for.”

There were a few groans, but they were playful. I, on the other hand, started to panic. I shot Liam a scowl, but he just grinned back. How could he not have told me about this?

“I’ll go first,” Joe said. He took a second to gather his thoughts, and then smiled again. “I’m thankful for this amazing, loud, messy, loving family I have gathered around me. And I’m especially grateful for Charlie’s presence this year. It does my heart proud to see my son so happy and settled, and that’s down to you, Charlie. Thank you.”

I gaped at him, eyes wide and cheeks hot. I was sure I looked ridiculous, but I couldn’t seem to stop. If Joe noticed, he didn’t show it. He just gave me a tiny wink, and turned to Liam, who was seated at his right.

Liam cleared his throat. “It’s been a great year for me, and I’m beyond thankful for the blessings I’ve had. In particular, this man who came here with me, even though he was nervous. I’m thankful for your love, Charlie.”

The tears welled up faster than I could stop them, and I cleared my throat, trying to find my voice. Everyone waited, and a quick glance around let me know there were mostly smiles. And in Liam’s mother’s case, a few tears as well.

“That,” I whispered, forcing the words out. “That’s what I’m thankful for too.”

Liam put his arm around me and tugged me into his side. I hid my face in his shoulder and just breathed in his scent.

I had a lot to be thankful for. But this moment was at the top of the list.

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Flash Fic Friday

**In honor of my new day job, the prompt given to me this week was a new job. Enjoy!**

I was early, but the excitement, nerves, and anticipation pushed me out of bed an hour before I needed to be. And then I figured it wouldn’t hurt to get to the office a little early. It was my first day, and it would give me a chance to get set up and learn the lay of the land.

My office was small, and the walls were bare, but it wouldn’t take me long to fill them. I had a few prints I couldn’t wait to hang up. The desk was shiny and clean, and two monitors graced the top. Stepping into the former managers shoes, I knew the computer was already set up with everything I needed. And I also knew it wouldn’t take me long to get acclimated with the workings of this particular office. I’d worked hard to get where I was, and I was determined to do the job well.

After taking a few minutes to just absorb the atmosphere, I picked up my favorite travel mug and headed for the break room. One of the perks was a fully stocked kitchen, and I’d been assured throughout my many rounds of interviews that there was always coffee. I met a few people on my way down the hall, and received polite nods and “good mornings” in response to my greetings.

Settling back in at my desk, I took a big gulp of the steaming brew, and barely refrained from moaning out loud. Damn, they didn’t spare any expense. The coffee was the good stuff. Sighing happily, I booted up my computer and loaded my task list. I had an hour to get myself acclimated before the meeting with the VP and my team.

Barely fifteen minutes later, a knock on my door had me looking up. And I nearly swallowed my tongue. Six feet of sinewy muscle, bright smile, and careless good looks. I cleared my throat, and then had to do it again. I hadn’t met this man on my interviews or tour, and it was probably a good thing I didn’t. He was gorgeous, and I would have stumbled and stuttered instead of presenting my best self.

“Hey there. Colin right?” The man took a step inside and held out his hand. I hastily stood to shake it, and felt the zing of electricity shoot up my arm. His dark eyes widened a fraction, so I knew he felt it too. But he gave a slight head shake, and his smile grew. “I’m Jude. Welcome to the team.”

“Thanks.” My voice came out a little croaky.

Jude just smiled even wider. “I’m the acquisitions manager, so our teams will be working closely together. I wanted to take a minute and introduce myself before our meeting this afternoon.”

“I appreciate that.” I shuffled my feet uncertainly, and hoped my smile didn’t look as maniacal as it felt. “It’s not easy being the new guy. And teamwork is important.”

Teamwork is important? Really? That was what I came up with? I wanted to kick myself. But Jude chuckled, and his smile turned a little wicked.

“Yes it is.” He pitched his voice low, and I fought a shiver. I knew I wasn’t mistaking the innuendo in his tone.

Jude took a step back. “I’ll let you get back to work. And I’ll see you this afternoon.”

I waved as he turned to leave, and felt like an idiot, but the man had addled my brains. And the way his ass looked in his dress pants was enough to be my undoing. Just before he stepped through the door, he looked back over his shoulder and caught me staring. He licked his lips.

“And maybe we can meet after work for a drink. You know–” he gave me a meaningful look. “–to welcome you to the company.”

All I could do was nod. Jude winked and left. I waited until I was sure he was gone, then sat down hard in my chair. I couldn’t contain my grin.

I just knew I was going to love working here.

Flash Fic Friday

**This week’s prompt is homecoming. Enjoy!**

Six months.

184 days.

Four thousand, four hundred, twenty-two hours and seven minutes since I saw him last.

Being military was hard for a lot of reasons, but until this last deployment, I hadn’t minded being away so much. But the wheel’s up call came in the middle of the night and I’d had no time to do anything other than kiss him goodbye, grab my go-bag, and walk out the door.

I love being a Marine. I loved serving my country and making shit go boom. I loved my platoon and the command that lead us. I was one of the lucky ones–a lifer that had a good spot, a good team, and choice assignments. And when Luka came into my life two years ago, I’d never been so relieved I was in the position I was, because it meant that I could show him off proudly without worry. My team had my back, and so did command.

For eighteen months, we’d never been apart for longer than a few weeks when I was sent to train. But then the call had come, and I’d had to leave him, warm and sleepy and sated, in my bed. The separation was hard on us both. I missed him like crazy. We messaged as much as we were able, with the occasional Skype call, but it hadn’t been enough.

I loved that man more than anything else, and I couldn’t wait to get home to him.

He’d moved into my house while I’d been gone. He’d already had a key to my place at that point, but I wanted more. At first, he was just house sitting. Checking in occasionally, picking up the mail. But I wanted him there, and it took a lot of cajoling, before he realized how serious I was. When I finally got to come home, I wanted him there waiting for me.

It was late before I finally made it to the door. The military flight back had been long, but I’d managed to wrangle my way onto an earlier transport. Luka wasn’t expecting me for another couple of days, when the rest of my platoon was scheduled to return. I had enough rank, as a Staff Sergeant, to pull a few strings. So I was stateside again a little earlier.

I hadn’t told Luka, because I didn’t want him to get his hopes up in case it fell through. Where the government was concerned, things could change at the drop of a hat. And when I touched down on US soil, I decided to keep it quiet. I thought the surprise was worth it.

Even though it was after eleven, the lights were still on in my tiny bungalow, giving the whole house a warm, inviting feel. Luka had hung a autumn wreath on the door, and I saw a few pumpkins strategically placed on the porch. Fall was heavy in the air, and the few, tasteful decorations reminded me that Thanksgiving was only a week away. Last year Luka had dragged me to his parent’s house, and we’d done the whole family thing. This year, things would be different. Just us and a few close friends.

I was quiet opening the door. The warmth hit me first, and then the scent of mulled cider filled my nose. I could hear Luka singing–he had an amazing voice–and I set my bag down carefully so it didn’t make a sound on the hardwood. Then I slowly toed off my boots, and used my stealth skills to sneak into my own kitchen.

Luka was washing the dishes, his back to me, as he sang and wiggled his hips to the beat he was creating. Two pies graced the counters. My heart filled, and my eyes stung.

“Hey, baby.”

Luka screamed and whirled around, his dark eyes wide and a soapy ten inch knife clutched in his hand. Then he went still, his chest heaving as he panted.

“Brady?” he whispered.

I grinned. I couldn’t help it.

“Hi.”

Luka’s mouth worked for a moment, all fish out of water, then he sobbed out a breath, flung the knife on the counter beside him and launched across the room. I barely got my hands on him, and I staggered back into the table under the force of his assault. But the second we connected, my entire world righted, and I hiked him up so I could hold him more securely against me.

“You’re here!” He was crying, his body shaking, but he sounded so happy I didn’t even care he was getting snot and tears all over the collar of my utilities.

“I missed you,” I whispered into his skin. I inhaled deeply, his familiar scent of mint and citrus and fresh laundry washing over me.

“I missed you. I can’t believe you’re here. It was supposed to be days from now and I’ve been waiting and now you’re here.”

I didn’t know how long we stood there but even after my arms got tired and I had to rest against the edge of the table to keep us both upright, I still held on.

Six months apart, and we were finally together again. I hated that we’d had to spend even one moment apart.

But this? This was exactly the homecoming I’d longed for.

Flash Fic Friday

**This week’s prompt is amnesia. Enjoy!**

“Don’t know what happened. Found him like this…”

“The Nyx got him, looks like. It’d been hours…”

Everything hurt. Every muscle and tendon. Hell, every molecule in my body screamed with agony. I was vaguely away of noises–voices–but I couldn’t open my eyes. If I opened them, my head would explode. I was sure of it.

“Let me see him.”

That rumble of a voice had me opening my eyes. I was in an unfamiliar room–dark but cozy–and three people stood at the end of the bed. The two smaller guys wore their worry plain on their faces, but the big man was staring right at me. He noticed me looking, and quickly rounded the end of the bed.

“Ben, baby.”

I blinked–even that hurt–and tried to speak. It came out as a croak, and I cleared my throat and tried again. “Where am I?”

The big guy froze, and concern washed his features. After a second, he approached cautiously. “Ben?”

“How do you know my name?” Panic flooded my veins, but when I tried to push myself out of bed, I fell back against the mattress, too weak to hold myself up. “Who are you? What’s going on?”

“Shit,” one of the other guys muttered. I didn’t turn to look at which one. “The Nyx wiped his memory.”

“Leave us.” The other two scrambled to do the big man’s bidding, and I heard the soft snick as the door latched closed.

Fuck. Now I was trapped in the room, too weak to defend myself, with a big man who looked like he could snap me in half. He was gorgeous, all shoulders and muscles and scowl. But definitely dangerous. I wanted to be elsewhere.

“You’re safe here,” he rumbled, never taking his dark gaze off me. “I promise. No one is going to hurt you.”

And just like that, I believed him. I didn’t understand it, since my brain told me I should be terrified. But I wasn’t. His words, his voice, just soothed me. I relaxed a fraction, but I still kept myself ready. I needed to be ready, just in case.

He crossed the room, and I tracked him, but he only opened a small dorm sized fridge and pulled out a bottle of water. He made a show of cracking the seal, showing me it hadn’t been tampered with. I took it from him when he handed it over, and gratefully swallowed some. It felt so good, I took a larger drink.

“Easy now,” he murmured, stepping close to the bed.

I took another smaller sip, and then wiggled a little until I could sit up against the headboard. He slowly lowered himself to the mattress, perching on the edge. I appreciated the courtesy.

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

Odd question, but I searched my brain anyway. After a minute, I realized there was a hole in my memory. Definitely something missing. Had I hit my head? I reached up and felt around, but there was no bump. Had I been drugged? Oh god, was that why I was here?

“Ben?”

My name in his voice startled me, but I settled again. Something about this man comforted me, and I didn’t think it should be that easy, but there was no doubt about it. I took another tiny drink.

“Tuesday.”

He frowned. “And what happened on Tuesday?”

I couldn’t help the small, proud grin. “I aced Professor Millhouse’s midterm.”

His breath whooshed out and he squeezed his eyes shut. Then whispered, “Damn.”

“What?”

“Four years ago,” he muttered, half to himself. “Before the veil ripped and all the unnatural flooded into the natural world.”

What?” I pushed at the blankets, suddenly desperate to get up. He was fucking nuts.

“Ben, stop.” His voice was a command and a plea, and I obeyed instinctively, my body going still.

“What in the hell is going on?”

“Two days ago, you went after a Nyx. It shouldn’t have been a big deal, but we lost contact. Peter and Remy found you a few hours ago, nearly dead.” He leaned in just a little, and I could see the pain in his eyes. “We thought it killed you.”

I couldn’t deal with the raw emotion on his face, in his voice. “Nyx?”

“A soulless, blood sucking demon. Vicious, nasty things. You’ve dealt with hundreds, though, so I wasn’t worried. But then you didn’t come back.”

“I…” I had no idea what to say to that. Even though his words didn’t make sense, there was something about them, the way they settled into me, that I just knew it to be true. But how? Why? I still didn’t know what was going on, and the panic that had been bubbling under the surface spilled over. I started hyperventilating, the edges of my vision dimming, and my heart pounded so hard it hurt.

He touched my wrist, and I jerked my gaze to his. I was lost in his deep, dark eyes. The worry and pain and love and affection there. They were so familiar. I knew those eyes. I didn’t know how, or why, but I knew this man who was staring at me like I hung the moon.

Unbidden, his name came to my lips. “Lucas?”

The grin that bloomed on his face transformed his features. And like a flood, memories crashed into me. The past four years. When the veil between the worlds ripped and a host of unholy, terrifying creatures came racing into our world. How nearly half the humans had died in the first onslaught, but Lucas and I survived. Banned together with others, and set about protecting those who were left.

“Oh baby. There you are.”

I started crying, because I couldn’t do anything else. I’d nearly left him to this world alone, and that was the one thing I vowed never to do. I clung to him, and he held me just as tightly.

We’d be okay. There wasn’t any other choice.

Flash Fic Friday

**This week’s prompt is a high school reunion. Enjoy!**

He couldn’t believe it had been so long.

Twenty goddamn years.

Setting foot back in his old high school was a mind trip. Justin had loved high school. Four years of unfailing popularity. He’d been Senior class president, prom king, and captain of the lacrosse team. He’d had boys and girls hanging off his every word, following him around, desperate for his attention. He liked to think he’d bestowed it gracefully. It would have been so easy to let that power go to his head. To be an asshole and a bully. Sometimes, he thought that would have been easier.

It would have made it a hell of a lot easier to hide the things about himself he didn’t understand, anyway.

Justin took a deep breath and grinned. The hallways even smelled the same. Books and metal and the cleaning supplies they used on the floors. He could hear the noise from the gym, where music from their years was playing and loud voices chattered over the sound. The black and gold streamers and balloons, and the banner proclaiming “Welcome Class of 1997” made it look kitschy, but there was even a charm in that.

He knew if he pushed through the doors, he’d be assailed with classmates. A few he still talked to occasionally on social media, but most he didn’t. They’d want his attention again. Or maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe they wouldn’t care about who he’d been all those years ago, their own lives and troubles and joys gaining a more important place in the intervening years. He wasn’t sure which one was worse.

“Why are you worried?”

Justin didn’t turn at the sound of the voice. He knew it as well as his own. Had spent the past fifteen years living with and loving that voice.

He shrugged one shoulder. “You know why.”

Dorian stepped up beside him, and his big hand enclosed Justin’s. The warmth and strength was immediately comforting. He squeezed Dorian’s fingers, but he kept his gaze fixed on the doors.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” Dorian asked, his voice low and close to Justin’s ear.

“That they think I lied to them, and they hate me on sight?” Justin tried for amused, but his tone didn’t quite make it. Dorian pressed their shoulders together.

“I highly doubt that will happen. I’m sure the truth about you has already spread like wildfire through them all.” Dorian stepped in front of him, then used a hand to lift Justin’s chin. Their gazes met, and the love and affection Justin saw there eased his heart. “And you weren’t lying. You were still figuring yourself out. But at your core, you’re the same person.” Dorian let go of Justin’s face to press his palm to Justin’s heart. “But if the worst happens, we hold our heads high and walk out.”

Justin released a slow breath, forced himself to smile, and nodded. Dorian leaned in and kissed his forehead, then stepped to the side. He didn’t let go of Justin’s hand, and Justin was grateful. he took another breath, and with his chin up, he pushed through the doors.

The lights and sounds were overwhelming for a moment, and Justin had barely adjusted before he heard his name screeched in a loud voice. A second later, he was enveloped in a hug and got a mouthful of bleach blonde hair.

“Cassie,” Justin murmured, returning the hug. Head cheerleader and his prom queen. They’d been good friends, though she’d always dated football players and never looked twice at Justin. That had been fine with him. He adored her, but he hadn’t wanted to date her.

She stepped back and her blue gaze roved all over his face. She looked older–they all did, he supposed–but still good. He wasn’t surprised she’d taken care of herself. He smiled, and it felt tremulous, but he didn’t look away. She broke first, her gaze sliding to Dorian, and then back to him. Justin saw the surprise there.

“Who have you brought with you?”

Justin didn’t miss the slight confusion in her tone, but she didn’t sound derisive or apprehensive. It was now or never.

“Cassie, this is my husband, Dorian. Dor, meet Cassie.”

“It’s a pleasure,” Dorian rumbled, his smile wide.

Cassie blinked, and then a blinding grin took over her face. She grabbed Justin’s hand and started to tug.

“Come on. Let me introduce you to my husband.”

Justin let himself be led, his mind whirling. He’d been expecting the worst, because his mind often went there, and Cassie had taken it in stride. He wasn’t so naive as to think everyone would, but Cassie’s welcoming demeanor did wonders to assuage his worry.

He grabbed Dorian’s hand, pulling him along too, and when they stopped in front of a huge group of people, Cassie started introductions with her familiar perky attitude. With each one, he was warmly welcomed, and within a few minutes, they were reminiscing about old teachers and pranks and high school shenanigans Justin hadn’t thought of in years. Dorian was a solid presence beside him, laughing at all the right places. Justin leaned against him, just a little, and Dorian put his arm around Justin’s waist.

And Justin remembered why he loved high school.

So That Happened

It’s weird how, sometimes, life moves at lightning speed.

As you may remember, I’ve been without a day job since an unfortunate (and also fortunate) lay off at the end of June. Last week, on Thursday morning at 9 AM, I finally had a job interview. It was quick and short, but the people seemed nice. And I knew I could do that job. Not only have I been dealing with the office end of medical practices for more than a decade, but I’m also good at the “mindless” jobs. Not to say that there’s no thinking involved at all, but more that it’s a job where there’s a clear set of tasks, and it doesn’t take all your brain power to do it. You sit there, do the thing, and move on to the next thing until it’s time to go home. Some people hear this description, and they balk. They know they would be bored and hate it. Me? I’m perfectly suited to such a job, because my brain is always half engaged in other things anyway. Plotting or mind-knitting or colorway planning. What I liked about this particular job is that it’s just sitting at a desk, and I don’t have to interact with many people, and I can just do my thing.

(side note: I thought I was applying for a different position, because the wording on the job description was sort of vague, but now I understand the keywords they used. But that’s okay)

Anyway, as much as I knew I could do the job when I walked away from the interview, I didn’t really think I would take it because I was sure they wouldn’t be able to pay me enough.

Fast forward to 3:30 ish Thursday afternoon…and I get a call from the employment recruiter person. Basically offering me the job. I was sort of stunned it happened that fast, but he sent me the information to look over, we talked about money, and told me he’d call back the next day. I still didn’t think they’d pay me the hourly rate I needed, but I’d look over the info nonetheless.

And while I was all “oh holy crap, guess what just happened” sending texts and messages…my email pinged and my heart pounded.

Because it was the contract offer for Somebody to Die For, the third in my Requiem Inc series with the Dreamspun Beyond line. A job offer and a contract offer on the same day. I’ll tell you, I was doing a bit of a butt wiggle happy dance.

I’m super excited for StDF for a couple of reasons, but mostly because I love the characters and the world, and I’d been planning Avery’s story since the moment he first showed up on page in Ghost of a Chance. (Though he had a different name in the original version). Each of the books has a slightly different feel, but they’re all low angst and focused on the relationship between the two MCs. Avery and Jameson have their own hurdles to overcome. And they’ll be out in the fall of next year.

(I do have one more story in me for this series, but I’m not yet sure if I’ll write it. There are circumstances. So we’ll see.)

And then, on Friday, I got the call from the recruiter, and they did, in fact, come up with enough money to allow me to take the job. And of course, part of me didn’t want to, because I’m enjoying not going to a day job and writing and knitting and reading instead. But I do want to work, and I want a steady income and insurance benefits and all that stuff. So, I took the job and I start on November 6th (barring any complications, but I don’t foresee any)

So. I have a new job I’ll start in a couple of weeks, two more releases before the end of the year, and four releases already set for next year. With possibly another one, if I can manage to get it written.

All in all, I’d say that’s pretty decent.

Flash Fic Friday

**This week’s prompt is a long lost love. Enjoy!**

When I saw him, I was certain I was imagining it. It had been twenty years since he walked away from me, and in the intervening years, I’d hallucinated him in all sorts of places. He was never far from my thoughts, and I thought I saw him everywhere. But every time, it turned out to be another man; someone who was built the same, or had the same color hair, or a familiar looking jacket. It had never been Mark. So I was used to thinking I saw him, and it not being him. The man down the street was not Mark.

Except why else would he be standing in the pouring rain, getting drenched, and staring at me like he saw a ghost?

My heart picked up, and I stood rooted to the spot as the man started walking swiftly toward me. He had a bit of a limp, his gait uneven, and he stepped carefully even as he picked up speed. I couldn’t move, because the closer he got, the more he looked like Mark. An older, much more worn version, but definitely Mark. And then the air stuttered in my lungs, because it was Mark, stopping two feet away from me, looking like a drowned rat with a broken heart.

“Daniel?” His voice was a croak.

Tears stung my eyes, and I tripped forward, awkwardly dosing him with rain off my large umbrella until I could shield him with it too. We stood close, staring at each other, breathing in each other’s air.

“Hi. Wow. Hi.”

Mark chuckled at my eloquence, but it sounded pained and raw. He took another step forward, so he was right in my space. He lifted a hand, but dropped it before he made contact with me. I wanted to throw my arms around him, because I couldn’t believe he was here.

At eighteen, we’d been desperately, madly in love. Hardly anyone knew–it wasn’t safe–but that hadn’t mattered. We’d made plans to run away together, to start a new life with each other as soon as we graduated college. But Mark had joined the Marines instead, without telling me first, and broke my heart into pieces when he went to Basic. He cut off all contact, and it took me weeks to function normally again. Everyone thought I missed my best friend. Which I did, but Mark was so much more than that to me.

“How are you?” I whispered.

Mark shrugged. “I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”

I nodded, and blinked hard to clear the tears. I hadn’t either. I was fortunate his parents were still friends with my mom, because I’d gotten snippets of information over the years. I knew he’d been injured by an IED when he’d been deployed a few years ago, and that he’d gotten a medical discharge sometime later, but I didn’t dare ask for more info. I couldn’t seem too eager, and I didn’t know his situation with his parents.

“You look great,” he murmured, and this time he did touch me, the briefest ghost of fingertips along my cheek. I sighed, leaned closer catching a whiff of him under the rain and damp wool. Earthy, with a hint of citrus. God, that smell. I remembered it well. And for just a second, I was lost in memories. Of our bodies entwined, of long nights in each other’s arms. A horn honked, and I jerked back to the present.

“You look good, too. Tired, but good.” I smiled, and Mark did too.

“It hasn’t been easy,” he admitted with a hint of sadness. Then he cleared his throat. “I bet you have a husband and a passel of dogs and white picket fence now. All those things you dreamed off.”

“Well, I’ve got the dogs,” I said with a small laugh. “And the fence, but it’s wrought iron.”

Mark’s smile grew. “But no husband? Boyfriend? Partner?”

“No,” I said softly. “Not one of those.”

“Me either.”

I grinned, unable to stop myself. And then he gave a hard shiver, and I realized he was soaked and freezing.

“There’s a coffee shop,” I said, gesturing across the street. “Want to get warm and have something hot to drink? Catch up?”

He put his arm around me, then took the umbrella from my hand and held it over both of us. “There’s nothing I want more.”