Exclusive Excerpt of Before And Ever Since!
An exclusive excerpt from Before And Ever Since…. enjoy!
Oh no. No, no, no, no. Goosebumps ran the length of my body and back again. Ben Landry. As I stared into that face, I felt the old hurt I thought I’d forgotten seep through my bones right down through my feet, rooting me to the floor.
“You’re back,” I said, hearing the words and how my voice suddenly went all croaky and hating how stupid that was.
But I was painfully aware that I had only thrown on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, and otherwise still looked like I’d just crawled out of bed. Additionally, after twenty-one years, I was looking at probably the only person on the planet that ever really knew me. And could turn my life upside down.
“Yes I am,” he said, his voice quiet.
“Mr. Landry,” my mother said from behind me as she moved me over from where I’d dropped anchor in the doorway. “Come on in.”
“Just Ben, ma’am,” he said, shaking her hand and then gesturing toward where I stood with my heart slamming against my ribs. His dark eyes warmed with memory. My stomach threatened to send me back my four cups of coffee as I recalled the last time I’d seen him.
“Emily and I are old friends.”
Ben was the boy that put snakes in the teacher’s lounge and snuck into the girls’ bathroom. That popped all the girls’ training bras and spent at least two days each week in detention. That wore an old black jacket with chains on it when he rode his bike, so he’d look like a bad ass. He was the boy that lured me under my house when we were seven for my first kiss, and into a closet in the eighth grade for another one. He was the mysterious, dangerous looking dark-eyed guy in high school who could part a room like The Red Sea when he entered it, who always sat with his back to the wall and never let his guard down. Except with me.
“I don’t remember seeing you around here,” Mom said.
Ben grinned, an endearing expression that transformed him back into the twenty-one year old I’d last seen him as. Time may have dulled some of the edges, but it worked for him, God help me.
His once long dark hair, was cut short and close, and was more salt and pepper than just pepper. That’s what softened him, I decided, the lighter hair. His face was virtually unchanged, except for tiny laugh lines at those amazing dark eyes. He stood with his hands in the pockets of brown Dockers and a tucked in khaki shirt, oddly at ease with what I found to be awkward as hell.
“Well, I’m sure we met at some point,” he said, smoothly moving the conversation on as his eyes slowly took in the walls and beams and ceiling. It was as if he were already seeing the possibilities. “So, tell me what your ideas are for this place.”
He followed her as she talked about the paneling that needed to go, the ceiling that needed sheetrock, the insulation that was probably rotten, and the gaping cracks around the windows. Just for starters.
Fortunately for me, it gave me the opportunity I needed to release the breath I’d been holding and suck in a few more.
“Jesus Christ, Ben Landry,” I muttered under my breath on a sprint to the bathroom. What I saw when I got there made me want to hurl. My hair was still straight on one side, kinked up and tangled on the other, and a zit waved from one pale cheek. “Shit.”
I dug in Mom’s drawers for a brush and a ponytail band, and managed to find an old cover-up stick for the zit. I couldn’t find any powder or mascara or blush, but at least I’d moved up a notch from scary to just unappealing. I couldn’t remember if I’d put on deodorant, but I saw a bottle of cologne and spritzed my neck.
“Oh God!” I groaned.
It smelled like old woman. Not old woman like my mom, because she was fairly young at heart and active. Old like the women with the beehive hairdos and the stripe of blue eye shadow reaching to their eyebrows.
I found a box of wet wipes under the sink, and attacked my neck with one, but I was pretty sure the smell was still there along with the aroma of aloe.
“Damn it, just shoot me now,” I said to my reflection.
I was Cassidy’s age the last time I’d seen Ben. The night of my twenty-first birthday. Looking at myself there in the mirror, with my brownish-blonde hair that was overdue for a color, and a face that didn’t pull off the natural look with grace, I figured he was counting his blessings for leaving town. For leaving me. I gave my head a little shake as that little gem ran across my brain. That was ancient history. I pulled myself back to the present, and the giant white elephant at hand.
“What are you gonna do about this, Emily?” I said to myself. “What the living hell are you gonna do?” No answers came back, so I held my chin up as I left the bathroom.
When I rounded the corner, I leaned against the wall and watched them—okay, I watched him. Watched how he moved, how his eyes could take in the smallest details with one look, how he still stood with his arms crossed over his chest when focusing hard, how he still pointed at things with his first two fingers instead of one, and noticing all those little quirks again made my heart take off like a freight train.
They were standing by the TV, discussing the buckled paneling. He tugged on a loose section, revealing the original wainscot wood and a gap where a piece was missing. My mother was explaining what was under that paneling throughout the house, when the sounds turned to echoes and there was a weird pitch in my ears, like a ringing. I shook my head, and everything faded to black for a split second as the sound of air rushed by. I sucked in a breath, panicking as I blinked the room back into view.
But it was different. And I couldn’t move.