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Loving Annie chapter 1
It’s still bright out as I slide into the passenger seat of my boyfriend’s brand-new Subaru station wagon – just one of the many advantages of almost-summer. Daniel carefully shuts my door before making his way around to the driver’s side, pretending that we’re just co-workers carpooling home instead of boyfriend and girlfriend. This will be gone, though, by the time we make it to the freeway.
Most people don’t go out of their way to keep their relationships secret. Daniel and I are different, though. So many people will respond the wrong way if they ever find out that we’re dating – my parents, first of all, and then my friends. I mean, not every eighteen-year-old girl has a twenty-three-year-old boyfriend. Quite honestly, a lot of girls my age wouldn’t be comfortable with men as old as Daniel – because I’ll face it, he’s not exactly a boy – but we love each other to death.
As soon as we’re out of sight of the bookstore where we both work, Daniel’s hand slides into mine and I sigh contentedly. Daniel is… incredible. His chocolate-brown hair is so dark it’s almost black, and his eyes are a softer, warmer shade of the same color. He manages to go for long runs every morning and still keep up with his classes at Stanford University, which is where I’m going to learn in just a few months.
We’re almost on the freeway now, but instead of turning onto the onramp he guides the car down a side road. I know this place well – most nights after we work, we’ll come down here for any number of reasons, like kissing or just staring up at the stars. But since there aren’t any stars visible at 7:00 on a summer night, I have a feeling it’s going to be a lot of kissing.
I place my hand on Daniel’s arm. “Daniel, I… my dad’s at home,” I say apologetically. My dad’s in the military and is barely able to come home, so whenever he does we throw a big party. My mom is really counting on me to help set it up, and if I disappoint her, it’ll disappoint my dad, and no one will be happy.
“Oh,” Daniel says, swinging a wide U-turn, and I feel really bad. He looks so upset, and I almost tell him no, forget it, my dad can wait. But the thing is, I’ll see Daniel tomorrow, and I never know what’s going on with my dad.
I rest my head on his shoulder and squeeze his hand. “I’m really sorry, you know Dad’s pretty bad and I’d much rather spend the time with you. But… I never know when the last time I’ll see him is.” Just because no one knows we’re dating doesn’t mean they don’t know who Daniel is – they just assume he’s my kind coworker who always drives me home.
He sighs. “I know, I know. You gave me this speech last time, remember?” But he tacks on a grin at the end so I know he’s only joking around.
The thing is, I do remember. The sad look on his face, the way he went from the careless attitude of a young man in love to the somber one of a businessman, the way he didn’t really look at me – it’s all the same. “Of course I remember,” I say, and try to make it seem lighthearted.
He glances quickly at me, then away again. “I’m just being selfish, Rachel. Of course you should see your dad.”
The way he says it tells me otherwise, and I glance at my watch. “No, Daniel, I am. Because it seems like we have maybe an hour before my mom will really start freaking out. Even longer if I tell her I’ve been held up at work…”
I’m hardly even done speaking before Daniel slams on the brake and turns around again. “And why didn’t you tell me this earlier, Rachel?” he asks, only half-jokingly.
I shrug. “I didn’t want to disappoint her. But, you know, it’s not going to kill my dad or anything, and I don’t want him to ruin our relationship. And even if it hurts him, it’s my life and I should live it how I want to live, and who I want to live it with.” I beam at him as he parks and leans over to me. “And as you know, you’re the only one I ever want to live it with.”
“I hoped you were going to say that,” he murmurs, and then his lips are on mine and we’re kissing.
Nothing feels better than a forbidden kiss with the one you love, especially because Daniel is just so great at it. Honestly, I’d tell him to go get a degree in it if there was such a thing and if he wasn’t already signed up for a major in some engineering thing. Civil engineering, I think, but I don’t want to seem like a scatterbrained girlfriend so I don’t ask him.
After what seems like forever Daniel pulls away. “You should probably call your mom so we can spend more time together, you know.”
I make a pouting face as I pull out my phone. “Are you sure? I wouldn’t mind kissing some more,” I tell him, searching for my mom’s name in my contacts.
He laughs. “I’m sure you wouldn’t. Now call her already so we can get back to it.”
“Deal,” I say, finally finding my mom’s name, and pressing the send button.
She picks up after only two rings, which has got to be a record for her. Normally she barely beats the voicemail, and often she has to call the person back. “Hello?”
“Hi, Mom, it’s Rachel,” I say, knowing she never bothers to check caller ID because she’s so busy trying to get to the phone.
“Oh, hey. Your dad’s home – will you be here in time for dinner?”
I sigh, trying to sound depressed. “The boss is making us stay late – a flood of college kids just came in, and if this keeps up, we won’t be getting out of here for a long time. Hopefully it’ll slow down and I’ll be able to get something to eat.”
“What about the night shift?”
I curse silently, the forgotten night shift suddenly showing potential in ruining my perfect night with Daniel. “We’re so busy they need twice as many people. Besides, Mom, you know there’s only two to a shift.” And it took forever for Daniel to arrange it so that we have the same shift, I think but don’t say.
“Can I talk to your boss for a second? He’s got to understand how important it is for you to come home, and I’m sure he can call someone in to take your place.”
I search my brain frantically for an answer. “He’s busy right now – apparently we need to restock a bunch of books so he’s trying to find them. But it’ll probably be past midnight by the time we get finished.” I meet Daniel’s eyes as I say this and we both grin. My lie will give us easily five, maybe even six hours together.
“And where are all these students coming from? You’re almost on summer vacation!”
I don’t even have to fake my exasperation. “Mom! There’s such a thing as taking a summer course when you’re in college, you know! Now I really have to go – a bunch of people are asking me where they can find books and I can’t answer them because I’m talking to you. I’ll get a ride home from Daniel, and I’ll see you later, okay?”
“You know I don’t like you spending time with that man, he’s so much older than you – ”
“He’s only five years older, Mom, that’s not even a huge difference. Now, I really have to go, love you bye!” I hang up before she can get in another word.
I look up at Daniel as I slide the phone into my purse and toss it onto the backseat of the car. “Now, where were we again? I seem to remember a kiss…”
He laughs. “You remember right. Let’s get back to it then, shall we?”
It’s only eleven-thirty when we see the headlights of a car coming down the road, and Daniel pulls away from me so he can hop out of the car and start fumbling with the latch of the hood. I jump out of the car and help him, acting like a reluctant girlfriend – which I am, just not because I have to help him with “fixing” the car.
As soon as the headlights pass, we scramble into the car again, and Daniel starts the engine. “We should probably head home now,” he says, his tone apologetic.
I nod. “That was a bit to close for comfort,” I agree.
We’ve spent the last year carefully crafting the friendship – but just a friendship – that everyone sees. If anyone we knew was in that car, and they’d seen us kissing, it would have been a little more than a problem. It would be a disaster.
Carefully, we drive back onto the road, and for some reason neither of us can get up the nerve to even hold hands – it seems too childish, too immature for what just happened. Not to mention that both of us are only beginning to understand just how bad it would be if we were seen together as any more than friendly coworkers.
The traffic light before us glares yellow, and then red. Daniel slows down far earlier than he needs to, slowly aiming the car toward the right-turn lane. There aren’t many other cars out, but someone who knows one or both of us could be driving any of them, and we just can’t take the risk. Even though I really do want to hold Daniel’s hand, for support if nothing else.
The light flickers green and Daniel eases the car forward. What neither of us sees until it’s too late, though, is the bright white of headlights coming from the side – and they aren’t showing any inclination of stopping.
“Daniel!” I scream, and only now do I work up the nerve to grasp his hand – right as our worlds explode in a collision of safety glass and screeching metal.