A Normal Life
Author's note: I live just a few miles from where my story takes place. I came up with the idea while I was... Show full author's note »
A Normal LifeThe new girl walked slowly down the crowded hallway, her eyes lowered; she could feel eyes on her, could hear the whispers.
“Who is she?”
“Where did she come from?”
Oddly, she found these whispers reassuring. No one knew her here; no one knew who she was, what she had done. She was anonymous; a blank page waiting to be written. Gathering her courage, she looked up. Immediately she wished she hadn’t, but to look down again would have been an admission of surrender, and Laurel Cameron was not one to surrender. Not anymore. Instead, she forced out a little half smile and a hesitant wave. To her surprise, she received several genuine smiles back in return. Relief flooded her. They were just ordinary high school kids, and they had no reason to believe that she was anything but another student, just like them. So long as she was careful, they would think she was normal. So long as she was careful, they would think she belonged.
Laurel nearly jumped out of her skin when someone grabbed her arm. The urge to…she pushed it down and turned to see a smiling blonde girl pulling her toward a table.
“Hello, I’m Summer and you are Laurel Cameron.”
Laurel allowed herself to be pushed into a chair. The cafeteria table was worn, stained, and surrounded by unfamiliar faces. Laurel fought the urge to get up and run; instead she automatically smiled and shook hands with everybody, letting their introductions wash over her. There was a geeky boy named Max Porter wearing a “There are only 10 kinds of people in the world: those who know binary and those who don’t” t-shirt and spectacles that were just a little too big for his head. Denise was clearly one of the more “chic crowd” with a stylish brown coat and a European scarf draped nonchalantly over her shoulders. At the end of the table sat Shannon, a plump, cheerful girl with a riot of red curls and a perpetual grin. Summer pulled up a chair to Laurel’s left, across from a pimply young man with the unfortunate name of Humphrey Luther who informed Laurel that he preferred to go by Sam. She didn’t blame him one bit. Laurel was surprised by how easily she fell into conversation with them, and she found herself laughing for the first time in months. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Laurel tossed her backpack onto the couch before she headed for the shower. She replied to her grandmother’s queries about her day with vague single syllable answers. She knew they meant well and that they worried about her, but she didn’t really want to talk until she figured things out for herself. The day’s tension slowly melted from her muscles as the hot water hit her back and she sighed. Working suds through her strawberry blonde hair, she considered the people she had met today. They had asked all kinds of questions about where she was from and then about what it had been like to live in Portland. They had asked about her parents, but had not pressed when she said that she and her mom lived with her grandparents. Shannon had looked like she wanted to ask, but Laurel had seen Summer nudge her foot under the table. Summer probably thought he was dead or divorced; either way, she could tell that Laurel was uncomfortable. There was no way she could suspect the truth.
She slid down the wall and sat with her head resting on her knees; water pounding on her head. She could remember the events so clearly. She had been pulled over for speeding in mid-July. It had been unbearably hot and humid, so she had peeled off her ever-constant sweater. As the officer left his car and approached her window, she had almost pulled it back on. Almost. But something stopped her. A sense of desperation made her hesitate, and then it was too late. He saw. He asked the questions, and she found herself answering them.
Laurel took a deep shuddering breath and lifted her face. She didn’t have to be afraid anymore, she told herself, but she couldn’t quite believe it. She remembered how the other kids at school had looked at her. They had all suspected, she knew, but they were shocked at what she had done. Nina, her best friend for three years, suddenly acted as if she had the plague. Nobody knew quite what to say to her, so they said nothing at all and avoided her entirely. Her mom blamed her for what had happened and hardly spoke to her anymore. Only her grandmother and grandfather sympathized, but they didn’t understand.
It was easy enough to avoid her grandparents and slip out of the house. Murase Plaza was only a five-minute walk away, and she didn’t want to be home when her mom arrived. She stopped in at the public library and browsed the books for a moment, finally choosing an old favorite, The Scarlet Pimpernel. The ladies at the checkout all smiled and waved at her as she left, and Laurel couldn’t help a small grin. She had only moved to Wilsonville a few weeks ago and they already knew her on sight.
From there, all she had to do was cross the street and she was at Murase. Ignoring the children who were clambering over the play structures, Laurel made her way over the grassy hilltops and found her favorite spot. There was a tree; of what type she had no idea. It had long, drooping branches that brushed the ground, creating a hideaway with a ceiling of green far above her where she could look out at the world from safety or just sit and read her book. This time, however, the book was mostly an excuse for her presence. Laurel parted the leafy boughs just enough to see, and watched.
Her heart ached just listening to the children playing happily at the top of the hill. Laurel had never had the kind of childhood where she could laugh and scream with such innocent joy. No, her screams had been different. She saw a boy she recognized from yesterday’s history class sitting on a bench not far away. A voice called and his head came up sharply, his whole body turning as he looked at the girl who was striding toward him with a smile on her face. He stood and they embraced, their lips meeting for a chaste kiss before they sat down together. The girl rested her head against his shoulder and he clasped her hands between his own.
Laurel pulled back and let the branches fall back into place as she stumbled against the tree trunk. She sucked in deep breaths and tried to suppress a sob. No one had ever touched her like that; she had never let them. She had been too afraid that they would discover how worthless she was, how cowardly, how weak.
Occupied with her internal anguish, Laurel failed to hear the rustle of leaves as someone parted the foliage and joined her in her refuge. Her first warning that she had company was a concerned male voice asking,
“Are you all right?”
Laurel leapt to her feet, blushing bright red at having been caught in such a state. Spinning around, she faced the intruder. There was a boy, about Laurel’s age but maybe a little older, standing a few feet away with a slight frown on his face. His streaky-blonde hair was falling into his hazel eyes as he tilted his head to look at her better.
“I-I’m fine.” She stuttered. In a stroke of inspiration, she held up her book. “This story always makes me cry.” Laurel was rather pleased with herself, what boy would ever read The Scarlet Pimpernel?
The boy looked puzzled, “A romance involving a man pretending to be an idiot made you cry?” His tone was skeptical. Apparently this boy had read The Scarlet Pimpernel. Laurel looked at her feet in embarrassment. There was a moment of awkward silence before the well-read young man spoke.
“Sorry. I won’t pry. My name is Matt Lachlan.” He held out his hand and Laurel shook it gingerly.
Matt Lachlan’s face lit up in a brilliant smile. “My sister told me about you. She said that you just started at Wilsonville High.”
Laurel smiled back uncertainly, which he took for a sign of confusion.
“My sister is Shannon; you had lunch with her earlier?”
Understanding dawned, and Laurel nodded, “The bubbly one.”
Lachlan choked and bent over, laughing. Straightening up, he grinned. “That describes my sister perfectly.”
Laurel felt herself blushing again, and then peered up through her hair to get a better look at Matt Lachlan. The word cute came to mind immediately, which caused her blush to deepen. He was wearing faded blue-jeans and a grey t-shirt that didn’t try to hide his gangly form, but rather emphasized his skinniness and made him look lean and tall. She surreptitiously checked his ears, eyebrows and lips for piercing, inordinately pleased when she found none. She knew it was silly, but she could not stand piercings on a guy. Well, except for maybe a rakish pirate’s hoop in one ear, but now she was daydreaming. The realization that she was daydreaming about a boy shocked her. If her father ever so much as suspected she was looking at a boy, he would…
Matt’s voice jolted her back into the present just as she remembered there was nothing her father could do.
“Sorry, I didn’t catch that.” Laurel said, dragging her attention back to Matt Lachlan. Once her attention was focused on him fully, it didn’t try to wander again. The more she stared at him, the cuter he became.
He grinned at her disarmingly, “I was just asking if you wanted to get a coffee with me, there is a Starbucks just down the street.”
Laurel stared at him for a moment, frozen. No boy had ever wanted to hang out with her. She had been too odd, with her ever-present sweater and jumpy ways. She looked at Matt and saw the puzzlement in his eyes and she realized she was taking too long to answer. She opened her mouth to say sorry, but no, and instead out came,
“I would love to, coffee sounds great.” Even as she mentally cursed her unruly tongue, Matt’s face lit up and he made her a courtly bow.
“If I may escort you, Lady Blakeney.”
Equally nervous and emboldened, Laurel managed a creditable courtesy and took the arm he proffered. Walking at a stately, dignified pace, they abandoned the shadowy depths of the tree and strolled into the sun.
Laurel felt like she was in a dream. She was walking in full view of everyone on the arm of a boy, and she didn’t need to be afraid. If you relax, she scolded herself, you might even enjoy yourself. She was exquisitely aware of every inch of skin where his arm was pressed against hers. His hand was warm and…reassuring. He held on to her firmly, but she did not fear his bruising her. Somehow, she knew that he was holding her to steady her, to catch her if she fell. She had never had anyone hold her like that, much less a boy she hardly knew who was probably only talking to her because of his sister.
“Are you alright?” He was looking at her with that concerned look again, and she realized that there were tears in her eyes.
She smiled brightly, “I’m fine, just something in my eye.”
Matt did not look entirely convinced, but he didn’t press for which she was grateful.
They made it through the Thriftway parking lot without incident. Matt chatted comfortably away about school and Shannon, to which Laurel replied with brief, shy answers, growing in confidence with every smile. She could see people looking at them, but for once she didn’t care. Let them look.
Matt held the door for her, and she smiled at him as she stepped into the air-conditioned café. He ordered a tall extra-hot chai tea, two-percent milk, no water with whip while Laurel chose a caramel frappachino. They took a table just outside and continued their conversation.
Matt was on the school swim and drama teams and planned to go to W.O.U. and study computer science. Max Porter, the geeky boy she had met earlier, was his best friend and they were going to go to college together. Laurel watched him grow more and more animated as he told her all of his plans to start a game developing company and smiled. It was hard not to like someone who was so enthusiastic and full of dreams. In the middle of a sentence, he stopped and blushed, which made her laugh. He looked at her with a rueful expression.
“You haven’t been able to get a word in edgewise for the past ten minutes, have you?” he asked. Laurel nodded with a partially suppressed grin and he ducked his head in mock shame, “Sorry. Tell me about you.”
Laurel stiffened for a moment and then relaxed. He wasn’t asking for her family history, just about her interests and ideas. “Well, I came down here from Portland just a couple of months ago and it has been very different not being in the city, but I like it here.” She looked around at the people wandering past with their shopping carts on the way to their cars and a girl with brown hair and a folder under one arm walking into the nearby music studio. “The people are nice here, and it is quieter. And the air…” she took a deep breath. “It is so clean it feels like breathing sunshine.” Laurel blushed and looked back at Matt, “That probably sounds silly.”
“No, not at all,” he said, sounding sincere.
“Anyway,” she looked away again. “I haven’t chosen a college yet, but I intend to study English lit and history with a minor in the Romance languages.”
Matt grinned, “Hence The Scarlet Pimpernel.” Laurel smiled at him and he blushed. She felt a frisson of pleasurable surprise. Did I just make a boy blush? Her smile widened. So did his.
All too soon, Laurel noted the descending sun and realized it was nearly dinner time. Her mom couldn’t care less if she showed up for the evening meal, but she knew her grandparents would worry.
“I have to get home,” She looked at Matt apologetically. “It has been great meeting you; will I see you at school tomorrow?” She winced inwardly at her question after it left her mouth of its own volition. She hadn’t meant to sound that hopeful. Matt, however, smiled.
“Of course, I got a day out to help my dad with some stuff, which is why I didn’t see you earlier, but I will be back in classes tomorrow.” They got up and stood for a moment, awkwardly wondering who should say good-bye first until Laurel blushed (again) and mumbled something inane. She started to walk away but had only gone a few feet when Matt’s voice stopped her.
“Laurel, wait. Can I walk you home?”
She stared at him, her mouth opened slightly with shock. “Sure. I mean, of course. Yes.” She knew she sounded like an utter idiot, but Matt didn’t seem to mind. He fell into step beside her and appropriated her book bag, despite her protests, and swung it over his shoulder. Soon they were in a heated debate as to the motivations of Napoleon Bonaparte and why he was so determined to take over Europe. Laurel knew more about the subject, but was unused to disagreeing with people so they were pretty well matched until Laurel actually relaxed enough to argue with the full force of her historical obsession behind her and Matt was forced to admit defeat.
When they reached Laurel’s doorstep, Matt bowed in an elaborate farewell where he pantomimed handing her a sword in surrender and left her with the ghost of a laugh on her lips. It was only after she had shut the door behind her and leaned against it did she allow herself to think, that was almost a date.
Laurel got up half an hour early the next morning and stared at the mirror. Looking critically, she decided that she was pretty enough. Shoulder length hair framed a serious face. Hazel-green eyes looked back at her. Laurel squared her shoulders in determination. Opening her dresser drawer, she took out her secret stash of girly things. Carefully she applied a thin layer of eye shadow and some pale pink lipstick that made her lips look just a little fuller. Next, she hid her pimples (thankfully scarce) with a feather-light layer of cover-up. Looking at her face again, she nodded in satisfaction. There wasn’t a dramatic difference, just a slight emphasis on her eyes and lips. She worried if Matt would notice or not. Part of her wanted him to notice how nice she was looking, and the other part didn’t want him to know that she was doing it for him and a third part hoped that he didn’t care about her face. She sighed. No time left for second thoughts, it was time to go.
She was intensely aware of Matt all morning. They only shared a few classes, but she always knew where he was in the room, even when her back was turned. It was the strangest feeling. Laurel was relieved when it was finally lunch time.
This time, there was no need for Summer to drag her to their table, she made her way there by herself and sat next to Max. Matt wasn’t there yet and she craned her neck to see if she could find him. A frown grew between her eyebrows until she spotted him waving from the other side of the room, his sister at his side. She waved back without thinking and then blushed at being so obvious. Summer raised an eyebrow at her and Denise glared. Max winked, which made her blush even darker.
A moment later, Matt slid in beside her as if it was the most natural thing in the world and Shannon took her place on his other side.
“I see you two have met,” said Summer, with a pointed look at them both.
“We met by accident in the park yesterday and had a coffee,” said Matt easily, “and had an invigorating discussion on Napoleon.” They all stared at him and he pretended to be offended. “What? You think I can’t hold up my end when it comes to French history?” There were simultaneous head-shakings all around the table, and Matt huffed in mock irritation. “Well, Laurel knew enough about it for the two of us.” Summer then pestered Laurel into agreeing to help her study for a history test. Denise stalked off dramatically in annoyance and Laurel looked after her, frowning.
“Oh, don’t worry about her.” Summer dismissed Denise with a wave of her hand. “She will be over it in a day or two. She is half-French and fancies herself in love every other week. This week it happens to be Matt and so she feels she ought to be upset by him meeting another girl, and so that is how she acts.” Summer smiled fondly. “She is actually a really fun person, but a terrible drama queen.” Laurel was not entirely convinced, but the amused, unsurprised reactions of the others reassured her.
Sure enough, two days later Denise was sitting with them again and laughing and talking as if nothing had ever happened and, it seemed, nothing had. She was already gushing about some other boy she had seen at the track.
On Saturday, Shannon, Summer, Denise and Laurel went on a shopping expedition of epic proportions. Since it was just the girls, Laurel was teased about Matt mercilessly. At first she tried objecting, asking them to stop, but she quickly learned that it was futile. After that, she let it roll off of her and learned to tease them back. They returned in the evening a bit poorer in their purses and richer in their friendship, and Laurel sported pierced ears for the first time in her life. On arriving home, her grandparents exclaimed over the studs, scolding her for not warning them, but secretly they were glad that she was so happy. Her mother simply ignored her.
A week later, Max invited them all over to play games and eat junk food. Laurel won Scrabble, Sam defeated them all at Trivial Pursuit and Denise stumped them with her acting performance in Cranium. She pouted for at least five minutes at their inability to guess that she was representing a construction worker, but was cheered up by their applause at her success with a Beatles humdinger. Then Matt issued a challenge to the best player of Rock Band.
“Who dares to take up my challenge of Free Bird? Winner must beat my high score on the guitar and the reward is the last piece of a pizza.” Free Bird was generally acknowledged to be the most fiendish of all Rock Band guitar songs and Matt was the undefeated champion.
Sam rolled his eyes, “You know that we can’t beat you on the guitar. You hog it so much that the rest of us never get a chance to practice. If you would switch to drums or something then maybe one of us could get up to your obsessed level.”
“You are all cowards.” Matt proclaimed dramatically, “Laurel will try, won’t she?” His eyes dared her and she couldn’t resist.
“Very well, I accept,” She said with a magnanimous sweep of her arms, “But first you must teach me how to play.”
There was silence for a moment and then laughter mixed with applause.
“You’ve got spunk, girl,” said Max with an evil grin, “Taking on the guitar king when you have never played.” He turned to Matt. “Just you watch, give her a few games and she will be beating you.”
“Of course she will,” said Matt as if it was an indisputable fact. He gestured her to come over and put the guitar in her hands. “It is easy, you just…” By the end of the evening, Laurel could hold her own but could not beat Matt. Yet.
While Laurel befriended all of them, she became especially close to Shannon. There was something about her state of constant joy that Laurel wanted to share. Shannon was also a fellow book lover, so they had long and involved discussions as to whether steampunk or traditional fantasy was the better genre or why Wickham was so awful.
“Grandmother?” Laurel tried to catch her attention, “Grandmother?”
Anne Masterson was cooking a delicious-looking batch of fried rice with all manner of spices and veggies, stirring it carefully to keep the eggs from burning to the bottom.
“Yes, dear?” She answered her granddaughter without looking up.
“I was wondering if I could go out to the coast with some friends of mine for the weekend.” Her grandmother looked up with a frown.
“Shouldn’t you be asking your mother this?” Laurel couldn’t meet her eyes, and she sighed. She loved her daughter, but she knew that Erin wasn’t really a good mother.
“Who will be going on this trip?”
“Shannon, Summer, Denise, Matt and Max. Sam wanted to come but his parents already had plans for the weekend.”
“You want to stay out overnight with boys?”
Laurel was offended, “Of course not! I will be sharing a tent with the girls. The boys will have their own.”
Anne thought about it as she gazed at Laurel’s hopeful face. She had met Laurel’s friends a couple of times and they seemed like nice kids, but she still wasn’t sure…she knew that Laurel liked the Lachlan boy. Laurel hadn’t said anything, but she lit up like a lamp whenever she saw him.
Then again, she trusted Laurel and she so rarely asked for anything…and she had been so happy lately, happier than she had ever seen her before. Anne didn’t have the heart to make that smile go away, “Very well, but only if Matt drives. You are an absolute menace and so is Denise.” She didn’t mention Summer, Shannon or Max because they did not have cars.
“Oh, thank you Grandmother!” Laurel threw her arms around the elderly lady and kissed her on the cheek before running out the door to tell her friends the good news.
Anne stood in the middle of the kitchen, her hand to her face, frozen in shock until she noticed the smell of burning eggs. Laurel had not voluntarily hugged anyone since she was a child.
The drive to Cape Kiwanda was long but somehow Laurel never got bored. She was content to sit back and listen to the jokes and stories being told without really joining in. She didn’t know why her friends never asked about her past, but she didn’t question it. Today, she was happy.
The sun was shining with mellow warmth, so no one was really interested in swimming. As the others debated whether they wanted to run up the dune or get some lunch first, Laurel headed straight for the beach. She had never seen the ocean before, and she was mesmerized. Her knee-length skirt swirled in the breeze as she stepped into the surf. A smile of pure, unadulterated delight spread over her face as she closed her eyes and began to spin in circles, her arms flung out around her. She didn’t know if the others were watching, and at the moment she couldn’t care less. She had found beauty.
After several moments of uninhibited bliss, she felt hands capture hers. She didn’t have to open her eyes to know that they belonged to Matt, and her smile grew even more radiant. She let him guide her, leading her in a waltz across the water, never opening her eyes. She knew he would not let her fall.
Laurel did not know how long they danced with only the sound of the waves as their music, but she felt she could continue forever. However, this was not to be. Her foot caught against a strand of seaweed that had washed up on the shore. Before she knew it, Matt’s arms were around her and she was pressed to his chest. Her eyes had not opened and her ear was against his heart. Suddenly she felt a flood of embarrassment and half-heartedly tried to pull away, but though his arms loosened, he didn’t let go. She looked up and saw that he was watching her with a curiously intent look.
“Hello.” She whispered, and a soft smile took form on his face.
“Hello.” He hesitated, then slowly lowered his head until his brow rested on hers.
Laurel’s eyes closed again and a small sigh escaped her. This is what she had yearned after for so many years, this moment, where the world was perfect and safe.
Matt held her hand for most of the afternoon, and it was with regret that they parted for their separate tents. Before he left, he laid a whisper of a kiss on her cheek.
Summer and Denise teased her ceaselessly, but Laurel was floating in the clouds and couldn’t be troubled to come back down to ordinary earth. Shannon just watched her and smiled. She knew what the others did not. Matt had dated other girls before, but never had he acted like he did with Laurel. Never had he been so careful, so tender with anyone.
The next morning, they raced up the mountainous sand dune. Summer won, much to the boys’ chagrin, and they demanded a rematch as soon as they recovered their breath. Summer just tossed her ponytail and ran back down, showing her complete contempt for them. Max and Denise trailed after her at a more sedate pace and Shannon cast a look at Matt and Laurel before she followed.
Because of their departure, only Matt was there when Laurel’s cell rang. She had promised her grandparents that she would keep it on her in case they needed to reach each other. Laurel frowned in puzzlement and answered, “Hello?”
“Hi, sweetie, how are you doing?”
“Fine, is there something wrong?” Laurel’s frown had deepened at the obvious strain in her grandmother’s voice.
“No, no, we are all fine here. But…I am afraid you are going to have to come home early.”
“Early? Why? I thought we had all of today and most of tomorrow.”
“Well, there has been a development…”
Laurel was beginning to get really worried. “Grandmother, what is going on?” She could hear her grandmother sigh deeply.
“It’s your father, he is out of jail.” Laurel felt like all of the blood had drained out of her body and the breath had been stolen from her lungs.
“How?” she whispered.
“He got out early for good behavior, love.” Laurel could now hear resignation in her words.
“No. It can’t be. He couldn’t…How could they let him out?” Laurel’s voice grew louder until she was nearly shouting. Matt had come to her side and was looking at her anxiously.
“They decided he wasn’t a dangerous criminal, that he doesn’t pose a risk to anyone.”
Laurel pulled her knees up to her chest and took several deep breaths before she managed to push the sense of panic away.
“How could they say that?” Her voice was steady, now. “How can they say he isn’t dangerous after what he did?”
“I don’t know, sweetie, but I don’t trust him. You need to come home where we can keep you safe. If he finds out where you are, I don’t know what he will do.”
“Okay, I will see you later.”
Laurel sat curled in on herself for a long time before Matt’s voice broke her out of her stupor. She met his concerned eyes with her despairing ones.
“What is it?” he asked.
Such a simple question, but if she answered it, they would see her differently. She wouldn’t be ordinary anymore. She felt a tingle as he took her hands in his, chafing her fingers to rid them of the chill that had taken over her body.
“My father just got out of jail.” She saw his puzzled expression and began to explain. She turned her eyes to the sea so that she would not have to see his face. “Some of my earliest memories are of my father hitting me and it only got worse as I got older. He hit my mother, too, but she never did anything or try to defend herself or me. He taught me to lie about the bruises and hide them under my clothes. He told me he would kill me if I ever told anyone and that they would only scold me anyway for being such a disobedient child. I was so afraid that one day I would make him angry enough to actually kill me, so I did what I was told.”
“Last summer, though, I was out one day. I had just got my driver’s license and I used it to get myself out of the house whenever possible. It was so hot, I took off the sweater that I usually wore to hide the bruises on my arms. Then, I was driving too fast and a policeman pulled me over. The psychiatrist the court made me talk to told me it was an unconscious cry for help or something, I don’t know. What I do know is that I had time to pull my sweater back on, and I didn’t. The policeman walked up and started asking me if I knew how fast I was going, but then he saw the bruises. I could hear when his voice softened that he pitied me, and he forgot about the ticket. He asked me if I was all right and who had given me the bruises, and all the lies my father taught me stuck in my throat, so I told the truth.”
“There isn’t much more to it. They arrested my dad that same afternoon. He was so furious at my betrayal that he didn’t have the presence of mind to lie. He screamed curses at me when they took him away. With a witnessed confession and my testimony, he was convicted and sentenced. Only now he is free. My mom has barely spoken to me since, she thinks I did a terrible thing and sometimes I agree with her.”
Her heart in her throat, Laurel waited for Matt’s response, not daring to look at him. When he withdrew his hands, she felt as if there was ice in her stomach, and she was shocked when his arms went around her, drawing her into a close embrace. Tears filled her eyes and she sobbed against his chest.
“Shh, shh,” he murmured, “You didn’t do anything wrong. He was the one who did terrible things. You, Laurel Cameron, were brave.” He held her face in his hands and forced her to look at him.
“You are a strong, wonderful person. You did nothing wrong, he deserved to go to jail and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
There was such trust in his eyes that she began to believe him. “So you don’t hate me?”
He looked shocked. “Of course not! How could you think that? Is that why you never told me this before?”
Laurel nodded, unable to speak.
“Laurel, I am your friend. I could never hate you. We could all tell that something was wrong with your family life when we first met you.”
Laurel looked up at him in surprise; she didn’t have the energy for shock anymore.
“You never mentioned your dad and you always changed the subject if anyone tried to talk about parents. We didn’t know what it was, but we could tell that something wasn’t right. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past. We are your friends, Laurel, and we will not abandon you. I will not abandon you.”
Laurel could read the truth in his face and she felt an overwhelming sense of relief and…freedom. He knew the truth and would not shun her. There was no need to be afraid. On an impulse, she threw her arms around Matt’s neck and kissed him. They had a moment of pure heaven where nothing mattered except where their lips touched and the world disappeared. Finally, it was over, but Matt continued to cradle Laurel in his arms and she felt safe. Slowly, thoughts of reality intruded.
“We have to go; my grandmother is worried that my father will try to find me and I don’t want to make her wait.”
“And what will you do if he does try to find you?”
Laurel thought about it as Matt pulled her to her feet. “If he comes, I will face him. I will not be afraid anymore.”
Matt smiled, “I know you won’t.”