Escape the Doubt - Synopsis (Prologue & Chapter One)

After the unexpected death of her Dad and the haunting manner in which he died Riley Shaw built invisible walls around her heart. Barriers she created to protect her from splintering into broken pieces that couldn’t be repaired. She was unable to move forward from her past letting the guilt of her parent’s mistakes dictate her own choices. 

Dean Warren was safe. Being with him was innocent and peaceful because she didn’t truly love him. His words held her captive in a false sense of security. His eyes were deceptive and his promises of never pushing her beyond what she was willing to give were broken leaving Riley Shaw in a state of regret and doubt. 

Joshua Parker had the power to take what was left of Riley’s splintered pieces and ruin her completely or make her whole again. He was her best friend, her next-door neighbor - everything she wanted and settled on never having. Loving him was as easy as breathing air. The fear of losing him forever was more real to her than the feelings she couldn’t escape. 

When faced with the very thing she feared the most and in the arms she thought were safe Riley finds herself questioning every decision she has made over the past two years. When she finally escapes the doubt in her head and accepts the truth in her heart is it too late? 

Is taking a chance with your heart worth the escape or was it better to have never loved at all? Can forgiveness really set you free? 

*Warning: Recommended for readers 17+ due to underage drinking, sexual content and adult language. 

*This is book one in a series. However, can be read as a standalone (no cliffhanger).

What do you want from me?” My dad yelled at my mom.
“For you to listen, just listen. You never listen. You just...” my mom yelled back not able to finish her sentence.
“I just what? I work my ass off, put a house over you girls’ heads, you want for nothing, yet it’s never enough for you, Claudia!” He yelled a decibel louder.
“It’s not about the money, Evan. You are never home. Look at the table for God’s sake. You didn’t even come home last night... AGAIN!” She shouted, gesturing to the full plate still sitting untouched on the table from the night before.
“What were you doing this time, Evan? Or dare I say, who were you doing?” She asked with malice dripping from every word.
He recoiled from her accusation and looked at the table somewhat sheepishly—but not full on guiltily—before narrowing his eyes at her. Like a rubber band had stung him, he retaliated with angry words.
 “You know what, Claudia? I made a goddamn mistake years ago. One you still throw in my face every chance you get. I was 23 years old, and scared as fuck. I’ve reaped what I sowed a thousand times over. I’ve apologized a million times over, but you won’t let the shit die. I don’t even know why I try anymore. I CHOSE YOU!” He shouts.
 He was basically in her face, cornering her into the kitchen counters. He bowed his head to hers, gripped her by her quivering chin, and forced her to look at him.
“When are you going to choose me?” He asked with such sincerity it ripped my heart into shreds.
“Once a cheater, always a cheater.” That’s what my mom’s mother had told her. Lectured her, in fact, on how foolish it was to stay with him after finding out he had cheated. My grandpa, who I had never met, ran off when my mom was just a baby.
 “I baked his bread, but he got it buttered by someone else,” grandma would say.
 Needless to say, it’s been drilled into my mom’s head that all men cheat. It’s been cemented into mine that love is just a joke.
All more reasons why I will never commit with my whole heart. Love is just temporary. Nothing lasts forever.

Chapter 1
Sometimes to escape the noise of haunting memories, you need your best friends hand in your own, to help erase the sound, and fill you with a sense of peace, even if it’s temporary.
“I thought I would find you here,” Josh says as he sits down next to me. He interlaces his fingers with my left hand as I trace over my dad’s name on his tombstone.
“You okay? You look far away.” He always worries about me, especially on this day.
I nod, swiping a few lost tears. “I was just remembering that day. Their angry words thunder so loudly in my head. It’s been three years today and it still hurts.” I rub the throb in my chest that never dulls.
He pulls me to his side and kisses my forehead the way he always does.
“I don’t think the hurt of losing someone goes away. Some days are better than others. But missing them—that feeling—I think it’s always there lying dormant. Something as simple as a song on the radio, or the smell of their perfume on someone else, triggers all those memories. And in one moment, you’re trapped in the past.” He sighs, getting lost in his past.
I look at him, my best friend, his own pain from loss etched all over his face. The guilt kills me everyday. He understands more than anyone how I feel, except for the guilt.
“I’m sorry, Josh,” I whisper.
He cups my chin, tilting my face to his, “Riley, we do this every year and every year you apologize to me. It’s not your fault that your dad got in the car that night, or that my mom was a victim of his drunk driving.”
“It’s my dad’s fault, and my mom’s fault. Therefore, I am guilty by association. He never should have been on the road. I’m sorry we came into your lives. Because of that, you don’t have your mom. It’s not fair.” I choke on every word as it burns out of my throat.
He abruptly stands, pulls me to my feet and places his hands on my shoulders. “Riley, stop blaming yourself, because I sure as hell don’t. Yes, it hurts. God, it hurts some days to not have her here, but never, and I mean never, have I wished for even a second that you not be in my life. You mean the world to me, Riley Shaw.”
His eyes are pleading with me to believe him. I don’t reply with words. I nod my head and try to keep the tears from falling.
He grabs my hand and places a soft kiss on my palm.
God I love him. Why is life so cruel?
As we walk back to his truck, I stop suddenly which causes him to bump into me.
I turn around and find his eyebrow lifted in question. I didn’t want him to think I didn’t have a response. I had one. The words were just caught in my throat before.
“You mean the world to me too, Joshua Parker. I lov… I care about you so much.” I bite the inside of my cheek painfully as I realize my almost slip.
He stares at me for the longest moment with the strangest of expressions. I wonder if he caught that.
He eventually smiles and interlaces our fingers. “C’mon, your mom is worried sick about you. If I don’t get you home soon, she is going to send out a search party.” He laughs trying to lighten the mood.
I hold onto his hand like he is my lifeline as I walk with him to his truck. If only everything was different, we could be together, like we were meant to be. I wish everything were different.
Once we’re in the truck, Josh asks the question that I’ve been asking myself all day.
“Why is Dean not here with you, Riley?”
I look out the window as the world passes by in a blur. Dean isn’t with me today, because he isn’t with me anymore. When I turn my face to look at Josh, I want to tell him everything. That we broke up two days ago. That it hurt like hell, but I didn’t care like I should, because Dean wasn’t the one I loved anyway. That every decision for the past two years has become one giant mountain of doubt I can’t seem to escape. 
I don’t say any of that, though. Instead, I lie.
“He had to work, but I’m sure he will stop by later.” He won’t.
Josh studies my face; I’m sure sensing the half lie or the withheld truth.
“M’kay… so wanna tell me what happened this morning to have your mom in such a state of panic, that she thought you might catch a bus and disappear for good?” He grins, knowing my mom always thinks I’m on the verge of running away.
I’m too broke and weak to run away physically. However, emotionally I’ve been on the run since that day three years ago. Maybe even before.
I sigh and laugh, although it’s not a laugh of humor.
“I ran off this morning after yelling at her for the longest time. I told her that I remember every word, every fight and every reason why I hate them both.” I see that my words disappoint him, so I turn back to the window looking away from him.
Today is one of those days where I do feel that hate for them. I hate that they loved so little and fought so hard. I hate that my dad chose to drown his pain in a bottle, took his anger to the road, killing an innocent woman on her way home from her son’s sports banquet for football. A son that is my best friend and the very person I love with every fiber inside of me, changing our futures forever.
Josh sighs and I know he is about to spill his words of wisdom. The same thing I have heard from him more than once.
“Riley, you need to forgive them. I have. My family has. We can’t go back and change the decisions of that day. But if you keep living in the past, you can never move forward.”
They ruined everything. His dad is without the love of his life. Josh and his sister are without their mom. They stole happiness from them and because of that, I can never allow myself to have any happiness with him.
A bottle of booze, a car accident, and six feet of Earth on two important people cemented my decision to never let myself have him. I didn’t deserve him. Maybe I was punishing myself for my dad’s decision, but it’s what I had to do. Every time he would look at me, he would see what my dad took from him. It was too much.
I used to wear my heart on my sleeve. I used to dream of a time Josh and I could be together. Some of my sweetest memories are shared with him. Yet looking back, even within those sweet memories, there are bitter memories too, of a boy that was already plotting his invasion of my life.

4 years previous
Freshman: fresh meat, a beginner, a novice, someone who is naïve, a first-try effort or the first time to screw it up.
 “Earth to Riley. Did you hear me? I think I want to kiss Laiken.” Josh informed me.
I heard him fine. I just hated what I’d heard. Laiken was the first girl to look at Josh with hungry, curious eyes.
 Since Josh and I had been best friends since kindergarten, he’d never seen me as a real girl. Besides, I was too scared to cross the line and lose my friend.
Josh was the quarterback on the JV football team and Laiken was the head cheerleader on her JV squad. They were a match made in social heaven. I was a wallflower in the background looking in. But he saw me. He saw her too, though.
Josh and I were babysitting the brats, otherwise known as our little sisters. It was date night for our parents, which hardly ever happened, seeing as only one of those couples actually liked the other.
 We were alone, which was not unusual. Even our parents saw us as innocent friends. If they only knew what I saw when I looked at him. How I craved him, then they might not have been as trusting.
I was busy making brownies. Baking was something I did when I was nervous and needed to keep my hands busy. Usually, I’d write in my journal, but Josh was there so... baking it was.
 I was mixing like a mad woman. I felt like that. What was I supposed to say to his statement? My best friend—the boy I wanted to be mine—wanted to kiss another girl. Not just any kiss, it would be his first kiss. That’s a big deal, right?
I could say… “Good luck, hope you do it well,” or better yet I could say, “Hope it sucks and she slobbers on you. Maybe even bites you accidentally and scares you into never doing it again.” Who was I kidding? Biting his lip would only make her the best damn kisser ever in the freshman class. Ugh!
 I felt his grin, but for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why he was grinning. None of what he said made me happy.
Stir, stir, stir.
 I finally said, “I heard, Josh. I mean… I don’t know what you want me to say, or why you’re telling me this.”
“I’m telling you because what you think matters to me,” he threw out there.
Mix, mix, mix.
So, I told him the truth about what I thought about her... and him.
 “Well, I think I don’t like Laiken. I think she flirts with all the boys in school. I think the fact that she has already kissed three other boys while y’all have been hanging out say’s something. I mean... she is so fake. She laughs at everything you say, and seriously, you’re not that funny. Well, I mean... you are funny, but not like all the time.” I rambled and realized I had said way too much.
He threw his head back and laughed.
God, I loved his laugh. It was the best sound.
“You’re adorable when you are like this.” He said grinning.
What was he even grinning about?
I poured the brownie mix into the pan, and bent over to place it in the oven. When I stood up, I noticed he was looking at my butt. I set the timer, ignored why he was doing that. I placed my hands on my hips, and tilted my head.
“Like what exactly, Josh?”
He smirked like he knew something I didn’t, and locked eyes with mine.
 “Like that. Like you’re jealous.” He gestured at my posture.
I grabbed the spoon covered in brownie mix, and held it up in front of me like a gooey weapon.
“I’m not jealous, Josh.” I soooo was. “Why would I be?”
I licked the chocolate goodness from the spoon. Brownie mix was the best. He cleared his throat and swallowed hard.
 His eyes narrowed and he asked, “I don’t know, Riley. Why would you be?” His eyes watched my mouth nervously lick the chocolate like he wanted a taste.
I rolled my eyes, “I’m not. If you want your first kiss to suck, then fine. It will, because Laiken isn’t the right girl for you. Go for it. Have fun.”  Please don’t, I thought.
His eyes flicked between the spoon and my mouth. A sexy smirk crossed his lips like he suddenly had an idea I wasn’t privy to.
“Oh, I’m sorry, did you want some?” I asked, holding out the spoon for him.
His eyes were telling me something, giving me a clue. I dragged my tongue along my bottom lip, erasing any left over batter. He nodded but didn’t move. I went to pull the spoon back to my mouth, but he grabbed my wrist, holding the spoon hostage between us.
My mouth formed an O as he slowly licked a trail up the spoon… damn lucky spoon, I thought. I couldn’t help but watch his mouth the entire time.
“Hmm,” he moaned like he thought it was delicious. I thought his lips probably tasted delicious, too. Chocolate and Josh would be the best mixture of sweet. All these thoughts about Josh like that took me by surprise, but I couldn’t help it. Something in me was changing. Shifting.
The air changed. He didn’t let go of my wrist. He watched my eyes, watch his mouth, and damn if he didn’t wickedly grin at me. He pushed up close to me—so close in fact that his chest meshed with mine, and I suddenly forgot how to breathe.
“Um, what are you doing, Josh?” I whispered breathlessly.
He smiled, “Shhh… it’s okay. You just have a little chocolate right there.”
“Where?” I asked, embarrassed, but then he lowered his head and… oh hell.
He moved the spoon back to the bowl as he leaned in; his tongue softly licked a spot by the corner of my mouth. I couldn’t help but shut my eyes and softly moan. My body fell limp against the counter. I braced my hands on the edge just to keep my balance.
It wasn’t until I felt the loss of his warmth that I knew he had stepped back. When I slowly opened my eyes, I found him watching me. My lips were parted, wishing for his tongue to enter my mouth.
I puffed out the breath I wasn’t completely aware that I was holding. He was studying my face with a satisfied look.
 “I got it.” He smiled crookedly, “so, about that first kiss... I could think of a way to make it not suck.” Oh, I could too. I so could picture lots of ways.
I looked away from him, feeling the blush creep up to my cheeks as the image in my mind blazed.
“How is that?”
He stepped back into my space and gently tugged my chin to him, forcing me to meet his gaze. I was so trapped in his beautiful hazel eyes that I didn’t notice him reaching into the brownie bowl and dragging his fingers all through the chocolate.
 He laughed, stepped back tapping my nose with a chocolate covered finger and said, “Gotcha.”
I squealed, “Oh my God. You are so dead, Joshua Parker.”
 I reached in and coated my own fingers in chocolate. I began to chase him around the island as my heart was fluttering wildly. I wiped my hand along his cheek when I caught him, and laughed hysterically.
He grabbed my hand before I could run away. My heart was racing. My breathing was fast. And I knew he was up to no good by the sinful little twinkle that danced in his hazel eyes. No good at all. My laughter fizzled out as something else took its place. Something unfamiliar, yet wanted so badly. 
He took my messy hand, placed my index finger into his mouth, and began sucking the chocolate clean. I felt dizzy. I could feel his tongue swirl around my finger and something in my belly clenched tight.
I stumbled back, hitting something hard. He let my finger go with a pop, and we stared at each other for the longest time. Not moving, just breathing.
He tucked a curl behind my ear. “That was fun.” He smirked and my toes curled. Did he not see how he affected me? What the hell was that?
“I um… yeah… I should get a napkin.” I knew it was such a stupid thing to say. I should get a napkin. No, I should attack your face and lick it clean, that’s what I should have done.
I moved around him to wet a paper towel in the sink. He didn’t move. He just watched me with an unreadable expression. Amusement maybe? Curiosity?
I reached up on my tippy toes, and started dabbing away the chocolate mess I had coated his cheek with. He was motionless with the exception to the way his chest was rising and falling.
“All clean,” I said as I softly smiled.
He grinned, took the napkin from my hand, and began to gently wipe the chocolate off of my nose. Once he was done, he placed his hands on both sides of me, caging me in between his hard chest and the kitchen counter.
“I want to kiss you,” he blurted out. Wait! What?
“I thought you wanted to kiss Laiken?”  Stupid Riley. Stupid, stupid Riley, I thought again. I just couldn’t shut up.
He shook his head back and forth. “Nah, you were right, she isn’t the right girl. There is only one solution to making my first kiss not suck, and that’s if you let me kiss you.”
His eyes never left mine. I wanted to kiss him. But the truth was, Josh seemed to not really know what he wanted lately. I wondered, if I kissed him, would it mean Laiken no longer existed?
“Stop over thinking it, Riley. Can I kiss you?” he asked permission again—knowing me so well. I was over thinking it.
 I nodded, “okay.”
“Okay?” His breathe feathered across my lips as I nodded again.
I trembled in anticipation as he lowered his mouth to mine.
A gentle, soft, sweet peck at first was what he placed on my lips. As my hands reached up around his neck to pull him closer to me, I tangled his dirty blond hair in my fingers. He groaned deep in his throat and I liked the sound. His tongue teased my lips, opening them, and allowing him to deepen the kiss.
 I was nervous. What if I did it wrong? What if my kiss sucked and kissing Laiken would be better? ‘What if’s’ filled my head as my body hummed. I willed myself to shut up, parted my lips allowing him in, and it was like our mouths were made for each other. Fireworks were exploding in my head, electricity shot through my veins. My tongue began to dance with his, and I never wanted it to stop. He tasted delicious.
It did stop though. Definitely not saved by the bell.
 The doorbell rang, causing us to jump apart. We were panting heavily, and staring at one another in shock. It ended way too quickly for my liking. I felt on fire—tingling in a way I wasn’t used too.
“Riley, Dean’s at the front door.” Tatum shouted loudly from the living room.
Josh raised his eyebrows at me, probably just as curious as I was about why he would be ringing my doorbell. Dean was a pain in my ass, but a friend nonetheless.
I struggled to slow my breaths. However, Josh had completely composed himself as though he was completely unaffected. Like nothing amazing just happened.
 He left the kitchen and walked to the living room to open the front door. I followed in a cloud of confusion.
“Oh. Hey, Josh. What are you doing here? Is, um, Riley here?” Dean tripped over his words. He was always a little weird about Josh and I being so close, and he was more than tickled pink about Josh potentially dating Laiken.
“Yeah, man. She’s right there. We’re just babysitting the brats,” he joked and pointed at me over his shoulder. I was still frozen in a state of ‘what the hell?’
I walked into the living room. My mind felt like it was on overdrive. Something life changing had just happened to me, and Josh seemed like he’d already forgotten it. I saw it briefly in his eyes when I looked at him. A feeling he wanted me to see, but it was gone in a blink of an eye—the softness turning cold.
 I looked at Dean and I knew he saw it too. Something unspoken had been shared between Josh and I. Dean’s eyes darted between us both uneasily.
Josh said, “he’s here for you,” in a flat tone that I didn’t understand. I nodded, words escaping me.
He did the guy nod to Dean, “she’s all yours man,” he told him. I was at a loss at what just happened. Why his mood had suddenly crashed and burned. I wondered what he meant by that?
Josh seemed mad at me. And I didn’t understand any of it at all. He pulled out his phone, and with all the power to hurt me with words he did just that. “I’ll be in the kitchen. I forgot to call Laiken back.”
Just a sliver of my heart fell apart that day. He had just kissed me senseless, and he was going to call her? What meant the world to me meant nothing to him? It hurt like a bitch.
I watched Josh walk to the kitchen, my mouth was wide open in shock.
Dean spoke to my back, completely dense to what he just did. “I’m sorry to just stop by. I need to talk to you about something. Can you come outside?” He shifted uncomfortably with his eyes tracked to the path to the kitchen as well.
I turned my eyes back to him, and blinked a few times. I felt like I was going to cry. Josh had just kissed me, and it felt for me like the Earth moved. But then he was in the kitchen on the phone with Laiken, probably planning how he would kiss her next. Maybe that kiss would be—the thought died there. I nodded, and followed Dean outside wishing he would just go away and leave me alone.
We sat on the stairs of my porch. “What’s up Dean?” my voice cracked.
“Emily broke up with me.”
“What? Why?” I asked.
He looked at my face and sighed, “because she knows I like someone else, and she kinda likes Brad now anyway.”
He shrugged like it was no big deal. I looked at him, the right words not there. Dean and I were friends but why would I care that he and Emily were calling it quits?
My mind was wandering. What’s Josh saying on the phone in the kitchen? I should probably go check my brownies and interrupt him. I should go do that. “Brad, huh?” I said.
“Yeah, and I like someone else,” he repeated. Again, I thought what did this have to do with me?
I mean... Josh sucked on my finger. He asked to kiss me, and he put his tongue in my mouth. “You do?” I stated it like a question but I didn’t really care to know the answer.
He nodded, “yeah, she has no idea how amazing she is. There has just always been something about her.”
More wandering thoughts. What does Josh see in Laiken anyway? Doesn’t he know that she flirts with everyone? Why would someone like her be any good for him? What did Dean just say? Oh yeah… “That’s great, Dean. I’m happy for you. So who is she?”
 I looked back at the front door. I really needed Dean to leave so I could go figure out what had just went so epically wrong.
He whispered it so lowly I barely heard him, “she’s you. I like you, Riley.”
“What?” I said. Shocked, my eyes darted to his eyes. My mind was completely focused on what he was saying for the first time since we had come outside.
“You like me?” I pointed to myself like an idiot.
He reached up grabbing one of my curls like he always did and twined it around his fingers. All this time I thought it was a friendly gesture but now I think maybe it was just a way to touch me.
“I do. I tried not to. I mean... I tried to just stop it but I always think about you,” he whispered and tucked the curl behind my ear.
I swallowed hard and felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. Before I could rationalize anything in my mind, Dean turned my face to his. I didn’t mean to, but I leaned into his hand as he cupped my cheek.
I was feeling sad. I wanted these words to be coming out of Josh’s mouth, but his words were being spoken to Laiken as I sat there.
He moved his mouth slowly to mine, I knew I should have pushed him away, but I couldn’t move. I was frozen in shock. Josh had just blown me off.
Dean kissed me softly. It wasn’t full of the fireworks that I had just felt, but it was—nice. Just a lingering peck, nothing more pushed, a soft pause on my lips. When he pulled back, he was smiling like his earth had shifted. Mine was spinning in circles making me nauseous. 
I forced a grin back, the words were trapped somewhere inside of me. I don’t like you like that. I should have said that. I wondered why I didn’t say that. I just couldn’t find my voice. He got up and walked backwards down my driveway.
 “We will talk later, K?”
“K,” I breathed.
I watched until he was no longer visible. And then I rested my head in my hands, letting a few tears escape.
After wiping my cheeks, I stood up, turned back around to walk into the house, and froze. Josh was standing in the doorway. He saw the entire thing. I could tell by how his jaw was set tightly, how his eyes were tracking Dean’s departure. His arms were braced above him on the doorframe. His body stiff and beautiful, if he wasn’t so angry looking that is.
I whispered, “Josh...” his cold eyes darted to mine interrupting me.
“Don’t! You and Dean make a cute couple.” He said it like he hated the idea of it, but he smiled at me like it was a brilliant idea.
I looked at him with all the confusion I was feeling. “We are not a couple. I think he’s just confused.”
“His mouth didn’t seem confused, Riley” He took a few deep breaths and shook his head. “Look… Laiken and her mom are coming to pick me up. I already called my parents so they know about it. I took the brownies out while you were… doing what you were doing out here,” he said pointing in a circle at the steps I was just sitting on, and straightening his body in the doorway.
A tear fell from my eyes. I wiped it quickly before he saw it. He was being so mean to me, and I just didn’t understand why he would be mad at me. I didn’t set out to kiss Dean, but I guess I didn’t stop it either.
 “Okay. Josh, it’s not what it looked like. I promise,” I whispered as I went to move around him to get inside.
He seized me by my elbow, and when I didn’t turn around to face him, he sighed heavily in his chest.
“A first kiss, a second kiss all in one night, Riley. That’s what it looked like. Which one was better? Wait don’t answer that. I will soon know the answer for myself, when I—,”
I jerked my arm back, and turned to him with all the venom I felt for how he was making me feel inside. “When you what, Josh? Kiss Laiken?”
He leaned into my ear; his hot breathe causing me to shiver as he whispered, “no kiss will taste as sweet as yours. Good luck with Dean.”
And with that, he took off down the steps toward his yard.
I chased after him, “Josh, stop!” I begged.
He turned around, I didn’t know what I saw when I looked at him. Fear? Anger? Sadness? I just didn’t know. All my life I had been able to read Josh. But recently, things were shifting, and I couldn’t always read him. It scared me.
“What, Riley?” he yelled. He never yelled at me before. It caught me off guard. His hands were balled into fist, he was angry.
I walked right up to him, standing almost on my toes to meet his eyes. I placed my hand on his chest. His heart was pounding underneath my palm. I hated that he was so mad at me.
 “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what the hell happened tonight, but please don’t be mad at me, Josh.”
His eyes softened, his shoulders slumped, and he placed his head on my forehead in defeat.
“I’m not mad at you, Riley. I’m mad at myself. I shouldn’t have said all of that. I’m not going to Laiken’s tonight. I never even called her. I lied. I just—,” he trailed off pulling back to look at me.
“You just what?” I said quietly.
He pulled me into a hug. I didn’t know what to make of it, but I loved how perfect I felt with his arms around me. I hugged him back, like there would never be another time.
“You mean a lot to me, Riley. You’re my girl, my best friend, ya know? All this stuff is confusing. You and Dean like that... well, it’s just weird, and I don’t like how it makes me feel.” He released me, rubbed behind his neck, and looked up to the sky.
“Josh, you mean everything to me too. There is no Dean and I. I don’t know what to say about what you saw, because I am just as confused as you are that it happened,” I said.
His eyes darted to mine. “He likes you, Riley.” He stated it like it all made perfect sense. Like he already knew it. Did he know?
“I know,” I said. I didn’t before but I did then. It’s just that, I didn’t like him like that. I didn’t think I liked him like that. 
“Do you like him?” His eyes studied mine with an intensity that I wasn’t familiar with.
I shook my head back and forth. The answer came to me so quickly, although I questioned its truth. “No… not like that.”
“Do you like me like that?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
Yes, that I knew for a fact. I did. I looked at him. The truth was on my tongue, ready to fall freely into the wind. If I told him the truth, if I said—yes, it would crush me if he didn’t feel the same. Worse, what if he did feel the same? And then I did something to screw it up, or he changed his mind later? My dad loved my mom once, but he still cheated on her. He still hurt her beyond repair. I could lose my best friend if I let myself feel the truth. Say the truth.
I betrayed my own heart that day.
Because what I said, wasn’t even scratching the surface of how I really felt for him. “You’re my best friend, and I liked kissing you, and I don’t like the way it feels seeing you with other girls. Shit, I don’t even like talking about it, or thinking about it but… but…” How could I explain? I was afraid he would hurt me. I was afraid that I loved him so deeply that he had the power to ruin me.
He gripped my chin, and the look in his eyes was killing me slowly. He whispered quietly, “but what?”
Tears began to trickle down my cheeks, I didn’t know why exactly, maybe for the loss of the possibility. I just felt so emotionally drained. My system had been shocked.
“But... it’s probably not a good idea. I would be lost without you, and we’re only fourteen. Besides, you seem curious about everything, where I am fine with everything staying the same.” I lied. I wasn’t fine.
In a perfect world, where love didn’t scare me to death, and forever existed, he would say what I wanted. He would have said –,
It’s a perfect idea, Riley. You’re my girl, my only girl, and I will love you, only you forever”.
We didn’t live in that perfect world. In reality he said, “I guess I am a little curious. Things stay the same… for now. But one day Riley, we may have this conversation again, and when we do, I hope you say yes.”
His eyes bore into mine, and then he placed a sweet kiss on my forehead. I wiped at my eyes as he stepped back, leaving me standing in the yard with a feeling like nothing would ever stay the same. I hoped that conversation would happen again one day. I hoped that when it did, I would have the strength and security to say yes.
~ ~ ~
That conversation could have happened the next year, but my Dad made a bad decision that made it impossible to ever embrace. Instead, it blew away in the wind, whispering little doubts of why Josh and I could never be more than best friends.

©Copyright 2013 by Andrea Michelle

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