by Tina Marie
Young Adult romance involving complex family issues.
Shelby Morgan was sitting by the poolside bleachers at Perkins High. She knew she shouldn’t be there; that nothing good was going to come of it. But, she couldn’t resist. It was her favorite time of year in high school; the beginning of swim season. She wasn’t a swimmer. Not anymore at least. She hadn’t been since ninth grade when she quit the team, or rather when she’d been forced off the team. She’d been deemed too un-cool to participate in any extracurricular activities at the school. That had come as a total shock to her being that she’d been the most popular girl in school up until that point. She was still going to school with all the same students, all of which she had grown up with and considered to be her friends. She couldn’t have been more wrong.
But watching the swimmers practice had nothing to do with the sport. It had more to do with a certain guy. A guy she’d been crazy about since the seventh grade.
Noah was the most popular guy in school. He was captain of the football team, the fastest swimmer in school – he was a sure bet on taking State that year – and the fastest track runner in the history of Perkins High.
More importantly, he was also the first boy she’d ever kissed. She could remember it like it was just yesterday. They had just finished eighth grade. It was the first Saturday after the last day of school. He was going away to Chicago with his parents for the summer. The whole summer! She could hardly stand it. All year long, she’d tried to get up the nerve to say something to him. She knew that if she didn’t act soon, she was going to miss her chance. And even at fourteen, she knew that a lot could happen in three months time. He could forget all about her by the time he returned. She couldn’t let that happen.
He was standing at the edge of his driveway when her mother pulled up to the curb. Shelby nervously climbed out of the car and walked over to where he was standing. He wasn’t exactly surprised to see her. His mother was Shelby’s piano teacher.
“My mom’s not here,” he told her. “She had to get stuff for the trip.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I didn’t come here to see her.”
“Oh? Are you sick? You could come in and see my dad.”
His father was Doctor Malone. The most revered M.D. in all of Sandusky, Ohio. He was her family’s doctor.
“No, I’m not sick.”
Noah had a perplexed look on his face. “You sure? You don’t look so good.”
“Yeah well…” She hesitated out of acute fear. “I came to see you.”
His eyes lit up. “Really?”
Shelby thought he was the most adorable boy alive with his glasses, khaki pants, and blue oxford shirt. The way he dressed and carried himself made him look more like a man than a boy, especially compared to the other boys she knew. And it didn’t matter that he wasn’t cool or popular. She liked him anyway. As she stood there, she wished she hadn’t been so afraid of what her friends would’ve thought about her if they’d known she liked Noah. She was ashamed of herself for choosing popularity over him. She’d wasted so much time that she could’ve been spending with him.
“Yes, really,” she confirmed.
“Oh.” He looked at her mother who was waiting in the car with the engine still running. He seemed to be confused.
“I can’t stay long, but you’re leaving tomorrow and I just wanted to come by and… say goodbye.”
“I’ve never been to Chicago, but I hear it’s really cool.”
“My dad’s pretty psyched about it. He grew up there.”
“I didn’t know that. Are you excited to go?”
“I’m looking forward to getting out of Sandusky for a while, that’s for sure.”
“I can understand that.” She decided she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t tell him what she’d come here to say. “Well… I guess I’ll see you when you get back.”
“Well, have fun this summer.”
“Yeah. You, too.”
This was her cue to turn and walk away. There wasn’t anything more to say. Goodbyes don’t take all that long. But there was just one problem. She couldn’t walk away. She just remained standing there. She looked down at her feet and cursed herself internally for being such a coward. This was the first time she’d ever been too shy to admit to a boy that she liked him. It made absolutely no sense to her. It was just Noah Malone for Pete’s sake. He was the least cool boy in school. He would probably flattered by the fact that the most popular girl in school had a crush on him, even if he didn’t feel the same way about her.
But that was the problem. It was more than just a crush she was feeling. She knew she was too young to be in love, but she definitely knew that she cared about him. He was her friend, and the kindest boy she’d ever known. He’d spent countless hours helping her with her math after her piano lessons with Mrs. Malone. He even accepted the fact that she didn’t hang out with him in school. He never once judged her or treated her harshly over it. He knew what it would mean to her reputation if she hung out with him.
And now, here she was, getting ready to walk away because she didn’t have the guts to tell him the truth. And this time it wasn’t because she was scared of what it would do to her reputation. She was afraid he wouldn’t feel the same way and that by admitting her feelings to him, she would lose a good friend in the process.
“What’s wrong, Shelby?”
“I know you, and I know when something’s bothering you.”
“It’s just that…” It’s now or never, she told herself. “I’m going to miss you.”
He smiled. It was the most heartwarming, gentle smile she’d ever seen.
He reached out and placed his hand on her arm. “I’m going to miss you, too. You’re the only friend I’ve got.”
Shelby looked back at her mother who was looking the other way down the cul-de-sac. She knew her mother was trying to give her some privacy.
“You won’t forget me while you’re gone?” she asked.
“Forget you?” he asked. “I could never forget you, Shelby.”
The way he said her name made her heart skip a beat. She was starting to allow herself to believe he might actually feel the same way about her.
“Noah,” she started. “I came here to tell you something.”
“I know I haven’t been a very good friend to you. But…” She stopped and looked away.
“Whatever you’re going to say, it’s okay.”
She looked back at him. He was pleading to her with his eyes for her to say what she really came here to say.
“I’m going to miss you.”
He laughed. “You already said that.”
“I know,” she laughed nervously. Determined to say the words she came here to say. “Noah, I care about you. And I know I don’t deserve for you to feel the same way about me, but I really hope you do.”
Noah stood very still and stared on in shock for a moment after she said the words. His silence led her to believe that she’d made a huge mistake. She looked down to her feet again as tears began to well up in her eyes.
A second later, she felt his hand lifting her chin up. Another second later, she felt his warm, soft lips on hers. What started out as a sweet, gentle kiss quickly turned into one of exploding passion. Passion that’d been contained for entirely too long. When they finally pulled away from each other she could taste peppermint on his tongue from the gum he’d been chewing when she arrived.
“Of course I feel the same way,” he said. “I’ve just been waiting for you to realize that you felt that way about me.”
She smiled. “I’ve known it for a while now.”
“What took you so long to tell me?”
“I was afraid to.”
“Shelby, you don’t ever have to be afraid of anything with me.”
It was the sweetest thing anyone had ever said to her and she knew that he meant every word.
Noah looked at her mother in the car and it reminded Shelby that they weren’t alone. And, that her mother probably just witnessed her first kiss. She could feel the warmth of the blood fill her face from embarrassment.
“Don’t worry, I don’t think she was looking,” Noah said.
“I hope not. Having your mom witness your first kiss is more than a little embarrassing.”
“That was your first kiss?” he asked with glee. He smiled with exultation.
“Yeah. Was it yours?” she asked, hoping that it was.
“Yeah. I was praying the entire time you wouldn’t think I was horrible.”
“It was perfect.”
“I thought so, too.”
“I’m really going to miss you now.”
“I’ll be thinking about you every second that I’m gone.”
“Me, too.” Shelby looked back to her mother who was still staring down the street away from her and Noah. “I should probably get going.”
“Okay,” he said. “Thanks for coming.”
“Will you call me?”
“And if I don’t?” He pulled her close one more time.
“I’ll never kiss you again.”
“Well, I can’t allow that to happen. I don’t know what I’d do if you never kissed me again.”
He leaned in for another kiss just as his mother pulled up into the driveway beside them. Shelby pulled away feeling a little self conscious.
“Then you better follow up like a proper gentleman.”
In the passenger side mirror, Shelby could see Noah watching as they began to pull away. In her heart she knew she loved him and that he felt the same way about her. She didn’t care that she was considered to be too young. Even at fourteen she knew love was a mystery that no one really knew anything about. Least of all the people who claimed they did.
Better yet, her mother didn’t say anything about the kiss. She simply smiled at her Shelby and asked if she felt better and smiled when she told her she did.
Shelby’s euphoria was killed in an instant. Standing on her porch four houses down from Noah’s was Stacey and Allison, Shelby’s best friends. They were not happy with what they’d seen. Although she was ashamed of herself for it, Shelby was mortified over what they’d seen. She could only imagine what was she was in store for. Her phone chimed in her purse, signaling a text message. Reluctantly, she pulled it out of her purse and checked the message. It was from Allison. It said: What the hell was THAT?
In her senior year of high school, it was hard to wrap her mind around the way things had changed since the day she shared her first kiss with Noah. Back then, she was the “it” girl; the girl that all the other girls revered and envied and that all the boys fantasized about. Noah had been the school’s biggest geek. Everyone treated him as if he had the plague.
Boy, how the roles had been reversed. She was living in an alternate universe. One she had created the day she kissed him.
She hoped no one noticed her in the bleachers, watching Noah swim for his audience of beautiful, popular girls, all who were fantasizing about him the same as she was. She feared the ridicule she would receive if anyone caught her there. Everyone in the school knew the story of what’d happened between them. It was the bane of her existence.
Sitting beside her in the bleachers were her two best friends, Jamie McMann and Lindsay Berry. They were the only two people in her class that would have anything to do with her after her fall from grace.
Jamie had a heart of gold and was truly the best friend she’d ever had in her life. He was there for her anytime she needed him, day or night. He was a good looking guy, too. If it wasn’t for the fact that he was gay, she thought he would be the perfect guy for her.
Lindsay was also a very good friend. She was a pretty yet humble girl who was very shy. As much as Shelby appreciated those qualities about her, she also knew that they worked against her. Shelby believed if it hadn’t been for the fact that she was so quiet and shy, she would indeed be the most popular girl in school. She certainly had the looks for it with her shiny blonde hair, button nose and tight body.
“Look at that will you?” Jamie said, not at all afraid for the guys around to hear him checking out another guy. Jamie was as openly gay as it got.
Shelby looked up to see who he was talking about and saw Noah stepping out of the pool. His body glistened as the water slid down his body. She caught her breath and didn’t bother to conceal the fact that she was staring. Who would she be kidding anyhow? Everyone knew why she was there.
“I swear I never get used to it. He is huge.” Lindsay gushed.
Shelby blushed, knowing what she was talking about, and it wasn’t his height. She tried to focus on Noah’s face, but failed. Her eyes unwillingly went straight to the area they were talking about. His crotch. She knew it was wrong and even gross to do so. But like her friends, she just couldn’t help it.
There really should be a law about well endowed guys wearing swim trunks in high school, she thought. It’s simply obscene. Every step he took shouted an unspoken vulgarity. Not that not that she was offended.
“Hung like a porn star. Trust me. I know about these things.” Jamie said.
Shelby didn’t want to be having this conversation at all let alone in public. “Shut up, Jamie.”
He ignored her and went on. “I can’t believe you used to go out with him.”
“I didn’t go out with him,” Shelby said. “We kissed. Once. In eighth grade.”
“Yeah, and you let him go!” he persisted.
Jamie was right, but she wouldn’t admit it. “That all depends on how you look at it.”
“You must be mentally retarded… or blind to do such a thing.” Jamie was nearly panting. “That man is so beautiful just looking at him is painful.”
She couldn’t stifle her laugh. Jamie was even more obsessed with him than she was. “Then don’t look.”
A familiar voice came from behind them. “Why don’t all of you stop looking at him?”
It was Allison Roberts. Noah’s girlfriend.
In the corner of her eye Shelby could see Lindsay shrink back in her seat. She knew her friend didn’t like confrontations. Shelby and Jamie stood up simultaneously and turned to face their intruder.
“Mind your own business, Allison,” Jamie said. “This is a private conversation.”
“That may very well be, but you’re talking about my boyfriend. My property. Thus making it my business.”
Shelby tensed up, ready to pounce as the conversation became more heated. She alternated between looking at Jamie and Allison, trying to decipher their next moves. She knew Jamie had what it took to provoke Allison into a fight. And, although he was gay and fought like a girl, he was still a guy. And if he were to take a swing at Allison, he would get into huge trouble. Shelby wasn’t going to allow that. Allison had caused enough turmoil in her life.
“Is Noah aware that you’re claiming ownership of him?” he taunted Allison.
“Don’t provoke her Jamie,” Shelby said to him.
Allison laughed. Shelby knew that Allison found it comical that she was always there to defend Jamie and that she thought it was because he was too delicate to handle himself. But, that wasn’t really the case. Shelby simply loathed Allison Roberts with every cell of her being and nothing would make her happier than an opportunity to go at it with her.
“For your information,” Allison started, looking at Shelby, “he is huge. And very good, if you catch my drift. Not that any of you losers would know that.” She turned her attention to Jamie. “Especially you. You little faggot.”
The rage that was already simmering inside of Shelby now boiled over and she was unable to restrain herself any longer. There were a lot of things she would withstand when it came to Allison. Making hurtful, derogatory comments about her best friend was not one of them.
“What did you call him?” Shelby demanded.
“You heard me… Stalker.” Allison laughed. It was a high pitched noise she made whenever she felt she was being cute.
Shelby lunged at Allison, fast and fierce. She took one swing, putting all of her power behind it. She heard the cracking noise Allison’s nose made when her fist made contact. Allison went down like a sack of bricks onto the bleacher seats. Her face was instantly a bloody mess. By looking at her, Shelby knew she’d broken her nose. She felt triumphant.
“You bitch! You broke my nose!” Allison cried.
Shelby couldn’t contain her laughter. Just last summer, Allison had gotten a nose job. And now, it was ruined. All that money right down the drain.
Next thing Shelby knew, Mr. Morrison, the swim coach had her by the arms and pulled her away from the scene. He was screaming at her with fury, though she wasn’t listening to a word he was saying. Shelby watched on with delight as a security guard and Noah helped Allison up. Noah turned and gave her a look of disappointment and it made her stomach churn with discomfort.
The disappointment that Principal Adams felt over Shelby’s actions was etched deep into his face as she sat across from him the following Monday morning. It was hard for her to look at him. She liked Principal Adams and she didn’t enjoy disappointing people she liked. It made her feel deeply ashamed. Her stomach twisted into tight, unbearable knots. She wanted to get up and run away. But she could not. She had to face him and own up to what she’d done.
“So, let’s have your side of the story,” he said.
“Allison Roberts made a derogatory comment about Jamie McMann’s sexual orientation,” she explained knowing that it wouldn’t be nearly good enough.
“What did she say?
“She called him a,” she cringed at the thought of the word. She’d never once in her life ever said it, “faggot.”
“I see,” the principal sighed. “And you felt that gave you just cause to start a fight?”
“No.” It was a lie, but she new saying yes would only make matters worse for her.
Principal Adams stared on, waiting for her to explain why she hit Allison.
“He’s my friend. And I don’t have any tolerance for comments like that, especially when they’re made about my friends and they come from her.”
“You are one of our brightest students, Shelby. You’ve got a heart of gold. But, you can’t go around punching people every time someone says something you don’t like.”
She didn’t respond for she knew he was right. And, the only thing she could think of to say was that she couldn’t help herself and that wouldn’t have helped her cause at all. She decided not to comment at all.
“Besides, I think this is about something else entirely,” he said.
“I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.” She really didn’t.
“Miss Roberts seems to think you have a problem with her because she’s dating a particular boy that you just happen to be interested in.”
Shelby was exasperated and at the same time embarrassed. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Is it?” Principal Adams challenged.
“Allison says this all started when she overheard you and your friends making lewd comments about her boyfriends… umm,” he paused, clearly uncomfortable. “I think you know what I’m referring to.”
“No, I don’t.”
“You need to be straight with me, Shelby.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“But, Mr. McMann did. Did he not?”
“We were talking amongst ourselves. It was a private conversation.”
“Never the less, it was an inappropriate conversation. I could expel you all, and I should.”
The thought of her dearest friends getting in trouble over of a grudge between her and Allison upset her greatly. She didn’t want them to pay the price for her problem.
“Please don’t do that. I’m sorry for hitting her. I really am.”
Principal Adams looked at her incredulously. “You do realize that you’ve broken her nose?”
“I thought, maybe I did.”
“Her parent’s could still decide to press charges. And, there will be medical bills.”
“I know. If you have to expel anyone, please leave Jamie and Lindsay out of it.”
“Look, I’m not expelling anyone today. But, I am enforcing a warning.”
Shelby looked on, knowing that she was getting off way too easy.
“One more problem between you and Miss Roberts or one more lewd comment regarding Noah Malone, and you will be automatically expelled. Do you hear me?”
“I do, and I understand. Thank you,” she said sincerely.
“One more thing before I dismiss you. Your mother is a valued employee at this school, a real gem, as well as a good friend of mine. This has been extremely difficult and embarrassing for her, as I’m sure you already know. Can you please do me a favor and just try to think about her the next time you’re presented with a situation like this?”
“You want me to think about her? Why don’t you try asking her the last time she thought about me, Principal Adams?”
“Get to Class Shelby, and just think about what I’ve said.”
Shelby nodded in agreement before getting up. She could feel his eyes boring through the back of her as she exited his office. It made her feel badly about herself that she wasn’t sorry for what she’d done to Allison. Right or wrong, her actions had arisen from several years’ worth of pent up anger and resentment. She believed that Allison had gotten what she deserved and she was glad to have been the person to deliver it.
Noah sat on his bed in his room, trying to mentally prepare himself for meeting the woman his dad had been dating for the past six months. He wasn’t looking forward to it. It bothered him immensely that his father was dating another woman. Sure, his mom had been dead for two years, and his father had a right to be happy. He wanted him to be happy even. But being introduced to the woman who was replacing his mom in his dad’s life was like pouring salt in a fresh, open wound.
He tried to imagine the type of woman his dad was dating. He knew she was a local. He ruled out the idea that she was a doctor like his father. There weren’t many women doctors in Sandusky and most of them were married to other doctors. Plus, he knew his dad would never date another doctor. They’d never see each other and if there was anything he knew about his dad, it was that he required a lot of attention. He would want a woman who was available to be around. His dad didn’t like being alone. Noah knew this because of his father’s behavior after his mom’s death. He was catatonic and nearly helpless.
The only piece of information his dad would divulge was that the woman had a daughter about Noah’s age. But he wouldn’t say was whether or not she went to his school. If she did, that would narrow it down greatly. Noah knew all of the girls in his class. He knew whose parents were married and whose were single. There weren’t too many female students with single parents at Perkins High. Noah mentally sifted through all the girls in his class with single parents. There were only thirteen and none of whose mothers he would want his father to date. Especially one in particular. Shelby’s.
He shook his head, rejecting the idea immediately. He was positive his dad would never go out with Sidney Morgan. She’d been friends with his mom. And, he knew the history Noah had with Shelby. It wouldn’t be right. Noah was confident his dad wouldn’t do that to him.
As he continued to think about it, Noah desperately hoped his father wasn’t dating any girl’s mother from his school. The thought of it made him extremely uncomfortable.
Noah really wasn’t in the mood to meet this mystery woman. It had only been two days since the incident involving Allison and Shelby. He hadn’t been able to get it out of his mind. The look he’d seen in Shelby’s eyes as she was being pulled off of Allison was one of a person out for blood. It was purely animalistic and territorial. It had rocked him to his core and left him feeling vulnerable. He couldn’t believe the rift was still alive. He and Shelby had been done for years. Hell, they hadn’t even begun before she stomped on his heart and treated him like he was less than nothing.
The fact that she refused let it go after all these years made no sense to him. Quite frankly, it pissed him off. And when Allison told him the comment Shelby had made about his… manhood… he thought he might puke. He couldn’t figure out what the hell was the matter with Shelby. They hadn’t even been friends in more than three years. Not to mention the fact that she’d been the one to break it off to begin with. All he knew was that she needed to move on. He had. It really hadn’t been all that hard. Or so he liked to tell himself.
“Son, we really need to get going,” his father called through his door.
Noah sighed and got up form his bed. He stood in front of the mirror on his dresser and evaluated his appearance and practiced smiling. Time to get this show on the road, he thought. He promised himself and his dad that he would be on his best behavior. Even if he wasn’t ready for his dad to move on, he knew he really had no say in the matter. After all, did he really believe his dad was going to live a life of celibacy after his wife’s death? Noah was a guy and knew it wasn’t realistic.
Noah opened the door and saw his dad standing before him. The excitement in his eyes was palpable. Noah felt both nauseated and happy for his dad. It had been a long time since he’d seen his father’s eyes twinkle. He hadn’t seen it since his mother died.
“Let’s do this,” Noah said with a smile that he hoped his dad wouldn’t realize was forced. He patted his dad on the shoulder and began walking down the hallway.
“Your support means a lot to me, Noah. But I have to ask you one thing.”
Noah stopped walking and turned to see his dad who was still standing in the spot by his bedroom door. “What is it?”
“I know you’re putting on a brave face, son. And, I know tonight is going to be hard for you. So, please do me one favor and just…” Noah’s dad swallowed trying to come up with the right words, “try to have an open mind.”
His father’s choice of words confused him. “Sure, dad.”
At the restaurant, his dad was strumming his fingers on the dining room table nervously. His sister, Annabelle, was fidgeting with her dress. Noah chugged on his Pepsi and got a cold headache. The woman was late. Noah didn’t appreciate tardiness. He found it to be rude and disrespectful. Due to the circumstances, he was running especially short on patience. He just wanted to get this over with.
“Isn’t it exciting that dad has a girlfriend?” Annabelle asked.
“If she doesn’t stand him up.”
“Noah?” he father asked sternly.
“Right. Open mind. I remember.”
Suddenly, Noah saw a movement to his left. She had arrived. He took a deep breath and looked over his shoulder at the woman standing beside his father. His heart stopped. He couldn’t breathe. All he could think was, Oh God, no. His worst nightmare had come true.
The silence in the car was as stifling as the heater that Shelby’s mom had cranking on high. But she didn’t dare say a word. Her mother was still infuriated with her over what had transpired between her and Allison the other day. Therefore, Shelby didn’t dare speak unless spoken to.
She had no idea where they were going, not that she cared. All she knew was that her mother was taking her to meet her father’s replacement. She hadn’t been told anything about the man. Not even his name. That fact alone gave her the nagging suspicion that she knew him. Otherwise, what would there be to hide? Whenever she pressed her mom about the issue she simply said that she didn’t want to jinx anything. But Shelby knew what she really meant. Her mom didn’t want her running and blabbing to her father, which she knew ever so accurately, that she would.
To say that she was unhappy about the night’s events was an understatement. Her parent’s divorce had only been finalized for three months and already her mom was in a serious relationship. Even worse was the fact that she knew her dad was still desperately in love with her mom and prayed they would one day have a second chance. If this night was any indication, that prayer was never going to come true.
After twenty five minutes of driving in utter silence, the car began to slow and Shelby saw the sign of the entrance to their destination. The Chateau.
Nobody other than the rich and infamous eat at The Chateau. Shelby had never been there, but she’d heard all about it from people at school. She knew that Allison and Stacey went there a lot with their parents which in and of itself was enough to convince Shelby that it wasn’t her kind of place. Up until now, she didn’t know that her mother even knew where the place was.
“The Chateau? You’ve got to be kidding me,” Shelby said. “Who is this guy?”
Sidney turned to look at her with a fierce expression. “Listen to me. I’m still very unhappy about that stunt you pulled a couple days ago. Don’t push it, young lady.”
Her mother parked the car and shut off the engine, but did not move to exit the car.
“This man is very important to me and I need to know that I can trust you to be on your best behavior.”
Shelby didn’t appreciate being treated like a child.
“Would you like for me to curtsey during the introduction?”
“Shelby Lynn Morgan! I’m serious.”
She didn’t doubt it. “You two are dating. I get it. I just don’t understand why you’re making such a big deal out of it.”
“Just promise me you’ll mind your manners. I didn’t raise you to be rude.”
“I promise. I’ll be nice.”
She watched as her mother turned to open her car door and started to do the same when she felt a hand on her shoulder stopping her.
“Remember, this means a lot to me and unless you want to be grounded for the rest of your life, you will behave, no matter what.”
The words “No matter what” sent a chill down Shelby’s spine. “I said I would. Geez.”
After being greeted by the hostess, Shelby followed her mother into the restaurant’s dining room. The restaurant was every bit as luxurious as it had been described to her. The pungent aroma of garlic attacked her from every angle and she imagined that after eating her dinner, she will reek like garlic for several days to come. Oh joy.
They continued to walk through the vast dining room until they came to a set of cherry wood french doors. Behind the doors was a dimly lit room with candles burning on the table and on sconces on the walls. The room was even more luxurious than the rest of the restaurant.
Her pulse began to race as she saw the backs of two men sitting before her. Beside them was a blonde haired girl. Father, son, and daughter, suspected.
Her heart ached as she approached the table. All she could think about was how she was going to break the news to her dad. Her wonderful, loving, gentle father. It was going to crush him. It was already crushing her.
She took a deep breath to prepare herself for the introduction that was coming. She reminded herself to be kind. The only person she was mad at was her mom. She needn’t take her frustration out on others. Finally, she looked up. Her heart stopped beating momentarily before bursting into a sprint inside her chest. Her breathing ceased and everything around her disappeared. All she could see is his face. His glorious, painfully beautiful face.
Her mother was dating Noah’s father. Doctor Brad Malone.
It was a nightmare. From the look on Noah’s face, it was evident he felt exactly the same way.
She felt something jab her in the ribs. She snapped back to reality.
“Don’t be rude, Shelby. Brad is speaking to you,” her mom said.
Shelby tore her eyes away from Noah and looked at Dr. Malone who was standing with his hand extended to her.
“I apologize. Nice to see you again Dr. Malone,” she said and took his hand. He pulled her in for a quick hug.
“No formalities, please Shelby. Call me Brad.” He’s smiled wide as they pulled away. “I suppose you’re more than a little surprised.”
“You suppose correctly.” She forced a smile in return.
“I hope pleasantly so,” he added.
“Absolutely,” Shelby lied. There’s nothing pleasant about this, she thought to herself.
“Hey Shelby,” Annabelle said with a genuine smile.
Although they didn’t exactly hang out, Shelby considered Annabelle to be a friend. She was only in the tenth grade and was already giving Allison a run for her money as the most popular girl in school. Most importantly, she was a truly sweet girl.
“Hey Annabelle.” Shelby smiled.
“Are you going to greet our guests, Noah?” Brad asked.
Noah stood up from his chair and pasted a pleasant look on his face. He extended his hand to her mom. Shelby could see through his act.
“Nice to see you, Mrs. Morgan,” he said.
“Please, call me Sidney, Noah.”
He nodded in agreement and then turned to face Shelby. “Hey,” he said casually, as if it was something he said every day, which the both of them knew wasn’t the case.
“Hey,” she responded.
Everyone took their seats. It was quiet for a second before Brad spoke.
“I hope everyone’s hungry. This place has the best food for at least a three hundred mile radius.”
If she had been hungry before, she wasn’t anymore. She was much too nauseated to eat now. When she stole a look in Noah’s direction, the expression on his face said the same thing.
“I know I’m hungry,” her mom said. “How about you, Shelby?”
“Yeah. Starved.” It wasn’t the first lie she’d told so far and she seriously doubted it was going to be her last for the evening.
Shelby looked at her mom who was smiling at her as if to say, “Thank you.” If only she had a clue as to what this was doing to Shelby, she might not have made the decision to date Noah’s dad. The pain that Shelby felt as she sat across from Noah was nearly unbearable. She hadn’t been this close to him socially in years. She could feel her heart shattering into a thousand little pieces. It took every ounce of her strength not to cry.
“I’m just going to run the restroom,” Noah said. He rose from his seat.
Brad watched Noah as he left the room. Shelby had a feeling that his leaving had more to do with what had just transpired than having to relieve himself.
“This is so exciting,” Annabelle said. “I’m so glad it’s you Mrs. Morgan.”
Shelby knew Annabelle was used to calling her mother by her last name because she taught her history class.
“It’s Sidney outside of school, okay Annabelle?”
“That’ll take some getting used to.” Annabelle giggled.
“I’m glad you’re pleased, Annabelle,” Brad said.
“We both are,” Sidney said with a smile of relief.
“How do you think your brother is taking it?” Brad asked Annabelle.
Shelby already knew the answer to that. He was pissed. She could see it in his eyes.
“I think he’ll be fine,” Annabelle said.
Dinner passed slowly and without any further discussion of Brad and Sidney’s relationship. The adults tried to encourage friendly conversation, but the only person that took to it was Annabelle. Noah and Shelby both talked to everyone, they just didn’t talk to directly to each other. Shelby wasn’t sure if Brad or her mom had noticed, though she couldn’t fathom that they wouldn’t be able to pick up on the discomfort she and Noah were feeling.
The check had been paid and Shelby was starting to feel relief that the night was over and they would be leaving soon when Brad spoke.
“Sidney and I have something we would like to share with the three of you.”
All three of the teenagers stopped breathing. If it hadn’t been for the background music playing overhead, you would’ve been able to hear a pin drop.
Brad looked at Sidney with an expression of warmth and love. Shelby feared what was coming next.
“As you’ve all figured out by now, Sidney and I are involved in a rather serious relationship.”
No one spoke.
“We realize we’ve dropped a lot on the three of you tonight and you’ve all taken it much better than we anticipated,” Sidney added. “That means a lot to both of us.”
“But, there’s more to our get together tonight than just the big reveal,” Brad said. “I’ve asked Sidney to marry me and she’s accepted.”
Noah and Shelby screamed simultaneously “What?”
“You’ve only been dating for six months!” Noah yelled at his father.
“You and dad have only been officially divorced for three months!”
“I will not tolerate an outburst like that!” Brad said to his son.
Shelby’s mom pulled her off to the side of the room.
“That was before I knew you were getting married to Noah’s dad,” Shelby said in a hushed voice.
“Listen to me. Your father and I ended our marriage more than a year ago, Shelby. It’s time you accept that I am moving on with my life.”
“With Brad Malone?”
“Yes. With Brad.”
“Of all the men in the world, you had to choose Noah’s father?” Shelby whispered.
“We don’t get to choose who we love, Shelby.”
The words struck a chord. She knew her mom was right simply because no matter how hard she tried to fight it, she was still in love with Noah. No matter whom she met or how many dates she went on, that much never changed. She’d always been sure that if it hadn’t been for what she did to him all those years ago, they would still be together and planning their future together. But, she’d hurt him and he’d never forgiven her for it. She was sure he never would.
“I know,” was all she could say.
Shelby looked over to Noah, Brad and Annabelle. The three of them were huddled into a corner across the room. She couldn’t hear what they were saying.
“I assume he’s probably telling them, so I’ll go ahead and tell you.”
What else could there be? Shelby wondered.
“We’re moving into his house at the end of the month.
“What?” Shelby was exasperated. “That’s only two weeks from now.”
“Brad and I decided it would be best. It’ll give everyone time to get used to living together as a family before we get married.”
“Mom, I’ll never get used to it. And, I’m pretty sure Noah won’t either. He hates me.”
“You’re being just a tad melodramatic, don’t you think?”
“It may seem that way to you.”
“He doesn’t hate you, Shelby.”
Brad, Noah and Annabelle all started walking toward her and her mom. Judging by the expression on Noah’s face, Brad must’ve told them the news, too.
“I think we should call it a night,” her mom said.
“I agree,” Brad said. “I’ll give you a call later when I’ve got things settled at home.”
Shelby was beginning to feel that disappointing her mother was becoming a habit. She hated it. But what about what her mom was doing to her? Didn’t that matter at all?