Published in October 2013 by Accendo Press
When 22-year-old Summer Stafford’s parents split halfway through her senior year at college, Summer’s world is rocked. Everything she thought she knew—heck, everything she thought she wanted for her own life—feels like a lie. The truth is love is a risk. And the true kind, the kind that lasts, might even be a fairy tale.
Reeling from the divorce, Summer derails her own future by breaking up with her parent-approved boyfriend and giving up her lifelong plans for a big-city career. She moves back home, business degree in hand. Dad needs her to fill the gaps her mother left behind; Summer needs to find who she is outside of the cookie-cutter life that failed so miserably for her parents.
Ford O’Neal’s future involves one person: himself. He doesn’t have a permanent address and he definitely doesn’t commit. To a place or a person. Raised by hippies, he plans just far enough ahead to secure his next stop, this one landing him at a work-study program at Heritage Plantation where he can grow his own herbal and medicinal creations.
Summer is gorgeous and smart and fun to be with, the perfect way to pass five months. It won’t be love—Ford’s got too many things to accomplish, too many places to go, before he settles down. Yet Summer pulls him in, challenging him to rethink his own philosophy.
When Ford’s five months are up, each of them must decide if love is really worth the risk.
I looked around my bedroom at the growing pile of cardboard boxes and sighed. There was something seriously depressing about moving home again, regardless of the fact that it’d been voluntary. I picked up a box, calculating open space, and set it down again. My college dorm room had been roughly the same size. How had I accumulated more items than the space allowed between there and home?
My room was exactly as I’d left it almost four years earlier. Right down to the purple-and-charcoal bedspread with curtains to match. Dad hadn’t made a single change while I’d been away. Not in my room, not in the rest of the house, and from what I’d seen, not with his business either. The only change he’d made hadn’t been his choice. She’d made all the changes for him. And she hadn’t looked back.
But that’s why I was here. To pick up the pieces she’d left behind.
The furniture was a dark oak with neutral accents, but instead of making the room feel depressing and drab, the muted colors were soothing, like sitting underneath a giant shade tree. Being in this room had always been the one place in the house I could escape.
Living at Heritage Plantation came with a certain level of chaos. There was always a body in the house, whether family or staff or someone we considered both; the noise and bustle was constant—all part of the territory when you lived under the same roof that you worked. Well, the business end of things was under this roof. The office, now mine, was downstairs off the kitchen, an add-on my dad had given the place when the farm really got rolling several years back. The rest—the hay and cornfields, the greenhouses, the tractors—had their own space. And lots of it. Heritage Plantation was big enough to get lost in and still never leave “home.” I loved that.
Still, when the crowd became too much, my room was my solitude. My peace and quiet. I was hoping for that same feeling now that I’d come back again. But things were so different, I wasn’t sure there was any place that could make me feel that way. Dark thoughts crept in before I could stop them, my eyes pricking with quick tears. I hated that the thought of her, of what she’d done, still shook me like this.
The sound of boots on the stairs startled me out of my thoughts. I pretended to survey the boxes as I blinked away the moisture. A pair of weathered hands appeared, wrapped around a large box. My dad’s narrow-brimmed cowboy hat bobbed up and down behind the cardboard, his face obscured by the load he carried. He grunted as he set the box at my feet—somehow finding space in the middle of the mess—and then straightened. His back popped as he arched it in an exaggerated stretch.
“You okay?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“I am now. That was the last one. Finally.”
“Thanks for helping me carry all of it up.”
He snorted. “Next time we’ll get a crane. Whaddya have in these bags? Bricks?”
“Close,” I admitted. “I brought a lot of books home.”
He grunted something unintelligible but didn’t complain further. We both knew what I’d given up in coming home. I’d had plans for a Master’s, a career in the city. The farm had always been my parents’ thing, not mine. He’d tried and tried to talk me into staying, to pursue my dreams. But how could I follow a dream born from a life built on a lie?
“I’ve gotta get back to work. I’ll see you for dinner?” he asked.
“Wouldn’t miss it, Pop. Thanks,” I told him, planting a kiss on his cheek and following him to the top of the stairs. His boots made a clop-clop sound as he trudged downward. The sound was a familiar one. I’d been listening to it from my bedroom doorway my whole life. It was comforting, steadfast in a way other things weren’t. Not anymore.
For the millionth time since walking in the door, I thought of my mother and a pang shot through my gut. A cross between nausea and heartache. Even after six months to digest it, my mom’s decision to leave, to divorce my father, still seemed surreal—especially now that I was home.
I examined the foyer from my perch at the top of the stairs. It wasn’t so much what was here as what was missing. Little things. Figurines, cross-stitched pictures in frames, coffee table books. The absence of fresh flowers on the side table. And even though it hurt like a fresh cut, I’d said nothing as I’d followed Dad through the house and upstairs. If it was this painful for me, I could only imagine what it did to him every time he walked by.
I yanked on the tie holding my hair back and let it shake free. Thick brown waves with honey highlights spilled over my shoulders. I ran absent fingers through the ends, brushing out the tangles that seemed to form the moment I moved my neck in the mornings. I was forever combing tangles—a trait that had skipped a generation if my mom’s perfectly groomed twists were any indication. Although, I couldn’t complain too much; thanks to her Brazilian heritage, I could eat and eat without gaining an ounce. Something I was grateful for when the other girls at college had been too obsessed with their figure to enjoy a good dinner. Sorry for your luck. This girl was eating her entire cheeseburger. And fries.
My phone beeped inside my pocket. I pulled it out, examined the screen, and bit back a grimace. I’d avoided this long enough. Now, standing in the privacy of my own room, I decided I’d better get it over with.
“Hello?” I said, struggling to keep the resignation out of my tone.
“Summer?” The familiar voice on the other end was a mixture of both worry and relief.
“What is it, Aaron?”
“I’ve been calling you for days.”
“I know. I just—there wasn’t anything left to say.”
He paused. I wasn’t sure if it was because he knew I was right or hadn’t really expected me to answer the phone in the first place. “So nothing has changed then?” he asked quietly. “You still want this … us to be over?”
I knew his words, the very sound of his voice, should tug at me, make me feel something. Aaron and I had been together two years, after all. But I felt nothing. That, in itself, was my biggest clue I’d done the right thing in breaking things off before graduation.
“Nothing’s changed,” I confirmed.
Aaron was silent. I pictured him squeezing his eyes shut, trying to find the right words. But there weren’t any. None that would make me change my mind, anyway. I needed to make him see that without hurting him in the process. Well, more than I already had.
“You and I were good together, Summer,” Aaron said. “We got along, never fought, we had fun. I was happy with you. I thought you were happy with me too.”
“I was … sort of.” How in the world could I explain it to him when I couldn’t fully make sense of it myself? “This thing with my parents has made me think.”
“Think about what?”
I tried to keep the frustration out of my voice, but it crept in. Just like it did any time I tried explaining to someone exactly what the divorce had done to me. No one ever got it. My friends at school had worn blank looks, my dad didn’t seem to want to talk about it. I’d avoided anyone else who might ask just so I wouldn’t have to face the strange looks when I tried to make them understand. “I don’t want to ‘get along’ or ‘have fun,’ Aaron,” I said. “I want to live. I want to feel it. I want it to matter.”
“I thought I did matter.”
“I …” I’d already said it once and that had been hard enough. Why was he making me say it again? I squeezed my eyes shut and whispered, “I just need to go my own way.”
Heavy silence hung on the line.
“If it’s space you want, I’ll give it to you,” he said, his words clipped. “Enjoy the wide open. But Summer?”
“I’m not your mother.”
“I know that,” I said. Then I hung up.
Heather Hildenbrand was born and raised in a small town in northern Virginia where she was homeschooled through high school. She now lives in coastal VA, a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean, with her two adorable children. She works from home, part time, as a property manager and when she’s not furiously pounding at the keyboard, or staring off into space whilst plotting a new story, she’s lying on the beach, soaking in those delicious, pre-cancerous rays.
Heather loves Mexican food, hates socks with sandals, and if her house was on fire, the one thing she’d grab is her DVR player.
Heather is a co-founder of Accendo Press, a publishing group she operates with fellow authors: Angeline Kace and Jennifer Sommersby. Accendo (a-CH-endo), A Latin word, means “to kindle, illuminate, inflame, or set fire.” This is something Accendo strives to do inside a reader’s imagination with every title released. For a complete list of titles and author bios, visit www.accendopress.com.
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