Preview Scene: Caryn’s parents give her an ultimatum—Quit seeing Andrew or cut ties with her family, lose access to her trust fund, and move out of the townhouse they’d purchased for her to live in while attending the university… Conflicted, hurt, and angry, she is sure of two things: She loves Andrew, and she doesn’t want her parents’ support with those strings attached.
…. Caryn sat on the bed watching as Andrew packed for a four-game road trip to the West Coast. Her stomach knotted at the thought of his leaving for eight days, but determined not to show it, she stood and smoothed the clothes he’d hung in the garment bag.
“I don’t think I told you I opened the new checking account.”
“Good, you finally got that cash deposited. Your mother generous?”
Caryn shrugged. “Enough for to cover tuition and books through graduation, then some to live on if I get a job. I really, really hate using any of his money.”
“Not much choice.”
He stopped packing and turned toward her. “There are other options.”
“I know. I can take a semester off and work full-time.”
Andrew smoothed the hair around her face, resting his palm on her cheek. “That’s not what I mean, Cary. You don’t need to interrupt your schedule, take a job or anything else. I’ll help you.”
She shook her head.
“I can do this myself. It’s not your problem. I don’t want you to feel obligated because of what happened with my parents.”
“Obligation has nothing to do with it. I love you. I want to help you.”
“I’m not your responsibility, Andrew.” The words sounded sharp, even to her. He stepped back, his blue eyes steadily holding her gaze.
“That’s not how I see it.”
Suddenly the anger and frustration building over the past few days erupted. “I’ll deal with this, Drew.” He didn’t respond, and Caryn turned and left the room. She randomly grabbed a textbook from her backpack, along with her highlighter and iPad, and sat down to study at the kitchen counter. She flipped the book open and stared blindly at the page, fighting back tears of frustration.
Why does everyone try to control me? I’m an adult—not a helpless child—perfectly capable of making my own decisions. She’d go over to a couple of the restaurants later in the day; hopefully get a job, then start looking for an apartment—or check the university website for students seeking roommates.
She grabbed her iPad and logged on to the student portal, navigating to the housing options. A long list of roommate opportunities appeared, and she scanned the list quickly, looking for a familiar name. She took a deep breath, relief slowly replacing anxiety.
Andrew’s hand squeezed her shoulder and he leaned to kiss the top of her head. “I’m going to be heading out in a few.”
She looked up at him in surprise. “I’ll drive you to the airport.”
“No need.” He brushed the hair from her face. “I’ve got a ride.”
She averted her eyes. “I’m sorry about the way I acted.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Drew, I’ve never had to do anything for myself,” she tried to explain. “My parents gave me everything. Not counting summer camp when I taught tennis or when I worked at Dad’s headquarters during school vacations, I’ve never even had a job. I’ve never had to take care of myself.”
“And everything changed in less than a week.”
“That’s not your fault.”
“I need to prove I can take care of myself.”
He reached to brush the hair back from her face. “Why? To me?” Andrew challenged gently. “You don’t need to prove anything to me. I know you can take care of yourself. To your father? Do you think he’ll know—or even care—if you’re still involved with me?”
“What about me? Maybe I need to prove it to myself.”
“Honey, you’re twenty. Isn’t it more important that you complete your education? Don’t throw it all away to prove a point.”
“I’m not throwing it away. I can work part-time now, then full-time next summer. Maybe I can get a work-study or something. I will graduate.”
His eyes held her gaze. “You’ll use your mom’s money to pay tuition?”
“I don’t have a choice unless I take winter semester off.”
He nodded, but didn’t speak.
She turned her iPad toward him. “There are a lot of students looking for roommates next semester.”
“You’ll make the right decision, Cary.” He pulled the iPod she had given him from his pocket and handed it to her. “After I leave, just push play. I want you to listen to a song.” He gently drew her to her feet and wrapped his arms around her. “Remember, I love you.” He reached for his luggage, then nodded at the iPod. “Don’t forget to listen.”
She walked with him to the front door and watched him get in the car, following it with her eyes until it turned the corner. She shivered, the cold wind biting as she closed and locked the door. She leaned against it for a moment, taking in the warmth of the apartment, seeing his presence everywhere she looked.
Conflicted emotions bombarded her mind. Her father’s ultimatum, Andrew’s offer, her need to prove she could take care of herself without the security of the trust fund or Drew’s help. She didn’t even have to continue the pre-determined educational path; she could change majors, do what she wanted. Caryn laughed bitterly. Naturally, she didn’t even know what she wanted to study if left to her own devices.
She took a deep breath, suddenly needing to get out of the apartment and the security it offered. Grabbing her coat and pulling it on, she picked up the key and locked the door. Turning her back to the wind, she walked as quickly as she could, hoping to clear her mind.
If she could do anything she wanted for a career, what would she choose? She’d long ago accepted her parents’ plan for her life, taking and mastering the subjects deemed important, even before entering the university. Maybe every once in a while, she chose an elective, but never discovered a passion for any of those subjects. She thought of her mom’s talent for fashion design, realizing she’d never taken the opportunity to discover if those creative instincts were part of her own DNA. Was it too late?
Needing to talk to someone, she reached into her pocket for her iPhone to call Lauren, laughing out loud when she remembered it was back on the counter at Andrew’s. Perfect, just perfect. She headed toward campus, hoping to find her friend at home, slowing her pace as she admitted she truly didn’t want to share this with anyone, not even Lauren. She didn’t want to explain why she needed to move, why she needed a job. She wanted to remain Caryn the student, not the daughter of William Stevens.
Her energy sapped, her spirits plummeting, she returned to the apartment. It was dark when she entered, flipping the light on, wishing Andrew were there. She hadn’t even told him that she loved him before he left. Too stubborn to accept his help, rejecting him bluntly. Certainly proved my point, didn’t I? She hung up her coat with a sigh and walked toward the kitchen to fix something warm to drink.
She glanced at her iPhone, seeing Andrew had called, but hadn’t left a message. She checked her texts. Nothing. She quickly typed a note to him, hoping he had WiFi on the plane.
Her eyes fell on the iPod and she reached for it, remembering Andrew’s request that she listen to the song he’d selected. Settling on the couch, she inserted the earbuds, then pressed the triangle to start the song as she curled up with the blanket. She smiled as she recognized the notes of a guitar strumming. Garou. Of course. His English album. She’d listened to it over one hundred times since its release, Andrew good-naturedly letting her select the playlist whenever they were in the car. She loved all the songs, but this was her favorite. She closed her eyes, letting the music wash through her…Was this Drew’s message? Was he offering his heart, his soul; asking me to make them my home? Shame over her earlier outburst burned in the pit of her stomach. Of course Drew supports any decision I make. Not because he feels “obligated,” but because he loves me and believes in me.
Caryn grabbed her phone to send him a second, much longer note. She apologized for her actions and told him how much she loved him. She hoped that maybe, just maybe he’d receive it before the plane landed hours later.
Her phone chirped a few minutes later, and she could imagine his voice as she read his message. “Okay?”
She responded, “Confused. Not sure what to do.”
She laughed when she saw his quick reply. “???”
“Figured out I don’t have to follow the path I’m on at school. Problem, no idea what I want to study.”
“Take your time…You listen to the song?”
Caryn smiled as she replied, hearing the lyrics in her mind. “Yes. Perfect. Glad you didn’t give me Seul.”
“Jamais—you’ll never be alone.”
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