by Jamie Beck
Publication date: October 30, 2018
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Paperback: 364 Pages
About the author
Jamie Beck is a Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author. Her realistic and heartwarming stories have sold more than two million copies. She is a two-time Booksellers’ Best Award finalist and a National Readers’ Choice Award winner, and critics at Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist have respectively called her work “smart,” “uplifting,” and “entertaining.
Find more about Jamie ON HER WEBSITE
“I do understand, Emmy. Better than you think.” Steffi took the partially folded tarp and snapped its final fold on her own, then crouched to Emmy’s eye level. “I wasn’t much older than you when my mom died. I missed her so much it felt like the whole world turned into a dark black hole.
Most days I wanted to jump right through that hole and follow her to heaven. I was so angry that she left me like that, even though she couldn’t help it. But I kept all those feelings tight inside, like a ball right here.” Steffi pointed at Emmy’s stomach. “Holding all that stuff inside hurt, but it made me feel strong. It seemed better than crying, for sure. Then a girl named Claire moved in across the street. She was very sweet and sporty, and I liked her right away. I was lucky because she was patient with my moods. And at the end of our street was another girl our age, Peyton. Peyton was popular, but it turns out she was kind of lonely, too, for other reasons.
“Anyway, somehow that summer we all started spending time together. We gave ourselves a name—the Lilac Lane League—and we started a journal, because Peyton liked to write. We wrote down our dreams and the things that made us mad, and the things that made us laugh. Our crushes, first kisses, all that stuff. Little by little, that knot in my stomach unwound because my friends made me less lonely. That’s how I know the fastest way to feel better is to make a new friend.”
“You’re my new friend.” Emmy’s voice sounded small and shaky.
“I am your friend, but you also need a friend your age. I know you miss your old gang, but try to make one new friend here, too. I promise there are nice girls. I grew up here, after all, and I’m nice.” Steffi smiled and brushed some of Emmy’s curls off her face.
Ryan decided to enter the conversation now, before Emmy broke down in front of Steffi or put her in a more difficult situation. He exited through the kitchen door and crossed the partially framed porch to get to the yard. “Hey there, ladies.”
Emmy snapped her gaze at him, and he saw the panic in her eyes. His daughter’s fear of him speared his chest like a sword. He’d failed at his marriage, and his daughter was paying the highest price. He couldn’t fail her, too. He dropped to his knees and opened his arms. She flew into them in a heartbeat.
He hugged her and swayed, like he’d done when she was so much younger. Steffi quietly retrieved her toolbox and took it to her van.
“Emmy?” Ryan asked once they were alone. “I’m sorry this is such a hard time for you. I want to help you, but I don’t always have all the answers. I do know one thing, though. You can’t call people names and expect to make friends.”
She cried against his chest, each tear falling like acid raining on his heart. “Oh, sweetie, it’ll be okay. We all make mistakes. The important thing is to apologize and try to learn from it.”
“You always say that,” she muttered into his shirt.
“Because it’s the truest thing I know.” He kissed her head.
“So why can’t you and Mom apologize and make up?”
He hadn’t expected that question, although maybe he should have. “It’s not that simple.”
“You always say that, too.”
If a conversation with her took this much work at this age, he could barely imagine dealing with her in her teens. “You’re all dirty from helping Steffi. How ’bout you go inside and clean up before dinner? I need to talk to Steffi for a second. Then I’ll come in, and we can figure out how to apologize to Katie Winston.”
Emmy nodded while swiping her arm under her runny nose. “Okay.”
She wandered into the house just as Steffi came back from the van to get the rest of her personal things. He stood to speak with her. “I heard part of what you said to Emmy.”
“I know you don’t want me to speak for you, but I just—”
“It’s okay. Thank you for making her feel like she can confide in you. I should’ve listened to you the other day.” He crossed his arms and blew out a long breath. “I’m in over my head doing this on my own.”
“You’re not on your own. You’ve got your parents. But even if you were, I know you can do it. She loves you. She wants to make you happy and proud.”
He nodded, although he knew he was screwing it all up.
“Well, I’d better take off. Benny’s expecting me for another training run.”
“You guys are disciplined. I haven’t had a chance to get in a good workout in three months. Pretty soon I’m going to be too soft.” He patted his gut. Granted, he was still pretty fit. He could probably keep up with Steffi for a few miles, anyhow.
“I’m sure your mom would watch Emmy if you need to hit the gym or the mean streets of Sanctuary Sound.” She tipped her head, grinning. “My brother might even like some male company now and then. He gets sick of my singing.”
Ryan laughed. “Well, you were good at a lot of things, but singing wasn’t one of them.”
“You didn’t used to complain.” She hit his arm.
He grew quiet for a second, remembering the many times he’d listened to her terrible rendition of Lifehouse’s “You and Me” in the car or on the patio. “No, I never did mind those private concerts.”
The air between them turned sweet and thick with fond memories. Holding hands, soccer footwork challenges, the first time he’d copped a feel, and the light in her eyes when he had. The images almost made him want to take hold of her hand again; his heart beat with that hot desire like it had at seventeen.
“Dad!” Emmy called from the door, breaking the spell.
“You’d better go,” Steffi said with a wistful smile before she turned and walked back to her car.
He watched her go and waited … waited … Just before she got to her van, she peeked over her shoulder at him again, and everything seemed a little bit brighter.