I scanned the room. Nothing was out of place.
“But I do think it’s a good idea to call Dr. Oliver tomorrow,” she continued, smiling gently when I turned a sharp look on her. “I think you need to talk to him.”
“I don’t need to talk to him,” I said, freezing up.
She smoothed her hand down my hair. “All I’m saying is that it wouldn’t hurt to see Dr. Oliver. You haven’t been to him in a while.”
My lips pressed into a thin line.
“Ella, baby, you’ve been through a horrific event.” She reached down, pulling my arm away from my body. She threaded her fingers through mine. “And you’re going to have some leftover . . . issues from that. Look at it this way. You’re taking self-defense, right? Consider talking to Dr. Oliver as another lesson.”
More like a lesson in feeling like a maladjusted teenager. Dr. Oliver wasn’t bad or anything, but I always left his office feeling like I needed a cartload of meds or something.
“Okay,” I whispered, not liking it, but also knowing there was no other way out of it.
Mom nodded as she squeezed my hand. “How was your lesson today? Did you learn anything?”
I welcomed the change in subject as I eyed the bedroom, waiting for some creep to appear out of thin air. “Yeah. You’re not going to believe who’s teaching it.”
Mom blinked slowly. Of course she knew him. Mom had been like a . . . second mother to Jensen growing up. Just like Jensen’s mom had helped raise me.
“Really,” she said finally, like that was the only thing she could say in response.
At least that brought a wry grin to my face. “Yeah. I was surprised he agreed to do it, but he said he’d teach me, so . . .”
Mom reached over, pulling my free hand away from my hair. “I think that will be good. You know, for you two to reconnect.”
My stomach did a weird little flip at the thought of reconnecting.
Creases appeared in her brow. “But doesn’t he play football?”
“Hmm,” she murmured. “How is Jensen doing?”
I shrugged. Mom knew we hadn’t talked. Not since seventh grade, around the time Jensen grew into his long limbs and those beautiful lips. Overnight, he’d become popular, and I remained . . . well, painfully average. And that was before he moved away.
A lot had happened before he moved away.
She shook her head. “Every time I think of him, I think of his brother. What was his name?”
An ache pierced my chest at the mention of Jensen’s older brother, someone I hadn’t thought of in a very long time. “His name was Jonathan.”
“Such a tragedy.” Mom sighed sadly. “For a young man like that to just die in his sleep. I feel so terrible for him and his parents.”
Pressing my lips together, I nodded. Jonathan had been five years older than Jensen. The two had been close when we were . . . friends. A lifetime ago. I’d heard that his brother had been home from college when he’d died in his—
My eyes widened as I realized why Jensen wanted to go to the University of Maryland. Or at least I thought I did. That was where Jonathan had been going to school. Was Jensen following in his brother’s footsteps as some way to honor his memory? If so, that was . . . God, I didn’t even know and I had no idea what to do with that piece of information.
“This town has seen enough tragedy,” she said.
I froze again. Was she going to talk about it? No one ever talked about it anymore, but before she could continue, the doorbell clanged throughout the house, causing me to jump.
Mom frowned as she stood up. “Probably one of our nosey neighbors.” She paused at the door. “Are you okay?”
Not really, but I nodded.
When she left the room, I was alone and still too creeped out to sit in here. Hopping to my feet, I made it to the door just as Mom called for me. I stopped at the top of the stairs. She was at the bottom, an odd little smile on her face.
“What?” I asked.
“It’s for you.” And that’s all she said.
Having no idea who it could be, I came down the stairs. If it was Linds, Mom would’ve just let her upstairs. Even Gavin. The fluttering was back in my chest as I hurried up, practically hopping down the steps.
I passed Mom, shooting her a look when she all but pranced from the room. Taking a deep breath, I opened the door and my suspicions—or hope, but whatever—were confirmed.
Jensen stood on my porch, dressed as he was earlier, wearing nylon pants and a cotton shirt. Our eyes locked, and I swore some kind of unseen tension eased from his stare.
“You’re okay.” It was a statement, not a question.
Glancing behind me, I saw the top of Mom’s head poking out from the living room. I stepped outside, closing the door behind me. “I’m okay.”
Jensen stared at me like he was trying to see something not easily visible. “I just got home and Dad said there was a bunch of police cars here.”
“And you came to check it out?”
An eyebrow arched up. “Uh, yeah. I’m here.”
I flushed because that was a stupid question. “Everything’s fine. They were just . . . um, checking out the house.”
A look of doubt crossed his striking face. “But you’re okay?”
Earlier, when I mentioned how many times I’d been asked that question, I didn’t think I could stand being asked one more time, but for some reason, it didn’t irritate me now. “I’m really fine.”
His eyes met mine again, and as we stood there, I could clearly remember the last time he’d been on my porch. I’d told him I never wanted to talk to him again. Tears had streamed down my face, and I’d been so angry and so embarrassed.
And so heartbroken.
Jensen opened his mouth as if he was about to say something, and then he tilted his head to the side, causing a wavy strand of hair to topple across his forehead. “You know that number Ms. Reed gave you?”
“That’s my phone number,” he said. I had sort of figured that out at this point. “Do me a favor and save it on your phone. If you need anything, call me. All right?”
The note was burning a hole in my jean pocket at that very moment. “Sure.”
He held my stare a moment longer, then nodded and pivoted around with the kind of grace I’d never have. He got to the pathway before I stopped him.
He turned, head tilted to the side again. Standing in the dark with only the moonlight slicing over his broad cheekbones and cut jaw, he looked like some kind of fairytale prince come to life.
Oh God, I had no idea why I was comparing him to a Disney prince or stopping him. I needed to stop reading so much. But I wanted to invite him inside, and I wanted to sit next to him. And I wanted to somehow reclaim the missing years between us.
And he’d make a really hot Disney prince, too.
But I couldn’t say any of that, so I latched on to the first thing that popped into my head. “The reason you want to go to the University of Maryland . . . is it because of your brother?”
Surprise flickered over Jensen’s face as he rubbed his hand across his chest. “Wow. That was a random question.”
“Yeah, it kind of was.” I raised my hands and shrugged. “Probably also none of my business, so you don’t—”
“Yeah, it is.” He lowered his hand, and a tight, one-sided smile appeared. “He couldn’t finish college, so I thought I’d do it for him.”
“That’s . . . that’s really nice.” I wish I had something better to say. “I mean it, Jensen. That’s really a good way of honoring him.”
He nodded slowly. “Yeah . . . I’ve got to get back, but I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Once again, I found myself waving at him awkwardly. I watched him disappear around the tall hedges, hanging a right toward his house.
“Interesting,” Mom said the moment I stepped a foot back in the house. “And might I add that Jensen has turned into one fine looking young man?”