Now that Jenna has finally closed the chapter on her life in Riverview, she is looking forward to the new school year and starting over. New apartment, new classes, new boy, and no drama. That is until Josh starts calling and texting her nonstop. Jenna just wanted to be done with Riverview and Josh after he broke her heart all over again.
But when Josh’s hourly calls and texts suddenly stop, Jenna becomes concerned and does the one thing she swore she’d never do—return to Riverview. What she discovers, is something that will change mind and change her heart.
But when Josh’s hourly calls and texts suddenly stop, Jenna becomes concerned and does the one thing she swore she’d never do—return to Riverview. What she discovers, is something that will change mind and change her heart.
“Can you believe it? We’re in college now!” Michelle squealed next to me. She was bouncing like a kid on his way to the ice cream shop. We’d just come from the administration office at Brookhaven Community College where Michelle had enrolled for classes this fall.
“Since this is my second year of college, I can believe it.” I cringed at my last words. It wasn’t Michelle’s fault she was a year behind everyone else her age. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” She’d stopped bouncing and looked over at me.
“For saying that. I didn’t mean to sound insensitive.”
Michelle had spent over a year in a coma because she’d driven off a bridge after her dad, the mayor of our tiny town of Riverview, was found in bed with my mom, the town drug dealing whore. Arrests were made, my mother was in jail, and her dad got off scott free, for now. He was currently on house arrest pending a trial after more information was leaked (by me). The night that our parents were found together, I was sent to my dad’s house in Brookhaven and Michelle, being upset about the whole situation ranaway to find me, not realizing I wasn’t at my mom’s house anymore. She thought I’d be at the river, the place I always went to think and be alone, but I wasn’t and she ended up driving off the bridge into the river.
“Oh please, Jenna. I am so over that and you should be too. I was in a coma, big deal,” she threw her hands up like it really was no big deal that she spent over a year lying in a hospital bed. “But I’m fine now. The doctor cleared me for school. It’s a lot of sitting around, walking leisurely to and from class, and you’ll be driving me everywhere when it’s too far to walk.” She resumed the bouncing.
I had to admit, her enthusiasm was catchy. Last year, when I was a freshman, I was all nerves and avoided everyone. There were required social functions like, ice cream socials and even a black light party where everyone drew on themselves with highlighters and danced in semi-darkness. I didn’t participate in any freshman orientation games. I’d met Andrew the first day and we’d hidden away at the local coffee shop. He wasn’t big into large crowds either.
“I know. I still just feel bad about all of it. And then this last summer was crazy,”
“Jenna,” Michelle held her hand up in my face. “Seriously. It’s no big deal. This whole thing made me realize that I need to let things go. I’m so thankful that I have a second chance at life. Look at me, I’m a medical miracle!”
She had a point. Waking up after a year in a coma was pretty much a miracle.
“I’m in a new town, with new people, where no one knows about what happened except you, Lauren, and a few professors and my admissions counselor. I can start over. We can start over. There’s no Josh, no dads, and no moms.” She giggled in her seat.
“You are in my town now!” I said.
Michelle was right. I needed to let it go too. This wasn’t a new town for me, but no one knew about me except my roommates and Andrew, and no one knew what happened this summer except Michelle and Lauren. I only had Andrew to look forward to now, and of course my new classes.
My mom sat in the Marion County Jail, probably forever, and Michelle’s dad was stuck in his tiny little apartment on house arrest. He couldn’t do anything to me here. I knew I’d have to go back and sit as a witness for his case soon. I prayed that he’d have to rot in jail for the rest of his life. But I’d done some googling and first time drug cases rarely resulted in life in prison. And I don’t think accusing him of ruining several people’s lives counted toward jail time either.
“So where to next?” Michelle asked, interrupting my thoughts.
“Usually you’d be assigned a dorm room, but since you’re a special case,” I air quoted the last words. “We can just go home.”
“Home? There’s nothing else exciting to do?”
She stared at me from across the car, which really wasn’t that great of a distance, but it felt like it in this moment. Michelle and I had someone found each other and remained friends for so long even though we were completely different in every way. Where I as quiet, she was loud, where I was independent, she always looked and asked for help, where I was a homebody, she was the first out the door to a party.
“Well, I do need to go shopping,” I shrugged.
“Shopping!” Michelle threw her hands in the air. “For what?” she asked laughing.
“Apartment stuff, maybe some food. We’ve been living off cereal and Chinese food for the last couple of weeks.”
“Good point,” and we both doubled over in laughter.
I drove on for a while and followed the roads to Target, my favorite store in the whole entire world.
“I am just so excited for college to start!” she said again. I loved her enthusiasm. It was rubbing off on me too. I remembered back to my first day of school. I was anxious and nervous, but excited all at the same time. I knew no one except Andrew. I’d done everything all on my own. I was glad now, that Michelle was here. We were finally starting the plans we’d made in high school. Go to college together. That was step one. Step two was to travel the world. I don’t know if that would ever happen though.
“I’m ready to put this summer behind me and move on,” I said a little darker than I’d intended.
“Was this summer really that bad? I mean, you got me back.” On the outside, Michelle was often see as selfish and self-centered. She really liked herself. But I admired her confidence. Even before the accident, she had an air about her that drew you to her and made you like her, and even after you’d gotten to know her, you still wanted to be her friend, even if she hadn’t made you.
“I just wish I hadn’t seen Josh.”
My heart pinched at the sound of his name. Josh, my best friend growing up, and the one person I’d confided in last summer. I’d fallen for him, hard. But he didn’t seem to feel the same way. We’d said I love you to each other, and we’d had sex, three times, but in the end, he’d stolen my heart and stomped all over it.
“Yeah, that sucked.” She scrunched up her lips in agreement.
“But that’s over now.”
“Have you heard from him?” her voice was full of sympathy. Michelle had been dating Josh before her accident. I didn’t know that at the time and we both thought Josh was a jerk for playing us. They’d broken up beforehand, but it didn’t change the fact that Josh couldn’t make up his mind about who he wanted to be with.
Josh really was a good guy, his heart was in the right place for the most part. I have no doubt he had strong feelings for me, but when Michelle woke up, he felt an obligation to be with her. I just happened to get the short end of the stick.
Now Josh was in Riverview, alone, while Michelle and I had plans to live it up here in Brookhaven.
I pulled into a parking lot and shoved the gear shift into park. This car was getting old and harder and harder to drive.
“He’s called a few time, but I don’t feel like talking to him.”
“You should.” I sensed an urgency in her voice, like she needed me to talk to Josh.
“Why?” I asked.
She shrugged “I just think you need closure. Hear him out, hear what he has to say. Maybe he’s changed, figured things out.”
I got the feeling that she’d been talking to him. I wanted to know, but I didn’t want to know at the same time. Right now I just needed space from him and to focus on school.
“Maybe,” I offered with my own shrug.
We left it at that, got out of the car, and walked into Target.
I loved Target. It was this magical land where everything was beautiful and sparkled, calling out ‘buy me, buy me’. I didn’t shop hear often though because it was all so expensive. But dad had replenished my bank account and I definitely needed some things for the apartment.
“So, what are we getting?” Michelle asked. She’d grabbed a basket and shuffled along beside me as I made my way to the Home department.
“I don’t know. Stefanie e and I made a list last year and emailed back and forth. I don’t have it with me.”
Guilt washed over me as I remembered how eager Stef and I had been to get our own place that we could decorate however we wanted. We’d made diagrams, cut out colors and images from magazines that depicted exactly what we wanted our place to look like. And now, I was here, with Michelle and not Stef. I guess I didn’t needed to buy everything today, but I did need new pillows and bedding. The stuff I’d brought from Riverview smelling like my old house, not bad, but a reminder of a time I wanted to forget.
“Okay,” Michelle said slowly.
“Let’s just get a few basics. Bedding, pillows, maybe some towels.”
“What do you need?”
“Probably the same. I have my credit card,” she winked at me.
“Well I have my card, too,” I winked back.
“We could do some serious damage.”
“Yeah, but I’d really like to include Stef. And Lauren for that matter. They have to live there, too.”
“Good point. But we can get stuff for our room at least,” she shrugged.
“Yeah. Our room.” Again with the guilt. It was just supposed to be Stef and me. No roommates. Of course I’m excited to share a room with Michelle, I’d always wanted a sister, but I couldn’t shake the guilt of how excited Stef was for this year to be ‘our year’. It still is ‘our year’, it just includes a couple more people in the ‘our’.
“Let’s get matching sets! Something grown up and sophisticated,” she straightened her back as she looked over at me.
“We’re the only ones who are going to see it,” I laughed.
“Whatever, I’m bringing boys over. Which reminds me, I need to get a tie.”
“A tie?” I questioned.
“Yeah, to put on the door so you know not to come in.”
“Michelle!” I push her gently. She sways too far and grasps the cart for balance, but it’s almost too late. I grab her arm and pull her upright.
“I’m fine,” she said quickly once she’d regained her balance.
“I’m so sorry!”
“It’s fine. Really. Sometimes I still get a little dizzy.”
“Is that normal?” I had no idea what was or wasn’t normal after being in a coma for over a year. Michelle’s mom had giving me a list of things to watch out for but I hadn’t even glanced at it. More guilt settled in my gut. I was seriously slacking in the friend department.
“Yeah, it is. Its fine,” she assured me.
“You sure?” I asked again.
“Yes, I promise. Dr. Spencer said dizziness could happen. It’s a part of the healing process. But if it makes you feel better, I will call my mom when we get back to the apartment.”
“That would absolutely make me feel better. I don’t want you over doing it.”
“Jenna, I’m taking two classes this semester and not even working. I will be the definition of under-doing it. This is why we need an awesome room so I can have a boyfriend to fill my time.”
“Fine. Let’s find something good.”
We set off down the aisles, discussing the merits of whimsical versus sophisticated, black and white versus color, and various other combinations before we decided on a combinations of whimsy and sophistication with a splash of color-purple and turquoise of course.
“Oh, my gosh! Jenna! Look at this!” She skipped over to a bedding set in a huge plastic bag. “It’s perfect.”
She hoisted it off the shelf and shoved it in my face.
It was a basic comforter set with pillowcases and sheets.
“It’s purple and turquoise at the same time.” I had to laugh at the way she described it.
I took a closer look at it. It was a pretty pattern of purple and turquoise water color spots that made a floral design against a white background.
“Let’s do it. Grab another one,” I said. “Now we match.”
“What’s next?” Michelle asked as we rounded the corner to the next aisle.
“Towels, pillows. Oh! A slip cover to hide the ugly couch?”
“Aw, I love the ugly couch.” Michelle whined mockingly.
The ugly couch. When I’d first arrived in Riverview last summer, I’d thrown out the furniture that had been in the house and Josh had brought me this hideous pea green and burnt orange couch when he’d seen the old ones on the front lawn. I mocked it endlessly, but really I loved it because of the thoughtfulness behind it. Now, I was stuck with it here in Brookhaven. Michelle, Stefanie e, Lauren, and I were poor college students. New bedding was one thing, but a new couch was out of the realm of possibility at this point. The thought had crossed my mind to ask my dad, but he was already generous enough that I felt bad pushing for more.
“Ha ha, funny.”
“What about Lauren and Stef. Do they need stuff?” Michelle asked as we stuffed pillows into the cart around the two comforter sets.
“Probably, grab two more pillows. They can probably pick out their own bedding though.”
“Should we get anything else?”
“Probably not. I want Lauren and Stef to like living in our space.”
“I should call Stef to make sure though,” I said, second guessing this whole shopping trip.
I pulled out my phone and saw that I had two missed calls from Josh. I haven’t talked to him since the day I left Riverview. Which was only about two weeks ago, but daily calls from a person you don’t want to talk to make it seem like an eternity. I sighed. I wasn’t ready to talk to him. I wasn’t ready to hear him apologize. He’d left messages, but only please call me back and I’m sorry, please call me. I just wasn’t ready. He’d hurt me and I needed time. Possibly an eternity.
I quickly dialed Stefanie e’s number and she picked up after three rings.
“Hey Jen, what’s up.” Good, she was in a good mood, chipper almost.
“Hey, I’m at Target right now. Do you want to come down and do some shopping for the apartment?” I tried to match her chipperness.
“Right now,” her chipperness was gone.
“Yeah, I know its last minute, but Michelle and I were out so we stopped by.”
“You’re with Michelle?”
I shouldn’t have mentioned Michelle. Stef had initially been okay with Michelle living with us as long as Stef and I could share a room. But then when Lauren came with us too, I felt that I needed to room with Michelle because of the whole accident and coma thing. I mean, it was kind of my fault it happened, even though Michelle didn’t blame me.
“Yes,” I said slowly.
“I can’t. I have to work in like, an hour.” She sounded pissed. I wasn’t entirely sure her work excuse was valid either. Last year her parents paid all her bills as well as her tuition. I highly doubted she needed this job. But she’d stayed in Brookhaven over the summer. She usually went on some extravagant vacation with her parents. The summer before our freshman year she’d told me they’d just gotten back from a month long trip to Hawaii and she’d gone on and on about her Caribbean excursions and laying on various beaches including Mexico, Bali, California, and countless other exotic places.
“Oh, okay.” I played along. “Well, what were you thinking as far as décor then?” I asked, hoping this would turn the conversation around.
“I don’t care, whatever.” That was not the response I was hoping for.
“Come on Stef.”
“No, you and Michelle pick stuff out. I’ll be happy with whatever. You know what I like.” She seemed to say this in a positive way, but I knew I’d hurt her feelings.
“Okay. I bought you some new pillows,” I offered.
“I’ll pay you back with my next paycheck.” Her voice had gone back sour.
“No worries,” I replied. She’d never worried about money before so it was curious now that she’d taken a job and couldn’t pay me back until she got a paycheck. I almost asked but she cut me off before I could say anything.
“Okay, well, bye.”
I had a horrible sinking feeling. I’d definitely screwed up.
Michelle had wandered off to look at towels while I was on the phone, but I know she’d heard the whole thing because she was right back next to me when I hung up.
“What did she say?” Michelle asked.
“I think she was looking forward to shopping with me and I messed up.”
“Yeah, but she said to pick out whatever because I know what she likes.”
“Well great! That’s what you said.”
“But I still feel bad.”
“Don’t. Let’s go look at towels. I found some good ones.”
I followed her around the Home section. We picked enough towels for all four of us. We found a pretty shower curtain with a silhouette of a tree and little light blue birds all over it. We kept with that color scheme and got brown and blue towels and some white hand towels. Since there were two bathrooms we doubled up on trash cans, toothbrush holders and other accessories. We swung by the kitchen wares and got some white dishes. We figured we could add a fun pattern to later when Stef and Lauren could be with us. We felt that it was a good compromise. After a quick look at couch slip covers, I grabbed a dark brown one and we checked out.
Fifteen minutes later we were back at the apartment and had everything unpacked.
“Hey, guys,” Lauren said when we’d dropped the bags in the living room.
“Hey,” Michelle and I said in unison.
“Did you go shopping?”
“Yeah,” Michelle and I said together again. We both let out a little laugh.
“Oh man, I wish I’d know, I would have gone with you.” She peaked in our bags.
“We bought you pillows and towels!” I said quickly and tossed her two pillows.
“Great! I needed pillows.”
“I’m sorry we didn’t call. Michelle and I were already out so we just decided to go to Target.”
“No worries. We can go again sometime,” she smiled. “What else did you get?”
“Bedding for our room, towels, bathroom stuff,”
“Dishes!” Michelle said, cutting me off.
“I also got a cover for the ugly couch.” I pulled it out of the bag and tossed it on the couch.
“Why?” Lauren asked.
I assumed she knew why and would figure it out if she thought about it long enough. It held too many memories, memories of kissing Josh, touching Josh and him touching me. My heart raced just at the thought of our nights on the couch last summer watching movies.
“I need to cover that up now.”
I ripped open the package and spread out the cover. Michelle and Lauren helped me and it was surprisingly easy.
“There,” I said. “Done.”
The ugly pea green and burnt orange flowers were covered with a plain brown but the memories were still there. At least the sight of it wouldn’t leap out at me and shock me with memories every time I walked past it.
I shook my head as Lauren and Michelle picked up more bags and started putting things away in the kitchen and bathroom. I grabbed both comforter sets and as many pillows as I could carry and headed back to my room, tossing two in Stef and Lauren’s room for Stef along the way.
I dressed both mine and Michelle’s beds and stored the old bedding in the closet. I sat on the edge of the bed debating whether or not to call Josh back. I never do, but I just had this nagging feeling that I probably should.
I looked around the room. Michelle’s bed was across from me on the opposite wall, our desk was between the beds with a view out the window. I use the term ‘desk’ loosely as it’s really a piece of wood set up on two old metal filing cabinets. We’d somehow managed to fit two desk chairs under the board and prayed it would be functional for two people, and maybe we didn’t need to work at it at the same time.
“What are you doing?” Michelle asked as she walked into our room.
“Just thinking,” I replied.
“About what?” Lauren asked. She sat in one of our desk chairs.
“This year. College. Us all living together.”
“Who would have thought that we’d end up together?” Lauren asked.
“Well, I knew Jenna and I would live together,” Michelle piped up. “I mean that in a non-rude way, by the way. She and I had plans for after high school.”
“No, I get it. We weren’t friends really, so why would you include me.” Lauren seemed totally fine with previously being left out. But to be honest, I was glad she was with us.
“I’m glad you’re here, Lauren,” I said, verbalizing my thoughts. She reached out and grabbed my hand and smiled.
“What’s going on here? A house meeting without me?” Stef walked through the door and stood with her arms folded.
“No! Michelle and I just got back from Target and put some stuff away. I tossed some pillows in your room. There are towels on the couch in the living room for you and I covered the ugly couch so it’s not so atrocious.” I was out of breath by the time I finished telling her all of that. “We can have a house meeting if you want.”
“I think house meetings would be a great idea, that way we are all on the same page about everything. It’ll cut down on arguments and stuff,” Michelle said.
“Yeah, and schedule bathroom time,” Lauren said.
“Schedule bathroom time?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I read it in a magazine. Roommates schedule bathroom time so that everyone has time to shower and stuff in the morning,” she shrugged.
“That makes sense,” I said.
“So was I going to be included in this meeting?” Stef asked again.
“We weren’t having a meeting, but since we’re all here now, we might as well,” I smiled. “I thought you had to work though.”
Stef shifted awkwardly. “I did, but now I don’t.”
“Oh. Where are you working?” I asked. She hadn’t mentioned that she had a job before.
“The campus bookstore. There was a mix up with the schedules, someone else is working.”
“I see. Are you sure it’s not going to be too much to have a job and take all the classes?” Last year she took five classes each semester. I assumed she was doing the same this year.
“No, I’m only taking three classes plus a work study with Professor Kant. I’m working evenings at the book story three nights a week and it’s usually slow so I can do my homework there if I need to. And I get a discount on the books I need for classes, so it all works out.”
“That’s a lot of information,” I said. “But good for you.
“Thanks,” she said with a half-smile.
Stef joined us in our impromptu meeting where we did, actually, come up with a bathroom schedule. We also decided that a group shopping session was in order as well as some girly bonding time so that we could all get to know each other.
I sat back and watched and Lauren and Michelle chatted about the senior year that Michelle missed and Stef listened and interjected her own anecdotes here and there. The guilt and hesitation I felt earlier was dissipating and I was looking forward to this coming year. My phone buzzed next to me, but I ignored it. Whomever it was could wait until later. I was enjoying my time with my new roommates.
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Heather Diemer is a Midwest girl who lives in the in the picturesque Flint Hills of Kansas with her husband and two children. If she's not reading or writing, or thinking about reading or writing, you can find her outside with her camera capturing the beauty of everything around her.
Review for Always Us
(5 out of 5 STARS!)
I was highly anticipating this book and it did NOT disappoint! I loved the characters just as much as I did before in We Were Us, possibly more. The humor laced in this story was great too, it made me laugh more than once. After reading both books I feel like I was able to watch the characters grow right before my eyes. The author does an amazing job with the character development and storyline. This was a well thought out book and it shows. The writing was great and the story was beyond wonderful! Another amazing book by a phenomenal author! FIVE well deserved stars!