Cat is so excited to start high school next week, but all I can think about is how you’ll be off at Georgetown. I hope you don’t find this note for a couple of weeks so I can have fun wondering about when it will happen, and if it will make you smile. I only wish I’d have had the guts to tell you all of this in person.
I guess a good friend would be proud to see you go off to such an amazing college. All I can think about is how much I’ll miss hanging out with you in your kitchen or yard.
I’ll also miss the way you talk to me like I’m mature even though I’m a lot younger than you. Most guys your age (and mine) find me weird, but you’re not most guys—thank God.
A third thing I’ll miss is watching you and your mom together when no one is paying attention. That’s when you ditch your overachieving, perfectionist habits and relax. I like seeing that side of you.
Basically, I’ll miss almost everything about you. Cat’s friendship and your family mean everything to me. I love her, Jackson, and your mom (your dad still scares me), but mostly I love you.
I know I’m too young now, but when I’m grown up, I’ll find a way to own your heart just the way you’ll always own mine.
David reread her letter twice, smiling. Jesus, she’s brave. He’d been aware of her crush from the beginning, but this bold declaration surprised him. He leaned against his headboard and glanced at his watch. Three thirty.
Closing his eyes, he imagined the scene in his mother’s kitchen at that moment. Jackson and Cat would be arriving home from school, probably with Vivi tagging along. He could almost smell the patatas and salsa brava his mom might have put out as a snack. Thinking of them gathered around the table, laughing about their day, made him homesick.
So far college had proven to be both challenging and exciting. Although he’d already made a few new friends, he missed the comfort of his family and old friends.
Funny that a love letter from a fourteen-year-old girl could lift his spirits. He suspected most guys would be annoyed or embarrassed by her affection. No doubt his roommates would ridicule him if they found the note.
Sometimes Vivi’s attention made him uncomfortable. Mostly he marveled at her courage. She seemed to accept the futility of her crush but persist in spite of it, as if it were too big to bother hiding.
Sadly, her guileless nature also made her a target, which always made him want to punch something or someone. But high school should give her the chance to meet more people like her, especially in the fine arts department.
In any case, she deserved a response. He opened his laptop and added her e-mail address to his contacts.
Subject: I Found It
I just finished reading the letter you stowed in my computer case. I wonder when you were able to sneak into my room to hide it . . . and what else you did while you were in there. Will I be finding more surprises in the future?
Thank you for the kind thoughts, which did make me smile. I miss everyone as well. I’ll always be here for you to talk to, but high school is an opportunity to make new friends, so don’t waste your time thinking of me. Be yourself and others will like you just as I do. In fact, I bet by the time I return, you’ll have forgotten all about me.
Until then, I’ll be busy honing my perfectionist, overachieving habits. I expect you’ll be spending lots of time in the art department. Maybe you could send me something new since all I have of yours is that portrait of me you drew last year.
He hit Send, closed the computer, and tried to envision a grown-up Vivi. He could picture only her tiny, skinny little body and face; with her oddly cut, wavy blond hair streaked with pink, blue, or whatever other color was her temporary favorite; and her clothes stained with all manner of art supplies. He hoped, when she did grow up, she retained her endearing optimism and energy. Would he still know her? Only time would tell.
Vivi put her camera away and searched for Cat, who she found lounging on the blue striped sofa, flipping through a gossip rag. When Vivi cleared her throat, Cat slammed the magazine on the coffee table and bolted upright.
“Hey, V, let’s ride the bikes to town and have lunch.” Cat radiated energy and an overly bright smile.
“So you’re not mad at me about the Facebook post?”
“No. You didn’t do anything wrong. Once again, Justin jumped to conclusions and reacted like a maniac.” Cat glowered. “Then he wonders why I don’t tell him the time and location of local photo shoots. Can you imagine what damage he could do to my career with one of those outbursts on set?”
“Good decision.” Vivi decided to drop the subject rather than get Cat worked up again. “So, are the cruisers in the shed?”
Cat’s scowl faded. “Yes. I think I may indulge in some wine at lunch.”
“Are there laws against biking drunk?” Vivi teased as they walked outside to retrieve the bikes.
Within minutes, they were pedaling toward town.
The nearly cloudless sky beckoned vacationers to explore the island. Weaving through pedestrian traffic, Vivi noticed young families everywhere. Unbidden envy nipped at her heart for the family she’d lost on that snowy January day twenty years ago. Despite the sunshine, a chill zipped through her veins.
Murky recollections leaped to Vivi’s mind: hearing her father’s muffled crying behind closed doors, finding him asleep on the floor clutching a photograph of her mother, sobbing while he later packed up and banished all photographs of her mother and brother.
As time passed, he’d simply drowned his grief in Jack Daniel’s one day at a time. He’d slowly withdrawn from the world and from her. By the time she’d turned eighteen, she’d become much too familiar with the sights and sounds of a drunk.
As a young girl, she’d sympathized with him, and had even romanticized his despair. Whenever self-pity had surfaced, she’d belittled her feelings as self-indulgent. After all, she’d survived when her mother and brother hadn’t. Bad as it was, life with her father was better than death.
In her teens, she’d often escaped by keeping busy with her art and her job at a local kennel, where she absorbed all the love she could from the dogs. The St. James family had helped by welcoming her into their lives, for which she’d be forever grateful. Mrs. St. James, in particular, had provided a motherly affection she’d long forgotten existed.