Authors: Autumn Doughton
In This Moment
Copyright © 2013 Autumn Doughton
Photography by Christine Day
Kick-ass cover designed by
All rights reserved. This book may not be used or reproduced, scanned or distributed in any form without permission from the author except where permitted by law. All characters and storylines are the property of the author and your respect and cooperation are greatly appreciated. The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
For my family.
Because, let’s face it, there’s you guys
and then there’s everyone else.
You’re all nuts. Really and truly.
But you’re my kind of nuts and I like you just fine.
“Don’t think, just do.”
The wind sliced up through the air teasing the thin strap of my tank and whipping my hair up around my face. I gathered it in a messy bundle at the nape of my neck and squinted down. A long way down.
“It’ll be quick,” she assured me
, gripping my wrist and tugging me closer to the edge. I let go of the railing and tipped forward. The blue waves that tossed against the cement piers stirred up a swell of unease deep in my belly.
You should go if you want to, but I don’t know…” My voice trailed off like a draft of thin smoke. I pictured myself plunging feet first into the fast-moving water, the shock of it hitting my nostrils and closing in over my head.
Her gaze was level
, drawing me in as easily as a moth to the light. I knew that she’d use the familiar words before they were out of her mouth. “I will if you will.”
I moaned and rolled my eyes in protest. “That’s not fair.”
She laughed triumphantly and pulled me so close that I could feel the heat of her body and the rumble of breath moving in and out of her chest. “It’s the code of any good friendship.”
ignored me and began counting the numbers out slowly. “One… Two… Three…”
A flutter of wings lifted behind my ribs as I squeezed her hand and jumped into the void.
I had forgotten what it was like. That first moment—the one that cracks me open like I’m nothing more than a flimsy piece of brittle, dried-out plastic and spills my guts all over the ground.
I had forgotten the way it slams me hard, the impact vibrating against my skull, rattling my teeth. One second I’m breathing oxygen and the next, my windpipe seals off and I’m thrown sideways in my own body—gasping and choking on my swollen tongue as I sink below the surface of her reflection.
It shouldn’t seem so foreign to have the warm tones of her voice inside my head, or to see the golden brown hue of her eyes, or to think about the pattern of her laughter and the silky feel of our feet entangling as we kick through the water, but it is.
For the briefest instant, I can’t translate what’s happening, and then I get it…
I’ve forgotten to remember.
I swallow back the bile building in my throat, clench my fingers into my sweaty palms and focus on each thud of my heart. One. Two. Three. I feel queasy but I refuse to have a panic attack or throw up on my shoes.
Not here. Not today.
I’m okay. I’m okay.
The words rush through me—settling in my chest and weaving themselves through my ribs. One. Two. Three.
I just need to get my bearings and shake off this fog. Squinting my eyes against the glare of the sun, I step off the sidewalk and hang on to the hope that with the mess of students pushing past, my face will remain lost in the gauzy shadows.
y right foot hits something solid and I tumble backward, my arms flailing in front of my body for balance, a flurry of dark hair catching in my lips, and—
The tsunami whooshing around inside me seems to stop all at once as a firm band wraps round my waist effectively stopping my descent.
“Oh,” I huff. “I-I—”
I realize that there’s a set of wide-fingered hands on my stomach and that there’s something digging into my back. Just perfect. It’s a knee.
“Are you okay?” A deep voice hums in my ear.
Self-consciously, I uncurl my fingers and dare to peek to my left. Strange deep green eyes—like leaves submerged in water—are blinking back at me. With a jolt, I realize that those green eyes are attached to a face—an absurdly attractive face.
Oh my God.
I glance down quickly to confirm what I already know. Yep. I’m limply sprawled out in this guy’s arms like some kind of storybook damsel in distress.
“Hi,” he says as a slow, knowing smile transforms his full lips.
Horrified by the way that my heart bucks and spasms, I jump from his grasp—fumbling for my fallen bag as I try to get my feet under me. “Wow. I’m s-so sorry. Thanks, I—uhh… ”
“Walk much?” The acidic question
bites off my apology.
Still half in the guy’s arms and half on the grass, I crane my neck around and see a beautiful girl sitting on the ground with an open notebook in her lap and her lunch spread out in front of her. I note with dismay that a few students have stopped on the sidewalk and are watching the entire exchange with open curiosity.
Great. In my play to remain invisible, I’ve become the most conspicuous person on campus by tripping over this hot guy and literally falling head over heels (or flip-flops) into the middle of his romantic picnic. Score one for Aimee.
I open my mouth to apologize, but the hot guy speaks first. “Polite much, Kate?” Turning back to me, his face tightens into a mask of concern. I have to bite back the shiver that slides down my spine as his eyes skim my body. “Are you sure that you’re okay? You really wrenched your ankle when you fell. Let me see.”
His fingers graze the skin of my calf and it’s as if the gears in my head chug to life all at once. I regain my balance and mumble, “I’m fine, uh, but thanks.”
Keeping my back to him so that he can’t stare at the angry jagged pink line that runs from my right ear down to my collarbone, I wipe my clammy palms on my shorts and pull my long hair over my shoulder.
“Well, it was a pleasure to catch you. My services are always available for pretty girls like yourself.”
I blink twice. Is this guy seriously flirting with me in front of his date after I just fell on top of him? And did he just call me
Is this supposed to be some kind of a joke or is he really that arrogant?
I twist around and see that he’s standing now, his head bent slightly to one side like he’s considering something. He’s tall—definitely topping six feet—with a body that brings a flush to my cheeks. It’s the kind of body you normally see on TV—long legs colliding with a broad, chiseled-out torso and tanned arms that put the stretchability of his t-shirt sleeves to the test. God. And that face… It’s a mosaic of angular planes: straight brows falling away to intensely green eyes, a narrow nose, and a severe jawline. His hair seems to be the softest thing about him—a tumble of disheveled sunshine, just long enough that it begs to be touched by female fingers.
isn’t the right word. It sounds too bland and average and this guy is anything but average.
As if he’s reading my thoughts, he shifts his weight to one hip and smiles at me. It’s a doozy. Dimples, teeth… the whole shebang. He moves his arm to grip the back of his neck and in the process he exposes a slice of his bare stomach. Wow. I have the sudden urge to walk over and skate my hands over his wide, powerful shoulders and up to his hair and…
God. Get a grip, Aimee.
Still on the grass, his girlfriend—Kate, I think he called her—is glaring at me with open hostility and I can’t say that I blame her. I’m sure that people try to steal her boyfriend all of the time. Bitchiness must be her conditioned response to any and all threats.
“I—uh, I…” What is wrong with me? It’s like my entire vocabulary has been completely swiped from my brain.
“Once I heard someone say that a simple hello could lead to a million wonderful things.” The angle of his chin deepens and his gorgeous smile goes lopsided. It’s clear that this guy is enjoying my embarrassment. “What’s your name? I think you owe me that much.”
Flames lick up my cheeks and tickle my earlobes. I suck in a breath and try again. “Thanks for the help but I don’t think I owe you my name.”
He laughs. “You’re not going to tell me your name?”
“Is that going to be a problem?”
“No. Not a problem, just a shame.” He furrows his brow in mock disappointment. His index finger waggles between our bodies. “I’ve really enjoyed this.”
Who the hell is this guy? I’m tempted to say something snarky to put him in his place. I rub my tongue over the bridge of my teeth and open my mouth and—
I automatically turn to the sound of my name and see my sister standing about ten feet away. She’s under a low, slanted overhang with her mouth slightly ajar and her eyes flared wide.
think that the guy says something else, but I’ve stopped listening. Dodging a few students, my gaze zeroes in on Mara’s thumb, which is poised precariously on the screen of her phone. I really do not need her to call our mother right now.
“Don’t call Mom.” I adjust the strap of my bag and pull on the bottom of my blue shirt. “Please.”
Tucking her phone into the pocket of her linen shorts, Mara darts a shadowed look at me over her shoulder and starts to walk. I keep pace beside her. “What. The. Hell.”
I let air whistle through my teeth. “I know…”
Mara’s head juts forward, her blue eyes full of intention as we continue down the path toward the Student Union. “Aimee, I leave you for exactly thirty seconds so that I can drop something off at the Bursar’s Office, and you go and trip over Cole Everly? Of all the thousands of students that you could have encountered today…”
“Yes. Cole Everly. You know, the perfect specimen of manhood that you just trucked.”
Instinctively, I turn and look behind me, but the grassy spot where I fell is already deserted. Cole Everly—or whoever—seems to have packed up his girlfriend and moved on from our run-in. “Oh, that was nothing. I just lost my balance and he happened to be there.”
“Lost your balance? Aimee, I watched the whole thing. You looked like you had seen a poltergeist and you practically jumped into his lap!”
The imagery replays
in my head and I cringe. “I-I…”
Sighing heavily, I move my hand over my forehead to gather tiny beads of sweat between my fingers. “God, it’s hot today, isn’t it?”
Mara rolls her eyes. She knows that I’m deflecting. “What do you expect? It’s Florida and it’s August. You’re avoiding my question. What happened?”
My sister stops walking and turns her head to look for whatever it was that set me off. Her gaze finally settles on a stocky figure casually chatting up a girl. He’s got on a grey t-shirt with bold red fraternity lettering and a backward baseball hat that hides his dark hair.
“That’s Caleb Oster over there, isn’t it?” She asks me.
My breath is thin and shaky. I feel a wisp of the earlier panic sneak up my spine. “Yes.”
“Hmmmm.” Mara lifts her eyebrows and takes a small step toward me. “He went out with her, didn’t he?”
I swallow. “Sort of. He took her to the Homecoming Dance sophomore year. He wanted it to be more, but you know how she could be with guys. She blew him off and I don’t think that he ever talked to either of us again.”
“That sounds about right.
You two were always a package deal.” Mara shields her eyes against the sun and shrugs her shoulders dismissively. “Well, Aimee, you knew when you enrolled here that you’d eventually be seeing familiar faces. We’re less than thirty minutes from home so there are going to be people who know you. People who knew
My face is hot. This isn’t a discussion I feel like having right now. “Look… This was just the first time so it threw me off guard, okay? And please don’t tell Mom anything because you know that she makes a big deal out of every single thing that I do. God, she considers it an
every time I hiccup or sneeze. I can’t imagine what she’d think if she found out that I’ve been going around jumping into strangers’ laps before classes have even started.”
at my pitiful attempt at a joke and takes me by elbow. “Come on, slowpoke. I won’t tell her anything if you promise not to fall on anyone else.”
“Anyway,” Mara crinkles her forehead and bends her mouth to my ear, “I think Caleb missed out on your little show. He seems too preoccupied by that girl’s low-cut shirt to even notice you.”
I scoff because Mara is right. Caleb doesn’t even look up as we move past him toward the hulking Student Union.
The building is five stories high, surrounded by a fringe of young palm trees and crepe myrtles. Blunt concrete pillars bolster the corners and dip down to form a low-slung wall that circles the front walk. Beyond the pillars, the exterior is mainly composed of panels of blue-grey mirrored glass that remind me of calm water on a cloudy day.
Mara flashes an encouraging smile as she pulls open one of the double doors, releasing a cool gust of air conditioning and the abrasive sound of students reengaging after the summer separation.
She steers me through a t
owering, glass-ceilinged atrium past a large campus bookstore and a string of counter-style food places. Against the farthest wall, I pick out a small coffee shop sectioned off with narrow tables and comfortable looking stuffed chairs.
“My best friends, Lindsey and Jenn,” Mara whispers in my ear as she points out two blonde girls sitting at one end of a rectangular table. “Don’t be…”
She doesn’t finish the sentence but she doesn’t have to. I already know what she was about to say.
Don’t be weird, Aimee.