All or Nothing #3
A Firm Plateau
Ciara’s in her final year of college.
The end is in sight. She’s got the perfect plan: graduate with honors; marry Greg, her boyfriend of three years; and go on to grad school. Ciara should know by now life doesn’t always go according to plan, especially when the past lurks in her rearview mirror.
Denver’s back in town and he re-enters her life with the subtlety of a wrecking ball, driving Greg away and causing Ciara to question if she’ll ever live a normal life or if chaos will always be waiting in the shadows.
It doesn’t take long for Ciara to find herself back in the fray with Denver, who is there for more than just a favor to an old friend. Denver wants another chance with Ciara.
Old habits die hard. Ciara has trust issues where Denver’s concerned. Ciara and Denver team up to save Ciara’s brother, Crash, from yet another fiasco. Emotions run high between Ciara and Denver, and the tension grows.
Ciara finds herself at a crossroads, and she wonders: when everything falls to pieces, who is the glue that can put her back together.
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|Teen / New Adult|
Greg and I have been together for three years. Although I don’t remember the exact moment we first met, he does. I have a vague memory of leaving the college library and walking by his side. We were caught up in a leftover political discussion from our small geography study group. I have always struggled with geography, finding it somewhat tiresome and boring, whereas Greg, on the other hand, could talk about geography and world history for hours. After all, Greg’s going to be a teacher. I can easily picture him in a classroom full of young minds, inspiring them with his endless positivity and humorous manner of speaking; somehow drawing interest from seventh grade boys about countries most of them will probably never visit. No matter what kind of day I’ve had, Greg can always make me laugh.
The first time Greg came home with me and met my two siblings, Char jumped right in with both feet on the Greg-train, but Crash held back. Crash was nice and polite, but my brother left our reunion early, telling me as I followed him out to his car “he’s kind of a bore, Ciara.” I guess it’s fair to say Crash tolerates Greg, and vice versa. Greg doesn’t go out of his way to win Crash over, and I like that about him.
Tonight, we’re at a fraternity function for Greg, a homecoming supper. Everyone’s in high spirits, celebrating because the university just won their football game over a long-standing rival. Many of Greg’s fraternity brothers are here as well as returning alumni. My phone vibrates in my purse. I glance down at it, and the screen lights up, “restricted.” That’s weird. I touch the screen and end the call. I get a questioning look from Belle, my least favorite of the fraternity sweethearts. She raises her eyebrows at me and gives me a look of skepticism. “Aren’t you going to answer that?”
I look back at her and try to push the conversation from my mind that I had last week with two of my close friends, who told me Belle’s been chasing after Greg ever since they had a one-time hook-up right before I met Greg. They assured me Greg was drunk when it happened, but still. Every time I look at Belle, I can’t help but notice how perfect her tan is, how nice she dresses, how confident she is in herself; all the things I’m not. I say nothing to Greg about any of this, because I don’t want to come off like a jealous, insecure girlfriend, but I really wish Belle would stop dating Greg’s best friend, Stuart, who in my opinion is way too nice for Belle, and just go away. I wave my hand and brush off the call. “Um, no. It’s probably the wrong number.” As if cued, my phone vibrates again, giving me the same maddening information, “restricted.” My anxiety rises a hair, and I reach down to touch the screen to end the call again; irritated by the suspicious look on Belle’s face as she watches my movements.
I reach out and pick up my wine glass and take a sip to calm my nerves. I feel eyes on me, and I gaze across the dance floor to see Greg looking back at me, giving me the smile that always warms my heart and makes me feel so lucky to be his. He’s such a great guy. He strolls across the floor in his easy way, reaches out to take my hand, tugs me up out of my chair, and draws me close to whisper in my ear. “Did I tell you how gorgeous you are tonight?” His fingertips graze my bare shoulders, making me shiver. “The green in your dress really brings out your eyes.”
I smile back at him, feeling bold as I place my hands on his chest. “Points for attention to detail, Gregory.” I only use his full name when I’m feeling especially flirty.
He wraps an arm around my waist and pulls me closer. “Dance with me, Ciara.”
We step onto the dance floor to sway to Eric Clapton, and I shove the strange phone call from my mind. By the time I step out of Greg’s arms and back to my table and wine, my worries have disappeared. I manage to sit down gracefully in my strapless, form-fitting mermaid dress that I found on sale (kind of)—my reward for busting my butt for the last six months in the university gym and taking up kick-boxing as a fitness class that counts for credits in women’s studies. My stupid phone vibrates again, and Belle sits at my table on high alert like a watchdog. She leans over to whisper to me as if we’re conspiring best friends. “That’s the sixth time your phone has gone off, Ciara. Whoever is calling must really want to get a hold of you.”
Doubt creeps in, and I fight feeling frantic, even though I have no idea who would be calling, or why. An irrational fear starts in my belly like a bundle of nerves, growing bigger as it travels through my body, escaping through my fingertips as they tap quickly on the table. I glance down at my hand, conscious of my movements, and I stop. The vibrating goes off in my purse again, and I snatch it up. I hurry out the closest exit which happens to be a back door that leads to a garden outside. I shiver as the night air meets my bare skin. I answer the call. “Hello.”
There’s a big sigh on the other end. “Finally. I thought you’d never answer.” His voice in my ear is like a sucker punch to the gut, and I release a breath I didn’t realize I was holding.
“Why are you calling me?”
He laughs, and my heart does a backflip. “Is that any way to greet an old friend?”
My heart races, and I struggle to catch up to my emotions. “How did you get this number?”
He chuckles again, and my body betrays me with its visceral reaction. “Ciara.” Zing. The first electrical charge goes right down my spine. “I’ve always had your number.” The truth in his words hits home. I want to deny it, but I can’t.
“What do you want?” There has to be a reason he’s calling. After all, I haven’t heard from him in four years. We separated abruptly and as mysteriously as the day we first met.
He growls into the phone. “Say my name.”
He’s playing games with me, and I refuse to play. “Just tell me what you want.”
No answer. Just silence. I want to hang up so badly and return to the party and forget this ever happened, but I know if I hang up, he’ll call again. He’ll keep calling until he gets what he’s after. I hover on the back step of the building, comforted by the sounds of party music in the background. I turn sideways to look through the window, and I see Greg. It looks like he’s looking for me. I duck behind the big tree I’m standing near and run smack into a warm body.
He’s a bit taller and more filled out, but his touch feels exactly the same as he gently grazes my chin with his hand, pointing my face upwards. “Hello, Ciara.”