Publication date: July 18th 2023
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Two lost souls find a tether in the power of love.
Pru Blum’s life hasn’t been easy, but working as a cellist with the Lower Georgia Symphonic Orchestra is her solace. She depends on her friends and uncle for support, but she’s resolved to become stronger and more independent. However, avoiding her abusive ex, Cliff, isn’t easy… especially since he’s a member of the orchestra too. His overbearing personality and unwanted attention stop her in her tracks each time she tries to move forward.
Shawn Levinson’s life seems disjointed, almost as though it’s someone else’s. His parents adore and expect him to marry his girlfriend, Helena, and for him to work for her father’s corporation. Deep down, he knows their relationship is a sham. Besides, sitting at a desk and wearing a tie forever isn’t his dream. Whenever he tries to follow his own path, though, everyone dismisses his hopes as foolish. He doesn’t have the strength to oppose two families, so he escapes to Georgia to work on his parents’ retirement home and look for some clarity.
When these two lost souls literally collide, sparks fly, but neither wants the complication of a relationship. And Shawn hasn’t mentioned anything to Pru about Helena. No matter how hard they try to distance themselves, they can’t seem to keep away from each other. By the time they’re ready to admit their feelings, their pasts and secrets are poised to blow up in their faces. Falling in love may be exactly what they need… if they can each get out of their own way.
She shouldn’t have kissed him when he was just trying to be nice to her. For the past few days with hardly any contact, she wondered what had possessed her to do so.
Her train of thought was distracted by Timéo, the owner’s cousin. He stood at the table in his black button-down shirt and matching slacks, pen and pad readied to jot down their order. She rattled off in French what she and Shawn wanted.
“Is this handsome man your boyfriend?” he asked, still in French, raising his salt-and-pepper eyebrows.
“I’m not sure, but when I find out, you and Claudette will be among the first to know,” Pru replied in the same.
“Oui, bien.” He winked before he walked away.
Shawn smirked. “You just said you were barely passable in French.”
“Here, I’m usually fine. I’d be pretty lost in France though, I bet.”
“Have you ever been?” He twirled some cheese onto his spoon.
Pru nodded. “With my grandmother and uncle when I was eleven, for Uncle Barney’s business trip. Somewhere around the house is my little Eiffel Tower souvenir.” She smiled. “What about you? Have you been to Europe?”
“Nope. I’ve never even gotten a passport. Everyone keeps saying I should before I get back with…”
He shivered and trailed off, took a big spoonful of soup and looked like he nearly choked on it. Grabbing his wine glass, he took a few swallows.
An hour later, as they waited for their boxed leftovers, Pru had had enough of their evening-long, stiff, halting conversation. They’d gone stumbling gracelessly from topic to topic, with Shawn constantly looking down and frowning. She was shaking badly enough to have trouble holding her water glass in the end, but he hadn’t seemed to notice.
It was still light outside as they made their way down the cracked, weedy sidewalk toward their cars. They’d met here instead of coming together. They passed the older, less well-maintained brick stores, a 7-Eleven gas station, and a florist that had been in business since the thirties as they walked in tense silence. The humidity was mercifully light this evening, but something heavy hung in a thick cloud between and around them just the same. He hadn’t even held her hand or hugged her all evening.
When they reached the public parking lot, Pru stopped and looked at him. “You’re upset about something. Was it what happened when you drove me home a few days ago? I’m really sorry about that. I promise I’ll—”
“Me too.” Shawn shut his eyes and exhaled. “We shouldn’t have done that. I think we need to take a couple of steps backward.” He reached into his pocket and put on his mirrored sunglasses.
Pru gripped her upper arms and shivered. This was why they’d gone out in the first place, to somewhere neutral. In retrospect, this place had been a bad choice. What had she been thinking, suggesting a romantic atmosphere to ask for a platonic relationship? “Okay. I mean, yeah, you’re right.” She dug her fingers in hard enough to know she’d probably be bruised later.
He leaned back on his car, his hands hanging at his sides, shoulders slumped. “You told me you needed to try to be independent, and the thing is, I like you a lot, but my life’s pretty complicated right now.” He sounded tentative and resigned, and he wouldn’t look at her. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if you got hurt because I was careless.” The declaration came out as a half-whispered mumble.
“Shawn.” He lifted his head. She had no idea what she wanted to say next, even though she’d rehearsed the conversation in her head. All she could think about was the time he’d recited Robert Frost to her impromptu as a rainstorm began. His mouth was a tight, straight line. He inhaled with a small shudder, and she saw her distorted reflection. It seemed a perfect image of how she was feeling. “It’s all right. I was thinking the same thing for a similar reason, you just brought it up first. I like you a lot too, and I wasn’t sure how to say any of it without hurting you.”
He pulled the corners of his mouth back. “We’re on the same page, then. Are we good?”
Focusing on looking resolute as her legs and chest shook, she opened and closed her mouth a couple of times before she was able to get any sound out. “We’re absolutely fine,” she managed. “Except for that one thing, nothing’s really changed, has it? Two friends kissed for a minute. Not a big deal, right?”
“Of course not.” He smiled for real this time and hugged her. His chest was warm, and his heart was racing.
Pru shuddered and put all her energy into holding off tears. She stepped back, and they dropped their arms. “Okay,” she said. She walked around to her own driver’s side door and opened it.
Shawn got into his car. “I’ll see you around, Pru.”
This was for the best. This was what they both wanted. Nothing had changed.
She pretended to do something on her phone while she watched him drop his head back on his seat, shut his eyes, and then straighten, take a big breath, and drive away.
Karen Janowsky has loved superheroes and ancient mythology since the first time she saw the Super Friends on television in 1970’s. Because flying an invisible jet was never a viable career option, and because running around in a cape, swimsuit, and bright red boots is not socially acceptable for adults, she teaches yoga and writing at the College of Southern Maryland. Her stories and poems have been featured in several anthologies and literary magazines since 1991. She received her master’s degree in English from Florida State University.
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