Read Heart Strings Online

Authors: Betty Jo Schuler

Heart Strings

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HEART STRINGS

 

 

by

 

 

Betty Jo Schuler

 

ISBN: 978-1-927111-74-1

 

Books We Love Ltd.

(Electronic Book Publishers)

192 Lakeside Greens Drive

Chestermere, Alberta, T1X 1C2

Canada

 

Copyright 2012 by Betty Jo Schuler

 

Cover art by Michelle Lee Copyright 2012

 

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

 

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CHAPTER 1

 

 

Keely Johannsen jerked to attention as a hot rod engine revved loudly in the school parking lot. The noise was so intense that it vibrated her desk, and her heartstrings, before rumbling off into the distance.

Keely buried her face in her hands. Her junior year of high school had passed like a blur in slow motion, and all she could think about was loving and losing Mark. She hated lectures and wished the bell would ring. Mr. Cranbrook’s class was boring. She loved literature. Drama. Composition. When she finished high school, she wanted to act or write. But history was dead.

Mark was angry that night. She usually let him drag her away from her studies, but this time she’d insisted she had to cram for a test. Hours later, the sirens woke her.

“Pay attention,” Megan Hendrix hissed from the seat behind her.

Cranbrook always called on people who didn’t pay attention. No matter how many hands waved in the air, he ignored them, peering over his hawk-like nose, looking for someone who didn't know and didn't care. Mark used to wave his hand so Cranbrook wouldn't call on him. “But what if he does?” Keely asked.

Mark gave her that devil-may-care smile he wore so well. “He won't. People like Cranbrook don't break their patterns.”

People like Mark didn't change their patterns either. They lived their lives on a chance. A risk. A dare.

“Miss Johannsen?” Mr. Cranbrook loomed over her desk, his brown tweed jacket that was too heavy for spring so close that she was gagged by the mothball smell. The yellowing cuffs of his shirt hung down over his bony hands. Keely shivered. “The answer,” he demanded.

Keely didn't even know the question. “Uh—”

Megan knocked her history book on the floor with a resounding crash. Cranbrook glared. The bell peeled. Twenty pairs of feet stampeded from the room. And Keely was out of there.

 

*****

 

At the end of the hall she slowed down, heart pounding. Megan caught up to her. So did Will Laughlin. “He'll get you tomorrow, Red,” he said, tapping Keely on the head.

She was short so guys were always doing that, but her hair was auburn, and Will, who had a crush on her, was the only one who called her Red. Decidedly juvenile, he wasn’t her type. And Cranbrook wouldn’t get her tomorrow because she’d be careful; but soon, when her defenses were down, he’d try again. Will slung his arm around her shoulders. “Want to go to Mosley's? I'll spring for a dog.”

“A Monster Dog?” The Monster—a foot long with chili, onions, jalapenos, slaw, and cheese—was the most expensive hot dog Hank Mosley served, and Will was always broke, bumming off his friends.

“If you loan me the money, I’ll pay you back Friday.”

“Just kidding,” she said, loping off with Megan to their first floor lockers. Will was the only high school junior she knew who still depended on an allowance for spending money.

“Will's cute,” Megan said.

“Try annoying.”

“So he acts like a six-year-old. One of these days, he'll grow up to be a heartbreaker.”

Keely stuffed some books in her backpack and slammed her locker. Will's eyes were bright blue, his blond hair cropped short like a little boy's. Mark’s hair and eyes were dark. “I'm not interested in raising little Wil-yum. Besides, he's not as cute as—”

“Don’t even say it.” Megan grabbed her arm and stopped dead, causing a group of giggling freshman girls to almost run over them. Keely pulled free and rushed out the double doors into the sunlight. Megan grabbed her again and steered her behind a forsythia bush. It was spring but the bush hadn't bloomed. Keely shivered. It was dead.

“You and Mark Jefferson weren’t in love. It’s all in your head.” Megan poked a finger in her chest. “He was your idol when you were kids. Then, he kissed you a few weeks before the … accident … and you developed a major crush.”

“He cared about me too. He said so. And I loved him.” She tried to pull away but Megan held onto her arm.

“You had a date or two. He held your hand on the way to school. You felt important. You were Mark-walk-to-the-beat-of-a-different-drum Jefferson’s girl for a little while. But he wasn't your type, and you weren’t his. He was wild and crazy and did things you didn't like.”

“I liked the way he kissed me. I liked just being with him. He was so handsome, so much fun, so … alive.”

“So daring. So irresponsible. So foolish.” Squeezing Keely’s arm, Megan sighed. “You two wouldn't have worked as a couple. He was everything you aren't.”

“You're right about that,” Keely said, hugging her arms to her chest. “I'm always weighing right against wrong and smart against foolish. I'm too cautious, never taking a tiny chance, let alone a dare. I'm boring. Mark was exciting. He was fun to be with.” She edged away from the forsythia bush.

Megan blocked her path. Narrowing her sapphire eyes, she tossed her head, and her silky blonde hair caught the sunlight. She was striking and heads turned when she passed. Mark’s hair was long, his eyes brooding, and like Megan, he stood out in a crowd. Keely was flattered by his attention. “Mark gave you your first real kiss, took you to your first dance. Firsts are special. Everything was new and fresh, but Mark's foolishness would have grown old.”

Megan started to walk again, and Keely, ducking her head so her hair hid her face from passersby, slogged along behind her. She'd held onto her dreams so tightly, they were wearing thin, but she didn't know how to let go. Mark was her neighbor and she'd followed him around since he was ten. How could she forget that he'd started to follow her?

“Stop feeling guilty that you're alive and he's not. It's not your fault.” Megan laid a hand on her arm. They'd reached the corner where she turned up Plum Street toward her house while Keely continued along Old State Road One. Mark's drag strip. Since the state put in the new highway, this stretch of road near the edge of town was seldom used. “You’re sixteen with a life to live, and it's been an entire eight months since the accident. Stop being afraid to feel something for someone again.”

Spring arrived in Indiana with a great show of color: yellow forsythia, pink hyacinths, purple tulips. Grass greener than any other green in the world. The sky a brilliant blue washed by gentle rain. School would be over in a few days, and vacation would bring the deeper, bolder colors of summer. Summertime without Mark next door would be colorless. Just thinking his name, the colors of spring faded away.

Keely watched a dark green car edge by. It was so quiet. Mark's Mustang used to shake the plants on their porch. Her time with Mark had been short and she'd already suspected he was losing interest.
No
. She hugged her arms to her waist and closed her eyes. She couldn't think that and keep their love alive inside her heart and head.

“Pardon me.” Megan’s eyes flew open at the sound of a husky male voice.

He was tall with light brown hair, and had appeared out of nowhere to smile down at her from beneath thick lashes. Dimples framed his mouth like parentheses. His eyes were the color of coffee, his face lean with chiseled features. “Can you tell me where I'd find the Jefferson house?”

Keely stared up at the stranger. Dressed in neatly pressed khaki chinos and a polo shirt, he didn't look like a friend of Mark's. Mark always wore grunge clothes, and so did his buddies.

“It's the fourth house,” Megan said, nudging Keely.

“The gray one, second house the other side of mine,” Keely added. Nodding toward their cream two-story, she saw the green car parked out front. “Where you're parked.” Blushing, she ducked her head. He hadn't asked where she lived.

“Then you must be going my way.”

“Yes, she is.” Megan gave her a shove, smiled broadly, and waved her away.

Keely, even more embarrassed, shrugged and fell into step with him. But his strides were long and she had to hurry to keep up. Noticing, he slowed down, smiled, and his dimples deepened. “I'm Tripp. And you are?”

“Keely Johannsen.” She peeked up through her hair at him. “Tripp?”

“Jonathan Michael Andrews III. Tripp as in triple. Corny, huh?”

“No, I think it's cute. Uh … clever.”

Tripp stopped in front of her walk and looked straight into her eyes. “Thanks for your help, Keely. I can take it from here, but I'm glad we met.”

 

*****

 

Dropping her backpack in the hallway, Keely checked the family “message center”, an old dartboard on the kitchen wall, and found two notes from her mother. One said her eight-year-old brother Joey had a ride home after Little League practice. The other said to toss a salad and bake the casserole she'd find in the refrigerator.

Upstairs, Keely wiggled out of her denim skirt into a pair of cut-offs and grabbed the romance novel she'd left on her bed. Shoving the casserole in the oven with one hand, she set the control with the other, then poured herself a glass of lemonade. Mom coached the cheerleading squad after school and wouldn't be home for more than an hour. Neither would Joey, and Dad was on a sales trip. So there was no hurry to make the salad.

The green car was still there.

Afternoon sunlight bounced off the hood. Conservative-looking, it might be a Buick of some kind, but she couldn't tell. Mark tried to teach her to identify cars, but she was never really interested. Tripp looked like he'd be about her age but must go to another school. His license plate might offer a clue where he lived, but she couldn't check and take the chance of being caught. It wasn't smart to look eager, not that she was. Anyway, his warm, husky voice and friendly manner were so smooth, he probably dated the most popular girl in his school.

Book open in her lap, Keely stared at the Jefferson house. Mark ran around with an older crowd and worried his mother. He was an only child, a surprise that had come late in life, years after his parents had given up having a baby. “A blessing that turned her hair gray,” Evelyn Jefferson used to say. She was glad when he'd started dating Keely, but it ended up being him that had changed her, not the other way around as his mother had hoped.

What was Evelyn talking to Tripp about? Why did he want to see her?

The cell phone rang and Keely snatched it up. “Has the cute guy left Evelyn Jefferson's yet?” Megan asked, without even saying hello. “You are watching for him to come back, aren't you? Where are you? On the porch?”

“I'm on the front steps, and no, he hasn't.”

“You're on the front steps?” Megan squealed. “I knew you were interested. And I am so, so glad. It's about time that you stopped reading romances and started living one.”

“I've loved reading about love ever since I outgrew those 'baby sitter' books. I didn't just start this year.” Keely stretched out her legs. Tripp Andrews was glad they met. The spring sunshine felt good. “But this guy is kind of cute.”

“He's handsomer than anyone I've seen in a while … except Devon, of course.” Devon was Megan's latest crush. “It could be destiny that he happened by.”

“I’ll probably never see him again after today.”

“Smile at him when he leaves, instead of hiding behind your hair, and you might.”

She'd been afraid to look people in the eye lately for fear she'd see pity. And she hadn't been able to concentrate in class. But she would like to make good grades and feel sixteen again. Watching the Jefferson house, Keely smiled, and waited.

 

*****

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

 

Evelyn Jefferson welcomed Tripp like her son, which, in a way, he was. Coming in out of the sunlight, the house seemed dim and cool and very, very quiet. “I'm so happy you were able to come,” his hostess said, waving him toward a flowered armchair. “Make yourself at home. I'll be right back”

Tripp sat down and, tenting his fingers, looked around. A basket of magazines sat on one side of him and on the other, a half-worked crossword puzzle lay on a table. An arm lamp with a fringed shade poked over his shoulder. In front of him stood a coffee table with a bouquet of sweet-smelling lilacs, a plateful of cookies, and a blue pitcher with moisture forming on the outside. Tripp hoped there was lemonade inside.

Mrs. Jefferson returned with two glasses of ice and a plate with lemon slices and sprigs of fresh mint. Smiling, she filled both their glasses and settled the lemon and mint on the edges. Iced tea. He fought back a shiver. He'd never liked tea.

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