At sixteen years old, Lily Cantrell was equal parts realist and dreamer. Both traits kept her walking despite her nerves and the triple-digit Sacramento heat. Ignoring her discomfort, she trudged up the long, aggregate driveway dividing Carmen’s house from John’s apartment. She stopped about two-thirds up and recalled with mixed emotion the first time she’d seen Tyler House.
She’d been ten years old and anxious to meet the new friend she’d heard so much about. When her mother had first pulled into the driveway, she’d known instantly that Carmen Tyler lived someplace special.
Wide-eyed and unblinking, she’d stared in awe at the dark green house with its huge wrap-around porch, stone accents, and stained glass windows.
She hadn’t known the house was Mission style, that it was often spotlighted in the city’s annual “Fabulous Forties” home tour, or that the five blocks separating their homes might as well have been five hundred miles considering the huge disparity in their socio-economic status.
She hadn’t known her outspoken and vibrant mother was uncharacteristically quiet because she was nervous about seeing the mayor’s wife again, and not because Lily had made them late when she’d spilled paint on their living room sofa.
And she hadn’t known when Carmen ran out to meet her that her Calvin Klein jeans cost five times more than Lily’s patched hand-me downs when they’d been new, or that she and Carmen would become the best of friends.
All she’d known was the sprawling home with its pretty potted flowers and towering shade trees felt comfortable, and that, besides missing her father, she could be happy staying there forever, playing with Carmen on the lush, green lawn and watching their mothers drink tea.
That had been before she’d seen John Tyler.
When John, Carmen’s fourteen-year-old brother, had climbed out of an Olympic-sized pool, grinned with boyish charm, and tossed his wet hair like a dog getting out of a bath, she’d known with all the fervor of a ten-year-old dreamer that she was going to marry him someday. In her mind, she saw herself all grown up, wearing her mother’s simple white wedding dress with the lacy butterfly sleeves while her father walked her down the aisle looking handsome and proud in his uniform dress blues.
With the clarity and ignorance of a child, she’d been incapable of distinguishing what “was” from what “might be.” It had taken her six long years to realize her dream of a future with John wasn’t a foregone conclusion.
Sweating profusely, Lily finally reached the portico that stretched between Carmen’s house and John’s apartment. John’s glossy black pick-up truck sat parked near his apartment door, with several moving boxes inside. For a moment, the past and the present, the knowing and wanting, the dreaming and wishing, converged.
So here I am, her inner realist announced. Now what are we going to do?
The dreamer inside her rallied back. Back off, will you? I’m not an expert at love. I’m doing the best I can.
Do better, the realist grumbled.
Barely controlling the urge to kick John’s truck, Lily glanced at his apartment door. It was open. She heard the taunting words of Right Said Fred singing I’m Too Sexy. The knot of nerves in her chest swelled. Turning so fast she almost slipped, she speed-walked back the way she’d come.
At the bottom of the drive, Lily blinked her eyes to keep from crying. She hated her cowardice. Hated the way things had changed between them. Next to her mother and Carmen, John had always been her best friend. She didn’t have to pretend when she was with him. She didn’t have to be the cop’s perfect daughter.
Lately, however, he’d started to avoid her. And when he couldn’t do that he called her “small fry” or patted her head like she was closer to six than sixteen.
Think, she urged, pacing. What could she say? What could she do to make him stay when her own father had abandoned her?
Fury and pain rolled through her. She picked up a rock and threw it as hard as she could. It made a dissatisfying ping when it hit a tree and she stamped her foot. She still couldn’t believe her father had betrayed them all. That he’d actually moved in with that witch Barb.
But what choice had her mom given him?
She bit her thumb then yanked it away when she realized what she was doing. Don’t think of Mom or Dad. Don’t think of what you’ve lost. Think of what you can have.
Think of John.
She closed her eyes and instantly pictured him in his neon green swim trunks. Wide grin. His fourteen-year-old body slick with moisture and so exposed that it had made her stutter and blush. Six years later, even the prospect of talking to him pushed composure and reason out of reach.
Dear God, what if she worked up the courage to tell him how she felt, but ended up stuttering again? She’d die.
No. Courage and action. That’s what John said made dreams come true. She could act. And so what if she was scared out of her mind? She’d simply act brave, too.
Straightening her shoulders, she walked back to John’s truck.