I never thought I’d see her again.
Okay, so I hadn’t exactly been looking for Sabrina Hudson in the fourteen years since we’d last been together. For the first year, not thinking about her had been a matter of self-preservation. It had hurt too much, caused me too much gut-deep pain to let my mind linger on memories of her deep brown eyes, the way her whole face lit up whenever I said something she found amusing.
And then . . . well, life had gone on as it does when you’re young and grappling to figure out basic shit like surviving high school, getting into college, and supporting yourself. If I’d thought of Sabrina, it had been occasional and fleeting, with the pang of regret a little more bearable each time.
When I’d seen the name Hudson on the schedule that Linc had sent out to the crew, sure, I’d thought about Sabrina and her family. But as I’d noted a moment ago, it wasn’t exactly an unusual last name. It hadn’t even occurred to me this project we were working—this incredible sleeping beauty of a house—might belong to my Sabrina.
Because that was still how I thought of her. In my mind and in my memory, she was still my Brina girl, the first one I’d loved, the person who I’d most suffered over when Mom and I left town.
She was staring at me now, and in her gaze, I saw a mix of confusion and trepidation give way to disbelief and wonder.
“Wesley?” She breathed my name. “Is it really—how are you—I mean, what are you doing here?”
Of all the questions I was sure Sabrina was about to ask, that hadn’t been the exact one I’d expected. I gave my head a little shake just to get loose of the cobwebs before I answered.
“I work for Kent and Turner. I’m on this project, restoring this—well, uh, I guess your house.” I lifted one shoulder. “How’s that for a hell of a coincidence?”
“Yeah, coincidence,” she echoed, her eyes still stuck to my face. “It’s been—God, I haven’t seen you in—”
“Fourteen years,” I finished for her. “I know. I figured I’d never see you again. Every now and then I check on social media to see if you’re there. I saw a profile that looked like it might have been you, but it was ten years old, and nothing after.”
Sabrina wrinkled her cute little nose, making me want to reach out a finger to stroke down its length and smooth those bumps.
“I don’t do social media,” she said. “It’s not my thing. I had a couple of accounts for half a year back in college, but I hated how it made me feel, so I got rid of them.”
“Ah, so that was you.” I grinned. “You went to Carolina for college, huh? Long way from Waukesha.”
“Yeah, that was kind of the point,” she shot back. “I wanted to start over, far away from everyone I knew back in Wisconsin. I was ready to stop being poor little Sabrina Hudson whose mom died when she was in kindergarten.”
“No one ever thought of you that way.” I frowned, thinking back. “At least I didn’t.”
“You were one of the few. Every year, I had to deal with a new set of teachers who handled me with kid gloves, like I might shatter. And every time there was something in school that involved mothers, everyone looked at me like I was going to have a meltdown. Like the reminder that I didn’t have one was going to break me.” Sabrina pressed her fingers to her temples as though she was holding her head together, and suddenly I remembered that was her stress tell—what she did every time she was grappling with something huge like a killer exam or bickering friends. I hated the idea that I was the one causing her angst right now.
“Hey.” I couldn’t help myself. I lifted my hand to brush her fingers away from her hairline. “It’s okay, Brina girl. Maybe the rest of them were idiots, but I always knew you were made of stronger stuff.”
For just a moment, her lips curled into the ghost of a smile, and her eyes met mine with a muted gratitude. And then she seemed to remember where we were and everything that had happened between us. She stepped backward again.
“Yes, you always said I was tough.” The smile turned brittle. “Guess that’s why you figured I could handle it when you left me without a word. You never looked back, did you?”
“Sabrina.” Slowly, I shook my head. “No. That wasn’t what happened at all. It was—I didn’t have a choice.”
“That’s bullshit.” She tossed her head, making her wavy black hair dance. “Everything is a choice, Wesley. You moved away without giving me any notice, any explanation at all. You could have dropped me a note. You could’ve sent me a text. But you decided I wasn’t worth the time or energy.”
“It wasn’t that way,” I began again, but she rolled her eyes and cut me off.
“It wasn’t even the fact that you skipped town the day after—” She stopped abruptly, biting her lip, and I knew what she’d been about to say. “But we were friends, Wesley. You’d been my closest friend since preschool. We went through so much crap together, and I thought you were the one person I could always depend on. In a sea of craziness, you were my reliable float. After you left—” She turned around, giving me her back, but the way her head bowed, I knew she was hiding tears.
That just about killed me.
Who knew that all these years later, Sabrina Hudson still had the ability to rip out my beating heart?
“Sabrina, you have to realize that if there had been any way for me to reach out to you, I would have done it. God, don’t you think it destroyed me, having to leave everything and everyone behind me when we left? And if you don’t know, after all the years we were friends, after I told you that night how much I cared for you, if you didn’t know that you were at the top of the list of people I’d miss, then . . .” I trailed off. “Maybe there’s nothing I can say.”
“I guess not,” she whispered, the sound muffled since she was still facing away from me. “And if there’s nothing left for either of us to say, then I’m going home.” She waved one hand, gesturing vaguely to the space around us. “Tell Linc I was here and everything looks fine. Tell him I’ll be back next week to check on the progress.” She paused. “Please.”
“Don’t you want to take a look around? Check out what we’ve done upstairs?” I hated that my surprise appearance was robbing Sabrina of the joy of watching her house come back to life.
“No, not now.” She turned toward the door, and once again, she held her head between her hands. “I just came off a long shift at the hospital, and I need to get home to sleep.”
There was so much I wanted to ask her. She worked at the hospital, so did that mean she’d realized her long-held dream of becoming a doctor? Where was she living now, while she waited for her house to be ready? How had the last fourteen years treated her? Was she married, living with someone . . . did she have a family to raise in this rambling old house?
But I could tell that she was on the verge of falling apart, and I knew that if I witnessed that, it would only make her resent me more. So I didn’t ask any questions. Instead, I stayed where I was, hooking my thumbs in the beltloops of my jeans.
“Okay, Sabrina. I’ll let him know.”
She nodded and reached for the doorknob, hesitating only a second before she stepped across the threshold.
“I didn’t know what happened to you, Wesley, and I always wondered. I’m glad you’re alive and well.”
Before I could respond, she was out the door, pulling it shut behind her. I listened to the sound of her feet on the porch and then crunching on the gravel of the drive, but I went back upstairs before the slam of her car door.
A few minutes later, I heard the familiar rumble of Linc’s truck, and shortly after that, he climbed the steps to find me.
“Got those nails,” he announced, tossing me a small paper bag. “But we need to order some more from the company because the local hardware store doesn’t stock them on a regular basis.”
“Yeah, sorry about that.” I rubbed the back of my neck. “I thought what we had on hand would work, but these will be better.”
“Agreed.” Linc squinted at me, frowning. “Was that the homeowner I passed on the way in? I slowed down to wave, but she just kept on going.”
“Yep.” Tension made me a little terse. “She came by to check on things, I guess.”
“Didn’t hang around very long, did she? Was she happy with what she saw so far?”
I hesitated, unsure of how much to say. “She didn’t get any further than the foyer. I went downstairs, and I think she was surprised that she wasn’t here alone.” I opened the bag and pretended to examine the tiny finishing nails. “Turns out that she’s someone I knew . . . a long time ago.”
“Oh.” Linc watched me, waiting for me to go on, and when I didn’t, when my face went hot, his eyebrows rose. “Ohhhh. Old girlfriend?”
“Not quite. Kind of, maybe. We were just kids, and things—didn’t end the way I’d hoped. Or the way she’d hoped, I guess.” I closed the bag of nails again, crimping the paper to keep them from spilling. “It’s a long story.”
“I’ve got time and a good ear,” Linc offered.
“That’s okay.” I shook my head. “I know you need to get home, and I’ve lost the light here, anyway. Mind dropping me at the office on your way?” All of us working on the house tried to share rides to and from the site to cut down on too many vehicles in the driveway.
“No problem.” Linc waited as I grabbed my tools and stood up to follow him down the stairs. “You know, that offer to listen isn’t going to expire. Any time you need to talk, I’m here.”
“Thanks. You’re a good guy, Linc.”
He paused at the back door, his smile wry as he dug in his pocket for the key to lock up.
“I wasn’t always, and that’s what makes me a good listener. I don’t judge, and I believe in second chances.”
I nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
But as we trudged to the pickup, I wasn’t thinking about Linc’s offer. Instead, I was hoping that maybe, somehow, Sabrina might also be an advocate of second chances.
It was unlikely. She didn’t seem disposed to hear me out or to understand what had gone done all those years ago in Wisconsin.
But a guy could hope.