Read Chapter 1 before you continue…
“So did our visitor get back safely?” All three of her brothers had just filed into the kitchen, where Elaina was standing beside the counter, drinking the freshly squeezed lemonade their housekeeper, Ethel, had handed to her. She had been telling Ethel and her mother, who was also present, about meeting the McKennas’ new house guest, having just gotten in from the stable herself. Her brothers’ entrances had saved her from her mother’s tirades as to why it was unnecessary to carry a gun just because someone had recently received a license.
Tyler had whipped off his hat and was now flapping it before his face to cool down. “Yeah. Man it’s hot out there! To think, it’s still a week from Fourth of July,” he complained, sitting down at the breakfast table.
“So he got on the horse okay then,” asked Elaina casually as she took another swig at her lemonade. She had not liked Mr. Matthew Halls one bit, coming off all smart aleck, walking on other people’s land.
Hayden snorted. “Not likely, seeing as he’s from New York City, is he? Fell twice on his backside before he got on that horse.”
Both the twins and their sister hooted with mirth but Jonny refrained. “It ain’t right making fun of a man not present enough to defend his dignity,” he stated quietly, stopping his siblings’ merriment short.
“Quite right,” added June Corey, stroking her youngest son’s hair lovingly for his wisdom. All four of her children had her looks, blond as corn silk with oceanic blue eyes and fine Aryan noses, though only Jonny had inherited her deep quiet outlook on life. Perhaps it was because, being her last born and having his father die even before his tenth birthday, Jonny had had the most opportunity of spending time with her. Her older children, having been brought up as much a part of the ranch as the horses and the cows themselves by their father, were louder and less obliging than she would have preferred. Fortunately, they usually did not fail to humor their mother’s strong stance on upholding propriety. “What’s this about you three taunting a man before a day getting old? Elaina’s been telling me, Hayden, that you let your baby sister shoot a man today.”
Hayden scowled at his sister before turning to answer his mother. “Aw, Ma. You know how she’s like. She never gave me time to stop her before her gun was out. Thanks, Ethel,” he added as the housekeeper placed a glass of lemonade before each of the newcomers.
“Well, I say he had it coming,” interjected Elaina, petulantly. “Strutting about my papa’s land with his camera out, shooting pictures of us uninvited.”
“That’s what he does,” Jonny came to the out-of-towner’s defense, before explaining to his mother and Ethel. “Matthew is a freelance photographer from New York City. He gave me his card, look.”
“Oh? On first name basis already, are we,” taunted Elaina while June looked over the visiting card of the man over whom her children were debating. “It’s obvious you’ve taken a liking to that big shot city boy.”
“Nothing wrong with being a big shot if you’ve got something to be proud of. He’s good at what he does. We saw the pictures he took this morning on his camera while we waited for Brooke to come out of the McKennas’ house. Tell her, Tyler.”
But before Tyler could make a reply, Elaina cut in. “Brooke’s here? She’s back?”
“Yeah,” Hayden answered gruffly, busying himself with drinking his lemonade.
“Brooke McKenna?” jumped in June. “Hillary and Andrew’s girl? She’s come home, is she?” Elaina noticed that her mother’s perceptive eyes flickered towards her before resuming on her elder sons.
“I say she is,” informed Tyler, whistling impressively. “And boy is she a looker. Even more than before, in all her hoity-toity city clothes and makeup. She just sort of floated down that porch step when she came out to meet us, didn’t she, Hayden?” His twin grunted noncommittally and Tyler continued. “Anyway, that’s who our visitor is come down to Lainie’s Creek with. Apparently they’re old friends, met when she modeled for one of his picture-taking classes or something. That reminds me, Elaina – you went and shot at a New York City professor because the man teaches photography in some university, too. Ain’t that a hoot?”
“You think shooting at strangers who never asked for it a hoot, do you, boy?” admonished June, sobering Tyler up instantly.
Elaina pushed off the counter she had been leaning against and set her glass down harder than she meant to. “Well, this one had asked for it,” she said with finality. “I’ll go wash up before lunch,” she added as she marched out of the kitchen, knowing all the while that her mother’s and Hayden’s eyes followed her retreat.
“Well, what’s got her all riled up,” she heard Tyler ask before the door swung shut behind her.
She did not stop her stride as she ran up the back stairs of the house and down the second floor corridor until she had herself locked in her room. Then she went straight to the small antique chest she kept under her bed and dragged it out to the center of the room. Curling into a cross-legged position, she sat down on the rug beside her bed and opened the lid. She shuffled through the old handmade doll and other trinkets of her childhood that she kept in there until she found what she was looking for at the very bottom.
With sudden unease, she withdrew the album made of pure suede that her father had given her for Christmas when she was no more than six years old and flipped open the cover. From every leaf of the memory laden pages, worn out from years of adding photographs and perusals, a pair of blonde girls with blue eyes smiled back at her. The further she neared the end of the album, the older the two girls in the photographs appeared, as if unfolding the story of their progress from childhood to youth, sometimes accompanied by other members of their lives. But there the story ceased abruptly, somewhere in the late adolescence of the girls, the last picture showing the girls obviously dressed in their prom dresses with corsages and their dates in tow, as happy as in all the preceding photographs.
Elaina Corey and Brooke McKenna – two peas in a pod. Best of friends, confidantes, and more like sisters than could have been expected if they were born from the same womb. Until the year they were to graduate from high school. Then their friendship came to an untimely conclusion and many were left confused by what brought on such a close.
Some said that it was the fact that the difference between girls’ inner dispositions finally became great enough to cause a rift. Some just chalked it up to the fact that each girl had a different future they were pursuing and when Brooke moved out of town to become a fashion model, their friendship could not last the long distance between New York and Texas and that correspondence might have dwindled over time. Some thought it were a bit of both. But none knew the story of betrayal and hurt that caused the departure of Brooke McKenna just one month shy of her high school graduation.
Since they were in their nappies and their parents were friendlier than neighbors could be, the two girls had been destined to become friends. Brooke, half a year older, had always been the leader of the two and, more often than not, the bigger mischief maker. Though Elaina was younger, the many times Brooke’s antics had gotten them in trouble had taught her to be more cautious, and therefore, she was usually expected to keep her best friend’s exuberance towards life at bay. And so their childhood had passed as Brooke’s plans always brought on a more exciting turn of events to keep their lives full of adventures and Elaina’s somewhat-levelheadedness ensured that these adventures did not always get out of hand.
Though both the girls were extremely beautiful, it was Brooke’s natural charisma that always made her shine brighter than Elaina, who was quieter and more reserved in her manners. Perhaps it was because Elaina always had her older brothers to contend with, who were as protective and masculine as their father, she was always the tomboy of the girl-duo while Brooke remained full of tomfooleries. But this distinguishing difference between the two girls’ home lifestyle and upbringing revealed a greater difference in their dispositions as they grew older.
In their teens, when Brooke began experimenting with cosmetics and couture and fashion magazines that she was sent by her maternal aunt who had moved to Houston to become a modeling agent, Elaina hardly dared to apply these new knowledge to herself in fear of her brothers’ rejections. While Brooke had entered high school in a graceful sashay, leaving fellow female schoolmates in awe of her aura and having boys throw themselves at her feet, Elaina had been happy to stay in relatively lesser limelight as the best friend who was good in her studies and better in sports. Fortunate for their friendship, Elaina had never enjoyed or envied having a bevy of teenage boys buzzing about for attention as Brooke distinctly acquired and approved of. Until Ewan Pollack.
In their final year, Ewan Pollack had transferred to their high school. Tall, dark, and handsome, Ewan was an instant attraction for girls up and down their school, causing more disruption in the minds of every teenager than their teachers cared for. It was a known fact that Ewan was a rich out-of-towner, whose corporate father had transferred him to the small town, countryside high school after the boy had gotten into trouble at his old school one too many time. No one really knew what had been the actual cause for his banishment but the mystery only added to his magnetism for the girls while boys learnt to sulk quietly in their jealousy.
And for some reason, astonishing everyone in the neighboring region, Ewan had chosen Elaina to be his new center of attention. Elaina, everyone had gasped, not Brooke. Of course, Brooke had claimed that she was happy for the match. Nothing was ever good enough for her best friend.
So a couple of months later, when the time came, it was Elaina who Ewan had taken to their prom. It was Elaina who had worn the white lily corsage Ewan had bought from the hothouse. It was Elaina who had danced the first dance of the night with Ewan, the handsome and mysterious out-of-town boy as her fellow classmates watched with envy and relish. But it was Brooke who had lost her virginity to the very same Ewan. That very same night.
Brooke had been unable to keep it a secret to herself longer than their prom night was over before she had confessed to Elaina about what she had done. The girls had met behind the Corey’s stable house. The older best friend had notified the younger one that after dropping off Elaina at her place and then Brooke’s date at his, Ewan Pollack had made his move on Brooke parked right outside the McKennas’ ranch. He had complained that Elaina was too shy for him and had never allowed him to go beyond second base and that he, an almost man, had needs.
So Brooke had taken pity on him because, she admitted, she was more than curious about sexual intercourses by then. And it seemed logical that when she was finally ready, to whom was it better to lose her virginity than the catchiest senior in high school? He sounded experienced enough though the outcome was disappointing. And it did not seem the wrong thing to do as Elaina had once confessed that she found Ewan dull.
Brooke was right. At least she had been right about Elaina not finding Ewan interesting. But she was very wrong about whether Elaina would find it acceptable for her best friend to lose her virginity to her prom date. And so Elaina had asked her best friend of seventeen years to leave her father’s land and never expect to reconcile. After a short shouting match, in which neither girl was the winner, Brooke had left. And after the following tearful minutes, when Elaina had finally made her way slowly back to the house, she had found a thunderstruck Hayden, having listened to the entire conversation. Elaina supposed her brother had told her mother about her best friend’s betrayal, as June had soon after come to console a bereaved daughter hiding in her bedroom.
Someone slammed a door somewhere within the house and Elaina was brought out of her reverie with the startling crash. As if stepping out of a past that occurred no more than yesterday, Elaina looked back at her prom photo, which she pasted to the album only to be reminded and disciplined to never allow her heart to unconditionally trust another. She had been wearing a floating gown made of sheer cool aqua silk while Brooke had donned its match in a vibrant vermilion red. While the designs of the dresses had boasted the harmony between the girls, the colors had reflected their contrasting personalities. It was the differences in them that had made them perfect friends and the difference that had caused them to separate forever.
With a sigh, Elaina replaced the album to the bottom of her chest full of sentimental treasures, closed its lid and put it back where she kept it. She had long ago resigned herself to the fact that Brooke and she will never again be the friends they once were should Brooke ever return to Lainie’s Creek.
In the week following their fight, Elaina had skipped school feigning the influenza. However, before she had even returned to school, her older brothers had come back from town one evening and informed the family that Brooke had left for her aunt’s in the city to become a model. And for some reason, Ewan Pollack’s dad had pulled him out of Lainie’s Creek too. Elaina had felt a brief moment of indignation that Brooke had gone without a goodbye but could reflect that it was maybe for the best. And though Ewan Pollack was long gone at no loss to Elaina, his brief but shattering existence in her life had also taken with him the best friend she ever had.
And now, after five lulling years of Brooke free interval, her former best friend was back in Lainie’s Creek. Apparently once again with an out-of-town city boy. Well, though Brooke was no longer her friend, she would be hell bent to cross path with this Matthew Halls person. Because the last thing she needed was anything to bring her into association with Brooke McKenna.
Read Chapter 3