Margie, it had gone viral around the entire school.
He’d been twelve, a stupid, unsure, self-conscious kid, furious at the betrayal. He’d yelled at Madison that they were done. Swore to her they’d never be friends again. When tears poured from her eyes and she tried to apologize, he’d turned his back on her and stalked away, even though she’d been his closest friend since kindergarten.
Even a few months later, when her mom had suddenly married some trucker and dragged Madison off with her and the new guy to live in Missoula, he hadn’t forgiven her or even said a word. Not before she left Lonesome Way and not when she moved back a few years ago on her own to live near her grandparents.
He’d always figured they’d grown apart too much to ever be friends again.
And now the idea of trying to bridge that gap was more than he wanted to handle. So he skirted her question and changed the subject, trying to wipe the hopefulness from her face.
“If you can afford to pay me a hundred bucks to get you off that stage, you must be making a fortune babysitting these days.”
“Not a fortune, but you’d be surprised.” She drew herself up, and the top of her head almost reached his chin. “I havea standing gig at the Spotted Pony two nights a week that pays pretty well. And I’ve saved some of my pageant winnings. So don’t worry, I have the money. You don’t need to lose any sleep thinking I’ll cheat you out of your hundred dollars.”
She started to spin away, but he caught her arm and tugged her back. “Look, I never said I was worried, Madison. I just want everything spelled out. One hundred dollars and an ice cream cone and you have yourself a deal.”
“Done.” She stuck out her hand and he shook it, trying to ignore the spark of something hot that seemed to run like jagged lightning up his arm as his rough palm enclosed her delicate one.
The dignified, set expression on her face made Brady feel about two inches tall. He was just about dead broke right now, but there was no way in hell he was taking a penny from Madison. He just didn’t want to tell her that yet. He didn’t want her thinking he felt sorry for her or anything. He knew how intensely she’d hated being in all those pageants over the years and how much she must be dreading the dating auction.
“Meet me at the Double Cross the night of the auction, right before it starts, and I’ll slip you the cash,” she instructed him, dropping her hand to her side, rubbing it against her jeans.
She seemed about to say something more, but then she paused, shook her head, and whirled away from him. He watched her hurry back up the street toward A Bun in the Oven without another word.
Even if he’d wanted to tell her he wasn’t interested in her money, she hadn’t given him a chance. The truth was, he didn’t mind helping her out. It hadn’t mattered for a long time that she’d told Margie about his seventh grade crush.
He hadn’t been angry with her for years now, but he’d never gotten around to telling her that. Or to picking up their friendship again.
Because once something’s gone, you can’t get it back,
Brady thought. And besides, he didn’t see why anyone who’d grown up to be as drop-dead gorgeous and smart andhardworking as Madison would care to be friends with him anymore.
He was a loser. And too many years had gone by. They weren’t kids now. They were two adults who lived in the same town but breathed in different worlds.
And yet…she’d taken the time to run after him into Benson’s. To tell him she was sorry about Cord.
Funny how people can surprise you now and then, he reflected, then heard the harsh slam of brakes. Turning his head toward the street, he saw Jake Tanner sitting in his truck, with a large skinny mutt taking up the seat beside him.
“I went looking for you at your place last night,” Jake said.
“Guess what. I wasn’t there.”
“Yeah, I got that. Don’t be a jackass.” Jake shot him
James Wasserman, Thomas Stanley, Henry L. Drake, J Daniel Gunther