Jack sat there, feeling like a fucking idiot. How could he have done that?
Not minutes after his friend had left, he’d kissed his ex-girlfriend. What a low life scum he was.
He leaned back and covered his face with his hands. Ah, man. He should never have come here. Of course, he’d thought they were still together when he’d arrived. But as soon as he’d found out they weren’t, he shouldn’t have agreed to stay with Ally.
Not only were his feelings for Ally still alive and well...he’d fallen in love with her all over again. With the woman she’d become. Not a pacifist, conflict-avoiding, see-the-best-in-everyone young girl, but a woman – strong, assertive, who could bring out the best in people but who could also see their flaws.
He let out a long groan. Fuck.
He stared up at the ceiling.
He’d leave. Tomorrow. He’d call Carter and see if he could stay with him. It was for the best, despite the tension still simmering between them.
He stood and wandered around the room, until he stopped in front of the book shelves where he’d found Ally’s photo albums. He pulled out another one, this one full of Ally’s family pictures. Photos of her as a little girl coaxed a grin out of him. He slid that one back and pulled out another album, a newer one. Only it wasn’t a photo album, it was a scrapbook. He opened it up, flipped a couple of pages...
He flipped another page. And another.
“What are you doing?”
He looked up and saw Ally in the door, clutching that fuzzy pink robe at her throat, staring at the album he held.
* * *
Four years earlier
“Carter! Look at this!”
Ally found Carter in the bedroom, tying his silk tie around his neck.
“What?” He frowned. “I’m trying to get ready.”
She thrust the news magazine in front of him, stabbed a finger at a photo credit. “It’s Jack! Jack’s photo!”
This was evidence that he was alive! “He’s in Iraq!” Then, “Oh, my God. He’s in Iraq.”
Carter glanced at the photograph, then back into the mirror. “I guess that’s what he wanted to do.”
Ally sank down onto the bed, the full skirt of her black party dress spreading around her. She studied the photograph. It was a powerful image of a street, deserted and littered with various articles - military-looking debris, a shoe, a child’s toy. The street had clearly been a residential area, the houses now bombed shells. Dramatic lighting and the starkness of the image made her imagine her own street, her own home, looking like that. She shook her head in dismay for the people who lived there. “Wow,” she breathed. “Oh, God, I hope he’s okay.” She glanced through the article. “Carter, why do you think he took off like that? And we’ve never heard from him. It’s been nine months.”
Carter shrugged, adjusted the knot of his tie. “I really don’t know. I did hear rumors, after he left, but I know they weren’t true.”
Ally frowned. “What kind of rumors?”
“Nothing,” he said dismissively. “Are you ready to go?”
“Yes, I’ve been ready for ten minutes,” she told him. “I was waiting for you.”
“No you weren’t. You were still in the bathroom a minute ago.”
She held back a sigh but didn’t bother to contradict him.
“I don’t want to be late for the party,” he added.
“No one gets there right on time. You’re supposed to be fashionably late.”
“Glenn hates tardiness.”
“Glenn hates tardiness,” she mouthed exaggeratedly behind his back. She hated the way Carter sucked up to his boss. She sighed. “He’s not going to fire you or demote you if you’re late.”
He turned to her and smiled. “How do I look?”
“You look very handsome and professional.”
“Good. Let’s go.”
As she followed him down the stairs, she persisted with her question about Jack. “What were the rumors you heard about Jack?”
He gave a heavy sigh. “If you must know, I heard he got another girl pregnant. That’s why he took off.”
Ally gasped. “That can’t be true! He wasn’t even going out with anyone!”
“That you know of.” He held the door for her as they left their home. “I think he was. Don’t know what the big secret was.” He shrugged. “I don’t believe he would take off and leave a girl hanging like that. But then again, it was the second time it happened. He got lucky the first time.”
Ally looked incredulously at Carter. “You think he was lucky?”
“Sure. If Brittany had had that baby, his whole life would have been ruined.”
Ally wasn’t sure if she totally agreed with that. Yeah, Jack’s life would have been different, but eventually she knew he would have done something great, even if he’d had to work for years at the Garden City Sun. It wasn’t worth arguing with Carter, though. You couldn’t win an argument with him.
They arrived at the party at Carter’s boss’s opulent home, and Carter immediately started fawning over Glenn and his gorgeous, much younger wife. Trophy wife. Shame washed over Ally. Glenn Chipman was clearly in love with his wife, Jillian, despite their age difference. She could tell by the way he watched her as she talked, how he touched her possessively. Ally just hated to see Carter being so sycophantic. He was smart and talented, he didn’t need to kiss his boss’s ass like that to get ahead, and he especially did not need to flatter his boss’s wife with those ingratiating compliments that almost made Ally gag. But Carter’s career and this job at a successful, prestigious law firm were so important to him.
Thoughts and questions about Jack distracted her the entire evening, and the next day, when Carter had gone out, she went on the Internet and Googled Jack. She found lots of stuff – he’d been busy! Damn, why hadn’t she thought of doing this sooner?
She clipped the magazine article she’d found the day before and printed some stuff she found online, carefully pasting them into a scrapbook she’d found. Jack may not want to keep in touch with them, but at least she could follow his career and know he was okay. Somehow, though, she knew Carter would think she was crazy, and she kept the scrapbook carefully tucked away with her own books, only working on it when Carter wasn’t around.
* * *
“What are you doing?” Ally asked.
Jack was sitting on the floor in front of her bookcase, long denim-clad legs stretched out in front of him. He glanced up at her words. “I...uh...”
Her cheeks burned as she spied the scrapbook. Oh shit.
Extreme Close Up Chapter 19