on September 29, 2014
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The heart-stopping conclusion to the New York Times and USA Today bestselling series.
Five years, six months, eight days….
It’s been eighteen years since Abigail was born with a hole in her heart. Five years since she collapsed on the soccer field. Five years, six months, eight days since she found out she was adopted.
Abby has spent five years wondering about the family she never knew and waiting for her eighteenth birthday. When Abby shows up on the doorstep of Chris and Claire Knight, her birth parents are overjoyed to see the little girl they lost eighteen years ago.
One summer is all they have to make up for the years they lost. But a summer of love soon turns into a summer of heartache.
Three days before
THE MALL PARKING LOT is packed, as usual, but Caleb manages to eke out a parking space near the entrance to the food court. He pulls his convertible 1967 Plymouth Barracuda into the space and kills the engine, but he doesn’t move.
“Put up the top. It’s supposed to rain,” I say, scooping my purse off the floor by my feet.
Caleb grabs my hand before I can exit the car. “Wait. We need to talk.”
I sigh and drop my purse onto my lap. “I’m fine, okay? I don’t want to talk about my birthday anymore.”
Caleb has been trying to make me talk about my upcoming eighteenth birthday for the past two months, but I’m not going to do it. In three days, I will be eighteen years old when I wake up. Then, and only then, will I decide whether or not I’m going to visit the safe-deposit box in Raleigh. I know myself. If I try to make that decision now, it will be too difficult to change my mind later.
“It’s not about your birthday, Abby. Can we please talk? I’m tired of you blowing me off.”
I glare at him in confusion. “I have not been blowing you off.”
He pulls my hand into his lap. “I know. I’m sorry. I’m just really nervous about this.”
“Nervous about what? You’re scaring me, Caleb.”
He looks into my eyes. “I don’t want to scare you. I just want to talk to you. About something very important.”
Holy crap. I don’t think Caleb would break up with me, but I have seen Jodi Weathers trying to flirt with him after fourth period. What the hell does he want to talk to me about?
He takes my hand in both of his and mine disappears as he pulls it to his chest. “Abby, baby, I’m pregnant.”
I wrench my hand away and punch his shoulder. “You asshole! I thought you were gonna break up with me.”
He laughs as he grabs my hand and pulls me toward him. “Baby, don’t get mad. I thought you would take the news better than this.” I laugh as he takes me in his arms and pretends to cry on my shoulder. “Please don’t make me raise this baby alone.”
“Shut up, jerk.”
He chuckles and plants a loud kiss on my cheek before he lets me go. “It’s not my fault you can’t remember April Fool’s Day.”
“I remembered!” I insist, grabbing my purse and throwing the car door open. “I was just playing along.”
“You’re a bad liar, sunshine.”
He puts up the top on the convertible, then we head for the food court. I hate the food court, but I’ll do anything to get away from my house right now. Every time I look into my mother’s face, I see the silent plea for me to not visit that safe-deposit box on Friday. She doesn’t realize that her need to keep me from knowing my birth parents only makes me want to know them even more. I mean, what the hell is she hiding? What am I going to find in that safe-deposit box?
I keep expecting I’m going to find my birth mother is a drug addict and my father works at McDonald’s or something similar. But the way my mom seems intent on keeping their identities a secret only makes me wonder if maybe my biological parents aren’t strung-out losers. Maybe they’re politicians or movie stars. It’s possible.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is I’m not going to decide until Friday. On Friday, I’ll know what to do. Today, I’m too freaked out about my mom’s shifty behavior and my boyfriend’s fake pregnancy.
Caleb and I grab some Chinese food then walk around for about ten minutes before someone vacates their table and we swoop in to take it. Caleb wipes the table down while I hold our tray, then we sit down to enjoy our orange chicken.
“Do you want to know what I’m getting you for your birthday?” he asks, then he wraps his lips around his straw and takes a long pull of his soda.
The tattoo on the outer edge of his forearm always makes me smile. Caleb had a few tattoos when we first got together four and a half years ago, but his arms are pretty much covered in them now. The tattoo on the outside of his forearm is very simple, yet it’s definitely my favorite. It’s half of a heart. I’m supposed to get the other half tattooed on my arm when I’m eighteen. That way, when we hold hands, our hearts will be whole.
There’s no way my parents would let me get a tattoo before my eighteenth birthday, so I haven’t even bothered asking. I’m actually surprised they’re allowing me to visit the safe-deposit box on Friday, should I choose to do so. It’s their box. They don’t have to show me anything. They could tell me to go to the county courthouse if I want to find out who my parents are. But they haven’t. They’ve agreed to give me the key on my birthday, whether I want it or not.
“Why would I want to know what you’re getting me for my birthday? That would totally ruin the surprise.”
“Well, being surprised is not always a good thing. Look at how you reacted to my pregnancy.”
I roll my eyes and take a drink of soda. “Do you want to tell me what you got me for my birthday?”
He smiles and I don’t even have to know the answer to that question. Caleb is so terrible at keeping secrets.
CALEB PULLS THE ’Cuda into the parking lot of Eastgate Park at ten p.m. and I smile at his knack for remembering small details. He remembers where I was when I collapsed on the soccer field and was rushed to the hospital almost five years ago. He insists God was looking out for me that day. I wish I could feel as certain about that as he is.
We get out of the car and he immediately heads for the trunk. “It’s in here.”
“We were driving around with my present in your trunk this whole time?”
“Yep. And it’s not even wrapped.”
He pops the trunk open as I arrive at the back of the car. The moment I see it, my eyes begin to tear up and my throat constricts painfully.
“You got it?”
He reaches into the trunk and gently lifts the guitar out. “I got it months ago,” he says, holding out the Gibson Hummingbird acoustic-electric guitar I’ve been coveting for two years. “I asked the guy to keep it in the window in case you came back to look at it, as you always do.”
“You can’t afford this.”
He slings the strap over my shoulders. “Yes, I can. The estate lawyer sent me a check a few months ago.”
The tears come faster at this news. Caleb’s father passed away last year and he’s been waiting for the estate lawyer who handled his father’s will to disburse the inheritance. He told me he was going to get the meager inheritance on his eighteenth birthday in January. But when January came and went without any news from Caleb, I was too afraid to bring it up.
“I can’t accept this. This is a $4,000 guitar. That’s almost half your inheritance.”
“That money means nothing to me if I can’t use it on the only family I have left in this world.”
My fingers fall on the smooth body of the guitar and a chill passes through me. Caleb is the one who made me test out the guitar in the store two years ago. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. The sound was so beautiful and resonant it made me cry. But to hold it in my hands… to carry it home with me and call it my own… that’s beyond a dream come true. It’s a miracle.
“Caleb, I’ll always be your family. You don’t need to give me this.”
“It’s not a bribe.” He takes my face in his hands and kisses my forehead. “I just want to see you smile.”
I pull up the neck of my T-shirt and wipe the tears from my face. “Okay, I’ll keep it. But only if you let me play a lullaby for you and the baby.”
He scrunches his eyebrows together and smiles. “Of course,” he replies, rubbing his belly. “Let’s go lie under the stars. You, me, Junior, and—” His mouth drops open. “What are you gonna name the guitar?”
I shrug. “I hadn’t thought of that. What do you think I should name it?”
He slams the trunk closed then wraps his arm around my shoulder as we walk toward the soccer field. “How about Caleb’s Love Slave or ’Cuda Monster?”
I shake my head. “Terrible. How about… Blackbird?”
Caleb is silent as we trudge through the damp grass. I begin to wonder if he didn’t hear me, then he finally speaks. “You mean, like, a blackbird with broken wings?”
I stop walking and look up at him. “No. Like a blackbird who’s learning to fly.”
He smiles and nods toward the field for us to keep going. “I like that better.”
We find a nice flat patch of grass and Caleb lays his hoodie on the ground for us to sit down. The hoodie isn’t big enough for both of us to sit on while I’m sitting cross-legged with the guitar in my lap. So we decide it’s okay to get a little wet and we lie back to gaze at the stars.
I feel around the frets until my fingers are in the correct position, then I begin plucking the strings, playing one of the first songs Caleb ever sang for me four and a half years ago: “You’re My Best Friend” by Queen.
I spend a whole hour playing songs for Caleb, pretending I can’t feel my phone vibrating in my pocket. But when his phone starts ringing, I know it’s time for me to head home. It’s Tuesday and my parents prefer to have me back before midnight on school nights.
I sit up and remove the guitar strap from around my neck as Caleb answers the call and immediately passes me the phone. “I’ll be home in twenty minutes,” I say, not bothering to say hello or who is this?
“You should have been home twenty minutes ago,” my mom replies.
“It’s only 11:30. I don’t have to be home until midnight.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to stay out until midnight every night of the week, Abby. Get home.”
She hangs up before I can argue. I hand Caleb the phone and the guitar so I can stand up. He slings the guitar strap over his neck and begins playing an upbeat variation on “Blackbird” as we head back to the car. Caleb can probably play guitar better than I can, but he prefers drums. So he has a tendency to smack the guitar while he plays. I usually love it, but I’ll admit I’m a little nervous as I watch him banging on my new instrument.
“Dance, Abby. Dance like nobody’s watching.”
I shake my head and smile. Caleb once told me how much he hated corny catchphrases because they’re never as meaningful as the words that are unrehearsed and spoken from the heart. Then, a few weeks later, he found a diary my mom gave me when I was ten and the quote on the cover read “Dance like nobody’s watching.” Ever since then, it’s become our little inside joke. He knows it’s the one phrase that will always make me smile.
We stand next to the trunk of the car as he finishes the song. When he’s done, I clap and he takes a bow, then he carefully places the guitar back in the trunk.
I gaze at it longingly. “Can you hold on to it for me? I don’t want my parents to ask me about it and find out how much it cost. We’ll let them find out after we move in together.”
He smiles as he slams the trunk shut. “Whatever you say.”
“Are you mad?”
“What? Of course not.”
He bends his knees a bit so he can wrap his arms around my waist and lift me up. I coil my arms around his neck and lay my head on his sturdy shoulder. He plants a soft kiss on my neck and I sigh.
“Anything that makes it easier for us to be together is fine by me,” he whispers against my skin.
I tighten my arms around his neck so I can lift my legs and wrap them around his hips. He chuckles as he turns me around and sets me down on top of the trunk. I tilt my head back and he swallows hard as I gaze into his emerald eyes.
“I love you, my little blackbird. You should know by now that I’ll never say no to you.”
I squeeze my legs tighter around him to bring him closer and I’m not surprised when I feel a slight bulge in his jeans. “Kiss me before midnight or I’ll turn into a real blackbird.”
“As you wish.”
His mouth falls gently over mine and I run my fingers through the soft hair on the back of his head. He moans into my mouth and I smile as I kiss him harder. He loves when I run my fingers through his hair.
“Slow down, sunshine.”
I sigh as I push him away. “Let’s go.”
“Hey, don’t get mad. I’m just trying to keep you from getting too excited.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard it a million times. Just take me home.”
I open the passenger door and he slams it shut before I can get inside. “I know you’ve heard it before, but can you please not make me feel like a total asshole for trying to keep you safe?”
“I’m not going to have a heart attack from kissing you!”
“I know that, Abby. But there are things I want to do with you… to you, and I don’t know how your body will react. You can’t expect me to not be afraid.”
I lean back against the side of the car and he lays his hands flat on the glass, boxing me in. “Things you want to do to me?”
He chuckles as he leans in and lays a tender kiss on my jaw. “Yes. I want to…”
My hands reach forward. Finding his solid chest, I grab fistfuls of his T-shirt. “You want to what?”
His lips travel from my jaw up to my ear. “I want to taste you.”
He traces his tongue along the edge of my earlobe and I tighten my grip on his shirt so I don’t collapse. “Okay, okay, that’s enough.”
He pulls his head back to look me in the eye. “Are you okay?”
I nod quickly. “Yes, but I have to go home.”
He smiles and kisses my temple. “Pretty soon we’ll be at NC State and we’ll be going home together.”
I sigh as I kiss him on the cheek. “I can’t wait for the summer to be over.”
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