It Had to Be You | Chapter 39 of 49

Author: Susan May Warren | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2865 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 2

1977

John Christiansen had no right to ignore her. Not after she’d held pressure to his wound, fetched him water, and even helped him lie to his parents about the accident.

Ingrid had spent the year remembering that moment when she’d pushed back the hospital curtain, holding the glass of water, and he’d looked up at her, surprise on his face. Sure, it faded in a second, and then, after a moment, he’d loosened up, and they’d collaborated on a story to tell his parents.

Not that she liked lying, but . . . well, maybe it showed him that she could be trusted. That they could be friends.

She’d spent a year preparing for this week in Deep Haven, losing a few pounds, scouting through Kari’s wardrobe to find the right attire. She’d even purchased some contraband Cosmopolitan magazines to teach her how to apply makeup.

She deserved notice this year. Especially since Kari boycotted the trip north. Without her beautiful big sister to distract him, John would see Ingrid and realize that he missed her, even if just a little.

But ever since her arrival, he’d dodged her. Like when she went to the outfitter’s shack to offer to help him pack up supplies for a group of adventurers. He’d barely acknowledged her presence as he filled Duluth Packs with camping equipment and homemade granola.

And then later, when he’d hung out at the dock, she’d worn her new red bathing suit, the one-piece that tied behind her neck and showed off her curves.

He’d barely looked at her, even when she dove off the dock, swam out to the floating platform.

Finally, last night at the campfire, she’d watched him through the flames, sitting across from her, laughing at one of his sister’s jokes. “Your marshmallow’s about to burn,” she said, one second before it torched.

He’d jumped up, shaken it, and didn’t even look at her. As if it were her fault it turned to ash.

Now Ingrid stared at her choices, laid out on the bed. She’d planned on wearing a jumpsuit, one of her sister’s discards, with a red scarf at her neck. Instead, she reached for the jeans, a halter top, a jean jacket.

If he was going to ignore her, then she’d ignore him, too. She pulled on the jeans, the top, then parted her hair in the middle and gathered it into two long ponytails.

She should stop trying to be Kari. John Christiansen simply wasn’t going to notice her, and she had to stop dreaming.

“Back by ten,” her father said as he handed her the keys to the Pontiac. She refused to search for John, to glance at the basketball court or maybe the grilling deck as she left the resort.

But his battered truck, which now looked a little like crinkled newspaper, wasn’t in the lot.

The summer sun warmed her arm as she hung it out the window, heading toward town. The sultry smell of campfires lingered in the air; the lazy sound of a band seasoned the festivities as she pulled into town and found a spot next to the drive-in ice cream parlor.

Sawhorses cordoned off the four blocks where vendors hawked fish cakes, popcorn, and cotton candy. Down the street, she heard the whine of a chain saw and spied, on a stage, two contestants sawing apart a log. Wood chips flew from the power; dust feathered the air.

On the beach, tourists lounged on picnic blankets while children threw rocks into the waves of Lake Superior, indigo blue under the clear skies.

The whirring stopped, and she turned back, saw one of the contestants pounding his fist into the air.

The announcer introduced the next contestants. Her breath caught in her chest when she heard John’s name.

He mounted the platform, and she just stared. He wore a black T-shirt, a pair of faded flared-bottom jeans, and work boots. His shaggy dark hair stuck out of a mesh gimme cap, and he appeared bigger, stronger, his body chiseled from those hours as a football player. She’d heard from her parents’ conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Christiansen that he’d made varsity defense last year.

He ripped the chain saw’s cord, holding the machine as if it were a toy. It roared to life, and he gunned it.

Then the starter pistol cracked, and he set the saw onto the log, about the size of a tire, chewing through it, first down, then back up, shearing off a chunk of wood five inches deep. It fell like a saucer onto the pile of sawdust, and he lifted the saw above his head. They announced his time, and she didn’t care how he did.

Clearly she hadn’t a hope of ignoring John Christiansen.

Ingrid stayed in the crowd, standing just far enough away to watch him as he jumped off the platform, glad-handed his football pals, local boys who’d emerged from the woods for the festival. Most of them worked as trail guides or loggers during the summer months.

The tourists —big-city kids —mingled in their own cadre of camaraderie, smoking and eyeing the local girls, who’d dolled up for the weekend festival. John made it to the final two, fighting it out against a Paul Bunyan the size of an ox. The crowd went wild when the hometown boy won the match.

Ingrid tried not to be pitiful as she lingered behind John and his friends. She wasn’t spying, just . . .

“Hey, John, sign up for the fish toss! Let’s see if you can win that, too!”

She watched as they stopped in front of the booth, his buddies scribbling their names to register. She recognized Nathan, John’s friend from the hospital. He’d filled out this past year, his hair long, to his shoulders. He wore a cast on his arm.

John shook his head. “And who am I going to toss with, dude?” He gave Nathan a push and grinned.

“But you have a title to defend.”

“Yeah, our title. If you hadn’t decided to go dirt-biking —”

“I’ll do it with you.”

The words issued from her mouth before she could stop them, and they had the effect of parting the crowd. John turned, looked at her, and for a second, time stopped, her heart lodging in her ribs.

His blue eyes darkened and he frowned, took a breath.

“Hey, yeah. I remember you. Ingrid, right?” This from Nathan, who stepped past John and drew his arm around her shoulders. “You were there last year, after the accident.”

“Nate —” John started, warning in his tone. But Nathan directed her toward the booth.

“You’re a guest at Evergreen Resort, right?”

She nodded as he shoved a pencil in her hand.

“See, John. She’ll help you defend your honor.”

But John didn’t move. “I don’t need help defending anything.”

She wrote down her name, then turned and handed him the pencil.

He stared at her. The first time in a week, he looked at her.

He was angry with her. She read it in his pursed lips, the way he sighed. And the look of annoyance in his eyes.

Like maybe she knew too much. Like maybe he didn’t want her remembering his mistakes. No, he hadn’t just been ignoring her. He’d been trying to erase her.

She bit her lip, turned back to the sheet, and began to scratch out her name.

“Fine. Yeah. Let’s toss a fish.”

Her eyes burned, and she blinked back moisture. “No, forget it.”

“I said yes, okay?” He came up behind her and nearly grabbed the pencil from her grip. “Yes.”

“No, I don’t want to —”

“Ingrid.”

She looked away from him, but he leaned down, found her eyes. And made a face. “I’m sorry. It’s cool. C’mon, for Evergreen?” Then he gave her a one-sided, chagrined smile.

She couldn’t speak, but she didn’t stop him from penciling in his name next to hers.

His hand on her arm burned as he led her away to the ice chest to choose a slimy northern pike to toss.

She stared at the fish, stiff and clammy. “You don’t have to do this.”

“Yeah, actually, I do.” He leaned down, picked up a fish. “Really, I’m sorry I’m such a jerk.”

She stared at the fish —the gray-black skin shiny, the eye bulging out of its long, lean head almost as if it might be in shock. “What do I do with it?”

“We stand apart and toss it. You gotta catch it, or we’re out. Then we take a step back and repeat. The last team to catch the fish wins.”

She held out her hands, and he dumped the fish into it. It smelled, and slimy goo slipped off its body onto her skin.

John laughed and she looked at him. “What?”

“Your expression. It’s priceless.”

“This is gross.”

“Mmm-hmm,” he said. He reached out and pulled one of her ponytails. “I have to admit, Ingrid, you’re nothing like Kari.”

He shook his head, walking away, and she wasn’t sure that was a compliment.

dingbat

She wouldn’t last the first round. John watched Ingrid’s nose wrinkle as she handled the fish, trying to find a grip along its slimy body, and he just barely stopped himself from shaking his head in defeat.

He should have simply walked away. The second she piped up from where she’d been shadowing him, he should have pretended not to hear her. But then Nate had to go and rope her in and . . .

Right then, the image of her standing in the hospital a year ago, looking so worried, so compassionate, blood staining her overalls, rushed at him, and he just froze.

It wasn’t her fault that Kari left the gravel pit with Craig, that John’s parents —when they discovered his lie —had grounded him for six months. That his truck resembled a crushed can of Tab. Seeing her this week brought it all back, along with the searing prick of humiliation, and he’d done his best to dodge her.

Until now.

What he’d seen in her blue eyes, something raw and desperate . . . he’d recognized it. He’d stared at his own desperation in the mirror more times than he could remember this year, longing to yank back his stupid challenge to Craig.

Clearly Ingrid hadn’t gotten over her crush on him. He wasn’t stupid —he saw how she followed him, how she’d tried to get his attention by diving off the dock, making a big deal about swimming out to the floating platform. And at the campfire, her invasive gaze kept him from paying attention. He’d nearly lit the forest on fire with his marshmallow.

All the same, as she stood there in front of his friends, in front of Deep Haven, he just couldn’t hurt her.

Besides, if his father found out he’d turned down a longtime guest at the resort . . . well, he might just be grounded for another six months.

So he’d toss her the fish, she’d drop it, and they’d all go home happy.

“Let’s practice,” he said and gave her a grin his father would be proud of.

She stepped back, grabbing the fish behind the gills with both hands. “It’s really slippery.”

He laughed. “It’s a fish. Have you ever caught a football before?”

She shook her head. “But I play volleyball and softball.”

Really? He didn’t know that. Which accounted for the way she swam out to the floating dock, the strength with which she pulled herself out of the water. And yes, he’d noticed her curves as she wrung out her hair. He was a red-blooded male after all.

“You want to hold the fish with two hands underneath it.” He took the fish, showing her how to grip it behind its gills with one hand, the other around the small of its body, right before the tail. “You’ll sort of launch the fish at me, keeping the head up, so it lands in my hands the same way.”

He tossed the fish at her, and to his shock, she caught it.

So maybe they’d last the first round.

“If you have to, get your body into it. You can pin it to yourself, hug it to keep it from sliding away.”

“Gross.”

He laughed, but his smile vanished as they practiced.

Wow. Nothing like Kari at all. In fact, he couldn’t even imagine Kari touching the fish, let alone cradling it in her arms. “Just keep a tight hold on it, and don’t let it wiggle away.”

She looked at him, her eyes big, and nodded.

She had pretty eyes. Blue with flecks of green around the edges. Like the lake on a sultry summer day. He hadn’t really noticed that before.

The announcer called for them to line up, and he took a spot next to Eli Hueston, a running back a couple years younger than himself. “You’re going down, Hueston.”

Eli grinned at him. “You’re throwing with a girl.”

He had John there. John held out his hands. “Okay, don’t overthrow —”

She swung it toward him, stronger than he’d expected, and he caught it with both hands, just above his shoulder.

“Sorry!”

So maybe she had the arm strength to get them to round two.

Eli had also caught his fish, along with the string of other locals. Only a couple tourists at the end had dropped their catch. The entire line backed up.

“Ready?”

She nodded and crouched as if she might be ready to field a grounder, and he had to grin at the determination on her face. He flung the fish, and she bit her bottom lip as she held out her hands, catching it like a pro.

Her face lit up, bright and sweet. “Got it!”

Two more contestants went down, and they backed up.

“Northern pike comin’ your way!” She flung it hard, and he took a step back catching it away from his body. The fish had begun to dry; it made it easier to hold.

Which was probably why she caught the next pass, twirling in a circle with the momentum. She held the fish above her head to the roar of the crowd.

He looked down the row, saw that only Eli, himself, and two others remained.

Ingrid grinned at him, bent low, warmed up with a swing, and then let the fish fly.

He caught it, but it slipped and he bobbled it. Finally he wrapped his arms around it and hugged it to his body, the head near his own.

“Getting friendly with the marine life, Johnny boy?” Nate called. John made a face at him but grinned when two more contestants went down.

He and Eli remained. John blew out a breath.

Eli went first, and John watched the fish soar through the air toward Clay Nelson. He held his breath as Clay bobbled it, and then the pike dropped with a smack onto the pavement.

A groan released from the crowd. John glanced at Ingrid, and she had him in her gaze, something solid and calm in her expression. She smiled, and strangely, he felt it slide over him, through him, and touch his bones.

He nodded, took a step, and flung the fish.

He tossed it poorly. Short and high, like a pop fly, and he groaned.

But she moved like a softball player, getting under it, her eyes following it down as she held out her arms, angling for the right catch.

It smacked into her embrace, and she curled it into her body.

The crowd roared as she turned to John. Then she held the fish high like a trophy, slime covering her tank top, grinning as if she’d won the World Series.

He came toward her as she dropped the fish. Without thinking, he swept her up in a hug. More instinct than intent, it just felt right to pull her to himself, swing her around. Her arms went around his neck, and her body molded to his, small, strong, as if they fit.

It jolted him, this sudden closeness, and heat zapped through him, a surprising rush of warmth.

Appreciation. Respect —that’s what he’d call it. He put her down, and she looked up at him, drinking him in with those way-too-pretty eyes.

And he realized if he didn’t watch himself, he’d be in big trouble. Because no, Ingrid was nothing at all like her sister.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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