Follow Me Back

By: A. Meredith Walters

For Gwyn

Remember that true love should never be conditional.





prologue





aubrey


trust.

Faith.

Belief.

Every relationship is built on them. Without these three words, everything around you would crumble. I wasn’t sure if these were things Maxx and I had ever had.

So how do you begin a future without the foundation it needs to thrive? How could I believe in a life that had only just begun when I wasn’t sure I could trust the man I was building it with?

I wanted to. In my heart I had an unwavering optimism that this time it would be different. That we were different.

But our past was a twisted, ugly thing and it was difficult to move on from it. No matter how much we wanted to. It lay in wait. Poised and ready for the moment when we thought we had finally worked through our demons.

Then they would strike. Distrust. Suspicion. Doubt. They were the poison in our souls that threatened to undo everything. But there was the light. The glimmer of possibility that shone out of our dark. It was hope. And that was just as powerful.

But as much as I tried to trust, I could never truly forget. That heart, brimming with this illogical hope, wouldn’t let me.

So how do we build a life on such a shaky foundation? One painful brick at a time. And just maybe we’d find our happily ever after.

Before our past burned it to the ground.





chapter

one





aubrey


“miss Duncan, you have been asked here today to discuss the allegations that have been lodged against you in regard to your behavior toward a member of the support group you had been co-facilitating. These allegations describe a personal and inappropriate relationship that is a clear violation of our ethical codes of conduct.”

I looked steadily at the three people who sat at the table in front of me. I picked at the skin around my fingernails and tried not to fidget in my seat. My day of reckoning was here.

I was nervous. I’d be an idiot if I weren’t. This was the possible end of all of my dreams and aspirations. Three years of hard work crumbling around me. But losing my place in the Longwood University counseling program wasn’t what kept me awake at night for the past two weeks. It wasn’t what had my insides twisted into knots and tears drying on my cheeks.

My state of emotional upheaval could only be attributed to one thing. One pivotal moment that had shredded my soul and threatened to unravel me.

Saying good-bye to Maxx Demelo. Choosing my sanity over his pain. Leaving him when he needed me the most. And even though our dysfunctional love had almost ruined me, I still couldn’t shake the guilt.

But I wasn’t defeated yet. It was time to be a grown-up and face the consequences of my disastrous choices head-on. It was my only option now that I had lost the person I had thrown everything away for.

Dr. Lowell, my academic adviser, sat beside two of her university colleagues. She was stoically looking at the paper in her hands. Her mouth was pinched and her brow was furrowed. She was upset and disappointed in me. And she had every right to be.

I had been her most promising student. I had a good GPA. I had been on the fast track to a great career as a substance abuse counselor. I had taken my future seriously.

Until the day Maxx had walked into the support group and blown my life apart. Now when she looked at me, all she saw was a screwup. It sucked.

“We have read over your written statement and it seems you aren’t denying the allegations. Is that correct, Miss Duncan?” Dr. Jamison, the head of the Counseling Department, asked, pursing his lips. He looked at me over the rim of his wire-framed glasses, condemnation written all over his face. Obviously he had already made up his mind about me. And it wasn’t favorable.

I sat up straight and squared my shoulders. I took a deep breath and readied myself. Because all I could do was be completely and totally truthful. I was long overdue for a healthy dose of honesty.

“That’s correct, Dr. Jamison. I admit to engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a member of the substance abuse support group. As I wrote in my statement, I was aware that my actions were a violation of the code of conduct and I accept any and all disciplinary action.” I was proud of the fact that my voice never wavered. I didn’t cry, whimper, or plead. I would take my punishment, whatever it may be. Inside, however, I was crumbling.

Dr. Jamison looked at Professor Bradley, a slight woman with obviously dyed brown hair and a nasty habit of mixing plaids with stripes, and said something under his breath. He then turned to Dr. Lowell, who continued to keep her head down. Dr. Lowell nodded, her hands clenched on the table in front of her.

They talked quietly among themselves while I fiddled with a piece of string hanging from the hem of my skirt. I looked at the clock on the wall. It was a little after one. I had been in this chair, sitting in front of my judge and jury, for only half an hour, but it felt like forever.

I knew that my friends Renee Alston and Brooks Hamlin were waiting for me out in the hallway. Brooks would be pacing the floor, while Renee twisted her hands in her lap. I could practically feel their anxiety through the walls.

Anxiety I should have shared . . . if it weren’t for the shards of a broken heart piercing my chest.

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