By: K.A. Linde
Copyright © 2013 K.A. Linde
All Rights Reserved. This book may not be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission from the author. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. All characters and storylines are the property of the author and your support and respect is appreciated.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Following Me will be released at all major retailers (Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Smashwords, Kobo) on June 21, 2013!
Devon Sawyer skipped to the next song on her iPod and adjusted the small earbuds to fit more comfortably. She bobbed her head to the '90s punk rock blasting through her headphones, her blonde hair falling around her face. She was thankful that no one else was clued in to her choice of music. She wanted to listen to something that felt comfortable to her, and her older brother's music always did the trick.
The train rattled along on its course. It had pulled out of the countryside and moved into the suburbs until it would finally reach the heart of Chicago. During the six-hour train ride from St. Louis into the city, Devon couldn't quit biting her nails. They weren't particularly long to start out with, but they were quickly turning into stubs.
Her feet tapped softly against the carpeted floor as she stared out the closed window at the passing flatlands and cornfields prominent in the Midwest. Since stepping onto the first train with nothing more than her purse and carry-on suitcase, she hadn't paid much attention to anything. Although she was still focused on the end of term and her immediate departure, she couldn't stop thinking about the one thing she didn't want to think about.
But she had made her decision. For better or for worse, she had left St. Louis.
"Next stop, Chicago Union Station," the conductor called over the intercom.
Devon popped up from her daydream. One of her earbuds fell out as she straightened in her seat. She looked down at the open notebook sitting in her lap. Words filled the pages, but she couldn't remember writing them down. Reading the first few lines only intensified her despair, and she decided not to continue with the rest at the moment.
A stewardess walked through the cabin, smiling at the passengers as she stamped their tickets. Devon had the last seat on the train, and the woman was fast approaching her. She averted her eyes, hoping the woman would just leave her be. The last thing she wanted was to talk to a peppy stewardess.
Devon was out of luck.
"Miss," the stewardess said, leaning into her chair.
Devon ignored her.
"Miss. Excuse me, miss?"
Devon pulled out the other earbud, shut her notebook, and turned to face the woman. "Yes?"
"Did you want anything else from the cart before we enter the station?"
"No, thank you," Devon answered.
"Here, let me stamp your ticket," she said, reaching out her hand.
Devon bent down to retrieve her bag, and then she began rifling through it to locate the ticket.
"So, why are you traveling to Chicago?" the woman asked, making polite conversation.
"Just meeting a friend," Devon said.
"That sounds fun," she said.
When Devon glanced up at her, the woman gave her an even bigger smile.
"How long are you staying?"
"Uh…" Devon murmured, trailing off as if looking into her bag distracted her. "As long as I want, I guess. Haven't really thought that far."
"Wow! You're just picking up and going?" the stewardess asked, surprised.
"It's my summer break, and I have some friends in the city," Devon told her, not sure why she felt like she had to justify it.
"Neat. Are you at a school in St. Louis then?"
She finally located her ticket and handed it to the woman. Devon was ready for the woman to leave. "Yep. Washington University."
"That's a great school! My son always wanted to go there, but we just couldn't afford a private school, you know?" She placed a stamp on the ticket and returned it to Devon.
"Sure," Devon said, not really understanding.
Her parents had told her she could go to whatever school she wanted. They were songwriters in Nashville, and business was good. Devon had wanted to start over and move far away from the South into a new city. Her parents would have preferred an Ivy League education if she were going to leave, but Devon hadn't gotten into the Big Three.
Wash U was close enough to Ivy anyway. Plus, as soon as she had stepped onto campus, she had fallen in love with the school. Everything from the brick castle-like edifices to the large open grounds to the people she had met on her tour had pulled her in completely. She had spent the last three years there, and now, she didn't know if she would ever go back.
Swallowing down the lump in her throat, Devon reminded herself that she had made the right decision by leaving. She had to get away. She just needed to keep telling herself that.
The train began to slow as high-rises flew past the surrounding windows.
"That's my cue!" The stewardess jumped up. "Have a fun trip in Chicago," she called before bustling about through the cabin.
Devon stood and collected her bags. The passengers were cast into darkness as they rolled into Chicago Union Station. As the train rattled to a stop on the tracks, she pushed her way through the crowd. She was more than ready to be off the train. A man swung his bag backward, catching her in the ribs, and she grunted.
"Sorry," the guy muttered, not even glancing at her.
Devon knew she was on the shorter side, but she wished people would be more considerate. She pushed past him and got off the train, struggling to bring air back into her lungs.
As the crowd headed for the exit, people jostled her on all sides. Relieved to be out of the fray, Devon lugged her bag with effort into the train station. It was white marble in every direction with a high-arch glass ceiling, enormous pillar entranceways, and benched seating. Standing there to admire it all, Devon thought it was beautiful.
She had only been to Chicago once with her parents during her junior year of high school. They'd had some kind of music appearance, and she had spent most of her time in the hotel room while her younger sister had followed her parents around the event. The record label her parents worked for had put them up in a suite, and in no particular order, Devon had alternated between the Jacuzzi tub, pool table, and minibar. She had regretted not getting to see much more of the city.
She craned her neck, looking around the giant room for her friend. Hadley was supposed to be picking her up. Devon wasn't about to try to traverse the subway or L all by herself.
She turned around and nearly ran smack dab into someone.
"Sorry," she muttered, moving around the stranger.
Then, she found Hadley standing there. She was staring down at her cell phone, ignoring the masses swarming around her.
"Hadley!" Devon called. "Hadley Bishop!"
Hadley turned around and rushed toward Devon. "Hey," she cried, throwing her arms around Devon. "So glad you made it. I just couldn't believe it when you called and said you were coming to the city!" Hadley released her and took a step back.
"I know. I'm so last minute," Devon said.
"Oh, whatever," Hadley said shoving her phone into her front pocket. "You know you always have a place with me."
"Thanks," Devon said appreciatively.
"Need help with anything?" Hadley asked, looking Devon up and down to see if she had other stuff with her.
"Nope. Just this." Devon motioned to her oversized purse and suitcase.
"Alrighty! This way then," Hadley told her, motioning back toward the trains.
Devon followed with a smile plastered on her face. She had missed her friend more than life itself. Hadley had graduated from Wash U in December, leaving Devon without a roommate for the spring semester. Hadley always did exactly what she wanted. For instance, she had graduated early, moved to Chicago, and accepted a job at a high-end marketing firm. It was just something Devon would have never thought to do. In fact, this whole trip was something that Hadley, not Devon, would do.
Thankfully, Hadley knew her way around the metro. They took a seat on the train, and Devon angled her body to face her friend. She had forgotten how much they looked alike.
Devon's parents had always said that she looked like country music royalty. She didn't know if it was because she had a small, curvy body that looked great on camera or because her mother had started bleaching her naturally light brown hair in middle school. Magnifying the country music image, her parents had dressed her in cowboy boots and a hat, had her belt out every song on the radio, and paraded her around to every music venue they could get her into. Since leaving for St. Louis, she had resisted all of these things except for her blonde hair. She hadn't been able to get rid of the blonde.
Hadley was taller than Devon by a couple of inches. They had the same blonde hair. Though Devon had seen Hadley change it to black, brown, red, and every color in between in the two and a half years they had lived together. They used to have similar styles, but now Hadley was moving toward business professional, and Devon was stuck in her jeans, even in the summer heat. It made Devon wish she had packed some dresses.
"So," Hadley began, "are you hungry?" She crossed her right leg over her left, crinkling her grey pantsuit.
She looked positively radiant. Devon wasn't sure she had ever seen Hadley quite like this.
"Yes, I am," Devon said staring at her friend. "There's something different about you. I can't put my finger on it."
"I moved in with someone!" Hadley squeaked, unable to hold in her excitement.
"Already?" Devon asked, her mouth falling open. "You've only been here for six months!"
"I know! It's so new and so fresh, and I probably shouldn't, but I did. I just had to! Wait until you meet him. You'll see he's perfect!" Hadley gushed.
Devon tried to keep her smile as natural as possible. She had hoped that they would spend time together, just the two of them, like old times. Not that she wasn't happy for her friend. She was. It would just be different.
"Congrats. I'm so happy for you," Devon told her. "That must be why you're practically glowing."
"You have no idea, Dev. You'll get to meet him tonight. Can't wait!"
The L slowed down and Hadley stood, indicating that this was their stop. Devon stared down the stairs, cursing the person who had decided escalators weren't needed in this town. Flying down the stairs in front of Devon, Hadley seemed to forget her earlier offer of assistance. Devon grumbled under her breath as she hauled her bag to the ground level.
"We're going to go this restaurant that I love. It's kind of a you-have-to-know-it type of place. I think you'll like it. It's right around the block, so let's eat first, and then we'll take your stuff to my place," Hadley said, walking into traffic without a backward glance.
She's going to kill herself, Devon thought. She waited for traffic to stop before following Hadley.
"What is this place?" Devon asked when she finally caught up. As she rolled her suitcase behind her, it made clicking sounds every time it hit a bump in the sidewalk.
"Just a restaurant. Nothing fancy, but my friend Brennan works there as a bartender. It's the place right now if you know what I mean," she said.
Hadley turned down an alleyway and then immediately walked into a restaurant. Devon hadn't even seen the door. She read the sign, Jenn's Restaurant,over the door and went inside.
Hadley was right about the restaurant. It wasn't anything fancy, but the place was slammed. It was on the smaller side, and all the tables and booths were full of young professionals still in their suits after leaving work. Although some had stripped down to their button-up shirts, Devon felt woefully underdressed even if the atmosphere was welcoming.
As Hadley veered through the crowd, people on all sides called out hellos to her. She elbowed a couple out of the way and took the last two remaining seats in front of the bar.
"You're popular," Devon muttered, plopping down in the seat next to her.
Hadley had always been popular though. She radiated energy, and people seemed to gravitate toward her spontaneous personality. Hadley always seemed to be going, going, going and waiting for life to catch up with her. Devon had missed Hadley's fast-paced mindset.
Hadley just shrugged with a confident smile on her face. "Ay! Walker!" she called, leaning over the edge of the bar. When he didn't immediately respond she called out again, "Brennan!"
The bartender turned in their direction and shot Hadley an exasperated expression. He was good-looking in the she-shouldn't-go-anywhere-near-that kind of way. He had devious eyes and a knowing smile that made Devon wonder what secrets he had tucked up his sleeves. He wore a barback uniform of black slacks and a white button-up rolled up to his elbows with a towel slung over his shoulder. His brown hair was styled in a way that made it appear he hadn't spent any time on it.
"Gimme me a minute, Hadley. I'm with a customer," Brennan called.
"What do I look like?" she asked with a sassy smile.
"An annoyance," he said loud enough for everyone to hear.
While the other customers snickered like this interaction was commonplace, Devon was having a hard time peeling her eyes off of the bartender.
He definitely has bad news written all over his pretty face, she thought
Hadley huffed but slumped back into her seat with a roll of her eyes. "He's always like this. You can't get his attention even when it's not this busy."
Devon nodded, feeling completely out of her depth in the big city.
A couple minutes later, Brennan walked over to them and rested his forearms on the front of the bar. He cocked a smile like he owned the place. "The usual?"
"Yeah." As Brennan began pouring her drink, Hadley continued, "This is my friend Devon. She's here visiting on her summer break."
"Hey," he said, tipping his head at her while he mixed the drinks. "I'm Brennan."
"Hey," Devon murmured back, meeting his gaze.
"Where ya from?" He slid Hadley's drink toward her and began making another.
"Well, I go to Wash U in St. Louis, but my parents live in Nashville," she told him.
He slid a mostly clear drink across the bar to her. Devon cautiously picked it up.
"You don't seem much like a Southern belle to me," he observed.
"You'd be surprised," Hadley butted in. "Her parents work in the country music industry. She's a Southern belle through and through."
"Huh," he said as if contemplating this information.
Then, he just shrugged his shoulders like he had come to a conclusion. Devon wondered what it was.
"Well, you two having dinner?"
"Yeah," Hadley told him. "I'll have the chicken, and she's going to want the shrimp."
Devon glanced over at her in frustration. They hadn't even looked at a menu.
"I promise you'll like it, Dev. Don't worry!"
Brennan nodded and then left to go put in their orders. Devon noticed he wasn't bad to look at from the backside either.
"I'm so glad you're here," Hadley cried, throwing her arms around Devon. "I have so much to show you. How long can I keep you?"
"Oh," Devon began, not yet figuring out how to have this conversation, "only for a week or so probably."
"Well, when is your return ticket?" Hadley asked.
"I didn't get one," Devon said.
It was totally something Devon would have never done. She always came with a plan, but this hadn't been planned. She had decided she was leaving, and then she had left. She had needed to get away and leave the life that was haunting her, destroying her. It hadn't been an easy decision.
But she couldn't tell Hadley any of that. Devon was so happy to see her friend, and maybe all she needed was a week or so for things to get better. She couldn't run away from her life forever even if she wanted to.
"Whoa!" Hadley cried, putting her hand on Devon's forehead. "You're turning into me. How is Reid taking all of this?"
"Oh, Reid's fine," Devon told her. "He's, you know, perfect."
Hadley gagged. "If that boy could get any more perfect, I'd fall dead."
Devon offered a stilted laugh. "Yeah, me too."
"I'm just surprised he didn't bring his ass with you. You two were connected at the hip last year."
"Well, he's spending a lot of time at home in Kansas City. Plus, he has to start applying to med schools this year. I know he wants to go to Wash U since his dad is a legacy. It's one of the best in the country, but he's also applying elsewhere," Devon informed her, feeling like she'd had this conversation too many times already.
"That just means I get you all to myself," Hadley said, grabbing Devon's arm and pulling her close. "Lucky me."
"Yep. Lucky you," Devon responded, wincing.
Thanks for reading chapter 1! Following Me will be released at all major retailers (Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Smashwords, Kobo) on June 21, 2013!
Leave a comment to let me know what you thought!