Her Secret

Chapter 1

The grass ebbed in obedience to the whims and flicks of the wind, revealing an underside of silvery green. It was an unpredictable dance; grace in motion, as the Santa Anas made their way across the hill. She watched with quiet yes as the grass swayed to the silent rhythm of the breeze, letting it calm her soul and steal her thoughts. It had been three days since she last saw him and his loss pulled violently at her gut as she allowed her grief to rise. She never got to tell him the truth about so many things.
Everything required effort; breathing out, breathing in, staying put in one place. Nothing was easy. As she watched the grass, her feet sunk deeper into the soil. The same black dirt that coated her fingertips filled the creases between her toes. She let her gaze fall to the fresh mound of earth at her side. Without thought, she dusted her hands off on her thighs leaving black smudges across her creamy silk skirt. Ivory had never worn well against her pale skin, but she’d been saving this dress for a special occasion, and nothing seemed more fitting than this morning.
What she wouldn’t give for one more day with him. There was no way to know that things would end up like this. Regret stung in the corners of her eyes as she fought back the desire to have made more out of their time together. Regret was a liar. She hated that saying about hindsight always being 20/20, it wasn’t fair.
“I did the best I could,” she whispered as tears traced a path down the sides of her nose and stumbled over her lips. They hit the dirt like thunder cracking across the sky. She closed her eyes and pretended she was anywhere else….

Warm sea salt sprayed across her bronzed face.
“You missed!” She laughed and lifted her legs in a halfhearted attempt at dodging his next splash. The Pacific Ocean tossed into foam around her as the waves fell back into alignment with the coastline. The sand of Hapuna Beach buried her palms as she tilted her head back and laughed again.
“If you think you’re going to splash me from there, you might want to re-think your strategy.” He grinned and waded his way out of the turquoise water.
“Oh, you mean like relocating closer to to my target?” She scurried to her feet just as he wrapped his arms around her waist.
“Henry, don’t you dare!” But it was too late. Henry had her up over his shoulder and was knee-deep in the waves while she struggled to break his grasp.
“Henry!” He swung her off his shoulder and held her close as he dunked both of them in the ocean up to their shoulders.
“You really need to trust me more,” he smiled. The water lapped around their bodies, an unusually calm day for this beach. She smiled back, wrapped her arms around him and kissed him.

A rumbling engine cut through her sun-kissed memory and she twisted her spine to drop her chin over her shoulder. Joshua left the SUV running as she grabbed the thin leather heel straps of her sandals. She wiped the tears from her face and sniffed. Her brown hair whipped across her face as she squinted her eyes and blurred the dune grass into one watery painting, a painting that tossed and turned as she stared..
“I love you,” she whispered and as if pushed by the hand of the wind, turned to go. Joshua put his car in park watching the wind send Ivy’s hair every direction. He swore he could see the glare from her ring finger as she wiped tears from her face.
“Man, that will never get old,” he smiled softy. He followed her up to the car with his eyes, entranced by the wild ways of the partnership between the wind and her hair. The passenger door clicked open.
“Ivy Jones, you’re a beautiful thing, you know.” She stared back at him with glossy eyes, her pale face smudged with dirt.
“Joshua Driggs, you sure know how to charm a girl,” Ivy cooed. She slid into the leather seat beside him and closed out the Santa Anas with the slamming of a door.

One Year Earlier
”Henry, hold up, you’re being ridiculous,” Joshua spat. Even though they’d been best friends since childhood, the ways they exasperated each other were endless.
“Dude, why do you always have to get so dramatic about things,” Henry scoffed. “I’m not being ridiculous, I’m just telling the truth.” The plane hummed around them as bright light poured through the rounded windows and spilled onto their laps.
“All I’m saying is, there’s got to be more to the story. You’ve been talking about this girl for months now, and all of a sudden you just stop?” Joshua questioned. “I never even got to meet her - you didn’t even show me a picture!” Henry shrugged and reached up to rub his forehead before resting it against the window, squinting into the sun.
“Would you just let it go already - I have,” Henry mumbled. “We never took a picture together, it just wasn’t a priority.” Joshua tapped Henry’s shoulder with the back of his hand.
“Hey, I’m sorry. It’s just that last thing you told me was that you thought you loved this girl, and now you don’t want to talk about it at all. We definitely don’t have to, but for the record, I still have no idea what happened.”
“Neither do I, Josh,” Henry said into the window.
This is your captain speaking. We’re beginning our descent into Palm Springs. The temperature on the ground is a nice 77 degrees with a slight wind at 9 miles per hour. Thank you for choosing Sinoma Airlines today, we hope to see you again soon. Flight attendants, please prepare the cabin for our arriv—
The intensity of the sudden turbulence knocked Joshua’s water into his lap and sent Henry’s face sailing sideways into the window.

Joshua drove into Malibu and as they rode, he rested his hand lovingly on Ivy’s leg. She cupped his hand in hers and traced the outline of his fingers.
“Do you ever feel uncomfortable about the way things happened,” she asked. “Like we’re gaining something from losing Henry?” Josh glanced over at her.
“When you say it that way, it sounds kind of twisted,” he replied. “I don’t think about it like that.” He squeezed her hand and thumbed the gold band on her ring finger, watching as the yellow diamond swung side to side. Ivy smirked.
“Remember when I told you that four carats was an excessive choice?” Joshua laughed, his eyes lighting up as he navigated the 101. Ivy nuzzled up to his ear and whispered, “an excessive choice that I’m really glad you made.” She kissed him on the cheek and squeezed his arm.
“I love you babe.”
“I love you, too,” Joshua smiled again. “I had so much fun with you this morning. I didn’t think an engagement shoot would ever be a thing I would do, but I’d do anything with you.” Ivy sat back in her seat and held tightly onto Joshua’s free hand. She tilted her head back into her headrest and closed her eyes. She felt that familiar pang in her chest of missing Henry.
“Anything with you,” she said.

Five Months Before Palm Springs
The bell hanging loosely on the upper edge of the door frame gave a half-hearted ring as Ivy pushed her way into the cafe. She didn’t mind doing things alone, it was the feeling of being alone surrounded by a crowd she couldn’t stand. Lazily, she made her way across the worn wood letting her bare feet scuff at her heels. Pieces of sand scurried out of her way, leftovers from the beach that lived just outside. Sliding onto a bar stool, she grabbed the curved edges of leather and gazed up at the menu staring down at her. She didn’t feel like choosing, and by the third time reading the menu through, she really didn’t feel like it. She blew a platinum strand of hair out of her face and turned her chair, bumping her elbow into the hip of someone reading the menu beside her.
“Oops, I’m so sorry!” Her hand shot up to her mouth. “You okay?”
“Totally fine,” the subject of her stray elbow said. “Nothing a little shot of espresso and some eggs can’t fix.” He smiled and held out his hand. “I’m Henry.” Ivy hated this part.
“Julia,” she grabbed his hand and gave it a firm shake. “Julia Stone. Current menu peruser who is stumped on what to order.” Henry gave a solid laugh.
“You can’t go wrong at this place. If you like eggs, the baked omelette is the way to go.” Ivy smiled.
“Thanks for the recommendation,” she said. “At this point, I’d order anything, so I’m thankful to be pointed in the right direction.”
“You know,” Henry said, shoving his hands down into his pockets. “I don’t believe in right directions, only choices.” Ivy cocked her right eyebrow up.
“Care to join me for breakfast and explain that one to me?” she asked. A smile crept on Henry’s face as he nodded his chin to the floor.
“I mean, it’s the least you can do for bruising my hip.”