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FORGET ABOUT ME

a nostalgic romantic comedy

Boston Classics #2

Ben Porter may be living the dream, but it’s not his.

His dad’s health scare might not be the ideal reason to come home for the summer, but it’s a welcome break from the stellar glitz of Ben’s life in Los Angeles. Even if modeling has him rivaling Marky Mark’s fame, posing isn’t his passion. Landing a role with a Boston Shakespeare theater brings him closer to fulfilling his dreams of being a real actor.

Facing the reason he went west in the first place? That’s another story.

Lucy Minola’s dreams were shattered seven years ago when a drunk driver smashed into her brother’s car. She knows it was her fault. So as penance, she works hard to care for her family, goes to confession faithfully, and buries all the feelings she had for the person who left when she needed him most: her brother’s best friend.

When an injured dog brings them back together, Lucy’s good-girl façade begins to crack. Women everywhere are obsessed with the rad bod they see in magazines, but she’s the only one Ben seems to notice.

She can’t trust herself with the man who walked away… but can she let him go a second time?

This bittersweet romance, Book #2 in Karen Grey’s 1980’s Boston Classics series, proves that everyone deserves a second chance in love and in life.

 

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EXCERPT

 

CHAPTER ONE

“You May Be Right” – Billy Joel

Lucy’s Keep on Truckin’ Mixtape, Song #3

BEN

Falling in love, killing a guy by accident and mortally wounding myself when it appears that my bride has taken her life is a lot. Doing it six times in four days is just too much. The addition of two weekend matinees to Shakespeare Boston’s Romeo and Juliet schedule must be taking its toll. Still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. This year—just like the past seven—began in Los Angeles, where modeling work has dominated my life, keeping me far from home and too busy to do theater. Six months into 1988, due to circumstances I never expected to face, I’m back in Boston performing for a live audience. It feeds my soul, so I don’t care if I’m exhausted.

I’m tired at the end of every weekend, but on this particular late-August Monday morning, I might be hallucinating. Adrenaline spiking, heart in my throat, it takes a few beats for me to figure out what just happened. My hands grip the railing that kept me from falling off my second-floor porch as I take in the lump I just tripped over on my way out the door.

It’s a mottled gray color, and I think that’s fur. Not moving, though. Wondering if it’s alive, I step closer. It makes a snuffling noise, unfolding itself, and I release the breath I’ve been holding. It’s not some weird package from a mega-fan; it’s a dog. With tufted brows and a whiskery muzzle, he looks like the dog in that movie when we were kids—Benji.

“Where the heck did you come from, little guy?”

Where did he come from?

My heart takes off again, and I scan the backyard. Thankfully, no rabid fans or paparazzi seem to be lurking in the bushes. I’ve worked hard to keep this address a secret. I don’t want my dad or his neighbors to have to deal with that level of crazy. Habitually, I check one particular neighbor’s back yard, but as usual, it’s empty. No one at that house is a fan of mine, that’s for sure.

Eyes back on my visitor, I squat and hold out the back of my hand, just like Lucy taught me to do back when we were kids. He sniffs it, gives it a polite lick, then holds up his paw like he wants to shake hands. When I reach for it, though, he whimpers.

“It’s okay, buddy,” I say soothingly, but it actually looks like he’s not okay. The paw is bleeding.

“Sorry, dude. I guess we should do something about that.” Looks like my run isn’t happening this morning. Maintaining a contractually mandated body- fat ratio and weight and muscle definition was way easier out in Los Angeles, where I had access to Callum Keen Enterprise’s in-house chefs and gym along with a daily routine full of go-sees, meetings and shoots. I could skip today’s workout, but that’s a slippery slope. Next thing you know, I’ll be eating steak and pasta.

Ah, pasta. I miss you so. Not as much as a certain former neighbor, but at least there’s a chance I’ll have you again.

An image of a steaming plate of spaghetti and meatballs presented to me with the most beautiful smile I’ve ever known hovers in my mind for a few precious moments. A guy can dream. But right now, this guy needs to take care of a mutt.

“Come on in, buddy.”

The dog looks at me before limping over the threshold. I have a few first aid supplies, but I have no idea how to take care of a wound on an animal.

Three wasted Band-Aids later, I give up. “I think you need a vet.”

Seven summers ago, the love of my life worked at an animal hospital over in Somerville, Massachusetts—one of the many satellite towns surrounding Boston—and just a couple miles from my dad’s house here in Arlington. I gave her a ride to work most mornings. Spending that time together led to a whole series of incidents. Some are the sweetest memories I have.

Some still give me nightmares.

The dog lies down with a harrumph.

“I don’t even have anything to feed you. Unless you like brown rice?”

He rolls over on his side, his tail thump lacking enthusiasm.

“Yeah, I didn’t think so.”

That vet’s office is the only one I know of. Lucy probably doesn’t work there anymore. I have no idea what she’s doing now.

I’d likely know everything about her—heck, I’d probably be married to her—if I wasn’t responsible for her brother’s death.

 

Half an hour later, I’m in an antiseptic waiting room, filling out forms on a clipboard. The dog is on the chair next to me. I’m not sure if that’s allowed, but nobody has told him to move. I’ve never actually been inside a vet’s office. I always just dropped Lucy off out front, and my dad and I never had a pet growing up. I would’ve loved a dog, but my dad always seemed to have enough on his plate with running a business and taking care of me.

It feels pretty much like being at a regular doctor’s office. The floor is linoleum instead of industrial carpet and the posters and artwork on the walls are of dogs and cats instead of humans, but the feel of nervous anticipation is pretty much the same.

I give up on the forms and go back to the middle-aged receptionist with the heavy Boston accent. “Since I just found him this morning, I don’t know the answer to any of these questions.”

She gives me a look like she doesn’t quite believe me and makes some sort of notation before sliding the papers into a folder. “Have a seat.”

“Do you have any idea how long it’ll take? I have to get to work soon.”

“Would you prefer to come back?” She flips through a large datebook. “I could get you in tomorrow or call you if we have a cancellation today.”

“Yeah, I drive a delivery truck, so there’s no way to call me.” I look back at the dog, who’s got quite the baleful look on his face. “I’ll wait.”

“Someone will be out as soon as we have an opening.”

When I sit back down, the dog sighs quietly. He’s remarkably calm, despite the rabbit scrabbling in a cage next to us and a yappy little dog across the room. Even the cat stalking along the top of the reception counter doesn’t seem to faze my guy.

I check my watch. Maybe I should make an appointment and come back tomorrow. His wound is still oozing blood, though, and I don’t want it to get infected. I’ve had a few like it myself, growing up in and around my dad’s woodshop. Do dogs get tetanus shots, too?

After I’ve gone through all the magazines in the waiting room—which, thankfully, are pet magazines, so I don’t have to encounter photos of myself—I go back to the desk. The gatekeeper’s on the phone, so I give her my most winning smile, hoping she can do something to get us in soon.

“Porter?”

I turn from the receptionist’s frown to face the girl I wasn’t sure I’d ever see again, and it’s like one of those movie moments where the music swells and the light gets rosy.

For half a second. When I really look at her, it’s like the needle scratches across the record and the light blinks back to harsh fluorescent.

I do catch a flash of something in her wide-set, brown eyes. Luciana Maria Minola taught me what passion looked, felt and sounded like when we were barely adults. I’ve never encountered anything as intense with anyone else. There’s a half second where it zings back and forth between us, as strong as ever.

Until the dog interrupts our staring contest with a sharp bark.

She closes her eyes and takes a quick breath. When she opens them again, a cloak of professionalism smothers any remaining fire. Quickly dropping her eyes to the chart in her hands, she asks, “Does the dog have a name?”

All I can think is please Lucy, just yell at me because this fake niceness will kill me. “Uh, no. I just found him. Or her. I’m not sure.”

She takes a quick look at the dog’s undercarriage. “Okay, little man, let’s take you to a room so we can figure out what’s going on here.” She slips a leash that doubles as a collar over his bare neck. She heads out of the waiting area, the dog limping at her side.

I hesitate. “His foot—I mean, his—uh, paw.” I seem to have forgotten how to speak English. I could probably recite some Shakespeare. Mercutio has a few lines about a cat and a rat that might be appropriate since I’m pretty sure the latter is how Lucy would describe me.

“You can go with them.” The receptionist’s amused tone breaks through the fog Lucy’s left me in. “You’re the dog’s owner, right?”

I stare at the woman, not sure of how to answer the question.

She shakes her head and points, as if she understands that just being in Lucy’s presence makes all men act like idiots. “Just follow them down the hall.”

“Oh. Yeah. Okay.”

A few wrong turns later, after I surprise an old guy holding an enormous hissing cat and a goth girl with what I think is a ferret, I finally stumble into the correct exam room. The dog’s on his back on an exam table. Lucy is rubbing his chest, cooing sweet nothings. My privates jolt with jealousy. Moving across the country, immersing myself in work, even dating other people—none of it has dimmed her effect on me.

I perch on a bench, again not sure if it’s for humans or animals or both, and clasp my hands in front of the one part of my body that’s sure of itself at the moment, willing it to sit, stay and behave. Lucy was my best friend’s sister. Taking advantage of her in the past had disastrous consequences. I don’t deserve to even think of how delicious her soft skin tasted or how beautiful her hair looked sprawled out on a pillow.

“So, we’ve got a puncture wound.” Her voice is sharp. “He’s a stray?”

I sit up, begging my frontal lobe to work. “Yeah. He just showed up at my house this morning. I opened the front door, and there he was holding up his paw.” I imitate the dog’s pose. “It was bloody, but I couldn’t find anything in there. Maybe he got it out himself.”

“Yeah, that happens. No collar or anything?”

“No, and I haven’t seen him around before.”

“Okay, well, you have a couple of choices here.” Eyes on the chart, her tone grows even more businesslike. Each clipped word erases another chunk of our past. “You can take responsibility for him financially, as well as committ to take care of him until you find the owner—assuming you’re able to find them. If no one claims him, you can either choose to adopt him or look for someone else to adopt him. Or you can surrender him to us, and we’ll take care of him and try to find him a home. Or you can take him to the shelter, where they’ll deal with him, which may include euthanasia, depending on how many dogs they already have on board.”

Finally, her face reveals some emotion. It’s crystal clear what she thinks of options two and three. If I choose either, anything good she ever felt for me will be buried forever.

She may be right, it’s definitely crazy, but maybe it’s a lunatic she’s looking for, as Billy Joel would say. The song, featured in one of the many mixtapes Lucy made for me, echoes in my mind as I try to find words. “You know I never had a dog. I have no idea whether I can take care of him or what to do⁠—⁠”

She snaps the chart closed. “Okay, then. You can either take him to Animal Contr⁠—⁠”

“No. I don’t—⁠” I swallow whatever I was going to say and wipe damp palms on my shorts. I’m fucking this up already. “I’m just saying, I might need help. I can pay. I just don’t know what to do, how to take care of a dog. Like, can he ride around with me in the delivery truck?”

She finally looks directly at me. “You’re still delivering cabinets? Didn’t you finish college and move away?”

“I did. I’m… helping out my dad right now.” I’m kind of surprised she doesn’t know more about my situation. Her mom always had a finger on the pulse of Arlington gossip, plus it seems like half of Boston has read or heard all kinds of things about me. A few of them are actually true.

“Huh.” She gives me a cryptic look before pulling something out of her pocket and shifting the dog’s position on the table.

“In fact, I’m actually kind of late to do some deliveries. Do you know how much longer this will take?”

As I watch her go through the dog’s fur with a fine-toothed comb, it burns to be treated like just another customer, but also, it’s pretty cool to see little Lucy all grown up. The way she moves is different. Precise. Self-assured.

“Well, he’s got fleas, and he’s a bit underweight. Since it’s possible he’s been on his own for a while, I would recommend that we keep him for a few hours—give him shots, do a test for worms, which he likely has, and treat him for those as well as the fleas. The vet will look him over and decide whether this wound needs an antibiotic. You can pick him up anytime between four and five o’clock.”

“Wait—you’re not the vet?” I look around the room for the answer, as if the posters on the wall warning of the dangers of diseases I can’t pronounce might enlighten me.

She drops the comb in a box on the counter, keeping a hand on the dog. “No, I’d still be in vet school if I’d gone that route. I dropped out of UMass after—after Tony—and moved back home.” Her eyes don’t stray from her examination of the dog. “I’ve worked my way up from assistant to animal technician.”

My heart plummets. I’m such an idiot.

She scratches out a few notes on the chart. “Just a warning: the tests, the shots and everything? It’s not going to be cheap.”

I’m still grappling with the fact that the accident robbed her of her future, as if losing her brother wasn’t bad enough. “Yeah, uh, sure. That’s fine.”

She shifts the dog to the floor.

Even though each pained look from her is another punch in my gut, I’m not ready to lose her again, so I start babbling. “I guess I need to get some supplies, but I don’t know what he needs. I suppose I can just ask the people at the pet store and they can tell me. Maybe there’s a book I can read on⁠—⁠”

She groans, placing a palm in the space between us. “Stop. Pick him up at five, and I’ll meet you at the Pet Palace after dinner. Without me there, they’ll upsell you on everything. Seven thirty. Got it?”

I squelch a triumphant smile and give her a thankful one instead. “Okay. Great. Thanks.”

Halfway out the door, she turns back. “Do you want to give him a name or should I?”

“Oh.” Another chance to do something right. “I can do it.”

Problem is, I never was good at improvisation. My brain is full of Shakespeare, so I sift through some of those names, mumbling, “Uh… Romeo? No… Paris?” Then it hits me. The mischievous fairy that brings lovers back together. “What about Puck?”

This gets the dog barking, but Lucy isn’t impressed. “Like in hockey?”

Her confusion’s warranted. I never played the sport, though Tony and I were on a ton of other teams together. “No, like the character in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Remember, we did that in high school?”

She nods curtly, her mouth tight. Tony was in the play, too. “Puck it is.”

When the door shuts behind them, I sink back onto the bench. “I’ll see you guys later. I’ll miss you.” My voice drops to a whisper even though I’m alone. Again. “I’ve been missing you.”

I’ve met hundreds of drop-dead gorgeous women since leaving Arlington for Los Angeles. Not a single one measured up to Lucy. Not a one had her easy, musical laugh. Not a one had skin as soft as hers or curves that I couldn’t resist. Not a one had caramel-colored eyes that lit with pleasure when they caught mine or cheeks that turned from olive to rosy when she said my name.

That ease, that softness, that color—they’ve all disappeared.

And it’s all my fault.

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