Focus (Page 50)

“Why not just call and ask Levi?” Anne fidgeted with her watch. “It’s his parents.”

“That would be the easy solution, but he’d probably just tell me to wear something short and red.”

Hailey laughed. “So, then, just wear what you want.”

“I will. But I need to study first. Anyone want to grab coffee and head over to the library?”

“I’m up for the coffee part…” Tiffany said. “I’m sick of studying though.”

“All right, that works.”

Anne looked like she was considering the question carefully. “I’m up for both.”

“Hail?”

“Have you ever seen me turn down caffeine?”

“Good point.”

We grabbed sweatshirts and headed over to the Rue, one of the campus coffee shops.

I sipped my mocha while catching up with my friends. Mostly everyone was excited about vacation. Anne and Tiffany were excited about going home, but I still didn’t know what I was going to do. I’d been avoiding my mom’s calls, knowing she’d want to know what day to expect me. Her messages said something about skiing in Vermont. There was no way she was going to take no for an answer again, but I didn’t feel like I was ready to bring Levi home. Unfortunately, I knew with certainty I wasn’t going to be allowed to go alone.

“Hey Allie, wait a sec,” Hailey said as we got ready to head to the library. She gestured for the others to go ahead.

“Yeah?”

“If you want me to go home with you over break, you just have to ask.”

“I couldn’t ask. It’s Christmas. You’re supposed to be with your family.”

She took a sip of her coffee. “You spent Thanksgiving with mine. I can spend Christmas with yours.”

“Won’t your family mind, or think it’s weird you’re going instead of Levi?”

“No, they’ll get it.”

“Well, thanks. I’ll think about it.”

“Good.”

***

Two hours later, we packed up our books and headed back to the dorm. I decided on a V-neck black dress, figuring I’d rather be overdressed than under.

“You look great.” Levi grinned when he saw me. He was wearing a sports coat, making me instantly glad I’d gone for the dress.

He opened the car door for me. “So this is okay for tonight then?”

“Your dress? It’s perfect.”

I tried to push away the nerves as we drove over. If Levi noticed, he didn’t say anything. All too soon, he pulled up in front of his large, white house. With tall columns and wrap around porches, it was the kind of house you expected to see in a magazine. He took my hand, and I found myself walking into a two-story foyer. Without a word, he moved behind me and took off my cardigan. I shivered a little, my bare skin not used to the temperature of the house.

“Hi, honey.” Helen greeted Levi with a hug, before pulling me into one too.

“Hi, Helen.” I smiled and saw Robert coming from over her shoulder.

Robert stopped right next to us. “Allison, looking lovely as always.”

“Thank you.” I fought myself to make eye contact. He still made me so nervous.

“Come in, come in. We haven’t talked much lately.” Helen led me into a formal living room. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Levi and his dad disappearing into another room.

Helen must have noticed me looking. “Robert and Levi need to chat about your trip.”

“Oh, okay,” I said absently. Really I was trying to take in all of the details of the place.

“Can I get you something to drink?” Helen stopped in front of a small bar.

“Only if you’re fixing something for yourself.”

“How about a glass of wine? We’ll need to open some for dinner anyway.”

“Perfect.”

She opened a bottle and poured two glasses. I settled into a cream loveseat while I waited. Helen came to sit down in a chair across from me.

“So, tell me, how was the trip?”

“It was interesting.”

“I know those proceedings can be really boring, but it’s important that Levi had you there.”

“I don’t really get why. I don’t see how having me there makes him look more powerful.”

Helen smiled and took a sip of her red wine. “Don’t ever forget your importance. Levi needs you.”

“I wonder if he knows that.”

“He does. Trust me.”

“What do I know?” Levi put his hands on my shoulders. The contact warmed me.

“How important Allie is to you.”

He bent down and whispered in my ear. “Oh, I know.”

“Are you two ready?” Helen asked.

“Yeah, Dad’s already in the dining room.” Levi came around to take my hand and walked me to the other room. I glanced back and saw his mom beaming as she looked at us.

I was half expecting a servant to bring in the food, but Helen placed four bowls of salad on the table. “I hope you like steak, sweetie. These two always want meat.”

“Yes, I eat everything,” I answered quickly.

Robert turned his attention to me. “Allie, I’m glad you were able to join us tonight. I have been meaning to talk to you about something.”

I tensed. I doubted anything he had to say was good.

“How set are you on continuing your studies at Tulane after this year?”

“Do you mean whether I want to transfer?” Where was this coming from?

“Not exactly. It’s just that there are a lot of great online programs available now.”

“Online programs? What is this about?” I looked at Levi but his face was blank.

“Levi and I were just discussing your plans after he graduates and you get married this summer.”

Married…I knew Robert thought that, but it was strange to actually hear him say it.

“Levi’s going to be taking over international relations for me starting in August.”

“International relations?”

“Yes. You two will have the opportunity to see a lot of the world.”

“And how does my education fit in? You don’t expect me to drop out of school, do you?”

“I already mentioned online opportunities.” Robert looked at me with just a hint of a smile.

“I want to be a biochemistry major. I can’t take all of those classes online.”

“I’m sure you’ll find something more suitable to that environment then.” His smile became more of a sneer, and for the first time, I was able to see beneath his charm to something else entirely.