Home > Homecoming (Empire High #6)

Homecoming (Empire High #6)
Author: Ivy Smoak

 


Chapter 1


Saturday

Matt

I took a deep breath as I put my foot down on the gas. I thought any second now I’d start panicking. But I felt eerily calm with my decision.

There was a reason I’d proposed to Brooklyn when we were so young. Because I’d always known what I wanted.

A wife.

Children.

A family.

A home.

I’d wanted all of it with Brooklyn. When I first saw her step into Empire High, it was like I could see it. There was a piece of her missing. And I wanted to fill it. I wanted to be enough for her.

I’d pictured saying “I do” in front of all our friends. I’d pictured a house full of kids. I’d pictured painting our kitchen yellow to remind her of her mother. And drinking hot chocolate on snow days. I’d desperately wanted all of it.

But when she passed away, I told myself I couldn’t have those things. I’d promised her forever.

And I’d been drowning ever since.

I’d let myself miss Brooklyn so much that I’d forgotten I needed to live my life. But I knew what I wanted now. I knew what I needed. And I didn’t think Brooklyn would be upset about it. If anything, she’d be furious that I’d been taking time on this earth for granted. Because if there was one thing we both knew, it was that you were never promised another day.

Mourning her for the past 16 years was torture. I was destructive in everything I did. And if I kept going the way I was…my time would be cut short.

I took another deep breath as I turned down the street toward Kennedy’s apartment. I was still waiting for the panic to set in.

But…it didn’t. This was right. I was allowed to move on. I had to move on.

I pulled into an empty spot outside Kennedy’s apartment, cut the engine, and took a few more deep breaths. Kennedy was Brooklyn’s best friend. My head told me this was all wrong. But my heart? I was falling in love with her.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out Brooklyn’s engagement ring. At the time I’d given it to her, it had meant everything to me. Passing on a family heirloom to her in hopes of creating our own family.

I’d dug it up from the spot by her grave because I thought it would feel like an end. Like giving me my heart back. And it did.

The mud and grime caked on it didn’t take away from its beauty. I’d get it cleaned later this week. And once it was all clean…I’d put it in the room with all the paintings of Brooklyn. Or I’d pack it all up in storage. Tucked away somewhere I couldn’t look. To give me the space I needed to find myself again. This ring would always belong to her. But I needed my heart back.

I opened up the glove compartment and placed the ring inside of it. I closed it and took another deep breath.

I’d always love Brooklyn. She’d always have a piece of my heart. But she couldn’t have the whole thing anymore. I still wanted the same things I’d always wanted. And I couldn’t have them with her.

And honestly, the way I was feeling had nothing to do with her. Because I was lying to myself. I wasn’t just falling for Kennedy. I’d already fallen. I’d already made my decision. I was ready to fucking live my life.

I was going to propose to Kennedy. Tonight. I had no ring. Just a bag of to-go fries and some tulips. And I knew that Kennedy wanted to go slow. But I could no longer afford to do things slowly. I’d wasted too much time. And for the first time in 16 years, I felt free. I was happy. I was excited about my future instead of drowning in my past. And it was all because of her.

I’d propose tonight. She wouldn’t care that I didn’t have a ring. Kennedy never cared about stuff like that. She understood that actions were more important than material things. But I’d still find her the perfect ring tomorrow. Something that made me think of her instead of the past. Neither of us needed any more reminders of Brooklyn. We’d always love her. But it was too painful to be reminded of her every single day.

I took another deep breath, waiting for the guilt to seep in. But it didn’t. I felt at peace. I picked up the fries and the tulips and climbed out of my car.

Sixteen years ago, Brooklyn had found her engagement ring. My proposal to her hadn’t been grand. And this time I didn’t even have a ring. You’d think I would have gotten better at this the second time around.

I hit the call button and waited. And waited. I hit it again and there was still no response. I balanced the flowers and bag in one hand and pulled out my phone. Kennedy knew I was coming. I’d just texted her about it when I left the graveyard. I pressed on her name on my phone to call her.

But it went straight to voicemail.

I took a step back on the sidewalk and looked up to the window of her apartment. It was pitch black. Had she fallen asleep? I tried calling her again, but it went straight to voicemail for a second time.

It had been thirty minutes tops since I’d texted her. She’d seemed excited for me to come over. I scrolled through our texts to see if I’d said anything stupid. Sure, that was probably one too many eggplant emojis. But I’d only been joking around. Kind of. Had that scared her off?

Fuck.

What was I doing?

She told me she wanted to take things slowly and I’d basically propositioned her for sex. And I was about to propose. I’d probably lost my mind. But it didn’t feel like I had, and that was somehow even more worrisome.

I hit the call button again, but she still didn’t buzz me up.

A chill ran down my spine and I turned around, but there was no one on the sidewalk behind me. I knew that Jefferson’s mom wasn’t a hitwoman now. And Mr. Pruitt said that he wasn’t having me followed. No one was watching me. But…I still felt uneasy. I couldn’t quite explain it. Like something about the fall air was off. Like something had suddenly shifted. And I had the strongest sense of déjà vu. Like I was here to see Brooklyn instead of Kennedy.

My phone buzzed and I quickly looked down. But it was just a text from Tanner asking me when I’d be home. I sighed and looked back up at Kennedy’s window. I was here to see Kennedy. Not Brooklyn. And I wasn’t against climbing up there. I’d gotten pretty good at it in my teens.

Before I could jump up to grab the bottom of the fire escape ladder, an old man walked out of the building. I ducked inside just as the door was closing. I took the steps two at a time. My heart was hammering against my chest when I reached her floor. But my excitement for the proposal was gone. I was worried something was wrong. Because even if Kennedy hadn’t answered her phone, Mrs. Alcaraz surely would have answered the buzzer. It was almost 11 o’clock. They had to both be home. Just like I was supposed to be home by now, thanks to Tanner’s stupid house guest rules.

I didn’t even glance at Brooklyn’s old apartment door. Something definitely felt off. And now my heart was beating even faster. I hurried over to the Alcaraz’s and knocked.

No response.

I knocked louder.

No response.

“Kennedy!”

No response.

“Mrs. Alcaraz!” I yelled louder and pounded on the door with my fist.

“Shh,” said Kennedy with a sniffle from behind the door.

Not just behind the door. But low. Like she was sitting on the floor. And judging from the sniffle she was definitely crying.

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