Surrender My Love (Love in Bloom_ The Bradens)(3)

By: Melissa Foster


“Annalise.”

Leesa scowled at her and whispered, “Leesa, please.” She’d been using the name Leesa only since she’d arrived in Peaceful Harbor. Despite Tegan assuring her that no one here would have heard about what she went through back in Towson, Annalise wasn’t taking any chances—and so she’d become Leesa. At least for now.

“Okay, sorry. Then that can mean only that you’re thinking about the loser kid who ruined your life.” She closed the magazine and set it aside. “Want to talk about it?”

“I’m sick of talking about it, Teg. I’ve lived it for too long already. Weeks of investigations, interviews, endless questions, defending myself against something I didn’t do. I didn’t just lose my career. I also lost the Girl Power group I ran, and you know how I loved that.” Girl Power was a confidence- and self-esteem-building group for girls, which she’d run a chapter of for several years. She missed the girls terribly. Thankfully, her friend Patty, who had helped her run the group, had taken it over. Leesa wished she could forget the last few weeks of her life, but how could she when she’d worked hard to become a teacher and then one false accusation from a twelve-year-old boy had stolen it—and her almost two-year relationship with Chris Megraw—away. She felt sick even thinking about being accused of fondling a student.

“Yes, you did, but you won. The charges were dropped,” Tegan reminded her.

“I’m not sure there’s any winning or losing in that situation. In the eyes of everyone in Towson—the town where I grew up, for God’s sake—I’m forever tainted.” Leesa had built a great reputation as a seventh-grade English teacher, had a strong support system of friends and peers, and she’d thought she had a boyfriend who loved her. What a farce that was. She’d been put on administrative leave and endured an invasive investigation. By the time the investigators declared the accusations unfounded and the charges were dropped, enough seeds of doubt had been planted that she saw questions in the eyes of even her strongest supporters—or she thought she did. She was smart enough to know that what she’d gone through could have just screwed up her perception. But really, she wouldn’t blame anyone for wondering. It was the boy’s word against hers.

Tegan took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “That’s why you’re here. To start over.”

“I don’t know if I’m actually starting over here. I still have the offer for the position in Baltimore to decide on, but I’m hoping a few weeks of being here will give me some answers. I just need time to breathe. To process it all and put some space between me and what happened.”

“You’re starting over,” Tegan insisted. “I know they offered you another teaching position in Baltimore, but, Anna—Leesa—you don’t know anyone in Baltimore. Here you’ve got me.” She batted her eyelashes, and Leesa’s heart tugged at how much Tegan’s belief in her innocence meant to her. “Besides, no one here knows about any of that, and they won’t care, because you weren’t guilty. That little prick tried to ruin you, but he didn’t. You’re here, you’re whole, and you’re starting over.”

She cringed at the words little prick. Andy Darren, the twelve-year-old boy who had accused her of inappropriately touching him, had never admitted he’d lied, but Leesa still didn’t harbor ill feelings toward him.

“It’s not Andy’s fault. He’s a kid. He had no idea about the impact his lies would have on my life.”

She was angry at the situation, but Andy had opened up his young heart to her and admitted that he’d had a crush on her, and she’d turned him away. She’d done it in a professional, kind manner, but still, it had probably stung. Maybe if she could have hard feelings toward the boy, it would be easier for her to move past what happened, but she simply couldn’t muster them. She’d begun tutoring him after a car hit him and left him with two broken legs, broken ribs, a fractured hip, and a fractured hand. He had a long recovery time ahead of him. He was going through a treacherous time, set apart from all his friends, unsure about regaining his ability to walk and the full use of his hand, while trying to maintain his grades. He was angry and depressed, and Leesa had been so focused on their private tutoring sessions, helping him remain on grade level so he wouldn’t fall behind his friends in school, that she hadn’t thought he was serious when he’d told her that she’d pay for turning him away. She’d thought he was just upset and would get over it by their next session.

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