"You don't know, Jenny. Maybe you'll decide you don't like Florida after all … and come back here." Tommy Maurer gazed at her, his expression hopeful. "I mean, this is your home, right?"
Nerves or excitement, most likely a combination of both, brought a burst of laughter from Jenny Bryant. That day had had such a dreamlike quality to it, even with all the reminders that this was no dream. This was reality. It was really happening--the airport, the planes that could be seen taxiing to their gates through the huge windows, the plane ticket and boarding pass clutched between her hands.
How long had it been since she'd been that happy? Since she'd had so much to look forward to?
"This is always going to be my home, Tommy," she assured him. "I'll miss everybody. But I know I'm going to love Florida. I almost can't even wait to get there."
Again she laughed. Even to her, she sounded like a little kid that had been let loose in a toy store. Yet, she wasn't a child anymore. She was eighteen and bound for college, bound for adventure, too.
Uncle Cam and Aunt Louisa, who for all intents and purposes had been like her own loving parents for the past four years, taking her in after her father died, had thrown her a going-away party. At the last minute her uncle had been unable to drive her to the airport. No need to worry, though, because Tommy had come to her rescue.
"You're in more of a hurry to leave us than we are to see you go," he teased.
She smiled, tilting her head back to look up at her longtime friend. "Oh, that's not true."
"It's--it's not that I'm not happy for you, Jenny. I really am. I'm proud of you."
That drew her attention. She swelled, never having heard those words--I'm proud of you--from anyone other than her father and aunt and uncle.
"And this is such a great time, huh?" She sought to include him, letting him know she was also proud of him. "Look--you just graduated from the academy. I have to come back and visit. I want to see you in your uniform. See that patch on your shoulder that says," she paused to trace an invisible patch on the sleeve of his old gray sweatshirt, "WINDY HARBOR POLICE DEPT."
That at least made him laugh, the way she pronounced department as dept. She felt an unexpected ripple in her abdomen, imagining him in the full uniform of a patrolman. And something else--a wave of concern, quickly subdued. Just at the thought of her tall, lanky friend, only a couple years older than she was, possibly being injured in the line of duty. Or worse.
Tommy lowered his head and shuffled his feet. "You gonna write to me, right? Keep in touch?"
"Sure, I will!" She stopped, listening to the airline's announcement over the PA system and automatically consulting her boarding pass. "Oh--they're calling my row. 'Bye, Tommy."
The embrace was supposed to be quick, a goodbye expressed physically. But it seemed he held her tighter than he'd ever held her, for seconds longer than Jenny could remember him ever holding her … which was rare.
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