Prelude (An Alec Winters Series, Book 1)

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Chapter 5

They won the 1992 State Championship that year and the full and satisfying routine that filled Alec’s junior year continued throughout his final year of school. Hope of winning the 1993 State Championship was also a good bet with Alec leading the team. Other than recruiters who attempted to steal him away from LSU, little changed during his senior year. Each game brought at least one of four recruiters from the top ten NCAA College Football teams to watch him play football and win. Most often, it was a recruiter from Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, or Florida State. On occasion, Oregon showed up. Each one was there to keep an eye on him and assess his talents.

“It’s only smooth sailing now, Alec,” Coach Taylor assured him.

It was true. Now, as a senior, Alec felt more confident than ever about his future. The talks with LSU were in the final stages and the scholarship package offered was better than he could’ve imagined. Coach Taylor had made sure Alec played a recruitable position and it had paid off handsomely. He’d have a full ride to the college of his choice. Moreover, Baton Rouge was only eighty miles away. It was certainly close enough to visit his family and Sabrina as often as he liked. For Alec, that was the critical selling point.

On this particular evening, Alec once again walked Sabrina home. Chaz followed at a modest distance to allow them some privacy, but as usual, Alec waved him forward to join them. Chaz was always happy about being included, however, he was anxious to get on with their studies.

“I’ll see you after work,” Alec promised as he tenderly kissed Sabrina goodbye.

“Take your time,” she agreed. “Spend some extra time with Cat…she needs you Alec. You’re practically both mother and father to her. You should have dinner with your sister tonight.”

“You’re right. That’s a great idea and I’ll do it, but I’ll be back as quickly as I can,” Alec promised before kissing Sabrina once more. Chaz kicked at imaginary debris on the sidewalk, waiting patiently for the couples evening ritual to end.

“Great,” Chaz commented with only a tiny bit of ire even though Sabrina shot him a cross glare. “What?” Chaz exhaled, looking surprised at her reprimand. “That gives us a few more minutes to study for this massive chemistry exam. This new teacher is kicking our butts.”

“Oh, and Alec,” Sabrina added, “If you need the entire evening with Cat, that’s fine too. Chaz and I will study until ten o’clock, but I have to be in bed by eleven. I have to be up extra early tomorrow to get everything ready for Mother’s birthday. I love you. If I miss you tonight, know how happy I’ll be to see you tomorrow.”

Business at the market was unusually slow that evening. There was very little for Alec to do. In all reality, he would rather stay busy while working. It didn’t matter to him whether he bagged groceries, stocked shelves, swept and mopped aisles, or did any other number of odd jobs at the family owned grocery. He simply liked to work and keep his body moving.

The simple tasks kept his mind occupied and held the normal worries about his sister and mother at bay. It kept him from thinking too much about the problems at home. Cat’s unidentified fears and Cassidy’s unrelenting lethargy worried him often. Overall, the busy-work calmed him.

Knowledge that the grocery store had been in operation for four generations gave Alec a sense of permanence and belonging. It was something he really needed. He’d often felt different, as if he didn’t quite fit in or belong, as if he was born during the wrong era. Places and things that had been around for a long time seemed to balance the scales and even out those unsteady emotions.

Intellectually, he knew that the feelings of being different were normal teenage-angst. Catalina, now thirteen, was going through that troubling time also and he sympathized with her. It was rare for any adolescent to feel a true connection because each was still trying to figure things out and find his or her way. Alec realized that the years between thirteen and nineteen were often both scary and exciting. They certainly were for him. He also understood that those who did associate with like-minded friends or beliefs would tenaciously cling to their group throughout high school and on into adulthood. It provided a much-needed safety net for them.

Still, the longevity of his workplace was an added bonus. It was the same with the home on Carrollton Avenue. It had been in his family for more than five generations. How much more, he wasn’t sure. He only knew it was a safe haven for his family, or was it. Cat’s fearful expression loomed in the back of his mind. Her tear-streaked face ripped the ideal of happy home to shreds. Within seconds, the notion was gone.

Such an ideal of happy home was an illusion anyway, he bitterly acknowledged.

Alec recalled that the crying and objections about being home alone with their parents had started the previous year and continued into the current year. Cat had even put away her drawing supplies as if the art she’d once loved no longer gave her any joy. Feeling overwhelmed, and that there wasn’t anything he could do anyway, Alec had ignored all of it. Even now, unsure how to process the emotions he felt when he thought about his sister’s unhappiness, he shoved the images and the guilt away. Although it still percolated on the back burner of his mind, Alec forced himself to concentrate on the more pleasant thoughts of Sabrina.

My God, but she’s beautiful, Alec silently acknowledged as he shelved a box of canned soup and allowed Sabrina to take over his thoughts. I can’t imagine a more enjoyable life than one where I’m wrapped in her welcoming and loving arms every night.

Alec had first met Sabrina when the freshmen of several area middle schools converged into one central high school where he was already a sophomore. Sabrina had attended Catholic school until the end of eighth grade, and even though she’d been friends with Chaz through church and other neighborhood affiliations, Alec had never met her.

Even at fourteen years of age, Sabrina was the epitome of a desirable French-Cajun beauty with dark hair, olive eyes, and a creamy, flawless complexion. She was five feet eight inches tall with a slender, yoga body. She fit into his arms perfectly, and while holding her close, he always felt as if he was the luckiest person alive. The combination of her confidence, intellect, and appearance was exceptional. In fact, she was the entire package, and as such, she intimidated both male and female students alike.

She is too beautiful, Alec silently realized.

Her beauty caused girls to hate her and boys to feel as if they didn’t have a chance with her. She had acquired the nickname of ‘tutu’ because she was too smart, too beautiful, too much. Because of her positive attributes, Sabrina didn’t fit in either. Alec shared that bond with her as well. The feelings of exclusion and separation from the other students had bound their hearts even more closely together.

As far as he was concerned, she was miles ahead of the other female students who threw themselves in his path, begging to be his girl. Alec wasn’t blind. He knew they wanted him to choose one of them. However, from the day he first met Sabrina, he’d only had eyes for her. A fleeting glimpse of Danaé popped into his mind, but he easily brushed the unbidden thought aside.

When he’d first seen Sabrina, he’d felt an overwhelming desire to take her arm and to look into her eyes. Instead, the thought of talking to her made him feel shy and awkward which was unusual for his natural self-assuredness. A slight blush had crept up his face as he tried to gather the courage to introduce himself. He wrestled with the idea while she took the initiative.

“You’re Alec Winters. My good friend Chaz Lambert talks about you all the time. I think you’d like to walk me home today,” she’d said with a smile as she unflinchingly gazed into his clear blue eyes. He walked her home after practice that day and the connection between them felt instant.

They talked too long and time raced by making him late for his shift at the grocery store. To him, it felt as if he could talk to her for hours on end. Silences were never empty with Sabrina. Somehow, the conversation continued on some other plane as if their hearts already knew the story. They were inseparable and in love from that moment on.

No one thought their love would last, not even Chaz. They were on divergent paths for the future. Well-meaning parents and school advisors cautioned that young love couldn’t last, that it burned too brightly and quickly, but they were wrong. The love Alec and Sabrina shared was committed; their bond was enduring and everlasting. They were completely, utterly in love. More importantly, they shared a ‘first love.’

First love, that first experience of sharing heart and soul with another, is the strongest. The heart is fresh and open to possibilities. The soul is eager to intertwine. The flame of first love is the brightest and most intense. Nothing can ever compare to it. Never having felt the sting of disappointment or betrayal, first love has its own energy and beauty…a magical quality that can’t be dampened, dispelled, or discredited. Alec knew that Sabrina was the one for him. He was ever aware that she was all he’d ever want or desire in a woman.

As the woman of his dreams, Alec had their immediate future carefully planned out. He’d spent countless hours planning a life that would benefit each of them. He’d attend LSU while Sabrina went to Tulane. After graduation from college, he’d get a good job while she continued medical school. They’d marry and have their own home, living anywhere she wanted. It was a great plan. One that kept his mind occupied while working part time at Lang’s Market.

“Hey Alec!” Johnson, the store manager called out. The booming voice startled him out of the reverie. “Quit daydreaming about that pretty little girlfriend and pack up dinner for the family. It’s nearly closing time, but it’s slow tonight and I need to get out of here a few minutes early. My wife has plans for this big, beautiful brown body of mine.” Johnson chuckled softly before adding, “It’s our anniversary.”

Alec selected small deli items that he knew Cat would enjoy and packed up half a stroganoff for his own dinner. He boxed two brownies separately to complete the meal. He knew that Cassidy wouldn’t eat anything and that his dad often ate at the bar or drank his dinner. There was no need to pack anything for either of them. Although Alec usually had something to eat at Sabrina’s home, tonight he’d have dinner with Cat. Then, if that didn’t take too long, he’d visit Sabrina before she went to bed at eleven.

It was a good plan, and he was satisfied with it, but the well-worn routine unwittingly had become a rut. Same old, same old wouldn’t cut it anymore. The quarterback of life’s big game was about to change Alec’s life forever.

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