Eye on the Prize

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Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Diana was standing in her childhood bedroom. She loved this room because it was beautiful and tranquil. One entire wall featured a beach mural with sand and the bluest crystal-clear water. The other walls were sand-colored, and pretty turquoise curtains adorned the windows. The rug matched the ocean in the mural and the curtains.

Her bed faced the mural so that she could admire the ocean from the comfort of her bed. Soft white string lights outlined the ceiling and lit up her room at night like the moon.

This room soothed her soul, and it was going to be so difficult to leave behind. She was quite sure that her dorm room would be dreary in comparison. Diana took one last look around her bedroom as she went through a mental checklist of everything she needed.

She just finished packing her final bag for college. It felt like she was taking the whole house to move into a teeny tiny dorm room. The room would be sufficient for one person, but for some reason, the college squeezed two people in each dorm room. It was a beautiful summer day during the third week of August. The sun was teasing her by shining brightly through her window. Diana was never one to turn down a perfect beach day. She could almost feel the sun kissing her face, the breeze gently blowing her hair, the sand in between her toes, and a cold drink in her hand. It was a shame to waste such a perfect day traveling in a packed car to the University of Delaware in Newark.

She had never been away from her family before and was beginning to feel apprehensive and uncertain. Diana’s parents were always supportive of her choices, and they shared a loving relationship. She would miss her mother’s nurturing and not seeing both of her parents every day. Most teenagers ran as fast as their legs would take them once given a chance to get out of the house and away from their parents’ watchful eyes. Diana didn’t share that popular opinion.

Her mother had been walking around the house aimlessly like a sad, lost little puppy dog the last few days. She was doing her best to be brave but failing miserably. Diana knew her mother well enough to know her impending move was upsetting and painful for her. Leaving for college was a huge life event for all of them, and the family dynamic was about to change forever. It was going to be a huge adjustment, but they would all survive and thrive in time. Diana’s mother passed her room once again.

“Mom, why don’t you get in here and give me a hug?”

Her mom immediately ran into the room and hugged Diana while bursting into tears.

“Mom, please don’t cry! You are breaking my heart.”

“Diana, I am so sorry, honey. I have been very emotional lately.

You probably won’t believe me with tears running down my face, but I am truly happy for your new adventure. I will miss you so much.”

“You know I am going to miss you just as much. Look, now you have me crying. I will be home before you have a chance to miss me. I promise to drive you crazy when I get back.”

“Sorry, I am doing my best to stop crying. I promise you that I will be fine. I can do this. The last thing I want to do is spoil your big day! My little girl is all grown up.” Her eyes began to tear up again.

“Mom, stop talking. Everything you say will only make you cry again. I believe that you will be alright. Text me any time of the day and night as many times as you want, and I will text back as soon as I get a chance. Don’t expect an answer instantly or panic if the response takes longer than you anticipate. I will be busy taking classes, doing homework, and hopefully socializing.”

“Sweetheart, you are so considerate and thoughtful. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, mom. Oh, and I have some excellent news for you. I just found out this morning that my summer internship in Philadelphia is approved. It means that I will be living at home all summer with you and dad.”

Diana’s mom rewarded her with a kiss and a hug. “I am so proud of you, honey. Your internship is wonderful news, and you made my day. Now stop consoling me because today should be a happy day. Going to college is a marvelous experience for you, and these will be some of the best years of your life. Take it all in and enjoy yourself.”

As they were hugging again, Dad walked into the room.

“Hey, did somebody die? What’s with all of the crying and sad faces? Cheer up. Come on girls, let me see some smiles. You are both too good looking to be crying.”

As usual, Dad offered some much-needed comedy relief. Diana hugged him tightly. “Dad, I was only hugging mom. No one died. You know, Mom cries at everything.”

He chuckled. “I hear what you are saying, but we haven’t even made it to the car yet. We still need to drive to Delaware before we say goodbye. How in the world is she going to survive the drive when she can’t make it through a hug?” He handed her mother a medicine box.

“What is this for?”

“It’s for your allergies, Babe. Your eyes are running.” She punched him in the arm.

Diana and her mother burst out laughing and dried their tears. Dad put a smile on their faces, and they were both very thankful for his

excellent timing. They joined hands and brought it in for a group hug before heading out to the cars. There were so many bags and boxes that they needed to drive two cars. Both vehicles carried so much cargo there was barely enough room for the passengers. One car would remain at the college with Diana.

Diana and her father decided that she should travel with her mother. Today was an emotional day for all of them, but Diana’s mother needed companionship the most at this moment. Maybe some conversation in the car would give her less time to think about how sad she felt.

The ride went smoothly with very little traffic. Upon arrival, the Blue Hen helpers unloaded both vehicles and carried everything to the dorm room. Boxes and students were lining the halls. Everyone had the same goal in mind; unpack and set up the rooms as quickly and efficiently as possible. Diana and her parents were able to set up her space before her roommate arrived. She was going to check-in later, allowing Diana’s family to have the dorm room to themselves.

Considering the small area to work with, the school organized the event to perfection. After Diana and her parents set up the room to her mother’s satisfaction, they ate lunch in the school cafeteria.

After they finished their meal, Dad firmly announced that the time had come to say goodbye. Mom looked as if dad had just struck her. If it were up to her, she would move in with her daughter. The moment had arrived that each of them was dreading. It was time to rip off the band aid. They kissed and hugged and said their temporary goodbyes. Mom barely composed herself, but Diana knew she would most likely cry the entire drive home. She felt relieved knowing that her parents had each other for support. They would be just fine.

A minute or two after they left, she was standing all alone in her dorm room that suddenly felt bigger. She began looking for the box of tissues that she knew her mother brought. For the first time in a long

time, she was overcome with anxiety and loneliness and could not stop the tears falling freely down her face. Although it wasn’t true, it felt as if her parents deserted her and were never coming back.

Diana missed them terribly, but she knew that this was a see you soon instead of a goodbye. Common sense told her that going to college was a necessary transition to help her become an adult. She heard voices directly outside of her door and knew that her roommate had arrived with her family. It was time to get herself together before her roommate saw her crying her eyes out. That was not the first impression she wanted to give. After all, Diana had big plans for herself and needed to be ready to take on the world!

The summer before college Marco took a job as a bar back and bused tables at the popular Rusty Rudder restaurant and outdoor bar in Dewey Beach. He would not be complaining about the breathtaking bayfront view. Marco’s buddy from high school had some connections and was able to get him the summer job. The restaurant offered indoor and outdoor dining and bars. Either option was very spacious and open. The outside portion featured an open patio with a large deck overlooking the bay offering spectacular sunsets. Boaters pulled right up to the dock and walked ashore for some casual fun and live music. People parked their wave runners and some of the pontoons anchored in the water. There was a little beach where people played volleyball, chartered boats, and rented watersport equipment. It was incredibly inviting, fun, and relaxing.

Marco’s coworker offered him a place to stay in return for a little cash to buy alcohol. He was also the designated driver when his roommate needed a safe ride home. Marco readily agreed to both conditions. It would cost a lot less than renting a room for the summer, and he knew he would be awake to give him a ride as he worked most nights.

He visited the beach during the day and was able to see dolphins swimming close to the coast. On rare nights off, he went to see live bands at the Cork & Bottle, North Beach, and the Big Chill. His job at the Rusty Rudder allowed him to listen to the featured live bands every night for free. Live entertainment was the best perk at work and felt more like a festive party due to this beach town’s ambiance. Last summer, his grandmother took him on vacation to Sea Isle City in New Jersey, his first experience down the shore. Every day at the beach seemed like a vacation, and it did not take long for him to fall in love with the lifestyle.

Dewey Beach was similar to Sea Isle City in looks, although it was only half the size. This town was a mile long and two blocks wide with a clean beach that was dog friendly. Dewey Beach was appealing to all ages. Families rode bikes, walked dogs, shopped, and enjoyed

the beach during the day. The nights transformed into a party paradise with live music and bars for the college crowd and young couples who loved the nightlife.

Marco made friends quickly and received regular invites for rides on pontoon boats and wave runners. He even took surf classes at the East of Maui Surf Shop. He was not even close to becoming a great surfer, but he had a blast, and the ladies showered him with plenty of attention. They loved a surfer. It was undoubtedly the best summer of his life. The trailer park Marco grew up in was ugly and easily forgettable.

In comparison, Dewey Beach was appealing and memorable. As a kid, he had no clue that something better existed other than the world where his family struggled to survive. In his opinion, earning money in a beach town was more fun than any other ordinary job. He met a wide variety of people working in the resort town, and most were happy and friendly with good stories to tell. They were on vacation and having a blast. Who wouldn’t be ecstatic in a place like this?

Marco looked forward to visiting again.

He was sad to leave the town that brought him so much happiness, but he was offered a full scholarship at the University of Delaware due to his family situation and good grades. His grandmother passed away suddenly one short week after Marco graduated high school. She was sick with a chronic form of leukemia and refused chemotherapy. Grandma didn’t want Marco to know that she was ill, and treatments would have made her hair fall out. She would not live for much longer with treatment, so she chose to forgo the discomfort. She gave up on her will to live as soon as she raised her grandson, and he was fully grown. He was in no way prepared to experience a loss as devastating as his mother’s death. Marco’s grandmother held a special place in his heart. She took him into her life unconditionally without a second thought and was selfless. He was broken-hearted and filled with tremendous grief. It was the reason his buddy suggested the job in Dewey Beach.

It would be hard to imagine a future without his grandmother by his side. She encouraged and supported him every step of the way. No matter what type of trouble he got himself into, his grandmother would insist that he was a good boy. If you asked her, Marco could accomplish anything as long as he set his mind to it. After his mother died, grandma was the only family he had left, and now she was gone too.

Marco had no other family and saw no reason to hang around after the funeral. It was time for him to become the man that would make his mother and grandmother proud. They would both be watching him from heaven. With any luck, he would graduate college with a finance degree and enjoy a prosperous future. Grandma left everything to Marco, including the money from the homeowner’s payout from years ago. Between his grandmother’s inheritance and the money from the fire, Marco inherited $200,000. He opened up a bank account and deposited the funds to gain interest until he graduated college. It would be a nice down payment toward a future filled with success.

Diana still experienced a little homesickness, especially the first week. Her life was packed into half of a tiny dorm room now. It was a relief to have a good roommate who had similar interests. She had never been away from home before, and she missed her parents so much that her heart ached to speak to them whenever she felt the urge. It would take some time to adjust to her so-called new and exciting life. If someone told her that she would miss the little corner deli in her old neighborhood, she would have said that they were out of their minds. She hadn’t realized it herself until the friendly, familiar faces were no longer there to greet her every day. An even harder adjustment was fending for herself and solving any problems that arose. Her mother wasn’t available to feed and clean up after her.

God knows her refrigerator was lacking in food. Daddy was not on hand to make problems disappear before they become problems. It’s crazy how people take those things for granted. Now she understood just how much her parents did and how amazing they were.

She usually texted her parents every day but only had a chance to speak to them on two separate occasions. Mom happily filled her in on the family news and events. Her parents were adjusting, so why wasn’t she? Life went on without her, so it was time to stop feeling sorry for herself and start exploring her new surroundings.

It was a month into the semester, and it was pledge week at the university for fraternities and sororities. The Greek organizations dedicated an entire week of social events to recruit new members and promote making new friends. The fun atmosphere made it possible for members and students to get to know each other in a relaxed setting. Diana decided that joining a sorority would be the best way to meet more friends and participate in scheduled functions. She found herself bored with nothing to do on most nights once she finished her homework. Juggling her class schedule and completing assignments was not a problem. A sorority might be what she needed to fill the extra time on her hands and give her a social life.

Diana hung out at as many events as possible during pledge week. While she was chatting with another girl, her eyes met those of a guy whose drop-dead gorgeous good looks made her heart race.

His light stubble looked sexy as hell, and she could still see his chiseled jaw. Diana felt an instant attraction to him. There wasn’t an opportunity for them to meet on that particular night, but if his seductive smile and laughing eyes were indications of his interest, the feeling was mutual. It was an exhausting week since everyone was attempting to make a good impression while meeting as many people as possible. One thing was for sure; she was unwilling to pretend to be anyone other than herself in order to fit in. If that weren’t enough, she would find something else to amuse her or someone else. The sexy guy across the room was someone she would love to know better. He was so hot that she melted, as scandalous thoughts went through her mind. She would be dreaming about him and his dreamy blue sapphire eyes tonight.

Diana was relatively confident that she was a great catch, but just in case, she had a neat party trick to perform to catch the attention of a particular guy. The next night, she grabbed Marco’s beer and a plastic straw. Then Diana bet everyone that the straw could spin on top of the bottle without laying one finger on it. She had everyone’s attention, and all eyes were on her to see if she could deliver what she promised. She rubbed the straw on her shirt before balancing it on top of the bottle and shouted, “Turn baby, turn,” drawing a circle in the air right above the straw.

Judging by the look on Marco’s face, he was very impressed to see the straw moving as promised. A round of applause and cheering erupted in appreciation of Diana’s trick. Everyone kept asking her to perform the party trick again. They had been drinking all night, so it didn’t take much for the crowd to be mind blown. She appeared to be the life of the party. Diana was feeling pretty proud of herself for pulling it off. The static from her shirt was the magic that made it possible for the straw to turn. Hopefully, it grabbed Marco’s attention and interest. He was the only person she was trying to impress. The minute she laid eyes on him, she forgot about impressing the sorority sisters.

Marco’s Sig Ep fraternity was hosting a joint weekend barbecue with the Zeta sorority to welcome the new pledges. He was hoping the girl with the neat party trick would be there. If she were, it would guarantee the two of them spending a lot more time together in the future. He found her intriguing and irresistible, and it was difficult to keep his eyes off of her.

His heart skipped a few beats when she showed up. Her hair was a soft, rich wavy shade of espresso and gorgeous. She was wearing a navy blue and white paisley print halter top with thin spaghetti straps that came down in a vee by her flat tanned stomach. He noticed that she was wearing a sexy belly button ring and a simple white shell necklace with blue and black beads. The jewelry was a dime a dozen, and anyone could buy one at any beach souvenir store, but it reminded Marco of the one he gave to his sister so long ago. This girl had excellent taste. Her shorts were white cut-offs showing off equally tan long legs. Blue and white embroidered flip flops adorned her cute little feet. She was looking around nervously as if she were looking for someone in particular. Marco felt a pang of disappointment and jealousy until her eyes found him, and a gigantic smile spread across her face. He was relieved she was looking for him, walking toward him confidently and with a purpose. As far as he was concerned, she couldn’t get there quick enough.

“Hey. It is good to see someone I recognize. I was a little uneasy about coming here today until I saw you. You were at the party last night. My name is Diana.”

Marco was captivated by Diana from the moment he saw her at the first social event. It was more than good looks, although that didn’t hurt. She was very charismatic, and her happiness was contagious. It was as if she invited everyone else to share her experience with her joyfulness. He watched her socialize with others, and she intrigued them with her stories. It was apparent that everyone was at ease in her company and craved more of her. He was genuinely surprised when she admitted how nervous she was

today. Diana exuded an abundance of confidence and seemed at ease. Although she was noticeably personable, he was reasonably sure she was no pushover. The girl made an excellent first impression, and he found himself drawn to her the way a moth flies directly into a flame. He found it downright difficult to concentrate whenever she was in the vicinity.

Marco unleashed a smile that made women weak in the knees and responded, “Well, I was hoping to see you here today. You were hands down the life of the party last night. I must say you made a great first impression. You pulled it off and made friends with everyone in the room. I had my doubts about your little trick. It was one of those go big or go home moments. How rude of me. My name is Marco, and I look forward to seeing much more of you.”

She bit her lip and discovered that she liked a man who wasn’t afraid to express what he wanted. It was a welcome invitation, and she took the opportunity to flirt right back. “I might take you up on your offer. Once you get to know me better, I will take you wherever you want to go.” Diana offered him a coy smile as she tilted her head and showed off her adorable dimples.

Her playful sexy smile captured his heart. “If you keep looking at me like that, I am afraid I cannot make any promises. I better change the subject since you can’t hold me responsible for my actions if we continue on this path. I am trying my best to be a gentleman and behave myself. How are you adjusting to college life at the University of Delaware so far?”

“I appreciate your honesty, and the feeling is mutual. We better make sure we are in others’ company for a while since we shouldn’t trust ourselves to be alone. Oh, and to answer your question, so far, I can’t complain. Maybe you can offer me some pointers. The adjustment wasn’t quite as bad as I was expecting. I am eighteen and have never been away from home. Classes keep me occupied during the day. Once I develop a routine and adjust to my class

schedule, I think college life will become easier. I received an invitation to join the sorority, so now my social life is falling into place too.”

“You will adjust. Believe me. It is a change for everyone. Before long, you will be a pro at managing your time. I am a junior and have an internship in Philadelphia, so I decided to take a lighter course load. I will be returning for two more years to finish up my degree.

The company I am interning for in the summer asked me to work with them part-time during the year if my schedule allows. I realized that I could juggle both if I take fewer classes.”

Diana responded with a devilish smile. “Well, I am thrilled to hear you are extending your stay.”

Marco picked up on her interest in him, loud and clear. Without wasting any time, he put his arm around her. “It looks like I made a good decision. Now I will have more time to spend with you.”

“Oh, you have some smooth moves,” Diana giggled. “Would you like to play beer pong? It looks like the guys are playing against the girls.”

“You bet. It looks like you chose the wrong person to challenge!”

They talked smack and laughed the entire time, but the girls came up with the victory, beating them by two points. You might have thought Diana won the Superbowl. She was so excited, clapping and jumping up and down in triumph. Before Marco had a chance to say anything, she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him on the lips.

Diana’s boldness in making the first move caught Marco by surprise. He admired her fearlessness and revealed his interest with a deeper, more sensual kiss. His mind flashed back to the night of his

first kiss with KC so many years ago. This time around, he took the chance to return the favor.

After the day at the barbecue, Diana and Marco were in each other’s company as much as possible. They spent time together in groups of mutual friends until they were comfortable with each other. Before long, the two of them spent time alone together and could not keep their hands off one other since their hunger was insatiable.

Whether they were together with friends or alone together, they were inseparable.

Diana and Marco were compatible and shared many common interests. They loved sports, and both were avid Philadelphia fans. It was a relief for both of them to like the same teams. The competitive nature they felt toward their team would never have survived the animosity of forced smiles while secretly wanting to strangle each other. Rooting for two teams would have been impossible.

They took pleasure in exploring new places and activities together.

Both of them yearned to go out of their way to become a better person. Marco was never much of a talker but found himself talking late into the night with Diana and sharing things no one else knew about him. They talked about every topic under the sun.

The subject of Batman playfully came up one day while eating cheesesteaks. Diana emphatically told Marco that Batman was better than Spiderman, hands down. Furthermore, in her opinion, Michael Keaton was the best Batman ever. He agreed that Batman was cooler than Spiderman but personally preferred Christian Bale as Batman. They immediately decided that a Batman weekend movie marathon would be necessary to settle the score once and for all.

They devoted an entire day to watch all of the movies. They took a lot of eating breaks and make out sessions in between movies. At the end of the marathon, they agreed that both actors deserved equal praise.

The one subject Marco consistently deflected was his family. One night he confided in Diana about losing his mother in a trailer fire when he was in middle school. It was an electrical fire caused by the

builder’s neglect. He also lost his sister. Diana was under the impression that his sister died in the fire, but Marco explained the events following the fire. His sister went to live with her father, who ironically perished in a car crash less than a year later. His grandmother struck out in locating Nadia, so there was no other choice but to accept that she was gone. Marco preferred to keep her buried in the past, so Diana felt that she could not question his decision. She was okay with respecting his wishes.

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