When Marcelle Boudreaux walked into the bar to meet up with her friends and family on Christmas night, she never dreamed she’d be face to face with her high school crush who she hasn’t been able to shake in fifteen years. Though she pined for him back then, the first and only words he spoke to her were a profession of love made out the window of a speeding car on his graduation night, leaving her in unrequited torture for years.
Now, she stands face-to-face with him, ready to speak her first words ever to him. Even though she’s a Hollywood producer who commands a major television production in her day job, she finds the only word she can utter is, “Hi.” As he’s pulled into another conversation, she realizes she might be once again letting her chance with Patrick Lamontagne slip away.
Back in high school, Patrick’s anxiety had paralyzed him from talking to girls, most notably, Marcelle Boudreaux. If it was possible to love someone he saw every day but never spoke to, that was what had happened for him. Social Media tells him she lives the Hollywood life, so even though he’s now versed in asking women out, that old high school anxiety creeps back in.
Going another moment without talking to the only woman he’s never forgotten isn’t an option. He will talk to her tonight, and if all goes as he’s always dreamed, he will turn his first love into his last.
As Marcelle Boudreaux entered the jazz club on Frenchmen Street to see her friends and family—both blood-related and chosen—her heart stung with the ache of how much she missed them. While she’d been off in L.A. producing reality television, her family in New Orleans had grown closer and stronger.
The Boudreauxs and the Broussards had been intertwined as one big family for as long as Marcelle could remember. Her sister, Peyton, had been in love with Braxton Broussard since about birth, but Marcelle had never found herself giddy over one of the Broussard brothers. Besides, Braxton, who was Marcelle’s own age, had been off-limits to her since the moment Peyton staked her claim back in the days of the sandbox.
Seeing them all sitting at the table together made her heart squeeze with love. Braxton had married Peyton, who had finally made it home from New York to stay; Garrett had married her cousin Savannah, who was like a sister to both Marcelle and Peyton; and Quentin, who had been banished to Colorado by his own mother at age eighteen, had finally been able to come back to them and had married one of Marcelle’s high school friends and favorite people on earth, Calliope.
But the feeling of love and family had an overarching sense of loss about it, as Marcelle knew she’d have to head back to L.A. in mere days. She’d been given a reprieve because it was Christmas, but it wouldn’t last.
It was Garrett who spotted her first. “Well, look who decided to join us, all the way from sunny California.” He brought her into his arms, hugging her long and hard as he always did. Garrett was a consummate flirt, but he had never crossed the line with her. She supposed she should be offended by that, because he certainly made his way around the girls at their high school. But she’d been a couple of years younger than him. Maybe he’d taken that into consideration? At least that’s what she told herself.
Savannah backhanded Garrett. “Quit mauling my cousin.” Marcelle pulled away from Garrett just in time for Savannah to bring her in for a big hug. “I’ve missed you.”
“Me, too, cousin,” Marcelle said, meaning it more than Savannah could know.
Quentin and Calliope were next. Marcelle hugged both of them, squeezing Quentin extra hard. It had recently come to light that his mother had banished him from New Orleans years ago to keep her own dirty secret, and he’d pulled away from the family to protect everyone. But the truth worked itself to the surface, and now he was back in the loving embrace of this group. She was thankful that he now had Calliope to help with the healing and to love on him every day.
The last hugs went to Peyton and Braxton, who Marcelle knew the best of any of them since Peyton was her sister and Braxton and Marcelle were the same age. Hugs from those two felt as natural as slipping on a fleece hoodie on a cold day. Marcelle was used to a lot of fake hugs in L.A.—ones from people who wanted something from her. These two were as home as it got for Marcelle.
“We missed you yesterday,” Peyton said.
Marcelle had wanted to be home for Christmas Eve, but her work schedule hadn’t permitted it. She had stayed at the studio in the editing suite until nearly midnight with her co-worker Teddy, who was as much of a workaholic as she was. They’d eaten Chinese takeout and had been too tired to open the bottle of champagne she’d stashed for when they finished the final episode.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t be here. But I made it for Christmas Day, didn’t I?”
“Technically, it’s Christmas night,” Braxton said.
“Yeah, but she made it for the best part,” Garrett said, putting his arm around her. He turned her to the side. “Marcelle, you remember Patrick from high school, right?”
Marcelle swallowed hard. Patrick Lamontagne stood before her very eyes like a mirage crystallizing into reality.
He was a senior when she was a junior. She had spent three years in love with a boy she’d never met. He had teased her relentlessly with that half-smile. He’d been in with the popular group—a baseball player. But he’d noticed her. She was way too shy to do anything about it back then, and she got the feeling he was, too.
He didn’t date very much that she could tell, but he totally could have. He had sort of a Channing Tatum look about him with his clean cut, tightly trimmed haircut and his bulging muscles. He could’ve had any girl in the school. But the fact that he never seemed to date anyone else and that he made eyes with her in the hallway always gave her ridiculous hope.
“Hey, Marcelle,” he said, with that half-smile he used to give her when they passed in the hallway. It was only the second time he’d spoken to her.
The night of his graduation, she’d seen him out at a party. She’d been with Calliope and their mutual friend Tiffany. They pulled up in the driveway as Patrick and his friends were coming out. The guys all piled into a car as Calliope, Marcelle, and Tiffany got out of their car. As the guys were driving away, Patrick had yelled out the window, “I love you, Marcelle Boudreaux!”
Calliope and Tiffany had giggled and teased her, but they still walked toward the front door of the house. All Marcelle could think was Why are we not getting back in the car and following that man? But as much as she wanted that boy, she also wanted to appear cool in front of Calliope. So, Marcelle had followed Calliope into the party, a frog in her throat and her heart heading down the streets of New Orleans.
Now, standing in front of him for the first time since that fateful high school night, the only thing she could bring herself to utter was, “Hi.”
She stood there with her mouth open, staring at him. He stared back at her, that little smile playing at his lips. He looked exactly the same with the exception of a neatly trimmed beard and fifteen years that had only served to make him even hotter.
He opened his mouth like he was going to say something, and just then, the band started playing. It was too loud to be heard without yelling or getting up in someone’s ear, and she didn’t want to do that. Besides, she didn’t know what she’d say.
A guy walked up and clapped him on the shoulder, cupping his hand over Patrick’s ear, yelling something. Patrick nodded, looked back at Marcelle, held up a hand in a wave, and then walked away. With that, Marcelle was once again denied access to Patrick Lamontagne.