When Lauren Monroe first laid eyes on Michael Delaney back in high school, she had every reason to stay away from him; within minutes of their first encounter, his volatile actions confirmed his notorious reputation. But Lauren saw something in him that caused her to question his bad-boy persona, and against her better judgment, she took a chance. She had no way of knowing that the unlikely friendship they formed would become so important to her.
Or that it would end so painfully.
Eight years later, when Lauren begins her new job at Learn and Grow Day Care, Michael is the last person she expects to see. Refusing to revisit the hurt and confusion of their past, Lauren vows to keep her distance from him. But staying away from Michael proves to be more difficult than she thought, despite her lingering grief and her instincts for self-preservation.
As Lauren and Michael recall the friendship that changed them forever and the events that tore them apart, will they finally be able to heal? Or will the ghosts of Michael’s past prove to be too much to overcome?
“I always knew I would fall in love with you, … but you were never supposed to love me back.”
This is the story of Lauren and Michael, two people who couldn’t have been more opposite when they first met back in high school, but drawn to each other from the moment they laid eyes on one another.
While Lauren grew up in a loving and supportive close-knit family, Michael was the product of a broken home spoiled by the worst kind of human indifference, and ultimately destroyed by the cruellest of tragedies. He was raised to believe that his family’s demise had been his fault, shaping him into a young man angry at the world around him, convinced to be undeserving of love and kindness, and deeply affected by the burden of his own misplaced guilt.
“It’s your fault your father is gone … and now you took your brother too.”
When Lauren enters his life, she moves in like a warm tide, enveloping his pain-ridden heart with selfless affection and genuine acceptance. Her friendship changes him, moves him in ways he’s never known before, showing him what true unconditional love feels like. For Lauren, Michael is not just the ‘bad boy’ that the entire school fears. She’s heard all the stories surrounding him, even witnessed the consequences of his traumatic past, but she never gives up on him. His vulnerability draws her to him, brings out the innate carer in her, making their friendship a source of strength for both.
“… she couldn’t help but smile at the irony of the fact that the baddest boy in school could somehow always make her feel like the world was good.”
Soon their feelings for each other are blurring the boundaries of their friendship. They are hungry for a ‘more’ between them, but scared to ruin what they already have and cherish. Once that line is crossed, their young hearts are changed forever, the intensity of those emotions scaring Michael into leaving Lauren behind, heartbroken and humiliated.
“That openness, that innocence, the unfailing and unconditional acceptance she had always shown him, despite what he was, was gone. She was the only one who had ever given him that, and he’s destroyed it. Consciously.”
When they meet again eight years later, they are not the same people they once were. The years that they have lived apart have been unkind to their hearts, each other’s absence deeply marking their souls and affecting all subsequent relationships their attempted to build. Lauren’s pain and feelings of abandonment have made her scared of loving another man again. Michael’s mistakes in life have only exacerbated his guilt for leaving Lauren behind, the only bright light in his life now being a daughter that he loves with all his being. He gives her the one thing that he always craved to receive from his family – unconditional love – becoming that way the kind of parent his own mother and father had never been to him.
The journey that Lauren and Michael travel when their lives cross paths again is one of redemption and second chances. They are tested by their own fears and insecurities, but their bond is one that withstands time, their friendship is one that withstands betrayal, their love is one that withstands heartbreak.
“Everyone deserved the chance to be redeemed, and Michael had gone his whole life never having it. He never got to redeem himself with his father. He never got to redeem himself with his brother. And if he was trying to redeem himself now for what he’d done to her, then she was going to let him, even if it left her vulnerable.”
When two hearts are made for each other and they spend a small eternity longing for one another, the question becomes how many more years they are willing to waste and how much more pain they are prepared to bear. A poignantly and expertly written story of two healing hearts, the tale of Michael and Lauren is one that I suspect you will carry in your own heart for a very long time after you finish reading it. With no excessive sentimental narrative or dialogues, and yet deeply moving range of emotions present throughout the story, nothing about this book is predictable, nothing is cliché and everything is ‘just right’.
“I think she’s really a princess, but she just forgets to wear a crown.”
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Priscilla Glenn lives in New York with her husband and three beautiful children. She has been teaching English Language Arts at the middle and high school levels for the past eleven years.
Glenn has written three books, although Back to You is her first published novel. Her guilty pleasures include great books, good wine, anything chocolate, and Robert Pattinson!
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