As soon as I push open the door, we're showered in confetti.
'The new Mrs Whittingham!' cries Cricket, eyes watering with tears as she takes in the shining diamond. Anna-Beth, dressed in a soft, frothy dress, which can only be one of her own design, bursts into tears and rushes forwards to greet us.
I laugh, pushing Elodie forwards, allowing her to bask in the surprise of the party James has thrown her.
'Yes, here she is y'all,' I call, taking her bags and allowing her to fall into his arms.
'Damn. Y'all? You're so Tennessee these days.'
'Don't get ugly now, Sugar,' I mock in my best southern drawl.
Savannah wraps her long arms around me. Her nails are still trademark red, but her hair is cut short, softening her beautiful face. A year in California - finally away from home - has freckled the bridge of her upturned nose and put the weight back on that she'd lost during the court case. Five broken ribs and a cracked jaw had been the wake-up call she'd needed to speak out.
I'd held her bloodied body in the emergency room, crying as we called the police and she revealed the years of abuse she had endured. To this day, I'd never understood why out of all the people in the world I'd been her one call. I thanked God every day that I was. My father had been the one to push for a trial against her stepfather, representing her with every ounce of strength he had to give. Reliving the truth on the stand had changed her. Broken her. It had taken all of us to heal her again.
'God, I've missed you,' I say, hugging her back.
She holds on tight. 'I'm sorry about Tom.'
'I'll be fine. I always am,' I say, checking that no-one has overheard her. I'm going to tell them, but not today. Not when we're here to celebrate.
Savannah pulls me into the crowded cabin and my heart swells at the familiar faces. TJ and Birdy are by the French doors, looking as loved-up as ever, and I rush over to give baby Elias a kiss, stroking his soft, brown curls and giggling as he gurgles. In just four more months, he'll be a big brother.
In the kitchen, James' football friends help Lucille and my mother lay out food on an already crowded island. His law friends chat with Thaddeus and Daddy, no doubt trying to secure a summer internship. Looking around at all the smiling faces, I can see why he loves the University of Tennessee. He's found his place.
I haven't quite, but I don't begrudge him that. I have time. I love Harvard - the burnt-orange autumns of New England, and summers spent on the ocean - but there's something missing that I can't put my finger on. Oxford couldn't have filled it either, even though they'd had accepted me too. I knew that by the time Senior year came around that was no longer an option for me. I'd experienced homesickness before, and I didn't want to do that again. I need to be closer to home. To Tennessee.
Suddenly James, buff and smiling, barrels across the room and pulls me into a deep hug. It's been three months since I've seen him - the longest time in five years we've been apart. We still speak every day, a habit we can't grow out of, and one that Elodie understands and accepts with her trademark grace. My most recent ex, Tom, on the other hand hadn't liked it. It was one of the reasons he'd given when he'd walked out on me. That, the dog eared book on my nightstand, and the fact that no matter how hard he tried, I always held back.
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Under Tennessee SkiesTeen Fiction
When she moves from England to the small town of Hopton Hills, Tennessee, Martha Heysham finds both her dream of Oxford University and her heart at risk from her new neighbours, the Whittingham boys. **** Martha Heysham hates Tennessee. The sticky h...