Just a Little Crush (Book #1 in Just a Little Series)

When a class assignment requires seventeen-year-old Julie to shadow someone on the job, she's overwhelmed by the decisions she'll have to make. After all, she has no clue what she wants from life post-graduation. So when her Uncle Charlie, Oakland's Chief of Police, suggests Julie fulfill her twenty hours of required job shadowing at the local police department, she's thrilled at his solution. Thinking she'll spend her days filing paperwork behind a desk, she finds herself quickly agreeing to his proposition. But Julie's expectations are soon turned upside down when she meets Luke, the young and handsome (albeit somewhat stubborn) officer she's assigned to shadow on patrol.

With every hour she logs with Luke at the wheel, her feelings stir deeper, and Julie can't help but wonder if what she's feeling has developed into more than just a little crush.


2. Chapter One

This is a completely bogus... assignment," I jammed the calculus book into its rightful place in my locker. "And to make it mandatory—"
"It's not such a bad thing, Julie," Matt took it upon himself to close my locker as I walked away in a fury. My cousin took a few long strides and caught up with me at the end of the hallway. He adjusted his book bag on his shoulder and ran his fingers through his already messy, blond hair. "I don't understand why you're so upset."
Cool, calm, and collected—that was Matthew Little in a nutshell—so there was no secret why he was the most loved, adored, and fawned over boy in the senior class.
Then there was me. I was simply the one all the girls in class envied, and not because I was his cousin, but because I was his best friend. Getting personal one-on-one time with Matt was every girl's dream, and I was lucky enough to be the one he called upon for friendship.
"You should understand," I stomped louder with each step. "That's the problem. Everyone should understand. This is a great opportunity for people like you, Matt. But for students like me..."
I let out a sigh and pushed through the doors of Oakland High School.
I wasn't typically so moody, nor was I the first to disagree with administrative decisions, especially when they were for the greater good, but today had been a day from Hades. It'd all started when the senior class was called into a meeting during fifth period and introduced to our class-wide project. The program was as simple as this: choose a profession of interest, obtain permission from a local business, and put in twenty hours of job-shadowing in your chosen field.
Easy-peasey, right? Wrong.
Like I'd told Matt, the program worked wonders for people like him, people who had a distinct plan for their future, people who knew what they wanted from life after graduation. People who were going places.
But what about kids like me? What about the seventeen-year-old, blonde-haired, blue-eyed orphan who had absolutely no idea what the future held?
What good would this project do me?
None at all.
"Look at the big picture," Matt said as we turned the corner to take the three-block stretch to our house. "This is a great opportunity for you to get your feet wet. Look around, weigh your options, pursue your interests—"
"That's great and all, but Matt, we have to choose one field that interests us and choose it within a month. I don't have time to put in twenty hours at fifty businesses to see which suits me best."
If only it was as easy as picking any ole job and running with it. But it wasn't that easy. According to our very specific guidelines, we had to choose a career field closely related to our area of interest, and then submit a detailed, five-page report on our experience in the field, relating it to our goals and aspirations post-graduation.
And the point of this whole project? As we were told, Oakland had seen an increasingly high rate of high school dropouts and juvenile delinquents, not to mention the steady decline in employment rates. When the economy fell on hard times, Oakland took the brunt of the fall. Our high school, wanting to be part of a bigger change in the community, implemented the program to force students to actually put some thought into their futures beyond high school.
In theory, it was an excellent step toward progression. But unfortunately for me, it was bringing a sad reality to light; I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Even my plans for tomorrow were a bit hazy. How was I supposed to make any kind of definite plan for the future?
As we turned to take the sidewalk to the two-story brick house on the corner of Linden and Main, the door swung open and my Uncle Charlie met Matt and me with a wide grin.
"There they are!"
With one arm around each of our shoulders, Charlie pulled us into the house and threw a sideways glance from Matt to me, and then back to Matt. It was easy to tell that he was up to something because Charlie was notorious for (lovingly) sticking his nose where it didn't belong. I could only assume that there was more to his happy greeting than we immediately knew.
"What's going on, Dad?" my cousin weaseled his way out of his father's grip and tossed his book bag in the corner.
Charlie tightened his grip around my shoulder and squeezed. "Anything special happen at school today?"
We exchanged glances, neither of us sure how to respond, and my uncle loosened his grip to step back.
"Come on, guys," he said, dropping his arms. "The assembly. The new job-shadowing program—"
"How'd you hear about that?" I watched him with a suspicious eye. "It only happened two hours ago."
"Small town," Matt mumbled, turning back to his dad. Obviously he suspected Charlie was up to something, too. He gave his father a look that said he didn't quite trust his expression. "What's with the enthusiasm, Dad? You're acting like it was your idea."
"It was my idea," he raised his chest proudly.
When Matt and I exchanged eye rolls, Charlie threw his hands in the air.
"Excuse me if I'm tired of watching Oakland seep through the cracks," he said, no longer as jolly as he'd been five seconds ago. "This community has excellent potential, but you kids are failing to recognize it. Now, I've gotten almost every business in town to agree to the program, and now all we have to do is get your generation excited about it." Looking between us for the hundredth time, Charlie shook his head. "And from the looks on your faces, I can already tell that's going to be next to impossible."
I stared at Charlie with parted lips, wanting to give him a good swift thump across the head. So he was the genius behind this grand plan?
"Nice goin', Dad," Matt walked from the foyer to the kitchen at the far end of the house.
Charlie remained firmly in place, watching me with a goofy grin. "Well, what do you think?"
"I think... I love you," I started, "but I'm two seconds away from killing you."
"Well," he leaned back on his heels and adjusted the belt under his bulging belly, "that's certainly not the most appropriate way to thank the Oakland Police Chief—"
"I'm not talking to the Chief right now," I said. "I'm talking to my Uncle Charlie."
"Okay, then, as your Uncle Charlie, talk to me. What are your thoughts?"
"I think it's an awful idea. I know you mean well, I do. But come on. You're killing me."
"Julie," he said, putting his hands on my shoulders, "I know you've always had a flare for the dramatics, Pumpkin, but you've gotta put this one on the backburner. What's done is done. This is a great opportunity to keep the kids in our town proactive—"
"Yeah," I said, dropping my arms in defeat and following Matt into the kitchen.
"You give up too easily," Matt stirred a white sauce over the stove. "You know he has a soft spot for you. You could've worn him down if you'd just tried a little harder."
"Yeah, and some help you were," I ignored his late advice. "How dare you just leave me in there to fight that battle alone? You know how I feel about this assignment."
"Look at it this way," Matt tasted the sauce with a wooden spoon, "it's twenty hours of job experience. Whether you enjoy it or not, it doesn't really matter in the end. All you have to do is fudge a report and submit it. It's not like the school is gonna follow up on the students ten years from now and penalize them for not following all of their high school dreams."
"That's beside the point, Mattie," I took a seat on a barstool at the center island. I leaned my elbows against the marble counter top and cradled my head in my hands. Not wanting to continue the conversation for another second, I turned to my cousin. "What's on the menu for the evening?"
"Peppered shrimp alfredo."
I smacked my lips together.
There were a few sure things in life that I could always count on: the memory of my parents' love to get me through the hard times, my Uncle Charlie's commitment to my happiness, and Matt's delicious home-cooked meals.
"Care for a taste?" he asked, lifting the spoon.
"I'll wait," I said, knowing that waiting would ultimately pay off. Once the meal was complete in its entirety, that's when I'd be ready to dig in; if there was one thing Matt knew how to do, it was make his way around a kitchen, much to his father's dismay, might I add.
Matt had absolutely no intention of following in Charlie's footsteps and pursuing a career in criminal justice. His heart was in the kitchen, where it had always been, and where it would always be. And there was no doubt Matt would follow his heart, soul, and palate right to the doorsteps of the French Bistro for his twenty hours. Unlike me, he didn't have to worry about how he'd spend his time completing the assignment. He'd had his future mapped out years ago.
Charlie stomped across the room and slumped onto the barstool next to mine. Silence surrounded us as we each looked off into separate directions, no one wanting to be the first to address the elephant in the room; the job-shadowing project was Charlie's brainchild, and he wasn't ready to dismiss it so easily.
"Okay," my uncle finally mumbled, combing his fingers through his gray mustache, "I know you're reluctant about wasting your time, but I think I can help."
When I didn't prompt him to continue, he took my silence as an indication to go on.
"Put your hours in at the station," he said, almost sounding defeated. "There are a lot of great opportunities for smart, young women like yourself—"
"Get off it, Dad," Matt slung a towel over his shoulder. "You can't keep trying to force us—"
"No one is asking you to do anything, Matthew," his father said. "I know I've already lost my chance with you, but Julie...." He shook his head and ran his fingers through his salt and pepper hair. "Julie, Julie, Julie... have I ever told you about my first day on the force?"
"Only a thousand times," Matt spoke again, playing more into his father's impatience.
As the two men glared at one another, I took a moment to consider his proposition.
Put in my twenty hours at the station? How hard could that be? I'd been around the job my whole life; I knew the ins and outs of the criminal justice system like the back of my hand. It'd be as easy as showing up, filing some paperwork, and having Charlie sign off on my hours. If I planned it out well, I could have this whole job-shadowing thing knocked out in no time at all.
"I'm in," I patted him on the back. "I'd be happy to come down to the station and lend a helping hand."
"Really?" Charlie's eyes lit up in a way I'd never seen. It was almost, and I mean almost, as though he was getting this commitment from his own son.
"When do I start?"
"Tomorrow. First thing in the morning," he beamed. "Don't worry about clearing it with the school; I'll take care of all of that. You just be up and ready to leave at five sharp."
"You're in for quite a day."
Yeah, I didn't doubt that one bit. And thankfully for the first time in my life, I finally knew what the future held... even if it was only one day in advance.

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