Report a problemThis book has a different problem? Report it to us
Check Yes if Check Yes if Check Yes if Check Yes if
you were able to open the file
the file contains a book (comics are also acceptable)
the content of the book is acceptable
Title, Author and Language of the file match the book description. Ignore other fields as they are secondary!
Check No if Check No if Check No if Check No if
- the file is damaged
- the file is DRM protected
- the file is not a book (e.g. executable, xls, html, xml)
- the file is an article
- the file is a book excerpt
- the file is a magazine
- the file is a test blank
- the file is a spam
you believe the content of the book is unacceptable and should be blocked
Title, Author or Language of the file do not match the book description. Ignore other fields.
Change your answer
You may be interested in Powered by Rec2Me
Most frequent terms
I love the book Heart bones it was sooooo awesome and educative love love it u have to try it out
03 November 2020 (20:25)
Heart Bones ❤️❤️
All the way up l think also l grew a bone in my ❤️. The test for the book is more than anything else looking forward to read more of your writings. God be blessed ???? for books
All the way up l think also l grew a bone in my ❤️. The test for the book is more than anything else looking forward to read more of your writings. God be blessed ???? for books
19 November 2020 (16:39)
it's so nice. Can't wait to read more.
04 February 2021 (20:35)
wow... beautiful piece...????
15 April 2021 (10:21)
i think its a good book but not so good book–it seems lacking in something but its still a 'good' book to read :)
17 July 2021 (10:25)
loved all the books by colleen
14 August 2021 (10:43)
i love this book so much!!i think every book by colleen hoover is a must read
22 August 2021 (18:52)
Nu sunt carti si in romana? Totul este in engleza?
14 October 2021 (01:18)
Tsada kaau bay ngl fr fr stg
04 February 2022 (14:17)
What an amazing book! I loved everything about it. Every page got my hooked and wanting more. The story was romantic, heartbreaking and overall just beautiful. I honestly recommend this book because wow I purely adored it!
04 April 2022 (20:29)
Loved the book! The ending! One thing you should know about this author is you will be crying your eyes out and will love it
16 May 2022 (01:31)
By Colleen Hoover * * * * Copyright © 2012 by Colleen Hoover Cover design by Sarah Hansen of Okaycreations.net Interior book design by JT Formatting ISBN-13: Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the above author of this book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners. Table of Contents Sunday, October 28th, 2012 7:29 p.m. Saturday, August 25th, 2012 11:50 p.m. Monday, August 27th, 2012 7:15 a.m. Monday, August 27th, 2012 3:55 p.m. Monday, August 27th, 2012 4:47 p.m. Monday, August 27th, 2012 5:25 p.m. Monday, August 27th, 2012 7:10 p.m. Tuesday, August 28th, 2012 6:15 a.m. Tuesday, August 28th, 2012 7:55 a.m. Wednesday, August 29th, 2012 6:15 a.m. Friday, August, 31st, 2012 11:20 a.m. Friday, August 31st, 2012 4:50 p.m. Saturday, September 1st, 2012 5:05 p.m. Saturday, September 1st, 2012 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, June 23rd, 1999 3:55 p.m. Monday, September 3rd, 2012 7:20 a.m. September 4th, 2012 6:15 a.m. Friday, September 28th, 2012 12:05 p.m. Friday, September 28th, 2012 11:50 p.m. Saturday, September 29th, 2012 8:40 a.m. Saturday, September 29th, 2012 9:20 a.m. Saturday, September 29th, 2012 10:25 a.m. Saturday, September 29th, 2012 10:15 p.m. Monday, October 22nd, 2012 12:05 p.m. Friday, October 26th, 2012 3:40 p.m. Tuesday, February 2nd, 1999 9:30 p.m. ; Saturday, October 27th, 2012 Sometime in the middle of the night. Saturday, October 27th, 2012 8:20 p.m. Saturday, April 17th, 1999 2:30 p.m. Saturday, October 27th, 2012 11:20 p.m. Saturday, October 27th, 2012 11:57 p.m. Sunday, October 28th, 2012 12:37 a.m. Wednesday, June 23rd, 1999 4:10 p.m. Sunday, October 28th, 2012 2:45 a.m. Sunday, October 28th, 2012 3:10 a.m. Sunday, October 28th, 2012 7:50 a.m. Sunday, October 28th, 2012 5:15 p.m. Sunday, May 2nd, 1999 2:35 p.m. Sunday, October 28th, 2012 7:10 p.m. Thursday, May 18th, 1999 10:00 p.m. Sunday, October 28th, 2012 7:29 p.m. Monday, October 29th, 2012 9:50 a.m. Monday, October 29th, 2012 4:15 p.m. Monday, October 29th, 2012 4:35 p.m. Tuesday, January 6th, 1998 6:20 a.m. Monday, October 29th, 2012 4:57 p.m. Monday, October 29th, 2012 5:29 p.m. Monday, October 29th, 2012 11:35 p.m. Monday, June 14th, 1999 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 12:10 a.m. Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 9:05 a.m. Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 7:20 p.m. Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 8:45 p.m. Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 10:15 p.m. Saturday, May 8th, 1999 9:10 p.m. Acknowledgments About the Author For Vance. Some fathers give you life. Some show you how to live it. Thank you for showing me how to live mine. I stand up and look down at the bed, holding my breath in fear of the sounds that are escalating from deep within my throat. I will not cry. I will not cry. Slowly sinking to my knees, I place my hands on the edge of the bed and run my fingers over the yellow stars poured across the deep blue background of the comforter. I stare at the stars until they begin to blur from the tears that are clouding my vision. I squeeze my eyes shut and bury my head into the bed, grabbing fistfuls of the blanket. My shoulders begin to shake as the sobs I’ve been trying to contain violently break out of me. With one swift movement, I stand up, scream and rip the blanket off the bed, throwing it across the room. I ball my fists and frantically look around for something else to throw. I grab the pillows off the bed and chuck them at the reflection in the mirror of the girl I no longer know. I watch as the girl in the mirror stares back at me, sobbing pathetically. The weakness in her tears infuriates me. We begin to run toward each other until our fists collide against the glass, smashing the mirror. I watch as she falls into a million shiny pieces onto the carpet. I grip the edges of the dresser and push it sideways, letting out another scream that has been pent up for way too long. When the dresser comes to rest on its back, I rip open the drawers and throw the contents across the room, spinning and throwing and kicking at everything in my path. I grab at the sheer blue curtain panels and yank them until the rod snaps and the curtains fall around me. I reach over to the boxes piled high in the corner and, without even knowing what’s inside, I take the top one and throw it against the wall with as much force as my five foot, three-inch frame can muster. “I hate you!” I cry. “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!” I’m throwing whatever I can find in front of me at whatever else I can find in front of me. Every time I open my mouth to scream, I taste the salt from the tears that are streaming down my cheeks. Holder’s arms suddenly engulf me from behind and grip me so tightly I become immobile. I jerk and toss and scream some more until my actions are no longer thought out. They’re just reactions. “Stop,” he says calmly against my ear, unwilling to release me. I hear him, but I pretend not to. Or I just don’t care. I continue to struggle against his grasp but he only tightens his grip. “Don’t touch me!” I yell at the top of my lungs, clawing at his arms. Again, it doesn’t faze him. Don’t touch me. Please, please, please. The small voice echoes in my mind and I immediately become limp in his arms. I become weaker as my tears grow stronger, consuming me. I become nothing more than a vessel for the tears that won’t stop shedding. I am weak, and I’m letting him win. Holder loosens his grip around me and places his hands on my shoulders, then turns me around to face him. I can’t even look at him. I melt against his chest from exhaustion and defeat, taking in fistfuls of his shirt as I sob, my cheek pressed against his heart. He places his hand on the back of my head and lowers his mouth to my ear. “Sky.” His voice is steady and unaffected. “You need to leave. Now.” Two months earlier… I’d like to think most of the decisions I’ve made throughout my seventeen years have been smart ones. Hopefully intelligence is measured by weight, and the few dumb decisions I’ve made will be outweighed by the intelligent ones. If that’s the case, I’ll need to make a shitload of smart decisions tomorrow because sneaking Grayson into my bedroom window for the third time this month weighs pretty heavily on the dumb side of the scale. However, the only accurate measurement of a decision’s level of stupidity is time…so I guess I’ll wait and see if I get caught before I break out the gavel. Despite what this may look like, I am not a slut. Unless, of course, the definition of slut is based on the fact that I make out with lots of people, regardless of my lack of attraction for them. In that case, one might have grounds for debate. “Hurry,” Grayson mouths behind the closed window, obviously irritated at my lack of urgency. I unlock the latch and slide the window up as quietly as possible. Karen may be an unconventional parent, but when it comes to boys sneaking through bedroom windows at midnight, she’s your typical, disapproving mother. “Quiet,” I whisper. Grayson hoists himself up and throws one leg over the ledge, then climbs into my bedroom. It helps that the windows on this side of the house are barely three feet from the ground; it’s almost like having my own door. In fact, Six and I have probably used our windows to go back and forth to each other’s houses more than we’ve used actual doors. Karen has become so used to it, she doesn’t even question my window being open the majority of the time. Before I close the curtain, I glance to Six’s bedroom window. She waves at me with one hand while pulling on Jaxon’s arm with the other as he climbs into her bedroom. As soon as Jaxon is safely inside, he turns and sticks his head back out the window. “Meet me at your truck in an hour,” he whispers loudly to Grayson. He closes Six’s window and shuts her curtains. Six and I have been joined at the hip since the day she moved in next door four years ago. Our bedroom windows are adjacent to one another, which has proven to be extremely convenient. Things started out innocently enough. When we were fourteen, I would sneak into her room at night and we would steal ice cream from the freezer and watch movies. When we were fifteen, we started sneaking boys in to eat ice cream and watch movies with us. By the time we were sixteen, the ice cream and movies took a backseat to the boys. Now, at seventeen, we don’t even bother leaving our respective bedrooms until after the boys go home. That’s when the ice cream and movies take precedence again. Six goes through boyfriends like I go through flavors of ice cream. Right now her flavor of the month is Jaxon. Mine is Rocky Road. Grayson and Jaxon are best friends, which is how Grayson and I were initially thrown together. When Six’s flavor of the month has a hot best friend, she eases him into my graces. Grayson is definitely hot. He’s got an undeniably great body, perfectly sloppy hair, piercing dark eyes…the works. The majority of girls I know would feel privileged just to be in the same room as him. It’s too bad I don’t. I close the curtains and spin around to find Grayson inches from my face, ready to get the show started. He places his hands on my cheeks and flashes his panty-dropping grin. “Hey, beautiful.” He doesn’t give me a chance to respond before his lips greet mine in a sloppy introduction. He continues kissing me while slipping off his shoes. He slides them off effortlessly while we both walk toward my bed, mouths still meshed together. The ease at which he does both things simultaneously is impressive and disturbing. He slowly eases me back onto my bed. “Is your door locked?” “Go double check,” I say. He gives me a quick peck on the lips before he hops up to ensure the door is locked. I’ve made it thirteen years with Karen and have never been grounded; I don’t want to give her any reason to start now. I’ll be eighteen in a few weeks and even then, I doubt she’ll change her parenting style as long as I’m under her roof. Not that her parenting style is a negative one. It’s just…very contradictory. She’s been strict my whole life. We’ve never had access to the internet, cell phones or even a television because she believes technology is the root of all evil in the world. Yet, she’s extremely lenient in other regards. She allows me to go out with Six whenever I want, and as long as she knows where I am, I don’t even really have a curfew. I’ve never pushed that one too far, though, so maybe I do have a curfew and I just don’t realize it. She doesn’t care if I cuss, even though I rarely do. She even lets me have wine with dinner every now and then. She talks to me more like I’m her friend than her daughter (even though she adopted me when I was five) and has somehow even warped me into being (almost) completely honest with her about everything that goes on in my life. There is no middle ground with her. She’s either extremely lenient or extremely strict. She’s like a conservative liberal. Or a liberal conservative. Whatever she is, she’s hard to figure out, which is why I stopped trying years ago. The only thing we’ve ever really butted heads on was the issue of public school. She has homeschooled me my whole life (public school is another root of evil) and I’ve been begging to be enrolled since Six planted the idea in my head. I’ve been applying to colleges and feel like I’ll have a better chance at getting into the schools that I want if I can add a few extracurricular activities to the applications. After months of incessant pleas from Six and me, Karen finally conceded and allowed me to enroll for my senior year. I could have enough credits to graduate from my home study program in just a couple of months, but a small part of me has always had a desire to experience life as a normal teenager. Of course, if I had known then that Six would be leaving for a foreign exchange the same week as what was supposed to be our first day of senior year together, I never would have entertained the idea of public school. But I’m unforgivably stubborn and would rather stab myself in the meaty part of my hand with a fork than tell Karen I’ve changed my mind. I’ve tried to avoid thinking about the fact that I won’t have Six this year. I know how much she was hoping the exchange would work out, but the selfish part of me was really hoping it wouldn’t. The idea of having to walk through those doors without her terrifies me. But I realize that our separation is inevitable and I can only go so long before I’m forced into the real world where other people besides Six and Karen live. My lack of access to the real world has been replaced completely by books, and it can’t be healthy to live in a land of happily ever afters. Reading has also introduced me to the (perhaps dramatized) horrors of high school and first days and cliques and mean girls. It doesn’t help that, according to Six, I’ve already got a bit of a reputation just being associated with her. Six doesn’t have the best track record for celibacy, and apparently some of the guys I’ve made out with don’t have the best track record for secrecy. The combination should make for a pretty interesting first day of school. Not that I care. I didn’t enroll to make friends or impress anyone, so as long as my unwarranted reputation doesn’t interfere with my ultimate goal, I’ll get along just fine. I hope. Grayson walks back toward the bed after ensuring my door is locked, and he shoots me a seductive grin. “How about a little strip tease?” He sways his hips and inches his shirt up, revealing his hard-earned set of abs. I’m beginning to notice he flashes them any chance he gets. He’s pretty much your typical, self-absorbed bad boy. I laugh when he twirls the shirt around his head and throws it at me, then slides on top of me again. He slips his hand behind my neck, pulling my mouth back into position. The first time Grayson snuck into my room was a little over a month ago, and he made it clear from the beginning that he wasn’t looking for a relationship. I made it clear that I wasn’t looking for him, so naturally we hit it off right away. Of course, he’ll be one of the few people I know at school, so I’m worried it might mess up the good thing we’ve got going—which is absolutely nothing. He’s been here less than three minutes and he’s already got his hand up my shirt. I think it’s safe to say he’s not here for my stimulating conversation. His lips move from my mouth in favor of my neck, so I use the moment of respite to inhale deeply and try again to feel something. Anything. I fixate my eyes on the plastic glow-in-the-dark stars adhered to the ceiling above my bed, vaguely aware of the lips that have inched their way to my chest. There are seventy-six of them. Stars, that is. I know this because for the last few weeks I’ve had ample time to count them while I’ve been in this same predicament. Me, lying unnoticeably unresponsive, while Grayson explores my face and neck, and sometimes my chest, with his curious, over-excited lips. Why, if I’m not into this, do I let him do it? I’ve never had any emotional connection to the guys I make out with. Or rather, the guys that make out with me. It’s unfortunately mostly one sided. I’ve only had one guy come close to provoking a physical or emotional response from me once, and that turned out to be a self-induced delusion. His name was Matt and we ended up dating for less than a month before his idiosyncrasies got the best of me. Like how he refused to drink bottled water unless it was through a straw. Or the way his nostrils flared right before he leaned in to kiss me. Or the way he said, “I love you,” after only three weeks of declaring ourselves exclusive. Yeah. That last one was the kicker. Buh-bye Matty boy. Six and I have analyzed my lack of physical response to guys many times in the past. For a while she suspected I might be gay. After a very brief and awkward “theory testing” kiss between us when we were sixteen, we both concluded that wasn’t the case. It’s not that I don’t enjoy making out with guys. I do enjoy it—otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. I just don’t enjoy it for the same reasons as other girls. I’ve never been swept off my feet. I don’t get butterflies. In fact, the whole idea of being swooned by anyone is foreign to me. The real reason I enjoy making out with guys is simply because it makes me feel completely and comfortably numb. It’s situations like the one I’m in right now with Grayson when it’s nice for my mind to shut down. It just completely stops, and I like that feeling. My eyes are focused on the seventeen stars in the upper right quadrant of the cluster on my ceiling, when I suddenly snap back to reality. Grayson’s hands have ventured further than I’ve allowed them to in the past and I quickly become aware of the fact that he has unbuttoned my jeans and his fingers are working their way around the cotton edge of my panties. “No, Grayson,” I whisper, pushing his hand away. He pulls his hand back and groans, then presses his forehead into my pillow. “Come on, Sky.” He’s breathing heavily against my neck. He adjusts his weight to his right arm and looks down at me, attempting to play me with his smile. Did I mention I’m immune to his panty-dropping grin? “How much longer are you gonna keep this up?” He slides his hand over my stomach and inches his fingertips into my jeans again. My skin crawls. “Keep what up?” I attempt to ease out from under him. He pushes up on his hands and looks down at me like I’m clueless. “This ‘good girl’ act you’ve been trying to put on. I’m over it, Sky. Let’s just do this already.” This brings me back to the fact that, contrary to popular belief, I am not a slut. I’ve never had sex with any of the boys I’ve made out with, including the currently pouting Grayson. I’m aware that my lack of sexual response would probably make it easier on an emotional level to have sex with random people. However, I’m also aware that it might be the very reason I shouldn’t have sex. I know that once I cross that line, the rumors about me will no longer be rumors. They’ll all be fact. The last thing I want is for the things people say about me to be validated. I guess I can chalk my almost eighteen years of virginity up to sheer stubbornness. For the first time in the ten minutes he’s been here, I notice the smell of alcohol reeking from him. “You’re drunk.” I push against his chest. “I told you not to come over here drunk again.” He rolls off of me and I stand up to button my pants and pull my shirt back into place. I’m relieved he’s drunk. I’m beyond ready for him to leave. He sits up on the edge of the bed and grabs my waist, pulling me toward him. He wraps his arms around me and rests his head against my stomach. “I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s just that I want you so bad I don’t think I can take coming over here again if you don’t let me have you.” He lowers his hands and cups my butt, then presses his lips against the area of skin where my shirt meets my jeans. “Then don’t come over here.” I roll my eyes and back away from him, then head to the window. When I pull the curtain back, Jaxon is already making his way out of Six’s window. Somehow we both managed to condense this hour-long visit into ten minutes. I glance at Six and she gives me the all-knowing “time for a new flavor” look. She follows Jaxon out of her window and walks over to me. “Is Grayson drunk, too?” I nod. “Strike three.” I turn and look at Grayson who’s lying back on the bed, ignorant to the fact that he’s no longer welcome. I walk over to the bed and pick his shirt up, tossing it at his face. “Leave,” I say. He looks up at me and cocks an eyebrow, then begrudgingly slides off the bed when he sees I’m not making a joke. He slips his shoes back on, pouting like a four-year-old. I step aside to let him out. Six waits until Grayson has cleared the window, then she climbs inside when one of the guys mumbles the word “whores.” Once inside, Six rolls her eyes and turns around to stick her head out. “Funny how we’re whores because you didn’t get laid. Assholes.” She shuts the window and walks over to the bed, plopping down on it and crossing her hands behind her head. “And another one bites the dust.” I laugh, but my laugh is cut short by a loud bang on my bedroom door. I immediately go unlock it, then step aside preparing for Karen to barge in. Her motherly instincts don’t let me down. She looks around the room frantically until she eyes Six on the bed. “Dammit,” she says, spinning around to face me. She puts her hands on her hips and frowns. “I could have sworn I heard boys in here.” I walk over to the bed and attempt to hide the sheer panic coursing throughout my body. “And you seem disappointed because…” I absolutely don’t understand her reaction to things sometimes. Like I said before… contradictory. “You turn eighteen in a month. I’m running out of time to ground you for the first time ever. You need to start screwing up a little more, kid.” I breathe a sigh of relief, seeing she’s only kidding. I almost feel guilty that she doesn’t actually suspect her daughter was being felt up five minutes earlier in this very room. My heart is pounding against my chest so incredibly loud, I’m afraid she might hear it. “Karen?” Six says from behind us. “If it makes you feel better, two hotties just made out with us, but we kicked them out right before you walked in because they were drunk.” My jaw drops and I spin around to shoot Six a look that I’m hoping will let her know that sarcasm isn’t at all funny when it’s the truth. Karen laughs. “Well, maybe tomorrow night you’ll get some cute sober boys.” I don’t think I have to worry about Karen hearing my heartbeat anymore, because it just completely stopped. “Sober boys, huh? I think I can arrange that,” Six says, winking at me. “Are you staying the night?” Karen says to Six as she makes her way back to the bedroom door. Six shrugs her shoulders. “I think we’ll stay at my house tonight. It’s my last week in my own bed for six months. Plus, I’ve got Channing Tatum on the flat screen.” I glance back at Karen and see it starting. “Don’t, Mom.” I begin walking toward her, but I can see the mist forming in her eyes. “No, no, no.” By the time I reach her, it’s too late. She’s bawling. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s crying. Not because it makes me emotional, but because it annoys the hell out of me. And it’s awkward. “Just one more,” she says, rushing toward Six. She’s already hugged her no less than ten times today. I almost think she’s sadder than I am that Six is leaving in a few days. Six obliges her request for the eleventh hug and winks at me over Karen’s shoulder. I practically have to pry them apart, just so Karen will get out of my room. She walks back to the door and turns around one last time. “I hope you meet a hot Italian boy,” she says to Six. “I better meet more than just one,” Six deadpans. When the door closes behind Karen, I spin around and jump on the bed, then punch Six in the arm. “You’re such a bitch,” I say. “That wasn’t funny. I thought I got caught.” She laughs and grabs my hand, then stands up. “Come. I’ve got Rocky Road.” She doesn’t have to ask twice. I debated on whether or not to run this morning but I ended up sleeping in, instead. I run every day except Sunday, but it seems wrong having to get up extra early today. Being the first day of school is enough torture in itself, so I decide to put off my run until after school. Luckily, I’ve had my own car for about a year now, so I don’t have to rely on anyone other than myself to get me to school on time. Not only do I get here on time, I get here forty-five minutes early. I’m the third car in the parking lot, so at least I get a good spot. I use the extra time to check out the athletic facilities next to the parking lot. If I’m going to be trying out for the track team, I should at least know where to go. Besides, I can’t just sit in my car for the next half hour and count down the minutes. When I reach the track, there’s a guy across the field running laps, so I cut right and walk up the bleachers. I take a seat at the very top and take in my new surroundings. From up here, I can see the whole school laid out in front of me. It doesn’t look nearly as big or intimidating as I’ve been imagining. Six made me a hand-drawn map and even wrote a few pointers down, so I pull the paper out of my backpack and look at it for the first time. I think she’s trying to overcompensate because she feels bad for abandoning me. I look at the school grounds, then back at the map. It looks easy enough. Classrooms in the building to the right. Lunchroom on the left. Track and field behind the gym. There is a long list of her pointers, so I begin reading them. -Never use the restroom next to the science lab. Ever. Not ever. -Only wear your backpack across one shoulder. Never double-arm it, it’s lame. -Always check the date on the milk. -Befriend Stewart, the maintenance guy. It’s good to have him on your side. -The cafeteria. Avoid it at all costs, but if the weather is bad, just pretend you know what you’re doing when you walk inside. They can smell fear. -If you get Mr. Declare for math, sit in the back and don’t make eye contact. He loves high school girls, if you know what I mean. Or, better yet, sit in the front. It’ll be an easy A. The list goes on, but I can’t read anymore right now. I’m still stuck on, “they can smell fear.” It’s times like these that I wish I had a cell phone, because I would call Six right now and demand an explanation. I fold the paper up and put it back in my bag, then focus my attention on the lone runner. He’s seated on the track with his back turned to me, stretching. I don’t know if he’s a student or a coach, but if Grayson saw this guy without a shirt, he’d probably become a lot more modest about being so quick to flash his own abs. The guy stands up and walks toward the bleachers, never looking up at me. He exits the gate and walks to one of the cars in the parking lot. He opens his door and grabs a shirt off the front seat, then pulls it on over his head. He hops in the car and pulls away, just as the parking lot begins to fill up. And it’s filling up fast. Oh, God. I grab my backpack and purposefully pull both arms through it, then descend the stairs that lead straight to Hell. Did I say Hell? Because that was putting it mildly. Public school is everything I was afraid it would be and worse. The classes aren’t so bad, but I had to (out of pure necessity and unfamiliarity) use the restroom next to the science lab, and although I survived, I’ll be scarred for life. A simple side note from Six informing me that it’s used as more of a brothel than an actual restroom would have sufficed. It’s fourth period now and I’ve heard the words “slut” and “whore” whispered not so subtly by almost every girl I’ve passed in the hallways. And speaking of not-so-subtle, the heap of dollar bills that just fell out of my locker, along with a note, were a good indicator that I may not be very welcome. The note was signed by the principal, but I find that hard to believe based on the fact that “your” was spelled “you’re,” and the note said, “Sorry you’re locker didn’t come with a pole, slut.” I stare at the note in my hands with a tight-lipped smile, shamefully accepting my self-inflicted fate that will be the next two semesters. I seriously thought people only acted this way in books, but I’m witnessing first hand that idiots actually exist. I’m also hoping most of the pranks being played at my expense are going to be just like the stripper-cash prank I’m experiencing right now. What idiot gives away money as an insult? I’m guessing a rich one. Or rich ones. I’m sure the clique of giggling girls behind me that are scantily, yet expensively clad, are expecting my reaction to be to drop my things and run to the nearest restroom crying. There are only three issues with their expectations. 1) I don’t cry. Ever. 2) I’ve been to that restroom and I’ll never go back. 3) I like money. Who would run from that? I set my backpack on the ground below my locker and pick the money up. There are at least twenty one-dollar bills on the ground, and more than ten still in my locker. I scoop those up as well and shove it all into my backpack. I switch books and shut my locker, then slide my backpack on both shoulders and smile. “Tell your daddies I said thank you.” I walk past the clique of girls (that are no longer giggling) and ignore their glares. It’s lunchtime, and looking at the amount of rain flooding the courtyard, it’s obvious that Karma has retaliated with shitty weather. Who she’s retaliating against is still up in the air. I can do this. I place my hands on the doors to the cafeteria and open them, half-expecting to be greeted by fire and brimstone. I step through the doorway and it’s not fire and brimstone that I’m met with. It’s a decibel of noise unlike anything my ears have ever been subjected to. It’s almost as if every single person in this entire cafeteria is trying to talk louder than every other person in this entire cafeteria. I’ve just enrolled in a school of nothing but one-uppers. I do my best to feign confidence, not wanting to attract unwanted attention from anyone. Guys, cliques, outcasts or Grayson. I make it halfway to the food line unscathed, when someone slips his arm through mine and pulls me along behind him. “I’ve been waiting for you,” he says. I don’t even get a good look at his face before he’s guiding me across the cafeteria, weaving in and out of tables. I would object to this sudden disruption, but it’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to me all day. He slips his arm from mine and grabs my hand, pulling me faster along behind him. I stop resisting and go with the flow. From the looks of the back of him, he’s got style, as strange as that style may be. He’s wearing a flannel shirt that’s edged with the exact same shade of hot pink as his shoes. His pants are black and tight and very figure flattering...if he were a girl. Instead, the pants just accentuate the frailty of his frame. His dark brown hair is cropped short on the sides and is a little longer on top. His eyes are…staring at me. I realize we’ve come to a stop and he’s no longer holding my hand. “If it isn’t the whore of Babylon.” He grins at me. Despite the words that just came out of his mouth, his expression is contrastingly endearing. He takes a seat at the table and flicks his hand like he wants me to do the same. There are two trays in front of him, but only one him. He scoots one of the trays of food toward the empty spot in front of me. “Sit. We have an alliance to discuss.” I don’t sit. I don’t do anything for several seconds as I contemplate the situation before me. I have no idea who this kid is, yet he acts like he was expecting me. Let’s not overlook the fact that he just called me a whore. And from the looks of it, he bought me…lunch? I glance at him sideways, attempting to figure him out, when the backpack in the seat next to him catches my eye. “You like to read?” I ask, pointing at the book peering out of the top of his backpack. It’s not a textbook. It’s an actual book-book. Something I thought was lost on this generation of internet fiends. I reach over and pull the book out of his backpack and take a seat across from him. “What genre is it? And please don’t say sci-fi.” He leans back in his seat and grins like he just won something. Hell, maybe he did. I’m sitting here, aren’t I? “Should it matter what genre it is if the book is good?” he says. I flip through the pages, unable to tell if it’s a romance or not. I’m a sucker for romances, and based on the look of the guy across from me, he might be, too. “Is it?” I ask, flipping through it. “Good?” “Yes. Keep it. I just finished it during computer lab.” I look up at him and he’s still basking in his glow of victory. I put the book in my backpack, then lean forward and inspect my tray. The first thing I do is check the date on the milk. It’s good. “What if I was a vegetarian?” I ask, looking at the chicken breast in the salad. “So eat around it,” he retorts. I grab my fork and stab a piece of the chicken, then bring it to my mouth. “Well you’re lucky, because I’m not.” He smiles, then picks up his own fork and begins eating. “Whom are we forming an alliance against?” I’m curious as to why I’ve been singled out. He glances around him and raises his hand in the air, twirling it in all directions. “Idiots. Jocks. Bigots. Bitches.” He brings his hand down and I notice that his nails are all painted black. He sees me observing his nails and he looks down at them and pouts. “I went with black because it best depicts my mood today. Maybe after you agree to join me on my quest, I’ll switch to something a bit more cheerful. Perhaps yellow.” I shake my head. “I hate yellow. Stick with black, it matches your heart.” He laughs. It’s a genuine, pure laugh that makes me smile. I like…this kid whose name I don’t even know. “What’s your name?” I ask. “Breckin. And you’re Sky. At least I’m hoping you are. I guess I could have confirmed your identity before I spilled to you the details of my evil, sadistic plan to overtake the school with our two person alliance.” “I am Sky. And you really have nothing to worry about, seeing as though you really haven’t shared any details about your evil plan yet. I am curious though, how you know who I am. I know four or five guys at this school and I’ve made out with every one of them. You aren’t one of them, so what gives?” For a split second, I see a flash of what looks like pity in his eyes. He’s lucky it was just a flash, though. Breckin shrugs. “I’m new here. And if you haven’t deducted from my impeccable fashion sense, I think it’s safe to say that I’m…” he leans forward and cups his hand to his mouth in secrecy. “Mormon,” he whispers. I laugh. “And here I was thinking you were about to say gay.” “That too,” he says with a flick of his wrist. He folds his hands under his chin and leans forward a couple of inches. “In all seriousness, Sky. I noticed you in class today and it’s obvious you’re new here, too. And after seeing the stripper money fall out of your locker before fourth period, then witnessing your non-reaction to it, I knew we were meant to be. Also, I figured if we teamed up, we might prevent at least two unnecessary teenage suicides this year. So, what do you say? Want to be my very bestest friend ever in the whole wide world?” I laugh. How could I not laugh at that? “Sure. But if the book sucks, we’re re-evaluating the friendship.” Turns out, Breckin was my saving grace today…and he really is Mormon. We have a lot in common, and even more out of common, which makes him that much more appealing. He was adopted as well, but has a close relationship with his birth family. Breckin has two brothers who aren’t adopted, and who also aren’t gay, so his parents assume his gayness (his word, not mine) has to do with the fact that he doesn’t share a bloodline with them. He says they’re hoping it fades with more prayer and high school graduation, but he insists that it’s only going to flourish. His dream is to one day be a famous Broadway star, but he says he lacks the ability to sing or act, so he’s scaling down his dream and applying to business school, instead. I told him I wanted to major in creative writing and sit around in yoga pants and do nothing but write books and eat ice cream every day. He asked what genre I wanted to write and I replied, “It doesn’t matter, so long as it’s good, right?” I think that comment sealed our fate. Now I’m on my way home, deciding on whether or not to go fill Six in on the bittersweet happenings of day one, or go grocery shopping in order to get my caffeine fix before my daily run. The caffeine wins, despite the fact that my affection for Six is slightly greater. My minimal portion of familial contribution is the weekly grocery shopping. Everything in our house is sugar-free, carb-free and taste-free, thanks to Karen’s unconventional vegan way of life, so I actually prefer doing the grocery shopping. I grab a six-pack of soda and the biggest bag of bite size Snickers I can find and throw them in the cart. I have a nice hiding spot for my secret stash in my bedroom. Most teenagers are stashing away cigarettes and weed—I stash away sugar. When I reach the checkout, I recognize the girl ringing me up is in my second period English class. I’m pretty sure her name is Shayna, but her nametag reads Shayla. Shayna/Shayla is everything I wish I were. Tall, voluptuous and sun-kissed blonde. I can maybe pull off five-three on a good day and my flat brown hair could use a trim—maybe even some highlights. They would be a bitch to maintain considering the amount of hair that I have. It falls about six inches past my shoulders, but I keep it pulled up most of the time due to the southern humidity. “Aren’t you in my Science class?” Shayna/Shayla asks. “English,” I correct her. She shoots me a condescending look. “I did speak English,” she says defensively. “I said, ‘aren’t you in my Science class?’” Oh, holy hell. Maybe I don’t want to be that blonde. “No,” I say. “I meant English as in ‘ I’m not in your Science class, I’m in your English class.’” She looks at me blankly for a second, then laughs. “Oh.” Realization dawns on her face. She eyes the screen in front of her and reads out my total. I slip my hand in my back pocket and retrieve the credit card, hoping to hurry and excuse myself from what I fear is about to become a less than stellar conversation. “Oh, dear God,” she says quietly. “Look who’s back.” I glance up at her and she’s staring at someone behind me in the other checkout line. No, let me correct that. She’s salivating over someone behind me in the checkout line. “Hey, Holder,” she says seductively toward him, flashing her full-lipped smile. Did she just bat her eyelashes? Yep. I’m pretty sure she just batted her eyelashes. I honestly thought they only did that in cartoons. I glance back to see who this Holder character is that has somehow managed to wash away any semblance of self-respect Shayna/Shayla might have had. The guy looks up at her and nods an acknowledgement, seemingly uninterested. “Hey….” He squints his eyes at her nametag. “Shayla.” He turns his attention back to his cashier. Is he ignoring her? One of the prettiest girls in school practically gives him an open invitation and he acts like it’s an inconvenience? Is he even human? This isn’t how the guys I know are supposed to react. She huffs. “It’s Shayna,” she says, annoyed that he didn’t know her name. I turn back toward Shayna and swipe my credit card through the machine. “Sorry,” he says to her. “But you do realize your nametag says Shayla, right?” She looks down at her chest and flips her nametag up so she can read it. “Huh,” she says, narrowing her eyebrows as if she’s deep in thought. I doubt it’s that deep, though. “When did you get back?” she asks Holder, ignoring me completely. I just swiped my card and I’m almost positive she should be doing something on her end, but she’s too busy planning her wedding with this guy to remember she has a customer. “Last week.” His response is curt. “So are they gonna let you come back to school?” she asks. I can hear him sigh from where I’m standing. “Doesn’t matter,” he says flatly. “Not going back.” This last statement of his immediately gives Shayna/Shayla cold feet. She rolls her eyes and turns her attention back to me. “It’s a shame when a body like that doesn’t come with any brains,” she whispers. The irony in her statement isn’t lost on me. When she finally starts punching numbers on the register to complete the transaction, I use her distraction as an opportunity to glance behind me again. I’m curious to get another look at the guy who seemed to be irritated by the leggy blonde. He’s looking down into his wallet, laughing at something his cashier said. As soon as I lay eyes on him, I immediately notice three things: 1) His amazingly perfect white teeth hidden behind that seductively crooked grin. 2) The dimples that form in the crevices between the corners of his lips and cheeks when he smiles. 3) I’m pretty sure I’m having a hot flash. Or I have butterflies. Or maybe I’m coming down with a stomach virus. The feeling is so foreign; I’m not sure what it is. I can’t say what is so different about him that would prompt my first-ever normal biological response to another person. However, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone so incredibly like him before. He’s beautiful. Not beautiful in the pretty-boy sense. Or even in the tough-guy sense. Just a perfect mixture of in-between. Not too big, but not at all small. Not too rough, not too perfect. He’s wearing jeans and a white t-shirt, nothing special. His hair doesn’t look like it’s even been brushed today and could probably use a good trim, just like mine. It’s just long enough in the front that he has to move it out of his eyes when he looks up and catches me full on staring. Shit. I would normally pull my gaze away as soon as direct eye contact is made, but there’s something odd about the way he reacts when he looks at me that keeps my focus glued to his. His smile immediately fades and he cocks his head. An inquisitive look enters his eyes and he slowly shakes his head, either in disbelief or... disgust? I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s certainly not a pleasant reaction. I glance around, hoping I’m not the recipient of his displeasure. When I turn back to look at him, he’s still staring. At me. I’m disturbed, to say the least, so I quickly turn around and face Shayla again. Or Shayna. Whatever the hell her name is. I need to regain my bearings. Somehow, in the course of sixty seconds, this guy has managed to swoon me, then terrify the hell out of me. The mixed reaction is not good for my caffeine-deprived body. I’d much rather he regard me with the same indifference he held toward Shayna/Shayla, than to look at me like that again. I grab my receipt from what’s-her-face and slip it into my pocket. “Hey.” His voice is deep and demanding and immediately causes my breathing to halt. I don’t know if he’s referring to what’s-her-face or me, so I slip my hands through the handles of the grocery sacks, hoping to make it to my car before he finishes checking out. “I think he’s talking to you,” she says. I grab the last of the sacks and ignore her, walking as fast as I can toward the exit. Once I reach my car, I let out a huge breath as I open the back door to put the groceries inside. What the hell is wrong with me? A good-looking guy tries to get my attention and I run? I’m not uncomfortable around guys. I’m confident to a fault, even. The one time in my life I might actually feel what could possibly be an attraction for someone, and I run. Six is going to kill me. But that look. There was something so disturbing about the way he looked at me. It was uncomfortable, embarrassing, and somehow flattering all at once. I’m not used to having these sorts of reactions at all, much less more than one at a time. “Hey.” I freeze. His voice is without a doubt directed at me now. I still can’t distinguish between butterflies or a stomach virus, but either way I’m not fond of the way that voice penetrates right to the pit of my stomach. I stiffen and slowly turn around, all of a sudden aware that I’m nowhere near as confident as my past would lead me to believe. He’s holding two sacks down at his side with one hand while he rubs the back of his neck with his other hand. I’m really wishing the weather were still shitty and rainy so he wouldn’t be standing here right now. He rests his eyes on mine and the look of contempt from inside the store is now replaced with a crooked grin that seems a bit forced in our current predicament. Now that I have a closer look at him, it’s apparent the stomach virus isn’t the root of the sudden stomach issues at all. It’s simply him. Everything about him, from his tousled dark hair, to his stark blue eyes, to that… dimple, to his thick arms that I just want to reach out and touch . Touch? Really, Sky? Get ahold of yourself! Everything about him causes my lungs to fail and my heart to go into overdrive. I have a feeling if he smiles at me like Grayson tries to smile at me, my panties would be on the ground in record time. As soon as my eyes leave his physique long enough for us to make eye contact again, he releases the tight grip he has on his neck and switches the sack to his left hand. “I’m Holder,” he says, extending his hand out to me. I look down at his hand, then take a step back without shaking it. This whole situation is entirely too awkward for me to trust him with this innocent introduction. Maybe if he wouldn’t have pierced me with his intense glare in the store, I would be more susceptible to his physical perfection. “What do you want?” I’m careful to look at him with suspicion rather than awe. His dimple reappears with his hasty laugh and he shakes his head, then looks away again. “Um,” he says with a nervous stutter that doesn’t match his confident persona in the least. His eyes dart around the parking lot like he’s looking for an escape, and he sighs before locking eyes with me again. His multitude of reactions confuses the hell out of me. He seems close to disgusted by my presence one minute, to practically running me down the next. I’m usually pretty good at reading people, but if I had to make an assumption about Holder based on the last two minutes alone, I’d have to say he suffers from split-personality disorder. His sudden shifts between flippant and intense are unnerving. “This might sound lame,” he says. “But you look really familiar. Do you mind if I ask what your name is?” Disappointment sets in as soon as the pick-up line escapes his lips. He’s one of those guys. You know. The incredibly gorgeous guys who can have anyone, anytime, anywhere and they know it? The guys that, all they have to do is flash a crooked smile or a dimple and ask a girl her name and she melts until she’s on her knees in front of him? The guys that spend their Saturday nights climbing through windows? I’m highly disappointed. I roll my eyes and reach behind me, pulling on the door handle to my car. “I’ve got a boyfriend,” I lie. I spin around and open the door, then climb inside. When I reach to pull the door shut, I’m met with resistance when it refuses to budge. I look up to see his hand grasping the top of the car door, holding it open. There’s a hard desperation in his eyes that sends chills down my arms. He looks at me and I get chills? Who the hell am I? “Your name. That’s all I want.” I debate on whether or not I should explain to him that my name isn’t going to help him in his stalking endeavors. I’m more than likely the only seventeen-year-old left in America without an online presence. With my grip still on the door handle, I discharge a warning shot with my glare. “Do you mind?” I say sharply, my eyes darting to the hand that’s preventing me from shutting my door. My eyes trail from his hand to the tattoo written in small script across his forearm. Hopeless I can’t help but laugh internally. I am obviously the target of Karma’s retaliation today. I’m finally introduced to the one guy that I find attractive, and he’s a high school dropout with the word hopeless tattooed on himself. Now I’m irritated. I pull on the door one more time, but he doesn’t budge. “Your name. Please.” The desperate look in his eyes when he says please prompts a surprisingly sympathetic reaction from me, way out of left field. “Sky,” I say abruptly, suddenly feeling compassion for the pain that is clearly masked behind those blue eyes of his. The ease at which I give in to his request based off of one look leaves me disappointed in myself. I let go of the door and crank my car. “Sky,” he repeats to himself. He ponders this for a second, then shakes his head like I got the answer to his question wrong. “Are you sure?” He cocks his head at me. Am I sure? Does he think I’m Shayna/Shayla and don’t even know my own name? I roll my eyes and shift in my seat, pulling my ID from my pocket. I hold it up to his face. “Pretty sure I know my own name.” I begin to pull the ID back when he releases my door and grabs the ID out of my hand, bringing it in closer for inspection. He eyes it for a few seconds, then flicks it over in his fingers and hands it back to me. “Sorry.” He takes a step away from my car. “My mistake.” His expression is glossed over with hardness now and he watches me as I put my ID back into my pocket. I stare at him for a second, waiting for something more, but he just works his jaw back and forth while I put my seatbelt on. He’s giving up on asking me out that easily? Seriously? I put my fingers on the door handle, expecting him to hold the door open again in order to spit out another lame pickup line. When that doesn’t happen and he steps back even further as I shut my door, eeriness consumes me. If he really didn’t follow me out here to ask me out, what the hell was this all about? He runs his hand through his hair and mutters to himself, but I can’t hear what he says through the closed window. I throw the car in reverse and keep my eyes on him as I back out of the parking lot. He remains motionless, staring at me the entire time I pull away. When I’m heading in the opposite direction, I adjust the rearview mirror to get a last glance at him before exiting the parking lot. I watch as he turns to walk away, smashing his fist into the hood of a car. Good call, Sky. He’s got a temper. After the groceries are put away, I grab a handful of chocolate from my stash and shove it in my pocket, then crawl out my window. I push Six’s window up and pull myself in. It’s almost four o’clock in the afternoon and she’s asleep, so I tiptoe to her side of the bed and kneel down. She’s got her facemask on and her dirty blond hair is matted to her cheek, thanks to the amount of drool she produces while she sleeps. I inch in as close as I can to her face and scream her name. “SIX! WAKE UP!” She jerks herself up with such force that I don’t have time to move out of her way. Her flailing elbow crashes into my eye and I fall back. I immediately cover my throbbing eye with my hand and sprawl out on the floor of her bedroom. I look up at her out of my good eye, and she’s sitting up in the bed holding onto her head, scowling at me. “You’re such a bitch,” she groans. She throws her covers off and gets out of bed, then heads straight for the bathroom. “I think you gave me a black eye,” I moan. She leaves the bathroom door open and sits down on the toilet. “Good. You deserve it.” She grabs the toilet paper and kicks the bathroom door shut with her foot. “You better have something good to tell me for waking me up. I was up all night packing.” Six has never been a morning person, and from the looks of it, she’s not an afternoon person, either. In all honesty, she’s also not a night person. If I had to guess when her most pleasant time of day occurs, it’s probably while she sleeps, which may be why she hates to wake up so much. Six’s sense of humor and straightforward personality are huge factors in why we get along so well. Peppy, fake girls annoy the hell out of me. I don’t know that pep is even in Six’s vocabulary. She’s one black wardrobe away from being your typical, broody teenager. And fake? She’s as straight shooting as they come, whether you want her to be or not. There isn’t a fake thing about Six, other than her name. When she was fourteen and her parents told her they were moving to Texas from Maine, she rebelled by refusing to respond to her name. Her real name is Seven Marie, so she would only answer to Six just to spite her parents for making her move. They still call her Seven, but everyone else calls her Six. Just goes to show she’s as stubborn as I am, which is one of the many reasons we’re best friends. “I think you’ll be happy I woke you up.” I pull myself up from the floor and onto her bed. “Something monumental happened today.” Six opens the bathroom door and walks back to her bed. She lies down next to me and pulls the covers up over her head. She rolls away from me, fluffing her pillow with her hand until she gets comfortable. “Let me guess…Karen got cable?” I roll onto my side and scoot closer to her, wrapping my arm around her. I put my head on her pillow and spoon her. “Guess again.” “You met someone at school today and now you’re pregnant and getting married and I can’t be a bridesmaid at your wedding because I’ll be all the way across the damn world?” “Close, but nope.” I drum my fingers on her shoulder. “Then what?” she says, irritated. I roll over onto my back and let out a deep sigh. “I saw a guy at the store after school, and holy shit, Six. He was beautiful. Scary, but beautiful.” Six immediately rolls over, managing to send an elbow straight into the same eye that she assaulted a few minutes ago. “What?!” she says loudly, ignoring the fact that I’m holding my eye and groaning again. She sits up on the bed and pulls my hand away from my face. “What?!” she yells again. “Seriously?” I stay on my back and attempt to force the pain from my throbbing eye into the back of my mind. “I know. As soon as I looked at him it was like my entire body just melted to the floor. He was…wow.” “Did you talk to him? Did you get his number? Did he ask you out?” I’ve never seen Six so animated before. She’s being a little too giddy, and I’m not sure that I like it. “Jesus, Six. Simmer down.” She looks down at me and frowns. “Sky, I’ve been worried about you for four years, thinking this would never happen. I would be fine if you were gay. I would be fine if you only liked skinny, short, geeky guys. I would even be fine if you were only attracted to really old, wrinkly men with even wrinklier penises. What I haven’t been fine with is the thought of you never being able to experience lust.” She falls back onto the bed, smiling. “Lust is the best of all the deadly sins.” I laugh and shake my head. “I beg to differ. Lust sucks. I think you’ve played it up all these years. My vote is still with gluttony.” With that, I pull a piece of chocolate out of my pocket and pop it into my mouth. “I need details,” she says. I scoot up on the bed until my back meets the headboard. “I don’t know how to describe it. When I looked at him, I never wanted to stop. I could have stared at him all day. But then when he looked back at me, it freaked me out. He looked at me like he was pissed off that I even noticed him. Then when he followed me to my car and demanded to know my name, it was like he was mad at me for it. Like I was inconveniencing him. I went from wanting to lick his dimples to wanting to get the hell away from him.” “He followed you? To your car?” she asks skeptically. I nod and give her every last detail of my trip to the grocery store, all the way up to the point where he smashed his fist into the car next to him. “God, that’s so bizarre,” she says when I finish. She sits up and mirrors my position against her headboard. “Are you sure he wasn’t flirting with you? Trying to get your number? I mean, I’ve seen you with guys, Sky. You put on a good act, even if you don’t feel it with them. I know you know how to read guys, but I think maybe the fact that you were actually attracted to him might have muddied your intuition. You think?” I shrug. She could be right. Maybe I just read him wrong and my own negative reaction prompted him to change his mind about asking me out. “Could be. But whatever it was, it was ruined just as fast. He’s a dropout, he’s moody, he’s got a temper and…he’s just…he’s hopeless. I don’t know what my type is, but I know I don’t want it to be Holder.” Six grabs my cheeks, squeezing them together, and turns my face to hers. “Did you just say Holder?” she asks, her exquisitely groomed eyebrow arched in curiosity. My lips are squished together due to her hold on my cheeks, so I just nod rather than give her a verbal response. “Dean Holder? Messy brown hair? Smoldering blue eyes? A temper straight out of Fight Club?” I shrug. “Dowds sike dim,” I say, my words barely audible thanks to the grip she still has on my face. She releases her hold and I repeat what I said. “Sounds like him.” I bring my hand to my face and massage my cheeks. “You know him?” She stands up and throws her hands up in the air. “Why Sky? Of all the guys you could be attracted to, why the hell is it Dean Holder?” She seems disappointed. Why does she seem so disappointed? I’ve never heard her mention Holder before, so it’s not like she’s ever dated him. Why the hell does it seem that this just went from sort of exciting…to very, very bad? “I need details,” I say. She rolls her head and swings her legs off the bed. She walks to her closet and grabs a pair of jeans out of a box, then pulls them up over her underwear. “He’s a jerk, Sky. He used to go to our school but he got sent to juvi right after school started last year. I don’t know him that well, but I know enough about him to know he’s not boyfriend material.” Her description of Holder doesn’t surprise me. I wish I could say it didn’t disappoint me, but I can’t. “Since when is anyone boyfriend material?” I don’t think Six has ever had a boyfriend for more than one night in her life. She looks at me, then shrugs. “Touché.” She pulls a shirt on over her head and walks to her bathroom sink. She picks up a toothbrush and squeezes toothpaste onto it, then walks back into the bedroom brushing her teeth. “Why was he sent to juvi?” I ask, not sure if I really want to know the answer. Six pulls the toothbrush from her mouth. “They got him for a hate crime...beat up some gay kid from school. Pretty sure it was a strike three kind of thing.” She puts the toothbrush back into her mouth and walks to the sink to spit. A hate crime? Really? My stomach does a flip, but not in the good way this time. Six walks back into the bedroom after pulling her hair into a ponytail. “This sucks,” she says, perusing through her jewelry. “What if this is the one time you get horny for a guy and you never feel it again?” Her choice of words makes me grimace. “I wasn’t horny for him, Six.” She waves her hand in the air. “Horny. Attracted. It’s all the same,” she says flippantly, walking back to the bed. She places an earring in her lap and brings the other one up to her ear. “I guess we should be relieved to know that you aren’t completely broken.” Six narrows her eyes and leans over me. She pinches my chin, turning my face to the left. “What in the hell happened to your eye?” I laugh and roll off the bed, out of harm’s way. “You happened.” I make my way toward the window. “I need to clear my head. I’m gonna go for a run. Wanna come?” Six crinkles up her nose. “Yeah… no. You have fun with that.” I have one leg over the windowsill when she calls back to me. “I want to know all about your first day at school later. And I have a present for you. I’m coming over tonight.” My lungs are aching; my body went numb way back at Aspen Road. My breath has moved from controlled inhaling and exhaling to uncontrolled gasps and spurts. This is the point at which I usually love running the most. When every single ounce of my body is poured into propelling me forward, leaving me committedly focused on my next step and nothing else. My next step. Nothing else. I’ve never run this far before. I usually stop when I know I hit my mile and a half mark a few blocks backs, but I didn’t this time. Despite the familiar despair that my body is currently in, I still can’t seem to shut my mind off. I keep running in hopes that I’ll get to that point, but it’s taking a lot longer than usual. The only thing that makes me decide to stop going is the fact that I still have to cover as much tread going home, and I’m almost out of water. I stop at the edge of a driveway and lean against the mailbox, opening the lid to my water bottle. I wipe the sweat off my forehead with the back of my arm and bring the bottle to my lips, managing to get about four drops into my mouth before it runs dry. I’ve already downed an entire bottle of water in this Texas heat. I silently scold myself for deciding to skip my run this morning. I’m a wuss in the heat. Fearing for my hydration, I decide to walk the rest of the way back, rather than run. I don’t think pushing myself to the point of physical exertion would make Karen too happy. She gets nervous enough that I run by myself as it is. I begin walking when I hear a familiar voice speak up from behind me. “Hey, you.” As if my heart wasn’t already beating fast enough, I slowly turn around and see Holder staring down at me, smiling, his dimples breaking out in the corners of his mouth. His hair is wet from sweat and it’s obvious he’s been running, too. I blink twice, half believing this is a mirage brought on by my exhaustion. My instinct is telling me to run and scream, but my body wants to wrap itself around his glistening, sweaty arms. My body is a damn traitor. Luckily, I haven’t recovered from the stretch I just completed, so he won’t be able to tell that my erratic breathing pattern is mostly from just seeing him again. “Hey,” I say back, breathless. I do my best to keep looking at his face but I can’t seem to stop my eyes from dripping below his neck. Instead, I just look down at my feet in order to avoid the fact that he isn’t wearing anything but shorts and running shoes. The way his shorts are hanging off of his hips is reason enough for me to forgive every single negative thing I’ve learned about him today. “You run?” he asks, leaning his elbow on the mailbox. I nod. “Usually in the mornings. I forgot how hot it is in the afternoons.” I attempt to look back up at him, lifting my hand over my eyes to shield the sun that’s glowing over his head like a halo. How ironic. He reaches out and I flinch before I realize he’s just handing me his bottle of water. The way his lips purse together in an attempt not to smile makes it obvious he can see how nervous I am around him. “Drink this.” He nudges the half empty bottle at me. “You look exhausted.” Normally I wouldn’t take water from strangers. I would especially not take water from people I know are bad news, but I’m thirsty. So damn thirsty. I grab the bottle out of his hands and tilt my head back, downing three huge gulps. I’m dying to drink the rest, but I can’t deplete his supply, too. “Thanks,” I say, handing it back to him. I wipe my hand over my mouth and look behind me at the sidewalk. “Well, I’ve got another mile and a half return, so I better get started.” “Closer to two and a half,” he says, cutting his eyes to my stomach. He presses his lips to the bottle without wiping the rim off, keeping his eyes trained on me while he tilts his head back and gulps the rest of the water. I can’t help but watch his lips as they cover the opening of the bottle that my lips were just touching. We’re practically kissing. I shake my head. “Huh?” I’m not sure if he said something out loud or not. I’m a little preoccupied watching the sweat drip down his chest. “I said it’s more like two and a half. You live over on Conroe, that’s over two miles away. That’s almost a five mile run round trip.” He says it like he’s impressed. I eye him curiously. “You know what street I live on?” “Yeah.” He doesn’t elaborate. I keep my gaze fixed on his and remain silent, waiting for some sort of explanation. He can see I’m not satisfied with his “yeah,” so he sighs. “Linden Sky Davis, born September 29th. 1455 Conroe Street. Five feet three inches. Donor.” I take a step back, suddenly seeing my near-future murder played out in front of my eyes at the hands of my dreamy stalker. I wonder if I should stop shielding my vision from the sun so I can get a better look at him in case I get away? I might need to recount his features to the sketch artist. “Your ID,” he explains when he sees the mixture of terror and confusion on my face. “You showed me your ID earlier. At the store.” Somehow, that explanation doesn’t ease my apprehension. “You looked at it for two seconds.” He shrugs. “I have a good memory.” “You stalk,” I deadpan. He laughs. “I stalk? You’re the one standing in front of my house.” He points over his shoulder at the house behind him. His house? What the hell are the chances? He straightens up and taps his fingers against the letters on the front of the mailbox. The Holders. I can feel the blood rushing to my cheeks, but it doesn’t matter. After a middle of the afternoon run in the Texas heat and a limited supply of water, I’m sure my entire body is flush. I try not to glance back at his house, but curiousity is my weakness. It’s a modest house, not too flashy. It fits in well with the mid-income neighborhood we’re in. As does the car that’s in his driveway. I wonder if that’s his car? I can deduct from his conversation with whats-her-face from the grocery store that he’s my age, so I know he must live with his parents. But how have I not seen him before? How could I not know I lived less than three miles from the only boy in existence who can turn me into a ball of frustrated hot-flashes? I clear my throat. “Well, thanks for the water.” I can think of nothing I want more than to escape this awkwardness. I give him a quick wave and break into a stride. “Wait a sec,” he yells from behind me. I don’t slow down, so he passes me and turns around, jogging backward against the sun. “Let me refill your water.” He reaches over and grabs my water bottle out of my left hand, brushing his hand against my stomach in the process. I freeze again. “I’ll be right back,” he says, running off toward his house. I’m stumped. That is a completely contradictory act of kindness. Another side effect of the split personality disorder, maybe? He’s probably a mutation, like The Hulk. Or Jekyll and Hyde. I wonder if Dean is his nice persona and Holder is his scary one. Holder is definitely the one I saw at the grocery store earlier. I think I like Dean a lot better. I feel awkward waiting, so I walk back toward his driveway, pausing every few seconds to look at the path that leads back to my home. I have no idea what to do. It feels like any decision I make at this point will be one for the dumb side of the scale. Should I stay? Should I run? Should I hide in the bushes before he comes back outside with handcuffs and a knife? Before I have a chance to run, his front door swings open and he comes back outside with a full bottle of water. This time the sun is behind me, so I don’t have to struggle so hard to see him. That’s not a good thing, either, since all I want to do is stare at him. Ugh! I absolutely hate lust. Hate. It. Every fiber of my being knows he’s not a good person, yet my body doesn’t seem to give a shit at all. He hands me the bottle and I quickly down another drink. I hate Texas heat as it is, but coupled with Dean Holder, it feels like I’m standing in the pits of Hell. “So…earlier? At the store?” he says with a nervous pause. “If I made you uneasy, I’m sorry.” My lungs are begging me for air, but I somehow find a way to reply. “You didn’t make me uneasy.” You sort of creeped me out. Holder narrows his eyes at me for a few seconds, studying me. I’ve discovered today that I don’t like being studied…I like going unnoticed. “I wasn’t trying to hit on you, either,” he says. “I just thought you were someone else.” “It’s fine.” I force a smile, but it’s not fine. Why am I suddenly consumed with disappointment that he wasn’t trying to hit on me? I should be happy. “Not that I wouldn’t hit on you,” he adds with a grin. “I just wasn’t doing it at that particular moment.” Oh, thank you, Jesus. His clarification makes me smile, despite all my efforts not to. “Want me to run with you?” he asks, nudging his head toward the sidewalk behind me. Yes, please. “No, it’s fine.” He nods. “Well, I was going that way anyway. I run twice a day and I’ve still got a couple…” He stops speaking mid sentence and takes a quick step toward me. He grabs my chin and tilts my head back. “Who did this to you?” The same hardness I saw in his eyes at the grocery store returns behind his scowl. “Your eye wasn’t like this earlier.” I pull my chin away and laugh it off. “It was an accident. Never interrupt a teenage girl’s nap.” He doesn’t smile. Instead, he takes a step closer and gives me a hard look, then brushes his thumb underneath my eye. “You would tell someone, right? If someone did this to you?” I want to respond. Really, I do. I just can’t. He’s touching my face. His hand is on my cheek. I can’t think, I can’t speak, I can’t breathe. The intensity that exudes from his whole existence sucks the air out of my lungs and the strength out of my knees. I nod unconvincingly and he frowns, then pulls his hand away. “I’m running with you,” he says, without question. He places his hands on my shoulders and turns me in the opposite direction, giving me a slight shove. He falls into stride next to me and we run in silence. I want to talk to him. I want to ask him about his year in juvi, why he dropped out of school, why he has that tattoo…but I’m too scared to find out the answers. Not to mention I’m completely out of breath. So instead, we run in complete silence the entire way back to my house. When we close in on my driveway, we both slow down to a walk. I have no idea how to end this. No one ever runs with me, so I’m not sure what the etiquette is when two runners part ways. I turn and give him a quick wave. “I guess I’ll see you later?” “Absolutely,” he says, staring right at me. I smile at him uncomfortably and turn away. Absolutely? I flip this word over in my mind as I head back up the driveway. What does he mean by that? He didn’t try to get my number, despite not knowing I don’t have one. He didn’t ask if I wanted to run with him again. But he said absolutely like he was certain; and I sort of hope he is. “Sky, wait.” The way his voice wraps around my name makes me wish the only word in his entire vocabulary was Sky. I spin around and pray he’s about to come up with another cheesy pick-up line. I would totally fall for it now. “Do me a favor?” Anything. I’ll do anything you ask me to, so long as you’re shirtless. “Yeah?” He tosses me his bottle of water. I catch it and look down at the empty bottle, feeling guilty that I didn’t think to offer him a refill myself. I shake it in the air and nod, then jog up the steps and into the house. Karen is loading the dishwasher when I run into the kitchen. As soon as the front door closes behind me, I gasp for the air my lungs have been begging for. “My God, Sky. You look like you’re about to pass out. Sit down.” She takes the bottle from my hands and forces me into a chair. I let her refill it while I breathe in through my nose and out my mouth. She turns around and hands it to me and I put the lid on it, then stand up and run it back outside to him. “Thanks,” he says. I stand and watch as he presses those same full lips to the opening of the water bottle. We’re practically kissing again. I can’t distinguish between the affect my near five-mile run has had on me and the affect Holder is having on me. Both of them make me feel like I’m about to pass out from lack of oxygen. Holder closes the lid on his water bottle and his eyes roam over my body, pausing at my bare midriff for a beat too long before he reaches my eyes. “Do you run track?” I cover my stomach with my left arm and clasp my hands at my waist. “No. I’m thinking about trying out, though.” “You should. You’re barely out of breath and you just ran close to five miles,” he says. “Are you a senior?” He has no idea how much effort it’s taking on my behalf not to fall onto the pavement and wheeze from lack of air. I’ve never ran this far in one shot before, and it’s taking everything I have to come across like it’s not a big deal. Apparently it’s working. “Shouldn’t you already know if I’m a senior? You’re slacking on your stalking skills.” When his dimples make a reappearance, I want to high-five myself. “Well, you make it sort of difficult to stalk you,” he says. “I couldn’t even find you on Facebook.” He just admitted to looking me up on Facebook. I met him less than two hours ago, so the fact that he went straight home and looked me up on Facebook is a little bit flattering. An involuntary smile breaks out on my face, and I want to punch this pathetic excuse for a girl that has taken over my normally indifferent self. “I’m not on Facebook. I don’t have internet access,” I explain. He cuts his eyes to me and smirks like he doesn’t believe a thing I’m saying. He pushes the hair back from his forehead. “What about your phone? You can’t get internet on your phone?” “No phone. My mother isn’t a fan of modern technology. No TV, either.” “Shit,” he laughs. “You’re serious? What do you do for fun?” I smile back at him and shrug. “I run.” Holder studies me again, dropping his attention briefly to my stomach. I’ll think twice from now on before I decide to wear a sports bra outside. “Well in that case, you wouldn’t happen to know what time a certain someone gets up for her morning runs, would you?” He looks back up at me and I don’t see the person Six described to me in him at all. The only thing I see is a guy, flirting with a girl, with a semi-nervous, endearing gleam in his eye. “I don’t know if you’d want to get up that early,” I say. The way he’s looking at me coupled with the Texas heat is suddenly causing my vision to blur, so I inhale a deep breath, wanting to appear anything but exhausted and flustered right now. He tilts his head toward mine and narrows his eyes. “You have no idea how bad I want to get up that early.” He flashes me his dimple-laden grin, and I faint. No…literally. I fainted. And based on the ache in my shoulder and the dirt and gravel embedded in my cheek, it wasn’t a beautiful, graceful fall. I blacked out and smacked the pavement before he even had a chance to catch me. So unlike the heroes in the books. I’m flat on the couch, presumably where he laid me after carrying me inside. Karen is standing over me with a glass of water and Holder is behind her, watching the aftermath of the most embarrassing moment of my life. “Sky, drink some water,” Karen says, lifting the back of my neck, pressing me toward the cup. I take a sip, then lean back on the pillow and close my eyes, hoping more than anything that I black out again. “I’ll get you a cold rag,” Karen says. I open my eyes, hoping Holder decided to sneak out once Karen left the room, but he’s still here. And he’s closer now. He kneels down on the floor beside me and reaches his hand to my hair, pulling out what I assume is either dirt or gravel. “You sure you’re okay? That was a pretty nasty fall.” His eyes are full of concern and he wipes something from my cheek with his thumb, then rests his hand on the couch beside me. “Oh, God,” I say, covering my eyes with my arm. “I’m so sorry. This is so embarrassing.” Holder grabs my wrist and pulls my arm away from my face. “Shh.” The concern in his eyes eases and a playful grin takes over his features. “I’m sort of enjoying it.” Karen makes her way back into the living room. “Here’s you a rag, sweetie. Do you want something for the pain? Are you nauseous?” Rather than hand the rag to me, she hands it to Holder and walks back to the kitchen. “I might have some Calendula or Burdock root.” Great. If I wasn’t already embarrassed enough, she’s about to make it even worse by forcing me to down her homemade tinctures right in front of him. “I’m fine, Mom. Nothing hurts.” Holder gently places the rag on my cheek and wipes at it. “You might not be sore now, but you will be,” he says, too quiet for Karen to hear him. He looks away from examining my cheek and locks eyes with me. “You should take something, just in case.” I don’t know why the suggestion sounds more appealing coming out of his mouth than Karen’s, but I nod. And gulp. And hold my breath. And squeeze my thighs together. And attempt to sit up, because me lying on the couch with him hovering over me is about to make me faint again. When he sees my effort to sit up, he takes my elbow and assists me. Karen walks back into the living room and hands me a small glass of orange juice. Her tinctures are so bitter, I have to down them with juice in order to avoid spitting it back out. I take it from her hand and down it faster than I’ve ever downed one before, then immediately hand her back the glass. I just want her to go back to the kitchen. “I’m sorry,” she says, extending her hand to Holder. “I’m Karen Davis.” Holder stands up and shakes her hand in return. “Dean Holder. My friends call me Holder.” I’m jealous she’s getting to touch his hand. I want to take a number and get in line. “ Sky know each other?” she asks. He looks down at me at the same time I look up at him. His lip barely curls up in a smile, but I notice. “We don’t, actually,” he says, looking back at her. “Just in the right place at the right time, I guess.” “Well, thank you for helping her. I don’t know why she fainted. She’s never fainted.” She looks down at me. “Did you eat anything today?” “A bite of chicken for lunch,” I say, not admitting to the Snickers I had before my run. “Cafeteria food sucks ass.” She rolls her eyes and throws her hands up in the air. “Why were you running without eating first?” I shrug. “I forgot. I don’t usually run in the evenings.” She walks back to the kitchen with the glass and sighs heavily. “I don’t want you running anymore, Sky. What would have happened if you would have been by yourself? You run too much, anyway.” She’s got to be kidding me. There is no way I can stop running. “Listen,” Holder says, watching as the rest of the color drains from my face. He looks back toward the kitchen at Karen. “I live right over on Ricker and I run by here every day on my afternoon runs.” (He’s lying. I would have noticed.) “If you’d feel more comfortable, I’d be happy to run with her for the next week or so in the mornings. I usually run the track at school, but it’s not a big deal. You know, just to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” Ah. Light bulb. No wonder those abs looked familiar. Karen walks back to the living room and looks at me, then back at him. She knows how much I enjoy my solitary running breaks, but I can see in her eyes that she would feel more comfortable if I had a running partner. “I’m okay with that,” she says, looking back at me. “If Sky thinks it’s a good idea.” Yes. Yes, I do. But only if my new running partner is shirtless. “It’s fine.” I stand up, and when I do, I get light headed again. I guess my face goes pale, because Holder has his hand on my shoulder in less than a second, lowering me back to the couch. “Easy,” he says. He looks up at Karen. “Do you have any crackers she can eat? That might help.” Karen walks away to the kitchen and Holder looks back down at me, his eyes full of concern again. “You sure you’re okay?” He brushes his thumb across my cheek. I shiver. A devilish grin creeps across his face when he sees me attempt to cover the chill bumps on my arms. He glances behind me at Karen in the kitchen, then refocuses his gaze to mine. “What time should I come stalk you tomorrow?” he whispers. “Six-thirty?” I breathe, looking up at him helplessly. “Six-thirty sounds good.” “Holder, you don’t have to do this.” His hypnotizing blue eyes study my face for several quiet seconds and I can’t help but stare at his equally hypnotizing mouth while he speaks. “I know I don’t have to do this, Sky. I do what I want.” He leans in toward my ear and lowers his voice to a whisper. “And I want to run with you.” He pulls back and studies me. Due to all the chaos parading through my head and stomach, I fail to muster a reply. Karen is back with the crackers. “Eat,” she says, placing them in my hand. Holder stands up and says goodbye to Karen, then turns back to me. “Take care of yourself. I’ll see you in the morning?” I nod and watch him as he turns to leave. I can’t tear my eyes away from the front door after it shuts behind him. I’m losing it. I’ve completely lost any form of self-control. So this is what Six loves? This is lust? I hate it. I absolutely, positively hate this beautiful, magical feeling. “He was so nice,” Karen says. “And handsome.” She turns to face me. “You don’t know him?” I shrug. “I know of him,” I say. And that’s all I say. If she only knew what kind of hopeless boy she just assigned as my “running partner,” she’d have a conniption. The less she knows about Dean Holder, the better it’ll be for both of us. “What the hell happened to your face?” Jack drops my chin and walks past me to the refrigerator. Jack has been a fixture in Karen’s life for about a year and a half now. He has dinner with us a few nights a week, and since tonight is Six’s going away dinner, he’s gracing us with his presence. As much as he likes to give Six a hard time, I know he’ll miss her, too. “I kicked the road’s ass today,” I reply. He laughs. “So that’s what happened to the road.” Six grabs a slice of bread and opens a jar of Nutella. I grab my plate and fill it with Karen’s latest vegan concoction. Karen’s cooking is an acquired taste, one that Six still hasn’t acquired after four years. Jack, on the other hand, is Karen’s twin incarnate, so he doesn’t mind the cooking. Tonight’s menu consists of something I can’t even pronounce, but it’s completely animal-product free, like it always is. Karen doesn’t force me to eat vegan, so unless I’m home, I usually eat what I want. Everything Six eats is only eaten to compliment her main course of Nutella. Tonight, she’s having a cheese and Nutella sandwich. I don’t know if I could ever acquire a taste for that. “So, when are you moving in?” I ask Jack. He and Karen have been discussing the next step, but they can never seem to get past the hump of her strict anti-technology rule. Well, Jack can’t get past it. It’s not a hump that will ever be scaled by Karen. “Whenever your mom caves and gets ESPN,” Jack says. They don’t argue about it. I think their arrangement is fine with both of them, so neither of them is in a hurry to sacrifice their opposing views on modern technology. “Sky passed out in the road today,” Karen says, changing the subject. “Some adorable man-boy carried her inside.” I laugh. “Guy, Mom. Please just say guy.” Six glares at me from across the table and it occurs to me that I haven’t filled her in on my afternoon run. I also haven’t filled her in on my first day of school. It’s been an active day today. I wonder who I’m going to fill in after she leaves tomorrow? Just the thought of her being on the other side of the world in two days fills me with dread. I hope Breckin can fill her shoes. Well, he would probably love to fill her shoes. Literally. But I’m hoping he does so in the figurative sense. “You okay?” Jack asks. “It must have been a pretty good fall to get that shiner.” I reach up to my eye and grimace. I’d completely forgotten about the black eye. “That’s not from fainting. Six elbowed me. Twice.” I expect one of them to at least ask Six why she attacked me, but they don’t. This just goes to show how much they love her. They wouldn’t even care if she beat me up, they’d tell me I probably deserved it. “Doesn’t that annoy you, having a number for a name?” Jack asks her. “I never understood that. It’s like when a parent names their child after one of the days of the week.” He pauses with his fork mid-air and looks at Karen. “When we have a baby, we aren’t doing that to them. Anything you can find on a calendar is off limits.” Karen stares at him with a stone cold expression. If I had to guess by her reaction, this is the first time Jack has mentioned babies. If I had to guess based on the look on her face, babies aren’t something she’s anticipating in her future. Ever. Jack refocuses his attention back to Six. “Isn’t your real name like Seven or Thirteen or something like that? I don’t get why you picked Six. It’s possibly the worst number you could pick.” “I’m going to accept your insults for what they are,” Six says. “Just your way of burying your devastation over my impending absence.” Jack laughs. “Bury my insults wherever you want. There’ll be more to come when you get back in six months.” After Jack and Six leave, I help Karen in the kitchen with the dishes. Since the second Jack brought up babies, she’s been unusually quiet. “Why did that freak you out so bad?” I ask her, handing her the plate to rinse. “What?” “His comment about having a baby with you. You’re in your thirties. People have babies at your age all the time.” “Was it that noticeable?” “It was to me.” She grabs another plate from me to rinse, then lets out a sigh. “I love Jack. I just love me and you, too. I like our arrangement and I don’t know if I’m ready to change it, much less bring another baby into the picture. But Jack is so intent on moving forward.” I turn the water off and wipe my hands on the hand-towel. “I’ll be eighteen in a few weeks, Mom. As much as you want our arrangement to stay the same…it won’t. I’ll be off at college after next semester and you’ll be living here alone. It might not hurt to entertain the idea of at least letting him move in.” She smiles at me, but it’s a pained smile just like it always is when I bring up college. “I have been entertaining the idea, Sky. Believe me. It’s just a huge step that can’t be undone once it’s taken.” “What if it’s a step you don’t want undone, though? What if it’s a step that just makes you want to take another step, and another step, until you’re full-on sprinting?” She laughs. “That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.” I wipe off the counter and rinse the rag off in the sink. “I don’t understand you, sometimes.” “And I don’t understand you, either,” she says, nudging my shoulder. “I’ll never for the life of me understand why you wanted to go to public school so bad. I know you said it was fun, but tell me how you really feel.” I shrug. “It was good,” I lie. My stubbornness wins every time. There’s no way I’m telling her how much I hated school today, despite the fact that she would never say, “I told you so.” She dries her hands and smiles at me. “Happy to hear it. Now maybe when I ask you again tomorrow, you’ll tell me the truth.” I grab the book Breckin gave me out of my backpack and plop down on my bed. I get through all of two pages when Six crawls through my window. “School first, then present,” she says. She scoots in on the bed next to me and I put the book down on my nightstand. “School sucked ass. Thanks to you and your inability to just say no to guys, I’ve inherited your terrible reputation. But by divine intervention, I was rescued by Breckin, the adopted gay Mormon who can’t sing or act but loves to read and is my new very bestest friend ever in the whole wide world.” Six pouts. “I’m not even out the door yet and you’ve already replaced me? Vicious. And for the record, I don’t have an inability to say no to guys. I have an inability to grasp the moral ramifications of premarital sex. Lots and lots of premarital sex.” She places a box in my lap. An unwrapped box. “I know what you’re thinking,” she says. “And you should know by now that my lack of wrapping doesn’t reflect how I feel about you. I’m just lazy.” I pick the box up and shake it. “You’re the one leaving, you know. I should be the one getting you a gift.” “Yes, you should be. But you suck at gift giving and I don’t expect you to change on my account.” She’s right. I’m a horrible gift giver, but mostly because I hate receiving gifts so much. It’s almost as awkward as people crying. I turn the box and find the flap, then untuck it and open it. I pull out the tissue paper and a cell phone drops into my hand. “Six,” I say. “You know I can’t…” “Shut up. There is no way I’m going halfway across the world without a way to communicate with you. You don’t even have an email address.” “I know, but I can’t…I don’t have a job. I can’t pay for this. And Karen…” “Relax. It’s a prepaid phone. I put just enough minutes on it to where we can text each other once a day while I’m gone. I can’t afford international phone calls, so you’re out of luck there. And just to keep with your mother’s cruel, twisted parental values, there isn’t even internet on the damn thing. Just texting.” She grabs the phone and turns it on, then enters her contact info. “If you end up getting a hot boyfriend while I’m away, you can always add extra minutes. But if he uses up any of mine I’m cutting his balls off.” She hands me back the phone and I press the home button. Her contact information pulls up as Your very, VERY bestest friend ever in the whole wide world. I suck at receiving gifts and I really suck at goodbyes. I set the phone back in the box and bend over to pick my backpack up. I pull the books out and set them on the floor, then turn around and dump my backpack over her and watch all the dollar bills fall in her lap. “There’s thirty-seven dollars here,” I say. “It should hold you over until you get back. Happy foreign exchange day.” She picks up a handful of dollars and throws them up in the air, then falls back on the bed. “Only one day at public school and the bitches already made your locker rain?” she laughs. “Impressive.” I lay the goodbye card on her chest that I wrote to her, then lean my head into her shoulder. “You think that’s impressive? You should have seen me work the pole in the cafeteria.” She picks the card up and brushes her fingers over it, smiling. She doesn’t open it because she knows I don’t like it when things get uncomfortably emotional. She tucks the card back to her chest and leans her head on my shoulder. “You’re such a slut,” she says quietly, attempting to hold back tears that we’re both too stubborn to cry. “So I’ve heard.” The alarm sounds and I instantly debate skipping today’s run until I remember who’s waiting for me outside. I get dressed faster than I’ve ever dressed since the first day I started getting dressed, then head to the window. There’s a card taped to the inside of my window with the word “slut” written on it in Six’s handwriting. I smile and pull the card off the window, then throw it on my bed before heading outside. He’s sitting on the curb stretching his legs. His back is to me, which is good. Otherwise he would have caught my frown as soon as I noticed he was wearing a shirt. He hears me approaching and spins around to face me. “Hey, you.” He smiles and stands up. I notice when he does, that his shirt is already soaked. He ran here. He ran over two miles here, he’s about to run three more miles with me, then he’ll be running over two miles home. I seriously don’t understand why he’s going through all this trouble. Or why I’m allowing it. “You need to stretch first?” he asks. “Already did.” He reaches out and touches my cheek with his thumb. “Doesn’t look so bad,” he says. “You sore?” I shake my head. Does he really expect me to vocalize a response when his fingers are touching my face? It’s pretty hard to speak and hold your breath at the same time. He pulls his hand back and smiles. “Good. You ready?” I let out a breath. “Yeah.” And we run. We run side by side for a while until the path narrows, then he falls into step behind me, which makes me incredibly self-conscious. I normally lose myself when I run, but this time I’m acutely aware of every single thing, from my hair, to the length of my shorts, to each drop of sweat that trails down my back. I’m relieved once the path widens and he falls back into step beside me. “You better try out for track.” His voice is steady and it doesn’t sound anything like he’s already ran four miles this morning. “You’ve got more stamina than most of the guys from the team last year.” “I don’t know if I want to,” I say, unattractively breathless. “I don’t really know anyone at school. I planned on trying out, but so far most of the people at school are sort of…mean. I don’t really want to be subjected to them for longer periods of time under the guise of a team.” “You’ve only been in public school for a day. Give it time. You can’t expect to be homeschooled your whole life, then walk in the first day with a ton of new friends.” I stop dead in my tracks. He takes a few more steps before he notices I’m no longer beside him. When he turns around and sees me standing still on the pavement, he rushes toward me and grabs my shoulders. “Are you okay? Are you dizzy?” I shake my head and push his arms off my shoulders. “I’m fine,” I say with a very audible amount of annoyance in my response. He cocks his head. “Did I say something wrong?” I start walking in the direction of my house, so he follows suit. “A little,” I say, cutting my eyes toward him. “I was halfway joking about the stalking yesterday, but you admitted to looking me up on Facebook right after meeting me. Then you insist on running with me, even though it’s out of your way. Now you somehow know how long I’ve been in public school? And that I was homeschooled? I’m not gonna lie, it’s a little unnerving.” I wait for the explanation, but instead he just narrows his eyes and watches me. We’re both still walking forward, but he just silently watches me until we round the next corner. When he does finally speak, his words are preempted with a heavy sigh. “I asked around,” he finally says. “I’ve lived here since I was ten, so I have a lot of friends. I was curious about you.” I eye him for a few steps, then drop my gaze down to the sidewalk. I suddenly can’t look at him, wondering what else his “friends” have told him about me. I know the rumors have been going around since Six and I became best friends, but this is the first time I’ve ever felt remotely defensive or embarrassed by them. The fact that he’s going out of his way to run with me can only mean one thing. He’s heard the rumors, and he’s probably hoping they’re true. He can tell I’m uncomfortable, so he grabs my elbow and stops me. “Sky.” We turn and face each other, but I keep my eyes trained on the concrete. I’m actually wearing more than just a sports bra today but I fold my arms across my t-shirt anyway and hug myself. There’s nothing showing that needs covering up, but I somehow feel really naked right now. “I think we got off on the wrong foot at the store yesterday,” he says. “And the talk about stalking, I swear, it was a joke. I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable around me. Would it make you feel better if you knew more about me? Ask me something and I’ll tell you. Anything.” I’m really hoping he’s being genuine because I can already tell he isn’t the kind of guy a girl gets a simple crush on. He’s the kind of guy you fall hard for, and the thought of that terrifies me. I don’t really want to fall hard for anyone at all, especially someone who’s only making an effort because he thinks I’m easy. I also don’t want to fall for someone who has already branded himself hopeless. But I’m curious. So curious. “If I ask you something, will you be honest?” He tilts his head toward me. “That’s all I’ll ever be.” The way he lowers his voice when he speaks makes my head spin and for a second, I’m afraid if he keeps talking like that, I’ll pass out again. Luckily, he takes a step back and waits on my response. I want to ask him about his past. I want to know why he was sent away and why he did what he did and why Six doesn’t trust him. But again, I’m not sure I want to know the truth yet. “Why did you drop out of school?” He sighs like that’s one of the questions he was hoping to be able to dodge. He begins walking forward again and I’m the one following him this time. “Technically, I haven’t dropped out yet.” “Well you obviously haven’t been in over a year. I’d say that’s dropping out.” He turns back to me and looks torn, like he wants to tell me something. He opens his mouth, then shuts it again after hesitating. I hate that I can’t read him. Most people are easy to read. They’re simple. Holder is all kinds of confusing and complicated. “I just moved back home a few days ago,” he says. “My mother and I had a pretty shitty year last year, so I moved in with my Dad in Austin for a while. I’ve been going to school there, but felt like it was time to come back home. So here I am.” The fact that he failed to mention his stint in juvi makes me question his ability to be forthcoming. I understand it’s probably not something he wants to talk about, but he shouldn’t claim that he’ll only ever be honest when he’s being anything but. “None of that explains why you decided to drop out, rather than just transfer back.” He shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know. To be honest, I’m still trying to decide what I want to do. It’s been a pretty fucked up year. Not to mention I hate this school. I’m tired of the bullshit and sometimes I think it would be easier to just test out.” I stop walking and turn to face him. “That’s a crap excuse.” He cocks an eyebrow at me. “It’s crap that I hate high school?” “No. It’s crap that you’re letting one bad year determine your fate for the rest of your life. You’re nine months away from graduation, so you drop out? It’s just…it’s stupid.” He laughs. “Well, when you put it so eloquently.” “Laugh all you want. You quitting school is just giving in. You’re proving everyone that’s ever doubted you right.” I look down and eye the tattoo on his arm. “You’re gonna drop out and show the world just how hopeless you really are? Way to stick it to ‘em.” He follows my gaze down to his tattoo and he stares at it for a moment, working his jaw back and forth. I really didn’t mean to go off on a tangent, but skimping on an education is a touchy subject with me. I blame Karen for all those years of drilling it in my head that I’m the only one that can be held accountable for the way my life turns out. Holder shifts his eyes away from the tattoo that we’re both staring at, and he looks back up and nudges his head toward my house. “You’re here,” he says matter-of-factly. He turns away from me without so much as a smile or a wave goodbye. I stand on the sidewalk and watch him as he disappears around the corner without once looking back in my direction. And here I was, thinking I would actually have a conversation with just one of his personalities today. So much for that. I walk into first period and Breckin is seated in the back of the room in all of his hot pink glory. How I didn’t notice those hot pink shoes and the boy they’re attached to before lunch yesterday boggles my mind. “Hey, gorgeous,” I say as I slide into an empty seat next to him. I take the cup of coffee out of his hands and take a sip. He lets me, because he doesn’t know me well enough yet to object. Or maybe he lets me because he knows the ramifications of intercepting a self-proclaimed caffeine addict. “I learned a lot about you last night,” he says. “It’s too bad your mother won’t let you have internet. It’s an amazing place to discover facts about yourself that you never even knew.” I laugh. “Do I even want to know?” I tilt my head back and finish off his coffee, then hand him back the cup. He looks down at the empty cup and places it back on my desk. “Well,” he says. “According to some probing on Facebook, you had someone named Daniel Wesley over on Friday night and that resulted in a pregnancy scare. Saturday you had sex with someone named Grayson and then kicked him out. Yesterday…” he drums his fingers on his chin. “Yesterday you were seen running with a guy named Dean Holder after school. That concerns me a bit because, rumor has it… he doesn’t like Mormons.” Sometimes I’m thankful I don’t have access to the internet like everyone else. “Let’s see,” I say, running through the list of rumors. “I don’t even know who Daniel Wesley is. Saturday, Grayson did come over, but he barely got to cop a feel before I kicked his drunk ass out. And yes, I was running with a guy named Holder yesterday, but I have no idea who he is. We just happened to be running at the same time and he doesn’t live far from me, so…” I immediately feel guilty for downplaying the run with Holder. I just haven’t figured him out and I’m not sure I’m ready for someone to infiltrate mine and Breckin’s twenty-hour old alliance just yet. “If it makes you feel better, I found out from some chick named Shayna that I’m a product of old money and I’m filthy rich,” he says. I laugh. “Good. Then you won’t have a problem bringing me coffee every morning.” The classroom door opens and we both look up, just as Holder walks in dressed in a casual white t-shirt and dark denim jeans, his hair freshly washed since our run this morning. As soon as I see him, the stomach virus/hot flashes/butterflies return. “Shit,” I mutter. Holder walks to Mr. Mulligan’s desk and lays a form on it, then walks toward the back of the room fiddling with his phone the whole time. He takes a seat in the d