Book: Love Me



Love Me

Table Of Contents

Title page

Copyright page

Dedication

Author's note.

Monday, October 17th

Tuesday, October 18th

Wednesday, October 19th

Thursday, October 20th

Friday, October 21st

Saturday, October 22nd

Sunday, October 23rd

Monday, October 24th

Tuesday, October 25th

Wednesday, October 26th

Thursday, October 27th

Friday, October 28th

Saturday, October 29th

Sunday, October 30th

Monday, October 31st

Tuesday, November 1st

Wednesday, November 2nd

Thursday, November 3rd

Friday, November 4th

Saturday, November 5th

Sunday, November 6th

Monday, November 7th

Tuesday, November 8th

Wednesday, November 9th

Thursday, November 10th

Friday, November 11th

Saturday, November 12th

Sunday, November 13th

Tuesday, November 15th

Wednesday, November 16th

Thursday, November 17th

Friday, November 18th

Saturday, November 19th

Sunday, November 20th

Monday, November 21st

Tuesday, November 22nd

Wednesday, November 23rd

Author's Note

Other Books by Jillian Dodd copy

Other Books by Bandit Publishing

Acknowledgements

About the Author

Jillian Dodd


love me

The Keatyn Chronicles

Book four.


Bandit Publishing


Copyright 2013 by Jillian Dodd


All rights reserved.  No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, distributed, stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, without express permission of the author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review purposes.

If you are reading this book and have not purchased it or been gifted it through an online retailer, this book has been pirated. Please delete and support the author by purchasing the ebook from one of its many distributors.


This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


Bandit Publishing

Flower Mound, TX

Edited by Rebecca Peters-Golden

Cover by Okay Creations

ISBN: 978-0-9892109-4-2


This book is for 

Love Me

Kenzie.



This book series is similar to a television series in that there is no recap of what happened earlier. 

This book starts the day the last one finished. 

If you haven’t read the first three books, you probably won’t know what’s going on. 

Click here to read book one: Stalk Me.

Click here to read book two: Kiss Me.

Click here to read book three: Date Me.


When we last saw Keatyn, she was lying in bed and Katie told her to open her eyes. Below are the last few lines of Date Me.

Our entire ceiling is covered with hundreds of little glow-in-the-dark stars. 

“They’re beautiful,” I tell Katie. “When did you find time to do that?”

“I didn’t do it. That’s why I asked if you did it.”

“I didn’t do it,” I say again.

“Who do you think did?” 

“I have no idea. Unless it was Annie. Is that why she was so adamant that we come to her room tonight? Is she trying to cheer us up?”

“Could be. But she was with us the whole time.”

My mind drifts to Aiden handing me a little star today in French. Me getting mad at him and tossing it back. 

Then tonight. The cake. The peace offering. 

Could Aiden have done this?

But that doesn’t make sense. 

They were for the dream girl. 

But in class he said something about my sisters liking them. About how they reminded me of home. Was he just trying to get rid of them?

"I think I might know,” I whisper to Katie.

I grab my phone from my bedside table and call Aiden.  

“Hey, Boots, what's up?” he says, in his smooth delicious voice. “Get it? What’s up?”

“Aiden, did you . . .” 

He doesn't let me finish. “The answer to your question is yes. I did put stars all over your ceiling.”

“They’re beautiful. But I don’t understand why you did it.”

“I did it because I think it’s time you finally knew that the stars were always for you. Always. Only. Ever. For you.”


Monday, October 17th

Lie here and swoon.

11:25pm

“But why?” Tell me, Aiden. Tell me that you fell head over heels in love with me when I kicked a soccer ball at your head. Tell me that when we kiss it feels like I'm kissing your soul. Tell me that your heart beats for me. Tell me that I was made for you.

“I just thought you should know that you were the person I wanted to ask to Homecoming.”

“But then why did you tell Riley what Whitney did? Why did you help keep Dawson and me together?”

“Because I don’t like to see you hurt. And, honestly, I didn’t think he’d come back right away.”

“I cut my knee.”

“I know you did.”

“I thought they were for someone else.”

“I know that too.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Once Dawson asked you, it was like boom you were dating, then boom you were saying I love you. What was I supposed to do at that point? But I think it’s for the best that it worked out this way because I feel like I’ve gotten to know you better. I'm glad were getting to be friends.”

Friends? Friends?! FRIENDS!?

I don't want to be his freaking friend. I don't even like him that much.

Shit. But still.

“It was sweet, Aiden. Whatever your reasons.”

“It's not all sweet. Every night when you go to sleep, I know you’ll see the stars and think of me. Sweet dreams, Boots.”

I end the call and look at my ceiling, remembering how sick I felt when I thought they were for someone else. How perfect it would’ve been. How he had touched my pinkie. How just his touch causes me to react in a way I've never experienced. How I would’ve said yes, then rolled to face him, and kissed him.

Maybe I would have even given that boy some tongue.

I want to lie here and swoon, but . . .

I sit up and flip on my lamp. "Katie?”

"So, Aiden did it?"

"Yeah." I tell her about the stars. About all that happened. About how I was wrong. “But there's something else."

"What?"

"He told me he's glad we're becoming friends."

She frowns. “Friends? He wants to be your friend?”

“I don’t know. Do you think I was just friend-zoned?”

“Do you really think he'd put up all these stars for just a friend?”

“Um, I don't know for sure.”

“Turn your light back off. They’re pretty,” she says sleepily.

“Yeah, they are.”

I lie down and wait for them to start glowing again.

And I keep reminding myself.

They are just stars. Just stars.

They don't mean he loves you. They mean he was going to ask you to Homecoming. As a friend.

My mind goes to the dream girl.

I so wish I was the dream girl.

But I’m not. He said friends. He wants peace and friendship.

He doesn't love you.

It can't happen.

You have to be smart.

But as the stars start to glow across my ceiling, I can’t help but lie here and wish he'd put up a moon.


Tuesday, October 18th

The mark of true love.

7:40am

My phone vibrates with a text from Grandpa. I can picture him sitting at his desk, overlooking the rosebushes in his back yard.

But wait. Grandpa always emails me. When did he learn to text?

Grandpa:  To answer your question about the difference between love and true love, I have a simple answer. True love leaves a mark. Sometimes with a frying pan. LOL

And when did he learn what LOL is?

Me:  Grandpa, this is serious! Ask Grandma if you don’t know. And HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW?? You’ve been married to the same woman for 39 years!!!

Grandpa:  True love is a crapshoot. Sometimes you get lucky and hit the jackpot. Sometimes you’re left wallowing drunk and broke.

Me:  You are not much help.

But as I’m walking to class, I’m thinking about Grandpa’s message and wondering if true love does leave a mark. Like the way Aiden’s kiss seared my skin that very first time he kissed me. Is that what it was? The mark of true love. Some sort of invisible hickey?

Speaking of hickeys.

Riley’s neck is covered with them.

“What? Did you get in a fight with a vacuum cleaner last night and lose?” I ask him.

He flips his collar up against his neck. “You know what they say, True love leaves a mark.”

“My Grandpa just told me the same thing. That’s so weird you’d say that. But somehow I don’t think that’s what the great philosophers had in mind.”

“Philosophers said that? That’s funny. I always thought it was something my dad made up.” He grins naughtily at me. “You should see my chest. She wrote her name in hickeys.”

I laugh. “I take it you and Ariela are back together? Did you sleep with her?”

“Naw, we’re having too much fun doing other stuff right now.”

His words burn in my brain. We’re having too much fun doing other stuff. That’s what I missed with Dawson. I’ve never sucked on his neck long enough to give him even one hickey. Let alone written my name on his chest. I went way too fast with him. And I think because I did, we can’t really start over. I can’t take it back.

I feel like I should make a public service announcement over the loud speaker in school.

Note to all you daters out there:

Enjoy making out for hours.

Enjoy the way his lips feel on yours.

Enjoy embarrassing him with hickeys.

Enjoy holding his hand.

Enjoy the way he says your name when he tells you goodnight.

Enjoy when he shows up to walk you to your next class.

Enjoy how he licks hot fudge off your face.

Enjoy staring at the stars with him.

Enjoy feeling crazy in love.

Like you will die if you don’t see him.

Like you will die if you have to stop kissing him.

Enjoy letting him romance you.

Revel in the slow pace.

Let your relationship build.

Then fall in love.

If only I could actually do that myself. I think of Aiden’s sex survey. Since I broke up with Sander, all of my relationships have happened really fast.

My mind flits to my mom saying, You need to love yourself. 

Do I love myself?

Of course I do. I work out. I eat healthy. I try to get enough sleep. I always wear sunblock so I won’t get sun damage or premature wrinkles. I always try to look my best. Maybe I didn’t love myself when I was being a bitch to Vanessa, but since I’ve been here at Eastbrooke, I totally love who I am. I’m confident. I’m in lots of activities I love. I’m making friends with a wide variety of people. I’m nice to everyone.

Why wouldn’t I love myself? I’m awesome.

Except . . .

I felt embarrassed when I told Aiden how fast I slept with Cush.

And Dawson.

At the time, it felt right. And I’d known Cush and Brooklyn for a long time. It’s not like I’d just met them.

Like Dawson.

I slept with Dawson fast.

Why?

Because I was hurt about B and needed to feel loved? Wanted? Adored?

Or was it just because he was so freaking hot that I couldn’t help myself?

The current state of your neck.

History

When class is almost over, the phone rings on our teacher’s desk.

He picks it up, listens, then frowns disapprovingly in my direction. “Mr. Johnson and Miss Monroe, your presence is requested in the dean’s office.”

“Do you think we’re in trouble?” I ask Riley as we walk down the hall.

“I can’t think of anything I’ve done to get in trouble.”

“I’m almost positive that the current state of your neck is against the school’s decency policy.”

“Probably, but you didn’t give them to me.”

We round the corner and run into Dallas.

“Did you get called to the office too?” Riley asks.

Dallas whispers, “If they saw the video, we’re screwed.”

“What do you mean?” I whisper back.

“I mean, we had our school blazers on. We could get expelled.”

“Seriously?”

I can’t get expelled. I’m safe here.

Plus, I like it.

The dean meets us at the door and says, “Have a seat in my office.”

We walk in and sit in the three chairs lined up in front of his desk.

“It has come to my attention that the three of you recently created a video.”

Shit. Shit. Shit.

He pulls out three pieces of paper. Pieces of papers with our signatures at the bottom and the words “Eastbrooke Code of Conduct” at the top. “Do you recall signing these at the beginning of the school year?”

We all nod.

“In this document, you all agreed to protect Eastbrooke’s reputation. In the video, Mr. McMahon and Mr. Johnson are wearing pieces of their Eastbrooke uniforms. Combine that with underage drinking, some unbecoming sexual behavior by Miss Monroe, and it all adds up to the three of you possibly being expelled.”

Please let possibly be a way out of this. I can’t let Riley and Dallas get expelled because of me.

“I can explain,” I say. “I’m sorry. I was really upset. Dawson and I broke up and the video wasn’t supposed to be seen by anyone but him.”

“Did the video serve its purpose?”

“Well, he was upset by it, if that’s what you mean.”

“Although I was disappointed with the video’s content, I was impressed by the overall quality of it.”

Riley grins.

“Mr. Johnson, did you create this video? Do the editing and such? Can you tell me about the process?”

“Uh, sure,” Riley says. “Basically we did shots of us singing the same song a whole bunch of times in different situations, different settings. Then I pieced it together.”

“Can I assume that none of you want to be expelled?”

We all nod.

“Then here’s what I expect. First, that video will be removed from YouTube before you leave my office. Second, I have a project for you. Eastbrooke understands the power of social media, and our upcoming Prospective Student Weekend does not have the number of participants that we would like. I’d like you to create a video showcasing the school. Give students a reason to come see what we’re all about. Obviously, it needs to be classy and uphold the Eastbrooke tradition, but maybe you can make it a little less stuffy than the informational video we have on the school’s website. Can you shoot the video, edit it, and have it ready for my approval by this afternoon?”

Riley nods his head yes, but I’m thinking about something else.

I just realized that uploading the video of me was really dumb. What if Vincent had come across it somehow? Actually, that’s silly. The internet is a massive place and since I wasn’t tagged in it with my name, he’d have better odds finding a needle in a haystack. But, still, the idea of me being in a video that could lead him straight here scares me.

“Um, do I have to be in the video? Can we recruit some other students?”

“Yes, Keatyn, you do have to be in the video. It’s better than the alternative, correct?”

“Yes, sir,” I gulp. I could mention that Vincent finding me would be much, much worse, but I don’t. I can’t. Riley and Dallas are my friends. I need to start being a good friend back. And a good friend wouldn’t let them get expelled.

“I don’t want you just getting your friends out of class,” he says, as he writes on a piece of paper. “But if you need additional students, use this pass.”

Every boy’s fantasy.

9:30am

Riley removes the slutty video before we leave the dean’s office. As soon as we get out of the building, Dallas says, “Getting expelled would not have been good.”

“No, it wouldn’t have been,” I agree.

Riley grins. “Let’s go get my camera.”

“Any idea what we’re going to film?”

“No. But you’re in drama. Write a script.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“The purpose of the video is to get students to want to come here. So let’s show them how much fun we have. I think I’m going to include clips of how Dawson asked you to Homecoming. The dean with a letter on his naked chest is a cool thing. And I have a bunch of footage that I shot during Homecoming. Then we just can include a little blurb at the end about the upcoming Greek/PSW weekend.”

“Maybe we need to get some of the Olympian gods to be shirtless.”

Riley grins at me. “You, start writing the script.” Then he turns to Dallas. “And, you, go get Maggie, Ariela, Aiden, Jake, and Logan out of class.”

“Why them?”

“If I’m going to appeal to 8th grade boys, I need hot girls. Plus, it’s every boy’s fantasy. A blonde, a brunette, and a redhead. All together, waiting for him at Eastbrooke.”

We get to his room. While he messes with his camera, I grab his laptop, sit at his desk, and pull up Eastbrooke’s website and perspective student video.

Eastbrooke: Honor. Tradition. Excellency. 

It goes on about how great Eastbrooke is in a very boring fashion. There are still shots of kids in classes. At activities. One of a cheering crowd at a sporting event. Really, it’s pretty bland and impersonal. I can see why kids aren’t signing up for the PSW.

Hmmm.

I spin on Riley’s chair. “So what if we start with this shot. The beginning of the other video with the “honor, tradition, and excellency” thing, then make it look like we tagged it with graffiti. Like we’ve spray painted a big cougar paw over the top of it.”

“I like it. What do you think for a script?”

“I don’t know that just showing clips of Homecoming and stuff is a good idea. That’s what’s on the other video. Photos of people you don’t know. It’s really impersonal.”

“So, let’s make it personal. Talk about us.”

“Our story?”

“Yeah. Let’s take them through a day. Getting coffee and breakfast with our friends. Goofing around in the halls between classes. Dinner. Hanging out in our dorms.” He smirks. “Maybe you girls could wear your Mission: Impossible lingerie and have a pillow fight.”

“Very funny. But I think the idea of showing us girls hanging out in my dorm is a great idea. I mean, really, the dorm can be like one big slumber party.”

“Exactly. And I’ll get some shots of the guys, chilling in Aiden’s room, playing video games. Texting girls. Stuff like that.”

“That sounds good. And maybe dance practice, soccer practice, rehearsal. There’s a French club meeting at lunch and lit club after dance. We can recreate whatever we want to.”

“The dean is really cool,” Riley replies. “We’re lucky.”

“Yeah, we are.”

“Okay, so before everyone gets here, I want to record you. Let’s go outside where the lighting is good. Do you know what you want to say?”

“I think so, yes.”

We get situated outside of Hawthorne House. “Riley, you know, one of my favorite things about this school is how pretty it is. So let’s make sure we get shots of the trees, and we should get some shots of a pick-up soccer game in the common area.”

“Shirts and skins?”

“Absolutely! So what do you want me to do? Should I stand or sit on the steps?”

“Stand. I love those little thigh-high sock things you wear. Those ribbon ones are my favorite.”

Riley holds up the camera and says, “Roll that.”

Which causes me to crack up instead of talking.

“Maybe we can do some bloopers at the end.” He nods at me. “Go.”

I smile for the camera and start talking. “Hi, I’m Keatyn. I was sitting where you are, just a few months ago, watching videos, trying to decide where to go to school. You can learn all about academic excellence and tradition on the other video, but, in this video, we want you to experience Eastbrooke.”

He stops recording. “That’s good, I like it.”

“I want to introduce you and Dallas. Tell them how we met. Then we’ll follow all of us on our day.”

Dallas shows up with Maggie, Logan, Jake, Ariela, and Aiden. After Riley and Ariela suck each other’s faces off, we fill everyone in on what we want to do. Riley hands Jake the camera.

I speak to the camera. “This is Riley and Dallas. Say hi, boys.”

Dallas says, “Hey, y’all,” in his adorable accent. Riley, hotly, sticks out his tongue at the camera and yells, “What’s up?”

We spend the day filming all over school. Some scenes with just a few of us. Others with classrooms full of students.

After that, Ariela goes back to class, and the others are off recruiting guys for the pick-up soccer game.

I’m sitting in the grass waiting for them to show up.

I glance at the goal and think about Aiden, who, even though he’s been helping on and off today, has been acting weird.

Like, sort of standoffish, maybe.

Sometimes he gives me those looks. Like he wants to talk to me or say something, but then he doesn’t.

And I really don’t know what his deal is.

Maybe now he’s embarrassed about the stars?

Aiden is first to return. He has a soccer ball and is bouncing it off his knees over and over again.

“Wanna see if you can score on me?” he asks, finally saying a full sentence to me for the first time today.

“I probably wouldn’t do very well in these heels,” I reply, bending my knee to show him a cute shoe. “But I would like to play you again. Especially since you told me only, like, ten people have ever scored on you.”

“That was just in games.”

“Fine, then. We’ll consider it a game.”

“How will it work?”

“Hmm. I'll kick a penalty shot. No, I’ll kick twenty of them. If I get eleven of them past you and into the net, I win.”

“And what will you win?”

“Bragging rights are all I need.”

“No, it needs to be bigger than that. Let me think about it, B-Moi.”

“I’m not sleeping with you if you win,” I say immediately, knowing that’s what his shortened Baise moi is suggesting.

“I wouldn't want you to,” he says.

My face drops. He doesn’t want to sleep with me? I look down at the grass and start studying the blades.

Oh, I have so been friend-zoned. He just wanted to get rid of the stupid stars. That’s all it was.

I’m not the one. Not the dream girl.

I see Aiden’s shoes coming toward me. He kneels down next to me, but I refuse to look at him. If I do, I’ll probably start crying.

Oh, I hate him.

“Boots?” he says. I pretend to be really interested in the single blade of grass I just picked. He puts his hand under my chin and pushes it up so I have to look into his sparkling emerald eyes. “When we sleep together, it's not going to be because of a bet.”

I swallow.

And turn away quickly.

When we sleep together?

Is that what he wants? Is that why he wants to be my friend? Does he want to be friends with benefits?

Sorry, Aiden. Been there. Done that. Hacked the shirt with scissors, ripped it to shreds, then burned the effing thing to oblivion.

Fortunately, Riley runs by, flicks my hair, and steals the soccer ball out of Aiden’s hands, causing Aiden to tear off after him.

While they chase each other around, my mind wanders to what sleeping with Aiden would be like.

I’m pretty sure it would be like dropping the hairdryer in the tub while I'm taking a bath.

I’d probably be majorly electrocuted and die.

But I bet it would be worth the risk.

All the guys show up, so Riley goes into director mode. Saying who he wants on which team. Who should take off their shirts. And what to do.

I’m sitting in the grass next to Maggie, thinking about how fitting it is that this field be included in the video. It was one of the first things I saw when I got here. When I took a deep breath and finally felt safe. And, later, how crazy I was to run down the hill, steal the ball from Dawson, and kick it past Aiden’s head. Dawson bringing me here to ask me out. Aiden and me sitting on the bench outside the library, overlooking the field, and watching the sunset.

Maggie elbows my side. “So, tell me about the stars. What happened? Are you and Aiden gonna get together now? What are you going to do about Dawson? Did you see Jake was teasing me? I think I might like him. Should I like him?”

I smile at her. Maggie is such a beautiful girl, and I adore her fun personality. She and Jake would be cute together, but it also seems like there’s something going on with her and Logan. Something about the way they look at each other.

I grab her hand. “Before I answer all that, I just want to say that I’m so glad we’re friends. Sitting here reminds me of when school started.”

“I remember hearing about the crazy-ass girl who kicked a soccer ball past Aiden. I never imagined we’d become good friends. But I love you. You’re as crazy as me.” She grabs me and pulls me into a hug.

Riley, who has apparently caught our moment on tape, yells from across the field, “Make out!”

Maggie and I respond in the exact same manner at the exact same time, both flipping him off and then lying back in the grass and giggling.

After getting an appropriate number of shirts vs. skins shots, I take Riley into the dance locker room and then get the girls together to hang out in my dorm room. We change into pajamas and do all the stuff we usually do. Gossip, paint our nails, talk on social media, do homework, and eat.

Then we do the same thing with the boys. Show a football practice. Riley lifting weights. Dallas running. Then all the guys piled into Aiden’s room, eating and playing video games. Aiden and me studying in the library. Him slaughtering the French language and me trying to protect it.

After that, we go back to the dean to tell him we’re done filming, but that Riley will need tonight to edit it.

He asks us to have it to him by tomorrow morning at eight. Apparently, the school is going to email it to their prospective student list in hopes of buoying this weekend’s attendance.

Wrapped up in a relationship.

6:50pm

I get to rehearsal a little early. The director immediately pulls me aside.

“So, Miss Monroe, what did you decide? Are you going to give me a committed performance or are you going to quit?”

I smile. “I’m going to give you an amazing performance. I’m really sorry about last week. I kind of got caught up in a guy.”

“Who you’ve since broken up with, or so I’ve heard.”

“Yeah, but I was going to keep doing it even if that hadn’t happened. Acting is something I really want to do. Like, maybe even with my life. So, it’s important to me. I just, I sort of forgot to think about me. Have you ever done that?”

“Gotten wrapped up in a relationship? Sure. Everyone does sometimes. Learning that it’s okay to be yourself, have your own interests, and still be part of a committed relationship is part of growing up. And something I learned the hard way.”

“Really, how?”

“In college, I was in a one-act play. But the girl I was dating had a sorority function the same night and was upset that I couldn’t go. She was going to take another date, so I quit the play even though it was important to me.”

“Was the sorority thing that big of a deal?”

“Not really. And I held it against her, which then undermined our relationship.”

“The one that got away, huh?”

“Actually, no. I chose to get away because she wasn’t supportive of me. If it was a good relationship, she would’ve come to my play, then we would have gone to the last half of her formal. You have to want to make it work.”

I think about Tommy and Mom and how they won’t do movies at the same time in different locations. How they won’t be apart for more than a week. How supportive they are of each other. What Aiden said to me at tryouts flits through my brain. How, if Dawson loved me, he should be there supporting me. Watching me try out. Not making me feel guilty for doing what I love.

“That makes sense.”

He smiles at me. “And I do have some good news for you. Wednesday and Thursday, you get the night off. We’re going to be focusing those rehearsals on memorizing lines. Since you have yours down, you get a little reward.”



“Really?! Thank you!”

“No, thank you. It’s nice to work with a professional. You, Logan, and Jake are the only ones in the cast who are prepared.”

I take my usual seat in the back of the auditorium and pull out my homework. Might as well get started on it. I have a comparative essay due tomorrow for English, math problems, a science worksheet, and history chapter questions.

I’m tackling the essay when my phone buzzes. I expect it to be Aiden since it’s unusual for him to be late.

Dawson:  I missed walking you to class today.

Me:  We were working on a project for the dean.

Dawson:  I heard. Was it fun?

Me:  Yeah, sort of. The dean saw the video we made on the plane. This was sort of our punishment.

Dawson:  That video really upset me.

His comment makes me feel bad and pisses me off at the same time. It’s like he’s trying to make me feel bad for making him feel bad when he made me feel bad.

Does that even make sense?

Me:  I’m sorry it upset you. Obviously, I was pretty upset myself. Look, I’ve got to go. I’m at rehearsal and I have a ton of homework.

Dawson:  I’m going to make it up to you.

Me:  How are you planning to do that?

Dawson:  I’m not sure. Is there anything I can do to make you get over it?

Me:  Talking about it might help. Like if I really knew what you were thinking. Maybe. Part of me doesn’t want to know. Part of me would prefer to just stay mad. Being mad is easier.

Dawson:  Please don’t stay mad at me, Keatie. Please. Can we talk tonight? Like after rehearsal?

Me:  If I get out in time.

Dawson:  If not, we’ll go to the Cave later or something. Okay?

Me:  Okay.

Aiden strolls in around eight-thirty. I’ve done two of my scenes in the first act of the play and managed to get a rough draft of my essay done.

“I just stopped by to tell you that I can’t do tutoring tonight.”

“Yeah, I kinda already figured that,” I say, trying to hide my disappointment. I’ve come to enjoy hanging out with Aiden during practice.

“I’m glad I skipped out on the taping for a while and went to French. We had a pop quiz today.”

“How did you do?”

“Good, I think. Your tutoring seems to be working.”

“Well, that’s good.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“Uh, sure. What are you doing tonight?”

He grins at me. Probably reading my mind and knowing that I’m dying to know what else he has to do. How much do you want to bet it involves a curvy cheerleader who he is friends with?

“I’m helping Riley and Dallas with the video. Riley’s worried that he won’t get it done. What he’s done so far, though, is really good.”

“That’s nice of you, Aiden. But I’m kind of surprised. I didn’t think you and Riley were friends.”

“We were friends during football camp, then we got into it in the locker room that one day.”

“As in the day he slammed you against a locker for talking shit about me and Dawson?”

Aiden hangs his head a little. “Yeah.”

“Riley’s a good guy,” I say.

“Yeah, I know. He’s not like Dawson.”

“Dawson is a good guy.”

Aiden rolls his eyes at me, shakes his head, and says, “See ya later, Boots.”

The way he says it sounds kind of dreamy. His voice. His mouth. Everything about him is just plain dreamy.

But then I remember another time he said those words to me.

After our 29 dances.

Which means I probably won’t hear from him for days.

Don’t stop kissing me.

9:45pm

We get out of rehearsal a little early, so I go see Dawson.

When I get there, he immediately pulls me onto his bed and kisses me.

We kiss, and kiss, and kiss.

He runs his hands up the sides of my shirt and pulls it off. Then he kisses my neck, my chest, and my stomach. Then he stops, puts an arm above my shoulder and leans close to my face.

“We haven’t been talking. I’m sorry. I’m having a hard time starting over. We should stop kissing and talk, right? What do you want to talk about?”

“I just have one thing to say.”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t stop kissing me.” I grab his shirt and pull him back toward my lips.

Which is all he needs. He kisses me passionately and does some other stuff that I very much enjoy. I start to feel that familiar yearning.

Why is it that I don’t want to have sex with him?

Is it because I want to punish him?

But isn’t that sort of punishing me too?

I want to. And, oh, my gosh. He is—well, he’s doing things to me that I also shouldn’t be letting him do, but I don’t stop him.

I can’t stop him.

I want to feel close to him again. I want to know if things have changed. He said things were different when he kissed Whitney.

Things are not different when we kiss.

I still feel the same desire. The same emotions. I’m ready to take things further, all the way further, and he’s definitely ready.

This is the point where we both know we want to.

Since that first time, we’ve never questioned it. It feels good, so we do it. And I’m ready for that. Expecting that. I’m guiding him toward me.

But he stops.

Again.

“Keatie, I want this more than you know. But I don’t want you to regret it. I never want you to regret what we do. I know maybe it sounds empty because of what happened, but I love you. I really do.”

He strokes my hair, runs the back of his hand down the side of my face, and sweeps it across my chin. I lean my head into his hand as he cradles my face in his palm and looks into my eyes.

I don’t break eye contact. I tilt my pelvis up a little higher, grab his hips, and guide him into me.

He’s a bit shocked by this, I think.

His eyes get big, but then he smiles and starts slowly pushing in and out. Then he leans down and kisses me.

Our kissing matches the rhythm of the sex. Slow and gentle to start, then deeper and harder and faster, until he can’t keep kissing me because it’s gotten so intense.

Finally, he collapses on top of me, breathing heavily. I hug him tightly as he sprinkles little kisses down the side of my cheek and across my shoulder.

“That was amazing.”

I laugh at him. “You always say that.”

“Sorry, I need some new adjectives. I’ll get back to you on that. I’m having a hard time thinking right now.” He grabs a strand of my hair and absent-mindedly twirls it around his finger.

“What are you thinking about?”

“How lucky I am. Does this mean we’re back together?”

“No, but we’re maybe starting over.”

“Yeah, but . . .”

“If you recall, when we started this happened pretty quickly.”

He smiles big. “I do recall. And I swear it won’t end like before. So are we going out again?”

“We’re not. Just like we weren’t then.”

“We’re taking it slow?”

I grin and shake my head because we both know that this is not taking it slow.

“Something like that. I might date other people. And you should too.”

He glances at the clock. “I doubt I will, but we’ll see. Probably better get you home. I don’t want you to be late.”

I glance at the clock and see that he’s right. We quickly get dressed, walk arm in arm back to my dorm, and share a long goodnight kiss.

I’m lying in bed, reading a steamy romance novel, when Katie says, “What happened with you and Dawson tonight?”

“We just, you know, we’re maybe starting over.”

“He just changed his relationship status,” she says, as my phone buzzes.

I pick it up and read what I’m supposed to approve: It’s complicated with Kiki Kiki.

And I don’t know who came up with that relationship status when they invented Facebook, but I’m thinking I couldn’t have described it better myself.

Because it is complicated.

And I’m pretty sure that my sleeping with him just made it even more complicated.

I decide to call Riley. “How’s the video going?”

“Almost done. We’ve got three computers with all the video, and Dallas and Aiden have been helping me find the footage I need. It’s turning out great. Are you going to be up for a little while? I’m putting some finishing touches on it and will send you the link in a few.”

“I’ll wait up. I can’t wait to see it. Um, Riley, uh, how come Aiden is helping you?”

“He offered.”

“Oh. Are you friends?”

“Yeah, pretty much.”

A few minutes later, my computer dings with an email. I follow the link and watch the video.

I call Riley back.

“I, um, it’s really good, Riley,” I blubber.

“Are you crying?”

“I’m just, it’s just . . . really good.”

“Yeah, you said that already. It’s supposed to make you want to come here, not cry.”

“It will make people want to come here. It just . . .”

“It’s about us.”

“Exactly. I love you and Dallas.”

“What part made you cry?”

“Just all of it,” I lie.

“What part made you cry?” he asks again sternly.

“Aiden’s part. How people here inspire him to be a better person. About the sunsets.”

“And why did that make you cry?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?”

“Because I slept with your brother tonight.”

“Is that what It’s complicated means?”

“Yes.”

“Baby, it’s okay with me if you like Aiden. I know you’ve liked him since school started.”

“Thanks, Riley, but I don’t like Aiden. I mean, I did, at first. But he doesn’t like me back. He wants to be my friend.”

“Oh, really? Your friend?” Riley chuckles.

“Don't laugh at me. I’ve been friend-zoned. It’s embarrassing.”

“Keatyn, I swear, you are clueless.”

“I am not clueless. He told me himself he wants to be my friend.”

“I want to be Ariela’s friend.”

“You also want to sleep with her. Aiden doesn’t want to sleep with me. Actually, that’s not true. He said we might sleep together someday. But I had a friends with benefits relationship before. I don’t want that. I want more.”

“And you’re getting more from Dawson?”

“Yes. No. Kinda. He says he loves me.”

“I’m learning that saying it and proving it are two very different things. Night, baby.”


Wednesday, October 19th

A little more disturbing.

7:25am

I’m putting my mascara on, getting ready for class, when my phone buzzes with a text.

I glance down at it.

Garrett:  Meet me at that little diner in town in 20 minutes. We need to talk about Miami. 

Me:  You’re here? In town? What’s wrong?

Garrett:  I need to talk to you.

Me:  You have bad news? What’s wrong??!!! Is my family okay??

Garrett:  They’re fine. We just have a lot to talk about.

Me:  Okay.

I sign myself out of school, pretending to have a dentist appointment, and drive to the diner.

Garrett meets me outside my car. The first thing he does is pull me into a hug.

“I swear, you’re going to give me gray hair. I’m glad you’re okay.”

I pull away, pleasantly surprised by his hug.

“Are we going to talk about Tiny? Did you find some clues to connect him with Vincent? Is he going to jail for a very long time? Can I go back home?”

He sighs and shakes his head. “Afraid not. The guy’s like teflon. I can’t get anything to stick.”

“What if we set him up?”

He narrows his eyes at me. “Set him up?”

“Yeah, planted some evidence. Made it look like he killed Tiny. Tip off the cops.”

“I believe in justice, Keatyn. But I won’t discard my morals.”

“So, I guess that means hiring a hit man to take him out isn’t an option?”

Garrett laughs and shakes his head at me. “Very funny,” he says, but then his face gets serious. “There are a few things going on that I want you to know about.”

“I’m about to get the bad news now, right?”

He hands me a tabloid magazine. Sprawled across the front page is a large headline. Tommy’s Affair With Abby’s Best Friend. Below is a photo of Tommy hugging Millie. The photo looks damaging. Millie is getting into a car and it does look like he’s saying goodbye to his lover. He’s hugging her tighter than usual.

“This can’t be true.”

“It’s not. Tommy, Millie, and a producer had dinner together in LA a few nights ago. They’re trying to convince Tommy to guest star in a few episodes of Millie’s prime time soap opera. She was tired, so she asked Tommy to walk her out to the car. The reason he’s hugging her so tightly is she just told him the reason for her being tired.”

My eyes get big. “She’s pregnant, isn’t she? Oh, my gosh! I’m so excited for her and Deron!”

“She is pregnant. But the press is going crazy. Pulling out any old photos of them together without Abby. Or cropping Abby out of the picture. Their publicists expect this to get worse before it gets better. I just wanted to make sure you don’t worry about it.”

“Thanks, Garrett, I appreciate it.”

“Now, for something a little more disturbing.” He hands me another paper. This one has the words Press Release across the top of it.

Vincent Sharpe of A Breath Behind You Films is pleased to announce casting has commenced for the green-lit film, Another Day at the Lake, a remake of the Abby Johnston cult classic. Mr. Sharpe says, “While some roles have been cast, we’re looking for an unknown to play the role Abby Johnston originated. We’ll be doing nationwide open casting calls in many major cities. If you know someone who looks like the main character in the early version of the film, please message us. And be sure to check our website for details, but get ready Miami and New York, we’re coming to you first.”

The paper slips out of my hand and my knees start to give out. “This is brilliant.”

“And scary,” Garrett says quietly, grabbing my elbow so I don’t buckle to the ground. “Basically, he’s doing tryouts all over the country, but what he wants is someone to turn in your picture and tell him where to find you. On the website, it mentions they will do some surprise casting calls. As in, you can nominate someone without their knowing and he will show up, surprise them, and let them audition.”

“The good news is, I don’t really look that much like my mom.”

Garrett shakes his head and holds out a picture of my mom from the movie. She’s in a swimsuit. Her hair is in soft waves. She has a sweetness to her face that I never used to have. But coming here has changed me. Softened me, somehow.

“You do, Keatyn. Has anyone at school mentioned that?”

“My friends went to see one of Mom’s movies. When they came back, they said I remind them of her. Mostly that my voice and gestures are identical.” I start to panic. “What would I do if someone from school sent in my picture without me knowing and he showed up?”

“It’s my job to prepare for that possibility. Let’s go inside and order some breakfast. I have someone I want you to meet.”

I follow Garrett into the diner, my mind still spinning at the lengths Vincent’s going to in order to find me.

Garrett stops at a table, moves out of my line of sight, and says, “Meet your new babysitter, Cooper Steele.”

Cooper Steele stands up to shake my hand.

Holy hell.

Please tell me that babysitting involves him spending every single night in my room.

In my bed.

This guy is the definition of rugged hotness. Muscles on top of muscles, short buzzed hair, tattoos. He’s not quite six feet, but a woman could learn to love flats if her reward was that body.

He's wearing tailored black cargo pants and a tight white thermal shirt that allows me to see the outline of a buff chest and muscular shoulders.

Women in the diner are staring.

I look around. No, they're drooling. Imagining what's bulging where we can't see.

I lean around Garrett, shake his hand, and smile. “Hey, I’m Keatyn.”

He gestures to the seats across from him in the booth, so Garrett and I slide in.

A waitress comes over, filling our cups with steamy coffee and flirting with both Cooper and Garrett.

But the coffee is lukewarm compared to the man staring at me with intensity.

She takes our orders and then Garrett says, “Cooper is your new interim soccer coach and will be teaching Health class.”

Clearly, I’m going to be needing private lessons on drilling the ball into the net.

“We already have a soccer coach.”

“She just got an amazing offer. Seems it’s always been her dream to teach soccer to underprivileged children. A charitable foundation, conveniently, just offered her that dream. Six months of handing out soccer balls in third world countries. The catch was that she has to leave tomorrow. When she hesitated about leaving her girls with no coach, Cooper was recommended. His soccer experience, combined with the urgency of the offer and outstanding references, allowed for a quick hire.”

“You don’t really look like a soccer player,” I say to Cooper Steele.

Cooper gives me a barely perceptible squint of his eyes, but doesn’t respond.

Garrett continues. “He played on the United States Under-20 Men’s National Team, which qualified for the World Cup. Graduated with honors from Brown University, and is an accomplished MMA fighter.”

I look at Cooper. He gives me a teeny smirk. One that is supposed to irritate me, but I’m not sure how it could. The smirk brings out the beginnings of a sexy set of dimples.

“So, I don’t get it.”

“You told me she was smart,” Cooper scoffs.

Garrett turns to me. “With the letter I just showed you, the possibility of Vincent showing up randomly at Eastbrooke has increased exponentially. I want someone on site to help protect you.”

The waitress interrupts us by delivering our food. After she leaves, I say, “So you’re basically my bodyguard? Just how old are you, anyway?”

“He’s twenty-three,” Garrett says. “He’s also the son of a decorated military man and is an expert marksman.”

“So he’ll have a gun with him at all times?”

“Obviously, he can’t.”

“Garrett, if you hired him to protect me, that means I’m paying him to protect me. I’d love to know what I’m getting for my money. A soccer player who knows how to throw a punch and kick the shit out of guy in a ring, and would be a good shot if he had a gun, doesn’t really make me feel all that safe.”

“Fine. I pulled him out of the Farm.”

“The Farm?”

“Yes, he was currently at the top of his class, training to be a CIA agent.”

Damn.

“That makes me feel better.”

“Obviously, what I just shared with you is confidential.”

I nod at Garrett and look at Cooper. “Is this something you want to do? Do you feel this is beneath you?”

He shakes his head. “I’m honored that I was recruited for something of this nature. I hadn’t really considered the commercial side of things.”

I laugh. “In other words, I’m paying him very well?”

“Basically,” Garrett says. “And I’m always on the lookout for people that fit into my organization. The fact that he is young and just a soccer coach means no one will think twice about him.”

“How involved is he going be? How much are we supposed to interact?”

“I know you don’t want a traditional bodyguard and I don’t think one is necessary at this point. Remember when the school office got broken into and you thought Vincent was there?”

“Yes.”

“He’s the cavalry, Keatyn. I want someone on site if something goes down.”

I scrutinize Cooper some more. “Smile for me.”

He looks at me kinda funny, but then the corners of his mouth pull up into a smile, popping out those adorable dimples. I shake my head. “Vincent is going to be the least of your worries. You should be more worried about fending off underage schoolgirls that are used to getting anything they want.”

Garrett looks at his watch. “Okay, you need to get back to school. When Cooper is announced as your new coach, use your acting skills and pretend to be surprised. And be on guard. Always. And pay attention. If you hear anyone talking about Vincent’s announcement, go straight to Cooper. He’ll get you out of there safely.”

“Got it.”

Always hot with you.

Lunch

I get back to school in time to have lunch with Maggie, who talks endlessly about her crush on Jake, all the possible reasons for why he hasn’t texted her yet, and a bunch of gossip that I’m not really paying attention to. My mind keeps running through horrible scenarios involving Vincent showing up here.

And something keeps gnawing at the corner of my mind. Something about the letter is bugging me, but I just can’t quite pinpoint what.

“What happened to the popular table?” Maggie asks, pulling me back into her conversation.

“What do you mean?”

“Look at it. It’s changed.”

I look at the table. It has changed. Whitney and Peyton are there, of course, but they are down to one minion. Tyrese is gone. Dawson, Jake, and Bryce are there, but no one else is.

“Well, after Homecoming, Whitney banished Rachel and most of the minions to a different table. I’m sure they will all make up. Where’s Katie at?”

“Retaking a test. I have to say, I’m hating that you’re in the play. I miss all of us hanging out and studying in your room.”

“Me too. How is Annie doing? She hasn’t really talked to me lately. Is she mad at me?”

“No, she’s freaking out about Ace going to her parents’ anniversary party.”

“Why?”

“He looks like a dumb jock, so she thinks they won’t approve. Her sisters all married skinny, nerdy types.”

“Well, hopefully they give him a chance. I would think as soon as he starts talking, they’ll know he’s smart.”

“I hope so. Regardless, she’s freaking out.”

“I don’t think it’s just that. I think she helped Aiden with the stars. She’s been avoiding me ever since.”

“She’s afraid you’re mad at her.”

“I’m not mad at her. She’s one of my best friends.”

“I think she’s not that used to having friends who stand by her.”

“Well, she better get used to it, right? We’re not going anywhere.”

Maggie smiles at me and nods. “Right. Oh, shit, here comes Dawson.” Then she says, out of the corner of her mouth, “Or are we supposed to be happy about that?”

“I’m not sure.”

She laughs. “Let me guess. It’s complicated?”

We both start giggling. “Do you ever feel like you have no idea what you’re doing with your life?”

“All the time,” she says. “All the time. Hey, I gotta get to class. See ya later.”

As Dawson walks me to French, he says, “I missed sitting by you today. I’m so glad we got back together last night.”

“We didn’t get back together, Dawson.”

“I meant back together. You make me feel so good, Keatie.”

“We shouldn’t have. I mean, I shouldn’t have.”

“But you said you wanted to.”

“I needed to know if things would feel different. Did they feel different to you?”

“No, it was amazing. The way you pulled my hips into you. So hot. It’s always so hot with you.”

“I just, I think, I mean, I’m not sure we should again. Like until we decide what It’s complicated means.”

“It’s really not all that complicated, Keatie. I made a stupid mistake. You forgave me.”

“I know you’re sorry about it. But I’m not over it, Dawson. Not at all,” I say as Annie and Aiden walk by me into class. “Bye.”

I sit in my seat and see that Annie is still ignoring me.

I sneak a glance back at Aiden. As usual, I can’t decipher what the hell he’s thinking.

Miss Praline starts class by handing back the quizzes they took yesterday.

Aiden holds his quiz in front of my face. I see a bright red A on the front of it.

“Congratulations . . .”

“Keatyn, don’t look at his quiz,” Miss Praline chastises. She hands me a blank one. “Go out into the hall and take this.”

I finish my quiz quickly then pull my phone out of my blazer pocket.

Me:  I met with Garrett today. I hope you’re doing okay with all that’s going on in the news. And yay for Millie & Deron!!

Mom:  I have to go in a second. I just got called on set. But I’m happy for them too.

Me:  Gracie’s birthday is coming up. Are you doing anything?

Mom:  Her birthday is on a Monday, so we’re all taking the day off. Having a family party at the house. She asked for a bouncy house, a rainbow, chocolate chips, tap shoes, her very own stage, and lots of balloons.

Me:  So is that what you’re doing?

Mom:  Yes, Tommy is having a stage built for her. 

Me:  I want to come. 

Mom:  I wish you could. I’m really worried about Vincent’s press release. Have you thought of dying your hair?

Me:  Not really. Do you think I should?

Mom:  Well, it might be safer, you know? I have to go. Love you.

Me:  Love you too.

I think about Gracie’s birthday. How I’ve never missed the girls’ birthdays. How it’s not fair that I’m missing them growing up. That I’m so afraid they might forget me.

I sigh and decide to message Riley. I don’t feel like going back into class yet.

Me:  What did the dean think of the video? Did he love it?

Riley:  He was very pleased. Where were you this morning? I called but you didn’t answer.

Me:  I had a dentist appointment that I had forgotten about.

Riley:  You didn’t sit with Dawson at lunch?

Me:  I wanted to talk to Maggie.

Riley:  I think Jake has a crush on her. 

Me:  I think they would be cute together. But it will piss Whitney off. She wants to get back together with him.

Riley:  Who cares.

Me:  I love you.

Riley:  Yes, I know. 

I decide to text Maggie next.

Me:  Jake doesn’t have rehearsal tonight. Maybe you should suggest meeting up in the library again.

Maggie:  You seemed kind of out of it at lunch today. You were nodding at the right times, but it seemed like your mind was somewhere else. Are you doing okay with all of this Dawson stuff? And you never did tell me about the stars. Although Katie filled me in on what happened. What Aiden said. About being friends.

Me:  Aiden is confusing. That’s why I liked Dawson. He never confused me. It was easy. It’s still easy. Like it would be so easy to just forgive him and move on. 

Maggie:  What does it’s complicated mean to you?

Me:  It means I slept with him. I know it was dumb, but I had to see if it was different. Like if somehow his hanging out with Whitney ruined him. Ruined his lips or something. 

I press send then stop. Read what I just typed. Ruined his lips. Dawson ruined my lips once.

Is that what’s happening again? Am I letting him ruin my chances with Aiden? Do I even have a chance with Aiden? And why does he want to be my freaking friend? Why doesn’t he want to fix my lips forever?

Maggie:  Did it?

Me:  No. It was as hot as always. Except now I feel a little guilty about it. 

Maggie:  Why do you feel guilty?

Me:  I don’t know exactly.

Maggie:  Aiden?

Me:  No. Not that long ago, he told me I should date them both him. But then he did the stars and since then, there’s been nothing. He hasn’t asked me to hang out. He hasn’t asked me on a date. I’ve been friend-zoned.

Maggie:  Maybe he’s waiting to see. I just texted Jake. He said, “I’d love to.” Is it bad that I’m swooning over the fact that he wrote the word love in a text to me?

Me:  No, it’s sweet. Are you and Parker done hooking up?

Maggie:  Yeah. Logan texted me the other day. You know we used to date.

Me:  You said that you slept with him. What happened?

Maggie:  I broke his heart. 

Me:  How?

Maggie:  I got drunk and slept with my ex. Parker and I are kind of like you and Dawson, I think. Sex is good. We have fun together. Like, when we aren’t fighting. I mean, of course, we said I love you and all that, but . . .



Me:  But, WHAT??!!

Maggie:  I’m not sure it was actual love. I think it was more lust/love.

Me:  And you think that about me and Dawson? We never fight.

Maggie:  That’s because you’re so laid back about everything with him. Like when he freaked about the Facebook picture. When he sent you the text that he was drunk in some girl’s bed. When he left for the weekend without making damn sure you were going with him. And then, not going home with you because she texted him. He doesn’t respect you like he should Keatyn. I noticed you cleaned up your room. Figured that was a good sign that you’re taking control of things. It’s one thing if you want to sleep with him or have a friends with benefits relationship. I’ll fully support that, if that’s what you want to do. But don’t try to pretend it’s real love. (Don’t hate me.)

Me:  Maybe it is a lusty love. But so what? We’re in high school. It’s supposed to be fun.

Maggie:  True. And there are some really hot guys here. Maybe you should stay single and have some of that fun.

Me:  Fun sounds good. So do you like Jake or would you like to get back together with Logan? 

Maggie:  I can say with all honesty that I truly loved Logan and completely screwed it up. Even if I wanted another chance, he’ll never forgive me. He told me that. I’ll be looking all my life for someone like him, probably. That’s why I haven’t been in a relationship with anyone since. No one compares.

Me:  I get that. I’ll probably compare every guy to my first love too.

Maggie:  The guy you lost your virginity to?

Me:  No, the surfer guy. I was so in love with him.

Maggie:  And you made mistakes with him?

Me:  At the time, I didn’t think so. I thought everything that went wrong was his fault. But it wasn’t. I didn’t trust his love. I pushed for a commitment instead of just being happy that he loved me. But back to Logan. You went to homecoming with him and Aiden and Parker. Was that awkward?

Maggie:  Since he hates me, there isn’t much I can do about it.

I hear Miss Praline’s shoes clip-clopping toward the door. Shit. I’ve been out here for a while.

Me:  Shit. I have to go.

I slip my phone back into my pocket and pretend to just fill in the last answer on the quiz.

“Keatyn, I forgot you were out here. Are you finished?”

“Yes, ma’am, just finished up.”

I hand her my test and go back to my seat. There are only a few minutes left in class so everyone is either working on their homework assignments or speaking to each other in half French-half English.

Aiden leans up and says, “So, it’s complicated?”

I turn around. “Yeah, kinda.”

“So un-complicate it.”

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“You can start by bringing your boots to dinner with me. I heard that you don’t have rehearsal tonight. And I got my first A ever on a quiz. We should celebrate. Do you like French food?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“There’s this little place not too far from here. I thought we could go.”

“Is this, like, a date?”

“No, it’s tutoring with food. Or you could call it a tutoring field trip, whichever you prefer.”

My heart drops. Again.

“Oh, so, nothing special, huh?” I put on a little pout. Is it bad that I wish it was a date? Especially considering what happened with Dawson last night?

He rolls his eyes at me. “Fine. I’d like it to be like a date. I just don’t know what complicated means.”

“It means that my feelings are feeling complicated.”

“Your feelings have feelings?” he asks with a laugh.

“I told you, it’s complicated. But I’m single. Like, I can hang out, date, kiss whoever I want.”

“Can he?”

My heart drops a little again. Because I don’t like the sound of that. I don’t want Dawson dating or kissing anyone else. But I say, “Yes. Yes, he can. Or could. But he says he’s not going to. I don’t know. The whole It’s complicated thing was his idea. He wants to get back together, but I just can’t. I think I need to be single for a while.”

“You act like you’re together. He’s walking you to class. You hung out with him last night. So, is he wooing you?”

“Wooing me?” I think back to what I told my mom when I was complaining about Brooklyn’s lack of commitment. How I wanted a guy who thought I was worth the effort. What is Dawson doing besides wooing me into bed? And does that even count as wooing?

“Yes. Is he taking you out? Being sweet? Making you fall for him?”

I sit there for a second and think about it. “Uh . . .”

The bell rings, so I get up and grab my bag.

 Aiden stands next to me, totally invading my personal space. He leans in toward me like he might kiss me, but instead his lips find my ear. “If you have to think about it, the answer is no. I’ll pick you up at 6:30.”

A damn good actress.

Soccer

The locker room is abuzz with gossip about a hot guy that was seen walking into the gym with our soccer coach.

Peyton says to me, “Did you see him?”

“Uh, no. I don’t think so.”

“Trust me. You’d know if you had. He’s got on a tight red Under Armour shirt and has a smoking hot body. I’m hoping he’s a new graduate assistant or something.”

“Are we supposed to be getting a new graduate assistant? Especially in the middle of the year?”

“I don’t know. All I know is he’s young and really, really hot. We’re all drooling.”

I finish tying my shoes and say, “Cool.”

She gives me a funny look then drags me out to the gym. “See?” she says.

I take a quick glance at Cooper. “Yeah, he’s pretty hot,” I say blandly.

She shakes her head at me. “I want to explore all those tattoos. With my mouth.”

“Peyton!”

She grins. “What? I can’t help it. How old do you think he is?”

I shrug my shoulder. “I don’t know. Twenty-two. Twenty-three, maybe.”

Coach clears her voice and asks us all to have a seat.

I plop down on the floor and cross my legs. Cooper Steele looks at me, but I give him a disinterested glance.

I am a damn good actress.

Because my eyes would really, really like to linger on the shirt that is molded tightly to his torso.

“So, girls, I’ve had an interesting couple of days. Most of you know that a few summers ago, I volunteered on a trip delivering soccer balls to children in third-world countries. It was a life-changing experience and I hoped to someday go back. Two days ago, I got invited to do just that, only this time in a paid supervisory role. So I’m taking a leave of absence and embarking on a little adventure. Opportunities like this don’t come every day, so when something like this falls into your lap, you have to embrace it. I’ll be leaving you in extremely capable hands. Meet your new coach, Mr. Cooper Steele. For those of you that have followed the U.S. National team or the Brown soccer team, you might recognize him. Over the next two days, we’re going to acquaint him with your skill levels. So let’s get lined up.”

“I’d like to acquaint him with a few of my bedroom skills,” a girl sitting next to me whispers to her friend, who erupts in giggles.

When we’re in line, Peyton starts gushing to me again. “Did you see those dimples?”

“Yeah, I saw them. He is pretty cute, but, I mean, I would think you would be the last person who’d want to get involved with a teacher.”

She rolls her eyes and waves her hand at me. “I’m legal now.”

Boys are confusing.

4:25pm

After dance practice, Peyton yells, “Hey, Keatyn, come here.” I walk over to her. She lowers her voice slightly and says, “You seemed a little off today with your timing and your kicks. That’s not like you.”

“I’ve just got a lot on my mind,” I say with a sigh. I mean, how much more could I possibly have piled on me in one day? Let’s see: Crazy stalker is doing a nationwide search for me. I have a hot—no, a ridiculously hot—man here to guard my body. Maggie thinks I’m letting Dawson off too easy. And Aiden, who I thought had friend-zoned me, asked me on a date. Well, possibly a date.

“I saw Dawson changed his relationship status. Are you getting back together?”

I sigh again. “Last night, we, um, sorta maybe did some stuff that made him think things were on the right track.”

“You had sex?”

“I’m not sure I should talk to you about this. Whitney is your best friend.”

She rolls her eyes. “Whitney says she told you that she was sorry. Did she?”

“Yes, surprisingly, she did.”

“I think Dawson needed closure. He told her that he loves you. Which was so awesome.”

I ignore her Whitney slam. “Can I ask you a question about them?”

“Sure.”

“This is dumb, really. But your stupid brother said something to me earlier.” I fidget with my locket then say, “Did Dawson woo Whitney?”

“Woo her?”

“Yeah, like cute little gifts or notes or candy? Did he score points for her or make her dance with him? Did he hang lights on his ceiling? Give her four-leaf clovers? Write on a football for her?”

She looks very confused by all this. “Uh, no. She invited him to the movies with a group of us, sat next to him, made out with him, and they were together ever since. But Dawson was a good boyfriend, always thoughtful and sweet. Although . . .” She hesitates for a second. “You already know she wanted his brother and not him. She started hanging out with him hoping to make Cam jealous, but then it didn’t work. It’s a very unromantic story.” She laughs out loud. “But all that stuff you just said. Dawson didn’t do that. My brother did, right?”

“Yeah. He did. And I don’t know how I feel about him because sometimes he acts like he likes me and other times he acts like he doesn’t.”

“And how is Dawson wooing you?”

“That’s just it. He’s not. He’s sweet. We have amazing sex. Like, it’s amazing. And that’s why it’s now complicated. I can’t resist him, even though I’m still mad at him. I’m complicating it. I swore I wouldn’t do it with him until I got things straight in my mind, but then he started kissing me. And now I’m supposed to go on a sort of date with Aiden. I’m babbling. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. Boys are confusing. Tell me all the stuff my brother did.”

So I tell her. Spill my guts, going all the way back to the start of the school year. About the lunch, the four-leaf clover, the dances, the toast, Keats, B, how he was mad at me, tutoring, all of it.”

“So why aren’t you with him?”

“Because it’s even more complicated. When I kicked the soccer ball at his head, it felt like we had this connection. And when he told me he was going to ask me to marry him at the top of the Eiffel Tower at sunset someday, it was too amazing to believe. Especially since I knew his player reputation.”

“Top of the Eiffel Tower, sunset?” She visibly melts and clasps her hands together. “Oh, Keatyn. That’s so romantic! I want that.”

“Well, obviously, it hasn’t worked out so well, so watch what you wish for. Aiden gets mad at me a lot. Gets mad and walks away. Dawson never gets mad at me. Plus I’m pretty sure I’m love-cursed.”

“I think I am too. But we have to keep trying until we get it right.” She hugs me and says, “So where is he taking you for dinner?”

“He said some French place. He said it’s not really a date. That it’s tutoring with food. Then he said it was a date and that we’d celebrate the fact that he got an A on a quiz. But then he said it wasn’t a date because it’s complicated with Dawson. But then he told me to un-complicate it. Which is part of the problem. Clearly, the boy has no idea what he wants. So, I don’t know what it is. Just a dinner, I guess.”

She grins at me. The same stupid grin that her brother gets when he thinks he knows something that I don’t. “The French restaurant is very nice. It’s definitely a date.”

I roll my eyes at her. “Great. Is that where he takes all his girls to woo them?”

She grabs my shoulders and looks me straight in the eyes. “Keatyn, my brother has never had to woo anyone. You saw him at the Cave the other night. They flock to him. Practically line up. I happen to know that he’s only been to that restaurant twice. Both times with our parents.” She looks me over. “You’re all sweaty. You need to go get ready. What are you going to wear?”

“I don’t know.”

She grabs me by the elbow. “Come on. I’m going to help you pick out something perfect.”

I’ve showered, shaved my legs, deep conditioned my hair, and am now curling it into the sexy supermodel curls I wore the night we danced under the twinkle lights.

Peyton is sitting on my bed flipping through a magazine when my phone buzzes.

“Oh shit,” she says, looking at my phone. “It’s Dawson. He wants you to meet him for dinner. What are you going to say?”

“The truth,” I reply, walking over to grab my phone. “We promised to always be honest with each other.”

Me:  I can’t. I’m going out for dinner.

Dawson:  With who?

Me:  Aiden. We’re combining tutoring with some French food tonight.  

Dawson: That sounds like a date.

Me:  We’re both single now. We can both go out on dates.

Dawson:  I only want to date you.

Me:  Someone asked me today what you’re doing to try and woo me back. Do you think you’re wooing me?

Dawson:  I’m pretty sure I did that last night.

Me:  Sex is not wooing.

Dawson:  Oh :(

Me:  Dawson, I know the sex is good. We have a great friendship. But I just don’t know if you even like me enough to woo me.

Dawson:  So you’re gonna date both me and Aiden?

Me:  I’m not sure that Aiden wants to date me, but I am going to dinner with him. 

Dawson:  I hate you right now.

Me:  And I love your honesty. If it’s any consolation, I have hated you quite a bit recently too. 

Dawson:   :(

“He says he hates me,” I tell Peyton.

“He’ll get over it. You have to do what’s best for you. And even though I like Dawson, what he did sucked.”

“Yeah, it did. My mom told me that you have to learn to love yourself before you can love someone else. Do you think that you love yourself?”

She picks up one of my pillows and hugs it. “I think that’s good advice, but it’s hard to love yourself. Especially if you’re like me and have screwed up more times than not.”

“Isn’t that part of loving yourself? Forgiving yourself too?”

“Yeah, probably. Although, I’m having a hard time with that. My mom has cancer.”

“I know. Aiden told me. It’s in remission, right?”

“Yeah, but when we found out, my parents made some big changes in our lives. I was a little bitch about it. We had to make bucket lists. I was mad. Mad she had cancer. Mad they moved me away from my friends. So, on my bucket list I put that I wanted to go to boarding school. So, of course, they sent me.” She shakes her head. “Serves me right. I haven’t really liked myself much since.”

I sit on the bed next to her. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. That was a lot to handle. And I know your parents did what they thought was best, but moving you away from your friends, your support system, would have been awful. I can see why you acted like a little bitch.” I smile at her. “Aiden told me about that time. About how he ended up here. He loves it, though. Do you?”

“I just try to stay busy enough not to think about all my mistakes.”

“My mom says that our pasts, including our mistakes, are what make us who we are. My dad died when I was eight.”

Her eyes get big and she reaches out to touch my forearm. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay. The reason I’m telling you that is because my mom loved my dad, but now she’s with someone else. Someone she met and just knew was right. She says that sometimes life makes you wait for true love until you’re ready for it. Like all of the stupid mistakes you’re making now, when the right guy comes along, you’ll maybe have them all out of your system. If that makes sense. At least, I hope that’s what it means.”

She leans back and looks up at my ceiling, like she’s saying a prayer or making a wish.

“Hey, there are glow-in-the-dark stars all over your ceiling. Did you and Katie do that?”

I laugh. “Actually, your brother put them there.”

“Oh, wow. He is totally wooing you. You should really give the boy a chance. Now, what are you going to wear?”

I walk in my closet and try to stay calm. But it’s hard.

Because I. Am. Nervous.

Crazy, butterflies-in-my-stomach, strung-out, starting-to-sweat nervous.

Nervous that since the second he asked me on a sort-of date to a French restaurant my mind has been going to all those dreamy places. I’ve been writing scripts in my head about how he’ll take me to dinner and tell me I’m the one. That he made a wish on the moon. That it was fate that brought us together. That he wants to marry me. That he wants to grow old with me.

That he wants to kiss me with his tongue.

French restaurants and French kisses should be paired like a lamb chop and a vintage Bordeaux.

They. Belong. Together.

And I could so belong to Aiden.

I should call Maggie. She knows Aiden’s past. Has anyone ever successfully moved out of the friend zone with him?

No.

I can’t do that. I don’t want to know.

I don’t want to be like any other stupid girl.

I can’t even see my clothes. They have all just become a blurry colored background. Like a sunset.

Oh. My. God.

Everything—even my own closet—is plotting against me.

When has my closet ever looked like a sunset? Never. Never, ever. Ever.

Always. Only. Ever. For you. 

“Can’t you find anything to wear?” Peyton says, pulling me out of my maniacal thoughts.

I look at my closet again. Take a whiff of it.

It sort of smells like Aiden.

That’s it!

He was in my room putting up the stars. That’s why I can’t think. There must have been love potion still lingering in the air that got trapped in my closet.

I walk out into my room, open my window, and take a deep breath of fresh, cleansing air.

“I think I almost have it figured out,” I lie.

“You aren’t usually so indecisive. Here, I’ll choose one.” She wanders into my closet, flips through the rack, and pulls out a pale pink Marchesa organza ruffle dress with a black bow at the waist. “This is what you should wear. It even looks Parisian.”

Oh, I can’t wear that dress. That’s the dress I’d been saving in my closet at home for the perfect occasion. I brought it here to give me hope. It’s the dress I thought I’d wear when I got my life back.

I’ve even given the dress a little script.

We’ll go to Paris. Stay at the Four Seasons. Shop all the designer boutiques. Stop for tea and macaroons at Ladurée. Then, as I walk into Cartier, an amazingly hot guy—who, unbeknownst to me, is the prince of a small country—holds the door open for me. He whispers to me in a sexy accent. He tells me I’m beautiful, causing me to blush the exact same shade as the dress. He helps me pick out a fabulous piece of jewelry, then insists on buying it for me, telling me that the gorgeous gem pales in comparison to my beauty.

But, in all likelihood, that won’t happen any time soon.

My mind flashes to me wearing this dress in my coffin, instead. After Vincent finds me, rubs his tattoo against me, and makes me film a movie.

I shudder. “You’re right, Peyton. That dress is perfect.”

“You’re acting strange,” she says, scrutinizing my face. Then her face breaks out into a grin. “You’re nervous, aren’t you?”

“I just got dumped by Dawson and then slept with him. Now it’s complicated and I’m going to dinner with your brother. Please, don’t stress me out any more. This dinner is a simple tutoring exercise.”

She smirks. “Whatever you say. How about shoes?”

I pull a pair of black Jimmy Choo high-heeled sandals that have black ostrich feathers gracing the front of them. “These, for sure,” I say, my confidence coming back. I grab a pair of long black feather earrings, a pearled Alexander McQueen clutch, and a rose quartz flower ring for my accessories.

“Love the feather earrings,” Peyton says. “Très chic.”

My phone buzzes.

“It’s my brother,” she says. “He’s just pulling up and says he’ll meet you in the front hall.”

A wonderful sense of powerlessness.

6:30pm

I walk slowly down the hall.

I’m done freaking out. I look good. I’m loving me. I’m doing all the things at school that I wanted to do. I’m proud of the fact that I’m still here. That I came face-to-face with Vincent—not once, not twice, but three times—and managed to get away.

But, at the same time, I feel like my luck is starting to run out.

Maybe I need another four-leaf clover, I think with a grin.

As I turn to walk into the front hall, Aiden’s eyes are on me, making me feel like I’m making a grand entrance at a ball.

Now presenting Miss Keatyn Elizabeth Douglas.

I just need a little dude standing here with a trumpet.

Oh, shoot. Script change.

Now presenting Miss Keatyn Elizabeth Monroe.

Aiden is wearing a charcoal gray suit with chalk-colored pinstripes and a white dress shirt with French cuffs. Very appropriate.

And he looks so very handsome. I know I go on and on about his appearance, but I’ll just say this.

He looks like he walked out of my dreams.

He walks toward me, kisses my hand, and says, “Vous êtes belle, mademoiselle.

“You look pretty handsome yourself,” I reply. Then I notice his tie. It’s pink with little black Eiffel Towers sketched all over it. “We going a little overboard on this whole French theme?” I ask, pointing at his tie and laughing.

He chuckles and pulls up the tie. “This was my family’s way of giving me shit because I barely passed French last year. I got a 70.2% as my final grade. I told you. Fate.”

He leads me outside to the car that is almost as gorgeous as he is, walks me around to the passenger side, opens the door, and lets me in.

I slide into the leather seat, loving that Aiden has good manners.

Aiden opens his door and slides in next to me.

He reaches over, grabs my hand out of my lap, and holds it on the stick shift under his. “You ready?”

“Yeah. I’m looking forward to seeing if you can read the menu. You have to order. You know that, right?”

He grins at me as he puts the car in gear.

And I may be slightly obsessed with the way his hand feels on top of mine. The way he presses down on it slightly when he shifts. It’s like he’s in control.

And for some strange and surprising reason, I find this oddly comforting.

No, comforting isn’t the right word. I feel like he’s taking care of me. Kind of like the old-fashioned version of how a man is supposed to be. Usually, I have to drive a relationship. I have to know where it’s going.

With Aiden, I have this wonderful sense of powerlessness.

And it’s kinda thrilling.

“I love your dress,” he says. “And we match.”

“Your sister picked it out. I wasn’t planning on wearing it. I was sort of saving it.”

“What for?”

“You know, like a rainy day.”

“That dress is too pretty for a rainy day. You look like you should be in Paris having tea and eating macaroons.”

My eyes practically bug out of my head.

What the hell?

Can he read my freaking mind now, for real?

“I, uh, how did you know that?”

“Know what?”

“That I was saving it for Paris.”

He squints his eyes at me. “I didn’t. I just said that it looks like you should. So, does Dawson know we’re going on a date tonight?”

“I thought it was tutoring with food?”

Aiden pushes his hand down on mine as he shifts. I force myself to breathe normally. I am a normal person.

“No, it’s definitely a date. So, what did you and my sister talk about?”

“You know, clothes, shoes, boys.”

“Boys?”

“Well, yeah. We were talking about wooing. What you said made me think.”

“And what did you decide?”

“So far, Dawson is not wooing me. He’s also not thrilled about our field trip tonight.”

“You told him we were on a field trip?”

I laugh. “Naw, I told him it was tutoring with food at a remote location.”

“So, you lied?”

“Technically, that would not be a lie. And no, I didn’t. I told him it was a date. Even though you were a little unclear about it, your sister says it’s a date because you’re taking me to a nice restaurant. Plus, you’re wearing a suit. It’s totally a date.”

He downshifts, stops at a light, pulls my hand to his lips, and kisses it again. When the light turns green, he pushes it back on the stick shift, revs the motor, and slams through the gears.

And I must admit, it revs my motor too.

“You’re driving awfully fast.”

“I know. It’s fun, huh?”

Okay, so I have to gush.

OH. MY. GOSH.

Is he freaking sexy, or what?

Him, the suit, the tie, the car, the adrenaline rush, all of it.

He is—well, it’s no surprise. He is God of all Hotties, for sure.

We get to the restaurant, where he opens my car door, opens the restaurant door, and pulls out my chair for me. He is quite chivalrous.

But then he flips open the menu, written in French.

French is like his Achilles heel. His one weakness. And it’s adorable. Plus, it’s good to know he has at least one weakness.

“I like that you suck at French,” I tell him.

He slides his chair closer to mine and tries to read the entire menu.

And he doesn’t do half bad.

He figures out what he wants and attempts to order. And I maybe have to correct his pronunciation a few times, but he does well.

And it is the most adorable thing ever when he orders for both of us.

As Grandpa would say, His Momma done raised him right.

Damn, did she ever.

When the waiter takes our menus away, Aiden holds my hand and gazes into my eyes.

I’ve never felt so important or like what I had to say was so important. Like, you know how lots of times you’re talking to a guy and his eyes are looking everywhere but at you? Then he will glance back at your face, to verify that you are still talking; then he’ll look down and stare at your boobs—to make sure they are still intact, I think. And then his eyes sort of get that dazed look, and he continues to stare at your boobs, and you want to scream, Uh, hello, I’m speaking with my mouth, not my cleavage; you wanna just occasionally glance up? 

Aiden’s not doing that. I have his full attention.

And he sure freaking has mine.

I also realize that his pull on me is not as shocking.

Maybe it’s like when you go stay up in the mountains and get acclimated to the altitude. I’m sort of being acclimated to his magnetism. I’m not quite as tongue-tied as I usually am around him, and I’m able to think more clearly.

He flashes his smile at me. “Why are you glad I suck at French?

“It makes you more human,” I stupidly say. Oh jeez, I’m an idiot. “I mean, uh, I wouldn’t have gotten to come here for dinner if you, um, didn’t, right?”

Clearly the air is still thin here at the top and is affecting my brain.

He reaches out and pushes my hair behind my ear, like he’s done it a million times. “I just noticed your earrings. Love the feathers and how they match your shoes.”

“Thanks. You look quite handsome tonight yourself. Whoever tailored your suit is quite talented. It fits you meticulously.”

“I wanted to look nice for you. So, I know you and Dawson are complicated, but what about Dallas? You were kissing him in the video.”

“Dallas and I are very not complicated. We’re friends. We smoke together sometimes and then we kiss. It’s no big deal.”

“You don’t think kissing is a big deal? I think our kisses are a pretty big deal.”

He runs his thumb across the palm of my hand, causing me to shiver.

The waiter interrupts our kissing conversation when he sets down our appetizers. A traditional French onion soup and sautéed escargot in a mushroom and red wine sauce.

“It’s too bad we don’t have a nice Bordeaux to go with this,” he says. “When we go to France, we’re drinking wine with every meal.”

“Have you ever been to France?”

“Once, to Paris. Do you like to travel? I love it.”

“Yeah, I do. I like to see the different cultures, experience the foods, see the sights, the countryside. Where all have you been?”

“Hmm. Let’s see. Basic stuff like Disney World. New York. Chicago. Then Venice. London. Hawaii. Berlin. Amelia Island. Cayman Islands, St. Kitts and St. Croix.”

“What did you think of St. Croix?”

“It’s like paradise. I’d love to go back, but my parents are on this kick where they won’t go back to the same place until they have been everywhere on their list. I’d love to go back just to relax, though.”

“Maybe I could arrange that.” I can’t help it. I’m smiling big.

“And how are you going to do that?”

“Good friends of ours have a place there. They don’t go very often, so I can use it whenever I want.”

“Really?”

I nod. “Okay, so, this is way out of left field . . .”

I stop myself.

Keatyn, what are you thinking? You’re not making plans with another boy only to be let down. You’ll go to St. Croix by yourself for Thanksgiving break. You’ll have fun relaxing. You’ll work on loving yourself.

“Um, never mind. So, this week rehearsals start getting serious. I can’t believe in a few weeks we’ll be performing in front of a live audience.”

He holds a spoonful of soup up to my mouth. I’m trying not to swoon over the fact that he’s feeding me.

“Don’t do that,” he says.

“Don’t do what?”

“What you just did. You were going to ask me something. Something that you were excited about, but then it’s like you got scared to ask me.”

I soak an escargot in wine sauce and eat it.

“This is all really good,” I say, avoiding the subject.

“Boots . . .”

“Can you read my mind?”

“No, but I sure wish I could. I’d love to know what you’re thinking. Tell me.”

I bob my head around like an idiot, trying to think up a lie. But, as usual when I’m with Aiden, all that’s in my head is cotton candy.

“I’m going there for Thanksgiving break. I was going to invite you. Like, the place is big. Peyton and your family could come too. But it was a silly idea. I’m sure you have plans and stuff.”

“We’ve always gone to my grandma’s for dinner, but she passed away last year, so I’m not sure what our plans are. Why were you hesitant to ask?”

“Um, well, it’s, like, a month away, and who knows if we’ll even still be friends then.”

He tilts his head and gives me those green eyes. Those eyes that see straight through me. “Boots, we’re gonna be a lot more than friends by then.”

Great. More. As in we’ll be sleeping together.

“I doubt it,” I say disappointedly.

“Yeah, I should probably take into account your track record.”

I can’t believe he just said that!

I look down at the tablecloth, suddenly feeling like I could cry.

He leans his forehead against mine. When I look up, he bats his dark brown eyelashes at me and smiles. “You know I’m just teasing you. Come here.”

I don’t move, so he puts his hand under my chin, pushing it up, straight to his waiting lips.

Once again, our kiss is so simple, so chaste, our lips touching, barely moving.

He kisses me for a few seconds then cruelly pulls his perfectly-formed lips away from me. “I’d really like to know what you’re thinking right now.”

“I’m thinking no one has ever kissed me the way you do,” I answer honestly. And surprisingly. Why the hell did I just say that?!

He stares at me for a few beats of my heart, then says, “So, we have this Greek weekend coming up. You do realize that since we’re on the Social Committee we have an obligation to be together the entire weekend to make sure everything goes as planned?”

I squint my eyes at him, trying to gauge if he’s serious. “I didn’t know that.”

“Oh, yes, I had it written into the bylaws. So Friday night after the game, you have to sit with me at the movie and sing-along. Lame.”

“It will be fun and you know it.”

“I think anything we do together will be fun.”

And I can’t help it. My mind goes to doing things with him. His tongue blazing a trail across my body. The gods only know the things that boy can do with his powerful mouth.

“Uh, yeah, probably,” I manage to sputter out.

“Then, Saturday, you’ll have to cheer me on while I compete—shirtless, apparently—in the Gods of Olympus competition.”

“I think the whole shirtless thing was pretty brilliant. I wonder who came up with that idea?”

“I think I’m going to freeze,” he says with a laugh. “And then there’ll be the feast. Where you will toast in my honor—”

“Only if you actually win.”

“I’m going to win.”

“Just because you danced your way to Mr. Eastbrooke doesn’t mean you can win at wrestling. Do you even know how to wrestle?” I want to add that maybe we should get naked and he could practice, but I don’t.

He puts his chin on his fist and licks his lips. Which means I get to see his tongue. He smirks and raises his eyebrows at me. “Maybe I’ll have to show you.”

I gulp, then nervously grab a curl and wrap it around my finger.

He grabs my hand out of my curl and brings it to his lips. “What? You don’t want to get naked and see which one of us is stronger?”

Um, honestly, I don’t know what I want. Part of me wants him to be like every other guy. Wants him to be a player.

But most of me wants him to be different.

I flash him a fake smile. “That sounds fun,” I say with zero enthusiasm.

What’s wrong with me? The hottie god wants to get naked with me and now I don’t want to?

And to top it all off, I suddenly feel like crying. I can feel little tears prickling my eyes.

Am I about to get my period or something? Why am I feeling so emotional?

Aiden tilts his head at me, looks into my soul, and somehow knows exactly what I’m thinking.

“Boots, I was just teasing you.”

My heart soars and drops all at the same time. “So you don’t want me naked?”

He slowly blinks his eyes. When he opens them, the hunger I saw briefly in his room when he had me pinned against his wall is back. And, once again, it is so. Fucking. Sexy.

“I definitely want you naked. Just not yet. We should take things slow. Be friends.”

I sit here. Not sure what to say to that. Part of me wants to fight him on it. Part of me thinks he’s right. Part of me just wants to see him naked.

“So, back to this weekend,” he says. “We will also be required to kiss and hold hands.”

“You’re trying to create a Greek atmosphere by kissing?”

“Oh, no. That will be because you want to.”

“I want to? No. You’ll want to.”

“What makes you think that?”

My response is interrupted by the waiter bring our entrée. It smells heavenly. He went a little cheesy romantic on the entrée, ordering chateaubriand for two. It’s served with a Béarnaise sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes, and asparagus. He cuts into it and feeds me the first rich morsel.

“Because I’m starting to think that you’re wooing me,” I tell him after I finish chewing.

“Me? Naw.” He grins. “What was your first clue?”

“Honestly, the way things have gone between us, so up and down. Like, one minute you pulled the she-loves-me petal off and the next the she-loves-me-not petal. But today, I was telling your sister about wooing and I realized all that you’ve done.”

“And?”

“I like it.”

We finish dinner, talk over dessert, then head out to his car. Again, he opens the door for me as I slide in.

He gets in the other side, puts the keys in the ignition, but doesn’t start the car.

He leans toward me and pushes my hair behind my ear. “I want this feather. Can I take it off?”

I’m sort of puzzled by this request, but I say, “Uh, sure.”

He glides the hook out of my ear then runs his thumb across it. “It’s a soft as it looks.” He runs the feather lightly down my arm.

“Mhmm,” I groan softly.

He pushes my hair from one side of my neck to the other, so my neck is fully exposed on the side closest to him. Then he runs the feather up the side of my neck.

Which may be the sexiest thing anyone has ever done to me.

My dress has a plunging neckline and when he runs the feather down into my cleavage, I decide it is indeed the sexiest thing anyone has ever done to me.

How does he come up with this shit?

His mother is Aphrodite, that’s how. Durrr.

I lean back into the headrest and close my eyes. Just feel the feather gliding across my skin, leaving me with goosebumps everywhere. He glides it up on my face and slowly across my eyelids.

I swear, I’m taking this feather home and having it bronzed.

He runs it across my lips.

Although having it dipped in gold would probably be more godlike.

I feel his chest touch mine as his lips replace the feather.

I run my fingers into his hair at the nape of his neck, and finally he kisses me more deeply.

Still no freaking tongue, but the kiss is deeper. His lips are pressed tighter to mine. His mouth more forceful. Who was it that said we needed to come up with another word besides amazing?

Oh, I forget.

His hands tangle in my hair then slide down my shoulders. My eyes are shut tightly, taking in every touch. He kisses gently down my neck and then I feel one single finger follow the outline of my dress.

On. My. Naked. Skin.

The finger starts on my collarbone, making a slow descent down the side of one boob, pausing briefly in my cleavage, and then back up the other side.

My back is pressed tightly against the seat, and even though my eyes are closed, I can’t stop smiling.

And making little contented sighs.

He grabs my chin and turns my head toward him.

I half open my eyes.

Did I mention that I am in love with this boy? One hundred percent completely, stupidly in love with him?

But I am an idiot who clearly has no clue what real love is.

But I don’t care right now.

I gaze into his eyes and then kiss him back.

Eventually, sadly, the kissing stops and he drives us back to school. He parks his car in the lot and holds my hand as we wander slowly toward my dorm.

I’m still in a bit of a daze. Must be an aftereffect of kissing a god.

I’m thinking about what’s sure to come next—an amazing goodnight kiss—when I hear a voice say, “Keatie?”

Oh, shit.

It’s Dawson, sitting on the steps in front of my dorm, obviously waiting for me.

I freeze. “Uh, hey, Dawson. What’s up?”

Aiden squeezes my hand, turns me around to face him, and completely ignores the fact that Dawson is here. “I had a great time tonight.” He leans in, kisses me on the cheek, and says quietly, “And I’m keeping the feather.”

Then he turns and walks away.

Dawson says, “You’re really dressed up. So, you got French food?”

“Yes, we did. Aiden was able to read most of the menu. How was your night? What’d you do?”

He grabs my waist like he always does and pulls me in toward him.

I give him a little hug.

But I can’t kiss him.

I just can’t.

“I complained to Bryce the entire time you were gone. He finally told me to shut the fuck up, so I came out here to wait for you.”

I pull away from him. “Oh, I’m sorry, but I have to get in there. Sign in. I don’t want to get in trouble. Just text me or something.”

We’re both ah-mazing.

10:45pm

I’m lying in my bed, listening to Katie breathing deeply and knowing that she’s already asleep.

I close my eyes and rub my finger slowly across my lip, remembering the feel the feather.

It was so amazing.

No, wait. Hang on.

I sound like a group of 12-year-olds at the mall. That skirt is ah-mazing. You look amazing, No, we are both ah-mazing. 

Time for a new word. Amazing is so overused.

I pull up the thesaurus on my laptop and look for some new options.

Astonishing, awesome, fascinating, incredible, marvelous, prodigious, shocking, stunning, surprising, unbelievable, wonderful, extraordinary, rare, something hard to put into words, makes your heart beat faster.

Okay, so tonight with Aiden was extraordinarily, unbelievably, stunningly wonderful.

And totally ah-mazing.

My phone buzzes.

Hottie God:  Hey :)

Me:  Hey :) Tonight was wonderful. I enjoyed it.

Hottie God:  Didn’t quite end the way I hoped it would.

Me:  I was shocked to see Dawson sitting there. Sorry about that.

Hottie God:  Just tell me.

Me:  Tell you what?

Hottie God:  Did you kiss him?

Me:  I did not. 

Hottie God:  So you’re okay with me keeping the feather?

Me:  Actually, I need it back.

Hottie God:  Why?

Me:  I’m thinking of having it bronzed.

Hottie God:  Does that mean you liked it?

Me:  Did I look like I liked it?

Hottie God:  You looked like you loved it.

Me:  You use a feather on all the girls?

Hottie God:  Only you.

Me:  I did love it.

Hottie God:  Good :) Night, Boots.

I shut off my lamp and wait for the glow-in-the-dark stars to start glimmering.

Dawson:  Keatie . . . 

Me:  Dawson . . . 

Dawson:  You’re killing me.

Me:  You killed me first.

Dawson:  Do you like him? Did you kiss him? Did you have sex with him?

Me:  I don’t know. I did. I did not. And I can’t believe you would think I did!

Dawson:  I’m feeling uncontrollably jealous.

Me:  Why were you waiting for me? What did you want?

Dawson:  To talk.

Me:  So talk.

Dawson:  This sucks.

Me:  Yeah, it does. 

Dawson:  Do you want wood from me?

Me:  Wood? Seriously, Dawson? Is sex ALL you think about? No. Right now, I do not want your wood.

Dawson:  That’s not what I meant. I meant woo-ed or however the hell you spell it.

 

Me:  Oh, sorry. What I want is a boyfriend that thinks I am worth some effort. I want a boyfriend who isn’t going to ditch me the second his ex sends him a text. That’s what I want. 

Dawson:  I can do romantic.

Me:  I’m going to sleep now. Night, Dawson.

Dawson:  No heart?

Me:  </3

I toss and turn, trying to get comfortable, when I realize something. Although I’ve seen him flirting with other girls, and although I know there is some dream girl he crushed on, I haven’t heard anything about Aiden hooking up with any girls this semester. But that can’t be right.

 Maybe he’s a stealth player who hooks up with girls under the radar. Or he has a radar-jamming device. Or something. I guess I really don’t exactly know how a stealth player works.  

Me:  Are you still awake?

My phone immediately buzzes, so I answer it. “I guess you’re still awake.”

“I am. Are the stars glowing?”

“Yes.”

“Do they make you think about me?”

“Maybe.”

“I want to see them sometime. You know, I never had that many on my ceiling. I got a bunch more. I wanted it to look like I was lighting up the sky for you.”

“Isn’t that a song?”

“I don’t know? Is it?”

“I think so. They’re really pretty, Aiden. Wanna hear a secret?”

“Of course.”

“I ordered a whole bunch of them for one of the ceilings in my loft.”

“Your bedroom?”

“No, there’s an upstairs TV room. Sometime soon, when the play is over, I want to go there and relax.”

“Aw, I’d love to come with you. Thanks for asking.”

“I didn’t ask.”

“And still, I knew that’s what you meant. Night, Boots.”

“Night, Aiden.”

Chivalry is officially dead.

1am

I’m still staring at the stars when Dallas calls me. Katie isn’t breathing as deeply and I don’t want to wake her, so I text him back.

Me:  Tell me you and Riley are going to the Cave and I will love you both forever. I can’t sleep.

Dallas:  I want to be adored forever. Riley just wants some sex. But then, he doesn’t. His indecision is driving me mad. I NEED to smoke. And I am requesting the pleasure of your company so that you can protect me when I make fun of his blue balls.

Me:  I went on a date - sort of - with Aiden tonight. Dawson was waiting in front of my dorm when we got back. Awkward much? I NEED to smoke so that I will not go crazy. 

Dallas:  It’s chilly. Riley says you are not getting his sweatshirt tonight.

Me:  Chivalry is officially dead.

I throw on some sweatpants, a big sweatshirt, and Uggs and sneak out of the window.

Dallas has a blanket spread out and he and Riley are already lounging across it.

“So how’d the big date go?” Riley asks.

“It was good. He’s so romantic; very much a gentleman.”

“Dawson’s not a gentleman?”

“He is. Aiden is just, like, chivalrous. And, Riley, regardless of how your balls are doing, I think it’s smart for you and Ariela to wait.”

Dallas rolls his eyes.

“Don’t roll your eyes at me, Dallas. Sex is all fun and new for you. I get that. But at some point, you’re going to get tired of doing it with someone who you mean nothing to. Or you’re going to care about a girl. You’ll be in love with her. You’ll think because the sex is amazing that she loves you back. But then her ex will text her, or she’ll tell you that you’re getting too serious, or that she’s leaving for a year, and it will break your freaking heart. I’m talking break it in two. You’ll be on the ground sobbing.”

Dallas rolls his eyes at me again and passes me the joint he just lit and took a hit off.

“I’m seventeen. I don’t think I’m going to be looking for anything serious for quite some time. And I’m certainly not going to let myself get hurt.”

“Says the romantic who wanted to wait until it was special.”

“So it didn’t work out according to plan. I’m not going to get my panties all in a wad if something doesn’t go the way I expected it to.”

“You wearing panties now?” Riley asks, teasingly.

“I could. I have a whole drawer full of them. It’d save me from doing laundry every week. Look, Kiki, I’m sorry you got hurt. You know that. But sex is fun. I’m having fun. I’m not going to apologize for that.”

“You shouldn’t,” Riley says. “And you shouldn’t make me feel bad because I’m choosing to wait for someone I think I care about.”

“Exactly,” I say, so they will stop arguing. I take a hit, then another, then get brave and say, “Have you either of you ever used a feather on a girl?”


Thursday, October 20th

He’s an idiot.

7:30am

I’m in line waiting for coffee when I notice Annie getting in line behind me.

I step out of line and walk back to her. I’m sick of her avoiding me.

Her eyes get big as she sees me marching toward her. She looks around for a second, like she’s considering just making a run for it.

“Why are you avoiding me?”

She fiddles with the zipper on her backpack. “I know you’re probably mad at me.”

“Why would you think that?”

“Because you threw the star back at Aiden. Because you’re mad at him most of the time. And I helped him. There. I said it.”

“I assumed that you helped him. The bliss candy was a pretty big hint.”

She sighs. “When you threw the star back, he looked hurt. So I asked him why he wanted to give the star to you. And he kind of spilled his guts. He told me about the stars, the candy, phone jail, the four-leaf clover. I would’ve totally swooned if a guy did all that for me. You just frustrate me.”

“I apologized for throwing it at him. We went out for dinner last night.”

“So, you’re done with Dawson?”

“Um, not really.”

“Are you serious? That’s never going to work. And why would want to keep dating Dawson? He’s an idiot.”

“He is not. He needed closure with Whitney. I get that.”

“So that’s it? You’re going to forgive him, just like that!?” She stops and looks around, sees people are staring at her. She lowers her voice, looks like she’s about to cry, and stomps away. “This is why I haven’t been talking to you.”

Jake wanders up from behind me. “What was that all about?”

“She’s mad at me. Thinks I shouldn’t be giving Dawson another chance.”

“I can’t say that I disagree with her on that,” he says, surprisingly.

“How was the library with Maggie?”

“How was dinner with Aiden?” he sasses back as the first bell rings.

In history, Riley babbled on about how gorgeous Ariela is going to look in a toga and asks me if girls wear underwear with them.

My phone buzzes with a text.

Braxton:  Hey, baby. What’s up? You got my Welcome to Eastbrooke, Bitches party planned?

Me:  Yes. That’s what this weekend is. All about you.

Braxton:  I love the place already. So there’s this girl. 

Me:  Isn’t there always?

Braxton:  She’s the one I told you about. She dates older guys. Thinks I’m immature.

Me:  She the one with long dark hair and the longest eyelashes ever? 

Braxton:  Yeah. Embry. She’s coming this weekend too.

Me:  Let me guess. You want to impress her?

Braxton:  Can’t decide. Part of me wants to kiss some hot older girl right in front of her. Make her see that I’m not immature.

Me:  Um, trying to make someone jealous on purpose is sort of immature. I’m afraid she’d see right through it.

Braxton:  Fine. Then I’ll forget about her and you can be my date.

Me:  Me?

Braxton:  Remember the beach this summer? How if I walk around with a hottie on my arm, all the girls will want me? Don’t you remember that? It was an important conversation!

Me:  I remember the conversation. And I will be your date for the party. That will actually solve a tricky situation for me too.

Braxton:  Heard you’re still fucking my brother while you’re dating someone else. Kinda slutty, if you ask me.

Me:  I didn’t ask you. And I’m not doing that. I’m single. Dawson and I screwed up by taking things too fast sexually. That should be a lesson to you. 

Braxton:  Dawson is brilliant if you ask me. Loved the video, by the way.

Me:  Riley told me that you tried to recreate it.

Braxton:  That didn’t go over too well with Mom.

Me:  I heard that too. Got your toga ready?

Braxton:  You know, in ancient Greece, they went commando. I am a Johnson. I’ve always been big for my age. Better watch out.

Me:  So is the girl excited to come? 

Braxton:  Isn’t it the girl gets excited, then she comes?

Me:  Grow up. 

Braxton:  Fine. Yes. I heard her talking about it. She saw the video you did. Wants to meet you. Wants to be on the dance team. Thought the guys playing soccer with no shirts on were hot. 

Me:  I have a new line for you. Dallas told me yesterday during class. 

Braxton: Hit me.

Me:  Did you know that one minute of kissing burns 25 calories? We should work out together.

Braxton:  I changed my mind. I want the trio. 

Me:  What trio?

Braxton:  From the video. Blonde, brunette, and redhead. You can all be my dates. Get ready, bitches!!! Shit, I have to go. Teacher is giving me the evil eye.

How can I refuse?

Lunch

I wander into the café trying to figure out where I’m going to sit today.

Aiden, who was all sweet last night, has been nowhere to be found. I thought he might try and talk to me today. Walk me to class. Text me.

Something.

Anything.

But, no.

And it’s such a letdown.

I spy Maggie already sitting at a table with Ace, Annie, Katie, Riley, Ariela, Dallas, and Logan. I decide that’s where I’m heading when familiar arms wrap around my waist.

“Sit with me,” Dawson says.

I look at him. So gorgeous and sweet. “Sure,” I say, knowing that he’s trying.

When we sit down, Jake and Bryce are talking about going to the JV game tonight.

“You should come with us,” Jake says to me.

“Yeah,” Bryce says. “It’s supposed to rain, so it should be a muddy game. Those are so fun to watch.”

“Sitting in the rain doesn’t really sound fun,” I say. “But I don’t have rehearsal tonight, so why not.”

Dawson rests his hand on my leg and turns toward me. “Why don’t we meet the guys there? We can stop and get dinner and then go sit in the rain and be miserable together?”

“Wow, when you put it that way, how can I refuse?”

“I love you, Keatie.”

And I know I should feel all warm and fuzzy when he says that but, right now, it just sort of feels inappropriate.

And the way Peyton and Whitney both shake their heads and roll their eyes at him, I know I’m not alone in my thinking.

Peyton quickly changes the subject though. She turns to Whitney and the sole minion and says, “Health has become my new favorite class.”

“Mine too,” Whitney says. “Isn’t Mr. Steele totally hot?”

“He’s not even that big,” Bryce replies, flexing his muscles at her. “Can’t compare to this.”

She laughs at him. “In your dreams, Bryce. I heard he was an MMA fighter. And those tattoos. Why can’t all the teachers look like him? I’d never skip a class. In fact, I have an appointment with him this afternoon. Can’t wait for a little one-on-one time with him.”

Jake smashes his jaw together tightly. I can tell that he’s pissed. Just the other day, Whitney told him she made a mistake and wanted to get back together with him.

“I thought you wanted to get back together with Jake?” I blurt out.

She shrugs her shoulders, like Jake was no big deal. “Not anymore. I’m aiming a little higher this time.”

Jake stands up, grabs his tray, and walks away.

Peyton looks at Whitney and smiles. And the way she smiles makes me a little uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure she’s trying to plan Whitney’s demise. I look at the lunch table, knowing Jake will probably not be back.

And realize that’s exactly what Peyton wants.

That’s why she’s been standing up for Whitney with the minions. She wants them gone.

She wants for Whitney what I wanted for Vanessa.

For her to end up sitting on her throne.

All alone.

Nothing good.

French

Aiden drops his backpack down on my desk. I see that my feather earring is attached to its zipper.

I touch it. “I take it I’m not getting this back?”

“I might want to use it again.”

“You’ve been MIA all day. What have you been up to?”

“Just doing some Social Committee stuff with Brad. Tying up loose ends stuff. Since they sent out the video, they’ve doubled the number of prospective students. We’re trying to adjust our plans accordingly.”

“Do you need help?”

“No, we got it all done. The welcome packets are ready. The rooms are assigned. All that stuff. Speaking of the video. Have you thought about getting an agent? Maybe doing commercials or something? I think you could sell about anything to anyone.”

“Probably not until I get done with school,” I lie. I wish I could tell him what Vincent is doing. How there’s no freaking way I could be on TV. I decide to change the subject. “Riley told me earlier today that Coach is making you kick for both the JV and Varsity games this week. Even though it’s supposed to rain, I’m coming to the game.”

“Don’t you have rehearsal?”

“I get to skip again. They’re still working through their lines.”

“Really? That’s cool . . .” Then he stops. “Are you going with Dawson?”

“Well, yeah, there’s a bunch of us going.”

“I heard you were at the Cave last night.”

“How did you hear that?”

“Dallas said something to Riley about it earlier. Sorry, I’m not stalking you or anything.”

I think about Dawson. How cute he is when he stalks me. Meeting me after classes. How it makes me feel when I walk out of my dorm and see him sitting on the brick wall. Maybe he just has a different way of wooing.

“Okay,” I say, not sure where this is going.

“Did you kiss him?”

“Who?”

“Dallas. Did you get high and kiss?”

“Um, we got high . . .”

He locks his teeth together and looks mad.

Annie comes rushing in, sliding quickly into her desk. “Oh, I thought I was going to be late. What’d I miss?”

From behind me Aiden says, “Nothing good.”

Shit. He is mad at me.

Again.

And he didn’t let me finish my freaking sentence.

Again.

I turn around. I don’t care that Miss Praline has started talking.

I madly cross my arms in front of my chest and say, “I thought you were going to start letting me finish my sentences before you jump to conclusions?”

“And I thought . . .” He stops. “Never mind.”

My voice gets louder. “No. There’s not going to be a never mind. I’m sick of it.”

Miss Praline says, “Keatyn? Aiden? Is there a problem?”

“Yes, actually there is,” I say. “I’m feeling sick. May I go to the nurse’s office?”

She narrows her eyes at me as I put on my sick face. Slack face, sad eyes, slightly lowered head.

“Of course, Keatyn,” she says.

I throw my books in my bag and walk out the door.

I don’t go to the nurse’s office. I toss my pass into the trash and race to the field house.

I change into my workout clothes and then go to town on the punching bag. I never promised not to pretend punch his head. Besides, probably better to pretend punch it than punch it for real.

I’m kicking the shit out of the bag when Cooper Steele saunters in. “You’re doing that wrong.”

“What do you mean, I’m doing it wrong?”

He walks behind me, reaches over my shoulders, grabs my hands, and pulls them back in toward my waist. When he does this, I’m thrust back against his rock solid body.

He turns my hands over so that my palms are facing upward. Then he pushes them forward and flips them as they reach the bag.

“That’s how to throw a proper punch. Shouldn’t you be in class?”

“I was feeling sick?”

“Looks to me like you’re feeling pissed.”

I sigh. “That too.”

He knits his brows together, thinking. “Come into my office. We need to get to know each other better.”

“That’s pretty forward of you, Mr. Steele,” I say with a smirk.

He gives me a coach’s smack on the butt. “Get going.”

Is it bad that I totally just pictured Cooper Steele tying me to a bed and spanking me?

Okay, Keatyn. That’s it. No more reading naughty romances on your phone during school.

He grabs me by the arm and drags me toward his office.

And I can’t help it.

I like it.

I have a stupid grin on my face when Whitney comes around the corner. “Uh, Mr. Steele, I was just coming to see you. We have a meeting to discuss the competitions for this weekend’s Greek events.”

“It’ll have to wait. What was your name again?”

Whitney looks startled. Shocked, really. Isn’t every male on the planet supposed to know her name?

“Um, it’s Whitney. Whitney Clarke. I’m on the Social Committee. We have an appointment.”

Cooper flashes a smirk at her and looks down at his hand, which is still firmly wrapped around my arm. “As you can see, Miss Clarke, I’ve got my hands full.”

He drags me into his office, shuts the door on Whitney’s face, and then turns the blinds on the door’s windows.

I try not to giggle.

“Sit up here on the desk,” he tells me loudly. When I don’t move, he picks me up and sets me on the desk.

I am almost positive that Whitney is still outside his door. I can only imagine what she’s thinking.

Of course, I’m totally thinking the same thing.

I so should have asked for a hot bodyguard sooner.

He paces and speaks. “Did Garrett teach you self defense?”

“Um, not really.”

“Why not?”

“Didn’t he brief you on the situation?”

Cooper takes a step back, like I just offended him. “Of course, I’ve been fully briefed on the situation.”

“But you don’t understand how fast it all happened, maybe?”

“Tell me,” he says as he takes a seat.

I tell him the story. The whole drawn-out story. He just keeps nodding.

“Basically, we talked about safety and fear. He gave me some pepper spray, which I try to keep in my purse. I wear my locket most of the time. And I’ve gotten away from Vincent three times now. So, you know, I must be doing something right.”

“Stand up,” he commands.

What is it with him and the two-word sentences? I stay sitting on the desk. I’ll show him. “Make me.”

Cooper strikes faster than a cobra. He grabs me, twists my arms behind my back, and pushes my face down into the desk. I’m horrified by how quickly I was overcome.

“Is this what you want? Is this the position you want to be in?”

There’s a knock on his door. “Mr. Steele,” Whitney says. “I really need to confer with you.”

“Just a moment,” he says, still holding me down on the desk. “Is this the position you want to be in?” he asks again.

“No,” I whimper.

“Then you need to do what I say.”

“Yes,” I say as he pushes harder.

“Get to class. I’ll go through the school’s security and figure out a plan for you.”

“Um, okay.”

I walk out of his office door, suddenly feeling like I can’t breathe.

I run outside and down to the track, where I sprint until I can’t sprint anymore.

Then I sit down on the ground and cry.

Because I just realized that next time I probably won’t get away.

Are you effing kidding me?

6:10pm

“So, we’re alone. Out on the highway. Anything come to mind?”

I’m in the car with Dawson. He’s got the radio turned up and his hand on my knee.

I think for a second. And, well, no. Nothing comes to mind. “Uh?”

“I’m driving. You maybe wanna do something a little naughty?”

Then I get it.

He wants road head. Are you effing kidding me?

“That sounds very romantic.”

But I don’t do anything to him. Instead, I look out the passenger-side window and fight back tears.

I don’t win the fight.

I turn to face him. “Hey, I’m not feeling well. Will you take me back to school, please?”

He sees my tears. “What’s wrong? Why are you crying? Oh, wait. Did you think I was serious? I was just joking.”

“No, you weren’t. You didn’t open the car door for me. You didn’t make any plans for tonight. And your idea of romance is asking me to blow you while you drive. This isn’t gonna work.”

He lets out a big sigh, pulls off the side of the road, and turns to me. “Keatie, I was just joking. Can we not joke and have fun anymore? We had sex the other night. It was amazing, like always.”

“I’m sorry. But I shouldn’t have. It’s not fair to you.”

“How is it not fair to me?”

“Because it’s giving you the wrong impression. It makes you think things are okay with our relationship when they’re not.”

“I’ve done stuff for you. Homecoming. The key necklace.”

“I know you have. We just never dated. And that’s not your fault. I never gave you the chance to woo me. We slept together fast. Then thought we were in love. Then . . . Well, then it was over. I know we complicated things by sleeping together the other night. I just wanted to feel close to you again. But I also want to feel close to you in ways other than sex. Maybe we shouldn’t sleep together until we figure this out.”

“You’re right. We probably shouldn’t. Keatie, I never wanted to hurt you.”

“I don’t want to hurt you either.”

He pulls me into his arms and kisses me. They are sweet I’m sorry kisses.

Kisses that get all mixed up with my tears.

As usual with our kisses, they quickly turn from sweet to full of desire.

He pushes his seat back and pulls me over, so I’m on his lap, straddling him.

Pretty soon we’re doing exactly what we just decided we shouldn’t do.

And it feels amazing.

“Just so you know, I’m taking you to a cool little place for dinner tonight. I am planning to woo you, and not just with sex.”

“Really?” I say and start crying again.

“Why does that make you cry?”

I sniffle, crying through the words. “Because it means I don’t have to feel bad about what we just did.”

“You feel bad? How can you feel bad about something that felt so good?”

“Because it’s not that simple.”

“How much simpler can it get, Keatie? We have sex. Amazing, mind-blowingly good sex. I’m sorry if I haven’t made a big deal of going out on dates. I did ask you to Homecoming in a big way. I planned stuff. You had fun, didn’t you?”

I nod, dry my tears, and feel so much better.

He drives a bit farther and takes me to a hole in the wall. The outside is rundown, needs painting and needs a new sign. But I notice the parking lot is packed.

It’s a casual Mexican restaurant and there’s a long line of people waiting to get in, but Dawson walks up to the front, shakes a guy’s hand, and motions for me to follow him.

The guy leads us through the restaurant and then out a sliding glass door.

Now I see why the place is so packed.

There is a huge courtyard under a glass roof. The glass roof is sparkling clean, and you can see the clouds floating by as the sun turns them various shades of pink. There are little twinkle lights everywhere, across the beams on the glass ceiling and in the huge potted trees.

We are seated at a table that is set between a couple trees and has a feeling of seclusion.

Dawson pulls out my chair for me and grins at me as I sit down.

“This place is very cool. How did you ever find it?”

“I wanted to take you somewhere special. I’ve been looking up restaurants all afternoon.”

I lean over and kiss him. “Thank you.”

A Mariachi band strolls up to our table and start serenading us.

Dawson looks irritated, hands one of the dudes a wad of cash, and shoos them away.

We get to the game a bit late.

The scoreboard shows that the second quarter has just started and we’re down by a touchdown.

It starts to sprinkle rain.

The rain gets harder, the field gets muddier, and Dawson holds me tighter.

Pretty soon, it’s the end of the game.

The score is tied.

Only a few ticks left on the clock.

Aiden walks onto the field to kick the winning field goal. His uniform is wet. Molded tightly to his pads and body.

He looks at the goal post. Lines up the kick. Then he stops and looks dead at me.

He does a complicated-looking thing with his hands. His thumbs and pointer fingers form touching double O’s. Then the rest of his fingers form sort of a bridge above the O’s.

Sort of like you would make a heart with your hands. But I have no idea what it’s supposed to be.

The ball is snapped. Logan lines up the laces and Aiden kicks the ball straight through the goal posts.

The guys rush out on the field to congratulate him as the crowd cheers.

At midnight, I’m lying in bed, trying to mimic what he did with his hands.

When all of a sudden, I see it.

My phone buzzes, startling me.

Hottie God:  You need to sneak out tonight to congratulate me. 

Me:  That thing you did, before you kicked it. Was it supposed to be a four-leaf clover?

Hottie God: The Cave. One hour. 

This is crazy. I really shouldn’t go.

But I’m going to.

Take off your pants.

1am

It’s stopped raining, but is still cloudy, damp, and chilly. I trudge back through the trees, getting my boots all covered with mud.

Aiden isn’t here yet, so I sit down on a stump, realizing too late that it’s very wet. And now, so are the back of my sweats and even my underwear.

Is there anything worse, really, than a damp ass?

This is not very romantic.

I hear the brush moving and get a momentary rush of worry about getting caught out here after curfew.

But the tree limbs part, and Aiden walks into the clearing carrying a Burberry sleeping bag.

“No way I’m sleeping outside in this weather,” I tease.

“The backing is waterproof, so we won’t get wet when we sit down.”

“Too late for that.” I turn around and show him my wet backside.

“There’s nothing worse than a damp ass,” he says. Which are the exact words I just thought a few seconds ago.

Oh, the fates are so toying with me.

He spreads out the sleeping bag with the shiny side down, kicks his shoes off, then stands on top of it and starts taking off his sweatpants.

Uh, holy shit.

What is this?

I watch though.

He has the best legs at school. They have just enough light blond hair to be masculine, but not enough to be hairy.

“What are you doing?”

“Take off your pants,” he commands.

“Isn’t this moving a little fast? I mean, we haven’t even made out yet.”

He laughs and shakes his head at me. “Silly Boots. I’m going to let you wear my sweats. I have athletic shorts underneath.”

“Oh, um, I . . .”

“What? It’s not that big of a deal.”

“Except that my underwear got wet too.”

He runs his tongue across his bottom lip and grins at me. He’s never made this facial gesture in front of me. And the combination of his mouth and tongue both looking at me at the same time.

I can’t even tell you what it does.

It makes my stomach flip, like I was on a roller coaster and we just flipped upside down doing 75 miles per hour.

You had sex with Dawson tonight, you idiot.

What is wrong with me?

I need off this ride and fast.

Have you ever been on a roller coaster, upside down, and all of a sudden it feels like maybe your seatbelt—that little piece of webbed material—isn’t quite as tight as it should be? You feel yourself slide a fraction of an inch and mentally prepare to fall to your death before it tightens up again?

I feel like I’m ready to fall out of the roller coaster.

Plummet to my death.

And I briefly think, What would my heaven be like?

When my dad died, Mom explained heaven as this amazing place where Daddy was living his best days over and over. Like the day we got ice cream and rode the Ferris wheel then walked along the beach holding hands.

And my mind flashes to Aiden gliding a feather all over me. That is my idea of heaven.

“You can take them off too. I won’t look,” Aiden says, referring to my wet undies as he hands me his warm sweats.

And, sadly, he doesn’t even attempt to peek as I slide them on.

I say what’s on my mind before I think better. “Have you ever been naked in these?”

He pulls me onto the sleeping bag with him and kisses me in response.

And his hands. His talented hands are finally moving across my body.

For the first time, he seems like a normal boy.

Like a normal, horny boy.

He stops and leans up on one arm. “So you figured it out, huh?”

And I want to say, That you are a god? Yes, I know.

He makes half the symbol with his fingers. It looks incomplete, so I mirror it with my fingers and hold them up to his.

And when our fingers touch, I swear to god, a spark shoots from my hand to his.

“A four-leaf clover,” I say breathlessly.

He rolls on top of me, straddling me and pinning me under his weight. It’s an effortless move.

I look at him, my eyes wide.

“Use both your hands to make the double O’s,” he tells me.

So I do.

Then he puts one hand on each side of mine, forming two more O’s.

“That does look like a clover.”

“It’s going to take both of us to make this work,” he says. “I heard Dawson took you on a date tonight.”

“He says he’s going to start wooing me.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Aiden says, still forming the clover. “I’m going to win.”

“It sorta looks like our hands are having sex,” I laugh. “Like, the way they’re joined together, kinda . . . uh, never mind.”

“Let’s talk about sex.”

Just Aiden saying the word sex almost leaves me more breathless than actual sex with Dawson.

“Uh, okay.”

He leans down, his mouth about twelve inches from mine. “We’re going to take things slow.”

“I wanna take things slow. Like, if you were just hoping for sex from me, you should probably halt the wooing process.”

“Does that mean you won’t be having sex with anyone else during the wooing process?”

“Um . . .”

“So that’s why I’m not winning? If we had sex, would I win?”

I let out a little laugh. “I don’t know. You think it would be any good?”

He runs his finger gently down my neck. “What do you think?”

I swallow hard. “God, don’t do that to me. I know I slept with Dawson too soon. But I . . .”

He starts to get off me, but I grab his hands.

“I really don’t want to hear this,” he says.

“You need to hear it. I thought I could go fast with the sexual part of a relationship and slow with the feelings part, but I can’t. It gets all messed up. All backwards. I want to wait. And I don’t want this to become some sort of competition.”

“Boots?”

He moves closer to my face.

“Yeah?”

“I’d wait for you forever. You don’t get it do you?”

“Get what?”

“We’re going to be together for a long time. There's no need to rush things when you know that.”

“Do you know how weird it is for a guy to say that? Guys hate commitment.”

“Did you not feel it? Was it just me?”

“No, I felt it too. I just thought you were a player and fought it.”

“Don’t fight me anymore.”

I don’t get to reply. His lips quickly close the gap between us.

All of a sudden, there is a huge clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning hits a tree not too far from us. Rain starts coming down in buckets.

Aiden pulls me up off the ground.

We laugh at how instantly soaked we both are.

But then we lock eyes.

His lips press against mine.

And there in the pouring rain, I get the. Best. Kiss. Of. My. Entire. Life.

And I’m pretty sure with this kiss, he branded me.

Seared his initials into my skin.

Like bite marks from a vampire.

I’m his.

When I get back from the Cave, I change out of my soaking wet clothes and lie in bed thinking about our kiss in the rain and wondering how it could have been the best kiss of my life.

There were no tongues.

Just lips colliding.

Lightning around us mimicking the electricity I feel every time our lips touch.

It was a simple, single, electrifying kiss.

And it was amazing.


Friday, October 21st

I need some cake.

10:30am

Most of the classes today have very few people in them. Most of us are working, getting everything set up for the PSW/Greek weekend.

I find Peyton in the café overseeing its transformation. There are huge black canvases draped on the walls. Art students are using projectors to beam classic sculptures onto the wall and are tracing them with white chalk. Others are drawing thick Greek columns and filling the fake windows with views of a bright blue ocean.

“Hey,” she says. “It’s looking great, don’t you think?”

“It really is. I just stopped by to check it out. Brad gave me a list of stuff to do. I have to go make sure the audio equipment is all ready for the movie tonight and that the gym is set up.”

“I heard that you’re hanging out with Dawson tonight and my brother tomorrow night.”

“That’s the plan, yes.”

“Do you think dating them both is a good idea? I mean, usually when you date more than one guy, you make sure they run in different circles, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

She leans in and whispers, “So, I was flirting with hottie Cooper this morning.”

“Peyton, don’t do that.”

“Why not? There’s no one here I want to date.”

“What about Brad?”

“Hmm, let’s see. Pretty little boy Brad versus a manly tattooed hottie. Um, no. Besides, I’m pretty sure that he was flirting back. Whitney wants him too. But I’m not going to let her win.”

“Peyton, look, this thing you have going on with Whitney. I know what you’re trying to do. And, I swear, it’s going to backfire on you.”

“No way. I’m not afraid of her anymore. You were right. It’s silly of me to let her hold that over my head. I was a minor. What good would it do if it came out now? Sure, it’d be embarrassing, but pretty soon I’ll be at college far away from here. And her. By the way, I saw what Dawson did in front of your dorm.”

“What do you mean?”

She grins. “Looks like you have two boys trying to woo you.”

I decide to stop by my dorm to see what she’s talking about before I make my way down to the gym.

Maggie is outside, writing all over the sidewalk with chalk.

“Doesn’t it look amazing?”

“It’s really pretty,” I tell her, looking at all the messages the girls in our dorm have written to welcome the prospective students. “How was the library with Jake? I asked him about it and he wouldn’t tell me. He always tells me.”

She grins, full on. “It was good. Very much a friend thing. I’m pretty sure we are in the same boat.”

“The friend boat?”

“Yeah. You still in that with Aiden?”

“I’m not sure anymore. Last night he told me we were going to be together for a long time. Does that seem weird to you?”

“Not if you feel the same way. But, wait, I thought you went to the game with Dawson?”

“I did. And I was bad. Again. We decided we weren’t going to anymore, but we did.”

“You have no willpower.”

“You’re right. Dawson is like me satisfying my sweet tooth. When I’m having something sweet, I love it, but then when I’m done, I feel guilty.”

“Because of the calories?”

I laugh. “Yes. Dawson is a five layer chocolate cake with ganache filling. Impossible to resist, but leaves you feeling a little guilty after.”

“He stopped by here earlier. Did you see it?”

“Peyton said something about it.”

Maggie grabs my arm and pulls me toward the dorm. There on the first step, near where he always sits and waits for me, is a huge pink heart. It says: Dawson + Keatie.

“Oh, that’s so sweet!”

Dawson grabs me around my waist. “I’m glad you think it’s sweet. I have something else sweet for you in my dorm. Come on.”

As we walk next door, I say, “Did you see your brother’s neck? He has new hickeys over the old ones.”

“Did you see my brother’s stomach?”

“We’ve never done that, you know. Given each other hickeys.”

“You’ve given me a couple little ones before,” he says, pulling me into his bedroom and sucking hard on my neck. “Want me to give you one?”

“Not really,” I laugh. “You know, we kind of missed out on all that. The kissing for hours, the hickeys, and all that.”

“Is that what you want? For me to write Dawes across your stomach?” He immediately puts his lips on my stomach, which is exposed in my game day dance uniform. “Maybe I’ll just put my football number on you. Mark my territory.”

“Uh . . .”

“I’m just playing. Tell you what. Let’s just make out.”

I smile at him. “That sounds like fun.”

We kiss for a few minutes.

But when he pulls me on top of him, our kissing gets deeper, and both our hips start that little movement toward each other.

“Keatie, you gotta stop that.”

“Stop what?”

“Every time you kiss me, you move your hips into me, and you keep making those sexy little noises. I don’t know how much more I can take.”

“That’s cuz you keep pushing my butt into your leg and moving it against me.”

I roll off him and wrap both my arms up around my head. He puts his hand across my exposed stomach and then down inside my dance pants.

I moan, then sigh and try to shake this desire. “What happened to just kissing?”

He runs his hand further down, pulling my pants down in the process. “I don’t think that’s gonna happen,” he says huskily, as I use his feet to kick my pants the rest of the way off.

He pulls off my thong while I try to undo his belt. I finally get it undone, unzip his shorts, and pull down the front of his boxers. He holds my hands down above my head with one hand, while he slides off his shorts and boxers.

Then he grins at me and says, “We’re just gonna kiss.”

I wrap my legs around his waist in agreement. “Yeah, we’ll just kiss.”

Dawson may not touch my soul, but the parts he does touch, he makes feel really good.

After we get dressed, Dawson says, “I’m starved. Let’s go get lunch.”

We’re now sitting at the lunch table, probably looking way too happy.

Bryce says to me, “So, what’s going on with you two? I saw the It’s complicated thing, but then I heard you had a date with Aiden.”

“We’re allowed to date other people,” Dawson answers.

“So, you’re still hooking up?”

Dawson laughs and says, “Um, we decided we’re just gonna kiss.”

My phone makes a little email ding, telling me I have a message from Grandma.

Grandpa says you want to know the difference between love and true love. Joan Crawford said this, “Love is a fire, but whether it’s going to warm your heart or burn down your house, you can never tell.”

Dawson and I are the only ones left at the lunch table, so I ask him, “Do you believe in true love?”

“Uh, I think so, why?”

“Do you think you just know?”

“Like love at first sight? Romantic fairy tale stuff? I though what we just did in my room was pretty damn romantic.”

“Our just kissing was romantic?”

“Hell, yeah.”

I tilt my head and look at him, like Seriously?

“Okay, so it probably wasn’t romantic. It was hot. Sexy. That’s what all this is about, huh? The romance? We have the sex, but not the romance? Wasn’t last night romantic?”

“Dinner was romantic.”

“So early dinner and then tonight after the game you’re mine, right?”

“I think I already was yours.”

He laughs. “Naw, we just kissed.”

Just kiss.

1pm

After lunch, I do all the stuff Brad asked me to, then go to the small auditorium where all the student guides are meeting to get instructions about what we’re expected to do with the visiting students. Aiden sits down next to me as I’m studying the photos of the two girls who are going to be Katie’s and my roommates.

“So, tonight, we’re doing dinner before the game, right? I have something special planned.”

“Oh, um, I didn’t know that you planned something. I was trying to be fair, so I told Dawson I would hang out with him tonight. Then tomorrow, all day—well, except for the party after curfew—I’m yours. Like, if you want.”

“Bryce told me you and Dawson decided you’re just gonna kiss for now.”

I blush and look down, hoping he didn’t notice.

“Well, we’re going to try.”

He narrows his eyes at me. “I don’t like this.”

“Don’t like what?”

“You dating him one night and me the next. It sucks.”

“But you’re the one who told me to date you both.”

“Yeah, I know,” he says with a sigh as he runs his hand through his hair. “So, are you okay with that?”

“Okay with what?”

“With me dating you one night and someone else the next?”

“You can do whatever you want.”

He sweetly puts his forehead against mine. “I haven’t dated anyone else this year. Don’t know why I’d start now.”

I bite the edge of my lip, trying to suppress a smile.

He lets out a loud laugh. “You love getting your way, don’t you?”

My little smile breaks into a full-on grin. I can't help it.

He squints his eyes at me. “You like that I’m a little jealous.”

“Kinda.”

“You are a bad liar.”

“Fine, I like that you're maybe a little jealous. I don't know how you feel.”

“Boots, love isn't like a cute pair of shoes. You can't try it on to see if it fits and walk out the door wearing it.”

“I know that.”

“You told me sometimes true love takes a bit. Do you believe that?”

I scrunch up my face and think about it. “I guess I always thought true love would be instant. An instant pull—like gravity—and you would both just know.”

“But sometimes the girl is used to getting things instantly. And probably the guy is too. And maybe they need to slow down.”

“But I could get hit by a car or kidnapped by a psycho tomorrow and never know.”

“You don’t have to have sex to know. Sex isn't love.”

“Maybe not. But it’s a big, important part of it.”

“Just because you have sex doesn't mean you're in love.”

“I just want to be with a guy who likes me. Who won’t hurt me.”

“Says the girl who’s with a guy that has already hurt her, more than once.”

This comment immediately pisses me off.

I turn my back on him. “I gotta go, Aiden. See ya later.”

He grabs my shoulder. “You’re mad at me right now because you know I’m right.”

I set my face in a passive, disaffected look. “I’m not mad at you. I just have to go greet the prospective students.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Now I’m standing in a reception line, greeting prospective students as they arrive, with Aiden standing next to me.

Electricity is radiating from his stupid body.

Young girls are getting just as tongue-tied around him as I do. They come over in little groups, supposedly to say hi to Ariela, Maggie, and me, but by the way they are giggling, it’s obvious who they want to see.

The shirtless goalie from the video.

“Are you two going out?” an adorable blonde girl named Pressley asks Aiden, looking from me to him and blushing. Then she goes, “Uh, I mean, like, I, uh, saw you studying together in the library in the, uh, video. I can’t wait to take French. It’s such a romantic language.”

I look at Aiden, wondering how he’s going to reply. This is his chance to tell someone else what I want to hear. That he’s secretly in love with me. How we met. How it was instant. How if she comes here, it might happen to her. Her perfect fate.

“We have French class together,” he says with a radiant smile toward the girl, which causes her to turn a deeper shade of red. “She’s my tutor.”

“Oh,” she manages to reply. I can tell her dreams were just crushed along with mine. She wants to hear the fairy tale. She wants to know if she comes here, she’ll meet an amazing boy.

I decide to give her hope. “I’ve been dating a really hot senior.”

Aiden starts to say something, but he’s interrupted by a loud voice.

“Daddy’s home!” Braxton bounds up to me, wraps his arm around my neck, and gives me a big kiss on cheek. “Did you miss me?”

I grin and kiss his cheek back. “Of course I did!” I turn toward Aiden and the girl, who is still standing there. “Pressley, this is Braxton. He’s for sure attending Eastbrooke next fall.”

Braxton gives her a subtle once over and appears to approve. He removes his arm from my neck and wraps it around hers. “Pressley, that’s a really pretty name,” he says. “Stick with me, baby. I’ve got this place wired.” He starts to lead her toward the small auditorium for their informational meeting, when I see Embry, the dark-haired girl he’s been crushing on from his school, arrive.

“Hey, Brax, wait,” I say.

I walk up to Embry. Unlike most of the girls who have arrived in packs, she is standing confidently by herself. I can see why she dates older guys. She doesn’t look like an eighth grader. Long hair, slim, tight body, gorgeous eyes, and great teeth in a pretty smile.

“Hey, I’m Keatyn,” I tell her, introducing myself. “Are you here alone?”

“Yeah,” she says a little self-consciously. “None of my friends want to go to boarding school, but I think it looks really fun. I loved the video.”

“Thanks. We’ll get to talk a bunch later. You’re rooming with me and my friend, Katie, but now you have to get into the info meeting.” I lead her toward Braxton. “Do you know Braxton? I read that you go to the same school. And this is Pressley. She’ll be rooming with us too.”

Braxton looks a little shocked. Probably because his arm is still wrapped around the pretty blonde, Pressley. “Hey, Embry!”  he says. “We were just headed in. Wanna join?”

She smiles and seems relieved to see a familiar face. “Yeah, Braxton, that would be great.”

Braxton doesn’t miss a beat. He wraps his free arm around Embry and says, “We’re going to have some fun here, ladies.” Then he turns back and winks at me. “Keatyn, don’t be jealous. You’re still my favorite girl.”

I look over at Riley, who is shaking his head and laughing at his brother.

Riley and Dallas start discussing who were the hottest young girls.

“They are all, like, fourteen. Way too young for you both.”

Riley goes, “Just checking out the new crop for my little bro.”

But I’m not paying attention.

Because Chelsea, the cheerleader who is always flirting with Aiden, is now running her hand down Aiden’s buff bicep.

I know I shouldn’t listen, but I can’t help it.

I’m straining to hear every single word.

Damn Dallas is talking way too loud. I want to shush him, but I can’t.

“You’re no fun this year. What’s the deal? We had lots of fun last year,” I hear her say.

Aiden doesn’t remove her arm from his, but says, “I’ve just . . . and I’m not . . . we did . . . understand.”

She apparently doesn’t like what she hears, because she lets go of his arm and puts on a pout. “Tonight. We’re having some fun, and I’m not taking no for an answer.” She walks away slowly, shaking her curvy ass.

I catch Aiden staring at it.

He looks at me and sort of shrugs, seemingly saying, I can’t help it all the girls are in love with me. I’m a hottie god. Get used to it.

My phone buzzes with a text.

Braxton:  I need a redhead to complete my trio.

How do you say fuck off in French?

5pm

Dawson comes to dinner with me, even though he has to be in the locker room shortly to get ready for the football game tonight. All the prospective students have to sit together, so we get to eat alone.

“Wow, Keatie,” he says, looking at the newly Greek café. “This looks great.”

“Yeah, the art students worked really hard today. I think it turned out pretty cool. Hopefully the rest of the weekend goes well.”

“It will. You helped plan it,” he says, leaning in to give me a sweet kiss.

As we get in line, Dallas walks up to me and holds his closed fist out in front of me. Like he wants me to open my hand so he can put something in it, or he wants me to guess what’s in it.

“What?”

He bugs his eyes out at me, so I hold my palm up to his hand.

“I’m pretty sure these are yours,” he grins, and drops an orange lace thong into my hand.

“Where’d you find these?”

“Ha! I knew they were yours! You wore them when we were in the limo. I recognized the little daisy charm on back. You don’t see that very often.”

“Yeah, where did you find those?” Dawson asks with a big grin. I can tell he is trying to think of where we might have lost them. Most likely the lacrosse field.

“At the Cave,” Dallas replies.

My eyes get big. “Oh,” I say, looking totally guilty. “Uh, thanks.” I quickly shove them into my bag. Then I turn my attention toward the food. Dawson loves food. “Wow, dinner smells great. You sure you aren’t going to have something?”

“No,” he says flatly, while I grab a tray and pile it with food.

I figure maybe if I get enough food, Dawson won’t ask me how my panties got left at the Cave.

And that appears like it won’t be a problem, because Dawson has gotten very quiet. He hasn’t said a word.

I start munching on a gyro. Try to feed him some hummus.

Finally he says, “Are you even gonna attempt to explain why your panties were at the Cave?”

“We’ve always been honest with each other, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, I’m going to tell you exactly what happened.”

He nods at me to go on.

“Last night after the JV game, I met Aiden at the Cave.”

His eyes get big, and his anger swells.

“Let me finish before you get all pissed, okay? He wanted to show me that thing he did with his hands before he kicked the field goal last night. It had been raining, and I sat on a stump and my underwear and my sweats got all soaked. Aiden had on gym shorts under his sweats, so he took them off and let me wear them.”

“How does a thong get wet when you sit down?”

“I don’t know. I sorta leaned onto the stump and it got wet. I was embarrassed. Aiden turned around and didn’t even try to look when I changed. Then it started pouring, so he wrapped it all up in the sleeping bag he brought to sit on. It must have fallen out.”

He shakes his head like he doesn’t believe me.

“That sounds like bullshit. Let me guess, you just kissed?”

“Yes, we did. Oh, not like that. Like we actually just kissed. And not for very long, because it started pouring.”

“Uh huh, sure. I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. How do you say fuck off in French?”

Aiden who apparently has been standing behind us says, “Casse-toi. But she’s telling you the truth.”

“Yeah well, cassy-twa to both of you,” he says. He gets up, slams his chair into the table, and stomps out of the café.

Aiden says, “Hell, if I woulda known that would work, I would’ve stolen some of your panties and hung them in my football locker.”

“It’s really not funny,” I tell him.

“I’ll sit and eat dinner with you.”

Riley wanders over with Ariela on his arm. He looks really happy, for a guy whose neck is varying shades of bruise.

“What happened?” he asks.

Aiden looks like he’s going to say something, but my eyes fill with tears.

“I gotta go,” I tell them.

Tears are blurring my vision as I leave the café. I need to sit down and gather myself, so I go to the nearest spot.

As fate would have it, it’s the bench where Dawson first really kissed me.

I put my head down into my hands and cry.

I don’t know what I’m going to do.

I feel the bench shift slightly.

Dawson puts his arm around me, pulls me into his chest, and whispers, “I’m sorry. I believe you. This is all my fault. If I would’ve told Whitney no, we wouldn’t even be in this mess, would we? You wouldn’t be dating Aiden. We’d still be going out, right?”

“That’s right,” I sputter out and then start bawling again. I’m bawling about all of it. Brooklyn. Him. Aiden. Him. Vincent. I just want to go home.

Dawson rubs my back gently. “No relationship is perfect, Keatie. What matters is if you still want to be together when things get really hard.”

I half laugh, half cry, “That’s the problem, Dawson. I like it when you get really hard.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

I look up at him. His gorgeous, sweet brown eyes. His beautiful hair.

“Oh, wow. Um, here.” He pulls his polo up off his stomach and uses it to wipe my face. “Let’s go get you cleaned up. Then we’re gonna figure this all out, okay?”

I nod okay.

We go to my room. “Tonight is pretty much over for me, and it’s not even six.” I sigh. “I’m not going to the game.”

“You’re not skipping. You’ll get in trouble with the dance team. Just put some makeup back on. It’ll be fine.”

“I don’t want to go to the movie after the game.”

“You have to go. You’re my date.”

I throw my arms around him and start crying again.

“You can’t go to the game bawling.” He looks perplexed. I’m sure growing up with three brothers, he’s not used to this.

“Okay, let’s talk first, figure this out, get all the crying out.”

“You’re supposed to be in the locker room in ten minutes.”

“I can be a little late. So, you want honesty, right?”

I bite my lip and nod.

“This is honesty. I love you. I’ve told you that. On the other hand, do I think you are my one true love?” He stops, rubs his hands together, and shakes his head. “I honestly don’t know. You helped me. Healed me, really. I feel grateful. But do you remember that first night when we talked at the Cave?”

“Yeah, you told me your goal was to ask Whitney to Homecoming.”

“And you told me that Aiden spoke to you soul. Or kissed your soul.”

I nod, remembering.

“Keatie, I don’t know if we’re soul mates. I don’t even know how you know that. Do you?”

“I don't think I believe in soul mates or true love anymore.”

He pulls me gently onto his lap and snuggles me into his chest.

“Yeah, you do. Under all that sexy is a true romantic.”

“I mean, I want that. Doesn’t everyone? That special someone made just for them.”

“I think everyone hopes for it. But then we get our hearts broken and it makes us cynical. After what happened with Whitney, I felt pretty cynical.”

“Did you think she was the one? Like, did you want to marry her?”

“We used to talk about it sometimes. She always described our future life, but I could never picture it. I thought it was just because I’m a guy, but now I don’t think so. I think it just wasn’t right. What do you think we should do?”

“What do you want to do?”

He shakes his head. “Honestly, I can't wait to graduate and go to college.”

“That makes me sad.”

“I don’t know if we’re soul mates, Keatie, but we’re gonna be friends for a very long time. I wasn’t lying when I said you’ve become my best friend. I’ll give up the sex if I have to, but I don’t want to give up the friendship.”

“Do you want to give up the sex?”

“Hell no. Do you?”

“Well, it complicates things, and I do feel a little guilty about it. Should we feel guilty about it?”

“As long as we’re both single, we have nothing to feel guilty about.”

“I don’t want to let you go.”

“I’m not going anywhere, and there’s no one here I want to date. So, we’ll see how it goes, and I’ll try my best not to be a jealous idiot. It helps knowing you’re not sleeping with him.”

“I told him I wouldn’t sleep with anyone else until I knew for sure I was in love.”

“I’m a life lesson, huh?”

I laugh in a sad way. “Maybe. Dawson, I know I have a prospective student to attend to, but I don’t want to go to the movie. I know we were supposed to have a date. Will you be mad if we don’t go?”

“Hell, no. I hate that movie.” He gives me a sweet kiss on the cheek and glances at the clock. “Shit. I gotta get going.”

“Okay,” I say as he walks out the door.

You got lucky.

6:12pm

I walk down to the field house, my emotions everywhere.

Part of me wants to run away.

To forget this place. Forget these people.

But as I look out over the campus, I realize that I don’t want to leave this place. Or these people. I don’t want to run away from my problems. I want to stay here and figure them out.

And, maybe, hopefully, figure myself out in the process.

I whip open the door to the field house to find Cooper Steele standing in the entry.

“What?”

“We need to talk,” he says as he pulls me in his office and shuts his door. He drops down into the chair behind his desk, rubs the stubble on his head, and says, “This place is crazy. I’m supposed to be guarding you. How am I supposed to watch out for you when I’m constantly busy? And how did I suddenly find myself in charge of an event I didn’t even plan?”

I can’t help but smirk. “Whitney and Peyton are on the Social Committee that planned this weekend. You need to be careful. They both want you.”

“I know they want me. They’ve already got me doing all this stuff.”

“Uh, no. That’s just to get close to you. I mean they want you. Sexually.”

“Sexually? They’re in high school?”

“Yeah, but they’re both legal and in some sort of competition to see who can sleep with you first.”

“This is my job. I’m not going to screw it up by sleeping with some high school girl. They’re both in my Health class too. It’s weird talking about health and human body issues to girls whose pants I would’ve been trying to get into just a few years ago. Now I’m supposed to teach abstinence.”

I laugh. “That’s pretty funny. And I’m sorry if you’re overwhelmed with hot girls trying to hit on you, but have you had a chance to learn the school? Its weaknesses in security? Anything productive?”

“I’ve already discovered the most important weakness.”

“Really, what’s that?”

“You.”

“Me? What do you mean?”

“Garrett wanted me here so that you’d have someone close, but I can’t be with you all the time. If Vincent shows up, you’ve got to be ready.”

“I am ready. I mean, I’ve always gotten away before.”

He looks at me very seriously. “I don’t want to take away your confidence, but I’ve studied your file and listened to your side of the story. You got lucky. Plain and simple. You got especially lucky in Miami. You’ve been in situations where you’ve been able to run. What will you do if you can’t run?”

My hands start to shake and I feel like I’m going to cry. What is he talking about? That’s what Garrett told me to do. To run.

“Um, I’m not sure, but I’m going to be late for dance. If we’re not in the locker room on time, we get in trouble.”

“You’re avoiding the question. Go to dance. Think about it. We’ll discuss your answer, and my plan, tomorrow.”

As I fly out of his office, I collide with Whitney. “Watch where you’re going,” she says snottily.

“I’m sorry. I have to get to dance.”

“Why were you in Mr. Steele’s office?”

“Uh, he just asked me some questions about tomorrow’s competition.”

She raises one eyebrow at me. “For future reference, that’s my job.”

I’m almost late for dance, but I need a minute to breathe.

I walk outside to get some air just as the entire football team barrels out the door and heads down to the field.

I put my head down, push my back up against the building, and try to blend into the brick wall. Fortunately, no one notices me.

Except for Aiden.

He turns around, holds my eyes with that tractor beam of his, but follows the team to the field.

Once they’re out of sight, I allow myself to close my eyes.

I run through the scenarios. Let my mind go to all those scary what-if places.

What would I do if I couldn’t run? If I couldn’t get away?

I’d have to go with him. Figure out how to get away later. Trick him.

But the truth is, I’m not as smart as him. Or as sick. Whatever.

I’ll be okay. I’ll figure it out. I have a lot I want to do with my life.

Maybe that’s part of loving myself. Knowing what I want to do with my life. Having the courage to go for it no matter what. To have that courage even when someone crazy like Vincent is after me.

I feel a forehead lean against mine. “I’m sorry for what I said about the panties in my locker. It was a bad joke,” Aiden says.

I reach out suddenly, wrap my arms around him, and bury my head in his shoulder. He doesn’t hesitate for even a second. He immediately hugs me tightly back.

“Tell me what happened,” he says softly.

“You’re going to get in trouble.”

“I told Coach I forgot my lucky charm and had to go back and get it.”

“You have a lucky charm?”

“Yeah. You. Tell me.”

“It’s been a week since Dawson and I broke up. I’ve been an emotional mess. Tonight, he just told me something that I knew in my heart but really didn’t want to hear.”

“What was that?”

I shake my head. “I don’t want to talk about it, Aiden. Um, I know I’m on the Social Committee and I’m supposed to help sell popcorn before the movie, but I’m not going. Turns out Dawson didn’t want to go anyway.”

“You’ve been crying.”

I nod.

“Tell you what. I’ll take care of the popcorn. You go with your friends.”

“What do you mean?”

“Go to the movie with your girlfriends. You’ll have fun. And don’t you have two prospective students spending the night in your room?”

“Yeah.”

“Show them how much you love Eastbrooke.”

I smile at him.

Because he’s one of the biggest reasons I decided not to run away.

He gives me a sweet kiss on the cheek and says, “Everything will be okay. I promise.”

And for some reason, I believe him.

The perfect ending.

2am

Pressley and Embry have finally stopped giggling and are asleep.

Their enthusiasm is contagious and I had a really fun time too. I’m glad Aiden talked me into going. It was fun to sing along with Katie, Maggie, and Peyton. It was fun watching Maggie and Jake flirt. And it was flat-out funny to watch Riley drag his furry rug into the auditorium for him and Ariela to sit on.

I had fun.

But, yet, I didn’t.

I kinda hoped that when Aiden suggested going with my girlfriends it was because he wanted to sit with me.

But he didn’t.

Instead, he spent the night surrounded by cheerleaders. One of whom was Chelsea, the girl who wasn’t taking no for an answer tonight. Maybe that’s why he barely spoke to me and why he hasn’t texted me.

But I have bigger problems than that.

So I get on the internet and look up problem solving.

Hoping it will give me an idea of what to tell Cooper tomorrow.

What I find, though, makes me think of someone else.

The article I’m reading says that you should always try to figure out the root, or cause, of your problem.

I use my phone to light up the picture of Brooklyn then slowly push my covers back, slide my feet into a pair of slippers, carefully step over the girls, shut the door quietly, and go into the stairwell.

I think it’s time to talk to my root.

I pull up his number as a million truths go through my head. Truths that I haven’t wanted to face. Because that would mean taking some of the blame.

I blamed him for everything that went wrong. Got mad because I didn’t think he loved all of me, yet I forced him to do things that weren’t him. And when he got upset about it, I acted like it was his fault. I wanted to change him when I should’ve just loved him. And I did love all of him. I loved the way he made me feel. Our summer of love was the best time of my life. Things were so easy with him. I was so incredibly happy.

It wasn’t until we got to the city and I pushed him out of his comfort zone that we started to fight. That he started to push back. I slide the waistband of my shorts down and stare at my tattoo. I can picture him, walking out of the water, his blue eyes shining as bright as the ocean, an easy smile on his face, his beautiful bronzed skin, his shaggy hair.

He’s always known exactly who he is.

I was the confused one.

He tried to help me. Encouraged me to show the world the girl he loved.

The girl I wanted to be.

I get brave and press his number.

He answers on the fourth ring. “Keats! Hey, how are you?” He sounds like we are old friends. Not people who fought the last time they talked.

“Uh, okay. How are you? You find your balance yet?”

“No. I haven’t. I’ve been wanting to call you.”

“But you haven’t.”

“I don’t want to hurt you anymore.”

“I get now why you needed me to forgive you.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, you figured out it was the root of your problem. I just figured out it might be the root of my problem here as well.”

“What’s your problem there?”

“I met a guy.”

“I’m not sure I want to hear about this.”

“I’m not sure I wanted to watch you make out with a girl and then stand outside a cabana while you screwed her either.”

“Look, before we go any further, I need to explain and I owe you an apology.”

“An apology? Really?”

“Yes, Keats. I owe you an apology. I was hurt. You'd been to school for barely a week and you already had a new guy? Did I mean nothing to you? The girl in the cabana was my childish way of getting back at you. Do you still love me, Keats?”

I want to say yes. I want to be swept away by emotion. I want to fly straight to wherever he is and have an amazing reunion. Write an amazing ending to our love story.

“I owe you an apology too, B. Actually, I owe you a lot of them. I’m sorry I tried to change you. You’ve always known exactly who you are. It’s part of what I love about you. I’m sorry I was so confused about who I wanted to be. I know it’s stupid, but labeling our relationship when we got back from Europe was important to me. Everyone was asking me. The truth is I was proud of you. I wanted to be able to introduce you as my boyfriend. I wanted to tell the world about our amazing summer. I wanted you with me. But then you started saying stuff that made me think you didn’t care.”

“It’s not that I didn’t. It’s that I knew I was leaving. I couldn’t expect you to wait for me, so I was trying to be mature about it all. What I wanted to do was throw you in my backpack and take you with me. If all I had in my life was you, my board, and some waves, I’d always be happy.”

“You didn’t want to come to my birthday party.”

“But I did.”

“And you were a jerk.”

“And you kissed another guy.”

“You kissed a girl in your tent before you noticed me.”

“She kissed me.”

“You didn’t stop her.”

“I didn’t. But I should’ve stopped you from running away. Instead, I just stood there, realizing how stupid I was. How immature. I’m sorry I hurt you, Keats. The last thing I ever want to do is hurt you.”

“I’m sorry too. We both made quite a few mistakes. And I’ve been reacting badly to them.”

“How so?”

“Well, when you left me for camping, I lost my virginity to Cush. When you did the cabana girl, I slept with someone else.”

“You were hurt.”

“Yeah, I was and I’ve been blaming you. But I’m the one responsible for my actions. I should have trusted you. You have to trust the people that you love.”

“I should’ve had more faith in our relationship, too. I thought if I left, we’d fall apart. The thought of that hurt. I’m sorry I pushed you away. And then everything happened so fast. My leaving. Your leaving. Not being able to see each other.”

“I don't know if I'll ever get my life back. I don't know if we'll ever get another chance, or if either one of us would want it if we did. But I know I miss you. You gave me a lot of good advice. You made me look at myself. I sucked. I'm trying to be a better person here. And I'm making friends. I'm more myself than I’ve ever been. But there’s one problem.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m finally able to be me. I’m everything I wanted to be. But I’m still like a fake Prada bag because I’m lying to everyone.”

“Meet me.”

“Meet you?”

“Yeah. Like, anytime. Anywhere. I’ll miss a tournament. Say I'm sick and at my hotel resting. But I'll really fly somewhere and meet you. No one will know. Please. I need to hold you in my arms. I need to feel you again. I need to tell you I'm sorry in person, so you know I mean it. I kiss my tattoo every time I go out to surf. It’s sort of my way of feeling like you’re here with me. Like you should be.”

“Vincent got a tattoo like ours. It’s on his wrist in the exact spot as yours.”

“That’s sick.”

“He rubbed it on mine. Got off on it. It was really disgusting.”

“Don’t let him ruin what it means to us. Don’t.”

“I’m trying not to. What does it mean to us? Or, I mean, what does it mean to you, like, now?”

“I was looking at it tonight, actually, and thinking it symbolizes hope. Hope that fate will bring us back together. But I just decided I changed my mind about fate. Fate sucks ass. I don’t want to wait. So what do you say? About seeing me? Are you free anytime soon?”

“I tried out for the school play and got a part. We have rehearsal every day for the next few weeks until it’s over.”

“Really? You never told me you wanted to act. But you’d be great at it. Remember, I told you that. That’s why I thought you didn’t know who the real you was. Because you could effortlessly play any role. You’ll be a great actress if you want to be.”

“I’d like to be. But I can’t really do it if Vincent is still in the picture. You know, I see you every day on my wall.”

“And I have the picture of us on the beach in Biarritz with me always. The one of us kissing as the sun rises. Every time I get up early and surf, I think of you. Always. I love you, Keats.”

I feel like I should say it back, but I can’t. “Thanks,” I say awkwardly.

“It sounds hollow, I know. That's why we need to see each other again. I miss you, Keats.”

“Do you like the surf tour?”

“Yes. I'm learning a lot about myself. I was a jerk to you in Europe. About your clothes. Don't laugh—actually, go ahead and laugh—I bought nice luggage.”

I do laugh. “Seriously? Why?”

“Because you were right. I get better service that way, and I like it.”

“Maybe there's hope for you yet.”

“I’m glad we talked things out. We’ll talk soon, okay?”

“Deal.”

“And Keats?”

“Yeah?”

“Promise me that when this is over, I’ll get another chance.”

“I promise, B,” I say, mostly because I refuse to give up the dream that I’ll get the perfect ending to my script. With the boy who was originally cast in every one of my love stories.


Saturday, October 22nd

The best of all of you.

8am

While I’m at rehearsal that literally started before the sun came up, I get a surprise text.

Camden:  Call me.

I’m not sure why he’d want me to call him, but my curiosity gets the best of me, so during a break, I do.

“Hey,” he says.

“Um, hi. What do you want?”

He chuckles. “The list is long. But let’s start with my brother.”

“Dawson?”

“Sure. Let’s start there. I hear you’re dating him and Aiden.”

“Uh, kinda.”

“I heard about the panties. That he believes you. But I’m not sure he should.”

“No offense, but I don’t care what you think. Dawson and I have always been honest with each other. Last night, he was brutally honest with me.”

“He wants to get back together with you?”

“He just wants to graduate and go to college.”

“I just don’t want him with Whitney. We can’t let her get her claws back in him.”

“I know what really happened with you two. How you slept with her and dumped her. How she settled for your brother. How he has no idea you were her first.”

The line goes completely silent. I can’t even hear him breathe. I think I lost the connection until he sucks in a breath and says, “You knew all that, but didn’t tell him the truth when she texted him?”

“I couldn’t. I didn’t want to hurt him. Do you know how badly that would’ve hurt him?”

“Most girls would have told him to keep him.”

“I’m not most girls.”

“I’m starting to realize that.” He pauses for a moment. “It’s more than that though. While they were dating, and even now, she texts me. Almost stalks me. Sends me naked pictures. Tells me what I’m missing.”

“Why didn’t you tell Dawson? He’s your brother. How could you let him keep dating her?”

“I wanted to tell him so many times. But I didn’t want to hurt him either. I kept hoping they would break up. That it wouldn’t last. But then, the longer I didn’t tell him, the worse it would’ve been. I kept a file though.”

“A file?”

“Yeah. All her texts. Naked pictures. Stuff she said about him.”

“Why?”

“In case he ever wanted to marry her, I was going to tell him the truth. I needed proof. Here, I just sent you an example.”

“An example! I don’t want to see Whitney naked!”

“Just look at it. You need to know what you’re up against.”

“I’m not up against her. I have no fight with her.”

“She sent me this last night.”

Whitney:  You may not have been jealous of Dawson, but I don’t care anymore. There’s a hot new teacher at school. Peyton thinks she’s going to get him, but she can’t have everything. I won’t let her. And he’s so much more of a man than you are. This is what you missed out on. This is where I’m going to do him.

Following is a photo of Whitney, mostly naked, lying on Cooper Steele’s new desk.

“What the hell? How did she get in his office?”

“I don’t know, but she’s losing it. She and Peyton are in some kind of war.”

“Peyton is tired of her shit.”

“I’m sure she is. She’s put up with it for too long, but I’m worried about her.”

“I heard your breakup was really bad.”

“Yeah, I was young and dumb. But we’re friends now. That’s why I’m worried.”

“Have you told her this?”

“Of course. She won’t listen. She has some plan. Thinks she’s going to destroy Whitney and win some stupid contest in the process. What she doesn’t get is that she won’t. Whitney is a devious, scheming bitch, and Peyton is no match for her. She’s too nice.”

“So, I’m supposed to keep Dawson away from Whitney and keep Whitney from destroying Peyton. Anything else I can do for you?” I laugh.

“Actually, yes. I also hear you’re Braxton’s date tonight for a party after curfew. Don’t get the boy kicked out before he even starts.”

“That’s exactly why he’s my date. I’m going to keep an eye on him. You know, he would’ve snuck out anyway. He wants to be just like you.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Probably because wanting to be like me already got one brother kicked out of school.”

“Maybe you should reform your bad boy ways. Set a better example.”

He laughs. “Ha! I don’t think so. Not until I find a girl worthy of that. Let’s talk about Riley.”

“When did I become the Johnson brothers’ keeper?”

“I’m not sure, but Riley loves you.”

“I love Riley too. He’s my best friend. I got really drunk after Dawson and I broke up. He took care of me. I don’t remember much, but I think that’s because I knew I was safe with him.”

“You may be the only drunk girl safe with Riley,” he laughs. “He’s pretty protective of you.”

“I know. It’s sweet.”

“I think he has a crush.”

“Naw. He knows I crush on his brother.”

“Me?”

“Nope, Braxton. He’s the best of all of you. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

“Keatyn, if you need anything—seriously, if there’s anything I can ever do for you—let me know.”

“Thanks, Cam. I appreciate that.”

I decide to text Aiden. We’re supposed to hang out today, and I need to find out if he still wants to. I’m also dying to know if he was with Chelsea last night.

Me:  Thanks for the advice last night. I went to the sing-a-long with my friends and had fun.

Hottie God:  I’m glad. It wasn’t as lame as I thought it would be. We had fun too.

Me:  Yeah, I suppose when you’re surrounded by cheerleaders it’s hard not to have fun.

Hottie God:  You’re mine today, still, right?

Me:  I guess.

Hottie God:  I need some luck to win the competition. I also need a partner for the lawn games. You any good at the wheelbarrow race?

Me:  Probably not as good as a cheerleader. 

Hottie God:  I didn’t ask a cheerleader. I asked you. Meet me outside your dorm at eleven.

Now, I’m lazily sprawled out on my stomach across Dallas’ bed. He’s sitting on the floor in front of me, and I’m running my hands through his hair, giving him a scalp massage.

The way he’s groaning, you’d think I was massaging something else.

Riley barrels through the door, laden with bags and a tray of coffee drinks. It smells wonderful, especially since all the boys’ rooms seem to smell like an oddly compelling combination of cologne and dirty socks.

“I’m next in the massage chair,” he says as he sets down the tray.

“I want a massage too,” I say.

Riley raises his eyebrows at me. “Yeah, that’s what we want to hear about. Who’s been massaging you?”

I throw a napkin at him, but it falls shamefully to the floor in front of him. He bounds across the bed on top of me and starts tickling me. Holding my arms down, tickling my sides. I’m laughing and screaming at the same time. “Stop, stop. I give up.”

“If only Ariela were that easy,” he comments as he rolls off me.

Dallas laughs.

“So, Dallas apparently has a secret hot date tonight and everyone knows who you’re dating, seeing as it’s tattooed across your chest.”

“They’re all gone, but I’m thinking about asking her out. What do you think?”

Dallas says, “She’s cute. Seems to be pretty into you. I mean, except for the whole not-getting-any thing. But if you’re going to keep dating her, you might as well. Maybe that will open the gates.”

I swat Dallas’ head. “Stop that. They don’t need to have sex. And, Riley, I think you should ask her out. Are you going to do anything special?”

“Well, I’m competing in the Gods of Olympus competition. I’ll be shirtless all day.” He flexes a bicep at us. “She’ll be impressed.”

I laugh at his confidence. “Yes, she will be impressed. But since her lips have already been all over your chest, I think you might need something more.”

Riley lowers his head slightly. “She kinda has a thing for Hello Kitty, so I got her something to give to her when I ask.”

“Really? Oh my gosh! I love Hello Kitty too! What’d you get?”

“Don’t laugh,” he says, as he pulls a Swarovski crystal box out of his drawer and opens it up.

Inside is an adorable hot pink domed ring with large random crystals on it and a Hello Kitty face.

“Oh. My. Gosh! Why haven’t I seen this before?! I love it. I want it. She’ll love it! She’s going to go crazy with loving it.”

Riley smiles probably the biggest smile I’ve ever seen from him. “You really think she’ll like it?”

“Yeah, Riley, I do. You did really good.”

“So what about you, baby? You into my brother or Aiden today?”

“Both,” Dallas replies for me.

“How’s that working out?”

I eye Dallas.

He gives me a big eye roll back. “I’m sorry about the panties.”

“What panties? What did I miss?” Riley asks.

Dallas reiterates what happened last night in the café.

“Busted,” Riley says with a laugh.

“Nothing happened with Aiden at the Cave. I mean, we kissed.” I roll my eyes. “Still no tongue. Dawson didn’t believe me at first, but we talked and we’re good. Although he also told me that he can’t wait to go to college.”

“Everyone can’t wait to go to college,” Riley says.

“He meant without me.”

“So you’re going to like Aiden?”

I sigh. “I’m pretty sure he hooked up with Chelsea last night. I heard her tell him that she wasn’t taking no for an answer.”

“That doesn’t mean he did,” Riley says. “Most everyone knows I like Ariela, but there are still plenty of girls that tell me we’re going to hook up.”

“Do you want to?”

“No. I forward them to Dallas.”

“And I hook up with them,” Dallas says. “It’s brilliant. And . . . I happen to know that Aiden didn’t hook up with Chelsea last night.”

“How could you know that?”

Dallas smiles broadly. “Because I did.”

I can’t help it. My heart soars. “Do you know why? Did Aiden turn her down?”

“Don’t know. Don’t care. We had fun. She has the most perfect body. As a matter of fact, we’re hanging out today.”

“So, Dallas, you’re supposed to be practically psychic, what’s gonna happen?”

“It doesn’t really matter,” Riley says, wrapping his arm around me. “As long as we stay close. The three of us.”

I think having good friends in your life is an important piece of loving yourself.

It should be illegal.

11am

“Look at you in your bright gold Nikes,” I say to Aiden when I walk out of my dorm to meet him.

“Thanks. I had them sent from home. They’re sort of a collector’s edition. And look at you. Gold shorts, gold gladiator sandals.”

I hold up the gold bracelet with love notes written across it.

“And love on your arm,” he says as he lays his hand across my chest. “Hopefully, eventually, the love will be here and not on your arm.”

Write love on your heart. 

Yes. I’m swooning. And I really want to tell him it sorta already is written on my heart.

It’s like a song you’ve always known the words to. A lullaby you’ll never forget.

But I don’t want to sound like I have a crush on a love god.

He looks me over again, taking in my adorable outfit.

He looks puzzled then hooks my hair behind my ear. “You’re wearing just one feather earring, huh?”

I laugh. “Well, I used to have two but now I only have one.”

He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a box. “I found these. Thought you might like them.” He opens the lid and nestled in cotton are golden feather earrings.

“They’re so pretty! Did you get these from Barneys? I’ve seen them there.”

He nods. “Real swan feathers dipped in gold. Made in Paris.”

“They’re beautiful, Aiden. Really. But they were expensive. I can’t . . .”

He interrupts me. “They’re a bribe.”

“A bribe?”

“Yes, I’m hoping I can exchange these for the other feather.”

I gulp. “Why?”

“Let’s just say I’m going to be needing them both.”

“Oh,” I say, taking in his fiery eyes and imaging feathers all over my naked body. “Your mom was right. You’re impossible to say no to.”

What I say hangs there.

Aiden licks his lips.

God, I want that tongue.

Really, he shouldn’t be allowed to lick his lips. It should be illegal.

Like a bait and switch advertisement. They promise you everything but don’t follow through. If he’s not gonna use it, he shouldn’t be allowed to show it.

“The answer is yes. You have a deal,” I agree. Whole-freaking-heartedly.

“There’s more,” he says. “The weekend after the play, you’re going to take me to your loft. I mean, you already invited me.”

“You invited yourself.”

“Do we have a deal?”

I squint my eyes at him. “I have one stipulation.”

“No way. It’s beyond a fair trade.”

“Then I’m keeping my feather. And it’s not like you can’t go buy your own. Feather earrings are cheap.”

“I’ve looked online and can’t find one to match.”

“I have one stipulation or no deal. The feather can only be used on me.”

“Hmm. I can probably agree to that. But what if I wanted to share? One feather for each of us.”

My eyes get big imagining the feather touching Aiden in places I’m dying to see.

“Uh, yeah, I, um, suppose I could agree to that,” I say, fumbling through the words breathlessly as I put on my new feather earrings.

He takes my hand and says, “Let’s go kick some butt in the field games.”

First, we compete in the wheelbarrow race with me doing the handstand part. Turns out, I’m not that good with my hands. And although I can dance, I failed at gymnastics as a child. I’m pretty sure it was an embarrassing moment for my parents when the teacher told them I should be in dance instead. Something about having the attention span of a gnat.

Of course, who wins? Chelsea and Dallas.

Is it bad I hate her? I don’t even know her and I hate her.

And my competitive spirit has gotten the best of me. I want to win. I need for Aiden and I to win.

“You have good hands, right?” I ask Aiden.

“Uh, yeah, I guess.”

“So you be on the ground this time and I’ll hold your legs. I’m strong. Can you do a handstand?”

Instead of answering, he drops to the ground, throws his legs into the air, and then walks around on his hands.

“I hate you.”

He flips back upright and pulls me into his arms. “You sure about that?”

“Actually, yes. But I don’t care. I just want to beat Dallas this next round.”

Aiden glances over at Dallas and Chelsea. Her curvy body is leaned tightly against his and she’s rubbing his arm the same way she did Aiden’s yesterday.

Yes, it’s official. I do hate her.

“Do you want to beat Dallas or Chelsea?” Aiden asks with a smirk.

“I want to beat everyone. So let’s see if this will work.”

He puts his hands onto the ground as I grab his legs and pull them up to my sides. He’s heavier than I expected, but I say, “Go.”

We move quickly for about ten steps and then his leg starts to fall out of my grip. When I try to fix it, I drop the other leg and he goes down, but deftly flips himself over and pulls me on top of him in the process.

I can’t help but laugh. “We suck. I’m better at croquet. We shoulda chosen that.”

“I don’t care if we suck. I’d play anything with you.”

“Maybe I wanna play a kissing game.”

“Like I said, anything,” he says as he kisses me. It’s a powerful lips-touching kiss. I keep thinking the more I’m around him, the more I kiss him, the less power his lips will have on me. But the opposite seems to be true. My kisses seem to be making him stronger. The more my lips touch his, the more powerful the kisses become.

Or, maybe, the more meaningful.

He stares into my eyes for a few seconds before he flips me over, lies on top of me, and kisses me again. I get brave and let my tongue graze the outside of his lips. His lips stay soft but his mouth stays closed.

 I’m starting to think his tongue is cursed or something. Like Medusa. If he uses it on me, I might turn to stone.

We compete in a few more games, lose badly, chat with some perspective students, and then I take him to get checked in for today’s big event. The Gods of Olympus competition.

Whitney is sitting at the check-in table with Cooper Steele. She checks Aiden’s name off a list, then hands him his wardrobe. A teeny pair of white shorts, a gold braided rope, and a green laurel wreath.

Aiden holds the shorts up. “Are you serious? No way I’m wearing these.”

Whitney grabs them out of his hands. “Then you won’t be competing.”

He grabs them back from her.

I give her a thumbs up and as we’re walking away I say, “You’re brilliant,” which causes her to give me the biggest smile she’s ever directed my way.

She leans across Cooper to high five me, her boobs landing directly in his face. “Social Committee now officially rocks. I’ve been telling Mr. Steele here how he needs to wear one.” He flinches as she runs a hand across his shoulder. “He’d put these boys to shame. But don’t worry. I’ll have him in one soon.” She gives me a smirk and says, “Or maybe he’d prefer it was later.”

“I don’t think any of the faculty will be wearing them, Miss Clarke,” Cooper replies.

Aiden is still looking at what he’s supposed to wear and muttering. “How did she ever get this approved?”

“I don’t know. But she got one thing wrong.”

“Yeah, half my shorts are missing.”

“No.” I grab the laurel wreath from his hand, place it on his head, and study him. “Definitely wrong. Come on. You can’t compete like this.”

I drag him into the back of the auditorium where all the stage supplies are kept and find some gold spray paint. I grab some newspaper and lay his wreath on it.

When I finish painting it, I stand back up and let it dry. Aiden puts his big hand on my waist, and one of his fingers somehow ends up touching the skin under my shirt.

It’s just one finger. Totally unplanned. Just one finger touching my bare skin that causes my stomach to flip.

“So, why gold?”

“Do you remember that time we went for ice cream and I tried to tell you my dream? About the guy I married and we were—you know—consummating things when he lifted the veil and I saw his face.”

“Yeah,” he says, grinding his teeth together.

“It was you. And you were wearing a gold laurel wreath on your head. That’s why it has to be gold.”

Aiden grins. “Wait? You were dating Dawson. Reliving something the two of you had done and you thought it was him but it was me?”

“Right. I didn't know who it was that I was marrying.”

“Why didn't you tell me it was me?”

“Because you drove off like a maniac and wouldn't talk to me. I even asked if you wanted to know and you were like I decided I don't care.”

“So you've been dreaming about marrying me?”

“Not on purpose. I just thought it was funny that something you said affected my dream like that. Step behind the screen and put your costume on.”

“No freaking way I’m wearing this.”

“Whitney will have you disqualified.”

“I don’t think I want to be a god anymore.”

“If you change, I’ll tell you a little secret.”

“Fine.”

He goes behind the screen, changes, and then walks out in the skimpy costume.

“Wow.” And wow is an understatement. He looks like a real god. His skin looks tan, his muscles tight. He should be shirtless all the time. I place the golden laurel leaf wreath on his head. “That’s perfect. Good luck today.”

He pulls me close to his mostly naked body and says, “Is Dawson competing?”

“No, he said it was lame.”

“So you’ll be cheering for me?”

“Well, you, Jake, and Riley, for sure.”

He puts his lips to my neck. “Who do you want to win?”

“You.”

He smiles at me. “Good answer.”

“You better get going. You don’t want to be late for your first race.”

“You didn’t tell me the secret.”

“When I first met you, before I knew your name, I had a nickname for you.”

He smirks. “Oh, really? What was it?”

“I’m not telling. That was the secret. I had a nickname for you.”

He does that thing. That thing where his lips graze my neck.

“I want to know.”

“Stop talking on my neck. I can’t think.”

“I like when you can’t think,” he replies, his lips staying put. “Tell me.”

I want to pull away, but I can’t.

“The God of all Hotties.”

I feel a smile form on my neck. He doesn’t move. Instead, those amazing lips kiss my neck hard. He sucks his way up to that spot right underneath my ear. Something about that spot makes me squirm. In a good way. His lips continue to move across my cheek and then to my waiting lips.

I smell cotton candy.

2pm

All of the Gods of Olympus competitors are on stage getting introduced by Whitney. Peyton tried to get me to go up there with them, but I wanted to be able to sit with Embry and the girls.

Peyton announces, “It’s said that the Olympics were started to entertain the newborn Zeus. They had wrestling, jumping, and running competitions. Our contestants will do the same. They will all compete in the 100-yard dash and a team relay. Points will be tallied and the field will be narrowed by half for the second round.”

“The second round is the jumping competition. Potential Gods will compete in the long jump and the 100 meter hurdles,” Whitney continues. “After that round, points will be tallied by our new teacher, Mr. Cooper Steele.” She puts on a big grin and claps for Cooper. Cooper flashes his dimples in a way that doesn’t look fake.

Peyton finishes for her. “And the field will be cut in half again. Then we’ll move into the gym for the final wrestling matches. Everyone, be sure to get your goodie bag. In it you will find trinkets for luck and golden coins that you can use to bet on who you think will prevail.” She points to a table set up in the corner. “Shark is our oddsmaker and bet taker. You could win an iPad, a dress down day for your dorm, pizza parties, and other great prizes.”

Whitney clears her voice. “The competitors are warming up now. Place your bets and get some snacks. The competition officially begins at two-thirty. Good luck to all the contestants. We look forward to feasting in your honor tonight!”

Braxton and Dawson wander up.

Braxton throws his arm around my shoulder. “Don’t care about the competition. Odds are that we’re getting it on tonight.”

Dawson punches him in the shoulder. Hard. Brax removes his hand and rubs his shoulder. “Oww.”

“Pussy,” Dawson says with a grin as wraps his own arm around my waist and whispers in my ear. “Speaking of that . . .”

“Dawson! You’re bad.”

“Yeah, I am. Want me to show you just how bad?”

“You know that I’m hanging out with Aiden today.”

“Why do you think I chose not to do the competition?”

“Because you’re over all this high school bullshit?” Braxton replies.

“That, and it means Aiden will be busy. While I’ll be sitting with you.”

Braxton stops smiling and looks at his brother in awe. “I worship you. That’s fucking brilliant.”

“I’m going to get some goodies. You’re welcome to come sit with us.”

“Who’s us?” Braxton asks.

“Um, me, Maggie, Katie, Annie, Pressley, Embry, and Maggie’s student, Alicia.”

“I haven’t met her yet. She a redhead, by chance?”

“Stop with the trio. You’re going to be sitting with the video trio. Consider yourself lucky.”

“I wanna get lucky,” Dawson whispers in my ear. “Brax, go place a bet or something.”

Braxton rolls his eyes but does as he’s told.

“You have to help me watch out for him at the party tonight.”

“You’re going to have to watch out for me tonight,” Dawson says, sliding even closer to me and grabbing my ass.

“Dawson!” I say, pulling away from him.

“Keatyn,” Cooper Steele says loudly behind me. “A word, please?”

I jump slightly, knowing he probably just heard what Dawson said to me. “Uh, sure.”

Dawson doesn’t let go of me right away though. He kisses my cheek and gives me a meaningful, “Later.”

Cooper motions for me to follow him over to the registration table. “What was that all about?”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you sleeping with Dawson and Aiden?”

“Not that it is any of your business, but no. Why? You jealous?”

He rolls his eyes. “Not funny. Keatyn, I know guys.”

“One would assume, since you are one,” I say in a smart-ass tone.

“Trust me. That’s not going to work. You’ll push away the better man and end up with the one who’s willing to settle.”

“There’s no reason I can’t date them both if I want to. Is that seriously what you wanted to talk about? My sex life?”

He cringes. “You should not have a sex life. You’re seventeen. You have your whole life ahead of you.”

I stare blankly at him. “You know as well as I do, if Vincent finds me, my life might be very short. I’m going to enjoy it.”

He shakes his head. “We’re getting off track here. Did you think about what you’ll do if you can’t run?”

“Yes.”

“And?”

“I’d have to stay and fight. Can you teach me?”

He smiles. “I was going to suggest that, but I thought you’d argue with me.”

“I can’t start until I’m done with rehearsals.” I study him. “Just so we’re clear, I’ll never argue with you when it comes to my safety. This might be just a job to you, but it’s my life. ”

He grabs my arm and gets in my face. “I understand that probably more than anyone you know. Why do you think I’m here?”

“Because you’re getting paid well and you want a career with Garrett’s company?”

“Those are perks. Garrett has hundreds of specialists on his staff. Why do you think he went out of his way to find and hire me?”

I search his face. His tight, determined expression has turned to a sad, haunted one. “I don’t know.”

“My sister was murdered by her ex-boyfriend turned stalker.”

My heart drops into the pit of my stomach. I cover my mouth with my hand. I leap toward him, throw myself into his arms, and hug him tightly. “I’m so sorry, Cooper. I didn’t know.”

He pushes me gently out of the hug. “I’m not going to let it happen again.”

“What the hell is going on with you two?” Whitney says loudly, startling me, and causing me to react in a way that makes it look like something is going on.

“Nothing,” Cooper says eyeing me carefully. “Miss Monroe twisted her ankle. It’s painful.”

“I didn’t see you fall.”

“I just rolled it,” I lie.

Cooper bends down and pretends to examine my ankle. “It doesn’t look too bad. If it doesn’t loosen up, get some ice and elevate it.”

“I will,” I say, fake hobbling away. I stop, sigh like I’m in pain, and rest my weight on the check-in table. While I’m pretending to check out my ankle again, I notice a green marker on the table and grab it.

I figure I better still limp a little and not look miraculously healed. Like when Gracie says she has a tummy ache. You give her a piece of chocolate and she’s patting her stomach and telling you it’s all better before she’s even swallowed it.

As I limp back to the field, Aiden runs up to me. He’s a little out of breath, and there’s a shimmer of sweat gleaming on his sexy shirtless body.

Which makes my whole body feel a little limp.

“Are you limping?”

“Oh, yeah, tweaked my ankle. I’m fine.”

“I saw you talking to Dawson earlier. Why isn’t he competing?”

“He says he’s sorta over all this high school bullshit.”

Aiden narrows his eyes at me. “You’re mine today. You promised.”

“I know. But I’ll probably be sitting with him to watch. I promised his brother and they’re together.” I smile at him. I mean, how can I not? He looks like a real god.

I hold the marker in front of him.

“What’s that for?”

I smile, pull the lid off, and grab his arm. “Luck, Aiden,” I reply as I draw a four-leaf clover on his bicep.

He catches my neck in his hand, pulls my face close to his, and kisses my forehead. “Now, I can’t lose.”

I go back up in the bleachers, my mind a jumbled mess of thoughts about Aiden’s kisses, Cooper’s sister, and Vincent.

Embry is bouncing in her seat, excitedly waiting for the first race to start. She hands me a goodie bag. “Here, I got you one!”

“Thanks! Are you having fun?”

“Are you kidding? This is the best place ever. I wish I didn’t have to wait until next year. I don’t want to go home.”

“Neither do I,” Pressley says, giving her a hug.

“I don’t want to go home either,” Braxton fake cries from behind the girls, wrapping an arm around each one of their shoulders in a little group hug. “So, there’s this party tonight, ladies.”

“Braxton!” I bug my eyes out at him. “There’s no party.”

Braxton shakes his head. “Obviously, Keatyn doesn’t have this place wired like I do.”

I turn to Dawson and give him a what-the-hell-are-you-going-to-do-with-your-brother look. He shrugs.

Maggie says to the girls, “Keatyn’s right. You can’t go to a party. If you want to come here next year, you shouldn’t jeopardize that.”

Pressley sticks out her bottom lip. “But we like parties.”

Thankfully, the announcer starts calling off the names of the contestants for the first heat in the 100-yard dash.

Riley wins the first heat, beating out Jake and Ace.

Aiden’s heat is next. As he’s getting lined up, Aiden winks at me. How he knows that I’m looking at him from this far away is a little unnerving, but then he flexes his bicep and kisses the clover I drew.

I let out a little sigh. That is wooing.

Maybe there’s hope for us yet.

A hot, godly, tongue-kissing kind of hope.

“Brad’s gonna win this race,” Dawson says from behind me.

“Aiden’s faster than Brad,” Annie says, rolling her eyes at Dawson, while I rub the little glass shamrock that’s in my pocket.

Contestants. On your marks. Get set. Go! 

Aiden is the first one out front, but Brad quickly closes the gap.

“That’s the shirtless goalie, isn’t it?” Pressley says reverently. “He’s going to win. He has on gold shoes. Like that god. Was it Hermes? The one that was so fast?”

“He looks like a god too,” Embry snickers under her breath to Pressley. They put their heads together and giggle as Aiden kicks it into high gear and crosses the finish line first.

I don’t care that Dawson is sitting here. I stand up and cheer.

After all the races, there’s a break while the scores get tallied.

“I smell cotton candy,” I say out loud.

“I fucking love cotton candy!” Braxton exclaims.

“Pussy,” Dawson says, hitting him on the shoulder. “You eating pink chick food now?”

Braxton flips him off then stands up, puts his hand to his chest, and yells at the top of his lungs. “To quote Aristophanes, the ancient Greek playwright, ‘ To blurt it out in a word—we want laying!’

I cover my mouth with my hand, trying not to laugh. I can’t believe he just yelled that from the stands!

He stays in the stands, amidst cheers, while I follow my nose to the cotton candy.

“Hey, wait up,” Maggie yells from behind me. “I’m glad Logan won his heat.”

“Yeah, me too. I heard he’s a really good wrestler.”

She sighs. “He looks really good out there.”

“Why don’t you talk to him?” I ask, while thinking fate needs to figure out a way to get these two back together.

“I tried. I gave up. Part of me feels for Dawson, you know. I know what it feels like to do something and wish more than anything you could take it back.”

Shark bumps Maggie’s shoulder. “You two haven’t bet yet.”

I dig in my bag for some coins and hand them to him. “I’m putting it all on Logan. He needs to win.”

Maggie squints her eyes at me, understanding that I’m not talking about the contest.

He punches my bet into his phone. Then he says, “Oh, here,” and hands me back a temporary tattoo. Of a four-leaf clover.

I shake my head and laugh. “Did everyone get these?”

“A tattoo, yeah,” Shark says, holding out his forearm and showing me a panther with a rose in its mouth.

“Classy,” Maggie laughs.

He reaches in his jacket pocket and hands us his flask. “Ladies?”

“Most definitely,” Maggie says, grabbing it from him and taking a gulp. “In fact, can I have the whole thing?” She pats the other side of his chest. “You always have a spare.”

“You know me too well, Maggie,” Shark flirts.

I shove the tattoo into my pocket and drag Maggie to the cotton candy. We’re holding shots of vodka in our mouth and letting chunks of cotton candy dissolve in it, when Aiden and Logan beeline toward us.

“Shit,” Maggie curses under her breath.

“Congrats!” I tell them both.

Aiden pulls me into his arms. “You look like a goddess and smell like cotton candy. Reminds me of the Ferris wheel.”

“I didn’t look like a goddess then.”

“You always look like one,” he whispers.

I realize that Maggie and Logan are standing there awkwardly.

“Um, so good luck on the rest of the events. We’ll be cheering. Maggie and I have to get back to our students.”

“That’s okay,” Aiden says, patting a tight set of abs. Abs I really want to lick. “We have to go fuel up these bodies.”

I try not to drool but can’t keep from saying, “Yes. Yes, you do.”

“That was awkward,” Maggie says, shoving more cotton candy into her mouth.

We watch the rest of the field competitions. The winners get pared down to just six finalists who must wrestle their way to victory.

After watching all of the wrestling matches, we’re down to Jake and Logan for the championship.

Aiden takes my hand and leads me over to Logan’s side of the mat. It feels odd not being on the same side as Jake and Dawson.

While Aiden fills up Logan’s water bottle, I take the four-leaf clover tattoo out of my pocket and hand it to Logan. “I want you to have this.”

“A tattoo?”

“Yeah. It's for luck.”

“Aiden has been into shamrocks lately,” he says, eyeing me suspiciously, and not taking the tattoo.

“We both want you to have luck.”

“Jake is your friend.”

“Yeah, well, I hope eventually you’ll be my friend too.”

He grins at me.

“I think you should forgive her, Logan.”

“She won’t forgive me.”

“Was she good for you?”

“She was the best thing ever.”

Aiden comes back and hands him the water bottle.

I raise my eyebrows at Logan and shake the tattoo at him. “I’ll even put it on you.”

“Fine,” he says, a little smile playing on his lips.

He stands still while I dump water on a towel, place the tattoo on his arm, and then hold the wet towel against it. After a few seconds, I pull the towel and the paper off and look at the clover now on his arm. “Perfect.”

Logan fist bumps Aiden as he goes out on to the mat. “Wish me luck.”

Aiden puts his hands on my waist and looks straight into my eyes. “Why did you do that?”

“I see how he looks at Maggie.”

“She destroyed him.”

“He said she was the best thing ever.”

Aiden nods. “I was kind of jealous of their relationship last year. They were amazing together. Always happy.”

“Until they weren’t.”

He nods sadly. “Yeah.”

“If they’re meant to be, they’ll get back together, don’t you think?”

“I think he never should’ve let her go in the first place.”

The ref blows the whistle and I go sit on the bleachers to watch the match while Aiden stays to coach Logan.

Maggie takes a seat next to me.

It’s a back and forth battle. One point for Logan. A takedown for Jake.

Then a tied match.

They are grappling and twisting out of each other’s arms, when Logan makes a sweet move, flipping Jake over and pinning his shoulder to the mat.

The ref gets down on his knees and the crowd shouts as he counts by hitting the mat. One. Two. Three.

The ref pulls Logan up and his arm into the sky, proclaiming him the winner.

Maggie forgets who she was supposed to be cheering for and rushes out onto the mat, throws her arms around Logan, and hugs him.

He hugs her back in excitement.

But then he pulls away from her.

Maggie lowers her head just for a minute. Then she straightens up her shoulders and walks tall and confidently over to Jake. Jake grins at her, grabs her around the waist, and kisses her hard as Logan looks on.

Can kisses speak?

10pm

After the banquet, Aiden asks me to go for a walk, leading me down to the gym where we watched the movie on Friday.

“I didn’t get to show you this last night, so I had them leave it up.”

When we get to the door, he says, “Okay, close your eyes.” Then he leads me about ten steps across the gym floor.

I was here watching the movie. What could he possibly want me to see that I didn’t already?

He stands closely behind me, entwines his hands with mine, and rests his chin on my shoulder.

“Open your eyes.” I open them while he continues. “This is the view from a gorgeous hotel in Crete. Someday we’re going to stand on this balcony and watch this sunset together.”

“You had a sunset made for me?”

“I was the liaison between the drama department’s set designers for the gym, like Peyton worked with the art students to do the café.”

“You had a sunset made for me?” I blubber again.

“Yeah. I want to watch a million sunsets with you.”

I can’t speak. I want to stay wrapped in his arms forever and not move.

“We should probably get going before curfew, huh?”

“Yeah,” I say, but I don’t move. I just turn and look into his eyes.

He runs the back of his hand gently across my cheek. We lean towards each other and our lips melt together in a kiss.

Can kisses speak?

I hope so, because I’m trying to tell him everything I’m feeling but am afraid to say.

Aiden’s kisses are so different from any other kiss. Maybe it’s because he’s the God of all Hotties, I’m not sure, but his kisses say so much more.

Did you see the movie, Independence Day? There’s a scene where an alien does some kind of mental telepathy with the President, which allows him to see the alien’s plans.

That’s what it’s like with Aiden. When he kisses me, I feel like I can see our future.

It’s like he has the power to send me mental messages with his mouth.

His mouth. The source of all his power.

I don’t know why this surprises me.

He pulls his lips away from mine. I really wasn’t ready for the kiss to end. I don’t even care that there was no tongue. I’m never ready for it to end.

He moves his mouth to my ear as he slides his hands across the exposed skin on my back. “I’m not quoting Keats this time. Let’s try something else. ‘The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.’”

“That’s beautiful. Who said it?”

“Blaise Pascal. He was a French philosopher in the 1600s.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“You’re beautiful. Like, you take my breath away. Sometimes when you’re tutoring me, I feel like I can’t breathe.”

I feel that way any time he touches me.

And especially when he kisses me, which he does again.

A slow, tender, amazing kiss.

It’s like when Prince Charming kisses Sleeping Beauty. He gives her that single, slow, perfect kiss to wake her up.

That’s how I feel with Aiden. Like he’s waking up something inside of me.

Kissing him is like watching fireworks: a little flash as it goes up in the sky, an explosion of colors, those colors falling and fading in the sky, and then you hear the boom.

Feel the boom. The beat of your heart booming in your chest.

“I’m really glad we’re getting to be friends, Boots,” he says. Then he chuckles. “Well, the kind of friends who kiss.”

What the hell?

Really?

Ohmigawd, I really do not understand him. Why all the wooing if all he wants is a friends with benefits relationship? Why a million sunsets?

You’re like my idol.

1am

 Braxton decided he’s going to be the life of the party and, unfortunately, Riley helped him. He’s already tipsy on coconut rum when I meet him at the Cave.

He flirts with everyone and hands out party favor buttons that he had made with Dallas’ pickup line. They say, You Look Magically Delicious in bright colors and have a big green shamrock in the middle of them.

The buttons are a big hit. Everyone wants one.

“What the hell?” Dallas says, coming to stand next to me and looking around. “That’s my line. He stole it from me.”

“Did you make it up or find it on the internet?”

Dallas rolls his bloodshot eyes. It’s obvious that he’s smoked already. “I found it on the internet.”

Braxton interrupts us, giving Dallas a swat on the back. “Dude, you’re like my idol. Girls are loving these buttons. I’m totally getting laid tonight.”

Dallas grins as Chelsea and her boobs bounce toward us. “Me too, dude. Me too.”

“He might be, but you’re not, Brax. You’re my date, meaning you’ll be with me all night.”

“Keatyn, baby. You jealous? Don’t want to share?” He pulls a flask out of his pocket and puts it up to his lips. I slap it away, causing suntan lotion smelling alcohol to miss his mouth and fall to the ground.

“You’re done with this,” I say, grabbing the flask and shoving it in my back pocket.

“There’s plenty more where that came from. And I’m just getting started.”

He wanders off into a pack of junior girls. They fawn over him like he’s the school’s new mascot. Some of them are even petting his hair.

Why did I agree to this?

And what is it about those Johnson brothers that I just can’t say no to?

Aiden comes up behind me, slides his hands down my arms, and holds my hands. “How’s babysitting going?”

“Not well. He’s already past tipsy and people keep giving him more. I’m tempted to just pin a big note to his shirt that says If found, please return to Keatyn’s dorm and leave.”

“Can I put one of those on you? If found, return to Hawthorne 38B?”

“I don’t know. You think I’ll get lost?”

“I think you’ve been lost.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

He turns me around and kisses my nose, which soothes my very ruffled feathers.

“I didn’t mean anything bad. I meant it to be cute. Like you’re lost without me. You know, you say I get mad fast. So do you. You were instantly pissed. I could see it in your face.” He touches the corner of my eye and then the tip of my nose. “You get little crinkles here and you scrunch up your nose.”

I look into his eyes and forget where I am, the party around me disappearing. I lean in to kiss him when I hear Dawson say madly, “I thought you were watching my brother.”

“I have been.”

“Doesn’t look like you’re even paying attention to him. Look.” He points.

All I can see are Braxton’s arms wrapped around two girls, who seem to have him pinned to a tree.

“Shit,” I say, leaving both him and Aiden.

“Sorry, girls, he’s mine,” I say, pulling him away.

“Jeez, you don’t have to try and seduce the entire school your first night here.”

“Oh, I’m not, baby,” he says slurs drunkenly. “I’m just planting seeds.”

“You better have not planted any seeds,” I reply, thinking back to the book my mom read me when I was little. About how the daddy plants a seed in the mommy that turns into a baby. Ick.

Dawson whispers in my ear. “I want to plant my seeds in you. Wanna go back to the dorm and have some fun?”

I turn around. “Ohmigawd. Did your mom read you that book too?”

“Yeah,” he laughs. “I used to tell all the little girls at school that I wanted to plant seeds in them.”

I roll my eyes and laugh. “That’s disgusting, but why am I not surprised? And because your brother opened his big mouth about the party, I’m not only watching him, I’ve got to watch Katie’s and my two future students.”

“Those girls don’t look fourteen.”

“That’s why they have to be watched.”

“Who’s watching them? Because I just saw that blonde one making out with Dallas.”

“Dallas? What the fuck? I thought he was off with Chelsea getting laid. Is no one here responsible?” I start to march off, but then turn around and grab Dawson’s shirt. “Get your brother to Riley’s room, now. I’ll go get the girls.”

I march off in search of them. I find Katie, who is engrossed in a conversation with Bryce. “Where are the girls?”

“What girls?” she says, looking up at me.

“Embry and Pressley. The girls you’re supposed to be watching like a hawk.”

“Oh, they’re together talking to Shark. He’s harmless.”

“Katie! He’s going to give them each a flask and they’ll end up under some asshole like Tyrese. Go. Find. Them.”

“Oh, I didn’t think of that.”

I spy Embry standing off to the edge of the party, Shark’s flask in hand, flirting with Jake.

“Hey, Jake. Embry. How’s it going?”

“Good,” Embry says, placing a hand on Jake’s broad chest. “Jakey here was telling me how great Eastbrooke is. He’s a prefect, you know.”

“I do know. Jake, could I talk to you for a moment?”

I pull him out to where she can’t hear. “She’s fourteen.”

“Calm down, Monroe. I know that. She was talking to Tyrese. She seems kinda drunk and I didn’t want anything to happen to her.”

I give Jake a big hug. “I love you. Thank you.”

“You wanted me to lose today.”

“I know. Jake, do you really like Maggie?”

He shrugs. “She’s fun. Cute.”

“Are you serious about her?”

“I don’t want to be serious about anyone right now. I told you that.”

“But you’ve been hanging out. You kissed her in front of everyone today.”

“She’s still in love with Logan, regardless of what she says. I know that’s why she kissed me today. I don’t want to be anyone’s second choice. Been there. Done that. So, whatever we do will only be in the name of fun.”

“You really are a good prince.”

“You want me to help you get everyone back to the dorms, don’t you?”

“I would love your help. But that’s not why I said you’re a good prince. Any girl would be lucky to have you. Mr. Chameleon.”

“Ha. You’re exactly the same way. Don’t laugh, but I think it would be really cool to be an actor. I kinda want to skip the whole Ivy League thing and go to NYU to study acting. What do you think?”

“I think you should follow your dreams, wherever they take you.”

He wraps an arm around my shoulder, kisses my head, and says, “That’s why I love you, Monroe. Oh, and by the way, you can come with me when I break that news to my parents.”

“I’d be honored,” I tell him as we walk back to Embry, who, thankfully, is talking to Pressley.

Jake wraps an arm around each girl, gives them a princely smile, and says, “Ladies, allow me to escort you back to your dorm.”

The girls visibly swoon and, thankfully, don’t argue about leaving the party.

I find Katie, who has been frantically searching for the girls. “I can’t find them,” she says, panting a little.

“I did. Jake’s walking them back to our dorm. I’m going with them, so you can stay out.”

Her eyes get big. “Really? Thank you.”

“Why are you so excited?”

“Because Bryce is really cute!”

“And you are not drunk. I’m proud of you.”

She smiles. “I’m proud of me too.”

I round up Braxton, noticing along the way that Chelsea has Aiden cornered near a bush. Based on her body language, she’s pissed at him.

I’d really like to walk over there and kiss him.

But screw that. If Aiden wants her, I’d rather know now.

I drag Braxton, practically kicking and screaming, out of the Cave.

“I’m supposed to have the trio,” he cries.

And I mean, he cries.

He’s now drunk and sobbing.

I suck as a chaperone.

Actually, Riley sucks for letting him drink before he ever got here.

“Braxton, honey. You’re not ready for the trio. You have to work up to that.”

“I’m ready. I’m ready. Really, I am.”

“I need you to be quiet while we walk past the dorms, okay? Really quiet.”

“Okay!!” he yells.

I slap my hand across his mouth, shutting him up. Embry, Pressley, and Jake are standing by my window.

Embry immediately rushes toward us. “Is he okay?” she slurs sweetly.

Braxton grabs her hands, smiles big, and then proceeds to puke all over her shirt.

“Oh, gross!” she yells.

“Shh!” I say.

Jake pushes Pressley’s butt through the window and whispers to her, “Grab her a clean shirt.”

She falls into my room with a thud. And I pray that no one hears all this.

Please don’t let us get in trouble.

Braxton looks at the puke all over Embry. “My bad,” he says, trying to wipe it off her shirt.

“There’s no way I’m going to a movie with you now. You need to grow up!” she yells, backing away from him.

Then she gags.

And pukes on him.

An impressive projectile puke that I just manage to dodge.

“That. Was. Awesome,” Jake says to her.

She covers her face in horror, drops to the ground, and starts sobbing. “I wanna go home.”

I get out my phone and call Riley. “Get your ass to my dorm.”

“I’m kind of . . . in the middle . . . of something,” he says. He’s breathing heavily.

“I don’t care what you’re doing. I’m in the middle of a puke fest. Put it back in your pants and get your ass here.”

“Hang on . . . just a little . . . Oh . . .”

I hang up on him.

Fortunately, Dawson strolls through the trees instead.

I grab Braxton and shove him toward Dawson. “Take him to your room.”

“No. He smells.”

“Then take him to Riley’s room and stay with him until Riley’s finished with whatever he’s doing.”

Dawson rolls his eyes at me, grabs his brother by the back of the neck, and drags him away.

“You’re not my favorite girl anymore, Keatyn,” Braxton says, stumbling, his little drunk body no match for Dawson’s strong one.

“One down, one to go,” Jake says.

I bend down next to Embry, tell her everything will be okay, unbutton her puked-on blouse, pull a clean shirt over her head, and then let Jake shove her butt through the window. Fortunately, she lands on Pressley, so there is no thud.

I stand next to my window. “Thanks for your help, Jake. I really appreciate it.”

He looks up at the sky. “Look at us. Standing under the moon just like in the play. I feel like I should give you true love’s kiss.”

I just stare at him, not sure what to say.

“You haven't been into it lately.”

“What do you mean?”

“Since you and Dawson broke up, it’s affecting you on stage. It's like you don't believe in it anymore.”

He grabs my hand and pulls me further into the moonlight.

“Script it,” he says. “I see you writing during rehearsal and during ceramics.”

“Those are just my journals. I used to write scripts. Stories. How I wanted my life to be. But lately, I don't know what to script.”

“That’s the problem. You used to feel it. You need to feel it again. Close your eyes,” he says softly. “You're in the moonlight with your true love. The Good Prince. What does he do to you? How does he make you feel?”

I close my eyes as Jake runs his hands down the sides of my arms. “Safe,” I reply.

He puts his hand in my hair. “How else?”

“Relaxed. Like a day at the beach.”

“You're comfortable with him.”

“Yes.”

“What's he look like?”

I shake my head. “I don't know.”

He touches my chest. “What does he do to your heart?”

“He can calm it down or make it beat fast. He makes it feel like it could be ripped from my chest. Like if I loved him or gave him another chance and it didn’t work, I'd never be the same.”

My eyes are still shut, but tears start rolling down my face.

Jake wraps his arms around me and pulls me into his chest. “Keep going.”

“We're on the beach in the moonlight. I made a wish there.”

“What did you wish for?”

“Him. My good prince. We’re at my house. On my beach. He wraps his arms around me and tells me he wished on the moon too. That even though it hasn't been easy, even though we're not perfect, we’re perfect for each other. That he loves me with his heart, body, and soul.”

“And then they kiss,” he says breathlessly, putting his lips on mine.

I kiss him. My perfect boy.

“Marry me?” he says, waking me from my daze.

I open my eyes. Jake is on his knee finishing the last scene of the play.

I hear Pressley clap.

“Yes,” I say.

He stands up and gives me a big hug. “That was much better. Don’t let your real life get in the way of your dream. Night, Monroe.”

As he walks away, I look up at the moon and can’t help but wonder if he’s looking at it too.

Aiden startles me. “So now you’re kissing Jake too?”

“What? Oh, no. We were practicing for the play. If you saw us kiss, you must have seen him propose.”

“I did. Just didn’t love the kiss.”

I hang my head. “He says since I broke up with Dawson, I’m not as believable. That it’s like I don’t believe in love anymore.”

Aiden cocks his head. “Do you?”

I look back at the moon. “I want to.”

Pressley helps me get Embry cleaned up and they both quickly fall asleep on the floor.

I think about what Jake said about not letting my real life get in the way of my dreams.

I think about Vincent.

About how he’s keeping me away from my family. Away from my life.

As I stare at the stars glowing on my ceiling, Aiden’s quote pops into my head.

“The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.”

The heart has its reasons.

Does my heart have reasons?

And, if so, how can I reason with my heart?

Or is that the point?

Reason and thinking shouldn’t play a part in what your heart feels?

But how can it not? We have to protect ourselves. Protect our hearts.

Don’t we?

Isn’t that what Mom told me? Don’t give away your heart easily.

Although, in that case, I think she was referring to my body more than my heart.

“The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.”

So, reason can’t be a part of love.

You just have to feel it.

Like Jake made me do tonight.

I think.


Sunday, October 23rd

A target date.

7:30am

Annie barges into our room, deftly leaps over the still-sleeping girls, and jumps on my bed. “I need to talk to you.”

“You’re really nervous about your parent’s party today, aren’t you?”

“I was, but now I’m kind of freaking out about something else.”

“What?”

“We set a target date.”

“A target date?”

“The date we’re going to have sex.”

“Oh.”

“Oh, gosh. That doesn’t sound very romantic, does it?”

“No, it doesn’t. Did he say that?”

“No! I just mean we decided the day that we’re going to do it. It’ll be after Winter Formal. We’ll be all dressed up. We’ll dance all night. Go to a hotel.”

“When is Winter Formal?”

“It’s in December.”

“So are you freaking out because that’s too soon?”

She clasps her hands together and confesses, “Fine. Last night, we almost did it. Like it was right there. He had a condom. I told him I wanted to.” She unclasps her hands and covers her face. “He said no!”

“He did?”

“Yes. And I started crying. Like, I bawled.”

“What did he do?”

“He got dressed, said he was sorry, gave me an awkward hug, and left. It was so embarrassing. And now I’m supposed to take him home with me!?”

“Has he texted you or anything?”

“No!” She starts crying. “We talk about our future all the time. We’ve named our children. Decided on our careers. Planned out college.”

“What was the situation?”

“What do you mean? We were in my room, basically naked. I still can’t believe I’ve even let him see me naked. Well, in-the-dark naked.”

“Do you think that’s why he said no?”

“Because the lights weren’t on?”

“No, silly. You’ve been telling him that you want to wait. Maybe he wanted to mess around but not do it. Maybe the fact that you wanted to do it surprised him and he was afraid you’d regret it.”

“It was that damn Gods of Olympus costume. He looked so hot all day.”

Her phone buzzes in her hand. She drops it on the bed and closes her eyes. “You look.”

I read his text to her.

Ace<3MySexyBaby:  I’m sorry I made you cry last night. I wanted to. God, I wanted to. But it will be your first time. I want it to be special not just some dorm thing. That’s why I thought we should at least wait until Winter Formal. Are you mad at me? Do you still want me to go today?

She cries harder now. I’m pretty sure they are tears of relief.

“You’re really lucky he cares so much about you, Annie. Don’t be mad at him.”

Her hands shake. “Type for me.”

I take the phone out of her hands. “What do you want to say?”

“Say, I want you to go today more than anything.”

Ace<3MySexyBaby:  I can’t wait to meet your family. And I’m glad we haven’t yet. I want to be able to look your dad in the eye.

Annie smiles and holds the phone to her chest. “I’m so in love with him.”

I give her a hug. “And I’m so happy for you.”

“You’re not trying to talk me out of it.”

“Annie, that decision is so personal. You have to go with what you know. What you feel. I can tell that you know it’s right.”

“It is. It just is. Okay, so I need to go get ready. We’re supposed to leave in like an hour.”

“Have fun today. And don’t worry. Your parents will love him.”

She bounds quietly out of the room.

I check my own phone, smiling when I see a late night text from Aiden.

Hottie God:  Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point.

Aww, how cute is that? It’s the quote he said last night, only in French. I want to hear him say it to me. So I figure, what the heck. I’ll call him.

He answers with, “Boots, you’re up early.” His voice is deep and gravely. I think I woke him up.

“Say it to me.”

“Say what?”

“The quote in French. The text you sent me last night.”

“You do realize I cut and pasted it from the internet?”

“Just try, please?”

“Les co-oer a sesh raisins cue la raisins ne con not point.”

It’s so cute. Having Aiden butcher the French language is seriously the most adorable thing.

“That was bad, wasn’t it?” he says. “You say it.”

“Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point.”

“It sounds prettier when you say it. I guess that’s not that much of a surprise, since you’re a lot prettier than me.”

I blush. Sitting in my bed, all by myself, I blush.

I can barely talk, I’m smiling so big. “You’re going to learn to speak it pretty too. I love when you speak French to me. It’s a sexy language.”

“Just another motivation for me to learn. I had fun yesterday. Not so much at the party, but . . .”

“Yeah, me either. Okay, so I have to get to rehearsal.”

“And I have to get back to sleep. See you later, Boots.”

Dawson:  So what happened last night after I left? Were you with Aiden? I hate this.

Me:  I dealt with the girls. And I hate it too. I was happy with you. But then . . . 

Dawson:  I fucked it all up.

Me:  Kinda, yeah . . . 

Dawson:  So are we still gonna, um, just kiss?

Me:  Do you still want to?

Dawson:  You know the answer to that.

Me:  You seemed mad at me last night.

Dawson:  Seeing Aiden almost kiss you pissed me off. But I do appreciate you taking care of Braxton, even though I didn’t really act like it. Wanna come over? We can have breakfast in bed.

Me:  Do you have food in your bed?

Dawson:  No.

Me:  I didn’t think so. I have rehearsal then I’m meeting your brothers and Dallas for coffee.

Dawson:  Can I come too?

Me:  Sure.

Step up my game.

11:30am

After practice, I head over to the boys’ dorm. The second I walk in, Dawson scoops me up and pulls me onto the bed with him. But Dallas sits in front of the bed, like usual, so I massage his shoulders while we talk.

Dawson turns to Braxton, who is looking miserable, and says loudly. “Braxton, little bro! How you feeling this morning?!”

“Horrible, thanks.”

“So did you enjoy your first Eastbrooke party, or what?”

Braxton shakes his head. “No. Miss Bossy Pants wouldn’t let me hook up with anyone. It was lame.”

I raise my eyebrows at him. “Then I guess you . . .”

“But super fun,” he interrupts me. “Except for the whole puking incident.”

“Thank god Jake was there.”

“Yeah, what’s up with you and Jake. You fucking him too?”

“Braxton! No, I’m not. He’s my friend.”

“Looked like more than that to me. Looks like you have some competition, bro. First Aiden made her a sunset. Then Jake went all knight in shining armor. You’re gonna have to step up your game.”

“How do you even know that?”

“You told Pressley. She told me.”

“A sunset?” Riley asks.

“It was a drawing on the wall.”

“Guess I do need to step up my game,” Dawson says.

“Why? You pretty much told me the other night that we’re just friends with benefits.”

“You know we’re more than that.” He moves to a sitting position on the bed and puts his hands on my shoulders. “You always massage everyone else. Do you want me to massage you?”

“You know what I really want? I want the school to install a bathtub in my room. Do you know how much I miss taking baths? I had a huge tub at home and all sorts of different bubble baths and oils. I miss that so much.”

“Yeah, sometimes you have to lose something to realize how important it is,” Dawson says, getting off the bed and pulling me with him. “Come with me.”

Shit. He’s going to take me to his room. I look to Riley and Dallas, hoping they will say something, like I can’t leave, but they both grin at me.

They are so unhelpful. “See if I ever rub your backs again,” I tell them as Dawson drags me out of the room.

Riley says, “See ya, baby.”

I try to think of another reason why I can’t go to his room. “I, er, I have to go say goodbye to my student and then work on the Greek weekend clean up.”

“When?”

I glance at my phone. “Five minutes.”

“I’ll take that.”

He pulls me toward his room. I don’t know what to do. I’m not a very good dieter. I have no will power.

When we get in his room, he points to his bed and says, “Sit.”

“I’m not a dog, Dawson.”

He tackles me. “Fine, you can lie down, then.”

Shit.

“Dawson, I can’t. Not right now.”

“I want to talk to you.”

“About what?”

“Last night sucked for me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I know you think he’s wooing you, but you know his player past. Guys do that stuff to get in a girl’s pants.”

“I gotta go, Dawson.”

Blindfolded.

4:30pm

The prospective students have been picked up. The Greek weekend has been cleaned up. Now, I’m on my way to a mandatory dance meeting. Something about a big school rivalry game that’s coming up.

Then I’m supposed to do dinner and tutoring with Aiden.

But I’ve been worrying all day about what Dawson said. Especially after seeing Chelsea’s body language last night. Did he tell her the things he’s been telling me? Is that why she was upset?

I walk into the field house and head toward the dance room.

“Keatie,” I hear.

I turn around and see Dawson peeking around a corner.

“Hey.”

He stalks up to me and grabs my hand. “I’m kidnapping you.”

“Dawson, I have to go to this meeting, or I’ll get a demerit.”

“Have you gotten any demerits yet?”

“Uh, no.”

“Then you have a few to spare. Come on, we’re going out the back.”

He pulls me down the hall, around the weight room, drags me into the boys locker room, and out the side door.

“Where are we going?”

“I’m not telling.”

I pull back on his strong hand.

“Fine. Maybe I just decided I’m not giving up without a fight.

He picks me up, throws me over his shoulder, and runs with me across the football field and out to the parking lot.

He leans me up against his car, says, “Mhmmm, this feels familiar,” pulls me in tight, and kisses me deeply.

While he signs us out, I hit the right buttons on my phone so no one will think I actually was kidnapped.

After driving off campus, he pulls over, grabs a blindfold out of his pocket, and wraps it over my eyes.

“Dawson, what are you doing?”

“If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”

“Very funny.”

“Well, maybe I’ll just have to torture you until you cave.”

“Cave about what?”

“I want you to wear my jersey for the Compass Cup game. All the seniors ask someone to wear their jersey, and I want you to wear mine.”

“Is that the rivalry game that’s coming up?”

“Yeah. The Westfield Cheetahs versus the Eastbrooke Cougars. Everyone calls it the Pussy Bowl though.”

“That’s funny. Both teams are cats.”

“So?”

“No torture required, Dawson. I’d love to wear your jersey.”

“Excellent. That means we can move on to the fun.”

Dawson drives a short distance, parks, opens my door, and leads me, still blindfolded, somewhere.

He leads me through a door, down a long hall, and, I think, into an elevator.

We ride to what has to be an upper floor. That or it’s a really slow elevator.

The elevator dings and I can tell some people get on.

Dawson says to whoever, “I’m surprising her.”

I hear a woman laugh and say, “That’s so cute.”

We ride a little farther up, get off the elevator, walk a short distance, and then I hear the unmistakable beep of a keycard and a door opening.

Are we at a hotel?

Dawson guides me through the door, makes me take a few more steps, and then kisses me.

I don’t know what he has planned, but you can bet it’s going to be damn sexy.

“Do I have to stay blindfolded?”

“Hmmm, that might not be a bad idea.”

 He kisses me deeper and cups my ass.

“Are we alone?”

“We’re very alone. I’m gonna take off your blindfold, but you have to promise to be a good prisoner and do what I say.”

“I didn’t know I was a prisoner.”

“My prisoner of love.”

“Love?”

“You know what? I changed my mind. I think the blindfold needs to stay on a little longer.”

He runs his hands down my sides, unbuttons my jeans, and pulls them off me.

I reach toward him to feel if he still has his clothes on.

He grabs my hand and laughs. “Oh, no, no, Keatie. Don’t think you can use sex to try and get out of this.”

“So this isn’t about sex?”

“Nope. This is all about romance.”

“Dawson, I don’t get it. I’m not the one. You told me I’m not the one.”

“No one can see the future, Keatie. And anyone who claims they can is just blowing smoke up your ass.”

He undoes my bra, slips it off of me, and kisses me.

And being undressed and kissed while blindfolded is pretty freaking hot.

“So you blindfolding me and stripping me naked is all about romance?”

“Yes, it is.” He slides my panties off slowly, then he takes my hand and leads me to a room with a cold hard floor.

“Dawson, I wanna see.”

He responds with a kiss, runs his hands gently up my back, and then pulls off the blindfold.

I’m standing in a gorgeous creamy marble bathroom. There’s a big tub raised on a pedestal in the center of the room, surrounded by columns. The tub is filled with water and rose petals and there are unlit candles all over the vanity.

“I couldn’t build you a bath tub, so I decided to rent you one.”

I’m in shock. Shocked that he would do this.

“It smells amazing in here.”

“It’s the roses.” He points to a bouquet of red roses.

“They're gorgeous.”

“Get in the tub,” he says. So, of course, I do.

He walks over to the counter and lights the candles. Then he watches me lean back in the tub.

“Aren’t you getting in?”

He grins. “Nope. This is so you can relax.”

“This is amazing, Dawes, really.”

I take in the warmth of the water and the rose scent and feel myself instantly relax.

“What are you gonna do?”

“Just watch some football.”

“You’re really not getting in with me?”

He grins. “Nope. You said you like to relax alone.”

You’re not playing fair.

5:30pm

I lie in the tub for well over an hour. The water gets cold, so I drain a little out and add some more hot water.

Dawson peeks his head around the corner of the door. “How are we doing?”

“Dawes, oh my gosh. This is amazing. Seriously. I can’t believe you did this for me. Do you ever take baths?”

He laughs. “I don’t think I’ve taken a bath since I was little. How long do your baths usually last?”

“At least an hour, if I can, but I might have to go longer on this one. You really aren’t joining me?”

“Maybe later. I brought bubble bath. Do you want some?”

“Yes!!”

He disappears from the doorway then comes back with a bottle of bubbles. He heads back to watch football, while I drain most of the water out, add about a fourth of the bottle and fill the tub back up.

The bubbles are about six inches deep. It’s awesome.

I close my eyes and relax some more.

And maybe possibly fell asleep. I wake up chilly with no bubbles.

I decide to get out of the tub—since my fingers resemble prunes—wrap myself in a fluffy white towel, and walk into the bedroom. Dawson is sprawled out across a big bed watching TV.

“Finally had enough?”

“I think I fell asleep. I’m very relaxed.”

“And I’m very starved. Let’s order dinner.”

Shit. Dinner. Tutoring.

“What time is it?”

“A little after seven.”

“Shit. What did I do with my phone?”

He holds it up. “It’s here.”

I look around the bedroom, look out the door, and see a living room, dining area, and bar. “Dawson, this is a suite.”

“It had the best bathtub I could find.”

“I was supposed to tutor Aiden.”

“Yeah. I saw. He’s maybe texted you a few hundred times.”

He slides off the bed, walks up to me, kisses me, and then takes off his shirt.

Damn. He is so freaking sexy.

“You’re not playing fair,” I tell him.

“All’s fair in love and war.” He gives me a sexy-ass smile. One I can feel down to my toes.

Okay, halfway to my toes.

“Why don’t you order food and I’ll deal with my phone.”

5:09:  Aiden:  Waiting in the library.

5:16:  Aiden:  Where are you?

5:27:  Aiden:  I thought we were doing tutoring after your meeting.

5:34:  Aiden:  Peyton said you weren’t at the meeting. You okay? Are you sick or something?

6:04:  Aiden:  Please text me back . . . 

I text Annie.

Me:  I think you’re supposed to be back by now. My French homework is done if you want to borrow it. I was supposed to tutor Aiden tonight, but I’m off campus and won’t be back until tomorrow morning. So if he needs help, maybe you can help him?

Annie:  I will. Are you okay?

Me:  I’m fine. Just off campus. How did the party go!?

Annie: Really well. And guess what?

Me:  What?

Annie:  There’s this big porch swing at my house. We were sitting in it. Talking. Swinging. He kissed me and then . . . HE SAID IT!!! He cupped my face in his hand, and looked at me SO ADORABLY, and told me he loves me. That’s why he said no last night.

Me:  OMG! Annie!!! I’m so happy for you!

Annie:  I’m happy for me too. 

I fire off a quick text to Katie, so she knows I won’t be home tonight. Then I text Aiden.

Me:  I’m fine. Just went off campus. Annie said she can help you with French. Just text her, she has my workbook. 

I hit send then quickly turn my phone off. I know he’s going to ask me why I went off campus and I don’t want to answer that question.

Because I don’t know the answer.

I never expected Dawson to do something like this. I look back inside the bathroom at the tub surrounded by candlelight and roses and wonder if it really is just about sex. Because right now, it doesn’t feel like it.

Dawson comes back in the bedroom.

I let my towel drop to the floor and say, “So you and me in a hotel room for the next twelve hours. You planning to let me just sit in the bathtub and turn into a prune?”

“I’d rather turn you on.” He touches my leg, so I lean in a little closer. “Hey, you’re getting me all wet!” he says.

I give him my most seductive look and coo, “It’s only fair. You get me wet.”

My comment hangs there for a minute. He stares at me, desire filling up his eyes, and then he pulls me down on the bed with him.

I’m unbuttoning his jeans when there’s a knock on the door.

“That must be room service. Why don’t you put on a robe and I’ll get the door.”

I decide not to get a robe.

I hear everything getting set up on the dining room table and then the door closing again.

Dawson calls out, “Dinner is served.”

I walk out into the dining room buck-naked.

Dawson is standing at the dining table, pulling silver lids off our plates.

I sit down.

Put a napkin across my lap.

Grab a roll. Take a teeny bite. Smile at him.

He’s frozen, staring at me.

I raise my eyebrows at him and shrug my shoulders. “Guess I finally feel comfortable enough to eat naked. Maybe you should be naked too.”

He holds my gaze while he strips off his pants.

I take another bite of my roll. Smirk at him. Wait for him to attack me.

But instead, he sits down.

For a second, I feel disappointed.

But he stands back up quickly, scoops me up out of the chair, drops me on the couch, and pounces on top of me.

The second our lips meet it’s frantic.

I kiss him deeply, like I’m starved for him. It’s only been about 48 hours since our Greek day romp in his room, but it feels like weeks. I kiss him. Kiss his chest, his neck, but then back to his lips. I can’t seem to kiss him deeply enough.

When I can’t take it anymore, I arch myself toward what I really want.

Then I’m overcome with feelings. Feelings of lust, of passion, of desire, of how could it get better than this, of don’t stop, of just do it a little harder, of that was amazing.

“You’re amazing,” I breathe out.

“We’re amazing together, Keatie. Don’t forget that.”


Monday, October 24th

Seriously insatiable.

7:07am

I manage to roll into the Social Committee meeting, Red Bull in hand, at 7:07, which is a feat of unparalleled proportions, as Dawson is seriously insatiable. And while I’m feeling quite relaxed, it’s safe to assume I didn’t get much sleep, for the aforementioned reason. Peyton and Whitney drone on about the Greek weekend’s success, what worked and what didn’t, while I do my best to stay awake and not to look at Aiden.

Because I kinda feel guilty.

They announce that, based on a Facebook poll, our next themed weekend will be French and how excited they all are. Peyton, Brad, Whitney, and Aiden were obviously busy last night.

Brad, who is sitting next to me, goes into details about their plans. I’m half listening, half sleeping with my eyes open.

“So I’m excited about the French theme, but we should have a catchy name for the weekend,” he drones on. “A slogan, if you will. Let’s brainstorm.”

I hear voices calling out ideas.

I see London, I see France.

That one makes me chuckle.

A Night in Paris.

A Weekend in Paris.

I imagine my trip to Paris. My pink dress fluttering around me like spun sugar.

Cougars and  Croissants.

Berets and Beignets.

Viva la France.

Bonjour, Eastbrooke.

L’Amour.

I hear Peyton speak up. “Not to be critical, but I don’t like any of them. While Greek weekend was more about fun and games, I want the French weekend to have a completely different feel. I want it to evoke romance.”

I’m barely awake. Sort of stuck between reality and a Parisian daydream. I wistfully think of what Aiden told me that one day. It sounded so incredibly romantic.

“Top of the Eiffel Tower, sunset,” I whisper softly.

“What did you say?” Brad asks, knocking his elbow into mine.

“Huh? Uh, what?”

“What did you just say about the Eiffel Tower?”

“Um, I don’t think I said anything.”

“Yes, you did. Something about sunset.”

Peyton grins at me. “That’s it! Top of the Eiffel Tower. Sunset.”

Whitney nods enthusiastically. “I love it. It sounds so romantic.”

I gulp, realizing what I’ve just done. I don’t dare look at Aiden, but somehow, I can’t stop myself from glancing his way.

He does that thing. Where he stares at me, looks into my soul, grabs it, and doesn’t let go. Then he blinks slowly and his mouth starts that slow buildup to a smile. The little smirk, the smile, and then the full-wattage grin.

Shit.

I’ve got to get more sleep!

Brad hands out passes, adjourning the meeting. They talked all through history class and English is about to start, so I rush out of the room and head to class.

As usual, I sit next to Dallas during English.

“Do you wanna chill tonight?”

“Can we tomorrow night? I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. I’m really tired.”

“Yeah, where were you?”

“Relaxing.”

“Bullshit.”

“Why do you think it’s bullshit?”

“Cuz if you wanted to relax, you’d call me.”

“True. This was a surprise, though. I didn’t plan it.”

“Who did?”

“You can’t tell anyone, not even Riley. Dawson kidnapped me, blindfolded me . . .”

“Kink-ay.”

“No, like, he blindfolded me so I would be surprised about where we were going. Remember yesterday when I mentioned how much I miss baths? Dawson got this huge hotel suite with an amazing tub, so I took three super long baths. I think my fingertips might still be prune-ish.” I hold up my fingers to show him.

“So you and Dawes in the tub, huh?”

“No. I took all three baths by myself. He watched football. He did it to be sweet, not just for sex.”

“So you didn’t have sex?”

I roll my eyes at him.

“Fine. Tomorrow night. Just you, me, and the Cave. Got it? We seriously need to figure out who you’re choosing. You dating them both is not gonna work.”

“Says the guy who made out with three different girls at the Cave Saturday night. It’ll work just fine.”

But I’m not really sure that it will.

Parallel lines that will never cross.

Ceramics

Jake, Bryce, and I are sitting at our table, staring at our pieces that got fired in the big kiln this weekend. Jake’s bowl looks pretty good, although slightly off kilter.

Bryce attempted a vase. It’s round and fat on the bottom and gets skinnier toward the top, so it’s recognizable as a vase. We glazed it a pretty blue, so he probably got a decent grade.

Mine, however, is a disaster.

And I’m so sad because I worked really, really hard on it.

I rolled out tons of skinny strips, like when I used to make play dough snakes when I was little. Then I rolled each snake into a curled up circle, flattened the circle, and put all the circles together to make a bowl. It looked amazing and I was so proud of it.

It, however, did not survive the kiln. It melted apart and is lying in front of me, a bunch of circular pieces in ruins.

“Lookin’ good,” Jake says, elbowing me.

“Shut up. You know how hard I worked on this.”

Our teacher flits by, telling me I needed to put the circles on a base, as she hands us back our grade sheets.

Bryce says, “Sweet, I got a C.”

Jake flips his paper over, grinning and showing off a B.

I don’t even want to look at mine.

“You failed, huh?” Jake asks.

“I’m sure.”

Bryce flips over my paper. On the top of it is a B. “How the hell did you get a B? It fell apart?”

I read the note from the teacher. You had a beautiful and creative design. This was the most thought you’ve put into a piece all year. I’d like to see more like this from you. We’ll work harder on the structure next time. If it had survived the kiln, you would have gotten an A.

I leave ceramics feeling good about my grade, but wondering about my life.

And how the broken pieces relate to it.

I’ve never worked on my structure. I fell apart every time Brooklyn ditched me and I’m not going to do it again.

I want a relationship that can survive the kiln.

I know Dallas thinks I need to choose, but I don’t want to.

And, after last night, I’m not ready to.

Dawson is like my history class. It doesn’t relate to ceramics. They are two separate classes that don’t intersect. Completely parallel lines that will never cross.

I can keep them separate.

And in the mean time, I’ll work on my own foundation.

All’s fair in love and war.

Lunch

As I walk into the café, Annie grabs my arm and pulls me aside. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you were with Dawson at a hotel!”

I pull her back out into the hall. “How do you know that?!”

She looks at me like I am an idiot. “It’s on Facebook?”

“It’s what?! What does it say?”

She fiddles with her phone, pulling up Dawson’s profile and shoving it in front of me.

 I heart hotel bath time with Keatie.

 I close my eyes tightly and mutter, “I’m going to kill him.” I calm myself down and open my eyes. “When did you see it? Do you think Aiden saw it?”

“I think everyone saw it, and everyone knows you were both gone last night.”

“When did he post it?”

She looks down at the screen. “About an hour ago.”

My panic returns. “Annie! We have to go to French next. How am I supposed to go to French? Ohmigawd! History and ceramics just intersected! They weren’t supposed to do that! I think I’m gonna be sick. Can you be sick too? Can we skip?”

“What are you talking about classes intersecting? You’re making no sense, and you’re freaking out. You never freak out. If you like Aiden, why did you spend the night with Dawson?”

“I’m so confused, Annie. I thought Dawson and I were just about sex. And I was going to be done with him, but then he got me this huge suite because I had mentioned that I missed taking baths. He’s trying to romance me. And I took three baths all by myself while he watched football.”

“So you didn’t do anything with him?”

“That’s beside the point, Annie. I cannot go to French! What am I gonna do!?”

“Are you mad at Dawson for posting it?”

Then it dawns on me. He did it on purpose. What did he tell me? All’s fair in love and war?

And maybe it is, unless you’re collateral damage.

Am I collateral damage?

Do I even know what collateral damage is?

Or was it a direct hit?

I spy Dawson sitting at the lunch table and chatting with Bryce.

I march over with my hands on my hips, and Annie on my heels. “A word with you?”

Bryce grins. “I wondered why you were all dreamy in ceramics.”

I ignore him.

“What’s wrong?” Dawson asks.

“Your Facebook post,” I say grimly.

His eyes sparkle at me, and he shrugs. Normally, I would find this very sexy.

I sit down in the chair next to him. “Please, delete it,” I plead.

“Nope.”

“I hate you.”

He leans in and whispers, “No, you hate that you love sex with me so much that you can’t give it up. And I can play too. Why is it okay for Aiden to take you to fancy French dinners? If it weren't for him, we'd be back together.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it. It’s because of you that we’re not together.”

“But, Keatie, you understood. You forgave me. Obviously. We’ve done a lot of making up.”

I shake my head at him, not sure what to do.

I don’t eat. I feel sick because I know what’s next.

French.

I don’t know who to turn to for advice, so I decide to send Grandma a quick email.

Grandma— 

How do you choose between two evils?

“Annie, ohmigawd, walk with me to French. Tell me something. Distract me.”

“Like what?” The thought of having to distract me seems to make her panic.

“Tell me more about this weekend.”

She smiles sweetly, her panic gone. “It was good. The night we almost did, um, it, I did more than touch it.”

“More with your hand or with your mouth?”

“Both! I figured I would do it wrong, but I was really excited that it worked.”

“It usually does.” I laugh. “Well, that's good. So you’re in love?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“But you said it?”

She sighs. “I know. And now I’m worrying about it. I'm probably analyzing too much and not feeling enough.”

“For a hopeless romantic, I'm surprised you’re not just letting yourself feel.”

She stops walking and looks at me intently. “Is that what you do?”

I think about that. Am I the polar opposite of Annie? Do I feel too much and analyze too little?

“Is that what you think I do?”

“I don't know. You seem ruled by emotion. Like, you go with whatever you feel at the time.”

“Actually, no, Annie. That’s not right. With Dawson, I feel and don't think. With Aiden, I think and try not to feel.”

“Why? Why do you keep doing stuff with Dawson when you really like Aiden?”

“Because it’s scary, Annie. Dawson is a known quantity. Maybe he doesn’t love me in the true love fairy tale sense, but how many people even find that in high school?”

“Two percent.”

“How do you even know that?”

“I looked it up on the internet. I wanted to know what the odds are that Ace and I would actually stay together and get married.”

“That percentage is really low.”

She nods. “I know. But I really do love him.”

“I really loved my ex, too. But we’re not together now. My point is, when you are in love, it’s all rainbows and sunshine. But my mom says that relationships are hard work. And lots of people date, break up, get back together, and end up happily married. Just because Dawson doesn’t know what he wants out of his life now, it doesn’t mean we couldn’t be happy together in the future.”

“Or not.”

“Exactly. That’s my point, exactly. So maybe it is more just lust with us. But it’s fun. It’s easy. I know where I stand with him. I know what to expect. He's sweet. The sex is hot. With Aiden, I don’t know what to expect. And I like him, Annie, I do. And that’s part of why I kinda think I’d be better off with Dawson. I don’t want to get hurt again. Some of the stuff that Aiden says is so amazing, but at the same time, it’s almost unbelievable. Like I don’t know if he’s just telling me what he thinks a girl wants to hear or if he really means it.”

“What does your heart say?”

“My heart is afraid of Aiden.”

“I want to marry Ace. We always have so much to talk about. We even watched the History Channel last night, and he thought it was cool, not weird.”

“Wow, that is weird.”

She bumps my arm. “Shut up!”

I laugh. “You know I'm just teasing. I’m really glad you’re not mad at me anymore. I missed you.”

“I missed you too. Shit,” she says, nodding her head to the right. “There's Aiden. Three o’clock.”

“Let’s pray he didn't see it.” Then I grab her arm and whisper, “Truth be told, I could picture myself married to Aiden.”

“So stop seeing Dawson.”

We sit down in class.

Aiden files in after us, sits at his desk, and immediately leans up behind me. “So, you were at a hotel with Dawson?”

“Yes.”

“Taking baths?”

“Yeah. Earlier yesterday I was telling him and Dawson and Riley that was one thing I really missed about home. I used to take a bath almost every day.”

“And what’d you do in the bathtub?”

“Soaked. Relaxed. Fell asleep.”

“Whatever.”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but Dawson and I did nothing in the bathtub. He watched football while I took a bath. Actually, two very long baths. Like, it was hours. Then we got hungry, so we ordered room service, and then I took another bath. Alone.”

“And then you spent the night with him. Or did you sleep in the bathtub too?”

“Um . . .”

“Never mind. I don’t want to know.”

Class starts, so I can’t talk to him. I get my phone out sneakily—I’m learning—put it under my desk, and text him.

Me:  I’m always alone when I take a bath. It’s like meditating for me. I close my eyes. Feel the warm water on me. Let my mind wander everywhere or nowhere. It’s like my time. I love it here but there isn't any ME time. We’re constantly with people. What Dawson did for me was sweet. I am mad about the post though, and he knows it. 

Hottie God:  You spent the night with him. I know what that means.

Me:  Can we hang out tonight after tutoring? Please don’t be mad at me. I didn’t plan it. He surprised me. I thought we were done, honestly. 

Hottie God:  Sometimes I hate you.

Me:  Dawson never hates me.

Hottie God:  Ever think that’s cuz he doesn’t care as much as I do?

Me:  I don’t know what I think.

Hottie God:  :(

Me:  Could we do tutoring with food tonight?

Hottie God:  Off site or my room?

Me:  My room. We never hang out in my room. I’ll order Chinese? Maybe you can see the stars.

Hottie God:  Will Katie be there?

Me:  Nope :)

Hottie God:  You gonna ditch me again?

Me:  No. I promise.

Hottie God:  Pinkie swear?

Me:  Absolutely.

Most important to you.

Dance

Right after dance, Peyton sticks her head in the locker room and says, “Keatyn, can you please come in Miss Tina’s office with me?”

“Uh, sure.”

Peyton shuts the door behind us.

Shit. Am I in trouble?

Miss Tina shuffles through some papers then she looks up at me and says, “It has come to my attention that you’re currently failing English. You know if you’re failing, you don’t get to dance.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“We explained it to you at the beginning of the year. How you have to keep your grades up, just like all the sports.”

“Oh, yeah.”

I feel like I could cry. My face gets all hot. I don’t know what to say. I’m so embarrassed. I’ve never failed anything.

“So, today is Monday. If you want to perform at the game this week, you’ll have to get your grade up above a 70. You’ll still practice with the team. You just won’t get to perform.”

“Okay,” I say, trying not to cry. I can’t even believe I’m in this situation. I have always gotten good grades.

“Do you have an English test or homework coming up that could help raise your grade by Friday?” Peyton asks gently.

“We have a test on Thursday.”

“Study hard for it. You’ve got a 68, so if you do well, you’ll bring it up easily.”

“Okay.”

Miss Tina adds, “You also might consider lessening some of your commitments. You’re in a lot of extracurricular activities and seem to have an active social life. You need to decide which of those things is most important to you.”

Avoiding evil.

4:45pm

And once again.

Someone spoke words to me about one subject that make me think about another subject.

You need to decide which of those things is most important to you. 

It’s like the universe is telling me to choose.

But I’m too tired.

I get in my room, drop my backpack on the floor, and lie on my bed.

I go to take my English test, but I don’t have a pencil. Only a pen. And the teacher won’t let me take it with a pen. She tells me I should’ve chosen more wisely.

Then I feel a hand rub across my face. It’s very relaxing. Something my dad used to do to me when I was little. He’d run his fingertips across my face, up the bridge of my nose, across my forehead, down my cheek, and across my chin. It’s how he would get me settled down and ready for bed.

But what does this have to do with English? 

I slowly open my eyes.

Aiden is sitting on the edge of my bed running his hand across my face. He smiles at me.

“Can we forget tutoring, and you can just rub my face forever?”

“Forever, huh?”

“It feels good. It’s an expression. I just meant, like, for a while, before we get started.”

I assume he’s going to comply, so I close my eyes. He runs his fingertip across my eyelid, probably totally destroying my eye shadow, but I don’t care. I keep my eyes closed and lean my head toward him. As he runs his hand across my hair, my mind flashes to forever, him taking care of me like this. I hate that I can see forever with him so clearly, but I have no idea what to do about him today.

“Are you dating Chelsea too?” I blurt out, not opening my eyes.

His hand stops. “No, why?”

“Because you hung out with her Friday night. I wasn’t with Dawson. You could’ve . . .”

“Yeah, I could have. But you were upset. I didn’t want to upset you anymore.”

“And you were talking to her at the Cave too.”

He leans down, kisses my forehead, my cheek, and then my nose. “I know you have unfinished whatever with Dawson, and I don’t want to push you. Are you about finished with Dawson?”

“I don’t know. He’s really sweet to me.”

“Look, I don’t know if this is gonna work.”

See. He can’t be my forever love.

He’s already giving up on me.

On us.

And I don’t know why, but little tears spring up in my eyes, run down the sides of my face, and into my ears.

Actually, I do know why. It hurts to hear him say it.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’ve just had a bad day,” I lie. Well, not lie, exactly, because I have had a bad day. My blurting out the Eiffel Tower comment this morning. Dawson’s Facebook thing. Aiden being mad about it. The soccer workout from hell. Failing English. Choosing a pen when I should’ve chosen a pencil, and, now, Aiden giving up.

“What happened?” he asks in a way that sounds like he has the power to fix anything.

Aiden is so far in my heart.

How did I let that happen?

I’ve been trying so hard not to let him in.

“I’m failing English. I’m gonna get kicked off dance if I don’t do really well on my test Thursday.”

“I know how you feel. I went through that all last year. The pressure and threat of being kicked off all my teams because of French. Thank goodness Miss Praline was nice and let me do just enough extra credit to keep me at about a seventy, but it was so close, always. I did have to sit out two basketball games, though. It sucked.”

“I just have so much going on. It’s hard to find time for it all.”

“Okay, so this week, instead of you tutoring me in French, I’m going to tutor you in English.”

“We still have to do our French homework, but that’d be nice. Why are you so nice to me, Aiden?”

I wait for him to say something incredibly sweet. Smile that blazing smile at me. Kiss me.

“Well, I need you out there dancing, shaking those pompoms for me and the team.”

Oh. Wow. He only needs me to dance for him while he’s playing football? Me and seventeen other girls.

Not really what I wanted to hear.

I sigh, “Oh.”

“So, when is the Chinese coming?”

I grimace. “I forgot to order it. I’m so sorry. I came in my room, dropped my backpack, lay down and, well, you woke me up.”

“Sorry.”

“No, it was the best way ever to be woken up.”

He smiles at me. Like I just gave him the best compliment in the world.

“You haven’t been getting enough sleep.”

“I know, last night I . . .”

He doesn’t let me finish. He immediately flicks off the switch.

I used to wish that I could flip the switch. Whatever it was that made him so powerful and attractive to me. So I could speak without stuttering, laugh without sounding like a hyena, and think without getting all foggy.

But I won’t ever wish for that again. I don’t like seeing it flipped.

He slumps a little and frowns at me. “You know what? I’m hungry; you’re tired. Why don’t I just go to the café, and you can get some more sleep. See ya later, Boots.”

And he leaves.

Mad at me again.

Like I told Annie earlier, at least I know where I stand with Dawson. With Aiden I feel like I’m standing in quicksand, slowly being sucked under, while he’s standing off to the edge, watching me, trying to decide if he should let me suffocate or toss me the rope that’s in his hands.

I pick up my phone and see that Grandma replied to my email.

Keatyn— 

Since I’m not sure what you’re talking about in reference to two evils, I’m going to assume we are talking about boys, seeing as you asked about true love recently. I hope you are dating nice young men, not any young hoodlums. I know the bad boy gives girls thrills, but he also usually breaks your heart. Well, not always, your grandfather was a bit ornery when I met him. Anyway, I haven’t replied because I’ve been trying to decide what to tell you. Mae West said, “When choosing between two evils, I like to try the one I’ve never tried before.” 

I say, skip the evils and find a nice boy. 

One who will treat you like gold.

Love you,

Grandma

Grandma doesn’t realize it, but she just gave me totally conflicting advice. If I follow Mae’s advice, I would chose Aiden. I want to chose Aiden. But I need him to choose me.

And is that selfish? Maybe. But I have to take care of me.

Take care of my heart.

If I take Grandma’s advice, I’d pick Dawson. Dawson is a nice young man. He’s sweet, and he won’t hurt me. I know he already hurt me once, but he doesn’t have the same power over me that Aiden does. That I-see-my-life-in-20-years-and-he’s-still-in-it power.

I wish Aiden would just stop wooing me and throw me over his shoulder like a caveman, say I’m his, and drag me back to his cave forever. Then I’d know.

Right now we’re in this awkward, half friends, half study buddies, and half boyfriend-and-girlfriend place.

Wow, even my math skills have gone to shit.

Because, clearly, three halves do not make a whole.

Okay. This week is all about studying. All about me. I’m going to avoid both Dawson and Aiden. I’m going to be too busy studying to deal with them. That’s my plan.

I’ll avoid evil all together.

Katie, Annie, and Maggie come bounding into the room.

“Hey, we’re getting ready to go to the café. Wanna come?” Maggie asks.

“I don’t feel very good. I think I’m just gonna stay here.”

“Do you want us to bring you back something?” Annie asks sweetly.

Katie butts in. “Are you sick?”

“Or did relaxing with Dawson wear you out?” Maggie jokes.

“I think maybe a little of both, but I sorta feel sick.”

They head out to dinner.

Am I lovesick?

I call Riley.

He answers. “Hey.”

“What are you doing?”

“Eating dinner with Dallas, Aiden, Logan, Parker, and some other guys. Where are you?”

“I think I’m getting sick.”

“Does Riley need to bring you some soup?”

“I’d love that. I was supposed to tutor Aiden, but he’s mad at me, and I think he hates me again. Wait. Why are you sitting with Aiden? You never sit with him.”

“I don’t know, just did.”

“Oh. If you wanna bring me something, that’d be cool. My throat kinda hurts, so I’m not that hungry, but I sorta am.”

“I’ll find something. See ya in a few, baby.”

I go wash my face, put on some comfy pajamas, and lie back down.

I start dreaming I’m in a car that’s crashing at an intersection.

Riley sits on my bed. I open my eyes, but it’s not Riley. It’s Aiden, holding a styrofoam bowl and a plastic spoon.

I cover my face with my hand.

“You weren’t supposed to come. Why are you here?”

He gently grabs my hand and uncovers my face.

He leans in and kisses my forehead. “Riley said you’re sick. You don’t look sick.”

I’m now positive he can read my mind. Does he just keep getting more powerful by the freaking day? But if he can read my mind, why doesn’t he know that I’m crazy about him?

“My throat hurts.”

“You’re tired. You don’t get enough sleep.”

“You didn’t answer my question. Why are you here?”

“Why does Riley call you baby?”

“I don’t know. He just does. He thinks he needs to protect me. Like a big brother or something.”

“Baby is what you call your girlfriend. Not your friend.”

“Why does it matter? And you still haven’t told me why you’re here.”

“I brought you soup.”

“Yeah, I see that, but why? You left mad at me. But you’re always mad at me, so I’m used to it. You wanna know the real reason I’m still seeing Dawson? That’s why. And I know my saying that is gonna make you mad again, so you might as well take your soup and leave. You’re going to anyway.”

He glares at me, his eyes turning a pissed off shade of forest green.

He sets the soup on my nightstand and walks out my door.

I call Riley and don’t even let him get out a “hey.” “WHAT THE HELL!?”

“Your throat seems to be better. Did the soup help?”

“I haven’t eaten the soup. Why the hell did you send Aiden?”

“He volunteered. I thought you’d like it.”

“One: he and I were supposed to have dinner together, but he got mad and left. Two: I had just taken off all my makeup and put on pajamas because I thought it was you coming. And three: now he is mad at me again. Rileeeeeey, come over, please.”

“I’m supposed to go hang with Ariela.”

I don’t say anything. I just let out a pathetic huff.

“Fine,” he says. “I’ll be right there.”

A few minutes later, he is sitting on my bed.

“She’s pissed at me now.”

“Why?”

“Cause I call you baby, and I just ditched her for you.”

“Didn’t you tell her I’m sick?”

“Yeah, I don’t think that mattered.”

“I’m sorry. Just forget it; go see her.” I bite my lip and start to tear up. What is wrong with me?

Riley stares at me. “Scoot over,” he says as he slides onto my bed. I lay my head on his chest and hug him. “Are you really sick?”

“My throat is scratchy.”

He rubs my back gently. “Eat your soup.”

“I think I lost what little appetite I had when Aiden left. Riley, did you tell Ariela that you liked her right away? Like, how did she know?”

“Baby, seriously, you know Aiden likes you. Why do you keep questioning it?”

“Because he’s questioning it.”

“Why do you think he’s questioning it?”

“I have no clue.”

“Because you are still seeing Dawson, maybe?”

“No way I’m giving up Dawson for someone who doesn’t even know what he wants.”

“Well, that makes sense, I guess. Why don’t you try to get some sleep. I’m sure things will be better in the morning.”


Tuesday, October 25th

English is my new lover.

6:30am

I get up early, see it’s raining, and decide to improve the dreary day with a cute new uniform look. I put on the navy plaid pleated skirt, a bright yellow blouse with ribbon flowers down the front, the navy blazer, and tall Hunter lace-up rain boots in a bright marigold. Over it, I add a short gabardine Burberry belted trench coat, grab a bright yellow umbrella, and then head to the café for a hearty breakfast.

I purposely sit by myself and start studying English. The test is in two days. And for two days, I am on a no-boy diet.

No Aiden. No Dawson.

Just me and English.

English is my new lover. I’ll be like one of those girls who gets all obsessed over a boy when they first meet, and she posts all sorts of lovey shit on her Facebook. Like Ariela did with Riley. All that, Oh, baby I love you, hearts and shit.

I realize I just sounded very cynical. When did I become such a cynic about love?

Oh yeah, when Brooklyn screwed the girl in the cabana and when Dawson dumped me for Whitney.

N0! Stop that!

No thinking about boys!

English. English. English!

I go back to studying my notes.

Aiden slides into the seat across from me. I don’t have to look up to know it’s him, I feel the pull of my heart practically being sucked out of my body.

“You feeling better?” he asks sweetly.

I look up at him. He’s wearing a deep blue oxford with contrasting paisley fabric inside the collar. A navy blazer. And a purple and blue paisley tie, partially tied around his neck. His shoulders still have little drops of rain on them. He looks like he does after football practice, his hair wet, slightly messed up. But instead of being sweaty and gross, he’s all dressed up. The combination of the two make him look unbelievably, adorably sexy. I want to jump over the table and into his arms.

But instead I say, “Yeah, I went to bed early. So, um, look Aiden. I can’t do tutoring tonight. I really need to focus.”

He tilts his head at me. “I told you, I’ll help you study.”

“I wish you could, but lately all we do is fight, and it’s distracting. I really have to study.”

He looks mad. Starts to get up to leave.

“Why do you seem mad? I thought you of all people would understand how important it is that I get a good grade on this test.”

“It feels like you’re pushing me away.”

“I’m not. I just have to pass. I’ve never failed at anything.” Except relationships, I think. “But I’ll make you a deal. Thursday night you can come to rehearsal and study with me. We’ll talk. Maybe work on our framework.”

“Our framework?”

“Yeah, I want to get to know you before I build something that is going to collapse in a heap like my ceramics project.”

“You have an unusual way of thinking, but I’d like that. I don’t think I want to collapse into a heap.”

A fiery kiss.

6pm

I barricade myself in a private study room and try not to think about when I was here with Dawson. I’m making notecards and flash cards, using a highlighter, and doing anything else I can think of to help me study, when I get a call from Dawson.

“What’s up?” I say.

“Where are you hiding?”

“Library.”

“Private study room?”

“Yeah. What did you need?”

There’s a beep beep telling me that the call dropped.

A few minutes later, there’s a knock on the door. I peek out and see Dawson.

“There you are,” he says, pushing through the door and eyeing the jean skirt I changed into after school. “Damn, Keatie, you looked sexy today, but tonight you just look hot.”

“I have to study.”

“Yeah, I know. We should study fairy tales and happy endings,” he says, pulling me into his arms and giving me a fiery kiss.

“It’s happily ever after. Not happy endings.”

He shrugs. “Same thing.”

Uh, no. So not the same thing.

He unbuttons my blouse and slides his hand up my skirt.

And I like it.

Shame on me, but I do.

Because it turns out that English is not a very good lover.

Pretty quickly, I’m hot and bothered and kissing Dawson recklessly. I want him. I want to feel wanted.

When he pulls a condom out of his pocket and says, “No mess,” I practically rip it out of his hands to open it.

He picks me up and pushes me against the door.

It’s over quickly. Both of us breathing heavily and quickly getting our clothes back into place.

“Every time is so good,” he says. “So hot. I’m halfway afraid to do it with anyone else.”

“Why’s that?”

“I’m afraid it won’t be as good.”

“It’ll be good if you care about them, I think. And maybe if it’s just for fun it will be good too. I’m not really sure about all that. Dawson, you’ve grown up since you and Whitney. It sounds like you did it a lot this past summer. You’ve gotten better, or more confident, probably.”

“I think I could do it with you forever. Even if we married other people, I’d still want to do it with you. Speaking of that. How are things going with Aiden?”

“After your posting about the bathtub, you mean?”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” he says with a grin.

I shake my head at him. “You are not sorry.”

“You’re right. I’m not.”

“What happened to you just wanting to go to college?”

“That’s months away. Months that we could be having fun.”

In the moonlight.

8pm


Logan is on stage practicing a really funny hot tub scene. I’m done with the first part of it and am standing on the stage with Jake. There’s a skinny black curtain in front of us to hide us until the end of the scene.

I watch Logan make out like crazy—in a funny way, lots of exaggerated hands rubbing down each other’s backs, heads smooshed together and moving in a fake passionate kiss—with the rest of the contestants. Before each one leaves, he tells her she is the girl he wants to make his princess.

The best part of the scene is that the prop hot tub sits up off the ground. There are fake water bubbles in the tub. Each contestant pops up from under the water and then pops down when the contestants change. What's really funny is the first time one of the contestants goes down you think she’s going under the water to do naughty things to him, but then you laugh when you realize it’s a scene change.

And Logan plays it up by smirking at the audience.

After the last contestant leaves, his butler brings him champagne. He leans back and says, “They’re all in love with me. I’m wooing them with my words and my lips. My brother doesn’t stand a chance. His being in love with the cheerleader has worked better than I could’ve planned. She’s ignoring him, and he’s ignoring all the other contestants. It’s brilliant.”

The stage darkens on them as the thin curtain in front of us goes up and a spotlight shines on Jake and me.

He reaches out, taking both of my hands in his. “I’m sorry I didn't tell you, but for once I wanted a girl to fall in love with me. Just me,” the Good Prince pleads.

Of course, earlier in the play, the Bad Prince told my character that his brother is a total player and that he says that to all the girls.

“Your brother told me you say that to all the girls.”

“Don't you believe in true love? The fairy tale kind?” he implores, pulling my hands dramatically to his chest.

“Yeah, I do, but not with a liar.”

I run away from him, the spotlight and little moon following me to the hot tub.

“Hey, slow down there, Boots,” the Bad Prince says to me, totally straying from the script.

“Boots?” I ask.

“Yeah, when I first met you, you were wearing those cute little cowboy boots.”

My real life flashes before my eyes.

I walk up to the hot tub like I'm scripted to do, sit down, slip my boots off, and put my feet in the hot tub.

“Do you believe in true love?” I ask with a sigh.

The Bad Prince knows now that he's in trouble. That I’m still in love with his brother. Which puts his plan to get all the contestants to fall in love with him and reject his brother in danger of failing.

While I'm staring dreamily at the moon, the butler sneaks on stage and whispers in the Bad Prince’s ear. “Sire, this one could ruin our plan.”

He shoes the butler away, swims over to me, and replies with, “Of course, I believe in it.” Then he pops out of the tub and walks with me in the moonlight. He says one cheesy pickup line after another. How my eyes are beautiful. How I must have fallen from heaven. How it was instant. That it was fate that I met his brother and that he lied to me. Because it brought us together. “You’re my one true love. Can't you feel it? In here?” He touches my chest, reminding me of Brooklyn. “You're the only contestant I didn’t kiss tonight. Yet you’re the only one I wanted to kiss. I want to kiss you for the rest of my life.”

He gently pushes my hair behind my ear and kisses my cheek.

“That’s perfect. Logan, love your improvised nickname for her. Keep that in there,” our director says.

I sit down in my seat. I want to yell at Logan for departing from the script. For including something so personal in the play. But I can’t, because I’m realizing how alike my real life and the play are.

“I’m tired of being the Bad Prince,” Logan says, plopping down next to me.

“You want to quit the play?”

“No. I mean in real life. I miss Maggie. My pride hates her, but the rest of me still loves her. Last year, all my friends told me that it was crazy. That we’d never last through high school, let alone college. Even my parents said it was just puppy love. And I guess they were right. We didn’t make it. But I'm never going to find another girl like her. And it's making me sick.”

“Lovesick,” I say with a sigh.

“Yeah.”

“Why did you just call me Boots? Is that your way of telling me that Aiden is the Bad Prince in real life?”

“Aiden is the only one of my friends who told me if she was my true love, we'd make it. Through high school. Through college. He believes in it. Speaking of Aiden. Why isn’t he here studying?”

I point at the English notes I’ve yet to look at since rehearsal started and say, “English is my new lover.”

He laughs. “Not doing well?”

“Failing. If I don’t do well on the test Thursday, I won’t be able to dance at the game.”

Logan nods and studies his fingernails. I only get through two notecards before he leans back, stretches, and says, “Screwing random girls in the hot tub of life is getting old.”

“But casual sex can be fun.”

“Once you've experienced sex with meaning, the rest never feels the same. No matter how hard you try.”

“I had that with the guy I was with before I came here.”

“The Keats guy?”

“You know about him?”

“Aiden told me about how he quoted Keats the night of the Welcome Back dance. How you kinda freaked out.”

“When I came here, we sort of broke up, but then sort of didn’t. I was confused. Love is confusing.”

“I’ll drink to that,” he says, pulling a flask with a shark on it out of his backpack. He hides it behind the seats in front of us and bends down really low to take a drink. “You know, what really sucks is that in real life, the Bad Prince wins a lot of the time. A lot of guys just tell girls what they want to hear.”

He looks up at the fake moon and sighs. “I want to be the one in the moonlight getting the kiss at the end.”

Wrapped around her little finger.

11:30pm

After Katie goes to sleep, I’m still thinking about what Logan said, so I go into the stairwell and call my mom.

“He-llow!” Gracie screams.

“Hi, Gracie. How are you, sweetie?”

She gives a little sigh. “Good Kiki?”

“Yes, how is the puppy?”

“Bad. Very bad. She stealed my kisses. Mommy says chocolate not for puppies. Puppies eat it. They die. But Kiki no die.”

“Well, that’s good.”

“Bad Kiki ate my purple purse. I mad at her.”

“Well, you have a birthday coming up. Maybe you can get a new one.”

“Gracie be three.”

“I know you will. You’re a big girl.”

“Gracie wanna make sandycastles wiff my Brookwyn and my Kiki.”

Forget the damage boys have done to my heart. I’m pretty sure Gracie just caused it to split in two.

“Me too, Gracie. I miss the beach. Mommy said you have a really big backyard where you can run and play.”

“Avery kicked me.”

“Why did she do that?”

“Gracie took hers chalk. Good Kiki come to my party?”

I close my eyes tightly, trying to ward away the tears.

“I can’t, sweetie. But I know you’ll have fun.”

“Gracie hate Kiki ’venture.”

“Can I talk to Mommy?”

“No!”

Then click.

I call back.

She answers, screaming. “I hate ’ventures. I hate Kiki!”

“Gracie!” I hear Emery yell at her. “Hate is a bad word!”

“Yeah,” Ivery says. “I’m going to tell Mommy.”

I hear a commotion. Screaming. Crying. The phone dropping.

Gracie apparently picks it back up. She screams into the phone again. “Gracie hate birffdays!”

Then, click.

I sit on the stairs and cry.

Then I realize that I may not be able to give her me, but I can get her something that she wants.

I dial Brooklyn.

“Hey, Keats.”

“Hey,” I say with a sniffle.

“Are you crying?”

“Kind of. Gracie’s birthday is coming up and she’s mad I’m not going to her party. She wants us to build sandy castles with her.”

“I miss that. I love all the girls, but Gracie always had me wrapped around her little finger.”

“Me too. She’s so bold and fearless. I wish I was more like her.”

“Keats, I’ve seen you conquer waves way above your skill level. You and Gracie are a lot alike.”

“B, would you mind sending her something for her birthday?”

“I was already planning on it.”

“Really?”

“Of course. I’ve also started researching stalking cases.”

“Really?” He continues to surprise me.

“Yes. I want you back in my life, Keats. I need you back in my life.”

“My life is so messed up, B. Just when I think I’m getting somewhere, I realize that all I’ve done is screw it up more.”

“Take control.”

“What do you mean?”

“I guess maybe all this has made me cynical. Or maybe it’s because I’m not smoking much anymore. But I’m tired of relying on fate. I’m going to figure a way out of this.”

“I suggested to Garrett that we hire a hit man and be done with it.”

B laughs. “I suggested the same thing. How’s the play going?”

“Our first performance is in a couple weeks.”

“I wish I could come watch you.”

“I wish you could too. I’ve been following your surfing. You’ve been doing really well.”

“Yeah. Getting second in the last two tournaments has been amazing. But now, I want first.”

“Has my laid-back surfer boy got a competitive streak I didn’t know about?”

“I miss that the most.”

“Miss what?”

“Hearing you call me yours.”

My phone buzzes. I pull it away from my ear and see that Mom is calling.

“That’s my mom on the other line. I should probably take it.”

“Sweet dreams, Keats.”

I click over to Mom.

“Hey, Mom.”

“Keatyn, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. She’s two. She doesn’t understand,” I sniffle.

“Sweetie, don’t cry. She doesn’t hate you.”

“This isn’t fair, Mom. I’m missing everything. Every new word. Every inch they grow. Every stupid thing the dog does. I can’t do this anymore. I love it here, but I’m living a lie. I’m lying to everyone. Most of all, myself. I’m trying to make a new life, but I don’t want to. I want my old life back. I’m going to do something drastic. I can’t take it anymore.”

“What do you mean, drastic?”

“Do you know anyone in the mob?”

“The mob?”

“I want to have Vincent killed.”

“Keatyn! No. You can go to jail for that. And you’d never see the girls if that happened.”

“How many years would I get if I got caught?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t either. But what if I didn’t get caught? And even if I did, I think if I explained it they would understand. I think I’d get a light sentence. And then I’d be out in a few years for good behavior. And I have money. Why couldn’t I hire the best lawyer and get out of it? At least if I went to jail, I’d know how long I had before it was over. I think that’s what’s killing me. What will I do when I get my life back? B and I made up. Like, we’re talking. Not fighting. And I really loved him, Mom. I really did. And I was so dumb. I tried to change him.”

“Honey, you’re young. You’re going to make mistakes. Boys are a part of that. But they aren’t life-changing mistakes.”

“Like becoming friends with Vincent was?”

“Don’t you dare blame yourself for this. It’s not your fault. Even if you hadn’t become friends, he would’ve been obsessed with you. There were photos from before you met.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

“Keatyn, Gracie is three. She won’t remember if you miss her party. We’ll make sure it’s fun. Just send her a present. And maybe we can do a video chat.”

“I also think I’m lovesick.”

“Lovesick?”

“Yes, one minute I think I should just choose Dawson. The next minute, I think I want to be with Aiden. It was bad enough when it was a sort of love triangle. Now that I’m talking to B again, I realize how much I miss him. Now I’m in a love rectangle. Or a rhombus. Whatever. And it’s making me sick. I even have a sore throat.”

“I wish I was there to take care of you like I did when you were little. Do you remember what we always did?”

“Watched The Little Mermaid and ate popcorn in bed.”

“Let me guess. The last boy you are with is the one that you think you like the most?”

“Yes.”

“That’s because it’s the last thing you felt. You can’t ping pong like that. Someone is going to get hurt. Probably, you.”

“Haven’t you ever been with someone and wondered if you should be with someone else? You practically had sex with your hot costar in To Maddie With Love. You can’t tell me you didn’t feel a thing.”

“My heart didn’t feel a thing. It’s late. You need to get to sleep. I love you.”

“I love you too, Mom . . . Mom?”

“What?”

“Give the girls big hugs for me. Tommy and James too.”

“I will, sweetie. I will.”

I hang up and think.

Maybe she’s right. Maybe it isn’t lovesickness. It’s ping ponging. Which is probably something like motion sickness. Only it causes you to question your feelings. And that makes you feel sick all the time.

Like a never-ending hangover.

That’s what this is.

It’s a hottie hangover.

I also think about what she didn’t say. What her body felt.

I trudge back to my room and try to go to sleep.

My phone lights up the room.

B:  You are always new. The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest; the last smile the brightest, the last movement the gracefullest.  Keats for my Keats. I want to be the last of your everythings. <3

I stare up at the stars glowing on my ceiling and think my head might explode.


Wednesday, October 26th

I’m not perfect.

6:20pm

Today, I am successful with English as my new lover. I study and avoid everyone. I’m in my room studying during dinner when my phone rings.

I smile when I see who’s calling.

“Hey, Damian! How’s Japan?”

“Crazy. Different. It’s been quite the experience. How are you? We haven’t talked since Miami. Your friend, Riley, told you that I called, right?”

“Yeah, he told me. It was so good to see you. To have you sing me a lullaby. I miss that.”

“I didn’t know he would come there. I never thought he would.”

“I didn’t either. Did you hear what he’s doing now? The nationwide search?”

“Yeah, Tommy told me.”

“You’ve been talking to Tommy?”

“He’s coming to Tokyo next week to shoot a commercial. We’re gonna have dinner.”

“That’s great.”

“I talked to Brooklyn too. He told me you two made up.”

“I’m not perfect, Damian.”

Damian laughs. “You just now figuring that out?”

“Kinda. I blamed him for everything that didn’t work between us. A lot of it was my fault too.”

“So do I need to kick his ass?”

That makes me laugh. “You planning on seeing him?”

“Actually, yeah, that’s why I called. He’s in Japan this weekend. Surfing Tahara. Our concert is in Kyoto on Friday. They’re only a couple hours apart.”

“Gracie’s birthday is coming up.”

“I know. I bought her a huge stuffed Hello Kitty. I think she’ll like it.”

“You did? That’s so sweet. Thank you.”

“You don’t have to thank me. I love Gracie. I mean, who could resist that pout?”

“No one can.” I laugh. “You don’t need to kick B’s ass anymore. Can I ask you a question though?”

“Of course.”

“He says when this is all over that he wants to give us another chance. Do you think I should?”

“I think that all depends on where you are when this is all over. Right now, it being over isn’t looking too good.”

“I know, but I need to hang onto that hope. It’s what gets me through, you know?”

“I know. What did you decide to do for Thanksgiving?”

“I’d like to go to The Crab, if that’s still okay.”

“I’ll let Dad’s assistant know. She’ll make sure everything is ready for you. Will you be there alone?”

“I mentioned it to a friend, but we haven’t talk about it since. So yeah, probably.”

“I hate that you’ll be alone.”

“It’ll be okay. I’m looking forward to it, actually.”

“Well, the jury’s still out on Brooklyn as far as I’m concerned. I’ll let you know if I had to kick his ass or not.”

“Sounds good. Tell him hi for me. And know that I wish I was there with you guys.”

“We’ll wish you were too. Bye, Keats.”


Thursday, October 27th

I’m getting jacked.

English

I let out a huge sigh of relief, walk to the teacher’s desk, and hand in my English test. I’m pretty sure I got a good grade.

Dallas follows me out the door. I look over and realize that I have to look up at him.

“Have you gotten taller?”

“Yeah, a little.”

“You’re taller than me now. No wonder you eat so much.”

He pulls up his Eastbrooke polo sleeve and flexes a surprisingly buff arm at me. “I’m getting jacked too.”

I squeeze his bicep. “Damn. You are.”

“Oh, hey, there’s the love god stalking you. See ya, Kiki.”

“So, how was the test?” Aiden asks me.

“How do you know my schedule?”

“I think you told me.”

“I don’t remember telling you,” I tease.

“Fine. Dallas told me.”

I raise my eyebrows at him. “So you were talking about me, huh?”

He shakes his head as his big hand cups my waist. “Maybe a little.”

Electricity runs through my blood, energizing me more than a Red Bull. I was tired, but now I’m wide awake, my heart racing.

“So?” He gives my waist a little tickle.

I giggle and move my away, even though I don’t really want him to stop touching me.

“I think I did well. English has always been my best subject, but I forgot to study for a test the night I missed curfew, when we were dancing, and I totally bombed it. Like, I got a 37. It killed my grade.”

“So it’s my fault?”

I smile. “Well, now that you mention it, I think it is.”

“Have lunch with me today?”

“Sure.”

“Cool,” he says. “I need to stop in the office real quick. Meet me there?”

I tell him okay, then get a text from Dawson.

Dawson:  You done with the boy-free zone yet? 

Me:  Yes :) Test is OVER!

Dawson:  I miss you :(

Me:  And you’re horny?

Dawson:  Very. You don’t want me wandering around school all horny and lonely, do you?

Me:  I could have sex with you every minute of every day, and you’d still be horny. You’re a boy. And even worse, you’re a Johnson. I’ve been hearing about Cam’s exploits last year in the dance locker room. 

Dawson:  You know I’m not like him. Go to the JV game with me tonight. I’ll bring a big sweatshirt ;)

Me:  I have rehearsal. 

Dawson:  Sit with me at lunch?

Me:  Aiden already asked me to. 

Dawson:  That pisses me off.

Me:  Would you prefer I have lunch with you and start having sex with him?

Dawson:  Good point.

I get some food then sit down next to Dallas. A few minutes later, Aiden joins us.

“You coming to watch the JV game tonight?” Riley asks me.

“I can’t. I have rehearsal.”

“Shoot. Forgot about that. When do you have it this weekend?”

“Early Saturday morning and then Sunday night.”

“Perfect. You’re coming home with me.”

“What for?”

“Saturday is my birthday.”

“Really? I didn’t know that!”

“You know now.”

“Is Ariela coming too?”

“No, she has that cheer competition. Sucks. Dawson and I have to go home with our parents after the game on Friday. Maybe you could take the train after practice?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t miss it.”

“I’ll wait and come with her,” Dallas offers.

I pat his forearm and lean my head into the side of his. “That’s sweet,” I tell him.

“I have plans Friday night,” he whispers.

I roll my eyes at him. Then I glance at Aiden.

He doesn’t look happy. And I’m not sure why.

But as we walk together to French, he doesn’t say a word to me.

Not my fault.

8:30pm

I come off the stage after doing one of my scenes and look around for Aiden.

“I don’t think he’s coming,” Logan says to me.

“Why not?”

“Where are you going this weekend?”

“Riley’s birthday party.”

“At Dawson’s house.”

“That’s not my fault.”

“You’re driving him nuts.”

“Yeah, well, it’s only fair. He drives me nuts. All his sex quizzes and the hammering, nailing, and screwing. And how am I supposed to concentrate in French class with him always breathing on my neck and whispering in my ear?”

Logan grins at me.

“What?”

“You really like him.”

“Don’t you have to get on stage or something?”


Friday, October 28th

Make it up to me.

2:57pm

Dawson texts me right before school’s out.

Dawson:  Meet me by the field house. I need to talk to you for a second before I leave for the game. 

I walk down to the field house and find Dawson standing outside waiting for me. He pulls me into a big kiss, right as Aiden walks out of the door.

I see Aiden literally recoil.

I smack Dawson’s shoulder. “You wanted him to see us kiss, didn’t you?”

Dawson smiles. “Who, me? I just wanted to kiss my girl before I get on the bus. Nothing wrong with that.”

“What’s wrong with that is I’m not your girl.”

“It’s also our anniversary. One month since I asked you out.”

“We can’t have an anniversary when we’re not going out, Dawson. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

I’m pissed.

But as I march away, I realize that I’m no better than he is. I’ve been wanting the same thing.

I pack up my dance bag, darken my makeup, and change into tonight’s game outfit.

Then I sit down and text Aiden.

Me:  I’m sorry about that. I’ve got so much on my mind and he just . . . I’m sorry, okay?

Hottie God:  Sorry you did it, or sorry I saw?

Me:  Both.

Hottie God:  Not sorry enough to stop kissing him.

Me:  I’m sorry!

Hottie God:  I don’t think it’s enough :)

Me:  Why the smiley face?

Hottie God:  You’re going to make it up to me. 

Me:  And how am I supposed to do that?

Hottie God:  The list is going to be long.

Me:  I can handle it.

Hottie God:  My demands: #1. Sit next to me on the ride home.

Me:  Fine.

Hottie God:  #2. Hang out with me tonight. Late.

Me:  Done.

Hottie God:  3. Don’t go to Riley’s.

Me:  I have to. It’s his birthday. 

Hottie God:  So that’s the only reason you’re going? Shit. Never mind. I don’t want to compare the relationship. Regardless of what’s going on with you and Dawson, we’re taking it slow and going at our own pace. 

Me:  We’re teenagers, aren’t we supposed to fall head over heels in love? 

Hottie God:  I did that 8 times last year. None of them worked. I’m trying a different approach.

Me:  Uh, okay. So any other demands?

Hottie God:  Yes. #4. Points for dances tonight. 

Me:  Deal :) And Aiden . . .  I have a demand.

Hottie God:  What? I’m in the position of power here, not you. You don’t get demands.

Me:  I’m not much for following rules ;)

Hottie God:  No shit. What’s your demand?

Me:  Naw, I guess you’re right, I should play fair.

Hottie God:  Tell me.

Me:  Naaaaaw. Never mind.

Hottie God:  Boots, NOW!

Me:  Don’t tell me what to do.

Hottie God:  Fine. Don’t tell me. Then I won’t have to do it. I didn’t want to anyway.

Shit. What just happened? He was supposed to beg me to know.

Me:  Okay, then I won’t tell you that my demand was that you score a lot of points. For me. Just for me. So you can dance with me. Hold me tight. But that’s okay. You don’t want to. Never mind.

Hottie God:  You are difficult to negotiate with, do you know that?

Me:  That depends. Are you giving in to my demand?

 

Hottie God:  Absolutely.  

Me:  I like getting my way :)

Hottie God:  Yeah, I know.  

Me:  I’m sending you a mental four-leaf clover. Good luck tonight, Aiden.

Hottie God:  I gotta go now. I have a pre-game ritual I need to follow. It helps me concentrate. See you after the game :)

Over and over again.

11:15pm

I’m sitting with Aiden in the very back of one of the buses. Since Dawson went home with his parents after the game, I didn’t have to worry about any drama. On the way to the games, the football team, band, cheerleaders, and spirit squad, all have to ride in different buses. Mostly because the football team always leaves before the rest of us, so they can warm up. After the game, we all leave at the same time, so it gets all mixed up.

“So, we need to talk about sex.” Aiden says.

“You wanna talk dirty?” I tease, hoping to avoid this subject. Because I know sex isn’t what he wants to talk about. He wants to talk about my sex with Dawson.

“Maybe later.”

“So, you had a good night,” I tell him. Please let him be distracted. Please.

“It doesn’t help the team when the quarterback won’t throw to a guy that’s wide open.”

“Do you think that was on purpose?”

“Hell, yeah, it was on purpose. Add to that his two interceptions. We’re lucky that we got down close enough for me to kick all those field goals.”

“Five goals. Fifteen points and a win. Although, that’s not very many dances.”

Aiden runs his finger across my palm.

I move to kiss him.

“Ow!” I say, as he reacts to my sudden movement by bumping his head hard into mine.

“Damn, Boots, I managed to get through the game without a scratch. Now you give me a concussion while I’m on the bus.”

I lean back, holding my eyebrow and studying him. “I’m sorry.”

He gently pulls my hand away from my eyebrow, leans in, and kisses it. Right on top of the big ugly bump I can feel forming.

I think he felt it with his lips because he moves his face away and gently runs his finger across the top of it. “I’m just teasing you. I’m fine, but your eyebrow is swelling up. Let me get something.”

He slides out of our seat, walks carefully up the aisle to the front of the bus, grabs a couple of water bottles out of a cooler, and walks back.

He holds the cold bottle against my eyebrow.

“I think the kiss worked better,” I murmur, holding my breath, and hoping he will kiss me.

He moves the bottle away and examines my brow. “You might be right.”

I breathe out right before he leans in and kisses me. Not on the eyebrow, but on my lips.

I don’t even remember anything else from the long bus ride back to school. There was nothing but feeling Aiden’s hand holding mine. Feeling his perfect lips touch mine. Over and over again.

By the time we get back to school, it’s past curfew, so he just tells me good night as Katie and I head to our dorm.

Katie sits on her bed, bouncing slightly. “I had so much fun tonight.”

“You sat by Bryce.”

“I know. He’s seriously the nicest boy I’ve ever met. We talked and talked and talked. I don’t even know what all we talked about, but there was never a lull. Or those awkward silences when you don’t know what to say. One time, he accidentally brushed my hand. And I got these goosebumps all the way up my arm. I really like him. We have to go to the party tonight.”

“The party? I didn’t know there was a party.”

“Sure there is. Aiden and Bryce’s rooms. Like always.”

“Oh.”

“Why do you seem upset? You like to party.”

I put on a fake smile. “I do, but Aiden didn’t mention a party.”

She frowns. “But you sat next to him the whole way home. Didn’t he ask you to come?”

“No,” I say.

We agreed to points for dances. And now he’s having a party? Did he change his mind?

“Are you going?”

“Probably not. I’m tired. I have rehearsal early and then I have to catch the train to go to Riley’s.”

Her phone buzzes with a text. She smiles. “It’s Bryce.”

I go in my closet, feeling like I want to cry.

Instead, I focus on my clothes. When I’m finished packing, Katie is going out the window.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. I’m going to bed.”

I throw on my pajamas and lie down in bed.

My phone buzzes, but I ignore it. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to hear some lame excuse for why there’s a party in his room. Why he decided not to dance with me.

A few minutes later, there’s a knock on my window. I cover my head with my sheet and pretend not to hear.

My window opens and Aiden pulls the sheet off my face.

“Why didn’t you answer your phone or come to the window when I knocked?”

“Maybe I was asleep,” I reply coolly.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I need to sleep and you should probably get back to your party.”

He sits on my bed, sighs, and runs his fingers through his hair.

I hate when he does that. It makes him look even cuter.

“I didn’t know about the party. Everyone just assumed.”

“Whatever.”

“I want to dance with you.”

“Not enough. I’m going to sleep. You can let yourself out.” I pull the sheet over my head.

He pulls the sheet back down. “Is there any reason why we can’t dance here?”

“I’m in my pajamas.”

“I’m okay with that. Did you notice that when I got your phone out of jail I put our 29-song playlist on it?”

“You did?”

“Yeah. So, we’re alone. We have music.” He looks up at my ceiling. “We even have stars. Please?”

I let out a huff. “You aren’t going to let me go to sleep if I don’t, are you?”

He gives me an adorable grin. “Nope.”

“Fine.”

He grabs my phone, pulls up a playlist I didn’t know I had, turns the volume on really low, and pulls me into his arms.

I try to be stiff at first. But I dissolve into a pile of mush any time he touches me.

He puts his forehead gently against mine and sways with me.

After a couple songs, he says, “So, Boots, I was wondering if you would be my escort for the Compass Cup. Wear my jersey. Walk me out on the field. Go to the banquet with me. Be my lucky charm?”

I get a pained look on my face. Shit. “Um . . .”

“Dawson already asked you, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, but he said it was just for seniors.”

Aiden purses his lips. “I’m sure he knew it’s for varsity starters, just like it is every year.”

“I don’t know . . .” I start to say.

He closes his eyes tightly then glances at my phone. “Yeah. Hey, I better get back to my room. Make sure it’s not getting trashed.”

“Dawson didn’t ask me to go to the banquet with him. I could be your date for that.”

 He pats me on the back and says, “Uh, yeah, sure. See ya later, Boots.”

Then he bounds out my window.

And he didn’t even let me finish my frickin’ sentence. I was going to say, I don’t know, it’s hard since I already said yes, but I want to wear your jersey.

Because I do want to wear Aiden’s jersey. I would die to wear it.

Every time I think we might have a breakthrough, it ends like this.

And this sucks.


Saturday, October 29th

Mentally unstable.

11am

Dallas and I are on the train.

“Did you have fun last night?”

Dallas grins like a cat that ate the canary. “I did.”

“With which girl?”

“Chelsea.”

“You seem like you’re kinda into her. In more than just a hooking up kind of way.”

“Naw. We’re having fun. I’m still talking to other girls. Not ready to make a choice yet.”

“Oh, so why is that okay for you? But you keep telling me that dating more than one guy isn’t going to work.”

“Because my heart isn’t involved. Yours is.”

“Maybe I don’t want my heart involved.”

“But it is. You like Aiden. You’re afraid, though. And that’s understandable. You fall in love, you get hurt. It makes it hard to fall again. You should stop fighting it. Decide if you want to go for love or settle for hot sex.”

“Are you settling for hot sex?”

“Absolutely.”

“I’m not sure I would consider Dawson settling. He’s sweet.”

“Was the I heart hotel bath time with Keatie post sweet?”

“He says it was, but I’m pretty sure he did it on purpose.”

“I know he did it on purpose. He wants Aiden out of the picture.”

“Aiden’s mad at me again.”

“Why?”

“Last night he asked me to be his escort for the Compass Cup, wear his jersey, and be his date for the banquet. But I had to tell him that I had already agreed to wear Dawson’s. But since Dawson only asked me to wear his jersey and not go to the banquet, I told Aiden I’d go with him.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. Did he agree to that?”

“Sorta. I mean, he said yes, but then right away he said he had to go check on his room. And he didn’t kiss me goodbye, which means he was mad. Which pisses me off because he didn’t let me tell him that I didn’t know about all that stuff. Dawson told me it was just for seniors. I figured it was no big deal since Aiden’s not one.”

“So Dawson lied.”

“I don’t think he lied. He probably thought it was just seniors.”

“I wasn’t even here last year and I know that it’s not.”

“I don’t know, then.”

“Whatever. I’m gonna take a nap.”

He falls asleep quickly.

I grab my phone out of my purse and type How to choose between two guys into Google.

I’ve heard that Google searches are how the NSA and CIA and all those federal organizations track people. They supposedly create major profiles on each one of us. Because, apparently, what we search can tell them a lot about us.

So now, more than likely, what I just typed is currently on a screen at the NSA. Agents are huddling around some dude’s computer laughing at me and saying, Did you see what she just typed? They’ll mark my profile as mentally unstable and if I fly commercial, I’ll probably get strip-searched and have my shoes confiscated.

I breeze through a few articles anyway.

On one blog I find something interesting way down in the comments. A girl asked if she should choose the guy that is in love with her, or the guy she’s in love with. Which is an interesting way to put it. Unfortunately, the people that replied to her question were very mixed on who she should chose—which is not much help.

Then I find a Cosmo article. Cosmo is like a relationship bible. Like Vogue is for fashion. This article makes me feel lots better. It says that it’s okay to date more than one guy at a time and that if you can’t choose, it’s probably because you’re not ready to choose.

And I think Cosmo is right.

I’m not ready to chose.

My phone vibrates in my hand. It’s Cooper.

Oh, shit. I forgot to press the button when we left campus.

“Since you answered, I’m assuming you haven’t been kidnapped?”

“That’s correct. Sorry. I forgot to press the button thing when I left.”

“Where the hell are you? Actually, don’t answer that. I already know. You are moving quickly, probably by train, about 20 miles from here. Garrett just called and told me that. Yelled at me because I didn’t know where you were.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m on the train with Dallas. We’re going to New York City. It’s Riley’s birthday, so I’m going to stay at his house.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because you’re not my keeper.”

“The hell I’m not, Keatyn. You can’t just leave without telling me. Shit. Excuse me just a minute.”

I hear a chair scratch across the floor and Cooper say, “Miss Clarke, can I help you?”

 I hear her reply. “I just came to see if you wanted to hang out today. Maybe go see a movie. Have a drink. I’m bored.”

“You’re not old enough to drink and I’m busy. Goodbye.”

Then I hear a door shut. “You need to check in with me always or you won’t be going anywhere without me again. We clear?”

“I’m sorry. I’ve got a lot on my mind.”

“Boys are the least of your problems.”

“Thank you for reminding me,” I say sarcastically. “You know what? I’m not coming back until Sunday. Why don’t you take a couple days off.” Then I say “go get laid” under my breath.

“I heard that.”

“Maybe I wanted you to hear that.”

“I was planning to take you to the gun range today.”

“You should go yourself. Practice.”

“When you’re done with the play, we’re getting serious about your training, understand?” he says gruffly.

“Yeah, I understand.”

Dawson meets us at the door and carries my bag up the stairs. He stops at a door and says, “This is my room.”

“It looks perfect, not like your room at school.”

“Ha, yeah. I'm rarely here. I'm either at school or at the beach. I'd live at the beach all day, every day if I could.”

“Yeah, me too. I bet you’d like California’s beaches. The waves get big. The sunsets are amazing.”

“Think me and your ex would get along?”

“I don’t know. Probably. He's pretty chill most the time. Smokes a lot. Well, he used to.”

“Did you do that with him a lot?”

“I didn’t think so at the time but looking back, we did a lot.”

“Have you talked to him lately?”

“Actually, I did last week. I realized that he’s my root. He apologized for the cabana thing. Explained it.”

“Root?”

“Root of my problem. I thought that everything went back to him. But I realized that everything goes back to me and how I react when something happens.”

He gives me his sexiest grin, pulls me inside his room, and locks the door. “People do make mistakes, you know. You're about to make one right now.”

“I am?”

He unzips the back of my dress. It falls to the floor. Thank goodness I wore good underwear. I almost didn't, just so I wouldn't do this.

Not that it would have stopped him.

He stands back and stares at my black and white polka dot bra and panties. “That’s so sexy. Did you wear that just for me?”

“I was gonna wear something ugly, so I would be too embarrassed to let you see.”

He strips off my bra, pushes me on his bed, and kisses my stomach. “You didn’t want to do this?”

Riley pounds on the door.

“Text him,” Dawson says, unzipping his pants. “We’re gonna need a minute.”

I try to text Riley. But what am I supposed to say? That he’s giving me a tour of his room?

Me:  Busy. Stall, please.

I drop my phone to the floor as Dawson kisses me.

Riley bangs on the door a few minutes later as I’m putting my dress back on. “Time to party!” he yells.

“I was wrong,” Dawson says. “No way that was a mistake.”

“Maybe it was one of those good mistakes. Like when you pay for a single dip cone, but you get a double.”

“I think you are going to have a good-mistake-laden weekend.”

“Do you think this is skanky of me? Doing it with you when I’m seeing you both?”

He tilts his head at me. “We don't have to if you don't want to. I'm sorry I unzipped your dress.”

“You don’t look very sorry.”

He chuckles. “Yeah, I’m not really.”

“Dawson, you know how you asked me to wear your jersey for the game on Friday?”

“Yeah.”

“You told me it was for seniors only. It’s for varsity starters.”

“Yeah, I know. I got it confused with Senior night. It’s coming up too.”

“Aiden asked me to the banquet. I told him yes.”

“So you’re wearing my shirt, escorting me onto the field, but you’re going to the banquet afterwards with him?”

“Yeah.”

“You can’t. That’s not the tradition.”

“You got the tradition wrong and you’ve been to the banquet for the last three years. I’m new. How would I know what the tradition is?”

He squints his eyes at me. I can tell he wants to argue, but if he does, he knows he’ll sound like a liar.

Instead, he says, “Whatever.”

Does he make you hot?

1am

We have fun celebrating Riley’s birthday. We start with dinner at a sports bar he loves, where he gets his photo taken with the scantily clad waitresses. Then we have a very competitive bowling tournament, which the birthday boy wins. Then back to their house for cake and ice cream. It’s really fun and not at all what I expected. Apparently, he’s been having the same party since he was twelve.

I’m lying in Dawson’s bed, having just finished my second mistake of the day.

“I was talking to my dad about love last night. He says that love isn’t always an instant thing. That sometimes it grows. He says that trust is the most important thing. I trust you probably more than anyone else. And seriously, Keatie, I can't imagine it being better than this. Can you?”

“I don't know. I think it probably feels pretty good with everyone. Just different.”

He runs a finger across my stomach. “Pretty good, yes. Amazing, no. But we have all night. I’m going to have to prove it to you.”

“How are you going to do that?”

Dawson runs his tongue slowly across my collarbone. "Maybe I should torture you with my tongue."

I laugh. "Riley threatened to do that the first time we hung out."

“Well, ya know, us Johnson boys, we got it going on.”

He runs his tongue down my side. It tickles. I pull away slightly, but he does it again, slower. It tickles even more and makes me really horny.

He looks up lazily at me. Rolls on top of me. I can feel that bigness against my skin. Usually as soon as he's hard again, he'd be in me, so I’m surprised when he continues with his tongue.

Up the middle of my stomach, up my neck, under my chin, and to my lips. I have my hips raised up to him. I even reach for it.

He goes, “Un uh, not yet. I want you crazy for me.”

And I do about go crazy while he tortures me with his tongue. And now I know why it’s torture. He's using his tongue everywhere but where I want it to be. Mostly, he’s been running it down my stomach, up the insides of my thighs, and just when I'm thinking, finally, he stops and kisses up my sides again.

I let out a sad little sigh.

He grins at me. Continues.

“Dawes, oh my god, please.”

He barely gets his fingers inside me, and I'm moaning, apparently a little too loudly because he tosses a pillow on top of my head. I grab it and moan into it. I've never been loud like this before. Honestly, it’s never felt like this before.

“Oh, that felt so good,” I say breathlessly as he pulls the pillow off my face, kisses me deeply, and pulls my legs around his waist.

And then I need the pillow again.

The bed is creaking. He's tightly holding my hips and slamming into me. Like, way harder than he ever has before, and oh my god.

And when I say oh my god, it is literally a prayer of thanks.

But then just when I think he's going to finish, he slows way down, and then pretty much stops.

"What's wrong? I ask.

He leans down and whispers, “I don't want to be done yet."

"Can you do that?"

"I just did. Roll over,” he tells me.

I hesitate. I've never rolled over before.

But I do, a little nervously. He pulls me up unto my hands and knees, and then he's back at it. I have a brief flash of self-consciousness, wondering if there could be some cellulite on my ass that I never noticed. But when he grabs my hips and continues the fast frenzy, I could care less about cellulite.

It feels so good that I have to put my face into the pillow again.

Finally he does that thing where he stops, holds his breath, and I know I'm not supposed to move. Then he starts to collapse on top of me, grabs my waist, and pulls us both over on our sides. He moves my messed up hair off my neck and places little kisses down the side of it.

I laugh. "That was . . . I want to say amazing, but . . . it was better than that."

"Was it orgasmic?” he says with a laugh.

I breathe in, then breathe out a deep contented sigh. “Actually, I think it was. I’ve always enjoyed it a lot. But, um, never like that."

“Really? I’ve never made you before?”

“Have I ever sounded like that before?”

“Actually, no. That was hot. I thought you needed a little extra wooing."

"I thought we decided sex wasn't part of the wooing process."

“Yeah, you're right. Open the drawer on my nightstand."

I lean over, open it, and see a little present.

I get a grin on my face. "What's this?"

He grins back. "Open it and see."

I take the lid off the box. Inside is a pale pink seashell. “Is this the shell we found that day at the Hamptons?”

"Yeah, I kept it, but it kinda smelled, so there's this lady that cleans them, polishes them, and then paints the gold around the edges."

"It’s beautiful."

"I heard Braxton invite you to the beach this summer. I hope you decide to come.”

I don't know what is wrong with me, but tears start leaking out of my eyes.

"What's wrong? If you tell me you feel guilty, I might start crying."

I laugh as I wipe away the tears. “It’s an emotional roller coaster."

“I’m sure you being here all weekend is killing him."

“Maybe.”

“I think he's going to ask you out when we get back. I think you should say yes.”

"Why!? You don't want me anymore!?"

"Uh, no." He gives me a long sweet kiss. "I needed to see with Whitney, and you probably need to see if he really touches your soul. I’m confident that it isn’t going to go well. So go out with him. Get over it. Then come back to me.”

I lay my head on his shoulder and wonder how I could ever leave in the first place.


Sunday, October 30th

My little snuggle bunny.

9am

There’s a loud bang on the door. “Breakfast in ten."

I open my eyes. I'm exactly where I was when I fell asleep. Snuggled up in Dawson's arms, my head on his chest. I savor the feel of it. The way he smells.

"How's my little snuggle bunny?"

"She doesn't want to move."

"It'll all work itself out, Keatie. I promise."

I run my hand across his stomach, down his abs, and then down a bit further. "You're hard.”

"As much as I’d like to again, I'm saying no."

"You never say no."

"Keatie, last night was perfection. That's what I want you to remember. Also, ten minutes means ten minutes."

"Are we eating here? Do I have to be dressed?"

"Well, I know I’d enjoy you being naked at the breakfast table, but my mom might not appreciate it."

“I meant do you wear your pjs or do I need to put on a dress or something? What will your mom be wearing?"

"Oh, she'll be fully dressed and ready. She gets up early."

"Shit." I start to jump up. He pulls me back down into his chest. "I love you.” Then he smacks my butt and says, "You better hurry. Right now you’re kinda a mess."

I pout.

"A hot mess. I love it. Your mascara is smeared and your hair is a wreck and I made it that way."

I jump up, throw on his robe, sneak out the door, and tiptoe down the hall to the guest room I was supposed to sleep in. I open my door and safely get inside.

But sitting on my bed is Braxton. "You're a mess."

"Shut up." I run into the attached bathroom and see he's right.

Shit.

I brush the tangles out of my hair, rub in some balm, and brush it again. It looks surprisingly good. I grab some eye makeup remover pads and get the smudges out from underneath my eyes, wash my face quick, and sweep on some powder foundation.

I grab my Nars blush. It’s a pale pinky peach called orgasm, which makes me smile. I run my big fluffy brush across the top of the blush, add a little sweep, use the blush as eye shadow, curl my eyelashes, coat on some mascara, and brush my teeth.

Braxton is sitting on the bed watching me.

"Why are you in my room?"

"Well, I was going to tell you it’s time for breakfast."

He gives me Riley’s naughty grin.

“I know it’s time for breakfast, so you can go now."

"I lost track how many times you and Dawson hooked up last night. Really, I was pretty impressed. You were kinda loud. You always that loud?"

"I'm not discussing that with you."

I grab clean clothes, run in the bathroom, lock the door, and throw them on.

I open the door, dressed and ready in record time.

Braxton licks his lips. For a little kid, he's pretty sexy. He’s going to break a few hearts next year, for sure. "So you'd rather talk about it at breakfast in front of the family? That's cool with me. Mom will probably freak, but whatever."

I stop and glare at him. "You say one thing, make even one little innuendo, and next year, I will tell every girl at school that you suck in bed."

"I love to suck on things when I'm in bed."

“No girl will come near you."

He squints his eyes at me, sizing up my seriousness.

"Fine. But after breakfast, you're telling me what he was doing to you in detail. I wanna make a girl moan like that."

“You know, you haven't said a bad word once this morning."

He grins, pops off the bed, and says, “Come on, I'm starved."

As we're going down the stairs, he says, "You really gonna go out with that Aiden guy?"

"Were you listening?"

"Hell, yeah. Tried the glass up against the wall and everything, but it was best through the air vent. I had you on speakerphone too so my friends could hear. I had to stand on a chair for hours, but I didn't mind."

"Oh my gosh."

"Riley, Cam, and Dallas were in my room too. They were trying to figure out what he was doing to you based on the noises you made. I learned a lot. They made a drinking game out of it. Every time you moaned, they did a shot. They were all fucked up."

I follow Braxton into a huge sunny formal dining room. So glad I didn't come down in my pajamas. Everyone is sitting patiently waiting for us, steaming plates of breakfast foods in front of them.

Braxton pulls out a chair for me, I give him a surprised thanks and sit down.

"Did you sleep well, dear?" their mother asks me.

Riley and Cam both chuckle.

"Yes, thank you. This looks wonderful."

"This is the birthday boy's favorite breakfast,” his mom tells me, pointing at, well, everything. It’s a huge breakfast much like we ate in the Hamptons.

"He has good taste,” I say politely.

His mom puts candles in Riley's waffles and we sing “Happy Birthday.” Then the formal dining room becomes a feeding frenzy.

Braxton has four waffles. "I'm still growing,” he tells me.

The boys eat. And eat.

Then it's time for presents.

Riley opens a bunch of presents. Clothes, a new phone, a couple video games, and a tiny extreme sports video recorder from me.

When I think we’re all done, his dad slaps him on the back and hands him a small box. Riley gets the hugest smile ever on his face, opens the box, pulls out a set of keys, and goes rushing out of the dining room.

“Dawson, did he get a car? He already has one.”

“That car isn’t really his. Our parents just let him use it. If we get good grades and stay out of trouble, we get a cool car for our 17th birthday. Let’s go see what they got him.”

He leads me through the kitchen, a laundry room, and then out a side door.

Sitting in the little driveway is very flashy car. So different from Dawson’s badass, but subtle, BMW. Riley's present is a neon green Viper with big black stripes down the middle. It’s perfect for him.

There are a chorus of That's so sick, Tight, Hot-ass car. Riley hugs his parents, hops in the driver’s seat, and revs the motor.

Dallas slides up next to me and whispers, "I am so freaking hung over, and it’s all your fault. Hell, I might still be drunk.”

"Dallas, I don't know what I'm going to do."

"We heard him tell you to go out with Aiden."

“Aiden’s mad at me. He’s not going to ask me out.”

"I can see now why you're having a hard time deciding.”

"I'm mortified."

"No, you're not. That's why we love you. But seriously, I need to know what he was doing cuz I wanna make, well, every girl sound like that."

"You're gonna have to ask him what he did. I can’t even remember. And he’s never made me sound like that before.”

"Oh, we are. You're gonna go to talk to his mom while we have a conference. Even Cam was like, Damn."

Now, I’m sitting with his mom in the living room, knowing the boys are upstairs discussing my sex life.

She says to me, “I’ve been trying to figure out who you remind me of since we met. It just hit me while we were eating breakfast. You had your fork out and were gesturing with it when you talked. There’s a scene in one of Abby Johnston’s movies where she does the same thing.”

“Really? No one’s ever told me that,” I lie.

“Did you know that they’re doing a nationwide search to cast an Abby look-alike in the remake of her first film? They’re auditioning in New York soon. You should try out. Riley told us that you’re in the school play.”

“Oh, no. I, um, just do that for fun. For my college applications, you know. I don’t want to be an actor.”

“Oh, what do you want to be?”

“A doctor,” I lie.

“I’m a doctor,” she says, excitedly.

“How cool is that?”

She proceeds to tell me a whole bunch of stories about med school, her former medical practice, and Riley’s birth.

When she has exhausted that topic, she looks at her watch and says, “What are the boys doing up there? They looked sneaky."

"Braxton wants to tell them how he got grounded. Apparently there's a video?"

She rolls her eyes. “We found him at two in the morning filming two girls in their underwear—well, no, they had on teeny jean shorts, high heels, and bras. They were dancing and drinking champagne.”

Ohmigawd. Maybe videos do affect the youth of today. Because I'm pretty sure Braxton was trying to recreate our revenge video.

"And he had them drinking our Dom Pérignon! Do you know how expensive that stuff is?"

Same champagne. Shit. Pray his mother never sees my video. "Yeah, I've heard."

Really nice boobs.

4pm

I'm on the train ride to school. Dawson is sleeping with his head on my shoulder.

“What did you decide to do about Aiden?” Dallas asks me.

“On the train here, I read a Cosmo article. It said if you can’t decide between two boys that means you’re not ready to decide. I thought I wasn’t ready to decide. But now I think I am.”

“Really?”

“Yep. I’m going with the hot sex. You’re right. We’re in high school. We should be having fun. There’s no reason to be tied down and no reason to let your heart get involved. None of us know the future. Since you heard everything else, did you hear the part about how his dad says love grows?"

"Yeah."

"You think that's true?"

"Could be."

“Are you in love with Chelsea?”

"I don't know. I've never felt that instant thing you talk about, but I like her. She's fun and I'm looking forward to getting back to school and seeing her boobs. She has really nice boobs."

I head over to Aiden's room to work on our French homework for a little while before I have to go to rehearsal.

He hasn’t texted me all weekend, so I’m not even sure if he’s still meeting me.

I stand outside his door, my hand up, ready to knock.

As I put my hand on his door, it opens.

And it looks like someone just opened the gates of heaven.

Aiden gently pulls me into his room and gives me a blazing smile.

Then he kisses me.

A slow, perfect, knock-me-off-my-feet, slide-down-a-rainbow and then soar-through-the-sky kiss.

Seriously. It’s like he has some power to unlock whatever sappy love shit is buried in my brain.

"So, I did all my French homework myself. Made Annie study with me this weekend."

"Oh, so you don't need me anymore?"

I'm a little crushed by this.

No. I'm the-bug-you-crunched-under-your-shoe crushed. I feel like my carcass should be lying dead on his floor with a white line drawn around me.

He lazily blinks those emerald eyes at me. "No, silly. I just wanted to be able to talk during rehearsal and not have to study.”

"Oh. Can we dance then?” He looks sort of surprised, so I say, “We have time.”

He shuts his blinds, turns on the twinkle lights, and messes with his iPhone, choosing the sure thing song.

He takes two big steps across his room, pulls me into his arms, and sways with me. I put my cheek against his. Feel the fire. Think about the quote Grandma told me about love either warming your heart or burning your house down. Aiden feels like he has the power to do both. Especially now that he is whispering some of the lyrics to me about how he has faith in us.

And I long for that. That kind of love.

If Dawson and I broke up for good, it wouldn't burn my house down.

But am I willing to play with fire? And what will I do if I get burned?

I’m pretty sure I can already feel the flames of Hell tickling my toes.

Ha! I'm dancing in the flames.

Aiden kisses me. Gentle but hot kisses. Then he walks me back toward his bed and lies on top of me, running his tongue up my neck.

He moves against me. Thrilling me. But only kissing me.

I return his kisses with every bit of passion I possess. Somehow achieving this without using my tongue. Which is a new one on me.

I have one hand behind his neck and my other hand is across his butt, pulling him toward me.

He says, "Hell."

And I wonder if he’s in Hell too.

He pops up off the bed and pulls me up.

"Come on,” he says, as he drags me—practically kicking and screaming—out the door.

On the way to rehearsal, he says, “I’m sorry I kinda got mad the other night. I’d love for you to be my date for the banquet.”

“Okay,” I say happily.


Monday, October 31st

You really are a good prince.

6:30pm

“Well, this is the big scene. You ready?” Jake asks as we’re waiting to go on stage.

For this scene, I’ll be dressed in a ball gown. It’s the big night. The final night in the competition, where each prince has to announce who he loves.

The contestants take turns dancing with both princes.

Part of the contest involves the townspeople’s votes. Who they think each prince will ask.

The Bad Prince happily surprises everyone when he offers to go first.

The townspeople cheer.

They love him. Love how he’s manipulated the girls. Love his cocky, bad boy attitude. Love his tattooed back.

An overwhelming majority of them believe that he will offer his red rose to the Debutante.

The Good Prince, who has alienated most of the country and the contestants, doesn’t share the townspeople’s favor. They voted that no one will agree to marry him.

The Bad Prince walks across the stage. He looks handsome. Rich. Cultured. He waves away the microphone that the announcer tries to hand him and instead speaks directly to the contestants.

“This has been a tough choice. All of you will always have a special place in my heart. But one stands out like the brightest star in the sky.”

The Debutante smiles. She’s shaking with excitement. The townspeople are cheering.

The Good Prince just stares at me.

While the Bad Prince walks around high-fiving and fist-bumping the townspeople, we have a moment. The spotlight shines on each of us as we wonder how things between us went so wrong.

Then the Bad Prince grabs a rose off the podium. He pulls a petal off the rose and hands it to the slutty contestant. She looks very confusedly at him and the crowd murmurs, wondering what he’s doing. He keeps going, though. Pulling a petal off and then handing it to another contestant. I’m next in line to get a petal, but he skips me. Shuns me, it seems.

The Good Prince gives me a beaming smile.

After the Bad Prince has handed each girl a petal, he walks back to me, grabs my hand, and pulls me toward him.

“I don’t have a rose for you, my darling. I have something much better.” He drops to one knee and pulls an enormous diamond ring out of his pocket.

This prop is hilarious and will make the audience laugh.

“Marry me,” he says.

My eyes meet the Good Prince’s. He’s obviously devastated, assuming that if the Bad Prince asked me then I must be in love with him. He rushes off the stage, not waiting for my reply.

Tears fill my eyes as I watch the love of my life run away.

The Queen closely watches what transpires.

 When I don’t reply to the Bad Prince right away, the townspeople yell, Kiss her! Kiss her!

The Bad Prince grabs me and gives me a fiery kiss.

It’s the kind of kiss that should make you want to jump into bed with him.

But I pull away from it.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t,” I cry.

I run off stage and then chaotic hilarity ensues. All the finalists give it one last shot to win the Bad Prince’s ring.

They attack him with kisses. They fight. Pull each other’s hair.

Finally, he says, “Enough.” And puts the ring on the Debutante’s finger.

The crowd goes crazy.

The lights dim, the background changes, and I’m running down the beach.

I go to the place where we first kissed.

I stop when I see him sitting there, staring out at the water.

I go stand in front of him.

He stands up and says madly, “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be off on your honeymoon with my brother?”

“I can’t marry a man I don’t love.”

He visibly softens. Jake is very good at this part. He slumps his shoulders slightly, softens his eyes, and reaches to take my hands in his.

“When we kissed that first time, I didn’t know you were a prince. You were just the man I had fallen head over heels in love with. I don’t love your brother and I don’t care about being a princess, I just want you.”

Jake and I share a meaningful gaze then we lean together and kiss as the big moon slides down behind us.

After the kiss, he drops to one knee, pulls a beautiful ring out of his pocket, and says, “Will you marry me?”

I jump into his arms and say yes.

“That was spectacular!” our director says. “Outstanding, people. We’ll stop there for tonight. Go enjoy what’s left of your Halloween.”

Jake glances at his watch. “There’s not much time before curfew, but I have treats in my room if you want to come trick or treat.”

“What kind of treats?”

“They’re special brownies.”

“Seriously? Um, we’ll be there.”

“Tell the girls that the sluttiest costume wins!”

Naughty nurse fantasy.

9:45pm

I run into the dorm looking for the girls. There are white cotton spider webs stretched from corner to corner of the gathering room. The dorms all go a little crazy competing for best decorated. The girls were putting their costumes on and going dorm to dorm trick-or-treating.

 “There she is! Finally,” Maggie yells at me from across the room. She’s a little tipsy and dressed as a naughty policewoman. “Go put on your costume and take some pics with us!”

“Okay, I’ll hurry!”

I run in my room and throw on the naughty nurse costume I bought but didn’t get to wear today. They decided last minute that we couldn’t dress up for classes. Probably because our costumes look like this.

I run back out and Maggie hands me a flask. “You need to catch up,” she laughs. “Even Annie is tipsy.”

I throw back a shot, then have fun posing with the girls.

“We need to go trick-or-treating at Jake’s room. He has special brownies.”

“Seriously? Let’s go!” Maggie says.

“I need to upload this pic first,” Annie says. “Then we’ll go.”

While she’s uploading the picture, I tell them, “So, I was bored on the train this weekend and I read this thing about a girl trying to choose between two guys.”

Annie stops what she’s doing and laughs. “You totally googled How to choose between two guys, didn’t you?”

I frown, busted. “Maybe.”

“What did it say?” Maggie asks. And I can tell she’s very interested.

“The girl asked if she should choose the guy that is in love with her, or the guy she’s in love with.”

“Oh, wow,” Maggie says, sitting down slowly. “I get that.”

“I don’t get it,” Annie says scornfully. “Not that it matters. I know the answer.”

Maggie and I both look at her in awe. “What is it?” Maggie asks.

“You want both, duh.”

“Both guys?” Maggie and I ask at the same time.

We look at each other and laugh.

“No! Not both guys. You want one guy. One guy that loves you and that you’re in love with.”

“If only it could be that easy,” Maggie says with a sigh as I get a text from Braxton.

Braxton:  Tricks or treats. Which one did you get tonight?

Me:  I’m going to get some treats right now :) How bout you?

Braxton:  I have this girl talked into sneaking over. Tonight’s the night. She’s 17.

Me:  How old does she think you are?

Braxton:  17

Me:  Does she know you’ve never done it?

Braxton:  Shit, will she be able to tell?

Me:  Yeah, I think so. Maybe you should just kiss her. Stop trying to make it happen and wait for someone you care about.

Braxton:  I don’t really care about that. I just want experience. 

Me:  What happened with you and Embry? I thought you were supposed to go to a movie together.

Braxton:  Do you not recall me puking on her? She hates me.

Me:  But she puked on you back. You’re even.

Braxton:  This girl coming over is not as pretty as she is but I don’t care. She’s into me. 

 

Me:  Has she done it before?

Braxton:  Uh, yeah. For sure. 

Me:  Then tell her you haven’t. Maybe she can help.

Braxton:  How can she help?

Me:  Ask your brothers.

Braxton:  Riley won’t tell me and neither will Dawson.

Me:  Why not?

Braxton:  Fuck if I know. Oh sorry, I’m not sure. Why can’t you tell me? You embarrassed?

Me:  No. I just think maybe it’s better if a guy tells you. I’m not a guy. Ask Dawson again.

Me:  So did he tell you?

Braxton:  He says he’ll tell me later. I need to know NOW!!! It’s going down TONIGHT!!

Me:  I’ll go talk to him.

“We have to go to Jake’s now if we’re going to make it back by curfew.”

I round up the girls and we run over to Jake’s room.

“Trick or treat,” I say when he opens his door.

“Very nice, Monroe. Very nice.” Then his eyes wander down Maggie’s body. “I so want to be arrested.”

Maggie is tipsy and feeling cocky. She shoves Jake up against the wall and says, “I heard you have some illegal brownies here.”

“Why don’t you try one and then I’ll let you handcuff me?”

Annie, Katie, and I each grab a brownie for the road. “I think we’ll let the police sort this out,” I say. “I’m going next door.”

“I’m going to Ace’s room,” Annie says.

“And I’m going to Bryce’s,” Katie replies.

“Behave,” I tell them as I knock on Dawson’s door.

“Trick or Treat,” I say with a grin.

“Either I can be your trick, Keatie, or you can be my treat,” he says, stepping closer to me.

“We really don’t have time for that.”

He grins at me, pulls me past the threshold, shuts his door, and pins me up against the wall. “You smell like chocolate, Keatie. It’s sexy.”

“Does that mean you like my costume?”

“I don’t know.” He backs away from me and fully takes it in. Tight white mini-shirtwaist dress, white fishnet thigh highs, red bra showing through, and tall, red patent leather stilettos. “Did I ever mention to you that I have a naughty nurse fantasy?”

“Nope, don’t think you did.”

He closes the gap between us and pulls the front of my shirt out a little. That’s the red bra you wore the day you wore those sexy black boots. Our first day back at school after the Hamptons.”

“You have a good memory.”

“I remember every detail from this weekend. Every little noise you made. Every little thing I did to you. I think I should remind you.”

“Dawson, I came here for a reason. I want you to tell your brother what he wants to know.”

“You came over because of Braxton?”

“Well, that and Jake’s illegal brownies,” I say, holding up one. “I’ll share if you help your brother.”

“Send him a pic of you in that outfit.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Doesn’t matter. Do it, and I’ll tell him. I’ll even take the picture.”

“Uh, okay.”

He holds up his phone then says, “Hmmm, that’s not quite right. You need to fix it. Make it a little sexier.”

“Fix what?”

“Unbutton one more button.”

“But you’ll see my bra.”

He smiles and flicks the button open. “Just a little.” He backs up and says, “Smile.”

I smile. Except I’m pretty sure he didn’t take a picture of my mouth. I think he maybe took a picture of my chest area.

“Hmmm.” He points the camera down at my legs, more specifically the hem of my skirt.

“Are you getting all of me or just parts?”

“Maybe the good parts.”

“Why would he need . . . NO!”

Dawson grins naughtily. “You’re the one that wanted to help him. He can take care of himself first, then he won’t be so quick, in theory, his first time. I think he’s too young. That’s why I didn’t want to tell him.”

“Dawson, he is too young, but he wants to beat Riley. Riley was . . .”

“I know how old Riley was. I also know Braxton isn’t ready. He’s dumb. He’ll be careless.”

“That’s exactly why you should talk to him. Be a good brother.”

Dawson clicks around on his phone and then pins me back against the wall. “Do you realize there are only five buttons separating us?”

I swallow. Crap. I need to get out of here because I have a strong desire to undo the one button that is separating him from me.

“I need to go,” I tell him. “And you need to talk to your brother. He needs to hear about protection and all that stuff. And Dawes, don’t forget to tell him about love.”

“I love you. Maybe we should talk about that?”

“I love you too, but we both know what kind of love it is.”

“Yeah, the hot kind.”

“You’re naughty. We really need to stop having sex.”

“Not until you have a good reason for wanting to stop.”

“What should be my reason?”

“When you want to stop, that’s when you’ll know you should.”

“Shit. That may be the most profound thing you’ve ever said to me.” I push my way out of his room. “Bye, Dawson,” I say, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek.

As I’m walking back to my dorm, I run into Aiden coming from the library.

“Trick or treating in the boy’s dorm?” he asks. Then he looks a little closer at me. “Your shirt is unbuttoned.”

I immediately look a guilty.

 Aiden looks at me accusatorially. “Were you just with Dawson?”

“No.”

Aiden shakes his head at me. “Then why were you in the boys’ dorm?”

“Well, I was in Dawson’s room but nothing happened. I had to talk to him about something important.”

“Uh huh. And your button just accidentally popped open?”

“This costume cost all of $47 dollars. It’s not exactly high quality, Aiden. And his little brother texted me and I thought he needed to deal with it.”

“And that’s it?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“You look high.”

I giggle. “Jake was handing out special brownies.”

“And nothing happened?”

“That’s right.”

“That’s quite a costume.”

“Do you like it?”

Aiden’s eyes drink in my costume. “I wouldn’t have let you out of my room.”

He gives me a quick but spine-tingling kiss and then says, “Happy Halloween, Boots.”


Tuesday, November 1st

Just jack off.

7:40am

I wake up starving and scarf down the first thing I see.

After I eat half, it dawns on me that I’m eating a brownie.

Oh, shit.

Please don’t let this be a special brownie.

I wake Katie up. “Tell me you ate Jake’s brownie last night.”

“No, Bryce and I decided to save it and share it tonight.”

I close my eyes tightly. “Shit. I just ate half of it.”

“I heard you can kill a high by doing some shots.”

“You want me to get drunk too?”

“What if I try to scare you?”

“I don’t think you can scare me if I know you’re going to try to scare me because then I probably wouldn’t be scare-able.”

“You’re already high.”

“Wait. I know what to do.”

I call Dallas. “Dallas, dude. I totally, like, need some assistance.”

“Uh, okay?”

“Have you ever, like, gotten high but then felt like maybe you shouldn’t be high?”

“Is that a trick question?”

“No. Like, have you ever needed to get un-high quickly? How do you do it?”

“Oh. Just jack off.”

“I don’t think I have the right parts for that.”

“Are you high? Now?”

“Slightly.”

“I’ll be right over.”

Katie leaves while I wait for Dallas. While I wait, I start to think about how my brain has totally been on my case lately.

I mean what is with all this nagging?

All this Choose. Choose. You need to choose.

I decide to text Grandpa. He’s a smart man.

Me:  Grandpa, how do you like make an important decision? Do you like write out pros and cons, like how do you decide?

Grandpa:  I like totally like flip a coin, dude.

Me:  Very funny, ha ha. I guess I did say like a couple times. But here’s the deal. This decision is too important to flip a coin over. I mean, what if I don’t get what I want?

Grandpa:  Exactly.

Me:  What? I don’t get it. What do you mean? Exactly?

Grandpa:  Hotshot, when you need to make an important decision and you are trying to decide between two things, flip a coin. You just said, what if I don’t get what I want. That tells me you already know what you want. Most people do. They just need validation. Like fate played a hand in it. If you flip a coin and get what you want, you feel like you made the right decision, but it sounds like you already know the right decision. You’re just scared to make it.

Me:  That’s really deep, dude.

Grandpa: Thanks, dude.

I think about what Grandpa said. I have a hot pink Magic Eight Ball at home. I used it a lot when I was younger, and if I didn’t get the answer I wanted, I would shake it until the eight ball got it right.

Yes. Brooklyn is in love with you. 

Most of my questions back then revolved around Brooklyn. Will Brooklyn ever ask me out? Does Brooklyn think of me as more than a friend? Will Brooklyn kiss me tonight? Will we get married someday?

Okay, so I may have used it recently.

Dallas barges in my door and looks at me. “Did you eat one of Jake’s brownies for breakfast?”

“Yes. Accidentally.”

“Do you have any left?”

“Half.”

“Sweet. If we’re gonna skip school and hang out, we should both be high.”

I watch as he chows down the other half of the brownie.

Now we’re lying on my bed trying to count the stars on my ceiling. There are either 22 or 137, we’re not exactly sure.

“You know, I’ve been a mostly good boy all year long. Was it too much to ask for a girl to come up to me on Halloween, laugh like a vampire, and say, I vant to suck your dick?”

I laugh out loud. “Ohmigawd. I want to be a vampire next year. I’m totally going to say that to everyone.”

“You gonna follow through?”

“If they got me some food, I might. I’m starving. Are you starving?”

“That’s what we need. Food and a nap.”

“Oh, a nap sounds good. I’ll go raid the kitchen. You stay here.”

I scrounge through the dorm’s kitchen and take back an amazing feast.

“I found cinnamon rolls, skittles, Cool Ranch Doritos, and two avocados. But don’t eat the avocados. I want to make a face mask.”

Dallas and I chow, then I smash up the avocados, and rub them on our faces.

We lie down to rest.

“What the hell is on your face?” Dallas says to me.

“Why are you in my bed?”

“Brownies,” Dallas says with a smile, as he runs his finger through the avocado on my face then licks it off his finger. “I just need salsa and some chips.”

“We need to get to class. What time is it?”

He pulls his phone out of his pocket. “Shit. It’s one.”

“We slept half the day!”

“Best. Day. Ever.”

I giggle. “You’re right. It has been fun. And I’m relaxed. Did I tell you that Cosmo said that I don’t have to choose?”

“Choose what? New shoes?”

“No, between boys. It said if I can’t choose, it’s because I’m not ready to.”

“Yes, you told me on the train. I say we choose not to go to our classes today. ”

“I have to go to soccer or I’ll get in trouble. Coach Steele is trying to kill us.”

“He’s a beast. Have you seen him lifting weights?”

“Uh, no, have you? And why didn’t you call me?”

“I somehow doubt he wants all you girls drooling over him when he’s trying to get in a workout.”

“Still, you should’ve called me. I’m gonna go shower. Get this stuff off my face.”

“I’m gonna take another nap.”

I’ll let fate decide.

3:40pm

I’m the last one in the dance locker room. As I pull my bag out of my crammed locker, a quarter rolls out and falls onto the floor.

I pick it up off the floor and study it.

I’m pretty sure the universe is trying to speak to me.

Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll let fate decide. I will flip this coin, and whatever it tells me, I will do.

Heads, I choose Dawson and do not look back. I’ll enjoy our easy, lusty-love relationship and won’t worry about the future.

Tails, because they sorta look like a clover, is Aiden. If fate lets it land on tails, I will give up hot sex and tongue kisses and take another chance on love.

I toss the coin high into the air.

All of a sudden, all I can see is Aiden’s face. I pray to the love and hottie gods that it lands tails up.

I want Aiden.

I really do.

It drops on the ground and rolls across the floor.

Maggie walks in, sees the coin rolling, and says, “Oh, I’ll get that.”

“Don’t touch it!” I scream at her.

“Okay,” she says, backing away.

The coin rolls in front of her feet and then under the bench. I plop down on my hands and knees, chasing it as it rolls.

“What the hell are you doing?” She looks at me like I’m a maniac.

“I tossed a coin, so I could decide between Dawson and Aiden.”

“Why would you leave a decision like that to chance?”

“It’s not chance. It’s fate.”

The quarter stops rolling, stands on its side, spins, and then falls to the ground.

I pick it up. Look at it.

Maggie asks impatiently. “Well, what is it?”

“It’s heads.”

“Who’s heads?”

“Dawson. Shit.”

“Why shit? Dawson is H, O, double T, hot.”

I pace back and forth in front of her. “Because my grandpa told me when the coin is up in the air, I’d know who I want. I want Aiden. What the hell just happened? What happened to fate? I thought it was fate that I met Aiden here. That I kicked a soccer ball at his face. He tells me it’s fate that we’re going to be together. How am I supposed to align my life with fate, when I can’t even trust it to get a stupid coin toss right?” I grab Maggie’s shoulders, my eyes full of panic. “Is fate trying to tell me Aiden is wrong for me?”

Maggie grabs my shoulders. “You need to get ahold of yourself. My dad says coin tosses are a game of chance. I don’t think they’re a test of fate. Besides, everyone knows you always do two out of three.”

“They don’t do that when they start the football games.”

“Boys are dumb. Just do it. Hold the quarter in your hand, think Who should I be with, and then toss it in the air.

“Who should I be with?” I say and flip the quarter into the air. Once again, I see Aiden’s face, so I will the coin to land on tails.

It rolls directly in front of Maggie’s feet.

“I can’t look at it. What is it?”

“It’s tails! Aiden! You did good, Keatyn. Okay, one more time.”

She tosses me the coin. I flip it again, think the same things, but then Dawson’s adorable face bursts into my thoughts. I see him sitting on the brick wall waiting for me, that first day back at school after the Hamptons.

The coin lands.

“Heads,” she says.

Dawson.

“Wait! This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be throwing it. I’m too confused. Who do you think I should be with?”

“I don’t know. I used to think Dawson, but now I think Aiden. Mostly, I just want you to be happy.”

I give her a hug. “That’s exactly what I need! You need to toss the coin and think, I want Keatyn to be happy.”

“I can do that,” she says excitedly.

“No two out of three. Just one toss, okay?”

“Okay, let me think . . . here goes.”

She tosses the coin up into the air. It hits the ceiling, bounces down on the bench, and then rolls off it.

“Heads,” Maggie says. “It’s Dawson.”

So easily destroyed.

6:50pm

Before rehearsal starts, one of the actors is on stage messing around. He stands up straight and tall, holds his fist against his chest, and quotes from Hamlet: “To be, or not to be, that is the question.”

But I hear something else. To choose, or not to choose, that is the question.

I’m pretty sure in Hamlet, he was trying to decide if he should kill himself. While I’m trying to figure out if I should kill a relationship.

Aiden sits down next to me, the feather still hanging from his backpack.

Should I listen to the coin-toss fate and choose Dawson?

“You know, we never did talk about your ceramics project.”

“That’s because you were mad at me.”

“Boots, I want to build a framework with you. Do you still want that?”

I nod.

“Good. But here’s the deal. I want the framework—the foundation—built on love, not sex.” He takes both my hands in his. “Build a foundation with me. A nice strong foundation. Then we’ll build a huge sprawling mansion of love on it. The kind no one could ever knock down. Remember the story of the three little pigs?”

“Yeah. The wolf ate them.”

“No, he didn’t. He ate two of them. You and Dawson were a straw house. It only took a puff—a text—to blow it down. Don’t you want a relationship that’s not so easily destroyed?”

I want to say I don’t care, but I do. I do want a relationship like that. One like Mom and Tommy’s. Tommy would move a mountain for my mom and us girls. I start to get tears in my eyes.

He puts his hand under my chin. “Does that make you sad?”

“No, it’s what I want. I’m just tired of investing my time and my heart in things that fall apart. And I don’t want to be a pig.”

Aiden laughs and kisses my nose. “You’d be a cute piggy.”

I look at the stage and realize that I’m supposed to be up there. “Shit. I gotta go.”

When I sit back down after my scene, Aiden says, “I bought tickets to every showing.”

“Every showing of the play? All three? Haven’t you seen it enough?”

“Not really. I love this play.”

“Why’s that?”

“The good guy wins.”


Wednesday, November 2nd

It was awful.

English

In English, Katie sits next to Dallas and me. It’s the first time she’s ventured over here since the Tyrese incident.

“I have some exciting news.”

“What’s that?”

“Bryce asked me to be his escort last night!”

“That’s awesome.”

“I’m going to be Chelsea’s escort,” Dallas says, getting in a little jab.

“She a varsity starter?” Katie asks, although she doesn’t let him reply. “Makes sense, I guess. She’s been with everyone on the team.”

My eyes get big with shock. Katie’s usually not this catty.

Dallas doesn’t get mad, though, he grins at her and then swats her shoulder. “Well, since you popped my cherry, I’ve been trying to find someone better than you.”

Katie starts giggling. “Ohmigawd, that would be anyone. It was awful.”

Dallas laughs too. “Well, the first time, anyway. But that was your fault and you know it.”

She shakes her head. “I didn’t know you were a virgin.”

“I’m glad you’re seeing Bryce,” Dallas says. “He’s a good guy.”

She smiles at him. Beams, really. “Thanks. And I didn’t really mean that about Chelsea.”

“Yeah, you did.” He chuckles.

She chuckles too. “Yeah, I did.”

I can’t hold it in any longer. “I’m so glad you two made up!”

As I’m walking to my next class, Shark walks up next to me.

“I heard you’re escorting Dawson onto the field but going to the banquet with Aiden. You know that’s never gonna fly.”

“It’s flying just fine.”

“I need some inside information. So, who ya gonna choose, girlie?”

“I don’t know, Shark. You’re the oddsmaker. You tell me.”

“Let’s flip a coin.”

I laugh. “Already did that.”

“Who won?”

“Dawson.”

“Did you just flip once?”

“No. First flip, he won. Then he won two out of three. Then he won another single coin toss.”

“So you flipped four times, and Aiden came up how many times?”

“Only once,” I say sadly.

“Guess I’m gonna have to rethink this.”

“Do people really bet on this stuff?”

“Hell, yeah.”

My caveman fantasy.

7:25pm

“I’m going to Columbia this weekend to hang out with Cam, since you’ll be busy with your play stuff.”

“My play stuff? Dawson, it’s the play. Are you not coming to watch it?”

“I figured I’d sit in on dress rehearsal. That’s the same thing, right?”

“Uh, yeah. I guess. Are you going to hook up with other girls?”

“I don’t know,” he says, looking guilty.

“You already have a date, don’t you?”

“It’s not a date. It’s more of an implied hookup. Some girl saw my picture and told Cam she’d hook up with me.”

This upsets me more than I thought it would. I try to not look at him. I’m afraid if I do, I’ll cry.

“Keatie, look at me. Say something.”

But I can’t. I’m thinking of that sweet, sexy face kissing another girl. I bite my lip and fight back tears.

“I’m sorry. You’re right. This isn’t an easy situation.” I quickly wipe the tears off my face.

He pulls me into a hug. “I don’t want to make you cry.”

“I know. I’m sorry. It’s just that after this weekend, I thought I was going to choose just you. But then Aiden told me he wants to build a brick house together. He says you and I have a straw house.”

“Are you talking about the three little pigs?”

“Yeah, I guess. Are we all about sex, really?”

“That really pisses me off,” he says, his anger flaring. “Stop letting him say shit like that to you. It’s like he’s trying to freaking brainwash you. I love you. I love sex with you. Sex is a part of showing love. I’m also trying to show you I love you in other ways too.”

“Like by not coming to my play to go hook up at Columbia?”

“That’s not fair. Maybe I’m trying to make you jealous? Ever think of that?”

“No.”

“Okay, fine. No sex.”

“What?”

“You heard me. No sex. I won’t have sex with you until you choose me.”

Um, this is a twist in the plot I didn’t imagine. Why can’t I get a freaking script of my own life?

But no, that’s bullshit. No way he’s going to say no. I run my hands up his shirt and kiss his neck. “But, Dawes . . .”

“That’s not gonna work, Keatie. Trust me, I know all your little tricks.”

I lie on his bed and cover my face. He lifts my hand and peeks at me.

“Your pouting isn’t going to work either.”

“I’m not pouting. I’m very close to a major meltdown here, Dawson. Don’t mess with me.”

“Talk to me. I’ve always been your friend.”

“I feel like if I choose Aiden, I have to make this lifelong commitment. But then . . .” I look away from Dawson. I’m embarrassed by this part. “Never mind.”

“Keatie, baby, tell me.”

“It’s too embarrassing.”

“Did you fart or something?”

“No. He . . . He . . . He’s never kissed me with his tongue!”

Dawson’s eyes get wide, and he shakes his head sideways. “Are you serious?”

“So mortifyingly serious.”

He wraps his strong arms around me. “Come here, Keatie. Why are you crying?”

“I don’t know,” I say, pushing back the tears. “I gotta go. Do you wanna walk me to the library?”

“The library?” he asks as we walk toward it. “Don’t you have rehearsal?”

“No, tomorrow night is our full dress rehearsal, so tonight they’re working through all the set changes. I’m going to tutor Aiden and finish my homework.”

“Are you doing better? You seem a little better.”

“I am. Dawson, if you want to go hook up with a girl at Columbia this weekend, you can. You’re single.”

He pushes me against the outside of the library and gives me a smoldering kiss. “I lied. I still want to have sex with you. So get your homework done fast and then get your ass to my room. I’m going to do things to you that will make you scream.”

I hear someone clear their throat. I peek around Dawson and see Aiden standing there.

“Uh, Dawson. Aiden’s here. I’ll, um, see you later.”

Dawson smacks my butt and says, “I’ll be waiting.”

He gives Aiden a smirk and a “S’up, Aiden,” as he leaves.

I can’t even describe the look on Aiden’s face.

He. Is. Livid.

I don’t know what to say, so I open the door to the library.

Just as I pass through the first set of doors, Aiden grabs my elbow and herds me back outside.

“We. Need. To. Talk.”

He’s doing something similar to my angry march, which instantly spawns my caveman fantasy. Maybe he’s going to drag me back to his cave and make me his.

I want to say something. Lighten the mood. But I don’t know what to say.

I’ve never seen Aiden quite like this.

He doesn’t even seem to notice that it’s raining again when he drags me down the hill.

He places me in front of the soccer goal and starts to pace in front of it, his gorgeous Italian loafers getting caked with mud.

I’m so glad I left my rain boots on.

He stops pacing and glares at me. “This is where we first met.”

He shoves his hand through his hair like he’s pissed at it too. “I can’t take this anymore. I want you to be my date for the banquet, but that means you have to wear my jersey and escort me onto the field. Period. No negotiation. Otherwise, you can go with Dawson. And if you do, I’ll give up. I’m trying here. I’m trying to give you time. I know you need it.”

“You think I need time? No. You need time. You always get mad at me and walk away, and I know you’re still pretend punching my head.”

He shakes his head at me and raises his voice. “Of course, I have been! You infuriate me! I want to drag you away from Dawson any time I see you talking to him!”

“You get jealous? That’s why you’re always mad at me?”

OMG!! YAY!!! I literally want to do cartwheels in the mud.

He shakes his head at me and sighs. “Well, that and sometimes you’re so dumb.”

And this pisses me off a bit. Okay, more than a bit. I’m like the porcupine that just flung out its spikes, ready to fire them.

I’m dumb?! No, he said I’m so dumb.

Just when I thought maybe fate was finally intervening.

I breathe in through my nose, and then snort the breath out, like a bull getting ready to charge.  I lower my voice and speak with a flat unemotional tone. “I’m wearing Dawson’s jersey. He asked me first. If you can’t handle that then I’ll be his banquet date too. Up to you.”

I turn around and stomp away, purposely splashing mud all over him. When I’m halfway up the hill, I turn around and yell, “And I am not dumb! ”

Oh, I hate him!

And then I realize that the universe just spoke. The coin toss was right.

Hot sex it is.

As I’m marching toward Hawthorne House to give Dawson the good news, I get a text from Dallas.

Dallas:  When you’re done with tutoring, will you come help me and Riley study for the English quiz? We’re confused. Could be because we didn’t actually read Pride and Prejudice, but that’s just details.

Me:  You in your room?

Dallas:  Yes. And we have snacks. Riley thought we’d have to bribe you.

Me:  I’ll be right there.

I give them a rundown of the story, help them memorize the study-guide answers, and then tell them about fate. About how I’m going to choose Dawson.

“So why did you come here and not go tell him right away?” Riley asks.

“Because you needed my help.”

“Or maybe it’s because you know he’s the wrong choice,” Dallas says.

I sigh, knowing they’re right. I was glad for the distraction. Even though the universe keeps telling me to choose Dawson, even though this weekend was the best sex of my life, something keeps stopping me from doing it.

And I’m pretty sure it’s my heart.

Dawson:  You almost done?

Me:  Yeah. I’m working on English now with Dallas and your brother, but we’re just finishing up. Are you in your room? I’ll come down.

Dawson:  Come down, or go down? 

Me:  Hmmm. Idk.

Dawson:  I’ll be waiting.

And then a few minutes later.

Dawson:  Naked.

Oh, lord.

We’ll have some fun and then I’ll tell him that we can get back together. Change that stupid It’s complicated status.

I snatch the review sheet out of Dallas’ hand. “Okay, so, I gotta go.”

I run down the hall and take the stairs. I’m halfway down when Aiden comes marching up.

I freeze.

I can’t go anywhere. There’s nowhere to hide.

So I think, Be confident. I’m cool, confident, and sophisticated. I’m on my way down these stairs to meet a gorgeous boy who is probably—well, definitely—waiting for me naked. He wants me. He doesn’t tell me I’m dumb. He thinks I’m awesome. I straighten up my spine, stand tall, and wait for him to notice me.

He’s marching with his head down, like he’s still pissed. He sees my feet in front of him, specifically my bright yellow boots, stops, and glares at me.

Told ya. Still mad.

I give him my best fake smile and say coolly, “Hey, Aiden, s’up?”

Ohmigawd, that sounded so lame. Who says that to someone walking up the stairs? What’s up? He is heading up the stairs, obviously. I’m a lunatic. Seriously, lock me up now. He’s right. I am dumb.

“Where are you going?”

“I was just helping Dallas and Riley with English and now I’m headed to Dawson’s room.” Then I can’t help myself. I snicker. “Apparently, he’s naked.”

Aiden grabs my arm and drags me again—this time up the stairs and to his room. “This is why you’re dumb!”

“I am not dumb!”

He opens his door, grips my hand tightly, pulls me through it, and slams it shut hard.

I watch as his eyes quickly scan the room. He picks me up and sets me down hard on his desk, sending his perfectly stacked books onto the floor in the process.

Then his lips land hard on mine, kissing me.

It’s a full hot-tongue-straight-into-my-mouth kiss.

He grabs my tongue and sucks on it.

His hands are firmly behind my neck, like I’m not allowed to pull away from this kiss.

Not that I want to.

It's hot.

No.

It's not hot.

It's incendiary. Like the white-hot blazes of the underworld.

Or the electrical charge of a lightning bolt.

A god’s full power has been unleashed on me.

His tongue is destroying my mouth. Devastating it.

He’s owning it like no boy ever has.

He untangles his tongue from mine and says, “You’re dumb because you can’t see that I’m so fucking jealous, I can barely function. So I’m gonna ask you one last time. Will. You. Wear. My. Jersey?”

I want to cry.

“Ye—” I don’t even get the word out before his mouth is back on mine.

I want to go on record and thank Zeus and Aphrodite and whoever else had a hand in making this boy’s skillful tongue.

I run my hands roughly down his chiseled back and grab his equally amazing ass, pulling it toward me.

He leans his chest tightly into mine and I wrap my legs around his waist.

In this position, I can feel that powerful godly tool straining for freedom under his pants.

Oh, that sounds like a romance novel. I like romance novels, but his godly tool should not be how I describe his boyhood.

No. Manhood. That thing throbbing against me is all man.

No, it’s all freaking god.

His tongue goes so deeply in my mouth that I’m pushed roughly down across his desk, causing me to almost scream, Unleash the Titan!

Oh. My. God.

This is it!

He’s going to rip my panties off and we’ll do it right here.

Hell, I don't think my panties are even an issue.

I’m pretty sure they melted clean off my body and are nothing but a little pile of ashes smoldering on the floor.

But he doesn’t. Instead, he stops kissing me.

I open my eyes. His face is just inches from mine. His eyes are closed and he seems to be trying to slow his breathing. Calming himself down.

But no!

I want him wild and out of control. I want this crazy god’s tongue. The tongue I just barely got a taste of. The tongue that I’m already famished for.

He slowly backs further away and opens his eyes.

“God, you make me crazy.”

“At least now I know that you like me as more than a friend.”

“When have I ever given you a friend vibe?”

“Um, when you said you wanted to be my friend after the stars.”

“I do want to be your friend, Boots. I want to be your everything.”

“Everything? Then why did you just stop?”

“Because we have to stop.”

I let my hands dance across the edge of his shorts. “What if I don’t want to?”

He takes my hands off his shorts and places them in my lap.

“The last thing you need is to rush into sex with another guy.”

The way he says it makes me scowl at him.

He doesn’t have a clue what I need because if he did I’d be naked on this desk. No, not even naked. Pants half down. Skirt pushed up. Hammering, nailing, and screwing.

He kisses my forehead and says, “Stop with the face.”

“You kissed me with your tongue.”

I get the god-like smile. “Was it worth the wait? “

“I’m not sure. Can I check again?”

He picks me up off his desk, lays me across his bed, and kisses me some more.

With his tongue.

Always goes back to sex.

10:30pm

I squeak into the dorm just at curfew, plop onto my bed, and look at my phone.

Dawson:  Are you coming?

Me:  No, sorry. I ran into Aiden on the stairs. It’s a long story, shit. Look, I’m gonna wear his jersey for the game. I’m his date for the banquet, so I think it’s the right thing to do. Don’t be mad at me.

Dawson:  Naw, it’s cool. Brooke asked me today if she could wear mine. She has a college boyfriend, so I’ll just tell her yes.

Me:  Oh, that works out good then.

I lie in bed, thinking about coin flipping and evil, while creeping around on Facebook. I pray that Aiden never does one of those things where it tells him who his top followers are. I’ve totally been stalking his profile since school started.

My phone buzzes.

I drop it, feeling like I’ve been caught, when Aiden’s name pops up on the screen.

“Hey,” I say, my voice lowered, so I don’t wake up Katie.

“Hey, Boots,” he says dreamily.

I swear I want to wake up to that every morning of my life. To the sound of, “Hey, Boots.”

“I figured you’d be asleep by now,” I say.

“I should be. I was lying here thinking about tonight.”

“Really? What about?”

“Just trying to figure out what to do with you.”

“What do you want to do with me?” I ask coyly, thinking he will tell me something sexual. Especially after the hotness on his desk earlier.

“Tell me more about the framework.”

 I think about his framework. His tall, lean body. His perfect muscles. His beautiful skin.

“You still there?”

“Oh, uh, yeah. I just think it would help if you tell me how you’re feeling about stuff.”

“I’ve been trying not pressure you. You once told me something about the Keats guy. That you didn’t know if he loved you so much he let you go, or he let you go because he didn’t care enough. I want you to know with me. I want you to know exactly where we stand.

“Tonight, when you were mad, I felt like I finally knew.”

“All the wooing I’ve done, and you didn’t already know?”

“No. You’re hot and cold with me. That’s confusing.”

“And you’re like an unsolvable puzzle. A conundrum.”

“I confuse you? Do you wanna know what I was sitting in my bed doing when you called me?”

“Is it bad?”

“A little.”

“Tell me.”

“I was looking at all your Facebook pictures. I look at them almost every night. I hide under my covers, so Katie doesn’t know what I’m doing.”

“I look at your pictures all the time too. You aren’t big on posting stuff, though. I thought I could find out what you were doing, what you are thinking, but you don’t give away much.”

“I’m kind of a private person.”

“I like that.” He yawns.

“You sound tired.”

“I am. I’m looking forward to this weekend.”

“Do you wanna know what I’m looking forward to?”

“Yes.”

“Your tongue.”

He laughs. It’s a sexy, deep laugh. The kind of laugh I want to hear every day.

“It was a good kiss.”

“Yeah, it was.”

 “Night, Boots.”

Getting head.

1am

I call Dallas. “I can’t sleep. You and Riley wanna go to the Cave?”

“Riley snuck out to meet Ariela. Lucky for you, I’m free tonight.”

As we’re walking to the Cave, I ask, “I haven’t heard much about the psychic panty hotline lately. You still stalking girls’ panties?”

“More like taking them off. No, melting them off.”

“I’m pretty sure that my panties melted off me tonight. Aiden got pissed off, pushed me onto his desk, and kissed me. Tongue and everything.”

“It’s about time.”

He folds a towel into a long strip and puts it down on the damp log, lights up a joint, takes a hit, and hands it to me.

“So, does that mean you’re choosing him?”

I take a hit. Let myself mellow. “Wanna hear something really lame?”

“Of course.”

“Yesterday, I was so desperate that I flipped a coin to decide.”

“Oh, I know a good pickup line about that.”

“Really, what?”

He giggles at himself then says, “If I flip a coin, what are the chances of me getting head?”

“That’s really funny.” I start giggling and can’t stop.

“So, back to choosing.”

“Buzzkill.”

“So why was he pissed?”

“He told me I couldn’t wear Dawson’s jersey if I was gonna be his date.”

“Good for him. It’s about time he put an end to this nonsense.”

“And then he kissed me with his tongue,” I say dreamily.

“So Aiden’s tongue kiss beat what Dawson did to you this weekend?”

“Yeah.”

“I think I’m still hung over.”

“Dawson told me that when I feel like stopping, that’s how I’ll know I should.”

“And what do you feel like?”

“I feel like stopping.”


Thursday, November 3rd

A noble profession.

Drama

Right after drama class is finished, my teacher pulls me aside.

“Keatyn, I don’t know if you’ve heard about this yet, but there’s a nationwide search going on for an Abby Johnston look-alike to star in a remake of one of her movies. I just got this letter about it today. Looks like this producer, Vincent Sharpe, is sending them to drama departments all over the country.”

Holy shit.

He continues. “I was thinking of nominating you. You have the look and you’re quite talented. A natural, really.”

Maintain your breathing, Keatyn.

Don't show him that you are internally freaking the fuck out.

“Um, I’d prefer that you didn’t. I’m not ready yet.”

“Actually, I think you are ready. You're one of my most talented students.”

This temporarily stops me from freaking out.

“Really?” He thinks I’m talented? Ohmigawd, that’s so awesome.

“Yes. Have you ever thought of making a career out of acting?”

Don't say yes. Have a worthy profession in mind. A doctor. Like you told Dawson’s mom.

“No, sir, I want to be a doctor. Like, a pediatric doctor. Um, probably specializing in children's cancer. I want to save lives.”

“Oh, well, that's a noble profession.”

“Yes, sir, and it's my dream. I had a, um, cousin who died from it. His passing affected me deeply. I want to devote my life to the cause. But acting is a fun creative outlet. I also love ceramics and painting.”

Ohmigawd, I am such a liar!

“Okay, well, then we probably won't be needing this, huh?”

“No, sir. Definitely not.”

He wads it into a ball and tosses it into the trash then goes over to deal with something on stage.

I wait until he's not looking then pretend to put my gum in the trash but, instead, I grab the letter and stuff it into my bag.

I run out of the auditorium. Straight to Cooper’s office.

I barge through his door, flushed from running. Whitney’s leaning over his shoulder, pointing to a paper on his desk.

I must have a wild-eyed expression because Cooper says to her, “Miss Clarke, I’m afraid I’m going to have to cut our meeting short. I think we covered most everything anyway.” He quickly escorts her to the door.

After he shuts the door, he holds a finger up to his lips, telling me to keep quiet.

He opens his door back up and totally busts Whitney for still standing there.

“Come with me, Keatyn,” he says, holding his hand out to me. “Let’s get you to the nurse.”

Cooper and I walk up the hill to the nurse’s office, but don’t go in the door. Instead, he pulls me behind the building.

“What’s wrong?”

I fish the paper out of my bag and show him.

“It’s addressed to the drama department.”

“Yes, they were sent to high school drama departments nationwide.”

“This guy is really smart.”

“I know. He’s brilliant. The director pulled me aside and said he was going to nominate me.”

Cooper’s body quickly goes from relaxed to rigid and ready to strike. “Did he?”

“No. He asked me if I was interested.”

“What did you say?!”

“Lied. Told him some bullshit story about a cousin dying and how I wanted to be a pediatrician not an actor. That I’m not interested.”

“Did he buy it?”

“Yeah. I think so. He said I guess we won’t be needing this and threw it in the trash. I got it out.”

“You get to soccer. I’m going to call Garrett then I’ll see if I can take the director out for a beer.”

“We have dress rehearsal tonight.”

“All the more reason the man will need a beer later.”

“Okay.”

I bite my lip to keep from crying.

He pats my back. “It’ll be okay. I’ll make sure.”

I walk like I’m going toward the field house, but I can’t. I’m close to a breakdown.

I’m not a good enough actress to pretend anymore.

Because, all of a sudden, it doesn’t feel as safe here anymore.

And I really don’t want to have to leave.

I make a beeline for the chapel, knowing no one will be there.

I sit in a pew, crying and praying out loud. “Please don’t let it happen. Please don’t let anyone do it. Please don’t let him find . . .”

Aiden sits down next to me. “Don’t let him find who?”

My eyes get huge. What did I just say? What was I praying? What did he hear?

“Um, what did you just hear?”

“I heard what you just said. Please don’t let him find . . .”

“My friend. The friend I told you about before.”

“Did something happen to her?”

I close my eyes, fighting back more tears, but I can’t. I cover my face and start sobbing.

Aiden immediately pulls me into his chest and runs his hand down the back of my hair.

I get all my crying out of my system.

Then I look up at him and say, “You should be at football.”

“And you should be at soccer. Tell me what happened.”

I shake my head. “Nothing. She’s fine. It was just another scare. It shook me up, I guess. And I’m upset about something else.”

“What?”

“My little sister is turning three, and I’m going to miss her party.”

“Why?”

“Um, well, because her party is Monday. We have school.”

“Are they in France?”

“Not right now. My stepdad has business in Vancouver, so they’re celebrating there.”

He nods at me. “So, you should go. You can miss a couple of days of school. And the play will be over. It’s perfect timing. Heck, I’ll go with you if you want.”

“Oh, um, that’s really nice of you, Aiden, but it’s not necessary.”

“Does that mean you’ll go by yourself?”

I smile at him. “Yeah. You’re right. I should go.”

“I’m serious. If you change your mind and want company, I’ll go with you.”

“Thanks, Aiden.”

As we stand up, he hands me a crumpled piece of paper. “I think you dropped this.”

“Thanks,” I say, automatically. But then I see that it’s Vincent’s letter.

I can’t speak.

“Are you thinking about doing this? You do kinda resemble her. And you want to act. This could be your big break.”

“No!” I yell at him. “I don’t want a break! I don’t look anything like her. I changed my mind. I don’t like being in the play. In fact, I hate it! I’m never acting again.”

He watches my outburst.

“Um, okay. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Not really.”

He grabs my hands and puts his forehead against mine. “You can trust me, Boots. You can tell me anything.”

I stare into his emerald eyes and know deep within my soul that what he says is true. I know I can trust him. I want to trust him.

But I can’t.

I wipe my eyes and say, “I have to get to soccer. Cooper will have my ass. Probably make me run stairs or something.”

“Yeah, I should get going too. You sure you’re okay?”

I take a deep breath.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

I hope.

I’m rushing to get out on the soccer field when Whitney steps out in front of me.

“You and Mr. Steele seem awfully cozy. You’re always sneaking around talking to him.”

“He’s my soccer coach.”

“What did you need that was so urgent? And don’t tell me it’s your ankle again. You were just running.”

“I almost passed out in soccer the other day.”

“You pregnant?”

“Uh, no.”

“Then why not just go see the nurse yourself . . .” She stops and stares at me with her mouth open. “Are you pregnant with his baby?”

“What? He’s been here for like a week. That’s not even possible.”

“Actually, he’s been here for two weeks now. It’s totally possible. Is that what was going on that day when he was yelling at you?” Her eyes get big again. “Did he rape you?”

“Oh, for god’s sake, Whitney. No. He’s nice. He would never do that.”

She grins at me. “Just how nice is he?”

“He’s my coach. There is nothing going on between us. I am not pregnant.”

She taps a finger on her chin. “Besides, how would you know if it’s his or Dawson’s?”

“That would be easy. If I was pregnant—which I am not—Dawson is the only possible father.”

She keeps standing in front of me, so I say, “Excuse me, I have to get to practice.”

I can’t let you do this.

3:25pm

“Cooper, I need to talk to you.”

“Sure, come in my office.”

He looks to make sure no one is around and then shuts the door.

“You were late for soccer.”

“I know. I was upset about the letter and needed a few minutes to pull myself together.” He nods in understanding as I pull the letter out of my bag. “Will you get rid of this?”

“Sure.” He flattens it out on his desk and stares at it as I talk.

“So a couple things. First thing, Whitney thinks I’m having your baby.”

“What the hell? Why?”

“Because she asked why you took me to the nurse’s office. I told her I felt like I was going to pass out in soccer the other day.”

“And out of that she decided you’re pregnant with my baby?”

“Apparently. I told her she was silly. But we need to be careful around her. She’s very manipulative and she wants you. She will keep going until she gets you.”

“She’s not going to get me. But you’re right. We’ll be more careful about what we talk about when she’s around. She did make a snide comment about you the other day.”

“Second thing, I’m going to Vancouver on Monday for my sister’s birthday party.”

“The hell you are.”

“No, I am.”

“With everything that’s going on, you want to go to the one place that he will expect you to turn up eventually?”

“Yeah, but here’s the thing. He’s going to be in Miami this Saturday, Sunday, and Monday doing auditions. He won’t be anywhere near Vancouver.”

Cooper closes his eyes and shakes his head. “I’m sure he’ll have someone at the airport. He can find out what airport you came from and pinpoint where you’ve been.”

“So we’ll take different flights. Different charters. Switch airports. That’s what we did when I came here.”

“No. No way.”

“Cooper, it's my life. My decision.”

“I can't let you do this.”

“You don't have a choice. I’m going. With or without you.” Then I soften my voice because I want him to know. “But I’d feel safer if it was with you.”

“God, you’re stubborn. Fine. I'll figure out a way. But it will be just you and me, no one else. You can't tell anyone.”

“I won’t.”

“I’ll work out the details. We’ll have to leave very early Monday morning.”

I smile at him as I walk out the door. “Whatever you say, Cooper.”

I’m barely out the door when I feel someone staring at me.

I turn my head to see Whitney. The crinkle between her eyes is deep.

I pray she didn't hear us talking about going to Vancouver.

She starts to open her mouth, but I can't deal with her right now. I hold my hand up and say, “Mind your own business, Whitney.”

The big gesture.

6:50pm

Logan slumps down next to me before rehearsal starts.

“Lunch used to be my favorite time of the day. Now I hate it. Jake’s been sitting with us and he flirts with Maggie. Why can’t he just take her to his own table?”

“Because he got mad at Whitney. I don’t think he’ll go back there. And that’s saying a lot because Dawson is his best friend and he and Bryce still sit there. But that’s not really what matters. What matters is what you’re going to do about it.”

“There’s a romance movie that she loves. Where they talk about the big gesture.”

“Oh, I’ve seen that. Isn’t she the President’s daughter? And she goes off on what she thinks is an adventure through Europe with a dreamy guy but it turns out he’s really an agent protecting her?”

“Yeah, that’s the one.”

“That guy was hot.”

“That’s besides the point.”

“What is the point?”

“I want to make the big gesture. Win her back.”

“Logan, what really happened that night? I know she got drunk and slept with Parker, but why?”

“Why? Because she was drunk.”

“I know I didn’t know her then, but Maggie is a lot like me. She likes to party. She drinks. Gets tipsy. A little drunk. But never that out-of-control drunk where you don’t know what you’re doing. Something had to trigger it.”

Logan looks at the ground and sighs. Then he puts his face in his hands and shakes his head. “I was the trigger. We got in a fight that night.”

“What was the fight about?”

“A girl.”

“What girl?”

“Doesn’t matter. There was this girl that I was texting. Maggie saw the texts. It looked bad.”

“So you were cheating on her?”

“We never hung out. Only texted. But the texts were sexual. She went out that night, got drunk, and slept with Parker.”

“She rebounded.”

He nods sadly.

“You have to forgive her, Logan. Let it go.”

“I know. I want to. I’m just not sure what to say.”

“Then let’s script you a new ending. No. It will be a new beginning. What is your big gesture idea?”

“I was thinking of bringing her here. On stage. In front of the moon backdrop and telling her how I feel.”

Logan and I work together on the script. Figuring out what he should say.

“What do you think I should wear? Should I still be in my prince costume? Or would that be cheesy?”

“Sometimes cheesy is good.”

We continue our collaboration. Each of us writing down lines, crossing them out, and then rewriting.

“Logan, you can’t say death by paper cuts. That’s not romantic.”

“Okay, well scratch that. What do you think I should say?”

I think for a second. “Oh! I know the perfect line,” I say, quickly writing it down.

“That’s really deep, if you think about it. How did you come up with that?”

I smile. “Someone said it to me once.”

“They were right. It’s almost like coming full-circle. Maggie and I started out together and hopefully we’ll end up together.”

“Full-circle. I never thought of it that way before. So are you going to do anything else? Flowers, maybe?”

“What kind?”

“You know, lots of flowers have specific meanings attached to them. Let me look it up on my phone. Well, let’s see. Daffodils represent new beginnings and unrequited love. That might be a good one. Oh, wow, I didn’t know this. Lavender roses represent love at first sight. Did you and Maggie have that?”

“Love at first sight? No, not really. It was maybe more love at first kiss. Our first kiss was memorable.”

“Tell me about it.”

“She came to my lacrosse game. I scored the winning goal, and she came down to congratulate me. I grabbed her and kissed her. Very spur-of-the-moment. She was surprised by it. Hell, I was surprised by it. Up until then, we’d just been friends. And it isn’t the kiss that I really remember; it’s after. The way she looked into my eyes. I fell in love with her then and there.”

I do a little happy clap. “That’s so adorable.”

Logan rolls his eyes at me. “Do you really think this script will work? What if Maggie doesn’t say what she’s supposed to?”

“I think she will say most of it. Or something close. And if not, ad-lib. Just remember the order. Apology. Confess your love. Full-circle line. True love’s kiss. Flowers.”

“I better get up there. Thanks, Keatyn.”

Aiden’s backpack hits the floor, startling me. “What’d you do?” he asks.

“Oh, uh, helped him with a script. He’s hoping to win back Maggie.”

“He’s been miserable.”

“I know.”

Dawson plops down on the other side of me. “Hey, Keatie, can’t wait to see you in that sexy little costume. Giddy up.” Then he goes, “Oh, hey, Aiden. Didn’t see you sitting there. You here to watch dress rehearsal too?”

Aiden curls his hands into a ball. “Yeah.”

I smile at Aiden and run my finger across his fist, hoping it will calm him down.

“I have to go get ready. Enjoy the play, boys!”

Dawson is waiting for me by the stage door. He’s clearly trying to mark his territory. I need to talk to him. I haven’t kissed him since Aiden kissed me with his tongue. And I don’t want to.

“So, what did you think of the play?”

“I thought you looked sexy.”

“What did you think of the rest of the play?”

“It was good. Kinda funny. Some people messed up.”

“That’s why you have a dress rehearsal. The show will be much better.”

“Are you coming back to my room?”

“Actually, yeah.”

Aiden walks up to me with a big grin on his face. I can tell he wants to talk to me.

“Aiden, I’m going to walk back to the dorms with Dawson. I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

Aiden looks pissed, but then his face softens and he says, “Vous avez volé le spectacle.”

His comment makes me beam, and blush. “Thank you.”

Dawson grabs my hand and pulls me outside. “What did he just say to you?”

“He said I stole the show.” I seriously can’t stop smiling.

When we get in his room, Dawson immediately tries to kiss me. “I really was waiting for you naked the other night.”

“Um, Dawson?”

He looks at me sexily, expectantly. “What, Keatie?”

“Remember how you said when I felt like stopping that’s how I’d know.”

“Yeah.”

“I feel like stopping.”

He backs away from me. “Really?”

I nod.

“Is it because I’m going to Columbia?”

“It’s sort of because of everything.”

“After last weekend? All the fun we had? All the fun you had?”

“Yeah.”

“You did it with him, didn’t you?”

“No. We’ve only kissed.”

“So the wooing won out over the sex?”

“I guess. I’m sorry, Dawson. It’s late. I’ve gotta go.”

I get back to my room and call Aiden.

“Hey, sorry about that. I needed to talk to Dawson.”

“Is that what you’re calling it?”

“When that’s what I was doing, yes.”

“You were in his room.”

“I’m not going to stop hanging out with him. He’s my friend.”

He doesn’t respond. I can hear him take a deep breath.

“He wanted to have sex tonight.”

“I’m sure he did. That’s all he wants.”

“It’s not all he wants. I was going to tell you something, but never mind. Thanks for watching the play, Aiden. And for what you said. I really appreciate it. I’ll talk to you later. Night.”

“No.”

“No, what?”

“Don’t go. Tell me.”

“I told him no.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

I feel something. An overwhelming warmth wraps around my body. I close my eyes and know immediately what it is. It’s the power of Aiden’s smile coming through the phone.

“Are you smiling right now?” I ask him.

“I have a very big smile right now, “ he replies.

“I’m wearing your jersey tomorrow.”

“I need to give it to you.”

His comment makes me whimper. Because I so want Aiden to give it to me.

“Give me your shirt?” I manage to say.

“Meet me in the morning for breakfast?”

“Sure.”

“You really did steal the show.”

“I love that you said it in French.”

“Well, French is a sexy language. Bonne nuit, Boots.”

I get up off my bed. Katie is in the bathroom putting her hair in a ponytail. “Are you ready to go?”

“Yeah. And I’m so excited. Did you see what I made for Bryce? It’s on my desk.”

I look at the heart on her desk. It’s got hot pink glitter around the edges of it, a football drawn in the middle of it, his number 44, and her name at the bottom covered in more glitter.

“It’s really pretty! This is a cool tradition, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, we didn’t do anything like this at my old school. Annie’s coming over. You should see what she made for Ace. She’s so excited because, you know, it’s usually the dancers and the cheerleaders that decorate the boys’ locker room. It’s cool that for this game the escorts get to do it. And sneaking out after curfew to decorate makes it feel that much more exciting.”

“You know we aren’t really sneaking out. We’re supposed to.”

“I know. It just makes it seem funner. What did you make for Aiden?”

I grab the paper football off my desk and show it to her. It’s got a big green four-leaf clover on it, just like the one he drew on the footballs, his number 1, a cowboy boot, and the word sort.

 “Why didn’t you put your name on it?”

“I did. The cowboy boot. He calls me Boots.”

“Really? Why?”

“Because he didn’t know my name when I first met him and I was wearing cowboy boots.”

“Boots is the name of the monkey on Dora the Explorer. Do you want to have a monkey name?”

“I didn’t at first. Now, I kinda like it.”

“I like when a boy gives you a nickname that’s original. So why the word sort?”

“Sort means fate in French. He once told me that we’re sorta like fate.”

“Oh, that’s dreamy. I’m so excited for neon day and the black light pep rally tomorrow afternoon. Do you have an outfit planned?” She looks at me and shakes her head. “Of course, you have an outfit planned.”

Maggie, Annie, and Peyton burst through our door, waving construction paper and streamers. I know that Maggie is wearing Jake’s jersey and Annie is wearing Ace’s. “Peyton, whose jersey are you wearing?”

“Dawson’s.”

“Dawson’s? I thought Brooke was wearing his?”

“No, she’s wearing Brad’s.”

“Oh,” I say.

Peyton wraps an arm around me. “It will piss Whitney off. But wait until I get Super Cooper. That will really piss her off.”

Super Cooper?”

“Yeah, a body like that and he’s got to be like Superman between the sheets.”

“Peyton!” Annie exclaims. “He’s a teacher.”

“And I seriously need to be taught,” Peyton says, while Maggie and I snicker.

“Let’s go decorate!” Katie yells.


Friday, November 4th

The happy trail.

Breakfast

I wake up early, dress myself in neon, put my hair back into a ponytail, and then rush to meet Aiden in the café.

He’s already here.

And he looks so adorable. He’s got on a bright orange sweatshirt, white athletic shorts, and gold aviators. He hands me a folded up jersey to wear tonight. I open it up and look at the number one. The name Arrington across the back.

And, yes, I go there. Keatyn Arrington. 

Doesn’t that sound pretty?

“So I heard Dawson isn’t going to be here this weekend.”

“Where did you hear that?”

“Peyton. She’s his escort but he’s not going to the banquet.”

“Yeah, he’s going home with his parents.”

“I heard he’s going to party with his brother.”

“Yes, that too. I don’t want to talk about Dawson. Have you seen your locker?”

“Not yet. Did you decorate it for me?”

“I don’t know.” I smile. “All these traditions are new to me.”

He leans closer to me and says sexily, “I have an important tradition that I need your help with.”

“Oh, really? What kind of tradition?”

He responds by taking off his orange sweatshirt.

I swear to all the gods on Mount Olympus that someday I am going to run my tongue down those abs. Follow the happy trail all the way down . . .

“Uh, what? Did you say something?”

He flashes me a knowing grin. “Yes. I said that it’s your job to paint this neon stuff on me for the pep rally.”

“Are you going to be shirtless for the pep rally?”

“Yeah, the cheerleaders asked me to be in their skit.” He tosses the orange sweatshirt over his shoulders like a cape. “I’m Super Cougar.”

“I hate cheerleaders,” I mutter under my breath.

“I heard that.” He bats his brown eyelashes at me and says, “Would you prefer one of them paint me?”

“No!” I say, grabbing a paintbrush out of his hand. “I’ll do it. I’m really good at art.”

Like, sorta.

I mean, I have painted my own toenails in a crisis situation.

He holds up small tubes of yellow, orange, and green neon paint.

I run up to the food line, grab a paper plate, and then squeeze the paint onto it.

“Did they tell you what they wanted?”

“I think just stripes here and there.”

“Okay.” I dip the brush in his water bottle then into the paint. I carefully place the brush on the end of his collarbone, trace it over his shoulder, then slowly down his arm to his hand. Going over each and every muscle. I repeat the procedure on his other side, using the orange instead of the neon yellow.

Then I run stripes of color straight across his stomach, the brush slowly gliding across all the places my mouth longs to be.

Aiden shifts uncomfortably.

“Did I do something wrong?” I ask, standing back up from where I was kneeling in front of him.

“Uh, no,” he says, clearing his voice.

I brush more paint onto his skin directly above his waistband where his shorts are riding low on his hips.

He groans a little and then steals the paintbrush out of my hand. “Your turn.”

“My turn . . .” I start to say as he quickly paints stripes across my cheeks.

I stick my finger in the paint and run it down the sides of his cheeks. Making him look like a warrior god getting ready for battle.

He adds more paint down the sides of my arms.

I move my neon sunglasses from the top of my head down to cover my eyes. “I can’t be seen with all this paint on my face,” I tease.

Then he sets the paintbrush down, curls up his fist, places it gently under my chin, and kisses me.

The sexual one.

Lunch

I'm walking toward the café when Dawson grabs me. “We need to talk,” he says.

He has my hand and is dragging me toward our bench.

“Do you know what today is?”

“Friday. The big Compass Cup game day. Are you nervous?”

“It’s our two month anniversary. The sexual one.”

“Oh.”

“Are you in love with him?”

I rub my hand across my eyebrow and slump my shoulder. “I don’t know.”

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do this weekend.”

“If you’re asking me if it’s okay to hook up with some girl, I’m going to give you the same advice you gave me. When you feel like you want to, you will.”

“I don’t feel like I want to. But then, I do.”

“Dawson, just the fact that we can sit calmly and talk about this should probably tell us both something.”

“That we’re better off as friends?”

“Probably.”

“You made me believe in love again.”

“I was broken too. Still am. Love sucks. Or maybe I just suck.”

Dawson grins at me and jabs his elbow teasingly into my side. “I always liked that about you.”

“Happy Anniversary, Dawson,” I say, kissing his cheek and laughing.

“Sit with me at lunch, today?”

“Okay.”

“Whoever you date better be good with us being friends.”

“I won’t date them if they’re not.”

As we walk back to the café, I say, “I heard Peyton is your escort.”

“She wants to piss off Whitney.”

“I think pissing Whitney off is a bad idea. Why do you keep sitting at her table, Dawson? Jake’s left. Really, everyone’s left.”

“They’ll be back. It’s always been our table.”

I wanna get lucky.

Pep rally

The football guys are getting set up for their speeches.

As I walk by Ace, Dawson, and Logan with my pompoms, Logan calls out, “Keatyn, wait! I want you to have one of these.” He flashes a clover tattoo at me from the stack in his hand.

“What’s with all the fucking clovers?” Dawson asks.

“Shouldn’t they be cougar paws?” Ace adds.

“They’re for luck,” Logan tells them both. “Don’t you wanna be lucky?”

“I wanna get lucky,” Ace says, fist-bumping Dawson.

I raise an eyebrow at them.

“Oh,” Ace says. “I mean, uh, you know. With the big victory.”

I roll my eyes and walk away.

Logan follows me. “These are for the team, but I saved you one.”

He pours some water on a paper towel then looks me over.

“Right there,” he says, pointing to my hip, right above where my other tattoo is.

As he’s putting the tattoo on me, I say, “That’s right above my other tattoo.”

“You have a tattoo?”

“Yeah.” I pull down the waistband of my neon green dance skirt and show him.

“What’s that mean?”

“It stands for chaos.”

“Luck and chaos. Perfect.”

“Why is it perfect?”

“Because we’ve lost the last three years running. And tonight,” he yells out loud, “there’s going to be chaos in Connecticut!”

“Chaos in Connecticut!” everyone cheers.

Maggie walks by without saying anything, so I grab her.

“Can Maggie have one?”

Logan looks her up and down and smirks. “I don’t know. What do you think?”

“I think she needs one more than you do.”

He nods. “You can have mine, Maggie.”

“Hold still, Maggie,” I boss. “He’ll put it in the same spot as mine.”

“Naw, different spot,” he says, holding her gaze.

Then he shocks us both when he places it right above her heart.

“Now you’ll be lucky in love,” he says and walks away.

Maggie puts her hand over the tattoo and visibly melts.

But then she squints her eyes at me. “Why does he want me to be lucky in love? Does he want me with Jake?”

“Maybe he wants to be lucky in love with you.”

“That would take more than luck,” she says. “That would take a miracle.”

The big game.

7pm

There's excitement everywhere. Pompoms wave. People cheer as the team runs out of the locker room through a blowup cougar head.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice Riley grab Ariela's hand and pull her out of line, but then more guys run by and I don’t see where they go.

The big game is held at a nearby college stadium and the place is packed.

All the escorts are waiting for the football players to come off the field from warm-ups.

I notice Ariela has a clover tattoo on her cheek.

“Did Riley give you that?”

She puts her hand up to her cheek and smiles. When she does, I see a flash of pink on her left hand.

“Ohmigawd, did he finally ask?” I jump up and down.

She beams but then grabs my hands and whispers, “Shhhh. I haven't told anyone yet.”

“What'd he say? When did he ask?” I whisper back, still sort of jumping in place because I'm so excited.

“Just before the game. He gave me the tattoo, asked me to be his lucky charm, and then asked me to be his girlfriend.”

I give her a big hug. I'm so excited.

Then she looks at me and says, “Wait. What do you mean, finally asked?”

“He showed me and Dallas the ring weeks ago. Was all shy and said you had a thing for Hello Kitty. Isn't it adorable?”

“You didn't help him pick it out?”

“Nope. He did it all by himself. And I'm pretty sure he had it for a while before he even showed us.”

“He told me he loves me,” she whispers breathlessly.

“Back off, Kiki, she's mine,” Riley says loudly, wrapping an arm around Ariela and planting a big kiss on her lips. “Officially.”

“It's about time,” I say to him

Big hands curl around the bare skin at my waist sending waves of electricity down my sides. I turn around and immediately get a spine-tingling kiss of my own.

“You look good as my number one,” Aiden says.

“I saw you warming up. The balls all have four-leaf clovers on them.”

“Yeah, Coach saw all of Logan's tattoos and asked us to put them on—since it worked before. Although it seemed to piss Dawson off.”

“Why?”

“Maybe because you have a clover on your hip?”

The game is exciting.

A back and forth battle.

Dawson still seems to be pissed at Aiden because he's only thrown one pass to him.

Although it might be the fact that Dawson’s been on the run most of the night. Our offensive line is having a hard time holding back their defense.

Right before the half, Dawson gets tackled and is slow to get up. Tyrese helps him limp off to the side.

The coach sends Riley in to replace him.

He lines up in the shotgun position and is still calling the play when one of the defensive players rushes across the line of scrimmage and tackles him flat on his back.

The crowd boos as the official throws a flag. Riley stands up quickly, wraps his hand into the guy’s jersey, and gets in his face. I'm not sure what he tells him but the guy quickly moves back to his side of the field.

Riley calls a timeout, runs over to the bench, and has an animated discussion with the coach. Riley takes the field with Logan and Aiden following him.

They all line up, the ball is snapped, and Aiden and Logan both sprint down the field in a crossing pattern. Logan's defender misses the read, so Aiden ends up double-teamed and Logan is wide open. Riley launches the ball to him for the score.

Maggie is standing next to me in the dance line.

Logan runs past us, looks at Maggie, and pats the spot above his heart.

She touches the clover tattoo and smiles at him. But her smile is tinged with sadness and regret.

I hope after the play tomorrow night that regret is turned to hope.

After winning the game, we're wandering around on the field congratulating all the players. I look for Dawson to see if he’s okay. Cam is standing next to him, as are Peyton and Whitney. Peyton is flirting with Cam. He's got a big grin on his face, clearly loving the attention. Whitney is wearing her bored look.

“How are you?” I ask Dawson.

“I’m fine, just took a shot to the ribs. Knocked the wind out of me.”

“He'll be fine. The girls we’re hanging out with tonight are pre-med.”

Dawson tries to pull me toward him but winces and stops.

“You're really hurt.”

“I’ll be okay,” he says, stepping away from everyone else.

“I saw your face when Cam said that about the girls. You looked sad.”

“This is hard, Dawson.”

“I think the transition back to friends might be a little rough.”

I nod.

“You looked really happy when you went out on the field with Aiden. You don’t look like that with me. Even Cam said so.”

“You deserve a girl that looks like that when she's with you.”

He gives me a sad smile. “I felt really jealous, but not in the way I expected. More like I want that someday.”

Real electricity.

1:20am

I go to Aiden’s room to party and find him waiting for me outside his door.

He looks at me with such dreamy eyes that I feel a bit tipsy even though I haven’t had a drop to drink. “Come in.”

I walk in his room and am confused. “Where is everyone?”

He grins big at me. “I cancelled the party.”

“But Katie went to a party.”

“They moved it to the Cave. I told them they couldn’t party in my room anymore.” He points toward the back of his room. “The keg is gone for good.”

“Was everyone pissed?”

“Very. But I don’t care. I think it was you who told me I should only worry about what the people I love think. What my real friends think.”

“What does Logan think?”

“He and Riley helped me get the keg down to the Cave.”

“I’m proud of you, Aiden. It’s hard to stand up to your friends. Do what’s right for you.”

“What can I say? You inspire me.”

“Me? I’m a mess.”

“You’re not as much of a mess as you think you are. Do you wanna dance?”

“No.”

“Oh?” He looks perplexed. I think gods are not used to being told no. It’s like the word bewilders him.

“I’d rather kiss you.”

He smiles, flashing all that blinding, brilliant power at me. I touch his hand and lead him to his bed.

We sit on the edge of his bed, both of us staring at each other. I remember thinking it was just a line when he told me he could stare into my eyes all day, but now I think he really meant it.

When his lips touch mine, they shock me.

And not his normal electrical feel. I’m talking, he actually shocks me.

“Damn, I knew your kisses were powerful, but I didn’t realize they could produce real electricity.”

He laughs, then looks at me seriously. “My kisses are powerful?”

I swallow, breathe, and nod. I’m afraid to say anything else. He taps my lip with his finger to see if he’ll get shocked again. When there is no shock, he traces my bottom lip with his finger.

I kiss his finger. Then I close my eyes and slowly suck on it. I run my tongue up the side of it, across the tip, and then slide my mouth down most of his long finger.

He seems to like it because he’s rubbing his hands hard up and down my back and leaning toward me. He rubs my lower lip with his finger when I let it slide out of my mouth and hang there before taking it deep into my mouth.

He makes a deep, throaty noise. It’s thrilling to have this effect on him just by kissing a finger. I can’t even imagine what it will be like when I kiss something more personal.

I finish sucking on his finger and he gives me a deep, hard kiss. His hands run wildly through my hair and down my back. Our tongues play a fun game of cat and mouse.

Then he leans me back across the bed and lies on top of me.

I pull his shirt off. I want—no, I need—to feel his skin against mine. I run my hands all over his smooth back, across his chest, down the front of his abs, and then back again. I want to memorize every muscle, every curve, every bulge, everything.

He kisses my neck, so I’m not really sure what exactly I’m doing now. I just know I need my hands on him.

I’m rubbing, massaging, and even letting my fingers trail the line just underneath his waistband, but not trying to go any further.

I could seriously spend days, weeks, maybe months, kissing him.

I kiss down his neck and suck on it.

He makes the sexiest noises I have ever heard.

While I’m kissing every square inch of his neck, he pulls off my sweatshirt. Well, I have to stop kissing his neck for a second while it comes over my head, but then I continue like I never stopped.

He runs his hands all over my skin. Searing his name into my soul with every single touch.

His hands are everywhere. Touching every part of me.

Well, every part of me that is naked. Which really isn’t much. Considering I’m still wearing my bra and jeans.

His fingers dance around the edges of my bra, like they’re trying to decide what to do.

I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed that he doesn’t unhook it.

Until his lips move from my neck to my chest.

His tongue moves across my cleavage and around the edges of my bra.

Like the feather.

Only with his tongue.

I changed my mind.

The feather isn’t my heaven.

It’s his tongue.


Saturday, November 5th

That little shit.

10:30am

“We need to discuss this trip,” Cooper tells me. I’m in his office after being called in. I had geared up for a fight. For him to tell me I can’t go. So, I’m pleasantly surprised to hear that he’s been planning already.

“Okay.”

“Obviously, we’ll leave here separately and meet up at the airport.”

“Okay.”

“If at any time anyone from school figures out that we were gone together, we’ll admit that we were.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. There’s an MMA fight in Atlantic City. I’ve booked us separate rooms at the hotel and bought us tickets. I have two friends with our basic descriptions checking us into our rooms and using our tickets. They will also be giving me our receipts.”

“I don’t get why that’s necessary.”

“Whitney has been snooping around. It’s important that I keep my job.”

“Okay. What about the flights?”

“I chartered them all. First, we’re flying to South Bend, Indiana. You’ll be wearing a brown wig and, if anyone asks, you’re there on a college visit.”

“Then what?”

“Then, we’re renting a car and instead of visiting the college, we’re driving two hours to Chicago. We’ll drop off our rental car at O’Hare, catch a cab to a nearby hotel, and then go to a smaller executive airport. We’ll take that charter to somewhere closer to Vancouver.”

“Let’s go to Salt Lake City and fly from there under my real name.”

Cooper grins at me. “That was one of the places where he thought you might be, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Perfect. We’ll charter a flight from there to Vancouver under your real name. That way, he can follow the trail there if he wants to.”

“But it will lead to a dead end.”

“Exactly. This is going to be exhausting. We’ll leave here at 4am. With the time difference, that should put us there around noon their time.”

“That’s perfect. Thank you so much, Cooper. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

He eyes a stack of papers on his desk. “I have to admit, I never realized how much work teaching would be. And I’m basically teaching a senior slack-off class. I can’t imagine what it would be like if I was teaching something like history.”

“Wait, did you say seniors!?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Some juniors take health, right?”

“Um, no. Seniors only. To prepare them for college. We talk about their overall health. It's not just sex. It's nutrition, alcohol, drugs, exercise, stress control, and time management.”

“So if a junior told me he was taking a poll about sex for health class, he was lying.”

“Yes.”

I smile. That little shit.

Life can follow a script.

11:15am

I go to the auditorium to get into hair and makeup. We have two performances back to back followed by the cast party tonight.

Before the first performance, Aiden texts me.

Hottie God:  Can I see you before the play? Wish you luck?

Me:  You can see me before the play, but you can’t wish me luck or you’ll jinx it. That’s why you always say break a leg.

Hottie God:  Maybe that was just an excuse to kiss you.

I walk out the stage door already dressed in my cheerleader costume for the first scene.

Aiden immediately gives me a sweet kiss. Then he pulls a green marker out of his pocket.

“What’s that for?”

“It’s for breaking a leg.”

“What?”

He looks me over then bends down on one knee and lifts up my cheerleading skirt.

I want to ask him what the hell he’s doing, but his hand touches my thigh, making me incapable of speech.

He takes the lid off the marker and puts the tip of it on my thigh. I can feel that he’s drawing hearts on my leg. But when he finishes and lets me see, I realize the four hearts are forming a perfect four-leaf clover.

I fish inside my bra and pull out the glass four-leaf clover he gave me before my speech. “I already had this with me.”

“In your bra?” he laughs.

I hold my hands out. “Look at this costume and tell me where else I could’ve put it.”

He lets his eyes wander slowly down my skimpy costume. When they return to meet mine, I see the fire in his eyes. The passion that he had that day he first kissed me with his tongue. But this time, he’s not mad at me.

He kisses the glass clover, tucks it back inside my bra, and says, “Break a leg, Boots.”

Our first performance of the day goes off without a hitch. No one forgets their lines and no one messes up the lighting, sound, or sets.

Afterward, Aiden comes backstage carrying a bouquet of lavender roses and white feathers.

“Aiden, these are beautiful. Love the feathers. I wonder what in the world they’re in reference too?”

“I think you know exactly what both the feathers and the lavender roses mean. You were amazing. You seriously light up the stage when you're on it.”

I grin my widest smile. I can't stop grinning. I don't think I've ever felt so happy.

I’m not sure if I lit up the stage or not, but I do know that the stage lit up something inside of me.

I know without a doubt that acting is what I want to do with my life.

“I think you’re going to change your mind about acting,” he goes on to say. “You may not think you’re ready, but you are. It’s obvious.”

I start to disagree because I have to. He holds up his hand and pushes a piece of paper in front of me. “I don’t care what you say. I want to be the first to get your autograph.”

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I know Aiden is just playing, being sweet, but he’s touched something deep in my heart. I think it’s because he believes in me.

“Do you have a pen?”

Aiden pats his pockets and when he comes up empty, he starts looking around.

“I have a bunch in my purse.” I grab my purse, dig to the bottom, and pull one out. I’m shocked to see Avery’s purple glitter pen come out in my hand. Although, it’s the perfect pen to use for my first autograph.

I take the cap off and start to write my name.

And I think there may be something magical about this pen, because for the first time since I’ve been here, I don’t even hesitate. I write Keatyn Monroe.

Completely. No M that’s half a D. It’s a perfectly-formed M.

“Aren't you going to kiss it?” Aiden says with a grin.

“I think I’d rather kiss you.”

He gives me a beaming smile. “Only if I get to end up in the moonlight with you.”

Love Me

It’s the final scene of our second, and last, performance of the night.

The Good Prince and the Cheerleader, along with the Bad Prince and his Debutante fiancée, have been called into the coronation room by the Queen.

“You were all good sports about this competition and the TV ratings were extraordinary. The monarchy is back in the black. Even though this show was all about involving the townspeople and the world in your quests to find brides, only one of you can be the next King. As I told you in the beginning, true love is the key.”

She takes a crown and places it on the Good Prince’s head. “You, my son, will be the next King. And remember, everyone, true love conquers all.”

After our final bows, I rush off stage to get Maggie, making up some lame excuse about needing her backstage with me while everyone clears out. I chatter endlessly about everything and nothing.

Finally, I get a text from Logan letting me know that it’s time. That everyone has left for the cast party.

I walk Maggie out of the dressing room, where Logan is waiting to take her hand.

I rush away quickly, so she has no time to argue.

Then I sneak to the back of the darkened auditorium to sit next to Aiden.

He grabs my hand and gives it a little squeeze.

We watch as Logan, in his full Prince costume, leads Maggie out onto the stage.

Time to see if life can actually follow a script.

THE SETTING: EASTBROOKE AUDITORIUM. THE BACHELOR PRINCE SET OF THE BEACH IN THE MOONLIGHT.

LOGAN

(Taking Maggie’s hands in his)

I brought you here because I owe you an apology.

MAGGIE

(Wearing a look of confusion at being brought onto the stage. Then her face shows shock)

An apology?

LOGAN

Yes. I’ve been blaming you for our breakup and it’s not all your fault. If I hadn’t been texting that girl, we’d still be together. I’m really sorry, Mags.

Maggie smiles at him in a way I’ve never seen her smile. I’ve also never heard him or anyone else calls her Mags.

Logan smiles back at her, clearly happy that for the most part she’s been following our script, and continues.

LOGAN

I also want you to know how I feel about you.

Maggie instantly frowns and says exactly what I predicted.

MAGGIE

You hate me.

Logan lets go of one of her hands and gently touches her cheek. “I may act like I do, but I don’t. I’m still so in love with you.”

“Bullshit. You’re mean to me.”

“I know I have been, and I’m sorry. But I’ve realized that it’s not where you’ve been that matters, it’s where you end up that does. I want to end up with you, Mags. Forever.”

Maggie has tears in her eyes.

Aiden and I both hold our breaths. We know it could go either way at this point. She could walk out or kiss him.

Aiden squeezes my hand tightly as Maggie wipes her tears and says, “I want to end up with you too.”

(They share true love’s perfect kiss)

Well, it starts out as a perfect-ending-fairy-tale kiss, but it quickly turns into something that would not be appropriate for a Disney movie. Aiden pulls on my hand and we sneak out of the auditorium.


Sunday, November 6th

Full of life.

7:55am

I wake up, trying to figure out where I am and why it’s so bright in here. “Aiden! It’s almost eight! What time does your dorm advisor wake up?”

“He works out every day at six. But it’s okay. If anyone sees you, they’ll just think you came over this morning. I mean, you’re in your running shoes.”

Sadly, I am. I just woke up in a boy’s bed and am still fully clothed.

I calm down, mostly due to the fact that he’s running his hand across my face. It might be more relaxing than a bath and weed combined. He does have good, good hands.

“Aiden, that seriously feels so good. You have no idea.” Then I open my eyes and look into his. “My dad used to do that to me when I was little. It calmed me down. Apparently, I could be a little wild.”

“I like that about you.”

“That I’m a little wild? Wild, like slutty?”

“No, silly. I just like that you’re spunky, wild, and full of life. It’s that little spark of fearlessness that made you steal the soccer ball from boys you’d never met and kick it at my face. It may be the thing I like best about you.”

I want to cry. There’s something that Aiden likes best about me and it’s not a sexual thing. I want to kiss him.

So I do.

“What do you like best about me?” he asks.

I think about it for a second. I love his godly smile, his lips, and his muscles. The little freckle just under his eye. The sound of his voice. But there’s one thing that has always made Aiden stand out.

“Your strength. I like your strength.”

He flexes a buff arm in front of me. “This strength?”

“No, your inner strength. You’re determined. You never seem to get stressed. You naturally take control. You make me feel safe.”

He wraps his strong arms around me and pulls me into his chest. I breathe in his strength and, possibly, his love.

“Last night was nice, Aiden. I liked falling asleep with you.”

“It was better than nice. So next weekend, we’re still going to New York, right? Do some shopping. Hang out?”

“That sounds fun.”

He points to the four-leaf clover, which is peeking out from under my shorts. “Break a leg again today.”

“Thanks.”

He kisses me on the cheek, and says, “I wish I was going with you tomorrow. I’d love to meet your family.”

I wish he could too, I think wistfully as I say, “Maybe someday.”

Didn’t listen.

6pm

After our performance, a stagehand brings me a beautiful bouquet of flowers. It’s a mass of pastel blooms held together by an aqua satin bow.

“Are these for me?”

“Yeah, some dude asked me to give them to you.”

“Some dude?”

“Yeah, he was talk and dark haired. He said there’s a card.”

Tall and dark?

My hands are shaking as I pull the little card out of the envelope. On the card is just one thing.

A replica of my chaos tattoo.

I drop the bouquet and look around wildly.

Because I know.

Vincent is here.

My director didn’t listen to me. He called Vincent. He came to the play. He knows where I am.

Aiden walks in and says, “Boots, what's wrong? You’re shaking.”

“Um, I don't feel very good.”

“What do you mean?” Aiden asks as I rush over to the trashcan and throw up in it.

Aiden chuckles. “Aren't you supposed to get stage fright before the play?”

I hang onto the big trash barrel while tuning out Aiden’s voice.

I've got to get out of here. I've got to find Cooper.

“I’m sorry. I have to go.” I run out of the dressing room and leave Aiden standing there.

But I can’t go outside. I can’t risk him waiting for me.

I run back onto the now darkened stage and wrap myself in the folds of the velvet curtains.

I grab my phone out of my dress pocket and hold it tightly against my chest while I change the setting to dim.

Then I text Cooper.

Me:  He’s here. He came to the play. The director told him about me even though I asked him not too. I don’t even know where to go. I can’t run because I know he’s going to catch me this time. Cooper, I’m scared.

Cooper:  Where are you? I'll be right there. 

Me:  Hiding on the stage. 

He doesn't reply.

I stand shaking in the curtain for what feels like an eternity.

I think about how it will go down.

Vincent watched the play. He's going to be waiting for me outside. He's going to hit me over the head, or jab a needle into me, or maybe he'll just put his hand across my mouth and say don't scream.

It’s then that I kick myself for hiding in this curtain. That was stupid of me. I should have stayed with Aiden. I should've grabbed his arm and left with the crowd.

But in Miami, Vincent threatened to shoot Damian. If he were cornered and close to having me, he would shoot his way out of here.

Killing Aiden and my friends.

No, it's better this way.

Just me and him.

Maybe I should let him kidnap me.

Let him take me. Have Garrett track my locket, find me, and then arrest him.

I’d get my life back.

I'd go see my family. Hug my sisters. Go back to the beach. Smell the ocean.

I think about a recent thriller movie where a girl is on the phone hiding under a bed while men are in her house. Her dad tells her that she’s about to get taken.

I'm about to get taken.

I reach up to grab my locket, but my fingers don’t touch it. I pat my chest, frantically searching for the locket.

It's not on me. It's lying on my dresser because we weren't allowed to wear any jewelry for the play.

I realize I'm screwed.

I hear the auditorium door open. Footsteps walk up the stairs.

Then onto the stage and closer to me.

I stop breathing and don’t move a muscle.

I can feel that he’s closer.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

Ohmigawd!

I was right.

He's here.

Please don't let him find me.

But then my phone vibrates.

Even though it’s tight against my chest it makes a little noise.

The shoes start walking toward me.

Getting closer and closer.

I'm going to have to fight. Take him by surprise.

I launch myself at the dark form in front of me, knocking him and me quickly to the ground. Then I start wildly punching.

I connect with both his chest and his face.

I leap up to run away as he grabs me, rolls on top of me, and pins me on the floor.

Fuck.

I close my eyes tightly.

“You're supposed to punch the bad guy, not the one that's here to rescue you.”

I quickly open my eyes. “Cooper? Ohmigawd. I thought. I thought . . .”

We both freeze at the sound of a door opening. Cooper covers my mouth and gets both of us to our feet effortlessly and quietly.

We hear the sound of shoes heading back toward the dressing rooms.

Cooper runs his hand down my leg, slides my heels off, and then pulls me across the stage.

We sneak down the steps then crouch behind the auditorium seats.

When he thinks the coast is clear, we run toward the main entrance.

Cooper’s still holding my hand as we exit the building. He pulls me toward a car parked in the handicapped stall.

There's a big puddle of water that I’m ready to run through, but Cooper scoops me up, carries me over it, and sets me in the car.

He slams the door shut, quickly runs to the driver’s side, and gets in.

I look out the window, scanning the area for Vincent. I remember Garrett telling me that he couldn’t disguise his height.

The only person I see, though, is Whitney. She watches us drive by, not even trying to hide the disgust on her face.

Shit.

Now, she's really going to think there’s something going on between us.

I shake my head. She’s the least of my worries.

“We need to leave campus,” I say, as I see Cooper driving toward his quarters.

“I think we're safer here.”

“No. Garrett told me to run. Go to the train station. Run. Get away.”

“That was before you hired me.”

He pulls up in front of his quarters and we run into his town house.

I drop down on his couch as he pulls his curtains shut. He grabs my hand again and leads me upstairs to his bedroom.

Then he pulls me onto the bed and into an embrace.

“You're shaking,” he says in a gentle voice. “Calm down. You're safe.”

Then he rubs his eye, which I realize is starting to swell.

“I think I gave you a black eye.”

He grins at me. “You did a good job.”

“Not good enough. You pinned me in two seconds.”

Cobra Cooper strikes again, quickly pinning me on the bed.

“Now what am I supposed to do?” I say as I reach up and gently touch his quickly swelling face.

He grabs my hands and pins them above my head.

My breathing starts to speed up a little.

“If something happens today. To me. To you. If he gets you. You need to know how to get away. I suspect this is a position he will want you in.”

I look up at his hand strongly gripping mine. Run my eyes down his tightly straining muscles His rock hard body.

But it’s Cooper and he’s not scary.

“You just relaxed. That's exactly what I was getting ready to tell you to do. It makes you feel like less of a threat. Look at me like you want to kiss me.”

I lock eyes with him. Raise my chin toward him, slowly licking my bottom lip.

“That’s exactly right. Because you’re not fighting me, I’m not gripping your hands as tightly. Can you feel that?”

“Yes.”

“What do you notice about my body?”

I open my eyes to look at him.

“No,” he says. “Leave your eyes closed. Use your body.”

I raise my hips up toward him, which causes him to push into me.

“What do you feel?”

“Your hips.”

“Yes, but if I were your assailant, I would be aroused. He’s been dreaming about having you in this position for months. He’s been planning and scheming and finally, you are his. And, even better, you’re submissive, so he thinks you want him. Which makes him feel powerful and in control. But he’s not anymore. Now that he’s aroused, he’ll loosen his grip. He’ll be vulnerable. What are you going to do?”

I press my lips firmly on his.

He responds by pushing his hip into me and kissing me back. I pull away from the kiss, pushing my head deeply into the pillow as I rock my hips into him and make a little moan.

“That’s it,” he tells me. “This is when you make your move.”

“I could head butt you.”

“Do it softly.”

I push my head into his. He reels back, but when he does, he sits on me. His full body weight trapping me.

“Shit. That didn’t work. All that would’ve done is pissed you off.”

“Exactly.”

“So what should I do?”

He gets back in his previous position.

“Push your hips back up. Feel how much space there is between us?”

I remember a wrestling move that Logan put on Jake.

I use the space to flip him over and sit on top of him.

“You're supposed to run away now. Not sit on top of me.”

I grab his hands and push them above his head, putting him into the position he just had me in. “What are you gonna do now?”

Cooper smiles big enough to form deep dimples. “That was a good move. But this isn’t some movie, Keatyn. This is real life.”

“I wish we were in a movie,” I say, suddenly exhausted. “Then I could control the script. And no offense, but if I controlled the script, you wouldn't be here. There would be no Vincent.”

There's a knock at his door.

My eyes get big.

Cooper effortlessly flips me off him and then pushes me into the bathroom. “The window opens to the fire escape. If I don’t come back, you go out that window and run.”

I start to shake again and get tears in my eyes.

I grab Cooper and hug him tightly.

“I’m coming back,” he says, grabbing a black handgun off his dresser and creeping downstairs.

There's another knock.

I hear Cooper answer the door.

Part of me is praying it’s Vincent. That Cooper will shoot him and this will be over.

Instead, I hear Whitney yell, “Keatyn, are you here?”

Cooper says in a calm voice. “You can't come in here. And, no, she isn’t.”

“I saw her get in the car with you. Where is she?”

“I dropped her off at her dorm.”

“I was just at her dorm. No one has seen her.”

“I’m not sure what she did after I dropped her off.”

“You have a black eye.”

“I'm sorry, Miss Clarke, but you need to leave. If you are concerned about Miss Monroe, I'll be glad to call the dean for you.”

“No, um, that's okay.”

Cooper shuts the door and turns the deadbolt. I shut the window, thankful not to have to crawl out of it.

Then I duck when I see Whitney peering back at the house.

“She’s a pain in the ass. I’m going to call Garrett to have some reinforcements sent in. I want a couple people just outside the school’s gates. Tell me what happened. How do you know that he’s here? Did you see him in the audience?”

“No. A stagehand gave me a ridiculously huge bouquet of flowers. The card was only signed with the chaos tattoo that Vincent got. And I was freaking out because I don’t have my locket on. I had to take it off for the play.”

While he’s on the phone with Garrett, I check my phone. I have a bunch of missed calls from B.

I decide to call him back.

“Keats! Wow!”

“Wow what?”

“You were amazing and I haven’t even seen it all yet. I wanted to come, but I figured that would be too dangerous. So I called a local videographer and paid him to record the play today. I’m watching it now. Keats, you did so good. I’m so proud of you. Did you get the flowers?”

Relief crashes over me like an ocean wave.

I drop my phone and start crying.

Cooper walks back in the room, picks up my phone, and says, “She’ll call you back.”

“What happened?”

“The flowers were from my ex, Brooklyn. They weren’t from Vincent. I’m sorry. I panicked when I saw the chaos tattoo. He and I both have them. I hate this!” I scream. “I hate that I can’t even get surprise flowers from a boy without freaking out!”

“Calm down. You did the right thing. Sit down for a minute. I need to call Garrett back.”

I throw myself across his bed.

Cooper shakes me. “Hey.”

I wake up with a start. “I think I fell asleep.”

“It’s called an adrenaline crash.”

“Yeah, I guess. I suppose I better get back to my dorm.”

He takes me downstairs and hands me the big bouquet of flowers that B sent. “I went and got them for you.”

I look at them and smile. “I should’ve known they were from him. The aqua blue ribbon is almost the same color as his eyes.”

“Maybe you should call him back.”

“Yeah. Do you care if I call him from here? I don’t want my friends to overhear anything they shouldn’t.”

“Go ahead. I’ve got a faculty meeting to attend. Just lock the door when you leave.”

“Thanks, Cooper. Did Garrett get mad?”

“He wasn’t mad. But I didn’t tell him what we have planned for tomorrow.”

I call B.

“What happened? Who was that guy?”

“I’m sorry. Thanks for the flowers. They’re beautiful. I just freaked out because I thought they were from Vincent. I thought he found me.”

“Who was that guy?”

“It was Cooper, my bodyguard.”

“You have a bodyguard?”

“I do now, yes.”

“How did you not know the flowers were from me? I signed it with chaos. Even did the bow the color of the ocean.”

“I told you that Vincent got a tattoo just like yours and he rubbed it against me in Miami.”

“I didn’t even think of that. I’m so sorry I scared you.”

“It’s okay.”

“I just finished watching the play. You were amazing, Keats. Really. I’m going to figure out a way to get rid of Vincent. Then you can come home and act. We’ll do a schedule. I’ll still travel but we’ll spend as much time together as possible. Tommy and your mom always make their schedules work. We’ll do it too.”

“Brooklyn, would you really be okay with me acting? With all that goes with it? The red carpet events. The tabloids. The magazine covers. Kissing my co-stars.”

“I’ve been going to clubs.”

“What?”

“I know. But that’s what all the guys like to do for fun while we’re on tour. I didn’t really get why you like it so much. But it’s the energy. The crowd. That’s what you love more than the dancing, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, probably.”

“I love you, Keats. I know I was a jerk about your party. About dancing. About your dress. It wasn’t slutty. You looked amazing. Like always. I was pissed at myself. I knew the second I left guys would be lining up for you. I just didn’t know what to do.”

“What if you got a do-over? What would you do differently?”

“I’d ask you to be my girlfriend. We’d figure out together how to make our relationship work. I’d be the only boy kissing you on the dance floor. And if I ever get the chance to walk with you on a red carpet, I’d be there. I’d even wear a suit.”

“Really?” I say, holding my hand to my heart as my eyes fill up with tears.

“Really.”


Monday, November 7th

Sandy castles.

 4am

Cooper and I leave in our separate cars from school, meet up at the airport, and do our cross-country tour to get to Vancouver without leaving a trail.

When we get to the house my family is leasing, a shocked James meets us out front surrounded by four security guards.

“What are you doing here?” he asks, eyeing me suspiciously.

“What do you think I’m doing here, James? It’s Gracie’s birthday.”

“Who’s the guy?”

“This is Cooper Steele. Garrett hired him to be my bodyguard. Why are you acting so weird?”

“Since Vincent followed your mom to New York, we’ve been worried that you might not be enough for him.”

“What do you mean?”

“We think you’re both in danger. That’s why you haven’t seen any pictures of your mom and Tommy together. She refuses to go out in public with him. She won’t even ride in the same car with him.”

“Why?”

“She had a dream that Vincent shot them both. She’s afraid it was a premonition, and she doesn’t want the girls to grow up without at least one parent.”

“That’s horrible!”

“Garrett is also worried that he could use one of you as bait. In order to get you both.”

“Has he been following Mom?”

“She always has someone following her. It’s rarely Vincent, but we know he’s hired someone. And he watches the house. You shouldn’t be here.”

“Why don’t you make him go away?”

“Because he sucks at his job and is easy to spot. If he’s there, we know Vincent is probably not.”

“Wait. Is that why you brought the hulks with the guns out here? Why you haven’t let me in the house? You think I’d bring Vincent here? Where my sisters are? Are you nuts, James?”

“I’m sorry, Keatyn. I assume no matter what that you’d want me to keep your sisters safe. Is that correct?”

I nod as tears flood my eyes.

I was so excited to come here. I thought everyone would be happy to see me.

I turn toward the car. “I have a present for Gracie. Will you please give it to her and let her know it was from me?”

I open the car door and ask Cooper to unload her present.

“We’re clear.” I hear from a walkie-talkie.

Cooper has been standing stick still but ready to strike. He hasn’t said a word until now. “That means you get to go to your sister’s birthday party.”

“I’m sorry,” James says to me. “I’m just doing my job.”

I nod as we’re led through the front door of a sprawling contemporary log cabin style home.

Mom rushes down the stairs. “Keatyn! Why are you here?”

“I came for Gracie’s birthday. I couldn’t miss it.”

She looks really nervous to see me, but she quickly hides it with a smile. “Did Brook know you were coming?”

“Uh, no. Why?” I reply as Tommy and Mom give me hugs and I introduce them to Cooper. We briefly explain how Vincent is in Miami doing his auditions, so we knew that my coming here would be okay. Cooper also fills James in on our no breadcrumbs trip here.

We follow Mom out to a lush backyard.

And there, sitting in the middle of a huge sandbox, is Brooklyn, building sand castles with the girls.

“B is here? I just talked to him yesterday and he didn’t tell me he was coming.” My eyes fill up with tears again as my heart feels warm and full.

I grab my mom’s hand. “When did he get here?”

“Late last night. He had a sandbox and a truckload of sand delivered this morning.”

“I told him she wanted to build sandy castles with him.” I yell out, “Gracie!”

Gracie turns toward the sound of her name, sees me, jumps up, does something similar to the Snoopy happy dance, and then runs straight to me. I bend down as she catapults herself into my arms.

“Happy birthday, Gracie!”

“Happy birthday to Kiki,” she says back.

Then all the girls come running over and gang tackle me into the grass. Covering me with hugs and kisses.

Gracie screams, “No! My Kiki!”

The other girls back off as a hand reaches out to help me up.

A deeply tanned hand attached to a thicker than usual arm.

I grasp his hand as he pulls me to my feet and into a hug.

“I can't believe you're here.”

He gives me a lopsided grin. “I brought sand.”

I look into his warm blue eyes. Eyes that engulf me with more emotions than the ocean could hold. Eyes that make me feel like I’m riding a wave.

The eyes of home.

Gracie tugs on my hand causing me to break eye contact with him.

“Kiki! Come make sandy castles!” she screams.

I follow her to the sand box, sit in the sand, and start building a castle.

Gracie plops down in B's lap and stares at me.

“Gracie blow out candles,” she tells me.

“You already had cake?”

“No,” Avery says. “We had waffles for breakfast and she got candles in hers.”

Ivery says, “I didn't have waffles. I don't like waffles. Icky.”

Emery shakes her head. “I love waffles. They are my very favorite!” Then she lowers her voice. “Sometimes, Nanny lets us have waffles for dinner.”

“Waffles for dinner!” they all scream.

“Shhh,” Avery says. “It's a secret.”

“Why is it a secret?” B asks.

“Cuz Mommy and Daddy don't know that Nanny lets us have breakfast for dinner.” The girls all giggle quietly, like it’s the best secret in the world.

The girls chatter away, talking about all sorts of random facts.

I look up to find B staring at me.

He reaches out and places his hand on my cheek. I lean into it and close my eyes. Feeling the warmth. Soaking in his familiar touch. Causing a flurry of memories.

Sunrises on the beach. Floating on our boards. Waiting for the perfect wave. Kissing in the moonlight. Afternoons filled with nothing but his naked body, cool white sheets, and ocean breezes. The thrill of catching a big wave and the proud look on his face when I did.

I turn my face into his hand, put my lips on the spot I know so well, and kiss his tattoo.

Gracie jumps off his lap, knocking his hand off my face.

“Gracie wanna open presents!”

“Where's the dog?” I ask. “Do I get to meet Kiki?”

“I’ll get Kiki out of her kennel,” Emery says.

“No, it’s my turn!” Ivery argues.

They both rush off into the house.

A few minutes later, a yellow blur barrels out of the house with the girls chasing after it.

The dog rushes toward us, bounds into the sand, knocks down the castles, gives Avery a slobbery wet kiss, jumps on Gracie's lap, and then licks her entire nose.

“Bad Kiki!” Gracie yells, but then she wraps her arms around the puppy's neck and practically strangles it.

The dog deftly ducks out of her hold.

“I wuv my bad Kiki,” she says as the dog bounds onto my lap.

She sniffs me first and then licks my hands.

“Come inside for lunch, girls,” Mom yells.

I get up and try to brush some of the sand off my skirt. B wraps his arm around my waist and walks with me to the door.

His gesture reminds me of a song. The kind of song that you know you’ll never forget the lyrics to.

This will always feel familiar.

He stops me, turning me to face him.

“I can't believe you're here,” he says.

“I can't believe you're here. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

He pulls me into a tight hug and I grasp him as tightly as I wish I could grasp my old life.

He looks into my eyes. I noticed there was something different about him in the sandbox but I couldn’t figure it out. Now I know it’s his eyes. They aren't bloodshot. They aren't dazed. They are clear and vibrant and beautiful.

“I’m sorry, for everything, Keats.”

“I’m sorry too.”

“Kiki, come now!” Gracie yells.

We go inside and have Gracie's favorite foods for lunch. After singing “Happy Birthday,” Gracie blows out the candles four different times only to make Tommy light them again.

By the time the candle blowing out is done, I’m sure the cake is covered with spit and germs. But I don't care. It may be the best cake I've ever had in my life.

My mind flicks to Aiden bringing me cake. One single amazing kiss.

I look at B and feel guilty.

While we’re cleaning up, I confess my guilt to Mom.

“My guilt tops your guilt,” she says seriously.

“How?”

“If I weren't an actress—if I were just a normal mom—none of this would be happening. It's my fault. All of it.”

Just as she starts to cry, the puppy jumps up on the kitchen bench, leaps onto the table, and dives headfirst into the cake.

Tommy is quickest to respond. He grabs the dog, hoisting her off the table and shooing her outside.

The girls tear back into the room with Gracie in the lead, all chanting, “Presents! Presents!”

Tommy leans back in his chair, grins, and pulls Gracie onto his lap.

“Did you know that when it’s your birthday you're supposed to get spanked once for every year?”

Brooklyn whispers in my ear. “I’ll be twenty soon. Wanna spank me now?”

The triplets all screech, “No, Daddy. No spankings!”

“Alright. Maybe we'll change that. Let’s go with kisses!” He gives Gracie three purposefully sloppy kisses on the check.

“My turn! My turn!” the triplets say. They stand in line and each kiss Gracie.

Mom follows suit. Then I pull her up on my lap and tickle her sides while I kiss her, causing her to shrill with laughter.

“Guess it’s my turn,” B says. He gives her three sweet kisses on the cheek, and I swear she swoons. She puts her hand on her cheek and holds it there like she's trying to save the kisses.

We go into the family room where there is a stack of presents on the floor. Gracie jumps up and down with excitement.

I sit on the floor. Brooklyn sits directly behind me, putting his knees on each side of me and wrapping his arms around me. He presses his lips into the side of my face.

I lean back into his chest and close my eyes.

“How many times have we sat this way on the beach? Can't you almost feel the ocean breeze on your face?”

“Yes.”

He continues to whisper in my ear as we watch Gracie rip open her presents. “Keats, I'm sorry for any hurt I caused you. I was an idiot. And high. After the cabana girl, I quit smoking and now there's a clarity to my life that I never had before. I'm eating healthier. Working out. And it's all for you.”

I open my eyes.

“You should be doing it for you, B. My mom says you have to love yourself before you can love someone else.”

“That's pretty deep.”

“I've changed too.”

“I can see that. You look so soft and even prettier than I remember.” He slides his hand down my hip, his fingers stopping at the exact spot of my tattoo.

“I know exactly where it is. I know every,” he taps my skin, “teeny, tiny place on you. And when you're ready, I can't wait to feel every single inch of it again.”

I feel high. My brain is fried. I don't even bother thinking at this point. I don't know when I'll see him again and I want to cherish it. Revel in it.

I feel my phone buzz in my pocket. I pull it out and peek at it.

Peyton:  Both you and Hottie Cooper are absent today. If you are having a hot affair with him, I will be completely mad and totally jealous.

Me:  Don’t I wish. Had to take care of some stuff for my family in NY. Where is the hottie?

Peyton:  Rumor has it, he is ill.

Me:  Sick of girls throwing themselves at him, maybe?

Peyton:  Not funny. He loves it. I can tell. And I’m close. Closer than Whitney, for sure.

Gracie rips the wrapping off another present. This one is a baby doll, which she snuggles, then tosses aside. She carefully studies the remaining packages. She digs to the bottom of the pile to a small package. She rips it open and jumps up and down.

“Chocolate chips! Chocolate chips!!” she screams, holding up a bag of chips.

She tears through a few more packages.

When she's done, I ask Cooper, “Would you bring in my present?”

Cooper nods, goes out to the car, and then drags in the huge wrapped trunk.

Gracie's eyes get huge. She runs to it and hugs it then climbs on top of it like it’s a jungle gym.

“Did you wanna unwrap it? Maybe, since it’s big, the girls can help you?”

“No. Mine!” she yells.

“Gracie,” Mom says calmly, “even though it’s your birthday, you have to share your toys.”

She folds her little arms tightly across her chest and juts her lip out into a pout.

Brooklyn laughs in my ear. “She does that just like you.”

“I don't do that.”

He laughs again, as do Mom and Tommy, who both go, “Yes you do,” at the same time.

Which immediately causes me to fold my arms and stick out my bottom lip before I can stop myself.

“Haha. See?” Tommy says, pointing at me and laughing.

I uncross my arms and straighten my face.

Gracie walks in front of Mom and says politely, “Sissies can help me.” But then under her breath, I hear her say, “Mine.”

They shred the wrapping and Gracie opens the trunk filled with dress up clothes. The girls have an abundance of princess costumes and ballerina tutus, so this has different kinds of costumes. A dragon. A horse. A ninja. A butterfly. Basically, I bought one of every Halloween costume available and a handmade trunk to put them in.

The girls start pulling out costumes. She watches, looking at the costumes in amazement. Then she slowly walks over to me. “For my plays,” she states.

I nod at her. She throws herself into my arms and strangles me with a hug. Tears stream down my face.

She stops the hug, looks at me, and says, “No cry, Kiki.” Then she bounds away, grabbing a white doctor’s jacket and putting it on.

She walks over to Cooper and goes, “Do you have a tummy ache?”

Cooper looks puzzled and goes, “Uh, no.”

She leans in and whispers, “You say yes.”

Cooper holds his stomach. “Yes, my tummy hurts really bad.”

She taps on his tight torso. Pushes on his chin. Then she gives Mom and Tommy a sneaky glance, grabs the chocolate chips, and hands them to Cooper. “You need chocolate. Open.”

“She's brilliant. You know that, right?” Brooklyn says.

I laugh. “She's tricky is what she is.”

Cooper does as he's told. Gracie takes the package away from him and doles out two chips.

“Eat,” she says.

Cooper looks at the chips like they might be poisoned. I don’t think chocolate chips are part of the Steele Building Menu Plan.

“Eat!” Gracie insists, so Cooper pops them in his mouth.

Gracie stares at him for a second then asks, “All better?”

Cooper pats his stomach. “Yes, all better.”

“Gracie tummy hurt too,” she says, reaching into the chip bag.

“Gracie,” Tommy says. “Only two. You already had cake.”

She smiles, takes three, and shoves them in her mouth. Then she wanders over to Brooklyn and me. “Two for Bwooklyn. Two for Kiki. Two for Gracie. Two for Daddy.” She gives Tommy a radiant smile.

“Give Mommy the chips, Gracie.”

“No!” she replies, clutching them to her chest.

“Go put them in the pantry if you want to see your other present,” Mom tells her. As she runs off, Mom turns to Brooklyn and me and says, “Tommy renamed this month NOvember. That’s about all that comes out of her mouth.”

Gracie does as she's told and gets led back to a room with a large wooden stage. Behind the stage, painted on a big canvas, is a rainbow, a blue sky, mountains, and a castle in the distance.

Gracie’s eyes get huge then she starts jumping up and down and clapping. “My very own stage!”

The triplets are already ahead of the game. They are dressed up as a horse, a dragon, and a butterfly.

Gracie runs to another room and brings back two crowns, placing them on B’s and my heads.

“You, prince. You, princess.”

She pulls our hands and makes us stand up on the stage.

I have to stand in the corner while B and the horse fight the dragon with a bejeweled sword.

“Die, dragon!” Gracie yells.

The dragon runs into the sword and then drops to the ground.

“Prince, find princess!” Avery, who is dressed as the horse, says. She drags B over to me, then pulls us both back to center stage. “Lie down and be asleep,” she whispers to me.

I lie down on the stage and close my eyes.

“Kiss!” Gracie yells.

I open my eyes wide and look at B.

“Kiss!” all the girls say.

He leans down and gives me a sweet kiss on the cheek.

“Ahh. No,” Ivery says, clearly disappointed by this.

“Don't wake up,” Avery, the horse, says to me. “That was not true love’s kiss.”

“Wait!” Gracie shouts. She waves a magic wand at Brooklyn, looking like she will curse him if he doesn’t comply. “Bibbidy, bobbidy, boo. Now, kiss!”

I quickly shut my eyes and pucker my lips, so B will know it’s okay to kiss me.

I feel his lips slowly press into mine and wonder if it is true love’s kiss. Will it wake me up? And when I wake up, will this all be over? Will my life go back to the way it was? Me and B on the beach. When my only worry in the world was what my friends would think of him.

I open my eyes slowly, like I've woken up from a really long dream, rub my eyes like Sleeping Beauty does, and sit up.

“My prince,” I say to B.

The girls clap and Emery says, “Now you have to dance. We all have to dance!”

B pulls me to my feet and into his arms.

Avery yells, “Wait. Cut!”

“No, Avery! Gracie say cut!”

“But we forgot the music,” Avery says back.

“Music!” Gracie screeches. “Turn music on.”

B and I stare at each other, ignoring most of what's going on around us.

When the music starts, he moves with me. Like he did that night at the Undertow. The night when I wished he’d kiss me. Now, I don't know what to wish for. B has changed. I've changed. We're not those two naive kids anymore. Vincent has changed us. I look at my sisters dancing with each other. The triplets are getting taller and are under constant surveillance. Mom and Tommy were nervous upon seeing me. My godfather, James, thought I was some sort of trap.

And I realize Vincent has changed us all.

I close my eyes and do something I haven't done for a while.

I make a wish.

“I wish we could have our old lives back,” I say quietly.

“I’ve been studying stalking cases,” B whispers in my ear. “I want to talk to you about it.”

“Not today, B. Don't ruin today with any other thoughts of him.”

I stop dancing and clap. “That was an amazing play, girls. Thank you for letting me be in it!”

“Let’s go outside!” Emery says. “I wanna bounce in the bouncy house.”

The triplets grab Brooklyn’s arm and pull him outside. I stop at the door to grab Gracie’s hand, but when I look back through the doorway, I see she’s still on the stage. She walks to the wall and runs her hand across the rainbow. Then she picks up a pretend microphone, walks to the center of the stage, and starts talking. At first, I don't realize what she's doing, but quickly understand that she's acting out a scene from The Little Mermaid. Playing Flounder and Ariel and Prince Eric.

I watch her perform all by herself. In front of no one. She even stops, getting irritated with herself when she messes up, and starts over. She wants it perfect.

I let her finish a scene then wander back in and sit on the edge of the stage.

“I practicing my lines,” she says.

“I saw. You're very good.”

She nods seriously. “I want to be on TV. I can dance too. Wanna see?”

“I’d love to see.”

“I'm the bestest in my class. Wait. I need my special tutu,” she says and goes tearing off.

She comes back wearing my pink tie dyed tutu. The one I was wearing when I met Tommy.

She marches up on stage, bows, and does a little choreographed dance. Twirls. Spins. Smiles at a crowd that's not there.

I clap.

“Shh,” Gracie admonishes me. “Not until I yell, Cut.”

I run to the stage, swoop her into my arms, and hug her tightly.

“Kiki, you cry too much. Is Kiki sad?”

“Kiki is sad because I miss you.”

“I miss Kiki too.” She lays her head on my shoulder. I automatically sway and pat her back when she’s in my arms. Like I used to when she was little. I take in her sweet scent. A mix of bubblegum, chocolate, and baby shampoo. When she doesn’t move, I realize she's fallen asleep.

I hug her tighter and stop fighting the tears that I haven't wanted anyone to see.

Cooper walks in, sees me holding a sleeping Gracie, and smiles a sad smile at me. I carry Gracie into her bedroom and lay her on her bed. Her hair is all sweaty, so I gently push it off her face. She opens her little eyes and smiles at me.

A streak of wet yellow dog bounds on the bed, licking our faces and dripping water on us.

“Bad Kiki!” Gracie says, now fully awake and drenched.

The dog stops bouncing, pausing only to shake its body and spray water all over. Gracie and I both giggle when Tommy chases the dog. B picks me up and carries me out of the room.

I'm laughing but also wondering when he got so strong. Before, I used to feel like I'd crush him when he gave me a piggyback ride. Now he's solid. Stronger.

We go outside to bounce in the bouncy house. After a while, Gracie climbs into my lap and promptly falls asleep again.

Eventually, Cooper says, “Keatyn, we need to get going.”

I give the girls hugs and tell them I’ll be back soon. Because I don't care what anyone says. I'm coming back soon.

This time, it’s not a happy goodbye. This time when I leave there are tears.

“Don't go, Kiki. Don't go,” the triplets plead.

I’m glad that Gracie is asleep. I don’t want to ruin the end of her birthday. I reach in my pocket and pull out four heart lockets, handing one to each girl and one to Mom. “These are for you girls. I have one just like it. Do you remember that James got it for me for my birthday?”

The girls nod.

“Be really careful, but if you open the heart, there’s a picture inside.

“Kiki!” Avery declares, being the first one to get her locket open. I take her locket and clasp it around her neck.

“I have to go back on my adventure, but I got you these so you would know that you're always in my heart. I love you.”

They cry. I cry. I give them hugs.

Finally, Nanny takes them to their room.

Everyone else walks into the entryway.

Mom gives me a hug. “It was so good to see you, honey.”

Brooklyn says, “I'll walk you to the car.”

He takes my hand and leads me to the car. It's a rare occasion that I haven't planned out a script in detail. That I don't know exactly what I’m going to say.

I smile at him. Run my hand through his shaggy blond hair.

"God, I've missed you," he says and presses his lips against mine. It's a hot kiss, full of a passion I've never felt from him before. He pulls back just as quickly. "I'm sorry. I said I wouldn't."

“It's okay, B. Thank you for today. For being here. For giving me a little happy piece of my life back. You have no idea how much that means to me."

"I love you, Keats. I always will."

"I'm pretty sure I'll always love you too."

Pull the trigger to shoot.

7pm

I’m walking up the stairway to board our plane when a black town car pulls up to a sleek jet that has just landed. A man gets off and starts down the stairs. “Oh my God.”

The man turns in my direction, locks eyes with me, and smiles.

“Cooper! It’s him. He’s just getting off that plane. They were right about me. I led him here. I shouldn’t have come!”

Cooper drags me into the plane and yells at the copilot, “We need to take off. Now!”

I somehow get out of Cooper’s grip and back to the door. I see Vincent is on his phone.

I wave at him to get his attention. Then I raise my middle finger to my lips, kiss it, and hold it out to him. Then I mouth, Come and get me. I don’t even care if it pisses him off.

I want him pissed. I want him to follow me.

I want him far away from my family.

Vincent bounds down the stairs and starts running toward me just as the door is shut and the stairs are rolled away.

I grab my phone, hit 911, and call Garrett.

“Is he there?”

“He’s at the airport in Vancouver.”

“Your locket says you’re at school.”

“I took it off. Doesn’t matter. He’s coming toward our plane. He left Miami. Must’ve heard I was here. Call the airport. Say it’s a national emergency or something. Just get us off the ground.”

“What’s your tail number?”

I run to the cockpit and ask the pilot as politely as I can, “Can you please give him our tail number?” I hand him my phone. Then I run and look out the window. Vincent is standing outside the plane, gesturing big with his hands, and screaming into his phone.

I think he’s trying to get them to roll the stairs back.

“Cooper?”

Cooper nods at me and grabs a black bag that he didn’t have on the way here. He unzips it quickly, pulls out a matte black gun, and hands it to me. “The safety is on. Click here to unlock it. Pull the trigger to shoot. There are fifteen bullets in the magazine. If something happens to me, shoot until you take him down. Do not stop shooting.”

He pulls two more guns out of the bag. A smaller one, which he shoves into the back of his pants and a larger one that he keeps in his hand. “God dammit. I knew I should have taken you to the gun range.”

The copilot walks back with my phone. “I gave it to him but all flights have been temporarily grounded.” Then he notices the guns in our hands and says, “What’s going on?”

“She's a federal witness,” Cooper quickly lies. He pushes the copilot's head down even with the window. “That guy out there is the mob's contract killer. We have to take off now. Because when he comes to kill her, he'll kill you too. Won’t think twice. Get us ungrounded. Now.” Cooper even pulls out a badge of some kind and flashes it at the copilot. “Move,” he says.

The copilot gets on the headset and speaks to the tower. “We’re requesting an emergency takeoff.”

“Emergency takeoff? You mean landing?” the tower replies.

“No. Take off.”

“Can’t right now.”

Cooper grabs the headset. “This is Cooper Steele, NSA. There is a possible terrorist suspect standing outside our plane. He just arrived from . . .”

 “Miami,” I whisper, as Cooper says, “Miami.”

“A flight did just arrive from Miami,” the tower replies, sounding confused.

“Apprehend him and clear us for takeoff,” Cooper commands.

“I can apprehend him but I'm afraid I can't clear you for takeoff. Only the . . .what? Yes, sir. You are cleared for take off.”

Quickly, we are moving down the runway.

As our wheels leave the ground, Cooper’s phone rings.

“Fuck,” he says before he answers. “Yes. I know, sir. Right, but . . .” Sigh. “It's on me. Yes, I understand.”

He disconnects the call and shuts off his phone as we climb into the air.

Then he stands up, takes the gun out of my hand, and puts it back in the bag along with his.

“What the hell were you thinking? He didn't know you were in here until you called attention to yourself.”

“He was going to the house.” I picture Gracie sleeping in my arms and feel sick. “I couldn't let him.”

“He put something in one of your sister’s backpacks, didn’t he?”

“Yes.”

He runs his hand across his buzzed hair. “Garrett just fired me.”

“Bullshit,” I say.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, bullshit. Although I appreciate everything he's done for me, and although he may think he is, Garrett is not the boss of me. He works for me.”

“It seems personal to him.”

“It's always been personal to you. And it just got more personal because you met my sisters.”

He nods.

“You were right, Cooper. About me being the weakest link in my security. I need you to teach me all the martial arts stuff you know. And how to shoot. You're not leaving school.” I roll my eyes and give him a grin. “The girls would all be grieving for days.”

After we level out, the co-pilot comes back. “We were just informed that our flight plan was changed. We’ll be landing at Santa Monica airport in a few hours.”

“Santa Monica?” I ask after the pilot goes back into the cockpit.

Cooper shakes his head. “That’s where Garrett is meeting us. He’ll be getting you back to school.”

I get up and pour us each two fingers of scotch.

I set the glass in front of him. “Drink.”

“I can't drink on the job.”

“Technically, you just got fired. Drink.”

When we land, Garrett pulls Cooper aside. They’re having a very animated conversation.

 I walk in between them. “That’s enough, Garrett. There’s no reason to yell at him if you’ve fired him.”

“The hell there isn’t. I can’t believe the two of you pulled a stunt like this.”

“Garrett, calm down. Cooper planned everything out. He’s really smart and he did a really good job. You need to hire him back.”

“What? No.”

“Um, yes, Garrett. Otherwise you're fired.”

Garrett's head practically does a 360-degree spin. Almost like a horror movie.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Garrett says, now completely pissed off.

“Garrett, you know I appreciate everything you've done for me, but I have to put my foot down on this, just like I did with Cooper. I need both of you working together to help keep me safe. My rehearsals just ended and Cooper is going to start teaching me martial arts.”

“And how to shoot,” Cooper says with a grin.

“Because even though school is pretty secure, I’m the weak link.”

 “The weak link?”

“Tell him, Cooper.”

He does and then, finally, they shake hands.

Garrett gives me a hug, then dangles a set of car keys in front of us and says, “Drive from here to Vegas. Spend the night. Catch a charter there.”

Cooper and I get into the car and drive away from the airport.

“I don’t want to go to Vegas tonight.”

“We don’t have a choice.”

“Sure, we do. It’s past ten, we’re exhausted, and it’s over a four-hour drive. It’s not safe.”

“Where do you want to go then?”

“We’ll stay here in Santa Monica.”

“Vincent can check our flight plans.”

“If he does that, he’d go to Malibu. Shit. I wonder if he knows B was in Vancouver? Hang on. I need to call him.”

I push B’s number. “Hey, are you still in Vancouver?”

“Yeah, spending the night at your parents’ and then flying to my next tournament.”

“Where’s that?”

“Portugal. Then Hawaii for the Thanksgiving break. You doing anything? You could come.”

“I don’t think that would be very smart, B.”

“Yeah, I know. Wishful thinking.”

“Thanks again for spending Gracie’s birthday with her.”

“No problem. Bye, Keats.”

I hang up. “He’s not coming home. And I know just where to stay. Let me call and see if they have any rooms.”

Cooper and I get to the iconic Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica and check into the Presidential suite. It was all they had available and I would pay just about anything to stay on the beach tonight.

After we get checked in, I immediately swing open the balcony doors and take in the fresh ocean breeze.

I get a crazy idea that Cooper will probably never agree to. But I check anyway. I pop on Facebook and pull up Mark’s profile. He always posts the night before where they are surfing in the morning.

There across my phone are the words: Manhattan Beach is where it’s at.

“You better get some sleep tonight,” I tell Cooper. “We’re getting up at sunrise and going surfing.”

Cooper stops drinking the beer he just pulled out of the refrigerator. “No, we are not.”

“Yeah, we are. We’re going to Manhattan Beach. It’s nowhere near Malibu. Some of B’s old surfer friends are going to be there.”

“I think it’s a bad idea.”

I smile at him. “So’s going to sit out on the beach right now, but I’m still going to do it.”

“I’m coming with you and you’re going to pretend to be with me. Understand? Like we’re a couple.”

I grab his hand. “Come on then, sexy. We’re going to make out in the moonlight.”

I drag him down to the beach and plop down in the sand.

He wraps the blanket he took from the suite around us.

I close my eyes and take it all in. The smells, the sounds. All of which feel like home.

Except.

Not quite.

“Tell me about your sister,” I say to Cooper.

He shakes his head. “It’s not a pretty story.”

“I’m sure it’s not. Please. I need to know.”

“She broke up with her boyfriend because he was cheating on her and that’s when things changed. He started showing up at her apartment unannounced. Standing outside her car waiting for her after work. Sending her flowers and leaving her notes. Of course, she told him they weren’t getting back together, and that he needed to leave her alone. He did for a few months until she started dating again. Then, one night he was waiting for her when she got home. He told her she was his and that if she ever even looked at another man, he would kill her. Before he threatened her, she considered him more of an annoyance, but after that, she was scared. They tried to get a restraining order at that point, but didn’t have any proof. So, she started noting all the times he was around. Saved his cards and letters. Finally got a restraining order. Two days after he was notified of the order, he went to her apartment, raped her, and killed her.”

My hand flies up to my mouth. “Oh my god.”

“The neighbors heard the shot and called the police. There was a standoff and he shot himself.”

“That’s awful.”

“My parents still blame themselves. They tried to get her to stay with them, but she wouldn’t listen.”

“She was trying to live her life,” I say, sort of understanding.


Tuesday, November 8th

The single biggest reason.

5am

Cooper and I get up early and drive to Manhattan Beach.

Last night I asked the hotel to get us wetsuits, swimsuits, towels, and changes of clothes. We didn’t pack anything since we weren’t planning on spending the night.

“Have you ever surfed before?”

“On a summer vacation to Hawaii.”

I carefully look at the surfers who are assembled, double checking that Vincent’s not one of them. Or even to see if there’s someone who looks like they don’t belong.

I spot Mark and wander over to him.

“Keatyn!” he says, giving me a full body hug. “What’s up, girl?”

“Not much. I was back in town and saw this was the place to be. I don’t even have a board.”

“Aw, hell. I’ve got three in my van. You can borrow one.”

“Thanks. This is my friend, Cooper.”

Mark gives Cooper a fist bump, and I say hey to the guys that I used to surf with almost every day.

“Brooklyn is shredding it up on the tour,” one says.

“How is he?” another asks.

“He’s living his dream,” Mark answers for me, coming back with two boards.

Wherever they take him, I say quietly to myself as the sky brightens.

I was so worried about how his leaving would affect me that I didn’t once stop to think how good this would be for him. He’s already changed so much. The boy I left has grown into a man.

I sit down in the sand and call him, knowing he’s already awake. “Hey, guess where I am.”

“Are you safe? That's all I care about. Tommy and James told me about everything that happened at the airport and how Garrett fired your bodyguard.”

“Two things I want to tell you before we get into that.”

“What's that?”

“I’m proud of you for living your dream, and I'm really sorry I wasn't more supportive.”

“Keats, you're the one who encouraged me. I'll never forget you telling me to follow my dream that night at the Undertow.”

“I was so afraid you were never going to kiss me.”

“I told you I've been researching stalking cases, but I’m not loving what I'm finding out. So I'm going to come up with another way.”

“Okay.”

“We're gonna be together again, Keats. On the beach, where we belong. Don't lose sight of that dream, okay?”

I look out at the waves, the guys surfing, and feel calm.

I feel like he's right.

“Are you at the beach?” he asks.

“How did you know?”

“I can hear the waves and a seagull.”

“I’m at Manhattan Beach surfing with Mark and the boys. They say hi.”

“How many sunrises have we watched together, Keats?”

“A lot.”

“My favorite part of the day.”

“I’m gonna go catch a few waves before we have to go.”

“Show those boys a little chaos.”

“I’ll try.”

We’ve been surfing for a couple hours when Cooper pulls me aside and says, “I'm starting to get nervous about being here.”

“Why?”

“He knows you like to surf. He probably went everywhere and offered a reward to anyone who tips him off when you show up. I don’t like the way those two guys over there are looking at you.”

I smile. “Maybe they just like my bikini.”

“They took your picture, made a phone call, and seem to be watching you even closer. I'd like to get out of here.”

“If you’re right, we won’t want them to see our car. You go get the car. Drive up two blocks. I’ll meet you.”

“Two blocks? No way. What if Vincent shows up or they try to grab you?”

“Surfers are territorial. All I have to do is say the guys are creeping me out, and that they took my picture. They still think of me as B’s girl. While they confront them, I’ll sneak away.”

Cooper grins at me. “That’s a good plan.”

I walk up to Mark and tell him the guys are creeping me out. He immediately grabs three guys and goes to confront them.

When he does, I take off running.

I hide behind cars, dodge behind a restaurant, and then sprint down a sidewalk.

I see our car ahead, idling at the curb.

I jump in the car, slightly out of breath. “It worked. Go!”

Cooper drives all over, making sure he’s not followed. Then we head back to the hotel, where we get a different rental car, just in case. We order room service and eat it on the deck overlooking the water.

“I could get used to this,” Cooper says, looking out at the beach and down at his huge breakfast.

He flips through the paper while he eats.

“Oh, wow.”

“What?”

“Look at this.”

I read a small piece about how Vincent cut short the Miami tryouts and won’t be back, much to the outrage of fans who had waited in line for up to three days to audition.

“That really sucks for them,” I say, feeling bad.

Cooper cocks his head. “I never paid attention to the name of his film company before. Have you?”

“Uh, no. What is it?”

“A Breath Behind You.”

A shudder runs down my spine. “Think that’s directed at me?”

“I’d say so, considering it spells out ABBY.”


Wednesday, November 9th

We’ve changed.

7:30am

Cooper and I got back late last night. I woke up to a sweet text from Aiden.

Hottie God:  I missed you. Breakfast?

After all the excitement of the last two days, I decide to wear a really cute uniform look.

Then I meet Aiden for breakfast.

“So, how was your trip? Was your sister surprised?” Aiden asks as we sit down in the café.

“She was so surprised.”

“So tell me more about the party.”

I wish I could tell him everything. How scary it was to see Vincent at the airport. How amazing it felt to sit on the beach and to surf again. How I’ve been wanting to go home so badly.

But how home has changed.

“Well, she loved my presents. Used them to put on a little play. She got chocolate chips, and the stage she wanted, and she got to build sandy castles with . . .”

“With?”

“My ex. He was there when I got there. I had called him because she asked for something special from him. I just wanted him to send her something, but he actually gave her what she asked for.”

“And what was that?”

“She wanted to build sand castles with him. He bought her a sand box.”

“But if your family is just visiting Vancouver, how did that work? Were you at a hotel?”

“Um, no. Uh, they leased a house because my stepdad has business there. Hotels are tricky with four little kids, a dog, and a nanny.”

“Oh, so they’ll be in the country more often?”

“Yeah, I think maybe. We didn’t really talk much about that. It was all about the party.”

“And what about the Keats guy? How was seeing him?”

“Emotional.”

“Emotional, how?”

“Like, a lot of emotions. First, I was shocked that he was there. Then I was touched that he was. Sometimes it felt normal, like we’d never fought. Like we were friends again. Other times it felt a little awkward. Some of the things he said made me want to cry. Other things made me want to laugh.”

Aiden laughs. “That is a lot of emotions.”

“I know.”

“You didn’t mention love. Are you still in love with him?”

“I think part of me will always love him. But right now, no, I’m not in love with him. I can’t be.”

“Why can’t you be?”

“Because we can’t be together. I’m here. He’s off doing his thing. He’s grown up a lot, though. Going abroad has been really good for him.”

“Did you kiss him?”

“Right when I was getting ready to leave, he kissed me. Once, on the lips.”

“And how did it feel?”

“Different.”

“Why is that?”

“Because we’ve changed.” I gaze into Aiden’s eyes. “Because, he’s not you.”

Aiden’s eyes search mine for the truth. He must see what he’s looking for because he puts his hand behind my neck and guides my lips toward his.

And when they touch, I realize why the beach didn’t feel like home anymore.

Because Aiden wasn’t on it.

After we kiss, I say, “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For listening to what happened without getting mad and walking away.”

He murmurs into my ear, “I’m never walking away again.”

I owned your rug.

History

I bring Riley a cup of coffee to history class.

“Oh,” he snaps. “I have a pickup line I meant to tell Dallas.”

“And the coffee reminded you of it?’

“Yeah. Next time he’s standing in line for coffee and there’s a hot girl there, he should say, Do you like it steamy or creamy?

“How is that even a pickup line? You just made a naughty comment.”

“I have one I’d like to say to Ariela right about now.”

“What’s that?”

“I say we bypass all the bullshit and just get naked.”

I give Riley a fist bump. “You and I think a lot alike. I’d like to say that to Aiden too.”

“Ooooh. You wanna get naked with Aiden?”

“Mr. Johnson, Miss Monroe, I’m trying to give a lecture here.”

Riley and I roll our eyes at each other. Then sit here bored to tears.

I whisper to him, “You know, it seems silly in this day and age that we have to take notes.”

“I don’t take notes. I let you take them for me. I’m a good delegator.”

“You’re not a delegator. You’re lazy.”

“You’re the one working while I’m texting my sexy girlfriend. What does that make you?”

I shake my head. “Why can’t he just email notes to us? Although, if I didn’t take notes, I’d probably fall asleep. And is it naughty texting?”

“Just stuff,” Riley says with an adorable grin. I swear, he’s gotten even cuter since he and Ariela started dating. He still has that cocky swagger, but he just beams all the time.

“What kind of stuff? I’m stuck in junior high with Aiden. Let me live vicariously through you.”

Riley almost drops his phone. “What about Dawson?”

“I haven’t done anything with him lately.”

“Why?”

“Because Aiden kissed me with his tongue.”

The teacher shushes us again, so he texts me.

Riley:  So you like Aiden?

Me:  Yeah. Although, when I went to visit my family, my ex was there.

Riley:  How did that go?

Me:  We’ve become friends again.

Riley:  Just friends?

Me:  Yeah, for now. I don’t know what the future will hold. 

Riley:  Your ex was a jerk to you. You should forget about him.

Me:  He was my first love. Part of me still loves him. 

Riley:  Sometimes the past should stay in the past. 

Me:  HA! Someone should tell our teacher that!

Riley:  I dare you to ask him why we have to study history.

I raise my hand and interrupt the lecture.

“Yes, Miss Monroe?”

“Why do we have to study history?”

“Well, that’s easy. We study history so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.”

Riley:  OMFG! The universe just spoke to you again! How does THAT relate to your life?

Me:  Are you saying if I got back together with my ex that I would be repeating the mistakes of my past?

Riley:  Uh, yeah.

Me:  People grow and change. He’s changed. He’s not the person that he used to be. Neither am I.

Riley:  I REALLY want to have sex with Ariela on the furry rug, but if I try, will she get mad at me again? Would that be repeating a mistake of my past?

Me:  I have no idea. But I’ve always wanted to have sex on the furry rug too.

Riley:  You’ve been coveting my rug?!

Me: I owned your rug. Has Dallas had sex on the rug?

Riley’s eyes get huge and he holds his hands up to his chin like he’s covering himself up. “He wouldn’t dare! Would he?”

I just shrug my shoulders.

Shirtless for five days.

Ceramics

Peyton texts me during ceramics.

Peyton:  After you and Aiden went to that French restaurant, he told me you said something about us going to St. Croix with you for Thanksgiving break. We just found out that our parents are going to be on a safari. Whitney wants me to come with her to Palm Beach. Needless to say, the idea of spending the break with her family makes me want to poke my own eyes out. I thought about going to the Johnsons. I know that Riley and Aiden are friends, but I didn’t want it to be awkward with Dawson. So that’s kinda out. That leaves St. Croix with you.

Me:  Glad to hear I’m so high on the list of options.

Peyton:  You are first on our list of options. I’m just telling you that my backup plans suck so that you will feel sorry for us and say yes.

I imagine being there with Aiden. Seeing him shirtless for five days straight.

Me:  Yes.

Peyton:  Really?!!!!!! Yay!!! We’re going to have so much fun. And I promise that I won’t be like an annoying third wheel or anything. I’ll let you have time alone. I just want a beach chair, a view, and a good book. 

Me:  No boys?

Peyton:  No boys. But if you could arrange to bring hottie Cooper, I’d gladly take a man.

Me:  Very funny.

Peyton:  Do I need to book flights? When do we need to leave?

Me:  I booked a charter flight, so you can just join me. I’ll have a car pick us up on Wednesday at noon and drop us of at the Municipal airport. 

Peyton:  Sounds good :) Yay!!

That’s harsh.

French

“Peyton said she talked to you about Thanksgiving break. Sounds like it’s gonna be the three of us in St. Croix.”

“It should be fun.”

“Tell me about the house. What we’ll do.”

“Well, since I was little, we’ve been calling the house The Crab. I can’t remember why we named it that. It has a full staff, so we won’t exactly be roughing it. It’s very laid back but very luxurious. The perfect mix. It’s one of my favorite places ever. Like paradise. It has a rooftop balcony on top of a turret overlooking the ocean. And the bedroom I always stay in is in the turret. It’s amazing. Want to know my other favorite thing?”

“Yeah.”

“There’s a fountain with a tile mosaic of a prince and a mermaid, who’s sitting on top of a treasure chest. The Little Mermaid has always been my favorite Disney movie. Of course that may be because I wanted to marry Prince Eric.”

“Why’s that?”

“He had a castle on the beach.”

He laughs. “Do you want to live in a castle on the beach someday?”

“Yes.”

“Well, it sounds perfect. I’m looking forward to both it and going to your loft this weekend. Mostly, I’m looking forward to just hanging out with you.”

“I’m looking forward to the loft too. Between the play and traveling, I’m tired. Not to mention behind on my homework.”

“Maybe we should meet in the library to study tonight.”

“Not your room?”

“If you come to my room, we’ll kiss and not study.”

“I’m kind of obsessed with your tongue.”

“Why do you think I waited so long?”

“Because your tongue is cursed?”

“What?”

“Nothing. Why did you make me wait so long?”

“I’m hoping that it made you want it even more. From what I can tell, you’re a girl who’s used to getting exactly what she wants.”

“I wish I was one of those girls,” Annie says with a huff.

“What’s wrong?” I ask her.

“Are you ever afraid to be happy?”

“All the time. Are things okay with you and Ace?”

“Did you hear what Logan did for Maggie?”

Aiden says, “Keatyn helped him plan it.”

“Then help Ace plan something romantic. Seriously, the boy doesn’t understand romance.”

“What do you want to be romantic? He already asked you out.”

“You know what I want to be romantic,” she says to me with her eyes bugged out.

“Oh, I heard a fun line about that today. I say we bypass all the bullshit and just get naked.

“Where did you hear that?” I say to Aiden.

“Riley told me at lunch.”

“What else did he tell you about that line?”

“He was just joking and saying he wanted to use it on Ariela.”

I squint my eyes at him. “And that’s it?”

Aiden gives me an odd look. “Uh, yeah, that’s it.”

“He didn’t tell you about anyone else that may feel that way?”

“Uh, no.”

“I feel that way,” Annie confesses. “Well, sometimes, but then I want it to be flowers and romance.”

“What was your first time like, Aiden? You’re a fairly romantic guy,” I say.

“I’ve never really been romantic. And my first time was not romantic. At all.”

“What do you think girls want? Romance-wise?”

He gives me a sexy smirk. “They want to be wooed.”

Annie clasps her hands and says dreamily, “They do.”

After class, Annie says, “I forgot to tell you. I heard about this really cool thing online. There’s this guy that’s remaking one of Abby Johnston’s old movies and he’s doing a nationwide search for an actress to play—”

“She’s not interested,” Aiden says firmly to Annie. “Even though we all thought she was amazing, she didn’t enjoy doing the play and won’t be acting again.”

“Really?” Annie gives me a bewildered look.

“Yes, really. I didn’t like it. I want to be a doctor, I think. Although we’re getting back those career surveys next week. Maybe it will tell me what I should do for a job.”

“But, you could make a ton of money. All I’d have to do is nominate you online.”

“Annie, please don’t. I would turn it down. I love Eastbrooke and if I got a movie, I’d have to leave. I’d miss you.”

“I’d miss you too. But what about the money?”

I shrug my shoulder. “I don’t care. If you nominated me, I wouldn’t try out. I wouldn’t even talk to the guy.”

“That’s harsh,” she says, still looking at me funny.

Back in the saddle again.

5:35pm

Dawson texts me while I’m lying on my bed studying.

Dawson:  Nothing is going on tonight. Wanna get some dinner? We haven’t hardly talked since Friday.

Me:  I’d love to. I miss talking to you.

Aiden calls me as I’m throwing on a cute dress.

“Do you want to go out for dinner tonight?”

“Um, I can’t. Dawson asked me to have dinner with him. He was out of town and then I was out of town, so we’re going to catch up.”

“Catch up? Great.”

“Aiden, it’s just dinner. I still want to meet you in the library to study later. Say eight?”

“Yeah, sure.”

I can tell by the tone of his voice that he’s not happy about it. But Dawson is my friend and I’m still going to hang out with him.

Dawson takes me to the little Italian restaurant where we went on what was sort of our first date.

“Remember when I first brought you here?”

“Yeah, Dawson. I do.”

“Are we going to have sex again?”

“Not right now. I can’t. It was making me sick.”

“Sex with me was making you sick?”

“Not literally, no. You know I loved it. But kissing Aiden one night and doing that with you the next felt slutty.”

“Slutty would have been having sex with us both.”

“I think it’s easy to say that. To call girls sluts. To make judgments about them. But our sex lives should be personal. It’s no one’s business who or how many people I choose to sleep with. If people worried about their own personal lives and judged themselves rather than others, I think the world would be a better place.”

“Does that mean you won’t judge me when I tell you I hooked up with the pre-med girl?”

His confession takes the breath out of my lungs. I press my fingertips into my eyebrow.

“Keatie . . .”

I close my eyes tightly. “It’s okay. I understand.”

“I needed to see.”

“If it would be good with someone else? Was it?”

“She was drunk and threw up as soon as we were done.”

“What happened to not wanting to do it with drunk girls anymore?”

“Try to find a girl at college on a Saturday night who isn’t drunk.”

I laugh. “I’m sure there are plenty.”

“Not at the party I was at.”

“Did it feel good?”

“I mean, yeah, it felt good, but it didn’t feel the same. You know?”

“No, Dawson. I don’t know. I haven’t done it with anyone else.”

“Great. Make me feel guilty.”

“I wasn’t trying to make you feel guilty. I was just stating a fact. Because I don’t know.”

“Cam said I needed to get back in the saddle again.”

“Well, of course. I mean, it’d been a whole week since you were last in the saddle.”

“That was sarcastic.”

“Yes, Dawson, it was. I don’t think you should listen to Camden. I know you are close, but I don’t think he gives very good advice. Honestly, Riley has a way better head on his shoulder.”

“Riley is stranded on third base.”

“Riley is in love.”

“Well, I’m not. So . . .”

“You’re a good guy too, Dawes. Don’t let Cam or college change you. I would never fall for someone like Camden, but I fell for you.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“So, aside from that. What else did you do?”

“Nothing. We got high, played video games, ate, slept, drank, partied.”

“Sounds fun.”

“I’m not sure it’s what I want.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure I want to go to college with him.”

“Where are you thinking about going?”

“Maybe NYU with Jake. Did you know he’s thinking about going there? His family is going to have a fit, but he’s excited. We could get a cool apartment. Or a loft.”

“Do you know what you want to do? What you want to major in?”

“Cam says he’s majoring in pussy.”

I laugh out loud at that. “I’m sorry, but that’s really funny.”

Dawson grins. “I love hearing you laugh. I hope we can still have fun together.”

“It will be a little hard at first, but I think we’ll get through it. I want to stay friends.”

“It’s always a little hard at first,” Dawson snickers.

“Your mind is always in the gutter.”

“Just like yours.”

Still my bliss.

7:30pm

I text Aiden.

Me:  I’m back from dinner. Ready to study?

Hottie God:  I studied some before dinner. Do you have much left to do?

Me:  Well, technically, I have two days to turn in my missed assignments :)

Hottie God:  So, technically, you don’t have to study?

Me:  I can think of some things that might be more fun.

Hottie God:  Like what?

Me:  Actually, I do have some homework. It’s research for a very important project. 

Hottie God:  Oh, really? What kind of research?

Me:  I’m doing a clinical study on the effects of French kissing. It’s for French class. Extra credit.

Hottie God:  You should probably conduct that research in my room.

Me:  I agree.

I freshen up my makeup, brush my teeth, and hurry over to Aiden’s room. When I knock on his door, he doesn’t answer. So I peek inside.

“You looking for me?” he says, coming out of Bryce’s room on the other side of the hall.

He looks completely delectable. School jacket slung over his shoulder, tie half undone, top button unbuttoned.

“I am.”

He gives me a blazing grin as I grab his tie and pull him straight to my lips.

This time it’s no sweet, feather-light kiss. No slightly open mouth. His tongue slides right into my mouth and tickles my tongue. It’s playful and fun for a second, but quickly turns more serious.

He walks me backward into his room, shuts his door, and pulls me onto his futon without his lips leaving mine.

His tongue is like a drug.

And I’m completely addicted.

He gently grabs my bottom lip with his teeth, pulling at it slightly.

“Observation number one,” I say. “Kissee thinks it’s hot when kisser bites her lip.”

He runs his tongue across my lower lip.

“Observation number two: Kissee likes to be greeted like that.”

I put both my hands on his cheeks and kiss him slowly.

“Observation number three: Kissee believes kisser’s tongue contains some type of addictive, and possibly illegal, drug. Either a love potion or crack.

This causes Aiden to chuckle.

“Addictive, huh?”

He runs the back of his hand down the side of my face, then under my jaw.

I close my eyes and feel. Let myself feel all the emotions for Aiden that I’ve been trying not to feel. Trying to talk myself out of.

“Very.”

He sits up on the futon and pulls me sideways onto his lap. I rake my fingers through his hair and kiss him like a girl who’s desperate for a fix.

Two and a half hours of making out and it’s still not enough.

I stand on the first step outside my dorm, making me almost as tall as him, wrap my arms around his neck, and kiss him again and again.

Then I wander to my room in a daze.

Maggie and Katie are in my room still studying for whatever test has been completely wiped from my mind.

“You look like Maggie did when she walked in. Dreamy. Dazed. Red lips. You been kissing Aiden?”

“I heard you went to dinner with Dawson,” Maggie says. “Who were you kissing?”

“Aiden,” I say with a dreamy sigh. “Dawson and I just had dinner. He hooked up with a girl this weekend.”

“Really?” Maggie says. “That was fast.”

“I know. Makes me feel like I made the right choice, though.”

“You went against fate.”

“No, I went against chance.”

“Whatever. I’m glad you two are happy,” Katie says.

“You’re one to talk. You and Bryce have been awfully cozy.”

She smiles and bounces a little. “Yeah, we have, but I’m trying to be smart about it.”

“I’m gonna go shower before bed,” I tell them. I give Maggie a quick hug. “See you tomorrow.”

I take a shower and expect Katie to be asleep by the time I finish, but she’s still awake, texting Bryce.

“Wow. You must like him. You’re still awake.”

“He’s fun to talk to,” she says, going back to her text.

I look at my phone.

There’s a text from Brooklyn.

B:  Call me if you have a chance. I want to talk to you about some stuff. 

I tell Katie that I’m going to the kitchen to scrounge for a snack, but go in the stairwell and call him.

“Hey.”

“So I’ve been researching stalking cases. Want to hear some statistics?”

“Sure.”

“I found out that half of all stalkers threaten violence but that only two percent actually kill.”

“So I have a 98% chance of surviving this. I like those odds.”

“Stalking is a felony but often dismissed due to lack of evidence. Do you remember that pop singer that was stalked? The guy told everyone they were secretly engaged. Sort of reminds me of Vincent saying that he’s going to make a movie with Abby, you know?”

“Uh, huh.”

“Stalkers also tend to have inflated egos, impersonal sex, no remorse, and superficial charm. But it all comes down to one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Control and domination.”

“Garrett already told me all that stuff.”

“Well, I was thinking of something. Possibly a different approach to fighting him.”

“What’s that?”

“What if we made him feel out of control?”

“I suggested that I do a slutty video or something like Mom’s new movie. I wonder what will happen when it releases. Hopefully it won’t send him over the edge.”

“What if the control had nothing to do with you?”

“How would we do that?”

“My dad’s company is fighting off a hostile takeover.”

“I’m sorry.”

“That’s what I think we should do to Vincent. We do a hostile takeover of his production company. Giving us the rights to the film. If that film is as important to him as I think it is, he would fight the takeover like crazy. It might not make him forget you, but it might give him something else to do besides a nationwide search for you. It would keep you safer, longer. Then if we get the rights . . .”

“We could make the film ourselves.”

“Exactly.”

“Do you know how much his film company is worth?”

“No, but I know someone who can find out for us.”

“He inherited a lot of money when his grandmother died.”

“You inherited a lot of money from your dad, didn’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“And I have a big trust fund too. And if we didn’t have enough, we’d raise the capital somehow.”

I start to get tears in my eyes, then accidentally let out a little sob.

“Keats, don’t cry.”

“Thanks, B. Everyone has been great in trying to protect me. But I feel like I have no control. I want to fight back.”

“We’ll fight together. I want you back on the beach with me.”

“It’s late here. I need to get some sleep. Let me know what you find out.”

“It will probably be a few weeks. They have to get through their deal first. Night, Keats.”

I go back in my room, loosely braid my still damp hair, and lie down.

My phone buzzes.

Hottie God:  Observation number four:  You lips are still my bliss.  Speaking of that . . . You still owe me $40 for getting our phones out of jail.

Me:  I might owe you $20 for my phone, but you have to learn to be more responsible with your belongings. 

Hottie God:  I am willing to negotiate a trade. 

Me:  Does the trade involve kissing?

Hottie God:  Yes.

Me:  Then I totally owe you $40.

Hottie God:  Night, Boots. 

I’m almost asleep when my phone buzzes again.

B:  Remember when I told you that Keats quote in the hot tub before we first kissed? I just found out there’s more to it. And it gives me hope.  “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” 


Thursday, November 10th

He doesn’t know you.

4:30pm

After dance, Peyton asks me if I want to get coffee. It’s a cold and dreary day and coffee sounds really good.

Right before we get there, she says, “Whitney is meeting us.”

“Why—”

“Thanks for meeting me,” Whitney says, interrupting my question. “I thought we should go over the French weekend menu.”

She babbles on, but I’m not sure why she thinks we’re going over it. Basically, she is just telling us what she’s already picked out.

She’s just closing her laptop when Cooper wanders in and orders a coffee.

“Did you know that he comes here every day after soccer practice?”

“Uh, no,” Peyton says, as I shake my head.

“He’s interesting. Mysterious.”

“How so?” I ask.

“No Facebook page that I can find. No girlfriend that I can tell.”

“He just moved here,” I counter. “He probably doesn’t know anyone.”

“Speaking of not knowing anyone,” Whitney says, looking me directly in the eye. “It turns out that I’m Facebook friends with a guy from your old school. Such a small world. Funny thing is, though, he doesn’t know you.”

“How would you know where I used to go to school?”

“I’m sure you mentioned it.”

I shake my head. “No, I’m pretty sure I haven’t.”

“Well, I must have seen it somewhere.”

Yeah, like maybe when she broke into the dean’s office.

“Okay?”

“I just think it’s a bit odd that he didn’t know you.”

I need to sound unconcerned, so I use my Alpha girl bitch voice to reply. “What’d the guy look like?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, was he hot? Why would I bother being friends with a guy who wasn’t hot?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t really pay attention. Is that the only reason you hang out with Dawson?”

I laugh and try to change the subject. “Actually, I wanted his brother.”

Peyton tries unsuccessfully to stifle a chuckle as Whitney’s eyes get huge. “You wanted Camden? But you . . .”

“Why would I want Camden? I meant Riley,” I say innocently, but knowing full well that I struck a nerve.

Whitney sneers at Peyton, but Peyton just shrugs a shoulder.

While they stare each other down, I text Cooper because I’m freaking out.

Me:  Meet me in your office in ten?

Whitney grabs my phone. “Who are you texting? We’re having a discussion here.” She looks at my phone, sees my text, and can’t disguise the mad crinkle between her eyebrows. “You’re texting him?”

“I just did, yes. I asked him earlier if we could meet to talk about a summer soccer camp.”

“Bullshit,” she counters. “He’s sitting right there. You could’ve walked over and asked him. You’re hiding something. Don’t think Peyton and I don’t know that.”

“I just didn’t want to bother him,” I state as my phone lights up in Whitney’s hand.

She squints her eyes at me. “It seems to me like you and Mr. Steele are together quite a bit.”

“You’ve had meetings with him too.”

She huffs.

I don’t bother to reply. I stand up and say, “I better get going.”

I walk over to where Cooper is sitting, lean down, and say quietly, “Let’s go.”

He gathers his stuff up.

When we get outside, I grab his elbow and pull him around the side of the building.

“What are you doing?”

“We’re hiding. And we’re not going to your office. We need to go somewhere else. Somewhere private. I have a big problem.”

He glances at his watch. “Let’s go to the Teachers’ Lounge. It’s late enough that no one will be in there.”

When we get locked into the room, he says, “What’s the big problem?”

“I need to delete all my old social media. Now that I think about it, I don’t even understand why Garrett didn’t do that in the first place.”

“He was looking for clues and proof anywhere he could. Why do you want to delete it now?”

“Whitney told me that she’s friends with someone from my old school.”

“Your old school?”

“The school that’s in my transcripts. The one I didn’t actually go to.”

He puts his fist up to his chin. “Oh. That could be a problem. How does she even know that? Why did you tell people?”

“I didn’t. But a while ago, someone broke into the school office and accessed my records. I thought at the time it was Vincent, but now I’m almost positive that it was her.”

“She’s a piece of work, that girl. She doesn’t understand the meaning of no.”

“Right. So what if she gets really serious about figuring out who I am? What if somehow she finds an old picture of me and pieces it together? Do you know how many pictures I have on my Facebook page? She’d love nothing more than to tell everyone that I’ve been lying to them. To embarrass me. Ruin me socially. I’m gonna call Garrett.”

“I’ll do it,” Cooper says.

He calls Garrett and fills him in on the situation in a very businesslike manner. He ends the call and then turns to me. “He’s out of town but says that he just informed the office to change your passwords back to your old ones and agrees that deleting them is a good idea at this point.”

Cooper stands up and paces while I log into Twitter. I don’t bother looking at any of it. I just hit Delete and then verify that I’m sure. I do the same for Pinterest, Instagram, Polyvore, and Tumblr.

I do pause, taking a minute to scroll through the magnificence of all the hot guy photos I collected over the years on Tumblr. RiAnne and I dubbed it the Hottie Vault.

I smile. Happy memories of parties, shopping excursions, and days spent by the pool with Vanessa and RiAnne roll through my head. I think back to all the mistakes I made with Brooklyn and realize I probably made plenty with them too. Maybe part of loving yourself is taking responsibility for your actions. Vanessa didn’t make me into a bitch. I’m pretty sure I did that all by myself.

Then I get on Facebook.

This is harder. My cover photo is of me and Brooklyn in Monaco. My profile picture our new matching tattoos.

I scroll down through my wall. No one seems to be commenting anymore or wondering where I am. The mystery of why I left is now old news.

But every week—make that every Saturday morning—there is a post from RiAnne. It simply says, I miss you.

And it touches me. Really touches me.

Maybe if I go back home someday, we’ll be friends again.

I pull up her photos, clicking through pictures of her and Vanessa. At parties. On dates. At Homecoming.

But the pictures look off. Because I’m missing from them.

Since I’m a glutton for punishment, I click on Cush’s profile.

I squint my eyes at his profile picture. It’s a photo of him and a girl dressed up for Homecoming.

I click on the photo to make it bigger because my eyes must be deceiving me.

But they aren’t.

This girl, who is pretty but sort of plain looking, mostly because she isn't even wearing mascara—to Homecoming, seriously? I mean, I’m all about fresh-faced beauty. I'm fine surfing, working out, or hanging out with no makeup on. But on a special night with a special guy that you are going to have pictures of for the rest of your life?

Come on! At least put on some mascara and some lip gloss!

 You know how Vanessa wanted to make the rugby player hotter?

This girlfriend of Cush’s is like the anti-Vanessa. She's somehow made larger-than-life Cush look plain too.

His slacks and dress shirt are slightly crumpled looking. There’s no product in his hair. And his posture is off. He doesn’t look like the tall, proud, cocky Cushman that I know.

I click through some more photos.

Oh. My. God.

He’s losing his abs.

Seriously. He looks like he's already gone to college and gotten a beer belly.

What the hell has this girl done to him?

I can't stop my fingers from typing.

Me: Cush? Where the hell did your abs go?

He's not showing online, but he messages me back instantly, probably from his phone.

Brandon:  Haha. Keatyn, I haven't talked to you in forever and that's the first thing you ask?

Me: I’m sorry. That was rude of me. How’s the Cushman?

Brandon:  Well, first off. I’m not that guy anymore. Cushman was a conceited asshole. Everyone here calls me Brandon.

Me:  Um. Okay.

 

Brandon:  You said you were somewhere good for you. Are you learning looks and partying aren't all that important? 

Me:  I’d say I’m learning that life is all about balance. I have to go. It was nice talking to you, Brandon.

The Cushman is dead.

And I want to cry.

The computer chimes. Cooper stops pacing and looks over my shoulder. “Are you chatting? You’re supposed to be deleting.”

“I am. I just . . .”

RiAnne:  Please say hi to me.

Me:  Hi.

 

RiAnne:  Is it really you?

Me:  Yes. Thank you for messaging me every week. You are the only friend to do that. It’s so sweet. 

RiAnne:  Vanessa is still mad you left us, but she's with me at the coffee shop every Saturday morning when I post it.

Me:  Tell me what's going on. I miss you. 

RiAnne:  I miss you too. Vanessa is dating the rugby player. They were Homecoming prince and princess this year. 

Me:  That's cool. 

RiAnne:  And guess what? I was nominated! 

Me:  That's a big honor, Ri. 

RiAnne:  Thanks. Where are you?

Me:  I can't tell you. Random question, but I saw some pictures of V and Bam and there was a guy there. That hot older guy I talked to at the hotel. Do you hang out with him?

RiAnne:  We see him at the club sometimes. I think he's a creeper. But V thinks he's hot. She's gone to his house and stuff. Like for the whole weekend. You know.

I want to throw up.

RiAnne:  But not lately. She's actually pretty into rugby. Like she's gone to all his games. And she hasn't cheated on him in three weeks, which is a record. Apparently, he’s great in the sack. 

Me:  I’m glad she's happy. What about you?

RiAnne:  Same. So many guys to kiss, so little time. Lately I have been kissing on Alex Littleton. 

Me:  Ri!! He is hot!!!

RiAnne:  I know, right? I'm all that. We’ve been working out together and I've lost 6 1/2 pounds.

Me:  Is he a good kisser? 

RiAnne:  The. Best. 

Me:  I have to go. I'm deleting my profile.

RiAnne:  No! You can't. 

Me:  I have to. There is a girl here who hates me and I don't want her to know about my old life. 

RiAnne:  Keatyn, you of anyone ought to be able to handle a mean girl. 

Me:  Yeah, I know. And I promise, if I ever get back home, I’ll call you.

RiAnne:  Pinkie swear?

I get tears in my eyes as I type.

Me:  Yeah, Ri. I do.

RiAnne:  You know, if you would’ve stood up to Vanessa, like to her face, she would’ve respected you for it.

Me:  That’s good advice. You taking it yourself?

RiAnne:  Yeah. And I’m much happier. (That, and I’m skinnier than her.)

I don’t reply. I wipe a tear from my eye. Then I do it.

Delete, delete. Yes, I'm sure. 

“Done,” I say to Cooper.

“Tonight after curfew, meet me in the small gym. We’ll get to work.”


Friday, November 11th

Shoe porn.

3:15pm

After soccer practice, Cooper herds me into his office and shuts the door.

I’m tired from being up late last night learning an assailant’s attack zones. Muscles I didn’t even know existed are sore.

“You need to lay off on the workouts. I’m so sore from last night. Thank goodness I don’t have dance or a game tonight.”

“Tonight is what I want to talk to you about. Going to New York is not a good idea.”

“I’m going.”

“Then I’m going with you.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Where are you staying?”

“I’ll be at my loft, Cooper. No one from my old life—not even my family—knows about it. A few people from school have been there but other than that, only Garrett and the guy that handles my money know where it is. I’m safe there.”

“What if someone sees you in the street? Or worse, in front of your loft, and thinks you look like Abby and calls him? He already did auditions there.”

“That’s why New York City is safe. Everyone is too busy to notice me. And I really don’t look that much like her in passing. It’s only the combination of my voice and gestures when people seem to notice. So I won’t talk to anyone. I’ll wear sunglasses.”

“You should be more afraid. How can you not be scared after Vancouver?”

“I am scared, but I can’t let it rule my life. I know we had a close call. I’m grateful that you planned ahead and he couldn’t trace our flights. I know you got out the guns and we all kind of freaked out, but he wasn’t going to forcefully take me in front of all those people.”

“All what people? Me and two pilots? That’s nothing. In Miami, he would have lied his way out of the club. Said you were drunk or sick. He could have drugged you. He could flash a fake badge like I did and say you were a fugitive. No one would think twice. He’s a brilliant liar. Hell, he’s lying to the whole country right now.”

“I gave up everything I love to keep my family and friends safe. Garrett told me I may never get to go back.” I start to cry. “That I have to start a new life. I’m trying so hard to do that.”

He pulls me into a hug, just as Whitney bursts through the door.

I jump and pull out of Cooper’s hug.

“What’s wrong?” Whitney snaps.

Cooper takes control, herding her out of the room and saying harshly, “Don’t ever barge into my office like that again. Do you understand me?”

“But she barged in your office just the other day. Why was that okay?”

“She’s on my soccer team.”

“And I’m in your health class.”

“Make an appointment.” The force that he says it with makes me glad he’s on my side.

Whitney nods obediently and says politely. “I’m sorry, Mr. Steele, I hoped to talk to you about the French Weekend.”

“As you can see, I’m busy. If you don’t stop randomly dropping by without an appointment, I’ll withdraw my help on the project. We clear?”

“Uh, yes, sir.” She turns and walks quickly away.

“And if I open this door and catch you eavesdropping, you’ll be finding yourself in detention.”

He sits on the corner of his desk. “Continuing. You’ve been there how many times before?”

“Just twice. Once with Dawson and once with my friends.”

“And one of those times Vincent was there?”

“Yes. But he was following my mom, not me. And Garrett told me to trust my gut. My gut tells me I’m safe there. For now. Like I am at school.”

“For now,” he adds somberly.

“The loft is where Garrett told me to go if Vincent ever found out I’m here.”

Cooper nods. “I’m just trying to think ahead. Of what could go wrong.”

“What do you think could go wrong?”

“A million things. But, realistically, he’d have to know you were here to know you went there. So then it becomes the possibility that he sees you somewhere there. That’s probably not going to happen randomly. So he’d have someone looking for you. Like he did in Vancouver. Like I’m pretty sure he had on the beach. He’d go to the places he’d expect you to go. Clubs. Shopping. Favorite restaurant. Could he know any of those things about you?”

“I never told him.”

“On Facebook maybe?”

“No. I never posted anything about New York. The only thing could be . . .”

“Could be what?”

“Shoe porn, maybe.”

“What the hell is shoe porn?”

“It’s when you post a photo of a hot shoe on social media. Shoes that other girls will drool over. Kind of like you would over a hot guy.”

Cooper laughs and shakes his head. “Shoe porn. Now I’ve heard everything. So, I’d go to shoe stores, flash a photo of you, give them my card, tell them it’s a hundred bucks if they call me.”

“Would you do that in New York?”

He thinks for a second. “New York. Miami. Near the rehab in Utah. And probably Vancouver. Upscale stores. Shoe department.”

“So I can’t go shoe shopping?”

“No shoe shopping.”

“I can’t . . .”

“Do you want to go by yourself? I like New York. I could come stay with you and Aiden. That’d be cozy.”

“Fine. No shoe shopping.”

“Do you promise? I’m serious. Do you promise?”

I close my eyes and nod. “Yeah. I promise.”

For a rainy day.

8pm

Aiden walks in my loft and says, “Wow. The ceiling is amazing.”

I tell him about the history of the building. Its former life as a small concert hall.

“What about all the furniture?”

“A designer chose all the pieces. I did some design boards that mixed pieces of furniture with colors, clothes, and shoes I love and somehow he extrapolated that to furniture and accessories.”

“I want to see it all,” he says, grabbing my hand and leading me around like he owns the place. I think about Dawson. How he barely got me in the door before attacking me. Part of me was hoping the loft would have the same effect on Aiden.

But part of me is glad it hasn’t.

When he lets go of my hand to examine a funky hand-blown glass piece, I notice how perfect Aiden looks in here. Almost like the designer picked him out too. He's wearing jeans that are fashionably ripped and frayed at the seams. A Band of Outsiders jersey hoodie that skims across his muscles. A casual blazer.

Having Aiden here makes my loft feel more like a home.

It’s weird. When I think of home, I think of Malibu. Of my family.

I’ve tried to write new scripts. Ones where I go home. Ones where I don’t get to go home. Ones where Dawson and I live in the Hamptons. Ones where Aiden and I live in Napa and watch the sunset together. Ones where Brooklyn tells me he wished on the moon the night of prom and where we stay up to watch the sunrise together.

But when it comes time to write it down—to actually script it—I can’t do it. Instead, I keep writing what happens every day in my journal.

I figure if Vincent gets me, maybe someone will find it and use it for a Lifetime movie.

I’m brought back to reality when Aiden says, “I think I'll take this one,” in one of the guest rooms. He walks out of the room then returns with his leather duffle and backpack and sets them on the bed.

Is it bad that when he told me that he wanted to use the feather on me here that I assumed that we were going to sleep together? And that I have a purse full of condoms?

Aiden takes my hand in his and continues to explore, now landing in the kitchen. “Love the teal island. And the stainless steel appliances mixed with the rustic painted furniture.” He pulls me into his arms and kisses the tip of my nose. “Did I tell you I'm a pretty good cook?”

I want to say I'm not surprised; you're good at everything, but I say, “Does that mean you’re gonna cook for me tonight?”

He opens the fridge and looks inside. “You're prepared.”

“Yeah, I wasn't sure what you'd want to do, so I ordered in a bunch of food.”

He grabs an apple, takes a big bite out of it, and shuts the door. “Let's see everything else, then we’ll decide.”

“This was another big selling point,” I say, leading him out the door off the kitchen. “Outdoor space is hard to find, so this made up for the fact that it isn't on Park Avenue.”

“My sister told me about the hot tub. Love the outdoor space. Show me your room.”

My room.

My bed.

I lead him into the bedroom, where he lets go of my hand to check it out. First, he peeks in the bathroom. "So you've never taken a bath in here?"

“No, not yet.”

“We’ll add that to the list.”

“The list?”

“Yeah, of the things we’re going to do this weekend. This your closet?” he asks, interrupting my thoughts of him lying naked on my furry rug.

I nod as he opens the door. He steps in and then turns and grins at me. “This has to be your favorite room in the house.”

“Why do you think that?”

“It just feels different. Has a different vibe.”

“I had it decorated exactly like my closet at home.”

Aiden is listening but he's also poking through the closet. Looking at the shoes I bought last time I was here but didn’t take back to school. Some basics I ordered online just in case I ever have to leave everything at school and run. He glances at the book of Keats’ poetry that’s lying on the table next to my chaise, not knowing that the four-leaf clover he gave me is safely pressed inside.

“You don't have any pictures of your family,” he states.

“I haven't had the chance to add many personal touches yet.” I open a drawer and pull out a small silver frame. “This is me holding my little sister when she was born.”

He takes the frame out of my hand and studies it. “She's tiny and adorable. You look young.”

“It was three years ago. Thanks for encouraging me to go to her party. I’m so glad I didn’t miss it.”

He flashes me a beaming smile, hands me back the photo, then makes a beeline for the long burgundy dress I bought when we went shopping for Homecoming. “What's this for?”

“Oh, I don't know. I found it when we were shopping for court dresses. I'm saving it.”

“You do that, don't you?”

“Do what?”

“Buy clothes in the hopes that you'll have somewhere perfect to wear them. Like the dress you were saving for Paris.”

“Yeah, I guess I do.”

“You're hopeful. Optimistic. I like that about you. What about these?” He points to a shoebox as he pops off the lid. “Why are these in their box and not displayed on the shelves with the others?”

He pulls out the shoes I was wearing when Vincent tried to kidnap me. A lump forms in my throat and I can't reply.

"Oh. This one’s broken,” he says. “What happened?”

 I’m trying to think up a lie when a note falls off the shoe.

Aiden picks it up and reads it aloud. “I thought you needed to be reunited with footwear that is the real you.  -G. Who's G?”

“Garrett. My um, uncle. You met him at Homecoming.”

“Why does he think a broken shoe is the real you?”

Seeing Aiden holding my shoe makes me long for the white knight. For the prince who kills the dark man. The prince who saves me.

“I was kinda nervous when I came to Eastbrooke. You know, wondering if I'd fit in.”

“So he sent you broken shoes?”

Fuck. Why does Aiden have to ask so many questions? Dawson never thought twice about the shoes or my closet.

“They are my favorite shoes ever,” I answer honestly, as I take the shoe out of his hand and put it back in the box. “I wore them at my 17th birthday party. But then I got, um, drunk and fell and broke the heel and I just . . .”

I can't do it. I can’t stand here and lie to Aiden’s face.

Lying to him hurts me.

Literally, physically hurts me.

“Anyway, you haven't seen the upstairs yet. Come on.” I tear out of my closet, praying he will follow me and forget about the shoes.

He does.

We climb the stairs. Since it’s dark, the stars are glowing. And they are everywhere. I think the designer went a little overboard, but they’re amazing. I love them.

Aiden pulls me onto the chaise with him. “Look at that,” he says, pointing. “There's a moon over there in the corner.”

“I never told them to put up a moon.”

“It probably came in the packet. One came in mine.”

“Why didn't you put it up?”

“I figured it'd get lost in all the stars.” He leans me back and kisses me.

Another perfect kiss.

I run my hands through the back of his hair and kiss the side of his face.

He stops kissing me and pulls me up off the couch. “You need to go change.”

“Like into something more comfortable?” Oh, yippee-freaking-yay!

“No, like into that dress you were saving.”

“Why?”

“It's a surprise. Meet me in the kitchen in five minutes.”

“Ten. If I'm gonna wear that dress, I need to touch up my makeup.”

He nods in agreement and heads down the stairs.

I run in my bedroom, touch up my makeup, throw my hair back into a messy bun, slide on the dress, add some strappy heels, and head back out to the kitchen just in time to watch Aiden popping a bottle of champagne.

He hands me a flute and clinks my glass. “Here’s to not waiting for a rainy day.”

“You look nice,” I say, knowing it’s an understatement as I take in his black suit and black shirt. I've never seen him wearing all black. It makes him look a little dangerous. Especially with the naughty gleam in his eyes.

He grabs my hand, leads me to the door, and says, “Our car’s here.”

We go outside and get into a big black limo.

“Where are we going?”

He pulls me into his arms. “You’ll see.”

Soon, the car pulls up to the Empire State Building. I smile. “Are we going to the top?”

“We are.”

He pushes me into the corner of the elevator and gives me a kiss. A kiss that I can feel all the way to the tips of my Louboutin-encased toes. A kiss that has way more tongue than is appropriate for a crowded elevator.

“That's because you look beautiful,” he whispers in my ear.

I slide my hands inside his jacket, feeling like I just stole a cookie.

Aiden holds my hand tightly as the elevator dings and we file out.

I love how small my hand feels in his. And the possessiveness and control I feel in his firm grip.

He leads me to an empty spot at the railing, where he stands directly behind me, whispering in my ear and pointing out lights I should look at.

But I’m focused on our hands.

It's hard to feel where my hand ends and his begins.

They are interlaced. Entwined.

My ruffled dress is blowing in the wind and I feel like I belong on a movie set.

Aiden squeezes my hand. “I think the guy next to us is getting ready to propose. I’m gonna record it.”

He grabs his phone out of his pocket and presses record. He holds me tight, keeps his mouth next to my ear, and gives me a play-by-play in his deep, sexy voice.

His breath tickles my ear. “He's so nervous. Look how he keeps smoothing out his jacket. I bet the ring’s in his pocket there. Oh. Look. He's grabbing both of her hands.”

“Shhh. I want to hear what he says.”

“Lisa, my butterfly,” the man says in a strong, confident voice. He may have been nervous before, but the strength in his voice tells me that whatever else he’s about to say, he means. Deeply. “You’ve made the world as I used to know it uninhabitable. I’m not the same man you met a year ago today. You've turned my life upside down and turned this cynic into a lovesick fool. With you, the sun shines brighter, food tastes better, and I'll never be able to go back to my old world. I need you to marry me. Save me. Have my babies. Grow old with me.”

He takes her hand and gets down on one knee. Even though Aiden and I totally knew this was coming, she seems utterly shocked by it. Her eyes are big and teary and you can tell her heart has stopped beating. She’s holding her breath as he says, “Lisa Monterrey, will you marry me?”

Lisa cries instead of replies.

“Uh oh,” Aiden whispers. “Is she gonna say no?”

I shake my head, because it’s so obvious to me that she's going to say yes. She’s just overcome with emotion.

“Butterfly?” he says tentatively.

Lisa she throws her arms around him and sobs, “Yes. Yes. A million times, yes.”

“He forgot the ring,” Aiden whispers.

They kiss and then he pulls a ring box out of the jacket pocket he kept smoothing down earlier.

Inside is a glittering emerald-cut diamond. “It's beautiful,” she and I both whisper at the same time.

It’s a magical moment. I’ve seen people get engaged in the movies. But this is different. Their love feels so raw. So imperfectly perfect.

He slips it on her finger and they kiss.

I can't help it. I clap.

Lisa shows me the ring and hugs both Aiden and me.

“Congratulations,” I tell her.

Aiden says, “I could tell he was going to propose, so I recorded it for you. If you want it.”

“Really?” Lisa says, falling in love with Aiden in an instant. “Ohmigawd, I love you.” She lays a big kiss in his cheek. “I can't even remember what he said.”

“He said you are his world,” I whisper.

“That was amazing!” Aiden says as we’re getting back into the limo.

“I know! It was so romantic. Actually, that kiss in the elevator was pretty romantic too.”

He leans over and presses his lips into mine. Gentle at first, like always, then that slow buildup to when he slides his tongue in my mouth. How he likes to tease me with it. How I try to catch it so I can suck on it but how he always catches mine instead. How good it feels as his hands grip my bare shoulders. How I can’t believe we got dressed up just to go to the top of the Empire State Building.

“What’s next?” I ask.

He kisses me again in reply.

And then again and again.

“What do you want to do?”

I don’t answer, just stand up, stick my head out of the sunroof, and scream, “Whoooooooo!”

Aiden joins me immediately. He laughs and screams with me. Then he turns toward me and places both his hands on my waist. I stop moving and gaze into his eyes. It’s one of those moments where time feels like it stands still. The city is rushing by, the crowds are moving busily down the streets, the taxis are honking, but it feels like it’s just us.

It’s a beautiful, perfect moment.

“Let’s go dancing.”

“Dancing? Really?! That sounds fun! Where to?”

“I don’t really know any good clubs, do you?”

“Hmm. Let me make a quick call.”

I sit back in the limo and call Damian. “Hey, big favor. Do you think you could get me on the VIP list at Feel in New York City?”

“How many?”

“Just two.”

“Ooohhh.”

“Shut up.”

“I’ll have our manager call. He can get in anywhere. VIP. Two for Douglas.”

I cough. “Uh, Monroe.”

“Oh, shit. My bad. Monroe.”

“Excellent. Thank you.”

I pull Aiden back in the car with me. “Why don’t you tell the driver to take us to Feel?”

Feel?”

“Yeah, it’s a new club. I haven’t been, but I’ve heard it’s crazy.”

He pulls me on top of him and slides his tongue up the side of my neck. “Crazy sounds good.”

I respond by running my hands inside his suit jacket, from his hips up his tight torso, and to the top of his chest. Then I wrap an arm around his neck and run my fingers through his hair.

He lets out a little growl. “My hands are going to be all over you in the club. Feeling every bit of you.”

“Why do you think I picked that club?” I reply with a smirk.

We pull up in the limo, are escorted past the long entrance line, and allowed direct access to the lush VIP area. Complete with deep purple couches and a bird’s-eye view of the dancing going on below. You can feel the beat of the music, but the area is insulated so you can talk.

Aiden checks his jacket.

“Do you have a T-shirt on under your dress shirt?”

He nods. “Yeah.”

I move close to him and slowly unbutton his shirt.

“That’s pretty forward of you,” he says, his grin blazing.

“You’ll be way too hot in it. I’m being thoughtful.”

“You think I’m hot, huh?”

“Actually, yes. And I want to see those arm muscles when you’re dancing.”

He hands his shirt to the coat check girl, who is also admiring Aiden in his t-shirt. I put my hands on top of his shoulders, then slowly slide them down his arms, feeling every curve of muscle. He puts his forehead against mine and says, “Boots, I hope you’re planning to do that all night.”

I turn away from him and head toward the stairs to the dance floor. Looking back over my shoulder, I smirk and say, “Come find out.”

He catches up to me quickly and pulls me onto the dance floor, where he wraps his arm around my waist and moves his leg between mine.

I can already tell that this long gown is not going to work well for serious dancing. But it does have a long slit up the front. Maybe I could . . .

I speak loudly over the music. “Let me fix my dress.”

“Your dress is perfect,” he yells back. “You look gorgeous.”

“Well, now I wanna look hot. So back off for a second.”

He smiles at me, holds his hands up, and backs away. Just a little.

I reach down, grab each side of the hem, slowly scrunch the layers up, and then tie it into place at mid thigh.

I raise my eyebrows at Aiden to see what he thinks. He grabs my ass and pulls me closer. “Mission accomplished.”

We dance forever.

Sometimes fast, laughing, and making a spectacle of ourselves. Other times, slow and mellow. Always, his leg is between mine, radiating energy up my thighs.

Just his hands all over me and his leg between mine turn me on in ways no one else has. What is it about this boy? Why does he feel like my other half? How does he anticipate my moves before I know them myself?

The music is blaring. The crowd is hot and sweaty. Aiden pulls me closer and sways slowly with me. And his delicious lips find my neck.

I hold my arms up in the air and sway to the music while he bites me.

Teeny little adorably hot bites.

Somehow in between the bites, I feel his tongue on my neck too. I’m not even sure. I’m pretty sure he is a vampire.

But a special one.

One that doesn’t suck my blood with each bite. One that injects love potion or some sort of ecstasy type drug into my skin.

Apparently this is like the date in the play. The amazing, never-ending date.

After the club, we go out for breakfast at a total dive. I find out that he loves chicken and waffles, something I have never considered pairing together, and is a Southern thing.

And, I have to admit, damn good.

It’s nearly four in the morning by the time we get back to my loft.

“Bath or hot tub?” he asks me.

My mind races. Trying to script out scenarios. But it’s on overload and all that I can process is bathtub = naked. Hot tub = swimsuits.

“Bath tub?”

“That sounds nice. All that dancing, it will be nice for you to relax.”

Me to relax? As in you’re not joining me?”

He kisses the tip of my nose. “Why did you choose a bath? Because you were hoping for nakedness?”

“Oh, uh, no. Of course not. I just, thought, I mean, we talked about a bath. I have bubbles.”

Ohmigawd. Am I ten? I have bubbles?

He gives me a sexy grin. “I like bubbles. Should we finish the champagne in there too?”

“Uh, yeah. Um, you do that and I’ll, um, be in my closet.”

I walk in my closet and jump up and down. I was starting to get tired, but now my body is racing with energy and adrenaline. I want to run through the house singing, I’m going to have sex with the hottie god. I’m going to have sex . . . Shit. I’m going to have sex with him? Do I want to?

I hear him walk back into the bathroom. I peek out the closet door and see that he has the bottle of champagne in an ice bucket and two flutes. He sets it all on the floor next to tub and starts the water. Then he starts opening cabinets. He pokes around, pulls out two fluffy white towels and a bottle of bubble bath, and dumps a bunch in.

He’s also wearing a swimsuit.

I quickly pull off my dress, hang it up, slip on my cashmere robe, and saunter out.

He immediately pulls me into his arms, kisses me, and slides his hand inside my robe.

Straight on top of my naked boob.

“Oh!” he says, quickly pulling his hand out from under my robe, like my skin just burned it. “I didn’t know . . .”

“It’s okay. I wasn’t sure what the plan was.”

“The plan? Tonight is about not making plans.”

“Uh, okay. I’ll, uh, go put on a, uh, swimsuit.”

I run back into my closet, throw on a bikini, and hurry back to the bathtub before he changes his mind.

“Why don’t you get in first?” I tell Aiden. While I was changing, he dragged my bedside table into the bathroom and has the champagne within easy reach.

“This is hot,” he says, slowly lowering his sexy body into my tub.

I’m not sure how to get in. I want to sit on top of him. Straddle him. Make him want me.

But he turns me around and says, “Lean back and relax.”

Not only do we fit together when we’re dancing, but my back nestles perfectly into his chest.

“I'm never taking a bath by myself again.”

“Why's that?”

“Because your chest is warm and soft. The back of the tub is cold and hard.”

He cups a handful of bubbles and places then on my chest, making what looks like a huge towering penis.

“Is that what I think it is?”

“If you think I'm trying to create the Empire State Building out of bubbles, you'd be right.”

“Oh,” I giggle.

He kisses my neck. “You have a dirty mind.”

“Maybe,” I laugh. “Can I rub it? Will bubbles come out?’

“You’re bad,” he says, kissing my neck some more. “It's cute.”

“It is?”

“Yes,” he replies, handing me a flute.

“Are we still drinking to rainy days?”

“Hmm, no. Now, we’re drinking to ice.”

He clinks my glass and we both sip champagne.

“Ice?” I ask.

He reaches his arm out of the tub, setting down his glass and grabbing a piece of ice. He shows me the ice and then pops it in his mouth. I assume he eats it, but instead I feel the ice between his lips, gliding purposefully down my neck. The ice melts quickly—probably because my body is on freaking fire—so he replaces it with another piece. This piece stays in his hand as he runs the point of the ice like he did the feather. Slowly— excruciatingly slowly—down into my cleavage. Then across my stomach. I take my legs out of the water, bending them at the knee and bracing them on the side of the tub.

And praying the piece of ice will find its way down a little further.

“I’ve died and gone to hottie heaven,” I whisper.

“What kind of heaven?”

“Oh, uh, I don't know,” I say, pressing my back into him and shamelessly raising my hips toward the ice. Toward his big fingers. I let out a little moan and arch my back as his lips find mine.

I roll myself over and lie on top of him. Which is not very comfortable, so I quickly sit up and straddle him. I can feel that he's hard. And I'm . . . I'd say I'm practically dry humping him, except we're wet. I'm wet humping him. Rubbing myself against him. Totally worked up. I reach down to untie his shorts. I have to have them off.

“Boots,” he says. “We can’t.”

“Yes, we can,” I say, grabbing the string again. “I have condoms if you don’t.”

He grips my hand tightly. “Maybe I gave you the wrong idea. We're not having sex this weekend. Remember, you said that you wanted to wait.”

“That was before you rubbed ice down my legs.”

I place my lips hard on his, giving him a fiery kiss. Grabbing his tongue with mine. Sucking on it. Raking my hands roughly through his hair. And rocking my hips.

He grabs my hips, stopping their motion. “Okay. Bath time is over.”

I immediately bite the side of my lip. Trying not to make an obvious pout.

He kisses my lower lip, then my forehead. “Have you had a fun night?”

“Yes.”

“Isn't that what matters?”

“Yeah, it's just I wanna skip to the good part.”

He looks me in the eyes, speaking directly to my soul. “This is the good part, Boots.” He edges himself out of the tub. “I’m gonna hop in the shower and rinse off all these bubbles.”

“I’ll stay here and pout.”

He smirks at me and hands me the bottle of champagne.

I’m ready to take a big swig, but then I realize that he's in my shower. That water is running all over that heavenly body of his.

So I watch.

Watch and chug.

Chug and watch.

Imagine my fingers are the water.

Aiden gets out and wraps a towel around his swimsuit.

I’m not sure if he thought getting out of the tub and showering would help me cool off. Quench the flames of desire.

Um, no.

He’s wet. Glistening. Water droplets running down his chest.

I take another chug of champagne as he slides his shorts off and lays them on the counter to dry.

“You're naked in my towel,” I blurt out.

He grins at me, glances at his phone, and says, “Wanna go watch the sunrise?”

Sunrises have always been B's and my thing. I suddenly feel guilty. Guilty I told B I'd give him another chance. Guilty I'm here with Aiden. Guilty that I’m a liar.

“I’m really tired. Aren't you?”

“I could probably sleep.” He kisses me full on the lips and says, “Goodnight then.”

“Aiden, wait.”

I may be feeling guilty, but the guilt comes wrapped in a loneliness that is almost unbearable.

Especially after the trip to Vancouver when I realized that Mom hasn’t called me even once. And now I understand why. I’ve become the threat too.

And while Vincent is still out there, I can’t see them again.

Aiden grabs the edge of my doorway and turns around. Damp and still wrapped in nothing but a fluffy white towel.

“I, uh, have a big bed.”

He laughs. “There's a big bed in my room too.”

“I don't . . . I’m fine if we don't, but I . . .” Why can't I speak a coherent sentence?

“Do you want me to sleep in here, with you?”

I shut my mouth and nod, thankful for once that he could read my mind.

“I’ll go grab some dry shorts.”

I run in my closet, strip off my wet bikini, and put on some sleep shorts and a cashmere pullover. I stop for a second and look in the mirror.

Ohmigawd. No wonder he didn't want to have sex with me. I look like the zombie apocalypse. How did my mascara end up all under my eyes?

I quickly put some oil on a cotton ball to rub it off. And my hair is a mess. Half wet, half up, half down.

I pull the pins out of it. Attempt to brush through the wet mess, give up, twirling it back into another bun. Then I brush my teeth.

I am so not having sex with Aiden tonight. Not even if he wants. I have to look beautiful and glamorous and draped in silk when we do it. My mind flits back to being kissed on his desk.

Or that would work.

I rub some rose scented lip balm across my lips and open the door.

Aiden is lying on my bed. I was wrong when I said it looked like my loft was designed for him.

My bed was designed for him.

He's shirtless, wearing white athletic shorts, and his hair looks like he dried it with a towel and didn't give it a second thought.

I bound onto the bed, grab a pillow, and smack him upside the head.

“Oh, really?” he says, holding onto my pillow as he grabs another one and hits me with it.

I'm laughing as I roll out of his grip and swing the pillow at him again. He ducks his head so it bounces off his shoulder as he grabs the pillow out of my hand and tosses it off the bed. Then he grabs my waist and flips me over so he’s lying on top of me. I reach out to tickle his sides, but he grabs both arms and holds them down above my head.

“Damn,” I say with a smirk. “Now, I'm trapped. Whatever will I do?”

“I thought you were tired.”

“I was. I am. You look good in my bed.”

He lowers his lips to my neck and says, “You look good pinned underneath me. I'm gonna let you up now. Behave.”

I nod, agreeing, but the second I get loose, I leap off the bed, grab my pillow off the floor, swing it at him, and then go running out of the room. I'm making a run for the loft when a pillow smacks my back. I turn around and swing the pillow wildly.

Sadly, I don't connect as many times as he does, so I throw my pillow at his face, tear up the stairs, and dive onto my big sectional couch.

Aiden has both pillows in his hands when he gets to the top of the stairs. “Give up?”

“Actually, yeah. I think that was my last burst of energy.”

He puts both pillows on the couch, scoops me up, then lies down with me in his arms. I snuggle my face into his chest, breathe in the heavenly scent that is Aiden, and close my eyes.


Saturday, November 12th

Take me shopping.

9am

I open one eye, wondering where I am. There's a heavy arm draped over my shoulder. Aiden is asleep, so I take a moment to study his perfect face. The sexy stubble on his strong jaw. His perfect nose. The pale pink of his beautiful lips. And that freaking mouth.

I close my eyes and dream about that mouth.

I wake up later to Aiden gently caressing my face. I pretend to be asleep a little while longer because it feels so good. I’m still wrapped in his arms and the side of my face is plastered to his chest.

“Hey, sleepyhead,” he says, kissing my shoulder.

“That is the best way ever to be woken up. I feel like an attention whore.”

“Why's that?”

“You're always taking care of me. Doing stuff for me.”

“I have something you can do for me today.”

“What?”

“Take me shopping. I’ve grown out of pretty much everything from last year. My mom went with me before school started and I got a couple suits and uniforms, but that’s about it.”

“I can help you with that. We’ll go everywhere. Rag & Bone, Neiman, Saks, Bendel, Vuitton, Lauren, Burberry, and Barneys.”

“Perfect. I’ll get us a car for the day.”

By late afternoon he says, “You're a little too good of a shopper. I'm tired, broke, and starving.”

“We better feed you, then, and I know just the place.”

I take him to Serendipity 3, mostly because of their desserts. And I’m feeling decadent.

“Now I need a nap,” he says, patting his tight stomach. Figures. He can eat the fried chicken dinner, the chocolate blackout cake, three-fourths of my sundae and still look hot. I had a grilled chicken sandwich, some fruit, a fourth of the sundae, and I’m totally bloated. I suck my stomach in and suggest a carriage ride through Central Park.

I’m pretty sure that Aiden didn’t see much of Central Park. I’m not even sure where we were. I just know he kept kissing me.

When the carriage comes to a halt back where we started and we get into our town car, I say, “You want to smoke a cigarette on the steps of the Met, like they do in the Gossip Girl books?”

He looks at me kinda funny. “I don’t smoke.”

“I don’t either, but I would. Like there. Just to say I did.”

“I was thinking that you didn’t get to do any shopping. If there’s one store you could go back to, where would it be?”

“Barneys.”

“Shoes or bags?”

“Well, handbags are on the first floor. Maybe we should start there and work our way up?”

He holds my hand as I stand in front of what is my purse Mecca. A rainbow of Proenza Schouler handbags in beautiful colors.

“You have a lot of these bags, don't you?”

“Yeah, I'm kinda obsessed. I love all the colors. Their classic style.”

“You don't have that purple one, do you?”

“No, not yet. But let’s go upstairs and check out the clothes.”

“What about shoes?”

“Um, I have enough shoes,” I say, with very little conviction.

Aiden looks at me funny. Obviously, he knows I love shoes. “Okay, well, clothes it is, then.”

We go upstairs and I have fun trying on clothes for Aiden. And it works out really well because I barely leave the dressing room. He keeps bringing me more to try on. Maybe I could send him down for shoes.

“I found three more dresses for you to try on,” he says from outside the door.

I open the door and show him the cute dress I just tried on. The dress that is screaming and throwing a temper tantrum at me for new boots to go with it.

“That’s cute,” he says. “What do you think of these?” He holds up three gorgeous gowns.

“I guess I do need another rainy day dress,” I tease.

“That or a dress for Winter Formal.”

“I like getting dressed up,” I say, grabbing the gowns to try on.

He shakes his head and grins at me. “While you do that, I’m gonna run down to the men’s department and get that wallet I saw earlier.”

“Okay,” I say happily.

When he comes back up, I’m dressed and paying. He grabs all my bags and carries them for me.

“So what do you want to do next?” he asks, as we slides into the car.

“I’d love to go home. Relax. Maybe have a movie marathon? Or watch some football?”

He kisses me in response and then tells the driver to take us back home.

I take my bags into my closet and decide what I want to take to school and what I want to leave here. Then I throw on a comfy pair of stretchy Free People tie-dyed jeans, an oversized cream sweater, and some cream cabled mule slippers.

I find Aiden in my kitchen making snacks. His phone is on the counter quietly playing something jazzy and soulful. He looks so at home in my kitchen. So at home everywhere I am.

Then I notice a big Barneys box lying on the island. “What’s that?” I ask, pointing to it.

“That’s for you.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, open it.”

I slowly untie the ribbon, lift off the lid, and slide open the tissue. “Ohmigawd, Aiden! I fucking love you!” I scream, pulling out the purple handbag—that I wanted but didn’t buy—and hugging it.

His eyes get big.

“Oh, I mean, I, like, love that you got it for me. I was trying to be good.”

“You bought two gowns, six bags of clothes, and the four pairs of shoes they brought up to the dressing room for you.”

“I know. That's why I didn't get the purse. I was trying to being good.”

He laughs at me, but as I’m clutching the purse, I realize, “Look! It even matches my outfit.”

“Do you need a matching purse to watch movies upstairs?”

“Well, I didn’t before, but I do now.” I set the purse down, walk into Aiden’s arms, and kiss him. “Thank you. Really. It was so unnecessary but so incredibly sweet. And you surprised me. I love surprises.”

“Good,” he says, as he spins me out of his arms, dancing with me. He spins me tightly back into his arms, kisses the tip of my nose, and then spins me back out.

I’m not sure if it’s the spins or the kisses that are making me feel dizzy.

“I was thinking since we had a big late lunch that we’d just have snacks.”

“That sounds good. What can I make?”

He picks me up and sets me on the kitchen island.

“You watch. I'll cook,” he says as he puts a bag of popcorn in the microwave.

“I’m not sure I’d call throwing a bag of popcorn in the microwave cooking,” I tease.

“I make it special.”

You make everything special, I think.

He's in and out of the fridge gathering ingredients. The microwave dings and he dumps the popcorn in a bowl then puts another bag in.

Then he stops and looks at me.

I smile at him. It sounds lame to say I smile at him but I do. He looks so damn sexy. His something comfortable is a tight white tank top and a thick pair of navy Abercrombie sweatpants that are just a little too short even though they're riding low on his hips.

He saunters over, wiping his hand on a dishtowel, and kisses me.

And kisses me.

Something starts to smell funny. My brain is a little fuzzy, but Aiden stops kissing me, and runs over to the microwave.

“Shit. You made me forget about the popcorn,” he says, laughing as he grabs a black smoking bag out of the microwave and carries it out to the deck. “Burnt popcorn smells so bad.” He puts another bag in and then pulls me back into his arms for a few more kisses.

The microwave dings. He doctors up the popcorn, then hands me a tray full of junk food.

I jump off the counter and carry it upstairs.

We get our trays situated on the coffee table, snuggle on the couch, and start the first movie.

He holds a piece of popcorn up to my mouth, so I open my mouth and taste it.

“Oh, that's good. What's on it?”

“Butter, of course, with some seasoning salt, Worcestershire sauce, and a little Parmesan cheese.”

“And don't forget the pretzels.” I take a sip of diet Coke to cleanse my pallet. “What's the other kind?”

“Taste.”

“Oh, that's good too. Spicy.”

“Hot wing sauce, butter, and a little cayenne pepper.”

“They're both really good, Aiden. How'd you learn to make them?”

“When my mom was going through chemo, she was tired a lot, so we watched movies together. And popcorn was one food that usually didn't make her feel sick.”

I get tears in my eyes. I don't know why. But Aiden just touches me.

I nuzzle my face into his chest and try to focus on the movie.

But it doesn’t work because Aiden keeps kissing me.

And after careful observation, I’m now one hundred percent certain that his tongue is laced with love potion.

That’s why he was saving it. He has to be careful who he uses it on.

My phone rings on the coffee table, breaking the spell a little. Aiden doesn’t stop kissing me. He just opens one eye, grabs my phone, and says, “It was Maggie. She’s called three times. You better call her back.”

We both sit up.

I take my phone from him and call her as he heads down the stairs.

“Keatyn, thank goodness. I need to talk to you!”

“What’s wrong?” I ask, as I follow him to the kitchen.

“I can’t make a decision. I’m thinking I might sleep with Logan tonight.”

“If you think it’s right. Do you think it’s right?”

I look at Aiden. Wondering if I could ever forget the way he looks standing in my kitchen.

“It seems too soon,” she says. “Which makes no sense because we’ve already done it.”

“If you think you should wait, then wait,” I suggest. I hit the mute button on my phone and whisper to Aiden. “I’m gonna change real quick. This outfit is too hot.”

He nods as Maggie says into my ear, “You’re probably right. Are you and Aiden having fun?”

“Yeah, we’re having fun.”

“At least someone is,” she says.

I start to say Not that kind of fun, but she’s already hung up.

I strip my clothes off and throw on my short cashmere robe. It’s snuggly, but much cooler than the outfit I had on. Aiden radiates heat off his body and the robe has the added bonus that it would be super easy for him to slide his hands under.

When I walk back in the kitchen, Aiden goes, “Was Maggie talking about Logan? If so, I think you gave her some good advice.”

“Logan is her root. She needs to give it some time.”

“What do you mean?”

“He was her first love. She needs to figure out if she really loves him or if he’s just her first love.”

“Logan has no idea what he’s up against,” Aiden says with a laugh.

I slide my body up next to him and coo sexily, “Right now, you’re up against me.”

“And just getting here has taken a lot of patience.”

“You don’t need to be patient any more.”

“Actually,” he sighs, “I need to be very patient.”

“Why? Why can’t we just have some fun?”

“Because us, this, is not about fun.”

“It’s not?”

“No, it’s serious.”

I decide he’s being a little too serious. So I move out of his embrace and pour us each of shot of Patron Silver.

“Here’s to not having fun,” I say sarcastically, as I raise my shot glass in the air.

He sets my full shot glass down, along with his, picks me up, and carries me to my bed.

He lays me down, then pushes his hand into his pocket.

Ohmigawd. Is he getting out a condom?

Please.

Please.

Let it be.

I make it into a little song.

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be, little shiny foil wrapper, let it be. Oh. Let. It. Be.

Instead, he pulls out two feather earrings.

He runs the feather across my lips and then squiggles it down my neck.

“Aiden, wait.”

“Why?”

“It’s my turn.” I grab the hem of his shirt and pull it up over his head.

I have to admit, I take great pleasure in teasing him with the feather.

He’s lying on his back and I’m sitting on top of him. Straddling his waist.

I rub the feather lightly all over his chest. His neck. His perfectly shaped arms. Across his abs. In a little tickle motion up his sides. Across his neck. His face.

And. I’m. Dying.

Seriously.

I’m so freaking turned on I can barely stand it.

Grandpa and I had an interesting discussion this past summer about spurs. About whether or not they hurt the horse. Grandpa says there’s nothing wrong with spurring a horse on.

I think maybe that’s just what’s called for here.

I glide the feather across the waistline of his pants.

He closes his eyes for a minute and I realize this is my chance. I keep moving the feather across his skin while I slide out of my robe. So now, I’m sitting on him, naked except for a pair of lavender boy shorts.

I continue to run the feather across him, but I’m dying for him to open his eyes.

I’m afraid for a minute that he has fallen asleep.

But then he opens his eyes. There’s enough light that I can see the surprise in them.

He sucks in air like he just ran a set of sprints, then breathes deeply.

I bite my lip. All of a sudden, I’m nervous.

He shuts his eyes tightly. “Put that back on.”

What?! What the fuck? Is he serious?

I don’t say anything. I don’t even move.

“It doesn’t feel like you’re putting it on,” he says.

I find my voice. “I’m not. I like it off. I thought you would like it off.”

“Please put it back on.”

It’s very hard to have a conversation with someone when their eyes are closed. I can’t use my puppy dog eyes or my pout. “No.”

“If you don’t put it back on, I’m leaving.”

“Why do you have to be so freaking stubborn? And why does it always have to be what you want?”

“I’m going to ask you one more time. Please.”

“Oh, and then what? You gonna count to three and give me a time out? Open your eyes.”

He keeps his eyes shut, moves me off him, gets up, and walks out the door.

I suddenly feel very naked.

I sit here, not sure what to do.

I’m so disappointed. This has been the perfect weekend.

Then he had to ruin it. Why does it always have to get ruined?

I’m so tired of this. I’m so tired of being told no.

Maybe I should be done with him.

I’ll call Dawson. Tell him that I’ll go out with him. Let him be his sweet, adorable, and compliant self. He never, ever tells me no. And he went to Columbia again this weekend. He would come over and be glad to appreciate my nakedness.

I pull my robe on, hop out of bed, and walk purposefully to the kitchen.

I spy my purse sitting on the table.

Aiden is standing in the kitchen watching me, but I ignore him.

I sit on the bench and scroll through my phone.

“What are you doing?’ Aiden asks.

“Calling Dawson.”

Aiden rips the phone out of my hand. “I’m not going to let you do that.”

“You don’t have any say in what I do, Aiden.”

“Why are you so stubborn?”

I’m stubborn?”

I walk to the living room, raise my eyebrows at him, and pick up the landline phone.

Aiden marches over and presses the receiver down.

“Stop it! Give me my phone back.”

“No.”

“Now.”

“No.”

“I’ll just go use another phone,” I say, heading back toward the kitchen.

Aiden comes up from behind me, grabs me, and marches me back into the bedroom.

“You done with your little tantrum yet?”

Oh, my. He has no idea. That was no tantrum.

But he’s about to see a tantrum of epic proportions because I’m coming unglued, unhinged, and off my freaking rocker. I have been pushed to the point of no return.

“Give. Me. My. Phone.”

“No.” He sets my phone down on the dresser, grabs me around the waist, and pulls me in close to him. “You told me that you wanted to work on our foundation, our framework.”

I glare at him. “No amount of framework could keep us from crumbling.”

He runs his hand across my shoulder.

It instantly calms me. Which I completely hate.

“Don’t touch me.” I back away, sitting on the bed. I need to stay mad at him.

He sits down next to me.

I immediately stand back up and walk into the kitchen. No way am I going to sit on the same bed with him.

“Do you really think that was a rejection?” he asks, following me with my phone.

“Yes.”

He grabs me and pulls my hips tightly into his. “Does this feel like a rejection?”

“All we do is fight.”

“We’re not fighting.”

“Um, yes we are. And now we’re fighting over whether or not we’re fighting. It’s pathetic.”

“I want the same things you want. We’re going to take it slow.”

“I changed my mind. I don’t want to take it slow. And I don’t get what the big deal was. It’s not like I was naked.”

“Keatyn,” he says firmly. “All you had on was a tiny pair of underwear.”

“I’m done arguing with you. Give me my phone. I don’t even have to flip a coin to figure it out. I want a guy who wants me.”

“You were going to flip a coin to decide between us?”

“I did flip a coin, actually.”

“And that’s exactly why I told you to get dressed.”

“That makes no sense.”

“Sit down and listen to me, please.”

I roll my eyes and comply. Why do I comply? Why don’t I run naked straight to Columbia?

“When you decide that you want me and only me, that’s when I’ll let you keep your clothes off. Until then, we’re going slow. I have never turned down a girl before.”

“Oh. Wow. That makes me feel so much better.”

He cradles my face in his hand. “Boots, I promise you. I want you. It took every single ounce of my conviction to do that. To walk out of the room. The foundation was your idea.”

“Can’t there be some boobs in our foundation? We’re talking middle school stuff here, Aiden.”

He shuts his eyes tightly. “I feel like I’m on that survivor show. Survive this and you can win the big prize.”

“Your dick is the big prize?”

“I’m not talking about my dick. You know what? If sex is all you want then, here, here’s the phone. Call him.”

I stare at the phone in my hand. “I asked my grandpa for advice on choosing between you and Dawson,” I say softly. “He’s the one who told me to flip a coin.”

“I’d think you’d want to decide with your heart, not by chance.”

“That’s what I said. I said, What if I don’t get what I want? And he said, Exactly. That when the coin is in the air, you’ll know what you want.”

“So what happened when the coin was in the air?”

“I knew before I flipped it that I wanted it to land on you.”

“Did it?”

“No. Dawson won three out of four.”

“So why isn’t he here with you now?”

“Because.”

Aiden stares at me, searching my eyes for answers. “Do you still want your phone back?”

I hold his gaze. “No.”

Aiden picks me up quickly, pushes me onto the kitchen counter, and kisses me.

Hard.

Full of desire.

This isn't a sweet chaste kiss.

No.

This is a tongue, and heat, and laying-me-across-the-counter kiss.

I remember a scene in one of my favorite books, That Wedding. When Phillip comes home to find Jadyn making cupcakes and they get in a frosting fight and do it on the kitchen counter. I so want my own scene like that.

Aiden moves his mouth away from mine, leans back slightly, rips open the front of my robe, shoves it off my shoulders, and stares at my naked chest.

A single finger touches me. Traces the curve of my breast. Circles my nipple. Grazing across the top of it.

He glances at me briefly, the hunger in his eyes returning. Then he attacks. He covers one breast with his big hand, massaging it, and rubbing his thumb across my nipple. The other breast he takes in his mouth. Sucking it in forcefully. Teasing it with his tongue. Licking around its edges.

I feel like I’m lost somewhere between heaven and the underworld. All I can do is breathe.

Until he takes my nipple in his teeth.

I gasp and hold my breath as he pulls it taut before letting it go. Giving me a teeny second of pain and then pure pleasure.

“Does that feel like middle school?” he says raggedly into my chest.

“Not at all.”

He grins at my chest, trails his tongue slowly from one boob to the other, and then takes it in his mouth.

A little moan escapes my lips.

Which seems to cause him to react. He sucks harder, massages harder, teases more, and his hips . . .

Oh. My. God.

My legs are spread apart. His hips are rocking between them.

Like we’re having hot sex on my kitchen counter.

I can feel his hardness pressing against me.

I push my hands just below the waistline of his pants.

He removes his lips from my chest and mutters, “Don’t. Unless you want me to stop what I'm doing.”

I quickly move my hands to his back.

I don’t want him to stop.

But I’m seriously going to have to wring my panties out after this.


Sunday, November 13th

Not PG.

4pm

We’re almost back to school when I notice the feathers attached to Aiden’s backpack. “I never got to finish with the feathers.”

His eyebrows raise in amusement. “Oh, really, what else were you planning?”

“I don’t know. Just, you know, rubbing them around some.”

“Rubbing them around or gliding them across my naked skin?”

“Uh, the gliding one” I say, swallowing hard, as my cheeks flush.

“Sounds like we have a date for next weekend.”

When we get back to my dorm, he gives me a sweet kiss.

“I loved our rainy day weekend,” I tell him.

“Me too. I have to get to the playoff meeting, otherwise I’d stay here and kiss you all night.”

He gives me one more kiss and then heads down to the field house.

I take my bags into my room and put my stuff away. Just as I finish, Maggie, Annie, Peyton, and Katie bound through the door.

“So what happened?” Katie asks.

“Did you sleep with him?” Maggie says at the same time.

“No, I didn’t.”

Maggie screws up her face. “Really?”

“Really. We're taking things slow. Really, super, excruciatingly slow.”

“So it wasn't that fun?” Annie questions.

“What? No. It was the most amazing weekend.” I tell them how we got dressed up and went to the top of the Empire State Building. I tell them all things we did and saw, but I keep the good parts to myself. I don't want to share them with anyone. They feel like they should be savored. “So what happened here?”

“Whitney and I took Cooper Steele to dinner,” Peyton says, her eyebrow raised, suggesting it was more than dinner.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. It was fun. The asshole is so charming, I’d share him if I had to. Hell, Whitney even suggested sharing—in a not so subtle way—but he acted like he didn't get it. Do you think he could be gay?”

“No, I think he's smart. He doesn't want to lose his job over a student when the guy could clearly get any woman he wanted.”

“Good point,” Peyton says. “I’m gonna have to try harder. Or maybe play hard to get.”

“Or give up.”

“No, not just yet. And it’s not like I care about him. I just don’t want Whitney to get him.”

“So what about you, Maggie? Did you decide to wait with Logan?”

“We didn't have sex, but we did everything else. Like you and Aiden.”

“You trying to trick me into admitting something?” I laugh. “It won’t work. Besides, there’s nothing to tell. I’m talking second base.” I was going to add that it was all very PG, but then I remember the deep kiss in the elevator, the ice the bathtub, the naked boobs on the kitchen counter. We may not have gone very far, but what we did felt so sexual, and so not PG.


Tuesday, November 15th

Stolen kisses.

11:45pm

 Today was a blur. A happy blur. Of holding hands. Of sweet texts. Of stolen kisses between classes. Of whispering to each other at lunch. Of French words spoken in my ear. Of the pep rally. Of wishing him luck. Of winning the playoff game.

Of sitting on the bus with him on the way home.

We’re holding hands. Lazily rubbing them together. Sometimes his fingers are laced between mine. Sometimes clasped together. Sometimes just our pinkies touch. Sometimes he runs his fingertip across my palm. I watch our hands in a daze.

It’s like our hands are dancing.

I feel like I could sit for hours and do nothing but hold his hand in hundreds of different ways.

He stops every once in a while to bring my fingers to his lips.

I stop every once in a while to kiss his lips.

And then we’re back home, and it’s another amazing goodnight kiss.


Wednesday, November 16th

Sleeps with James Bond.

11am

 Today is college and career day. The gym is set up with tables representing a multitude of college options. I dressed in a really cute uniform look for the occasion.

But first, I have an appointment with my academic advisor, who is going to give me the results of the career survey I took earlier this week.

“These surveys always make me laugh at the jobs they come back with,” Miss Praline says. “I just went over James Barnsworth the sixth’s—you know, of the railroad baron Barnsworths?—and it suggested a job as a sanitation worker. Can you imagine?”

I laugh. “Maybe he doesn’t want to join the family business.”

“Yours, however, are spot on. Actress, Producer, CIA Agent, Foreign Service Officer.” She hands me my results. “What do you think you want to do?”

I can’t say actress, for obvious reasons, so I go with one that actually sounds pretty cool. When I’m not reading romances, I read spy novels. I can totally picture myself as a badass spy. A classy one, though. Like the kind who gets dressed up in a designer gown, goes to fancy parties, carries a little gun in her garter, and sleeps with James Bond.

“I’ve always thought I wanted to be a doctor, but the CIA agent intrigues me. Really, it’s kinda brilliant. I have decent acting skills. I’m good with languages. And I love to travel. What would I have to do to become one?”

Miss Praline types a few things on her computer and prints out a sheet. “Here are some things you can do to prepare. Let’s see. Do a background check on yourself. Make sure your life stays squeaky clean. Don’t do drugs within twelve months of applying. Learn foreign languages.” She stops to look at me. “Do you speak anything other than French?”

“Yeah, I’m not as fluent but I can speak pretty well in Italian, Spanish, and German. I know some Swiss and Japanese too.”

She tilts her head at me. “Really?”

I nod. “Yeah, we traveled a lot when I was a kid, so I just sort of picked it up. Every summer I listen to audio books in other languages. It helps me remember.”

“It also says you should get good grades, major in something International, be physically and mentally fit, and willing to travel.”

“Sweet.”

“Okay, so now you can go talk to the colleges. Maybe check out their International Studies programs.”

“That sounds good. Thanks, Miss Praline.” I stop and turn around. “Hey, did my uncle ever call you?”

She blushes and fidgets with her necklace. “Um, oh, he did. He travels a lot. As you well know. But we did go to dinner recently. He was in town for work. It was the same day your soccer coach left. I remember I almost cancelled on him because of the impromptu going away party we had for her.”

“Was it a good date?”

“Well, yes. He’s very handsome and well-mannered.”

“Any plans for a future date?”

“We’ve talked about it. He’s always rushing off to somewhere for his job.” She lowers her voice. “Do you know what he does?”

“For a living?”

“Yeah, it’s interesting that you want to work for the CIA. I’m pretty sure your uncle could help get you a job there.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Because I think that’s what he does.”

“Interesting,” I say, quickly standing up before she can ask any more questions.

I try to imagine my future life without acting. Honestly, the CIA might not be a bad idea. I could use it to figure out a way to get rid of Vincent. Or maybe I could dye my hair like Mom suggested and do a realty TV show about being in the CIA.

Oh. Yeah. Scratch that. That might sorta defeat the whole clandestine thing.

I talk to colleges about their International Studies programs. Because that does actually interest me. I’d love to do semesters abroad.

Jake and Dawson are in front of the NYU table talking to the recruiters. “We missed the early decision admission, but we can still do the regular one, right?” I hear Jake ask.

Dawson pulls me over. “You should apply here too,” he says. “The three of us could have fun. Parties at your loft. Weekends in the Hamptons.”

“Studying during the week,” the recruiter says.

“Of course,” Dawson replies.

“You could study acting with me,” Jake says.

“I think I’m going to major in International Studies.”

The recruiter asks, “Which kind? We have Global Liberal Studies, an International Business program, and an International Relations program. As a freshman in the Global Liberal Studies program, you can choose to study in New York, or at NYUs in Florence, London, Shanghai, or Paris.”

“Paris? Um, that one. The Global Liberal Studies, please.”

He hands me a packet of information.

“You know,” Dawson says, “there are a lot of good schools in the city. Have you ever thought of transferring there for your senior year? Living full-time at your loft. Jake and I are gonna miss you.”

“I never thought of it. Honestly, I really only need a few more credits to graduate. I could do them in the summer if I wanted to and skip my senior year.”

“That’d be awesome! Come to college with us.”

“I’ll think about it. Are you two going there for sure?”

“As long as they let us in.”

“Have you talked to your parents yet, Jake?”

“No, but they came to the play. They thought I was good.”

“Maybe it won’t be such a shock, then?”

“My two older brothers both went into the family business, so there’s really no big need for me to. Other than my dad wanting to control us.”

“What do you want to major in, Dawson?”

“Business. I had never heard of it before, but the NYU dude was telling me about their MBA program. You can specialize in Luxury Marketing. That’s something you’d be good at. One of their classes is about doing business in Italy.”

“Italian leather,” I murmur. “That might be a really good degree for me.”

“I was thinking Italian sports cars, but you get what I’m saying.”

“How do people ever decide what to major in?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “I think they guess.” He pulls me aside. “Seniors get the afternoon off. Wanna hang out?”

“I can’t skip, Dawson.”

“You have before.”

“I know, but . . .”

“You still don’t want to? Come on, Keatie. We haven’t done it for seventeen days and he still hasn’t asked you out. You haven’t done it with him, have you?”

“No.”

“Isn’t that killing you?”

I look down. “Kinda.”

“It’s not cheating if you aren’t in a relationship.”

“I know, Dawson. But I just can’t.”

Annie comes up and drags me away. “Let’s go to college together in Paris.”

“That would be cool. I was just looking at some International Studies programs. It’d be cool to study abroad.”

“It’s my dream.”

“How does Ace fit into that dream?”

She sighs big and shakes her head. “I have no idea. And, even worse, I have no idea how I’m going to survive him going to college next year. This college fair thing is really depressing. Part of me never wants to leave Eastbrooke. Another part of me can’t wait to start my life.”

“You’ve already started your life, Annie. But life is all about change. And sometimes changes happen when you least expect them.”

“Like yours?”

“What do you mean?”

“Your parents moving was a surprise, right? And you came here kinda last minute.”

“Yes, exactly. Sometimes you don’t expect it.”

“Do you like it here? Better than your old school?”

“It’s different than my old school,” I say.

But, honestly, my old school wasn’t all that different.

What’s different is me.


Thursday, November 17th

Stuff ourselves.

Soccer

After soccer, Peyton says, “Keatyn, come here.”

I jog over to her. “What’s up?”

“A couple things. I need more details about the trip. Like what we’ll be doing. What kind of clothes I should bring.”

“That’s easy. Some swimsuits for the day. A couple cover-ups. I usually wear a dress for dinner. I think I told you there’s a full staff, so we eat well and dinner’s kind of a big deal.”

“So a little more dressy?”

“Yeah, I know it’s seems silly with it being just the three of us. We wouldn’t have to dress up, but’s just sort of a . . .”

“Tradition?”

“Yeah. And of course, we’ll have a full-blown turkey dinner. Stuff ourselves.”

“And then watch football?”

“Yeah, there’s a really cool bar area that overlooks the ocean that has TVs and stuff, so we can enjoy both.”

“That sounds awesome. So, I have another question. Tell me what’s going on with you and Cooper.”

“There’s nothing going on between me and Coach Steele.”

“Just the fact that you called him Coach Steele tells me you’re hiding something.”

“I’m not hiding anything.”

“Look. I know you’ve been going to meet him after curfew. I know that you were both gone on the same days and suspiciously left and got back at the same time. Are you having an affair with him?”

“Let me guess. You’ve been talking to Whitney? She seems to think we are. Even asked me if I was pregnant with his baby. It’s ridiculous.”

Peyton eyes me carefully, then says, “So why are you meeting him?”

“I’m taking some martial arts lessons from him. With homework and all the activities, meeting after curfew is the only time that works for us.”

“Why are you taking lessons?”

“I used to take kickboxing lessons with my stepdad and I missed it. And it’s a great workout.”

“As if the Steele Building Workout isn’t enough,” she says with a laugh. “I’m glad to know that’s all it is. And I can’t wait to go to St. Croix. Even if Whitney is pissed at me.”

“Why is she pissed?”

“Because I’m going with you. Why else?” she says with a smile.

Ohmigawd.

6pm

Every moment during my classes all I do is count down the minutes until I can walk out the door and see Aiden there waiting for me. Until I can feel his hand tightly holding mine as we walk to the next class. How he gives me a single perfect kiss at the door.

How I count down the hours until it’s time to meet him in his room for tutoring.

And I'm looking very forward to tonight's tutoring. We're currently studying body parts in French.

So I think a tutoring field trip of his body will be required.

All in the name of learning, of course.

When he kisses me before dinner, I know how my cell phone feels when its battery gets low.

When it flashes at me.

Low Battery. 20% of battery remaining. 

Low Battery. 10% of battery remaining.

That's how I feel between each kiss. Like I need more charge.

And although each kiss boosts the charge, the second his lips leave mine, it's like I got unplugged.

We rush through dinner, ignoring our friends even though we’re sitting beside them. Then rush to his room.

We sit on his bed and kiss until he finally says, “We should probably do some homework.”

“I agree. And we should start with French.”

He smiles knowingly. “I was thinking the same thing.”

I spread open our workbook pages to the body part chart. “I think we should make a little game out of this.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes. I’ll say the body part in French and you have to point to it. If you get it right . . .”

“I get to kiss it,” he says with a grin. “You need to lie down. So you’re like the girl in the diagram.”

“Fine. Okay, so the first word is les lèvres.”

“Lips,” he says, leaning over me and placing his lips on mine.

“Very good. How about le bras?”

He doesn’t say a word. Just leans down, slides my blouse open a little, and places his tongue on the skin just above my bra.

“That’s not right.”

“This better?” He repeats what he did, only this time he roughly sucks my skin into his mouth giving me an instant hickey.

“I didn’t mean you did it wrong,” I reply as he continues to undo my blouse and suck on more tender spots. “I, uh, meant that’s not, like, the right spot.”

“Do you like this spot better?” he asks, moving my bra aside and pulling a nipple into his mouth.

“Um, yes. But, uh, no. Le bras means arm.”

“That makes no sense. I like my translation better.”

“We have a lot of words to get through.”

“Give me another one then.”

“Uh, how about le cou?”

“That’s an easy one,” he says, sucking on my other boob.

“Aiden!” I laugh. “None of these words are boob.”

He leans back up. “Fine. What is it?”

“Neck.”

“Very nice.” He runs his hand down my neck and then kisses my favorite spot just under my ear.

“What about le pied?”

“Is that a trick question?”

“What do you mean?”

“Is it where you pee from?”

“Ha! No!”

“I bet it is. You’re dying for me to kiss there.”

“It means foot. You’re not doing very well.”

He kisses my nose. “Sorry. Next?”

La jambe.”

“Leg.”

La poitrine?”

He kisses across my chest.

“Very good,” I say. “That’s chest. L’estomac?”

He unbuttons the rest of my blouse and runs ticklish little kisses across my stomach.

I swallow and say, “Stomach. Correct. La coeur?

He stops kissing my stomach, looks into my soul, and puts his hand on top of it. “Heart,” he says.

“Um, very good. Le doigt?”

He pulls my hand to his lips, kisses my left ring finger, and says, “Did you know that the veins in this le doigt are supposed to run straight to your la coeur, and that’s why you wear a wedding band there?”

“I didn’t know that,” I say breathlessly.

“I’m going to do a quick version of this so we can get it over and get to the good part.”

I’m wondering what good part we’ve yet to get to, but I don’t ask because he says, “La tête. Sounds dirty, but just means your head.”

I swallow hard and close my eyes.

Think about the head that sits on his neck, Keatyn.

He touches my eye and says, “L’oeil.” Then he says, “La bouche, les dents, la langue, les cheveux, l’oreille, and le nez,” in rapid succession as he kisses my mouth, my teeth, my tongue, my hair, my ear, and my nose.

“Very good,” I say, but I’m a little disappointed. I had hoped this would go on a little longer.

“So, I have a follow up question to the Sex Survey,” he says with grin.

“I found out that you're not even in health class.”

He keeps his mouth shut tightly, like he's trying not to laugh, and smiles. “Everyone knows it’s a seniors only class. I thought you were just playing along.”

“I didn’t know. You tricked me.”

He smirks, shrugs in the most adorable way ever, and then kisses the tip of my nose.

I melt into a puddle.

Clean up on aisle four. 

“Hey, wait a second. You just kissed the tip of my nose. That's what your mom said you do to get out of trouble.”

He leans in and kisses my bottom lip then grabs it gently between his teeth and pulls it away from my mouth.

When he lets go, he runs his tongue across it and whispers, “You use this. Your adorable pout. It's no wonder you always get your way.”

“Stop teasing me with your tongue. Either put it to good use or put it away.”

“Mmmm, you like my tongue?”

He uses his tongue to trace the curve of my chin.

I tilt my head back, giving him full access to my neck, and let out a little sigh.

God, I love this boy’s tongue.

I grab his face in my hands and bring it to my lips, shoving my tongue into his mouth.

Then I explore his mouth like it holds the answers to the universe.

He pulls me roughly onto his lap.

Which pretty much sets my panties ablaze.

I smile.

It's obvious my tongue is getting him worked up.

“I can feel you smiling,” he says in between kisses.

“I like sitting on your lap.”

I move myself against him, grinding into him while we make out.

He starts to make sexy little growls.

And they turn me on even more.

His kisses get rougher and deeper the harder I move against him.

He stops kissing me and grabs my hips. “You're gonna have to stop doing that or I'm gonna . . .”

I kiss the tip of his nose, smile at him, and then look into his eyes while purposefully moving against him.

“That's making it worse.”

“Good,” I say, smashing my lips into his and rubbing my jeans across the top of his hardness.

I let my body go. Let it do what it wants.

I move my hips faster and faster against him.

Over and over again.

And the friction causes me to . . .

Ohmigawd.

Can you get excited when you’re fully clothed? With nothing but the feel of my jeans moving roughly against me?

“Oh,” I moan.

Aiden reacts by grabbing my hips, controlling my motion.

I moan again, my insides throbbing.

He tightens his grip on me, stops my movement, and breathes out heavily.

Then he rests his forehead against mine.

“I think we just had sex,” I say with a laugh.

“We didn’t have sex. We’re fully clothed.” He laughs. “I’ve never done that before. Dry humping.”

“Trust me, there was nothing dry about it.”

He kisses me hard then says, “I’m gonna run to the bathroom real quick. Clean up.”

“Okay.”

While he’s gone, I realize that my heart has taken up residence in my vagina. It's still throbbing and pulsing and pounding.

I plop down on his bed. Maybe lying flat will help.

But it doesn’t. It’s begging and giving me an overwhelming desire to touch myself.

I reach down and press my hand against my jeans.

I don't hear Aiden come out of the bathroom. I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do about this.

Aiden replaces my hand with his and says, “I'll do that.”

“It keeps throbbing.”

Aiden’s smile blazes.

When he runs his hand roughly on the outside of my pants again, that's all it takes to send me over the edge.

“Oh my god. Oh . . . Oh . . . Oooohhh . . . Mmmmmm.”

I move my hips quickly against his fingers. I don't care that there are two layers of fabric separating us. I'm shameless in my need.

Finally, I stop, lie back on the bed, and sigh. “Holy shit.”

“Did you . . . I mean, I don't think I've ever made a girl, um, do that.”

“I’ve.” Deep breath. “Never.” Another deep breath. “Either.”

Aiden’s smile lights up campus. “Never?”

“Not like that.”

“Not like what?”

I cross my legs and squirm.

“It’s still throbbing.”

“Tell me what not like that means, and I’ll do it some more.”

“I can’t tell you about that.”

“Boots, we have to be able to talk about sex. About what feels good . . .”

“I just told you what feels good! Please.”

“Tell me.”

“Oh my gosh. Fine. I’ve never had one happen from the outside before. Only from, um, the interior portion.”

“The interior portion?” he replies, laughing at my choice of words.

“You know what I’m saying.”

Vous avez eu un orgasme de stimulation interne?

“Yes, Aiden, I had one from internal stimulation.”

“How? Exactly.”

“I’m not telling you.”

“Then I’m not rubbing you,” he pauses and touches the spot I want—no, need—him to keep rubbing.

“Fine! At some point in my life someone may have used his mouth on the outside . . .”

Sur votre le clitoris?”

“Yes, on that part. While putting his fingers on the inside.”

Dans votre vagin?”

“Ohmigawd. Yes, in my vagina. And then he put something else in there.”

“His ton engin?”

“Yes, his tool. I never should have bought you that dirty French book.”

He rubs his hand slowly between my legs. Not in the exact spot I need, but close.

“Now you’re just teasing me.”

Je vous aime taquiner, ma chérie.”

“You love teasing me? That’s not right.”

“I want to know how to turn you on.”

“I just told you how, but you keep stopping!”

He leans down, kisses my neck, and finally rubs my jeans in exactly the right spot.

When I get to my dorm, I run to Maggie's room, pull her out of bed, and drag her into the stairwell.

“Are there different kinds of orgasms?”

She rubs her eyes. “Uh, yeah. Why?”

“Aiden was rubbing me on the outside of my pants. He wasn’t even touching my skin and I did. Actually, I did more than once. Or maybe it was just one continual one, I don’t know. And still, now, it’s like it’s still contracting.”

“Did you not have them with Dawson?”

“I thought I had. I mean, sex always felt really good, but it wasn’t until we went to his house for Riley’s birthday that I really did. He took his time, for once, but it was like an internal feeling. This is different.”

“There are two, possibly three, different types of orgasm. Clitoral, vaginal, and G-Spot.”

“How do you even know that?”

“Um, Logan may have looked it up.”

“Why?”

“Why do you think? He wanted to please me.”

I smile. “And is he pleasing you now?”

“Yes. Very much. We haven’t actually had sex yet. We want to make sure this is really right before we do it again, but we’re doing everything else. I think he’s trying to make up for being a jerk before. It’s been all about me. Which makes it really fun.”

“Does it ever stop throbbing? I think it might be broken.”

“Sounds like you need some sex.”

“You're right. That is what I need.”

I go to my room, lie in my bed, stare at the stars, and imagine our perfect night.

Which involves me stripping that boy naked tomorrow night and declaring NOvember officially over.

Once Katie is asleep, I get up, sneak out, and go meet Cooper for more butt kicking lessons.


Friday, November 18th

I need the feathers.

1am

Tonight is going to be amazing, I think, as I knock on Aiden’s door lightly. I’m going to glide those feathers all over his naked body.

Finally.

He opens his door, pulling me inside and putting his lips on mine.

I pull him over to his bed and push him down on it.

“Where’s your backpack?”

“My backpack?” he says with a grin. “I don’t think we’re going to be doing any studying tonight.”

“I need the feathers.”

“Oh,” he says. “I forgot my backpack in my football locker.”

“Seriously?”

I plop sadly on his futon and stick out my lower lip.

“Stop that,” he says, flicking my lip and pulling me onto the bed. “Remember you asked about the dream I had?”

“The sexual one?” Ha! Now we’re getting somewhere. “Yeah. You promised to tell me, but you haven’t yet.”

“Lie flat on your back,” he bosses.

He lies on his back next to me, both of us looking up at his ceiling.

He reaches out and touches my pinkie like he did the day I first saw the stars.

He rolls over on his side and pulls me hard up against his chest.

“I think I’d rather show you,” he says.

Then he kisses me.

A mouth open, full-on tongue, hot, hard kiss.

Even after all the making out we’ve done, I didn’t know he was capable of a kiss like this.

Fire and energy roll like waves through my body.

When he bites my neck that fire pulses directly between my legs. He rolls on top of me, but is holding himself above me. Like he's doing a push up. I run my hand across his arm, across the muscles that are all pumped from holding up his weight.

He slowly lowers his lips to my neck without letting any part of his upper body touch mine.

I feel the fire on my neck, but all I can think about is what is touching. His hips have mine pinned to the bed. His legs are between mine.

He runs his tongue slowly from my neck down into my cleavage.

I have a feeling of deja vu.

We did this in one of my own dreams.

“I’m doing what I dreamed,” he murmurs into my hair as he pulls off my shirt and runs his tongue down my chest, and straight to my . . . jeans.

When he undoes the button, I want to jump up and down and scream.

Who needs feathers when we have that tongue?

He slides his tongue across my stomach, stopping occasionally to kiss or suck on a spot. Then his tongue glides across the top edge of my panties.

Oh. My. Gosh.

I need his pants undone.

I’m ready for this.

And based on the massive hardness I can feel against my leg, he is too.

I reach down, get his pants unbuttoned, and touch his zipper.

Suddenly, he grabs my hand.

Stopping me.

“I don’t want to wait anymore.”

“We’re not going to yet.”

“Yes, we are. Stop telling me no.”

“What’s wrong with taking things slow? Not screwing it up?”

“Because it is screwing it up, Aiden. I’m going crazy here. Can we at least do a little more. Are you gay? Are you afraid for me to see it, or touch it? I mean, I can feel it. I know you have one.”

“I’m not gay. And I definitely have one. But I want it to be right when we do.”

“I never said we have to do it, but we can do more than what we’re doing now. There’s plenty more to do.”

“If we go that route, I won’t be able to stop.”

“Fine. I’ll stop us. I’ll take responsibility for stopping us.”

“No, you wont. If you had your way, we’d have already done it. You keep trying and trying!”

“That’s not true! I do want to wait for sex. I just don’t want to wait for everything!”

“Well, you’re gonna wait!”

“I’m TIRED of you telling me WHAT I’m gonna do!!”

“Maybe if you weren’t so freaking stubborn. Why do you have to fight me on every. Single. Thing?”

“I wouldn’t fight you if you would just let me have my way.”

“I think you’re a little too used to getting whatever you want, whenever you want it. This isn’t all about you. It’s about us. Remember the clover?”

“I get whatever I want, Mr. Maserati? I’m sick of being told no! I’m so done with this!”

I get up, storm out the door, and run to my room.

I lie in my bed, fuming and waiting for him to call and apologize.

He doesn’t.

So I text Riley.

Me:  URGGGGG!!!!!

Riley:  What’s wrong? 

Me:  He turned me down! AGAIN!! And I didn’t even want to have sex. I just wanted to unzip his pants. But he said if I did, he wouldn’t be able to stop. Which is BULLSHIT! He could stop. I told him I’d make him stop, but he didn’t believe me. Then he said that I’m stubborn! I’M SO SICK OF HIM TELLING ME WHAT TO DO! Then he said I’m used to getting my way. I AM NOT USED TO GETTING MY WAY!!! And why isn’t he texting me? Calling me? Running after me? Begging me for forgiveness!!??

Riley: How long has it been?

Me:  Twelve minutes.

Riley:  You might be a little used to getting your way. 

Me:  I hate my life.

Riley:  It’s just a fight. It will be fine. Ariela says hi. We’ll see you tomorrow.

Maybe I should go to the party and drown my sorrows in rum.

But I don’t really don’t feel like partying.

I’ll stay here. I’m sure he’ll be texting, calling, or knocking on my window soon. He’ll apologize and tell me I can unzip his pants whenever I want.

And then I will.

I wake up, look at the clock, and see it’s already five in the morning. Katie is in her bed fast asleep.

I reach to my bedside table, frantically feeling for my phone. When I can’t find it, I pat my covers all around me looking for it.

All of a sudden, it lights up from under my pillow.

It must be him!

I grab it, expecting to see that he’s tried to call me numerous times.

But he hasn’t.

I only have a few stupid Facebook notifications.

What the hell?


Saturday, November 19th

What’s wrong, baby?

7am

I wake up again at seven and immediately check my phone to see if he texted me.

He hasn’t.

Instead, I have a text from Camden.

Cam:  What’s going on with Whitney?

Me:  What do you mean?

Cam:  She hasn’t sent me anything or texted me in three days. 

Me:  Shouldn’t you be happy about that?

Cam:  I should be, but I’m not. Something’s up. Is Peyton okay?

Me:  I haven’t seen her this morning, but she’s been fine.

Cam:  Something is about to happen. I know it. 

Me:  Why do you think that?

Cam:  Just stuff that she’s been saying about that new teacher. The last time she didn’t text me for three days, she got a girl expelled from school.

Me:  Who?

Cam:  Just a chick from the dance team. She was hot and was after Dawson hard.

Me:  Did she lie to get her kicked out?

Cam:  No one knows for sure. She told Peyton the girl was going down. And a few days later, she did.

Me:  Peyton has really been pushing her buttons. I keep telling her to stop. 

Cam:  What’s your email?”

Me:  [email protected]

Cam:  I’m sending you a file. It is full of dirt on Whitney. You have my permission to use it to protect Peyton. If there’s any way for Dawson not to see it, I’d prefer it, but don’t let her hurt P. 

Me:  Are you in love with her?

Cam:  We’re kind of like you and Riley. I feel the need to protect that girl.

Me:  I’ll keep an eye out.

Cam:  Thanks.

Me:  Can I ask you something?

Cam:  Sure.

Me:  Is there any reason why you would stop a girl that you like from unbuttoning your pants? 

Cam:  Uh, can’t think of one.

Me:  Would you be afraid you couldn’t stop?

Cam:  I’d be afraid she couldn’t stop. I’m irresistible.

Me:  What if she could? What if you wanted her to?

Cam:  Why would I want her to?

Me:   You’re making her wait until you’re sure you’re in love. 

Cam:  Uh . . . Is the golden boy making you wait?

Me:  We got in a big fight last night about it and I stormed off. He hasn’t texted me or apologized or anything.

Cam:  P says he likes you and you have that whole Thanksgiving break trip planned. I’m sure it’s just a little tiff. 

Me:  You’re right. Maybe I should apologize for that. Maybe he’s waiting for me to apologize?

Cam:  Probably :) 

Me:  Thank you :)

Maybe that’s why he hasn’t texted me. He’s waiting for me to apologize.

So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll go watch his football practice and then apologize to him.

I shower, spend extra time blowing my hair out straight, and then stand in my closet trying to figure out what to wear.

If I were smart, I’d wear some sweats so I’d be warm and comfortable, but I want to look perfect when I say I’m sorry.

It’s chilly this morning, but has been unseasonably warm this week, so I decide on a cream lace bra and thong that have pale pink embroidery, cream over-the-knee socks worn with tall brown boots, orange denim shorts, a cream top, and a cream sweater jacket cinched with a brown braided belt.

I decide to pull my straightened hair back in a cute pony. So that I look like I didn’t try, even though I totally did. Kym would be proud.

I head out to get a coffee to take with me.

Just as I step out of my dorm, I notice Chelsea sitting on the brick wall.

She jumps off of it when she sees me and says, “Keatyn.”

“Hi, Chelsea,” I say politely because I know that Dallas likes her.

She raises her chin in the air. “I just wanted to let you know that Aiden and I hooked up last night. He’s mine now. And, really, no one likes you here. You should just go back to California or wherever it is that you came from.”

“I don’t believe you.”

She shrugs one shoulder and raises a bitchy eyebrow at me. “What? You think you can have every hot guy here? And you better believe it. Aiden and I have history. We broke up last year after prom, and he’s been begging to get back together all semester. You were nothing but a rebound.”

She turns her back on me and walks away, shaking her curvy ass.

I drop to the step, barely able to breathe.

Is that true?

I was just a rebound?

Was everything he told me a lie?

I’m going to . . .

I’m going to . . .

I don’t even know what I’m going to do.

But then I turn and run straight to the boys’ dorm.

I find myself knocking on Riley’s door.

He opens it wearing a Cougar athletic hoodie and sweats, ready for football practice. “Hey, I was just leaving.”

I stand there and stare at him. Then I lose it. Tears start streaming down my face. I shove my head into his chest and sob, going from calm and in control to a freaking wreck in the blink of an eye.

“What’s wrong, baby?” he says, rubbing my back and holding me up.

I blabber on about how Aiden swore he was going to be different. How we fought last night. How Chelsea was waiting outside my dorm. How she told me they hooked up. How he’s been trying to get back together with her all semester. How I was just a rebound.

While I am blathering, he’s texting.

“What’s so important?”

“I just asked Dallas to come here,” Riley says. His teeth are held together tightly, like he’s mad at me.

“Why?”

Dallas walks in the room and Riley literarily pushes me out of his arms and into Dallas’.

“He didn’t even say goodbye,” I say to Dallas, watching Riley march down the hall. “I mean, I know he had to leave for practice, but why is he mad at me?”

Dallas gives me a hug, pulls me onto his bed, and says, “I don’t think it’s you that he’s mad at.”

I stop sniffling. “Oh. So is that why he was texting you? He was telling you what happened?”

Dallas nods and says quietly, “Yeah.”

“Did you know about Aiden and Chelsea?”

“No,” he says, and I realize that he liked Chelsea a lot more than he admitted.

I sniffle, pull all the snot back into my sinuses—or wherever it goes—and say, “You liked her, didn’t you?”

“I was thinking about asking her to be my girlfriend. She said she really liked me.”

I hug him again, tightly. “Relationships suck.”

“Funny thing is, I didn’t think I wanted a relationship. But then we kept doing it. And it was fun. Hot. Nice.” He pauses. “Obviously, not nice enough.”

“I’m sorry, Dallas,” I say as his phone whistles at him, letting him know he has a text.

He holds his phone up so we can both read it.

Dawson:  My brother just ran out onto the field, marched up to Aiden, and punched him. I’m talking freaking LAID HIM OUT. Question is, why?

Dallas:  Kiki.

Dawson:  So the rumors I heard this morning about him hooking up with Chelsea are true? 

Dallas:  I guess.

Dawson:  Where is she?

Dallas:  Bawling on my shoulder.

Dawson:  Tell her I’ll be there right after practice. 

Dallas and I decide to stop being pitiful and turn on some up-beat, happy music.

After we listen for a while, Dallas says, “Let’s throw a party.”

“A pity party?” I say with a sad laugh.

“Exactly.” He grabs his phone and orders ten large pizzas, lots of hot wings, breadsticks, and little molten lava cakes. Then he says, “Be right back.”

I go in their bathroom, fix my makeup, and talk to myself in the mirror.

You’re fine. 

You don’t need a boy in your life. 

You have good friends. 

You’re happy with yourself.

That’s all you need.

But I also decide to send Aiden a text.

If I love myself, I should stand up for myself.

I type a long hateful paragraph and then delete it.

I type a short spiteful sentence and then delete.

I’m having a hard time getting into words the right amount of the venom I’m feeling combined with the impersonality of a chain letter. Finally, I end up with this.

Me:  Chelsea told me that you hooked up last night.  

Dallas strolls back into the room, his hands full of vending machine junk food: multiple bags of chips, pretzels, and candy bars. He’s got a full package of chocolate chip cookies tucked under his arm and bottles of full-sugar soda under the other.

“You’re like the king of pity parties. I worship you.”

“You’re looking more human. Not so much like a zombie.”

“Thanks, I think. Is it bad that I kinda want to go watch the end of practice? Try to show Aiden he means nothing to me?”

“Aiden has a broken nose and is in the locker room being attended to. Riley is in the dean’s office getting suspended.”

“Suspended? For what?”

“You can’t go around punching people. It’s kinda against school rules.”

“Oh. I never thought of that! I feel so bad! He shouldn’t have punched him, that was stupid of him.”

“Not sweet?”

“It was totally sweet, but he shouldn’t have.”

Dawson walks into the room, his hair wet from practice and looking more scrumptious than all the junk food combined. “Yeah, he should have.”

“What’s gonna happen? Do you know?”

“Well, Coach told me they were going to suspend him for the next three days, which would mean he won’t get to play in the playoff game. I told Coach that if he didn’t play, neither was I. That a lot of us wouldn’t play. He says he’s going to talk to the dean. We’ll see.”

“I feel really bad.”

Dawson grabs me around the waist and pulls me onto the bed with him.

“Last time Riley got mad, it was you he wanted to punch.”

“I didn’t cheat on you. So are you and Aiden over?”

“I thought it was just a fight. I mean, I said I was done, but I was frustrated. I didn’t mean it.”

“But now?”

I thought I was done crying, but tears fill my eyes. I can’t say it out loud. I don’t want to say it out loud. I shake my head. “Don’t make me say it, Dawson.”

“Why don’t you just have a cookie?” he says, handing me one.

I look up at him and Dallas. “I was going to say it just doesn’t get any better than this, but we’d need rum in our cokes for that.”

Dallas’ phone buzzes. “Pizza’s here. I’ll go get it.”

Dawson pops off the bed. “And I’ll go get some rum.” But then he sits back down on the corner of the bed and says, “As usual, I probably shouldn’t do this, but I am.”

Normally, I would say And then he kissed me, but he just kisses the side of my cheek. Which is good because I can’t kiss anyone else. I’m pretty sure Aiden ruined my lips forever.

Dallas comes back with the pizza delivery and we spread out all the food and snacks.

I chow down. I don’t care that I’m going to be in St. Croix in a bikini in a few days.

St. Croix. I’m such an idiot. Why did I invite Aiden and Peyton?

Obviously, they are officially uninvited.

I plop on the bed. Depressed.

And feeling like I just ate a moose.

Riley and Ace come walking in.

“It smells good in here,” Riley says, grabbing a piece of pizza, folding it in half, and shoving it in his mouth.

“Riley! Why did you do that? What did the dean say?”

He chews, then says, “He yelled at me. Told me I should be suspended for three days. Called my parents—who also yelled at me—and then brought Aiden in to talk about it. His nose is broken. The dean asked if he wanted to press charges. Aiden said no. Said he deserved it. That he hoped I wouldn’t get in trouble because the team needs me for the playoffs.”

“He said he deserved it?”

“Yep.”

“Shit.” I put my hand across my face and try not to cry.

I realize that I had still been holding out hope that she was lying to me. My heart didn’t believe he would do such a thing.

But if Aiden said he deserved it that means everything she said was true.

“So did you get suspended?” I ask.

“Coach says I have to run about a million laps and do some shit jobs for him, but I’m not suspended.”

I leap off the bed, throw myself into his arms, and start crying again.

He hugs me tightly and whispers, “Baby, I told you. Anybody messes with you, they have to answer to me.”

“Aiden hated that you call me baby.”

“I don’t think I care.”

“You deserve some rum and coke.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Riley?” I whisper.

“What?”

“Is Aiden okay?”

He pulls me out into the hallway. “He’ll be fine.”

“I appreciate you standing up for me, but you shouldn’t have done that. You could’ve gotten suspended or expelled.”

“Look, I need to go talk to Ariela. She’s upset.”

“Because you punched Aiden?”

“Yeah, she thinks it’s because I like you.”

“But you don’t.”

“You and I know that, but she doesn’t. I need to explain to her that I didn’t do it because of you.”

“You didn’t?”

“No. Aiden made me a promise and he broke it. That’s why I punched him.”

“What promise?”

Riley shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter anymore. Let’s just say we were both wrong about Aiden.” He gives me a kiss on the cheek. “You going to be okay while I go?”

“Yeah. The pity party is sorta keeping my mind off things.”

I go back into their room and sit on the bed.

The boys go on and on about Aiden getting punched. How he hit the ground.

I can’t help it. I swore I wasn’t going to look at my phone, but I do.

There’s nothing.

So I message Peyton.

Me:  I’m sure by now you heard what your brother did. I hope you understand that I have to un-invite you to St. Croix. I’m not mad at you, but your stupid smile is just like his and I can’t bear to look at it all break. I’m sorry. I hope this doesn’t affect our friendship.

Peyton:  What happened? Really.

Me:  We got in a fight last night. I told him I was done and walked out. But I didn’t mean done, like over. I was just done fighting. I was planning to apologize this morning, but Chelsea was waiting for me outside my dorm. She told me they hooked up last night and are back together. I was really upset and ran to Riley’s room, crying. He went and punched Aiden. 

Peyton:  I understand about the trip. Are you still going?

Me:  Yeah. I need to get away.

Peyton:  All alone?

Me:  Definitely.

The guys eat all the pizza and then someone goes and gets a bunch of cupcakes from the café. They hang out, laugh, and talk about the big playoff game this week.

I go sit down next to Jake, who just joined us.

“Pity party, huh?” he asks.

“Yeah.”

“What happened?”

I don’t want to talk about Aiden, so I grab a cupcake, pretend I’m going to eat it but, instead, I shove it in his face.

I giggle because he has frosting everywhere.

“Oh, you’re in trouble now, Monroe,” he says, chasing me down the hall.

I hide behind Dawson, who is coming back with more cups.

“Save me!” I scream.

Jake tries to jump around him, waving a cupcake at me. He sticks the cupcake up to Dawson’s face, getting a little frosting on it.

“You’re on your own,” Dawson tells me.

I don’t want to be on my own, so I throw my arms around Dawson’s neck, jump on his back, and hide my face behind his neck.

“She’s a devious one,” Jake says.

Dawson swings his body around, trying to get me off his back.

It doesn’t work.

Until they start working together.

Jake hands Dawson the cupcake. I try to push his hand forward so that it slams into his face, but Jake grabs me around the waist and tries to pull me off Dawson.

Dawson reaches around with his free hand and starts tickling my side.

I giggle, scream, and lose my grip around his neck.

Jake was pulling hard, but I don’t think he was prepared for the shift in momentum because he falls onto his back with me landing squarely on top of him.

Dawson turns around and pounces on us both.

“This is a new outfit! Don’t get frosting on it!”

“Tough shit,” he yells as he straddles us both.

While Jake struggles under our combined weight, Dawson grins and shoves icing onto our faces. Then he takes the cake part and crumbles it into our hair.

Jake yells, “As soon as I get up, you’re dead!”

Dawson doesn’t let him up; instead, he leans down and starts licking frosting off my cheek.

“Oh, Dawes, you’re making me hard,” Jake says jokingly, which causes Dawson to stick a frosting-covered tongue out at Jake.

I laugh, turn my head away from his tongue, and notice feet.

Jake goes, “Oh, hey, Aiden. How you feeling, buddy?”

I freeze.

I’m thinking this might look bad. Me in the middle of a boy sandwich.

Being licked.

Dawson stops screwing around and quickly pulls Jake and me up. We all stand there awkwardly.

I take a second to really look at Aiden.

His face—his beautiful, perfectly-sculpted face—is swollen and bruised. There are red crusty bits around the bottom of his nostrils. His skin, which is usually radiant, has a slightly gray tinge to it. It screams of hangover and pain.

Aiden stares at me.

Me, who was just lying on the ground sandwiched between two boys and getting frosting licked off her face.

Me, who wants to reach out and make the bruising go away.

Me, who wants to kiss away his pain.

There is more awkward silence, then finally Aiden states, “I’ve felt better.”

He slumps his shoulders and continues toward the stairs.

“Well, that was awkward,” Dawson says once he’s gone.

“He looked really bad. I feel really bad,” I confess.

“Why? He deserved it.”

“Did he?” Jake asks. “Regardless of what happened with Chelsea, you weren’t going out. You upset him. He got drunk. Then he goes to practice hung over and gets his nose broken by a friend.”

Dawson says, “He did look bad. Do you want to go talk to him?”

“No. I texted him. Told him I knew he hooked up with her. He hasn’t replied. Hasn’t apologized. Nothing.”

“I doubt he’s had time,” Jake counters. “He was throwing up this morning and then went to practice. Since then, he’s been either with the trainer or the dean.”

“He said he deserved it. He’s not going to text me. What would he say? Sorry for hooking up with her. Except, really, I’m not sorry because this is what I’ve wanted since last year.”

“I think you should go talk to him,” Dawson says.

I peek at my phone again, wishing he would say something.

Anything.

Some kind of explanation.

Because I don’t understand how I could’ve been so wrong about him.

I frown.

Dawson must see the disappointment on my face because he says, “Why don’t you come to my room? I think I have some more rum.”

“I need some rum.”

We get to his room and find a mostly empty bottle of rum.

“You can have it,” he says, handing me the bottle.

I grab it and take a big swig, realizing that since seeing Aiden, I need this pity party more than ever. I get tears in my eyes.

“Don’t cry,” Dawson says. “You know, something like this happened to me and Whitney once. We got in a fight. I was upset. Got drunk. Got taken advantage of.”

“You got taken advantage of? By who?”

“Just this chick on the dance team. She knew I was drunk. Knew I never would’ve kissed her if I wasn’t.”

“What were you fighting about?”

“I don’t even remember, probably something stupid. My point is, I was upset. I wasn't looking to hook up. I wanted to get drunk. Period. Then the next day, I was planning to beg for her forgiveness. I’m just saying, maybe Aiden didn’t mean for it to happen.”

“He’s wanted her all semester,” I say sadly.

All of a sudden, I don’t care about making a mistake. I need Dawson to hold me. I need him to make me feel good. Make me feel like someone cares about me. Someone wants me. I know it’s wrong. I know I shouldn’t need that. I know I will regret it.

But I don’t care.

I lean in to kiss him.

He puts his hand up and stops me.

“What?”

“We’re not gonna do this.”

“Why not?”

“I want you. You know I do, but I think it would be a mistake.”

“The last time I made a mistake it was the best sex of my life.”

I push him onto the bed and throw myself on top of him. I wrap my leg around his and slowly rock my hips into him. Kiss his neck. Try to undo his shorts.

"Keatie, damn. Stop, okay? I'm trying really hard to do the right thing here." He pushes me back. "You do what you just did to me to Aiden?"

"Uh, kinda."

"Gotta give the guy credit. No way I could say no.”

“Good. Untie this,” I say, pulling at the knot holding his workout shorts on.

“Except, that I’m saying no now.”

I flop over on my back. I swear, if I someone says that word to me one more time, I’m gonna lose it.

Dawson hovers above my face. “I’ll make you a deal. Settle it with Aiden. If it’s really over then I'll do anything you want."

"How about, for now, we just kiss?"

“Nope. You need to go talk to Aiden.”

“No way!” I pull my shirt up. “Look, I have on a really pretty new bra.”

He pulls my shirt back down.

“I’m trying to do the right thing here. Go. I'm serious.”

I stamp my foot. “Dawson, you're supposed to be my friend. I’m throwing myself at you.”

“Trust me, our friendship is the only thing keeping me from ripping those panties off you. That, and your phone’s been buzzing.” He grabs it off his nightstand and looks at it. “He tried to call you twice. He also texted you.”

I swipe the phone out of his hand and look at it.

Hottie God:  We need to talk. My room. 7:00.

I glance at the time. It’s 7:10.

“I’m not going. He’s not going to order me around.”

“Just go see what he has to say, then decide what you want to do.”

“What I want to do is go upstairs, tell him to fuck off, and then come back down here and fuck you.”

Dawson shakes his head. “I saw the way you looked at him in the hall. We’re not doing that, Keatie. Not tonight.”

He gives me a hug and pushes me out the door. “Go.”

Leaving the safety of Dawson’s room makes me feel very alone.

I walk down the hall, up a flight of stairs, and stand in front of his door.

I can't believe I’m standing here.

It’s bullshit. I’m not talking to him.

What is there to talk about?

All he’s going to say is that he’s back together with her. Give me some lame apology.

Make me cry again.

No.

I can’t do it.

I can’t listen to those words come out of his mouth.

My heart can’t take it.

Bryce’s door opens from behind me and Katie pulls me into his room.

“We need to talk,” Bryce says.

“About what?”

“About last night,” Katie says.

“What do you mean?”

“Aiden didn’t hook up with Chelsea.”

“What do you mean? She told me they did. Told me they’re back together.”

“It’s not true. Bryce was there. The whole time.”

I drop to Bryce’s bed. “I don’t understand. Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

“Because I just figured it out when I talked to Katie. After Riley punched him, I was helping Aiden. He told me he got punched because of a broken promise. I figured it had something to do with you, but he wouldn’t say. He’s either been with the dean or getting medical attention since Riley punched him. I don’t think he even knows what Chelsea did. His phone was in my room all day. And he just got back.”

“Tell me what happened.”

Bryce sits down next to me. “We were at the Cave and it started raining, so I dropped Katie off at her dorm. When I got back here, Aiden had already been drinking. I was getting ready to ask him what was wrong when Chelsea barged in looking for alcohol. She saw Aiden, said she needed to talk to him, and pulled him out to the hall.”

I shut my eyes tightly. “Never mind. I don’t want to hear this.”

“Let me finish. I opened the door and Chelsea had him pinned against the wall. She kissed his neck and he pushed her off of him. Which, considering how drunk he was . . . So, anyway, she’s not one to take no for an answer, so she dropped to her knees, unzipped his pants, and told him that she could make him feel better.”

“He let her unzip his pants?!” I cry out.

“Yeah, but let me finish. Then he grabbed her chin and said, Don’t ever fucking touch me again, stumbled back in here, and slammed the door shut.”

“He must have snuck out later and met her, then?”

“He didn’t. He was in my room for the rest of the night. Puking.”

“I just don’t get why she’d lie.”

“Chelsea wants every guy for herself and loves to cause trouble,” Katie replies.

But Bryce counters, “That’s not really it. Last year they dated and went to Prom together. At Prom, he found out that she’d been screwing around on him, so he broke up with her. It wasn’t until he showed interest in you that she started apologizing and telling him she wanted him back.”

“Why would anyone be so mean? To lie like that?”

But then I remember what Mandy did to Cush.

How it wasn’t his fault. How Mandy kept lying even when confronted with the truth.

I put my face in my hands.

Trying to let it sink in.

You have to trust the people that you love.

I didn’t trust Aiden.

And now he has a broken nose because of it.

I slowly get up, walk out the door in a daze, and stand in front of Aiden’s door.

My phone vibrates. "Yeah?"

"Where are you?"

"Standing outside your door trying to decide—"

His door swings open.

"Your face looks horrible!" I blurt out.

I want to kiss his swollen nose, the black circle under one eye, and the slightly yellow circle under the other.

"Come in, please. Obviously, we need to talk."

“Are you okay?”

“I’ve had better days.”

I look down at the floor and say quietly, “Me too.”

We both stand here awkwardly. I’m waiting for him to say something. When he doesn’t, I confess, “Bryce just told me that you might not know what happened. What Chelsea told me. Why Riley punched you.”

“Please tell me.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It does matter. We’ve been working on our foundation . . .”

“This was a lot more than a text.”

“I would hope so, but I need to know what she told you.”

“She said she wanted me to know, um, that you hooked up last night and that I should go back to California . . .” I stop and close my eyes. I’m trying hard not to cry. “Because no one here likes me. And when I told her I didn’t believe her . . .”

“Wait. You didn’t believe her?”

“No. Not at first.”

“What did she say to make you believe it? What tore it all down?”

“She told me that you used to date. That you broke up after prom, and how you’ve been trying to get back together with her all semester . . . And . . . And . . .That I was just a rebound.”

“And now you know that’s not true? That she really cheated on me. That I’d never do that to you.”

I can’t do this. I can’t sit here and talk about this.

“I have to go, Aiden.”

He grabs my hands. “Please don’t go.”

“Last night, I thought you would come apologize. I kept waiting.”

“I’m not going to apologize for telling you no. And I’m not the one who acted like a spoiled little brat who didn’t get her way.”

“If that’s what you think about me—that I only wanted to unzip your pants because I wanted to get my way—then you should go back to Chelsea.”

“This isn’t about her, it’s about us.”

“There is no more us, Aiden.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t do this anymore. You’re not the boss of me or the boss of our relationship. And I’m not going to apologize for being attracted to you or for wanting you. I want a good relationship. One where two people can discuss how they’re feeling without it always ending in a fight. Without someone storming off.”

“You did that last night.”

“Yeah, because I couldn’t take you rejecting me one more time.”

“Do you think it’s been easy for me? I’m doing it for you. Because you need to go slow.”

I shake my head and turn toward the door. But then I pause and turn back around. “Why do you think I need to go slow?”

“Because the last two guys you’ve been with, that you loved, hurt you. I want to be the guy that doesn’t hurt you.”

“But you’re hurting me right now. You have no idea how bad this hurt me.”

“Keatyn, all your past relationships have been based on sex. And I want—”

“No! You stop there. That's bullshit! You don’t know anything!” I clutch my chest and start crying even harder. “I loved the Keats guy. He was my friend for two years. Our relationship was never based on sex. Don’t you ever say it was! And I'm sick of you judging me. Especially you. I know you had lots of relationships based on sex last year and you hooked up with girls you didn’t even care about. So, stop pretending this is about me. Stop trying to make me pay for my past and start looking at your own.”

“Says the girl who’s still sleeping with Dawson.”

“What?! What are you even talking about? I haven't done anything, not even kissed Dawson, since, since . . . like, before Halloween. I chose you.”

Aiden’s eyes get big. Then he winces from the pain of moving them.

“But . . . but, you’ve been hanging out with him.”

“Only because we’re trying to stay friends.”

He slowly drops to his bed. “Don't you think maybe you should’ve told me that?”

“I would have, but you told me we were going at our own pace. That you didn't want to compare the relationships.”

“I didn't know,” he says quietly.

“It doesn’t really matter, Aiden. We didn’t trust each other. I should’ve known that you would never do that to me, and you should’ve known that I was just sexually frustrated and that when I said I was done that I didn’t mean it.”

I don’t want to do this.

I do not want to do this.

But I have to.

I have to protect what’s left of my heart.

I remember when he brought me cake. How I saw our future.

How I told myself I couldn’t do it. That I couldn’t give him my heart.

How if Dawson had the potential to break my heart, crack it in two, Aiden has the power to annihilate it.

I got a glimpse of that power today.

Of his potential to destroy me.

And after everything that’s happened to me.

I know I’m not strong enough to survive it.

So I have to do what’s best for both of us.

I have to walk away.

“Goodbye, Aiden.”

I walk down the stairs and through the first floor hallway in a haze of tears.

And find myself in front of Dawson’s door.

I stand here for a minute and think about knocking.

It would be so easy to just knock on his door.

To tell him it’s over.

To get whatever I wanted.

But my wanting to do more sexually wasn’t about just getting my way.

It was about more.

It was about a lot more.

And because of that, I can’t knock on Dawson’s door.

Even though it would be so easy.


Sunday, November 20th

Washes it away.

8pm

I don’t leave my room today.

I just lie on my bed and stare at the beach on my wall.

The girls don’t understand why I’m still so upset.

But they don’t know what I felt when Chelsea told me.

They don’t know the crushing, twisting, burning, painful things her words made me feel.

They don’t know that I’m not what I seem.

They don’t know the truth about me.

About what I’ve been through.

About what I’m still going through.

How often I have to pretend like everything is okay when I’m so scared.

When it feels like everything is falling apart.

Me getting mad at Aiden for rejecting me wasn’t just about him saying no.

It was me reacting to being told no about everything.

No, you can’t talk to your friends.

No, you can’t get on social media.

No, you can’t stay here.

No, you can’t tell anyone. 

No, he’ll find you.

No, you won’t get so lucky the next time. 

No, you can’t see your family. 

Because even your own family is afraid of you.

Tears fall endlessly down my face.

I want to build a mansion of love with Aiden more than anything.

But I’ve built enough sand castles to know.

We’d be building that foundation on sand.

And the water always washes it away.


Monday, November 21st

Revenge sex is sweet.

History

 I slump down into my seat in history. I’m wearing my gold sparkly game day outfit even though it’s not an actual game day. Tomorrow is the playoff game and because we have to leave school early to get there, we’re having the pep rally today.

I’m starting to get sick of pep rallies.

“I take it you and Aiden didn’t make up,” Riley says.

“No. We’re done.”

“You look like shit.”

“I feel like shit.”

“He looks like shit too. I feel bad.”

“What promise did he break, Riley?”

Riley shakes his head. “It doesn’t really matter now.”

“It does matter. Please tell me.”

“He promised me that he’d never hurt you.”

My hand goes to my stomach, like Riley just punched me. Because that’s sort of what it felt like. A punch to the gut.

I stare at him for a minute before I cover my face with my hands and cry silently.

Riley drops me off outside my English class.

I’m never early for class, but today I’m the first one in my seat.

The teacher walks in, looks at me funny, and then says, “We’re going to do something fun today. Would you mind putting one of these handouts on each desk?”

“Sure,” I reply, glad for something to keep me busy.

I’m just finishing when Dallas and Katie walk in and sit down. Katie’s face looks flushed and happy.

“Bryce walk you to class?” I ask her.

She smiles a huge grin as Dallas says, “They were making out in the hallway.”

“I heard you were making out—well, more than that—with someone yesterday,” she teases him back.

“Revenge sex is sweet, especially when it’s with her best friend,” Dallas says, sitting up straighter. But then he looks at me. “Um, except you shouldn’t do that, Kiki. I mean, you know. I just . . .”

“I’m not having revenge sex, Dallas. I’m not having any sex. I may move to France to join a nunnery.”

He hits my shoulder. “I don’t think they’ll let girls with stripper names into the nunnery.”

His comment makes me smile and even laugh a little.

I love Dallas.

“Do you remember that first day?” I ask him. “When you were trying to think up a nickname for me? It was right before . . .”

The smile fades from my face and I drop my chin to my chest.

“It’ll be okay,” Dallas says. “Are you really going on break by yourself? You can come home with me.”

“You could come home with me too,” Katie says. “You’re more than welcome.”

“I appreciate that, guys. But the house that I’m staying at has really good memories for me. It’s a place that I hope will help . . .”

“Help what?”

“Heal me, maybe. I’m not sure. And it’s not like I’ll be completely alone. There’s a full staff. I’ll be waited on hand and foot. Mabel will make me her famous pecan pie. We’ll cook a turkey.”

“And you’ll eat it alone?”

“Probably, yes.”

They both look at me with pity.

“Don’t worry about me. My mom goes to the spa by herself all the time. That’s what it’s going to be like for me. A spa retreat. And I’m looking forward to getting my tan back.”

“You don’t have to be alone, Keatyn,” Dallas says. “What if I came with you? Maybe Riley could come too. We’d have fun.”

“I appreciate the offers more than you know, but I really need to go alone.”

Can’t deal.

Math

 In math class, Logan tries to reason with me.

“Will you just talk to him?”

“We already talked.”

“He’s miserable. You’re miserable.”

“He’ll get over it.”

“I’m not sure that he will.”

“I’m not sure that I will either.”

“See, that makes no sense. He’s the good prince, Keatyn.”

“I know he is.”

I close my eyes and shake my head, just as I get called to the office over the loud speaker.

I grab my bag and head to the office.

But the closer I get, the weirder I feel.

The hairs on the back of my neck are standing on end. My stomach feels tied up in knots.

No, I don’t feel weird. I feel worried.

Make that scared.

Is Vincent here? Did Annie not listen?

I don’t go to the office. Instead, I text Cooper.

Me:  Are you in class?

Cooper:  Yes. 

Me:  I just got called to the office. I’m afraid to go. What if someone contacted him?

Cooper:  Go somewhere (not your dorm) and hide. I’ll go find out.

I immediately turn around and run as fast as I can to the chapel.

When I get there, I find Aiden sitting in a pew. Our pew.

The door slams behind me, causing him to turn around.

“What are you doing here?” I ask him.

“Just thinking.”

“You looked like you were praying. Is your mom okay?”

“She’s fine. Thanks for asking.”

I sit down next to him. I know the place is full of empty pews. I could choose any one of them, but I don’t. I’ll always be drawn to his side.

“You haven’t answered any of my phone calls or texts. Have you read them?”

“No. Net yet.”

“So you might?”

“Maybe.”

“When?”

“On break. I just can’t deal with them right now.”

“I’m sorry you got hurt.”

I reach up and gently touch the bruise under his eye. “I’m sorry you got hurt too.”

He takes my hand in his and kisses it.

But I can’t let it affect me.

I swallow and tell myself to move.

Because I know that I can’t stay here.

Because I don’t trust myself to do what’s best for me.

If I stay, I’ll beg him to come with me.

I’ll tell him I need him.

But I can’t.

I can’t.

Because what I need is to get over him.

My phone buzzes.

Cooper:  Where are you?

Me:  Chapel.

Cooper:  Come to my office.

“I have to go,” I say, trying to keep the regret out of my voice.

He doesn’t say anything. Just nods.

I go the back way to the field house. Running through the tree line instead of down the sidewalk. I forgot to ask Cooper what he found out. Although I’m sure if Vincent were here, he would have told me.

I’m being ridiculous.

But just in case, I walk behind the buildings.

When I get to his office, he says, “Sit down.”

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s not Vincent. Peyton had some lame excuse for why she had you called to the office. Something about French weekend. When I pressed her about it, she said that she needed to talk to you about Thanksgiving break and you keep ignoring her. I thought she was going with you?”

“Aiden and I are over. There was some drama this weekend.”

“Is that the real reason Riley punched him?”

“Yeah. A girl told me that she and Aiden hooked up. I was upset. Went to Riley and bawled. He got pissed and punched Aiden.”

“And almost got suspended.”

“Yeah. Needless to say, they aren’t going with me anymore.”

“You’re going by yourself?”

“Why is that such a big deal? I want to go by myself. I’m glad I’m going by myself! I can’t freaking wait!”

“I’ll go with you. I like the beach.”

“You’re going home to be with your family.”

“I don’t like it.”

“Nothing has changed, Cooper. Same mode of transportation. Same destination. Same people going to be on staff. Everything that you already got approved by Garrett. The only thing that’s changed is the guest list.”

“That’s true. Maybe it’s just because you seem like a bit of a wreck. I’m worried about you. Worried you’ll do something rash. Maybe I could arrange for you to see your . . .”

“Cooper, I haven’t had a second by myself since all this happened. I need to go by myself. Now, more than ever.”

“Alright. We still on for tonight?”

“Definitely. And I’d like to spar,” I say as I open his door. “Do you think I’m ready?”

Cooper grins at me. “I’ll bring the protection.”

“See you tonight.”

As I round the corner, I see Whitney, scurrying—almost running—around the next corner. Which is kinda odd because I don’t think I’ve ever seen her run.

I skip lunch, opting to go to the library.

But this was the wrong place to go.

I have so many memories of Aiden here. Him telling me that we’re sorta like fate. That he was going to ask me to marry him at the top of the Eiffel tower at sunset. When he saw the text from Dawson about how he’d die without a kiss. How we sat on the bench out front and watched our first sunset together.

I find a remote corner with two chairs that are hidden behind a set of stacks. I sit down, pull out Avery’s purple glitter pen, and start writing.

Love Me

Love Me

Fire = Passion.

French

Even though I want to skip French, I don’t.

But sitting in this class sucks.

Because all I can think about is him.

All the things he’s leaned up and whispered in my ear. The dirty words. The notes about true love and the dream girl.

I tune out Miss Praline, hide my phone under my desk, and send a text.

Me:  Grandma, my house got burned down.

Grandma:  You can always rebuild a house. Fire is a lot harder to find. (It’s just harder to control sometimes.) Hint: Fire = Passion. 

I also send one to Grandpa.

Me:  Remember when Jose told me not to let boys give me shit?

Grandpa:  Yes.

Me:  He forgot to tell me what to do when a boy does.

Grandpa:  Well, you have two options. I can send you a nice little revolver, or you can give him shit back.

My God of all Hotties.

4pm

I manage to get through our dance routine at the pep rally without crying.

But I want to cry.

Just seeing Aiden in his jersey makes me want to bawl.

It’s the jersey that I wore.

That I was so proud to wear on the field.

He kissed me with his tongue because of that jersey.

I bury my face in my pompoms so I don’t have to look at him.

“Keatyn,” Maggie says. “You have to snap out of it. You’re acting like a zombie.”

“I am not. I was just out there dancing.”

“And now you’re practically in tears.” She wraps her arm around my shoulder and pulls me into a hug. “Boys suck.”

I nod, agreeing with her. But I don’t agree. Aiden doesn’t suck. He’s perfect.

“You made me give Logan another chance.”

“No, I didn’t. You gave him another chance because he made the big gesture.”

“Do you need a big gesture?”

“No. It won’t matter, Maggie. We fight all the time,” I say, giving her the excuse I gave him.

“My mom says there’s a fine line between love and hate. That the more passionate you get, the more passion you have.”

“My grandma said something like that to me today. That fire equals passion.”

“You and Aiden have passion.”

“Aiden and I had more than passion. We had fire.”

“Fires smolder for a while after they’ve been put out, you know. You aren’t done with him. You can’t be. Keatyn, tell me now that you don’t love him and I’ll stop bugging you.”

I look at him.

He’s standing across the basketball court, listening to the coaches try to get everyone fired up for the big game. His face is bruised, his hair isn’t gelled, his posture is off, his green eyes aren’t sparkling, and there’s no beaming smile on his face.

But he still looks like a god to me. My God of all Hotties.

Little tears fall down my face.

I wipe them away quickly.

“You’re crying just looking at him. I know you love him.”

I close my eyes and nod.

“So why don’t you talk to him?”

“I did earlier. It’s over, Maggie. It has to be.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t hooked up with Dawson.”

“I wish I could. It would make this a whole lot easier.”

A friendly voice.

7pm

I skip dinner. The girls offered to stay and order in pizza, but I told them to go without me. I wouldn’t be very good company. No one really argued with me. Ace and Annie will be apart for Thanksgiving break, as will Katie and Bryce. They are trying to spend every last minute together.

I scroll through my phone and hit Damian’s number.

“Hey, Keats.”

“Hey.”

“Oh, boy. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Just wanted to hear a friendly voice.”

“Are you excited to go to St. Croix?”

“Very.”

“Who all is going with you?”

“Um, no one, actually.”

“You’re spending Thanksgiving alone?”

“Yeah.”

“I thought . . .”

“It didn’t work out.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Maybe you should invite B.”

“No. I . . . I couldn’t deal with him right now.”

“Keats, you’re scaring me. What’s going on?”

“I’m fine. Just a little broken. But I’ve been broken for a while. I’m like a chip on your windshield.”

“I don’t get it.”

“You know how when you get a rock chip, it seems minor? But then a few weeks later you see that the chip has spread. Then a few weeks after that, your windshield is ruined. I’m a chip that didn’t get fixed.”

“And now you’re ruined?”

“Pretty much. Damian, will you sing to me?”

“Yeah, Keats. Lie down and close your eyes.”

I like it rough.

11:30pm

As soon as Katie starts breathing heavily, I sneak into my closet and change into my workout clothes.

“So, what’s your holiday tradition?” I ask Cooper while I’m putting on some protective gear.

“Um, well, we eat a turkey dinner and then go to my sister’s grave. She was killed two days before Thanksgiving.”

“I’m so sorry, Cooper.”

“I know,” he says, throwing me a pair of red gloves.

We walk out into the center of the mat and he tells me a bunch of rules like we’re in an actual competition.

“Is this like a match? Are we keeping score?”

“You tap out, you lose.”

We bump gloves, and I show him all that I’ve learned from him in the last few weeks.

And I’m doing well. I’m connecting with a lot of my punches, and I’ve even managed to get him down on the ground twice.

And, more importantly, he’s yet to take me down.

“That’s it,” he says, egging me on. “Get on it.”

I’m breathing heavily and sweating. “Uhh. Uhh. Uhh,” I grunt as I throw a three-punch combination.

“That’s it. You know I like it rough,” he teases.

He throws a right-handed punch toward my ribs. I quickly grab his forearm and twist it, bringing him to his knees.

“Do it harder,” he says. “You want me facedown.”

All of a sudden, the gym doors swing open.

“See, I told you they’re having an affair . . .” Whitney says to the dean, who she’s pulled inside with her.

We pull our face guards off and go, “A what?!”

The dean says, “Clearly, you were mistaken, Miss Clarke. Why don’t you head back to your dorm. I’ll take it from here.”

“But they were gone on the same two days. I gave you pictures of them sneaking off together. He’s even holding her hand in one photo. And . . .”

“Miss Clarke.”

“It’s more than an affair. She was pregnant with his baby. That’s why they were both gone the same day. She had an abort—”

The dean says, “That’s enough accusations, Miss Clarke. Get to your dorm or you’ll get a detention for being out after curfew.”

“But she’s out after curfew!”

“Now!” he says.

Whitney gives me an evil glare and stomps out. The dean shuts the door behind her, saying, “I’ll expect to see you in my office first thing in the morning.”

Then he turns to us. “Now, obviously, you’re not having an affair. But you, Mr. Steele, are out alone with a student after curfew. That’s against school policy.”

"It's my fault, sir,” I say.

“How so?”

“I asked him to teach me how to fight. With homework, rehearsals, and other activities, right after curfew was the only time we could meet."

“And why do you need to know how to fight? We don’t have too many street brawls here at Eastbrooke.”

“Um, well, I'm hoping eventually that will be classified.”

Cooper stifles a chuckle.

“What?” the dean asks.

“I’m good with languages, sir. I'm a good actress. I'm smart and athletic. When we did our career surveys with our counselor, mine came up with a career that I’m really interested in. A CIA operative. I've always read spy novels and realized it was totally, like, my calling. And Miss Praline told me all the stuff I needed to start working on now, because it’s really tough to get selected.”

I turn to Cooper. “Even you’ve heard that, right, Coach Steele?”

Cooper flashes his dimples at me and nods at the dean. “That is correct.”

“And I think I’m mostly prepared except for two things. I need to learn how to protect myself and, of course, I’ll need to learn how to shoot a gun. After soccer one day, Coach Steele was punching the bag in the gym, and I remembered that he was an accomplished MMA fighter. So I asked him to teach me.”

“Begged him,” Cooper counters.

“Yes, begged him to teach me. And it’s good for him too. Like, so he can keep up with his skills.”

Cooper rolls his eyes and shakes his head.

But I continue. “And that day we were both gone. I'm sorry if it was inappropriate for us to go together, but there was this fight. In Atlantic City.”

“I wanted her to see it in person. I didn't think she really understood the savageness of it all.”

“He's not going to get in trouble, is he? He's a really good soccer coach.”

Dean shakes his head at me. “The CIA?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Interesting. Do you have much left of your lesson?”

Cooper looks at the clock on the wall. “About 10 more minutes.”

“I think I’ll stay and watch the rest, then.”

“Awesome,” I say, loving the idea of having an audience. “You can tell me if I'm any good. Coach Steele says that I still suck.”

The dean sits in a chair, while we pull our face masks back down and get into position.

Cooper quickly strikes, but I’m ready for him with a block. Then I grab his arm, spin under him and elbow him in the ribs.

When we’re done, the dean offers to walk me back to my dorm.

“So is that CIA stuff really true?” he asks me.

“Yes, sir. It is. You can ask Miss Praline.”

“I will,” he says.


Tuesday, November 22nd

That bird thing.

History

 I get a long text from Grandma.

Grandma:  I heard a quote at the hair salon this morning. One of those women has a facepage and that bird thing. She has been chirping or twittering or something. We were talking about getting older and how this applies to us, but I also think it’s good advice for any age. 

Life is not measured by the quantity of breaths we take, but rather by the moments that took our breath away.

Your Grandpa took my breath away when I first met him. And when he asked me to marry him on a horseback, I knew, even before he proposed, that something special was about to happen, but it still took my breath away. His reaction when I told him I was pregnant with your father. The first time I saw him holding your father in his arms. I could go on and on. My point is, if someone is special enough to take your breath away on numerous occasions, keep them in your life. Even if they are a pain in the ass like your Grandpa . . .

I think about the moments that have taken my breath away.

When I saw Gracie right after she was born.

When Avery first said, I wuv you, Kiki.

When B helped me catch my first big wave. 

When he told me I was desirable. 

When he told me the waves didn’t miss me, he did.

When we were in the hammock and he told me he loved me.

When we watched the sunrise every time we went out surfing.

When my little sisters all gave me gifts before I came here.

When I saw Aiden’s face in the goal.

When I accidentally brushed into him at the café.

When he gave me the clover.

When he kissed me on the Ferris wheel.

When I saw the twinkle lights.

When he told me he was going to ask me to marry him someday.

When he said it was fate that I was here.

When we watched the sunset. 

When he danced at the pep rally.

When he brought me the cake.

When he stood in my loft.

When we were in the limo.

When he woke me up by rubbing my face.

I could go on and on.

Aiden has been taking my breath away from the moment I laid eyes on him.

Solely for her entertainment.

Lunch

Somehow, by the time lunch rolls around, everyone is aware of the fact that Whitney wrongly accused me and Cooper of having an affair. The rumor mill is going crazy and a simple mistake is taking on a life of its own. I’ve heard that’s she’s been out to get me all year. That she’s jealous of me. That she’s mad Peyton and I are friends. That she did it because I dated Dawson. That she wanted Cooper for herself. That Cooper turned her down. That she’s dropping out of Eastbrooke. That she’s going to be suspended after break. That she told the dean to shove it.

All are possible, I suppose, but it all just seems a bit off.

In fact, it reminds me of a publicity stunt.

I wander through the lunch line looking for something appetizing and end up with an apple and a piece of chocolate cake. I go sit down with everyone and look at them. Katie and Bryce, Maggie and Logan, Annie and Ace, Jake, Dawson, Peyton, Shark, and Aiden, all smiling and happily discussing their holiday plans.

Well, except for Aiden. He looks as miserable as I feel.

I glance away from him, not wanting to make eye contact and accidentally get caught in his tractor beams.

Instead, Peyton catches my eye with hers. She smirks at me and then darts her eyes toward the popular table where Whitney is just getting ready to sit down.

Alone.

Dawson, Bryce, Peyton, and the last remaining minion aren’t there.

Peyton knew that Whitney thought we were having an affair. I told her about my lessons. She knew if Whitney accused me, I wouldn’t get in trouble.

I look at the smug look on Peyton’s face.

And know that she set this up.

Because this is exactly what she wanted.

Whitney sitting on her throne all by herself.

I’m not sure what Peyton expected, but Whitney doesn't look the least bit upset. She’s sitting with her shoulders back and her head held high. She even looks out at the rest of the room like we’re here solely for her entertainment.

Although I didn’t see Vanessa and RiAnne when they were sitting alone at our lunch table the day I threw the party, I know without a doubt that Vanessa looked just like that.

And I get up.

Peyton grabs my arm and says, “Where are you going?”

“She’s sitting there all by herself.”

“You’re going to sit with her after what she did to you last night? She tried to get you expelled!”

“Why do I feel like maybe she had some encouragement? You wanted this. You’ve been slowly chipping away at the table since Homecoming. But what you don’t understand is that it’s going to backfire on you.” I stop and study her smug smile. Her crossed arms. Her cocky attitude. I shake my head at her and say sadly, “Actually, it already has. In your quest to get back at her for being a bitch, you’ve become a bigger bitch than she is.”

I ignore the gasps from my friends over what I just said.

And I know all eyes are on me when I walk over and sit down across from Whitney.

“You’re the last person I thought would sit with me today,” she says, not even trying to hide her surprise.

“Sometimes people surprise you.”

“Do people ever surprise you?” she asks, glancing at Peyton.

“Yeah. All the time.”

She looks wistful when she says, “Me too.”

“Peyton hasn’t exactly been subtle, has she?”

Whitney shakes her head. “No. Part of why she could never be the Alpha. She’s too afraid to challenge me straight up or to even just stand up for herself. Why do I get the feeling that this is not a new situation for you? At your old school, were you like me?”

I chuckle, remembering. “No. I was like Peyton.”

“Now that really surprises me. You’re the only person here who has the balls to challenge me.” She lowers her head for a moment and then meets my eyes. “I’m sorry about last night. I really thought there was something going on with you and Cooper. Some of the things he said to you, I was almost scared. I really wasn’t trying to get you in trouble.”

I raise an eyebrow at her.

She stops and laughs. “That’s a complete lie. I thought you were the reason my life had gone to shit this year. I realize now that it had nothing to do with you. When I told Peyton that I thought there was something going on with you and Cooper, she added fuel to the fire. Even told me where you would be last night.”

“She’s trying to be her own person or something.”

“She’s not being a very good friend,” she says with a slight frown. “But you could be. I’ve been causing trouble for you all year. I shouldn’t have. I am sorry about that.”

“Thank you.”

She grabs her phone, hits a few buttons, and smiles. “You should grab some popcorn. The fun's about to begin.”

“What fun?” I ask as my phone buzzes with a photo text from a blocked number.

I click it to make it bigger.

There’s a screenshot of Chelsea posing topless and corresponding texts of her offering herself to Jake and, thankfully, him turning her down.

My phone keeps buzzing and buzzing.

As do most of the phones in the café.

I scroll through even more screenshots of her offering herself up to different guys.

All of whom happen to be the boyfriends of her fellow cheerleaders.

Audible gasps rise from the cheerleaders’ table.

And then the table erupts in havoc.

Girls start crying. Yelling at Chelsea. Calling her names. Flashing her topless and naked pictures around. Then yelling at their boyfriends. Stomping out. One even grabs her hair and is pulling it, until the lunchroom attendant blows a whistle.

“All of you. All you people at THIS table. To the office, immediately!”

From the other table, Dallas catches my eye and winks at me.

I text him.

Me:  Did you have something to do with this?

Dallas:  Who me?

Me:  Did you?

Dallas:  They say guns don’t kill people, people do. 

Me:  What does that have to do with anything?

Dallas:  I didn’t shoot the gun, Kiki. Just provided the ammo.

Me:  You teamed up with Whitney?

Dallas:  From what I can tell, you just did too. I’m proud of you, by the way. This isn’t how either of us expected it to go down. 

“Whitney, how did you expect this to go down?”

“I’m not sure what you’re talking about. But if I had planned something with a friend, neither one of us would’ve predicted for you to come sit here with me. You’re a way bigger person than either of us thought. And that’s saying a lot, because Dallas thinks pretty highly of you.”

I look back at Dallas and smile.

“Oh, oh,” Whitney says, glancing toward Chelsea, who has started marching in our direction.

“I know you did this!” she yells, waving her phone at me.

“Chelsea, I didn’t . . .”

Whitney interrupts and says in a lazy tone, “I’m so sorry this happened to you. You should definitely take those photos to the dean. I’m sure if you could prove Keatyn sent them, she’d probably get, like, what? A detention or something.”

“Yeah, right. And I’d get expelled.” Chelsea narrows her gaze at me then runs out of the café.

“I can't believe you did that.”

“Did what?” Whitney replies with a smile.

Our luck.

1pm

After all the drama at lunch, I’m ready to get on the bus for the three-hour ride to upstate New York for the second playoff game. I sit next to Maggie on the bus, listening to her gossip and gush about Logan. When he starts texting her, I put my headphones in and close my eyes.

And, yes, I’m a glutton for punishment. I listen to the 29-song playlist.

If I were my friend, I would tell myself to stop listening to it. That I’m just prolonging my own agony. But, at the same time, I’m kind of proud of myself. I’ve never done the wallowing after a break up thing before. Where you go though all the notes, movie stubs, and photos from your time together. Cry over them. And then burn them.

RiAnne would do that when she had a bad break up and I never understood why.

Now, I do.

It’s part of the grieving process.

It’s therapeutic.

Healing.

I feel Maggie shift in the seat and then a finger pokes me.

I open my eyes to find Peyton sitting next to me, her eyes shimmering with tears.

I pull my earbuds out as she says, “You’re right. I have become the biggest bitch of all. And I don’t want to be a bitch.”

I wrap my arm around her and pull her into a hug. “I know you don’t. It’s not who you are.”

She cries and shakes her head. “It’s not me. I was just . . . I was just trying to get back at her. I wanted to hurt her, but I didn’t. I just made her my enemy.”

“You need to talk to her. Tell her how you felt and why you did it. Do you know why you did it?”

“I was afraid I was going to turn into a bitch. I was going along with her when I should’ve stood up to her.”

“But . . .”

“But I should have realized I was mad at myself for not having the courage to do what was right.”

“You’ve got to learn to love yourself.”

She nods in agreement. “I really wish me and Aiden could . . .”

“Please, don’t say it.”

“He’s really upset, Keatyn.”

“Me too,” I reply, putting my earbuds back in and halting our conversation.

The playoff game is close.

Back and forth scoring.

As the end nears, you know that whoever ends up with the ball last will probably win.

And whoever is our team. Riley, who has started every game since Dawson got banged up, runs time off the clock until there are only a few ticks left.

Aiden goes out to kick the winning field goal.

He lines up, takes two steps over, makes the four-leaf clover symbol with his hands, and kicks the ball.

I pray that it goes through the uprights.

Pray that even though we’re not together fate will still allow our luck to work for him.

But it doesn’t.

The ball hits the upright and bounces out.

Stupid glow.

12:30am

It’s late when we get back from the long bus ride home. I’m packing when Maggie barrels into my room.

“I really need you and Katie’s help,” she says.

“With what?”

“I ordered a bunch of new dresses but I can’t decide which ones I should take. We’re doing dinner at my house and then going to his house the next day. I want to look perfect.”

“Come on,” Katie says, pulling me out of the room. Then she whispers, “Let’s stop and get some cookies. I think this is gonna take a while.”

We stop at the kitchen and then go to Maggie’s room.

I watch as Maggie tries on five different dresses and parades across the room in them.

“What do you think?”

“I like the second one and fifth one. But I didn’t like shoes you had on with the fifth one. It needs tights and boots.”

“Oh, that would be cute,” Katie agrees. “Try it back on.”

She puts it back on, gets two thumbs up, gives each of us a hug, and lets us go back to our room.

As usual, Katie passes out quickly.

I’m jealous of her ability to fall asleep so fast.

I finish my packing, double check that I have my passport, and then lie in my bed.

I close my eyes and try to sleep but I can’t because the 29-song playlist is playing in my head.

Maybe I shouldn’t have listened to it for three hours straight.

I open my eyes and stare up at the ceiling, forgetting about the stars.

But then I see a moon glowing directly above my head.

Are you kidding me?

That must be why Maggie had a fake fashion crisis tonight. She wanted me out of my room. She thinks this is like the big gesture.

But, it’s not.

I close my eyes tightly to shut out the sight of the moon, but even with my eyes closed I can feel the moon mocking me.

“I officially hate you!” I say to the moon. “I never should have made a stupid wish on you!”

I stand up on my bed, rip the moon off the ceiling, and then toss it on my bedside table so I won’t have to look at it.

I lie back down.

Toss and turn.

Try to get comfortable.

But I can't.

Because the damn moon is glowing from my table.

I slam my phone down on top of it.

Still glowing.

Fucking moon.

I grab it, shove it into my purse, zip the purse up tightly, and then throw it across the room.

Killing the moon and hiding its stupid glow.


Wednesday, November 23rd

Write my name in the sand.

10am

I’m not sure why it’s necessary to have a partial school day today because everyone, including the teachers, has mentally checked out already.

I’ve checked out because something amazing has happened. I’m pretty sure that when I yelled at the moon last night, it reversed my wish.

Because for the first time since I came here, I’m able to write down a script for my perfect life.

FADE IN: MALIBU BEACH

A YOUNG COUPLE IS STANDING IN THE MOONLIGHT ON THE UPSCALE PRIVATE BEACH OF THE MALIBU COLONY. PANNING SHOT OF THE OCEAN WAVES SHIMMERING IN THE MOONLIGHT.

MALE LEAD: YET TO BE CAST

(Taking Keatyn’s hand in his)

Happy Birthday.

KEATYN

(Leans in to kiss him)

It’s been a long year.

MALE LEAD: YET TO BE CAST

But we’re here. Together on the beach. That’s all that matters.

KEATYN

That and the stalker is in jail.

MALE LEAD: YET TO BE CAST

I was worried when he kidnapped you.

KEATYN

I’m just glad it’s over, and so happy we’re together.

MALE LEAD: YET TO BE CAST

(Grins adorably)

There were times when I didn’t know if we’d make it. We’ve both grown up a lot. It’s like everything and nothing has changed.

KEATYN

We’ve changed. Our love hasn’t.

MALE LEAD: YET TO BE CAST

I told you fate would bring us together.

KEATYN

I didn’t believe you.

MALE LEAD: YET TO BE CAST

It’s not where you’ve been that matters; it’s where you end up that does.

Wanna know a secret?

KEATYN

Of course.

MALE LEAD: YET TO BE CAST

I wished for this.

KEATYN

What do you mean?

MALE LEAD: YET TO BE CAST

I made a wish on the moon. For you.

KEATYN

(Happy tears stream down her face)

I wished on the moon too. For my perfect boy.

MALE LEAD: YET TO BE CAST

(Brushes away her tears)

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

KEATYN

You told me that before. I thought it meant I was pretty.

MALE LEAD: YET TO BE CAST

What do you think it means now?

KEATYN

I think it means love is a thing of beauty.

MALE LEAD: YET TO BE CAST

We’re a thing of beauty. I love you.

KEATYN

I love you too.

(They share true love’s kiss)

THE END

ROLL CREDITS

I stop and tap my pen on my notebook.

At my birthday party, I wanted to bring my two worlds together. Surfer friends and school friends.

Could I combine my East coast friends with my West coast friends?

I shake my head and wad up the paper.

None of it matters now.

Because last night I made a decision.

Logan pokes his finger into my shoulder.

“I need to tell you something.” He hangs his head and looks guilty.

“What’s wrong?”

“Remember when Aiden scored the points for you? You danced 29 dances under the twinkle lights that I helped him put up.”

“I remember. I didn’t know you helped, though. That was nice of you.”

“Do you remember how you freaked out when he told you the Keats quote?”

“Yes, Logan, I remember the entire night.”

“And do you remember that he didn’t call you after?”

I can’t talk about Aiden, his dances, or the twinkle lights. I blow my bangs up off my face and try not to cry. “Yes. I remember.”

“It upset you, right?”

“Yes, it upset me.”

“I told him not to call you.”

I fully turn around. “Why did you do that?”

“Because I was down on love. Maggie wouldn’t talk to me. She started hanging out with Parker again. And Aiden was all giddy about you. It pissed me off. And once he told me about your reaction to the quote and your sort of boyfriend, I told him it wasn’t worth it. That love wasn’t worth it. That true love was bullshit and so was love at first sight.”

I blow out the breath of air I’ve been holding. “Did he want to call me?”

“Yes.”

I shake my head. “It wouldn’t have mattered.”

“Are you mad at me?”

“No, Logan. I completely understand. And the end result would’ve been the same.”

“You made me forgive Maggie and she slept with someone else. Aiden didn’t do anything wrong.”

Thankfully, the bell rings, ending our school day and officially starting my vacation.

“Have a good break, Logan,” I say as I walk out of class.

I throw a few things in my tote bag, give my friends the kind of hugs you give someone when you know you’re not going to see them again, say a few goodbyes, and, at a little after noon, I hop in my prearranged car for the quick trip to the airport.

When I get to the airport, my jet is waiting for me on the tarmac.

It’s such a welcome sight.

My mom says when she goes to the spa in Palm Springs by herself that it’s good for her soul. And I know for sure that going on this trip by myself is going to be just that.

Good for my soul.

And I’m really looking forward to being completely by myself. No one to worry about but me.

I can do whatever I want.

And I’m going to do it.

I’ve even made a list. A miniature script of my vacation.

Where I commune with nature. Eat fish I caught myself. Do yoga on the beach. Swim with the dolphins. Macramé myself a pair of sandals. Make a necklace out of shells. Write my name in the sand. Build a sand village. Drink milk from a coconut. Lie in the hammock and read. Collect fruit from the trees and make my own tropical smoothies.

Make that spiked smoothies.

Wander down the beach.

Find a hot guy.

Shit. No. No guys.

I remember Vanessa telling me that. How it’s expected.

But I’m not going to do that.

I can’t do that.

I can’t jump from one relationship to the next.

I did that every time Brooklyn hurt me.

Coming to Eastbrooke has been really good for me in so many ways.

I’m stronger. Smarter. Nicer. Tougher. Happier with myself.

I’m doing things that I love.

I know what I want to do with my life.

I’ve finally become the kind of girl my little sisters could look up to.

Except for the lies.

Lying to my friends is killing me.

And the longer I’m there—the closer we get—the more I feel like I’m being eaten from the inside out.

If I go back to Eastbrooke, I’ll end up nothing but a shell.

Last night I went over it from every different angle.

Tried to imagine every different reaction.

How they would react if I told them.

How they would react if someone else told them.

But no matter how I try to spin it in my brain.

The outcome is always the same.

Our trust would be broken.

They’re all amazing. And I know they would understand why I had to lie.

What they won’t understand is why I didn’t trust them enough to tell them my secret.

That’s what will kill their trust.

And Aiden.

I can’t even imagine how Aiden would react.

He’d be crushed.

I’d be crushed.

And it would be ruined.

Vincent is like a massive natural disaster. A hurricane, a tornado, and an earthquake all rolled into one.

And nothing can survive that.

Especially not Eastbrooke.

So I’m not going back.

I pull my wallet out of my bag to grab a tip for the driver. As I do, the glow-in-the dark moon tumbles onto my lap.

“What the hell?” I say, noticing for the first time that there’s writing on it.

I flip it sideways and read.

The End

Love Me


adore me

The Keatyn Chronicles: Book 4.5

A Thanksgiving break novella

Coming November 23rd.

Click here to pre-order.



**Once again, the ending of this book was probably a bit of a shock.

I’d like to ask that you do not spoil it for others in your reviews.

I want all readers to be as surprised as you were at the end.

Thanks so much for understanding <3

Speaking of reviews . . . If you loved this story, please leave a review wherever you purchased it.

And please don’t upload or share this on the internet. If you want authors to keep writing the stories you love, please respect their work by not sharing or uploading copyrighted material.

And . . . if you need to talk about the ending and the series, or are just suffering from hottie overload, or maybe, in the case of this book, a hottie hangover, please know that there is help.

Join the Keatyn Chronicles Addicts Group on Facebook.

And be sure to check out my website for added content: clothes, playlists, dream casts, merchandise, and sneak peeks.



Other books by Jillian Dodd

That Boy Series

Fall in love with the boys next door.


 

Love Me
 
Love Me

That Baby

coming soon


The Keatyn Chronicles

Love Me
Love Me
Love Me
Love Me
Love Me
Love Me

come and get me

book 6



Love Me

The Mystic Series by B.C. Burgess:  A paranormal romance of epic proportions.

     Stretching from coast to coast and teeming with loathed villains and beloved heroes, The Mystic Series is rich with emotion, magic and intrigue. Whether the reader is laughing, crying or falling in love, they'll find themselves invested in Layla's fate through the rich dialogue and emotionally driven characters that weave the web of this fiery tale.

(Book One: Is FREE!)

Love Me
Love Me

Love Me
Love Me

     British engineer Piers Chapman and gorgeous Parisian Sidney Roux are forced to work together when a thief dies in their cab. In a novel filled with tension, thrills, and wit, this hilarious pair is about to prove that getting a cab in Paris can be hell. By Nigel Blackwell.

Love Me

Did you think high school English sucked the fun out of reading? Form a literature club and put the fun back into learning the classics. Developed by a veteran homeschooler as a means for her dyslexic daughter to complete high school English without tears, The LITClub takes the fear out of teaching literature and adds pleasure to the experience by utilizing themed meals, fun projects and plenty of time to hang out with friends.

(Available August 31st)

Love Me



Acknowledgements

I’m just gonna assume that this book was as tough for you to read as it was for me to write.

But this is Keatyn’s story.

Her story of growth.

Her story of becoming the kind of person she wants to be.

I think it’s easy to get so caught up in the romance that we forget just how often Keatyn is forced to act.

Act like she’s normal.

Lie like it’s the truth.

Pretend to hold it all together when it feels like her world is falling apart.

The theme of this book, obviously, was Keatyn learning to love herself.

To be strong. To not need a boy in her life. To do what is right for her. To stand up for herself.

And, hopefully, you can see how much she’s grown in just the few months since we first met her in Stalk Me.

And while I can’t release any details of the novella, I can tell you this.

I can’t wait to write it!

Because it’s going to be a fun, happy, romantic, relaxing-on-the-beach book.

All the characters in the series are growing and changing.

And I can promise you this.

Keatyn will get her wish.

At the end of the series, she will be on the beach with her perfect boy. And I know you will all love him as much as she does.

So if you are along for the ride, thank you. Thank you for reading my stories. Thank you for telling your friends about them. Thank you for reviewing them in a way that will not spoil them for others. And thank you, so much, for not uploading them to the internet.

A huge thank you goes out to The Keatyn Chronicles Addicts group. You ladies bring me joy every single day. Just the fact that these characters are stuck in your head and you want to talk about and analyze them is almost hard for me to believe. When I sat down and wrote my first book, that’s all I wanted. For my writing to affect you. It’s so hard for me to believe that less than a year ago the group started with about five people. Thanks to Melissa and Mireya for being amazing moderators and making the group fun and welcoming! And special shout outs to contest winner for the Name the Rivalry and Name Vincent’s film company contests: Nicole for the Compass Cup, Pernille for the Westerfield Cheetahs and the Pussy Bowl, and Melissa for A Breath Behind You Films.

As usual, thanks to my amazing beta readers, the bloggers who constantly support my books, and all the readers and authors that I have been blessed to meet. Jen, Rebecca, and Molly, you ladies are everything I aspire to be.

And I couldn’t do any of this without my family. Scotty, thanks for somehow knowing the perfect moment to bring me wine. Thank you for not having me committed when I sit at my computer typing and crying. Thank you for not complaining that we eat out all the freaking time.  Kenzie, sweetie, I couldn’t function without you and am not sure how I’m going to stand you being away at school. Like Keatyn, you are growing into an amazing young woman and I’m so incredibly proud of you. Connor, the inspiration for Bandit Publishing, you can always make me laugh. I’m going on record as saying that I promise to cook you dinner at least three, uh, maybe twice a week this next year. Like, I’m pretty sure-ish.


About the Author:

       

Love Me

Jillian Dodd grew up in Nebraska, where she developed a love for

storytelling, Husker football, and Midwestern boys.

She currently resides in Texas with her family.

 Follow Jill on her website and blog:

Glitter, Bliss, and Perfect Chaos.

Sign up here for Jillian’s newsletter.


Photo by Natalie Knabe of Natalie K Photography.

Flower Mound, Texas


home | my bookshelf | | Love Me |     цвет текста   цвет фона   размер шрифта   сохранить книгу

Текст книги загружен, загружаются изображения
Всего проголосовало: 3
Средний рейтинг 2.3 из 5



Оцените эту книгу