Authors: Chelsea M. Cameron
Also available from Chelsea M. Cameronand Harlequin HQNMy Favorite Mistake
“I can’t believe your parents are forcing
you to leave. It should be, like, illegal.
You’re over eighteen. Why don’t you just
bail?” Kelly sat on top of one of the boxes of
my almost-packed dorm room and snapped
her gum. When we’d first met, the little
habit had irritated me to no end, but I’d
gotten used to it.
“I wish I could, but they’re footing the
bill for school, so right now I’m screwed,” I
said. Not to mention the fact that no one
said no to my mother. No one.
“Why don’t you drop out?” Oh, I’d
considered that more than once. Actually,
more than a thousand times. It was
impossible to explain the complicated
dynamic of my family to someone like Kelly,
who had moved out of her parents’ house
and gotten her own place when she was still
in high school.
“I don’t know,” I said, shrugging and
taping up another box. Kelly flipped her
dirty blond dreadlocked ponytail and
cracked her gum again. She’d asked me if I
needed help packing, but so far all she’d
done was bother me.
“You’ll come back and visit, right?” she
“Yeah, sure,” I told her with a little
smile. We both knew t was unlikely that I’d
ever get back here. I folded my University of
New Hampshire blanket and shoved it into
another box. My mom had bought it for me
two summers ago as a
I was one of only two of my siblings or
steps who’d actually managed to graduate
high school, let alone get accepted
somewhere. Neither Mom nor Dad nor any
of my step-parents had finished high school,
so it was a big deal for any of us to make it
that far. The only other one who had was
Renee, and that was the reason they were
shipping me back to Maine to live with her
Kelly’s phone buzzed and she typed a
quick response to the text message and
grinned at me.
“Mac wants to meet up for coffee.” I
always wished she’d putcoffeein air
quotes, because we both knew that it
meant getting stoned and hooking up in the
backseat of his rusty Pontiac. Kelly and her
boyfriend were notorious; they’d even been
caught by campus security in the middle of
the day. It was a miracle they were still
students at all. I think they were holding on
by the thinnest of academic threads.
“Have fun.” I knew she’d bail on me for
Mac. She always did. Kelly wasn’t much of a
friend, but she was the only one I had. The
others had ditched me months ago.
“Call me before you leave. I wanna say
goodbye.” She got up and gave me a loose
hug. It was more of a lean involving arms
that was over as quickly as it had begun.
“See you later,” she said, slamming the
door. Kelly could never leave a room
I stared at my deconstructed dorm
room. My roommate was avoiding me, had
been avoiding me since the beginning of
this year. We’d had all of two
conversations—one of those happened on
the day we moved in, and the other
happened when she found me passed out
in front of the door one night after a crazy
time with Kelly and Mac and a bunch of
people I hadn’t seen again. As if I’d
remember them anyway.
I took Kelly’s place on one of the boxes,
pulling my knees up and resting my chin on
The fight I’d had with my mother when
she’d told me that I was being forced to
move back kept running through my mind.
Actually, the entire Christmas break had
been one long fight that didn’t seem to end.
What is wrong with you, Joscelyn?
You’d better straighten up andfly right. You
are coming back to Maine, or else I am
coming thereand dragging your ass back,
Straighten up and fly right. Yeah, I’d get
right on that, Mom. She was one to talk. My
parents had a half-dozen marriages
between them and kids and stepkids all
over the place.
It was a full-time job just keeping track
I’d screamed myself hoarse, but hadn’t
She’d even put a moratorium on hating
Dad long enough to call him, fill him in and
then get him to yell at me, too.
I was powerless against the two of
And then there was Renee.
If Mom didn’t drag my ass back, Renee
would be on that.
She was worse than Mom in some ways.
Speaking of my sister…
My phone rang, and when I saw who
was calling, I debated about picking it up.
“Hey,” I said, wincing in anticipation of
the barrage I knew was coming.
“You better be getting your stuff
together and be out the door,” she said by
way of a greeting.
“Nice to talk to you, too, dear sister.”
“Don’t give me that shit, Jos. I am so
done with this. You’d better get your butt
on the road in the next hour or—”
“I know, I know. You’ll surgically remove
my fingers and sew them to my ass. Iknow.
” Having a sister who knew surgical
procedure and who was also mad at you
really sucked sometimes.
“Hey, I don’t need the attitude. You’re
lucky that you’re coming to be here with me
instead of Mom.” She did have a point. Back
at Mom’s I’d just be drowning in a sea of my
step and half siblings, among them a set of
four-year-old twins who made the devil
look like Mother Teresa.
“I know,” I said. That seemed to be my
phrase of choice lately.
“Just know that I’m going to be on your
ass like white on rice, and if I’m not around
someone else will do it for me.
You’re walking into a house full of
people that are going to watch your every
move and call you out on it. Understand?”
“Okay. I’ll be waiting for you. Call me the
second you leave.”
“I will. ’Bye.”
I hung up before she could say anything
else. I put my hands over my face and
screamed into them. This was a nightmare I
never seemed to wake up from.
Asleep or awake, it never left me.
But I was awake now, and I had to
move, so I got off the box and picked it up.
After nearly twelve trips and a lot of
sweating and swearing, I got all my stuff
into my car. Despite it being freezing
outside, I peeled off my winter coat and just
wore my ratty sweatshirt, my breath visible
in the January air. People walked by and
gave me looks, and I knew what they were
thinking. Just another student who couldn’t
hack it and was being forced to leave and
not come back after Christmas break.
They didn’t have any idea.
I went back up to the half-bare room
and looked at it one more time.
I didn’t bother to leave my roommate a
note and just shut the door behind me. It
wasn’t like she’d care anyway.
I texted Kelly that I was leaving, but she
Big surprise. Other than Kelly, there
wasn’t really anyone else at UNH that I had
left to say goodbye to. I hadn’t heard from
Matt since before the summer, when he’d
broken up with me. The others, my little
circle of friends, had long since lost touch
with the crazy, reckless emo girl. I’d heard
them talking about my transformation
behind my back more than once.
Snow was just starting to float down
from the sky when I got back downstairs to
my car. I could barely see out the rearview
mirror, but I was mostly driving on the
I plugged my iPod into my car speakers
and hit Shuffle.
It was going to be a long trip and I only
had music for company. The sleeve on my
sweatshirt rode up, exposing the bracelet I
never took off. It was simple, just a chain
with a little elephant charm on it. I kept it as
a reminder. A constant reminder.
Shaking my head, I pulled away from the
dorm and headed for the highway and the
next chapter in my life. A fresh start was
irrelevant when the dark things in your past
were always following you.
It took me longer than I anticipated to
get from New Hampshire to my sister’s
house in Bangor, Maine. Actually, it wasn’t
even her house. She’d moved in with this
guy Hunter, who was buying the house
because he was apparently loaded.
Leave it to Renee to find a rich friend.
She was also on again with her boyfriend,
Paul, which was a good thing, in my
opinion, because she was a pain in the ass
when she wasn’t with him. Even more so
than she was when she was with him.
I hadn’t seen the house before, so it was
a bit of a shock when I parked in front of
the house Renee had given me directions
“Damn,” I said. It was huge. Way huger
than Renee had let on. I’d pictured
something a little run-down, and small, but
this was bigger than any house I’d ever lived
in, with Mom or Dad.
I grabbed my backpack and headed up
the porch steps, glancing at the cars in the
driveway as I passed them. It was easy to
spot Renee’s, so I knew I must have the
There was even a freaking doorbell. My
finger was an inch away from ringing it
when the door flew open.
“There you are! I was worried you were
lying in a ditch somewhere,” Renee said,
flinging herself at me. Startled by the hug, I
sort of stood there and kind of hugged her
Somehow, I’d gotten a recessive
redhead gene in our family and ended up
with carrot-red hair, freckles and green
Renee had gotten the good genes, with
her blue eyes and blond hair that didn’t
need much highlighting. Our features were
similar, but our coloring was so different
that people never thought we were sisters.
She finally stopped hugging me, but kept
her hand clamped on my shoulder and
steered me into the house, as if I was going
to make a run for it. Where, I didn’t know.
Renee had mentioned something about
Stephen King living down the street, but I
wasn’t sure if I’d be any safer at his house
“How was the driving?” Renee closed
the door behind us and it clicked shut with
“Fine,” I said, glancing around the
house. Damn. Again.
I didn’t know who had decorated, but
they’d obviously used those crazy
home-improvement magazines as
One thing was for sure—it didn’t look
like a typical college crash pad. It was clean,
first of all, and second, there seemed to be
an actual scheme where things matched
and went together. There were also a lot of
peacock feathers, and similar peacock
colors around. Renee had mentioned
something about her roommate Taylor
being obsessed with peacock stuff. I
couldn’t remember why. I sort of tuned out
when Renee gushed about her amazing and
awesome life, while mine had gone into a
downward spiral that never seemed to hit
“Hey, Jos. How are you doing?” Paul
came around the corner. He was cute in
one of those white-bread nerd ways.
Not my type. Not that I had a
“Good.” It was a step up from fine. No
one questioned you when you said you
were good. Everyone thought there was
something wrong with you if you said,
He gave me an awkward hug. I’d seen
him at Christmas when he’d kept Mom and
Renee from throttling each other with
varying success. I’d tried to tell him it was
no use, but he’d done it anyway.
“Where’s everyone else?” I was actually
looking forward to seeing Darah and
meeting her new boyfriend. Darah was one
of the sweetest people on the planet, and I
knew if there was anyone who wouldn’t
judge me, it would be her.
“They wanted to give us some space.
They’ll be here later.”
Something about the way she said it
made me suspicious.
“They’re not going to make a big deal
about it, are they?”
“No,” Renee said, not looking at me, but
glancing at Paul.
Something was afoot.
“So, how about we get your stuff inside,
shall we? Come on, Paul.” Renee grabbed
Paul’s hand and yanked him out the door.
“Uh, okay.” I was left standing in the
foyer alone. I walked into the living room,
which was gorgeously decorated, except for
a mangy-looking recliner and the video
games the guys had probably left scattered
around. I saw the “Skyrim” box and smiled.
Renee couldn’t get enough of that game. It
had consumed quite a bit of her time over
I flopped down onto the couch and
stared up at the ceiling. Even that was
A thud sounded a second later as Renee
and Paul brought in some of my stuff.
“Since we only have three bedrooms,
you, my dear sister, get to stay in the newly
refurbished basement. You’re lucky we
decided to put in a guest room,” Renee
“Great,” I said, although I wouldn’t have
minded staying on the plush leather couch.
It was the largest couch I’d ever seen and
took up most of the living room.
“Why don’t you show her around and I’ll
get the rest of the stuff,” Paul said. I got up
from the couch and Renee led me down the
stairs into the basement.
“Welcome to the man cave,” Renee
said, waving her arm.
A man cave indeed. A bar, a pool table,
yet another gigantic couch and a television
large enough for a movie theater.
There were also several sports team
posters, including the Red Sox, the Patriots
and the Celtics. Go teams.
Renee led me toward the back of the
space where there was a small guest room
with a bathroom right beside it.
Thank God. I wouldn’t have to share a
bathroom. I’d done that in the dorms
enough to last a lifetime.
“So this is it.” The room was decorated
in tan and black, which was boring, but nice.
I sat down on the large bed and looked
around at my new home.
“Okay, we have some ground rules,”
Renee said, leaning against the dresser.
Don’t even bother to beat around the bush,
sis. Go ahead and get right to the point.
“Number one,” she said, holding up one
finger. “You will inform me where you are
and who you are with at all times.
You will keep in touch via cell phone.
You will also answer said phone when I call
you, no matter what.”
I clamped my mouth shut. I didn’t want
to provoke her in the middle of her speech
that she’d clearly rehearsed, probably on
“Second—” she held up another finger
“—there will be no partying. No drinking.
No drugs. No substances of any kind other
than aspirin. There will also be no passing
Third, there will be a curfew which you
will follow or suffer the consequences.
Fourth, I may not be your mother, but you
will treat me with respect, and that goes for
the other people in this house. And fifth…”
She didn’t seem to be able to come up with
“Fifth?” I said after a few seconds of
“I had a fifth one, but I can’t remember
it right now,” she snapped. “But that
doesn’t negate the other four. Do you agree
“Yeah,” I said. What did it matter?
“You said yes way too easily. I don’t
Jesus. I was being criticized for being too
“Whatever, Renee. Can I just be alone
now?” I turned over on the bed, touching
the sheets that were no doubt
Egyptian cotton and had a crazy high
thread count. Of course.
“Listen,” she said, sitting down next to
me. Ugh, she always started her lectures
like this. Just like Mom. Although, Renee’s
lectures always had more cursing in them
“You’re going through something right
now. A phase, if you will. I’ve been there.
Even Paul was there.” Yeah, I found that
extremely hard to believe. And she had no
idea what I was going through. She thought
she did, but she didn’t.
No one did, and I couldn’t explain it. I
twisted the elephant charm on my bracelet.
And then she smacked me on the
“But it’s time for you to get your head
out of your ass and straighten up.
“Why with the violence?” I flipped over,
jumped up and shoved her back. “Look, it’s
not my fault that Mom decided to dump me
on you. I don’t want to be here any more
than you want me to be.”
She glared at me, her face turning red.
“Look, I don’t like the fact that my
once-perfect sister, the one sister I knew
would never screw up, has fallen off the
wagon of epic proportions. You’re the one I
never worried about. You got better grades
than I ever dreamed of getting.
You were the good one. And then…”
She didn’t need to finish. And then
everything happened, and that girl, the one
who obsessed over straight A’s and wanted
to be the president of every club and who
had her sights set on being valedictorian
and someday running a huge company or
working for the government or doing
something important with her life,
Nine months ago, everything changed,
and everything I thought I wanted seemed
stupid and pointless. Or maybe I’d just
finally realized it was stupid and pointless.
That had less to do with what had
happened and more to do withhim.
Even thinking his name was like taking a
bullet in the chest.
“Yeah, then I decided to screw it all up. I
know. I’ve heard the story. I was there. You
don’t need to reiterate it to me.”
She shrugged. “Well, nothing else has
worked, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I’ve
also considered beating you senseless, but
that’s usually frowned upon.”
“Go for it,” I said, sitting back down.
Wasn’t going to work.
“Oh, believe me, I’d love to. But then
you’d be unconscious and I wouldn’t be
able to get information out of you, soooo…”
“And what information is that?”
“What the hell happened to you to
make you like this?”
That was something she could try to
beat out of me, but it wasn’t going to
happen. I shoved her aside and went back
out into the main area of the basement.
“I guess I just decided all that stuff was
bullshit. Getting good grades, being the
good daughter. Where did it get me?
Nowhere. And I was miserable. I never got
to have any fun because I was always
working or trying to get those good grades
or planning some sort of event for one of
the million clubs I was in. I got tired of it,
okay?” I understood them being upset
about me partying and that sort of thing,
but just because I wasn’t getting straight A’s
anymore, that was a reason to have a
Renee grabbed my shoulder to stop me
from running up the steps. I tried to shake
her off, but she yanked me around to face
“No, that’s not it. You’ve spent your
entire life following the rules. You don’t do
that and then just flip a switch and change.
People don’t change like that unless
something makes them.” I’d had this
conversation with her, with my parents,
with my now ex-boyfriend and ex-friends. I
told them all the same thing.
“Just leave me alone.” Everyone had,
Renee glared at me, her eyes turning a
steely blue like they did when she was
determined about something. Getting her
to back off was going to be a challenge. She
took stubborn to a whole new level.
“Fine. Go get the rest of your stuff.” She
let go of my arm and jerked her chin up the
“Fine,” I said, stomping up the stairs.
“Hey, Jos,” Darah said, coming in while I
was putting my clothes away in the dresser.
Her voice scared the crap out of me and I
dropped the Fall Out Boy T-shirt I’d been
“Hey,” I said, picking up the shirt and
turning around. I could never figure out
how Darah and Renee had become friends,
because they were like night and day. But
out of all of Renee’s friends, I liked Darah
the best. I hadn’t met Taylor yet, I
supposed, so I couldn’t judge her.
“Are you settling in okay?” It was then
that I noticed she had a plate of cookies.
Oh, Jesus. What next? “Cookie?
Taylor and I made them last night.
I know those are your favorite.” Yes,
they were, but that wasn’t the point.
“Thanks, but I’m fine.” I refolded the
T-shirt and put it in with the others. Darah
sighed and sat down on my bed, setting the
plate of cookies next to her.
“Look,” she started.Here we go again.“I
know that everyone is going to be up in
your face and scrutinizing you, but I just
wanted you to know that I’m here for you.
If you want to talk, if you don’t want to talk.
Whatever. Even if you want to…I don’t
know, eat ice cream and cry in the middle
of the night. I’m here, okay?”
She got up and rubbed my shoulder.
What was it with people invading my
personal space? It was really starting to piss
me off. If Darah hadn’t been one of the
sweetest people on the planet, I would
have shrugged her hand off and told her to
leave me alone. But she was the sweetest
person ever, and she’d brought cookies, so I
let her touch me as I gritted my teeth.
“Okay, well, let us know if you need
anything. Um, Hunter and Taylor are doing
dinner tonight, and it’s going to be
vegetarian, if you’re cool with that.” I
nodded. Back in the day I’d been an
on-and-off vegetarian. Back in the day when
I’d been in the Climate Action Club and a
card-carrying member of PETA. I might still
have the thing in my wallet. God, I’d been
wound so fucking tight back then. I’d also
done a lot less cursing.
“Come on up when you’re ready.” She
patted me once more and shut the door
behind her, leaving the plate of cookies. Did
they expect me to polish those off and then
have dinner? I shrugged, snagging one of
the cookies. She must have put them in the
microwave, because they were warm and
crumbly. Oh, wow. I chewed slowly,
savoring the spicy sweetness of the cookie.
Footsteps and voices sounded upstairs. I
heard laughter and chaos. The house above
me was full of life and joy and people. And
then there was me, hanging out in the
basement. Lurking like a creeper. I shook
my head and shoved the rest of the cookie
into my mouth and went back to folding.
* * *
When the smell of whatever they were
cooking upstairs became too much for me
to withstand anymore, I ventured up the
“There you are,” Renee said, nearly
crashing into me as I opened the door.
She’d obviously been coming down to drag
me upstairs from my cave.
“Here I am.” I gave her a tight smile as
we walked into the kitchen/dining room.
Everyone went absolutely silent as
Renee and I walked in.
“Awesome. I was totally going for that
reaction. Well played, everyone,” I said as
they all tried to resume their normal
activities. It was weird seeing some of them
in person, because I’d only seen them in
pictures. They reallywere
Hunter was the first to come over and
offer me his hand. I got to give him the
once-over and I understood what Renee
had said about not allowing him near
anything flammable because he would set it
on fire with his hotness. Yeah, he had the
whole tatted-up, muscled thing going on.
Plus his smile was genuine when he said
he’d been looking forward to meeting me.
Taylor was next, but she didn’t touch me.
Thank God. She was also just as freaking
adorable as the pictures I’d seen her in. It
was easy to see why Renee and Darah had
asked her to move in with them.
“I hope this is okay. I wasn’t sure what
you’d like. We were planning on doing
something bigger, but Renee… Never
mind,” Taylor said, after getting the evil eye
Renee. I didn’t need to be able to see
her giving it to know that was what she was
doing. I’d been on the receiving end of that
look more times than I could count. Paul
stood next to Renee and gave me a
Last was a guy who looked like he
missed his calling as a professional football
player. Or wrestler. Or attractive bouncer. I
guess sexy ran in the family of Hunter and
“Little Ne,” he said, giving me a
handshake that nearly crushed all of my
fingers. “It’s cool if we call you that, right?
We’ll probably come up with a better
nickname at some point. Unless you hate
nicknames as much as your sister seems
to.” He looked a little sheepish, which was
kind of funny, given how strong he looked.
“Whatever,” I said, flexing my hand to
get the feeling back into it. “I’m neutral in
nicknames.” I couldn’t count how many I’d
had in my life. Most of them I’d ignored,
including when my sister Cari spent an
entire summer calling me “Stinky Butt.” To
be fair, she was three, and “Joscelyn” was a
mouthful to say.
“Thanks for the cookies,” I said to Darah,
who was absentmindedly stroking Mase’s
arm. “They were really good.”
“Oh, good. I was hoping you’d like
them,” Taylor said, stirring something in
one of the steaming pots on the stove.
“This is about ready, so why don’t you
go sit down?”
“Is there, um, anything I can do to
help?” Granted, I had been forced here, but
they didn’t have to take me in. They could
have said no.
“Don’t worry, sis. You’ll be on the chore
chart soon enough,” Renee said, steering
me toward the dining room table. Someone
had already set out the plates, and there
was a place set for me, with a card sitting
on the plate, and yes, it was handmade.
“Taylor and Darah made that, so you
have to gush about it even if you hate it,”
Renee hissed as I opened it. How could I
hate it? Someone had made some really
cool designs with paint on the front that
looked like fireworks, and there were
letters cut from magazines spelling out the
wordsWELCOME TO YELLOWFIELD HOUSE.
“Yellowfield House?” I said.
Renee rolled her eyes and sat down next
to me, Paul on her other side. I caught him
taking her hand under the table and giving
it a squeeze.
“It was Taylor’s idea. She wanted it to be
like in one of those British novels, where
the house has a name. It was, like, the only
way she’d agree to let us all live here. It was
her one stipulation,” Renee said with a
“She wanted to make a sign and
everything, but the rest of us vetoed it,”
Paul said. “It was really cute, actually. She
was so excited. And then we shot her
“Um, weird,” I said.
“Shh,” Renee said as everyone else
carried dishes and pans and other dinner
paraphernalia. The second everyone sat
down it was a chaos of passing plates and
bumping elbows and trying to get everyone
what they needed. Taylor had made
spaghetti with an olive oil sauce with tons
of vegetables and garlic bread and a salad.
It was crazy delicious, and even though I’d
consumed several of the cookies, I put away
more than my share of dinner. It beat the
hell out of the cafeteria food, or eating
ramen for the millionth time.
Everyone laughed and talked about their
day, and for the first time, I wasn’t the
center of attention. It was really…nice.
They were all just so damn happy and
smiley and in love.
It was enough to make me sick, but
instead it somehow had the opposite effect.
I’d really wanted to hate it here. It would
have been more appropriate for me to hate
“Um, I still have some…stuff to unpack,”
I said, getting up as soon as I could. I
needed to get back to the loneliness of the
basement. All the happy was screwing with
Renee shot me a look, but nodded.
“Are you sure you don’t want to hang
out up here? You haven’t even seen the rest
of the house yet,” Darah said, giving me a
hopeful smile. I couldn’t really get out of
“Yeah, sure.” She led me upstairs,
showing me her room, which was
immaculate, as if they were selling the
house and had a decorator come in to make
it look good for prospective buyers. Renee
refused to let us see her room, and Taylor
only gave me a quick glance at her and
Hunter’s suite on the top floor.
“Just ignore the clothes on the floor. I
know I do.” Hunter and Taylor had tagged
along for our little tour. It was technically
his house, after all.
“Thanks. For…for letting me come here.”
For letting my parents force me on you. I’m
sure you had lots of choice in the matter.
“You’re welcome. Any member of
Renee’s family is part of ours,” he said,
putting an arm around Taylor. Did they
have to do that all the time? “I hope
everything…works out. I know what it’s like
to go through a rough time.” Yeah, yeah,
yeah. I’d heard all about Hunter’s and
Taylor’s tragic pasts and subsequent
“getting their shit together” moments. They
were probably planning my intervention
right now. Luring me into a false sense of
security before springing it on me.
“Yeah, thanks,” I said as he closed their
door and we went back downstairs.
“Are you sure you don’t want to join us
for some music?”
Darah said as she and Mase canoodled
on the couch. What was this, the Partridge
family? Seriously, these people were a
Cleaver short of a heartwarming fifties
family show. “Hunter’s a really good guitar
“I’m good. I still have…stuff to do.”
“And things?” Renee said, giving me a
look. Yeah, stuff and things, Renee.
“Am I not allowed to do stuff and things
now? Was that the fifth rule on your list?” I
snapped, realizing only after I’d said it that
everyone could hear me.
“Whatever,” I said, heading for the
basement. “I’m going to bed.” It was only
eight, but I couldn’t take being around them
anymore. They were just so damn happy. It
was killing me. I needed to go back to the
basement of doom and comfort myself with
more cookies and heart-wrenching music.
“Good night,” they all chimed almost in
unison. Sick, this was sick. Maybe there was
something in the walls that seeped into
their pores when they were sleeping. Or
maybe it was the water?
I shook my head and walked back down
to what I was quickly deciding was my cave.
My basement of solitude.
My room reeked of the delicious
cookies, and even though I was stuffed from
dinner, I ate two more before heading to
the shower. The water pressure was
significantly better than the dorm, and I
took my time, savoring the sensation on the
back of my neck. All the showers in the
world couldn’t wash away the darkness in
my life, but that didn’t stop me from
The charm bracelet caught in my hair as
I was brushing it and I spent a good five
minutes and several curse words getting it
We’re friends, right? And friends give
each other gifts. I knowhow much you love
elephants, so…here,he’d said when he’d
presented me with the box. I remembered
opening it and falling in love with it. Such a
simple, sweet gesture. He’d helped me put
it on, and I’d worn it every day since.
I shook my head and turned on some
music. Something nice and harsh and loud
to drown out the Sing-Along hour going on
upstairs. After scrolling through my recent
purchases, I found the newest Skillet album.
I could feel the joy seeping through the
floor and invading my cave, so I turned the
music up so loud that it was hurting my
eardrums. I should have just put on my
headphones, but I didn’t. I unpacked the
rest of my stuff and deleted the voice mails
from my mother and father, demanding
that I call them when I’d gotten to Renee’s.
I was sure she’d already called them and
shared the news of my safe arrival.
My room was outfitted with a small
television and DVD player, but I didn’t turn
it on. Instead I got out my laptop and
scrolled through my pictures from a year
ago. I was torturing myself, I knew.
I remembered that girl. The one who
always had her hair perfect with cute clips
and had lots of cardigans and pumps.
The girl who had a boyfriend who was
headed for the White House, and had
friends who never let her down. It wasn’t
picture-perfect, but it had been as close as
it could get. And it had been a complete and
utter waste of time and energy.
I slammed my laptop shut and yanked
the covers back on the bed and got in. My
music was still blaring, but it seemed to be
quiet upstairs. Finally. They all probably had
class or whatever tomorrow. I was surprised
Renee hadn’t been up my butt about
registering for classes yet. I had all my
paperwork to become a UMaine Black Bear,
just like her.
I turned over on my side and closed my
eyes. Sleep was far away, and elusive, but
that’s how it always was now. I’d gotten
used to passing hours by staring at the
insides of my eyelids.
Several hours later, I decided I’d had
enough. I needed to go somewhere else.
Anywhere else, even if it was just to see the
stars. I pulled some sweatpants on over my
shorts and grabbed my winter coat and
tiptoed up the stairs. I listened for a second
to the almost-silent house before I pushed
the door to the basement open and started
creeping toward the front door. The floors
were all hardwood, so creaking was going
to be an issue.
And then a voice made me nearly jump
out of my skin.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Mase’s head popped up from where he’d
been lying on the couch in the living room.
“Out for a walk,” I said, somehow
finding something to say.
“Is that what the kids are calling it these
“What?” He got up from the couch and
came to stand in front of me, blocking
access to the front door. Yeah, there was
NO WAY I was getting past him. Not even if
I had a weapon.
“Have a seat.” He clamped his hand on
my shoulder and steered me toward the
couch. I tried to fight him, but he was even
stronger than he looked.
“Who are you? My dad?” Actually, my
dad never really cared this much what I did.
He was always too busy with his current
wife and one of my numerous siblings to
notice if I skipped out.
He sighed and sat down next to me.
“Look, I know you’re going through a tough
time. I’m familiar with those. Hunter was in
really bad shape for a long time, so while I
can’t say I know what you’re going through,
I know that whatever you were going to do
by leaving this house in the middle of the
night isn’t going to help.”
“But—” I tried to get up, and he stopped
me again. “I wasn’t going to do anything. I
just…needed some space.”
He smiled and shook his head. “You’re
not leaving this house right now,capiche?”
He pulled me up from the couch and
shoved me toward the basement. “Even if I
have to sit outside your bedroom door.”
“Why do you care?” I said as I stumbled
down the stairs back to my room.
He laughed. “Because Renee said she
would drug me, remove my dick and sew it
to my face if I let anything happen to you,
and I kind of like where my dick is in its
I almost laughed, too.
“Sounds like Renee.” I paused outside
the bedroom door, and he sat down on the
“I’m also betting that her stubbornness
is genetic, so please don’t make me come
down here again. I have class in—” he
glanced at the clock on the DVD player “—a
few hours, so I’d like to get some sleep.” He
yawned and started to go back up the
“Good night, Little Ne.”
“Night,” I said, watching him walk back
up the stairs. I waited until I heard a door
close before I let out a frustrated sigh.
Seriously, Renee? SERIOUSLY?
Despite my late bedtime, I woke up at
seven the next morning, probably because
the smell of bacon had penetrated the
cracks under the door and seeped into my
I got dressed and threw on a ratty
thermal shirt with thumbholes I’d made
myself, a pair of holey jeans and decided to
venture upstairs. I half expected to see
Mase sitting next to the door to the
“You’re up,” Renee said, yawning and
coming down from upstairs. “I didn’t expect
you to be awake this early.” Her hair was all
over the place. Either she’d been having
some sweet sex with Paul, or she’d been
tossing and turning.
“Especially after I tried to sneak out last
night, right?” I said, saying the thing I knew
she was thinking. She crossed her arms and
her eyes narrowed.
“We will discuss that later. Right now
you’re going to have breakfast because it’s
the most important meal of the day.”
Where was she getting this stuff?
“You’re not my mother,” I said, walking
away from her and heading for the kitchen.
She wouldn’t make a scene in front of
everyone. At least, I hoped not.
“Hey, Little Ne,” Mase said brightly,
looking up from a giant mug of what I
assumed was coffee. Darah was manning
several frying pans and Taylor was slumped
over at the dining room table.
“Why did I sign up for an eight-thirty
class again?” she moaned as Renee went to
the coffeepot and poured herself a cup
before going back upstairs.
“Because it was the only time offered
and you need the class to graduate?” Darah
said, dumping a huge mess of bacon onto a
plate covered in paper towels.
“You want some?” Darah said. I shook
my head. As nice as the bacon smelled, I
didn’t think I could stomach it. “We have
some toast and eggs, if you want. And
there’s always cereal, and I think we still
have some pumpkin doughnuts
somewhere.” God, it was like living in a
“Um, do you have any tea?” I sat down
at the table near Taylor, who was trying to
pull herself upright so she could drink her
“Yeah, sure.” Darah opened a bunch of
cabinets before unearthing a dusty box of
Lemon Zinger tea. It was going to take a
little more than zing to fix my problems, but
it was a start.
Hunter came down a few minutes later,
freshly showered and with a grin on his
“Morning, Missy girl,” he said, giving
Taylor a kiss. “You awake yet?”
“No,” she moaned, putting her head
against his chest. He laughed and pulled her
onto his lap, and I remembered my reasons
for wanting to get out of the house last
“Make it go away,” she said.
“I would if I could, baby.”
Renee and Paul came in a few minutes
later. Her hair was fixed and they were both
dressed for the day.
“Okay, here’s the deal. Since I don’t
trust you on your own, you get to come
with me today,” Renee said, with a sweet
smile that I could tell was hurting her teeth.
Everyone looked at me.
“And since I have class in less than an
hour, you’d better get your ass dressed and
ready to go.”
“What am I supposed to do all day?” I
sipped my tea and stared into the cup so I
wouldn’t have to see everyone staring.
“I don’t know. You’ll think of something.
As long as it doesn’t involve you getting into
trouble, or getting me into trouble, we’ll be
good. So, that’s how it’s going to go.” It was
another well-rehearsed speech.
“Whatever,” I said, shrugging.
“I said she could come with me,” Darah
said, finally breaking the enormous silence
that had suffocated the room.
“No, it’s fine. She’s my responsibility,”
Renee said, going for the coffee.
“Um, sitting right here,” I said. “And I
don’t need a babysitter.”
“That’s not what I hear,” Renee snapped
at me. Mase coughed and shoved a piece of
bacon into his mouth. He chewed and
mouthed “sorry” at me. Of course he’d told
I would have been shocked if he hadn’t.
I sipped my tea and bit back a snarky
Two hours later I was yawning, sitting
outside one of Renee’s labs. I couldn’t
remember which one. It sounded
complicated and disgusting at the same
time. I’d been smart enough to bring my
computer, so I’d been catching up on some
of my favorite vlogs and music blogs.
Then I played my favorite game of trying
to find new music by clicking on random
videos online. This summer I’d started a
music blog, but I’d been slacking on posting
this week. Since I was so new at it, I was still
trying to find my niche when it came to
what the blog was about. I barely got any
views, but I discovered that the only thing I
loved more than music was writing about it.
I never would have considered music
blogging. I still hadn’t told anyone I was
doing it. They wouldn’t understand—that
was for sure.
Renee had promised me a tour of the
campus after we had lunch. From what I’d
seen so far, it was a lot like UNH.
College campuses were pretty similar,
especially if they were state schools. I’d
considered coming here, but the idea of
being away from my crazy family was more
enticing than saving a few bucks by going to
an in-state school. I’d gotten into Bowdoin
and Bates, two prestigious Maine schools,
but they had been far too expensive and my
financial aid hadn’t been enough to cover it.
Too bad, so sad.
When she finally emerged from her lab,
Renee reeked of formaldehyde, but she had
a crazy gleam in her eye. She must have
gotten to dissect something.
“Have fun?” I said, as I got to my feet.
My back was crazy stiff from all the sitting
“We got to cut into a fetal pig. It was
awesome,” she said, as if she was talking
about seeing the latest girlie movie to hit
theaters with a hunky vampire in it.
“Sometimes I wonder if we’re related,” I
said as the rest of her class poured out.
They didn’t seem nearly as enthusiastic as
“I’ve been asking myself that very
question for years,” she said as we headed
toward the Student Union for lunch. Unlike
some people who wouldn’t be able to eat
after a fetal pig dissection, Renee got
herself a bacon cheeseburger and inhaled it
like she hadn’t seen food for weeks. I went
with a strawberry walnut salad and picked
“So I have to do a three-hour shift at the
hospital tonight,” she said after she
disposed of the burger and was attacking
the fries. How she stayed so thin was
beyond me. I usually had to watch what I
ate to keep myself thin, or at least thin-ish.
“And you’re coming with me, so I hope
you have something to do with yourself.
Like maybe getting that transfer paperwork
I’d rather have my teeth drilled, but the
look on Renee’s face told me I didn’t have a
“So you’re my jailer now, is that it?”
“Well, I wouldn’t have to be if you’d just
follow the damn rules, Joscelyn.” God, she
sounded like Mom. Way too much like
mom. She even had the same “I’m
disappointed in you” face.
“Fine. Am I allowed to go to the
bathroom, or do you need to come with me
to hold the cup while I pee?”
“Cute,” she said as I got up and headed
for the bathroom.
I spent the rest of the day watching
movies on my computer.
I threw in movie reviews every now and
then on my blog just to spice things up.
They usually got quite a few hits, especially
if they were classics from the eighties.
There’s something so comforting about
watching a movie you’ve seen a ton of
times. I started out withSixteen Candles,
and then because I was in a John Hughes
kind of mood, I moved on toFerris
Bueller’s Day Off,and thenPretty in Pink,
which took me almost to the end of Renee’s
shift at the hospital.
I was camped out in one of the lounges,
and for a hospital it was pretty quiet except
for the occasional squeak of a nurse’s shoes
on the linoleum, or a restless kid fussing, or
a monitor going off. I’d had dinner at the
cafeteria, but that had been a few hours
ago, and I was in need of munchies.
Renee had showed me a vending
machine down the hall, so I fished in my
bag for some quarters and paused the
“Yes,” I said as I saw that they had both
M&M’s and Skittles. I couldn’t eat one
without the other. It was something I’d
started doing as a kid, and it was one of
those things I’d always done that had never
My M&M’s came out fine, but the stupid
Skittles bag got stuck. Great. The universe
was out to screw me. I banged on the
machine, trying to shake the candy loose.
Luckily, there was no one around. I didn’t
want to get busted for destruction of
hospital property. That would most
definitely be against Renee’s rules.
I turned my shoulder and shoved the
side of the machine, trying desperately to
get the bag of candy to fall from the
clutches of the machine.
“Come on, you son of abitch,” I said,
ramming my shoulder into the machine.
“You have to put your hips into it,” a
voice said, making me look up from my
assault of the vending machine.
“What?” A guy wearing a baggy hoodie
and equally baggy jeans over torn-up
high-tops was looking at me like I was
something he’d never seen before. He had
darkish skin, cropped black hair, but the
most astonishing green eyes.
Unlike mine, which shaded toward blue,
they were almost goldish. They popped in
his face, especially since they were fixed on
me. He jerked his chin at the machine.
“You have to put your hips into it. Here,”
he said, glancing over his shoulder to make
sure no one was watching before motioning
to me to move aside. “The key is to thrust
your whole body into it. Not just your
Was it just me, or did he make that
sound sexual on purpose? I gaped at him
and he laughed. Nope, wasn’t just me.
It was one of those laughs that made
you want to laugh, too, like a reflex. I was
barely able to hide the smile that
threatened to spread on my face.
“On three,” he said, putting his hands on
the machine next to mine. Up close, his
eyes were even brighter. They almost
“One. Two. Three,” he said, and we both
shoved at the machine, which moved a hell
of a lot more than when I’d been the only
one pushing it. I heard a satisfying clunk of
the Skittles falling. The guy went around the
front of the machine and pulled the bag
“Mission accomplished.” He winked as
he held it out to me.
“Thanks,” I said, taking the bag and
making sure to avoid touching his hand. I
was about to turn around and leave when
he made a sound, like he was going to say
I stood there, waiting.
“I should get back,” I finally blurted out
to break the uncomfortable silence that
stood between us.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Of course, of course,” he
said, shaking his head as if he’d forgotten
something and just remembered it.
He smiled and stuck his hands into his
“Okay. Well, ’bye.” I gave him a little
wave and turned around. What a weirdo.
“Don’t forget. Put your whole body into
it next time, Red,” he said, making me turn
back around. He was grinning again. Red?
Like I hadn’t heard that one before. At least
he hadn’t called me Carrots.
“I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks.”
For the last time, I spun around and
walked back to the lounge, his laughter
echoing behind me.
The lounge was still empty when I got
back, and all my stuff was still there, so I
settled back in to finish another movie.
Next thing I knew, someone was shaking
“Hey, Jos. Time to go,” Renee said, her
voice softer than I’d heard it in a long time.
It was the voice she probably used with
patients. I’d fallen asleep on the couch. I
couldn’t even remember it. My computer
was dark; it, too, had gone to sleep.
Renee sat down next to me, pulling my
feet into her lap and letting out a heavy
“So what did you do?”
“Nothing,” I said, tilting my neck back
and forth to work out some kinks. “What
time is it?”
“Ten. You ready to go home?” Home.
Was that what her place was now?
“Yeah.” I swung my feet over and sat up.
“I see you raided the vending machine,”
she said, picking up the empty candy bags.
“You freak and your candy combinations.”
She crumpled them up and found a trash
can as I packed up all my stuff.
“Did you get to do anything
interesting?” she said as we walked back
down to her car.
Other than the interaction with the
Vending Machine Hero? I was about to tell
her about that and changed my mind.
“Nope,” I said around a yawn. Maybe I’d
Usually I got to a point where I was so
exhausted that my body just shut itself
down. This felt like one of those times.
“You know, you should call Mom.” I
didn’t want to. I knew it would just end up
in another yelling match, and I was too tired
to deal with that right now.
“I will.” Renee was about to say
something, but changed her mind.
Everyone was deep in study mode when
we got back to the house. Paul had taken
up almost the entire dining room table with
something that, at a glance, looked far too
complicated to even begin to understand.
Taylor and Hunter had the living room,
and both had their heads buried deep in
textbooks. Darah was at a little desk that
was tucked next to the stairs, and I
suspected Mase was also around
somewhere. Nine months ago, I would have
been right there with them. Now I thought
they just looked like a bunch of people
wasting their time.
“Little Ne,” Mase said, coming down the
stairs, a textbook in hand, big surprise.
“Peachy,” I said, putting my bag down
on the bench by the front door. The sound
of the door closing seemed to rouse
everyone else, and they descended on us.
There were just so many of them. It was
overwhelming. Plus the happy.
That was equally overwhelming. Paul
came over and gave Renee a kiss, and she
went to sit with him at the dining table to
“I’m going down to my…room,” I said,
catching myself before I could saycave.It
wasn’t really a cave. Or, if it was, it was the
nicest cave ever. With Wi-Fi and everything.
“Are you sure? This house is yours now.
You don’t have to stay down there,” Hunter
said. “We’re not that scary, are we?”
He turned to Taylor, whose eyes were
pretty glazed over.
“What? I’m still thinking about
suffragettes.” He gave her a look and shook
“Seriously, Jos, this is your home.” It
wasn’t really, but it was nice of him to say
“I’m just really tired. I’m going to bed.” I
said good-night to everyone, including
“Not planning any nocturnal activities?”
“Nope,” I said, popping my lips on thep.
“Well, just in case, I’m watching you,”
she said, making a gesture with two fingers
to her eyes and then pointing them at me.
“Whenever you think I’m not there, that’ll
be when I show up.”
“Jesus, enough with the third degree. I
got it. Message received. Mission
accomplished.” I stomped down the stairs
and banged the door shut.
Ahh, peace and quiet.
The rest of the week went pretty much
like that first full day, with the exception of
Renee letting me go to the admissions
office by myself to sign up for all my classes
and get everything transferred over from
UNH. Since my first year grades were so
high, even with the shitty grades I’d gotten
last semester, they were still willing to let
When it came to classes, I just picked
whatever. I’d decided to stick with my
major, political science with a prelaw minor,
since it seemed easier than picking a new
I’d thought transferring would be a pain
in the ass, but it was relatively easy, and
before the end of the week I was officially a
UMaine Black Bear, with an official decal for
my car and a copy of the school song, the
“Stein Song.” I was sure I wasn’t the first
person who found it ironic that a college
had a drinking song as their official school
song. What kind of message did that send?
I’d only really missed the first week of
classes, so I was going to be able to catch
up no problem, according to all the
professors who had emailed me on my new
UMaine account to send me the syllabi
from their classes.
Renee wasn’t around to take me to get
my textbooks, because of a meeting of her
nursing club, so the task fell to Hunter and
Taylor, who drove me to campus on
They fought about what music to play
the whole way there.
“I think that Jos should pick,” Taylor
finally said when we were practically driving
“I don’t care.”
“The rule is that the driver gets to pick,”
Hunter said, skipping a song that Taylor had
“Uh, no, the rule is that I get to pick.”
“Since you put this swell ring on my
finger,” she said, holding up the amazing
ring that Hunter had gotten her when
they’d first started dating. It was fucking
huge, and nearly blinding when you looked
at it. Yet another show of his wealth. It was
just wrong that some people had so much
money and others had less than nothing.
Not that Renee and I were poor, but we
definitely got our fair share of financial aid,
what with our parents having so many kids
“That ring does not give you totalitarian
Hunter said, taking her hand and kissing
“Thank God,” I said under my breath as
he found a parking spot by the performing
arts center, which wasn’t too far from the
bookstore. They continued to argue as we
walked into the Union and then went
downstairs to the bookstore.
I was about to tell them that I could just
find my books myself when Hunter grabbed
my list from my hand and started grabbing
“Hold up, dude,” Taylor said, poking him
in the stomach and snatching the list. “Not
all of us can just pick out whatever books
we want.” She gave me a sympathetic
Hunter had pulled all new books off the
shelves, ones that were still wrapped in
plastic. There was no way I could afford
those. I’d have to get used ones, and even
then it was going to be tight.
Taylor started pulling books off the
shelves, all with that bright yellow USED
sticker on them. She flipped through to
make sure they didn’t have strange stains,
or missing pages.
“This one okay?” She held one up and I
flipped through it. Only a few of the pages
were bent, and the spine was fine.
I nodded and she put it into the basket
Hunter was holding.
Who knew getting textbooks would turn
into an exercise of humiliation?
“Why don’t you go see if you can find
these?” She tore the list in half and shoved
him toward the next shelf. Once he was
gone she gave me a smile.
“You didn’t have to do that,” I said,
staring at the books as if I was looking for
one when really, I didn’t even know what
the titles said.
“No, it’s fine. I know how it feels, believe
me. Been there, done that. How’s this
one?” She handed me another used book
and I found a mysterious brown stain on
one of the back pages.
“I don’t even want to speculate what
that is,” she said, holding the book in the
tips of her fingers and putting it back.
We got the rest of my list and filled the
“Now this is one of those times when it
really does pay to have a strong guy
around.” We’d both tried to lift the basket,
but it wasn’t happening. As if she’d said his
name, Hunter came around the corner with
another equally full basket that he carried
with no problem.
“Did my ears deceive me? Did you order
a strong man?”
he said with a cocky grin. Yep, Renee
hadn’t been exaggerating. He was a
“Shut up and carry this for me.” She
kicked the basket toward him. Hunter
looked over his shoulder.
“Hey, Dusty, you wanna give me a hand,
“Sure,” a guy said, coming around the
corner. “Hey, Tay,” he said, smiling at
Taylor. “And…Red, we meet again,” he said
with an even wider smile for me. Seriously?
“You two know each other?” Taylor said,
giving me a look. I knew what that look
meant, and I knew what it implied, and I
had to shut that down before it went any
“No,” I said at the same time the guy,
who was apparently named Dusty, said,
“We’re acquainted,” Dusty said with
another wink. Jesus, he thought he was
God’s gift, didn’t he?
“We met. Once,” I tried to clarify.
“Where?” Taylor said. Hunter hadn’t
said anything, but he was looking at Dusty
and then looking at me, and I could feel my
ears getting hot. One of the major
downsides of being a redhead is that when
you get uncomfortable or embarrassed, you
broadcast it to the world. Which was what I
was currently doing. Dusty seemed to get a
kick out of it. D-bag.
“It was at the hospital the other night.
So, um, I think that’s everything. We should
probably go,” I said, leaning down to pick
up the basket. I was determined to get it
myself. A set of arms beat me to it.
“Let me get that, little lady,” Dusty said
as I looked up to find our faces only inches
apart. He laughed a little under his breath
and I stood up so fast the blood rushed to
“I don’t need your help.”
He looked like he was going to make a
snappy comeback, but he just ducked his
“Well, you’ve got it anyway.”
“Okay, then. Ready to go?” Taylor said,
taking my arm and steering me toward the
checkout counter. I heard Hunter and Dusty
talking behind me and I distinctly heard
Hunter tell Dusty my name. Like it was any
of his business.
After I checked out and gave the
UMaine bookstore a good chunk of my bank
account, we carried the books back to
Hunter’s car. Of course, being the
always-helpful guy he was, Dusty had to
“So Hunter tells me you’re enrolling
here,” he said as we put the books in the
trunk. Taylor and Hunter were deep in
discussion, probably about me.
I just nodded.
He leaned against the car. “Look, I
appreciate you’ve got this whole ‘don’t
touch me, don’t look at me, don’t even
fucking think about me’ thing going on, but
I’m just trying to be nice. You could, you
know, thank me for it.”
“Thank you,” I said, giving him a
completely fake smile.
Yes, I knew I was being a complete
asshole to this guy, but there was
something about him that just made me grit
my teeth. There was also something
familiar that had gotten under my skin and
was itching like crazy.
He shook his head.
“Okay, fine.” He started to walk away.
“Hey,” I said, and he stopped. “I’m sorry
I’m such an asshole. It’s kind of my thing.” I
laughed at the truth of it.
“No, I don’t think it is,” he said, looking
at me intently with those green eyes that
seemed to see everything. “See you
“Right,” Hunter said, as if he’d just
remembered something. “Tomorrow.”
“’Bye, Red,” Dusty said, walking
backward with his hands in his pockets.
“’Bye,” I said, closing the trunk of the
“What in the hell was that?” Taylor said,
crossing her arms and giving me a look that
was almost exactly like Renee’s. Damn,
those two had rubbed off on each other.
“Nothing,” I said, trying to get into the
“You guys hungry?” Hunter said, in a
blatantly obvious way of trying to divert
“I don’t know what you’re making such a
big deal of,” I said, getting into the
backseat. “We met at the hospital for, like,
five seconds. End of story. Am I not allowed
to talk to people now? Is that part of the
unwritten rules my sister didn’t tell me
Hunter gave Taylor a look, and she
shook her head.
“Never mind. I overreacted. I have a
tendency to do that, just so you know,” she
“No, really?” Hunter said, and she
smacked him and turned on the music,
leading to another argument about song
What were the chances that I’d
encounter Dusty all that much, anyway? I
mean, he and Hunter were friends,
obviously, but UMaine was a huge campus.
Besides, if he ever came to the house, I
could just hide in the basement if I had to.
Or escape somewhere, if Renee would let
me. She had to loosen the reins at some
point. And who really cared if I saw him
again? It wasn’t like he affected me or
He was just a guy.
Just a guy.
Sunday was chore day at Yellowfield
House. Lovable control freak as always,
Darah had added the list of chores and
everyone got their fair share, including a
rotational schedule so no one had to do the
same thing over and over. The funny thing
was that they all followed it without
Like she was their mom and giving out
gold stars and higher allowances for each
one they completed.
“I figured you’d need another week to
settle in, but next week you’re on the list,”
Darah said, as if she was offering me a plate
of those amazing snickerdoodles.
“Great,” I said with a smile that was
totally forced. Not that I wanted to be a
mooch, but they seemed to have everything
in hand. I kept my room and bathroom
clean and helped with the dishes. They kept
trying to integrate me into the machine of
the house, and I didn’t want to be a part of
it. I wasn’t a part of it, not really.
They were all helping pay for the house.
I was just an inconvenience that had been
pushed on them. The annoying kid sister.
By late morning all the chores were
done, and the already-spotless house was
even more spotless. I did my first load of
laundry, and everyone settled into their
own activities. Renee was having a “Call of
Duty” tournament with a few of Hunter and
Mase’s friends, Dev and Sean, and Darah
was catching up on homework and Taylor
was reading some vampire book on her
e-reader while Hunter played his guitar.
Renee had told me he was some kind of
musical genius who could play practically
any song. At the moment he was playing
anything that Taylor yelled out, including
Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Seal and
I changed my laundry over to the dryer
and was about to sit back down and watch
the “Call of Duty” battle when we all heard
the doorbell ring.
“Got it,” Hunter said, getting up and
rushing to the door as if he was trying to
beat everyone else. No one else had even
gotten up. Weird.
“Hey, man, you know you don’t have to
ring the bell. It’s always open.” He stepped
aside to let the person in, and I glanced at
“I know, but I have this thing for
doorbells,” a familiar voice said before a
familiar person walked through the door.
I was surprised to see him, but he didn’t
seem surprised at all.
“Red,” he said, giving me a little bow.
“Nice to see you again.” I looked at Hunter,
who was trying not to look at me.
Something clicked in my brain. Dusty had
said he’d see Hunter tomorrow. Well, that
day was today. Hmm, Hunter hadn’t said
anything about Dusty coming over. Wonder
why that was?
“Hey, Sharp!” Mase yelled as something
exploded and Dev groaned and threw his
“Hey,” Dusty said, coming in and sitting
down on the couch as if he’d done it a
million times before. He was also sitting in
my spot. “‘Call of Duty’ again? How bad are
Mase grumbled as I looked at Hunter.
He stepped around me and went to sit back
on the recliner. I had no choice but to go
and lean against the arm of the couch.
“Oh, Dusty, this is my sister Jos,” Renee
said, barely glancing up from the game. She
had a one-track mind when she was playing.
“We’ve met,” he said, glancing over his
shoulder at me and then back to the game.
“When?” Renee said, moving her whole
body as she moved the controller, as if that
would make some difference. I’d always
threatened to video her while she was
doing it for future blackmail use.
“I can’t quite recall. Where was it that
we met?” I couldn’t glare at him with
everyone watching, so I had to settle for
clenching my teeth. He knew very well
where we had met.
He was totally screwing with me in front
of everyone. Oh, two could play that game.
I wasn’t a redhead for nothing.
“That’s right. It was at the hospital, and
you needed to know the way to the
pharmacy. Has the itching on your junk
finally gone away?” I stage-whispered the
last part and motioned in the general area.
Dusty’s eyes went wide for just a second
before they narrowed and a grin spread
across his face. Everyone else started
laughing nervously, wondering if I was being
serious or not.
They didn’t know me well enough yet.
Of course Renee just rolled her eyes.
“TMI, dude,” Mase said, shaking his
head, and Dev tried to slide away from
Dusty on the couch.
“Well played, Red. Well played.” He
started a slow clap while he laughed. “Yes,
my junk is now itch-free.” He shifted on the
couch, adjusting his pants. Seriously, how
did his pants stay up? It was one of those
mysteries science had yet to solve.
Like where your missing socks went
when you put them in the dryer. He cleared
his throat when he caught me staring at his
pants. Jesus, he probably thought I was
trying to check out his junk. Not that I could
even see it…
“On that note,” Hunter said, clearing his
throat and giving me a look before grabbing
his guitar again. “Okay, requests are now
open from anyone but Taylor.”
“Hey!” she protested, glancing up from
“Sorry, Miss, it’s time for someone else
to abuse my musical genius.”
“Fine,” she said, going back to her
e-reader, but she gave him a little wink
before she did it. Everyone else seemed too
wrapped up in what they were doing, or
was busy trying to think of a song.
“‘Sunday Morning,’” I blurted out. It was
the first thing that came to mind.
Hunter looked up from the guitar.
“Yeah.” He smiled and looked over at
Dusty. “Can you give me a beat on that?”
Dusty nodded and sat up. After thinking for
a second, he started making sounds with his
mouth. Not just sounds. Beat boxing.
Hunter listened for a second and then
started strumming as Dusty layered on
more sounds until it was like he was
creating an entire percussion section for the
song with only his mouth.
I couldn’t stop my eyebrows from rising,
but no one else seemed surprised. Dusty
turned his head, and I made my face
neutral, but he still sort of grinned at me
anyway. Cocky much? Hunter started
singing, and I tried to find a comfortable
way to lean on the arm of the couch while
also pretending to be interested in the
explosions and chaos happening on the
television. I would rather set my hair on fire
than ask Dusty for his seat, or give him the
satisfaction of going to the dining room to
get a chair. Should have just stayed in my
Okay, so Dusty wasreallygood at beat
boxing, not that I was an expert, by any
means. He made sounds with his mouth
that I didn’t know a human could make. So
There were a million people online who
could do the same thing. It wasn’t anything
special. It wasn’t anything to swoon over.
He wasn’t anything to swoon over.
They finished the song, and Dusty did a
fancy noise that sounded like a cymbal
crash and reverberation.
“Good enough for you?” Dusty said,
turning to face me.
“Meh,” I said, shrugging one shoulder
and turning back to the television as Renee
screamed and jumped up and down and all
the guys groaned and threw their
“Take that, bitches,” Renee said,
pointing at them. “In your face.” She started
doing a dance that was somewhere
between slutty club dancing and a weird
touchdown dance hybrid. The guys all
booed and threw things at her. I just shook
my head. That was my sister.
“I’m hoping those moves are genetic,”
said a voice so close that I slid off my perch
on the arm of the couch. Luckily, I was able
to catch myself before my butt hit the floor.
Everyone else was too distracted by
Renee’s victory dance.
“You know it’s rude to sneak up behind
people,” I said, turning to face Dusty, who
had somehow managed to get off the couch
and creep up behind me.
“You know it’s rude to tell everyone that
a fellow has a rash on his dick when he
doesn’t.” He crossed his arms and leaned
down, challenging me. “So what do you
have to say to that, Red?”
Yeah, should have stayed in my cave.
“Nothing. I have nothing to say to you.”
Fortunately, Mase interrupted us.
“Little Ne, you want to take a turn?” The
video-game-master gene seemed to have
skipped me and just been concentrated in
Renee. I turned away from Dusty. Hunter
was watching us with fascination. Ugh, that
was the last thing I needed.
“No, I’m good,” I said, stepping around
Dusty and taking the seat he’d vacated on
the couch and claiming it as mine.
I shot him a smile, and he just pretended
to clap again before going to the kitchen
and dragging in one of the dining room
Renee was still kicking ass when my
phone rang with a call from Mom. Just what
I needed. I got up from the couch and
headed for my cave. No way I was talking to
her in front of everyone.
“Hey, Mom.” I heard screaming in the
background, but that was par for the
course. Mom always called me when she
was doing a million other things.
“Hey, Jos.” Her voice was tense, but less
tense than it had been earlier in the week.
We’d somehow made our way onto
less-shaky ground, but that didn’t mean she
was any less pissed at me. “You ready to
start classes tomorrow?” A shriek meant
that she was probably taking something
away from one of the twins.
“As I’ll ever be.” I didn’t have a choice.
They wouldn’t even let me drop out when
I’d suggested it as a potential solution to my
academic implosion. I could get a place and
a job and then they’d get off my back. I
wouldn’t waste their money—or the
government’s. Win-win situation. Or so I’d
thought. Mom had acted like I’d just told
her I’d brutally slaughtered a bunch of
people, and Dad just hung up on me when I
pitched it to him after striking out with her.
And Renee had threatened to strangle me
for even mentioning it.
“Well, I want a full report when you get
back, you hear? I swear, if I get a call from
your sister telling me that you’ve skipped,
there will be hell to pay.”
“I know, I know.”
“Okay, then. No, you cannot have
cookies for dinner.
How many times do I have to tell you
that?” I waited for her to be done yelling at
whichever of my siblings had the audacity
to want cookies for dinner.
“Listen, I’ve got a tantrum brewing here,
and Chuck is working late, so I’m on my
own. Can I call you later?”
“Yeah, sure.” She never would.
“’Bye, Jos. Say goodbye to Jos,
everybody!” She must have held the phone
up, and I heard a chorus of my siblings
“’Bye, everybody,” I yelled back. Then
the chaos resumed and then the call died.
So much for that. I put my phone back in
my pocket and went up the stairs.
Hunter and Dusty were going crazy with
a rendition of “Everybody Talks” by Neon
Trees. Dusty was also banging out the
rhythm on his chair. The video game had
been abandoned, and everyone else was
humming along, including Renee. I stood
back and hovered, not wanting to bust into
the musical bubble. The song ended and
Renee gave me a look. She probably wanted
a play-by-play of the conversation with
Mom. It wasn’t really anything
earth-shattering, so I just sat back down on
the couch as they finished the song.
“Okay, my turn. ‘Scream,’ Usher. Go,”
Dusty said before starting a set of vocal
gymnastics that were even more impressive
than what I’d heard already. Okay, okay,
you’re talented. We get the message. As
soon as Hunter started singing, Mase
jumped up and started dancing. Dev
hopped up and they somehow managed to
dance in the small space without breaking
anything. I would have thought Darah
would have been tweaking out about the
possibility of one of the carefully arranged
pictures or vases or any of the other really
nice things being smashed by her
boyfriend’s sick dance moves, but she just
smiled and watched with her chin in her
Idiots. They were all idiots.
The singing went on for a while and then
someone mentioned food and then that
was all anyone could talk about, so the
group reached a consensus that a night out
was in order.
“Yeah, we never got to celebrate the
new member of the Yellowfield House
family,” Taylor said while everyone yelled
out suggestions. That made everyone turn
to me, including Dusty.
“So, you get to pick the place,” Taylor
said. Even though she was not that much
older than me, when she talked everyone
seemed to listen. She was the shortest one,
“Um, I don’t even know what’s around
here.” I’d wanted to go out and see what
was around Bangor, but Renee had been
totally down on that. I might actually have
fun, and that was definitely against the
And then they all started talking at once,
each pitching for their favorite place, telling
me which had the best steaks or pizza or
bread sticks. Jesus, they were loud.
“Whoa, hold up,” I said. “I can’t think
straight when you’re all yelling at me. We
need to, like, do this democratically.”
Darah piped up.
“How about everyone writes their
choices on pieces of paper and then Jos will
That made everyone but Dusty burst
into raucous laughter.
“Yeah, because it worked out so well
before,” Taylor said, poking Hunter in the
chest. He just grabbed her hand and kissed
“Pretty swell, I’d say.”
I gave Dusty a look, because he was the
only other person who wasn’t enjoying the
“Okay, then,” Dusty said, ripping a piece
of notebook paper out of one that someone
had been doing homework in earlier. “My
choice is Sea Dog. Who’s next?” He wrote
down everyone’s choices and then tore the
slips in equal pieces, folded them up and
tossed them in one of Mase’s hats.
“Do the honors, Red,” Dusty said,
bowing and holding the hat out as if he was
bestowing a great gift.
They all waited with anticipation like I
was choosing something that would affect
the rest of their lives. I grasped a piece of
paper, unfolded it and read it out.
“Sea Dog it is.” Dusty winked at me. Of
course I’d picked his choice. Everyone else
agreed that it was a nice place and started
to get their stuff together.
“Need a ride, Red?” He’d sidled up
behind me again as I’d gotten my coat.
“I swear, one of these times you’re
going to get a faceful of my fist if you sneak
up on me, Dustin.”
“You coming, Jos?” Renee said as Paul
helped her on with her coat and everyone
else piled into their cars. I decided to seize
my opportunity to get out from under her
radar, even if I’d have to spend a few
minutes with Dusty.
“I’m going to ride with Dusty.” He
looked surprised for a second but then
smiled. Did he just…smile all the time?
Was it a reflex?
Renee looked like she was going to
protest and then Paul said something in her
ear. They had a quick argument and Renee
threw up her hands.
“Fine. See you there.” I didn’t know
what she was making such a big deal about.
The restaurant was just down the road.
“Ladies first,” Dusty said, pointing
toward a black VW Golf that had more than
a few dings. “By the way, I wrote Sea Dog
on all of them,” he whispered.
Of course he did.
“Wow, sneaky,” I said, pretending to
sound impressed. He shut the door for me,
and I resisted the urge to call him out on it.
Matt, my ex, was big on door opening, and
I’d always liked it. Yeah, I knew that it was
against feminism or whatever, but it was
still nice. Matt was big on things like that.
Flowers on holidays and pulling chairs
out and wearing ties.
His ambition was to be president, and
he always said if you wanted to be
president the first step was looking like one.
Granted, I’d also dressed very differently
then. Yes, I’d had skirts and blazers and
pumps and even brooches for my neck
scarves. I’d boxed all of it up and left it at
Mom’s house when I’d moved into my
dorm room this year. No need for any of
that anymore. I’d quit all the clubs I’d been
in, even Student Council, much to the
dismay of nearly everyone there. Mostly
because I kept the minutes and no one else
wanted to do it.
“So what’s your story, Joscelyn Archer?”
Dusty said as he pulled out behind Taylor’s
Charger. “Have you always had that chip on
your shoulder, or is it new?”
Why the hell did he care?
“What’syourstory, Dustin Sharp?
Renee’s never mentioned you before.”
Instead of turning on the radio, he made his
own music by tapping on the steering wheel
and making snare drum sounds with his
mouth. I was beginning to think he had
ADHD. It would explain a lot.
“I bet yours is more interesting than
mine,” he said, turning to look at me. I
stared out the window, pretending to be
fascinated with the houses that passed by.
“Okay, fine. You win,” he said when I
didn’t answer. “Let’s just say I wasn’t always
this good-looking and talented. I, uh, got
myself into a lot of trouble when I was
younger, if you can believe that.” Could I?
“And I screwed up a lot and then
something happened to me to…yeah, this
part sounds lame, but something happened
to put things in perspective, you know? And
I stopped screwing around, and I started
actually giving a shit about what I wanted to
do with my life.”
“And how did you become buddies with
Hunter?” That was what I was most curious
“I met Hunter in one of my classes, and,
for lack of a better, more masculine term,
we formed a bromance. We see each other
all the time now, since he changed his
major. So, yeah. That’s my rambling and
completely weird story.”
It wasn’t what I’d expected, but before I
could answer he was pulling into the
“So, on the way back it’s your turn,
This time I opened the door myself
before he could get around the car.
Everyone—except me and Dusty—greased
their wheels with the wide selection of beer
Even though Taylor wasn’t of age,
Hunter just ordered two glasses at a time
and handed her one when the waiter
wasn’t looking. I didn’t even bother to try
that, because Renee’s eyes were on me the
entire time. She kept herself to one beer,
but I knew from experience that she could
pound them back when she wanted.
The more alcohol the group consumed,
the dirtier the stories got. Renee kept trying
to shush them, as if they were going to
poison my precious ears. Like it wasn’t
anything I’d heard already. I’d been in
college before. I also had the sneaking
suspicion they’d been on their best
behavior with me in the house.
“Oh, my God, do you remember that
time I walked in on you in the shower?”
Mase said to Renee.
“No, I cannot recall,” she said, becoming
really interested in the half-devoured onion
blossom. “But even if I did, that doesn’t
mean it’s the kind of story one would tell in
front of one’s impressionable younger
sister.” Her words were sharp as knives and
I think Mase and everyone else got the
Then there was one of those silent
moments where everyone is super
uncomfortable and doesn’t know what to
say. It stretched out until Dusty cleared his
throat loudly and then made a whistling
sound like an airplane diving and then
crashing in a giant explosion. It was pretty
accurate-sounding and made everyone
laugh nervously. Our waiter chose that
moment to come over and ask if anyone
wanted more drinks. I got myself another
Dr Pepper and Dusty got another Mountain
“You’re going to be up all night if you
keep drinking that stuff,” I said. Of course
we’d been the last people to arrive at the
restaurant, so we’d gotten the last two
chairs at the end of the table, so of course I
was next to him.
“Maybe that’s my plan. Maybe I don’t
All I could think of were supernatural
creatures. “Vampire, werewolf or zombie?”
“All of the above,” he whispered and
winked at me. Why was I talking to him
I stole a glance down the table at Renee,
but Paul was telling her something and she
was laughing. Thank you, Paul.
I caught his eye and gave him a
“Your sister is, um, protective,” Dusty
“It’s a recent development.”
He waved his hand for me to elaborate.
I rolled my eyes.
“None of your business.” I wasnotgoing
into my life story with him even though
he’d shared his. I didn’t ask him to.
I didn’t care.
“I think we need to have a toast,” Darah
said, raising her glass. I knew she wasn’t
much of a beer drinker, but she seemed to
have changed her mind. “To our new
“May her life decisions be much wiser
than ours,” Mase finished for her. Glasses
were raised and clinked and there was
some minor beer sloshing as my ears turned
red and I tried not to make eye contact with
anyone. Yeah, my life decisions weren’t
anyone’s business but mine.
I hate it when people say “seize the
day.” Seizing sounds so violent. How about
“love the day” or just “live the day”?
Live the day.
A pair of fingers snapped in front of my
face, making me jump.
“Come back to earth, Red. You were
orbiting somewhere else. That’s dangerous,
you know.” I turned toward him and a
retort formed on my lips, but I let it die. He
wasn’t worth it. He didn’t understand. So I
just gave him a sweet smile and imagined
dumping the glass of Mountain Dew on his
head. It would have been so satisfying, but I
would have made a scene.
“Okay, okay, it’s time for some of us to
go home because some of us have class
tomorrow,” Renee said.
“She means me,” I said in a stage
whisper to the entire table. They laughed,
some more than others, but that was
probably because of the beer and not
because I was that funny.
“I can drive her,” Dusty said as everyone
tried to figure out the bill and how much
they should tip. Most of the guys did their
guy thing and refused to let the poor
delicate females even consider paying. After
a few lectures about feminism and the
increasing popularity of going Dutch, the
guys won the battle and the ladies left the
tip. Paul ended up paying for me, mostly
because I was broke as shit.
“But then you’d have to go to our house
and drop her off and then drive back. It’s no
big deal—I’m fine to drive,” Renee said.
“It’s not a big deal. I forgot my phone at
your place anyway.” He was totally lying. I’d
seen it in his pocket, but I kept my mouth
“If you don’t mind…”
“It’s no big deal, Ne,” he said. So I guess
everyone was calling her that these days.
She’d always hated it when Paul called her
“Nene,” but I guess she was over it. You can
only fight a nickname for so long before
everyone just decides to use it with or
without your permission.
What if I call you…Josie? Jo? Jojo? Lyn?
He’d finally agreed to call me Jossy,
which was the only suggestion I could live
“You went away again, Red. You have a
habit of doing that?” Dusty said, bringing
me back again.
“None of your business.”
He laughed as we walked, and some of
us stumbled a bit, out of the restaurant.
“You sound like a robot when you say
that. Means I’ve hit on something you’d like
to keep hidden. You’re one of those onion
“Onion girls?” I had a brief visual of a girl
wearing an onion costume. “Are you saying
I smell like an onion?”
We got to the car and I let him open the
door, standing back and folding my arms.
Damn, it was fun screwing with him. He was
about to open it but pulled his arm back at
the last second and walked around to his
side of the car. I wrenched it open, got in
and fastened my seat belt.
“No, I mean that you’re one of those
girls with layers. You know, you’re more
than just a pretty face. Plus, you don’t have
to scrape through a layer of makeup to get
there.” While it was true that I didn’t wear a
lot of makeup, I used to, back when I wore
skirts more often than pants and had to
look good for any photo opportunity. I used
to get up early every single day and
straighten my hair and line my eyes just so.
I had the cat eye thing down to a
science. I honestly didn’t know where my
eyeliner was. I definitely hadn’t seen it in
months. Renee had probably stolen it.
“Is that a nice and slightly weird way of
saying I look like crap?”
“Jesus, do you take everything
negatively? Man, kick a guy for trying.” He
shook his head and started making drum
noises. “Your turn.”
“I’m not telling you my life story, Dusty.”
“I’m not asking for your life story.
Just…give me something.”
“Why? What do you want from me?”
He shook his head, a different kind of
smile on his face.
It was almost shy. If anything about him
could ever be considered shy.
“Nothing, Red. Absolutely nothing.”
And by the time I could think of
something to say, we were back.
“I know you didn’t forget your phone,
you liar. Is something burning?” I pretended
to sniff the air as we walked up the front
steps. “I think your pants are on fire, dude.”
“Ha-ha, you’re so funny.” He reached
out and rang the doorbell. I raised my
eyebrow. I would have just walked in.
The bell dinged and then donged and
Dusty made the exact same sound with his
mouth. Somehow. The door opened, and
Hunter gave both of us a look before
holding the door open to let me in.
“Thanks for the ride,” I said to Dusty, but
it sounded like a question. He tapped two
fingers to his forehead and then flicked
them upward in a little salute/wave. Yeah,
Hunter was still looking at Dusty. Hmm. I
was distracted from watching the two of
them by a retching sound coming from the
upstairs bathroom and then Mase yelling
that he needed a hand. There was a sound
like a herd of stampeding models as Renee
and Taylor clacked their way up the stairs to
take care of their fallen comrade.
“Jos, can you bring me up a glass of
water?” Renee said over her shoulder as
the puking sounds got louder. Lovely.
“Yeah, I’ll get right on it,” I said, giving
her a thumbs-up and walking toward the
kitchen. I set the glass in the sink, turning
the water on, and tiptoed back to where I
could hear Hunter and Dusty, but they
couldn’t see me.
“So, I’ll see you at Steiner’s tomorrow?”
“Yeah. I might be late, but I let Kent
know.” Dusty walked into the living room,
and I could hear him rustling about “looking
for his phone.”
“Found it. See you tomorrow, man.
Thanks for inviting me.”
“Thanks for coming.” I heard them
slapping hands or fist bumping or
performing some type of guy-bonding ritual
and then the door closed and I realized the
glass of water was overflowing. I went back
to the sink and turned it off.
My alarm shattered the calm of sleep
the next morning so completely that I woke
up cursing. Stupid fucking school. I rolled
out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom. I
was just taking care of business when a fist
slammed on the door and Renee’s voice
penetrated my morning fog.
“You’d better not be late your first day.”
“Thanks,Mom,but it would be nice if I
could pee without being interrupted.”
“Just get your ass upstairs in ten
minutes, or I’m coming back down and
dragging your ass to class, no matter what
you look like.”
“Jesus H. Christ,” I muttered under my
breath. I couldn’t even remember my
mother being this wound up about taking
me to kindergarten.
“Hurry up,” she said, rattling the
doorknob for good measure. I had half a
mind to walk upstairs stark naked and say I
was ready, just to see the look on her face.
But I didn’t fancy being naked in front of all
the guys, so that plan was out.
Eight minutes later I was shoving an egg
and cheese sandwich that Taylor had made
in my face and shoving notebooks in my
new messenger bag. Back in my “before”
life, I’d carried a designer handbag just like
all the other girls. Of course I also had a
small clutch purse that went with it for all
my makeup and tampons and such. Now I
had a black messenger bag with lots of pins
and buttons on it that I’d collected.
I’d thrown my red hair back in a braid,
put on my luckiest jeans and called it good
Since everyone’s schedules were
different, I was finally allowed to take my
own damn car. Renee had gotten me a
parking pass and handed me back the keys
she’d stolen when I moved in on the
condition that I didn’t get into any
shenanigans. I’d been completely
shenanigan-free ever since I’d gotten here,
but that didn’t seem to matter to anyone.
They were all still watching me, waiting for
me to screw up. Maybe I should, just to put
them out of their misery.
I said goodbye to everyone, promising
I’d come back in one piece later.
I blasted Ingrid Michaelson on my drive
to campus and sang at the top of my lungs.
It took a few times of driving around the
football field for me to find a free
commuter parking spot. Apparently they
were real asshats about parking in areas
that weren’t designated for you to park in.
Finally, I found one, even though I had
to squish in between a minivan and a huge
truck and slide sideways to get out. I had
ten minutes to get to my first class, Intro to
American Law. I’d thought about changing
majors, but I knew I could pretty much
sleep through most of my poli-sci classes, so
I stuck with what I knew.
The class was full of clones of the
students I’d left behind. I even saw a few
girls with the exact same bag I had shoved
in a box back at my mom’s house. Since it
was a sophomore-level class, most of the
nonserious people had been weeded out,
but there were still a few people who
looked like they wouldn’t make it through
four years of this. And, of course, since this
was New England, there were the token
weirdos who were going to spend their time
protesting whatever the trendy cause of the
They were almost worse than the
buttoned-up, straitlaced kids. They just had
to be so self-righteous about every. Damn.
Thing. They also loved to hear the sound of
their own voices.
Fortunately, I’d brought my
headphones, and since they liked to talk so
much, they’d take up plenty of class time,
leaving that time for the rest of us to do
whatever. I booted up my laptop and
listened as the professor, a guy in a nice
button-up and tie—big surprise—droned on
about Marbury vs. Madi-son. Been there,
I kept one ear open and the other
covered as I listened to some new music I’d
found the other day on low volume. I’d also
bought some new albums that I needed to
review, so I switched to those. The first was
a ska group that was way more punk than
ska and didn’t have a whole lot going for
them. It wasn’t even bad in a craptastic way
that made you want to listen to it anyway.
They definitely weren’t Street-light
Manifesto, or Reel Big Fish.
I made a few notes about some of the
songs and moved on to the second album
that had more of a folky/bluegrass feel.
That one was much better, and I found
myself transfixed by the complex melodies
and haunting lyrics. I didn’t think there was
anything else like music for having the
ability to transport you to another place,
even when you were sitting in a class full of
Finally, the class was over and
homework was assigned.
I’d managed to get a seat in the back
and had avoided making eye contact or
speaking with anyone, so I called the first
class a total win.
I wasn’t so lucky for my second,
American State and Local Government. It
sounded like a total yawner of a class, but
when I got into the room everyone was
talking and laughing like it was a social
gathering instead of a class. I sat in the
back, closest to the door and with at least
two seats in between me and anyone else,
and I thought I was set until a girl rushed in
and sat with one seat between us.
“Am I late?” she said, not even looking
at me and frantically searching through her
bag. All I saw was a huge quantity of very
blond, very curly hair that she had tried to
shove into an elastic band without much
I looked around, but there was no one
else to respond to her, so it was up to me.
“Um, there’s still a few minutes.” She
was up to her elbows in her bag, and she
finally emerged, holding a bag of Skittles. I
opened and closed my mouth a few times
as she ripped the bag open with her teeth
and then held the bag in my direction.
“Want some?” I finally looked at her
face and then wished I hadn’t. One half was
perfect white skin, and the other was
mangled with what looked like a severe
burn. “Do I have something on my face?”
she said, her eyes getting wide as her hand
flew to her face. “Oh, yeah, I do. Duh.”
She dropped her hand and grinned at
me. Somehow her eyes had remained
unharmed, but the side of her mouth and
the rest of her face going all the way to her
ear were shiny and had a weird pattern on
them. It extended down her neck, and
though her arm was covered, I could see it
on the back of her hand, as well.
“So I’m going to tell you my name and
also tell you that you can stare if you want.
I’m Hannah, and it’s okay to stare.”
She flicked some of her hair back, and I
tried my best to look into her eyes, which
were a deep brown, in contrast with her
pale hair and skin.
“Jos. I’m Jos,” I said, because what else
was I going to do?
“Nice to meet you. And if you choose to
sit on the other side of the room next class,
I won’t, like, hate you or anything. I’m a
people repeller. It’s kind of my thing. For
obvious reasons.” She giggled a little, and I
turned to the front of the class, where an
extremely tall woman in a charcoal skirt and
jacket was writing things down on the
numerous whiteboards. She looked like she
just stepped out of a Senate meeting. When
she was done writing what looked like half
of a novel, she turned around and clapped
Everyone shut up.
“Okay, I see you all made it here for
another week of mind-broadening.
Congratulations on being sober enough to
drag yourselves here.” Everyone else
laughed, and I sort of joined in. She picked
up a clipboard and read our names off. Of
course, since my last name began with the
first letter of the alphabet, I was the second
“Here,” I said, listening to my voice echo
in the large room.
She looked up from the clipboard and
searched me out.
“You’re new to us, yes? Transfer?”
“Uh, yeah.” I could feel the blood
rushing to my face and ears.
“Do you go by Joscelyn, or is there a
nickname you’d prefer?”
“Um, Jos is fine.”
She smiled, showing the most perfect
set of probably real teeth I’d ever seen.
“Jos. Lovely. Nice to have you with us.”
She moved on to the next name, and I
slumped down in my seat.
“I hope you’re not going to do that all
the time. She’ll call on you more if she
knows how much you hate it,” Hannah
whispered as someone else said, “here!”
“Great. Just fantastic.”
Hannah was right. Since I was new, the
teacher, who went by Pam, didn’t call on
me, but everyone else was fair game.
She fired questions out like bullets, and
if you answered too slowly, she’d move on
to someone else. There was a lot of
stuttering, a lot of red faces and a lot of
people shooting their hands in the air to be
called on so they could show everyone just
how freaking smart they were.
And then there were some, including
Hannah, who gave the answers when called
and didn’t elaborate unless Pam asked
them to. Everyone sort of turned to look at
Hannah when she talked, and I could see
that more than a few people’s gazes
skittered away from the burned side of her
face, but she didn’t seem to notice or care.
I didn’t get out my headphones the
entire class. It was just too interesting. How
she could make something as potentially
boring as Colonial government riveting was
When the class was over, we all sort of
walked out like we were in a trance.
“Is it always like that?” I couldn’t help
myself from asking Hannah as she crumpled
up the empty Skittles bag.
“Pretty much. Awesome, huh?”
“It probably will be less awesome when
she starts calling on me.”
“Just do the reading. You seem like the
kind of person who doesn’t have her head
up her ass, so you should be fine.
So, where did you transfer from?”
“Boo, hiss. Don’t say that too close to
anyone connected with hockey, or else you
might get your ass handed to you.”
So I’d heard. The hockey rivalry between
the University of Maine and the University
of New Hampshire had been going on for as
long as they’d been playing hockey. I’d
never gone to a game, but campus pretty
much shut down so everyone could go to
the games, and I bet UMaine wasn’t any
I had some time before my next class,
and I was already starving, so I headed
toward the Union.
“Do you have another class right now?”
Hannah said as we got to the doors.
“Because, although that bag of Skittles was
totally satisfying, I could go for something
else. Why does this sound like I’m asking
you out? I’m totally not.” She shook her
“Um, no. I’m available. For eating. Not
Her dark eyes went wide. “Because I like
boys. I swear.”
“Yeah, me, too.”
We shared one of those nervous giggles
that turns into full-on laughter, and by the
time we got to the Union, I was wiping tears
“I swear, I’m not normally this weird,”
she said as we joined the lunchtime throng
and descended into the food court. Only a
second later she said, “Okay, that’s a
complete lie. I am normally this weird.”
“I won’t tell anyone,” I whispered as we
scoped out what was available. The longest
lines were for pizza and burgers and the
pseudo “Taco Bell,” so we headed to get
wraps since those were the quickest. I
happened to be on Hannah’s “good” side,
but I was more than aware of the stares she
got. It was one of those things. You saw her,
realized there was something different
about her, did a look again to check and
then couldn’t look away.
She just smiled and giggled and acted
like a normal girl. She got a hummus wrap
and I ordered the special, known as the
“Winslow,” which was basically a chicken
caesar wrap with the addition of crushed
croutons, which was such a brilliant idea
that I couldn’t believe someone hadn’t
thought of it sooner.
Finding a seat turned out to be a
challenge, but we found a table for the two
of us in a corner. I was about to say
something, but Hannah beat me to it.
“So, in light of wanting to get things out
in the open, yes, it’s a burn. It happened
when I was a kid and it’s a long story and I’d
rather not go into it because it’s a bit of a
downer and a bit of a conversation killer
and usually after I tell it I never see whoever
I told it to again. Which is my weird way of
saying that I don’t want to make you
uncomfortable this early in our relationship.
Wow, why do I keep doing that?
I am so sorry.”
“No big,” I said, unable to stop laughing.
“How about you tell me something else?
Where are you from?”
She chewed and swallowed before she
spoke. “Up north.
The boondocks. The sticks. The butthole
of Maine. Whatever you want to call it. I
couldn’t afford to go out of state and this
was the biggest school in Maine. Great
place to get lost in, you know?”
“What’s your major?” she said after
taking another bite of her wrap.
“Me, too. Although, that’s only because
it sounded better than history and I’m a bit
of a law junkie. I have no idea what I want
to do, but I figured it was as good as
anything else. Plus, in the upper level
classes we get to debate and that’s kind of
one of my favorite things. You?”
“I used to want to be president, or a
senator or something,”
I said. I hadn’t decided quite what yet. I
figured I’d start out in local government and
work my way up.
“Another one of those long stories that’s
a bit of a downer that I’d rather not tell.”
Hannah nodded. Honestly, the burn
wasn’t that bad once you’d been looking at
it for a while. You got used to it, and the
fact that Hannah didn’t seem bothered
about it helped.
“I hear you, girl.” We finished our lunch
and talked more about the class, and
Hannah told me that as long as I did the
reading and had a reasonable grasp of the
current political cli-mate, I’d be fine. I
wasn’t so sure, but I took her word for it.
“Are you on campus?” she asked as we
dumped our trays and made our way
upstairs to the Starbucks. Hannah said she
needed her next caffeine fix.
“No. I live in a house in Bangor with my
sister and a bunch of her friends.” Hannah
let out a dreamy sigh.
“That sounds awesome. I’m stuck on
campus. Yay, scholarship.” She sounded so
enthused. “I’ve only lived with my
roommate for a few weeks, and she’s
already stopped talking to me. Luckily, she
has a boyfriend with an apartment, so she
usually stays there.”
Once again, been there, done that.
“It’s awesome if you feel like having
three sets of parents always watching your
every move.” I hadn’t meant to share so
much about myself, but I couldn’t help it. I
hadn’t talked to anyone like this in a while,
and there was something about Hannah. I’d
known her less than a few hours, but it was
like we’d met before, even though that was
“That sucks,” she said as she got in line. I
decided to get my second round of tea just
for the heck of it. The line was crazy long
with everyone jonesing for their next fix like
a bunch of junkies standing in line for
methadone. Actually, the methadone was
By the time we got our drinks and found
a table crushed in a corner and two seats, it
was almost time for my next class. I downed
my tea and told Hannah I’d see her on
We hadn’t talked about the rest of our
class schedules, but the chances of me
seeing her in another of my classes were
actually pretty good, and I had the feeling I
I was searching for Neville Hall, which
housed my English class, when someone
tapped me on the shoulder.
“Fancy seeing you here, Red.” I pivoted
and found the ever-grinning face of Dusty
Sharp. He pulled a set of headphones nearly
identical to the ones I had off his ears and
let them rest around his neck. His wardrobe
of baggy everything hadn’t deviated, and I
found myself wondering, once again, how
his pants stayed up.
I wanted to say something snarky, but
instead a question came out of my mouth.
“Do you know where Neville Hall is?”
Someone yelled hello, and his eyes briefly
left my face to wave hello and call out to
“Sure. Follow me. I’m going there, as
well. What class do you have?”
Jesus, if he and I were in the same class,
that would just suck beyond suckage.
He must have seen the horror on my
face. I hadn’t really tried to hide it.
“Just messing with you, Red. I have calc.
Would being in the same class with me be
I didn’t answer as we crossed the road
and I saw a building with the wordsNeville
Hallon it. I could have found it if I’d looked,
but then I probably would have been late.
He held the door for me and a few
people coming in behind me.
“Thank you,” I said.
We paused in the lobby.
“I’m on the second floor,” he said,
pointing toward the stairs.
“I’m on the third.”
We walked up two flights and he gave
me that little two-fingered wave again.
“See you later, Red.”
I joined a few other people and plodded
my way up to the third floor.
I hadn’t fulfilled my English
requirements yet, so I was stuck taking
Creative Writing. When I walked in, there
were only about ten other people there.
That did not bode well for being able to
hide and listen to music. Great. I found a
seat in the back and close to the door and
looked around. I felt pretty young; most of
the people looked like they were quite a bit
older than me.
I’d gotten a decent grade in my English
comp class at UNH, but only because I’d
been one of the few students who turned in
assignments. I liked to read, but writing
those insipid papers where you had to
analyze what some dude who had died
hundreds of years ago had meant by writing
about rain or some such crap was pretty
much the worst thing ever.
Luckily, the more you seemed to
bullshit, the better grade you got. Maybe I
could do the same in this class.
A few more people trickled in until there
were fifteen of us. The professor was the
last one there, and he was everything a
teacher of English should be. He even had a
tweed jacket with those weird elbow
patches and horn-rimmed glasses.
He called attendance and when he got
to my name he asked me what I wanted to
be called. I went with Jos again as he
introduced himself as Greg and explained
how the class would go. I’d skimmed the
syllabus, but hadn’t really paid attention to
it. As he explained what we’d be doing, my
heart sank. We’d have to write something
every week, and during at least one class
period a week. And we had to read what
we’d written. Out loud. And, if that wasn’t
enough, he’d make copies of what we’d
written and we’d all have a class discussion.
Welcome to your nightmare, Jos Archer.
Once again, since I was new, I didn’t
have to do much, but this was going to be
another class in which I was required to
participate, even if I didn’t want to. At least
half of the class looked like they’d rather be
getting a lobotomy than be there, so at
least I was in good company.
I suffered my way through and then I
was finally done with classes for the day. I
scurried away from Neville Hall as fast as I
could before I could bump into Dusty again,
and checked my phone. There were several
missed texts from Renee, asking how
classes were going, and one from my
mother and another from Darah that was
just a smiley face.
I could have gone back to the house, but
I wanted to savor this time I had without
anyone watching my every move. It wasn’t
too cold, so I did a walk around campus,
finding the rest of my classes for the next
day and watching the other students go
about their lives, wondering what it was like
to be them.
When my legs started to get numb,
despite the walking, I went back to my car.
My instructions were to go right home, but I
didn’t. I’d been dying to go to Bull Moose in
Bangor, so I headed toward the mall. Bull
Moose was pretty much the best music
store in all of New England. I’d discovered
them when I went to UNH and I was over
the moon when I realized there was one
close to UMaine.
It took some maneuvering and
lane-switching to find the place, but I did.
The great thing about Bull Moose was
that they had not only CDs, but records and
old movies, and all the people who worked
there knew what they were talking about.
When I walked in, I let out a breath I hadn’t
known I’d been holding. Ah. I loved the
comforting rows of cases, all ordered by
genre and artist. Yes, most music could be
purchased online, but you couldn’t
duplicate the experience of going to a store
and browsing yourself.
“Can I help you, little lady?” Jesus. H.
Christ.I paused with my hand on a
Radiohead CD that I didn’t currently own
and turned to make sure he wasn’t a
“No, thank you. I can pick out my own
music.” That was a lie. I’d recently
discovered The Black Keys, and I was hoping
to find more bands like them, but I was
never going to ask Dusty. Not in a million
years. “Are you stalking me? Because,
seriously, it’s getting ridiculous.”
“Maybe you’re the one who’s stalking
me.I was here first.
You came intomystore.” I finally
noticed he had a lanyard around his neck
like the other guys who worked here.
“Oh, so this isyourstore? Do you own
“Nope, but I do work here. And I’ve
been going to Yellowfield House longer than
you, too. So I was here first.”
“I don’t give a shit,” I said, putting the
CD back. Even my music sanctuary had been
“So you’re into music,” Dusty said,
straightening some of the CDs, as if he was
pretending to work. “What kind?”
“Taylor Swift,” I said, just to throw him.
Granted, I had listened to plenty of her stuff
and some of it wasn’t so bad.
But he didn’t know that.
“Well, we have a wide range of T Swift’s
music for your listening pleasure.” He
gestured toward the pop section. “I’m
partial to her earlier work, but her newest
album is getting great reviews.” I waited to
see if he was being sarcastic.
“Can you just let me browse without
being harassed? I get it enough at Renee’s,
and I don’t need it from everyone else.”
Wow, I did not mean to be that honest.
What was it with me today? I seemed to be
vocalizing everything I was thinking
whether I meant to or not.
“Wow, easy, Red.” He put his hands up
as if I’d held a gun to his head. “Just trying
to be a good employee and help a
customer, but if you want to be left alone,
you got it.” He turned around and left
before I could say anything else. I saw him
talking to a few of the other guys and
pointing at me.
What fresh hell was this?
He came back a few minutes later as I
was searching through the alt-rock section.
“Okay, so I’ve told everyone not to
approach you unless you approach them
first, so the store is yours, Joscelyn.” He
waved his arms to indicate everything.
“Thanks.” It sounded like a question.
“Anytime.” One last grin and he was
gone, off to the back of the store and
through a door marked Employees Only.
And I was left alone for the rest of my time
in the store.
I found a couple CDs, but didn’t look as
close as I wanted because I felt like all eyes
were on me, even though every time I
looked up, one or more of the employees
were giving me looks like I was going to run
over and stab them or something. God only
knew what he had told them so they’d
leave me alone. Then again, I probably
didn’t want to know.
When I got back from my little Bull
Moose trip, there were several cars parked
in the driveway, so I had to settle for
parking in the street.
Renee’s voice was the first thing I heard
when I walked through the door and hung
my coat up. Renee hopped up from the
couch and came over to glare at me.
“I was busy.”
“Doing what?” She crossed her arms and
leaned against the wall. I pushed past her
and went downstairs to put my stuff away.
Of course she followed me.
“Look, Renee, I know you find this hard
to believe, but I didn’t do anything bad. I
went to class, I had lunch, I went to Bull
Moose and I came back here. That’s all.
Besides, how can I do anything with you
riding my ass at every turn?”
Instead of yelling at me she just tossed
her hands in the air and then banged them
on her thighs.
“Why are you being like this, Jos? What
happened to my little sister who never, ever
swore? I don’t feel like I know you
“Maybe you didn’t know me before.
Maybe that girl was a lie.” She had been a
lie. That girl had a metal rod shoved so far
up her butt she was choking on it. That girl
was so afraid of stepping out of line or
making any waves that she never did
anything. Never broke curfew. Never got
Never did anything that could be
construed as wild, or out of control, or free.
She was so fucking uptight that she
barely ever laughed. Or smiled. Or had any
fun of any kind. That girl never would have
just sat in a dark room and listened to music
without it having a purpose. Being that girl
was exhausting, but no one knew.
“I just don’t know what to say to you
anymore, Jos. You’re my sister and I feel like
you’re a complete stranger. What am I
supposed to do?” For the first time, I heard
the hopeless-ness in her voice. Renee didn’t
get hopeless. She didn’t get weak. She was
always tough as nails; she had to be with
our crazy parents.
“You don’t have to do anything.
Just…give me some space.
I can’t breathe.” I sat down on my bed
and she came and sat next to me.
“I never thought that I would be this
worried about you.
You’re the good one. You made the rest
of us look like losers. It was hell when our
report cards would come out and you’d
always have A’s and the rest of us had to
compete with that. It sucked, by the way.”
She bumped my shoulder with hers.
“No, I just wish I had been the one who
could have set the good example. You
know, I’m supposed to be the oldest and all
that. I tried, but you were always better.”
Was. Past tense.
She touched my hair. “Are you ever
going to tell me what happened last year?”
I shook my head. “I just decided that life
was worth living, and I hadn’t been.”
“All of a sudden? Carpe diem?”
“Something like that.”
I ran into Hannah in my bio 202 class the
next day. It was cruel, but the university
required that we have at least six credits in
science, and I only had three. Once again, I
figured bio would be the way to go since it
would be a huge class and I could probably
show up or not show up and no one would
“Hey, stalker,” Hannah said as I sat next
to her. The classroom was one of the larger
on campus, with what looked like stadium
seating. Too bad we’d all be falling asleep
and learning about ribosomes instead of
watching an awesome movie, or a rock
“Maybe you’re stalking me.” There were
quite a few empty seats around her, and I
hoped they stayed that way.
“Told you, I’m a people repeller,”
Hannah said, leaning back in her seat.
“Skittles?” She had another fresh bag and
held it out to me.
“No, thanks. I can’t eat Skittles without
“You serious?” She tossed a handful into
her mouth and a few clattered to the floor.
“Yeah. It’s not crazy, if you think about
it.” I’d explained this quite a few times.
“Skittles are like fruit, right? And M&M’s
are chocolate. So it’s like chocolate-covered
fruit. You should try it. Could change your
Hannah gave me a dubious look and
munched her Skittles.
“I’ll take your word for it.”
The class filled up and the seats nearest
us were the last to be filled by stragglers.
Hannah and I spent most of the class
writing notes back and forth because,
honestly, it was boring as hell. I somehow
managed to stay awake, but that was
mostly due to Hannah. My second class of
the day, something called the Nature and
Language of Math, was equally boring and
I went right back to the house after class
and found it pretty quiet. Since there were
so many people living in the house and
everyone had something going on, Darah
had made a chart on a whiteboard so
everyone could write where they were
when. I erased the wordsat classand wrote
homenext to my name.
Taylor and Mase were the only ones
home. I heard the washing machine going
and some loud music coming from the man
cave downstairs. Guess I couldn’t go to my
Instead, I threw myself on the leather
sofa and sighed.
“That sounded like a heavy sigh.”
Taylor’s voice pierced the quiet. I sat up to
find her leaning against the stairs.
“It wasn’t, really.” She came and sat on
the recliner, leaving me the entire couch.
“So what do you think of UMaine? Is it
everything you expected?”
“It’s college. Pretty much like any
“Still. Everything going okay?”
She was fishing and not doing a very
good job of it.
“Renee tell you to talk to me?” I grabbed
the remote and turned on the massive
television, flipping around until I found
something decent. And by decent I meant a
marathon ofBehind the Musicon VH1.
“If I say no, you’ll know that I’m lying, so
yes. She’s just worried about you.”
“Well, she’s got lots of company in that
“I know things are kind of crazy for you
right now, but I swear, they will get better.
And lashing out feels good when you do it,
but living with the consequences kind of
sucks. I should know. I punched Hunter
when I first met him. He’s got a hell of a
hard face.” Renee hadn’t told me that story.
She smiled as if it was a fond memory
and shook her head.
“Yeah. He kind of cornered me, and I
have a bit of a claustrophobia issue. To be
fair, he totally deserved it.” I could imagine
him provoking her. It seemed to be one of
his favorite things to do.
“I bet he did. How did you go from that
to…being disgustingly in love?”
“He’s persistent. And has a high
tolerance for me being mean and shoving
“Huh.” Sounded familiar.
She kicked out the footrest on the
recliner and squinted at me, as if she was
“I was nearly raped, when I was
younger. It was my sister’s older boyfriend,
Travis, and he tried to rape her, too.
She got over it and I never did. Hunter
was the first guy that I let touch me. There
was something about him that made me
feel safe in a way I’d never felt safe before. I
trusted him, even when I told myself not to.
I let him in before I even knew that’s what I
was doing. Sometimes you meet people like
that. By the time you realize you’ve let
them into your life, it’s too late, and usually
by that point you can’t see life without
I knew exactly what she was talking
about, and I found myself twisting the
elephant charm on my bracelet. Yeah, I
knew what she was talking about. But
sometimes, those people get taken from
you, and there’s nothing you can do to get
Even if she and Hunter broke up—which
I couldn’t see happening—he was still alive.
She could wake up every morning and know
that, even if she didn’t see him, he existed
in the world somewhere.
“So yeah, that’s my story, the abridged
version, and now things are…really good.”
Yeah, I could see that. She stared down at
her ring and twisted it on her finger.
“Has anyone even stopped to think that
I wasn’t okay before, and I am now? Just
because I looked like I was keeping things
together and was this perfect person
doesn’t mean I was doing okay. Maybe that
was my master plan, to make everyone
think that.” Taylor thought about that for a
“Like reverse psychology? Wow, you are
smart. I wish I would have thought of that
instead of just being a bitch to everyone.
That probably would have worked a lot
better than violence.” Footsteps sounded
on the stairs, and Mase emerged from the
basement, his face with a sheen of sweat on
it and his arms busting from the thin tank
top he was wearing.
“What are you doing down there? If I
didn’t know that Darah was at work, I’d
swear you guys were going at it,”
Mase smiled and went to grab a bottle
of water from the fridge.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither
were these arms.”
He flexed and his arms bulged. They
were, like, the size of my neck. “Gotta do
some maintenance to keep them nice for
“One of those crazy workout videos
again?” Taylor said, pretending to punch
him. He collapsed, pretending she’d
“You’re welcome to join anytime.”
“Yeah, I’d rather not. Kickboxing all the
way.” He gulped down some water and
wiped his face on her sleeve.
“Ugh! You are disgusting!” She
screamed and he chased her around the
living room as the door opened.
“Someone want to explain?” Hunter
said, setting his bag down and watching as
Mase growled at Taylor and she dived
behind the recliner. “Dude, you are my
family, but if you’re going after my girl, I will
have to pound your ass,” Hunter said, but
he wasn’t serious.
“Aren’t you coming to rescue me? Isn’t
that your job?”
Taylor squealed as Mase dragged her
out and tried to put her head under his
“Oh, no, baby, you’re on your own. It’s
all you, Miss. I’m just enjoying the view.”
“Douche bag!” She managed to pinch
Mase’s side and wiggle out from under his
arm and rush toward Hunter.
“See if I do anythingnicefor you
anytime soon.” It didn’t take a genius to
figure out she was talking about sexual
“How was your day, Little Ne?” Mase
moved my feet and sat down next to me. I
hoped he wasn’t going to wipe his sweat on
me. Not that it would be any different than
being at home with my siblings who often
used my jeans and shirts as tissues.
“Same as yesterday. It will probably be
the same tomorrow.”
“Wow, don’t sound so depressed. Most
people your age would love to be living in
this house. I mean, what more could you
want?” He gestured to the beautifully
Freedom to do what I wanted. Freedom
from being watched and criticized. But
Mase wouldn’t understand that.
“Nothing, I guess. You can ignore my
bitching if you want,” I said.
“Please tell me you won’t sync your
period with the rest of the ladies in the
house. It’s bad enough, and now the guys
are outnumbered,” Mase said.
“I’ll give it a shot, but no promises.” He
held his fist out and I bumped it with mine
and then we exploded at the same time and
I couldn’t help but laugh. Hunter sat down
on the recliner and Taylor sat in his lap.
“So, I’ve got a performance this
weekend. You guys in?” he said.
Mase nodded. I was missing something.
“Performance?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m in this a cappella group, the
Steiners. God, that still sounds lame when I
say it out loud. I was sort offorcedto join
after someone saw a poster for auditions,”
Hunter said, staring at Taylor.
“I’m someone,” Taylor said, raising her
hand. “And you should come. It’s actually
really cool. Dusty’s in it, too. He’s their beat
I wasn’t even surprised. Dusty Sharp was
destined to show up in my life. I might as
well accept it.
“We might even do a certain song that I
think you’d like.
I can put in a request,” Hunter said.
“Sure, why not? It’s not like I have
anything better to do.” I needed to get a job
soon, but I hadn’t talked to Renee about it
yet. The plan was to find something, get
myself hired and then tell her about it later
so she couldn’t say anything about it.
My first inclination, when I found out
that there was a Bull Moose close to
campus, was to try there, but now that I
knew Dusty was there, that was out. I just
wanted to do something that wouldn’t suck,
but the chances of that happening were
pretty slim. Still, I’d have to start looking.
Maybe Hannah would have some ideas.
“Awesome. You’ll like it, I swear,” Taylor
said, tracing Hunter’s number seven tattoo.
Paul was the only guy in the house without
any ink. I’d considered getting some myself,
especially now. I wanted something on my
body that reminded me of him. Something
that would make me think of him and what
little time he’d been in my life that would
influence me. That was what I missed the
most, second to him. It was his influence.
But I knew Renee would have a litter of
two-headed kittens if she found out I was
even considering getting inked.
I’d have to wait until she’d stopped
watching me like a hawk.
It was something to think about.
Soonish. Soon everyone was home and the
dinner-making commenced. It was Renee
and Paul’s turn and they opted for pasta
again, since they could make a ton of it and
different sauces and satisfy everyone. I
lurked in the kitchen, feeling crappy about
the conversation I’d had the night before
with Renee. I was pretending to work on my
homework for the next day, but I couldn’t
focus on it.
She was busy informing Paul the correct
way to cook pasta, and he was taking it in
stride. He was a saint, I swear.
I couldn’t understand why he put up
with her, except that he must really love
her this time.
“My God, Paul, it’s not rocket science,
which you happen to know.”
“I’m not a rocket scientist,” he said,
leaning back and giving me a look.
“Clearly not,” she snapped.
“I’m going to go…be somewhere else,”
he said, heading for the living room, where
the rest of Yellowfield House was engaged
in homework warfare. Renee put her hand
on her head as if she had a headache when
“I swear, he gets on my last nerve
sometimes.” She turned off the pasta pot
and leaned back against the counter. “It’s a
lot, you know? Living together.”
“Do you regret it?”
“No, definitely not. It’s just…sometimes I
wonder if we moved too fast. Getting back
together and then the house and
everything. But that’s none of your
business. I’m fine. How was school today?”
My mother had never been the one to ask
me that when I got home every day. It was
always Renee who wanted to know about
my assignments and so forth.
“It’s fine. Pretty much the same.”
“Are you still okay with your major?”
“Yeah. It’s fine.”
She shook her head as if she couldn’t
believe what I was saying.
“I never thought you would say that. I
remember when we were kids and you
snuck out of bed to watch the election
results. I used to think you were a robot, or
that there was at least something seriously
wrong with you.”
Yeah, I remembered that little girl. She’d
grown up, and now she was gone.
“Pasta’s getting cold,” I said, using my
pen to point at the large pot. Renee seemed
to snap herself back into place and
remember that she was in the middle of
making dinner. She went back to the sink
and drained the pasta as I took my
unfinished homework downstairs. I’d deal
with it later. I had at least done the reading
and made notes for Pam’s class. No way I
was looking like a moron in that class.
Dinner was pretty quiet. Darah was at
work, so there was one less member, and it
felt weird to not have her there, getting on
everyone about putting their elbows on the
table and using napkins and not damaging
the finish on the table.
Renee and Paul seemed to be okay
again. I caught him whispering in her ear
and giving her a hug. He always knew the
right things to say to her. Most often, the
best thing to do with Renee was to make
her think she’d gotten her way and give her
some space to realize that she didn’t know
everything. She’d come around and
apologize and promise never to do it again,
even though she’d do it again in two hours.
“At the risk of sounding like I’m asking
you out, do you want to come to this thing
I’m going to this weekend?” I said to
Hannah before class the next day.
“What kind of thing?”
“One of the guys I live with is in the
Steiners and they’re doing a show at the
Union and everyone in my house is going.”
“Wow, you know one of the Steiners?
It’s crazy hard to get into. Plus, guys who
can sing are super hot.”
“He is pretty hot, but he’s taken.”
She sighed and got out her bag of
Skittles. She must have a case of them in
her dorm room or something. “The good
ones usually are.”
“Still, you could meet my pseudo family.
If you wanted to.”
“Sure, why not? Beats sitting in my dorm
room and watching a bunch of episodes of
Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
“I’ve never seen that show,” I admitted.
It never really appealed to me when it was
She shook her head sadly. “I’ll make you
a deal. I’ll come to see the Steiners with you
if you come and hang out and watch two
episodes of Buffy with me on Sunday.”
Renee would be pissed if I said yes
without asking permission.
“Deal,” I said, holding out my hand.
Pam called the class to order and I
snapped my head forward. She called roll
and seemed pleased that I was still here.
And of course I was the first one she
called on, but I was freaking ready. She fired
questions around the room like Ping-Pong
balls and you had to think fast. Hannah got
a few tough ones, but she volleyed with the
best of them. Pam seemed satisfied with
both of our answers, and I was glad I’d
survived by the end of it.
“Bravo, girl. You did good.” We didn’t
talk about getting lunch—we just sort of
walked toward the Union anyway. I heard a
girl walk by and gasp when she saw
“Take a picture. It lasts longer, bitch,”
she said under her breath. “I know I seem
all Zen about this.” She waved her hand to
indicate her burn. “But sometimes, I just
want to wear a fucking mask or scream at
people or something. I mean, at least in the
olden days I could have joined a freak show
and made some money or something.”
She yanked open the door and didn’t
hold it for the person coming in behind us,
who muttered under his breath.
“Suck it,” Hannah said in response, but
not loud enough for him to hear.
We got our food and found a table.
“It’s just like, yes, I have a burn, but it’s
not like I’m dis-abled or mentally
challenged. Also, I’m not deaf. I can hear it
when people are talking about me, and it
pisses me off.
But you know what would happen if I
freaked out and yelled at people? Fucking
nothing. So why waste the words?” She
exhaled slowly. “Okay, I’m done. Pity party
over. I’ve shut it down.” She made a
slashing motion with her hand.
“Keep going if you need to. It doesn’t
bother me.” At least she had something to
actually be pissed about. Unlike some
people who couldn’t breathe without
bitching about something that didn’t need
to be bitched about.
“Nah, I hate going to that place. It just
gets me down sometimes, but I swear, I’m
back.” She smiled and picked up her burger.
“So none of the guys you live with are
“Nope. Not one. There are three
couples…and me. It’s a bit like living in a
weird reality show.”
“It sounds kind of awesome, not going
Sensing my reluctance, Hannah switched
“So, you found any man candy?”
“Not if you count my other stalker,” I
said, picking up a French fry I’d dropped on
“Um, details?” She snapped her fingers.
“It’s not even anything worth talking
about. He’s just this guy who keeps popping
up. He’s friends with one of my roommates.
Actually, you’ll get to see him on Saturday.
He’s a Steiner.”
“Oh, really?” She raised and lowered her
eyebrows suggestively. Wow, she was
reading way too much into this.
“It’s seriously not like that. It’s not
anything. I shouldn’t have even brought him
up.” Why had I brought him up?
“What about at UNH? Did you have a
Oh, fun. The ex talk. “Yeah, I did. We
broke up this spring.”
Hannah’s eyes lit up.
“Sounds like there is a story there.”
There was, but I wasn’t going to share it
“Not really. He was in love with a girl I
wasn’t. Took both of us a while to realize it,
but eventually he did.”
“Did you love him?”
“Yeah, I did.” I couldn’t lie about that. I
had loved Matt, but that love was part of
that other girl, and when I let go of her, I let
go of that love. It was easier than it should
have been. “And what about you? How
about we talk about your love life?”
“Yeah, that’s a really short story. It can
be summed up like this…” She held up her
hand, making a circle. She peered at me
through the hole in the middle. “That’s it.
There aren’t a whole lot of guys lining up to
fuck the freak.”
Jesus, she was blunt. I liked it.
“I usually have to get them good and
drunk first, but by then they usually can’t
perform, so I end up leaving them to sleep
Was she serious?
She burst out laughing.
“I am totally screwing with you, and the
look on your face was totally worth it. I
haven’t really done the boyfriend thing.”
“I spent my high school prom at home
with my cat, so that pretty much gives you
an accurate picture of my dating history. I’m
not bitter about it—don’t get me wrong. I
guess I’m just old-fashioned, at least when
it comes to that. I don’t want to waste my
time on a guy that I’m not going to spend
my life with, you know? I don’t see the
point in dating a bunch of losers just for the
chance of finding out one of them might be
decent. I trust my instincts when it comes
to people. Haven’t been wrong yet.” She
winked at me and stole a fry from my plate
and popped it into her mouth.
I wished I had her confidence in my own
instincts. Right now, I didn’t trust them at
“Brought you something.”
Dusty was standing in the lobby of
Neville Hall when I opened the door to go to
English that afternoon. He had his
trademark smile in place and a bag of
Skittles in one hand and a bag of M&M’s in
the other and was holding them out to me
like he was very pleased with himself.
“Okay,” I said, looking at him and then
back down at the candy. I really wanted it,
but I didn’t want him to know that I wanted
“I’m going to pretend you said thank
you. You’re welcome, Red.” He shoved the
candy at me, and I had to catch it so that it
didn’t fall on the floor. “Are you always this
rough on people when they try to get to
“If it’s so hard, then why are you doing
it?” I needed to hurry my butt to class, but I
wasn’t letting him have the last word.
“Maybe I like a challenge,” he said, but
he wasn’t grinning.
I saw something else on his face.
Determination. Yes, Dusty Sharp was a guy
who was used to getting what he wanted;
anyone could see that. He even walked with
a swagger that broadcast it to the world,
but instead of leaning toward the cocky
douche-bag side, he just seemed confident.
Self-assured. A lot of women found that
“I have to get to class. Thank you for the
unnecessary candy. It was…sweet of you.”
“I’m a sweet guy.”
“Shall we?” he said.
We walked together up the stairs, and I
left him on the second floor.
“Later, Red.” There was that wave again.
I copied him and he laughed. “’Bye,
My first assignment in my creative
writing class was to write a two-page paper
about something I had never done before.
Greg gave us our assignment with the
attitude of Santa presenting orphans with
How the hell was I supposed to write
about something I’d never experienced?
Everyone else seemed just as perplexed
as I was, and a guy sitting near me was
muttering under his breath and most of the
words weren’t complimentary. We had the
entire class period to complete the
assignment, so I got out my notebook and a
pen and tried to figure something that I
could write so I could just complete the
Well, the first thing I could think of to
write about was completely out of the
question. My still-intact virginity was a relic
from my other life. I’d been way too
focused on school and other things, and it
didn’t mesh well with my political
There was also something romantic, I’d
thought at the time, about saving that
milestone in my life for marriage.
My ex had been completely on board
with it; in fact, he’d been more for it than I
was. We’d done things here and there, but
every time it got heated one of us stopped
it, citing our vows of chastity. The funny
thing was, it never really got all that heated.
The kissing was fine, but I never found
myself wanting to just rip his clothes off like
in some horny teenage fantasy. There was
probably something wrong with me. I had
no problem getting myself off, so my sex
drive wasn’t broken, but I never fantasized
about getting hot and heavy with Matt. He
wasn’t a hot-and-heavy kind of guy.
Honestly, I didn’t care anymore. It was
low on the list of things I was concerned
about. Right above floods and right below
I tried to think of something to write
that would fill two pages with my small
handwriting. Some of my classmates were
already writing away, but others were just
as stuck as I was.
Music. I wanted to write something
The only thing I could think of was that
I’d never performed onstage, at least not
outside of a late-afternoon fantasy. I’d
actually never really sung in public. I’d been
in choirs in school, but had never tried out
for anything where I had to sing a solo.
I wrote a sentence, and then another,
and then another.
I described the stage and the lights and
the fluttery feeling of captivating everyone
in the audience with just my voice and
maybe a guitar.
Before I knew it, I had filled three pages,
front and back.
“Okay, everyone. Just hand in what
you’ve got and I’ll go make copies. Don’t
worry about neatness or spelling. That’s not
the point of this exercise. The point is just
to write what comes to your mind, to
stretch it and see what happens.”
Greg left and people broke out talking,
mostly complaining about the assignment
and how lame it was and that they’d
bullshitted their way through it. Yeah, like
Greg wasn’t going to see right through that.
At least I’d been honest about mine.
No one talked to me, for which I was
grateful. Greg came back with a huge stack
of papers and handed them to each of us.
“Okay, so your assignment for next time
is to read everyone else’s and make at least
three comments on each paper.
Got it? You’re dismissed.” He waved his
hand, and I wondered if he’d been British in
a past life. He certainly talked like it, even
though he didn’t have an accent.
I was freaking about everyone else
reading my paper because it was so
personal. I hadn’t meant it to be, but the
words had sort of come out of nowhere.
Nothing I could do about it now.
I pulled the Skittles and M&M’s out of
my bag and tore them open, pouring an
equal amount into my hand before folding
the bags back up and putting them back.
You and your weird snacks. Sometimes
I wonder if there’s something wrong with
your taste buds, Jossy.
I cracked an M&M’s between my teeth
and chased it with a Skittles.
That night I finally got around to
updating my music blog.
I’d gained ten followers that week,
which made me want to dance for joy. It
didn’t sound like a lot, but for being
relatively new, I was gaining followers
pretty steadily. My happy was taken down a
notch when I saw how many stupid spam
comments I had to delete.
“Jos!” Renee yelled from upstairs. I had
my headphones around my neck and my
music on low, so I was able to hear her over
my new Lenka CD.
“Yeah?” I yelled back.
“What are you doing down there?”
“Nothing.” This was ridiculous. I went to
the top of the stairs. “Why?”
“You’ve just been down there forever.”
“Well, I’m not setting my hair on fire or
slitting my wrists, if that’s what you were
worried about.” I leaned in the doorway.
She was killing my blog-updating
“No, I just think it’s silly for you to be
down there alone.”
The living room was full of people, as
usual, and also full of half-done homework,
open books and too many highlighters.
Darah had a thing for using different colors
for each class.
“Maybe I like being alone.”
She didn’t have an answer to that.
Renee hated being alone. Being raised with
so many siblings had had the opposite
effect on me.
“Oh, come on, Little Ne. Why would you
want to be alone when you can hang out
with us?” Mase was twisting Darah’s hair
around his fingers, and she was trying to
concentrate on a textbook open in her lap.
They weren’t going to leave me alone,
so I went downstairs, got my laptop and
came back up. Mase moved over so I could
squish next to him on the couch.
“See how much more fun this is?”
Hunter and Taylor were sharing her
e-reader and he kept yelling at her for
skipping to the next page too fast. Once she
was sure I was within her eyesight and not
doing anything bad, Renee went back to her
books and Paul did the same.
Just another night at Yellowfield House.
I turned my music back on and put my
headphones over my ears. With them on, I
couldn’t hear any conversation around me,
even if I wanted to, so it was kind of like
being alone, except for when Hunter stole
the e-reader and Taylor chased him around.
She eventually got a hold of his ear and
twisted it until he gave it back.
“You play dirty, Miss. I might have to
punish you for that.”
I was mentally gagging.
“Shh, that’s the kind of thing we don’t
talk about in front of everyone,” Taylor said,
sitting back down on the couch.
I had no doubt that they normally talked
like that, but me being there put the kibosh
on the sexy talk.
“You guys know that I am aware that
you all have sex with each other. I mean,
not at the same time, because that would
be super creepy, but I’m not an idiot.” All
eyes turned toward me. “I can hear you
when I’m down there.”
Ha. They all looked sheepish. Even
“I’m not saying that I care. I’m just
saying that I’m aware of it. I mean, Taylor
and I are nearly the same age. You guys
have to stop treating me like a child.”
Mase cleared his throat.
“You’re right, Jos. I think it’s that we all
sort of went into protective mode when you
“I wonder where you got that idea
from,” I said, glaring at Renee.
“What am I supposed to do? You are my
little sister. I’ll always think of you that way,
even when we’re old and gray.”
I was a bit uncomfortable talking like
this with everyone watching, but it was
bound to happen sooner or later.
“I know that.”
“You could loosen up a little, Ne,” Paul
said. I was surprised. He never usually
provoked Renee if he could help it.
I’d have to thank him later.
“Okay, everyone gang up on me—that’s
awesome.” She got up and stormed up the
stairs. Yup, I could have called it.
“Sorry, Jos. I was trying to help,” Paul
said, getting up and going after her.
“I know. Thanks, Paul.”
“I don’t get what she’s so bent out of
shape about,” Mase said. “I mean, I know
you’ve only been here for a short time, but
you don’t really seem like
juvenile-delinquent material. No offense.”
“None taken. It’s just…complicated.” I
was shocked Renee hadn’t given them
every gory detail.
“Most relationships are. Complicated, I
mean,” Mase said, looking at Darah. “But
the complications can be the best part.
Darah nodded and he kissed the side of
I texted Hannah and told her I could pick
her up at her dorm and walk down to the
Union with her, and she took me up on my
offer. Taylor and Hunter had gone over
earlier because he had to be with the
group. She also mentioned meeting her
friend Megan, who I had yet to become
Hunter had been acting really weird that
morning, and everyone had noticed. He
tried to play it off that he was nervous
about the performance, but I was pretty
sure Hunter had never been nervous about
anything like that in his life.
He oozed confidence, so clearly he was
either up to something, or he’d done
something stupid. Or both.
“I’m going to meet a friend,” I said to
Renee as I downed my second cup of
Lemon Zinger. I’d really gotten addicted to
that stuff, and I even had my own corner of
the cabinet now for my stash.
“Who?” I hadn’t really mentioned
Hannah in great detail to Renee since she
had been so pissy the night before. I didn’t
know why. I guess I just didn’t want to get
into it with her.
She’d want to know all about her, and I
didn’t want to share Hannah with other
people. She was my friend.
“Don’t worry. You’ll get to meet her.
She’s coming to Hunter’s thing. I’m just
picking her up on my way.”
She looked suspicious, but seriously,
that was what I was doing.
“Okay. I’ll meet you there, then. Drive
safe.” Wow, that was the first time she’d let
me out of the house without a massive
lecture. I met Paul’s eyes and mouthed,
He nodded back.
I parked in front of Oxford Hall,
Hannah’s dorm, and sent her a text to say I
was ready. She came down a few minutes
later, her hair loose and all over the place.
“Hey, girl. What’s up?”
“Not a whole lot. You?”
“Nope. Just normal roommate drama,
but I’m over it. I would have invited you up,
but she’s there, and I don’t want to provoke
her any more than I already do by existing
in her space. Plus, she’s a major bitch.” She
clicked her seat belt and gave me a rueful
I found a spot in the commuter lot right
across from the Union.
“Do you mind if I stop for a little
pick-me-up?” Hannah said.
Hannah filled up on caffeine from the
Starbucks and I marveled at how empty the
Union was when classes weren’t in session.
It was a ghost town. It wasn’t until we got
out to the walkway that crossed over to the
other side of the Union that we looked
down and saw all the people waiting in
front of the bookstore on the lower level.
The Steiners were easy to spot because
they all had black T-shirts that said Steiners
and were standing in a tight group.
I spotted Hunter mostly because his arm
tattoo was so visible. Dusty was also easy to
spot because of his sagging pants.
I leaned over the railing and squinted.
Huh. He had some ink, too, peeking out
from the edge of his T-shirt sleeve.
His tattoo was impossible to read from
my angle. Not that I was trying, or really
cared that much about it.
“Who are we staring at?” Hannah said in
my ear, making me jump. She sipped on a
giant cup of iced something-or-other and
leaned next to me.
“No one in particular,” I said, standing
“Uh-huh,” she said in a tone that said
she didn’t believe me one little bit. Yeah, I
didn’t believe me, either. I looked away
from the guys and found Taylor’s blond
ponytail and then I saw the rest of the
household joining her.
“So,” I said, facing Hannah. “You wanna
meet the crazies I live with?”
She took a long sip from her straw.
“Lead the way.”
The space in front of the bookstore grew
increasingly crowded as more people
arrived to see the show. Hannah and I
threaded our way through, and I caught
Renee’s eye as she searched for me.
“There you are,” she said, holding Paul’s
hand. “And you must be Hannah.” Renee
barely even looked at Hannah’s scars. I’d
expected that; nothing phased Renee, least
of all something like a scar.
“I must be,” Hannah said, shrugging.
“I’m going to take a wild guess and say
“Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner,”
Renee said, laughing.
“This is Paul,” I said, motioning to him.
He nodded and smiled at Hannah. I whistled
and Mase turned his head.
He’d been deep in conversation with
Darah. You could set a tornado around
those people and they wouldn’t even be
aware of it.
“Hey, nice to meet you. Any friend of
Jos’s is a friend of ours.”
Then Taylor introduced her friend
Megan, a fellow redhead, and her fiancé,
Jake, and I liked her instantly and not just
because we were hair comrades.
I went through the rest of the
introductions and pointed out Hunter, who
was busy chatting with some of the other
guys as they got ready.
“He’s freaking out,” Taylor said,
“He doesn’t look like it.” He was smiling
“He’s tapping.” I looked down and saw
that he was tapping his hand against his leg.
One, two, three, four, five times in a row.
“He always does that when he’s freaking
out. I have no idea why—this isn’t his first
show. I swear, the minute I think I
understand him is the minute he decides to
surprise me.” She nibbled on a hangnail and
I noticed her ring was missing.
“Where’s the rock?”
“Hunter’s lawyer, Joe, wanted to get it
appraised or something so they could take
out insurance on it, or something? I feel
crazy not having it. You’d be surprised that
you can get used to wearing something like
Megan coughed and Taylor gave her a
look. Huh. Wonder what that was about.
“Um, spoiler alert, but that guy over
there is trying to eye fuck you,” Hannah
said, her voice just a little too loud.
I didn’t even need to look up to see who
“Shh, keep your voice down. I’m fully
aware of him.”
“Uh-huh,” she said, sucking the last few
drops of her rink into her straw and then
tossing it in the nearest trash can. “He’s
pretty sexy.” She turned her head sideways
and then to the other side.
“You should totally hit that. He looks like
Like either of us would know.
I finally decided to look in Dusty’s
direction. While he was talking with one of
the other guys, his eyes were definitely
turned my way. He caught me staring and
My eyes traveled down his arm, trying
to make out the tattoo, but it was mostly
covered by his sleeve.
“Stop ogling,” Hannah hissed in my ear.
One of the guys cleared his throat and
stepped forward as the rest of the Steiners
formed a line.
“Hello, everyone, my name is Kent, and
we are The UMaine Steiners. Guys, you
wanna introduce yourselves?”
One by one, the guys stepped forward
and said their names.
There were twelve of them in total, and
at least half were very good-looking, which
was a higher amount than I would have
Kent snapped his fingers to make a beat
Dusty came in first, laying down a
drumbeat, and then the rest of the group
started the song. “One More Night” by
Maroon 5. I caught Hunter’s eye and he
pointed at me. The guys traded off who
would sing lead, and Hunter got a turn.
Dusty got totally into his beat boxing,
even dancing a little with it. The other guys
also danced, a few even making a little joke
of it as everyone laughed.
They finished the song, and Dusty made
the cymbal crash sound again. Everyone
cheered and clapped and the guys
regrouped and started another song. This
time it was an old one, Hoobastank’s “The
Reason,” followed by a mash-up of a bunch
of Queen songs that got everyone humming
along and had plenty of awesome dance
moves, and then “P.Y.T.” by Michael
“They’re really good,” Hannah said in my
ear. “And your beat boxer is beyond sexy.
I’m just imagining all of the things he could
do with that mouth.”
I ignored her comments as the group
took a quick break and had some water.
Hunter stepped forward.
“Hello, everyone. I’m Hunter, and I’m
going to have to beg for your attention for a
“What the hell is that boy doing?” Taylor
said under her breath.
“You see, I love this girl over here.” He
pointed to Taylor, and her face turned red.
“Yeah, you, Taylor.” He held his hand out,
and she stepped forward. “Music has
always been a part of our lives. I sang to her
on our first real date. I sang to her the first
of many times I screwed things up, and so I
thought it was only right that I sing to her
for this. So, here goes.”
One of the other guys brought out a
chair for Taylor, and Hunter forced her to sit
in it. She looked like she wanted to sink into
the floor and kept ducking her head so she
couldn’t see everyone staring at her.
I had a feeling I knew where this was
going, and everyone else was whispering
the same thing around me.
“Oh, my God, he isn’t,” Renee said.
“I think he is,” Paul responded.
This time it was Hunter’s turn to start
the song. Dusty set a slow beat that was
soft and romantic. It took a few seconds,
but I recognized the song, and I knew what
was going to happen.
I watched Taylor’s face as he started
singing “I Can’t Wait”
by Runner Runner. The second he sang
the wordwife,she put her hands to her
mouth and started to cry. The crowd sighed
in unison as Taylor shook her head and
wiped tears as Hunter held her hand and
sang to her. I caught Dusty’s eye and he
smiled at me and I smiled back. You
couldn’t help it.
Such an open and beautiful expression
of love had that effect.
Hunter was left singing the last note by
himself, holding it and then letting it fade
before he reached into his pocket as he got
down on one knee. My eyes were more
than a little moist, but I wasn’t the only one.
The surrounding crowd held their collective
“Taylor Elizabeth Caldwell, you are the
only song I want to sing for the rest of my
life and I love you more than the stars. Will
you marry me?”
She only paused for a second before she
whispered it, but somehow that whisper
carried through the whole room.
The crowd erupted as Hunter yanked
her off the chair and swung her around, and
she laughed and cried, oblivious now to
everyone watching her. The rest of the
Steiners broke out singing “Chapel of Love”
by The Dixie Cups and a sing-along broke
out as everyone clapped and sang with the
Kent stepped forward and asked for
quiet after everyone finished.
“Yeah, yeah, enough of that.” Everyone
booed. “Just kidding. We have one last song
for you.” Hunter put his arm around Taylor
and pulled her back to stand with the group
as Dusty started another beat and they
launched into “Walking on Sunshine.”
Taylor was so giddy that she sang along and
her voice melded with the rest of the group.
“Thank you, everyone! And let’s have
another round of applause for the happy
couple!” Everyone clapped and then started
heading back to wherever they came from.
Renee and Darah and Megan let out
shrieks that sounded like they belonged to
long-extinct dinosaurs and launched
themselves at Taylor, and lots more
screaming and carrying-on ensued. Hunter
and Mase gave each other back-banging
hugs, and Mase gave one to Taylor that I
was pretty sure crushed her ribs.
“Congratulations,” I said, giving both of
them hugs. “Now you’re really, really
family. No escaping us now.”
“Nice proposal, dude. Well done,”
Hannah said to Hunter, holding her fist out.
He looked at her for a second, perplexed.
“Hunter, this is my friend Hannah.”
“Oh, of course, didn’t mean to leave you
He bumped her hand. I could tell Taylor
had a hard time not staring at Hannah’s
face, but after Hannah gave her a huge
smile and a hug everything was fine.
“I saw you crying.” I really needed to
stop being surprised when Dusty sneaked
up behind me. He’d done it enough times.
“And you are?” Hannah said, swooping
around and getting right in front of him.
Dusty didn’t look twice at her face before
“Dusty Sharp, at your service.” He
bowed. Hannah didn’t look impressed. Five
seconds ago, she’d been talking like she
wanted to jump him. Jesus, this girl was
going to give me whiplash.
“Hannah Gillespie. And you, dude, have
been staring at my friend Jos, here.”
His smile faltered for just a second and
then he raised his hands as if she’d pointed
a gun at him.
“Guilty as charged. But can you blame
“Maybe,” Hannah said, narrowing her
eyes. I had to put a stop to this.
“Hey, Hannah, do you want to come
shopping with me?
Like, right now?” I grabbed her arm and
tried to drag her away. I’d been planning on
going on my job search, but he didn’t need
to know that.
“Can I come?” Dusty said, following us.
No, idiot, the point was to get away from
“Uh, no,” I said. “You wouldn’t want to
come with us.
We’ll be buying things like tampons and
yeast infection cream and…other things for
our lady parts and sparkly earrings and lots
and lots of pink.”
“Sounds like fun.” Ugh, could anything I
say turn this guy off?
“Why don’t we do something a little
less…um, disgusting? Do you live on
campus?” Hannah directed her question to
“No, I have my own place in Old Town. I
would invite you there, but I’m pretty sure
the mold growing in my bathroom is
becoming sentient and would murder you
when I turned my back.”
“Ew,” Hannah and I said at the same
“Yeah, I keep trying to get my landlord
to do something about it, but no dice. Can’t
get anywhere when you’re poor as shit.”
“Amen. You speak my language, dude.”
Oh, now she was cool with him again.
They’d bonded over their shared financial
Somebody called out to Dusty to remind
him of plans next week or something.
“Actually, I have to get to work.
Sorry, ladies. Rain check?”
“Sounds good,” Hannah said.
“But, Red, I will see you on Sunday. The
guys have sort of planned a little surprise
party for Hunter and Taylor, and all the
members of Yellowfield House are invited,
And you, Hannah Gillespie, are also
“Sweet,” she said. “I have nothing else
“Sounds like fun.”
Renee called my name.
“We’re going out to celebrate. Are you
So much for job hunting. “Yeah, sure.”
“Am I invited?” Hannah yelled.
“Of course,” Renee, Mase and Hunter
It was scary how well she was fitting in
“Well, I guess this is goodbye, then. I’ll
see you tomorrow.
Red, Hannah Gillespie.” He nodded at
both of us, grabbed his bag and waved
goodbye to the other guys from the group
and took the stairs two at a time.
“He is…something else,” Hannah said,
staring after him.
“My thoughts exactly.”
The only topic of conversation when we
went out to eat at Pat’s Pizza was Hunter
and Taylor’s plans. Megan was in the midst
of planning her own wedding and was busy
giving tips and so forth, and Hunter didn’t
seem to be nearly as intimidated as I
expected him to be.
“Did he ask your father?” Renee said,
her pizza mostly untouched.
“Actually, I did,” Hunter said, earning a
look of approval from Renee.
“You did?” Taylor said. “When?”
“Christmas. Planned it all out and
everything.” Taylor had recently
reconnected with her father, and had even
gone down to see him in Connecticut during
the break and taken Hunter with her.
“Brilliant,” Mase said, giving him
another fist bump. “I thought you were
crazy, man, but best of luck. I’m happy I can
officially call Taylor a member of the family.
Oh, my God, have you told Harper yet?
She’s going to be over the effing moon.”
“Let’s call her right now.” I knew a little
bit about Mase’s sister Harper, who had
cerebral palsy and was wheelchair bound.
There were more than a few pictures of her
in the house, and he’d said she was coming
to visit with his parents at some point.
Hunter got out his phone and put it on
“Who are they calling?” Hannah
whispered as the phone rang.
“Mase’s little sister. She and Hunter are
really close,” I said.
“Hello?” A little girl’s voice answered.
Seriously, the kid had her own phone?
Typical rich people.
“Hey, Seven! What’s shaking?” Hunter
said, a huge smile on his face. It was clear
from the way he talked about her that he
was completely in love with her. It was
“Hunter! I got an A on my story. Wanna
“Sure, Seven, but I called because I want
to tell you something. Taylor’s here, too.”
“Hi, Harper!” Taylor said.
“When are you coming to see me?”
“Soon, princess. I swear. But guess
“What?” Harper said.
“Hunter and I are going to get married.”
Taylor looked at Hunter and smiled.
“Yes, we are.”
A little-girl scream exploded from the
phone, and Hunter picked it up and took it
“She has never made that sound
before,” Mase said, shaking his head. “I
think she’s more excited about that than
she was about the Taylor Swift tickets she
got for Christmas.”
Hunter continued to talk to the excited
“So you guys going to get hitched right
away?” Hannah asked Taylor as she stole
the uneaten pizza crust off my plate and
munched on it. I guess our friendship had
progressed to the food-stealing stage.
Taylor snorted. “Yeah, I don’t think so.
We both want to finish school first, and it
seems…I don’t know, weird to get married
while we’re still in college. I mean, I don’t
want people to think I’m knocked up or
“Are you?” Hannah said. I almost died.
“Not that I know of,” Taylor said. “I just
really don’t want to deal with that now. We
have too much to do. But someday.”
Hannah nodded, and Renee went back
to grilling Taylor about her perfect wedding.
“You okay?” I was in the kitchen having
a cup of tea that night. Everyone else had
gone to bed, but I couldn’t sleep.
Renee’s voice made me jump.
“Yeah, fine. What are you doing up?”
“I guess I was just excited about
everything. I can’t believe he actually did
it.” She grabbed a glass from the dish
drainer and filled it with water. “When he
first got her the ring I thought he’d
proposed, but then the ring was on her
right hand. It was only a matter of time,
though. Those two are destined for each
“You jealous?” She gave me a look like
I’d said something completely outlandish.
She snorted some of the water and
choked. “Of them getting married? Hell, no.
I amnotready to get married.”
“But you’re living with Paul. I mean, it’s
not exactly the same thing, but it’s close.”
“Oh, my dear sweet little sister. There is
a world of difference between living with
someone and marrying them.”
“But you would marry Paul. Eventually, I
“Yeah, years down the road when we
both are out of debt and have more than
two nickels to rub together. I don’t want to
spend a shit ton of money on a wedding if
we can’t even afford to pay for our health
insurance or a place to live. Besides, I want
a huge-ass wedding, and I’m only going to
do it once. Why not do it right?” She had
valid points, rational points. I wondered
how Paul felt about it. Not that it mattered.
Renee wore the pants, the shirts and
everything else in their relationship. She
had him by the balls, but he never seemed
“So what was with you and Dusty?”
“What do you mean?” Shit, I did not
want her to get on my case about him.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’m reading
too much into it.”
“I’m not interested in him,” I said for the
“I didn’t think you would be. I mean, he
issonot your type at all.” Wasn’t. I didn’t
have a type anymore.
“I can say this now that you’re not with
him, but I never liked Matt. He was always
so… I don’t know.” She waved her hand,
trying to come up with the right word.
“Uptight?” I supplied. Yeah, so was I.
“No, it was something more than that. I
always felt like he was judging me and
found me wanting. But he treated you right,
and I saw that he loved you, so I kept that
to myself.” Not really. I could tell the whole
time I’d dated Matt from high school to
college that Renee hadn’t liked him.
She was pretty bad at hiding when she
didn’t like someone, but I would never tell
She drained the glass of water. “Okay,
well, I’m going back to bed. Night, little
sister.” She held her arms out for a hug and
I held mine out too and we hugged like we
“Night, big sister.”
I took the rest of my tea and went back
down to my cave and turned my music on.
Ingrid Michaelson’s voice filled
my ears, feeling weirdly appropriate for
“Here, listen to this one,” he said,
handing me one of his ear-buds. I fitted it to
my ear as an unfamiliar voice sang about
lovingsomeone, but feeling like a freak in
comparison. When I’d told himI didn’t really
listen to music, he’d taken it as a challenge.
Eachday, he would bring me a new song.
Pop, rock, country, rap, old-ies, whatever.
He’d listen to pretty much anything. “As
long as it’sgood,” he said.
“Music says what words can’t. Add
words to music and you saytwo things at
I missed him, but I still couldn’t talk
about him, out loud.
Not to Renee, not to anyone. I couldn’t
explain it. He’d been the first real friend I’d
ever had. He’d been the friend that made
me realize that all the other people I
thought were my friends really weren’t.
I hadn’t been in love with him, not that
way, but I’d loved him all the same. I’d
heard something somewhere that said guys
and girls couldn’t be friends without at least
one falling in love with the other, but it
wasn’t true. There were just different kinds
of love, that’s all. He’d been like the brother
I never had, and he’d treated me like a
sister. A part of me was gone, taken with
him when he…
I turned off the music. It made me think
of him, and I knew what he would have said
if he knew I was moping about him.
Just smile, Jossy. The world isn’t that
bad. Besides, you have tohave the bad
parts so you recognize the good ones when
“Wow, this show is ridiculous.” I was
sitting with Hannah on the futon under her
lofted bed, watching my second episode
ever ofBuffy the Vampire Slayer.“It’s so
weird. Those computers are, like, gigantic,”
“I know, right? Like, in the best way. Just
wait until the third season.” Hannah had
her trusty bag of Skittles and I’d brought
some M&M’s from the vending machine in
the basement of her dorm and I was mixing
them in an empty Solo cup. “You know, a
lot of the problems on this show could have
been resolved by cell phones. But then you
wouldn’t have such an entertaining show,
so I guess it’s fine the way it is.”
I held my cup out and she poured some
more Skittles into it.
“Heard from Dusty?” she said, eyes on
“Uh, no. He doesn’t have my number, so
that’s a negative.”
“Do you want me to have heard from
him? Because you were acting really weird
“Oh, that? I was just being the
protective friend. I wanted to see how he’d
respond. A lot of guys get intimidated by a
protective friend, and then there’s always
the ones you need to watch out for, the
guys that are threatened by a girl having
“Have you known a lot of guys like
“A few. Here and there.” Yeah, there
was much more to that story. An asterisk
and a lot of footnotes in tiny print. I didn’t
think we had passed the friendship
milestone where I could interrogate her
until she told me about it, so I let it go.
“And the verdict on Dusty?”
“He seems like a nice guy. Cocky, and he
might have a dark past he’s trying to hide,
or maybe he’s a closet fan ofLord of the
Rings,or a hoarder, or obsessed with
something weird, but I don’t think he’s a
bad guy. Didn’t get that bad-guy vibe.
Bad-boy vibe, yes.”
“What’s the difference?”
She paused the show and sighed,
brushing her hair away from her face.
“Okay, a bad boy is one that makes you
all, like, tingly.
He’s dangerous in a good way. A way
that makes your heart race and want to ride
a motorcycle or go skinny-dipping. A bad
guy is one who hurts you, or makes you feel
worthless, or isolates you from your friends.
He’s just dangerous. Those are the guys to
stay away from.”
“Oh.” She seemed to have it all figured
out, and I could tell she’d spent a lot of time
thinking about bad guys as opposed to bad
“So Dusty is a bad boy.”
“Definitely. Unless you see any red flags.
Then you run in the opposite direction.”
“I’m pretty sure if there were any red
flags, my sister and the rest of the people I
live with wouldn’t let him near me. Hunter
wouldn’t be friends with a bad guy.”
“Still. You never know. People aren’t
always what they seem. You spend years
thinking they’re one way and then
something happens and they reveal who
they really are.”
“But you can’t go through life thinking
that everyone is bad.”
“I don’t. I told you—I trust my instincts.”
We weren’t going to agree, so I dropped
it and we went back to watching the show,
but I thought a lot about what she’d said
about people being bad or good, and trying
to tell the difference.
I didn’t think I’d ever met a really bad
person. Even my ex and my ex-friends
weren’t bad people.
I’d been just like them, and I didn’t think
I was a bad person. That guy, Travis, the
one who had hurt Taylor, he was a bad guy.
I didn’t need to meet him or know anything
else about him to know that. But did that
mean he would always be bad? Could
I had so many thoughts running through
my head I almost forgot about the
engagement dinner and found the house in
chaos when I got back from Hannah’s.
Mase was on his hands and knees in the
living room, along with Hunter and Darah.
“What do they look like again?” Hunter
said, patting his hands on the floor.
“They’re little gold studs. Remember,
Taylor gave them to me?” Darah said,
closing one eye and putting the side of her
face on the floor.
“Right,” Hunter said.
“Found it!” Mase held his hand out to
Darah, and she gave him a kiss.
“Thanks, baby.” She stood up and
brushed off the front of her black dress and
put the earring in her ear.
Both Hunter and Mase had nice dress
shirts on and nice pants with dress shoes.
“Where have you been?” Renee said,
slipping her heel into her shoe and walking
down the steps at the same time.
Paul was just behind her, making sure
she didn’t take a dive down the stairs. She
had one of her best dresses on; green with
swirls of black on the hem. Paul was also
wearing a green shirt. Oh, no. They’d
become one of “those” couples.
“You’re not wearing that,” she said,
pointing to my torn jeans and gray thermal
“I’m sorry. I completely forgot. I’ll go
change.” Shit, what was I going to wear?
Everything nice was packed away. “I don’t
have anything,” I said, biting my lip.
“Are you serious? You used to wear
dresses and skirts more than pants.” She
put her hands on her hips.
I shrugged. “I don’t have any.”
“Okay, let me think.” She put her fingers
to her temples.
“I think I have something that you can
wear. Come on.”
She lunged out, grabbed my arm and
dragged me upstairs.
I bumped into Taylor on her way down
from the third floor. She had a baby-blue
dress that looked like it could have
belonged to Audrey Hepburn and her hair
was loose around her face.
“Wardrobe crisis,” Renee said before
yanking me into her room and throwing her
closet doors open. Taylor followed, and
Darah was right behind her.
A flurry of activity followed, where I
wasn’t allowed to talk or say anything.
Much like a mannequin.
They held things up to me and messed
with my hair.
Darah had the best hair skills, so she
braided it, starting above my ear on one
side of my head and going to the other,
making a sort of crown. Back in my previous
life, I’d been a big fan of buns, and had
slicked my hair back so people could see
that I was put together and meant business.
Darah let my hair wisp out around my face
and pulled a few strands loose.
“There,” she said, putting a few bobby
pins in place.
Renee and Taylor were tossing dresses
on the floor and finally settled on a sparkly
gold party dress with a flared skirt.
“I’m not wearing that,” I said as they
started undressing me. “Jesus, can I have
some privacy?” I ducked into the closet and
pulled the door semishut. I didn’t care
about Renee seeing me mostly nude, but it
felt weird having the other girls there.
The dress had enough going on the top
so it covered my bra, which was good. I
adjusted it a little and tried to zip it up in
the back, but my arms didn’t move that
“Um, can somebody give me a hand?”
Renee hauled me out of the closet and
zipped the dress up.
“Perfect!” she said, hooking the clasp at
the top of the dress so the zipper wouldn’t
come down and cause a wardrobe
malfunction. That would be just fantastic.
She spun me around and the other two
shoved earrings in my ears and started
applying stuff to my face.
“I am not a Barbie,” I said as Taylor
swiped something on my eyelids. I was too
busy concentrating on not getting poked in
the eye to see what color it was.
“You are right now, my dear,” Taylor
said, smudging some of the color. Renee
was busy looking through her makeup to
find a color that would work on me and
found some pink lip gloss.
“Yes. Here we go.” She put it on my lips
as Taylor tried not to jab my eye out with
“Isn’t this unsanitary?” I said. “Shouldn’t
you be disinfecting that before you stick it
near my eye?” Renee was a big proponent
of hand sanitizer and disinfecting things and
coughing in your elbow.
“Are you saying that you don’t want to
share my germs? I mean, you are my sister.
Are you saying you’re too good for my
germs?” She pretend-glared at me.
“Fine, fine. Am I done yet?” I really
wanted to see what they’d done to me. I
hoped it wasn’t like when one of my little
sisters decided to play dress up and used
my face to practice their makeup skills on.
“Just about,” Taylor said, spritzing me
with some of Renee’s perfume. Was that a
subtle way of telling me that I smelled bad?
“Done,” Renee said, straightening one of
the straps of the dress.
“Uh, shoes?” I was still barefoot.
Through some miracle of genetics, Renee
and I had identical-sized feet, so she shoved
some black ballet flats on my feet. I was out
of practice when it came to wearing heels.
I’d probably fall on my face if I tried.
“Okay, now you’re done,” Renee said.
I turned and looked at myself in Renee’s
full-length mirror. I looked like before me,
only not. I never would have worn this
dress, or done my hair this way, or put that
much eye shadow on. Taylor had given me
a sultry look that I was pretty sure I could
never pull off, but it made me look older
and mysterious. That illusion would be
shattered the second I opened my mouth.
“What are you doing up there?” Mase
yelled up the stairs.
“Making my sister sexy,” Renee yelled
back. I gave her a look. “Oh, come on. I
couldn’t let you go to a party in your frumpy
wear. We should definitely go shopping.” I
hated shopping. I’d always pretended to
like it back when it had been a social
obligation. I was actually thrilled that I
didn’t have to do it anymore.
“Yeah, maybe.” I probably wouldn’t
have a choice. She’d force me to do it as
some sort of sister bonding and attempt to
get me back to the way I was. It would take
a lot more than putting on my old clothes.
Or new clothes that would have worked on
the old me.
“Can we go now?” I said, uncomfortable
with attention already.
“Let’s go, bitches,” Renee said,
whooping. “We have some shit to
Renee, Paul and I drove to campus to
pick up Hannah. I was so glad she’d agreed
to go, because I figured a lot of the people
there would be upperclassmen that I didn’t
“Damn, you clean up good, girl,”
Hannah said as she swept into the car,
wearing a black shift dress. It was the first
time I’d seen her arms bare, and I saw that
the burn traveled down her neck and over
her arm, as well.
“It’ll be too dark, and most people will
be too drunk to notice,” she said, turning
her arm back and forth as if she was looking
at it for the first time. “Plus, I love this dress
and I’m not going to let anything stop me
from wearing it.”
She was awesome.
The party was at a house just outside of
campus that several of the Steiners rented
together. There were already quite a few
cars there when Renee pulled up.
“Okay, here’s how this is going to go. If I
see a drink in your hand, it better be soda. If
I see you talking with any weird guys,
someone will step in. You have a lot of eyes
on you and this night is about Taylor and
Hunter, okay? No shenanigans.”
“Yes, yes. I got it.” I was kind of offended
that she’d think that I would try to ruin their
“Don’t worry. I’ll keep her out of
trouble,” Hannah said.
“I’ve got my eye on you, young lady.”
We were the same freaking age.
Renee looked at Hannah and then back
at me. “Okay, then. Let’s go.”
The house was already full of people,
none of whom I knew, which made me
beyond grateful that I at least had Hannah.
Hunter and Taylor were being
bombarded with hugs and congratulations
and bits of semisober unsolicited advice.
Renee and Paul went to join them in the
living room along with Megan and Jake as a
few of the Steiners serenaded the rest of
the room with dirty versions of popular
“Man, I wish I could drink without
pissing your sister off. She scares the crap
out of me, by the way,” Hannah said.
“Yeah, she has that effect on people.” I
scanned the room, looking for anyone that I
“You look nice.” As per usual, Dusty
Sharp had sneaked up behind me. I spun
slowly, preparing myself for his snarky
comments at the change in my attire. What
I wasn’t prepared for was to make him
momentarily speechless. His eyes widened
and scanned me up and down. Twice. He
swallowed and made a kind of stuttering
noise. Well, that was a first.
“Keep your eyeballs in your head, dude,”
Hannah said, stepping in front of me.
“And you look ravishing as well, Hannah
Gillespie.” He waved his arm to indicate her
“Nice recovery,” she said, patting his
chest. Dusty didn’t look too bad himself. His
pants almost fit him and he had a button-up
on that was definitely a little tight in the
chest region. Not that I paid any attention
to it. Or the fact that the shirt clung to his
arms, as well. They were…pleasant arms.
Very nicely shaped and muscled. The
kind of arms that you’d feel safe in, if you
tripped. You knew they’d catch you… .
“You okay there, Red?” Dusty peered at
me as if I’d been staring at him. Shit. I
probably had been. No, I definitely had
been. “How about I get you ladies
something to drink. Nonalcoholic, I
Dusty saw my hesitation. I didn’t accept
drinks from anyone unless I’d poured or
opened them myself.
“Trust me, Red. I’ll bring you unopened
cans. Tamper proof. Be right back.”
“Smart. I never trust anyone at a party.
Not that anyone would want to drug me,”
Hannah said. She sounded disappointed,
which was a little crazy.
Dusty came back a few minutes later as
Hannah and I were trying to figure out a
good place to park ourselves.
“A can for you and a can for you and a
can for me.” He handed out sweating cans
of Coke. “They didn’t have Dr Pepper,
sorry.” How did he know I liked Dr Pepper?
“I saw you drink it at the house, and at the
Sea Dog.” The question was, why did he
“Now how do I know that you didn’t
shake this?” I said, pausing before I popped
“Because I wouldn’t dare do anything to
that stunning dress. And I know how you
redheads are when you get angry.”
I wanted to shake the can and open it in
“That is a common misconception,” I
said through clenched teeth. If I’d heard
one redhead joke, I’d heard them all, but
everyone seemed to live under the delusion
that I’d never heard them before.
“Oh, really? Because I can picture you
He stepped closer and I caught a whiff of
his cologne. Thankfully, it wasn’t one of
those that guys seemed to think it was okay
to douse themselves in. It was nice. He also
smelled faintly of clean laundry.
Hannah popped her can and took a huge
“You don’t seem like a soda kind of
guy—what’s up with that?” she said,
pointing at the soda in his hand. He opened
it, being sure to point it away from me. How
“Been there, done that. It wasn’t pretty,
that’s for sure.” He wouldn’t look at me
when he said it. “More fun, though.”
He gazed at the crowd, who was
definitely having a good time. Some sort of
drinking game was going on in the middle of
the room. It was too cramped to play beer
pong, but they had cooked up some
Hannah was studying Dusty with her
head to the side. I caught her eye and she
shook her head. If she was trying to tell me
something, I wasn’t speaking her language. I
finally opened the can of soda and took a
The Steiners put together a little
performance, and everyone watched and
sang along. Hannah spotted a girl from one
of her classes, but didn’t seem to want to
go over and talk to her, so we stayed in a
corner, talking to Dusty. He left us to go and
sing, but always came back, even though
several of the guys tried to drag him away
or ply him with drinks.
For some reason, he turned them down
and talked with us instead. I couldn’t help
but laugh as he told us stupid stories about
random things. Dusty was one of those
infectious people that made you feel good
when you were around them. It was easy to
see that everyone adored him, and easy to
see why he and Hunter had formed their
Hunter was like that, too.
“I think he’s into you,” Hannah said
during one of the songs when Dusty had left
us. “Like, really into you.”
“Well, that doesn’t matter because I’m
not into him. At all.”
“Funny, because you’ve been staring at
him like you want to finish him like the last
piece of cake.” I stared at her and she
wiggled her eyebrows. “Tasty, tasty man
cake covered in sex frosting.”
“You are disgusting.”
“Or maybe I’m just right.” I had to shush
her as Dusty rejoined us.
“So what do you think about those two
crazy kids getting hitched?” He pointed
toward Hunter and Taylor, who hadn’t let
go of each other pretty much the entire
“Are you asking me about my feelings
on marriage, Dusty?” I said.
“Whoa, Red. Easy there. Just making
“I think it’s lovely. I mean, they’re
obviously perfect for each other. Some
people are like that. Made for each other,”
“Some people are,” Dusty said, but he
was looking at me, and I could feel my
stupid face and ears going red. I wished
sometimes I could wear a hat that would
cover my ears so people couldn’t see them
broadcasting my emotions.
The marriage conversation was dropped
as one of the Steiners started taking bets on
if he could sing random songs that people
shouted out without making any mistakes.
If he made a mistake with a lyric, he had to
drink. And everyone else got to drink if he…
Well, the rules weren’t really clear.
Everyone seemed pretty gone at that
point, so it made sense to them, but not to
us sober folks.
Dusty sighed and stared into his soda
“I don’t think anyone’s going to arrest
you if you have a beer,” I said.
He shook his head. “No, but I made
someone a promise, and I have to stick to
“You go to AA?” Hannah said, laughing
as the guy singing got a lyric wrong and
everyone called him on it. God, you could
make anything into a drinking game.
“No, just took some advice someone
gave me to heart. Made a change.”
“Is this supposed to be an
improvement?” I said.
He held his hand on top of his chest,
over his heart.
I was saved from replying by Renee
stumbling into the wall and Paul barely
catching her. Little hypocrite. I knew she
drank, having gotten more than one drunk
text and a few drunk voice mails from her.
Paul caught my eye and nodded.
“Excuse me,” I said to Hannah and
“I’m not drunk, I swear,” Renee said,
althoughswearcame outschwear.“I only
had—” she counted on her fingers, but it
wasn’t working very well “—three drinks?”
It definitely sounded like a question.
“Good job, Paul. Way to keep her
sober.” I patted him on the shoulder as
Renee slumped against him and hummed
an off-key song.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” he said,
holding her up. “I’m going to take her
home. I can come back and get you, if you
“I can give Jos a ride. I haven’t been
drinking at all.” If there were an award for
lurking and sneaking, Dusty Sharp would
have won it hands down.
“Thanks, man,” Paul said as he shoved
Renee’s arms into her coat and she
“Put her to bed and tell her she’s a
terrible example. Not that she’ll remember
it,” I said.
“Hey, little sister!” Renee leaned and
smacked a kiss on my cheek. “Why are you
“I’m not sad, Ne. Go home.”
“But you are sad. Sooooo saaaaddddd,”
she sang as Paul dragged her out the door.
“I love how she gets drunk after giving
me the third degree,” I said, shaking my
head. I was going to giveherthe third
degree the next morning when she was
good and hungover so it had the biggest
“Are you?” Dusty said, laughing a little at
“Am I what?”
“Sad?” Someone yelled, and Dusty
pulled me to the side as a guy barreled by
us yelling about something or other. In
addition to lurking and sneaking, he had
very good reflexes.
“No, I’m not sad,” I lied.
He tilted his head a little. “You seem
I looked away from his searing green
eyes. “Um, thanks.
I barely know you. I don’t really think
you’re qualified to make judgments on my
level of sad.”
“Okay, fine. Just let me know when you
and Hannah are ready to go.” With that he
turned around and dived into the fray,
heading toward the kitchen and the
“How are you doing?” Darah had
unstuck herself from Mase’s side to come
“Fine. Did you see Renee?”
Darah rolled her eyes.
“She always thinks her tolerance is way
higher than it actually is. You’d think she
would have learned by now.” Mase came
over and put his arm around her.
“What’s up, Jos? Having a good time?”
He was clearly a little buzzed. He held out
his fist as if he expected me to give him a
bump. So I did and he cheered.
“Yeah, great party.” I gave him a
thumbs-up. It would be so much better if I
Why do you need to drink to have fun?
Drinking just dul s yoursenses. Why would
you want to dull the beautiful intensity of
An arm snaked around my shoulder and
I jumped. “Hey, girlfriend, you abandoned
I turned to find a grumpy Hannah
leaning on me. Some of her hair floated into
my mouth and I brushed it away.
“Do you wanna go?” I said.
She removed her arm and shrugged.
“I’m cool with whatever.” Her eyes kept
skipping around the room, as if she was
looking for someone.
“Nothing,” she said, smiling at me. “So
I’m guessing some guy is going to drive us
home now? Some guy named Dusty?”
Another hand descended on my
shoulder, but it wasn’t Hannah’s this time.
“You would be correct, Hannah Gillespie.”
“You know, one of these times you’re
going to do that and I’m going to think
you’re trying to kill me and I might kick you
in the junk.”
“My junk would be honored,” he said,
removing his hand.
I saw that he had my and Hannah’s coats
in the other.
“You guys are going home?” Darah said.
“Yeah, I think so. I still have some
homework to do.”
That was a lie. I had some blogging to
do. I’d decided that I was going to get ahead
on posts and schedule them ahead of time
so I wouldn’t always be behind. It was a
great idea, in theory, but I wasn’t sure how
it would work in practice.
“See you at home, Little Ne!” Mase
called as Darah waved to us. How she was
going to handle that monster of a guy was
beyond me, but she’d done well so far.
“I’ll tell Taylor and Hunter you went
home,” Darah called after us.
“Ladies,” Dusty said, handing us our
coats. We put them on as he led us out of
the house. His car was parked in an
interesting spot, and he ended up
maneuvering it out before we could get in.
“You can have shotgun,” Hannah said in
Hannah and Dusty chatted about
random things as he drove to her dorm.
“See you tomorrow, girl. Thanks for the
“Anytime,” he said with that signature
Once Hannah departed, she appeared to
have taken all the air out of the car with
her. What was wrong with me?
I’d been alone with him in the car
before. Why was this different?
“So what do you really think about
Taylor and Hunter getting married?”
“Why do you care?” I reached out to
play with the radio for something to focus
on, other than Dusty.
“Here,” he said, reaching across, grazing
my boob and opening the glove box and
pulling out a battered iPod. He plugged it
into the cigarette lighter and changed the
radio station before handing me the iPod.
“Skip whatever you don’t like.”
An unfamiliar song came out of the
speakers, so I skipped to the next one.
Another unfamiliar song. I clicked to his
library and scrolled through. Damn, the
thing was jammed.
He had all sorts of stuff in there. I settled
on Beastie Boys, just to watch his face when
“Fight for Your Right” came on.
I was not disappointed.
“Interesting choice, Red. I approve.” He
nodded, and I could see his teeth flashing in
the headlights of the oncoming cars.
“What, do I not look like a girl who
would listen to the Beastie Boys?”
“No, it’s not that. I just didn’t think
you’d choose that.”
We listened to the rest of the song and
then I switched it to Death Cab for Cutie. He
“You are an interesting girl, Red. I’m
never bored when I’m with you.”
“You know, if you ever want to talk
about anything, I have pretty good listening
“Are they better than your lurking skills?
Because you’re pretty good at that,” I said.
“Yeah, you always seem to sneak up
behind me, and I never hear you coming.”
“It’s a skill. Honed over years of having
to get away quietly.”
“Get away from what?” Let’s see how he
liked getting asked personal questions.
“Nice try, Red. Those doors are shut and
they’re not going to open. Not even for a
cute little thing like you.” He was trying to
distract me, but it wasn’t going to work. I’d
just let him think that. I had other means of
prying into his life.
“Fine, fine.” I scrolled through some
more songs. Huh. He had Ingrid Michaelson.
That was a surprise. I put on “The Way I
Am” and waited for his reaction. He
laughed softly, and I could almost hear him
“If you tell anyone I have Ingrid on here,
I will… I don’t know.”
“What, would listening to her ruin your
image?” I put air quotes aroundimage.
“I am perfectly confident in my image,
thank you very much.” He couldn’t even say
it with a straight face, so I started laughing.
“You are so full of shit.”
“Yeah, Red. I am. You shouldn’t believe
a word I say.”
He tried to stop smiling but he couldn’t
and I threw my head back and laughed like I
hadn’t in a long time. He pulled up in front
of Yellowfield House and turned off the car.
“Here you are,” he said.
“Here I am.”
It was one of those moments that, if this
were a movie, he would have leaned over
and given me a good-night kiss.
But because it wasn’t a movie, we just
sat there and I tried to think of something
that I could say that would give me a
“Thanks for the ride.” Yeah, that wasn’t
“Anytime. Anytime you need anything,
just…let me know.” That would be kind of
hard to do, since I didn’t have his number.
But yeah, I wasn’t going to ask him for it.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” It was times like
these when I wish I had a script.
“I’m not into you like that, Red. If that’s
what you’re worried about.” Well, the script
didn’t matter if he went off book.
“Okay. Because I know I joke around,
but it’s not serious.” He seemed to be trying
really hard to be convincing.
“Okay, then. I guess I’ll…see you
around.” There seemed to be nothing else
to do but get out of the car, so I did and
started walking toward the house. I heard
the creak of the window crank and then his
“Jos?” The sound of my actual name
made me turn around by reflex.
“I…” I’d never seen him at a loss for
words, but he seemed to be nothing but
tongue-tied tonight. He whispered
something that I didn’t hear.
He looked through the windshield and
not at me. “Sorry, nothing.”
“Well…I’m going to go in the house
“You should do that. It’s too cold to be
“Right. Here I go.” I started walking
backward and he laughed.
“Don’t trip, Red.”
I kept going backward until I got to the
porch and he watched me the whole time.
It wasn’t until I had opened the door,
waved and closed it again that I heard his
car drive away.
What a freak that boy was.
Renee was slumped over at the dining
table the next morning when I came up for
breakfast. I’d heard Paul talking softly to
her in their room the night before when I
went to check on her and figured he had it
under control. The rest of the crew crashed
in quite late. For people who were
academically inclined, drinking on a Sunday
night didn’t seem to be the wisest choice.
“How you doing, big sister?” I said, going
to grab a mug so I could make some tea.
The residents of Yellowfield House were big
on breakfast, but no one had made any yet,
so I grabbed some waffles from the freezer.
“Hey, you’re the one who’s supposed to
set a good example. I didn’t force you to
“Please, just…later.” She couldn’t even
form a complete sentence.
I waited for my waffles to cook as the
other inhabitants of the house stumbled
downstairs and went for the coffeepot.
If I were a complete bitch, I could have
gotten up early and made a crap ton of
noise. The idea had been tempting, but
I hadn’t acted on it.
“Alcohol bad,” Renee said as Paul came
in the front door holding bags of greasy fast
“Hangover cure,” he said, holding them
“I would cheer, but I don’t want to,”
Renee said as Darah leaned against Mase.
Taylor raised her fist hesitantly.
“That’s the best I can do,” she said as
Paul distributed the bags and everyone dug
in, plates be damned.
“I got you an egg and cheese, if you
want it,” Paul said, holding a bag out to me.
“I’m set with waff les, but thanks.” He
shrugged and handed the sandwich over to
Mase, who inhaled it in three bites.
Breakfast was a quiet affair and over
because everyone was late for whatever
they were supposed to be doing.
I’d thought some of them would skip,
but they all got their butts out the door
“So how hungover is everyone in your
house right now?”
Hannah said when I sat next to her for
Pam’s class. We had an unspoken
agreement that she would always have
Skittles, but I would have to supply my own
M&M’s, so I made sure to stop and grab
some from the machine in the Union,
enough to last me the week.
“It’s pretty epic. I was feeling bitter
about it last night, but now I’m grateful I
“Well, there is a solution to not being
hungover,” she said, flipping her notebook
She popped a Skittle into her mouth.
“Never being sober.”
Pam started the class and I had other
things to think about for the next hour.
“You know, your sister keeps you on a
tight leash,” Hannah said as we ate lunch.
“What did you do?”
What hadn’t I done? I’d been the poster
child for destructive behavior last summer.
You name it, I’d done it. Staying out late,
partying, drinking, whatever. I’d done what
I wanted, when I’d wanted to do it and
hadn’t cared what anyone said or tried to
do about it. It was fun. For a while. Even
though I’d gotten most of it out of my
system, I’d burned too many bridges and it
was going to be hell to reconstruct them.
“Let’s just say I went through my
“You don’t seem like that now.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve gotten wiser in my old
She snorted in disbelief. “Dude, how old
“Eighteen. I started college when I was
seventeen. My birthday’s in a month and a
“Baby. I’m already nineteen, so I am
both older and wiser.”
“So what advice do you have for me, oh
“Always drink less than you think you
can, trust your gut, and the next time you
see Dusty Sharp, you’d better make a
move.” She gave me a big smile.
“That’s not really what I meant.” I hadn’t
told her about the little moment, if that’s
what you could call it, that Dusty and I had
last night in the car. It was so minor I would
have felt stupid bringing it up.
We’d talked. We’d both been awkward.
“I am going to have to have an
intervention with you two, I swear. He likes
you…you like him. The equation is pretty
simple, and I kind of suck at math. You plus
She waved her hand in a circle,
searching for the right word.
I was pretty sure it wasdisaster.
She snapped her fingers.
“Really? You spent all that thinking and
that’s what you came up with?”
“You’re just mad that you know I’m right
and you don’t want to admit it.”
“I am not, and you’re not. Right, that is.”
“Oh, sure, sweetie. I believe you.” She
patted my arm. I chucked my straw wrapper
at her, and she laughed. Her smile fell as
she saw someone across the dining room.
“Nothing.” Her demeanor had
completely changed. I searched and saw a
table of guys looking over at us. They
weren’t even being stealthy about it. They
could definitely take some lessons from
Dusty. One of the guys said something to
the others and they all laughed. Well, it
didn’t take a genius to put those two things
together. Most of them didn’t look familiar,
but I’d definitely seen at least two of them
at the party.
Hannah tipped her head forward and
her hair fell in front of her face like a mane
on a depressed lion.
“So I need your help,” I said, turning so I
blocked Hannah from the view of the other
table, and blocked her view at the same
“With what?” She kept her head down. I
wished I could get the whole story from her,
but I knew if I pushed she’d close up like a
steel trap. I knew that because I’d do the
“I really want to get a job, but I don’t
want something that’s going to suck, so I
need help thinking of a job I could have that
wouldn’t make me want to slit my wrists.”
“I think I’m up to that challenge,” she
said, finally lifting her head. I had no idea if
the guys were still looking and laughing, but
Hannah raised her chin and flipped her hair
back so her scar was completely visible. It
was a totally “suck on that” moment. Yes,
there was a reason I was friends with her.
We spent the rest of our time
brainstorming ideas. Some were ridiculous,
like selling my organs online, or finding a
potato chip that looked like the Virgin Mary,
but some weren’t. The campus radio station
had paid positions, I knew, as did the
student newspaper. The library was another
option, and I already had connections
because Taylor and Hunter worked there.
“They pay ten dollars an hour for nude
modeling in the art department. It’s not
really that bad,” Hannah said, as if she was
commenting on the weather.
“You’ve done it?” I nearly walked into
the trash can as we left the Union.
“Here and there. I’m not ashamed of my
body.” Her words were sharp, as if she
wanted to pull them out of her mouth and
hurl them like knives at the group of guys
who had been so obviously talking about
her. I bet she could if she wanted to.
“Well, I don’t know if I’m that destitute,
but I’ll put it in the maybe column.” It
seemed like a weird note to leave on.
“You know, if you ever want to come
over to hang out or study, or whatever,
you’re welcome. I have, like, a whole man
cave right outside my room.”
“Sounds good. I’ll text you, okay?”
“See you in bio.”
She walked away, her shoulders a little
hunched, but that might have been because
of the cold.
Dusty’s Golf was parked outside when I
got home that afternoon, along with
Hunter’s rust bucket. The other cars were
“Hey, Jos!” Hunter said when I walked in
to the sounds of his guitar and Dusty’s beat
I wrote that I was home on the chart
and set my bag down, noticing that the girls
had writtenouton the chart. “Hey, Hunter.
Where is everyone?”
“Um, I think Renee kidnapped Taylor
and Darah to go look at wedding stuff. Or
something. I sort of tuned it out.
Mase is at the gym and Paul had a lab.”
“Hey, Jos,” Dusty said, giving me a sort
of half smile. It wasn’t his full-on grin, and I
didn’t know what to make of it.
“Hey. What are you doing here?” I went
to the kitchen and grabbed an apple.
“Just thought I would swing by and see
how everyone was recovering.”
Hunter looked a hell of a lot better than
he did in the morning.
“I’m shocked they went shopping even
though they were all hungover,” I said,
sitting down on the opposite end of the
couch from Dusty.
“They bounce back pretty quick. They’re
young,” Hunter said with a smile as he
strummed his guitar. “Requests?”
Hunter put the instrument back on the
little stand he had in the corner of the
room. “Something wrong?”
“Not really. Just… I don’t know.” I risked
a look at Dusty, and he had his hands in his
pockets. “Did Hannah seem weird last
“No, why?” Dusty said.
“I don’t know. She was acting weird, and
then today I saw some of the guys from the
party at the Union, and it was almost like
they were laughing at her or something. I
may be just reading too much into it, but
she got very…un-Hannah-like afterward.”
“Did somebody say something to her?”
Hunter leaned forward, ready to get to his
feet and go after whoever it was.
“I don’t know. She wouldn’t tell me. I
probably should have kept it to myself.
Please don’t say anything to her.”
Dusty and Hunter nodded and shared a
look. I could just picture the two of them,
grabbing their swords and saddling up their
white horses. They were cut from the same
“Who’s in charge of dinner?” I said to
change the subject.
“Well, that’s also why I’m here,” Dusty
said, clearing his throat. “Hunter has
informed me that it’s your turn for dinner
and I just happen to have volunteered my
culinary skills to assist you. If you will have
I had no idea if he could cook at all, or if
he was just screwing with me. I also had no
idea what was really behind him being here,
because he obviously had a reason.
“Don’t you have your own home?”
“Yeah, a shitty apartment. Why would I
want to be there, when I could be here at
Yellowfield House was pretty nice. Oh,
who was I kidding? It was freaking sweet, as
houses went. I mean, not only was it nice,
but it was so damn clean. Darah was like a
fairy godmother who flitted around and
made sure there were absolutely no
cobwebs or dirt or anything that resembled
But still. Why was Dusty here all of a
sudden? I mean, how stupid did they think I
was? I mean, you wouldn’t even be able to
put this past a six-year-old.
“Fine. You can help me, but we’re
making what I want, and if I tell you to get
out of my way and let me do something,
you do it. Understood?”
Dusty looked at Hunter, who looked like
he was holding back a laugh.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said as we moved into
I’d planned on making lasagna, since I
had everything for it. I’d never gotten to
cook when the house was so empty, so it
would have been nice, but I had a tall and
“What can I do, oh kitchen goddess?” He
held out his hands as if he was waiting for
me to put something in them.
“First of all, you can get out of my way.”
He moved aside as I assembled the
ingredients. I was going to make it with
pepperoni, but figured I could skip it and
then Taylor wouldn’t have to worry about
trying to find the pepperoni-free sections
after I’d baked it.
“Here. Chop.” I handed him a knife and a
bag of fresh spinach. I figured he could at
least do that much.
“Cutting board?” I got it out and handed
it to him as I mixed the rest of the cheeses
It was clear after a few seconds that
Dusty had only rudimentary culinary skills.
Jesus, he couldn’t even hold a knife.
Once again, if this were a movie, I’d
come up behind him, put my hand over his
and show him how to properly use it.
During which he would turn slowly, the
knife would clatter to the floor and he
would sweep me up in a passionate
What really happened was that I started
laughing at him as he mangled the spinach.
“I can hear you laughing at me,” he said,
not turning, but putting down the knife.
“I’m sorry. I’m used to either ordering out
or nuking something in the microwave. This
is not in my wheelhouse. At all.” He stared
at the spinach as if it was out to get him.
“Then why did you agree to help?”
He turned around and faced me.
“Because I wanted to spend time with you.”
“You did.” It wasn’t a question.
“Believe it or not, Red, I enjoy your
company.” He gave me a smile as if to say,
what do you make of that?
“Even when I’m constantly insulting
Pushing himself away from the counter
and toward me, he said, “I especially like
“I thought you said you weren’t into
me.” When did swallowing become so hard
That stopped him from his advance
across the kitchen.
“I’m not. Can’t I just want to hang out
with you? Are you one of those girls who
think that guys and girls can’t be friends
without one of them falling for the other?”
“No, actually, I’m not.” I’d already
proved that not to be true.
He nodded. “Neither am I. So, with that
said, would you please finish this so I can
stop screwing it up?”
I rolled my eyes and went to take the
knife from where he’d set it on the counter.
“I can’t believe you don’t know how to
chop. You’re hopeless.”
“But now I have you to teach me, Red.”
I put the knife in my hand, showed him
how I gripped it and chopped a few pieces.
“It’s like a teeter-totter. Back and forth.”
I held out the knife to him and supervised
him from a few feet away until he had it.
Sort of. Once he was done with that, I
tossed the spinach in the bowl with the
cheese mixture and made him use those
arms to good advantage by opening the jars
I let him layer the noodles and sauce
and then it was time to shove the thing in
“Do you seriously not cook?” I said as I
set the timer.
“I seriously don’t.” He hopped up on the
counter and started making a drumbeat
noise. He was like Hunter with his tapping.
Nervous, the pair of them.
“Well, if the zombie apocalypse
happens, I guess you’re going to have to
“That’s only if my cooking skills are
needed. It’s far more likely my
zombie-slaying powers would be needed.”
Okay, he had a good point, and he knew
I just rolled my eyes again and went to
the fridge to get the garlic bread. It was
premade, so I only had to stick it in the oven
with the lasagna at the end so it would get
We needed a side dish, but we were out
of lettuce, so I found a bag of broccoli in the
freezer and put it in a bowl to steam in the
“Well, if you keep coming here more
often, I’m sure Taylor or Darah would rope
you into helping with the cooking or baking.
They’re big on baking.” Taylor didn’t let a
week go by without some form of delicious
something getting put in the oven, and
Darah was just as bad. They took domestic
to a whole new level.
“Can I tell you a secret?” he whispered
after dramatically looking around the room.
Yes, we were still alone.
“Yeah, sure.” I needed something to do,
so I wiped down the already-spotless
“You promise to never, ever reveal this
information to anyone at any time for any
reason?” He was making a big deal out of
“Cross my heart,” I said, making a
crossing motion over my chest. It wasn’t my
imagination that his eyes went to that area
when I did it and lingered longer than they
He hopped off the counter and crooked
his finger at me to lean in. I crossed my
arms over my chest and turned my ear
“I’ve never baked anything in my life,”
he said, and I almost jumped out of my skin
because he was so close to me.
His cologne messed with my senses and
overwhelmed the smell of the baking
My brain stuttered like a freezing car
engine in January.
“I—I won’t tell anyone,” I said, stepping
away from him and pretending I had
something really important to do in the
“So I think the first time I bake
something, it should be special. With
someone I trust. I don’t want to bake with
just anyone.” Why did I have the feeling we
weren’t talking about baking anymore?
I knew when I turned around from
rinsing the sponge in the sink I would find
him there, and I was right.
Even though my hands were wet, he
grabbed both of them and knelt in front of
me. Jesus H. Christ.
“Will you, Joscelyn Archer, be my first?”
I was so, so glad he couldn’t hear what my
heart was doing, because it definitely
wasn’t beating in a normal fashion.
“Baking, you mean?”
Rising to his feet, but not letting go of
my hands, he started to smile.
“What did you think I was talking about,
Not baking, that was for sure.
Why wouldn’t he let go of my hands?
Also, why were his so big? They completely
The door slammed and Dusty dropped
my hands like they were on fire.
“What smells so good?” Renee said, her
arms weighed down with bags from the
mall. Darah and Taylor were right behind
her, equally as burdened.
“Lasagna,” Dusty said, since I seemed to
have lost the ability to form words with my
mouth. I swallowed a few times and
“Clearance sale?” I finally said.
“Yeah, sure,” Renee said, her eyes not
meeting mine. Um, what?
“Why are you being weird?” I said,
moving away from Dusty. “Are you hiding
something from me, big sister?”
“Absolutely not,” she said, hiding the
bags behind her back. “Be right back.” She
dashed up the stairs and the other two
followed. Hmm. If I had only one guess, I’d
say it had something to do with my
upcoming birthday, but maybe I was just
being too self-centered.
They came down a little while later, and
Paul and Mase were home a few minutes
after that. No one seemed surprised to find
Dusty with me in the kitchen, which also led
me to the conclusion that the reason he
was here was some sort of weird way to
distract me while they all went out
My birthday had never been a huge
deal, being from a family with a lot of kids.
It was bigger when I was younger, but of
course I didn’t remember a lot of those
birthdays. They only existed now in
Maybe Renee felt shitty about being so
strict with me so she was throwing me a
birthday party to make up for it? It didn’t
make a whole lot of sense, but I couldn’t
think of any other reason she’d be hiding
things like this from me, or why Dusty had
suddenly decided to cook dinner with me,
seeing as how he couldn’t cook at all.
But of course, I pretended that I didn’t
notice anything out of the ordinary. I’d play
Dusty stayed for dinner and I was also
shocked to discover that he’d brought
homework, as well. Call me crazy, but he
just didn’t seem like the kind of guy who
would do homework. I mean, he’d have to
because he’d managed to make it through
one and a half years of college already, but I
just couldn’t picture it.
Everyone claimed a piece of real estate,
and I ended up sitting on the floor of the
living room with my laptop on the coffee
table and my books on the floor.
“Is this area taken?” Dusty parked
himself next to me and set a stack of books
on the table.
“I guess it is now. It’s kind of catch as
catch can around here for study space.”
“I see that,” he said as everyone else
spread themselves out in various places and
positions. I skimmed the titles of the books
he’d set down and was a little surprised.
Calculus, music theory and several that
looked like they were for education.
“Music education, like Hunter,” he said
to my unanswered question. “Surprised?”
“I knew that already.” Not exactly, but I
could put two and two together.
“Hey, Hunter, do you still have that
Praxis study guide?”
Hunter had taken the first set of the
tests he needed to pass to become a
teacher a couple of weeks before and was
still waiting for his results since he had to
pass the first test to take the second part. It
sounded like the SATs only way worse.
Hunter looked up from whatever he was
immersed in, his eyes taking a second to
“Yeah, sure. You want to borrow it?”
“Just the practice tests. I just want to
make copies, if you don’t mind.”
“Sure, no problem.” Hunter went and
got the book from upstairs and brought it
down. “I didn’t fill in the answers, so you
can’t cheat off me.”
“Well, I’d rather pass the test, so I think
I’ll take my chances.” Hunter chucked the
book at Dusty, and he caught it as I ducked.
“No throwing books,” Taylor said from
the couch. “They can’t protect themselves.
You should know better, Hunter Zaccadelli.”
“I hate to be that person, but I have a
huge anatomy test and I have, like, a billion
pages to read, so can you guys flirt later?
Like, in your room? Quietly?” Renee said,
glaring at us all like a pissed-off librarian.
“Sorry, Ne,” Taylor said, ducking her
head and going back to her book.
“Yes, ma’am,” Hunter said, his accent
Dusty gave me a look before he
whispered, “You’re not going to yell at me,
“I’m still hearing talking,” Renee said,
turning a page of her book.
I pretended to zip my lips and pointed at
Renee and then made a slashing motion
across my throat and then pointed to him. I
hoped he got the message. He gave me a
look and flipped the book Hunter had given
him open, and I went back to working on
my studying for Pam’s class. I always did it
first so my brain was at its most fresh and
able to absorb the information.
For a guy who made a lot of noises with
his mouth, Dusty was really good at
focusing. I kept looking up from my book
and seeing if he was really studying or only
pretending to, but he was always absorbed
in whatever he was doing. He never even
looked up, even though I was looking at him
and we were sitting so close. It was like he’d
shut the door and was in his own room that
none of us could get into.
I shook my head and went back to my
work and read until I finished everything I
absolutely had to finish and then started
working on my blog. I was thinking about
doing a new design, but since I knew next to
nothing about HTML, I was kind of limited. I
should just learn code. Maybe I could find a
used book about it in the bookstore or
“What’s that?” I turned my head the
tiniest bit and found Dusty’s face almost
resting on my shoulder. I slammed my
laptop shut, startling everyone out of their
“Oh, my God, I think I just died a little,”
Taylor said, holding on to her chest.
“Sorry. Sorry.” I glared at Dusty, who still
had his face way too close. As far as boys
went, he definitely smelled a lot better than
the ones I’d encountered. A lot of them
covered up the fact that they didn’t shower
too often with that nasty body spray that
was probably toxic and slowly killing them
with black lung disease. I tried not to close
my eyes and lean into him and imagine him
hanging up a fresh load of laundry, shirtless,
of course, outside on a sunny day.
Dear Jesus, what was I doing?
He’d already said he wasn’t interested,
and I wasn’t interested, so why did he keep
doing things that made it seem like he was
interested, and I kept thinking things like
him hanging up laundry without a shirt on?
I scooted away from him and turned my
laptop so he couldn’t see the screen. He
settled back in his position with the smallest
of sighs and went back to taking notes. Or
at least that’s what I thought he was doing,
but then a paper airplane landed in my lap.
Seriously? How old was he? Although, I had
to give him points. Note passing was a lost
art in the world of texting and Facebook
messaging and tweeting your every vapid
thought out to the world whether the world
needed to know it or not.
I didn’t look back at him as I unfolded
What didn’t you want me to see? Were
you looking at porn? If yes, may I join you?
If no, what were you doing?
I turned and gave him a disgusted look
before setting the note on the coffee table
and scribbling an answer.
You are a pig and it’s none of your
I refolded the airplane and chucked it
over my shoulder, not bothering to aim as I
went back to working on my blog. I couldn’t
really focus, though, because I thought that
any moment he was going to stick his head
over my shoulder again.
My blog was mine. I didn’t post my real
name, and there were no pictures of me so
no one would ever know it was mine. My
blog was…private. It was mine and no one
knew about it. This was probably what
Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne felt. Only,
you know, their secret identities were more
awesome than my secret blogging identity. I
could say anything I wanted, be anything I
wanted on my blog. That girl that I was
didn’t matter. No one knew her. And
besides, the blog wasn’t about me. It was
about the music.
A little while later, people started
packing it in for the night. I expected Dusty
to get up and leave, but he didn’t.
He also didn’t pass the note back, either,
and when I stole a glance at him, he was
back to being focused. Weirdo. I was about
to turn and ask him if he was going to stay
all night when I heard a book close behind
“Well, I should probably get back to my
shack.” He got to his feet and everyone who
was still downstairs mumbled their
good-nights. He looked down at me as if he
was expecting something. Was I supposed
to walk him out?
Hold up. Did he think this was a date?
Was this a date?
Why would this have been a date? Sure,
dinner had been involved, but only because
he’d been here when we were making and
“See you later,” I said, and it sounded
just as lame as it sounded in my head, and I
felt as lame as I had the night before in his
He opened his mouth, changed his mind
and then made one of his drum sounds to
cover it up. “’Bye, Red.”
I gave him one of those two-fingered
waves, and he did one back with a smile on
It wasn’t until after he was gone that I
realized he’d taken the paper airplane note
“So I know your sister is, like, super
down on parties, but I got an invite to one,
and I can’t go on my own. Also, if you don’t
want to come with me, I will hurt you. So,
you’re coming,” Hannah said after bio the
“My sister is never going to go for it.”
“I figured, which is why I thought I could
talk to her and convince her.”
I almost started laughing. That was
never going to work, and it was cute that
she thought it would.
“It isn’t going to happen, Hannah.
You’ve seen my sister in action.” Besides, I
didn’t know if I’d really want to go anyway.
“Oh, I have powers of persuasion.”
Hannah didn’t seem like the type who
would be all over going to a party, so I really
wanted to know why she was into it.
“Why do you want to go so much? Is it a
“No, it’s not a guy. I just feel like I want
to get the whole college experience, and
that includes going to a frat party at least
once. It’s on the college bucket list. I
I wondered what else was on that list,
because I’d probably taken care of most of
it already. She was being weird about it,
and I knew that it was another thing she
wasn’t telling me about. In some ways I felt
so close to Hannah, but in others I felt like
she had all these secrets that she would
rather die than share with me.
“I’m not taking no for an answer,” she
said, and I recognized determination on her
face. For whatever reason, she had decided
that this was a thing she was going to do,
and I was going along with it. Hannah had
never made any demands on me as a
friend, and I was so used to it from my
former friends that I felt like a bitch for
“I might have a lead on a job that
wouldn’t suck. If you agree to go, I’ll tell you
about it.” It was like one of those game
shows where they put a mystery box in
front of you.
I could win, or I could lose big. But it
might be nice to go out and let loose, for
real this time.
“I will only say yes if you can convince
Renee. Because I’ve already gotten myself
into hot water enough, and she’s just
starting to loosen up on me and let me do
Hannah put her hand out.
“Deal. I have complete faith in my ability
to convince her.” She was confident, that
was for sure. “So I’ll be over this
“If you want to come for dinner, you
can. We always make plenty, and you
wouldn’t be the first person who’s invited
themselves over.” Crap, I hadn’t meant to
mention Dusty coming over. I knew she’d
want to overanalyze it and read more into it
and say things that would totally mess with
“I don’t even need to ask who it was. I
can figure it out based on the fact that you
mentioned it and that you clearly don’t
want to talk about it.”
Well…maybe Hannah would turn out to
be a sympathetic ear. I only paused for a
second before launching into the story of
Dusty helping me make dinner and then the
Of course, I left out the part about my
own feelings. She was smart enough to
figure them out anyway.
“So I’m just…confused and I don’t know.
He’s so…complicated.” I remembered Mase
saying something about the complications
being the best part of life.
“Is that code for ‘sexy’? Because he is so
“Then why does he tell me that he
isn’t?” I made a frustrated sound that made
a few people walking in front of us turn and
give me a look like I was crazy. I was going
to be late for math, but I didn’t care. It was
the kind of class that you didn’t have to
attend to get a good grade in. Hell, the tests
were open book, and I’d heard the TA
would point you to the right answers if you
asked nice enough.
“Look, I have to go, but we will pick this
up later. What time should I come over?”
“See you later, girl,” she said, taking off
for her next class, which was clear across
campus. She was going to have to book it to
I went to math and spent the entire
hour and fifteen minutes listening to
Maroon 5. They were one of those groups
I’d loved for so long, and their music was
the equivalent of a hug, or a bowl of
chicken soup. Warm and comforting.
I drove back to Yellowfield House in a
daze and was less-than-surprised to see
Dusty’s car parked on the street.
“Honey, I’m home,” I called as I shucked
my shoes off and set my bag down in the
“How was your day, dear?” Dusty called
from the living room, where he was hanging
out with Mase.
“Are you moving in now?” I said,
grabbing a can of soda from the fridge. “Do
you want one?” I would have felt like a jerk
“Nope, I’m good,” he said right behind
“I swear to God, the next time you do
that…” I couldn’t think of what I was going
to do. “You know what? I won’t tell you
what I’m going to do. The anticipation will
just kill you, waiting for the moment. I
would enjoy that.”
“Seriously, why are you here? Because I
know you have a little bromance, but one
half of that isn’t here right now, so it can’t
be Hunter. And it can’t be because you love
to cook. And it can’t be that you really,
really love the house.
So what is it?”
I leaned on the fridge. I knew I was
asking a question I wasn’t going to like the
answer to, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I
wanted to know the truth, whether I liked it
“Maybe it is something else that keeps
me coming to this house. Maybe…maybe
I’ve been waiting for the right moment to
say it out loud.” He wouldn’t look at me,
which meant that he might have been
telling the truth. I was really tired of him
always trying to change the subject, or
making a joke out of things.
“I really come here because I’m crazy
about…this coffeepot.” He moved around
me and stood by the fancy coffeepot that
Hunter had probably bought and that cost
more than my entire textbook budget for a
“I mean, I really, really love it.” He
leaned down and pretended to hug it and
stroked it fondly.
“Are you shitting me?”
He stood up, his smile faltering for a
“Nothing. Just…nothing.” He’d done that
on purpose to screw with me, and I wasn’t
going to give him the satisfaction of
knowing that he totally had. I walked past
him back into the living room. Mase was
busy with a textbook and a highlighter.
“What’s up, Jos?”
“Nothing.” I turned on the television and
Dusty made sure he entered the room
and sat down in the recliner loud enough so
that I’d hear him. Jerk.
I purposely settled on an annoying girlie
reality show that he would probably never
watch in a million years. I turned up the
volume. Mase didn’t seem to mind. He was
known for his deep focus when he was
We sat in silence as the girls went out
shopping and to clubs and fought and made
up with their boyfriends. I waited for him to
beg for me to change the channel, or get up
and leave. Maybe this was the way to get
rid of him. Drive him away. I should start
playing Nickelback, or that really angry
Russian girl-band music I’d randomly found
on the internet.
I should start talking about menstrual
cramps and yeast infections and other girlie
shit he wouldn’t want to hear about.
But then I would probably repulse the
rest of the males n the house, and I didn’t
really want to ruin their lives. Just Dusty’s.
What was it about him that made me so
He started softly making drum noises in
the chair. Now he was messing with me. I
turned the show up and he started making
louder noises. I still wouldn’t look at him.
“Can we take the volume down a notch?
I’m going deaf over here, and I’m a big fan
of standing near speakers at clubs,” Mase
said, grabbing the remote and turning the
volume down. “Are you okay, Little Ne?
You’re being kind of…not you.”
I was saved from further explanation by
the arrival of Darah and a few minutes later
Taylor and Hunter and then Renee.
“So, Hannah’s coming over for dinner. I
hope no one minds.”
Everyone chimed in with how they
didn’t, and they’d be more than happy to
have her whenever she wanted to come
over. Yellowfield House was like a sponge,
soaking up random people, and I was one of
them. Pretty soon they’d have to add a
fourth level, or turn the basement into a
dorm. I could just picture it with bunk beds
lining the walls.
Taylor and Hunter were on for dinner,
and they were doing pizza, since everyone
could choose what they wanted for
toppings and we could make them
individually. Hannah showed up just as we
were flattening out our individual crusts. Of
course Dusty was staying. I wanted to ask
him if he was going to just move in, but I
was kind of giving him the silent treatment
for the thing about the coffeepot.
“Hey, girl. And everyone,” she said,
walking through the front door without
Hannah got a warm welcome. I saw the
same look in her eyes that I’d seen earlier
when she’d told me about making me go to
“Pull up a ball,” Hunter said after she’d
washed her hands.
He gave her a ball of dough and a plate
to roll it out on. “You just flatten it out as
much as you can, and then put it on the pan
here and we’ve got sauce and toppings. I
recommend using the toppings to make
your name, so you remember which one is
yours and there’s no confusion. Okay?”
“Got it, chief,” she said, giving him a
salute and banging down the dough with a
little too much force.
Everyone made their pizzas, and we
somehow fit them all in the oven at once.
Darah and Mase shooed us all out of the
kitchen as they cleaned up, so we had music
sex in the living room, with Dusty doing
backup drums for Hunter. I kept waiting for
Hannah to make her move, but she just sat
back and kept yelling out ridiculous song
suggestions that made everyone laugh.
It wasn’t until we were all stuffing our
faces and Darah and Renee were recounting
memories from one of the parties they’d
gone to when they were freshmen.
“Speaking of parties,” Hannah said.
“There’s this really cool one happening at
the Kappa Sigma house and I got an invite
and I need a wing woman.”
Her pronouncement was met with
silence at first.
“You want to go to a Kappa Sig party?”
Hunter said, skeptical.
“Well, I feel like my college experience
won’t be complete without going to a frat
party. It’s not that I want to go…it’s that I
feel obligated to go. And I really shouldn’t
go alone, so I need someone to escort me.
Hey, Jos, what are you doing on Saturday
night?” Was this her master plan? Because
it wasn’t very masterful.
“Absolutely not,” Renee said, practically
“Well, how about this? How about you
all come with us? Then we can all go and
have a good time and you can supervise us
and I can fulfill my dream. Win-win.”
“You okay there, bud?” Hannah
happened to be sitting next to him, so she
banged him on the back.
“Fine,” he choked out, taking a gulp
from his water glass.
“So,” Hannah said, turning back toward
Renee. “Are you in?”
All eyes were on Renee.
She put her hands up. “Why do I have to
be the deciding one? Someone else say yes
or no. I don’t care either way.”
“Could be fun,” Taylor said.
“Right?” Hannah said, latching on to
Taylor. Hunter shrugged.
“What about you, Dare?” Mase said.
“I’ve already been to one, and it wasn’t
Hannah smelled a victory.
“I’ll come, too. Keep you girls in line.
And you could use some extra muscle on
your side,” Hunter said.
“Agreed,” Mase said, nodding.
“I’m in if you’re in, Nene.” Props to Paul
for using the nickname at a time like this.
“Well, I guess I have no choice,” Renee
said, getting up and putting her plate in the
sink. I knew this was going to happen. Now
my sister was mad, and I was going to have
to try to patch it up. Renee could stay mad
for a while; I knew that from experience.
I gave Hannah a look, but she just smiled
triumphantly. I shook my head and stood
up, following Renee to the sink.
“I told her I didn’t want to go. I have no
idea why she wants to go, but she does. I’m
“It’s okay, Jos. It’s fine. I’m just… I don’t
like being the bad guy. I hate being in that
situation. I want to be your older sister, not
your mom, and sometimes I cross the line
and feel like I have to be your parent.”
“I’m sorry.” Now I felt like absolute shit
and I was kind of pissed at Hannah. If she
hadn’t been so intent on going to this
stupid party, which would probably turn out
to be nothing and totally not worth it,
Renee wouldn’t be mad at me.
“I’m not mad at you. I know it’s not your
fault, Jos.” She turned on the sink and
everyone else started bringing their dishes
“It’s our turn,” Darah said as she picked
up the soap and squirted it on one of the
“No, it’s fine. I’ve got it,” Renee said.
“Babe, come on,” Paul said, taking her
hand. I knew my sister well enough to know
that she was on the verge of tears.
He took her hand and led her upstairs
and I heard the door to their bedroom shut.
“Can I talk to you, Hannah?” I walked
toward the downstairs and jerked my head
so we could go down into the cave and have
“I am so sorry. I had no idea that would
happen,” she said as I shut the door and
walked down the stairs.
“What did you think was going to
happen? That you’d just suggest that her
underage sister should go into a snake pit
filled with alcohol and boys who want to
touch me and things that I was all wrapped
up in this summer and she’d just go along
with it? Seriously, Hannah?”
We’d been friends such a short time
that this was our first fight, and it felt like
Her eyes were wide, her usually sassy
“I’m so sorry. I just… I’m so sorry.”
“Why did you want to go so bad?”
She walked the rest of the way down the
stairs and sat down on the second to last
one. I sat a few steps above her.
“It’s so stupid. You’re going to think I’m
“Tell me and we’ll find out,” I said. I just
wanted people to stop lying to me, or
changing the subject. I wanted the truth, for
The truth is the most beautiful thing
there is, because it’s themost real.
I didn’t believe him when he’d said that,
and I wasn’t sure if I believed it now. The
truth sucked a lot of the time.
“Okay, so you remember at the party on
Sunday that I was being weird? And then
we saw those guys in the Union?” I knew it
had something to do with that. I just had no
idea to what extent, or how.
“So, this guy came up to me and he
pretended to flirt with me, invite me to the
party and then he went and told all his
friends that he’d flirted with a freak. It was
some sort of stupid dare or something. I
was pissed, of course, but whatever, you
know? But then I saw them again and they
just pissed me off. I’m not fucking Gandhi. I
can’t deal sometimes. So I had this plan to
go to the party and fuck them over
somehow. I wasn’t exactly sure how I was
going to do it. I was going to wait until we
go there and, like, pull a Carrie, only, like,
get the bad guys this time. You know?”
“Were you planning on bringing a
bucket of pig’s blood with you?”
“Obviously not. That was more of a
metaphor than an actual plan. I was kind of
hoping you’d help me out with it.”
“You are one of the single weirdest
people I have ever met.”
“That is not the meanest thing anyone’s
ever said to me.”
I could imagine.
“Are you mad?”
“A little.” I slid down a step so I was one
closer to her.
“You could have just told me that’s why
you wanted to go instead of orchestrating
this crazy plan. Or I would have just told you
that those douche bags weren’t worth it
and averted this whole thing.”
“I know you’re right. I have this
tendency to only trust myself and think that
everyone else is going to screw me over.
Probably because lots of people have
screwed me over.
I’d tell you how many times it has
happened, but you might not believe some
of my stories.”
“Oh, you’d be surprised.” I had stories,
She put her head down on her knees.
“I’ve messed things up, haven’t I?”
“It’s okay. You’re allowed. And it’s not
like you did it to be mean, or for some
malicious reason. I mean, not a malicious
reason against people who hadn’t already
been assholes to you.” I wasn’t much for an
eye for an eye, but getting those guys back
seemed like a valid plan. “But would
messing with those guys make you feel
“Have you ever done this to someone
who’s been like this in the past?”
She finally lifted her head up and I saw a
glimmer of her smile.
“There was this girl who used to call me
freak face and would move away from me if
I was ever near her. She used to say a lot of
other horrible things, and this one day, I’d
just had enough and snapped.” She moved
up and there was only one step between us.
“So every morning she used to get these
giant frozen coffees from the Starbucks,
right? I mean, they were huge. I’m pretty
sure they were the only thing she ever
consumed. I can’t remember seeing her eat.
I’m pretty sure they were her bitch fuel.
Anyway, so I started buying the exact drinks
she got and putting them in her locker. So
she’d open her locker and they’d just spill
over all her shit. Wow, that sounds so much
worse when I say it out loud. It was funny
that week when every time after lunch
she’d open her locker and one would come
flying out at her. She never figured it out.”
I had to admit it was pretty good.
“And you know what? I bet that girl is
probably screwing some ridiculously hot
guy at some awesome college in Florida or
something. Bitch,” she said.
“Or maybe she got knocked up the
summer after high school and her parents
made her marry him and she had a super
ugly baby and she waits tables at a horrible
diner and her boss is always grabbing her
ass, but she can’t say anything because she
can’t afford to lose her job because her
baby daddy is an alcoholic who just sits in
his recliner and drinks all day.”
She stared at me as if I’d grown an extra
head and then burst out laughing.
“Girl, you have a hell of an imagination.
You should be a writer.” She wasn’t the first
person who’d said that to me. In English,
Greg had written comments on my first few
prompts that were all positive, and he’d
singled me out more than once for
recognition. Of course I’d turned into a
human fireball every time, and I wished
he’d stop doing it.
And because Hannah had told me about
one of her little secrets, I decided to share
one of mine.
“Hold on a sec.” My laptop was in my
room, so I grabbed it and turned it on,
clicking on to the internet browser and
pulling up my blog. I handed the computer
to Hannah without saying anything.
“Okay,” she said, scrolling through my
blog. “What is this?”
“It’s mine. My blog. This is my secret
identity. My name is Joscelyn Archer and
I’m a music blogger.”
Her eyes went wide and she stared at
the blog more intently.
“No shit, this is yours? Oh, my God.” I
watched her eyes race over my latest album
review and then she clicked on some of the
tabs and looked at some other things. I
waited for the verdict.
“This is so freaking awesome! Why
didn’t you tell me about this?”
“I don’t know. I guess it was just such a
personal thing that I was putting out there. I
didn’t mind sharing it with strangers
because they would never know me or
meet me, but sharing it with people I know
is something different. What if they thought
it was weird? And what if I was bad at it? I
mean, I get sucky comments from
strangers, but it would be awful if one of my
friends or something said it. I don’t know.” I
tried to take the laptop away as I felt my
ears getting red.
Hannah wouldn’t let me have it.
“No way. You shared this with me and
I’m going to take it all in. I told you that you
were a good writer, and you are. You’re
really, really good. Why are you not an
Shit. I didn’t know showing her my blog
would lead to a rehash of things I didn’t
want to talk about.
“Because I don’t fancy working in food
service for the rest of my life or ending up
living in a refrigerator box on the street.”
Hannah smacked me on the arm.
“You would never end up in a box on the
Do you see where you are living right
now? Your sister and all her friends would
never let that happen. You have a whole
fucking houseful of people that care about
you and you can’t even see it.”
What was that about?
“I’m not ungrateful. Do I seem
She sighed and gave my computer back.
“No, that’s not what I meant. That was
just my little jealousy monster rearing his
incredibly ugly head. Just forget it.”
“You have people who care about you. I
care about you,”
I said, putting my arm around her. “Once
again, I totally sounded like I was into you.
But you knew what I meant, right?”
“Totally. And I care about you, too.”
We shared a completely not awkward
hug and then started laughing.
“So, a frat party, huh? Did you ever think
that the best revenge is living well? I read
that somewhere, and I think it would work
in this situation. We’ll get you a killer dress
and the ladies of Yellowfield House can
make you up and then we can go and you
can shove it in their faces. If they think they
got to you, they win. If you show them you
don’t give a shit, then you win,” I said.
She shrugged one shoulder.
“It’s not as good as dumping buckets of
pig’s blood on them.” Thinking about Carrie
reminded me that Stephen King lived right
down the street. I told Hannah and I
thought her eyeballs were going to fall out
of her head.
“I knew he lived in Bangor, but I didn’t
“Yeah, we can drive by or something
sometime. We could even creepily walk by.
But we’d probably get arrested. He’s got
security cameras and stuff.”
We both walked back up the stairs and
found everyone sitting in the living room,
pretending they weren’t waiting for
us—except Renee and Paul.
“We didn’t kill each other, and we didn’t
devolve into a girl fight of hair-pulling and
eye-gouging, if anyone was worried about
that,” Hannah said, slinging her arm over
my shoulder. “See? All good.”
Everyone seemed to sigh in relief.
“But I think I owe your sister an apology,
so I’m going to go do that,” Hannah said,
heading for the stairs as if she’d been in the
house a hundred times.
I didn’t know if that was a good idea, but
I wasn’t going to stop her.
I sat down on the couch next to Taylor,
and she leaned her head on my shoulder.
“You know, I’ve never been to a frat
party, either. I was a bit curious about the
experience, as well.”
Hunter made a grumbling noise.
“What, you don’t think I can defend
myself against a few drunk frat guys? I
defended myself pretty good against you,”
His eyes narrowed and he pointed at
her. “Touché, Missy. Touché.”
Dusty seemed to be watching me. Why
hadn’t he gone home yet?
“I’m going to go check on them,” he said
suddenly, popping to his feet. “I’m not sure
who my money would be on in a fight
between Hannah and Renee.” He jogged up
the stairs, his pants sliding lower and lower.
One of these days I was going to ask him
how they stayed up. But he’d make some
weird comment and then I’d blush and that
wouldn’t be fun. I didn’t need to give him
any more fuel.
“I always wished I had red hair,” Taylor
said, running her fingers through mine. Hers
was so pretty, though. It did that
beachy-wave thing that I could never pull
off. My hair just sort of…hung on my head.
“So you’d have an excuse to fly off the
handle?” Hunter said, picking up his guitar
again. It seemed to be his go-to in times of
“Ha-ha, you wish,” Taylor said.
We sat for a few more minutes as Mase
turned on NESN and checked the sports
stats. Both Hannah and Dusty had been
gone for longer than I was comfortable
with, but it was nearly silent upstairs.
I got up and went for the stairs. I heard
the rest of them talking behind me, but I
Being careful to walk quietly and
carefully, I approached Renee and Paul’s
room. The door was cracked just a bit.
Dusty’s voice was the one I heard first.
“She’s going to have so many people
watching her, she won’t be able to sneeze
without one of us saying ‘bless you.’ Trust
“Why should I trust you?” That was
I leaned closer and maybe a little too
far, catching myself off balance and banging
into the door, which slammed open and
banged off the wall. Not the most graceful
of entrances I’d ever made.
“Sorry, I just came up to see if
everything was okay. I didn’t hear anything
downstairs, so I was hoping I wasn’t going
to come up and find a pile of bodies and
one of you holding a knife or something,” I
said, trying to save myself.
“Where would someone get a knife in
Renee said, recovering first from being
burst in on.
“You do have that really pointy nail file,”
Paul said, chiming in. Dusty was composed
but Hannah was a little red faced.
I wanted, desperately, to know what
Dusty’s answer to Renee’s question would
have been, but I couldn’t admit that I’d
“Sorry I flew off the handle,” Renee said,
sitting down on the edge of her bed.
“No, it’s okay. Mom would have done
the same thing,”
“But I’m not your mom. Even though
you’ve made some bad decisions in the
past, you’ve been doing really great lately,
and I haven’t given you enough credit. I’m
proud of you.”
The praise was going right to my ears,
and I could feel them heating up. She
couldn’t have done this when we were
I mean, I didn’t care if she did it with
Paul around, because he was practically
family, but with Dusty and Hannah there, it
Dusty cleared his throat and moved
toward the door, shoving his hands into his
“I think that’s my cue to go home. I’ll see
you all…at some point. Okay, good night.”
He was out of there quicker than you could
say “saggy pants.”
“Sometimes I have an issue picking up
on social cues, but this isn’t one of those
times. I will see you tomorrow, Jos.
Thanks for understanding, Renee. ’Bye,
Paul.” Hannah scurried after Dusty, and I
was left with Renee and Paul.
“I think I’m going to give you two a
minute.” Paul left and closed the door
quietly behind him. I sat down next to
Renee on the bed.
“So what were you talking about when I
made my awesome entrance?” I said.
“Nothing. Hannah was just explaining
her reasons for wanting to go to the party. I
swear, ninety percent of guys are complete
and utter douche bags.” She closed her
eyes and flopped backward.
“If that’s true, then how is it possible
that we have three non–douche bags living
in this house? I mean, those are, like,
Powerball odds.” I joined her and let myself
fall backward and we stared at the ceiling.
“I don’t know. But I’m thinking we
should start buying more scratch tickets,”
The comforter was bunched up under
my head, so I smoothed it out.
“You ever take that thing off?” She
reached for my bracelet, fingering the
“No.” I let her play with it for a second
longer and then turned on my side,
propping my head on my hand. She did the
same. It felt like when we were little and
used to build forts out of pillows and sheets
in the living room with all the chairs from
the dining room. That was before a lot of
our siblings entered our lives. All I could
remember was that it was pretty quiet back
“Sometimes I feel so old,” she said.
“Just between everything with Mom and
Dad and with our family being so crazy. Do
you remember that time when Mom forgot
us at school and we had to hitchhike?”
I rolled my eyes.
“Which time?” It had happened often in
“It’s a wonder the two of us even
managed to turn out relatively normal.” I
tapped the side of her head.
“Relatively? Speak for yourself.”
“Hey, ‘relatively normal’ is a compliment
for you,” she said, grabbing a pillow and
whacking me with it.
“What the hell?” I dived and got a hold
of one and smacked her back. And then,
because we were sisters, we had a pillow
fight. Renee didn’t have down pillows, so
there were no feathers, but it got pretty
By the time both of us were out of
breath, we had an audience. One of the
guys must have heard us yelling and
carrying on and thought we were killing
each other, but they found us collapsed and
laughing in exhaustion.
“So, you’re good, then?” Mase said.
“Because you could, you know, keep doing
that. I wouldn’t complain.” He grinned, and
Darah made a disgusted sound.
“I think the odds are going down,” I said
to Renee and she laughed.
“What odds?” Hunter said.
“Never mind,” we both said at the same
Hannah was more reluctant to go
shopping than a virgin being led to the
“You agreed to this plan. It will be okay, I
swear,” I said as I drove us toward the
Bangor Mall. She kept changing the radio
stations and it was driving me mad. I finally
reached out and turned off the radio.
I drove around a few times and found a
parking spot near the Dick’s Sporting Goods
store. I got my purse and was about to get
out of the car when Hannah’s hand reached
out and stopped me.
“Okay, so you know how we’ve been
sharing stuff lately, and I have to tell you
that I haven’t been shopping in, like, two
years.” She bit her lip and shrugged.
I sat back in my seat in shock.
“For serious?” I said.
“I mean, not like food shopping, but
This was astounding, because she
always looked cute, in a punk/vintage kind
of way. She’d wear something that looked
like it belonged in a 1950s period piece with
something that had spikes or grommets or
leather. “I buy everything online. I know
which major retailers make their shirts
small and don’t even get me started on
“Why do you hate shopping so much?”
She gave me an icy look that told me she
thought it was more than obvious and I
should know without having to ask. “I
mean, is that it?”
“Is that it? Do you have any idea what
it’s like to go into a changing room and have
the attendant look at you like a leper? It’s
like they’re afraid I’m going to ruin the
clothes. And then the other people stare
and those horrible lights make you look
awful. It’s just an experience that I decided I
didn’t want to participate in anymore. Nude
modeling is one thing, but shopping is
“Then why did you say okay?”
“Because I had hoped that this time
would be different. In addition to being
really good at sensing people, I’m also an
eternal optimist. Deep down inside. But
don’t tell anyone. I don’t want that to mess
with my image.”
“I won’t tell anyone if you agree to not
tell anyone about my blog.” We got out of
the car and she started whistling.
“Hannah? Did you hear me?”
“Um, yes? The thing is, I kind of already
did.” She squinched up her face as if she
was preparing for a blow.
“What!” She nearly hit me when she
opened the door.
“Uh, yeah. Remember how I said I was
going to help you with the job thing? Well,
it just so happens that I have a contact, of
sorts, at the campus newspaper and I
showed him your blog. He’s been looking
for someone to start writing a music
column, and I gave him your name and your
email, so he’ll probably be contacting you.”
She said it all in a rush.
I stopped walking and grabbed her arm
to make her face me.
“Why did you do that? I told you I
wanted it to be a secret.” I could feel the
panic building in my chest. I honestly didn’t
know why it freaked me out so much, but I
was definitely freaking.
“I know, but, like I said, you’re really
talented. I don’t think you belong in poli-sci.
You belong at a magazine or writing for a
newspaper or, since those are all dying out,
working for music promotions. I don’t know
that much about it, but I know that you are
wasting your talent.”
“And you know all that from reading a
few blog posts I wrote?” The music industry
was vicious, and there were thousands of
other blogs out there. I didn’t have
thousands of followers, or even close to
that. I was one drop in a vast ocean of other
people doing the same thing, and a lot of
them doing it better than me.
“I know it because I know you. Once
again, creepy, but I feel like you don’t even
see yourself sometimes. I know you’ve got,
like, baggage and shit and that someday
you will share it with me, but you don’t
have to now. But that baggage is standing in
the way of you doing something awesome.”
She started walking toward a Deb shop,
which was where we were most likely to
find something for her to wear. They
already had the prom dresses out, even
though prom was months away. I couldn’t
explain because she wouldn’t understand,
so I just followed her into the store.
Almost an hour later, Hannah had
rejected nearly all of my dress suggestions.
I’d tried everything; short, long, in between.
Red, green, blue, black, gold, pink. She and
found a reason for every rejection. It was no
wonder she hadn’t been shopping in two
years. She was so freaking picky.
“What about this?” I’d gotten fed up
with trying to help her, so I was picking out
ridiculous things. I held up a tube dress that
was in a shade of violent fluorescent yellow
and looked like something a cheap
streetwalker would wear.
“Do I have to list the things that are
wrong with that dress?”
I sighed and put it back.
“Jesus, Hannah, you’re harder to shop
for than the Queen.”
“The Queen doesn’t do her own
shopping. She has people,” she said,
walking along a rack and running her hands
over the dresses. “Oooh,” she said, pulling
one out. It was the first time she’d showed
interest in anything, so I was shocked.
It was a one-shouldered red dress with
black embroidery along the hem that would
probably hit right above her knees.
It also had a black belt around the waist
with a silver buckle.
“I’m trying this on,” she said, and
without any more fuss, she marched toward
the dressing room.
I followed in her wake, stunned.
The attendant was absent, so Hannah
just walked into the first room that was
“Hold my bag?”
“Sure,” I said as she handed her purse
under the door.
I waited as she shucked her shoes and
clothes off and then heard the sound of the
zipper on the dress. She turned back and
“Well? Does it fit?” The door slowly
opened halfway and she let me in.
“You tell me.” She shrugged and turned
in a circle and the skirt flared out.
“You are a knockout, Hannah.” It was
true. The belt made her look like the perfect
hourglass, and the length made her legs
look like they went on forever. The bare
shoulder happened to be on the side with
her scars, but really, I wasn’t looking at
“I think we have a winner,” I said, taking
her hand and twirling her under my arm.
She crashed into the wall because there
really wasn’t enough room for twirling, and
we both laughed.
“Okay, now it’s your turn. Go pick
something and get back here, bitch.” I had
just planned on borrowing the gold number
again, but once again, Hannah wasn’t going
to take no for an answer.
She shoved me out the door and I went
back to the front of the store where the
dresses were. I’d seen a few that I thought
were cute, but I’d been so focused on
Hannah I hadn’t even thought about it. I
quickly looked through, trying to find
something that wasn’t too short or too
long, or a bad color.
I rejected anything red or pink or
orange. I also didn’t want black because it
tended to wash me out at the same time it
made my freckles stand out way too much. I
found a drapey gray number that
shimmered a little when I held the fabric
under the light. It also looked like it would
be comfortable and cover everything I
needed covered. It wasn’t as conservative
as what I would have worn in my old life,
but it was a good middle ground kind of
I brought it back and saw that Hannah
was back in her other clothes and had the
red dress draped over her arm.
“Very pretty. Now get naked and put it
on.” I was shoved into the room and she
slammed the door behind me. There were
only a few other people in the dressing
room, and I bet they didn’t know what to
make of Hannah.
I stripped down and put the dress on. I
got the zipper almost all the way up.
Hannah’s foot was tapping impatiently on
the other side of the door.
“Can you zip me up?” I unlocked the
door before she busted it down. I turned
my back and she finished zipping me before
she wrenched me back around. I didn’t
think she knew the meaning of the word
“It makes your boobs look great.” Of
course, this was an important
consideration. “Gorgeous. If I had a dick, I’d
totally do you.”
“That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever
said to me,” I said, touching her shoulder.
“Okay, so now we both have dresses,
can we get out of here?”
“Sure, just let me get changed.”
Hannah couldn’t get out of that store
fast enough. I reminded her that we needed
accessories for our dresses, so she dragged
me into Claire’s for earrings and such, and
then we went and got shoes. By the time
we had everything for our outfits, we were
both starving, so we decided to be done for
the day. I invited Hannah to dinner and she
“By the way, what were you and my
sister talking about for so long last night?” I
said as we shoved our purchases into the
backseat of my car.
“I was just apologizing profusely for my
lack of tact. It took a while. I also had to go
into the whole story about the guys and
outline my reasons for wanting to go. After I
told you, it seemed stupid that I was trying
to keep it a secret in the first place.”
“That was it?”
“Yeah, why?” I looked at her, but her
eyes were wide and innocent. I’d
underestimated her lying skills, apparently,
based on past experience.
“No reason. Just curious.” I dropped it.
My next stop was Dusty to see what his
version of the story was.
I didn’t have long to wait to interrogate
Dusty because he was at the house when
we got back, sitting on the couch with his
headphones on as if he was the king of the
He pulled them off his ears and left
them around his neck when he saw me and
“Should we add your name to the list?” I
said, pointing to the chart with everyone’s
name on it. “Or maybe you should just
move in. You could sleep on the recliner.” It
happened to be the ugliest chair in the
history of chairs, but Taylor refused to get
rid of it, and would never say why. Some
sort of weird sentimental value. I honestly
didn’t want to know.
“Pass. I’m just here because Hunter is
helping me study for the Praxis. Or actually,
he’s showing me hownotto study for the
“Did you get your scores yet?” I asked
“Not yet. But they should be in by
tomorrow. If not, I’m going to let Taylor call
and rip them a new one. She’s much better
at yelling and getting her way than I am.”
This was true. I’d seen it in action.
“I’m sure you did fine,” I said, going to
take my bags down to my room, Hannah
following. Hunter was really smart—in fact,
the entire house was freaking smart, just in
different ways. It was more intimidating
than when I’d been competing with my
classmates in high school and last year for
the highest GPA.
I tossed my bags on the floor and went
to check my email, my heart pounding a
little bit. Yup, there it was. An email with
the subject line: Writing for The Maine
Campus, from someone named Brett Evans.
I clicked it open and scanned it. He’d read
my blog and loved it and was wondering if
I’d like to have my own column in the
Entertainment section where I’d review
bands, CDs and so forth. He did mention
that he’d gotten my name from Hannah, so
it didn’t seem like he was contacting me out
of the blue. He also mentioned that the
paper paid per article, but if I liked it
enough, he was looking for an assistant
editor for his section, and he would love to
talk to me, and it didn’t matter if I wasn’t a
“Let me guess. Brett emailed you.”
Hannah had been silent the entire time I’d
been reading the email. Probably because
she knew that’s what I was doing.
“Yeah. He wants to give me a column,
and he said he needed an assistant editor.”
“Holy crap, that’s awesome! Good job,
I felt less-than-enthusiastic. “But,
Hannah, I’ve read the paper, like, once, and
I’m not a journalism major. I’m not even a
“Doesn’t matter. Brett’s a new-media
major. There are lots of people who work
there that aren’t in journalism. Besides, it’s
not like it’s theNew York Times.It’s just a
school paper. Not a big deal.” Why did it
feel like such a big deal?
“So you’re going to do it, right?”
It was money, which I didn’t have, and it
was something I loved to do.
Live the day, Jossy.
“Yeah, I’m going to do it.” The second
the words were out of my mouth, Hannah
tackle-hugged me and we both fell back on
the bed. “I swear, I think you’re more
excited about it than I am.”
“Awesome. Fuck, I’m starving,” she said,
putting her hand on her stomach and sitting
up. She held out her hand and pulled me to
“How do you know this guy, anyway?”
Hannah never really talked about other
She sighed and rolled her eyes toward
the ceiling. “It’s kind of a long story. We
were sort of friends in high school, and I
was madly in love with him. I never told him
and eventually I got over it, but we’re still
sort of friends. It’s one of those weird
relationships where you never really know
where you stand, you know? But he’s a
good guy, I swear.”
Okay, the story wasn’t that long. My
next question was automatic.
“Is he cute?”
She smiled a little. “Not in the
conventional way. He’s sort of band-geek
chic. You’ll see what I mean when you meet
Hannah kept my new job quiet at
dinner, like I asked her to, and ended up
staying with us for homework time.
“You know, I said we needed to build a
library instead of a stupid man cave and
look at us now,” Taylor said as every
available surface, including the f loor, was
taken up with books and people and
computers. “I told you I wanted one of
those bookcases with the ladder that rolls