“Why was he sent to juvi?” I ask, not sure if I really want to know the answer.

Six pulls the toothbrush from her mouth. “They got him for a hate crime...beat up some gay kid from school. Pretty sure it was a strike three kind of thing.” She puts the toothbrush back into her mouth and walks to the sink to spit.

A hate crime? Really? My stomach does a flip, but not in the good way this time.

Six walks back into the bedroom after pulling her hair into a ponytail. “This sucks,” she says, perusing through her jewelry. “What if this is the one time you get horny for a guy and you never feel it again?”

Her choice of words makes me grimace. “I wasn’t horny for him, Six.”

She waves her hand in the air. “Horny. Attracted. It’s all the same,” she says flippantly, walking back to the bed. She places an earring in her lap and brings the other one up to her ear. “I guess we should be relieved to know that you aren’t completely broken.” Six narrows her eyes and leans over me. She pinches my chin, turning my face to the left. “What in the hell happened to your eye?”

I laugh and roll off the bed, out of harm’s way. “You happened.” I make my way toward the window. “I need to clear my head. I’m gonna go for a run. Wanna come?”

Six crinkles up her nose. “Yeah…no. You have fun with that.”

I have one leg over the windowsill when she calls back to me. “I want to know all about your first day at school later. And I have a present for you. I’m coming over tonight.”

Monday, August 27th, 2012 5:25 p.m.

My lungs are aching; my body went numb way back at Aspen Road. My breath has moved from controlled inhaling and exhaling to uncontrolled gasps and spurts. This is the point at which I usually love running the most. When every single ounce of my body is poured into propelling me forward, leaving me committedly focused on my next step and nothing else.

My next step.

Nothing else.

I’ve never run this far before. I usually stop when I know I hit my mile and a half mark a few blocks backs, but I didn’t this time. Despite the familiar despair that my body is currently in, I still can’t seem to shut my mind off. I keep running in hopes that I’ll get to that point, but it’s taking a lot longer than usual. The only thing that makes me decide to stop going is the fact that I still have to cover as much tread going home, and I’m almost out of water.

I stop at the edge of a driveway and lean against the mailbox, opening the lid to my water bottle. I wipe the sweat off my forehead with the back of my arm and bring the bottle to my lips, managing to get about four drops into my mouth before it runs dry. I’ve already downed an entire bottle of water in this Texas heat. I silently scold myself for deciding to skip my run this morning. I’m a wuss in the heat.

Fearing for my hydration, I decide to walk the rest of the way back, rather than run. I don’t think pushing myself to the point of physical exertion would make Karen too happy. She gets nervous enough that I run by myself as it is.

I begin walking when I hear a familiar voice speak up from behind me.

“Hey, you.”

As if my heart wasn’t already beating fast enough, I slowly turn around and see Holder staring down at me, smiling, his dimples breaking out in the corners of his mouth. His hair is wet from sweat and it’s obvious he’s been running, too.

I blink twice, half believing this is a mirage brought on by my exhaustion. My instinct is telling me to run and scream, but my body wants to wrap itself around his glistening, sweaty arms.

My body is a damn traitor.

Luckily, I haven’t recovered from the stretch I just completed, so he won’t be able to tell that my erratic breathing pattern is mostly from just seeing him again.

“Hey,” I say back, breathless. I do my best to keep looking at his face but I can’t seem to stop my eyes from dripping below his neck. Instead, I just look down at my feet in order to avoid the fact that he isn’t wearing anything but shorts and running shoes. The way his shorts are hanging off of his hips is reason enough for me to forgive every single negative thing I’ve learned about him today.

“You run?” he asks, leaning his elbow on the mailbox.

I nod. “Usually in the mornings. I forgot how hot it is in the afternoons.” I attempt to look back up at him, lifting my hand over my eyes to shield the sun that’s glowing over his head like a halo.

How ironic.

He reaches out and I flinch before I realize he’s just handing me his bottle of water. The way his lips purse together in an attempt not to smile makes it obvious he can see how nervous I am around him.

“Drink this.” He nudges the half empty bottle at me. “You look exhausted.”

Normally I wouldn’t take water from strangers. I would especially not take water from people I know are bad news, but I’m thirsty. So damn thirsty.

I grab the bottle out of his hands and tilt my head back, downing three huge gulps. I’m dying to drink the rest, but I can’t deplete his supply, too. “Thanks,” I say, handing it back to him. I wipe my hand over my mouth and look behind me at the sidewalk. “Well, I’ve got another mile and a half return, so I better get started.”

“Closer to two and a half,” he says, cutting his eyes to my stomach. He presses his lips to the bottle without wiping the rim off, keeping his eyes trained on me while he tilts his head back and gulps the rest of the water. I can’t help but watch his lips as they cover the opening of the bottle that my lips were just touching. We’re practically kissing.

I shake my head. “Huh?” I’m not sure if he said something out loud or not. I’m a little preoccupied watching the sweat drip down his chest.

“I said it’s more like two and a half. You live over on Conroe, that’s over two miles away. That’s almost a five mile run round trip.” He says it like he’s impressed.

I eye him curiously. “You know what street I live on?”

“Yeah.”

He doesn’t elaborate. I keep my gaze fixed on his and remain silent, waiting for some sort of explanation.

He can see I’m not satisfied with his “yeah,” so he sighs. “Linden Sky Davis, born September 29th. 1455 Conroe Street. Five feet three inches. Donor.”

I take a step back, suddenly seeing my near-future murder played out in front of my eyes at the hands of my dreamy stalker. I wonder if I should stop shielding my vision from the sun so I can get a better look at him in case I get away? I might need to recount his features to the sketch artist.

“Your ID,” he explains when he sees the mixture of terror and confusion on my face. “You showed me your ID earlier. At the store.”

Somehow, that explanation doesn’t ease my apprehension. “You looked at it for two seconds.”

He shrugs. “I have a good memory.”

“You stalk,” I deadpan.

He laughs. “I stalk? You’re the one standing in front of my house.” He points over his shoulder at the house behind him.

His house? What the hell are the chances?

He straightens up and taps his fingers against the letters on the front of the mailbox.

The Holders.

I can feel the blood rushing to my cheeks, but it doesn’t matter. After a middle of the afternoon run in the Texas heat and a limited supply of water, I’m sure my entire body is flush. I try not to glance back at his house, but curiousity is my weakness. It’s a modest house, not too flashy. It fits in well with the mid-income neighborhood we’re in. As does the car that’s in his driveway. I wonder if that’s his car? I can deduct from his conversation with whats-her-face from the grocery store that he’s my age, so I know he must live with his parents. But how have I not seen him before? How could I not know I lived less than three miles from the only boy in existence who can turn me into a ball of frustrated hot-flashes?

I clear my throat. “Well, thanks for the water.” I can think of nothing I want more than to escape this awkwardness. I give him a quick wave and break into a stride.

“Wait a sec,” he yells from behind me. I don’t slow down, so he passes me and turns around, jogging backward against the sun. “Let me refill your water.” He reaches over and grabs my water bottle out of my left hand, brushing his hand against my stomach in the process. I freeze again.

“I’ll be right back,” he says, running off toward his house.

I’m stumped. That is a completely contradictory act of kindness. Another side effect of the split personality disorder, maybe? He’s probably a mutation, like The Hulk. Or Jekyll and Hyde. I wonder if Dean is his nice persona and Holder is his scary one. Holder is definitely the one I saw at the grocery store earlier. I think I like Dean a lot better.

I feel awkward waiting, so I walk back toward his driveway, pausing every few seconds to look at the path that leads back to my home. I have no idea what to do. It feels like any decision I make at this point will be one for the dumb side of the scale.

Should I stay?

Should I run?

Should I hide in the bushes before he comes back outside with handcuffs and a knife?

Before I have a chance to run, his front door swings open and he comes back outside with a full bottle of water. This time the sun is behind me, so I don’t have to struggle so hard to see him. That’s not a good thing, either, since all I want to do is stare at him.

Ugh! I absolutely hate lust.

Hate. It.

Every fiber of my being knows he’s not a good person, yet my body doesn’t seem to give a shit at all.

He hands me the bottle and I quickly down another drink. I hate Texas heat as it is, but coupled with Dean Holder, it feels like I’m standing in the pits of Hell.

“So…earlier? At the store?” he says with a nervous pause. “If I made you uneasy, I’m sorry.”

My lungs are begging me for air, but I somehow find a way to reply. “You didn’t make me uneasy.”

You sort of creeped me out.

Holder narrows his eyes at me for a few seconds, studying me. I’ve discovered today that I don’t like being studied…I like going unnoticed. “I wasn’t trying to hit on you, either,” he says. “I just thought you were someone else.”

“It’s fine.” I force a smile, but it’s not fine. Why am I suddenly consumed with disappointment that he wasn’t trying to hit on me? I should be happy.

“Not that I wouldn’t hit on you,” he adds with a grin. “I just wasn’t doing it at that particular moment.”

Oh, thank you, Jesus. His clarification makes me smile, despite all my efforts not to.

“Want me to run with you?” he asks, nudging his head toward the sidewalk behind me.

Yes, please.

“No, it’s fine.”

He nods. “Well, I was going that way anyway. I run twice a day and I’ve still got a couple…” He stops speaking mid sentence and takes a quick step toward me. He grabs my chin and tilts my head back. “Who did this to you?” The same hardness I saw in his eyes at the grocery store returns behind his scowl. “Your eye wasn’t like this earlier.”


Tags: Colleen Hoover Hopeless Romance
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