Karen walks away to the kitchen and Holder looks back down at me, his eyes full of concern again. “You sure you’re okay?” He brushes his thumb across my cheek.

I shiver.

A devilish grin creeps across his face when he sees me attempt to cover the chill bumps on my arms. He glances behind me at Karen in the kitchen, then refocuses his gaze to mine.

“What time should I come stalk you tomorrow?” he whispers.

“Six-thirty?” I breathe, looking up at him helplessly.

“Six-thirty sounds good.”

“Holder, you don’t have to do this.”

His hypnotizing blue eyes study my face for several quiet seconds and I can’t help but stare at his equally hypnotizing mouth while he speaks. “I know I don’t have to do this, Sky. I do what I want.” He leans in toward my ear and lowers his voice to a whisper. “And I want to run with you.” He pulls back and studies me. Due to all the chaos parading through my head and stomach, I fail to muster a reply.

Karen is back with the crackers. “Eat,” she says, placing them in my hand.

Holder stands up and says goodbye to Karen, then turns back to me. “Take care of yourself. I’ll see you in the morning?”

I nod and watch him as he turns to leave. I can’t tear my eyes away from the front door after it shuts behind him. I’m losing it. I’ve completely lost any form of self-control. So this is what Six loves? This is lust?

I hate it. I absolutely, positively hate this beautiful, magical feeling.

“He was so nice,” Karen says. “And handsome.” She turns to face me. “You don’t know him?”

I shrug. “I know of him,” I say. And that’s all I say. If she only knew what kind of hopeless boy she just assigned as my “running partner,” she’d have a conniption. The less she knows about Dean Holder, the better it’ll be for both of us.

Monday, August 27th, 2012 7:10 p.m.

“What the hell happened to your face?” Jack drops my chin and walks past me to the refrigerator.

Jack has been a fixture in Karen’s life for about a year and a half now. He has dinner with us a few nights a week, and since tonight is Six’s going away dinner, he’s gracing us with his presence. As much as he likes to give Six a hard time, I know he’ll miss her, too.

“I kicked the road’s ass today,” I reply.

He laughs. “So that’s what happened to the road.”

Six grabs a slice of bread and opens a jar of Nutella. I grab my plate and fill it with Karen’s latest vegan concoction. Karen’s cooking is an acquired taste, one that Six still hasn’t acquired after four years. Jack, on the other hand, is Karen’s twin incarnate, so he doesn’t mind the cooking. Tonight’s menu consists of something I can’t even pronounce, but it’s completely animal-product free, like it always is. Karen doesn’t force me to eat vegan, so unless I’m home, I usually eat what I want.

Everything Six eats is only eaten to compliment her main course of Nutella. Tonight, she’s having a cheese and Nutella sandwich. I don’t know if I could ever acquire a taste for that.

“So, when are you moving in?” I ask Jack. He and Karen have been discussing the next step, but they can never seem to get past the hump of her strict anti-technology rule. Well, Jack can’t get past it. It’s not a hump that will ever be scaled by Karen.

“Whenever your mom caves and gets ESPN,” Jack says.

They don’t argue about it. I think their arrangement is fine with both of them, so neither of them is in a hurry to sacrifice their opposing views on modern technology.

“Sky passed out in the road today,” Karen says, changing the subject. “Some adorable man-boy carried her inside.”

I laugh. “Guy, Mom. Please just say guy.”

Six glares at me from across the table and it occurs to me that I haven’t filled her in on my afternoon run. I also haven’t filled her in on my first day of school. It’s been an active day today. I wonder who I’m going to fill in after she leaves tomorrow? Just the thought of her being on the other side of the world in two days fills me with dread. I hope Breckin can fill her shoes. Well, he would probably love to fill her shoes. Literally. But I’m hoping he does so in the figurative sense.

“You okay?” Jack asks. “It must have been a pretty good fall to get that shiner.”

I reach up to my eye and grimace. I’d completely forgotten about the black eye. “That’s not from fainting. Six elbowed me. Twice.”

I expect one of them to at least ask Six why she attacked me, but they don’t. This just goes to show how much they love her. They wouldn’t even care if she beat me up, they’d tell me I probably deserved it.

“Doesn’t that annoy you, having a number for a name?” Jack asks her. “I never understood that. It’s like when a parent names their child after one of the days of the week.” He pauses with his fork mid-air and looks at Karen. “When we have a baby, we aren’t doing that to them. Anything you can find on a calendar is off limits.”

Karen stares at him with a stone cold expression. If I had to guess by her reaction, this is the first time Jack has mentioned babies. If I had to guess based on the look on her face, babies aren’t something she’s anticipating in her future. Ever.

Jack refocuses his attention back to Six. “Isn’t your real name like Seven or Thirteen or something like that? I don’t get why you picked Six. It’s possibly the worst number you could pick.”

“I’m going to accept your insults for what they are,” Six says. “Just your way of burying your devastation over my impending absence.”

Jack laughs. “Bury my insults wherever you want. There’ll be more to come when you get back in six months.”

After Jack and Six leave, I help Karen in the kitchen with the dishes. Since the second Jack brought up babies, she’s been unusually quiet.

“Why did that freak you out so bad?” I ask her, handing her the plate to rinse.

“What?”

“His comment about having a baby with you. You’re in your thirties. People have babies at your age all the time.”

“Was it that noticeable?”

“It was to me.”

She grabs another plate from me to rinse, then lets out a sigh. “I love Jack. I just love me and you, too. I like our arrangement and I don’t know if I’m ready to change it, much less bring another baby into the picture. But Jack is so intent on moving forward.”

I turn the water off and wipe my hands on the hand-towel. “I’ll be eighteen in a few weeks, Mom. As much as you want our arrangement to stay the same…it won’t. I’ll be off at college after next semester and you’ll be living here alone. It might not hurt to entertain the idea of at least letting him move in.”

She smiles at me, but it’s a pained smile just like it always is when I bring up college. “I have been entertaining the idea, Sky. Believe me. It’s just a huge step that can’t be undone once it’s taken.”

“What if it’s a step you don’t want undone, though? What if it’s a step that just makes you want to take another step, and another step, until you’re full-on sprinting?”

She laughs. “That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”

I wipe off the counter and rinse the rag off in the sink. “I don’t understand you, sometimes.”

“And I don’t understand you, either,” she says, nudging my shoulder. “I’ll never for the life of me understand why you wanted to go to public school so bad. I know you said it was fun, but tell me how you really feel.”

I shrug. “It was good,” I lie. My stubbornness wins every time. There’s no way I’m telling her how much I hated school today, despite the fact that she would never say, “I told you so.”

She dries her hands and smiles at me. “Happy to hear it. Now maybe when I ask you again tomorrow, you’ll tell me the truth.”

I grab the book Breckin gave me out of my backpack and plop down on my bed. I get through all of two pages when Six crawls through my window.

“School first, then present,” she says. She scoots in on the bed next to me and I put the book down on my nightstand.

“School sucked ass. Thanks to you and your inability to just say no to guys, I’ve inherited your terrible reputation. But by divine intervention, I was rescued by Breckin, the adopted gay Mormon who can’t sing or act but loves to read and is my new very bestest friend ever in the whole wide world.”

Six pouts. “I’m not even out the door yet and you’ve already replaced me? Vicious. And for the record, I don’t have an inability to say no to guys. I have an inability to grasp the moral ramifications of premarital sex. Lots and lots of premarital sex.”

She places a box in my lap. An unwrapped box.

“I know what you’re thinking,” she says. “And you should know by now that my lack of wrapping doesn’t reflect how I feel about you. I’m just lazy.”

I pick the box up and shake it. “You’re the one leaving, you know. I should be the one getting you a gift.”

“Yes, you should be. But you suck at gift giving and I don’t expect you to change on my account.”

She’s right. I’m a horrible gift giver, but mostly because I hate receiving gifts so much. It’s almost as awkward as people crying. I turn the box and find the flap, then untuck it and open it. I pull out the tissue paper and a cell phone drops into my hand.

“Six,” I say. “You know I can’t…”

“Shut up. There is no way I’m going halfway across the world without a way to communicate with you. You don’t even have an email address.”

“I know, but I can’t…I don’t have a job. I can’t pay for this. And Karen…”

“Relax. It’s a prepaid phone. I put just enough minutes on it to where we can text each other once a day while I’m gone. I can’t afford international phone calls, so you’re out of luck there. And just to keep with your mother’s cruel, twisted parental values, there isn’t even internet on the damn thing. Just texting.”

She grabs the phone and turns it on, then enters her contact info. “If you end up getting a hot boyfriend while I’m away, you can always add extra minutes. But if he uses up any of mine I’m cutting his balls off.”

She hands me back the phone and I press the home button. Her contact information pulls up as Your very, VERY bestest friend ever in the whole wide world.

I suck at receiving gifts and I really suck at goodbyes. I set the phone back in the box and bend over to pick my backpack up. I pull the books out and set them on the floor, then turn around and dump my backpack over her and watch all the dollar bills fall in her lap.

“There’s thirty-seven dollars here,” I say. “It should hold you over until you get back. Happy foreign exchange day.”

She picks up a handful of dollars and throws them up in the air, then falls back on the bed. “Only one day at public school and the bitches already made your locker rain?” she laughs. “Impressive.”


Tags: Colleen Hoover Hopeless Romance
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