I lay the goodbye card on her chest that I wrote to her, then lean my head into her shoulder. “You think that’s impressive? You should have seen me work the pole in the cafeteria.”

She picks the card up and brushes her fingers over it, smiling. She doesn’t open it because she knows I don’t like it when things get uncomfortably emotional. She tucks the card back to her chest and leans her head on my shoulder.

“You’re such a slut,” she says quietly, attempting to hold back tears that we’re both too stubborn to cry.

“So I’ve heard.”

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012 6:15 a.m.

The alarm sounds and I instantly debate skipping today’s run until I remember who’s waiting for me outside. I get dressed faster than I’ve ever dressed since the first day I started getting dressed, then head to the window. There’s a card taped to the inside of my window with the word “slut” written on it in Six’s handwriting. I smile and pull the card off the window, then throw it on my bed before heading outside.

He’s sitting on the curb stretching his legs. His back is to me, which is good. Otherwise he would have caught my frown as soon as I noticed he was wearing a shirt. He hears me approaching and spins around to face me.

“Hey, you.” He smiles and stands up. I notice when he does, that his shirt is already soaked. He ran here. He ran over two miles here, he’s about to run three more miles with me, then he’ll be running over two miles home. I seriously don’t understand why he’s going through all this trouble. Or why I’m allowing it. “You need to stretch first?” he asks.

“Already did.”

He reaches out and touches my cheek with his thumb. “Doesn’t look so bad,” he says. “You sore?”

I shake my head. Does he really expect me to vocalize a response when his fingers are touching my face? It’s pretty hard to speak and hold your breath at the same time.

He pulls his hand back and smiles. “Good. You ready?”

I let out a breath. “Yeah.”

And we run. We run side by side for a while until the path narrows, then he falls into step behind me, which makes me incredibly self-conscious. I normally lose myself when I run, but this time I’m acutely aware of every single thing, from my hair, to the length of my shorts, to each drop of sweat that trails down my back. I’m relieved once the path widens and he falls back into step beside me.

“You better try out for track.” His voice is steady and it doesn’t sound anything like he’s already ran four miles this morning. “You’ve got more stamina than most of the guys from the team last year.”

“I don’t know if I want to,” I say, unattractively breathless. “I don’t really know anyone at school. I planned on trying out, but so far most of the people at school are sort of…mean. I don’t really want to be subjected to them for longer periods of time under the guise of a team.”

“You’ve only been in public school for a day. Give it time. You can’t expect to be homeschooled your whole life, then walk in the first day with a ton of new friends.”

I stop dead in my tracks. He takes a few more steps before he notices I’m no longer beside him. When he turns around and sees me standing still on the pavement, he rushes toward me and grabs my shoulders. “Are you okay? Are you dizzy?”

I shake my head and push his arms off my shoulders. “I’m fine,” I say with a very audible amount of annoyance in my response.

He cocks his head. “Did I say something wrong?”

I start walking in the direction of my house, so he follows suit. “A little,” I say, cutting my eyes toward him. “I was halfway joking about the stalking yesterday, but you admitted to looking me up on Facebook right after meeting me. Then you insist on running with me, even though it’s out of your way. Now you somehow know how long I’ve been in public school? And that I was homeschooled? I’m not gonna lie, it’s a little unnerving.”

I wait for the explanation, but instead he just narrows his eyes and watches me. We’re both still walking forward, but he just silently watches me until we round the next corner. When he does finally speak, his words are preempted with a heavy sigh. “I asked around,” he finally says. “I’ve lived here since I was ten, so I have a lot of friends. I was curious about you.”

I eye him for a few steps, then drop my gaze down to the sidewalk. I suddenly can’t look at him, wondering what else his “friends” have told him about me. I know the rumors have been going around since Six and I became best friends, but this is the first time I’ve ever felt remotely defensive or embarrassed by them. The fact that he’s going out of his way to run with me can only mean one thing. He’s heard the rumors, and he’s probably hoping they’re true.

He can tell I’m uncomfortable, so he grabs my elbow and stops me. “Sky.” We turn and face each other, but I keep my eyes trained on the concrete. I’m actually wearing more than just a sports bra today but I fold my arms across my t-shirt anyway and hug myself. There’s nothing showing that needs covering up, but I somehow feel really naked right now.

“I think we got off on the wrong foot at the store yesterday,” he says. “And the talk about stalking, I swear, it was a joke. I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable around me. Would it make you feel better if you knew more about me? Ask me something and I’ll tell you. Anything.”

I’m really hoping he’s being genuine because I can already tell he isn’t the kind of guy a girl gets a simple crush on. He’s the kind of guy you fall hard for, and the thought of that terrifies me. I don’t really want to fall hard for anyone at all, especially someone who’s only making an effort because he thinks I’m easy. I also don’t want to fall for someone who has already branded himself hopeless. But I’m curious. So curious.

“If I ask you something, will you be honest?”

He tilts his head toward me. “That’s all I’ll ever be.”

The way he lowers his voice when he speaks makes my head spin and for a second, I’m afraid if he keeps talking like that, I’ll pass out again. Luckily, he takes a step back and waits on my response. I want to ask him about his past. I want to know why he was sent away and why he did what he did and why Six doesn’t trust him. But again, I’m not sure I want to know the truth yet.

“Why did you drop out of school?”

He sighs like that’s one of the questions he was hoping to be able to dodge. He begins walking forward again and I’m the one following him this time.

“Technically, I haven’t dropped out yet.”

“Well you obviously haven’t been in over a year. I’d say that’s dropping out.”

He turns back to me and looks torn, like he wants to tell me something. He opens his mouth, then shuts it again after hesitating. I hate that I can’t read him. Most people are easy to read. They’re simple. Holder is all kinds of confusing and complicated.

“I just moved back home a few days ago,” he says. “My mother and I had a pretty shitty year last year, so I moved in with my Dad in Austin for a while. I’ve been going to school there, but felt like it was time to come back home. So here I am.”

The fact that he failed to mention his stint in juvi makes me question his ability to be forthcoming. I understand it’s probably not something he wants to talk about, but he shouldn’t claim that he’ll only ever be honest when he’s being anything but.

“None of that explains why you decided to drop out, rather than just transfer back.”

He shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know. To be honest, I’m still trying to decide what I want to do. It’s been a pretty fucked up year. Not to mention I hate this school. I’m tired of the bullshit and sometimes I think it would be easier to just test out.”

I stop walking and turn to face him. “That’s a crap excuse.”

He cocks an eyebrow at me. “It’s crap that I hate high school?”

“No. It’s crap that you’re letting one bad year determine your fate for the rest of your life. You’re nine months away from graduation, so you drop out? It’s just…it’s stupid.”

He laughs. “Well, when you put it so eloquently.”

“Laugh all you want. You quitting school is just giving in. You’re proving everyone that’s ever doubted you right.” I look down and eye the tattoo on his arm. “You’re gonna drop out and show the world just how hopeless you really are? Way to stick it to ‘em.”

He follows my gaze down to his tattoo and he stares at it for a moment, working his jaw back and forth. I really didn’t mean to go off on a tangent, but skimping on an education is a touchy subject with me. I blame Karen for all those years of drilling it in my head that I’m the only one that can be held accountable for the way my life turns out.

Holder shifts his eyes away from the tattoo that we’re both staring at, and he looks back up and nudges his head toward my house. “You’re here,” he says matter-of-factly. He turns away from me without so much as a smile or a wave goodbye.

I stand on the sidewalk and watch him as he disappears around the corner without once looking back in my direction.

And here I was, thinking I would actually have a conversation with just one of his personalities today. So much for that.

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012 7:55 a.m.

I walk into first period and Breckin is seated in the back of the room in all of his hot pink glory. How I didn’t notice those hot pink shoes and the boy they’re attached to before lunch yesterday boggles my mind.

“Hey, gorgeous,” I say as I slide into an empty seat next to him. I take the cup of coffee out of his hands and take a sip. He lets me, because he doesn’t know me well enough yet to object. Or maybe he lets me because he knows the ramifications of intercepting a self-proclaimed caffeine addict.

“I learned a lot about you last night,” he says. “It’s too bad your mother won’t let you have internet. It’s an amazing place to discover facts about yourself that you never even knew.”

I laugh. “Do I even want to know?” I tilt my head back and finish off his coffee, then hand him back the cup. He looks down at the empty cup and places it back on my desk.

“Well,” he says. “According to some probing on Facebook, you had someone named Daniel Wesley over on Friday night and that resulted in a pregnancy scare. Saturday you had sex with someone named Grayson and then kicked him out. Yesterday…” he drums his fingers on his chin. “Yesterday you were seen running with a guy named Dean Holder after school. That concerns me a bit because, rumor has it…he doesn’t like Mormons.”

Sometimes I’m thankful I don’t have access to the internet like everyone else.

“Let’s see,” I say, running through the list of rumors. “I don’t even know who Daniel Wesley is. Saturday, Grayson did come over, but he barely got to cop a feel before I kicked his drunk ass out. And yes, I was running with a guy named Holder yesterday, but I have no idea who he is. We just happened to be running at the same time and he doesn’t live far from me, so…”


Tags: Colleen Hoover Hopeless Romance
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