Dedicated to everyone who knows the importance of laughter, and counts it as their workout for the day.

COPYRIGHT All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval systems, without prior written permission of the author except where permitted by law. Published by Becca Ann Copyright January 2013 Cover Photo by Lucky Business courtesy of Shutterstock The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.

She opens her mouth to apologize. . That’s right. It’s Quynn. Do it now! It’s driving you crazy! One quick glance around the room and a shift later. nuts are in the right place and no one seems to have noticed. and if she was showin’ the slightest bit of ‘woe is me’ from Josh’s comment. but Ms. but that’s not what’s stoppin’ me. be quick about it. I know I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t able to concentrate that day. Stevens says as she turns around. A light tap on my shoulder jerks my attention to Hayley. Not like there’s a long list or anything. “It’s silent time. Hayley isn’t really fat. Gabe’s a cheating douche. Man. Maybe it’s ‘cause I’m not that kind of guy. I may as well sniff my hand afterward too. But she’s not so I don’t feel like an ass for keepin’ my mouth shut. Only communicate through sign.” Ms. so not sure if I’d feel too guilty about goin’ after his ex-girl. The girls who talk about bein’ fat look that way ‘cause they wear clothes that don’t fit. my signing partner in American Sign Language shrugs off Josh moo-ing at her as she walks in the room. She’s… I dunno. in a skirt that showed off a pair of the sexiest legs I’ve ever seen. And Quynn is definitely a ‘don’t go there’. Brody. She throws me a grin and a wave as she crosses the room. She plops in the seat next to me. Stevens puts a finger to her lips and motions for Quynn to take a seat. I’ve only seen her in something else a few times. That. Okay. I’d probably say somethin’. And even that girl thinks she’s fat. Like she thinks I’m her brother. How do you look cool when you scratch yourself? She’s still not here. Be cool. we’re supposed to be doin’ an assignment or somethin’. Sorry. and that was when she was in a Prom dress—worst day of my life since I caught her and douchebag brother goin’ at it in the parkin’ lot. Hayley doesn’t have a muffin top ‘cause she wears pants that are her size. She smiles and starts signing. girls who think they’re fat really aren’t. Every time we get together it’s just… weird. So yeah. What a big deal over nothin’. But whatever. The room is too hot. So the moo-ing and other douchbaggery doesn’t make sense.” She starts weaving through the desks. Not fat. and I’m waiting for someone else to walk through that door. She’s real good. Her body looks kick-ass even in a hoodie and jeans. You okay? You seem… I don’t catch the rest. Just sign. “All right. So when Hayley. All the sweat makes my clothes stick to my balls. sort of takes her off any list I have of girls I’ll probably get to see naked. And when she came to school once. She’s my brother’s ex. We don’t talk much.Reason 1: You know how to sign the word ‘b alls’ More than half the time. once. It sucks wanting someone you can’t have. Fact is. There’s some kind of code for that shit. if Quynn walks in right when I adjust myself. I’ll be walking around to check on each of you. Like that’s goin’ to impress us guys somehow. popping her gum and twisting the brown curls hanging from her ponytail. and finally. that’s when I figure this girl… isn’t like most girls. They’re just fatter than the skinniest chick in school. Quynn walks through the door. Quynn. go slower. now. since that’s how attractive I’ll look. But the muffin top is not hot.

but… more gibberish. and she re-signs the question. going so red I don’t think there’s any blood in any part of her body but her face right now. I start for her hands again. Hayley clears her throat. What do you want to talk about for the hour? I really don’t want another lecture over my lack of taste in music. As fine as I ever am. please. Or just slobbering over the goddess that just walked in. I’m fine. Sorry. Sorry. Oh right. They feel kinda warm and she jerks away. Stevens has a very distinct smell. Dude. then I know the answer. if she’s asking about Invisible Woman vs. I lock gazes with my signing partner. Hayley blushes and turns back to me and signs so slow. I was saying. She blushes over movies but not the moo-ing? Yeah. I grunt and stop her hands with mine. her hand bounces up and down. I’m almost chokin’ on the flowers wrapped in bacon stench coming from behind me. Same dif. but she sits straight up and starts signing so fast I’m pretty sure she’s not saying anything at all. Sorry. I run my hand over my buzzed head before continuing. Brody? Whoops. Slow . Maybe adding the magic word will stop her from acting so weird. Hayley was way too fast for me to keep up. How about movies this time? She scrunches her nose. Well. You seem in a D-A-Z-E. We were talking about not going to movies. Ms. Ms. Why is that such a big deal? I wait for her to go on. but not without me goin’ as red as Hayley was just a few seconds ago. I wish I was as good as she was. So. S-L-O-W! She giggles which gets a shhh! from Ms. Man. so her signs can only be seen under our desks. I don’t see a lot of movies ‘cause I don’t go out much. so that’s all I say. Work on your ‘S’s. I glance at our teacher whose lips are pursed as she signs. She looks around and waves me in closer. Are you going to answer her. She leaves. I don’t get girls at all. It’s no big deal or anything. I swear this girl lives under a rock. Why not? Her face goes red again. did I butt in? She flushes deeper. She rolls her eyes so I catch the sarcasm. Sorry. My hands won’t stop shaking. how am I supposed to answer that with Quynn lookin’ at me from across the room? Scarlett. Then you pull two actresses out of your . then I get it. what’s wrong with her? Movies I guess are out. but if she’s asking who’s hotter. Stevens waves in front of my face. Stevens. We were in the middle of something. who would it be? Jessica Alba or Scarlett Johansson? Okay. No educating you then.She smiles wider and emphasizes each movement. Black Widow. I don’t see many movies. what did you… bunch of gibberish. I guess. and I wonder if I overstepped a line or something.

She laughs and waves. but not much I can do about it since it’s already out there. she perches her sexy form on the top of my desk. even for a guy. I don’t know. I’ll look like I’ve been waiting for her to say my name like that. Girls that like to see movies? I chuckle and she chuckles. It’s kinda cute. Maybe she doesn’t live under a rock. Why is she telling me? You have friends though. Which I have. knocking other people over as she makes her way to the door with her over-crowded backpack. and that’s a pretty big thing to admit for a girl. I wonder if I look as half-hearted as she does. You know . How do I respond to that? It’s not like we’re best buds. I was Mr. I sorta like it when girls think I’m funny. but still. and everyone’s looking at us. .” I laugh again. Does weird things to my stomach. She scoops up her book and throws her bag over her shoulder. I bark out laughing. and even though I’m gettin’ a big fat ‘see me after class’ look from the teacher. Be cool. She attempts a smile. because I’m just not one of those girls. or did I interpret it wrong? But she’s laughin’ too. She nods. Stevens asks. Quynn giggles across the room. lips in such a tight line I wonder if it actually came from her mouth. proving her point. No. right? I attempt a smile.” I shove her bag out of my way and give her the not-so-serious-mad look. So like I was saying. it’s hard to admit. We both stifle our laughter. I don’t have the secret handbook that lets me know everything. it was worth it. which leaves me eye level with her chest.” Why does she make me nervous? We used to hang out all the time before…well before Gabe banged another girl. No. I don’t get to go out much. I get that. but I catch it. Like I’m not… She stops and does a mock thinking face. “I’ll see you tomorrow. I don’t get asked out a lot. I’ll try not to tell jokes anymore since Brody can’t find a volume control on his laugh. “Whoops! Sorry. Third Wheel around my brother. but a pile of homework. She signs it fast. It slaps balls. Man. “Sorry. Yeah. Boy do I get that. “Do I need to separate you two?” Ms.butt.” Hayley says after the bell rings. They’ve all got boyfriends. Sitting in a theater with a bunch of people making out around me? No thanks. “Brody?” I force myself to look at Quynn slowly. “Yeah. If I whip around too fast. but in a good way. “Yeah?” “Do you have a sec? I need to ask you something. smacking me in the face. Did she really sign that.” Instead of letting me stand.

. so I’ve got a huge favor to ask you. and I just don’t feel right about keeping it. Without another word. And I’m not goin’ to let you give it back either. Look up. “Okay.” Her puff of breath nearly knocks me over with how good she smells. since she just called my mother. because I’m that pathetic. Her eyes are just a few more inches up. Her snug pocket.” I shake my head. I notice the bracelet Mom gave her dangling between her fingers. Another puff hits my face. “Please. Guess Ms. She’s got to be kiddin’ me. You know why. And to look away from the sudden hurt in her face. Is she calling me Bro ‘cause she still thinks of me as her brother? Well. look up. “She won’t take it back. Bro. When I finally get a grip. Stevens wants out of here. She smells like spicy apple. that’s not a far reach. Bro. “Fine. Damn brother ruins everythin’.” She reaches into her pocket. Mom. Quynn was tighter with their boyfriend’s mom more than I’ve ever seen someone else be. Her eyes flick to me and everythin’ shifts below the belt.” She slides off my desk and drops the jewelry into her pocket. “Kay. She watches everyone leave the room with a big smile on her face.” Look up. Am I ogling? Or drooling? I hear the door click. “Could you give this back to Mom? I mean… your mom?” It takes me a minute to process. leavin’ us alone. I know it was expensive. I’m not going to get sucked into the drama more than I already have. “Why?” I drag the word out and fold my arms. I know exactly what lotion she wears. “Don’t make me smack you.Oh dude. she’s out the door. Damn that smile.” I hate that nickname because of the stupid double-meaning.

Oh dude.” Standard kid answer. “I love you?” “Say it like you mean it. and corn chips. “Now you have to eat it.Reason 2: You walk with a book on your head “Hey hun.” I smile. “Sorry.” I laugh. Now get that out of my face before I blow chunks.O. I wrinkle my nose. “I hate it when you say that. “How about I just say I’m sorry?” “And…?” She waves the slice in my face with a huge grin. “I love you. Yeah. it stinks. That’s your punishment for being a smartass.” Mom says as I walk through the door. “You left your phone on the charger again this morning.” She makes a face. reaching into her pocket. I’m that popular.” My gag reflex pumps in my throat as I push her hand back. “You’re going to eat these and be happy about it.” I say through the mouthful.” She’s right. ass. Then she goes back to chopping tomatoes. She waves me into the kitchen with a knife in her hand.” Moms suck. Opening window now. I should’ve opened my window or something. I sling it over my shoulder before I head to the fridge to grab something that doesn’t taste like a squishy foot. “As long as you don’t make me eat any of that. I give her a fist-bump—‘cause Mom’s that cool—and slip downstairs to my room. I plug in my iPod and strip. No more barf talk. Mother.” she threatens as I sit on the bar stool across from her. “Yes. “Oh.” “Uugh. “Don’t make me lose my appetite.” Kicking the fridge door shut. You know that smell… B. That ASL room really is too hot. Or maybe it’s just me sweating a ..” Picking up my bag. “How was your day?” Standard Mom question.” “Ew! Brody!” She laughs and sets the tomato back on the cutting board. before I forget. “Fine. “Thanks. She ignores my lack of healthy taste in food. “I know. Once to turn it to silent. “I don’t know why you even have it if you never use it. Mom. I use my phone maybe twice a day. and then again to turn the volume back on.” “Okay.” She picks up a tomato slice and shoves it under my nose. letting my backpack drop to the floor by my feet. It smells like morning.” Mom says.” She slaps it into my open hand while I stuff my face with leftover cake.

He makes e verything turn to junk. Two hours later. I’m there in ten. Mom!” I call into the kitchen as I tug my shoes on by the door. “Be back in a bit. I yank out my homework and slam it on top of my cluttered desk. Calculus. “Hello?” “Hey. One of these days I’ll get my own car. Homework blows. focus! She’s not even here and you’re mentally stripping her. Douchebag brother lives about twenty minutes away. Then I think I blacked out watching her bend over to pick up all the papers I’d tossed to the floor. you got a bunch o’ crap at my house.” “Sure. Girls don’t sweat like this.” Ah. “Nicole’s moving in?” “Yeah. Stupid puberty and shit. but with the way I floor it. Man. My ‘crap’ is on the porch. What now? The car stops. Calculus book has a drool stain on it. Whoa! Brody. The car slows. that ass. replaced with cologne and aftershave. I put it on my mental checklist of stuff I gotta tell Mom. In the time it takes to shower and get dressed. So come get your stuff. She just rolled her eyes and told me to shut up.rainstorm whenever I’m around Quynn. Can’t be good. .” Door opens.” Click. I really don’t know why I own a phone. First. It starts to rain. “Yo. but please don’t stay long. and the windshield wipers need to be replaced.” “Fine. but for right now I have to make a Chevy Corsica look cool. I asked Quynn once what the point of it all was. Uh. Come get it before Nicole gets here. Better get the tough stuff over with. Clunk. they sure know how to hide it. “Brody! Answer your phone!” Huh? The standard ringtone gets cut off as soon as my fumblin’ fingers hit the answer button. Did I hit something? What the hell was that noise? Thump. morning stank has officially left my room. douchebag brother. yeah. At least I don’t have to talk to him. And if they did. Yeah. and Mom’s yelling down the stairs.” The edge to her voice says everything she thinks about my brother right now. I chuck the box in the trunk and crank up the radio. I got my work cut out for me. “Mind if I take the car to Gabe’s? I got stuff there he wants me to grab. Right next to ‘no more tomatoes’ and ‘disowning Gabe’. She needs the room.” Door closes. “And take your phone!” “I got it.

it would come out all rude and stuff. so I decided to walk to the next stop. But at least I didn’t just kill a little girl’s cat. Please let me have a gas can.” Bizarre girl. so I don’t feel as bad about it. She jerks back when I touch her. do you seriously think I’m goin’ to ignore the book on your head?” She giggles.Dammit. Maybe she’s a germ-a-phobe. her high ponytail holding it in place. what is that? “Deal. Crap. Huh… “Hello?” She waves the umbrella and the rain splashes down my back. Wish Mom would’ve told me it was running on fumes.” I chuckle… again.” she jokes. “Nah. Why am I laughing with her? “Well.” She giggles. “Hayley?” Her curvy figure comes into focus as she jogs over. The rain picks up—of course—and I hurry and push the car to the side of the road. “I got this. I was at the library and missed the bus. should I have carried both? She starts giggling and swinging the gas can as we walk. and I’ll walk to a gas station with you so you don’t have to look like you’ve just gone diving in the South Pacific. but I’m kind of stranded. do you?” I’m horrible at small talk. It’s a library book. “Brody?” I whip around. and I adjust the umbrella. “You don’t live around here. “I got a thick skin.” I pop the trunk. She’s carrying an umbrella and balancing a book on her head.” I say grabbing it from her. No gas. you have to hold this ‘cause you’re taller. I hate waiting.” “Hmm…” Her eyebrows waggle up and down.” She shivers. “How gentlemanly of you.” Duh. a gas can.” Do people actually say that? She grabs the book and chucks it in my trunk before I shut it. “Awesomesauce. I’m not tiring my arm out for you. “Okay. I’d offer you a lift. Dude.” . and I don’t want it to get wet. Brody. “Do you need help?” I raise an eyebrow. You could say anything. “The safest place for it is up there. trying to move closer without touching her. “Guess I should’ve figured that out on my own. Oh good. “I was going to say that.” Why do I keep laughing at her? It’s not like she’s being funny. And I’m not normally a nervous laugher. “How about this…?” She puts the umbrella over my head and takes a step closer. and it wouldn’t offend me.” I don’t mind getting a little wet. I have to blink a few times to make sure I’m not hallucinating. “Sorry. but thought since I don’t really know you that well. but I don’t mind company either.” I stick the gas can in her hand. “Okay. since you were carrying a library book. “You let me put my book in your car to stay dry. so you have to hold this. “I think I’m going to accept that challenge.

Why am I touching her? I clear my throat instead of nudging her to continue. and I guess the conversation today is the only one that pops in my head.” Man. “you did ask for it.” Way to put me on the spot. This girl laughs a lot.” I shrug.” “Uh-huh…” “Well. like what my favorite color is.” Another laugh.” I grin. “Nosy?” “Well. I really gotta try not to touch her. “And reverse psychology doesn’t work on me.” “I did?” I nod.” Huh? “Is that an invitation for me to ask you something I don’t know about you?” She nods. not even a pause. And makes me laugh too.” She cocks her head to the side as her cheeks flush. Your turn. but just warning you.” she says.” “It’s yellow. “How’d you know that?” I rub my buzzed head with my free hand. she already has something on her mind? That was quick thinking.” she says. though it’s kind of driving me crazy. “So… pick something you don’t know then. “Go right ahead. “Come on. since I don’t really know you. That just popped right out. Why is a discussion over the color yellow such a big deal? “Huh. Her eyes bulge.” Her face turns toward mine. Now I’m uncomfortable and dyin’ to know what kind of stuff she thinks about me. “But don’t make it something stupid.” I nudge her. At least it’s not uncomfortable. signed it. Well. what I’m about to say will not only offend you. I’m still trying to figure out what is on her mind. I’m not really a rude person. forgetting her normal reaction to touch until she pulls back. She swipes off the rain drops and tucks back under the umbrella. “Guess not. I repeat: bizarre girl.” Wow. and I blurt it out before I can think about it. this girl is frustrating. She doesn’t even sound disappointed about it. “I’ve never been encouraged to be rude or nosy before. “What is it?” “Nah. “Okay.” “I think I’d feel better if I told you something personal about me before I make a personal assumption about you.A stupid grin forms on my face. her mouth in one of those evil smiles that girls do. trying to make it seem like I don’t care.” Whoa.” . “Guess you weren’t up for the challenge. soaking the arm on her jacket. I do pay attention to her in class. rubbing her fingers across her cheek. Better keep this comment to myself.” Whoa. even though nothing is funny. just say it. “Okay. but sound like I’m shoving my big face where it doesn’t belong. that was pretty personal. “You said you don’t get asked out a lot. have you ever been on a date?” “Nope. “You said it once in class.

“We’re here. Yeah. who fills it up in silence.” She’s not lookin’ at me. it can’t be worse than havin’ the hots for Quynn… “I think liking your brother’s ex is pretty bad. Or I’m just completely transparent. .” she says. “Unless I’m reading things wrong. It’s amazing how your feet can lead to you to the right place without a conscious thought. jerking her head forward. it must be bad if it comes with a disclaimer. I hand her the umbrella and take the gas can to the attendant. but I can feel the heat coming off her face. she’s perceptive all right. but I’m an unusually perceptive person.“Dude.” She says it before I can stop her.” Whatever it is.

she knows what I mean. then my mouth shoots off you’re in love with Quynn. Hopefully she knows what I mean by it. we were joking around.” “We don’t avoid the word… just the action. you weren’t wrong. I stand upright and grab the gas can again.” ‘Cause. “Yes.” She smiles and starts walking. I’m usually right about these things. And who used to date someone who shares the same bloodline as I do. just her expression’s cute.” She pouts and I have to keep my eyes from wandering down to her chest again. so we’re officially friends now because I said ‘fart’. where did this girl come from? “What?” she asks through pretend offended giggles. “Did you really just say fart?” She laughs too.” .” “I’m wrong. Whoa.” After I control myself. didn’t I?” Hayley folds her arms right under her chest making her cleavage way more noticeable.Reason 3: You know how to make awkward. really she didn’t. Good. “That’s gotta be the most random and awesome thing ever. And she’s not all ‘I knew it!’ or ‘That’s so typical’ or anything like I thought she’d be. She shakes her head a little. I’m pretty much screwed. She slaps her forehead. “You’ve got a point. I just said that.” “Huh?” “You weren’t wrong about Quynn. But still a guy since I just checked out her boobs. and she gets a cute little wrinkle just above her nose.” I bark out laughing. I can’t really concentrate with cleavage staring me in the face. “You’re not going to tell me to forget about her. Seriously. I guess it doesn’t matter if we get wet. “Fart. And I’m goin’ to be bold. This girl’s easy to talk to and she doesn’t seem to judge me too harshly on liking someone out of my league. “I think I like you.” Good.” “I thought girls avoided that word around guys. did I just think she’s cute? Nah.” Yeah. Did she do that on purpose? I adjust the umbrella and tighten my grip on the gas can.” She doesn’t say anything else. “That’s my four letter F-word. I ruined our friendly banter. Since I’m slacking on the umbrella covering thing. Yeah. “What are you talkin’ about?” “Well. “You just caught me off guard. She’s just cool. I’m a gentleman the second time around. “Well.” “Thought so. “Why would you think that?” “‘Cause that’s what normal people would say.” “When have I ever given you the impression I’m normal?” We laugh… again. or call me a perv?” “What?” Her eyebrows pull together. “You didn’t ruin anything. “Ah. Dude. aren’t I?” She drops her arms. less awkward “I totally messed up.” I have to bend over and set the gas can on the ground so I don’t drop it.

and that your brother was the cause of all the crap she’s had to deal with lately.” “See.” She throws me a half smile and a shrug. She has to shout when she talks again. and I’ll watch my fingers. I can’t help but goofy grin at her. not judgin’ me. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.” “She is my friend. and I grab her book and toss the gas can back in. Two seconds later I try to close the stupid umbrella before soakin’ myself. I haven’t told anyone about my impossible dilemma. Maybe I am the stereotypical horn-dog.” I snort. you can shut the door. You look at her more like you care about her. so I dump the gas in the tank. it’s just two single people who like each other. “But you’re not like that. It’s a biggie for me and Quynn. I’m halfway between laughin’ and shock. but she stops me by nearly shouting. I’m in. right?” “Yeah…” “And everything between her and Gabe are way over since he jabbed another girl with his pleasure stick. “I’m goin’ to give you a ride home.” She laughs. you’re not the only guy who fantasizes about her. honestly. Hopefully it stays that way. you are the only one who’s not. But it’s not crazy awkward.” Silence. I better be a gentleman and open her door. but they’re soaked anyway from the puddles we’ve had to wade through. spilling some on my shoes. like. Plus. guys who just wanna jump her bones look like they’re about to smack her butt every time she bends over. “BUT. right?” She just said that. “I mean. But like she’s a kid about to be taken to Disneyland. but it’s gone before I can tell if it was actually there. thinkin’ anyone in their right mind would call me a creep or a bad brother.” A slight cringe crosses her face. As I said before. Like she thinks of me as her brother. girls like that stuff.” “Huh?” “Like. I like this girl.” I open my mouth to shoot off a defensive comment about how I hate when people think I’m just the stereotypical horn-dog. “Well. right? She hands me the umbrella and plops into the front seat. Yeah. Like you’re sorry for what’s happened to her. . nasty about it. you guys are friends. “D’ya think I’m a jerk or something?” I smirk.” “I’m not?” “No. You look at her like she’s your friend. No biggie. “Uh. I didn’t want to assume…” I shut the gas cover and pop the trunk. Idiot moment.” “Well. It’s kinda nice. Hayley holds the umbrella over my head. She follows me to the back of the car . then there you go. Mom would kill me if she found out I took a girl home and didn’t open the door for her.“Well. it’s just… weird.” My gut clenches. “That’s one way of puttin’ it. “You make it sound like it’s not against any ‘rules’ or shit like that. “Well. thanks for keeping my book dry.” Oh right. and then the word would travel faster than I could take two steps. We’re at the car. and the rain picks up. But here she is. So not graceful or flowery.” “Well.

“What?” “What. Ha! I’m on a roll. So now I have to sit here and chuckle like a tongue-tied idiot.” I nod. “That one’s okay. “Whoops.” “You actually made me feel kind of better with it.” Ugh. “You didn’t get my book. that did too! ‘Rhyme’ and ‘time’. I’ve been on dates before and not once did the girl ever start belting out with the music. “We’re okay. uh… where do you live?” “Just a few blocks South of Parkrose. “Depends on what you pick. what?” She smiles. you’re walkin’ the rest of the way. I think I may be going a little nuts. “I told you I’m a perceptive person. I know you’re a fan of Kesha. right?” That came out of nowhere. But not like it’s going to change anything. But she laughs it away. and she starts flicking through the stations again. “Neon Trees?” she asks as she lands on the station playing the band. And now it’s been about seven seconds since she’s said something.” She giggles.” She pauses. The song ends. “Hey.” “About…?” I hate when people don’t just spit it out. “If you make me listen to that pop shit.” I turn on the blinker. “She’s way out of my league. At least I’m straight forward.” “Oh. And ballsy. Not that this is a date or anythin’.” I wish I could come up with a witty response. she’s good. Why wouldn’t we be?” “I still feel bad about my big mouth. but it’s not a bad weird. And she doesn’t think of me like that. But my mind is still trying to play catch up with this girl’s sense of humor. “You don’t care do you?” she asks as she smacks the preset stations. Sorry. Wow. “Yeah. Her hand goes straight for the radio. Her feet are on the dashboard —she’s slipped off her shoes and I didn’t even notice—and she’s tapping to the beat on her knees. “What was that ‘hmm’ for?” “Just thinking. that kind of rhymed! Oh. and I don’t think you’re as hopeless as you think you are. She’s definitely weird. and that’s way past the point of making a quip. You know. “Well…” She goes for the radio again.” “Good. pull out. something to rhyme with roll. “So.and toss it in the backseat splashing both me and Hayley with the excess water.” She turns up the volume and starts singing along with them.” “Hmm…” My neck pops as I look at her.” I smile.” . ya know?” “Really?” “Yup. and head toward our high school. but it disappears when I see her do that slight cringe again. so you’re off the hook… this time.

Yup. But I have no idea why that sudden thought comes to me.” Just like that. Quynn has always been a fantasy. “And don’t forget shart!” Her face goes a little red. Brody.” There goes that stomach twist again. Very smooth. I’ll see you tomorrow. But what if she actually became more than that? “What did you mean when you said I’m not hopeless?” She finishes singing the chorus to the song. She laughs. I think I can help. She tightens and recoils against the door when I brush against her arm. stick it in a box and chuck it into the Willamette. “Uh. thanks for the ride. tart…” She laughs again. she’ll be thinking very differently about you. She puts the book on her head and opens the umbrella outside the door. but I’m not sure if it’s ‘cause she’s embarrassed for saying that. From the long blonde hair to her .” She sings some more. Ask any of my guy friends. when you let loose. wondering what to do with her offer. hopeful part—wonders if she could really make it happen. Right there in the forefront of my mind. But then Quynn pops up. “Turn here. Nice one.” You sound like a moron.” “You wanna set me up with my brother’s ex?” She shrugs. But the other part—probably the stupid. “See ya. Hayley’s good at just about everything she does. you are. “I think she really likes you too. An unattainable source of sexy-ass girl who used to sleep with my brother—which I try not to think about—and a complicated friendship scrunched together in a ball of ‘I so wish I could kiss you and not get slapped in the face for it’. cart…” She laughs. I’m good at this kind of stuff—setting people up. You can pull into the driveway.” She pauses and laughs. y-you’re welcome. mart. or if it’s ‘cause we’re both cracking up so much the windows fog. or how she said it. if you want some pointers and stuff like that. “Okay. dude.I roll my hand in circles so she elaborates. Brody. I’m the second house on the right. I don’t think it’s possible to feel awkward for long around this girl. “I’m rhyming again. Definite germ-a-phobe. My mom works nights. “Kind of. so maybe she could help me get the girl. I kind of want to give her a hug or something. Geez!” I put the car in park and reach back for her umbrella.” I nod. But I betcha if you play your cards right. Brody. Like. “Well. And let me know about the other thing if you want. “Look. “Or she’s holding back ‘cause she’s not sure how you feel. and I’m driving back home.” Did my stomach just do a little twist? I can’t tell if it’s because of what she said. “Maybe next time we talk you’ll be rhyming words with ‘fart’. “Start. “Bart. really loud. She just doesn’t know it yet. heart. Am I a lunatic for considering it? Yes. Say something else to make you sound less like a moron. dart.” Is she for real? Part of me wants to laugh the offer off. not sure what else to do. she’s gone. part.

” “She?” Dad raises his eyebrow.” “Oh that’s right. But how do I get her to think I’m for real? Hayley’s offer is sounding better and better.” Her face goes from annoyance to ‘my bad’ in two seconds. “Yeah. Vague. And Quynn will definitely be lookin’ for something serious.” Mom smiles while Dad still shoots me the eyebrow.” “I would’ve been faster if I didn’t run out of gas. “Gas station was only about a block away. “I ran into a friend.” “Doesn’t matter. “There you are!” Mom says as I trudge in the house. Do I even have her number in my phone? I think she put it in there during one of our classes together. Girl in my ASL class. and she had an umbrella. She walked with me to the gas station then I took her home. I’m honest with my parents. “I told you not to be long.” I shrug and slump into the couch. especially after what happened with Gabe.” I mentally pat myself on the back for opening Hayley’s door for her. he’s not like that. not lookin’ at me but at where Mom just disappeared. Few dates here and there. but nothing serious. I pretty much blow at getting the girl. I know you’re a big boy.” “Are you guys coming?” Mom yells from the kitchen. Biodad pulled a Gabe and destroyed Mom’s heart by runnin’ out on her with another chick. “That was nice of her. but he’s more of a dad than bio-dad is. “What’s her name?” “Hayley. So I nod. But oh well. “You just be good to all the girls out there.flip-flops and I’m there with her.” Mom waves her hand in the air then sets it on Dad’s shoulder. And I don’t look at my phone often enough to know for sure if she’s in my contacts. She deserves someone who’s not my douche brother. kid.” “What are you talkin’ about?” “I’d like to think I’ve taught you by example how to treat the women in your life with respect. but honest. You’re signing partner. but I can’t remember why.” Yeah. her tone now all gooey. and I think she may start strokin’ my hair or something. we can eat. ‘You poor baby!’ “It wasn’t a big deal. I think my longest relationship lasted a week when Lily Peters labeled me as her make-out partner in an attempt to make Ian Dunn jealous. “Well.” “But it was raining. .” She frowns. “O-kay.” She walks off into the kitchen. cradling her against my chest and all that other romantic junk too cheesy to share with anyone. That sucked ass ‘cause I actually liked the girl. “Why didn’t you call?” Mom asks. but I skipped this conversation with Gabe. He’s my stepdad. Since then I’ve never really been involved with anyone. Dad. now that we’re all here.” “She’s just a friend. he has. “All right. I’m about to follow her—stomach needs some attention—but Dad leans forward. She’s a major commitment girl. I kind of want to do that for her. Ugh. like the one moms use when they wanna say. Dad laughs from the recliner.” Yeah. But Mark. and you see how well that turned out.

.I bolt for the table before Dad can unleash anymore parental wisdom on me.

” Is that all she’s going to say? . with yours truly. “You are full of conversation.” Was that wrong? “Oh. 2 is my lucky number. She’s just easy to talk to.” “Wow. This is why I don’t use my phone. Okay. I sound so stupid via text.” A door slams. all right. Hayley? Brody. I think I heard you wrong.” She laughs. “Sorry.Reason 4: It’s easy with you Is this Hayley? Delete. Only one try that time. T ook you home earlier and I was… Delete. pressin’ send before I can change my mind. Getting easier. The phone vibrates about fifteen seconds later. Uh. been thinking about your offer… Ugh. “Sup?” She says it like one of those gangsters. Call me when u get this msg to claim ur prize! :) I hit the dial button before I even think about what I’m doing. I suck in a breath and try again. Did you ask me what my plans were tomorrow?” “Uh. and the music in the background muffles. You’ve won a 20 min phone convo. and I can’t overanalyze my lack of text lingo. Ding ding ding! You win! Would u like prize behind curtain #1.” “How goes it?” “Uh. I don’t know if twenty minutes will be long enough. hey.” At least she can’t see my face go red. It’s gone. Just wanted to make sure I had your number right. This is Brody. curtain #2. or curtain #3? I chuckle and shake my head as I type my response. “Hey. yeah. “I was just wonderin’ what you were doing tomorrow after school?” “Hmm… Hang on a sec. Send. Even via text. So.

” “Then I’ll pick you up after school. Most of the group I hang out with has B lunch. I get ready for the routine lunch hour: People watching. Sticking my earphones in and turning on my iPod. sorry. what is it? Two ply? Why yes! Thank you for noticing. hopefully without the rain this time.” I clear my throat. It took me all morning to make sure it was crinkled enough to see. Hi Josh. I chuckle. sticking her obviously stuffed chest in his line of sight. Easier than I thought. Even with the semi-weirdness. just asking her to hook you up with some other girl.” There’s that word again. That’s a great idea. I don’t even know why we have a cafeteria since everyone eats out here anyway. so I try to guess what people say by their body language.” She pauses again. “Awesomesauce. The runnin’ dialog in my head keeps me entertained. that’s totally fine. It’s not a date. but this is what I do. I don’t mean to but it just happens. Maybe tomorrow you can make them even. You can claim the rest of your fifteen minutes some other time. “Yeah. Why is this so hard? It’s not like I’m asking her out. Good job. what you said earlier. That okay?” “Awesomesauce. “Want company?” “You want to hang out with me?” “Yeah. I’m just going to go to the library again.“Uh. I get stuck with A. “No. The student union is always packed during lunch. Um. see ya. Why didn’t I think of that? . No. I wanted to talk to you about. The music drowns out most of the bull talk. Don’t know why.” I laugh. What do I say? Do I say anything? Or just sit here like a moron? “This isn’t a date is it?” “Uh—” “Because I don’t want your pity. Jasmine Walters saunters over to Josh. Hayley? You still there?” “Yeah.” Click. Don’t you just love how big my tits are today? Yeah. you know.” “What?” “I don’t want a pity date just ‘cause I haven’t been on one.” “All right.” “Oh! I gotta go. But lucky me.” “Oh!” She laughs. Let the commentary begin.

” That’s right. Sounds like a good idea to me. they stay that way. “I will once finals are over. “No. Don’t smack her ass. She does that when she’s upset. My stomach twists. “You need help?” “Yes!” She grabs the top half of her huge stack of papers and plops it into my arms. finally pulling out a couple . I guess if you’re sure you don’t want them—” “Great!” She pulls out her purse behind the desk and digs through it. and my brain shuts off. I set the stack down on the already messy desk and they topple to the ground. I’m supposed to be cool around her. Going would just remind me I was supposed to be there with G-Gabe. And it’s pathetic I know that.” Another squeeze then she lets go. I sound just as bad as those theater geeks. My music can’t even blast their obnoxiousness into oblivion. “Whoops. I turn my attention to other victims of my internal bashing.” Quynn says when we get to the main office. She gives me a squeeze. “You still goin’?” She twists the end of her ponytail. “You going on a senior trip or anything? Last hoorah?” I shrug. “Hadn’t planned on it. “Well. “Sorry. but somethin’ might come up.Shaking my head as I chuckle to myself. “Um. I still have the tickets for Universal. My knees pop as I stand. “Mmmhmm. “Thank you Brody.” Holy hell. her cheeks turning pink. who’s doing a ridiculous pantomime. They all think they’re popular because they’re ‘Super outgoing!’ But really. The definition of sexy herself holds a bunch of papers and looks a little like she just came in from a windstorm.” She sighs. and since we’re both buried under papers.” I say and reach for her hand to stroke the back of it. “You know.” She giggles and balances her stack before bending over.” “No prob!” Ugh. but my mind quickly comes up with an alternative. “Hey!” Crap. Note to self: keep mouth shut till Hayley gives pointers. really. I spend a few minutes dissecting the theater geeks. Brody. they’re just loud. my voice shakes.” She nudges my arm. I wish I could wrap Quynn in my arms right now to comfort her. “I can’t believe it. I chuckle at the inside joke I have with Hayley as I lean down to help.” Stupid brother. Great. Two more months. Quynn sidles past Brittney. Gabe was supposed to take her for Spring Break. I just need to get these to the front office. “I think it’s time they clean off this crap. “It’s fine. Why does this keep happenin’? Damn nerves. so do you think your parents would want them?” That would get them out of the house over Spring Break. I’m brain dead.” Oh yeah. I’m an idiot ‘cause I leap to my feet and do a Mission Impossible sprint toward her.” The last of the papers get scooped up and set carefully on the desk. The lights are off. Right in the middle of my heckles. she’s an office aide durin’ this hour. “Just set them here.

“I’ll think about it. I grin. you know. but I forgot.” “It’s not.” Why does she have to say stuff like that? It makes me want to smother her in my grasp and hold her till she’s put back together. “Ms.” She crosses the room. My mom didn’t piss you off.” Quynn smiles and blinks. did she?” She pouts and doesn’t answer.” I miss you. I head to class. okay. Before I can mumble anymore incoherencies. Maybe one more to break her. Brody. “Guess I’ll talk to you tomorrow… in ASL. “Really. “Please save me from looking at these every ten seconds. So you won’t run into him if that’s what you’re worried about.” I straighten my stance and walk toward the door. I was supposed to tell you yesterday. “That’s different. I lean against the desk. And the other part of me wants to go pummel my jackass brother. “She wants you to come over for dinner. I just… can’t right now. Stevens said she needed to see you. Gabe. I got her there.” Her forehead crinkles. A half smile. “Thank you. . How can I tell her I want her to be around without sounding like a complete perv? The mom excuse could wear her down.” She plops into the swivel chair.” I want you to come over.” The bracelet I refused to give back to Mom tinkles as she tosses it back in her purse. The warning bell rings signaling the end of lunch and the start of fourth period. I shake my head trying to free myself from her spell. trying not to knock over any more papers. A full smile and a huff.” “Er. “She misses you.of creased vacation packages. “I know. and I gotta swallow the growing spit in my mouth. I’m glad you didn’t put up a fight like you did with this. Her apple scent fills my nostrils.” “He’s never there.” “Oh! That reminds me. Okay… getting closer. It was worth a shot.” I reach up to scratch the back of my neck.” That’s all that leaks out my mouth. “Thanks. an arm’s length away. Damn it. ya know. “She wants to see you.

but I chalk it up to lack of food rather than seein’ her name on my phone. She smells like mint chocolate brownies and my mouth waters. but it’s freakin’ cold. That okay?” “Yes. “Okay. but I can’t find Hayley anywhere.” Shutting the door. I’ve got a text from Hayley. thirty miles an hour isn’t goin’ to cut it. She’s good at everythin’ I swear. Took one ticket and a week long groundin’ to get me out of that habit. I-I know I s-said it wasn’t a big deal. there’s that word again.” Her teeth chatter.Reason 5: You know how to ma ke a guy feel pretty good about himself Turns out I’m about to fail out of sign language. I pull out my phone to make sure it’s on silent. Not two seconds later. Knock it off. But I’ll txt u when I get there. and I barrel toward the school at forty. which honestly isn’t very fast. her stuffed bag pulling half her body down. I get to the school in record time. t-thank you. At least not that I noticed. Have fun. she lives a couple blocks away. Just left school. her text vibrates in my hand. Don’t worry abt it. Crazy girl thinkin’ she can walk in this stuff and it’s no big deal. I toss my backpack in but keep my body outside. What route would she take home? Curving through neighborhoods—faster than I should. Stevens gave me a bunch of extra crap to work on and told me to pay more attention to my signin’ partner ‘cause she knows what she’s doin’. I’ll b there in a sec. And she wasn’t wearing a jacket today. And take your cell!” “I got it. and my heart does a funky thud-a-thump when she plops into the passenger seat. Brody.” I say out my window as I pull up. “Hey. Cute. “I’m going to the library for a bit. Mom doesn’t ever want to pick me up so I just take her car. I don’t live far. I think that’s etiquette for the library. I shake my head. That’s not cool. Guess Hayley’s not only my ‘hook-up’ guru… she’s now my tutor. Had to wlk cuz my mom 4got 2 get me. Ms. Not that I was noticin’ her or anything. But for some odd reason. Weird. Yeah. Why the hell would that make my gut clench? Heya. Gah. Maybe she’ll teach me how to sign ‘shove it up your ass’. but oh well—I finally spot her shivering her ass off. I click ‘reply’ and type as quick as I can. That’s fan-shit-tastic. That’s never happened with anyone but Quynn.” A wave of relief washes over her face . She’s huddled over a book. so she looks lopsided. Not raining. She doesn’t care —most of the time. “Get in. I’m not home yet. . “Hey Mom?” I shout from the front door. My stomach snarls at me. Where r u? I’ll come getcha. I’m not normally a speeder. She’s smiling though. but cold. b-but oh my gosh.

You won’t even have to get out of the car. “So. idiot moment—again.” I go the speed limit this time through the neighborhood and pull into her driveway. “Thanks. “Shut up!” Did I like that? Playful punches from Quynn make me feel like I’m about to barf all over her. “Ah. huh?” “Uh…” “I’m kidding! But really. “I can carry it for you.” “All right. Her sharp intake of breath is all the signal I need to leap back into my seat. “Trying to make up for yesterday with the gas can.” I say leaning over and pressing the seat warmer.” I say. Probably ‘cause of what we’ll be doing today. She smiles and straps her seatbelt on with shivering fingers. Or too flushed either. I’m nearly on top of her before I remember her ‘no touch’ personality.” She laughs.” she sighs. She bends to grab her bag. “What?” “Look at your arms!” She head nods toward them. you sure?” “Two seconds. harder than I would’ve imagined from her. “perfect.“Here. flexing my muscles a little more than I would have if I was by myself. “Holy mother of a trash load. but I was talkin’ about the mother trash load.” She’s so good at that.” I’m not goin’ to mess with it. trying to look cool as I put the car in drive. Something’s buggin’ her. Don’t make fun. Whatever you want to listen to. or if I do? “Please?” Her smile twitches as she watches me struggle with my brain. I’ll be super fast. but I beat her to it.” “I’m not useless. “You’re just jealous of my lingo. I’d rather not lug this giant bag around. Makin’ things less awkward. it’s just a stupid bag. You’re goin’ to break your back.” Her hand grasps mine. “You’re not like on any sports teams and you’re totally muscular. What’s wrong with me? “Eh…” Crap. She’s out the door . but Hayley’s punch feels like an achievement—like she’s finally touchin’ me because she wants to. did you need to stop by your house?” “Just for a sec. Thank you. really.” She attempts a smile. “What’s your poison?” She shivers and shakes her head. I’ll be two seconds. “I don’t care.” I smirk. She pulls a hand out from under her to punch me in the arm. “It’s okay. rolling my eyes toward her.” She unwraps the strap from around my hand and shoulders it. twisting the strap around my palm. A friend punch. but my stomach still feels bunched up. “You’re not carryin’ this anymore. then sticks them under her butt.” Her face twists in mock anger.” “I’m not. I draw my hand away from the radio and toward the shifter. Should I give in? I mean. but I’m not sure if it’s me or not. but I’m not buyin’ it. I turn on the radio and cock my eyebrow at her. I think it’s awesomesauce.” I try not to look too cocky. That must be it.” A large bark of a laugh explodes from my gut. You can stay here. Why do I care if she takes it. “Uh.

to every song that comes on. Before I realize what I’m doing. Yeah. Well. especially when it comes to stuff like this. “It’s hard to ask for help. She sings though. We can go to the library and actually… study. I’ve been to this library once before. How can a library be so busy. But I don’t care ‘cause her voice is kind of hot. time to go over the checklist I guess.” There’s no conversation between her house and the library. But there is no one searching the shelves for something to read. ignoring another one of my idiot moments. not kind of. and I sort-of laugh. but I notice now. but look empty at the same time? The computers are all taken. This is awkward. I retrace my thought pattern as I look at Hayley. Then they complain chivalry is dead. I shake it trying to get the feeling to go away. “Okay. and my entire body freezes. The barks get a little louder for a second. or the study tables. She laughs and flips through the preset stations. And it’s taking my mind off Quynn. She’s older. I have to blink a couple times and shake my head. It’s dead to the world back here.” “I’m tryin’ to decide if I want to change my mind. So I didn’t really notice how the shelves were set up. let alone actually being pathetic enough to ask for tips on how to make her mine. “It’s not that. but can’t think of it. “Well. I think they need to rename the place. I should change my mind and tell Hayley to just forget it. It is pathetic. with Lily—the make-out partner—and not a whole lot of studying went on. I know I was planning on saying something. then they muffle again. Really hot. Fine.” She chuckles. Whoops. but plops down with a small ‘thanks’. I have references. All right. What am I doing? “It’s okay to be nervous. Makes me feel like I’m twelve.” I say as I strap on my seat belt and turn the key. and there are several people sprawled out on couches and bean bag chairs. Hayley turns bright red. I slam my head on the steering wheel. I sit. It’s gotta be her mom. “I… uh…” Brain fart.and into her house so quick. At least she doesn’t give me shit about doing what guys should be doing.” . I’m not lookin’ at her anymore. Hopefully she didn’t think I was tryin’ to rush her or anything. wearin’ loads of makeup—it’s so bad I can see it from here—and she’s got a look on her face like she’s about to shoot me with a sniper rifle.” She nods. I promise. making sure I don’t touch her. and the horn jolts me back into my seat. Blah. Hayley beelines it to the back of the Non-Fiction section. Screw that. curling up on a couch near some floor to ceiling windows. the skin full of sparks or somethin’. but nothing comes to me. or the computers. I try to be a nice guy. “No pop. I get out of the car and open the passenger door like I’m some kind of chauffeur. I rub my hand where she clutched me. The speck on my window is less judgmental. Someone peeks out behind the curtains in her front window as a whole bunch of muffled dog barks shake the glass. but girls just have to be stubborn about it. Ugh.” Hayley smiles and tucks her knees closer to her body and rests her chin on them. Not sure why I’m still considering talking about Quynn with someone else.

I’m payin’ attention. “Speaking of names. easy steps will help. Mom. Something every girl wants in a guy.” “Example?” “For one. “I think the first thing we need to do is make her see you as a guy. I nod unable to come up with anything to say. But I wonder if Quynn’ll like the sound of her name bein’ said in a shaky voice. finally feeling comfortable with the awkwardness. Girls love the way their name sounds in a guy’s voice. “Should I just use my mom’s first name?” “If you want. I resist asking her what she’s thinkin’ about. but as an available.” I nod. you also can’t refer to your mom as Mom. good luck with that. right. I keep my head though… and my distance. “Oh. Brody.” I say with an arrogant grin. You keep up the good work. Not her ex-boyfriend’s brother. Mental note: be enthusiastic about her suggestions.” “Should I be writing this down for you?” I give her a face and slouch back into the couch. “Ah! A good listener. you know?” “Good point.” I don’t want her to think of me as a little brother still. That makes it sound like she’s her mom too.” It’s like I’m hiring her to be a matchmaker. I’m surprised a spark doesn’t twinkle like on those toothpaste commercials. or Gabe. single. mentally putting it on my checklist of ‘stuff I should not say’. “Your brother. My skepticism must be transparent ‘cause she shakes her head.” “Hmm…” She prods her toes with her forefinger and clacks her teeth. since my brain is split in two. “No ‘hey you’s’. would it be easier for you if I just talked? I’ll try not to ask any questions. but give you a rundown of what I think would work in your case. revealing her white teeth.” She’s a freakin’ genius.” Her lips pull back as she smiles. But still. In fact. Quynn… definitely worth this humiliation. “Um… Unspeakable?” She rolls her hand in the air. Guess she’s as nervous as I am with the conversation.” We laugh together. “How do you know all this stuff about my brother and Quynn?” . and her voice lowers an octave.“When you used to ask your buddies to see if a girl liked you or not?” “Yeah. “And you might not want to mention the unspeakable.” Duh. guy. “Gotcha. Duh. “Well. When I don’t say anything.” Yeah. That’s exactly what you’re doing.” Hayley smiles and relaxes. you need to call her by her name. and I have the sudden urge to slide closer to her. “It’s not as hard as you think. she drops her hand and chuckles under her breath. ‘My mom’ works fine too. it’s not exactly how I want to go about it. like she’s waitin’ for me to read her mind.

What did I just say? And why does she keep doing that? I couldn’t have imagined it… three times now? Then it hits me. I can’t shift back right now without lookin’ like a moron. She giggles and pushes my leg—voluntarily touching me. “Lots of stuff. Shit.” She smiles wide again.” She looks at me dumbfounded. It’s not like it’s a big secret that Gabe pumped it into another girl while he was going out with the hottest girl in our school. Huh. I kind of need to know what it is. cocking her head to the side and looking me straight in the eye. Her face turns pink and her eyes dart to the floor.” I know there was a helpful bit of advice somewhere in there. moving again so it doesn’t look like I’m hitting on her. “Quynn will not know what hit her. you’d think she was on fire from the inside out. even though Gabe already graduated. “I hope you’ll always be honest with me. Am I flirting? Nah.” I raise an eyebrow. and then it’s gone. can I be embarrassingly honest?” she asks. like what kind of cool crap are you talkin’ about?” I grin and throw my arm on the back of the couch. “You accept people for who they are. that was gag-worthy.She shrugs.” she says. “Well…” I start. ‘For a while’. do you?” Her face goes from pink to dark red so fast. “Um…” “It’s okay. hopin’ that my obsession isn’t as well known as everythin’ else about this. and not get so nervous around her.” The shock disappears from her face and she half smiles. There’s nothing loserish about that. “Well.” . “I’m observant.” I nod. just being friendly and curious. Stomach twists again. My stomach twists. That stuff gets around. noticed you for a while. Don’t know what’s wrong with me when I’m around her. “Well. I… uh. if it bothers you.” A tiny cringe goes across her face. I’ll try not to. you don’t like it when I swear. Her big ol’ eyes glisten like I’ve just made her day. “If you want me to keep doin’ that ‘cool’ shit. “So. Like how cool you are and crap. I guess that answers your question. But her gaze at my position makes me reconsider the movement. but all I can think about is how Hayley has ‘noticed’ me. have like. “So. My brain must be running on slow motion today.” She shrugs. “What question?” “That right there is what’s so cool about you. “Not at all. “Really? You don’t think I’m a major loser for that stuff buggin’ me?” Loser? Hell—heck—she had standards. I mean… “Sorry.” Yeah. so my one major tip would be to be yourself.

Reason 6: You give the best hugs I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous and confident all at once. Stevens says from her desk. I don’t know… Come on. I guess you’re right. Brody. She’s tryin’ to sign to her partner.” Ms. What do you mean? She smiles and waves me in close. but this is a good opportunity for you today. Don’t girls like big elaborate stuff? When I asked Hayley. Better at making ‘em laugh instead. And trust me. There is no way this stuff is going to change anythin’. “All right. that’s an understatement. “Slow. and mouth. So. Yikes. I don’t care. I roll my eyes and they land on Hayley. I want to bolt out the ASL classroom when Quynn walks in. trying not to picture me and her ‘going at it’. Hayley signs as she follows my gaze. what should we talk about today? I sign. though it makes sense. who’s also stifling giggles. I hate seeing her like that. She seems to know what she’s doing. You can talk to her after class. and go at it. keeping her fingers close to mine. Great. I glance at Quynn who slides into her chair with a loud huff and slams her book on the desk. and I slurp back my drool. Trust me.” Trust her. I look at Quynn again. You’ll be fine.” A few kids stifle their laughter. You talk to her all the time. just want to tell someone to get it off their chest. strictly signing. “Small and simple things are the most effective. but it looks like she’s holding back tears. That wave of mint chocolate soaks my nostrils. Turn to your partners. I nod. Hayley and I spent the entire afternoon going over the ‘simple’ things I could do to help Quynn see me as something other than her adopted brother. girls who are that mad. Okay. She looks pretty pissed. and force myself to look at Hayley and what she’s signing. now my face is red. then goes much slower with her signs. I smile and stop her hands with mine. You can… The rest is way too fast for me to catch. dirty minds at work. Yeah. I know this is going to sound awful. . “No talking today. please!” She gives me a ‘yikes! I’m sorry’ look. What am I supposed to say? I’ve never been good with comforting people. It’s just not enough. You pick. All I want to do is hold her. See if she’ll open up to you. she shook her head like I was askin’ if Santa existed. I’m skeptical. but still.

holding tight to my neck and squeezing like she hasn’t hugged another human being her whole life and she’s been dying to. Clearly a ‘Focus. blowing her bangs away from her face. I don’t know why I do it. it’s goin’ to hurt like hell for a long time. finally lookin’ me in the eyes. A puff of air escapes her mouth. and her breath hitches. her mouth back down in a frown. Hayley peeks through the window. “Oh dude. but I don’t care. I drive by his apartment sometimes. probably the rest of your life. “You’re going to think I’m pathetic. I’m too nervous to do any of that. sticks two fingers toward her eyes then out at Quynn. “Hey.” I know that’s so generic.” I say. Either Hayley left or she’s lightning quick ducking down ‘cause there’s no one in sight. This is the part where I should touch her. Not really. she’s in my arms. I found out the other day. I’m so bad at this. and she’s doing some kind of meditative breathing. Before I have the chance to look back at Quynn. “You saw her there?” She nods. “Did… did you know G-Gabe is living with… with Nicole?” A fresh wave of tears and hurt rise in her eyes. When someone cheats on you.“Uh. how did you?” Was that too nosy? Her mouth twitches at the corner. squatting down next her desk so we’re kind of eye to eye. her eyes watery and a little red.” “No. a tear finally making its way down her cheek. I should’ve told you. Not goin’ to push her if she doesn’t want to be pushed. But it’ll be okay. “Hmm?” She doesn’t look up from her book.” What do I say now? I glance at the door. Even if it’s just to talk or whatever.” Whoa. or squeeze her hand or somethin’. We’re alone in the classroom again. “I don’t think I’ll ever think that about you. Her eyes tear up. “it’s goin’ to be hard for a little while. “Thank you. “But yeah. I do the same thing to… uh. Let me know if you need me. but I mean it.” Doubtful. Bro. no problem. “A-are you okay?” Dude. everyone boltin’ home.” Her eyes flick to the door. “Can I… Do you mind if I ask what happened?” She drops her hand. layin’ on the cheese. She nods. but I find myself down that street a lot.” “That’s not pathetic. hug her. “It’s not your fault I found out the way I did. I promise. I’m bein’ honest.” How can I make this okay? I’m not supposed to talk about douchebag brother.” I nod and give her a dorky half smile as I stand upright. . She half smiles. Already my palms sweat rivers.” She shakes her head. “Well. “No. as if the whole thing is somewhat funny. I’m sorry. and she reaches out and pats my hand.” ‘Cause it’s not. My eyes flash back to Quynn. other people. and I follow her gaze. “Uh. Guess she’s ballsy enough to touch me. She’s got her hand over her face. Quynn?” Using the name. Shit. I wait.” “Uh. Brody!’ motion. Her mouth opens and closes a couple times. but I can’t.

‘Cause if I’m bein’ honest. Find words to say . that’s what I’m goin’ to call her.” And weird.” “Okay…” She keeps leaning toward me. “Has she ever hugged you before?” . “Explain. falling in step with me as we walk down the hallway. it wasn’t as big a deal as I thought it would be. “How about now? Or do you have to go home first?” Why am I so anxious? I guess I could wait to talk to her about it. But I’m frozen in place. Thanks for listening. leaning in and pointing to all the surrounding people. Tell me. “Y-your welcome. She nods and zips her lips. A big huge one that stretches across her entire face.” “Uh…” Think Brody.” “Uh huh.” she says with a wide smile on her face. I’m goin’ to need someone to calm me down. Dude. I’m parked out this way. well.She’s never touched me like this. I guess. really?” She cocks an eyebrow. Hayles. I open the door for her before getting behind the wheel. but in all honesty. Always been those playful touches that didn’t mean anythin’. but didn’t. Hayley stops and yanks my arm back. I know. I kind of want to spend time with her. It couldn’t have been that bad.” I scratch the back of my neck.” Hayles it is. “Okay. She’s bouncing up and down in the seat. “I just talked to her.” A sigh of relief explodes from her lips before they upturn into a smile. thanks again. “Come on. still stunned about the unexpected hug.” I gesture to the doors down the hall. Should’ve walked her outside to her car. but I can’t even hug her back before she jumps away. She knows how to relax a situation. but it doesn’t wipe away the smile. I’m realizin’. she smells real good. Her face looks as hot as mine feels. “It’s really nothing. She was upset about my brother. but she brought him up. I know. The hug that should’ve felt different.” I whisper. “Library today?” she asks. “Later. and I should’ve followed her. “I just want to drop off my bag. And I’m tryin’ to feel somethin’ about this that makes it feel different than any other time she’s touched me. It’s her smile. That okay?” “Sure. “Nothing.” “It wasn’t bad. My stomach twists a little bit. I think all girls do. I shrug. Where did it come from anyway? I didn’t do anything really. Not sure what to think about what just happened. When we get to the Corsica. “Tell me now!” I laugh and shake my head as I start the car. “And she hugged me.” She smiles. And everything in my system is so tense. “So…?” Hayley asks.” It’s out before I realize I said it—a nickname.” She goes out the door. I wasn’t supposed to talk about him. “Just surprising. But it fits her. Must be something in their genetic make-up. I’ve got to head home. Bro. If she’s not going to say anything about it. “Um. “You look like you swallowed a gallon of way hot coffee.

” Yeah. Maybe that’s why it didn’t feel like more. Hayley comes running out. her eyelashes batting against my t-shirt. Her smile usually goes to her eyes when she’s happy. I guess I am. But I’m worried as shit right now. The stomach twists begin as I breathe in her hair. the dog still yappin’ its mouth off behind the door she slams in its face. . hey. “You okay there?” I laugh. her eyes puffy red. and I know Hayley hates being touched.” She talks so fast my mind has to catch up with her. even if it was just for a second. But now it’s flat. “No. No point in arguing. but something tells me that would piss her off. You must’ve said some serious cheesy crap to make her hug you the way she did. “Not like that. but hugging her freezin’ skin doesn’t bother me. the fact she’s holdin’ her breath. That and death-stare mom is looking out the window at us. her fake smile getting wider. So comforting she let her guard down. “Okay. and she grimaces. but I’m suckin’ in her scent like it’ll be the last thing I ever smell.” I study her face. I pull her into my arms and hold her there. but is soon covered up by dog barks. She’s so cold. “I’m fine. and that’s one of the best things about her. I guess. But I don’t want to think about it that way. no. What is going on? I kind of want to knock on the door and see if Hayley is all right. I’ve noticed. No big deal. Not that I’m surprised of course. “Uh. “Uh. “I told you. I jump out of the car and open the door for her. you think it’s ‘cause I spewed a bunch of sonnets or something?” She giggles and rolls her eyes. It feels… good. Hot damn! This! This is what a hug with a girl should be like.” She pauses as I pull in her driveway. Whoa. “Hayley…” “I’ll see you tomorrow?” She looks back at her house. “Can I take a rain check?” “Are you okay?” No way am I goin’ to ignore this. this is real good. grabbing my attention back to her eyes. She nods.” I should be happy. Some muffled shouting rumbles the window. The stuff in my chest goin’ crazy and noticin’ everything about the person I’m holding.” she says forcing a smile. “And second. I’ve got some stuff I gotta do here. The curves along her sides. Wait here?” I nod. At least I think so. Small things bring big results. It happened too fast for me to overanalyze it. at her mom who’s back to staring at us. you’re closer than you think. A few minutes later. “Oh my flying monkeys. but I can’t help it. first off… flying monkeys?” I laugh. Just have to do some laundry and stuff I promised my mom I would. but I’ll be real quick.” “EEEP!” Her exclamation makes me jump in my seat. I’m saying you were probably very comforting. Before she can freak out on me. with her.” “Hey.” she says. Her face is a bit splotchy. “Thanks. There’s no nerves or nothing rumbling through me. You should be happy. Hayley sighs before hookin’ her bag over her shoulder.I shake my head. “A step in the right direction today. Hayley jogs into her house and the drapes swing shut. Either that or Quynn was giving me a ‘friend’ hug. Not one of her smiles.

“No problem.” Huh? Oh. .Whoa. and she leaps back into her house before I get another word in. “Uh. She hesitates before wrapping her arms around my torso for a split second. what the hell? This is Hayley. Not Quynn. Her cheeks match her red eyes as she says. I nod. I’m glad the little pointers I gave you are helping. then she pushes away.” I don’t know what I’m thanking her for. right. thanks Hayles. She’s talking about Quynn. Hayley. leaving a wide space between us.

I had to get up anyway. Just. The five-in-the-morning text goes off just before my alarm clock. “Get the yellow freakin’ bridge away from me!” Something totally off-the-wall in her cute lingo. My stomach hasn’t untwisted since I held her. How can someone get so much from a hug? I can’t stop thinkin’ about it.” I clear my throat. It doesn’t vibrate for the next ten hours actually. I’m never askin’ you to do anything again. In the end. “Wow.” “It’s okay. Hey.Reason 7: I think about you before I think about her Two hugs. toying with the phone in my hand. Then why can’t I stop thinking about Hayley? I slam my head back into my pillows. and she’s helping me get another girl. I decide a text is the best solution to ease my stomach and not pry into her business so much she tells me to get away from her. Though. but it doesn’t. A blast to my ego for sure. A giggle greets me before she says. “So. “Uh yeah. she’d probably say something more like. Friend. “You’re such a liar. Didn’t get this till just now . Call if u can tlk. Both I can’t get out of my mind. Maybe talkin’ to her will solve the issue. I’ve already tried Tums. I’ve been arguing with myself the majority of the afternoon. what’s up?” She laughs again. “No. I won’t b at school 2day. A girl I’ve thought about more than any other girl. A. I hit send before I have the chance to retype the message eighty times.” “Sorry. and the other was… Amazing. didn’t I?” Thanks voice-box. I hit the call button like the phone will blow up if I don’t. & ur prbly asleep.” . And she pulled away like I bit her or somethin’. I’m just not all the way awake yet. Confusing. ‘Cause I’m too sleepy to think straight. early riser.” I pause and take a swig of water from the bottle on my nightstand. A girl who hugged me today too. It can’t be anymore than that. I don’t know why I expect my phone to vibrate ten seconds after I send the sucker. don’t make me sound like I’m half asleep. Wanted 2 kno if ur ok. One was so quick I’m not even sure it happened. but why do I care? Hayles is just a friend. Enough time for me to worry my pants off like a girl. I didn’t expect you to be awake already. Incredible. Call when u can. and I’m freakin’ worried about her. I woke you up. but I wanna tlk 2 u b4 u go. Okay voice-box. Srry. Call Hayley? Or leave it alone? Send a text? But that’s pretty dick-ish. I don’t really know her.

” She pauses.” I rub my eyes. When Hayley talks again. “Uh. if you’re coherent enough to hear it. then remember I’m on the phone. “Well. Hope you feel better.” I nod. wait. “And besides. I’ll probably be super bored and will need entertainment. and it may give Quynn the wrong idea. She’s excited to spend more time with me? Why does that make me happy to hear? “This is perfect. or that normal nervous feeling I get whenever I think about the hot-ass girl I’ve been droolin’ over for almost a year.” “Sa-weeet!” My stomach twists. but with no less enthusiasm. Text me though if you need anything.” Disappointment soaks my still sleepy body. I gotta press the phone so far against my ear. leaning against the headboard and clicking on the light. yeah. I’ve only picked you up twice. why won’t you be in school? Are you really sick?” ‘Cause she doesn’t sound sick. you can say you had plans to study with me. I may as well shove the damn thing inside my head. why?” I stifle a yawn before plowin’ into it.” “Okay. I was told to spend more time with you. I’m not so sure about that. “Shoot. Stevens wants me to work on my signs with you. Is it lame for me to miss her already? . so I’m slumming it at home today. I wait for a stomach knot.” “See ya. and Ms.” There’s another slight pause before she gives me a small.” There’s a long pause when I hear some muffled noise in the background. Quynn. “Since I won’t be in school today. but I’m sick.” she says quieter.” “You got it. “You mean at the library and stuff?” “That and the rides to and from school.” I slide to a sitting position.” “Hayles.” “Oh my gosh. “Uh. “So. And you can ask Quynn to go over some signs after school. she’s whispering so soft. Though it takes a lot longer than it used to. I’m going to go back to bed. “Um. okay. “Yeah. Got a major headache. The way my name sounds in her voice does somethin’ weird to my insides.” Major stomach twists now. bye. Brody. I think this’ll keep me awake enough to listen. removing all the crust from the corners.” “Thanks.“Well. Quynn. I just wanted to offer up some advice for today. I think I’m goin’ to need more Tums. You’ll be fine.” Click . “‘Cause I’m fallin’ behind in class. She’s helping me get closer to Quynn. so I was thinking about how much time we’ve been planning on spending together.” Whoa. Yeah. but I can’t put my finger on what it is. and it eventually smacks me in the chest. Right. “Uh.

For one. My signing isn’t exactly the best way to impress her. I mean. Hey sry. My phone buzzes in my pocket. It’s Mom. Time for me to go. “I wanted to let you know Quynn is here. Even though he’s one of my best friends.” she whispers. Not that I don’t like Dani. but still. but doesn’t say anything. but it won’t be till later. I can picture her hovering her hand over the receiver. but I guess a part of me hoped she’d be here and we’d spend some time together.” Tanner says after I tell him where I’m headed after the last bell.” I laugh. I know you miss spending time with her. Ah well. “Uh.“I thought you had ASL down. which I know is coming. And yeah. Been sleepin off the headache. Whoops. “Got it. Mom’s cool and all. R u with Quynn? .” “Tanner!” He whips around with a huge smile on his face. but yeah… “Hey. but hadn’t got a response. Brody. Tanner gives me a fist bump then turns to close the distance between him and the girl he hasn’t seen for a whole two periods. My stomach makes its way back behind my bellybutton. and my stomach leaps back into my throat. man. I get to her desk.” I say. Sucking in a breath—hoping my stomach decides to move back where it’s supposed to—I open the door and step into the semi-dark room. I texted Hayles every period today. searching for her keys or her purse or something. I pick up the pace down the hall when I hear the slurping behind my back. I do a pretty good impression of a twelve-year-old girl when I dig the cell out. Girlfriend closing in. “Yeah. “Catch ya later. I’m not innocent in this area either. “Hey. right?” He tosses his backpack on his shoulder and shuts his locker. you’re still coming over though. if I can find her. Quy—” She’s not there. Hayley. but I’d rather not talk about it openly.” I do another impression of a twelve-year-old girl skipping toward the car.” Hell yeah! “Thanks. and my phone buzzes again. Tanner is one of those people who would instantly start going off about her tits. I don’t want to be the perv friend who likes to watch. I’m on my way home. but I’d rather not be witness to the PDA. Boo. By the time I reach the front office—Quynn was office aide today—my stomach has planted itself firmly in my throat. he doesn’t know about the inner crap I deal with when it comes to my brother’s ex. Forgot about that. “It’s nothin’.” “Bring Doritos. Quynn’ll catch me up. I know you see her every other day at school. just don’t puke on her.” Tanner raises an eyebrow. but nothin’. Not sure if I’m relieved or not.” “Hi honey. I’m better now tho.

She left b4 I could catch her. U up 4 it? . My stomach twists as I stop talking to myself and type in my reply. I don’t feel like telling her that though. Shoot. Instead of startin’ the car and heading home. Better see if she’s okay. Yes. Feel like going 2 the library again? I gotta get outta my house. And Hayles was pretty messed up yesterday. I don’t have to wait long. Not sure why. but I will be. what do I do? Hmm… Quynn’ll be talkin’ with Mom. I wait for her response. How abt a game night at Tanner’s house. I want to spend time with Hayles too. That’s honest.No. But she’ll be there for a while. Probably stay for dinner. Nah. And I’ll be at Tanner’s. She’s fast. But how often does Quynn come over for a visit? Never. They need time alone and stuff.

What’s the problem?” “You see my friend over there?” Hayley points right at me. hun. She’s always upbeat and funny without being ‘theater geek’ irritating. “You haven’t seen anything yet. Tanner’s one of those people seems like everyone knows. But I don’t know him. that eyebrow crinkle gets me every time. and I think mine does too.” I’ve never heard Hayley sound annoyed before. but she answers. “I was hoping you could help settle an argument. really. Brody so you can argue your side too.” I take the bag and she raises an eyebrow. “Tanner has good taste buds. “I know of him.” “You’re missin’ out. Look how many different kinds there are!” Hayley taps her thighs to the music playing over the intercom as we walk down the chip aisle. Why am I walking over there? “Okay.” She stops mid-walk right before we get to the checkout stand. and if I wasn’t beet red before. Hayley shakes her head. “Okay. “It’s my birthday next . “Hmm…” “What?” “Want to do something fun?” Her eyes tell me this is something more embarrassing than fun. so here’s the story. “What? Not a cheeseburger fan?” She makes a face. you know?” She giggles. popular girlfriend.” Holy hell. “I eat cheeseburgers. “Well.” I laugh. Dude. “Really?” “MmmHmm.” I put the bag back on the shelf and go for the traditional Nacho Cheese. “I think I just said ‘know’ about fifty times. “Tanner is a Nacho Cheese guy.” she huffs and turns back to the cashier.” “You don’t know him?” That’s a shocker.” she says to the lady. come here. “I don’t want to be the party pooper.” she says reaching for the chips in my hand. What the hell? “Excuse me.” Her face gets a little red.” She picks up a bag. I think it’s been way too long since I’ve bought Doritos. friends with pretty much everyone ‘cause he’s so loud. “You are so wonderfully bizarre. I guess I said that out loud. “What the fart is Late Night All Nighter Cheeseburger?” “One of the best kinds. I’m just a tag-a-long. know him. “Uh…” She snatches the bag from my hands and stomps to the cashier. I am now. who sets down the magazine she was reading. Football team.” She gives me a wide grin. just not in powder form on corn chips. “You can get what you want. I invited you. And you’re not tagging along. Hayles. Now she sounds pissed.” I laugh… again—always around her. I like him already. The cashier’s eyebrows shoot to the sky.Reason 8: You slaughter me at Ghost Recon “Wow.

” “Ha! No. “Nah. I’m so outta here. Now. right? And Brody here wanted to get some stuff for the party. and Hayles yaps my ear off about the colleges she wants to go to.” The cashier nods and glances at me. “How selfish is that? For my birthday. it’s my birthday too. “You know. I think I’m okay to request Ranch Doritos.” I tug Hayley toward the door.” “Don’t tell me that’s actually happened before. That was full of awesomesauce!” I want to grab her in one of those amazing hugs again. Bravo. “He goes straight for them. so he should know I hate Nacho Cheese Doritos. Birthdays and I don’t have the best track record. Eighteen. Even though you hate them. but her eyes are laughing. but I’m goin’ to try my best here. “Right?” The poor woman’s eyes switch back and forth between the two of us.” She turns back to the cashier. I say. we’ve been friends for like ever . she was reading the Soap Digest. This girl is full of awesomesauce. If I wasn’t in on it. but all this talk makes me wonder if I .” She shrugs and presses on the radio. “And do you see this?” Hayley grabs the chips and shoves them in the poor woman’s face. I’ll be an adult! I’m so ready to graduate and move out. baby!” “Cool.” She buckles and gestures for me to get in the car. I would’ve thought you were really pissed. sticking her feet on the dash. If I get to graduate. She yanks from my grasp but follows me. Holy freakin’ baby cows. I’m getting what I want. “Because they’re his favorite!” The chips go flying back on the counter as Hayley turns on me. whether she’ll live in the dorms or rent an apartment. Her mouth is all about the fake rage over the stupid chips. and she squeaks. “You can keep the change.weekend. still smilin’. But still. “Well played. You doin’ anything?” She shakes her head.” The look on the cashier’s face almost makes me lose it and bust out laughing right there. Thought I’d give her another ‘big drama over nothing’ story. We’re sharing this party. her face breaks open into a huge smile. I was just saying that it really is my birthday next week. When we get to the car. and she claps. This is sort-of fun. I don’t know how I’m supposed to respond. “Well. “That’s not the point!” Her voice cracks. “Care to explain why we just freaked out that girl?” “‘Cause it’s fun! Also. I’m a horrible actor. Taking the bag of chips and Hayley’s wrist. “Maybe get both?” Hayley slams her fist on the counter and both me and cashier victim jump back. remember? And if I’m buyin’. This is pretty much past the point of embarrassing. She’s crying. Know why?” She doesn’t let the cashier answer. She sounds real excited about it all. Once we stop our ridiculous laughter. I open the door and ask over the frame as she plops down. Crying! Over chips. Now I’m trying not to laugh. Brody.” I say as I start the engine. “I didn’t make up all of it. makin’ me excited for her.” Ditto on that one. I shove my hand in my pocket and toss the cash on the counter. The rest of the drive doesn’t take long. “you sure can act. and what kind of jobs she’ll apply for.

‘Cause I really don’t know how to do that. “Oh good.” Well. “You are so. “you sure he’s cool with me being here? I mean. no. it’s not just a ‘dude’ thing. I chuck the bag right at the back of his head. “Yeah. “I like you already.” She nudges my arm. it’s working on me.” She drops my arm and takes a step back. is it?” Guess the idea of being on a date with me scares the crap out of her. “They don’t think… like. “Okay dude. It smacks him and he leaps off the couch.” Her hand clasps my wrist. and she tugs me back so I’m inches from her face.” Hayley laughs. mouth pools. of course not. I don’t know how people are comfortable with PDA. Down. He plops them on the coffee table then leaps over to grab all the controllers. I chuckle and walk in without knocking.” I gulp. this is Hayley. Tanner goes into the kitchen with the soda and chips. Hayles gives me a hesitant look. this is a dude’s thing. You can have a seat over there.should get attached so close to the end of the year. and I take a seat on the floor in front of the girls. If she only knew how right she is. “Probably because I’m a major dork. not even lookin’ at me or Hayley. cups. right?” “Dani’s here too. Tanner chuckles. I’m not going to beat you up in front of your girl. “Doritos?” Tanner pipes up from the couch. Why don’t we hang out in school?” Dani asks as she drags Hayley to the couch. right?” She nods. Dani. and the soda. How do I make this less awkward? “Sup?” Gangster Hayles has arrived. but follows.” she says as we step on Tanner’s porch. holding a two liter bottle of Cherry Pepsi and smacks a kiss on his lips before turning to face us. I like you already too. palms sweat. but stops when he sees Hayley standing next to me. “Just friends hangin’ out. you got lucky. Stomach twists.” I’m so awkward with this. He only wishes.” “Oh. her cheeks flaming. It does feel like a double date now that I think about it. this isn’t a date. whatever she has been doin’. Ah hell.” . “Okay.” Tanner’s girl skips in. “Sweet. Ugh. So. Dani’ll be here—” “Right now. I’m not his girl. “You ever play Ghost Recon?” She beams at me.” “Okay suckas! Get ready to be wiped out!” Tanner comes in with a bowl of half-crushed chips. I throw Hayley a smile as I lean back to look at her. fists raised. “Then there’s no pressure for me to be all flirty and stuff. Going.” Dani says. “Dorks are the best kind of people.” She sighs. “Whatever. And I know Hayles doesn’t want anythin’ to do with that. It’s Hayley. and she gives Dani a fist bump. “Nah. “Uh.

It may be a minute before I can stand. I can’t take my eyes off them. And how screwed up will that be if I turn out to be exactly like douchebag brother? So make up your mind. Her personality is addictive. man! Hurry up! I gotta go too. invite a girl every time. tossing his remote down. Brody. “Was that hot or what? Dude. my tongue won’t work. just a little bit. yeah. They bump hips and shake their asses as they throw out scores and how girls can ‘so beat boys’ in video games. man. But who cares right now? “Shit. not to mention she’s hot as hell. Brody. but completely wiping me out and rubbing my face in it—yeah. I think I’m gawking. “That’s right.” He shuts the door before I can respond. Why am I so nervous? Even when it comes to Quynn. Hayles has broken the sexiness scale. She’s helping me get another girl. I’m ashamed to admit my initial attraction to her was purely physical. I’ve spent more time with Hayley over the past two days than I’ve spent with her period. I have no idea how stupid I look. I shoot upright and mumble something about havin’ to piss and get outta there. and how fun and what a good person she is. Right next to me. uh huh.” Yeah. and though I’m not exactly happy with the way they broke up. After they finish dancing—thank all that is holy ‘cause I’m not sure how much of that I could’ve taken before I had to leave the room—Hayles plops herself next to me. Then there’s Quynn. I make sure there’s no water marks left on my face before I go out. And there are certain things that make the points rise or fall. Calm down. Dude. Whooping my butt at a guy’s game—not just whooping. I am happy she’s rid of him. I splash water on my face and dry it off with the hand towel. Dani giggles. She deserves someone way better than Gabe. I’m pretty sure Tanner and I have lost all concentration. “Don’t be so sad. Maybe next time I’ll let you live longer than ten minutes.” Tanner knocks on the door.” There’s the flinch but it’s gone before I think anyone else notices it. What is wrong with me? I can’t fall for Hayles. She stands up and victory dances with the controller. baby! I warned you. I never react this way to somethin’ so stupid. but now you have to eat all that smack talk you gave me!” Dani starts laughing like crazy and gets up to dance with her. She’s constantly on my mind. Quynn or Hayley? I can’t believe it’s even an option right now. Her warm body presses against my arm and her heavy breath tickles my face as she gives me a big smile. can’t handle another one of those. . It’s more than just being turned on —which I am—but I can’t believe how awesome this girl is.Sexiness should be based on a scale.” Oh hell.” “Uh. Brody. about a million sexy points. “She’s good. What have you gotten yourself into? “Yo. And my ego. But am I any better? Here I am with another girl when Quynn’s at my house. But then I got to know her. Brody. “You broke his brain! I think that deserves another victory dance.” Tanner says.

“Ha. Hayles laughs and rolls her eyes.” Whoa. I’m sure. We’re just friends. Because it’s just not possible. I have to duck my head back around the wall so they don’t catch me listenin’. “Okay. Dani. “You guys dating. too.My mind is still so muddied it takes the entire walk down the hallway before I realize the girls are talking—about me. did you get lost?” Damn Tanner. tell me honestly. I don’t think I’m exactly his type.” . “Trust me. ha. I’m like a four.” Why not? “Why not?” Thank you. if this girl was you. Be prepared for a rematch!” Tanner grabs the controller and sits on the edge of the couch. would you go for it?” I’m leaning forward so much. But he did just spend a hell of a lot of time in the bathroom. Tanner seems to be the only one relaxed. is that really what she thinks? If anything. and I’m sure mine is too. “Are you sure? He’s been flirting with you all night. “Very funny. “Okay. And Brody is like a fifteen. “Just say it is possible. “No.” Maybe I have been obvious. Do you think Brody is hot or what?” I’m not an eavesdropper normally. Would you go for it?” “I don’t—” “Hey man. okay. it’s the other way around.” “You?” Dani laughs. but not really dating?” Hayley laughs. but let’s just say hypothetically. girl. Everybody knows that. right? I mean hello! You know those sexy scales?” Ah hell… “Scale from one to ten?” “Yeah. Stomach twists.” At least I haven’t been obvious.” I growl as I walk into the game room. but the question Dani asks Hayles is one I want to know the answer to. “Your funeral. I know who he likes. She’s taking forever to respond! Would she go for it? “Gosh. and that’s only because I’ve got a big rack. round two. No!” Yes. There’s no way for me to even contemplate him being interested in me.” Dude. “You’ve seen Brody. I can’t even think about that hypothetically. “He’s way hot. Both girls’ faces are bright red. “Okay. So I hang out in the hallway. Hell yes.

Uh huh. Your friends are awesomesauce!” “Uh. you okay?” Hayles smiles. not really silence. or if I should grab you and kiss you right now. flipping the switch as I park in her driveway. spill. yeah?” “Yes. you’re wrong. remember? So. But her voice is lost in the swirling thoughts going through my head. I’m going to let you in on a secret about girls. What’s wrong?” Everythin’. I still see her face go red. “Hey.” What is she talking about? “Since I’ve totally been failing at my pointers today. and I wish Tanner would’ve taken longer in the can. . I’m falling for you. “Brody?” Stomach twists. And you need to stop thinking that right now. She sings along to the radio. But she’s been so weird about that topic.” “Uh. would you mind turning your lights off when you pull in? I don’t wanna wake anyone up. “Nothing.” “Okay…” Silence. She unbuckles.Reason 9: You’ve turned me into a psycho “Holy super fun! Thanks for bringing me.” Tongue not working again. wishin’ she didn’t live so close to Tanner so I could spend more time with her. but she looks concerned. Can’t help but smile with her. Not yet. Just tired I guess. “You’ve just been quiet. but I’m not done talkin’ to her. Either that or my brain isn’t functioning. I’m still not sure how I feel about that. I know I don’t know you all that well. “Yeah?” “Did something happen with Quynn?” “Huh?” Even though it’s dark. “Hey. I’m pretty sure she’ll cringe or laugh at me. “Can I be blunt?” “Yeah. I can’t get her words out of my head. I’m fine. “Yeah. And Quynn… well.” She clears her throat. I think I want to ask her out. yeah.” I nod. On a date.” I get to her street. but I’m a perceptive person. Not sure how to ask you out without you freakin’ on me.” “What’s that?” She smiles.” “If you’re thinking it’s hopeless. “Hugs usually mean more than just a hug. My heart does a funky flip floppy thing. but still like Quynn. Well. Can’t decide whether or not I want your help anymore—if I should give up on this whole date the brother’s ex thing.

” She shifts. I was the one to hug her. I have to in order to concentrate on Quynn.” “Well…?” Her eyes get all wide. but there was something different about it. Okay. “That I just got an answer I’ve been lookin’ for. but they are the deepest green I’ve ever seen. Uh. It was pretty amazin’ to have her slim and sexy body against mine. “Good. but I can’t help glancing once. “It happened really fast.” “So. even though it was only two seconds. “Uh. Brody. “The hugs?” Her tongue slides over her lips before she talks. Her surprise even. “Brody?” My eyes shoot open. Yeah. Quynn trusts you with her feelings. She giggles. But think hard about what it felt like to have her that close to you—to comfort her. “Look. but what I get from it. I try to keep my eyes away from her chest. “I guess I’m not sure about Quynn anymore.” I laugh as she punches me in the arm. yeah. I know it’s dark. “Wow. awesome. and hot as hell. And when she wrapped her arms around my torso I’m pretty sure I lost all train of thought. Why didn’t it feel any different though? And dude. Brody. and it was just as short. “I guess it depends on the girl. maybe twice. I’m going to ask you plain and simple.“Uh. “I dunno.” I do end up closin’ my eyes.” Her hand reaches for the door handle. Why’re you questioning it now?” ‘Cause of you. you said something that made her feel cared for. “Why? It’s only been like a couple days. but I’m finally noticing her eye color. it was nothing compared to Hayles. I clear my throat. relax.” “Just think. so her torso faces me. I almost forgot I wasn’t alone.” Cheesy. makin’ me feel gooey crap I didn’t know I was capable of. Quynn.” “What?!” Whoa. but honest. Her chocolate smell. Could be just the lack of light. “I hope you’ll always be honest with me. Her short and cute body snuggled into mine. I’d always wanted her to hug me like that. Yes. And you came out of nowhere. it’s like a trust thing?” She smiles and raises her eyebrows. her voice can get real loud. Close your eyes if you need to. Dude. and you’ve already made some huge dents. “Hmm?” “What did you feel?” Be honest. Can’t tell you how good it is she remembers stuff I said to her before. I could hold Hayles for the rest of my life. That means a lot to girls.” I say again. You’re fun. “Touché. Her arms slung around my neck is what I remember most. “I dunno. That’s hot. What did you feel when she hugged you?” Nothing. Hayles?” “Yeah?” “What do they mean?” I gulp. . can I be honest with you?” She rolls her eyes. That’s huge!” Right. and that was hot. That’s exactly what it is.

“Hey, what are you up to tomorrow?” “I don’t know. Why?” Voice-box, do not fail me again. “Do you want to hang out?” “Oh!” Her face brightens. Damn cute. “Like another game night?” “If you want.” I laugh. “But just you and me this time, if that’s all right.” She’s so expressive. Her face goes from major excitement to suspicion in a split second. “Not a date though, right?” I guess not, because that’s the deal breaker. “Nah, ‘course not.” “Then, yeah! I’m totally up for it. Text me to let me know when I should head over.” “How about I pick you up so you don’t have to walk in the rain?” She shakes her head as she tosses her eyes to the ceiling. “Okay, but don’t come in. Like, just text me when you get here, and I’ll come out.” Kind of wish I knew why she’s so weird about her house, but I don’t want to mess this up. “Great. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” She smiles and steps out of the car—she’s got one hell of an ass—and leans back to say, “Catch you later, home-fry.” I’ve got to figure out how to get the corn chip smell out of my room. Not that I’m expecting Hayles to be in my room today—okay, okay, I don’t expect, but I’m hopin’ like crazy we end up here—but it should probably smell better anyway. I throw open the window, even though it’s pouring outside, and start chuckin’ all the laundry on the floor into the basket in the corner. The bed sheets go too, as well as the stuff crammed under the bed. I’m pretty sure there are a thousand empty Monster cans jammed into my overflowing trash. “Brody!” “Yeah?” Mom stumbles downstairs, and her jaw drops. “Are… are you cleaning?” You’d think I just murdered someone. “Yeah. Got a friend comin’ over later.” Her brow furrows. “You’ve never cared before.” Then her face splits open with a wide smile. “Is this friend a girl?” Dude. Do not want to talk about this with Mom. But I’m honest. “Yeah. Is that all right?” “Oh Brody, I don’t know…” She bites her bottom lip and takes a few breaths. “I mean, I’d like to be the cool Mom, but I just don’t think having a girl here while your dad and I are out is a good idea. Especially if you’re cleaning your room. Call me crazy, but it worries me.” Ugh. “She’s just a friend.” “Then why are you cleaning your room?” “Because it stinks.” “Brody…?” Damn it. She’s not goin’ to let this happen. “Look, Mom, Hayley and I are just gonna—” “Oh! It’s Hayley?” She cocks her head, and I nod. “Well, that’s fine.” She swipes her hand through the air. “I thought… I was assuming it would be… never mind. You kids have fun. I’ll be home around ten.” She kisses my forehead—ugh—and leaves.

Uh… okay. That was weird. But at least I don’t have to worry about Parent Patrol. I check my phone for the millionth time. Still nothing. I texted Hayles the second I woke up and it’s been about four hours. What the hell? Did she forget or somethin’? Maybe I should just go get her. Tell her I just happen to be in the neighborhood and wondered if she still wanted to hang. There is somethin’ seriously wrong with me. Girl’s turned me into a psycho. I snatch up a pair of gym shorts and toss them in the pile of laundry. Then grab the garbage and trudge upstairs. Crap. The kitchen and front room are a disaster too. Not nearly as bad as my room, but bad enough I gotta clean it before Hayles gets here. If she gets here. It’s only 2:00. Chill out. I check my phone again as I pull the front door open. “Fart! Brody, you scared the poo out of me.” There she is. Drenched to the bone, big smile on her face and a grocery bag in her arms. She scared me too, but I don’t let her know. Not sure what comes outta my mouth, but she laughs. “Can I please come inside, even though I’ll drip everywhere?” “Yes! Get your crazy ass—” She flinches. Oh right. “Sorry. Butt in here.” I drop the garbage and run to get her a towel. “Thanks,” she says as I wrap it around her. I kind of want to rub her shoulders and dry her off myself, but I bet she’ll slap me if I try. “Lookie what I brought you!” She thrusts the grocery bag in my arms and tugs the towel around her tighter. I can’t help the laugh barreling out my mouth. “Cheeseburger Doritos. Did you give another cashier an interesting story?” “Nah. But maybe next time.” She smiles and wipes a few raindrops from her cheeks. “Why the he… heck did you walk here?” At least I caught the swear this time. Didn’t realize I was so bad at that. She shrugs and follows me into the kitchen. So much for cleanin’ everything before she got here. “I like the rain.” “I was goin’ to pick you up. You never answered my texts.” “Yeah, sorry. I don’t have my phone on me today.” Her eyes drop to the floor as she sits on the bar stool. Is that all she’s going to say about it? “Uh, am I going to have to ask?” “Ask what?” “Why you don’t have your phone.” I rip the bag of chips open and dump some in a bowl. Guess I didn’t have to worry so much about the corn chip smell. “We’re not going to talk about it.” Her voice is stern, but she’s smilin’ with her eyes, so I know she’s not all that serious. “Drop it in the toilet or somethin’?” I could listen to her laugh all day. She shoves my shoulder and rolls her eyes. “No. But it is a bit… waterlogged.” Before I can ask what she means, she grabs a chip, sniffs it, and then jams it in her mouth. “Okay, so these aren’t as bad as I thought. You’ve got good taste.”

“Told you.” Laughing, I open the fridge and pull out two cans of Coke and nod to the front room. “You want to play another game?” I’m up for another slaughter, since that was crazy hot. “Ooh!” She hops off the stool and skips into the next room. “Let’s see what you got…” The small of her back peeks out from her shirt as she crouches. Her wet clothes cling tight to her skin, showin’ off some serious curves. Goin’ to have to sit down or adjust or something. That is damn sexy. She looks so… soft. Not like bony chicks, but someone who holds their own. If I hold her, I know she won’t break. “Brody?” “Uh, sorry. What?” She waves a game in the air by her face, but yeah, I don’t know what it is. “You okay with this one?” I’m okay with anythin’ right now. “Yup.” I put the food down and grab the game from her. She plops on the couch, not even caring she’s sitting on some unfolded laundry, and she’s still soakin’ wet. “Prepare to be annihilated!” I laugh and just as I pop in the game, the TV shuts off. The X-Box goes out too. I glance at the clock. Blank. Well, so much for that. The fizzle of Hayles opening her Coke brings my attention to her again. She’s smilin’—I like that about her. Nothing gets her down—and she takes a sip before sayin’, “Guess we get to play something else.”

Brody. “Twenty questions. Sweet. “Have you kissed Quynn?” . “Is that a challenge?” Competitive. Stomach twists. Once you’ve used it.” How many people has she played this with? Don’t get jealous. a smile breaking through.Reason 10: You are the FHF—Freaking Hot Friend “And what is that?” I sit next to her. I catch her breathing it in. you ready?” she asks. She wants to play twenty questions? Does she realize how dangerous a game that is? “You sure?” I say. “that you can choose to plead the fifth. She’s never been on a date. I spray a little cologne on them though ‘cause they live in the ass room.” I raise my eyebrows. I’m dyin’ to know more about her. Girl keeps gettin’ hotter and hotter. Damn. but far enough away so I don’t touch her. closer than I would have if it was someone else. so if you ask any follow-ups.” “There are rules?” “In my version. but leaves the sweater untouched. and besides that. Girl’s probably freezin’ her ass off. But choose wisely. “Thanks. then that’s it!” That’s not so bad. there’s really nothin’ I have to hide. “Definitely a challenge.” Her face goes a little pink as she smiles.” She giggles.” Hope she’s ready for this. ten for me. she’s cute.” I fling myself over the back of the couch and race to my room.” “Okay then. And any question counts as one. I got a clean sweater and a blanket I can give her.” “Got it. “Hang on. I’m such a douche. Ten for you. “Also. “So. “‘Cause you may regret that.” She smiles again as she tucks into the blanket. “Shoot.” I say handing her my stuff. “You look freakin’ cold. I’m trying not to get a complex about that. She adjusts her towel and shivers slightly. remember? “Okay…” “You have to answer every question. they count toward your ten. She tucks her legs under her butt and leans toward me like the idea she has should make me just as excited.” She takes the blanket and wraps it around her. “Here. but you do get one. twenty questions means twenty total. rules. She already knows about Quynn.” she holds a finger up.

‘cause really. almost eighteen. Brody. she’s seventeen. “Is there a rule about lying? Because there should be. “Okay. never been kissed.” I don’t care about the follow up question takin’ up one of mine. her first date. I want to ask her about her family.” She nods. “Why don’t you ever want me to walk you to your door?” That’s an innocent question. I guess get a job. everything. “Craptastic. That’s what I want to do. “The truth? I don’t want you to meet my mom.” “Why not?” Her eyebrows crinkle in that damn cute way. But hello! That’s a lot of pressure. right? “Because it’s not a big deal.” She smiles.” “But—” .Whoa.” It’s quiet for a minute. my turn. but not sure if it’ll happen. Since she’s going for the kiss question… “How many people have you kissed?” She barks out laughing. but something tells me she won’t be too happy with that. I didn’t mean to cross a line if I did. “Well. That’s three for me once you answer. “I’ve never been good at lying. I have no idea.” She laughs. I’m not sure if she’s waiting for me to ask the next question. but as for movin’ out? Guess it’s ‘cause the only place I can afford on a student’s pay would be close to my brother. I haven’t kissed her. Dude. I haven’t been on a date. She still has her ‘veto’ though. She ain’t messin’ around. And that’s the one you’re not getting an answer for. but not like what you mean. Maybe I’ll give it a shot. I get that. that’s question three for you. just get it over with . her first… well. ‘Cause I want to be the guy who gets to give it to her. I want to be with Hayles. On the cheek. or if she’s thinkin’.” Her eyebrows shoot up.” I just don’t want to talk about Quynn.” Is that relief in her face? “Your turn. “Sorry. try to get into the community college. My turn.” she says softly. “No. um. jolting me back to the present. She’s waited this long. I give her a ‘what the hell is so funny?’ look since I can’t ask the question out loud. and move out. “I dunno. and she smiles all the way. so. It better be hotter than hell. Her first kiss. but it doesn’t go up to her eyes.” she says. I mean. and she slaps her forehead. and I want to be as far away from him as possible. I just used another question. “Why?” “Okay. “What do you plan on doing when you graduate?” Dude.” I chuckle and slide a little closer to her. “Sorry. it’s just… I thought you would’ve figured that already. you know that. my grade is slippin’ in ASL. maybe.” “You didn’t.” Why does this make me nervous? Why does knowing her lips never touched anyone else’s make my abs feel like they’ve been sucker punched? I know why. “Loaded first question. “Uh…” I clear my throat. “Yeah. Gotta know.” She shrugs. Can’t help it.

“Third—and you’re going to hate this reason. “Knock it off. but I don’t really care. I know who you’d really like to go out with. “It’s a long answer. it’s hard to admit out loud. why?” I stop. “So. I’ve been checkin’ her out for the past couple of days. Brody. what would you say?” She rolls her eyes. But I can’t do that without feelin’ like she’d get all weird on me. “First.” She pauses. She’s good.” “Okay.” “That’s what you’d say?” “No. “And that only counts as one question since you didn’t answer me. her eyes going to the ceiling. I mean. but I look her over. I can’t believe this girl hasn’t been on one date. I’m sayin’ choose another question. we’ve hung out like. “Hey! Me too!” She laughs and kicks me in the shin. We are playin’ twenty questions though… I take a deep breath and go for it. and it’s not me. Girls say .” It doesn’t bug me I’m still a virgin. over at the TV. Maybe then I’ll know how to convince her how crazy she is. This girl is killin’ me. “Second.” “Meaning?” “The Funny Fat Friend.“Are you a virgin?” Way to take my mind completely off its train of thought. Never once did it cross my mind that she’s fat. for an eighteen-year-old guy. “If I asked you out.” “Why?” “Because you have to ask somethin’ that’s not completely crazy.” “You think it’s crazy that I’d want to ask you out?” “Yes. “I’m not exactly Miss Size Zero.” She tugs the blanket around her. It has to be due to her and not for lack of options. but it’s true—look at me. Somethin’ real . taking another breath of it. Not just to ‘hang’.” Huh? “I’m what they call the FFF. but still. trying to count back how many questions that was.” That’s one of the best things about her.” Hell yeah. I want to ask her out. “Uh. At least not with her. I wish she’d keep her foot there. I have been. yeah. down to the floor.” What the hell? I know she’s going to get self-conscious. what? Three times? I’m actually surprised you haven’t ditched me already with how weird I am. since she hasn’t even kissed someone.” Oh. but to hold her hand and open her door and all that other stuff that goes with it.” She’s really wrong about that one. You ready for it?” “Yeah. you want to know why I think it’s crazy that you’d ask me out?” “Yup.

“Yup. how did you get into that whole deal?” Her face falls. given the fact all my friends have boyfriends and I have yet to go on a date. Her cheeks flush. so I take a stab at tellin’ her what I think of her. O-kay. I’m almost sitting on top of her now that I think about it. but her hand lingers there. I did. It’s still pouring like snot out there. “Yeah. so there was this guy. Tryin’ to hide it or somethin’. I’m going to do the wrong thing and make her answer. So whenever you’re ready…” I smirk and her cheeks go pink again.” She shoves my arm. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t care when people moo at her. crossing her arms and the blanket around her stomach. “It’s another long answer. Jason. but the way Hayles said it. I want to grab her hand and hold it there. the more I want her.” She sighs.” My eyes flick to the window. and her eyes go straight to the floor. Dude. “You know. I already used my ‘no answer’. you are a good listener. question like six or somethin’. it’s like she actually believes it and she’s all right with it. She doesn’t shift away. Brody.” I know him. This girl is amazing.” It’s a round about way of tellin’ her she needs to realize how freakin’ beautiful she is. Gut is getting all crazy twisted again.” “Say what?” “That I’m not fat. Really. I’m pretty sure I’m the FFF. but too bad. me and my girlfriends went out and met up with a few . and she avoids eye contact with me. “Anyways. Then her breath catches.” She’s tryin’ to change the subject.” When it comes to you. and she smiles as she rolls her eyes.” Her voice cracks. I gotta know more about her. Big in the right places. I don’t know many of your friends. She looks like an hourglass. And that stuff doesn’t matter to me anyway.” She adjusts on the couch. Freaky Frisbees. when I started high school. And the more I find out. but you don’t. It’s like a freakin’ drug. they blow. Damn. “Well. but now I’m not sure if she’ll want to hear it. but really.that all the time. He’s one of those punkers who think they’re real good at the guitar . I’m okay with it. I was going to tell her I think she’s damn sexy. “So. I know you feel you have to. hell yeah. Did I make her that flustered? Nice. “But—” “Please.” “Okay. I wouldn’t call her fat though. “It’s probably ‘cause you were the one to set them up. playin’ with the fabric of my shirt. that feels good. but I’m pretty sure you’re the hot one. What is so bad? Guess the right thing to do would be to let her off the hook and tell her not to answer.” “Dolley?” “Yeah. You said that right?” “Yes. “Crap. and she snaps her hand back under the blanket. you did. “Looks like we’ve got time. but whatever. “Hayles—” “You don’t have to say it. Her face gets dark red. I scoot closer again.

” “But he asked for your number. she was so thrilled… I guess she was into him too. To take matters in my own hands. still feel like kickin’ Jason’s ass until my foot pops out his mouth. “Well. That’s when I learned not to get my hopes up with every guy who paid me even the smallest amount of attention. since they are all still together. As a group. “Anyway. I thought. ‘Holy crap! Someone actually picked me out of all my skinny gorgeous friends. and he asked me… well. I don’t tell people about my crushes. You know. and a lot hurt. Just a group of friends hanging out. Shit. I’m no better than any of the other douchebags who used her to get to someone else.” Shit. I feel like shit. “The same thing happened with Mike. but I am. “So there’s my resume! Do I have you convinced now I can get you with Quynn?” I nod.” “I thought you said you hadn’t been on a date.” I smile and cock an eyebrow. he asked if I could talk him up so he’d have a chance with her. I knew how to ask out a girl without going through the best friend first. I was a little pissed.” What a pussy. ‘cause she’s like my best friend. he asked if Lexi would be there. “I don’t count that as a date ‘cause it wasn’t. and Nick.” “No—” “But when I told Lexi about Jason. he asked if we could all hang out again.” “Okay…?” Yeah. but I keep my hands to myself. was way cute and nice to me and asked for my number at the end of the night. but I’m not really payin’ attention anymore. he asked for my number and called me… a lot! Like every freakin’ day.” I shouldn’t be jealous of something that was forever ago. still not getting where this is going. It may have started that way with me. “They still together?” “Yeah. . so I set them up. Damn. Score!’ But. I told him yes. all my friends now have boyfriends I set them up with.” “Wait. less pressure and crap. She’s never goin’ to think I’m for real until I tell her Quynn isn’t who I want anymore. Even in the ninth grade. and offer to help out before I could get hurt… or attached. It’s like voicing them only makes it worse when they don’t like me back. Wes. That sounds like he was into you.boys.” She scratches her nose and slides closer to me.” That makes sense. “Right? I knew I wasn’t crazy about that!” “Huh?” “Well. but it sure as hell won’t end that way. “Well. Shit. But dude. but I probably just read things wrong. then after a couple of weeks. I want to touch her. which I was okay with. One of the guys was Jason and he like.” She smiles and pats my leg. And I’m pretty good at it. she didn’t know you liked him?” “No. It’s her. No wonder she’s so weird about dating. Her wet hair mixed with her normal chocolate smell is a real turn on. Shit. Stupid punk dick.

I’m not okay.” I look at her. “Hey. I don’t ever want to hurt her. “But I’m pretty sure you’ve run out. I’ve lost count on our questions.” .But will she ever believe that? “So. I’ve got a girl who refuses to believe anyone could fall for her because she’s fat. her breath tickling my face. Hold her and show her she’s freakin’ wrong. I want to be with her. “Yeah.” I nod. I’m fine.” She laughs. “You okay?” No. and she refuses to fall for anyone else because she doesn’t want to get hurt.

Damn it. I close my eyes and try to erase everythin’ twisting in my stomach. she’s wrong. I kind of wonder if it’s ‘cause I couldn’t text Hayles at all after I dropped her off. I jam my earphones in and crank up the music. She’s all warm and soft and crap. I go to turn it down. keeping hers on mine as she listens. Her finger flicks through the playlists. “Ooh!” before the song changes. That’s normal for the ASL room. One damn day since I talked with Hayles. Point for Hayles about the name thing. I want to grab her into my arms and keep her there forever. I’m going to do it today. it’s not ‘cause of Quynn that I’m anxious to get to the ASL room. Good luck with that.” She grabs the iPod out of my hand. but she stops my hand. Just a girl. I really regret not askin’ her more about her ‘waterlogged’ phone. homie?” Can’t help feelin’ like I may hurl all over her as she sits down—right next to me again—and sticks the headphone in her ear. Gotta calm my nerves. Funny thing. I have the palm sweats and the gut knots and all that other stuff that tells me I’m in way over my head. And it’s only lunch time. Drummin’ my fingers on my knees. Damn beautiful. Well. I like it. and she’s going to say yes and believe me. Then she hums along softly by my face. I’ve never been more happy for a Monday. I’m going to try to ignore the fact it doesn’t matter what name she calls me. Hour. “Mr. More.Reason 11: You are perceptive One day. but it’s for a different girl this time. She’s pretty firm on her self-image. The. Even if I have to freakin’ shake her until she gets it. One of my earphones gets pulled out and my eyes snap open. All. It’s just a girl. Can’t. Then convince her to say yes. “You have good taste in more than just chips. Time. Brody. Concentrate. Done this before. I’ve underestimated you. I am in way over my head. I’m askin’ today ‘cause this shit sucks. and I hear a small. Grant. I’m not in the mood to people watch today. “What are you listening to. What’s the worst that can happen? She’ll say no. I’m going to ask her out. It’s like I need to talk to her. Hayles?” .” “Huh?” Yeah. And it’s about a hundred times worse. “Uh. Just one.

“I hate being witness to PDA. I mean you’re usually quiet. I assume she’s never been asked. It’s so cute when she does that. Quynn. She deserves that. She grins. “Gag me. Just ask her out. “Hey. Not on our way to the class we share with Quynn. totally botch it with me or something. but I stop her.” Her eyes toss up to the ceiling before meeting mine.” I attempt a smirk. Brody. uh… so I was wonderin’—” Bell rings. “Gosh dang gorillas. Hell yeah! She lets me keep my hand on hers. Not in the middle of a chaotic hallway in this craphole we call high school. “But they’re not as bad as that I guess. Right now you’re saving me from the slob fest going on in the cafeteria. Maybe ask for some help after class. something’s bugging you. Signing. I mean.” Hayles follows my gaze and shivers.” I chuckle.” She goes to turn the music back up. And I know . and she points a finger at me. All right.“Mmm?” She turns the music down. You’re a lot quieter than normal. but today you seem…” “In a daze?” My smirk is for real this time. “Yeah. tossing my earphone in my lap. Pointers.” I pause and nod toward a couple of Hipsters goin’ at each other across the hallway. “Tell me on the way to class. “Well. Her brow crinkles in that hot way it always does. Damn it. I know the feeling. Not a big deal. I don’t want to think about all that crap—the mess I’ve made already with everythin’.” “Tanner and Dani?” She smiles and winks. Like. “No. She smacks her forehead. Right. right? More pressure to make this good for her.” She giggles and it takes me a minute to catch up with her. I’m such an idiot.” Can’t do it. “Uh huh. and I haven’t said a word. That’s what she said.” My eyebrow pulls upward. Didn’t even notice. Bailing… “I didn’t know you had this lunch. Well. but it probably looks real stupid. she’s never been asked out before.” Huh? Am I that transparent? “Don’t be nervous about seeing her today. What is she on about now? “Because…?” “Because I know why you’re quiet and I should’ve figured it out by now.” “Yup. “Brody?” “Huh?” “Are you mad at me or something?” Guess we’ve been walkin’ to class.

I like our banter. “I’m not nervous about Quynn. but I don’t care. Man. then? Her nose scrunches as she gives me a look that’s so damn sexy. but now? Man. but she keeps her hands on me. I’m not really… I’m not sure about her anymore. She… she really likes you. More questions? I believe you ran out on Saturday. “And I’ll tell you another secret. Okay. And it shouldn’t make me want to brush it from her face. so you’ve got some for me.” She gives me a ‘whatever’ look and pulls her hand away. because I don’t care. it’s hard for me not to close the distance between us. but she stops me. Hayles is going to be pissed when she finds out. I flex underneath her grasp. That feels good. “Hey. I smirk. Maybe rejection will be better in sign language. I just want Hayles. Now I can’t think of anything to ask you. “It’s no different than it was before. but it does.” She stops in front of me and grabs my shoulders. “Hey. “She looks at you the same way you look at her. Or maybe it’ll be enough to convince her I’d rather be with her than Quynn. What’s your question? .” She drops her hands and gives me a faint smile. She laughs under her breath as she swipes her bangs from her face. I totally just dug myself in a hole. You forfeit one of your questions to me. and it pisses me off that I know that.” I open my mouth to pretty much tell her everythin’. Maybe I’ll bring it up. I told you. You’ve got this in the bag. She’s just waiting for the right moment. It’s not the right girl. In front of Quynn. showin’ off. Fine. I don’t care. should be payin’ attention. “Knock it off.” I say as I snatch one of her hands and play with her fingers. She’s not pullin’ back either. but her hair is down today. ” I’m as big a douche as my brother. Even in front of everyone. I have a question for you. Brody. Thought I was over this girl. but I don’t care. then? I’m stallin’—again. Her face goes a little pink. I know this means she’s in a good mood. Ugh. maybe.Quynn’ll ask why I wasn’t home on Friday when she came over. okay? Don’t be nervous. I got it bad. It’s going to suck askin’ her like this.” Quynn’s wearing her same old sweater and jeans. It’s so… easy. Whoops. A week ago. May work in my favor. What are we going to talk about? She smiles and my stomach twists. Hayles waves her hand in front of my face and brings me back into her view. Especially to the girl I actually want.

I don’t even care how cheesy that sounds. Not with Quynn sittin’ two feet away. Why would Quynn? Chickening out again. Brody. Nervous. then she wipes it clean with a fake smile. Hell. Nothing. Just got it wet. Yeah. Maybe she’ll get the hint I’ve fallen for her. The soft touch sends goose bumps up my arms. “Sweet!” she whispers as she grabs my wrist and traces her fingers over the ink. She taps her chin with her forefinger and looks up at the ceiling. I’m screwed. That chocolate smell will be burned into my nostrils. Part of me is kind of happy I know this about her already. Never felt it this bad before. You figure out a question. I’m okay with that. . Look at what she’s done to me! I’m fine. No. and she shoves my arm. She won’t get it. she doesn’t even understand why anyone would like her. Was she staring at me? ‘Listenin’ to our conversation? Damn it. Hayles.I throw a quick glance at Quynn. You seem pissed today. She giggles. Her face gets all twisted for a second. Later? She nods. but I don’t want to tell her here. Still getting it fixed. but I catch it. I promise. and I kind of hope she notices. Her hands sign it real fast. Her eyes dart from mine and shoot to her signing partner. Stupid. I want to know everything about her. didn’t realize you wanted to know so much about me. It’s just a phone. she gets closer every time we talk now. Hayles isn’t like other girls. Her face goes bright red. You have more? Gosh. showin’ her the tatt I got on my eighteenth birthday. I can’t do this in front of her. She lets go to sign to me. And now I got to come up with another question. You going to tell me what happened? It’s like I asked her to boil puppies or something. I want a tattoo so bad! Why the hell would I laugh at that? I smile and remove my leather wristband. She’s lyin’. What do you want for your birthday? Hell yeah! I came up with that pretty quick. Don’t laugh? I cross my heart and salute. I wrap the leather back around my wrist. Even this gets me goin’. Or at least not tellin’ the entire truth. and she leans toward me. I know. You got your phone yet? I wink. Are you sure you’re okay? Not pissed. but the other part is mad she doesn’t feel like she can tell me stuff. What does it mean? Kind of knew she’d ask me that. yet? Or do I get another one? Her eyes get wide.

Probably about Friday. yeah. Looks like someone wants to talk to you. You’ll tell me about your tattoo? Her eyes get all excited as she waits for me to answer her. “Thank you for talking me into it. Why not? ‘Cause I want to be with you. Maybe I was reading too much into that sort-of hug she gave me last week.She cocks her eyebrow and nibbles the inside of her lip. My mom told me about that. “Hey. . “Uh. Deep breath. “you’ve never said that before. “No prob. “I went to your house on Friday. Okay. and she opens her mouth. Hayles stifles a giggle. Kind of want to get this over with. Thought maybe we could hit the library again. or more about douchebag brother. Hayles. Sounds good. You going to be busy after school? Her eyes flick to Quynn. it does look that way. but drops it. but she looks confident as she perches herself on top of my desk again. Who’ve you been hanging out with?” I chuckle.” She smiles. I was only asking to see if you were going to talk to Quynn after class. Wasn’t planning on it. she’s not mad. “Brody? Could I talk to you for a minute?” Quynn’s voice is all shaky. How can I say no to that? Yeah.” She bends to pick up the books. Hayles smirks at me as she swings her heavy bag over her shoulder. “Um. “That all you needed?” “Oh!” Her face goes red. Yeah. I don’t really want to deal with that right now. who again goes pink and looks at something that became very interesting on the ceiling. I wanted to talk to you about something else too. “Sup?” “Bro. wait for me.” she says before grinning. lookin’ like she wants to argue. Half ‘cause Hayles is waitin’ for me. I can’t remember the last time I was able to enjoy a Friday night. Her face scrunches up. and half ‘cause I’m not sure if the stomach twisting is because of Quynn or Hayles. okay?” I ask. and I don’t want to be more confused than I already am.” Good. Her eyebrows shoot upward. but don’t respond other than that. and she dumps my books off the desk with her hip. Did you want to hang out again today? She shakes her head.” I twist the strap of my backpack around my wrist and stand.” I clear my throat. no. and I’m not as big a douche as I thought ‘cause I help. but I give her a look. That’s what I want to deal with. She shuts it and nods before walking out the door. Definitely sounds good.

” Gotta get outta here.“Shoot. I walk toward the door. but her voice stops me again. Hayley’s helpin’ me out. I have plans to stop by and see your mom on Friday again. But I’ll keep tryin’ with Hayley for a bit. “Good. If I ever get the guts to ask her out. Her face gets red again as she hands me my stuff. I should say it right now. not long enough to hang out with Quynn like we used to. tryin’ to seem like this isn’t the most awkward conversation I’ve had in my life. Hayles isn’t… it’s just different.” “Okay. There goes my freakin’ luck. Starting to get awkward. I’m tryin’ not to care. “I don’t mind going over signs with you after school. choosin’ between two amazing girls. “Hey. and now I don’t want it. Not sure if Quynn would understand. At least. and she says yes. “Uh. Surprisingly easy.” I smile. but it’s hard. But I don’t. Think I’ll be okay. Hayles’ birthday. That is.” “Oh?” “Yeah. she’s got somethin’ on her mind. then.” Wish she’d just spit it out. I don’t want to find the words.” Half smile. “Oh. But I can’t do anythin’ about it. Your mom said you were having trouble. I can’t find the words. Opportunity I’ve been waitin’ for. I guess I’ll see you next class.” She’s sad. and I hate it. if you don’t feel weird about that. Not without screwin’ things up. Damn it.” I should say it.” I shrug. Bro?” “Yeah?” She takes a deep breath and twirls her hair in her hand. “Somethin’ wrong?” Half smile—again. . “Maybe. I was kind of hoping I’d see you too for a bit. “Later. Like before. “Just wanted to know how things are going with your signs. “Okay. I may have plans though. Just let me know if you ever need my help. I won’t be home. well… I thought… if you want…” She pauses for a second. clacking her tongue and lookin’ at the door. Hayles is waitin’ for me. you know?” Friday. The choice is easy though.” “Yup.” Damn it. “Well. I’m goin’ to take Hayles out. thanks.

” Hayles whispers in my ear. I can tell already. Just forget I’m even here. She brushes past me and I have the sudden urge to touch the small of her back. “Touché. He’s wearing boxer briefs. dude. “Heck are you doin’ here?” Gabe stalks to the fridge.” His idiotic laughter gets muffled as he sticks his head in the cupboard.” I don’t give a shit he’s waitin’ on his suga momma. He needs to get the hell outta here before I lose it in front of Hayles. “Um.” “Get a job. Don’t mind me. So I don’t need a job. “What the he—” Oh right. Just lookin’ at the prick makes me want to punch the crap out of him. “I want me some Coke. It’s going to be a good afternoon. Just have to find the right moment. “Nicole don’t get paid till the thirtieth. chill!” “You need to get out!” “Geez. She doesn’t move.” “Can’t. I want any excuse to touch her at all. “Sure.” “Go buy some then.” “And here you are stealin’ food from your mom.” He chuckles and smacks a brick of cheese. I fight Gabe as he takes things out.Reason 12: You don’t let my jackass jerk brother get to you “Sorry. second door on the right. mayo.” He swings open the fridge and pulls up his jeans. Hayles is here. who pissed in your lunch?” He grabs a grocery bag from under the sink and starts . “Damn.” She’s bouncing as we walk up the porch. I stick the key in the door and step back to let her in first.” I laugh and quickly grab the door for her. I just want to drop off some stuff. “Down the hall. but I’m going to. She stops in the entryway and I sidle up next to her. “Dude. but still doesn’t leave much to the imagination. ‘accidentally’ bumping into her back. like the red wall by the stairs is the most interesting piece of artwork she’s ever seen. I don’t blame her. “That’s why I have Nicole.” “Thanks. little bro. “Bathroom?” Yeah. and jar of pickles on the counter.” I say to Hayles as we pull in my driveway. “I’m outta food. Dude. Just to rest my hand there.” She’s gone. if you got any. which fall right back down. his ass stickin’ out of his jeans. “You want to wait here?” “Heck no!” She smiles as she unbuckles.” Douchebag brother. Hayles averts her eyes. which surprises and excites me—for about two seconds. I don’t want to ruin it by askin’ her out. and I’m storming into the kitchen. and I put them back.

” If I was faster.” Another fake smile. “Hey. He stops at the door to give me one of those stupid cocky smirks. “Well. “No biggie.” He slugs me in the arm as he passes me. Might help with your attitude. but I don’t care. I don’t blame you. but she coughs and takes a step back. and I tighten my grip. gettin’ all his ‘hard-earned’ food together. But if it’s genetic. Piece o’ work. please tell me she didn’t hear that.” She smiles.” She nods. but she was good in the sack.” I don’t touch the beer. Oh crap. “You better shut your mouth before I do it for you. “I told you to forget I was here. I’d beat the crap out of him. But he’s gone before I can get to the door. “Oh. I know I’m going to get an earful from Dad. “Don’t listen to him. all right? He’s a jacka… he’s just a jerk.” He opens a beer and slides it across the bar to me.” He shakes from my hold. “He’s a real charmer. He digs through more cupboards and I let him. closing the distance between us. bag of half the food from our fridge in the other. “Look little bro. “Thanks dawg. “It’s not funny. “Get out. If it wasn’t for Hayles in the next room. I slam him against the fridge. But don’t be pissed at me for movin’ on to richer fish. Trust me.” “Sure.” He pulls out Dad’s six pack of Corona.” “You can’t just pop in after ten months of nothin’ but bein’ a complete dick to Mom and Dad. “What are ya talkin’ about?” “You know what I’m talkin’ about. though I kind of want to once he leaves. he’d have a broken face.” “All right.” Hayles says from the hallway. I get it. Then there’s Quynn—” “Oh. Bang any chick who’ll give you whatever you want without naggin’ your balls off. which again does no good. ignoring how moronic I feel for tryin’ to comfort her and failing.” He pulls up his jeans. I don’t care how awkward this may be or that she hates it when I touch her. I’ll just be a sec. then opens one for himself. I’m not sure how he became such a dick. beer in one hand. Crap. Didn’t peg you as a chubby chaser. And mooch off your parents when they aren’t home. kid. dickwad. “You still into my ex?” I gulp. “Bingo. I hope it bypassed me. I say have a go at her if you can. She’s damn sexy.shoving as much food as he can into it. I just want him out of here. but how do I make her feel better without makin’ this worse? I go to wrap her in a hug.” She’s lyin’. holdin’ him by his stupid-ass Korn shirt. attempts another smile and shrugs. but her eyes are filled to the brim with tears. I stopped listening after the nagging balls comment.” He chuckles.” Gabe says. “learn from my damn shit and don’t get attached too young just ‘cause your girlfriend’s got one hell of an ass. and stop bein’ so damn pissed all the time. Crap.” Can’t take this anymore.” I say. this shit’s a lot easier than workin’ your ass off for minimum wage. but whatever gets you action. and I reluctantly let go. “Have fun with your girl. all right. “I wanna check and see if mine is ready yet. “Do you mind if I use your phone?” she asks.” I tug my phone outta my pocket and slide it into her open palm. . Crap.

“Can I…” Do it fast. dude! “I was wondering if. you had any plans yet for your birthday.” Her eyes widen. Stalking to the kitchen. Maybe she saw Gabe and took off runnin’ while she could. Still waiting. Why?” Her face is pink. uh.” I’m probably more psyched than she is about gettin’ her phone back. Mind taking me to Verizon to pick it up?” I smirk. Dad’s going to kill me for lettin’ him take his favorite beer. Brody. .I nod as she presses the phone to her ear and turns around. “All right. After putting the bread loaf douchebag brother took half of away. Waiting… Waiting… Stomach twisting. and she shakes loose from my hold. Better give her privacy. Brody.” Stubborn girl. and her eyes light up like I told her she won the lottery—not sayin’ I’m the lottery. she should’ve been home an hour ago. I grab my backpack I dropped by the door and start puttin’ away the mess Gabe made. and I’m not sure what to think. What’s up?” She slides my phone across the bar. uh…” Brain dead. It’s so cute like that. “Hey. but I grab her hand and whirl her toward me. Actually. “W-what are ya doin’… I mean…” Ugh. Why the heck did I not befriend you before now?” She laughs and nudges me with her elbow. I’m pretty sure it’s obvious I’m askin’ her on a date for real this time. “Let me leave a note for my ma. “Can I take you out?” It’s out there now. Do not bail out this time. Where is Mom? She’s usually home by now. “You really don’t mind. Next second her green eyes brim over with those tears. I glance at the clock on the microwave.” I jot down real quick where I’ll be—with her car—and also why there’s an open beer on the counter. I’m tryin’ to read her expression but it’s hard. Like an idiot. even though I want to wrap her in my arms and apologize over and over for my dick of a brother. Ready to hurl all over the porch. Like a band-aid. So I stand here. “Hayles. “My phone’s all fixed. “You are freaking wonderistic. “Nothing yet. “Only if you tell me how it got waterlogged in the first place. Mom is one smart lady. it’s fine. Going brain dead. but you get what I mean.” A giggle and an eye roll is the only answer I get. “Favor?” “Sure. Just get it out. but nothin’ I can do about it now. What is she thinking? At first her mouth pops open. Find the words. do you?” she asks as I lock the house up. She turns. an unopened can of Coke in her hand. A long sigh escapes Hayles mouth as she walks in the kitchen. My stomach knots up and all the pissed off crap I had from the brief conversation with Gabe just disappears. Brody.

I want to pick you up and—” “Can we meet somewhere instead?” . what do I wear on a date?” She giggles and hops down the porch.” As I shut the door and cross to my side. I know it’s stupid. I see her feet slide up on the dash. like. “Something comfortable. “Knock it off. I’m agreeing ‘cause you’re that awesome of a friend.” Her forehead crinkles. “I’m serious. Brody. “A-are you serious?” Whew. I’m so bad at this. I want to take you out. here it comes. yeah. “If you want. but I want to hear her say it. And… and I want to be the guy who takes you on your first date. Well. It’s like our thing now. and she taps her knees to a song I’m sure is just in her head. Does she have any idea how crazy that drives me? “What? Why?” Okay.” “Like on a date?” Her voice pitches on the word. Hayles. I’d live in my pajamas if I could. “Uh.” She crosses her arms. But it sort-of looks like she thinks I’m makin’ some kind of joke. and she plops in. but enough for me to worry over it. Not just one of your homies. “Be careful. then… then she’s smiling. I laugh and open the door for her. “You deserve to be taken out for your birthday. She’s going to say no. Her eyes get watery for the shortest second in the world.” Then the images of her in them make me lose concentration for a second. “So.How long has it been? Feels like hours.” Dude. you’ll be going out with the girl. as normal as it ever is between us.” Ugh. “Yeah… but…” Oh. “Yeah. I clear my throat. but we both know sooner or later. remember?” Just like that. “It’s not like it’s a real date or anything. ‘cause she’d never believe me. makin’ that cleavage pop. we’re back to normalcy. Why was I so nervous? “I take it you’re saying yes then?” I ask as I start the engine. She’d bolt from the porch. But I can’t be too ‘whatever’ about it either. Feels like we’ve been dating for a week already. I’m goin’ to have to keep my eyes on her face in order to form coherent sentences. “I’ve never been on one. I can’t read her expression.” Grr… this girl! “It is a real date. yeah.” Again. and I’d never see her again. “Are you for real?” “Uh. Can’t tell her just how much I’m obsessing over her. right there between her eyebrows.” “PJ’s?” she jokes. I haven’t lost my hearing. here we go.

No arguing with me. “Deal. “And I’m pickin’ you up. she’s weird in general and I’m about to throw in the towel. “It’ll be fun. And damn it if I ever let her go. and she lets me.Girl is way weird about her house. Just like that. we’re holdin’ hands. I promise. She’s worth all the trouble. and I can’t. Dude. “Oh gosh. text me when you’re on your way. “Okay. I know.” She rolls her eyes as she takes a sip of her Coke. I’m layin’ it on thick. but I give her a once over. now I’m nervous!” She laughs and pops open her drink. Deal?” I can live with that. “I don’t want to ruin the surprise. .” I smirk at her before putting the car in drive.” I wrap my hand around hers. but like.” I wink and toss my arm around the back of her headrest. but she’s gotta catch on to the flirting eventually.

I’m already runnin’ late. And now I’m stuck. Sry I’m late. I’m goin’ to crap myself. “Hi Terri. the last thing I need is for Hayles to show up and see me. I know she’s here to see me too. Come talk with us.” Yeah. but I hear her footsteps move to the laundry room and the dryer door swing open. Cell’s still in my hand.” Damn it. but Mom hears me.” Ugh. Mom. I’ll text u when I’m close. lame isn’t a strong enough word. Better do my best to look like I care while lookin’ like I don’t care.” Their footsteps go right to the living room and then the couch creaks as they sit. first date with the girl I like and her first date period. Don’t u dare start walkin’ over here. The doorbell rings just as I’m tuggin’ my belt on. I’m gonna— “Quynn!” Ah hell. and Quynn talkin’ like it’s some sort of messed up book club or somethin’. “Is Brody here?” In the words of Hayley… how freakin’ pooptastic! How did I space Quynn was planning on seein’ me tonight? Oh that’s right. Mom’s not catchin’ me half naked. Maybe I can crawl out my window. Gotta bail on Quynn… yeah. and I fumble around the keyboard as I try to type Hayles a quick text. and even though it sounds cocky as hell. Damn it. Now she’ll know— . but tonight… yeah. I’ve been Hayley obsessed. she said she was comin’ over to see Mom. I just snapped at my mom. come in. The image makes my palms sweat. Quynn’s here.Reason 13: I’d beat the crap out of my own flesh and blood for you “Hey ma!” My voice is muffled by all the clothes in my hamper. “It’s up here!” “Will you toss it down?” I wait to hear the soft thud on the floor outside my room before going out there. If that girl came here instead of lettin’ me pick her up.” Quynn’s voice hits me in the stomach. “You know the long sleeved one with the writing on the arm?” She doesn’t yell back. Yeah. “Hey. hun. Normally I wouldn’t care about what kind of shirt I’m wearin’. “What is it?” I look through the basket again before I yell back up the stairs. What is she doin’ here? “Come in. It’s harder than it sounds. Yeah. I take out my cell. It’s so lame. “I can’t. “You seen my blue shirt?” “You have a lot of blue shirts. I’m comin’ I promise.

my heart going faster with each step.” “Where are you going?” “Out.” “Oh. “Sorry. I don’t want to see Quynn’s face or smell her citrusy and girly scent. Brody!” “Oof!” For a tiny girl. And I have been spendin’ a lot of time with Hayles lately. I try to walk past her. Tonight has to be perfect for her. I don’t talk girls with Mom. but it does. “Brody. You have to walk past her anyway. But I’m honest with my parents. you tell me what’s going on right now. I’m running late. She doesn’t say it out loud.” Her arms drop.” “I will. I wish that didn’t bug me. “Is it Hayley?” I sigh again. Wait… another hug. “Tell her I say Happy Birthday. or you’re not going anywhere. hand resting on the handrail. Is it all ‘cause of those two days I actually used those pointers Hayles gave me? She pulls back. What if it wasn’t Hayles’ birthday? Why does she care so much about who I decide to date? Guess I should rephrase. Mom’s more observant than I thought. She’s gettin’ a lot more touchy feely with me. “You can tell her yourself. “I’ve got a date. just be careful. but I don’t want to even think it.” Her voice turns upbeat and her smile goes back on her face.” Tucking my wallet into my back pocket. Why does she care so much that I want to date Hayley? I have a guess. but she blocks me. I don’t talk girls with Mom. but pauses. it feels like I haven’t seen you in forever.” Ugh. ‘cause it’ll make me sound like a big dick. “Can you tell Quynn I’m sorry. “It’s her birthday. that’s all she says.” Yeah. her face burning red as she tucks the loose strands of hair behind her ear.“What’s wrong?” I sigh. and I’ll see her in school?” Her lips purse together for a second before she says.” She turns to head upstairs. she sure has a lot of force behind her hugs. Hayles deserves more than that. She’s biased. and I won’t think about another girl on our first date together. but I know she wants Quynn and me to… Yeah. And put some gas in it when you’re done. Ugh.” Yeah. am I the right person to do this for her? “Hey. crossing her arms over her waist in that ‘Don’t talk to me that way’ mother stance. “You okay if I…?” “Yup.” I reach over and grab my set of car keys off my dresser. It’ll just confuse the crap out of me.” . “Oh. okay. and we both head upstairs. I’ll have to do that anyway since I’m sure Mom left it on fumes. “Nothin’. I nod. and I don’t want all that before I’m with Hayles.

Not that Dad would do that. “Totally forgot. I’m not really with Hayley… but I want to be. You were… busy. I gotta go. “Got plans tonight. Gabe takes a puff of his… nope that ain’t a cigarette. I kick the potted plant that has long ago died. “Well. and then Quynn shows up. It’s not hard. who’ll just bang anybody with more money than who they’re with. Been… preoccupied.” Yup.” I growl. later?” She gives me a big smile and nods. I’ve been obsessed. “Thought you’d stay to get some action with my ex. and quittin’ his job thing.” My teeth snap shut. This isn’t how tonight was supposed to start.” I stand.” She taps her forehead with the heel of her hand. “I’m not like you and Dad. Brody.” Understatement. “Waitin’ for Mark to get home. And smokin’ pot isn’t going to help anything. It comes out kind of shaky and dorky. messin’ with my head. But I do. you’re a douche. “What are you doin’ here?” He shrugs and takes another drag. or He thinks He’s real funny. Got a…” Why is the word not coming out? Say it. Why is it so hard to tell her I’m with someone else? Well. “Yup. so I gotta run.” “Yeah. grabs my hand and pulls me to the couch. I’m a douche. I shouldn’t lie. “See ya. Quynn nods. D-A-T-E. Either that. so he’s waitin’ to get the snot beat out of him. I’ve got a date with the most freakin’ awesome girl. but Dad’s the only person who hasn’t said one word to Gabe since the whole cheatin’ on his girl. as he leans against Mom’s car. “Sorry. “I saw you yesterday.I chuckle. move. knocking all the dirt and dead leaves on the lawn. and I hear the blender going for whatever frilly drinks she’s makin’ for the two of them. coughing before he talks. movin’ out. “Have fun. I-I can’t stay and talk. I can see it hurt her feelings.” I should correct her. “You’re leavin’?” He pauses to puff. but we didn’t talk. “Oh that’s right. sorry. “Yeah. “It’s not like that. I hate this.” Oh. but I don’t give a damn.” And I bolt out the door before I make more of an ass of myself. wiping my sweaty palms on my jeans. Followin’ Hayley around tryin’ to figure out what she likes so I can make this date good for her.” I know I hit a sore spot. He’s such an idiot. because I whip my hand from hers so hard. Especially with Mom standing right here.” Awkward. Bringing up biological Daddy might knock some . Mom walked out of the room. “What’s up your ass?” It’s as if God knew I needed a punchin’ bag. Friday night is game night.” He doesn’t. and I’m holding in all the crazy stuff goin’ on in my chest.

Don’t know how I get there. the way I feel about Hayles and no one understanding why. you think I’m the bad guy. My eyes flick to her and Quynn. and I stare into Gabe’s face which is now so bloody and swollen. “G-Gabe?” I know I shouldn’t look. what he did to our family. but if you just get your head out of your ass for a second. including Hayley herself. Don’t care that I’m not thinking. The weed smell is going to make me blow chunks all over his stupid grin. I shove off my brother and dive in the car. I’m not even thinking. I gotta get out of here. punching his damn nose into his damn skull. they sabotage my head and explode onto Gabe’s dumbass face.” Whose head is in whose ass? “Move. dusted me off. both with the same expression on their faces.” Hell no. “Brody?” Mom’s voice feels like a thousand jagged knives in my back. standing on the porch. My arm stops mid-punch.sense into my brother’s empty head. you’d get it. Shaking. I can barely tell he’s still smirking underneath it all. I don’t want any conversation with my douchebag brother to ruin this night with Hayles. and I… Fell for another girl. I wanted to put her back together. Knowing I can is good. but I do. We don’t say a word as I get in and start the engine. “You know. And she picked me up. It’s then as I put another knuckle in his mouth that I catch a glimpse of the tatt I’ve got on my wrist. “Have fun with the wide load. But he just throws me a smirk. . The tires squeal as I full throttle it down the road. Blow after blow. Why I did what I did.” He shrugs again and steps away from the car. The one I got right after Gabe ran out. but Gabe sticks his face in the window. The stupid obsession I have over Quynn. but everythin’ bothering me gets unleashed on him. and just how stupid he is and how stupid I am for actin’ just like him. I was the one who fell apart. Dragging around two girls because I can’t make up my mind. Good. And even though I was supposed to help put Quynn back together. I’m ready to pull out. The door swings open with so much force it knocks Gabe flat on his butt. There’s a sick satisfaction to beating the shit out of my brother. but I’m on top of him.

I’m bein’ a real jackhole ‘cause I’m over an hour late for her first date. And I spent who knows how long in the car tryin’ to calm down. How could I want anyone else? She’s amazing. It’s so long.Reason 14: I need crave you I’m late. Damn sexy. And right now. I’m so dumb. Low cut. and I don’t want to think about all that crap. she’d be stomping by this point—down the sidewalk and findin’ me here.” . I’ve never seen it that way before. Really late. and just be with Hayles tonight. that girl. First date for Hayles. but why? I’m figurin’ out what I want before makin’ a mess like my brother did. or would she tell me to go after the new girl? Oh dude. I crave her. And I want Hayley. I never did. Still pickin’ at that bush. half expectin’ her to come skipping—no. But right now I’m with Hayles. Her hair is down.” She stands. “But now I’m more worried about that look on your face. Shit. Say I was fallin’ for a different girl other than Hayles. No. And she has no claim on me. which are definitely amazing in the shirt she’s wearing. but ever. and she doesn’t look at me. I’m pulled over about a block away from her house. but not so low that I can see anything more than just a little cleavage. Would she slap me and tell me to stay focused on Quynn. Are you okay?” No. “Are you mad?” That’s the dumbest question in the history of questions. Erase all that crap about Quynn. Quynn’s at my house. Makin’ a big deal over this. and I’m beyond any excuse. I jog up the walk. and her mouth pops open. Then I remember. I’m really makin’ this a memorable date for her. about Gabe. I have no claim on Quynn. “I’m fine. I wonder what she’d think about this. but that only reminds me of when Hayles did that in class a few days ago. and what looked like anger flashes to confusion. picking the leaves off the bush next to her. not only with me. I was supposed to text her before I picked her up. and I’m at her house without knowing how I got there. This is not goin’ my way. and just knows how to make me feel… all that crap you’re supposed to feel when you’re with the girl you just have to be around. there will be little thought process. Brody. coming just under her boobs. I’m feelin’ guilty over something I haven’t done. Am I just as bad as Gabe and the dad I don’t normally claim? I stare at my tattoo again and trace the symbol. “I was a little peeved. Okay. Because I know once I’m with her. and I just beat my brother’s face in. Damn sexy. funny. But I have to sort out my head before I see her. Is it wrong for me to like Hayley? To want her and not Quynn. She’s sitting on her porch steps. It’s her night. Her eyes flick to my face. It’s like I’m on autopilot. Forehead puckers in that cute way of hers. I need her.

She grabs my hand from under the towel and pokes the skin around the cuts. Don’t know how I end up where I do—inches away from her—but she doesn’t shy away. It feels better already. Brody!” She grabs my hand.” I say as she pulls out the ice pack. you’re now an idiot. but fails. “You like guessin’ games. It’s clean. Can’t even process that I’m in her house.” She shakes her head and tries not to smile back. “Would you look at that. “Gracious little fairies. be honest. “I mean. “You going to tell me what happened? Or will I have to guess?” I smile. bloody and swollen knuckles.” “You sure?” She tosses it between her hands. Again… I like that. It’s your birthday. “All right.” Smooth. The one place she doesn’t let anyone near.” ‘Cause it does. “Okay. “You’re bleeding!” Yeah. I wonder if she even realizes I’m in her house. It’s not a craphole. . That should’ve been the first thing I said to her. which I’ve been doin’ since she walked me to the gas station in the rain.” It’s a little late now . “I don’t need that. Her face isn’t calm. Things are movin’ down south just off her smell. going for the freezer.” she says just as we get to the car. “Is what I’m wearing date appropriate? I tried to go comfortable like you said. On top of bein’ a jackass. leaning over her head. I can’t even remember why I was so confused before.” She tosses it over her shoulder as she puts the ice pack back in the freezer. I’ll try to guess on our way to… wherever it is we’re going. Stainless steel appliances and place settings at the table even though it doesn’t look like anyone’s going to be eating soon. She still has that mint chocolately scent. “Yeah. She tugs me inside. but she lets go of my hand and ducks under my arm. Looks like I’ve walked into one of those showcase houses. if we’re still going out. Her smile fills her face. “Uh… Happy Birthday. right?” She’s givin’ me permission to check her out. worried as hell. face going a little pink. and there’s a buttload of expensive stuff. My hands are shakin’ too.” She pauses. But she’s giving me one of those ‘are you really okay?’ smiles. There’s framed flowers and other crap like that hangin’ on the walls. She’s worried about me. Don’t know how I missed it. I know I’m testing my boundaries. I almost whip her around and kiss her. so pretty sure my hand is all she’s concerned about right now. Only thing going through my brain is her touchin’ my skin. Hayles is definitely the girl I want. but still… girls dress up for stuff like this. I’m losin’ control over my body. and I have no right to be this close to her after showin’ up late with bloody knuckles. Sweet. which is what I expected since she treats it like the plague. not lettin’ go of my arm and nearly sprinting to her kitchen sink.” Then she tugs me outside like the place is going to blow.” Crap. what I always do when I lie my face off… which is why I don’t lie to my parents ‘cause they know this. running water over my knuckles and washing my arm. but it’s mixed with some sort of fruity lotion or something. Brody. The blood doesn’t bug her or nothin’. It’s pouring rivers down the back of my wrist. Brody. but now I don’t have to be discreet or anythin’. but I like that. but I trap her between me and the sink. “I’ll be fine.I scratch my nose. She grabs a towel from the counter.” “He… heck yeah. Yeah. “Heads up. I shut off the water. “Thanks.

. Damn it. And I shock the crap out of her by bursting out in song with her. sorry.” I open the car door and try to get the calm cool guy to come out. She looks at it.” It’s hard not to give into that look. then cranks it up to burst your eardrums level. but everything… I mean all of that stuff I was dealin’ with before I headed over here. Pretend to go for the radio.” I laugh and try to be smooth about grabbin’ her hand. she looks sexy as hell. heck yes!” She’s too cute. I like the effect I’m havin’ on her. ‘hold my hand or I may die’ kind of way. “Okay. then giggles and tucks her fingers between mine. stickin’ it out in an obvious. “Are we going downtown?” “That okay?” Her smile swallows her face when she looks back at me. no.” Instead of beggin’ and whinin’ like mo st girls would. she’s excited. But I’m not cavin’. “Oh. By the end of the song we’re both laughin’ our faces off. I offer my hand. Well played. Mr. I grin. “Uh…” She looks out the window. but I won’t.And yeah. No suave Faberge—or whatever that butter commercial guy’s name is—but hey. and she’s got on one of those big belt girls wear around their stomachs and it hugs her curved body makin’ her look thinner than she is. but she sees right through it and yanks her hand away like I’m about to taze her. let go of her hand—I’ll get it back in a second—and get out of the car to open the door for her. “Surprise. I’m smilin’ like a fool.” “No.” she says as she turns the music down and wipes her eyes. and she turns the station on the radio. And I also don’t have the brain power either since I’m focusing on tryin’ not to sweat a waterfall into her palm. but by the look of her face and the sexy spark in her green eyes. Grant. She plops in the seat and puts her feet on the dash. it works. home fry. and that’s the first time in the history of ever I’ve liked listening to pop. I don’t want to ruin this night by talkin’ about Gabe. “Nope. And it’s definitely appropriate for what we’re going to be doin’. lands on Katy Perry. her mouth turns up into the hugest of evil grins. no. Can’t believe I’m on a date with her. Now that I’m closer. “well played.” Something in my stomach goes wa-bam! She’s going to love what I got planned for her tonight. Hayles.” she says as I get in the car. “where are we going?” Her voice is calm and all gangster-like. And I get excited off her gettin’ excited. She’s good.” Her lip juts out. instead of this nervous pervert who keeps lookin’ at her cleavage. I can see how soft her hair looks draped over her rack. and she tries to get me to tell her about my hand. Trip takes about twenty minutes—doesn’t seem that long —then I’m pullin’ in the parking lot. “Okay.” Just the reaction I wanted. looks at me. And I don’t care she’s not wanting to. “Please tell me. but at the same time. “You look hot. We talk. it’s just… gone. “Mother of a pearl necklace. “Brody?” “Yeah.

“Only if you still want to. passion or love or something. “Do you have anything in mind?” She flips through more pages. “Whoops! Sorry. keeping her hand strapped to my swollen one. “How’s it goin’?” “Same shit. “How about the lotus?” He grabs a couple pieces of art work from the back counter and sets them in front of her. And I can’t keep my hands off her. . I know it’s possessive. Brody. but… if you want. She’s bouncin’ around with a huge smile. and her lips turn into an incredibly sexy pout. so I lean over her like I did in her kitchen.” he says as he makes his way behind the counter and we clasp hands and bump shoulders. drying his hands off on some paper towels before chuckin’ them in the garbage. she leaps into my arms so fast I lose balance and crash into the hood of the car. leaning closer to her. which is girly. and I want to sock him if he’s makin’ fun of her. I accidentally smack Hayles in the back of the head with my chin and she ducks out from underneath me. or she’s too distracted to notice London’s cursing.” “Hmm…” He moves from the counter. London comes walkin’ out from the crapper. you here to get some more ink?” “Actually—” “I’m getting one!” Hayley’s still bouncing as she looks at London. I was pushing my limits anyway. and I take a step closer to Hayles. she’s lookin’ at all the options. “I know exactly what I want to get!” Darn girl can’t stand still. draggin’ me inside. You see this one here?” He points to the one in the top right of the page. but something that’s like. Wait a second. “Hey. Is he hittin’ on her? “I really want something that’ll represent like. but I must’ve missed the cringe. Nothing too girly and frilly and stuff. I can make it smoky. red smoke curling around a dark purple. but I don’t care.” Her face goes bright red as she climbs off me. But she’s lettin’ me. “I take that as a ‘yes’?” She nods. sexy. “I can’t find it. near black lotus flower. She’s my date. There’s a flush in the back and a few seconds later. It’s pretty badass for a chick tatt.” I take a glance at Hayles’ face.” She eyes the sign out front. but I pull her back.“This okay?” “Are you for real?” she asks as she steps out. “It’s my first one! Yay!” London barks out laughin’. It looks like it was the only thing remaining from a fire. breathing in her scent as she flips through the laminated pages. big smile on her face. When she turns to me.” London waves his hand in the air. and even though she just said she knows what she wants. “So. “It’s a flower. but he leans forward. lookin’ at the book she’s got and says. I know. the bright neon flashing INFINITY TATTOO.

“Hey. I’m quiet.” “Sa-weet!” She grabs my wrist and yanks off the leather band I keep around it. He pushes off the counter and goes into the back. Yes. leavin’ us alone. but smiles. But no way is he getting his hands on her. Like a chain or something to wrap the two symbols together?” “Oh! That’ll look supa awesome. “What are you going to do?” “Yeah. and her gauged ears have pen caps in them. And I can’t think of anything else to say. And London’s eyes are locked on her boobs. “I guess not.“Oh my gosh. I blurt out. “All right!” London comes out with Marisa. Because I have a complex or somethin’.” That’s a big lie.” She laughs again. but I’ve lost my nerve. “What kind of add on are you looking to get?” Maybe it’s ‘cause I’m a douche. It’s freaking beautiful!” “Thanks. yes! That’s the one I want. I’m glad I came up with the BS even if it means I gotta get stabbed in the wrist again. making swirly patterns between the marks already there. but I feel like punchin’ him in the mouth. “You never told me what they mean. shuts the book and leans on it. I was goin’ to tell her how amazin’ her voice is. She’s got next to nothing on top. But my already sore knuckles tell me it’s not worth it.” . Haven’t been able to use it yet. the other artist in the shop. and I drop my arm and go for a ‘I was just tryin’ to put my hand in my back pocket the long way’ kind of thing. She recoils. she looks so happy. but you owe me that story.” “I know. “Later?” She huffs.” London cocks an eyebrow as he tongues his lip ring. I know. “I dunno. The flirting may be my imagination anyways. “That reminds me…” She drops my hand. “Okay.” Hayles traces around the ink on my wrist. “Yeah.” Hayles starts to bounce up and down again and I slide my arm around her waist. I look like an idiot. I call that hot piece of ass. She gives us both a wide smile and says. leaning against the counter again… towards Hayles. Bro…” London smiles. “Really? You’re going to do it with me?” Hayley’s eyes brighten and dude. She’s humming a song under her breath and tapping her foot. “You know…” Voice-box shuts down. “Was there an end to that sentence?” She giggles. I designed this last week. I’ll make him work on me instead. “Okay.” We’re quiet while she flips through more designs… well. I was hopin’ to add on to mine while we’re here.

I wish I had the talent to do it.” Better make it easy for them. talkin’ under her breath. After twenty minutes of answerin’ all the questions. And the feet and ankles were a ‘frickin’ NOT happening’ because that would hurt more than a ‘bunch of lobsters in a hot tub’.” And Hayley thinks she’s not hot? She better after this display of two older tattoo artists fightin’ over who gets to put ink on her. I gently press her left shoulder blade. “Thanks. The stomach and sides are also a no because of the ‘chubby’ thing. I don’t know if I’m meant to hear it. but I don’t care. Man. Isn’t Brody an awesome buddy?” Does she still not get that this is. Blush fills her checks as she looks at me with a big smile. I grasp hers before she has a chance to change her mind. I designed the lotus she wants. then a double take.” Think of a good reason. point taken. first thing’s first.” “Hmm…” Hayles pats her body. “I’d like you to do the chain on mine if you don’t mind. Birthday tatt?” “Yep. though it would make sense to put one there. but she links elbows with Hayles and brings her into the back room.” Hayley’s face is bright red. “Maybe. “Yep. lookin’ a little awkward. Date? How can I be more obvious? “Sure is. I’m in trouble. Okay. I get to put it on her. She looks up at Marisa. Brody.” “Deal. She’s still not into the touching.” He looks at Marisa who’s sticking her tongue out. Marisa takes a quick look. a slight frown on her face and her eyebrows creased right there in the middle that drives me insane.” Darn girl. “Nice. Her fingers prod her hip bone. “You know.” I nod and tuck my hands in my pockets to keep from movin’ them all over her. since you did this one. A. Brody.Reason 15: You rock some sexy ink I must be really arrogant.” Marisa squirts a glob of hand sanitizer in her palm and rubs it around. and she shivers. “Okay.” I point to my wrist like a damn fool. “How about here?” I know it’s an excuse to touch her. She catches my eye. Gotta turn it into one of those lame coughs. If that’s true. then squeals. Girl is crazy. Goose bumps crawl up her neck. tell me where you want it. She moves to her butt. so I could get a vote thrown my way. throws me a grin and inches toward my hand. then gives us all the paperwork we gotta fill out. but I do. London protestin’ the whole way.” I have to force back the laughter barreling from my mouth. “No… too chubby for that one. “You got ID?” Hayles nods.” She shrugs off my hand. but not sure if I want a flower next to the hole I use for waste. London. pulling her license from her back pocket.” Marisa hands back the ID. Won’t push my . The boobs are out because ‘they’re not done growing’. ‘cause I swear Marisa was referring to my ‘hot piece of ass’. “Now. That’s where I want it. Marisa says. “Yo. “No you don’t. “But I get to do the next lotus. “Fine. Hayles is still talkin’ to herself as she runs her hands over her body.

I totally want to do this! Weren’t you a little nervous your first time?” I shrug. Brody. “Hayles…” She pretends to zip her lips. but then her mouth splits open into a real smile. I just thought… you said you really wanted to. “Fine. and I should’ve… you know. “It’s not so bad. “Liar.” I smirk. waiting for London to bring me a design to look over. That I make her nervous. ‘cause I’m a little nervous. please sit next to me. “Hayles?” “Huh?” “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. “I need someone to blabber to. and the pain didn’t outweigh the other crap I was dealin’ with. “You all right there.” “What?” “Nothing. And I should not be jealous of a tatt gun. “That and I guess…” She shakes her head. “And Brody you can have the station next to her if you want to watch. But I’ll get it outta ya sooner or later. Not really.” Liar. I plop down at the station next to Hayles. I’ve always been curious about it. Brody? Where are you from?” “What?” “Your accent. But duh… not me. “I lived in Oklahoma for a while.” says as she takes her place in the seat Marisa pointed to.” She throws me a sort of smile then starts tapping her knees. I should say somethin’. Marisa says she’ll be right back. “Hey. maybe should’ve asked you before—” “Knock it off.” Cocking her head to the side. and then it’s silent. Yours is small. but nothing is going through my brain.” “That’s way awesome! Any of your other family have accents too?” . Hayley does look nervous. I forget. It’ll take maybe forty-five minutes.” “Yeah.” “Yeah. Probably where I got it from. the needle that’ll be stabbin’ her makes her more nervous than I ever will.” Silence.luck anymore tonight. Hour tops. I was more pissed off. jumpy?” She purses her lips together and nods like her head is going to fall off if she moves it too much. “Nevermind.” For a second I get real stupid and think she’s talkin’ about being nervous about me. which is cute because I’ve never really seen her like this. “‘Kay. she moves her gaze to the floor. come have a seat right here…” Marisa pats the chair in the right corner.

“You like him?” I give her a big smile when she looks at me.” “Wait.” “Oh. “Yeah. throwing out a scared smile. this tattoo shop is a vacation for me. the way she’s keepin’ it together even though I know it hurts like hell. London snaps in front of my face. He presses the stencil on my wrist. so do you have a step-dad? Or is it just you and your mom?” “Step-dad. “He’s cool. and I probably should be payin’ more attention to him. so what about your dad?” I forget sometimes she’s only known me for a little while.” . we moved to Oregon. That she doesn’t know that mentionin’ bio-dad sets my body on fire. and yeah. should I bring in some Slippery Nipples?” Marisa laughs at her own joke. but I’m watching Hayles try to sit still while Marisa talks her through everything. hot stuff?” Hayley nods. I trust London. “What’s it like in Oklahoma? I haven’t been anywhere. Mom’s from here.” London says as he straps on his gloves and takes a seat next to me. He shows me a couple of designs. I hear Marisa’s gun go on. it’s cool lookin’. and I’ve lost all train of thought. I think I say yes. but I can’t figure out what she’s sayin’. “Distract me please?” I chuckle. but she’s way nervous. “Try to relax. Her mouth pops open. but I think it’s more of the nerves comin’ into play. tryin’ to keep my wrist still. Like. and she leans over Hayley’s back. “Brody?” Her eyes open. that’s where my mom and dad met. but I don’t really get a good look. tugs off slowly.” “That’s awesome. even though he’s been checkin’ out Hayles’ tits this entire time. her skin. takes a glance at me. except for the buzzing from the tatt guns. I don’t mind talkin’ about it. She shuts her eyes real tight and starts mouthing something.” She starts twisting her fingers.” “What?” “Tell me another joke. They’ve been married for a while now. but not often. “Okay. Hayles cracking up with her.” She stops cracking her knuckles. When they got divorced.“Just my brother.” “Oh. tell me another one. but I’m distracted enough to not really notice. “You know alcohol isn’t good for tatts. I can’t keep my eyes off Hayley’s face. but no sound comes out. “Yo!” Whoops. so I don’t tell him nevermind or anythin’. “You okay with this one?” He’s smirking at me. “You want me to sing more Katy Perry?” Her laughter bursts from her strained mouth. Then she has her pull her shirt off her shoulder. More of a dad than my real dad was. cracking them. But with her. My wrist burns. like she’d been holding her breath this whole time. We’re all quiet. okay. Don’t know if it’s ‘cause of the conversation or ‘cause of the tattoo still. the needle pierces the skin on her shoulder. Lived in the same house my whole life and only been to the major cities around here. Two seconds later.

so I can get a good look. I want to run my fingers over it. Hayley throws me a look that gets my stomach twisted. Both our tatts only take about thirty-five minutes. “I guess that’s good. Hayley’s quiet. okay. have an eyelash.” Just like that. I pay for both—because this is a date!—and ignore all of Hayley’s protests and reassurance that she’ll ‘totally pay me back’. Because I can’t deal with another rejection. All right. “Can I see it?” Her shirt’s still hangin’ off her shoulder. And her first date.” Ugh. her eyes flicking up to meet mine. “No. then do a burnout from the parking lot. Both Hayles and I go into hysterics. I’m a cocky butt. “Um. “Didn’t realize we were inking twelve-year-olds. what are you doing?” Okay.” Marisa says with a grin. face going as red as mine probably is.” “Did you mention ‘shart’?” Marisa asks. I don’t know how that makes me feel ‘cause maybe the tension in the air will finally make her get it. punching me in the face. I can feel the heat coming from her. She’s never been kissed. but then she brushes her hair off her neck and turns. She cranes her neck. I like havin’ inside jokes with her too. She’s got me. “I think we covered all those words. that’s stupid. I wait till we’re in the car to ask. still.” And I had to get it off with my lips. No.I get an evil look from Marisa who’s trying to keep Hayley still through all the giggles. . I should give her the benefit of the doubt here. I’m leanin’ in to kiss her. really hot. And she leans back. you uh. so maybe she doesn’t know what it looks like. dude. hesitation. At first I think she’s goin’ to say no. but she’s twisted in a way that I can’t make out her new ink. “Sorry. Never thought I’d be into a girl who had ink. Crap. Too bad. Yeah. The tatt is pretty hot. “Is it that bad?” I gulp. And she doesn’t want me to. I feel like a jerk for throwin’ a fit over it and makin’ her uncomfortable on her birthday. stifling her own laughter and taking the gun away from Hayley’s skin.” “Uh huh. maybe a ‘I’m not ready yet for that’. i-it’s… nice. “Oh!” A huge breath escapes her mouth. But. relaxing under the needle. Lamest compliment ever. Crap. I don’t. Hayles could ask me anythin’ and I’d do it. resting her chin on her shoulder. “Should I rhyme words with ‘fart’?” She laughs again. So hot I have to adjust myself. Of course she knows what I was doin’. I learned my lesson. but I’m not sure if it’s ‘cause I’m makin’ her nervous or if it’s ‘cause she’s just been stabbed a million times. but lookin’ at the smoke lines from the flower going across her shoulder blade and almost touching her neck. I snap on my seatbelt and start the car. ‘cause I expected shock. London and Marisa have to wait for us to calm down enough to keep still. but not… relief. not singing or playing with the radio.

She breaks the tension. another huge breath going out her mouth.” Then she hits the radio and puts her feet on the dash.“Hey. a really big and probably creepy looking smile. She’s never led me on or anythin’. Even though I kind of want to. “Starving. . so you hungry?” I smile. I can’t stay mad at her. Been pretty clear about where I stand with her. I’m just pissed at myself I guess.

why is this so hard? “I want to be with you. not touchin’ me. “Thanks. she dumped the entire salt shaker in my drink. I’ll let go. “Hey. I want to…” Grr. but I was rolling. Hayley. “Why?” “Why what?” “Why do you want to be with me? Is this some kind of pity thing? Because I’m not interested. I’ve never seen her bite her lip. but she turns around and leaps into my arms so fast again. “Can I… I mean. I wish I wasn’t out of money and gas. “Sometimes I say. so when it tucks between her teeth I have no idea what it means. Not goin’ to tell her to stop though. I’d keep her out all night.Reason 16: You make me feel all that gooey shit crap I’m supposed to feel Despite that awkward moment in the car. After the restaurant—and Hayles stabbing me with her fork when I went after her croutons—she drug me into a grocery store and we picked pretend fights when people walked down the aisle we were in. She laughs as she steps out.” What is this girl doin’ to me? I squeeze her back. this was the best one I’ve had. I snap off the headlights even though she didn’t ask me to this time. That gives the bruised ego an icepack. “Sup?” I smile. which she’s never allowed before. She loosens her grip. Thank you. and we drove around for about an hour doin’ nothing but talkin’ about the different ways to say ‘Hell’. I’m able to just chill with Hayles the rest of the night. She takes a step back. The second she gets uncomfortable. I gulp. Waitress wasn’t too happy. ‘what the h?’ just like ‘WTF’.” I can’t read her expression. After tossing straw wrappers at each other. but grabbin’ the salt shaker and plopping it in the glass. wishing I could keep her locked in my arms forever. and it itches like crap. I’m almost knocked on my back. but I won’t. and I bolt around the car to beat her to the door.” she says against my cheek. Her fingers linger on the tatt on my wrist. Brody. but doesn’t jump away from me. Part of me wonders if she’ll notice I’m takin’ her to the front door. “I mean it. I’m not talkin’ about taking the lid off and pouring salt in it. and well.” “Uh huh. you’re killin’ me!” I’m not sure what it is. The left over anger from dealin’ . can we go out again?” “Like as friends?” No. Hayles?” Her eyes flick up to mine. “Another date. “I told you I haven’t had the best track record with birthdays.” Is she for real? “Hayles.” She shrugs. Pulling into her driveway. She clicks the seatbelt.” I close the door and walk her up the porch. She bought me a Coke to make up for the one she ‘salted’. People don’t always get it though. “And they get ‘holy horse feathers’?” I chuckle as she punches me in the arm.

” There it is. and her voice muffles in my shirt. Just like that. and it relieves some of the tension in my chest. I want a real Hayles smile. I take her in my arms and hold her. I’m not… she’s not… I don’t feel that way about her anymore. There’s no way I’m just going to stand here and let her cry. How can she not see how freakin’ awesome she is? “You’ve got one heck of a personality. “What do you mean?” “I’m trying to rewind here. “Holy jumping jellybeans. Part of me wants to drop it all. The one that makes her eyes crinkle in the corners. Find out what exactly was the turning point. “You’re gorgeous. What did I do to make you feel like this?” Ah hell. I-I can’t believe you. When did this happen?” I chuckle. I’m not going to let her shake me off this time.with Gabe. still. then I’ll tell you. I’m okay with that. I-I’m not going to. Tears pour down her cheeks as she shakes her head toward the ground. can’t help but feel it’d be easier. Her eyes are getting watery. “I like you. “Brody. She shakes her head. What did I say? “Hey. I can’t get you off my mind. but it feels good that she’s allowin’ me to touch her like this. did I say something wrong?” I ask over her head. or why I thought it would be harder than this to convince her. her voice just above a whisper. I’ve so got this.” I take a deep breath and grab her hand. forget getting Hayles and go back to Quynn. Don’t know why I was so nervous. “I told you.” Not sure how to react. so many things. “I can’t believe everything you’re saying to me. but if you need to hear why. And she’s just staring at me. but suddenly I’m sayin’ things I’d never—and boy do I mean never—thought I’d say. Brody. She sobs into my shirt. I’ve vomited all my gushy feelings all over her. Plus…” Say it Brody. The tension is back in my chest. but it can’t be anywhere near the shade of hers. but because I… I need to. even though I have no idea what’s going on. Too many things to list. Staring and sort-of smiling. she looks so… Wait a minute. . I’m sure of it.” “What do you mean?” She pushes away from me and sucks in a large breath. It’s hard enough puttin’ myself out there. Hayles.” Her eyes drop to our hands. “Hayles. or the nerves I’ve had all night just tryin’ to get the words out. what’s wrong?” I ask as I take a step closer to her. “W-what about Quynn?” she finally says. That’s a prick of a thing to say.” My face is red. “I’ve been tryin’ all night with you. I mean. but doesn’t wrap her arms around me. and she blows out a huge breath. You’re on a roll. I don’t want one of her sort-of smiles. I like everythin’ about this girl. but even harder when I gotta explain myself. all right? I want to date you not out of pity. Hayles.

“Did you forget what I told you about Jason? About why I set the rules upfront?” “I remember. gotta wipe the sweat off my palms. Other than that… “I didn’t. but I was also thinkin’ about Hayles. How much I’ve been panting over her since we started hangin’ out. “Why not?” Rejection sucks. Her back goes up and down with each deep breath she takes. Wish I knew what she was thinkin’. And that’s a Gabe thing. But ‘cause she doesn’t want me the same way I want her. “I didn’t .” She cocks an eyebrow.” She falls on her knees. It’s not the easiest thing in the world. “I’ve been trying… I mean really trying not to get all gushy ga-ga over you. All this time she was dodgin’ my touch and avoiding the compliments was because she didn’t want to lead me on. It. “I get it if you’re not into me.” Crap. of course. What. How many times I chose her over Quynn already. “It’s just… what happens when Quynn finally comes around?” “Huh?” “Brody…” She plops on the porch. Doesn’t get how amazin’ she is. folding her arms and leaning on her knees. Should’ve just taken the first rejection and left it alone. I’m a fighter too.” “Gosh. Just say the ‘friend’ word. Not ‘cause of her insecurities. when you could have someone like her ? Yeah.” I’m starting to get pissed. You were the only thing on my mind. “I told you. I want you. I don’t want Quynn. And I’ll keep fighting until she gets a restrainin’ order. Not. That’s.” She rolls her eyes.” “Then why are you doing this to me? Are you really that mean?” What the hell? “What are you talkin’ about?” “I’m not going to be the girl you use while you wait for the girl to give you the time of day. and I won’t bring it up again.” She sniffs and brushes her hair off her shoulder.” She thinks I’m using her? I repeat.Thinkin’ about it though. Hayles. I had to keep pushing myself away .” Her head tilts up. I should at least know why she keeps pushin’ me off. Brody. Thought about her before I got to Hayley’s house. okay. At all. It’s startin’ to sting the cuts on my knuckles.” She opens her mouth to argue. but I cut her off. Hell? “I’m not like that. “And how many times did you think about her tonight?” I do a mental checklist ‘cause I want to be honest. I couldn’t do that. since that won’t happen either—I’d want to be with Hayley. The whole time I’d be with Quynn —hypothetically. Maybe this is just an excuse ‘cause she doesn’t look at me the way I want her to. I’m a fool. “You’re saying you actually want to be with me. “Just thought you needed to know how I felt about you. and I take a seat next to her.” “That’s not it. “I-I get it if you don’t want to… I mean if I’m not your type or anythin’. her hair covering her face and exposing her new ink. This girl doesn’t get it. I thought you were better than that. not a Brody thing. Now I feel like shit. The.

and wish I could go in for the kiss. keep telling myself that all the stuff you were doing was because you were my friend. I’m shakin’. “You deserve someone like her anyway. and I hear what they say. Even with you bearing your soul and all. “You tell me that. I can list a million things right now. I watch her walk into the house and stand out there till my feet feel like movin’ again. “I’m fat. knows how to have fun. so even if you were fat. Not after she told me exactly what’s stopping her. and you to make sure they’re good. why would it matter? Why can’t we be together if we feel the same things for each other?” She shakes her head. I can deal with. all right. which you’re not.from you. That’s exactly what I want. That’s what I keep telling myself. You want Quynn. All the hand holding and smiling and looking hecka hot was because that’s just who you are. Why would anyone choose the fat girl over the skinny one?” She grips my hand and stares me down.” Great! I have this in the bag. Just like that. You and I… we just won’t make sense. playing with her fingers. I keep my hand tucked in hers. ma’am!” I salute. She’s shakin’. Puttin’ those on there too. so I add. “It doesn’t make sense.” “You are b—” “You know what I mean. reason one—” “No.” Smiling. “Yes.” I chuckle as she lets me go. “I don’t understand it. She stands and helps me up.” Her hands cover her stomach. so she doesn’t want me to argue. Mr. and makes me feel gooey and stuff. she pulls me into a hug.” Okay. “All right. “Thank you again. I see the way people look at me. finally lookin’ me in the eyes. Not going to do that again.” “You want reasons why you and not Quynn?” I don’t want her to think I’m sayin’ she’s fat. I’m not nervous. I take her hands in mine. “Why I want a gorgeous and crazy funny girl I just met instead of the one I’ve been lookin’ at for a while?” Her cheeks flush. Friend arena with potential. She’s got the best smile.” She smiles. Better put that on the list. Bam! Best date ever.” She pauses. This list will be the easiest thing in the world. we’re back in the ‘friend’ arena. and she scoots closer. This. “Happy Birthday. and maybe… maybe I can allow myself to feel the things I want to feel for you. Best freaking night of my gosh darn life. even with all that awkward crap it wasn’t… awkward. Not now. I want you to write them down for me. People won’t understand it. Give me time to process all this. Someone who’s… beautiful. Grant. “Okay. Not when I’m this close to gettin’ her. “Yes. but no way am I agreeing with her on the fat thing. because she’s wrong.” She takes a breath. Don’t argue with me because I’m not stupid. . and she punches me in the arm. A real Hayley smile. A tear strolls down her cheek. Hayles. and the weird thing is. more tears dropping from her eyelashes as she blinks.

I punched him long and hard enough he needed stitches. Brody. I whip out my phone and press the only contact I ever call in there.” “If that’s the only reason you beat his mug. “Where you going?” Dad puts his glasses back on as he sits up on the couch. yeah… call me back’ one that makes me sound way more awkward than I’d like. Plopping down on the bed. it’s become the corn chippy room again because all I did after droppin’ Hayles off is text the crap out of her and lay in bed.” “From what your Mom said. then it would’ve happened before now. but talks about it. ‘Cause I just have to. because even though Dad hasn’t talked to him since he bailed on our family. I feel maybe ten percent bad about it. After four rings I know she’s not pickin’ up. Run my fingers over it and press my lips against it. They’re right. “Just out for a bit. I bet it’s healed enough now I can touch it. I can come up with all the reasons I need to. but still… defense mode is molded into my body. Why I call him Dad and not Mark. you did stop. blinking his eyes as he tries to get the sleep out of them from his old man nap. I don’t want to write it all down because I want to talk to her. Gabe was here to see him . I did stop once I saw what an idiot I was bein’. Why I didn’t completely crap myself when he asked me and Gabe if he could marry Mom. I leave a lame message. I know Dad won’t beat me or anythin’. “You okay if I take your car?” Dad’s truck is much cooler than Mom’s Corsica. Because he gets it. “Tell you what. “He said somethin’ that threw me over the edge. and you can take the Dodge. you sit here and talk to the old man for two minutes. I stare at the paper with scribble marks all over it and chuck it in the corner of the ass room. but also Hayley won’t recognize it. I have to get in that cheesy goobery mood. And how stupid it was for me to take out all the stuff I was dealin’ with on him.Reason 17: You’re a cute little cheater This crap is hard.” I shrug. and I’m just not feelin’ it. He just knows everythin’ that goes down and doesn’t freak. Yes. but when I write them down they look so stupid.” Sounds like a good deal to me.” This is why Dad’s cool. “You want to tell me what happened with Gabe? Or should I just go with what he told me?” I set my elbows on my knees. thinking about that tatt on her shoulder. the ‘hey it’s me… uh. That and my hand is so sore my handwriting looks like I just learned how to write ten seconds before I started this list. I can’t concentrate on this right now. “What did he say?” .” I grab the keys. “He’s an ass. You know… if she ever lets me. Sunday afternoon and I got nothin’ better to do than drive past Hayley’s house. Even though the punk deserved it. but I couldn’t stop. Except this is probably about the face surgery I gave Gabe on Friday. Still. Dude. Because I’m bored—and just a bit obsessive—I grab my jacket and head out. he knew he would listen. I sit down on the edge of the seat. I don’t know what happened. I run my hand over my buzzed head.

I know I look like a damn idiot. “I won’t pry. “It was about a girl. I want to do the same thing to them.” I’m tryin’ real hard to ignore he just said people ‘cop a feel’ on my mom.” I glance at the card in my hand. “Fart. but I should probably get some discipline in here somewhere. I don’t care what she or anyone else thinks. will you?” “I do know for sure. She slapped my arm and got the next three out of five cards right. . And who am I to tell her she’s crazy when she keeps lucking out? “Jack of diamonds. shakin’ my head. Just pissed me off. She’s gotten twenty-four cards right. “Took you long enough to figure out. Ugh. I told her she’s full of crap ‘cause if she was. but hey. crossing my arms.” she says between fits of laughter. looking at me over his glasses. She caught me drivin’ down her street and said her mom wasn’t home. then tellin’ Dad about it… no. “Just tell me how one girl can make me act like a psycho. then I’ll be on my way. I thought I had that one. damn it. but havin’ Gabe say it. “Yeah.” “You know. I stand up. but I’m laughin’ with her. It’s not happening. whipping it around so she can take a glance at the card tucked in my hand.” She gives me that cute evil smile.” She busts up. so I could ‘come on in!’ Weird.” He chuckles.” Taking another card from the middle. sorry. “Ooh. I whip my head around to the full length mirror sitting behind me. “Nope. or cops a feel or something. and that’s when it clicks. “You little liar. Whenever someone says something about your mother. she wouldn’t need me to write a freakin’ list for her. but I want to do that wrestling thing girls and guys do when they tease each other.” I give her a big grin.” “Hearts! I mean hearts! Jack of hearts!” She’s right. wasn’t it?” How in the hell? “Huh?” “Come on. Not going to tell him about Hayles. you’ll never know for sure. try again. We protect the girls we love. I tuck the card back in the deck and say.” I chuckle and put the seven of spades back in the deck. We’ve been at this for an hour. “Nothin’. Darn girl’s been cheatin’ this whole time! “Holy sh… crap. It’s built in our DNA.” Dad leans forward. “Well. five of which were in a row. I’m still tryin’ to figure that out. What’s your poison?” See? Cool Dad. It sucks already that she thinks she’s the ‘FFF’ or whatever she called it. close. son. I don’t want to piss her off though. rolling to the floor and giggling into the very white carpet in her room. I get it.” She gasps. Or some fatherly advice. Also tryin’ not to touch her.” Hayles grabs my wrist. tellin’ me she has telepathic powers. I give her a wink before she closes her eyes and starts humming. “Okay.” “Three of Hearts.No. Didn’t expect it. She’s not fat. I took advantage of the rare opportunity.

I hop onto the next level up’s ledge because I’m stupid and don’t think to get off the roof altogether.” “Oh no. Always around her. She smiles and shoves me against the wall. I’m not bein’ tough or anythin’. “I couldn’t wait to tell you. Chocolate smell and soft body pressed against mine. haven’t figured it out yet. “Ha!” She grabs the six of clubs from my fingers and shakes her head. She lets out a little yelp as I put my hand over her eyes.” I say grabbing a card and keeping it close to my chin even though my hand is still over her face. hopin’ I won’t be here long. and I’m man enough to admit that. Maybe the girl is telepathic. you have to go. “I think someone owes me an apology. so I flatten myself over where I just climbed up. That voice is much closer now. “Sorry. wiping the tears from her eyes. “What are the freaking odds?” She smiles and playfully pushes my chest.” Screw it. like I wasn’t in her room ten seconds ago. There’s no window or anythin’ from up here. now. Millions of questions pile in my head but get clogged on their way out. You lucked out. that was great. “Um. She could easily slip out from underneath me. who?” “Don’t you ever listen to me?” Something creaks. I give her a quick hug before crawling through the open window. Mom. cuddling with me.She sits back up.” She leaps from my arms and starts shoving me towards the window. I’m slippin’. and I slip some more. “Guess what?!” Hayles’ mom’s voice isn’t what I expected. “What does your tat—?” “Hayley!” The front door slams and Hayles’ face loses all its color. “Hayley?” Crap. and so am I. “The health specialist. I finally got you an appointment with Yvonne!” Ah.” Nothing comes out my mouth. “What card am I holding?” Her laughter subsides.” I shouldn’t listen. I should block it all out and give Hayles privacy. I grab the deck of cards and leap to her side of the room. crap. Did that just happen? Everything inside me jumps with her this close. I adjust so I’m not hangin’ off the edge. She keeps laughing and asking ‘What the wallowing weasels are you doing?’ “Okay smartie pants. How I get down from here… yeah. Like. out onto the part of the roof underneath it. I was more or less a pillow she fluffed before collapsing on. “I’m in here. tucking herself under my arm. I saw her fru-fru ‘I’m too good for you’ stare from the window and instantly thought English and high-pitched. She’s still smilin’. I’m goin’ in. “Um. “Oh my gosh. Not Cruella Devil on crack. but I’m too afraid to loosen my death grip on the roof to cover my ears. .” I tap her nose because while she’s lettin’ me. and she starts fumbling around with the necklace I’ve got on. crap. Heights are not my thing. six of clubs?” “No way. And I wasn’t the one who did it. “Crap. Hot damn! “You still haven’t told me…” Her voice shakes.” I drop my hand from her eyes and flip the card around. nonchalant. “What are you doing home?” Hayley’s voice is completely passive. but she doesn’t. She’s good. I’m going to touch her. Brody.

How can I tell her I overheard something she didn’t want me to? Something I had no right to know until she was ready to tell me? Something I’m still a little confused about? I can’t. If you are eligible.” I hear Hayles’ bedroom door shut seconds before I lose my grip and fall flat on my back on the ledge outside her window. Jason. But Hayles’ face looks terrified. “Don’t do that. but her voice stops me. I slip again. That would’ve been the smart thing to do. Worse than the nervous face the other day at the tatt parlor. Ouch. I get ready to jump. “You didn’t… you didn’t hear that did you?” I’m about to tell her the truth. “Uh huh. You know how important this is to me. but…” I throw her a smile and a shrug.” “Sorry.” “Okay. but her face is crazy frantic. “Oh my gosh. she nailed it. I thought you’d hop down onto the shed. that sounds great. “Your appointment is next Monday. Worse than when she told me about that punker. “It’s okay.” I sit up and rub the back of my neck.” If Hayles is goin’ for the sarcastic ‘great’. Brody! Are you okay?” She’s whispering.’ She’s already perfect. So I lie. “Don’t worry about it.” Who the hell is Daniel? “Yeah. Worse than the look she gave me on Friday when I told her I wanted to be with her. “I’d invite you back in. This is our chance to make you… better. “Hear what?” . I’ll see you at school.” Eyeing my target. which is the shed about four feet down from where I’m at.” Silence.She said she can get you down to a size two in a year! Isn’t that great news? I can finally introduce you to Daniel. I’ll be sore tomorrow. Try not to be a lost cause. you’ll be an official client and meet with Yvonne every Monday and Thursday.” Yes. Her mom is dead wrong about whatever it is because Hayles doesn’t need to get ‘better.

then explain to me how the heck you knew every word on our date. Darn stubborn girl. ‘Course it doesn’t. Then her chest flushing—because I can’t help myself by lookin’ at her all the time—like the simple thing of me askin’ her if she has plans.” Man. I sound like a major dick. but does she even know? No. She thinks she’s a cow who doesn’t deserve to be thought about the way I’m thinkin’ about her. but she didn’t count when I guessed Snow Patrol. because I said Snow Police. it does mean somethin’. Why?” “Because you never answered me on Friday. That it won’t matter if she says yes or no because I couldn’t give a crap.” Shoulda kept my mouth shut. She’s got me hooked.” “Hmm…” I flip through the choices on the iPod. I’m shakin’. gets her flustered. Didn’t know it till I slid the gum out.” She nudges my shoulder. and I kept it on there ‘cause of the words and junk.” Whoops. do you have everything on here?” Passing the iPod to her. “Can I ask you somethin’?” Duh. Damn it. a friend used to listen to a lot of that shit. “Plus. . I’m not doin’ this right. I say.Reason 18: You make me nervous. but she knew what I was talkin’ about. but not nervous “Andy Grammer. If that makes sense. and I couldn’t get the wrapper off. She’s made me insane. I just did.” It’s technically three.” She raises her eyebrow. “That’s two for you. Now as I’m listenin’ with Hayles. “Gosh.” We sit and listen to “Fine by Me” which is still more popish than I’d like. “Uh.” “About…?” “About goin’ out with me again. “Was this friend a girl?” “Why do you assume that?” “‘Cause you’ve got that look on your face like you don’t want to tell me ‘cause you think I’ll get jealous or something. I offered a ride—I’m not bein’ a jackass today. Quynn was the one who put it on my playlist. Her big eyes blinking so fast like she’s not sure I’m real. “You busy this weekend?” How can this girl get me so nervous and not nervous at the same time? Her forehead crinkling like she’s confused I want to spend time with her. and I’m waitin’ with her in the doorway for her m om to show up. For some reason I thought it meant somethin’. “I mean crap. but she kept shrugging me off. It’s rainin’ again today. She doesn’t. “Good point. “Nothing. She nods.” “Okay. sticking a piece of gum in her mouth and offering me the package. that I care about what she’s up to. “You won’t find your precious Katy Perry. So I thought I’d give it a shot. “Fine by Me?” Hayles takes a sip of her Pepsi and mashes the earbud farther in her ear. what guy listens to Katy Perry with his bro buddies?” I chuckle.

She plops in the front seat. stalks over to the window and flings it open. He pretends like it really hurts when it probably didn’t even make a dent. then I realize she’s laughin’. Then it hits me and I whack myself in the forehead. The health specialist. “We just wanted to give you a heads up about our plans this week.” “I’m fine.” “And to make sure you’ll be okay without us. “See ya. I can hear her mom lecturing the whole way out of the parking lot. and I hear Crack Cruella’s voice tell her to be more graceful or some crap like that.” Her body pulses. and I think it’s ‘cause she’s cold her somethin’. “Oh. “You all right there?” Dad leans against the door frame. Some big gold SUV pulls up and judgmental mom looks at me and Hayles like we’ve been puked on or somethin’. I’ll lay on the cheese if it’ll make her clue in.” .” Can’t help but watch her walk away. I’m not even supposed to know about it. Call Brody. “Don’t know how he can live in this filth. Sometimes I wish it was okay to punch a grown woman. She rolls her eyes. I go in for a hug. but Friday’s not good for me. “I’m not saying ‘no’. but she ends up doin’ this handshake thing that’s completely awkward. ‘Call Brody. Ugh. Is there anything I can say? Do? Dude.” I finally answer Dad. Brody. When she stands and shoulders her backpack. “You guys need somethin’?” They rarely come to my room. okay. I crouch down and help her. the smell and all.” Boo. I’m also stupid enough to try to send out mind waves in the direction of her house saying. but screw it. She had that appointment with Yazzie or somethin’. I’m like a damn girl takin’ out the phone every five minutes like somehow the action will magically make it ring. then shocks the crap out of me by resting her head on my shoulder. playin’ games but not smilin’ her Hayley smile.” “Sure. Not lettin’ me take her home. Now they’re both here and it makes it feel like I’m in trouble. No wonder she was a tiny bit off today. “I really wish I could. Her hands shove all my clothes I got piled on the bed before she sits next to me. “Will you make my day and say you’ll go out with me again on Friday?” Gag-worthy line. Instead I try to play the cool guy card and end up mumbling some incoherency about how she’s awesome and stuff. Huh. call you later.’ Telepathic my ass. Mom's mumbling under her breath as she crosses the room.” Better make sure my phone isn’t on silent. Mom punchin’ him in the gut. Can we just go out Saturday instead?” I seriously almost fist pump the air. and not even a flinch when I swore. “Um. Thought I sprayed enough cologne to cover up the smell. You know.But I give a whole lot more than a crap. Hayles jumps off my shoulder and drops her books as she fumbles to get them in her bag. She rolls her eyes and nudges me with her elbow. Hayles hides her face with her hair and doesn’t give me a second glance as they drive off.

I even wish Mark was my real dad… okay. is it Spring Break already? Mom pats the spot next to her on the bed and I plop down. but not my biological dad. I smile and sling my arm around her shoulders. I wish I had that buddy-buddy thing with Gabe like I used to. Our family shouldn’t be so messed up. Even with everything that happened with your brother. ready for the ‘itinerary’ since they’ll force me to listen to it sooner or later. I pull my arm off her shoulders. sitting on the other side of her and grabbin’ her hand. shushing her and shruggin’ at me. and I’d do it. She’s Mom. she wouldn’t be shoving Quynn in my face every chance she could.” “Really.” The corner of her mouth twitches.This week? Crap. honey. And I’m glad she has him. we know you’ll be okay… not throw any wild parties or anything.” “Mark!” “He knows I’m kidding. but that’s it. This is the moment she chooses to tell me her obvious preference with the girls in my life? I get it. and Mom mumbles something again. and she nods. Just a few friends. I give Dad a look that says. and Dad’s there in a second.” We both laugh. “No more busted noses or sore knuckles.” She makes it sound like I’m a saint. ‘What the hell?’ He’s rubbin’ her back. “I may have game night here. “All just get along?” Her laugh comes out like a rush of air. and some condoms for the orgy. And I wish Mom didn’t have to deal with it all.” Instead of laughin’. “I miss having Quynn around. “So. And things were awesome when Quynn was around. a few beers. her eyes get shiny before she buries her face in her hands. lettin’ him be the one to do the comfortin’ crap. He gives me a head nod ‘cause he knows I get that. . I can’t help but think if Mom knew Hayley. We were going to take a cab.” Dad busts a gut while Mom threatens to shove a tomato in my face. “I know it’s stupid. “I’ll control myself. “Anyway … we trust you. huh?” Ah hell.” ‘Cause it’s not. the boy will be fine. It’s not like you guys have never left town before. like she normally would have. “Things were pretty good when she was. “I just… if Gabe shows up…” Ah.” I put my hand over my heart and the other out like I’m givin’ a bike signal. but I don’t catch it. like I expect her to. “I told you.” “It’s not stupid. he’s my ‘real’ dad. but do you think you could drop us off?” “Can we take the Dodge?” Dad chuckles and air fist bumps me. our plane leaves tomorrow afternoon. You can borrow it while we’re gone too. “Yeah. Mom. but she has him.” She smiles and sort of nudges me. but only if you’re picking up some hot ladies. But she’s not Hayley. “I just wish our family was… why can’t we…?” Dad smirks. Mom and Quynn are like family. the douche brother is the problem. Mom.

but seein’ them together. “Let’s talk about the fun stuff. Nothing. “Can… can we go to the library?” she whispers. all I hear is they’ll have a bunch of fun together. Dad winking at Mom every time they say they’ll be ‘sleeping’. but crazy crap jumps up and down in my stomach when I see Hayles’ name on the screen. Yuck. Long enough that I’m in the car and pullin’ out of the driveway before she answers. and they’ll be home on Sunday night. it’s gross ‘cause it’s my parents. “Okay. Startin’ to freak me out. Basically.“I guess. Mom and Dad have already made it to their room. I thought only girls get all… what do they call it? Fluttery? Dude. and I’m not allowed to have an orgy. “I’m… I’m not at home. “Yes. that’s what love should be like. Maybe I didn’t get to it in time. romance and all that other junk. “I’ll be right there. My phone rings right as Dad is givin’ Mom another wink . I’ll text them or somethin’. Yes. They probably want to be alone. What’s up?” Silence. and I leap up to get it.” “Thank you. “You guys done makin’ those gross faces? Can I…?” I hold up the phone and they both take the hint. “Hayles?” Nothing again. “Could you hurry?” .” They give me a play by play on their plans this week. I’m already headed for the car keys. enough of the heavy.” That’s all that comes out. right? That’s sappy. Dually noted. There’s a hitched breathing or somethin’. “Hey. I’m goin’ soft. Dad pinchin’ Mom’s butt on the way out.” “Where are you?” She gives me an address. and I run to the kitchen to write it down.” “Hayles?” “Yeah?” “You okay?” Silence again.” Car keys are now in my hand. Oh.” Dad squeezes Mom’s shoulders. No wait. I dunno.

and then more when we go back to the ‘dead to the world’ section. She opens the book.” “You don’t have to stay with me at the library if you don’t want to. just outside of town. or putting her feet on the dash. I can take the bus—” “I’m not leavin’ you. “You still want to go to the library?” I attempt a smile. She shoves my feet off the couch and sits cross-legged right next to me. Brody. and nothin’ is coming to my mind about how to break the silence. this is what happens to the boys in the Amazon's Satere Mawé tribe when they become a man. the walk into the library. She’s not turnin’ on the radio. but I’m not leavin’ you alone.” I know I probably sound like a dick. but I’m not goin’ to just drop her off after… whatever it is that happened. “Or do you wanna try some video games at my place?” She laughs. or even cryin’. “And risk another power outage?” I shrug.” Her lips press together and she looks back out the window.Reason 19: Pictures of bleedin’ people don’t want to make you puke Even flyin’ down the road at a speed I didn’t know the Corsica was capable of. She doesn’t say anythin’. “Uh huh. who’s sitting drenched in the rain at some decrepit building I’ve never been to or seen.” I choke back the bile risin’ in my throat. but I’ll take whatever I can. Then she breaks it by tellin’ me to save the couch and she’ll be right back. not sure if I can . She’s lookin’ at me too. jump out and sprint to Hayles. but not a real one. After a few minutes. but she finally says somethin’. Hayles comes back with a big fat book tucked against her chest. “Uh…” She giggles. She isn’t lookin’ at me.” I sigh. “Yeah. More silence as I climb in next to her. She’s being too quiet for Hayley. “Thanks. and my eyes bug out of my skull. I’m scared as hell to ask her what’s up. I throw myself in the seat and kick my legs up to take over the whole thing so no one will sit next to me. “Sure. I leave the car runnin’ against the curb when I pull up. She’s blushin’ and smilin’—a real one—still not looking at me. turn up the heat and get her out of wherever it is we are. Just tuck her into my arms and pull her inside the car.” “Really. turning onto the road that’ll take me there. but I really just… I need to go to the library. and I don’t either.” I glance at her before turning back to the road.” I look at her again. tryin’ to be the macho man. lettin’ me put my arm around her shoulders. There’s more silence during the rest of the drive. “Thanks. I’m ready to slap on the stereo just to get rid of the tension in the air. I don’t get there as fast I want to. “Okay. Not like they would. yeah. but uh.

.” She shakes her head and rolls her eyes.” She gives me another once over. they have to bang in their skull?” “Not if they’re really careful. then they’ll attract more women and become braver. I thought it might have somethin’ to do with the weird building and the frantic phone call.” I start running my hand up and down her arm. “I guess life just doesn’t seem so bad sometimes when you see what these people have to do to please their parents. “This is called land jumping. To look at gross pictures and talk about crazy shit. the book clatterin’ to the floor. “Cow jumping.handle Bullet Ant Gloves. “They have this stuff in the library?” I say under her hand. I don’t understand what’s goin’ through her head—hate this picture gazing at me.” “Yeah. so why is that kid shoving an arrow into his tongue?” And why are you showin’ me this stuff? Her butt slides closer to mine as she settles the book in my lap. I squeeze her shoulders. They have to do it naked. it’ll be a bad harvest. “Brody?” “Yeah?” “C-can I… can I hold your hand?” I chuckle. Her skin pops with goose bumps. but it makes me feel like a major pussy. I take a deep breath and throw my head back against the cushion. and her head falls onto my chest.” “You mean. and I try to hide the smile formin’ on my lips.” “No. “Matausa tribe. but I can’t help but feel like maybe this is what she needs to fix what’s botherin’ her.” She winks and flips the page. “It says if their head doesn’t touch the ground. All right. that makes a whole lot of sense.” I get it. That’s what it is. their mother’s blood. “Holy crap! That kid is naked!” “Shh!” She’s laughin’ at me while pressing a finger to my lips.” She laughs and shrugs against me. “You’re looking green. then she turns the page again. don’t mean to. they could be balloon animals.” “How do you know all this stuff?” Her hands graze over the page before she closes the book. “Why? You into bizarre stuff like this?” She doesn’t look at me and keeps her eyes locked on the book in my lap. How Hayles is lookin’ at this with a big grin on her face. The acrophobic in me also can’t handle the kids hangin’ from their ankles by vines off of very large cliffs. This is what she needs. It’s educational. I grab her hand with my free one. but it comes out anyway. It’s fine. Her damn mom. Maybe I should put it away?” “No.” Bingo. I have no idea. “Keep goin’.” Hayles smiles as she smoothes the page. The poor kid’s hands are so swollen and red. “I read it a lot. “Yes. “Okay. They think if they get rid of the female blood in them. And it’s just a butt. leavin’ it in my lap. Oh man. I’m sure you’ve seen worse. I flip the page from the nasty lookin’ fingers. in which I try to look comfortable.

Hayles.“You don’t ever have to ask.” .

I suck at chit-chat. Bro! What you up to?” It takes me a second to wipe the shock from my face. “Okay.” She shakes off her umbrella and sticks it in the entryway before closin’ the door shut behind her. girls probably don’t want that. Just hangin’ out. I’m sorry. She also told me at school that her Spring Break was stock full. I thought I had this figured out. “Pretty good so far. I’m goin’ to memorize it too because I’m not makin’ more than one copy. “Please change the subject before I die. But it’s rainy and I thought since we didn’t get to talk last Friday…” Her voice drifts off as she studies my face. well. Not sure why. You know that. Whole week to myself. “I am. I’m comin’!” I swing the door open.” She shrugs. One of these days I’ll get you to come with me. “Parties the past couple nights. I know she’s comfortable here—I get it.” Her face goes bright red. My hand still hurts like hell. not much. and I’m not going to type it ‘cause. but I wave her through the door anyway. and I have nothin’ planned till Saturday. They like the handwritten junk. but I don’t want her to leave either. “Uh. strong but still needed me. There’s a knock at my front door. I chuckle with her. but I’m not too happy when she plants her butt on the couch without really askin’ if she can stay. For some stupid reason.” She rolls her eyes. “Hey. though. the sound of pounding rain reachin’ my ears. After seein’ her on Monday and the way she was just so. I don’t want her to stay. I was hoping to see you there. She’ll get it. And if it’s Gabe. but someone thinks he’s too good for that stuff. just not the party type. “Yes. “No. Quynn knows Mom is out of town. Can’t help it. “Oh my gosh. I’m not a fan of the ‘pop in’ either. you didn’t. Probably some salesman or somethin’. “Thought you said you were pretty busy this week. And speakin’ of Saturday. yours are smokin’ Mom and Dad are gone.” She tucks her feet under her butt and slides closer to me. I’m gettin’ Hayles’ list ready. I’ll just slam the door in his face. I’m a Class A loser. Just surprised me.” She shoves my leg and laughs. The list is easier now. Did I totally interrupt you doing something?” She goes to stand. “So. they knock again.” . I dunno. Whoever it is. everythin’ is coming out so much better.Reason 20: If eyes can be hot. how’s your Spring Break?” Lame.” I attempt a smile. I make sure the list is secure in my pocket before sittin’ next to her. Quynn stands under her bright pink umbrella with a huge smile on her face and says. but I put a hand on her arm stoppin’ her. not come…” She slaps her forehead while I laugh my face off. okay. I try to move away without bein’ so obvious about it. I know. “Nah. She won’t care if I sound stupid or whatever. Man. “I mean go with me. I groan as I tuck away the list in my back pocket and trudge upstairs to answer it.

Just tell her the truth. thanks. “It’s Friday night. I know Quynn is flirtin’ with me. I don’t like her like I used to—I know that for sure—but how do they have such power over guys? One word. “I’m bringin’ Tanner. Maybe it’s ‘cause she smiles with them. “So. “Another game night.” Quynn perks up. giving me the ‘I’m teasin’ but I’m serious about it too’ look.” Again. talk with her. It sucks. “Sure. Her eyes are just naturally big and round. they included every time they’d be… ‘sleeping’. Hayles never bites her lip. face still red.” “At least you know when not to call them. “You skip out on all the fun stuff. Brody.” She smiles and claps her hands together. It’s kind of a relief.” We bust up. but she’s laughing. Only that once. and it was weird. I’m not like Gabe. that’s my copout because I have no plans with Tanner at all. suck-you-in green and innocent. crossing her arms. “Nothing! Totally wide open. Quynn. uh…” I stutter as I sit back down. And I’m not stupid. All of this is goin’ through my brain as I make like a robot and get us some Cherry Pepsi from the fridge. but I’m not wanting her. Brody?” Girls suck. “what do you got goin’ on the rest of the day?” Please say she has plans. Pretty sure that’s a big no-no in convincing her she’s the one I want. if eyes can be hot. funnily enough. my heart does a funky knot thing. I’m not like bio-dad. and I don’t want to just kick her out. I shake my head and focus on Quynn. I see her. You’re going and that’s that.” . “You should really go with me to Jamie’s party tonight. and I hop off the couch. in the recliner this time. Better actually because I’m not nervous around her. Ugh. It’s the same blanket Hayley used when we played twenty questions.“Okay. They’re hot eyes. She tosses her blonde hair over her shoulder and leans down. This is screwed up.” She sighs.” Complete lie. Hayley does that too. Why? You want to do something?” Ah hell. when Mom and Dad gave me their itinerary for the weekend. “Ew!” “You’re tellin’ me. but she doesn’t ever mean to. But I’m not rude either. who is now chewin’ on her bottom lip. “Point. “N-not sure if I can. “Please.” She points a finger at me. but if you’re there…” Her eyes do that puppy dog thing. holding the arms of the recliner.” She stands up. and just when I think I’ve got a grip on the situation. Please. “You want somethin’ to drink?” It’s like it was before.” She grabs a blanket off the back of the couch and wraps it around her shoulders. I wasn’t planning on going. “I don’t—” “I’m not letting you say no. You’re seein’ someone else. I’m such a wuss. That cursed word. Not sure if Hayles would like me hangin’ with Quynn alone.

I’ve got Hayles. Then she babbles on about parties or some other stuff. Not even Tanner knows. then waves at me as she drives off. What’s wrong with me? “Okay. Yup. I’m a wuss. okay. wait. I could text her right now! No. She said she had somethin’ goin’ on tonight.” She skips off the porch to her car. I’ll see you later then!” I must be on autopilot. I’m not payin’ attention. This will not be a date. and that’s ‘cause he saw me with her. I want to have Hayles. Only person who does is my douche of a brother. which is why we’re goin’ out tomorrow. ‘cause I’ve walked her to the door and helped her with her jacket without even realizin’ it. “Uh. All that’s goin’ through my stupid head is what Hayley will think if she finds out. Then why can’t I just spit out the words? Why can’t I tell anyone? Not Mom or Dad. But I will call Tanner. Oh! Maybe she’ll come with me. . yeah.I chuckle. Or at least. ‘Cause I’m over Quynn. Damn it. not Quynn. but it’s forced.

I take the long route to Jamie’s house. Then I park the big truck against the curb. I’ve cleaned it—Mom will be proud—but I’m still in the midst of laundry. Then I put on the first shirt and jeans that don’t smell like butt and get out of my room. Guess Hayles did have somethin’ goin’ on tonight. I slam on the brakes and back up. then jammin’ my phone in my pocket before lifting a soaking wet chin up so her eyes meet mine. A shadowy figure crouched on the ground. I’m finally able to wear it again without it itchin’. I’m texting and sprinting at the same time. but I’m kind of hopin’ her plans got changed or somethin’. I run my hand over my wrist before grabbin’ my wristband to cover up the tatt. I know the answer will be no. I called Tanner.’ This stuff is messed up. Pouring buckets as Dad would say. is this what happened before? “When will your mom be home?” She shrugs… I think. There were a lot of clothes under the bed.Reason 21: You can put boob ma rks in all my shirts and I wo n’t care What do you wear to a party you don’t want to go to? Nothin’? Yeah. Then. Holy shit. “Hayles. And fly… whoops. I’m done stallin’. her house is still there. I’m tellin’ ya. tellin’ Quynn I won’t be there. No text. “Why didn’t you call someone?” She tucks her hand in her pocket. pullin’ out her phone. She’s shivering too much for me to tell. And because I’m majorly pathetic. I do a mental checklist of everythin’ in the house. No text from Hayles or Tanner. All right. ‘I’m not into you. It’s still raining. Sorry if I led you on. which I’m sure shocked the crap out of him. Not that she’d lie about it. better zip that up. Lights out except for the porch light. It’ll be no tattoo parlor. Among other things. Probably made him wonder if it was really me. Grabbin’ the keys. no calls… I may as well have had fifty conversations by myself. Back door. but I know she hides things from me. I grab her and pull her to her feet. Better get this over with. showin’ up buck ass naked will be a sure sign of. locked. just for the fun of it. Nope. but I’ve got my list ready for her. what the h—?” “B-Brody? What are y-you doing h-here?” “Are you locked out?” She nods. Hall light on. Nothin’ like living in the central point of God’s showerhead. “W-waterlogged. I’m hopin’ we’re at least still on for tomorrow. I’m about to turn off the road when something in her driveway catches my eye. Windows closed. Sent him a text instead. I invited Hayles too. She hasn’t said a word since I dropped her off—late—on Monday. . I have to drive by Hayley’s just to see if she’s really not some sexually frustrated fantasy I’ve concocted over the past few weeks. shakin’ and tryin’ to keep dry under the very little covering the garage has.” Crap. teeth chattering as her whole body goes into tremors. but he didn’t pick up.

And damn it. “Hey. Those sexy eyes I’ve been thinkin’ about. Just walks alongside me and stands in my doorway while I run to get her a towel. because of the rain.” “Yeah. “Ooh.” “You can borrow some of mine. The hoodie isn’t tight. “I-I won’t f-fit in y-your clothes. and I quickly pick it up by two fingers and chuck it in. After getting into some dry clothes of my own of course.” “I-I don’t h-have any e-extra clothes. slamming the door behind it. This is the part where I speed clean.” I go for her hand. I call from the kitchen to make sure she’s okay with that. “They’re not here. Or take the couch.” She doesn’t argue. “You know what?” I say after tryin’ to dry her off. things are shiftin’ around and I haven’t even seen her yet. When we get there. Whoa. “Y-your p-parents wwon’t m-mind?” Wish she’d let me rub her arms. hittin’ the floor. “Here. Thank you. Livin’ by myself for the past few days made the whole house try to do an ass room impression. but she doesn’t let me hold on to her either. I give her an ‘I told you so’ look before grabbin’ her stuff and throwin’ it in the dryer. She is. and I’ll stick yours in the dryer. tryin’ not to hydroplane.She shrugs… I think. I grab her and pull her to her feet. “Something warm.” She’s smilin’ her Hayles smile and tuggin’ at the hoodie. all right? I’ll give you a sweater and some pants and I guarantee they’ll be fine. She curls into herself and I can’t be sure.” She shakes her head. “Go take a shower. “It’s just a bra. go warm up. . no bra. She’s shivering too much for me to tell.” I say as I open the door a crack to hand her my clothes.” Her eyes flick up to meet mine. But it’s different now. but she pulls it out of my way. “You want somethin’ to drink?” Dude this sounds familiar. Please.” “‘Course. The heater’s up all the way as I go back to my house. I can’t be some horny jackhole right now. yeah. but what if she needs to stay the night? She can take my bed.” “Knock it off. yummy. And spray cologne all over it. not like I’m expectin’ her to be in here. I get the couch cleared off and the kitchen sink emptied. but goes upstairs to the bathroom while I run and grab the cleanest stuff I can find. The bra misses. Even if I have to force her into twenty questions. I hear a small ‘thanks’ before I get back downstairs. please.” I motion her to the couch. I hear the water shut off just as I clear out the dryer so it’s open for her clothes.” She’s got an arm wrapped around her chest and the other holdin’ out her soggy clothes. “Just go take a warm shower. No biggie. not baggy. “Come on. then hurry to my room to do a double check. she still won’t let me touch her. She’s freezin’.” She rolls her eyes and attempts a smile. and it not working at all. There’s somethin’ really screwed up goin’ on in her life. She’s goin’ to be wearin’ my underwear. and she’s going to tell me about it. When I feel the weight off my arm I pull it back out and leave her to it. I’m takin’ you to my house. and the pants fit. She’s laughin’ at me as I start the dryer. but I think she’s cryin’. but not tight. Again. my sweater. so I make two mugs and try to sit as close as she’ll allow me to. and I’ll sleep in Mom and Dad’s.” Only thing I got is apple cider. Was doin’ this with another girl not five hours ago.

you can sip that and I won’t think you’ll be any less of a man. Sliding my fingers on her knee. Not. “Hayles. “It’s my first time kissing someone. Even scared and sad like this. and she holds my hand to her cheek. “You think I could do that to you?” Damn it. But.” Ouch. Takes a minute. catching my face between her hands. “But I think it’s impossible. I need you to tell me what’s goin’ on. “No. I get close enough to taste her breath. Why you were sittin’ in the rain. I just don’t want to put boob marks in it. Somethin’s wrong. Her eyes go to the most borin’ thing in the room. Why you’d think I’d do that to you. then. then she drops my hand and turns. shakin’ my head at my feet. Still.“Is it itchy or somethin’?” I point to her stomach where she’s pullin’ the sweater away from her body.” “Like what?” she whispers. but I do. “Not on purpose. She’s so beautiful. Ready to press my lips to hers. and I can’t stand to see you like this. and the corner of her lip tugs upward with her shoulder. I still think you’re hung on Quynn.” She’s not lyin’.” She laughs. I press the crinkle between her eyebrows and smooth it out.” It’s amazin’ how just in the few weeks I’ve known her—really known her—I can tell when she’s about to shrug off a question like it’s no big deal. now I’m pissed. but she finally locks gazes. I want it to… I want to make sure it really means something. “I want you to kiss me. Not the time for it since there’s somethin’ a lot worse buggin’ her. Why you called me to pick you up on Monday. “I’m sorry. “All right.” I take the cup out of her hands and put it on the coffee table next to mine.” “But…?” Another flicker of a smile. It’ll be a little stretched out in the chest region for you. She starts laughin’. She looks back at me. “I don’t understand. it sucks she thinks that about me. . I do. Hayles. to tell me the big lie she’s got ready for me. but I’m leanin’ toward her anyway. “Don’t hide this from me anymore. blowing across her drink before taking a sip. giving me her cheek. To take away all the pain I know she’s feelin’ but not tellin’ me about. My eyes water and I shut them as I try to push back the burn in my throat. now is when you tell me what you were doin’ out in the rain like that. and I cut her off. Why you won’t let any one in. I mean it.” I sit back as far as I can on the other end of the couch. I make sure she’s lookin’ at me before I say anythin’ else. “Scared. “You know. That. “You mean more to me than you should. I’m pretty sure I look like a fool. I don’t want to let you in only to have you run off with her.” A flicker of a smile crosses her face .” I push her leg and set the mug down. “It won’t mean somethin’ with me?” She drops her hands.” I say before taking a gulp of the boiling cider.” “You can keep it if you want. Like. She opens her mouth. I know it’s not the right time. Is this really what she thinks? I’ll pull a Gabe? I’m.” My mouth hangs open. “Are you warm enough?” She nods. I don’t mean to growl.

Why you don’t want me to meet your mom.” I bury my face in my hands. “I want to help, be there for you, but I can’t if I don’t know anythin’. I can’t if you don’t let me.” Yeah, I said that all out loud. Well, muffled into my fingers. I won’t look at her, too afraid she’s pissed and she’ll just walk away, leavin’ me with the list in my pocket. I hear a deep breath from the other end of the couch. Still won’t look at her, and I can’t tell if she’s frustrated, hurt, or what, just off that sigh. “She doesn’t want me to meet him.” My eyebrows pinch together, and I glance at her through my hands. She’s pickin’ at a loose thread on the pocket of the hoodie. “What?” “That’s why I was sitting outside. My mom doesn’t want me to meet Daniel until I’m… thinner.” I gulp, sitting up straight. “Who’s Daniel?” “Mom’s boyfriend.” That small part of me that was worried about whoever this Daniel was whoops for joy in my stomach. “So you were sittin’ in the rain because…?” She throws her head against the cushion of the couch and talks to the ceiling. “She told me she was going to go over some menus and stuff with me tonight. She’s making me see a health specialist. But Daniel pulled up and surprised her with a date. She shoved me outside, and I guess she forgot to leave the door unlocked when she left.” She sighs, tilting her head forward. Tears are forming at the outer corners of her eyes. “I didn’t tell you because it’s embarrassing. It just confirms what I’ve been trying to ignore.” “Which is what?” “That I’m not good enough for anyone. I’m too… big to have someone like me the way you say you do.” The tears finally spill over, and she quickly swipes them away. I scoot closer to her again, takin’ it all in. All the pieces comin’ together about why she looks at herself the way she does. I had no idea it was so bad. ‘Cause she never told me. “On Monday, I had my first appointment with the health specialist. She told my mom I needed more exercise, you know, the same old crap they all say. Well, my mom thought it would be good for me to walk home. So she took me to where you picked me up, and left me there. Said if I didn’t get home within an hour, I wouldn’t get dinner.” She chuckles, but it sounds off. “It’s like I’m five.” I shake my head. “That’s messed up.” I know I should say somethin’ better than that, but she laughs and swipes another tear from her face. “So, I called you because, well, you saw that place! It was freaking scary! And who cares if I got dinner that night? It was probably a glass of water and a broccoli floret.” She’s laughin’ now, but still cryin’. I know I’m pushing my boundaries when I clasp her wrist and guide her onto my chest. She goes, but hesitantly. “I’m sorry you have to deal with this crap.” So eloquent, Brody. “For the record, I don’t think you need to see a health specialist. I don’t think you need to change anythin’ about you. You’re…you’re perfect.” She traces the design on my shirt, not sayin’ anythin’. “And… uh…” I gulp. “Thanks.” She looks up at me. “For what?” “Trustin’ me enough to tell me all of that.”

Her face goes back into my armpit. “Can I ask you a silly question?” I let out a breathless chuckle. “Sure.” “You don’t mind touching me?” Man, I want to touch her more. “That is a silly question,” I say, squeezing her. “I feel like I’m tryin’ to grope you every time we’re together.” We laugh together, her head jiggling around on my stomach. “Why would you think I minded?” “Well, ‘cause I’m probably, uh, squishier than most girls.” Darn girl. “You know, whenever you let me touch you, even when it’s just like this, laying on my chest, you make me feel like I’ve won some sort of prize. You need to stop bein’ so self-conscious, Hayles. I love touchin’ you.” She shrugs out of my grasp, and I get real confused for a second, ‘cause I thought I nailed that one. Then she leaps on top of me, straddling me and hugging me around my neck. Holy hell, this is happenin’! I knew I nailed it! I wrap my hands around her waist, pulling her closer to me. We’re both laughin’, and I’m not sure why. Her laugh just makes me laugh. We sit there for a while, talkin’ and she keeps herself planted on my lap. My legs are fallin’ asleep, and I’m not all that comfortable, but who cares? She asks where my parents are, and I tell her the embarrassing display I was witness to. She laughs and tells me she likes my parents already. Like she’s plannin’ on meetin’ them someday. Someday soon. I like that. Makes things between us seem more real. She’s startin’ to get it. The dryer buzzes, and that’s when I stumble off the couch to get her clothes. I’m stompin’ my feet a little harder than I normally do to get rid of the pins and needles in my legs. I hand Hayley her clothes, and she hesitates. “Can I change in your room?” Her face is bloodshot. “Sure.” She can today, since it’s clean. I lead her downstairs, then give her privacy after she makes fun of the swimsuit calendar I have on the wall. I’m puttin’ the mugs in the sink when she comes back upstairs. “I should probably head back home.” She smiles, but it doesn’t go up to her eyes. Yeah, I don’t want her to leave either. “I’ll give you a ride.” There’s some kind of awkward tension in the air as I grab the keys and open the door. She pauses in the doorstep, back towards me. “You okay?” She nods and turns around, pushin’ her eyes up to meet mine. “Do you… I mean, you don’t think I’m too f—” “If you say the word ‘fat’ one more time I’m going to knock you upside the head.” I lean against the doorknob, watchin’ the rain fall behind her. “You gotta stop believin’ your mom. She’s wrong. And if she’s too embarrassed by you, then she’s not worth pleasin’. You’re her daughter. That should be good enough.” I pause to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. I’m not afraid to touch her anymore. “You are good enough. At least I think so.” She smiles her Hayley smile. Then she glances over her shoulder at the pourin’ rain. I really don’t want her to go, but if she thinks her mom’s going to be home, I don’t want to get her in trouble either.

Her head whips back around, scaring me a little. The smile is still on her face, but she looks kind of nervous. And when she says somethin’, I know why. “Kiss me.”

” I’m about to.” She sighs. not use your tongue?” Can’t help the chuckle that rumbles through my throat. taking my time again to relish the fact I’m freakin’ going to kiss my girl. so if you could keep it to yourself this first time around—” “Hayles.” I interrupt. and I pull her closer. I already don’t know what the crap I’m doing. and if you stick your tongue in my mouth. I gulp and close the distance between us. Darn girl is going a million miles a minute. sorry. Cupping her face between my hands. shaking my head. “Yeah?” “Sorry. ‘kay?” She takes a deep breath. I didn’t think she’d be ready for it… now. she’s smiling and kind of giggling. sorry.” Her eyes close. thought I’d have to wait at least a couple of days.Reason 22: You smile when you kiss Wait. I mean. breath mixing.” Her lips pull up into that amazing smile. “Okay. noses touching again. pulling back.” she says. but I keep her face close. ‘I want my first kiss to mean something’. After all that stuff with her mom and after the whole. hands on her soft cheeks… “Brody?” I sigh. Man. “Or at least you won’t judge me too harshly for not knowing where to put my hands or how to move my lips or anything. Her mint chocolate smell makes me close my eyes too. grabs my hands and sticks them back on her cheeks. closing her eyes tight. and she lets out a nervous giggle. I promise. but it sort-of comes out like a growl. “What?” We both open our eyes. How did I end up bein’ the lucky first guy to give . “Um. “So. “Okay. What did she just say? “Huh?” “I want you to kiss me now. I don’t know how that all works. “Continue. I hope I do this right.” She smiles. which are centimeters away from hers. noses touching. “You… you sure?” She nods and takes a step closer. I really don’t know how I’m going to… like. She deserves to have a kiss that’ll make her want more. Don’t want to make her first kiss too slobbery or awkward or anythin’ that’ll disappoint her. her breath smacking me in the face again. pulling her back toward me. She closes them and lets out a small puff of air I can taste.” I say. Brody?” The air rushes out of my lips. “It’s just. “Yeah?” “Can you like. right?” She reaches up and rubs her temples. Wait. Girl is so amazing. I gauge her eyes before I go in farther.” “Hayles. A kiss that’ll tell her exactly how I feel about her. “Give it to me. did she change her mind? No. what if I’m bad at this?” “What?” “You’ll tell me if I’m bad at the whole kissing thing. “don’t over-think this. like. I can’t believe she’s sayin’ this to me now.” I chuckle. “I won’t use my tongue.

“How do I—” “Reason eight. it doesn’t have to be.” Her smile is so huge and so beautiful. fourteen. I mean. “Give me five numbers between one and twenty. I’m smiling so she is too. are you? Like. eight. I want it to be you ‘cause you’re friggin’ fantabulous and I like you so much and I didn’t mean to. I want to push my lips against hers now. but I give her the last one. you haven’t even given me any reasons yet and I’m not sure if it’s ‘cause you couldn’t think of them or if you were just trying to be nice or—” “Hayles!” She stops her blabbering. but this girl needs to put on her perception glasses. You know how to make awkward. letting out a beautiful laugh.her this moment? I’m still smiling as our lips barely touch. “Brody?” “Yeah?” “I’m in trouble.” “What?” “Just do it. “Reason three.” I press my forehead against hers. three. I don’t just need you.” She cocks her head and lets out a tiny laugh. And you know it. like fall so hard for you. one. Everything about you. I take a deep breath. like falling for me too or if you just feel bad ‘cause of my mom and all that junk. and brush her hair back with the other. then runs her tongue across her bottom lip. did I put too much pressure on you?” “What?” “‘Cause I didn’t mean to.” She cocks her head to the side. I crave you.” Another laugh. And she’s gettin’ closer to me. You’re my best friend. no matter how cheesy it comes out. “Reason fifteen. She needs to hear it. um. Her lips are almost against mine. I feel her skin rise with goose bumps as I trail my finger tip across her tattoo. Inside and out. You’re not worried about it. right? You still want to give me my first kiss? Or am I just pressuring you into it? Or is there too much pressure now to make it perfect.” Okay… “Reason one…” I smile.” I pull her shirt down a little to touch her shoulder blade. “Okay. “That’s a sexy tatt. “Reason fourteen.” She lets out a small laugh. less awkward. ‘cause Brody. “You missed fourteen.” She lets out another puff of a ir I can taste. “You slaughter me at Ghost Recon. It just happened and now I have no idea how this is supposed to go and if you even feel the same way you felt last week when you told me you were.” .” Her mouth splits open. “Um…” Ugh! This girl! “What is it now?” “Did I… gosh. snapping her lips tight together and getting a little flushed. You are the only person I’ve felt this way about. “You are so beautiful. wrap one arm around her waist so she doesn’t go anywhere again. “You know how to sign the word balls. fifteen. locking her in my gaze. and.” I’m cuttin’ her off before she has any other chance to get away from me. this is what you wanna do.

“Why is that?” “I’m pretty sure I’m falling in love with you. like she wants me closer. It comes out all breathless and junk. but she’s moved her hands to the bottom of my shirt. using the door to keep me stable. flicking them up to meet mine. but when she doesn’t. and I let out an involuntary groan. I don’t need the hint though. I didn’t. breaking away . But I want to. too. what is this girl doin’ to me?! I open my mouth and meet her tongue with mine this time. Even her kiss is full of life and just… awesomesauce. Yeah. the other… oh. And again. To feel her hands move around the back of my neck. It’s just Hayles. even though our lips are pressed tight. Beautiful and soft. Did I imagine that? Oh no. My hands move her waist so I can shut the door.” Holy hell.I chuckle. I don’t break the kiss—never going to if I can help it—and then I trap her against the wood. and what she needs it to be. She doesn’t. I know she said no tongue. even just a little bit. It’s so awesome ‘cause it’s still Hayles. but they keep tuggin’ on it. Exactly what she wants. I want to open my mouth to let her in. Bodies together. there’s no way this kiss is ending. but I’m not sure if it’s ‘cause I’m distracting her with my mouth or not. Still kissing me and smiling. She’s gotta know just how much I’m falling in love with her. “I’m pretty sure I’m falling in love with you. I lean into it so the kiss is harder. Her nose is touching mine again. “Friggin’ f-bombs of glory. Her hands haven’t moved from my shirt. “Can I have another one?” Chuckling again. I can’t get any closer than I already am. She is soft. I make sure the first touch is soft. She’s still smiling. Dammit. and I’m trying real hard not to taste her. one hand cupping her face. She can ask me that anytime.” I laugh. She starts to giggle a little bit through the kiss. And I’m taking every opportunity I can to keep tasting her. I want her to open hers to let me in. Don’t even care that she’s laughin’ during this. That was the best kiss I’ve ever had. I keep her against the door. and I’ll give it to her. I’m not going to ruin her first kiss by doing what she told me not to. pulling me closer into her mouth. Then her fingertips are grazing the skin by my bellybutton. Better be careful though. I’m blamin’ her for starting it. She’s the first to break away. Who cares if she pulls away. But I have to make this perfect for her. in case she wants to pull back. I can’t get enough of her now that I have her. “Is that a good thing?” She opens her eyes. Then the tip of her tongue touches my bottom lip. I’m pulling her waist closer to mine too. She’s hesitant in her actions. I’m leaning toward her. She’s smiling again. She beat me to it. Right before I give her what she wants. She… she moans. and it’s perfect. ‘cause she does it again. but I hold back. I’m pretty sure I’m about to faint.” She smiles and tugs the sides of my shirt to pull me in. Her hands slither up my chest and wrap around my neck. I’ve been waiting for this moment for what seems like forever. To feel the skin on her waist as I lift her shirt and touch her pant line. her mouth opening enough for me to taste her. catching her breath and freezing in the position I have her in. Who she is.

I don’t stay at her mouth. you are gorgeous. Her curves. And I want to have one of my firsts with her too. grab the neck of my shirt. There’s some crazy stuff goin’ on in my chest. And holy hell. but then she nods. “Is that a good thing?” She puts her hands on my chest and her face goes from pink to red. “Yes. Hell yeah. that’s okay. “Is this okay?” I ask between kisses. She’s moved her hands back around my neck. I pull back and gauge her eyes. I can tell she’s worried about what I’ll see underneath. this isn’t going any further than… Wait. I’m definitely all right with Hayles seein’ this much of me. I’m sorry I’m not as skinny… you deserve someone who—” “I want you. trailing her fingers across the lines on my stomach.from her lips and moving to her neck. I love her.” Okay. I’ve never been this naked with a girl before. but she’s not going to argue. but I’m not going to stop until she tells me to stop. giving me opportunity to play with the skin on her stomach. I want everything with her.” I let out a breath through my nostrils. “Why in the heck does someone like you want someone like me?” She’s crazy. but it is different. long enough for me to worry about what’s going through her head. her hips… I hold her body close to mine. She’s not telling me to stop. she’s trying to get my shirt off. I just told her she’s the most beautiful person I’ve ever met. “Is… is this okay?” she asks.” I breathe against her collar bone. “Wowza. but she won’t stop me. Bra and jeans are the best look for this girl. now I’m a little embarrassed. She hesitates. I’m glad I didn’t. Not weird. But I’m pretty sure since it took her so long to let me kiss her. I’m not sure if she did either. I mean. and tug it over my head. “I’ve never had a nickname before. “Hayles. I roll my eyes before I give her another long kiss.” Because I do. And I didn’t expect our first kiss leading to this. blush in her cheeks and a look that asks. all right. I’m not self-conscious or anythin’. I trace every inch of . moving to my sides and giving me goose bumps and doing other things to me I never thought I could feel with someone. trying to keep my hands near her face ‘cause if she keeps touching the skin underneath my shirt. Is she…? Yeah.” She grins like she doesn’t believe me. not even with her eyes. She’s smiling. “Hayles—” “Did I ever tell you I love it when you call me that?” Her eyes move from my chest to my face. So I’m not going to stop. “Uh huh. and she still looks at herself like she’s butt ugly or somethin’. skin on skin. No more of this stuff about you being anythin’ less than that. Taking the bottom of her shirt I slowly lift up. ‘Is this okay?’ The biggest grin plants itself on my lips and I reach back. taking one of her hands in mine. her breasts. though. I press my lips against hers again. She keeps playing with my skin. I don’t know what’s going to stop me from doing the same to her. but… I’m not. and kiss her again.

but she looks nervous. She’s so gorgeous. When she said ‘kiss me’ earlier. But she doesn’t let me go far. “Why is this okay with you?” I let go of one of her wrists. too. My eyes rest there for a second before I force myself to look at her face and not her boobs. I… I just didn’t know I had that. “I-I never thought I’d f-feel this way about anyone. “I never really allowed myself to feel anything for anyone. “Sorry.” Now I’m the one laughing. backing up and taking the chance to calm my breathing… and myself. She pulls my face back to hers. her collar bone. “I-Is this…” She gulps.” She laughs and brings a hand to her chest. “Don’t be sorry. um. it’s okay. She’s letting me look. that’ll be it for my control. skin on skin again. “Okay?” We both freeze as I stare into her eyes. She takes a deep breath. “No. and use the back of my hand to stroke her cheek. and I tilt her chin up so I can still look at the beautiful greens. her cleavage. “It’s. Going places I’ve never experienced before either. But then you just… well. As much as I want her to keep going.” “S-sorry. pretty sure that’s a ‘stop sign’. I want this—really want this—but you’ve been so careful physically with me. I have to know… “Why?” “What?” I grab her fingers. kissing me with so much force I can’t believe we’re going this far.” Feeling her smile against my cheek. I can’t. even gliding my tongue across her skin to taste every bit of her. I pushed too far. a big smile forming on her lips. Dammit. for us to keep going.” I say again. And her voice comes out a little shaky. stopping her from getting too far downward. Because once she does. You just surprised me. POP! There you were. Because I have to. It’s okay with me… more than okay with me. I wrap my hand around the back of her head while I caress the small of her back with the other. I was going to give her the kiss I’d been preparing for. Okay.” Guess that’s the only thing my mouth is capable of sayin’ right now.” I say. effect on you. and made me get all weird inside. Now I’m completely out of my element here. I’m never letting her go. “Don’t get me wrong. “Is it okay with you?” She nods. her stomach. Her fingers tuck into my belt. I press my hips into her.her neck. “Whoa!” Okay. hands shakin’ a little as she starts to undo the buckle. I rest my cheek against hers so I can whisper in her ear. I really didn’t want to ruin this. “Brody…” She giggles and grabs my hand. her sides. that’s all. touch… And she’s not stopping me. but I have to make sure this is what she wants. I shake my head and pull her to me. I kiss under her earlobe and pull back.” . this girl. Why now? Why me?” Another big smile plants itself on her face. “I’m sorry. makin’ the door creak.” Her eyes go to the floor. “You’ve had this effect on me since the day I saw you with that book on your head.

I chuckle and she laughs. She has no idea that’s exactly how I felt when she… POP, came into my life. “And well, besides the obvious reasons—” “Obvious?” She cocks an eyebrow. “Seriously? Brody, this is totally another reason why you’re just super fabulous.” Huh? “You don’t even know how freaking hot you are. That’s uber sexy.” Her eyes go to my bare torso. “Count with me.” One finger strokes part of my stomach. “One…” She moves an inch or two over. “Two…” She slides down. “Three…” Back over. “Four…” Down. “Five…” Over. “Six.” She flicks her gaze back up to me. “That’s what people call a six-pack.” I roll my eyes, but she keeps moving her fingers up to my chest. I want to stop her, but I don’t at the same time. It feels too good. “And these…” She flattens her hands on me, and I tug her closer. “Are called pecs. It’s like you stepped out of a fantasy.” I open my mouth, but her fingers zoom up to cover my lips. “How many girls have seen you like this?” “One. Including you.” She smiles, resting her head on my chest. I run my hands up her bare back, wishing it was the right moment to undo that bra. “Not even girls at a pool?” she whispers. I shrug. “I’m not much of a swimmer.” Her hold tightens around my middle. That bra clasp teases my fingertips, so I move my hand upward to the back of her neck instead to keep control. “That was the obvious reason,” she says, looking at me again, “but you… you look at me like…” A gust of air goes out her nose as she loses the words. I press my forehead against hers. “Like you’re the most gorgeous girl I’ve ever seen?” She nods, and we’re both quiet for a minute. Then I say, “What did I do to deserve you?” at the same time she says, “I don’t deserve someone like you.” We chuckle and her fingers slide up to my neck. “It took me so long to let you kiss me because I knew this might happen.” That makes one of us. “You did?” She nods again, keeping her dark green eyes locked on mine. “I knew once we started kissing, I wouldn’t want to stop. And I don’t.” She sets her forehead on mine, then whispers against my lips. “Please, don’t stop, Brody.” Her fingers go back to my belt while my head spins. “I want to give you everything… if you want it.” Oh man, do I want it. I smile and hold her close, letting her undo my buckle. “On one condition.” She pauses and looks at me. I kiss the tip of her nose. “You let me give everything to you.” She gets my belt undone and whips it out from my belt loops. “Deal.”

Her fingers go to my top button, and that’s when I realize something that’s pretty important. “Wait… I don’t think I have any protection, Hayles.” Her smile doesn’t fall. “You don’t need to worry about that.” She twists my top button open. “What?” Her hands trail downward, and I’m about to lose all train of thought. “It’s a long story, and I promise I’ll tell you.” She kisses my neck as she gets my zipper down. “But later. I really don’t want to ruin the moment with, uh, girly talk. Just know you don’t have to worry about knockin’ me up.” Where did this confident Hayley come from? She’s being so… seductive and sexy and yeah, I can’t think anymore. I don’t want to. I just want to be with her. And give her another first as she gives me one of mine.

Reason 23: You’re as horny as I am Mom and Dad couldn’t have picked a better weekend to be out of the house. Waking up with Hayles in my arms is somethin’ that makes my gut clench in that good way. She’s still asleep… I think. There’s a small smile on her lips from what I can see, but her back is to me. I kiss that sexy tatt on her shoulder, and she sighs. Guess she is awake. “Hey.” She sighs again. “Sup?” I chuckle, tightening my hold on her waist. She tucks one of her legs between mine and giggles. “What?” Her neck twists so she can meet my eyes. “Jumping jellybeans, Brody. I’m just so frickin’ happy.” Ah hell. “Me too.” We kiss, I don’t even care we both have mornin’ breath. I got mints in my drawer if we need ‘em. But I’m not moving from this spot until I have to. “So, you’re okay with… everything?” She wiggles her body so she’s facing me, hitchin’ her leg up on my hip and grabbin’ my hand to put on her butt. “I kinda wanna do it again.” Her face flushes. Sweet. ‘Cause I want to do it again too. That was pretty much the best thing I’ve ever experienced. “All right.” Why is my voice shakin’? I don’t have any more reason to be nervous around her. She’s given me everythin’ already. “Oh!” she squeals right as I go in for another kiss. “What time is it?” I sigh. “Really?” “Yeah.” She leans up and searches the room for a clock. “Sorry, but I need to be home by… Crapola! Is that clock right?” I should lie so she stays in bed with me. But I don’t want any more trouble for her. “Yeah.” Her lip juts out as she cuddles back into me. “I gotta go.” No. “Just stay a little bit longer?” I tug her closer to my body, and I feel her sigh of defeat against my chest. “Two minutes. But then I really have to go.” “I think we can pump one out in two minutes.” I smile and tilt her chin up. She’s laughin’ and smacks me… okay, more like taps me in the arm. “As romantic as that sounds…” She rolls her eyes. “That’s not what I meant. I just… can you just hold me?” Hell yeah I can hold her. I’ll even kiss her too. “Hey,” I say after what’s been way longer than two minutes, “you promised me you’d tell me that

we don’t have to worry about. Ha. she wraps her arm around my side and squeezes me close to her.” Her eyes go to mine. You don’t want to know. two years now.” “Oh that’s right. but the real reason has to do with a whole bunch of girly stuff you’ll think is nasty. boy I’m in bed with.” “Then why—” “Seriously. “Okay.” ‘Cause after that dairy thing. “Come on. “Okay. Ha. you know. “Hayles…” She busts out in laughter. No.” She’s quiet. “Yeah! There was this awesome article about if you have a lot of dairy right before you have sex it works as a good birth control.” Oh no. No. But her eyes are dead serious. So we should be good!” No. Especially since we’re probably going to be doin’ this a lot. uh. her mouth popping open like she just realized she said that out loud. “Will you please tell me the real reason now?” “Okay.” She shakes her head. protection.” “Try me.” She cocks her head. When we break apart. I used to have a high flow period and it was so bad I needed to be put on birth control so I don’t go through a hundred tamp—” . and grilled cheese yesterday. I probably don’t wanna know. “Don’t worry about it. two thingys of yogurt.” Don’t worry about it? How can I not worry about it? “But last night… it was your first time.” I smile and press my forehead against hers. She better be jokin’. but I hate when she keeps things from me. She’s so damn cute. right?” What the hell? “No. I better make sure we were really ‘covered’ last night. so you know the whole dairy theory. but you deserve to know I guess. keeping my tongue in my mouth this time though in case of morning breath and not being able to control myself again. Brody. right?” “Duh. “Ha. and she squeezes me again. I want to do this with her forever. You think you’re so funny. a ton of milk. stifling a large grin as she traces patterns on my chest. “And I had like. her body pulsing against me and it’s my turn to smack—more like tap —her in the arm.” She smiles and gives me a rapid nod. “I’ve been on the pill for like. I kiss her.” Okay… “Why?” “Girl stuff.” I wiggle my nose against hers.long story about why. “So…?” “I don’t really have time to tell you. but it’s hard and urgent enough for her to know that yeah. giving me the ‘you asked for it’ grin.

She already did sort-of say it to me. “Hey!” She’s giggling.“Okay!” Ugh. I didn’t want to know. “Yes. I thought it was pretty fruity. ‘Yuck! That’s what I did it with last night?’” Is she serious? “Knock it off. as I go to the park . “Did you mean what you said last night?” “Which part?” Her hands slide from under my grasp and she rests them on my chest. “Why…?” “‘Cause I have to get dressed. but when she just sighs and tells me she’s gotta go. “Well. “I’m not falling in love with you.” Her laughter is so contagious. “And I have to close my eyes because…?” I saw everythin’ last night. “I am in love with you.” Her eyebrows scrunch together in that awesome way and I can tell she’s about to yell at me. but she fights me. I mean it. That dude in Inception sleeps with that girl on Elf and he does this musical number thing walkin’ down the street. I can’t though. I want to look at her like this. as I run to the store to get a bunch of junk food. pushing her hand away.” I give her a full smile this time.” I laugh and kiss the tip of her nose. She kissed me back a lot last night… but yeah. “Cheeseball. close your eyes. and yeah I want to see her again. so I cut her off. even though she just about made me puke. “And I don’t want you going.” She smiles before putting her hand over my eyes. Holding her arms above her head. It feels so good to be this close with her. and I take that as my cue to pin her against the mattress. I meant it.” My eyebrow goes up. but the smile is still on her face.” I reach over to tug the blanket off her.” she says when we break apart. Yeah. Hayles. “You. “That you’re falling in love with me. “I got it. she was right. There’s this scene on this chick flick Quynn made me watch with her once. Are. I’m now eatin’ my words. No guy would act like that even if he did just score.” I say. She’s too hot. “Hayles?” She stops laughing. “Did you?” I give her a sort-of smile. “Yeah. “No. wiping her hair from her face. this is the first time she’s kissed me. I love you.” She tugs the blanket around her chest as she slides to the edge of the bed. Beautiful. “Because things look different in the light. I kind of want a whole bunch of people dancin’ in the background as I make my way to the Dodge. I take in all of her while she’s laughing and yelling at me to stop ogling. I don’t even have to fight to keep them there. my gut feels like she just socked it with a brick.” I know I shouldn’t expect to hear it back. perv?” My eyes go to hers.” She reaches up and pulls the back of my neck so I can meet her lips. “Alrighty. this is the first time she’s made the move.” She rolls her eyes and smiles.

“Well. “Hayley?” I nod. “Nothin’. Guess Mom’s not the only person who’s noticed how much time I spend with her. “Not like what?” Her eyes flick to mine. . She wanted more.” Whoa. Brody. Hayles seemed pretty okay with everythin’. Promise?” That word is just as bad as ‘please’. Is this what sex does? Like a hangover without the feelin’ like crap part.‘cause I just wanna. but I don’t hold her stare. Quynn. “Hello?” I shake my head running a hand over the back of my neck.” She rolls her eyes and stomps past me. “Sorry. I didn’t realize… I thought… somethin’ came up. Not just again. But everythin’ is muddy.” Girlfriend. “It’s not like that. Where were you last night?” “I… uh…” “All I get is a text! ‘Can’t make it.” Her arms drop. then she’s gone. plastering on a smile. Say it! Hayles is your girlfriend! “A friend?” She cocks an eyebrow. It was good for her. Maybe douchebaggery is genetic. I want to fist pump the air and skip and all that stuff. it’s not just some excuse.” “Dammit!” I yell as I trip off the porch. but over and over again. Never mind.” “Okaaaay. and I couldn’t make it. I owned it. Quynn stands up from the patio chair we’ve got in front of our window and crosses her arms. “Yeah. you know? She said she wanted to do it more. I go straight to lookin’ at the crack in the porch.” She takes a step towards me. then catch myself. and I do a few times. what the hell? What am I sayin’? It’s exactly like that. I just told Hayles loved her… after making love to her. “I’m not even going to apologize for scaring you. somethin’ I never do. though. And from her reaction this mornin’. Hell yeah! I’m doin’ this weird jig as I walk up my porch. A friend was havin’ a bad night.’ That’s it! What was so important you had to cancel our date last night?” Date? What the hell? She thought it was a date? I try to rewind to our conversation. I’m lyin’ right into Quynn’s face ‘cause… I don’t know how to finish that thought. But I’m noddin’ and she’s huggin’ me. and she starts playin’ with her fingers. and I’m hummin’ under my breath. Look what this girl has done to me! “You are in big trouble. “Really. droppin’ the bag of chips in my hand. And I’m still confused as hell why she still has such power over me when I’m in love with Hayles. but she didn’t say it was bad. That’s damn hot. you’re not skipping out on the one tonight. Not that she had anythin’ to compare it to.

“I know we had plans tonight already. “I actually have a favor to ask. pushing back from me and turnin’ red. but the cheesy comment stops my mouth. Moving her legs off the end of the couch.” I don’t lie to Hayley. I guess now that I have a boyfriend…” She flicks her eyes to meet mine.” She sits up and looks me in the face. I sit next to her. and we’ll do it. leaning her head against my shoulder. but my friends.” I almost spout off an ‘Anything for you’. but—” I stop Hayley from overanalyzing with a big kiss. they all want to go on this big group date thing. Brody. Can we fit that in?” It’s as if everythin’ freezes right there.” “What?” “You’re turning into a very cheesy sappy lovesick boy. I should’ve said it as easily as Hayley just said it.” She folds her arms. I know it’s uber lame. but keep her in my hold. When?” “That’s the thing. Quynn or Hayles. “They want me to come along. don’t be mad though. Well… us to come along. “Oh no.” she says.” “Is that a yes?” She shakes her head and plops on the couch. “Quynn came over earlier and asked if I’d go to Jamie’s party tonight. like. I’m her boyfriend.” She reaches up to feel my forehead. you’re a stupid ass. I can’t. “Whoa. I kind of ditched her last night.” She laughs. “Okay. I always choose Hayles. but then end up feelin’ guilty as crap over ditchin’ Quynn. She’s my girlfriend. Spill.” she says. “does this mean you’re okay with me just coming over without calling?” I smile and pull her inside. and I’m not sure what you had in store for me. but they wanted to meet up later.Reason 24: I can’t lie to you “Hey.” “Okay…” “Well. huh? How about I just take you downstairs. and I’m faced with the stupid choice again. so I felt bad and I told her I’d go. “No cheesy stuff. “Something’s wrong.” . I should’ve told her everythin’ about me and Hayles. And I’d be doin’ it to her twice. “I’ll make an exception for you. ever since Quynn left it’s all I’ve wanted to do. ‘cause really. “Hayley?” “Uh oh. I’m her boyfriend.” “Sure. “Okay. Hell yeah. “What have I done?” I knock her hand off. clasping my hand with hers.” There goes the cute eyebrow crinkle. I know you hate the pop in. and I smile. “There’s the boy I knew was in there.

You are the one who’s keepin’ us apart. Brody. I can’t… I just didn’t know how to…” “You still like her. “I… gave… you… all of me. but I can’t. and finally some emotion erupts out of her.” Silence. What do I say to stop her? To make her realize? To get her to understand? “Don’t leave. She’s leavin’. but you won’t let me. Hayles. I do love you. “Seriously. and I want to eat all the words I’ve just said. “They are symbols of devotion. I don’t regret anything we did. I’m yellin’ back at her as she goes for the door. Especially guys like you.” No. It’s not a good one. No. I’m not the girl guys go after. That’s real . opens the door .” She forces herself out of my hold. That we’re together. but at least it’s somethin’. I let you convince me you were better than all of them.” I whisper into her hair. It’s not for her anymore. You’re the same. “It was a while ago. Not mad.” I scratch the back of my neck. “It’s not me. Closin’ off ‘cause you don’t want to get hurt. or whatever other delusion you have about me and Quynn. Not after this crap. no anger. And it sucks.” “No. “I knew you did. She stands up. “Did you tell her?” “What?” “About us. wantin’ to close the distance between me and Hayles. And please. I love you. “I don’t want to be like my… my real dad. I knew that.” I see it in her eyes. You’re lookin’ for ways out of this ‘cause it’s easier for you. Not me. I actually drove by your house to see if you would go with me. “Stop lying to me! Stop trying to get me to believe you’ve chosen me over her. She’s closin’ off.” “Or like your brother hurt Quynn. but you know.” She says it into my chest and tries to pull away. No. don’t be sorry or try to convince me that you don’t. no sadness. just a ‘who gives a crap?’ attitude. Us. but you’re not. You’ve given me a lot. Hayles. not sad. I let you in. Don’t run away from this. She doesn’t hug me back. but she wiggles out from my hold.” “Then what does it mean?” I finally unfreeze. “You’ve got it wrong.” She sniffs again. your mom. Me. you’re missin’ out on somethin’ real. didn’t you?” Again.” I drop my eyes and shake my head.Her eyebrows go from crinkle to sky high. Hayles. just passive.” She still doesn’t relax. “Please.” Heat shoots through my chest and I can’t take it anymore. She’s disappearin’. I knew it! And I let myself fall for you anyway. I’ve been honest. pulling the sleeves down on her hoodie. Like too long silence. Stop blamin’ me. You’re a good… friend. “Your tattoo. “I… I tried. And I can’t stop her.” Her eyes narrow. fingering the tatt on my wrist. “You got it for her. She sniffles and says between hitched breaths. I made a promise I’d never hurt someone like he hurt my mom. You. “You had a date with Quynn last night?” “No!” I shift on the couch and grab her face. Hayles. close the distance between us and wrap her in my arms. “What does it mean?” Her voice is soft. “What does what mean?” She points at my wrist.” Her eyes are watering. I don’t let her. your weight. And that’s all I expected from you. it wasn’t like that.

No. “And you can’t even tell her you’re with me. Someone who you want to shout out to the world you love them. Don’t know what she’s thinkin’. No. I bet your best friend doesn’t even know. You gave me the best few weeks of my life.” She gulps. huddling into the hoodie I gave her last night.” She pauses to wipe more tears from her face. “Hayley.” She’s sayin’ goodbye. Someone who’s not embarrassing to be with. “You can’t let her go. she turns and leaves. and let go of the first tears I’ve ever cried over a girl. I’m glad you were my first… everything. She knows it. right? Girls always want the guy to chase them down and beg and plead to take them back. No. That’s what they want.” It’s quiet between us. You can’t tell anyone about me. But I’m right too. don’t—” “You deserve someone who you can brag about to your friends. “It’s just not me. I don’t know what to say to make her feel better. bury my face. Instead I fall on the porch steps. .” Before I can argue.and steps out onto the porch. before I can do anythin’. She’s right. Aren’t I? “I was telling the truth when I said I don’t regret anything between us. I should chase after her. Tears I wish I hadn’t put there.

“Uh oh.” I mumble into the mattress. Sorry if I gave you the wrong idea. I don’t want to talk about it.” She’s right. It’s amazin’ how in the course of twenty-four hours. my room is stock full of dirty laundry and pizza boxes. So I give her a “Nothin’” and turn my face back into the mattress. A hypocritical dumbass. I just don’t want to admit it even to myself. “Don’t you dare lie to me. She’s always liked you. . and I’ve spent all day burpin’ up pizza and garlic bread.” “It’s not that. but it gives me a headache so I stop. and listenin’ to Katy Perry on repeat. but I puked all mornin’. I may puke. I’d throw a tomato in your face.” Mom goes to sit on my bed. but that was before things went to the crapper. The whole time at the party I wanted to tell Quynn. “She’ll come around. I did go to that party. honey? ” Not goin’ to talk about this with my mom.” I grab the back of my head and try to force my face farther into the bed. And I don’t give a shit. so I couldn’t give a damn right now.” “You know I won’t do that.Reason 25: When you’re pissed at me. I wanted to be straight with her. “What happened. I turn into a depressed slob who can’t stop listenin’ to that pop crap It’s the ass room again. I was goin’ to have Hayley come with me. Or was I ever? So I drank myself into a stupor . but right now I doubt it would do anything.” Mom comes in and whips open the window. came home and crashed on the bed and stayed there till Mom and Dad came home. Just makin’ my temples ache. Not anymore. I’m with Hayley. “Have you even left this room today?” “Just to piss. just leave it alone. The pillow gets ripped off my head. but changes her mind when she spots a pizza slice stuck to the sheets. Mom. “Did something happen with Gabe?” I shake my head.” Why is it so hard? Why is it hard to talk about Hayley in a ‘more than friends’ way? I know why. But the words never came out. I groan and throw the pillow over my head. Because it would make me a dumbass.” “So it is about Quynn. They took a cab home since I didn’t get my ass out of bed to pick ‘em up like I’d planned. ‘Cause I’m not with Hayles. Please. “Quynn?” “Ma. “I’m never leaving you alone again. Doesn’t hurt as much as what’s goin’ on in my chest though. “Um…” She swallows back whatever chunks rose in her throat. It’s not doin’ anythin’ though.

All the crap with Gabe. I don’t shrug her off. I haven’t even officially met her yet. You never talked about her really.” She comes to the side of my bed and rubs my arm.” “Actually. Just first impression. crap. except for Mom’s breathin’ and me tryin’ to push back the tears I thought I had cried out already. A Mom smile. kiss them in public. Only saw her from a distance. just goes away when I’m around her. the answer is starin’ you in the face’ smiles. I don’t know why. and I look at her. all the other stuff goin’ on that sucks.” “Oh!” Her shock whenever I say Hayley’s name is gettin’ old. she’s right. “All she wants is to know you’re in this one-hundred percent before she lets go completely. “Ah. with my grades. “I love her. “It’s Hayley. I give up and put my head back down on the pillows. I nod and scrape off the pizza stuck to my sheets and throw it in an empty box on the floor.” My forehead crinkles. And I won’t look at her. Just referred to her as a friend.” She pinches my elbow. “That’s easy.” After watchin’ her for a few seconds. You had to have figured out I liked her. She’ll keep pushin’ and pushin’ till I’ve leaked out all my insides. . “You’ve already done what she needs from you. leaning my elbows on my knees. it’s never awkward around her. but still manages to be just so… awesome.” It’s quiet. Less angry. “She’s amazin’. honey. Been through a bunch of crap. “Oh. She’s fun. a signing partner. I don’t want to see her expression. I pull it back and give her a glare. This is why I didn’t want to say anythin’.” “I have?” “You told me about her. “It’s not Quynn. Girls are very protective of their hearts. Mom makes a face before grabbing the garbage and gettin’ to the doorway. “I messed up. tryin’ to figure out if she’s lyin’ to me. How do I fix it?” She gives me a big grin. I’m a better person when I’m with her. nothing. she needs to know you’re over any… old flames.I don’t want to see the look on people’s faces when I tell them I’m in love with the… FFF. and she didn’t seem like your type of girl. “What do you mean by that?” I’m snappin’.” She ducks out the door as my pillow goes flyin’ across the room at her.” I sit up. But. “If you can’t tell Quynn about Hayley.” “It is?” She nods. and of course. funny. ‘silly boy. “Come on. Too scared to tell anyone about her. I didn’t. They need to know their guy won’t be ashamed to show them off. then maybe you don’t love her as much as you think you do. Mom. One of those. Mom.” Ouch. But this is Mom.” I turn around so I’m talkin’ to the ceiling. and honey?” “Yeah?” “I didn’t peg you for a Katy Perry fan. I was too afraid to tell Quynn about her. She shrugs and waves her hand through the air. Mom. hun.


And I’m not like Gabe. even with the best friend gets a little awkward.Reason 26: I want to shout it to the world that I’m in love with you “Game night again. dude?” Tanner shoves the rest of his pizza in his mouth and wipes his hands on his jeans before letting me inside. “What do you think about her?” “She’s cool. I gotta let her go… all the way. “Uh. clear my throat and avoid his eyes. not theirs. So she’s probably hurtin’ more than she’s sayin’. but because it’s the right thing to do. marchin’ straight to the fridge. But she’s a good actress. It’s like I didn’t put a dent in her at all. but it makes answering easier. but I’m nervous and I’ve already talked the crap out of it with my family. Any girl who can kick my ass at Ghost Recon is okay in my bo ok. Stopped draggin’ her around. I grab a slice of pizza from the box on the counter and join him.” He flips through the channels. You guys should hang out here again. And Tanner has more junk food than Mom keeps stocked in our house.” He winks and goes to plop on his couch. I’m goin’ to swing by. I’m hurtin’ someone.” I say. no. one hand tucked behind his head.” Truth is. Which is why I’m tellin’ her now. but givin’ me the ‘are you okay?’ look every time she glances in my direction.” Quynn. but I really should give Tanner more credit. “Quynn? You finally goin’ for it. it makes me sick. and then tore her heart up the next day. Bro. waitin’ for his reaction. Pretty sure Hayles is the only exception I make to call someone. It’s been a whole week since I slept with Hayles. “You guys a thing now?” I wish. “Hey. Quynn’s been distant.” “Cool. I’m not like my dad. man. “I got somethin’ to do tonight. If only I had manned up and told Quynn right away. And Hayles has gone back to bein’ my ‘homie’. “Yeah. Don’t screw up tonight. School’s been weird. “Hell yeah. Hayley. “Nah. but right now. makin’ her feel like I still felt the same way. Like nothin’ happened.” She sits down on the grass next to me. Her name used to send a different kind of wave through my body. see if she’s home. Told her I was fallin’ hard and fast for Hayles. “So…” Dude. but… maybe soon. I probably should’ve called before comin’ over to Tanner’s but not so good at the phone thing. talking chicks. “Nah. But that’s my fault. Not ‘cause I’m tryin’ to make things better with Hayles. It’s worse than her ignorin’ me. No matter what I do. Just killin’ time before. “Then a rematch is definitely in the cards.” “You like her?” He’s not lookin’ at me. ‘cause he punches my shoulder and says. man?” I take a swig of Pepsi. or showin’ much interest.” I hold my breath.” He turns on the TV and tosses his legs up on the coffee table. Bro. . I’m nervous as hell and I need a distraction. starin’ out at the sprinklers goin’ off in the soccer field at the park.

Never told each other how we feel. but I don’t hear anythin’. I screwed up the one thing I wanted most ‘cause I didn’t think people would see what I see in Hayles.” She laughs with me now. and she rubs my buzzed head noogiestyle.” I didn’t say anythin’ ‘cause apparently.” I give her a pervy cock of the head. ‘Wow’. Probably didn’t make things easier. and she leans her head on my shoulder. I expected to get a crap lecture about how Quynn is better for me from Mom. I thought you were mad at me.” Her lips part. The words are easy now. “Are you finally going to tell me what’s been bothering you all week?” I turn my head toward her.” She punches me in the arm. I used to… I really wanted to…” Bumbling idiot. all I see is my friend. “Really? I’d like to see that. “Really?” I nod.” Her eyes get real big as she takes her head off my shoulder. “Well. I’m the one who kept tellin’ her to shut up ‘cause she’s beautiful. when I look at her now.” Her arm loops through mine. and she mouths. I should’ve known better. “It’s okay.” “Thanks for being honest. and I’m suddenly laughin’ at myself. But a cheeseball who’s right. As much as I liked her in the past. . I don’t know why they weren’t before. and I don’t know if I’m ready to see the hurt in her face. Brody. a wiseass comment and some razzin’ from Tanner. and heartache and a punch in the face from Quynn. I stumble to my feet. I knew something was up. always has been. “Thanks for bein’ so cool. Why I held them back from her. just like she used to do when we were closer friends. weren’t you?” I take her hand and pull it from my mouth. “You are much better than him. that’s what love does to you. She’s beautiful. They’d be like her judgemental mom. Now that I think about it. But then I remind myself… I’m stoppin’ this before it gets to that. I don’t give people enough credit.” She pats my leg. “Now will you please go get your girl before I beat you to it. smotherin’ her face in my chest like I used to and wiggle her hair back and forth. And that’s when it gets easy.“Hey. No one is reacting the way I thought they would. Why I held them from anyone. After all. I didn’t want you thinking I was the same as G— ” “You are not your brother. I tuck her into a big hug. “I mean it. “Yeah. “I’m an idiot. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner? I wouldn’t have pushed you into hanging out with me so much. The same hurt when she caught my brother cheatin’ on her. and… awesomesauce.” In the words of Hayles… cheeseball. and fun. A smile breaks through. Go!” Then she pushes me. “I-I’ve got it bad.” She ducks out from underneath me. Haven’t been on a date. Shout it out from the rooftops and crap like that. These words aren’t easy. She saves me by putting a hand to my lips. “What is so funny?” I shake my head as more chuckles come out. Quynn.” Her lips pull up in a smile. Laughin’ so hard I think I’m scaring Quynn. Bro. “I’m sorry if… I don’t know if you thought we… I mean. funny. We weren’t ever together. but you were just trying to protect me. I do wanna do that cheesy junk. Haven’t kissed. “I’m in love with Hayley.

And I’m sorry if I did.” I chuckle.” She waves me off. Quynn. Really… I didn’t ever want to hurt you.” Half her mouth pulls up.“Thanks. is head over heels lovey dovey stuff. “Please don’t let me get in the way of what I can tell. . study her face once more before takin’ off down the road. And I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong idea. finally feelin’ guilt free about leavin’ Quynn behind me. “You couldn’t hurt me even if you tried.

It’s Hayles’ mother. I don’t know what you’re using her for. ignorin’ the protests and the threats to call the cops if I’m not outta there in five minutes. She’s already perfect. funny. but it’s judgmental mom. I need to talk to her. “Excuse me? Who do you think you are?” “My name’s Brody Grant.” If she had been drinking anythin’. “She’s busy. I’ve become a love-crazed sonnet spewin’ sucker. The good kind of nervous. The ready position to slam it in my face.” Bitch. She’s given me those pissy stares since I first locked eyes with her. She’s smart. “Is Hayley home?” Her hand moves to the back of the door. And I’m not goin’ to hide her till I find her ‘acceptable’. “I love her. “Would spend time with my Hayley without an agenda. whoa. Just like everyone else who figures out what they want. That was real sappy.” She lets out a dismissive laugh that sounds like a grunt in her Cruella voice. I choke back the insult I’ve got for her. The handle turns and I’m about to do a one-knee-er ‘cause I’m that big of a sap now. then. “I’m in love with your daughter because she’s the best thing that’s happened to me. She makes me nervous. beggin’ to be unleashed. No one with your…” She gestures to my body and lets the thought drop. I’m tellin’ her that. I go straight to Hayles’ room. And I don’t care what you think. “What is so important you have to distract her from her exercises?” I lied. I get a little spit anyway when her mouth pops open. I tuck my foot in the doorway. then shove my hands in my jeans. I cross my arms. eyes closed . I know she does. it would’ve been sprayed all over my face. But are you blind? Maybe a little slow in the head? Or just looking for someone to roll around with till you leave for college?” Whoa. “May I help you?” She acts as if she doesn’t know who I am. and has a kickass body. I scratch the back of my neck and gulp. You can see her at school. Real nervous. whoa.” Heat is crawlin’ through my chest. but I won’t allow it. It’s important.” I shove past her. The kind that makes me want to jump and not care about what happens. What kind of parent talks like this? “Why would you ask that?” I say through my teeth. She’s lying on the floor. and try to come up with somethin’ that doesn’t have the word ‘bitch’ in it. Quynn wasn’t the hardest one to tell.” “Please. and she ‘gah’s’ at me. “You’re taking advantage of my daughter.” “I know who you are. “You must not know me that well. headphones in her ears.Reason 27: You are THE girl I knock on the door quick.

why would you do that?” I shake my head. She’s singin’. The one that goes right up to her dark green eyes.” “What?” “I told Quynn that I’m in love with you. sittin’ straight up and holdin’ her chest. A Hayley laugh. “Oh my gosh. She’s not gettin’ away this time. I laugh. her hands shakin’ as she opens it. You don’t have to be with me if that’s not what you want. “I’ve been waiting for it. That damn cute red that drives me crazy. you dork. “‘Cause it’s the truth. which suddenly need to be in her pockets. I’ll do it. Judgmental mom gave me five minutes. The one that’s been read and re-read so many times so I’ve got them all memorized. I wipe a tear from her eye as she sings the last note. Soft and beautiful. plops us down.” She waves it off like our argument was nothin’ more than just a tiny spat. and I’m amazed I know the song. Lying on the floor. “Hayles. I smirk at her. Mr. How important you are.” Her mouth splits open into her Hayley smile.” She laughs.and tears goin’ down the sides of her face and landin’ in her hair. how did you get up here?” “I dodged past your mom. she’s practically in my lap. “You’re goin’ to read it now?” “Duh!” She giggles.” “Sorry. Judge me all you want. tuckin’ the paper into her palm. “My list?” She tugs me to the bed. She gasps at number twenty-three and slaps me in the arm. I close the door behind me. but not like the ones she had a few minutes ago. doin’ that friend act she’s been keepin’ up all week.” Her face gets real red. but you should know how much you mean to someone. “Whatcha doing here. and the smile on her face doesn’t leave. It’s from a musical. “I told her. I let go of one of her hands to jam mine in my back pocket. take her wrists and pull them from her pants. She’s laughin’. Why she’s the girl. “Brody?” “Yeah?” .” I smile. I didn’t think I’d get it after… you know. The one I keep addin’ things to because there are just so many reasons why I want her. putting my arm behind her and readin’ over her shoulder even though I know them all. I’m not sorry at all.” “And… you’re okay with that? You’re… happy?” She sounds like it’s a hard concept to grasp. smilin’ at her. “Um. She punches me in the shoulder. hand on my leg and tears in her eyes. heads together and feet facin’ opposite directions. trapping them in mine. “Holy friggin’ fruitbats. What is so important you couldn’t just text me?” I jump to my feet and reach for her hands.” I say. She jumps. I pull out the worn piece of paper. but I know Les Miserables. That I’m happy to be in love with the most amazin’ girl I’ve ever met. “You are crazy. But by the end of the list. Grant?” Her eyes go to her door like she’s finally realizing I’m in her room. I’m goin’ to make them count. Whatever it takes to let you know how incredible you are. You scared the snot out of me. “this is the first list of many I plan on writin’ for you.

Mr. “I think we can pump one out in three hours. givin’ her a ‘one more minute’ finger. her leg separating us from bein’ as close as I want to be. then buckles her seatbelt and tosses her feet on the dash. But yeah. And I want to pull her into me. I get it. I pull her mouth to mine.” I put the car in gear and pull out onto the road. I won’t do that anymore. She’s happy to be kissin’ me. “I guess I am pretty awesome. “I want another one. that woman is a lot stronger than I thought she would be. She pulls back.” I laugh.” She tucks her hand in mine. Cuppin’ her face in my hands . She can have everything she wants. “Where to. I like that. It was me who was keeping us apart.” I raise an eyebrow. I… I didn’t want to love you because I was afraid you’d wake up and realize what a cow you’ve chosen for a girlfriend. Her hand goes right for the stereo. “You were right.” I speed the rest of the way home. ignorin’ the Cruella Devil screams behind her and plops in the seat next to me. but I wait for her to finish. After reading this. “Feel like meetin’ my parents?” “They’re home?” I smirk. “I’m sorry. Even when judgmental mom comes in. I’m about to drive away when Hayles comes runnin’ down the driveway. And I’m smilin’ too. “What do you have to be sorry for?” Another deep breath.” “Hayles—” “Sorry. Grant?” “How long do you have?” “As long as you want.She takes a deep breath and turns to face me. I wave her off.” Something in my chest tightens. She pulls me from the room and tosses me down the stairs and out the front door. and that’s it for my self control. in about three hours.” She smiles. . givin’ me an evil grin. and I give her what she wants. lettin’ her smile and kiss me at the same time. “They will be.

” She rolls her eyes. tell us! Are you two getting married?” Mom’s enthusiasm and assumption makes me spit the water I just put in my mouth all over Dad. “Thanks a lot. We’re not getting married. “No. fight and threaten to throw clothes out on the lawn. and yeah. “Hayley!” Mom has adopted Hayles.” I step back to study her outfit. She’s good at it.” “You sure you don’t want to just. She still blushes whenever I do stuff guys are supposed to do. She hates it when I do this. Stop freakin’ out. “Don’t ask me to check you out if you don’t mean it. “You know.” “Is that a bad thing?” Another punch. but really wantin’ a drink. She’s not tellin’ my parents about our sex life.” Hayles fixes her hair one more time in the sideview mirror before standin’ up. “Not us.” He grabs a napkin and wipes his face off. Mom. Mom and Dad are in there. you perv!” She punches my arm and I grab her hand. The kissin’ and the comments. okay. but can you blame me? “Knock it off.” She smiles and winks at Hayles. and pull her to the restaurant. They hug.” They all laugh. probably talkin’ about why I asked them to meet me and Hayles here. We do the whole marriage thing without the rings first.Epilogue “You look da… dang sexy. stay in?” She shakes her head. “Okay. pullin’ her toward me.” She smiles. I wish she wouldn’t hog my girlfriend so much. “You’ll do it anyway. I check out her boobs way longer than she likes. chucklin’ behind it.” I wrap my hand around her waist. stoppin’ her from answerin’ me with another wiseass comment. Mom wantin’ that daughter. I’m nailing it to the toilet. “Okay. includin’ me. whose blush has not disappeared.” “Some people do that you know. It’s good for them. and Hayley needin’ a mom who doesn’t care what size pants she wears. I know. “And if he doesn’t put the seat down next time. When I let my eyes rake over every curve.” Oh no. and I pull Hayley’s chair out for her. . We just graduated. I think I’m ready. I know. every part of her. “You sure? I’ve never done somethin’ like this. “You’re supposed to be showing me off!” “I know. Still. Wonder if she’ll ever get used to it. Mom goin’ into all these cheesy romantic things while Dad’s pretendin’ to listen. I laugh and kiss her.

” Whoa. makin’ me make out with the back of her hand. I tell Mom and Dad I’ll be out late. but she puts a hand over it. but she doesn’t seem to care. Don’t know why she gets so nervous about every date. and so does Hayles. but she’s so good at everythin’.” Mom lets go of Hayles. kid.” She nudges me. “Sure. matchin’ her excitement. Mom grabs Hayley—not me—into a big hug and Dad claps a hand on my back. “Congratulations! And that’s close too so we can still visit you and Hayley. I guess. she puts it in my hand. but big enough for her and her roommate. You know. “Will you come inside?” She unbuckles. “These are my reasons. smile still glued on her face. “I have something for you. Hayles doesn’t have a lot of stuff. But tell me what it is! I’m dying!” Mom bounces up and down in her seat. lettin’ me know she does it all ‘cause she loves me.” Hmm… maybe I will get lucky. Dad laughs behind his glass. She does have a bed though.” “You made a list?” She nods. The rest of dinner goes pretty much how it goes at home. And she’s just startin’ work to pay for it all. She still hasn’t met Daniel.” I stutter. She shrugs. “Where’s Callie?” Roommate. Hayles got a roommate as soon as she found out she was goin’ there and moved out about two seconds after that. we know’ and then hugs. I guess I’d be nervous if I went out with her and her parents. This is our thing. so I can help him pass his classes.” I’m always up for the invitation to go in with her. I go for her mouth when she closes the door. “Well. since she sings the whole time. The drive isn’t silent.“All right.” “Thanks.” Hayles giggles. impatient boy. I pull up to the apartments just around the corner from U of O. ‘we know. so no marriage. and says. I got into U of O. savin’ me from that conversation.” The apartment is small. That’s important. whose face has permanently turned the color of those tomatoes Mom threatens me with.” She said yet… She slips under my arm and goes for her nightstand. She’s draggin’ me to her room. “Just going to be in the same school. Mom and Dad embarrassin’ me while Hayles joins in occasionally. “That’s great. “Not here. but her hand stays on my knee. and they give me those stupid looks like. I help Hayles into the Dodge—my Dodge—and her feet are on the dash before I even get in. then they take off. Smilin’ her Hayley smile. and I keep her hand. but from her expression I know I’m not gettin’ lucky tonight. . I don’t mind that there’s no conversation. She takes out a piece of paper that looks like the list I gave her months ago. Do they think…? “We’re not going to live together. “Not yet. wait a second.

“Kidding! Kidding!” She laughs again. I know what will distract her. I’ll read it now. pinchin’ and proddin’ areas on her body with such a defeated look on her face. She snuggles into the crook of my neck. and my arm gets pulled out from her shirt. I give her one more kiss before I ask. right now? Or can it wait for—” “Two minutes?” She giggles. She moans. wrappin’ my arms around her middle and layin’ her flat on the bed.” I trace her jaw line with my lips. You should know why too. How did I get here? How did I end up being the guy she lets in? I don’t know what I did. She growls and pushes me off. There’s one thing on the list. It still amazes me that she’s my girl. and she lets me whip her around.” I toss the paper over my shoulder. Not yet. the smartest girl… Damn. Every time I catch her looking at her reflection. and she laughs against my lips. “You’re such a cheater. I’m not goin’ to win this one. I love the heck out of you. You’re good in the sack. Brody. “You don’t like it?” She fake pouts.” I don’t read it. and I bark out my laughter. watchin’ her skin pop up with goose bumps. the funniest girl. tell her how beautiful she is and kiss her until she’s smilin’ again. I shake my head. “Hayles?” “Sup?” I chuckle. She’s pulling skin. “Did you have enough dairy today?” The End .” I sit up. but I’m glad I get to do it. tuckin’ her hair back. and in exchange I got the sexiest girl. “All right. And it’s in big letters. I tuck it in my back pocket and kiss her. “You dork. stubborn girl. all right. and I grunt at her. The paper gets shoved over my eyes. “You want me to read it right now?” I kiss her neck. readin’ over my shoulder. adjustin’ myself so I’m comfortable.“Gosh darn it.” I shake my head. Her hand dips into my back pocket while mine goes up her shirt. I’m lucky. “Right now. “Thought that would be the only one you cared about. wigglin’ my nose against hers. I get to do that for her.

Kelley. for knowing sometimes a ninety-nine cent taco at midnight will help cure writer’s block. Thank you Suzi. for yelling at me on a daily basis to get this book in the world. for not caring about Mommy ‘writing out loud’ when I give you baths or cook your food.Acknowledgements: Thank you spell check. but also ‘Acknowledgements’. and when he acted like one. Thank you late night fast food. And most importantly. Jade. for my awesomesauce cover. Thank you Jolene. Hope. Theresa) for telling me when Brody sounded like a girl. so many… Abby. Thank you to my sisters. for reading this book a million times. Thank you critique partners (Gosh. giving me the extra push I needed to be braver than I am. . for picking up my book and staying with it all the way to this page. calling me to quote it. I’m sure there are a million misplaced ones on this page alone. Thank you children. thank you for falling in love with Hayley. Thank you Mommy. and basically making my head a thousand times bigger than it was before. for telling me where all my commas should go. for helping me spell not only half the words in this book. for falling for the funny fat friend. And lastly. and for calling me at eleven o’clock one night. thank you to my hubber bubber. Jenny. Thank you reader.

com/beccaannauthor or friend her on Goodreads at You can follow her on Facebook at http://www. When she woke up to the real world. to get this love story out of her head and on the computer.Becca_Ann . she managed to get in a few hours here and there between all the chaos two little boys can cause.About the Author Becca Ann wrote Reasons in her super duper clean house with her angel children who fanned her while she clacked away on the keyboard.facebook.goodreads.

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